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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 25


Chapter 25
The crow flew over old exiled Emperor’s child, the horse stored the red powder of weeping palace beauty[1].

Wei Xiaobao was being carried while they were travelling swiftly; he felt as if they were soaring in the clouds or riding on the fog, the big trees swept pass his sides. He felt that they were climbing the mountain higher and higher, his heart was filled with unspeakable fear, “This bald thief failed to kill me with a stab of his sword, he must be quite upset. Now he wants to use different method, he want to see if by throwing me down from a ten thousand zhang high peak, I, this little bald thief, will die or not.” Sure enough, the monk in white suddenly released his grip and throw Wei Xiaobao down.

Wei Xiaobao screamed, but very soon his back touched the ground; it turned out that he was just being tossed to the ground. The monk in white looked at him coldly and said, “I heard Shaolin Pai has a divine skill to protect the body, so that saber and spear cannot penetrate. I did not expect a little monk like you have also mastered it.”

Wei Xiaobao heard that person’s voice to be clear and bright, carrying thirty percent gentleness and charms; he was rather astonished. When he looked up at the person’s face, he saw a snow-white melon-seed face, with curved eyebrows, and phoenix-like eyes filled with worry. Unexpectedly she was an extremely beautiful woman, roughly thirty years of age. Only her hair was shaved clean, with the incense-stick scar on her head; turned out she was a Buddhist nun. Wei Xiaobao was delighted, “Talking to nuns is always better than talking to monks,” he mused.

Hastily he wanted to sit up, but the pit of his stomach was very painful. Actually, when she stabbed him a moment ago, although the treasured clothes protected his body, so that the sword did not harm his skin and flesh, her internal power was too strong that he felt severe pain. “Aiyo!” he cried out and collapsed again.

The nun coldly said, “I thought there must be something amazing with Shaolin’s divine skill; turns out it is only like this.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me be honest to Shitai[2], from those thirty-six Shaolin monks in the Hall of Great Strength of Qingliang Temple, one was the Head of Damo Courtyard, one was the Head of Bo’re Hall … aiyo … aiyo … even the Shaolin Pai’s renowned Eighteen Luohan were there; each one was Shaolin Pai’s first class martial art master. Yet all thirty-six men were not your match, one Shitai, alone … aiyo …”

After a short pause, he continued, “If I had only known, I would not enter Shaolin Temple. Aiyo … I’d rather do obeisance to you and take Shitai as my master; it would be a hundred times more superior.”

There was a hint of smile appearing on the grave and stern face of the white-clothed nun. “What’s your name?” she asked, “How long have you been training Shaolin Temple’s unique skills?”

Wei Xiaobao pondered, “She tried to assassinate the Emperor, saying that she wanted to avenge the Great Ming’s Son of Heaven, obviously she belongs to the ‘overthrowing Qing restoring Ming’ group. I just don’t know if she is a friend or a foe of Tian Di Hui; I’d better not to tell her the truth.” Thereupon he said, “I am an orphan from a Yangzhou poor family, my father was killed by Tatar soldiers, from childhood I was sent to the Imperial Palace to become a little eunuch, and was called Xiao Guizi. Later on …”

The nun in white muttered to herself, “Little eunuch Xiao Guizi? I seem to have heard your name. There was a big treacherous official in the imperial court called Oboi; I heard he was killed by a little eunuch, who killed him?”

Hearing the name ‘Oboi’ plus the words ‘big treacherous official’, Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “It was … it was me.”

The nun in white was half believing, half doubting; she asked, “It was really you? That Oboi’s martial art skill was very high; he had the reputation as the Number One Warrior of Manchuria. How did you kill him?”

Wei Xiaobao slowly sat up and narrated how they captured Oboi, how the young emperor gave the order to attack, how Wei Xiaobao unexpectedly managed to stab Oboi with a knife, how he scattered the incense ashes into Oboi’s eyes, and how afterwards he stabbed Oboi’s back in the prison. By this time Wei Xiaobao had already told this story many times, each time he retold the story, he always added a little bit more oil, salt, soybean sauce, vinegar and other spices.

The nun in white listened quietly until he finished. Finally she sighed and muttered to herself, “If it happened like that, those widows of the Zhuang family must really thank you.”

Wei Xiaobao delightedly said, “Did you, Senior, talk about the Zhuang family’s Third Madame? She has already thanked me, and even gave me a servant girl by the name of Shuang’er. By this time she must have already died, she …”

The nun in white cut him off, “How did you know the people from Zhuang family?”

Wei Xiaobao told her the truth. Finally he said, “If you, Senior, do not believe me, you may ask Shuang’er.”

The nun in white said, “You know the Third Madame and Shuang’er; that’s enough. How did you become a monk?”

Wei Xiaobao thought that the matter of the Old Emperor left his home must be concealed; he said, “The Young Emperor sent me to be his proxy to become a monk at Shaolin Temple, and later on he sent me to Qingliang Temple. Shaolin Pai’s martial art that I learned was really very few. In fact, even if I trained for several decades, and have mastered those Wei Tuo Palm, Bo’re Palm, Picking Flower Qin Na, and so on, it won’t be of any use in front of you, Senior.”

Suddenly the nun in white’s countenance sank; she sternly said, “You are a Han, why acknowledge the bandit as your father, risking your life to protect the Emperor? You were indeed born with a slave mentality!”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart turned cold; this accusation was really not easy to respond. When the nun in white assassinated Kangxi, in a moment of desperation he thrust himself in front of Kangxi to shield him. In all honesty, he did not have any thought of flattering the Emperor; he was only thinking that Kangxi was the only person closest to him in this world, he was like a real brother to him, no matter what, he would never let anybody kill Kangxi.

The nun in white coldly said, “Manchurian Tatars came to take away our Great Ming’s world, that may not be considered bad; what’s really bad is Han people who ‘act as accomplice to the tiger’, those who for the sake of seeking their own glory, splendor, wealth and rank, they would do anything.” While saying that, her eyes shot a piercing gaze on Wei Xiaobao’s face. She said slowly, “I’ll throw you down from this mountain peak. I want to know if your ‘protecting body’ divine skill can still be used or not?”

“Of course it can’t be used,” Wei Xiaobao loudly said, “Actually, you don’t even have to throw me down the mountain, you only need to lightly strike the top of my head with your palm, my skull will immediately shatter into seventeen, eighteen pieces.”

The nun in white said, “Then you were fawning on the Tatar Emperor, what good will it do to you?”

“I was not fawning on him,” Wei Xiaobao loudly replied, “The Young Emperor is my friend. He … he said that he will never raise taxes, that he will cherish the common people. We, Jianghu people, attach most importance to yi qi, we must also cherish the common people.” Actually, toward Kangxi he indeed have yi qi, but ‘cherishing the common people’, even in his dream he had never thought about it. Right now facing the matter of life and death, he had no choice but to lift up high his hat to defend himself.

There was a flash of hesitation on the nun in white’s face; she asked, “He said never to raise taxes and cherish the common people?”

“That’s right, that’s right,” Wei Xiaobao busily said, “I don’t know how many hundred times he said that. He said that when the Tatar Emperor entered the pass, he massacred the common people, which he never should have done. Those ‘Yangzhou’s Ten Days’, ‘Jiading Three Gamblings’, were practically things that are done by beast. In his heart he is restless; therefore … therefore he came to Mount Wutai to burn incense and worship Buddha, he will also issue an imperial decree to exempt Yangzhou and Jiading three years of taxes.” The nun in white nodded.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “That treacherous court official Oboi killed so many loyal and good subjects, the Young Emperor ordered him to stop doing that, he refused flatly. The Young Emperor was enraged, he ordered me to kill him. Good Shitai, if you killed the Young Emperor, the affairs of the imperial court will be taken over by the Empress Dowager. This old wh0re is desperately worse, if she came into power, she would do another ‘Yangzhou’s Ten Days’ or ‘Jiading Three Gamblings’. If you want to kill the Tatars, it would be better if you go and kill that old wh0re the Empress Dowager.”

The nun in white shot a glaring look at him; she said, “In front of me, you must not speak any vulgar rude words.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “In front of you, Senior, in the next seventy, eighty years I will not mention even half a word of vulgar talk.”

The nun in white looked up to the white clouds in the sky, ignoring him completely; after a while, she asked, “What’s not good about the Empress Dowager?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The bad things that the Empress Dowager did have nothing to do with this Shitai, I must fabricate some wild accusation and heap it on her head.” He said, “The Empress Dowager said that this is the Great Qing’s world, she wanted to dig the Great Ming’s seventeen, eighteen generations of emperors’ grave, to see if there is any treasures in those graves. She also said that all Han people in the world with the surname of Zhu are no good, they should be executed along with their families unto the third generation, so that they won’t snatch away the Great Qing’s rivers and mountains …”

The nun in white was enraged, with her right palm she slapped a rock, instantly the rock shattered, fragments of rocks flew everywhere. With a stern voice she said, “That woman is so malicious!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Isn’t she? I advised the Young Emperor that those kind of things must never be done.”

“Humph,” the nun in white snorted and said, “What knowledge do you have? What argument can you give? Why would the Young Emperor listen to your advice?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “My argument was very reasonable. I said, ‘Your Majesty, human being will definitely die. While it is true that the world of the living belongs to you, Manchu people, do you know if Yanluo Wang [King of Hell] of the underworld is Han man or Manchu man? What about Pan Guan [mythological underworld judge], the little demon, the ox head, the horse face, the Black Wuchang [ghost taking away soul after death], White Wuchang? Are they Han people or Manchu people? Each one of them is a Han. In the world of the living you oppress Han people, even if you live to a hundred years, there will come a day you will have to face the calamity.’ The Young Emperor said, ‘Xiao Guizi, how fortunate that you reminded me.’ As a result, the Young Emperor did not want to listen to a word the Empress Dowager was saying. On the contrary, he said that he would grant some money to restore the graves of the Great Ming’s emperors, from Hongwu Yeye [grandfather] all the way to Emperor Chong Zhen. Ah right, there were some Fu Wang, Lu Wang, Tang Wang, Gui Wang [each ‘wang’ means ‘king’], which I am not clear how many emperors in total.”

Suddenly the nun in white’s eyes reddened, and tears started to fall down, drops of tears rolled down from her robe to the grass. After quite a while, she stretched out her sleeve to wipe the tears; she said, “If it is really so, not only you are not disloyal, you have rendered great merit. If my … if the grave of my Great Ming’s previous dynasty’s emperors were dug by this … this evil woman …” Speaking to here, her voice turned into sobs, she was unable to continue. She stood up and walked toward an overhanging cliff.

Shitai,” Wei Xiaobao called out, “You … must not … must not be shortsighted.” While shouting that, he rushed to pull her left arm. In this short period of time, he had developed a favorable impression toward this beautiful Buddhist nun; he felt that she was simple yet beautiful, lofty and elegant, refined and amiable; from among the women he had met in his life, no one could surpass her. As soon as he pulled, he felt that the sleeve was empty; only now did he realize that she did not have a left arm.

The nun in white turned her head around and said, “You are fooling around! Why would I be shortsighted?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I saw how grieved you were, I was afraid you were not able to take a lighter view.”

The nun in white said, “If I committed suicide, you would return to the Emperor, henceforth you will be very rich; won’t that be better?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “No, no! I am a little eunuch, I was compelled by circumstances, the Tatars killed my papa, how can I acknowledge bandit as … as my father?”

The nun in white nodded; she said, “You still have conscience.” From her pocket she took more than ten taels and gave it to him, saying, “Use it as your travel expense, go back to Yangzhou, to your native place.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “When I give money to others, if not two hundred taels, I would give at least a hundred taels, how can I be happy with your little bit of money? This Shitai’s heart is soft, I might as well exploit her goodness.” Without accepting the money, he suddenly fell to his knees and embraced her legs, while crying loudly.

The nun in white knitted her brows and said, “What are you doing? Stand up, stand up.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I don’t want money.”

The nun in white said, “Then why are you crying?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have no father no mother, I never have anybody loving me. Shitai, you … you are like my mother. I often think that … that how nice would it be to have a mother who loves me dearly.”

The nun in white blushed, “Pei!” she spat softly and said, “Rubbish! I have left home …”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said. He stood up with tearstains across his face. Crying at will was one of his consummate skills.

The nun in white hesitantly said, “I need to go to Beijing anyway, in that case I’ll take you along. But you are a little monk …”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Returning to Beijing? Nothing can be better than that.” Thereupon he hastily said, “I am a fake little monk. As soon as we are down the mountain, I’ll change clothes, then I won’t be little monk anymore.”

The nun in white nodded. Still not saying anything, she simply walked down the mountain peak with Wei Xiaobao following behind her. When they came across steep path, which was hard to pass, the nun in white grabbed his collar and lightly and nimbly jumped down. Wei Xiaobao praised her endlessly, saying that although Shaolin Pai’s martial art was well known throughout the world, it was not even close to hers. The nun in white simply turned a deaf ear, until Wei Xiaobao spoke seven, eight times, she said, “Shaolin Pai’s martial art has its own origin, little child is like a frog at the bottom of a well, you must not talk an idle talk. Just your divine skill of protecting your body, so that saber and spear cannot penetrate, I don’t have that kind of skill.”

On an impulse Wei Xiaobao said, “The divine skill of protecting my body is fake.” Untying his outer garment, he revealed his vest and said, “This is the vest that cannot be penetrated by saber and spear.”

The nun in white reached out to pull, while sending her strength to the tip of her finger. This pull was very powerful that even steel wire would be pulled apart, but unexpectedly the vest did not move the slightest bit. She smiled and said, “So that’s how it is. I was feeling strange, even if Shaolin internal energy is indeed marvelous, based on your young age, you would not have trained it to this level of maturity.”

Now that one suspicion in her heart was resolved, she was very happy. She laughed and said, “Child, you are indeed an honest person.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused; in all his life, it was the first time somebody ever praised him to be honest, it was indeed rare. He said, “I am not that honest to anybody else, but I don’t know why, I just want to be honest to Shitai. Most likely because I consider you to be my … my mama …”

The nun in white said, “Later on you must not say those things, it is very unpleasant to hear.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, while in his heart he said, “You stabbed me on my chest, it is still very painful. I called you ‘mama’ several times, now we are even.” When he called someone ‘mama’, he was actually cursing that person as a prostitute. While he was feeling smug, he cast a glance toward the nun in white, and saw her lofty and magnificent aura, which he could not help but to revere; he felt quite regretful that he had called her ‘mama’ several times.

He stole a glance toward the nun in white again, and saw her eyes were brimming with tears, as if she was about to cry; he felt quite strange. Naturally he did not know that at the moment the nun in white was thinking, “I should have thought about that vest. Didn’t he … he also have something like that?”

The nun in white and Wei Xiaobao went down the mountain from the north side, heading eastwards. They arrived at a small town, Wei Xiaobao immediately went to buy some clothes, and turned himself into a young master of a rich family. Even when he was dressed up as a lama to protect Shunzhi leaving the Qingliang Temple, naturally the several hundred thousand taels of banknotes had never left his body. Along the way he ordered the restaurant owners and innkeepers to prepare fine vegetarian cuisine. He was very attentive in attending to the nun in white. The nun in white was very particular toward the quality of the vegetarian dishes, as if she was coming from a very rich family; she was completely different from those Shaolin monks. Although she was not intentionally picky, but when the vegetarian dishes were exquisite, she would eat several chopsticks more.

Wei Xiaobao had a lot of money, as long as certain thing was available in the market, whether it was ginseng, swallow’s nest, fu ling, white mushroom, ‘money’ mushroom, no matter how expensive, he would simply buy it. When he was in charge of the imperial kitchen, whenever the Empress Dowager and the Emperor were celebrating Buddha’s birthday or Guanyin’s birthday, they would want to abstain from meat dishes and would request vegetarian dishes; therefore, he was quite an expert in selecting vegetarian dishes. Sometimes the restaurant’s chef did not know how to prepare certain dishes, he would then go to the kitchen to give directions. As a result, the dishes were seventy, eighty percent similar to those of the imperial kitchen.

The nun in white was habitually quiet; often times she did not speak a single word all day. Wei Xiaobao showed her utmost respect, he did not dare to talk nonsense at all. One day they arrived in Beijing. Wei Xiaobao looked for a large inn. As soon as he entered, he gave a ten taels tip. Although the innkeeper thought that for a nun to stay in an inn was somewhat too lofty, but this rich young master was very liberal with money, hence he gave a very attentive reception. The nun in white seemed to regard everything as it should be, she never questioned anything.

After lunch, the nun in white said, “I want to go to the Coal Hill.”

“Coal Hill?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “That is the place where Emperor Chongzhen returned to Heaven. We must kowtow several times there.”

Coal Hill was located next to the Imperial Palace, they were able to reach it in a very short period of time. Arrived at the hill, Wei Xiaobao pointed his finger at a big tree and said, “Emperor Chongzhen hanged himself on that tree.”

The nun in white reached out to caress the tree, her arm did not stop trembling, tears streamed down her face, suddenly she cried out and dropped on her knees.

Seeing her deep grief, Wei Xiaobao wondered, “Could it be that she knew Emperor Chongzhen?” His heart was moved, “Is it possible that she is just like Tao Gugu, a palace maid in Imperial Palace of the Great Ming? Perhaps she was Emperor Chongzhen’s imperial concubine. No, her age is not right, she looks younger than the old wh0re, she can’t be Emperor Chongzhen’s imperial concubine.”

He heard her cry was extremely sorrowful that she nearly could not breathe; he could not help but shedding some tears as well. He dropped on his knees and kowtowed to the tree several times.

The nun in white wept in sorrow for a long time. Finally she stood up to embrace the tree trunk. Suddenly her entire body trembled and she lost her consciousness, her body slowly slid down. Wei Xiaobao was shocked; hastily he held her up and called out, “Shitai, Shitai, wake up quickly!”

After quite a while, the nun in white slowly regained her consciousness. After calming herself down, she said, “Let’s go to the Imperial Palace to take a look.”

“Very well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s go back to the inn first. I’ll fix a eunuch uniform for me, Shitai also needs to change, I’ll take you into the Palace.”

The nun in white angrily said, “How can I wear Tatars’ eunuch uniform?”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case … in that case … I got it, Shitai can be a lama. There are usually a lot of lamas going in and out of the Palace.”

“I don’t want to dress as a lama either,” the nun in white said, “I’ll just rush into the Palace like this, who can stop me?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Even those Imperial Bodyguards are not able to stop Shitai. It’s just that … by doing this inevitably you will have to abandon the Buddhist monastic disciple against taking life. Shitai will be preoccupied with killing people, you won’t be able to quietly look at other things.” He was really unwilling to follow the nun in white breaking into the Palace just like that.

The nun in white nodded. “You are right,” she said, “Tonight I will take advantage of the darkness to break into the Palace. You wait for me in the inn, so that you won’t meet any danger.”

“No, no,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am coming with you. If you enter the Palace alone, I won’t feel at ease. I am very familiar with the Palace like my own home; I know the places, I know the people. Whichever place you want to go, I can take you there.” The nun in white did not answer; she only stared blankly.

By the second watch that night [around 9-11pm], the nun in white and Wei Xiaobao left the inn and went to the Palace’s wall. Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us circle to the northeast corner, the Palace wall on that side is rather low; that is where the sula and odd jobs workers live, no imperial bodyguards ever patrol there.”

Following his direction, the nun in white went to the thirteenth row on the north side; grabbing the back of Wei Xiaobao’s waist, she lightly leaped into the Palace. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “This side is the Le Shou [lit. happy and long life] Hall and Yang Xing [mental/spiritual cultivation] Palace. Shitai, which place do you want to see?”

The nun in white muttered softly, “I want to see everything.”

Going west from Le Shou Hall and Yang Xing Palace, winding around a long corridor, passing the Xuan Qiong Bao Dian [black/mysterious dome throne hall], the Jing Yang Gong [bright yang/positive Palace], Zhong Cui Gong [pure bell palace], they finally arrived at the imperial garden. Although it was dark, the nun in white was still walking very fast; winding and turning around the pathways, she did not have the slightest degree of hesitation. Whenever they came across the Imperial Bodyguards or the night watchmen on patrol, she simply hid behind a building’s corner or behind the bushes.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly amazed, “How can she be this familiar with the Palace situation? She must have lived in the Palace before.” Following her going over the imperial garden, they continued westward, going out of Kun Ning Gate, and arrived outside the Kun Ning[3] Palace.

The nun in white hesitated. “Doesn’t the Empress live here?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Emperor is not married yet, there is no Empress. Previously the Empress Dowager lived here, but now she moved to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful [Ci Ning]. Presently the Kun Ning Palace is unoccupied.”

“Let’s take a look,” the nun in white said. Arriving just outside the Kun Ning Palace, she stretched out her hand to push the window frame. Exerting a little bit of strength, with a soft ‘chi, chi’ noise, the window latch broke easily. She pulled the window open and leaped inside. Wei Xiaobao crawled in to follow.

Kun Ning Palace was the Empress’ personal quarter, Wei Xiaobao had never been there before. The Palace had been unoccupied for a long time, the smell of dust and mold assaulted their nostrils. Under the soft glimmer of the moonlight through the paper on the window, Wei Xiaobao vaguely saw the nun in white was sitting on the edge of the bed, without moving at all. After a while, he heard the dripping noise as her tears flowed onto the front piece of her robe. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Right, she is just like Tao Gugu; she must be a maid in the Palace who was serving the previous dynasty’s empress.”

He saw she was looking up at the beam of the roof. “Empress Zhou had … had killed herself in here,” she said in a low voice.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. The doubt in his heart was gone; he asked in a low voice, “Shitai, would you like to see my Gugu?”

The nun in white was surprised. “Your Gugu?” she asked, “Who is she?”

“My Gugu is surnamed Tao,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Her name is Tao Hongying …”

“Hongying?” the nun in white cried out in shock.

Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s right. Perhaps you know her. My Gugu was a former maid who served Princess Chang of Emperor Chongzhen.”

“Alright, alright,” the nun in white said, “Where is she? Quickly … quickly call her to see me.” All along she had been cool and collected, ever since that day when she tried to assassinate Kangxi at the Qingliang Temple, even though she moved very fast, she had never lost her calm. But this time her voice unexpectedly appeared to be very anxious.

“I can’t call her tonight,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Why? Why?” the nun in white asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “My Gugu is very loyal to the Great Ming, one time she assassinated the Tatars’ Empress Dowager, unfortunately she did not die, hence she has to hide in the Palace. She will have to see my secret signal first, and then we can meet the next night.”

“Very good,” the nun in white said, “That girl Hongying has guts. What secret signal you have to make?”

“My Gugu and I have arranged it well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will have to make a pile of rock in the burning ground, and stick a piece of wood on it. She will know.”

The nun in white said, “Let us go make the secret signal then.” Leaping out the window, she pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand, went out the Long Fu [grand happiness] Gate, passed Yong Shou [eternal long life] Palace, Ti Yuan [Primary Form] Court, Bao Hua [defending China] Court, and continued northward to the Burning Ground. Wei Xiaobao picked up a piece of wood charcoal and drew a sparrow on a piece of wood. He gathered some rocks and made a pile, and then stuck the piece of wood on the pile of rocks.

“Someone’s coming!” the nun in white suddenly said.

The Burning Ground was the place where the waste from the Palace was burned; it was very unusual that someone would come over here in the middle of the night. Wei Xiaobao pulled the nun in white’s hand and took her hiding behind a large earthen jar. They heard the intermittent sound of footsteps; somebody was hurrying over. The person stood still while scanning the area, and was slightly startled to see the wooden piece Wei Xiaobao stuck onto the pile of rocks. Immediately she came over and picked it up. As soon as the person turned around, the moonlight shone on her face. Recognizing her face, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted to see that it was indeed Tao Hongying.

Gugu,” he called out, “I am here,” and walked out from behind the earthen jar.

Tao Hongying rushed forward to meet him; holding her arms around him, she happily said, “Good child, finally you are here. Every night I come here to take a look, hoping that I may see your face earlier.

Gugu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s someone here who wants to see you.”

Tao Hongying was slightly taken aback; releasing her embrace, she asked, “Who is it?”

The nun in white stood up and said in a low voice, “Hongying, you … do you still recognize me?”

Tao Hongying did not expect there was someone else behind the earthen jar; she was startled and retreated three steps back, her right hand reached to her waist to draw a dagger. “Who … who are you?” she asked.

The nun in white sighed and said, “Turns out you don’t recognize me anymore.”

Tao Hongying said, “I … I can’t see your face; you … you are …”

The nun in white slightly turned her body sideways, so that the moonlight shone on half of her face. She said in low voice, “Your appearance has also changed a lot.”

With a trembling voice Tao Hongying said, “You are … you are …” Suddenly she threw her dagger away and called out, “Princess, is it you? I … I …” Throwing herself forward, she embraced the nun in white’s legs. Prostrating herself on the ground, she sobbed, “Princess, to be able to see you today, I … even if I have to die instantly, I … I will die happy.”

As soon as he heard the word ‘Princess’, to say that Wei Xiaobao was mildly surprised was a gross understatement. But immediately he recalled the story Tao Hongying had told him: she was a palace maid serving the previous dynasty, and all along had been attending Princess Chang. When the Roaming King Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, with a sword in his hand Chongzhen wanted to kill Princess Chang, but chopped her arm instead. In that confusion Tao Hongying passed out. By the time she regained her consciousness, the Emperor and the Princess had disappeared.

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward the nun in white, thinking, “She lost an arm, and she is very familiar with the situation of the Palace, plus she wept at the Kun Ning Palace; I should have guessed it early on. She appears this noble, how could she be a palace maid? I realized it only now; I am really stupid.”

He heard the nun in white asked, “Have you always lived in the Palace these days?”

Still sobbing, Tao Hongying replied, “Yes.”

The nun in white said, “This child says that you have assassinated the Tatars’ Empress Dowager; that’s very good. It’s just that … that you put yourself in trouble.” Speaking to this point, she could not stop the tears from streaming down her face.

Tao Hongying said, “Princess has a ‘ten-thousand gold body’, you must not stay in here. Let your servant escort you out of the Palace right away.”

The nun in white sighed and said, “I have not been a princess for a long time.”

“No, no,” Tao Hongying said, “In your servant’s heart, you are a princess forever, you are my Princess Chang.”

The nun in white let out a mournful laugh. Under the moonlight, the tears on her cheek glistened, making the laughter even more dismal. She said slowly, “Does anybody live in Ning Shou [peaceful long life] Palace nowadays? I want to take a look.”

Tao Hongying said, “Ning Shou Palace … nowadays is … is the residence of Tatars’ Princess Jianning. It’s just that these days, Tatars’ Emperor, Empress Dowager and the Princess are not in the Palace; I don’t know where they are. There are only several palace maids and court eunuchs remain in Ning Shou Palace; let your servant kill them all. Princess, please.” Ning Shou Palace was the princess’ personal quarter; it was precisely this Princess Changping of the Great Ming’s former residence.

The nun in white said, “You don’t need to kill anybody. We are only going to take a look.”

“Yes,” Tao Hongying said. She did not know that Princess Changping had mastered exceedingly good, arhat-like martial art; she thought that Wei Xiaobao brought her into the Palace in disguise. Having met her former master by accident, her heart was excited, she would not think twice about rushing onto a mountain of blades or going into a deep fryer for her, let alone only going to the Princess’ old residence.

Immediately the three of them went north, out of the Xi Tie [western iron] Gate, turned east passed the Shun Zhen [loyal] Gate, through Bei Wu Suo [northern five-building], the tea storehouse, arriving outside the Ning Shou Palace.

In a low voice Tao Hongying said, “Let your servant drive off the palace maids and the eunuchs.”

“No need,” the nun in white said. Stretching out her hand, she pushed the gate, the latch broke with only a light noise. The palace gate opened, the nun in white walked in.

Although the dynasty had changed, the Palace’s custom did not change at all. Since Ning Shou Palace was the nun in white’s old home, she knew very well where the palace maids and the court eunuchs were. Without waking up anybody, she sealed their acupoints one by one to make them lose their consciousness, before going to the princess’ bedroom.

Tao Hongying was pleasantly surprised. “Princess,” she said, “I did not expect your martial art skill to be this superb!”

The nun in white sat on the bed, thinking back of what had happened here more than twenty years ago, where once she drew a portrait of someone, and had shared the same pillow with this someone. And now the world was occupied by the Tatars, her own bedroom was occupied by a Tatar princess, while that someone was far away, in a remote area tens of thousand li away; this life, this age, it would be hard for them to meet each other again.

[Author’s note: for the story of Princess Changping of the Great Ming, please read my unworthy manuscript ‘Sword Stained with Royal Blood’.]

Tao Hongying and Wei Xiaobao waited on her on the side without making any noise. After quite a long time, the nun in white sighed and gravely said, “Light the candle.”

“Yes,” Tao Hongying said, and lit the candle.

They saw the wall, the table and chair, were full of sabers, swords, whips and other weapons, just like a room of a warrior; it did not look like a ‘golden branch, jade leaves’ princess’ bedroom at all.

The nun in white said, “Turns out this princess is also good at martial arts.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This Tatar princess has a very strange character; not only she loves to beat people, she also likes people beating her. But her martial art skill is sloppy and ordinary, she can’t even beat me.” He cast a glance toward the bed, recalling the day when he hid underneath the Princess’ quilt, and was seized by the Empress Dowager. If not for the Five-Dragon-Command fell down from his pocket, right now he would be a little eunuch in the underworld, serving Yanluo Wang’s princess.

The nun in white said in a soft voice, “My paintings, my books; did she throw everything away?”

“Yes,” Tao Hongying replied, “I am afraid that barbarian woman only knows several characters, what does she know about paintings and books?”

The nun in white raised her left arm, her sleeve waved lightly, the candle light was extinguished immediately. She said, “Come with me out of the Palace.”

“Yes,” Tao Hongying replied. And then she remembered something, “Princess,” she said, “Your skill is this superb, if you catch the Tatar Empress Dowager, you could compel her to hand over those several copies of sutra, then you could break the Tatars’ dragon vein.”

“What sutra? What Tatars’ dragon vein?” the nun in white asked.

Thereupon Tao Hongying briefly narrated the origin of the eight copies of the Forty-two-chapter Sutra. The nun in white silently listened to the end, and then after thinking deeply for half a day she said, “If those eight copies of sutra really hide such a great secret, with which we can break the Tatars’ dragon vein, then nothing can be better than that. When the Tatar Empress Dowager returns to the Palace, we will come again.”

The three of them left Ning Shou Palace, went out the Imperial Palace via the same wall bordering the northern thirteen-row, [Anybody familiar with the Forbidden City please feel free to jump in and help me out with these names] and returned to the inn to rest. Tao Hongying and the nun in white stayed in one room. After being separated for more than twenty years, tonight unexpectedly she could share the same room same bed with her former master, Tao Hongying was delighted beyond measure; how could she fall asleep again for the rest of the night?

Wei Xiaobao, on the other hand, was thinking, “I have five copies of sutra in my hands, one copy is in the Emperor’s hands, while the other two copies are unknown. This Princess Shitai wants to force the old wh0re to hand over the sutra; naturally she won’t be able to give her anything. I’d better in a few words urge Princess Shitai to kill her, and thus get rid of the nail in His Majesty’s and my eyes.”

For the next several days, the nun in white and Tao Hongying stayed in the inn without putting a foot outside. Every day Wei Xiaobao went out and asked around whether the Emperor had returned to the Palace. By the morning of the seventh day, he saw Prince Kang, Songgotu, Dolong, and the others leading a large group of Imperial Bodyguards, marching around several large sedan chairs, entering the Palace. Hence he knew the Emperor had returned. Sure enough, not too long afterwards, he saw parties of royal princes [qin wang bei lei] and ministers of various departments entering the Imperial Palace one after another, to pay their respects and wish the holy sage well.

Wei Xiaobao returned to the inn to report. “Very good,” the nun in white said, “I am going into the Palace tonight. Since the Tatar Emperor has returned, the security must be several times more strict than the last time. The two of you better stay in the inn and wait for me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Princess Shitai, I am coming with you.”

Tao Hongying also said, “Your servant wishes to follow Princess. Your servant and this child is well-acquainted with the topography of the Palace, we won’t be in any danger.” Since she had been reunited with her former master, she was unwilling to part with her even for a single step, no matter what. The nun in white nodded, consenting to their request.

That night the three of them entered the Palace via the same route, and went straight to Ci Ning Palace [compassionate and peaceful] where the Empress Dowager resided. All around was extremely quiet, the nun in white led them circling around to the back of the palace. Grabbing Wei Xiaobao’s lower back, she leaped over the wall and landed without making any sound. When Tao Hongying leaped, the nun in white supported her waist with her left sleeve so that when she landed, she also did not make any noise.

Wei Xiaobao pointed to the side window of the Empress Dowager’s bedroom, indicating that that was where the Empress Dowager lived, and then he led them into the back garden. It was the dwelling place of Ci Ning Palace’s palace maids. They saw pale yellow light from all three windows of the building. The nun in white peeked inside from a crack on the window and saw a dozen or so palace maids were sitting side-by-side on a bench, each one lowered her head and knitted her eyebrows, unmoving as if they were in meditation. The nun in white quietly lifted up the curtain and entered the Empress Dowager’s bedroom. Wei Xiaobao and Tao Hongying followed her in.

Four red candles were shining on the table, but there was nobody inside. Tao Hongying said in a low voice, “Your servant has opened three suitcases and looked all-around the drawers, but did not even see the sutra’s shadow; that’s when the Tatar Empress Dowager and that fake palace maid walked in … Aiyo, somebody’s coming!”

Wei Xiaobao gave her sleeve a tug and hastily he ducked behind the bed. The nun in white nodded, with Tao Hongying she also hid behind the bed. They heard a female voice outside the room, “Ma, I have completed the task you asked me to do, what are you going to give me as a reward?” It was Princess Jianning’s voice.

And then they heard the Empress Dowager’s voice, “Ma sent you to do a small task, and you are asking for a reward. How unreasonable is that?” While talking, the two of them entered the bedroom.

Princess Jianning said, “Aiyo, so that was a small task? If Huangdi Gege found out, he would know that I took it; he would definitely be raging mad.”

The Empress Dowager sat down and said, “Just a Buddhist scripture, what’s the big deal? We went to Mount Wutai to offer sacrifice, it was for the purpose of asking the Bodhisattva to bless and protect. When we return to the Palace, we must continue chanting the sutras and praying to Buddha, only then will the Bodhisattva be happy.”

The Princess said, “If it’s not a big deal, then I can tell Huangdi Gege that you sent me to get his Forty-two-chapter Sutra, to be used for chanting the sutras and praying to Buddha, to ask the Bodhisattva to bless and protect his country so that it prospers and the people at peace, and Huangdi Gege will live a long, long live.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “Wonderful,” he mused, “Turns out you sent the Princess to steal the sutra.” But then he realized that his luck was not good; if he did not come with the nun in white this time, most likely the sutra will fall into his hands, but now he had no hope.

The Empress Dowager said, “You have agreed. If the Emperor came to ask me, I will deny everything. Little child babbling nonsense, which one he will believe?”

Princess Jianning said, “Aiyo, Ma, you want to renege on your words? The sutra is obviously in here.”

The Empress Dowager sneered and said, “That’s easy. I will simply toss it into the stove and have it burned.”

The Princess laughed and said, “Alright, alright. I always say that I can’t win against you. Stingy mother, if you don’t want to reward me, then so be it; why did you bully your daughter?”

“You already have everything, what reward might you want from me?” Empress Dowager asked.

“I have everything, only one thing’s lacking,” the Princess replied.

“What’s lacking?” Empress Dowager asked.

“I lack a little eunuch to accompany me playing,” the Princess said.

The Empress Dowager laughed. “Little eunuch,” she said, “There are hundreds of them in the Palace; if you are lacking one who can accompany you playing, just send for one; and you are still dissatisfied?”

“No,” the princess said, “Those little eunuchs are extremely stupid, they are not fun at all. I want the little eunuch who’s serving Huangdi Gege, Xiao Guizi …”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was shaken, “Unexpectedly this dead girl still remembers me,” he mused, “Accompanying her playing is not an easy task. Once I am not careful, laozi will deliver my old life.”

He heard the princess continued, “I asked Huangdi Gege, he said that he had sent Xiao Guizi out of the Capital on a mission. But it’s been so long and he is not back yet. Ma, go talk to the Emperor, tell him to give Xiao Guizi to me.”

Wei Xiaobao cursed her in his heart, “Demon girl, she wants to get me. If laozi fell into your hands, if in a day I don’t have seventeen, eighteen cuts and bruises, laozi will change my surname to yours. Aiyo, what’s the Princess’ surname? Princess has the same surname as the young emperor, what’s the Emperor’s real surname? Laozi is really muddle-headed, I don’t know these things.”

The Empress Dowager said, “The Emperor sent Xiao Guizi on a mission; how did you know? What mission?”

“I actually know this one,” Princess Jianning said, “I heard the Imperial Bodyguards said that Xiao Guizi is on Mount Wutai.”

“Ah!” the Empress Dowager cried out softly, “He … he is on Mount Wutai? How come we did not see him this time?”

The Princess said, “It was only after we were back at the Palace that I heard the Imperial Bodyguards mentioning about it, but I don’t know what mission Huangdi Gege was sending him for. I heard the Imperial Bodyguards were saying that Huangdi Gege has given him another promotion.”

“Hm,” the Empress Dowager was silent for half a day. “Very well,” she said, “As soon as he is back at the Palace, I will talk to the Emperor.” She sounded indifferent, apparently she did not really mean what she said. “It’s late,” she said, “Go back and sleep.”

“Ma,” the Princess said, “I am not coming back, I want to sleep with you.”

“You are not a baby,” the Empress Dowager said, “Why don’t you want to go back to your room?”

“My room is haunted,” the Princess said, “I am scared!”

“Nonsense!” the Empress Dowager said, “What do you mean haunted?”

“Ma, really,” the Princess said, “My palace’s palace maids and eunuchs all said that a few nights ago everybody was bewitched; when they went to sleep, they slept straight to midday of the second day before they finally woke up, and everybody had a nightmare.”

“How can there be such thing?” the Empress Dowager said, “Don’t listen to the servants’ nonsense. When we are not in the Palace, the servants are scared, hence they are terribly suspicious and fearful [orig. ‘suspect the gods and suspect the ghosts’]. Quickly go back.” The Princess did not dare to say anything else; she wished her well and then withdrew.

The Empress Dowager sat by the table with her cheek resting on her palm. She stared blankly at the candle flame, lost in thought. After a long time, she turned her head around and saw two shadows on the wall; the shadows were dancing following the flickering candle light. She thought it was due to her dimmed vision. But when she focused her attention, she still saw two shadows; one was her own, the other shadow was right next to her own. Her shock was not a small matter; thinking that she had killed many people, she could not stop the hair on her body to stand up. Although she knew martial art, unexpectedly she did not dare to turn her head around.

After quite a while, she thought, “Ghosts do not have shadow, if it has shadow, it is not ghost.” But when she held her breath to listen, to her surprise, she did not hear the second person breathing by her side. She was so scared that her hands and feet went weak, she was unable to move a single step. Staring at two shadows on the wall, she almost fainted.

Suddenly she heard a faint breathing behind the head; she was delighted, and instantly turned her head around. She saw a nun wearing white clothes was sitting on the table opposite to her, her pair of beautiful eyes was staring at her, her appearance was delicate and pretty, but her expression was wooden; momentarily she could not tell whether this nun was a person or a ghost.

With a trembling voice the Empress Dowager said, “You … who are you? Why … why are you here?”

The nun in white did not answer. A moment later, she coldly said, “Who are you? Why are you here?”

Hearing her speaking, the Empress Dowager’s fright diminished somewhat. “This is the inner courtyard of the Imperial Palace,” she said, “You … how dare you?”

The nun in white coldly said, “You’re right, this is the inner courtyard of the Imperial Palace. What ‘thing’ are you? How dare you come in here?”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “I am the Empress Dowager; a witch from what place are you?”

The nun in white reached out and placed her right hand on the Forty-two-chapter Sutra in front of the Empress Dowager, and slowly took it. “Take off your hand!” the Empress Dowager shouted. ‘Whoosh!’ she sent a strike toward her face.

The nun in white flipped her right hand and met her palm head-on. The Empress Dowager staggered, she was forced to leave her chair and stand up. “Good,” she hissed, “Turns out you are a Wulin martial art master.” Since she now know that the opponent was a human and not a ghost, her fear was gone. ‘Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!’ she sent out four palm strikes in succession.

The nun in white was still sitting on the chair; without standing up, she calmly put the sutra in her pocket first before lifting up her palm to neutralize the Empress Dowager’s four attacks one by one. Seeing her taking the sutra, the Empress Dowager was alarmed and angered at the same time. Increasing the strength of her palm, successively she sent out seven, eight more moves rapidly. The nun in white parried the attacks one by one, but all along she did not counterattack. The Empress Dowager reached down along her right leg, a short blade, glittering like frost and snow suddenly appeared in her hand.

Wei Xiaobao was watching with rapt attention; he saw the blade in the Empress Dowager’s hand was the platinum steel alloy Emei Sting with which she killed Hai Dafu the other day. With the weapon in her hand, her courage soared, she repeatedly stabbed the nun in white. A series of whooshing noise was heard, the palm hacked, the sting stabbed, the bedroom was filled with flickering white lights. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Let me get out to warn her not to harm Shitai.”

Tao Hongying pulled him down and said in a low voice, “No need!”

They saw the nun in white was still sitting steadily on the chair, the forefinger of her right hand pierced to the east and jabbed to the west, warding off the Empress Dowager’s swift and fierce attacks one by one. The Empress Dowager abruptly advanced and abruptly retreated, she abruptly leaped up and abruptly crouched down with extreme speed; the wind from her palms forced the flame of the four candles to lean backward. Suddenly the room darkened, from four candles, two went out. A few more stances later, the other two also went out.

In the darkness, the sound of palms seemed louder, intermingled with the Empress Dowager’s heavy breathing. Suddenly they heard the nun in white’s cold voice, “You are the Empress Dowager, where did you learn martial art from?”

The Empress Dowager did not answer, but still doing her utmost to attack. Suddenly ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’, there were four ringing slapping noise, apparently the Empress Dowager was slapped on her face four times; followed by an ‘Ah!’ as she cried out with a voice brimming with fury mixed with panic. After this sudden burst of noise, the room went completely silent.

In the darkness, suddenly there was a spark, as the nun in white lighted the flint [orig. ‘fire booklet’] in her hand. The Empress Dowager kneeled stiffly in front of her, unmoving. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, “The old wh0re must be killed today,” he thought.

They saw the nun in white lightly tossed the flint upward, the flame flew several chi up, her left sleeve waved, the flint was carried by the wind generated by the sleeve, it flew slowly toward the candle, unexpectedly the four candles were lighted one by one, as if an invisible hand was holding the flint. The nun in white waved her sleeve inward, a burst of puling force sucked the flint back to her, which she received with her right hand. After gently blowing off the fire, she put the flint back into her bosom. Wei Xiaobao was dumbstruck in watching this; in his heart he was prostrating himself in admiration.

The Empress Dowager’s acupoints were sealed that she was kneeling on the floor, her face alternated between swollen-colored purple and deathly pale as she said in a low voice, “Just kill me quickly; torturing others like this is not the conduct of a martial art master.”

“That’s strange,” the nun in white said, “Your martial art skill is from the Snake Island. How can a person with such a noble rank deep inside the Palace have any relationship with the Shen Long Jiao [Divine Dragon Cult]?”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amazed; he thought that this Shitai did not seem to know anything, but next time he lied to her, he must be extra careful.

The Empress Dowager said, “I don’t know anything about Shen Long Jiao. My negligible martial art skill was taught by a eunuch in the Palace.”

“Eunuch?” the nun in white said, “How can a eunuch in the Imperial Palace have any relation with Shen Long Jiao? What’s his name?”

“He is called Hai Dafu,” the Empress Dowager replied, “He has died a long time ago.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily in his heart; he mused, “The old wh0re talks utter rubbish; if she knew that I am hiding in here, she would not dare to broadcast such a gargantuan lie.”

“Hai Dafu?” the nun in white muttered to herself, “I have never heard of such character. Just now you attacked me with seven palm strikes in succession, the power behind your palm was dark and sinister; what kind of palm technique was that?”

The Empress Dowager said, “According to my Shifu, it was Wudang Pai martial art; it is called … it is called the Soft Cloud Palm.”

The nun in white shook her head. “No, it’s not,” she said, “It was the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’. Wudang Pai is a prestigious upright sect, how can they have such a sinister and ruthless skill like that?”

Shitai is right,” the Empress Dowager said, “It was what Shifu told me. I … I did not know that.” Seeing the nun in white’s profound martial art skill and her extensive knowledge, the reverence in her heart grew; the way she talked was also more polite.

The nun in white asked, “Using this kind of palm technique, how many people have you harmed?”

The Empress Dowager replied, “I … junior has always been deep in the Palace; training martial art is only to strengthen my body, I have never injured a single person.”

“Shameless,” Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Blowing your horn loudly does not need any capital.”

He heard she continued, “Shitai, please understand, junior has always had others to protect me, in all my life I have never fought anybody. Fighting against Shitai tonight was the very first time. The martial art that junior learned has never been used the least bit.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “Your martial art skill can be considered not bad at all.”

The Empress Dowager said, “Junior is a frog at the bottom of a well; if I did not see Shitai’s exceptional divine skill, how would I know that the world is so big?”

“Oh,” the nun in white said, “That eunuch Hai Dafu, when did he die? Who killed him?”

The Empress Dowager said, “He … he passed away many years ago, he died of illness because of his age.”

The nun in white said, “Although you yourself have not done any evil, but you, Manchurian Tatars occupy our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains, you have caused the death of our Great Ming’s Son of Heaven. You are the first Tatar Emperor’s wife, the second Tatar Emperor’s mother; I can’t spare you.”

The Empress Dowager was shocked; with a trembling voice she said, “Shi … Shitai, junior did not give birth to the current Emperor. His birth mother was Empress Xiao Kang, who had died a long time ago.”

The nun in white nodded. “So that’s how it is,” she said, “But as Shunzhi’s wife, when he massacred thousands upon thousands Han people, why didn’t you persuade him even for one sentence?”

The Empress Dowager said, “Shitai, please understand, the former Emperor only doted on that foxy charmer Imperial Concubine Dong’e [Donggo]; it was difficult for junior to even see the Emperor. It is truly beyond my ability to persuade him.”

The nun in white silently contemplated for a while; and then she said, “What you said is not without reason. I won’t kill you today …”

The Empress Dowager said, “Thank you very much Shitai, for your kindness in not killing me. From now on junior will surely chant the sutra and pray to Buddha daily. That … that Buddhist scripture, would Shitai return it to me?”

“What do you want that copy of Forty-two-chapter Sutra for?” the nun in white asked.

The Empress Dowager said, “Junior will reverently worship Buddha, from now on, for the rest of my years, I will chant the sutra day and night.”

The nun in white said, “Forty-two-chapter Sutra is a very common scripture, no matter which temple or monastery you go, you will find at least ten or eight copies; why do you insist on having this copy?”

The Empress Dowager said, “Shitai did not know it. This sutra was the one the late Emperor read aloud every day and evening in the past; junior do not forget old affection, I regard this sutra as the late Emperor.”

“That’s not right,” the nun in white said, “When you are chanting the sutra to worship Buddha, your heart and mind must be empty, you must not have the slightest degree of entanglement with predestined love. When you are chanting the sutra while remembering your deceased husband, what good will that bring?”

“Thank you Shitai, for giving directions,” the Empress Dowager said, “It’s just that … it’s just that junior is simple-minded, I cannot break away from old entanglement.”

A mysterious gleam suddenly appeared in the nun in white’s eyes; she asked, “What exactly is the strange thing about this sutra? Tell me truthfully.”

The Empress Dowager said, “Really … really it is junior’s infatuation. Although the Late Emperor did not treat junior well, but all along I cannot forget him. Seeing this sutra every day somewhat eases up the pain of missing him.”

The nun in white sighed and said, “Since you persist in your own wrong doings and unwilling to tell the truth, it is entirely up to you.” Her left sleeve flicked, the tip of the sleeve struck the Empress Dowager’s body, the sealed acupoints immediately opened.

The Empress Dowager said, “Thank you Shitai for showing mercy!” And she kowtowed before standing up.

The nun in white said, “I did not show any mercy. After your ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ hit someone, then what happen?”

The Empress Dowager said, “That eunuch had never told me, he only said that this palm technique is very fierce, not too many people in the world can resist it.”

“Hm,” the nun in white said, “Just now you attacked me with seven palm strikes, I did not resist it at all; I only return the palm power of those seven ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’. Where it came from is where it would return. Since the palm power came from you, then it returned to you. This matter is your own doing, you are reaping what you have sown, you must not blame anybody else.”

The Empress Dowager could not stop her soul from flying out of her body. Naturally she knew very well the fierceness of this ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’; when one was hit with this palm power, all the bones in one’s body would turn soft, the bones would break into one cun segments [approx. 1 inch], until finally the entire body would be like silk floss, so that one could not even lift one finger. She had struck Imperial Concubine Dong’e, her sister, and Imperial Concubine Dong’e’s son, Prince Rong, with this palm power. She had witnessed with her own eyes the miserable condition of these three people at the point of their death. This nun in white’s martial art skill was this superb, plus the ability to return the enemy’s palm power to the enemy’s body was quite common in the martial art study, so her statement must not be false. This kind of person would indeed be able to return the seven palm strikes of ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ onto her body.

When she attacked just now, for fear that her power was not fierce enough, she had exhausted her entire strength. Just one palm strike would be unendurable, much less seven palm strikes in a row? In that instant she was extremely frightened; dropping on her knees, she called out, “Shitai, please save my life.”

The nun in white sighed and said, “You have brought it upon yourself, you must resolve it yourself, other people are powerless.”

The Empress Dowager kowtowed and said, “I am still hoping for Shitai’s mercy, please give me direction to the bright road.”

The nun in white said, “You conceal everything, you are unwilling to tell the truth. The bright road is right in front of your eyes, yet you are unwilling to take; who are you going to blame? Even if I have mercy in my heart, it is only for my fellow Han people. You are a Tatar Manchu woman, there is a deep enmity between you and me; by not killing you with my own hand, I have already shown you extreme mercy.” Finished speaking, she stood up.

The Empress Dowager knew the opportunity was fleeting; as soon as this person left, the several days before her own death would be unspeakably unbearable. In that split second, the sight of Imperial Concubine Dong’e and her sister’s ten thousand anguish at the death’s door, where they were tossing about on the bed in excruciating pain, appeared in her eyes. She could not help but shivering all over. “Shi … Shitai,” she called out, “I am not a Tatar, I am … I am …”

“You are what?” the nun in white asked.

The Empress Dowager said, “I am … I am … a Han.”

“Up to this point you are still spouting nonsense,” the nun in white said, “How can a Han fill the post of Tatar Empress?”

“I am not talking nonsense,” the Empress Dowager replied, “The current Emperor’s birth mother came from Tong Jiashi, her father Tong Tulai was from Han army banner, he was a Han.”

The nun in white said, “She was a nobility because of giving birth to a son; I heard that she was originally an imperial concubine, not the Empress at all. She had never been an empress, it was after her son became the Emperor that she was granted the posthumous title as the Empress.”

With bowed head the Empress Dowager said, “Yes.” Seeing the nun in white took a step to leave, she anxiously said, “Shitai, I am really a Han; I … I hate the Tatars to the bones.”

“And why is that?” the nun in white asked.

The Empress Dowager said, “This is a very big secret, I … I shouldn’t say it, but … but …”

The nun in white said, “Since you shouldn’t say it, then don’t say it.”

At this very moment the Empress Dowager was like having the fire burned her eyebrows; if she blew this matter, the rest would not matter anymore. Clenching her teeth, she said, “I am a fake Empress Dowager, I … I am not the real Empress Dowager!”

As soon as she said that, no doubt the nun in white was shocked, but Wei Xiaobao who was hiding behind the bed was even more shocked. The nun in white slowly sank back down into the chair and asked, “What do you mean you are a fake?”

The Empress Dowager said, “My father and mother were harmed by the Tatars, I have mortal hatred toward the Tatars. I was forced to enter the Palace to be a palace maid, to serve the Empress. Afterwards … afterwards I impersonated the Empress.”

The more Wei Xiaobao listened, the more he was amazed, he thought, “This old wh0re courage in telling lies is indeed not small, she even dares to speak this kind of ridiculous talk. Blabbering nonsense like that, the old wh0re has not even entered my White Dragon Gate, yet she has completely mastered the Zhangmenshi [emissary to the sect leader, see Chapter 20] Little White Dragon’s consummate skill in blowing his horn. I entered the Palace posing as a little eunuch, could it be that she really entered the Palace posing as the Empress Dowager?”

He heard the Empress Dowager said, “The real Empress Dowager is a Manchu, her surname is Borjigit [bo’er ji ji te], the daughter of Horqin [ke’er qin] Beilei [royal prince]. Junior’s father is surnamed Mao, he was a Han from Hangzhou, Zhejiang, a Great General of the Great Ming, Mao Wenlong. Junior’s name is Mao Dongzhu [lit. eastern pearl].”

The nun in white was startled. “You are Mao Wenlong’s daughter?” she asked, “The Mao Wenlong who guarded the Pi [lit. leather/skin/fur] Island?”

“Exactly,” the Empress Dowager replied, “My father fought the Tatars for many years; later on he was killed by the Great Commander Yuan Chonghuan. Actually … actually it was due to the Tatars’ stratagem of sowing dissension.”

“Oh,” the nun in white said, “This is indeed a fantastic story. How can you impersonate the Empress Dowager for many years without anybody discovering it?”

The Empress Dowager said, “Junior has served the Empress for many years. I managed to learn her speech intonation, her expressions and mannerism rather well. This facial appearance of mine is also fake.” While saying that, she walked to the bedside desk and picked up an embroidered handkerchief, which she then soaked it with the water inside a golden case; and then she wiped her face rigorously. She also peeled off two pieces of human-skin-like substance from her cheeks. Her facial appearance immediately changed completely. Originally her face was round and rather plump, suddenly it turned into melon-seed shape and quite thin, her eye sockets were rather deep.

“Ah!” the nun in white exclaimed; she was very shocked. “Indeed your appearance is greatly different.” After hesitating for a moment, she asked, “But impersonating the Empress was not an easy matter after all. Are you saying that even the palace maids who were very close to the Empress did not recognize you? What about your husband?”

“My husband?” the Empress Dowager said, “The late Emperor only doted on that foxy charmer Imperial Concubine Dong’e, one person. In the last several years, he had never spent even one night in the Empress’ place here. He had never given the real Empress a look, naturally he did not give the fake empress any look at all.” Her voice was filled with bitterness and pain; she also said, “Let’s not mention that I impersonated her really well, even if my look was completely different, how could he know?”

The nun in white nodded slightly; she asked, “So those palace maids and court eunuchs who served the Empress also did not recognize you?”

The Empress Dowager said, “As soon as junior has the Empress under my control, I had her to change all the palace maids and court eunuchs of the Ci Ning Palace with the new ones. I very seldom went out, when I occasionally had to, according the Palace’s regulations, palace maids and court eunuchs would not dare to look at me directly. Even if they stole a look from a distance, how could they tell the fake from the real?”

The nun in white suddenly remembered something. “That’s not right,” she said, “You said the Old Emperor had never paid attention to you, but … but you gave birth to the Princess.”

“That girl is not the Emperor’s,” the Empress Dowager said, “Her father was a Han; sometimes he would sneak into the Palace to see me, dressed as a palace maid. This man … not too long ago he met a misfortune … unfortunately he died of illness.”

Tao Hongying pinched Wei Xiaobao’s palm; they both thought, “There was indeed a man who dressed as a palace maid, but he did not die of illness.”

Wei Xiaobao also thought, “No wonder the Princess is so barbarous in creating trouble, turns out she is a b@stard daughter of that fake palace maid. The Old Emperor is benevolent and gentle, his daughter cannot have that kind of manner.”

The nun in white thought, “You suddenly got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, if the Old Emperor did not have any sexual intercourse with you, how could he not grow suspicious?” It’s just that it was kind of private question, plus she left home to be a nun when she was still virgin, so she could not ask the question. She considered further, “Since this woman has been deliberately and methodically thinking it through to impersonate the Empress, as soon as she found out that she was pregnant, she would find a way to cover it up; I need not examine her in details.” Shaking her head, she said, “All along you have not been telling the truth.”

The Empress Dowager anxiously said, “Senior, even in a shameful matter like that I have told you the truth, what else do I dare to conceal from you?”

The nun in white said, “If that’s the case, then you must have killed the real Empress. Your hands must be reeking with quite a bit of blood.”

The Empress Dowager said, “Junior chants the sutras and worship Buddha; although I harbor deep hatred toward the Tatars, I do not dare to kill people carelessly. The real Empress Dowager is still alive and well.”

This statement was completely beyond the three people’s, in front and behind the bed, anticipation. “She is still alive?” the nun in white asked, “Aren’t you afraid she might reveal your secret?”

The Empress Dowager walked to the front of a big hanging rug. She pulled a woolen cord next to it, the hanging rug slowly rolled up, revealing two-leaved wardrobe door. From her bosom the Empress Dowager fished a golden key, and opened the lock of the wardrobe door. When she opened the wardrobe door, everybody could see a woman was reclining inside, her body was covered in embroidered quilt.

The nun in white softly exclaimed in shock. “She … she is the real Empress Dowager?” she asked.

The Empress Dowager said, “Senior, please look at her appearance,” while fetching a candle-holder and let the candlelight illuminating the woman’s face.

The nun in white saw that the woman’s countenance was extremely wan and sallow, there was not the least bit trace of blood on it, but her facial features were extremely similar to the fake Empress Dowager before she took off her disguise.

The woman slowly opened her eyes, but immediately closed them again. She said in a low voice, “I won’t tell you. You … you kill me quickly.”

The Empress Dowager said, “I have never killed anybody, how can I kill you?” While saying that, she closed the wardrobe door and let down the hanging rug.

“You have her locked up in here for many years?” the nun in white asked.

“Yes,” the Empress Dowager replied.

“What do you press her to tell you?” the nun in white asked, “It is because she firmly refused to tell you that you have kept her alive until today. As soon as she tells you, you will immediately kill her, will you not?”

“No, no,” the Empress Dowager replied, “Junior knew that Buddhist teaching admonishes against taking life. I often fast and eat vegetarian dishes, I can’t possibly harm her life.”

“Humph,” the nun in white snorted, “You think I am a three-year-old child that doesn’t understand your thought? This woman is locked up in here, she poses a danger to you at all times, you did not kill her, there must be an important scheme here. If she shouted from inside the wardrobe, won’t your plot fall through and stand exposed immediately?”

“She won’t dare to shout,” the Empress Dowager said, “I told her that if this secret was leaked, I would kill the Old Emperor first; and then when the Old Emperor died, I told her I would kill the young Emperor. This Tatar woman is really loyal and devoted to those two Emperors, she won’t let them receive any harm.”

“What is it exactly that you wanted her to tell you?” the nun in white asked, “She did not want to speak, why didn’t you use the Emperor’s life to threaten her?”

The Empress Dowager said, “She told me that if I harmed the Emperor, she would immediately go on a hunger strike to kill herself. She does not stop eating only because I promised her I won’t harm the Emperor.”

The nun in white considered this matter carefully: these two real and fake Empress Dowager, one threatens by killing herself by going on a hunger strike, the other threatens by harming the Emperor, both are afraid of the other, they are locked in a stalemate for many years; it is indeed a deadlock. It is reasonable to say that the real Empress Dowager is also a dangerous character, nothing of her should be allowed to remain, after she is killed, her corpse must be burned to ashes, so that she won’t leave even half a trace. Unexpectedly she is still allowed to live in the Palace, it must be because she is still holding on to a big secret, which all along she refuses to tell. It is obvious that this secret must be very important. She asked, “My original question to you, you keep talking about this and that, but never give me a straight answer. What exactly did you force her to tell you?”

“Yes, yes,” the Empress Dowager said, “This big secret concerns the rise and fall of the Tatars. The Tatars’ dragon flourished in Liaodong (Peninsula); they managed to occupy our Great Ming’s world because their ancestors’ feng shui was exceedingly good. Junior found out that on the Changbai Mountain of Liaodong Peninsula, there is a dragon vein of the Aisin Gioro[4] Clan. By digging and breaking this dragon vein, not only we can recover the Han family’s mountains and rivers, everything that the Tatars have inside the pass will be destroyed as well.”

The nun in white nodded; thinking that this story corresponds with what Tao Hongying had told her earlier. She asked, “Where is the location of this Dragon Vein?”

“That is exactly the big secret,” the Empress Dowager replied, “When the late Emperor died, the young Emperor was still little, he did not understand anything, while Imperial Concubine Dong’e, whom he most doted on, had already died before him; therefore, he told this big secret to the Empress, telling her to wait until the young Emperor grew up, and then she is supposed to inform him. At that time junior was the palace maid serving the Empress, I overheard the late Emperor and the Empress’ conversation, but I was unable to hear the whole thing. I only want to ascertain this matter, and then assemble a group of warriors with aspiration, to go to Changbai Mountain to break the dragon vein, and then my Great Ming’s world might recover.”

The nun in white said doubtfully, “The matter of feng shui and dragon vein is vague, with nothing to support it; it is very difficult to believe. Our Great Ming lost the world because the successive dynasties’ administration was bad, they treated the common people harshly, to such an extent that the government official drove the people to revolt. I understood this truth clearly only after I travelled to the four winds these past several years.”

“Yes,” the Empress Dowager said, “Shitai understands this affair thoroughly, although it is beyond junior’s reach. However, in order to recover our Great Ming’s world, I would rather believe the matter of feng shui and dragon vein than not believe it at all. If we can dig the dragon vein, the worst that can happen is that we don’t do the Tatars any damage. However, if this matter is effective for real, won’t we be able to save the thousands upon thousands common people throughout the world from the deep water and scorching fire?”

The nun in white appeared emotionally moved; she nodded and said, “What you said is true. Whether this matter is real or not, we cannot know it now. Even if it is useless, there won’t be any harm done. We only need to make this matter known all over the world, the Tatars ruler and his ministers firmly believe in this dragon vein, their hearts would be discouraged first, and if that time we conspire to recover the nation, everybody will have an additional layer of confidence. So the thing you press the real Empress Dowager is actually this big secret?”

“Precisely,” the Empress Dowager said, “But this s1ut understands that this matter correlate with her offspring’s foundation, she would rather die than disclosing it. No matter how junior tried to swindle her gently or threaten her with force, I have exhausted everything, yet all along she would rather die than talking.”

The nun in white took out the Forty-two-chapter Sutra from her bosom and said, “You must ask her, where are the other copies of this sutra?”

The Empress Dowager jumped in fright; she retreated two steps back, and said in a trembling voice, “You … you knew?”

The nun in white said, “The big secret is hidden in this sutra. How many copies do you have in your hands?”

The Empress Dowager said, “Shitai’s magical power is remarkable, nothing escape your knowledge, junior does not dare to conceal anything. Originally I had three; the first was given by the Late Emperor to Imperial Concubine Dong’e. After she died, junior had it in here. The other two were taken from the home of the treacherous court official Oboi. But one night there was an assassin in the Palace, my chest was stabbed, and those three copies were stolen. Shitai may see it for yourself.” While saying that, she untied her outer garment, undergarment and dudou[5], to reveal an enormous scar on the pit of her stomach.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding. “If this interrogation continues, I am afraid Shitai’s suspicion will fall on me,” he mused.

He heard the nun in white said, “I know who tried to assassinate you, but this person did not take those three copies of sutra at all.” She thought that if those three copies of sutra were taken by Tao Hongying, she could not possibly conceal it from her.

The Empress Dowager was startled. “The assassin did not steal the sutra?” she asked, “Then who stole those three copies of sutra? This … this is really strange.”

“You want to speak up or not, it’s entirely up to you,” the nun in white said.

The Empress Dowager replied, “Shitai hates the Tatars to the bones, you also have remarkable magical power, if this big secret can be handed over to you, the Senior can take charge of this situation and dig the Tatars’ dragon vein. It is something that I always seek but fail to achieve. How can junior hide it from you? Besides, all eight copies of the sutra must be obtained before the location of the dragon vein can be found. Right now there is one copy already in Shitai’s hand; even if junior have three copies, what good would that bring?”

The nun in white coldly said, “Whatever scheme you have in your heart, I don’t need to take the trouble to guess. Since you are the daughter of Mao Wenlong of Pi Island, you must have a deep relationship with Shen Long Jiao.”

With a trembling voice the Empress Dowager said, “No, I … I don’t. Junior … has never heard of Shen Long Jiao.”

The nun in white stared at her for a moment; and then she said, “I am going to teach you a formula to disperse the power in your body. Every day, morning, noon and night, three times you must strike a tree according to this method. Each time nine by nine, eighty-one strikes; perhaps the sinister palm power of the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’ in your body will be dispersed.”

The Empress Dowager was greatly delighted; she kneeled down and kowtowed again to express her gratitude. Right away the nun in white passed on the theory; she said, “From now on, as soon as you use your internal strength trying to harm someone, the bones in your body will immediately break to pieces, then nobody can save you.”

“Yes,” the Empress Dowager replied in a low voice; she looked dejected.

Wei Xiaobao was bursting with joy; “When I see the old wh0re hereafter, even if I do not have the Five Dragon Command, I don’t need to be afraid of her.”

The nun in white brushed her sleeve to seal her consciousness acupoint; immediately the Empress Dowager’s eyeballs rolled back until only the white was visible, she fell backward and fainted. “Come out,” the nun in white said in a low voice. Wei Xiaobao and Tao Hongying came out from behind the bed.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shitai, this woman speaks three parts the truth, seven parts lies. You must not believe her.”

The nun in white nodded and said, “The secret hidden in the sutra concerns not only the Tatars’ dragon vein, but money and treasures as well, which she intentionally did not mention.”

“Let me look around,” Wei Xiaobao said. He pretended to look to the east and search to the west, he uncovered the beddings, and saw the copper ring on the wooden board covering the secret compartment. “The sutra’s here!” he said in a low voice.

Pulling the wooden board up, he saw the secret compartment was hiding not a few of jewels and banknotes, but there was no sutra. He sighed and said, “No sutra! What good does these jewels for?”

“Take the jewels,” the nun in white said, “We will need the money for the future uprising.”

Tao Hongying took all the jewels and money and put them inside an embroidered bundle, which she then handed over to the nun in white. Wei Xiaobao thought, “This time the old wh0re is really bankrupt.” He thought further, “How come there was no jewels or banknotes in the secret compartment last time? Ah right, last time I only had my eyes on the sutra and did not see other stuffs. What a pity, what a pity!”

The nun in white said to Tao Hongying, “This woman impersonated the Empress Dowager, most likely she has other scheme. You hide in the Palace and make a thorough investigation. Luckily she has lost her martial art skill, there is nothing to fear.”

Tao Hongying complied. Actually, after meeting her former master only for a short time, and now they had to part, she was really reluctant to leave.

The nun in white took Wei Xiaobao leaping over the wall and returning to the inn. She took the sutra out to examine it. This copy of sutra had a yellow silk envelope, it was precisely the one Emperor Shunzhi ordered Wei Xiaobao to take to Kangxi. The nun in white opened the cover and saw on the first page four large characters ‘never raise taxes’ [yong bu jia fu]. She nodded and said to Wei Xiaobao, “You said that the Tatar Emperor will ‘never raise taxes’, those four characters are indeed written in here.”

She flipped the book page by page. The Forty-two-chapter Sutra was a very short scripture, each chapter only has several lines, but the characters were very big, so that each chapter filled one or sometimes two pages. She knew this scripture like the back of her hand; after reading every word from top to bottom one time through, she did not find anything different from the one she was already familiar with. Holding it near the candlelight, she did not see any writing between the lines. After pondering over it for a long time, she noticed that the inside was only several dozen pages, but the front and back covers were actually a lot thicker than the inside. Suddenly she remembered how Yuan Chengzhi obtained the ‘Golden Serpent Manual’ in the past. Immediately she use fresh water to moisten the outer skin of the cover, and gently peeled it off. She saw the inside was actually two layers of sheepskin, sewed together on all four sides with silk yarn. When she disassembled the silk thread, she saw more than a hundred cut pieces of extremely thin sheepskin.

Wei Xiaobao called out delightedly, “That’s it, that’s it! This is the big secret.”

The nun in white spread the pieces on the table. She saw some of the pieces were big some were small, some were square some were round, some were triangular in shape, some were diamond-shaped. On some of the pieces, a lot of red curvy lines were drawn; on some others, Manchurian characters were written in black ink. However, all the drawings and characters were cut, nothing was complete, the more than a hundred pieces did not match with each other, so that it was hard to put together.

Wei Xiaobao said, “It looks like each copy of the sutra hides pieces of leather, only when all eight copies are obtained will we be able to put together a complete map.”

“I think so,” the nun in white said. She put all the pieces together back into the original two layers of sheepskin envelope, wrapped it securely in embroidered cloth, and put it into her inner pocket.

The next day the nun in white took Wei Xiaobao leaving the Capital heading west. They arrived at the graveyard on Mount Jinping in Changping County. It was where the Emperor Chongzhen was buried. In front of the tomb, wild grass was growing very thick, making the grave looked very desolate. Along the way the nun in white did not utter a single word, but now she was unable to show restraint anymore; she threw herself in front of the grave and cried out loudly.

Wei Xiaobao also kneeled down and kowtowed. Suddenly he felt that the tall grass by side was moving. Turning his head around, he saw green skirt. It was the green skirt that Wei Xiaobao thought about millions of time during the day, the green skirt that he had dreamt about thousands of time during the night. As he suddenly saw the skirt this moment, his heart jumped. He was afraid it was just a dream, hence temporarily he did not dare to look.

He heard a tender and delicate voice calling out something, and then he heard, “Finally you are here; I … I have been waiting in here for three days.” And then she sighed and said, “But you must not grieve too much.”

It was precisely the girl in green’s voice. As soon as this gentle, tender voice entered his ears, Wei Xiaobao immediately felt as if the sky spins, the earth goes round, he felt his entire body was about to burst into pieces just like the pieces of leather inside the Forty-two-chapter sutra; some were big some were small, some were square some were round, some were triangular in shape, some were diamond-shaped.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “You have been waiting for me for three days, thank you very much, thank you very much. I … as soon as I heard your voice, I am not grieving anymore.” While saying that, he stood up, and in a glance saw that it was indeed the lovely countenance of that green-clothed girl, whose gracefulness was beyond compare; only her gentle and soft expression suddenly turned into astonishment, and then turned into anger.

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “I also miss you very much …” Before he could finish, there was a sharp pain on his lower abdomen, his body flew more than a zhang backward and he fell heavily on the ground; because he was kicked by the girl.

He saw the girl raised her willow-leaf saber and hacked it down on his head. Hastily Wei Xiaobao rolled away, ‘whack!’ the saber struck the ground. Before the girl could chop again, the nun in white shouted, “Stop!”

“Wah!” the girl broke in cry, she dropped her saber off and threw herself into the nun in white’s bosom, while crying, “This evil man, he … he always bullies me. Shifu, quickly kill him for me.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, delighted, but also embarrassed; he mused, “Turns out she is Shitai’s disciple. Those two sentences she spoke a moment ago were not directed to me.” Sullenly he sat down slowly, thinking, “Things have come this far, I can only try my best to be a good person. It would be best if I could swindle Shitai, invoking her great mercy so that she would make the decision to join her with me as my wife.”

Thereupon he stepped forward, bowing deeply toward the girl with cupped fist and said, “Xiaoren has unintentionally offended Miss. I am asking for Miss to show magnanimity by not hold it against me. If Miss wants to hit me, please go ahead and do it; I only hope Miss would spare Xiaoren’s life.”

The girl was hugging the nun in white with both hands; without turning around, she kicked backward, her heel hit Wei Xiaobao’s lower jaw. “Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out and was thrown backward. Groaning and moaning, temporarily he was unable to get up.

The nun in white said, “Ah Ke, how can you disregarding propriety and kicking someone you just met two times?” The tone of her voice carried a reprimanding meaning.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard her, he was ecstatic. “Turns out your name is Ah Ke [jade-like stone]. Finally I know it,” he thought.

He had accompanied the nun in white for many days that he knew she like people being respectful, serious and modest. In her presence, the more he suffered some losses, the more beneficial it was for him. Hastily he said, “Shitai, Miss’ two kicks are well-deserved; it was I who was in the wrong, no wonder Miss is very angry. Even if she kicks me a thousand times, ten thousand times, it is really Xiaoren that deserves to die.” He crawled up with both hands cradling his lower jaw, the pain made his tears flowed down. This time he was not pretending, the kick was really not light.

Sobbing and sniffling, Ah Ke said, “Shifu, this little monk really deserve to die, he … he bullied me.”

“How did he bully you?” the nun in white asked.

Ah Ke blushed. “He … he has bullied me many … many, many times,” she said.

Shitai,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In short, it was I who was muddle-headed, plus my martial art is lacking. That day Miss went to play at the Shaolin Temple …”

“You went to Shaolin Temple?” the nun in white asked, “How can a girl go to Shaolin Temple?”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted in his heart, “Turns out she went to Shaolin Temple not instructed by Shitai, that’s even better.” He said, “It was not she who wanted to go, it was her Shijie who wanted to go. Miss could not disobey her, hence she had no choice but to come with her.”

“How do you know?” the nun in white asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “At that time I was ordered by the Tatars’ Young Emperor to be his proxy to be a monk in Shaolin Temple. I saw another Miss came to Shaolin Temple, this Miss was following behind her, apparently she did not wish to come.”

The nun in white turned her head and asked, “Was it Ah Qi who take you there?”

“Yes,” Ah Ke replied.

“And then what happened?” the nun in white asked.

Ah Ke said, “Those Shaolin Temple monks were very vicious; they said that their Temple’s rule did not allow women to enter the Temple.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That is an unacceptable rule; why can’t nu shizhu [female benefactor] enter the Temple? Bodhisattva Guanyin is a woman.”

“And then what happened?” the nun in white asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Miss said, since they were not allowed to enter the Temple, they would better go back. But those four Shaolin Tempe monks in charge of receiving the guests did not have any manners; they babbled nonsense and thus offended the two ladies, while their martial art skill is very disappointing.”

The nun in white asked Ah Ke, “Did you fight with them?”

Wei Xiaobao barged in, “It was entirely the welcoming monks’ fault, I saw it with my own eyes. They stretched out their hands to push the two ladies. Shitai, just think, the two ladies have ‘thousand gold’ bodies, how could they let the four monks’ filthy hands touching them? Naturally the two ladies moved sideways to evade; the four monks were careless, they bumped their own limbs on the mountain pavilion’s pillars, inevitably they were slightly hurt.”

“Humph,” the nun in white snorted, “Shaolin Temple’s martial art is the leader in Wulin world, how could it be that bad? Ah Ke, when you made your move, which stances did you use?”

Ah Ke did not dare to conceal anything; she lowered her head and told her in a low voice. The nun in white asked, “You two knocked down four Shaolin Temple monks?”

Ah Ke cast a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, and hatefully said, “Five, including him.”

“You have quite a nerve, going to Shaolin Temple and beat five Shaolin Temple monks that their hands and feet were dislocated.” With eyes like lightning she looked at her up and down. Ah Ke was so frightened that her face turned even paler.

The nun in white saw the red scar across her neck. “That blade wound, was it the Temple’s martial art master who injured you?”

“No, it was not,” Ah Ke replied, “He … he …” She looked up and shot Wei Xiaobao a glowering look; suddenly her cheeks blushed, while tears streamed down on her face. “He … he humiliated me so much, disciple … disciple slashed my own saber across my neck, but … but I did not die.”

When she first heard about her two disciples went up Shaolin Temple to create trouble, the nun in white was furious, but seeing the scar on her neck was really long, she felt sorry for her; she asked, “How did he humiliate you?”

“Wah!” Ah Ke cried.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Indeed, it was me who was being greatly inappropriate, I spoke without manners, I did not act with propriety. Miss was only grabbing me, scaring me to death, telling me that she was going to dig my eyeballs, but she did not really mean it. Indeed it was me who was a coward and useless; I was scared out of my wits that with both hands I randomly hit and grab backward, and in my carelessness had touched Miss’ body. Although it was unintentional, I wouldn’t wonder that Miss was so angry.”

Ah Ke was so embarrassed that her beautiful face turned completely red, but her eyes was filled with resentment, anger and pain.

The nun in white asked further about the several stances Ah Ke was using when they fighting. After gaining a clear understanding, she said, “It was unintentional, you don’t need to take it seriously.” Gently patting Ah Ke’s shoulder, she said in a tender voice, “He is only a little child, and … and a eunuch too, it’s not a big deal. You have already used the ‘young swallow returning to the nest’ to break his arms; you have punished him enough.”

Ah Ke’s tears did not stop rolling down; in her heart she said, “He is not a little child at all, he went to the brothel to do bad things.” But she did not dare to say it out loud, for fear that Shifu would investigate, and then she would know that Ah Ke had followed her older martial sister to a brothel and beat people there. Her heart was dismayed, she cried even louder.

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down on the ground, kowtowed again and again, while saying, “Miss, you are upset, please kick me several more times to vent your anger.”

Ah Ke stomped her feet and cried, “I simply won’t!”

Wei Xiaobao raised his palm, ‘whack, whack, slap, slap!’ he slapped his own face several times. “I deserve to die, I deserve to die!” he said.

The nun in white knitted her eyebrows and said, “It can’t be considered your fault in this matter. Ah Ke, we can’t bully people too much.”

Sobbing and sniffling, Ah Ke said, “It was he who bullied me, he kidnapped me and locked me up in the Temple and did not let me go.”

The nun in white was startled. “Is that so?” she asked.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I know I was wrong. Because I wanted to win Miss’ favor, I invited her to the Temple. I thought that since Miss has always wanted to tour the Shaolin Temple but the monks did not allow her to enter the Temple, no wonder Miss was angry. And thus … and thus gathering my courage, I invited Miss to go and play at the Bo’re Hall; I also asked an old monk to accompany Miss to chat and relieve her boredom.”

“Fooling around, fooling around,” the nun in white said, “Both children are fooling around. Which old monk?”

“It was the Head of Bo’re Hall, Cheng Guan Dashi,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He was the one exchanging palm strikes with Shitai in Qingliang Temple.”

The nun in white nodded. “That Dashi’s martial art skill is superb,” she said. She patted Ah Ke’s shoulder again and said, “Alright, that’s enough. Not only this Dashi’s martial art skill is high, he is also an old man. Xiaobao asked him to accompany you, he cannot be considered ill-treating you. Let’s not talk about this matter further.”

Ah Ke said in her heart, “This little evildoer is really bad; only, there are many things that are not convenient to say, otherwise, if Shifu investigated, Shijie and I would ended up being blamed for many things.” She said, “Shifu, you don’t know, he … he …”

The nun in white no longer paid any attention to her; she was looking at Chongzhen’s grave as if she was entranced. Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue at Ah Ke and made a face. Ah Ke was furious, she shot him a vicious look. Wei Xiaobao felt that although she was extremely angry, she was still unspeakably beautiful; his heart was very happy. He sat on the side, unable to take his eyes off her, admiring her features. He saw that from her head to her toe, her hair, her eyebrows, even the tip of her little finger, everything on her was extremely beautiful.

Ah Ke cast him a sidelong glance, and saw that he was staring blankly at her, she blushed, pulled the nun in white’s sleeve and said, “Shifu, he … he is looking at me.”

“Mmm,” the nun in white simply grunted. She was recalling the scene from the past, when she was at the Palace. Ah Ke’s words did not enter her ears at all.

Sitting until the sun was leaning to the west, the nun in white was still unwilling to leave her father’s grave. Wei Xiaobao wished that she would sit like this for ten days or half a month, as long as he could look at Ah Ke, even if he did not eat, he would not mind. Ah Ke, on the other hand, was feeling quite uncomfortable being the object of his stare. Although she did not turn her head to look at him, she knew his eyes were fixed on her. She was feeling bashful, fretful, and also furious; she thought, “This little evil person is full of graceful words, flowery speech; I don’t know what lie he told Shifu so that she always protected him. As soon as Shifu is not around, I must kill him. Even if Shifu will punish me harshly for this, I simply can’t let him humiliate me like this.”

More than two hours later, the sky was gradually turning dark. The nun in white heaved a long sigh, stood up, and said, “Let’s go.”

That night the three of them lodged in a peasant family home. Wei Xiaobao knew that the nun in white love cleanliness, so before dinner he rubbed and washed the two women’s bowls and chopsticks in hot water, he also wiped the stools, the dinner table where those two women would be sitting, until there was not a speck of dust on it. He also wiped the bed and swept the floor, making sure that wherever the two women sit or sleep on would be immaculate. He had always been lazy; hence in all his life he had never strained himself working as hard as that.

The nun in white nodded in secret; she thought, “This child is hardworking. Having him during our travel will be much more convenient.” Before she turned fifteen, she had always lived deep in the Palace; since childhood she was accustomed to have palace maids and court eunuchs taking care of her. After having the misfortune of her country changed its master, she wandered destitute in Jianghu; the daily food and drink was completely different.

Wei Xiaobao was accustomed to be a eunuch, plus he did not spare any effort to get what his heart desired, he went as far as making her enjoying the happiness of the former days when she was still a princess in the Palace. The nun in white had left home and devoted herself to religious practice, she did not care about the luxury of the past, yet how one spends one’s childhood will be imprinted in one’s heart and mind, and will forever stay and can never be erased. She was not looking to be a princess, but Wei Xiaobao was treating her like a princess; she was touched and was delighted.

After dinner, the nun in white asked Ah Qi’s whereabouts. Ah Ke said, “I have not seen Shijie since that day when we were separated outside the Shaolin Temple; perhaps … perhaps she was killed by him.” While saying that she cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao.

“How can there be such thing?” Wei Xiaobao busily replied, “I saw Miss Ah Qi was with Mongolian Prince Galdan, and several lamas, and an army commander under Wu Sangui’s command.”

As soon as the nun in white heard Wu Sangui’s name, her expression looked very angry. “Why did Ah Qi hang around with people we have no relation with?” she angrily asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “When those people arrived at the Shaolin Temple, probably they came across Miss Ah Qi by accident. Shitai, if you want to find her, let me come with you, I am sure she will be very easy to find.”

“Why is that?” the nun in white asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I still remember the appearance of those Mongolians, Lamas, and military officers from Yunnan. We only need to find one, the rest will be easy to deal with.”

“Very well,” the nun in white said, “In that case you’ll come with me, we’ll look for her together.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Thank you very much Shitai,” he said.

The nun in white was puzzled, “You are helping me to do this matter, I should be thanking you, why did you thank me instead?” she asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Nothing delights me more than to be with Shitai every day; it would be best if I could be by Shitai’s side forever. If I cannot, then being with Shitai one more day means happiness for one more day.”

“Is that right?” the nun in white asked. Although she had received Ah Qi and Ah Ke, two girls to be her disciples, usually she treated her disciples coldly. The two girls revered her very much, they had never dared to tell her what’s in their hearts; how could they act like Wei Xiaobao with his graceful words and flowery speech, sweet mouth and honeyed tongue? Although her personality was strict and cold, those words were really pleasing to her ears; she could not stop a smile from appearing on the corners of her mouth.

Ah Ke said, “Shifu, he … he does not …” She was fully aware that Wei Xiaobao’s enthusiasm to help them find her Shijie was just a ruse to be with her. Those ‘Nothing delights me more than to be with Shitai every day; it would be best if I could be by Shitai’s side forever’ and so on was actually the real desire of his innermost being, only the word ‘Shitai’ should be changed to ‘Ah Ke’.

The nun in white stared at her, “Why not?” she asked, “How do you know the content of other people’s heart? I have often told you before, in Jianghu, the people’s hearts are sinister and deceitful, their words cannot be trusted. But this child has followed me for many days, there was no pretense in him, I know he can be trusted. He is only a little child, how can you lump him together with those Jianghu men?”

Ah Ke did not dare to say anything anymore, she bowed her head and mumbled, “Yes.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said in his heart, “Ah Ke, my good wife, naturally your husband stands out from the masses, how can you lump him together with those Jianghu men? Just listen to your Shifu, I guarantee you won’t suffer any losses. The worst that can happen to you is that you will be given in marriage to me. Do you think I will be willing to part with you and don’t want you anymore? Just set your hundred and twenty heart at ease.”

Book note: the Emperor’s child is a reference to the Emperor’s daughter, it usually refers to the Princess. In the ‘Nine Songs, Madame Xiang’ of the Songs of Chu [ancient book of poems, c. 500 BC]: ‘The Emperor’s child fell north of the islet’. The Emperor’s child here was the Emperor Yao’s daughter. In the poem ‘Escorting the Golden City Princess to the Western Foreign Land’, Ma Huaisu wrote: ‘Where is the Emperor’s child now? She is engaged to be married in a strange land.’

[1] Palace beauty, orig. Chinese Gong’E (as in Tao Gong’E).

[2] Shitai is a term of respect to address Buddhist nuns, the counterpart of Dashi [great master].

[3] Kun – one of the Eight Trigram (Ba Gua), symbolizing earth/female principle. Ning – peaceful.

[4] Orig. Aixin Jueluo, Manchu: Golden Clan, the surname of the Qing Emperors.

[5] Dudou is an undergarment covering chest and abdomen.

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