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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 27


Chapter 27
Someone heard a ghost crying on Yunnan’s sea, thorny gate provided another source of amusement.

The nun in white was lost in thought for half a day. Seeing Wei Xiaobao approaching with a big grin on his face, she knew that he was the one who put poison on the Sutra. She sighed and said, “If not for your intelligence and quick-thinking, it would be difficult for me to escape losing my life in the enemy’s hand today. It would not be a big deal, I was more afraid I would be humiliated. Only, killing people is not something to be proud of, no need to be this happy.”

Wei Xiaobao quickly erased the smiling expression from his face. “Yes,” he replied.

The nun in white added, “This kind of sinister and ruthless method is not the way of prestigious house or upright sect’s disciples. In critical situation, you have no choice but to use it to deal with the villains, but from now on you must not use it recklessly.”

Wei Xiaobao complied again. He said, “Today was the first time I ever used that method. Frankly, my martial art skill is too lacking, I can’t fight a just and honorable fight with them; otherwise, a man must fight like a real man, victory must be achieved handsomely. How could I use such a fooling around method?”

The nun in white stared at him for half a day before asking, “You have been at Shaolin Temple, Qingliang Temple, for many days, could it be that the martial art master Shifu at the Temple did not teach you any martial art?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Martial art, I have learned some. It’s a pity that junior did not learn the proper way; I only learn some superficial styles, but did not cultivate internal strength.”

The nun in white cast a glance toward Ah Ke before she asked, “And why is that?”

“There was not enough time to train,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“What do you mean not enough time?” the nun in white asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Because disciple has offended Miss Ah Ke, she wanted to kill me. The situation was urgent, I had no choice but to carelessly learn some moves to protect my life.”

The nun in white nodded. She said, “Just now when you talked to those lamas, you repeatedly said that I am your Shifu; why is that?”

Wei Xiaobao blushed. Ah Ke interjected, “Shifu, he is harboring a bad thought, he wanted to do obeisance to you and take you as his master.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “Wanted to do obeisance to me and take me as his master cannot be considered a bad thought.”

“It’s not,” Ah Ke anxiously said. She knew that Wei Xiaobao’s real intention in wanting to do obeisance and take the nun in white as his master was so that he could entangle her all day every day, but of course she could not say it.

The nun in white said to Wei Xiaobao, “You have called me Shifu, naturally I cannot let you call in vain.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; immediately he kneeled down and respectfully kowtowed eight times while calling out loudly, “Shifu.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “Now that you have entered my school, you must abide by the rule: you must not fool around.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Toward bad people disciple will fool around, but toward good people I will always follow the rule strictly.”

Ah Ke made faces to him and stuck out her tongue at him, while in her heart she was unspeakably angry. “This little vile creature has done obeisance to Shifu and be her disciple; from now on I can’t kill him anymore, and will always be entangled by him. I can’t push her away, I can’t kick him, it’s a serious headache.”

The nun in white had been besieged by the six lamas, were it not for Wei Xiaobao’s help, she would not have the good fortune. Afterwards Sangjie and the other, seven lamas pursued her, she could only helplessly let herself be captured; her situation was indeed very dangerous. Although her age had surpassed four decades, her appearance was very beautiful. If she fell into these evil lamas’ hands, she was bound to suffer enormous humiliation. By the will of heavens this little kid was completely crafty and cunning, and was able to eliminate the enemies one by one, and thus he had helped her preserving her purity; the gratitude in her heart was unspeakable. Seeing that Wei Xiaobao was cherishing the idea of having her as his master, she decided to agree; thinking that the little kid was naughty, loved to act willfully and make a scene, but that it should not make her worry. If he received her nurture and training, someday he might make a name for himself in Jianghu.

According to Wulin rule, since Wei Xiaobao had entered Chen Jinnan’s school, without Shifu’s permission he could not do obeisance and take somebody else as his master. However, he did not know all these rules; even if he did, right that moment he did not care. The nun in white had agreed to accept him into her school, now he could constantly see Ah Ke. Even if Kangxi abdicated his throne and gave it to him, he would not want it. He was very lazy in training martial art, he thought that most likely he would have to train hard under the nun in white, the headache would be inevitable. But as long as he could be with Ah Ke, more bitter matter would feel as sweet as syrup; therefore, he did the eight kowtows while bursting with joy, indeed he felt as if a treasured object has fallen from heaven just for him.

Seeing his delight, the nun in white thought he was happy to have found a brilliant master and henceforth would train hard to master the excellent martial art. If she knew his real intention, perhaps she would kick him until he rolled around eight times, and although she had just accepted him into her school, would expel him immediately.

Ah Ke’s little mouth flattened, she said, “Shifu, look at him this happy, he will really spoil our family.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A martial art master whose skill is number one in the present age has accepted me as her disciple, naturally I am exceedingly happy.”

The nun in white smiled and said, “You must not talk nonsense about me as the number one martial art master of this age. Now that you have entered my school, you need to know your master’s Buddhist name. My Buddhist name is Jiu Nan [lit. nine difficulties/disaster]. Our school is called the Tie Jian Men [iron sword school]. Your Shizu [master ancestor] was a Taoist Priest, whose title was Mu [wood] at the top and Sang [mulberry] at the bottom; he has passed away. Although I am a Buddhist nun, my martial art skill actually belongs to Taoist branch.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple will remember.”

The nun in white Jiu Nan added, “Ah Ke, you and him, who is a bit older?”

“Naturally I am,” Ah Ke replied.

“I am older,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Alright,” Jiu Nan said, “The two of you need not argue, whoever entered the school first is older. From now on there is no more ‘Miss Ah Ke’ or ‘little vile creature’; one is ‘Chen Shijie’, the other is ‘Wei Shidi’.”

With a loud voice Wei Xiaobao called, “Chen Shijie.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke snorted; in front of her Shifu, she did not dare to curse, but she cast him a malicious look.

“Ah Ke,” Jiu Nan said, “The minor matter of the past should not be taken to heart forever. This time Xiaobao has rendered some meritorious deed by saving you and me, two people. Even though he has offended you, he has done more than enough to redeem it.” Speaking to this point, she gently sighed, thinking, “This child is intelligent and sharp, it’s a pity he has met misfortune since he was young by being a eunuch.”

She continued, “Previously Xiaobao was bullied and humiliated by others, he was forced to be a eunuch. As his martial older sister, you must pity his wretched fate and look after him a little bit. This is actually better, there won’t be male-female division between the two of you, when you are together later on you must not have any misgivings. It’s much more convenient. However, you must not tell anybody about this.”

Ah Ke complied. Thinking that this little vile creature was a eunuch, his rudeness to her in the past was not too big of a deal; her anger somewhat subsided. Turning to Zheng Keshuang, she called out, “Zheng Gongzi, are you injured?”

Limping, Zheng Keshuang walked over; he said, “Not too bad, only my leg is twisted.” Thinking that previously he boasted by saying that he had more than enough force to cope with the lamas, while when things came to a head he failed miserably, and they had to rely on this little kid to repel the enemy, his face blushed with shame.

“Shifu,” Ah Ke said, “What should we do? Shall we still go to Hejian Prefecture?”

Jiu Nan hesitatingly said, “Going to Hejian Prefecture to take a look is fine, but we must guard against that Lama Sangjie returning. Right now I am unable to move freely.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu, you can stay here and take a rest, I’ll go find a large carriage.”

Wei Xiaobao could not find any carriage, but he bought an ox cart from a peasant family, and invited Jiu Nan and the others, three people, to ride on it, while he drove the cart slowly to continue their journey. Luckily Sangjie did not reappear.

When they reached another small town ahead, they abandoned the cart and hired two large carriages. Along the way Wei Xiaobao asked his Shifu to take several more ‘snow ginseng jade toad pills’. Jiu Nan’s internal energy was profound, with the efficacious medicine giving her a boost, her internal injury was healing really quickly.

After traveling for two days, they arrived at Hejian Prefecture at noon. After putting up at an inn, Zheng Keshuang went out to scout the area and hear the news. More than two hours later he came back dejectedly, saying that he inquired everywhere in the city, but unexpectedly no one knew anything about ‘Turtle-slaying Assembly’.

Jiu Nan asked, “Zheng Gongzi, from where did you hear about this ‘Turtle-slaying Assembly’?”

Zheng Keshuang replied, “The two River Heroes Feng Brothers, Feng Bupo and Feng Bucui asked Tian Di Hui to deliver a letter to Taiwan, inviting my Fu Wang [father king] to send an envoy to preside over the ‘Turtle-slaying General Assembly’. The letter says that the general assembly will be held on the fifteenth of this month at Hejian Prefecture. Today is the eleventh, so it is only four days away.”

Jiu Nan nodded. She slowly said, “The two brothers from the Feng Clan, aren’t they from Huashan Pai?” Lifting her head up, she looked outside the window, remembering the matter of many years ago.

Zheng Keshuang said, “Fu Wang sent me to preside over the general assembly; I presumed the Feng Clan brothers would definitely send people to wait for me respectfully in here, who would have thought … humph …” His expression showed that he was really angry.

Jiu Nan said, “Perhaps the Tatars have obtained the information and made some moves, hence the Feng Clan brothers changed the date and place.”

Zheng Keshuang resentfully said, “Even if that’s the case, they ought to notify me.”

While they were still talking, a waiter knocked the door and said, “Zheng Keguan [lit. ‘guest’ Zheng], there are people outside seeking an audience with you.” Zheng Keshuang was greatly delighted; hastily he went out.

A moment later, he hurriedly came back, saying, “The Feng Clan brothers have personally come here; they really apologized to me, saying that they knew that I brought more than twenty attendants, hence for the last several days they were waiting outside the city to welcome me, who would have thought that we have sneakily [orig. the gods unaware, the ghosts unconscious] entered the city? Right now they have prepared a big feast for us to wash the dust and welcome us. Would everybody please come with me?”

Jiu Nan shook her head and said, “Zheng Gongzi should go alone, and please do not mention anything about me being here.”

Zheng Keshuang was rather disappointed; he said, “Since Shitai is not willing to be disturbed, how about Miss Chen and Wei Xiongdi come with me?”

“They also do not need to go,” Jiu Nan replied, “On the day of the general assembly, we will all go together.” That night Zheng Keshuang returned to the inn completely drunk.

Around midnight, his more than twenty attendants also arrived at the inn, only everybody’s hands and feet were bandaged and tied with splints, making them did not look elegant at all.

Early morning the next day, Zheng Keshuang recounted what happened in the big banquet the previous night to Jiu Nan, Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao. He said that the Feng Clan brothers were very respectful to him, they invited him to sit at the seat of honor, and did not stop praising the Zheng Clan for erecting the banner of righteousness, resisting the Manchurian Qing in Taiwan alone. Jiu Nan asked him who else had come to the feast.

Zheng Keshuang said, “There are already many people arrived here. In the past few days people are coming one after another. It was decided that we will have the general assembly at midnight of the fifteenth, at the Locust Tree Plain, eighteen li west of the city. The midnight assembly is to guard against the Qing Court’s ears and eyes. Actually the Feng Clan brothers are too cautious. With these many heroes and warriors assembled here, even if there is a large number of a Qing troop coming here, we will kill and have them completely routed.”

Jiu Nan asked in details the names of the heroes and warriors attending the meeting, but Zheng Keshuang was unable to come up with anything. He only said, “There were several hundred people eating and drinking together. Every one of the several dozen leaders came to propose a toast to me for Fu Wang’s sake. They all announced their school, sect, name and surname, but I am not able to recall that many names at once.”

Jiu Nan did not say anything; she mused, “This Zheng Gongzi has an attractive outward appearance in vain, he actually does not have any talent.”

After recuperating in the inn for several days, Jiu Nan’s injury was completely healed. She restrained Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao from coming out and wandering aimlessly, to avoid meeting Wulin characters and creating some trouble. Zheng Keshuang, however, left the inn every day early in the morning, and did not return until very late at night. Every day there was Jianghu hero or warrior who invited him to a banquet.

When the night fell on the fifteenth, Jiu Nan put on the clothing that Wei Xiaobao bought for her. She dressed as a middle-aged woman, her head was covered in black head wrap; she put yellow powder on her face, and drew her eyebrows slanted downward. No one would recognize her true identity. Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke dressed as ordinary young man, young woman. Zheng Keshuang, however, was wearing brocade gown. He removed his fake braid and put on the attire of Ming Dynasty nobility; he looked beaming and buoyant.

Jiu Nan had not seen her former country’s attire for a long time; seeing his clothing and adornment, she was both delighted and rueful. Seeing his godly charm, jade-like appearance, Ah Ke felt like her soul was even more intoxicated. Only Wei Xiaobao, who felt ashamed of his inferiority, cursed in his heart ‘embroidered pillow son of a b1tch’ seventeen, eighteen times.

About the first watch of the night [between 7-9 pm], the Yanpin Mansion’s attendants drove a large carriage to take the four of them to the Locust Tree Plain for the assembly. The Locust Tree Plain was a large piece of flat land surrounded by hills all around it. It was the place where the locals held market days, or religious festivals, or having theatrical performances. In the darkness one could see that the plain was packed with people.

As soon as Zheng Keshuang arrived, a joyous sound thundered all around them. Several dozen people surged forward to greet him and flock around him. Jiu Nan took Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao to sit far away underneath a large locust tree. By this time there was a continuous flow of people from east, west, south and north. More and more people assembled on the grassy field.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “That treacherous bandit Wu Sangui tied enmity with really a lot of people. Our Tian Di Hui and the Mu Palace have made a bet to see who can kill him first. This b@stard’s personal enemies number in millions, if somebody made their move first, unavoidably Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace lose.”

The round bright moon slowly rose to the top of their heads. On the grassy field, an old man, tall and well-built, with long white beard fluttered in the wind, stood up, cupped his fist, and said, “Gentlemen, heroes and warriors, zaixia Feng Nandi salutes you.”

The crowd of heroes stood up to return his salute and said together, “Old Hero Feng, how are you?”

In a low voice Jiu Nan said, “He is the father of the Feng Clan brothers.” She remembered how she had had a casual acquaintance with him on the summit of Mount Hua. At that time, when she, under the name ‘Ah Jiu’ [lit. ‘nine’], met with Jianghu heroes and warriors, she was only a young teenage girl, Feng Nandi was at the prime of his life; yet today he was already on the brink of old age. Presumably his Shizu [ancestor master] Mu Renqing, and his Shifu, the ‘Copper Pen and Abacus’ Huang Zhen, had both passed away; but what about his Shishu [martial uncle] Yuan Chengzhi? Her feelings toward this man were carved into her bones. But for more than twenty years she had not heard any news about him. For the last several years her heart was like an old well without any ripple [i.e. widow who does not remarry]. Suddenly seeing an old friend tonight, she could not restrain myriads of thoughts from invading her heart; all of a sudden her feelings welled-up in her breast.

Wei Xiaobao saw the glistening tears on her eyes. “Why does Shifu suddenly want to cry as soon as she saw this old man Feng?” he mused, “Could this old man be her old sweetheart? There is no harm in me playing a matchmaker, let she and her old sweetheart mend whatever broken heart she might have. It’s just that Shifu is still very young, she can’t possibly fall in love with this old man.”

He heard Feng Nandi with loud, clear and ringing voice said, “Friends, we gather together in here today, everybody is already aware what important matter we are facing. Our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains is occupied by the Tatars. The main culprit is that unpardonably wicked, the one deserving ten thousand deaths …”

From all around the crowd of heroes shouted together, “Wu Sangui!” With everybody shouted together, it really sounded like a thunder reverberating throughout the range of hills. Someone then shouted, “Big traitor!” Another one shouted, “Son of a turtle.” Yet another one shouted, “Son of a b1tch.” And, “F*ck his eighteen generation ancestors.” Everyone cursed and swore for a while before the voices gradually calmed down.

Suddenly there was a high-pitched childish voice shouted, “F*ck his nineteen generation ancestors’ granny.” The crowd of heroes was actually full of hatred, but suddenly heard this cussing, they could not help but bursting out in loud laughter.

The voice indeed belonged to Wei Xiaobao. Ah Ke angrily said, “Why did you say such an unpleasant words?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Everybody was cursing, why can’t I?”

“But nobody said such an unpleasant words,” Ah Ke replied.

Wei Xiaobao smiled without saying anything. “People were saying words ten times more unpleasant,” he mused.

Feng Nandi said, “The big traitor’s crime is great, his evil extreme, everyone gnashed his teeth in hatred. Although that little brother is young, he knew that we all wish to feed on his raw flesh and spread his dead skin in our bedroom. Tonight everybody gathers here, it is precisely to discuss a brilliant plan on how to put this traitor to death.”

Immediately the crowd of warriors offered their suggestions one after another. Someone said that they all should go to Yunnan, force their way into Ping Xi Wang Mansion, and massacre Wu Sangui’s entire family, without leaving anything; not even their chicken or their dogs. Someone else responded that the Thief Wu had numerous troops and horses under his command, open attack would be difficult to succeed, hence it was not a good way to assassinate him. Someone said that killing him with one stab was too easy for him; it would be better to have his eyes gouged, his hands broken, and made him suffer unbearable pain. Someone said that they had better used violent poison, so that his whole body would rot slowly.

A middle-aged woman dressed in black said that it would be best to have Wu Sangui’s entire family, old and young, massacred; leaving him, one man, alone, so that he would feel the suffering of being lonely and desolate. Another middle-aged man said that Wu Sangui surrendered to the Qing because of his love toward Concubine Chen Yuanyuan, whom Li Chuang[1] forcibly took away; it would be better to capture Chen Yuanyuan, so that Wu Sangui would die of broken-heart. Someone else responded that although Wu Sangui was a lecher, the love of his life was after all power and position, riches and honor; hence it would be best to let him achieve fame, riches and honor, but let his wife, sons and daughters to be impoverished, to reduce them to be beggars on the earth, but don’t let them die.

Several hundred heroes cheered loudly; they all said, “With a punishment like that, it can be considered a punishment for his entire family.”

A man said, “Manchurian Qing Tatars favor him considerably, they set the evil thief as the Ping Xi Wang[2], his power and influence reach the heavens. Killing his wife and children is already not easy, taking away his power, riches and honor would be as difficult as ascending to the heavens.”

A Yunnan native stood up and recounted how Wu Sangui bully common people in Yunnan, how he kill people like mowing grass, and how he create all kinds of disaster. The listening warriors were filled with righteous indignation, their blood was boiling. Several people said if they let Wu Sangui wield power for one more day, several more innocent common people would die under his hands. But on how to get rid of this dangerous traitor, nobody had a really good idea.

By this time Feng Nandi, father and sons’ subordinates arrived with the delivery of beef, flat bread, wine and water. The crowd of heroes cheered and ate and drank to their hearts’ content. As soon as wine entered these warriors’ belly, their speech became even more unrestrained and their ideas became even wilder.

Someone said that after they capture Chen Yuanyuan, they must open a brothel, and let Wu Sangui become the big turtle.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this idea, he agreed with all his heart. “This brothel must be opened in Yangzhou,” he called out.

A warrior laughed and said, “Xiao Xiongdi’s [little brother] idea is fine. When that time comes, will you or will you not go to have a visit?”

Wei Xiaobao was about to reply, “Naturally I will go,” but in a glance he saw Ah Ke’s angry look; thereupon he did not dare to say it out loud.

“Xiaobao,” Jiu Nan said, “Do not talk like these obscene people of the marketplace.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied, but in his heart he mused, “In the business of opening a brothel, perhaps among several thousand people in here, no one has expertise like laozi’s.”

After the people ate and drank for some time, Feng Nandi stood up and said, “We all are rough martial people who, risking death, are used to use saber and spear to kill our enemies, who are bound by righteousness, but we are shallow and crude in facing important matters of the world. Right now I am asking Mr. Gu Tinglin to give us advice. Mr. Gu is a profound scholar of the present age. After our country was broken, he, the Senior, rushed around all parts of our country, contacting virtuous warriors, concentrating his thoughts and efforts to plan and prepare the restoration of our country. Everybody admires him very much.”

There were not a few among the crowd who had heard Gu Tinglin’s name, perhaps from ten people, eight or nine had heard about his reputation; immediately thunderous applause erupted from all directions.

A thin, old man stood up from among the crowd, he was none other than Gu Tinglin. Cupping his hand across his chest, he said, “Feng Daxia [great hero] praised me like this, Xiongdi is really ashamed and dare not accept the honor. Just now I have heard everybody’s opinion, each one harbors loyal and patriotic heart, each one is determined to put this big traitor to death, Xiongdi is indeed full of admiration. The men of old said, ‘Unity of will is an impregnable stronghold’; someone else has said, ‘sincerity splits open metal and stone’. If everybody is working as one, determined to deal with this criminal ringleader, even of he has a gargantuan ability, we can still succeed.”

The crowd of heroes erupted in cheers, “Right, right! We can certainly succeed.”

Gu Tinglin said, “The schemes all of you have raised, every one of them is a brilliant idea, it’s just that to deal with this treacherous bandit, we must change according to the situation. It’s hard to decide in advance which plan would work best. In Xiongdi’s humble opinion, we all must advance separately at the same time, we will act as circumstances dictate: first, naturally we must never leak the secret, otherwise this traitor will step up his guard. Second, we must not be reckless, everything must be planned well before we go into action, so that we will not deliver our lives in vain. Third, we all are good Xiongdi; we must not fight with each other and harm the yi qi in striving to set the meritorious deed first.”

The crowd of heroes replied, “Yes, yes, Mr. Gu is absolutely right.”

Gu Tinglin continued, “Heroes and warriors of every school, sect, clan and society gather here today. If from now on we return to our separate ways, our strength will be scattered too much. If we form one large clan, the number of people is indeed too large; it will be too easy for the Tatars and that Thief Wu to detect our presence. I wonder if you have a good idea.”

The crowd of heroes fell silent. After quite a while, someone said, “I wonder if Mr. Gu has a wise opinion.”

Gu Tinglin said, “From what Xiongdi saw, all heroes from eighteen provinces are represented here. We form one union per one province, altogether we will have eighteen ‘turtle-slaying alliances’. Oh, by the way, ‘turtle-slaying alliance’ does not sound too elegant, it would be better to call it ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’; what do you think?”

One after another the crowd of warriors clapped and cheered. They said, “The words of a scholar is definitely different from crude people like us.”

Before his participation in the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ at Hejian Prefecture, Gu Tinglin had had careful deliberations; he felt that if the crowd of heroes had one mind to kill Wu Sangui, everybody made one vigorous effort and advance bravely, killing him might not be too difficult. But the real important matter was not to kill this traitor to China, rather, it was to drive the Manchurians away and recover Han people’s rivers and mountains. If in order to put to death one person the number of casualties is significant, and their vitality harmed, it would be damaging to their great undertaking of recovering the country instead.

Martial art practitioners put great emphasis on school and sect, to put these several thousand warriors under one person’s command would be very difficult to accomplish. In order to vie over the ‘meng zhu’ [alliance master, I am aware that other translators have used ‘chancellor’] position, they would inevitably struggle in the light and fight in the dark, there would be a lot of hostility. If the defeated party was narrow-minded, they might switch side and inform the Qing court or even Wu Sangui. But if they were split into eighteen provinces’ alliance, with each alliance elect their own alliance leader, not only they all would not be lumped together in confusion, they would not be under one command either. Moreover, it would be a lot easier than electing one ‘meng zhu’. In the future, this eighteen provinces’ ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’ may be gradually expanded to be the backbone of the uprising against the Qing. Hearing that his proposal was met with approval of this crowd of heroes, he was very pleased.

Feng Nandi said, “Mr. Gu’s idea is extremely brilliant. Since nobody has any objection, we are going to form ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’ for eighteen provinces. Each province will elect their own alliance leader. The way we determine which province we will belong to is not according to our native place, but according to which province our school or sect is located. For example, Shaolin Temple’s lay disciples may be from Liao Dong or Yunnan, but they will all belong to Henan province. Huashan Pai disciples will all belong to Shanxi province. What do you think?”

The crowd of heroes responded, “It should be so. Otherwise, people from the same school, the same sect, the same clan or the same society from different provinces will belong to various alliances; it would be a complete mess.”

Someone stood up and said, “What about our Tian Di Hui? We have quite a number of halls in different provinces, while our zongduo [lit. head/chief helm – headquarters] location is not fixed either. May I ask how should we decide which province we will belong to?”

Wei Xiaobao noticed that the speaker was actually Qian Laoben. “Turns out he is also here,” he thought, “I wonder how many of my Green Wood Hall’s brothers are here.”

In a loud and clear voice Feng Nandi replied, “Mr. Gu said that the numerous heroes of the halls of Tian Di Hui in Guangdong should belong to Guangdong province, the different halls of Zhili [see Note 3 Chapter 9] should belong to Zhili. We are forming alliances just for the common goal to accomplish the important matter, not to break up school, sect, clan and society. The duty of the ‘meng zhu’ of ‘weeding-out traitor alliance’ is simply to communicate with the heroes of his province, to pool together the heroes’ brains and brawns. As for the internal matter of each school, each sect, each clan and each society, naturally the ‘meng zhu’ has no right to intervene. The ‘meng zhu’ of each province is not higher than the ‘zhang men’ [sect leader/head/chief] of each school or sect, or higher than the ‘bang zhu’ [clan leader] of each clan or society.”

At first some people among the crowd were apprehensive, they were afraid that the elected ‘meng zhu’ of each province would inevitable lower their own position. Listening to Feng Nandi’s explanation, they understood and all doubts in their heart gone. Immediately they split up into their respective province to elect their leader.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Which province should we join?”

“I won’t join anything,” Jiu Nan said, “I am coming and going alone, I don’t need to join any alliance.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Based on your, Senior’s status and martial art, you should be the ‘meng zhu’ of the entire world’s alliance.”

“Hey,” Jiu Nan said, “You must not say those words again, so that nobody would hear it and we won’t provoke any ridicule.”

In her heart, among the heroes attending the assembly, there was no one whose status was more respected than hers. This Great Ming’s rivers and lakes originally belonged to her Zhu family anyway. As for the martial art cultivation, other than learning the Iron Sword School martial art under Taoist Priest Mu Sang’s tutelage, more than ten years ago she had a fortuitous meeting that her ‘hundred-chi bamboo pole’ was advancing one step forward, so that compared to Priest Mu Sang of the past, she had far surpassed him like the ‘green is born of blue, but the green beats the blue’. Looking at the present age, perhaps other than Yuan Chengzhi, whose whereabouts was unknown, no one could be considered her match.

The crowd of heroes on the grassy field was divided into eighteen groups, with about seventy, eighty people standing up, scattered around the field. These were people with outstanding talent, who, like Jiu Nan, were not willing to be the ‘meng zhu’, but were not willing to accept orders from other people either. Understanding clearly that these were martial art masters of Wulin world with eccentric characters, Gu Tinglin and Feng Nandi did not force them, thinking that since they had attended the assembly, when there is any problem in the future, they might lend a hand in secret.

Before long, several provinces had already had their ‘meng zhu’ elected. Henan province elected the Abbot of Shaolin Temple, Hui Cong Chanshi [Dhyana Master]. Hubei province elected the Zhangmenren [sect leader] of Wudang Pai, Priest Yun Yan. Shanxi province was Zhangmenren of Huashan Pai, ‘Awe-inspiring on Eight Sides’ Feng Nandi. Yunnan province was Mu Jiansheng, Mu Gongzi of the Mu Palace. Fujian province was Yan Ping Jun Wang’s second son, Zheng Keshuang. All these people were in favor with the public, in a short while nobody raised any objection.

As for other provinces, there were minor disagreements, some people refused to concede, hence they could not make decision. In the end they asked Gu Tinglin to impartially mediate; eventually all provinces had elected their leaders, including three Tian Di Hui’s ‘xiang zhu’ [fragrant hall masters] elected to be the ‘meng zhu’ in three provinces. It could be considered that Tian Di Hui had gained considerable face that day.

Presently the elected alliance leaders of all provinces met together, but it turned out that only thirteen were present, Dhyana Master Hui Cong, Priest Yun Yan, and the others did not attend the assembly, only their disciples participated on behalf of their masters.

In a loud and clear voice Feng Nandi said, “Now that the eighteen provinces’ ‘meng zhu’ have been elected, Xiongdi is not going to announce their revered surname and great names in public to avoid the secret from leaking out.”

The alliance leaders met for a while. Feng Nandi also said, “We are respectfully asking Mr. Gu Tinglin and Chen Zongduozhu of Tian Di Hui to be chief military strategist [orig. ‘zong jun shi’ – chief army master] of the eighteen provinces’ ‘weeding-out the traitor alliances’.” The crowd of heroes broke off in thunderous applause. Hearing his Shifu was highly revered by this crowd of heroes by being appointed as the chief military strategist of this ‘weeding-out the traitor alliances’, Wei Xiaobao was very proud.

Immediately the crowd of heroes split into several groups to discuss how they were going to kill Wu Sangui. A pile on the east, a bunch on the west, the discussions were very enthusiastic.

Jiu Nan took Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke back to the inn. Early in the morning the next day they hired a carriage and continued their journey eastward. Jiu Nan knew that as the crowd returned to their native places, they might came across some acquaintances along the way, hence she did not remove her disguise.

Seeing Zheng Keshuang was no longer following them, Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he did not stop talking about the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ the previous night. After listening to him for a while, Ah Ke shot him malicious look and said, “I know why you are this happy.”

“You are very smart,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have guessed it right. With these many people want to kill Wu Sangui, how could we be unsuccessful? Naturally I am very happy.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke said, “Definitely you are happy not because of that. How can there be any goodness in your heart?”

“That’s strange,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why am I happy then?”

Ah Ke said, “It’s because Zheng Gongzi … Zheng Gongzi …”

Seeing her upset expression, Wei Xiaobao deliberately provoked her, he said, “Ah, I forgot. Zheng Gongzi is really a good man. When I went out to hire the carriage just now, I saw him with four good-looking women, he was talking and laughing with them. When he saw me, he told me to send his regards to Shifu and you.”

Ah Ke’s heart skipped a beat. “Why … why didn’t you say so earlier?” she said, “What else did he say?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “He said that those heroines wanted to visit Taiwan to have fun, he is taking them along, saying that he must fulfill his land … land something.”

“Friendship of the land-owner,” Ah Ke said with clenched teeth.

“That’s right, that’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Turns out Shijie was behind me just now, you have heard everything.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “I did not hear it until now.” Speaking to this point, her voice broke.

After traveling for more than ten li, they heard sound of hooves behind them, several dozen riders were coming fast at them. A delighted expression appeared on Ah Ke’s face. But those dozens of riders swept past the large carriage, galloping to the east without stopping at all. Ah Ke’s countenance sank.

“What a pity, what a pity,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It is not.”

“What a pity what?” Ah Ke said.

“What a pity it was not Zheng Gongzi catching up with us,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“He … Why would he want to catch up with us?” Ah Ke asked.

“Perhaps he wanted to invite you to Taiwan to have fun with them,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Wah!” Ah Ke broke up crying.

Jiu Nan understood the content of her female disciple’s heart. “Xiaobao,” she scolded him, “Stop playing dirty trick to provoke your Shijie.”

Wei Xiaobao was very delighted in his heart, but his mouth said, “Yes, yes.” Yet he continued, “The prince’s descendants and young masters of nobility all over the world have three wives four concubines, they are people with the least conscience. When those four good-looking heroines reach Taiwan, I’ll say it will be difficult for them to come back. When this Zheng Gongzi reaches Zhejiang, Fujian, perhaps he will take several more beautiful women.”

“Xiaobao,” Jiu Nan spoke harshly.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The three of them travelled until noon, and stopped by a small family noodle shop by the road. Suddenly they heard hoof beats, several dozen more riders coming from the west. When the riders arrived outside the noodle shop, they dismounted and entered the restaurant. Someone called out, “Kill the chicken, cut the beef, make some noodles, quick, quick!” And then they all sat down.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao saw them, he recognized these people as Xu Tianchuan, Qian Laoben, Guan Anji, Li Lishi, Feng Jizhong, Gao Yanchao, Priest Xuanzhen, Fan Gang, and the other martial art experts from the Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui. He thought, “Although at the assembly last night I said several words, cursed several people, but there were so many people around, the atmosphere was chaotic, they were far away from where I was. It must be that they did not recognize me in the dark, otherwise, why didn’t they come to greet me? If I make myself known to them right now, we will talk about all kinds of matters endlessly. Plus if they saw me having another Shifu, they might not like it. I might as well pretend that I did not see them.” Thereupon he turned his body sideways and did not look directly at them.

A moment later, the food and wine Xu Tianchuan and the others ordered were being delivered one after another. They picked the chopsticks and were about to eat when suddenly there were more hoof beats, another group of people arrived at the restaurant. Someone called out, “Kill the chicken, cut the beef, make some noodles, quick, quick!”

Ah Ke was very delighted that she called out, “Zheng … Zheng Gongzi has arrived.” Turned out this group of people was Zheng Keshuang and his attendants.

Hearing Ah Ke’s call, he turned his head and saw her. Greatly delighted, he walked over and said, “Miss Chen, Shitai, you are here. I looked for you everywhere but could not find you.”

The noodle shop was actually very small and narrow, the Tian Di Hui warriors occupied six tables, plus Ah Ke and the others occupied another table, there was no other table. A Zheng Mansion’s attendant said to Xu Tianchuan, “Hey, old man, why don’t you crowd together some more? Let us have several tables.”

During the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ the previous night, Zheng Keshuang was wearing Ming Dynasty’s nobility attire, catching everybody’s attention. Xu Tianchuan and the others were aware that Tian Di Hui was, in fact, an organization under Yan Ping Jun Wang. They originally wanted to offer up their seats; however, this attendant was really rude that as soon as they heard it, they were all angry. “Damn it,” Priest Xuanzhen cursed, “Who do they think they are?”

Li Lishi signaled him with his eyes, he said in a low voice, “We are on the same side, don’t lower ourselves to their level. There is no harm in giving them some seats.” Immediately Xu Tianchuan, Guan Anji, Gao Yanchao, and Fan Gang, four people stood up and moved to Feng Jizhong’s table, and thus freed up one table.

By this time Zheng Keshuang had already sat down by Jiu Nan. Ah Ke glowered at Wei Xiaobao and said, “You lied on my face; you said Zheng Gongzi is taking four whatever heroines with him …”

Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as Zheng Gongzi arrived, you don’t want to sit next to me anymore, if you see me, you won’t be able to eat your noodle; it has nothing to do with what I said.” He walked over to Xu Tianchuan’s table and sat down; he said in a low voice, “Just pretend you don’t know me.”

As soon as Xu Tianchuan and the others saw him, they were pleasantly surprised. But every one of these people was Jianghu veteran and was very astute. When they heard him, they understood immediately, they all remained calm and collected.

“We’ll pretend that we have never met each other,” Wei Xiaobao continued in a low voice, “Xu San Ge, please pass it on to everybody.”

Xu Tianchuan stood up and walked over to Li Lishi’s table; he said in a low voice, “Our Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu is here; he wants everybody to pretend we don’t know each other.” Li Lishi and the others did not even turn their heads, they continued eating and drinking, but their hearts were delighted. In a short moment the information had been passed to other tables.

On the other table, Zheng Keshuang was in high spirit; he said in a loud voice, “Shitai, during the meeting last night, the numerous heroes elected me as the Fujian province’s ‘meng zhu’. We were discussing important matters until daybreak. When I returned to the inn, I looked for you, but you have already left. We pursued along the way, luckily we can meet you here.”

Jiu Nan said, “Congratulations Zheng Gongzi. However, this is a secret important matter, we must not mention it in public with numerous people around.”

“Yes,” Zheng Keshuang said, “Fortunately there are no other people in here. These crude peasants won’t understand even if they heard it.”

Actually, the Tian Di Hui warriors were dressed as peasants, they were all bare-footed, some even carried a hoe or toothed rake. There were too many people in the meeting last night that Zheng Keshuang did not recognize them.

Wei Xiaobao lowered his head and ate the noodle, he said in a low voice, “This fellow is very arrogant; in Hejian Prefecture these past few days he boasted everywhere, saying that our Tian Di Hui is his Taiwan Yan Ping Mansion’s subordinate, he said that when Zongduozhu sees him, he is very respectful that he does not even dare to breath out loud. He also said that our certain hall’s Xiangzhu Cai Laoge [old brother] was formerly his yeye’s [paternal grandfather] stable hand, that certain hall’s Xiangzhu Li Laoge also fetched chamber pot for his yeye …”

Guan Anji angrily said, “How can there be such thing? Although Cai Xiangzhu, Li Xiangzhu were Koxinga’s [orig. Guo Xing Ye – master of Guoxing] subordinates, they were military officers who went to fight battles …”

Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “Guan Fuzi, lower your voice.” Guan Anji nodded.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “He also made many negative remarks and malicious words about our Green Wood Hall’s Yin Xiangzhu. Others commented that Yin Xiangzhu has died early on. This fellow responded, ‘That’s right. This fellow surnamed Yin’s martial art skill was low, his leadership skill was also second rate, I knew early on that he would be a short-lived ghost’ …”

Guan Anji was extremely angry; he raised his palm to strike the table heavily. Xu Tianchuan deftly reached up and caught his wrist.

Wei Xiaobao knew that this group of warriors would not want to offend Yan Ping Mansion’s people, much less this fellow was their Wangye’s [master king] son. If he did not instigate wantonly, it would be hard for him to provoke them into action. Seeing these people getting angry, he was secretly delighted, but he maintained grim expression on his face. He said, “This fellow talked nonsense; which is not a big deal, actually. But along the way he kept bragging, he mentioned many secret and important matters of our Society. Even to people he has just met he said something like ‘high mountain ridge arose from the earth, a group of mountain creeks is elegant for all eternity’. He claimed to have sat on the Red Flower Pavilion on the mountain peak, Zongduozhu burned six incense sticks, he himself burned seven incense sticks. Other people did not understand what he was saying, he then explained in details …”

The crowd of warriors shook their heads. He revealed a secret of their society just like that, if this information ever reached the imperial court’s eagle claws’ ears, the lives of Tian Di Hui’s brothers would be in danger. But with their own eyes they had seen Zheng Keshuang’s frivolous expression, even the attendants he brought were bossy and domineering; why would they think Wei Xiaobao was telling lies? Moreover, just now they heard him bragging to a woman about the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ the previous night, immensely proud of himself he proclaimed to be the Fujian province’s alliance leader.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I’ll say we must kill his loftiness, otherwise he might harm our important matter.” The crowd of heroes slowly nodded their heads. Wei Xiaobao continued, “I am asking Feng Dage to beat him up, but don’t hit him too hard, just teach him a lesson. And then I will come out to avenge his grievance. I am asking Feng Dage to pretend that you lost to me.” Feng Jizhong nodded slightly. Wei Xiaobao added, “Qian Laoben, you spoke in the meeting last night, I am afraid this fellow would recognize you.”

“Yes,” Qian Laoben said in a low voice, “I am going to make myself scarce first.”

There were still quite a number of Zheng Mansion attendants who did not have any seat. Seeing a few empty seats among the Tian Di Hui warriors’ tables, one of them nudged Xu Tianchuan’s back lightly and said, “Hey, there are still empty seats over there, why don’t you move and let us have this table?”

Xu Tianchuan sprang up and cursed, “We let you have one table and that’s still not enough? Laozi hates to see young masters of rich family relying on force to bully others the most.” Coughing out, ‘whoosh!’ thick phlegm shot out toward Zheng Keshuang.

Zheng Keshuang was talking to Ah Ke, he was caught totally off-guard; by the time he heard the wind, the phlegm was already too close to his cheek. Hastily he dodged, but the phlegm still landed on his neck. It was slimy and sticky; really disgusting. Hurriedly he pulled his handkerchief and busily wiped it, while cursing loudly and angrily, “Disregarding the law and natural morality these several mud-footed peasants are attacking me!”

An attendant immediately sent a punch toward Xu Tianchuan. “Aiyo!” Xu Tianchuan cried out. Without waiting for the punch to reach his face, Xu Tianchuan threw his body backward; he was pretending to be in a very difficult situation, while bellowing, “Help! Murder! Murder!” Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke laughed aloud.

Feng Jizhong stood up, pointed at Zheng Keshuang and shouted, “What’s so funny?”

Zheng Keshuang angrily replied, “I want to laugh, what does it have to do with you?”

Feng Jizhong stretched out his hand. ‘Slap!’ A heavy slap landed on Zheng Keshuang’s face. Zheng Keshuang was both startled and angered; he threw his body forward and repeatedly punched with both fists. Feng Jizhong dodged to the left and evaded to the right, and then he turned around and ran out of the door. Zheng Keshuang ran after him, while sending a punch straight to Feng Jizhong’s face. Feng Jizhong leaned sideways to evade.

Feng Jizhong understood Wei Xiaobao’s intention; he must let this young master Zheng to suffer as much humiliation as possible to pull down his arrogance. Hence he only sent a punch to the east and a kick to the west, going around and around fighting with him.

Xu Tianchuan called out, “As heroes of Henan’s Mount Funiu, we must not let our prestige to fall under this fellow’s hands.”

The rest of the warriors also cheered and yelled; they all knew that although there was no harm in fooling around with this young man, they must not let him know their real background. Therefore, although they were cursing and shouting, they did not utter even half an inappropriate word, or anything that would disgrace his family or school.

Li Lishi shouted, “This time we go out from Funiu Mountain to do business, before even reaching the marketplace we are lucky to come across this richly bedecked fellow. We might as well capture him, have his old man to pay us one million taels as the ransom.”

Seeing their young master was unable to defeat this crude peasant in a short time, plus hearing from their shouts that these people were actually bandits and robbers from Mount Funiu, the Zheng Mansion attendants pulled out their weapons and charged forward. Xu Tianchuan, Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen, Gao Yanchao, Guan Anji, Li Lishi, and the others immediately made their moves. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ The fight was very noisy.

Although those Zheng Mansion attendants were hand-picked warriors, how could they match the Tian Di Hui warriors? Much less just a few days ago they were injured by the lamas, every one of them suffered either broken arm or broken leg. In just a short period of time, they were all subdued by Tian Di Hui heroes. Only Tian Di Hui heroes were being lenient to them; they only snatched away their weapons and surrounded them, but when snatching their sabers or swords, they did not harm them at all.

On the other side, Zheng Keshuang had fought more than a dozen rounds; he saw Feng Jizhong’s hands and feet were clumsy, he kept staggering along as if his stances were extremely unsteady. Zheng Keshuang gathered his spirits, unleashing everything he had learned his entire life. He wanted to show off in front of Ah Ke, to win favor of this extremely beautiful woman. His fists created strong winds, his kicks made noise; move by move he pressed on. Feng Jizhong appeared to have barely enough strength to parry; often times he managed to evade at the nick of time [orig. jian jun yi fa – a thousand jun (unit of measure equivalent to thirty catties) one hair, ‘a thousand pounds hang by a thread’].

Ah Ke watched with anxious heart; she did not stop calling softly, “Aiyo, what a pity, he missed only a little.”

Wei Xiaobao came near and said, “Shifu, you, Senior has not completely recovered, these bandits are very vicious, when Zheng Gongzi is defeated, you, Senior, must not fight with them.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “Don’t you see he has complete upper hand? How can he lose? Really talk nonsense.”

Jiu Nan smiled and said, “These people do not seem to have evil intention toward Zheng Gongzi at all; they are just playing with him. The opponent’s martial art skill is a lot higher compared to Zheng Gongzi’s.”

Ah Ke was incredulous. “Shifu,” she asked, “Are you saying that this robber’s martial art is stronger than Zheng Gongzi?”

Jiu Nan smiled and said, “Do I need to tell you that? This man’s martial art skill is indeed excellent, I am afraid they are not necessarily some Funiu Mountain robbers. If they were really robbers, they would not carelessly blurt it out, saying that they were going to kidnap him and ask for a ransom.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In the end, Shifu’s insight is very clear.” He said, “In that case, why don’t disciple urge them not to fight?”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look; she said, “What face do you have? What skill do you have that you can urge them not to fight?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Although this robber’s martial art is strong, there must be holes in his punching and kicking. Zheng Gongzi cannot beat him, I guarantee that within ten moves I will beat him and make him flee to the wilderness.”

Jiu Nan knew his martial art skill was meager, but perhaps he had some strange or weird tactics, enough to score victory. “These people do not seem to be evil people, you must not harm their lives.” After a short pause, she continued, “Those lowly tricks such us knock-out drug, poison and so on, must not be used, unless you are facing a life and death situation. You have entered my Iron Sword School, you must not damage our school’s reputation.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I hear and obey Shifu’s instruction, I simply will not harm them.”

Jiu Nan sighed gently, as her mind suddenly revisited the Huashan’s summit, when the Iron Sword School’s Sect Leader Yuzhen Zi came to pick a fight with Priest Mu Sang. Yuzhen Zi had committed any imaginable misdeed: raping, looting, and so on. Speaking about Iron Sword School’s reputation, first of all, the number of disciples was very few, their reputation was not resounding; secondly, due to Yuzhen Zi’s conduct, in reality their reputation was not too great anyway. This young disciple was frivolous and jumpy, if he did not step into the proper way, it was very likely that in the future he would become Yuzhen Zi’s direct descendant, and that would be greatly inappropriate.

Seeing the sudden appearance of worried look on her face, naturally Wei Xiaobao did not understand the reason, he still thought that it was because she saw the Tian Di Hui warriors’ martial art was not weak, while her own martial art had not recovered, hence she felt it would be very difficult to deal with this situation. Thereupon he said, “Shifu, please set your heart at ease, I have a way to save Zheng Gongzi’s life.”

Ah Ke spat and said, “You speak nonsense again. Zheng Gongzi is going to win in a flash, what life do you want to save?”

Just as she finished speaking, there was ripping noise, Zheng Keshuang’s long gown was pulled and ripped. Zheng Keshuang was furious, he fought faster, but there was a series of continuous ripping noise; like the talon of an eagle Feng Jizhong’s ten fingers ripped his long gown, his undergarment and trousers, piece by piece. But he used just enough strength so that Zheng Keshuang’s flesh was not harmed.

Zheng Keshuang realized that with several more rips, he would be stark naked. In his fright he turned around trying to flee. Feng Jizhong bent his arms, both of his elbows were already stationed in front of Zheng Keshuang’s chest. Zheng Keshuang hastily pulled back, while sending out a double-punch. Suddenly he felt his wrist tightened, Feng Jizhong’s left hand grabbed his right hand, his right hand gripped Zheng Keshuang’s left hand. In one fluid motion he twisted around, sending Zheng Keshuang’s away. “Catch this!” he shouted. Unexpectedly this throw had sent Zheng Keshuang’s body seven, eight zhang away.

Priest Xuanzhen launched his qinggong to catch up, he raised his head and called out, “Gao Xiongdi, your turn!”

Gao Yanchao leaped immediately. Fan Gang, Xu Tianchuan, Guan Anji, and the others thought it was fun; they all shouted and rushed to join the game. Priest Xuanzhen caught Zheng Keshuang and tossed him over, he fell just as Gao Yanchao rushed over. Gao Yanchao caught him and threw him several zhang away toward Xu Tianchuan.

These people’s strength varied, some were stronger than the others, their qinggong also varied, some high, some low; when they threw Zheng Keshuang, some managed to throw him farther than the other, when they rushed to catch him, some could move faster than the other, yet Zheng Keshuang stayed in the air for several dozen zhang, and had never fallen to the ground. The Tian Di Hui warriors displayed what they were really good at; it was only now that they revealed their true skill.

Guan Anji’s physical strength was amazing; he tossed Zheng Keshuang about four, five zhang high in the air, and when he fell, he gave Zheng Keshuang’s back a push with both palms, two lines of force working together to send Zheng Keshuang high to the air, as if he was soaring to the clouds or riding in the fog.

Wei Xiaobao was watching with extreme delight; he clapped and laughed heartily. ‘Bang!’ Suddenly Ah Ke knocked the back of his head heavily with her knuckles. He was startled and quickly turned his head around. Ah Ke was frightened and angry at the same time; she anxiously said, “They are going to kidnap him, you … quickly save him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “They have no enmity with Zheng Gongzi, Shifu said that they are just playing with him; why would you be worry?”

“No, they are not,” Ah Ke said, “They are going to kidnap him, to demand ransom for one million taels.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are lots of money in Zheng Gongzi’s home. They can easily afford to pay three millions, four millions taels. One million taels is not a big deal.”

Ah Ke stomped her right foot heavily on the floor. “Ay, don’t you have eyes?” she said, “These bandits will … will make him suffer extreme distress.”

Wei Xiaobao whispered in her ear, “You want me to save him? It’s not difficult, as long as you agree to be my wife.”

“Nonsense,” Ah Ke angrily said.

Looking up, she saw that after the last man caught Zheng Keshuang, he did not throw him up anymore; she heard someone calling out, “Hey, quickly go get the money and come back to Mount Funiu to redeem him. We won’t harm this fellow’s life, we will only give him three hundred floggings. The money is here one day early, he will suffer three hundred less floggings. If you are ten days late, he will suffer three thousand more floggings.”

Ah Ke grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s hand and anxiously said, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? They are going to give him three hundred floggings every day. From here to Taiwan is very far, they won’t necessarily make it back in one month.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Three hundred floggings every day. Supposing they took two months, two months is 60 days, three times six is eighteen, it’s only 1800 floggings …”

“Ay, you are wrong,” Ah Ke said, “It’s 18,000 floggings. You are really …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am not good in counting. With 18,000 floggings, his ‘pigu gong’ [buttocks skill] can be trained to perfection.”

Ah Ke was extremely angry; she flung his hand and said, “I won’t pay you any attention.” In her anger and anxiety, she broke up crying.

“Alright, alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t cry, I’ll think of something. But my proposal just now, you must not go back on your words.”

“You quickly save him, we’ll talk about it later,” Ah Ke said.

Wei Xiaobao knew that she was only blurting perfunctorily, she would never agree under any circumstances to really marry him; he said, “I will go through water and tread on fire for you, I won’t decline your request under any circumstances, but in the future you must not bully me again.”

“Yes, yes,” Ah Ke said, “Quickly go, quickly go!” While saying that, her eyes had never met his, she kept her gaze on the distant Zheng Keshuang. She saw those bandits tied his hands behind his back, and put him onto the horseback; very soon they were going to take him away. In a moment of desperation, she put her hand on Wei Xiaobao’s back and gave him a push.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “His granny, laozi met a beautiful girl, she always asks me to save her sweetheart. Laozi may be extremely skillful in becoming a fool [orig. ‘yuan da tou’ – someone with more money than sense]; perhaps my ‘yuan da tou gong’ is also trained to perfection.” Quickly he rushed forward and called out, “Hey, hey Funiu Montain’s big kings[3], zaixia has something to say.”

The crowd of heroes was already waiting for him to bravely step forward; they turned around immediately. “Xiao Xiongdi,” Gao Yanchao said, “What is it that you want to say?”

“Why did you catch him?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Gao Yanchao replied, “The brethren in mountain fort is many, yet we lack provision. Today we temporarily detain him, because we want to borrow one million taels from his father.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “One million taels, that’s a small matter. Why don’t I lend it to you?”

Gao Yanchao laughed aloud and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, what is your honored surname and great given name? What makes you talk big like that?”

“My name is Wei Xiaobao,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Aiyo,” Gao Yanchao exclaimed; he cupped his fist and bowed, saying, “Turns out it’s the Little White Dragon Hero Wei [the word here is ‘ying xiong’, not ‘da xia’]. You killed the Number One Warrior of Manchuria Oboi, your name became famous throughout the world, we admire you very much. Today we can pay our respect to our revered model, it is indeed the blessing of three lifetimes.”

Fan Gang and the others respectfully bowed and saluted. Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute while saying, “I do not dare to accept the honor.”

Gao Yanchao said, “In view of Hero Wei’s great face, we’ll let this fellow go. That one million taels we do not dare to ask anymore.”

Xu Tianchuan fetched two big silver yuanbao from his pocket and presented the money respectfully with both hands, saying, “Hero Wei, if you do not have enough traveling expense along the way, here is a hundred taels, please accept it and use it first.”

“Thank you very much,” Wei Xiaobao said, while accepting the yuanbao. And then he turned around to give it to Ah Ke.

Not in a million years would Ah Ke expect this little vile creature’s reputation was this resounding. When these devils and monsters big robbers heard him announcing his name, they acted as if they had met their superior. How could she know that this ‘little vile creature’ was indeed those ‘big robbers’ immediate superior? In order to please their superior, these ‘big robbers’ had deliberately redoubled their effort to flatter him, and thus had performed a good play. She was pleasantly surprised, thinking that finally Zheng Gongzi would escape from danger.

But she saw Feng Jizhong took a step forward and said, “Wait a moment. Hero Wei, you killed Oboi, we extremely admire you. It’s just that we do not know each other. How do we know that you are indeed Hero Wei and not someone pretending to be him, assuming the Senior’s great name to come out and swindle us?”

“What you said makes sense,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “What can I do so that Sire is convinced?”

Feng Jizhong said, “Zaixia brazenly asks Hero Wei to give me direction with three moves. The Number One Warrior of Manchuria died in your hands, naturally Honored Sir’s martial art skill is no small matter. Whether you are real or fake, once we test it we will find out.”

“Very well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We will only try the style, one touch and we stop.”

“Absolutely,” Feng Jizhong said, “I am asking Hero Wei to be lenient, so that zaixia will not seriously hurt.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused; he thought, “Feng Dage usually does not like to talk; who would have thought that when playacting, he could emulate the actors very well.” Thereupon he said, “Laoxiong needs not be polite, perhaps I am not your match.”

With left hand finger pointed out, light as a feather his right palm struck out; only after moving for half a chi, the palm suddenly circled around and struck down diagonally. It was precisely the move from Bo’re Palm that Cheng Guan demonstrated, called the ‘without color without shape’.

Feng Jizhong’s had a vast knowledge and experience. “Wonderful!” he called out, “This is a masterstroke from Bo’re Palm, called ‘without color …’ something.” Stretching out his hand to block, he threw his upper body backward to evade too far that he nearly fell down.

Actually, there was not even half a part of internal energy; Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Sire is right. This move is called ‘without color without shape’.” And then he raised his left hand and struck down diagonally from upper right corner to lower left. Suddenly his five fingers turned into a claw and moved down several times.

Feng Jizhong loudly shouted, “Amazing! There is the ‘Bo’re Palm’ divine skill, and then there is ‘spirited vulture listening to the scripture’.” Assuming the horse stance, he pushed both palms slowly forward, the center of his palm lightly touched Wei Xiaobao’s fingertips. Immediately he cried out, “Ah!” and tumbled anxiously backward three times. While somersaulting, he secretly circulated his internal energy so that by the time he stood up, his entire face was red as if he had just drunk seventeen, eighteen bowls of strong wine. Hid body swayed several times, and then he fell sitting down. Shaking his head, he said, “Can’t … can’t do it … no more fight. My utmost admiration! Hero Wei, thank you very much for sparing my life.”

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist and said, “Laoxiong deliberately yielded to me.” While saying that, he winked several times.

Feng Jizhong’s appearance looked very real; he had a dejected expression, mixed with gratitude, on his face, but there was also a hint of heartfelt admiration.

Xu Tianchuan took a step forward and said, “Hero Wei’s martial art is astonishing, indeed your name is not in vain. Let ziaxia experience several moves.”

“Very well!” Wei Xiaobao said. Moving swiftly forward, his hands crossed each other, one hand swung to Xu Tianchuan’s left chest, one hand seized his right flank. It was a move from Shaolin Pai’s upper class martial art, ‘picking flower qinna [grab and capture]’.

Xu Tianchuan saw the brilliance of this qinna technique, he could not help but admiring him in his heart, “Wei Xiangzhu is extremely smart, as soon as he started learning martial art, his progress is amazingly quick.” He did not know that although Wei Xiaobao executed the style correctly, he did not have the slightest bit of internal strength, so that even if he was seized by him, he would not suffer any damage. Xu Tianchuan’s stature was short and small, the type of martial art he was most adept was, coincidentally, the qinna. Immediately he unleashed his special skill and sparred with Wei Xiaobao.

After several moves, the hands of both men interlocked with each other. “Ah!” Xu Tianchuan cried out, his right hand hung limply on his side, he was pretending that it was twisted out of joint. “My utmost admiration,” he said, and took two steps backward. His left hand cradling his own right hand, lifted it up and pulled it out, as if he was fixing the joint. This fixing joint skill was also an upper class technique of qinna martial art. He performed the procedure with ‘not one thread loose’, his movement was clean and deft.

One after another Fan Gang, Priest Xuanzhen and Li Lishi stepped forward asking for a match. Wei Xiaobao kept using the upper-class styles that Cheng Guan taught him. In just three or four moves, or perhaps seven, eight moves, Fan Gang and the others were defeated.

In a loud and clear voice Gao Yanchao said, “We have witnessed Hero Wei’s brilliant moves today, indeed our horizons have been expanded. Xiaoren all are full of admiration. When Hero Wei pass by Funiu Mountain someday, please do not forget to go up the mountain and stay for several days.”

“Naturally I will receive the benefit of disturbing you,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

The group of heroes bowed with cupped fists, and led their horses away. They walked to the edge of the town before mounting their horses and galloped away. Unexpectedly they did not dare to mount their horses in front of Wei Xiaobao; it was a display of utmost respect.

Ah Ke finally submitted to him, “Turns out this ‘little vile creature’ has superior martial art; every time he pretended he was beaten, he was simply yielding to me.”

Things had come to this, Zheng Keshuang had no choice but to come to Wei Xiaobao to express his thanks. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zheng Gongzi does not need to be polite, I was simply lucky that I accidentally defeated them. Speaking about real martial art, I am far too inferior compared to Sire.”

He was speaking the truth, but to Zheng Keshuang’s ears it was highly sarcastic; he could not stop his face from turning deep red.

That evening they arrived at Xian County to the south. After settling down in an inn, Jiu Nan dismissed Ah Ke and asked Wei Xiaobao, “Those people who were playacting with you during the day, they are your friends, aren’t they?”

Jiu Nan’s insight was very keen; Feng Jizhong, Xu Tianchuan and the others putting on an act, they were able to deceive Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke, but how could they deceive this martial art expert? Wei Xiaobao knew that his trickery was exposed; he laughed and said, “They are not really my friends.”

Jiu Nan said, “The martial art skill of every one of those people is quite established; how could they agree to accompany you playing that trick?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Most likely they cannot bear to see Zheng Gongzi’s arrogance, so they borrowed disciple to knock him down several notches.”

Jiu Nan thought that his answer was very reasonable. She asked, “The way you executed those several moves of yours: Bo’re Palm, Picking Flower Qinna, was not bad at all.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I was just putting on airs, the roar of a toothless tiger; totally useless.”

While they were talking, they heard the clamor of hooves beat, a large group of people had arrived at the inn. Someone with a loud voice said, “One upper-level room, must be the best you have. The rest of us can accept whatever you have.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this, he was delighted, since he recognized the voice to be the Shaking-head Lion Wu Lishen of the Mu Palace. “Shifu,” he asked, “Are we going to kill Wu Sangui?”

Jiu Nan said, “This time the injury I suffered was really not light. Although the injury is healed, my internal energy is not recovered yet. I must find a quiet and secluded place to recuperate several days before we can decide what we are going to do. Otherwise, if I meet some strong enemies again, I won’t be able to fight, and will have to depend on your muddled and crazy techniques; our Iron Sword School’s reputation won’t look too good.” While saying that, she could not help but smiling.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu’s body is important.”

From this traveling sack he fetched some best quality Qiqiang Longjing tea leaves and soaked it inside a covered teacup. He said, “In the future disciple will learn Shifu’s martial art. When I meet the enemy, I can fight him justly and honorably. Shifu, I want to go to the market to see if there are any fresh vegetables.”

Going out of the room, he saw Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang were walking side-by-side out of the inn; they looked very intimate with each other. Immediately a whiff of jealousy bubbling up in his chest, hence he followed behind them.

Ah Ke turned her head and said, “Why are you following me?”

“I am not following you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to buy vegetable for Shifu.”

“Alright,” Ah Ke said, “Zheng Gongzi, let’s go over there.” She pointed to a small hill west of the city walls.

Wei Xiaobao’s jealousy flame was blazing; he said, “Be careful, don’t bump into some mountain’s big kings, I can’t come to rescue you.”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look and said, “Who needs your rescue?”

Zheng Keshuang knew Wei Xiaobao was mentioning the scandal involving him earlier, he was furious. “Humph,” he snorted, and quickly left.

Wei Xiaobao followed these two people with his eyes. Suddenly he heard Ah Ke was giggling. In his fury, he reached out to pull his dagger, he wanted to pursue them and kill Zheng Keshuang. But after only two steps, he thought, “If we fight for real, I am not those two people’s match.” Therefore, he suppressed his anger and continued to the market to buy some kuomo mushroom, winter-picked mushroom, wooden-ear mushroom, and bean vermicelli, which he brought back to the inn.

Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang had not returned. Imagining that those two people were discussing passion and talking about love in some secluded place, he could not suppress his anger and cursed silently. Suddenly someone lightly patted his shoulder and embraced him, while saying with a laugh, “Wei Xiongdi, you are here!”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and saw that it was the Imperial Bodyguards Chief Dolong. He could not help but was ecstatic. “What are you doing here?” he said with a laugh.

He saw behind Dolong there were about a dozen men, they were all Imperial Bodyguards, but were dressed in common soldiers’ uniform. Seeing Wei Xiaobao, all of them were beaming with joy, but they did not go forward to greet him. Dolong said in a low voice, “There are other people here, let’s go to my room and talk.” Turned out these men were also staying at the same inn.

When they got to Dolong’s room, one by one the Imperial Bodyguards came forward to pay their respect. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Enough, enough.” Taking out one-thousand-tael banknote, he laughed and said, “Brothers, take this to buy some drink.”

The Imperial Bodyguards knew that this Deputy Chief was very liberal with money, each time they saw him, they would always enjoy some advantage. Immediately they happily expressed their thanks.

Dolong said in a low voice, “Wei Xiongdi, ever since you met with danger on Mount Wutai, every day His Majesty was thinking about you, hence he sent us out to seek for you.”

Wei Xiaobao was very grateful; he stood up and said, “Thank you for His Majesty’s benevolence. But how can I dare to toil brothers’ honorable selves?”

Dolong laughed and said, “Actually, His Majesty did not send me out, he only sent fifteen Imperial Bodyguard brothers. But I volunteered myself. First, as your big brother I am anxious to find you; second, this is a good opportunity for me to get out of the Capital and have fun. This has been your brother’s great fortune.” Everybody laughed.

Dolong continued, “This time, it can be considered that we have set up a great merit. When we return to the Capital and His Majesty finds out and Wei Xiongdi has escaped from danger, he must be extremely delighted. We have made inquiries along the way, but did not hear any news about Wei Xiongdi. We heard about a group of traitors palling a rebellion instead, we heard that they are going to hold a large assemble at Hejian Prefecture to discuss business. So we came to investigate.”

“I am here also for this matter,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard the assembly this time is called ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ or something like that.”

Dolong raised his thumb. “Formidable, formidable,” he said, “Nothing escape Wei Xiongdi’s eyes.”

“What information have you gathered?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Dolong said, “Two brothers here sneaked into the assembly. They found out that they want to deal with Wu Sangui. Every province elected their own ‘meng zhu’. We have several names of these ‘meng zhu’.”

Wei Xiaobao ‘s heart was moved; he asked, “Which ones?”

Dolong replied, “Yunnan has Mu Jiansheng, Fujian has Taiwan rebel Zheng Jing’s second son called Zheng Keshuang.” And then he mentioned several other alliance leaders’ names.

Wei Xiaobao asked, “Those Mu Jiansheng, Zheng Keshuang, and so on, do you know what they look like?”

Dolong replied, “It was a dark at night, these two brothers could not see them clearly, they also did not dare to come too close.”

“Duo Dage [reminder: in Chinese ‘Dolong’ is Duo Long],” Wei Xiaobao said, “When you return to the Capital, please report to His Majesty, tell him that his servant Wei Xiaobao is also investigating this matter. As soon as I have their appearance, I will go back to the Capital to present a memorial to the Emperor.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong said, “Wei Xiongdi is so loyal in working for the Emperor. This time you set up a great merit, His Majesty will surely reward you handsomely.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If there is any merit, won’t that be for the benefit of our Imperial Bodyguards’ face? Right now I have something that I’d like to ask brothers to toil for me.”

All the Imperial Bodyguards replied, “Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief] sends us for an errand, we will definitely do.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is a matter that annoys me the most. I have a good lady friend that is fooling around with a frivolous young fellow right now …”

He had just spoken to this point, fury had already filled the Imperial Bodyguards’ breasts; they all opened their mouth, cussing and swearing, “His granny, which fellow is so brazen, dare to make a move on Wei Fu Zongguan’s girl? Let’s go and kill this fellow.”

“You don’t need to kill him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I only want you to beat him a little, to vent my anger. But this fellow is my friend, so I don’t want you to beat him too severely either. Especially you must not touch that young lady.”

The Imperial Bodyguards laughed and said, “Naturally we will pay particular attention to this. Wei Fu Zongguan’s good lady friend, who dare to offend?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those two people were heading west. As soon as you make your move, I will pretend to come out and save them by driving you away. I want you to yield to me so much that Xiongdi can show off in front of my beloved.”

The Imperial Bodyguards burst out in laughter; they all said, “Wei Fu Zongguan’s assignment this time is most amusing.”

Dolong said with a laugh, “In doing this job, hey, every one of us has to be extra careful. If we reveal the horse’ leg, Wei Fu Zongguan will not consider all of you as brothers anymore.”

The Imperial Bodyguards all laughed and said, “For Wei Fu Zongguan’s important matter, we will all go through water and tread on fire, how could we dare to shrink away?”

An imperial bodyguard said, “Damn it, this fellow harasses Wei Fu Zongguan’s good lady friend, it’s just like he is harassing my own mother. Laozi will fight him to the death.” Everybody laughed.

“Quiet down,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t let other people hear.”

Stroking their fists and rubbing their palms, the Imperial Bodyguards went out the room, laughing and giggling. Wei Xiaobao brought the vegetable to the kitchen, he gave five qian to the cook and instructed him to prepare exquisite vegetarian dish. And then he slowly walked to the western end of the town.

He only walked for a little more than a li when he heard shouting and cursing, and saw in the distance several dozen of people were fighting with weapons in their hands; it was a very noisy fight. He thought, “This fellow is not bad, fighting alone against many enemies, unexpectedly he is able to stand.”

Unhurriedly he walked toward the fight, and could not help but was startled. He saw the Imperial Bodyguards were surrounding seven, eight people, engaging them in a fierce combat. The opponents had their backs against the city wall, they were trapped in a corner but were fighting fiercely. They were none other than Mu Jiansheng, Wu Lishen and several other people.

There was a young woman by Mu Jiansheng’s side; his hands wielded a pair of sabers, he fought ferociously that his hair was in a mess. On top of the city wall there were a couple of people standing hand-in-hand, watching the fight below; they were precisely Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang.

Wei Xiaobao was angry, but he was also amused; he thought, “Damn it, they have the wrong people. They must have seen Mu Gongzi first, and saw that he has a young lady by his side; without distinguishing red-blue or black-white, they simply rushed to attack.”

He saw Dolong, holding a demon-head saber in his hand, was standing behind those people, supervising the fight. Immediately he walked over to him and said in a low voice, “You have the wrong couple, it’s those two on top of the city wall.” Finished speaking, he immediately walked away.

Dolong shouted, “It’s not right, hey, they are friends. The person who owes money is not you. Alright, everybody step back, let them go.” As soon as the Imperial Bodyguards heard it, they pulled back one after another.

Mu Jiansheng, Wu Lishen and the others were not many, they were not these people’s match. Previously they thought that they had been recognized and that these Qing soldiers wanted to arrest them. Luckily they withdrew, which was exactly what they had been hoping for.

Wu Lishen caught a glimpse of Wei Xiaobao. “Ashamed,” he groaned inwardly, “This time we also receive Wei En Gong’s [benefactor] help. Otherwise, it’s not a big deal if I get killed, but if Xiao Gongye [young master/Duke] fell into the Tatars’ hands, I can’t redeem it with ten thousand deaths.” Since at that time it was inconvenient to acknowledge Wei Xiaobao, he hurried along with Mu Jiansheng and the others out of the city gate, and rushed northward.

Wei Xiaobao went up the city wall and asked Ah Ke, “Shijie, why did they fight? Who are those people?”

Ah Ke pouted her little mouth and said, “Who knows? Those soldiers were demanding some payment.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us quickly return to the inn, don’t let Shifu be anxious over us.”

Ah Ke said, “You go back first, I’ll come soon afterward.”

She had just finished speaking, the numerous Imperial Bodyguards already rushed up the city wall. An Imperial Bodyguard pointed to Zheng Keshuang and shouted, “It’s him, this fellow is the one who owes me money.”

Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Zheng Gongzi, Shijie, let’s go quickly. Tatar soldiers commit all kind of outrages, it will be very troublesome to provoke them.”

Ah Ke was also somewhat afraid, she said, “Right, let’s go.”

An Imperial Bodyguard rushed over; pointing to Zheng Keshuang he said, “The night before last you were having fun spending money with young women in a brothel in Hejian Prefecture, you owed me ten thousand taels, quickly pay me back.”

“Rubbish,” Zheng Keshuang angrily said, “Who went to the brothel? How can I owe you money?”

“You still deny it?” the Imperial Bodyguard said, “The day before yesterday in the evening, you had two ‘powdered heads’ on your knees, what were their names again?”

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “The older one was called Ah Cui, the younger one was Hong Bao. You turned to the left and kissed and drank a mouthful of wine, then you turned to the right and caressed her cheek and drank another mouthful of wine, so loose and happy. Do you still deny it?”

Another Imperial Bodyguard said, “With two ‘powdered heads’ in your arms you threw the dice with us, and lost two thousand taels. Eager to win your capital back, you borrowed from me three thousand taels, and borrowed from this laoxiong two thousand taels. Afterward you borrowed from him one thousand five hundred, and from him two thousand taels.”

Another man said, “And from me you borrowed one thousand five hundred taels; altogether you owe us ten thousand taels of shiny white silver.”

Five men held out their hands together and said, “Killing people you pay with your life, owing money you have to pay back. Quickly pay!”

Ah Ke recalled the scene at the brothel where she saw Wei Xiaobao was fooling around with the prostitutes, she also recalled a few days ago inside the haystack was groping and pinching her body; it seemed to her that these men were not faking it. Moreover, she remembered that the night before last was exactly the eve of the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’. She recalled that Zheng Gongzi did not return to the inn until very late at night, and in the morning she saw him having a hangover; he said that certain hero and warrior invited him for a drink. He did drink all right, but it was not any hero or warrior, rather, it was the s1uts at the brothel. Thinking to this point, she could not stop tears from flowing down her face.

The Imperial Bodyguards had blocked Zheng Keshuang’s escape route; they had him completely surrounded. Someone behind him reached out and grabbed the back of his neck. Zheng Keshuang was furious; his elbow struck backward, heavily he hit the pit of the man’s stomach. The Imperial Bodyguard cried out and doubled up in pain. The rest of the Imperial Bodyguards closed in, giving him punches and kicks. Fighting one on one, these people were not Zheng Keshuang’s match, but with seven, eight people attacking him at once, very soon he was sprawling on the ground.

Ah Ke anxiously called out, “If you have something to say, let’s talk. Don’t hit people carelessly.” And she scrambled forward to help him.

“Hey, Big Miss[4],” Dolong said, “It has nothing to do with you; don’t get involved with this muddle head.”

“Go away,” Ah Ke anxiously said; she reached out to push Dolong’s shoulder away.

Dolong was a martial art master of the Imperial Palace, naturally his martial art skill was superb. With light brush of his left hand, he sent her tumbling several steps backward.

On the other side, the Imperial Bodyguards were punching and kicking, hacking and chopping Zheng Keshuang; they did not stop slapping Zheng Keshuang’s face. Ah Ke anxiously attacked several moves, but with a chuckle Dolong easily parried her and pushed her farther and farther away from Zheng Keshuang. Dolong said with a laugh, “Big Miss, this playboy is dining, wining, whoring and gambling; nothing that he did not do. Early morning today he still wanted to borrow five thousand taels from me, saying that he wanted to marry two ‘powdered heads’ and take them home to be his concubines. Why do you want to protect him?”

Ah Ke took several steps back and shouted anxiously, “If you have something else to say … we can talk it over slowly.”

An Imperial Bodyguard laughed and said, “If you tell him to pay back our money, naturally we won’t beat him.” While saying that, ‘whack!’ he sent another punch on Zheng Keshuang’s face; immediately blood flowing out of his nose.

Another Imperial Bodyguard pulled his saber and shouted, “Let’s cut his two ears first, and then we talk.” While saying that, he waved his saber in chopping motion, twice.

Ah Ke pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand, in her anxiety, she almost cried. “What shall we do? What shall we do?” she said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, I do have ten thousand taels; but I really don’t want to give it to him so that he can gamble and visit prostitutes.”

“They are going to cut his ears,” Ah Ke said, “Please lend the money to me then.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If Shijie wants to borrow money, I would lend you even a hundred thousand taels, let alone only ten thousand taels. But you will be my wife in the future, so it does not count as a debt. Just tell Zheng Gongzi to borrow from me.”

Ah Ke stomped her feet. “Ay,” she said, “You are really …” She called out, “Hey, don’t hit, we’ll pay you back.”

The Imperial Bodyguards had hit enough, so they stopped, but they still held on to Zheng Keshuang and did not let him go.

Ah called out, “Zheng Gongzi, my Shidi has the money, just borrow from him to pay them back.”

Zheng Keshuang was really angry that he almost passed out; but seeing the steel saber swaying back and fro in front of his face, he was afraid that they would really cut his ears. He became terrified and looked at Wei Xiaobao, imploring him with his eyes.

Ah Ke tugged at Wei Xiaobao’s sleeve. “Lend him,” she said in a low voice.

An Imperial Bodyguard said with a cold laugh, “Ten thousand taels is not a small amount of money. Without any guarantee, how can he easily loan it to others? This fellow loves to borrow money the most, didn’t we all fall into his trick?”

“If only this Miss is willing to be the guarantee,” another Imperial Bodyguard said, “If this fellow did not pay back, then it will fall onto this Miss’ responsibility to pay it back.”

The Imperial Bodyguard who had his saber raised said in a loud voice, “Another family’s Big Miss is neither a friend nor a relative to this stinky fellow, why would she be willing to be the guarantor? If the ten thousand taels is not paid back, what else can she do unless using her body to repay the debt by marrying this young rich kid?”

The Imperial Bodyguards roared with laughter. “That’s right,” they said, “That is a brilliant idea.”

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “It won’t work. You heard them, won’t it be too unfair to you?”

‘Slap!’ an Imperial Bodyguard heavily slapped Zheng Keshuang on his face again. His hands and feet were being held by these people, he was helpless to resist. An Imperial Bodyguard shouted, “Just beat him severely, beat him to death, just consider the ten thousand taels is going down the drain. This is called ‘the eyes do not see, the heart does not feel vexed’.” ‘Slap! Slap!’ he then slapped Zheng Keshuang several times.

Zheng Keshuang called out, “Don’t hit! Don’t hit! Wei Xiongdi, if you have the money, please lend ten thousand taels to me. I … I guarantee that I will pay you back.”

Wei Xiaobao cast a sideway glance toward Ah Ke. “Shijie,” he asked, “Do you think I should lend it to him?”

With tears brimming on her eyes, Ah Ke sobbed, “Lend … lend it to him.”

An Imperial Bodyguard on the side caught on to please Wei Xiaobao, he said with a loud voice, “Big Miss is willing to be the guarantor. In the future Big Miss will marry the young rich gentleman, this stinky fellow is actually the matchmaker.”

Wei Xiaobao fished a pack of banknotes from his pocket, counted ten thousand taels, and was about to give it to Zheng Keshuang, but then he changed his mind and handed it over to Ah Ke instead. Ah Ke received it and said, “Here’s the money, please let him go.”

The Imperial Bodyguards all thought that Deputy Chief Wei said that he was going to fight to rescue others, but now he was using money to save others; they were not sure if it was what Wei Xiaobao had in mind, thereupon they were still holding on to Zheng Keshuang and did not let him go.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Here is ten thousand taels, take it and divide it among yourselves. Damn it, just consider it a reward of your effort. You are all such muddleheaded son of a b1tch, quickly release him.”

As soon as the Imperial Bodyguards heard it, they were delighted. They understood that Wei Xiaobao intended to give them the ten thousand taels as their reward; hence they let Zheng Keshuang go immediately.

Ah Ke reached out to help him up and to give the money to him. Zheng Keshuang was extremely angry, he snatched the money away and without looking he handed it to an Imperial Bodyguard by his side.

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You are a bunch of sons of a b1tch, Tatars soldiers, you beat my friend like this, laozi will not let this matter rest.”

Ah Ke was afraid of prolonged dispute, she hastily said, “Don’t curse, let’s go back.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am furious just thinking about this, the debt has to be paid, and we have already paid it. But Zheng Gongzi has suffered the beatings, didn’t he suffer it in vain?”

Dolong laughed aloud and said, “This fellow has just shed away his ‘poor star’, but his lewdness is on the rise. Damn it, why do you always want to be near other family’s Big Miss?” Reaching out, he grabbed the back of Zheng Keshuang’s neck and lifted his body up. Turning him around in the air, he shouted, “Let me throw you down the city wall, I want to see whether you will die or you will live.” Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke screamed together.

Dolong dropped Zheng Keshuang heavily on the ground; he shouted, “Later on I want you to leave this Miss far away. Other family’s good Miss, if she is seen together with you, a boy who crazily visit prostitute and gamble excessively, who ‘imitate the dog and steal chicken’ [i.e. to dally with women], her reputation will be ruined. Let me tell you this: if in the future I ever see you by this Miss’ side, laozi will definitely wring your dog head off your neck.” While saying that, his left hand grabbed the root of Zheng Keshuang’s braid, he coiled Zheng Keshuang’s braid twice around the palm of his right hand; and then he took a very deep breath, his chest swelled, the muscles on his arms and the back of his hands bulged out, with a loud roar his hands pulled apart, ‘snap!’ the braid broke into two.

Seeing a display of such a divine strength, the Imperial Bodyguards broke into thunderous applause. Dolong’s natural strength was enormous, plus he trained the external, hard type of martial art. His arms had a thousand-catty power. Fortunately his left hand was holding the root of the braid, otherwise, since Zheng Keshuang’s braid was fake, with one light pull it would be revealed that he was not obeying the imperial court’s order, which was a major criminal offense for a subject of Qing Dynasty.

Dolong tossed the half braid away, his five fingers, which knuckles were as big as pestles, forked Zheng Keshuang’s neck, followed by his left hand also grabbed the back of his neck. His hands slowly tightened, Zheng Keshuang’s face slowly swollen red, until finally his tongue stuck out; very soon he would be choked to death. The dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards drew their weapons and positioned themselves around the two people, to prevent Ah Ke from stepping forward and rescue him.

Wei Xiaobao shouted, “The money has been returned, you still want to kill him?” He charged forward, ‘Bang!’ and he sent a punch toward an Imperial Bodyguard’s lower abdomen. “Aiyo!” the Imperial Bodyguard cried out, and tumbled down, howling and screaming, flailing his hands and feet randomly, and was not able to crawl up no matter what.

With both fists Wei Xiaobao attacked Dolong using the move ‘a pair of dragons fought over a pearl’. Dolong’s two hands were holding Zheng Keshuang’s neck, he could not parry, and thus was hit by the fists. The move ‘a pair of dragons fought over a pearl’ was originally intended to strike the enemy’s temples [‘sun’ acupoints], but Dolong was big and tall, while Wei Xiaobao was short and small; his two fists were hitting Dolong’s lower back.

Pretending to be angry, Dolong cursed, “Dead little demon, laozi will choke you to death.” Letting Zheng Keshuang go, he fought with Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao unleashed the martial art he learned from Hai Dafu and Cheng Guan. His movements were agile, each move each style was ingenious and very pleasing to the eye. Dolong’s fists created strong gust of wind. He struck just a few cun from within Wei Xiaobao’s side, suddenly he advanced swiftly and sent a ferocious kick. ‘Crack!’ the jujube tree by Wei Xiaobao’s side was broken. The Imperial Bodyguards broke into loud cheers.

Witnessing Dolong’s divine power, Ah Ke was afraid Wei Xiaobao would be beaten to death. “Shidi,” she called out, “Don’t fight, let’s go back.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “She cares about me. In the end this little mother skin [xiao niang pi] is not without any conscience.”

Dolong sent another kick, sending a large rock on the ground flying away and falling down from the city wall. Wei Xiaobao moved faster and faster, ‘whack!’ his palm struck the opponent’s abdomen. “Ah!” Dolong cried out; he bent his knees and fell sitting down on the ground. “Laozi won’t give in, let’s fight again,” he called out.

Springing up, his arms moved up and down rapidly. Wei Xiaobao leaned sideways to evade, Dolong’s punch hit the city wall; instantly three pieces of large greenish black brick fell off. Amidst the flying dust, Wei Xiaobao sent a flying kick with his right leg; but before his toes even touched him, Dolong already roared as he slipped down from the city wall and fell onto the ground at the foot of the wall, and lay unmoving.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; afraid that Dolong might really fell to his death, he bent over to look. Dolong raised his head and smiled, he winked and waved his hand, indicating that he was all right, and then immediately lay facing down on the ground. Wei Xiaobao finally felt relieved. The Imperial Bodyguards were shocked and frightened; they rushed down the city wall to look.

Wei Xiaobao pulled Ah Ke and said in a low voice, “Quickly go, quickly go.” Like a wisp of smoke the three of them ran back to the inn.

Back at the inn, Jiu Nan notice unusual expression on Ah Ke’s face, plus she was panting incessantly. “What happened?” she asked.

Ah Ke replied, “There were more than a dozen Tatar soldiers giving Zheng Gongzi some trouble, fortunately … fortunately Shidi overthrew the leader of those soldiers.”

Jiu Nan said, “Do this for me: stay quietly in the inn, do not wander anywhere and create trouble.” Ah Ke lowered her head in compliance.

After a while, concerned over Zheng Keshuang’s injury, she went to his room to pay a visit. She saw that his attendants had applied medicine on his wounds; he was asleep with the attendants accompanying him in the room.

Seeing her coming out of Zheng Keshuang’s room, Wei Xiaobao was angry and upset at the same time. “Why didn’t I tell them to really cut this fellow’s ears?” he mused, “This little girl is always worrying wholeheartedly about this stinky fellow. Even if I cut this fellow’s ears and poke his eyes blind, it seems that she will still consider him as her beloved treasure.” Despite of his sharp-witted and extensive knowledge, encountering this kind of matter of the heart between men and women, he was actually at his wits’ end.

The phrase ‘thorny gate provided another source of amusement’ in the Chapter’s title originated from Han Wendi’s [fourth Han emperor, personal name Liu Heng, reigned 180-157 BC] commendation of Zhou Yafu’s speech, referring to his strict military order; other generals fell short of his achievement. The original poem sang about Wu Sangui’s brutal and tyrannical way of dealing with the people as well as operating his armed forces. ‘Thorny gate’ was the ‘halberd gate’, which may also refer to the Imperial City Gates. This book borrows the phrase as an allegory of the Imperial Bodyguards went out of the Palace and deliberately created trouble.

[1] Reference to Li Zicheng, the Chuang Wang – roaming king, a Chinese rebel leader who overthrew the Ming Dynasty and ruled over China briefly as emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty.

[2] Reminder: Ping Xi Wang means ‘King who pacifies the west’.

[3] Common people usually address bandits or robbers as ‘kings’.

[4] Da Guniang; ‘big’ here is not derogatory, but showing respect, as in ‘first/oldest’ or ‘great’; i.e.

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