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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 28

Chapter 28
Over the top passion takes a lot of twists and turns, but exquisite to those who painstakingly open their hearts.

That night Wei Xiaobao slept until midnight, when suddenly he heard a light knock on his window. Still in daze, he sat up, and heard someone outside the window said in a low voice, “Wei En Gong [benefactor], it’s me.”

He focused his attention and recognized the voice as Wu Lishen’s. Quickly he walked toward the window and said in a low voice, “Is it Wu Er Shu [second uncle]?”

“I do not dare to accept the honor, it’s me,” Wu Lishen said.

Wei Xiaobao quietly opened the window. Wu Lishen leaped inside and embraced him. He seemed to be very happy. “En Gong,” he said is a low voice, “I think about you every day; I did not expect to see you in here.” Turning around, he closed the window, and then pulled Wei Xiaobao to sit side by side on the kang. He said, “During the great assembly at Hejian Prefecture, I inquired about you from your precious Society’s friends, but they were not willing to tell me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s not that they considered you as an outsider, and intentionally did not want to tell you. Actually, I attended the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’ in disguise; the Society brothers did not know.”

Wu Lishen felt relieved. “So that’s how it is,” he said, “Today we bumped into the Tatar soldiers, we also received En Gong’s help in getting out of difficult situation. Otherwise, I am afraid our Xiao Gongye would suffer mishap. Xiao Gongye wanted me to pay his utmost respect to En Gong, he is deeply grateful.”

“We all are good friends, there is no need to be polite,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Er Shu, you keep calling me En Gong this and En Gong that, it sounds really awkward. If you consider me a friend, henceforth the use of this word to address me must be avoided.”

“Very well,” Wu Lishen replied, “I won’t call you En Gong, but you must not call me Er Shu either. From now on we call each other ‘Xiongdi’ [brother]. I am several years older, so I will call you Xiongdi.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wonderful. That martial nephew of yours, Liu Yizhou, shouldn’t he call me Shishu then?”

Wu Lishen felt slightly embarrassed; he said, “That fellow has no future prospect; let us not mind him. Xiongdi, what are you up to?”

“This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Er Ge [second brother], your Xiongdi has decided on marriage.”

“Congratulations, congratulations,” Wu Lishen said, “I wonder which family’s young lady?” Immediately he recalled, “Could it be Fang Yi? Has he found Miss Fang and Xiao Junzhu?” His whole face was beaming with delight.

“My wife is surnamed Chen,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But there is one problem, for which I am quite ashamed.”

“Why?” Wu Lishen asked.

“My wife has another good friend surnamed Zheng,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “This fellow’s moral quality is not upright and honest. He is fooling around with my wife, that is a small matter; he actually informed the Tatar soldiers about you. Those soldiers who were giving Xiao Gongye a hard time today, it was actually his idea.”

Wu Lishen was furious. “This fellow really is bored to be alive,” he said, “But I wonder why did he do that?”

“Do you know who this fellow is?” Wei Xiaobao said, “He is none other than Taiwan’s Yan Ping Jun Wang’s second son. He said that Yan Ping Jun Wang is in command over a large army, while your Mu Palace is in decline; without power and without potential, what else can you do?”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “Our Mu Palace is also an outstanding founding minister of the Great Ming who subdued Yunnan; how can it be compared to their Zheng Family who rise to power just recently?”

“Isn’t that so?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Yet this fellow said: whoever kills Wu Sangui will gain an enormous face in front of the world’s heroes; in Yunnan, you are the local bullies, compared to their Zheng Family in Taiwan, it will be a hundred times more convenient for you to kill Wu Sangui. He confides with me, saying that he wanted to eliminate Mu Family people first. I told him that our Tian Di Hui has already made a bet with Mu Palace to see who will get rid of Wu Sangui first. We are heroes and warriors; if we win, we must win brilliantly, if we lose, we must lose gracefully; how could we secretly plot against the competitor? This fellow refused to accept, hence he resorted to different ruse. Fortunately Tatar soldiers did not recognize Xiao Gongye, hence I was able to trick them into thinking that they had the wrong person and thus you were able to get away.”

“So that’s how it is! So that’s how it is!” Wu Lishen repeatedly said, “Damn it, this fellow is not human.”

Er Ge,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We must teach this fellow a lesson. But looking at Yan Ping Jun Wang’s face, we must not kill him. It would be best if you could beat him a bit, and then Xiongdi will boldly come out to help him, and fight with you a little bit. You deliberately yield to me several stances, then you pretend to retreat in defeat. I wonder if you’d willing to do that.”

Xiongdi is venting our anger, why would I be unwilling?” Wu Lishen said, “It would be best since we won’t damage the relationship with Taiwan’s Zheng Family and won’t provoke any dispute.”

“He is the one with wounds on his head and face, the fellow who is with Xiongdi,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Yes,” Wu Lishen said, “Who does he think his Zheng Family is? Although nowadays our Mu Palace has fallen into dire straits, we are not one to be bullied.”

“Isn’t that so?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Following which he asked about ‘seeing the ghost’ at the Zhuang Family’s big house. Although he had seen Xu Tianchuan during the day, at that time it was inconvenient to ask, hence his mind had been preoccupied with this matter.

Wu Lishen revealed an ashamed look on his face; continuously shaking his head, he said, “Xiongdi, today you are calling me ‘Er Ge’; honestly, your big brother is quite ashamed. That day we were subdued by those fellows who ‘dress up as god, play the devil’ using some demonic method; who would have thought that those fellows were lured out of the room and were taken captive? Several women had just come out to set us free when a bunch of crafty fellows rushed into the room and rescued Zhang Laosan and his men.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; he said in his heart, “They must be Shen Long Jiao people, the Third Young Mistress of the Zhuang Family and the others were not able to resist them.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “At that time Xu Laoye [old master] and I had just had our acupoints unsealed, our hands and feet could not move freely yet. In the darkness we fought randomly; we were separated from each other. It was not until the next morning did we finally get together, except you, Xiongdi, Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang, three people; we could not find you no matter what. We went back to that haunted house to look for you, but there was only an old woman there. I don’t know whether she was really deaf or pretending to be deaf, after interrogating her for half a day, we could not find the least bit of useful information. Xu Laoyezi and I were unwilling to give up, we searched openly and investigated in secret, and done so for over half a month straight, ay, yet we did not find the least bit of clue. Good Xiongdi, seeing you today, I am very happy. Where did Xiao Junzhu and Miss Fang go? Do you have any news? Our Xiao Wangye is worried about his sister, he is always anxious.”

Wei Xiaobao gave him a vague answer, “I am also concerned over those two ladies. Miss Fang is smart and quick-witted, but Xiao Junzhu is a bit naïve. The sooner she can meet her brother the better.” While in his heart he mused, “Turns out you did not get captured by Shen Long Jiao, and did not get forced to take the poison and compelled to be spies; that’s very good.” He knew Wu Lishen was upright and frank, he could not lie; if this story was told by Liu Yizhou, it would not necessarily be credible.

Wu Lishen said, “Xiongdi, take a good care of yourself, your Gege is leaving.” While saying that, he stood up, seemingly very reluctant to leave. Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand, he said, “Xiongdi, there is no lack of good ladies in the world, if that lady of yours does not treat you well, you should not take it to heart too much.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh; gloomily he remained silent. This time his sigh was a genuine sigh. Wu Lishen pushed open the window and leaped out.

The next day Wei Xiaobao followed Jiu Nan and Ah Ke going out of the city gate and continued their journey north. Zheng Keshuang, accompanied by his entourage, was traveling with them. “Zheng Gongzi,” Jiu Nan asked him, “Where are you heading?”

“I want to go back to Taiwan,” Zheng Keshuang replied, “But I want to walk Shitai off for a while before taking my leave.”

After traveling for twenty some li, suddenly they heard the sound of galloping horses, a group of people were hurrying along toward them. As these people were drawing near, they could see that it was a group of peasants, with hoes, iron rakes and so on in their hands. The one in the front called out, “It’s that fellow; it’s him!” As soon as Wei Xiaobao saw the man, he recognized him as Wu Lishen.

The people surrounded the large carriage, blocking their way. Wu Lishen pointed to Zheng Keshuang and cursed, “Thief boy, what a fine thing indeed you did last night at the Zhang Family Village! The cat has stolen the food, now you want to quietly slip away?”

“What Zhang Family Village, Li Family Village?” Zheng Keshuang angrily said, “You don’t have eyes and talk rubbish.”

“Good!” Wu Lishen roared, “Turns out the Li Family girl was also deceived by you; you admit it. Damn it, thief boy! In one night you swindled two maidens; you are really brazen and shameless.”

The attendants shouted together, “This is our Gongzi Ye, you have the wrong person, such a crazy and unfounded ravings!”

Wu Lishen pulled a peasant girl out; pointing to Zheng Keshuang he asked, “Is it him? Look carefully.”

Wei Xiaobao saw the peasant girl had thick eyebrows and big eyes, high cheekbones and buckteeth, she wore green fancy-patterned clothing and had a piece of printed cloth wrapped around her head; presumably this girl was hired by Wu Lishen, he was secretly amused.

With a deep and gruff voice the peasant girl said, “It’s him, it’s him, I am a hundred percent sure. Last night he went to my room and embraced me, boo hoo … this … this dead stinky person, aiyo, boo hoo … ahh … mother …” While saying that, she was bawling.

Another peasant shouted, “You bullied my meizi [younger sister], laozi should be your brother-in-law. Damn it, laozi should fight you to the death.” He was Wu Lishen’s disciple, Ao Biao.

Wei Xiaobao examined carefully the Mu Palace people, he had seen about five or six people, but Liu Yizhou was not among them. Presumably Wu Lishen had carefully selected these people in advance to make sure that there was no one harboring any hostility with him, so that their scheme would not be exposed.

Seeing the peasant girl was so ugly, Ah Ke did not believe that Zheng Keshuang would have illicit relationship with her, it’s just that the girl had personally confirmed that it was him. These peasants had neither enmity nor hatred toward Zheng Keshuang, hence it was unlikely that they would deliberately accused him falsely. She could not help being skeptical.

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows as he said, “Zheng Gongzi is a bit too loose; going to a brothel and playing with prostitutes is one thing, but why did he go … go … go … ay, this peasant girl is so ugly. Shijie, I think they must have the wrong person.”

“Right,” Ah Ke said, “It must be a case of mistaken identity.”

Wu Lishen told the peasant girl, “Say it quickly, say it quickly, are you afraid of being disgraced? He … what did this thief boy give you?”

The peasant girl took out a big yuanbao worth a hundred taels from her pocket; she said, “He gave me this; he told me to obey him. He said that he came from Taiwan, his father is some Wangye, he has gold mountain, silver mountain in his house, and … and …”

“Ah!” Ah Ke shrieked. She thought that this peasant girl was ignorant and unlearned, it was impossible for her to fabricate that fact, naturally it must be Zheng Keshuang himself who told her that. She could not help but feeling angry and hurt.

The Zheng Mansion’s attendants also thought that it was the truth, since they believed that a peasant girl like her would not have such a big yuanbao; they shouted, “Get out of the way, get out of the way! You already have the yuanbao, what are you fussing about? Don’t stand in your masters’ way.”

“Can’t do!” Ao Biao shouted, “You have raped my meizi, how can she marry someone else in the future? You have to take her as your wife. Quickly go back with me, bow to the Heaven and the Earth with her, and then take her back with you to Taiwan to pay her respect to your father and mother. My meizi is a good family’s daughter, not some servile s1ut; do you think she would take your money to prostitute herself to you? What did he say this hundred-tael for?” The last question was directed to the peasant girl.

The peasant girl said, “He said … he said that it is some betrothal gift, he also said that he would send a matchmaker to take me as his wife, and bring me back to his palace to be some first-rate madam.”

“That’s it,” Ao Biao said, “Meifu [younger sister’s husband], let me tell you: you won’t marry my sister but thinking you can escape by walking away? It won’t be easy. Quickly go back with your Dajiuzi [wife’s older brother].” [Translator’s note: just want to show the different words to describe ‘brother-in-law’.]

Zheng Keshuang was extremely angry; he thought that he came to the Central Plains this time he had always met with unfavorable situations, even this uncouth peasants also trying to give him trouble without any rhyme or reason. Raising his horsewhip, ‘crack!’ he lashed it down on Ao Biao’s head.

“Aiyo!” Ao Biao screamed. He raised both hands to protect his head, and then fell down his horse and curled up on the ground, twitched several times, and then lay down motionless.

“Murder, murder!” the crowd of peasants cried out.

The peasant girl jumped down from her horse to embrace Ao Biao, while screaming and wailing. Her voice was really rough and husky, she sounded like a pig being slaughtered.

Zheng Keshuang was shocked; thinking that right now they were on foreign land, plus he was someone wanted by the Qing government. If he was involved in legal case involving homicide, he would be in a very big trouble. Instantly he shouted, “Everybody, run!” Raising the horse’s reins, he was thinking of making a dash out of the encirclement.

Suddenly a peasant leaped up high to the air and pounced down on him. Zheng Keshuang sent a left backhand punch toward the man’s chest. The man caught his wrist and twisted it. ‘Crack!’ his elbow was dislocated. The man landed on the saddle behind him, his right hand reached down from his flank and up to his neck. It was precisely a move from qinna technique called the ‘slanting stage backward scale (of fish)’. The man’s movement was clean and agile; his mouth was yelling and calling loudly, “Ah San, Ah Gou, [lit. ‘the third’ and ‘the dog’] quickly come and help me, I … I … I am hurt from his strike. Aiyo hey, this fellow is killing me! He is killing me!”

Zheng Keshuang’s body was numb and aching; he was already immobilized completely. The Zheng Mansion attendants pulled out their weapons and charged forward. This time, although Mu Palace people were not too many, each one’s skill was not weak. They lifted up their hoes and iron rakes, and engaged the opponents in a tangled battle, preventing the already injured attendants from coming to Zheng Keshuang’s rescue.

The peasant grabbed Zheng Keshuang and rolled underneath the horse, while raising a clamor, “Ah Hua, quickly catch your husband, don’t let him run away.”

“He won’t run away,” the peasant girl shouted back, while leaping up and firmly holding Zheng Keshuang in her arms.

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao realize that this peasant girl was actually a man disguised as a woman; no wonder she was that unbearably ugly. Obviously he was a Mu Palace person. The way ‘she’ captured Zheng Keshuang was also a qinna technique.

Ah Ke anxiously called out, “Shifu, Shifu, they captured Zheng Gongzi, what should we do?”

Jiu Nan shook her head and said, “This Zheng Gongzi’s behaviors is dishonorable, receiving a bit of lesson will not be useless to him. These peasants won’t possibly harm his life.” She was reclining on the large carriage to recuperate, hence she only heard the commotion outside without actually seeing the way the Mu Palace people were making their moves; otherwise, with her keen vision, as soon as she saw these people’s agility, she would have seen through their scheme.

Ah Ke said, “These peasant seem to know martial art.”

“Martial art they don’t have,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But their brute force is definitely not small.”

Ao Biao crawled up from the ground; he called out, “Damn it, you nearly killed your laozi.” [Reminder: ‘laozi’ literally means ‘old man’, as in ‘father’; also to refer to self (arrogantly or jocularly).]

A peasant laughed and said, “You are his Dajiuzi, how could you be laozi?”

“Alright,” Ao Biao said, “Grab this fellow. Since Dajiuzi is not dead, he does not need to pay with his own life. My Ah Hua meizi will have someone to depend on all her life. Take him to bow to the Heaven and the Earth.”

The peasants cheered and yelled, “We are going to drink wine of happiness, we are going to drink wine of happiness!”

They led the attendants’ horses away, and with Zheng Keshuang in the middle, they rode back to the direction they came from. Shouting and yelling, the Zheng Mansion attendants tried to run after them, but those people disappeared behind a cloud of dust, how could they pursue on foot?

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zheng Gongzi will live with the bride’s family in here, that’s wonderful. Turns out this place is called Gao Lao Zhuang.”

Ah Ke was shocked and angered at the same time; she was already at a loss of what to do. Hearing him saying that, she thoughtlessly asked, “This place is called Gao Lao Zhuang?”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “In the Journey to the West, isn’t there a chapter called ‘Zhu Bajie [the pig] lives with the bride’s family at Gao Lao Zhuang’?”

Ah Ke angrily said, “You are the Zhu Bajie!” Leaning on a tree by the road, she cried.

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Zheng Gongzi is getting married, that is a happy occasion; why are you crying instead?”

Ah Ke was going to scold him, but then she changed her mind, thinking that this little demon head had an extensive remarkable ability. Only by asking for his help would she be able to rescue Zheng Gongzi back. She said with a cry, “Shidi, please think of a way to rescue him from danger.”

Wei Xiaobao opened his eyes wide; pretending to be utterly astonished, he said, “Did you say ‘rescue him from danger’? He did not commit any murder, they won’t make him pay with his own life.”

“Didn’t you hear?” Ah Ke said, “Those people are going to force him to bow to the Heaven and Earth with that peasant girl.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Bowing to the Heaven and Earth is very good.” Lowering his voice, he said quietly, “I want to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with you, it’s too bad that you are not willing.”

Ah Ke shot him a malicious look and said, “Others are dying of anxiety, you are still talking that kind of senseless talk. Just see if I am going to ignore you in the future or not?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu says that Zheng Gongzi’s moral conduct is not good, let him suffer a bit of hardship, it will be greatly beneficial to him. Much less bowing to the Heaven and the Earth and get married is not a hardship at all. Most probably Zheng Gongzi is very happy. Otherwise, why would he look for that miss last night, and dilly-dally with her, and do some dubious thing?”

Ah Ke stomped her right foot and angrily said, “You are the one who dilly-dally with women and do dubious thing.”

Along the way that day Ah Ke was deliberately trying to delay their journey. When they stopped for a meal, she slashed her saber on the mule’s hind leg, thereupon the mule was limping and afterwards it walked really slow so that they only travelled for a bit more than ten li when they had to stop in a small town to lodge for the night. Wei Xiaobao knew that that night she would definitely want to rush over to save Zheng Keshuang. After dinner, and after everybody in the inn went to bed, he went to the stable and slept on the pile of straw.

Sure enough, before the first watch of the night[1] he heard intermittent footsteps, a dark shadow entered the stable and pulled a horse out. Wei Xiaobao called in a low voice, “Someone’s stealing horse!”

The shadow was precisely Ah Ke; she was startled and turned around to run, but then she recognized Wei Xiaobao’s voice. “Xiaobao,” she called, “Is that you?”

“Naturally it’s me,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“What are you doing here?” Ah Ke asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Mountain people have divine foresight and marvelous calculation; foreseeing that some people would turn into a horse thief tonight, I am guarding here to catch the thief.”

Ah Ke spat. And then with an imploring tone she said, “Xiaobao, come with me to … to save him back.”

Hearing her beseeching him with a gentle voice, Wei Xiaobao could not stop the bones in his body from turning soft. He said with a laugh, “If I can save him, what will be my reward?”

“Whatever you want …” Ah Ke was going to say ‘whatever you want, it’s up to you’, but immediately recalled, “This little demon head always wanted me to marry him, I can’t leave it up to him.” Therefore, before she finished, she changed her statement, “You … you are always thinking of a way to bully me; you have never been willing to help me sincerely.” Speaking to here, she started to sob and cry. It was not a fake cry, however, she was actually thinking about Zheng Keshuang’s frivolous character, but also the fact that he was falling into a dangerous situation; she was wondering if he had bowed to the Heaven and the Earth to get married or not.

As soon as she cried, Wei Xiaobao’s heart softened. He sighed and said, “Alright, alright! I am going to go with you.”

Ah Ke was delighted. Sobbing and sniffling, she said, “Thank … thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that we don’t know where Gao Lao Zhuang is.”

Ah Ke was startled, but then she understood that by saying ‘Gao Lao Zhuang’, he was scolding Zheng Keshuang in a roundabout way. “We will have to inquire along the way,” she said in a low voice.

The two of them opened the inn’s back door, led the horse out, and rode together along the road they travelled during the day. Wei Xiaobao asked, “Actually, what’s so good about Zheng Gongzi that you like him like this?”

“Who says I like him?” Ah Ke said, “It’s just that … it’s just that we know each other; he meets calamity, naturally I must go to rescue him.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If some people caught me and forced me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth and get married, will you come to rescue me or not?”

“Pfft!” Ah Ke stifled her laughter and said, “Are you good looking? Who would want to catch you and force you to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You think I am not that pleasing to the eye, but there might be a young lady out there who thinks that I am outstandingly handsome, outstandingly smart?”

Ah Ke laughed and said, “In that case, I should thank the Heaven and the Earth for sparing me from your ghost always entangling me.”

“Fine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Since you don’t have any conscience like this, if some people caught you and force you to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, I am not going to rescue you.”

Ah Ke was slightly startled; she thought that if she really encountered such matter, she would definitely want him to rescue her. “You will definitely come to rescue me,” she grimly said.

“Why?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Ah Ke said, “Others bully me, you won’t watch with folded arms. Who told you to be my Shidi?” As soon as these words entered his ears, Wei Xiaobao felt sweet comfort in his heart.

While talking, they had reached the place where they met Mu Palace heroes during the day. They saw more than a dozen people were sitting on the ground by the road, with lanterns in their hands; they were none other than Zheng Mansion attendants. Ah Ke reined the horse and asked, “Where is Zheng Gongzi?”

The attendants stood up. With a sullen look on his face, someone said, “In the ancestral hall over there.” While saying that, he pointed to the northwest.

“Ancestral hall?” Ah Ke asked, “What is he doing?”

The attendant replied, “Those peasants invited Gongzi, and insisted that he bow to the Heaven and the Earth. Gongzi is unwilling, and thus they punched and kicked, very vicious!”

Ah Ke was angry. “You all are … humph … you all are martial art masters,” she said, “How come even several peasants like that you are not able to defeat?”

The attendants were very ashamed; they hung their heads low. A man said, “Those peasants know martial art.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “Other people know martial art, and you simply ignore your master? We are going to rescue him, lead us the way.”

An elderly attendant said, “Those peasants said that if we dare to raise a ruckus, they would slaughter every one of us.”

“They want to slaughter let them slaughter,” Ah Ke said, “What are you afraid of? Jun Wang ordered you to protect Gongzi, yet you are greedy for life, afraid of death like this?”

“Yes, yes,” the attendant said, “It would be best if Miss does not ride the horse, so that we won’t alert them.”

“Humph,” Ah Ke snorted. Together with Wei Xiaobao they jumped down the horse and tied the horse on a roadside tree. The attendants set down their lanterns, and led the two people toward the northwest.

They walked for about a li, passing through a wood, a stretch of graveyard, and arrived at a seven, eight-room big house. Sounds of gongs and drums can be heard inside the building. Ah Ke’s heart was anxious, “Has he really bowed to the Heaven and the Earth?” she mused.

Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s sleeve, she quickened her steps, circled around the side of the building, and saw a door half opened. Peeking inside, she saw complete darkness with nobody inside. The two of them sneaked in, following the sound of gongs and drums toward the main hall. They squatted down underneath a window and peeked inside from a crack on the window; and were able to see everything in the main hall. Ah Ke was immediately greatly worried, while Wei Xiaobao was extremely delighted.

They saw Zheng Keshuang’s head was adorned with several stems of red flower, standing opposite a woman whose head was draped in red silk. The hall was bright with a lot of candles. Several peasants were beating gongs and drums while continuously cheering and jeering.

Wu Lishen called out, “Bow again, bow again!”

“I have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth,” Zheng Keshuang said, “What else should I bow to?” Hearing this, Ah Ke was so mad that she nearly fainted.

Shaking his head, Wu Lishen said, “We have a custom here, the groom has to bow to the bride one hundred times. You have only bowed for thirty times, there are still seventy times left.”

Ao Biao raised his leg and kicked Zheng Keshuang’s buttocks. Zheng Keshuang was unable to stand, he fell kneeling down. Ao Biao pressed his head down and shouted, “You are the groom today, what’s the big deal of bowing several more times?”

Wei Xiaobao knew that they were stalling, waiting for his arrival. In all his life he could not necessarily see this kind of good and rare drama several times, thereupon he thought that there was no harm in watching it a bit longer; hence he took his time in coming out to save him. Ah Ke, on the other hand, could not bear it any longer. ‘Bang!’ she kicked the window, and leaped inside with a saber in her hand. “Release him quickly,” she shouted, “Otherwise your Miss will kill each and every one of you!”

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Miss, are you here to drink the wine of happiness? Why are you using saber and spear?”

Ah Ke took a step forward, brandishing her saber to chop at Ao Biao. In her anxiety and anger, her saber was moving very swiftly and fiercely. Ao Biao hastily leaped away. He picked a long wooden bench behind him to block the saber. Although Ah Ke did not have internal strength, her moves were quite refined and amazing. Ao Biao’s wooden bench was an awkward weapon, unexpectedly he was forced to draw back again and again.

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Hey, not bad at all.” And he stretched out his hand to meet the saber. His martial art skill was considerably higher than Ao Biao’s, just with two bare palms he was able to weave in and out between the saber blade.

Zheng Keshuang leaped up with the intention to help, but his back was punched twice, ‘bang, bang!’ and he fell to the ground.

Ah Ke successively launched seven, eight moved. Seeing that she could not resist the enemy, she called out, “Shidi, Shidi, come here, quick!”

But she heard Wei Xiaobao was shouting outside the window, “How fierce! Laozi will fight you to the death.” She heard the sound of punching and kicking on the window, apparently Wei Xiaobao was fighting fiercely with someone else.

Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s arrival, Wu Lishen busily signaled with his eyes, and then shouted, “Who’s there?” Two of his disciples immediately stepped forward with unsheathed weapons to meet Ah Ke’s willow-leaf saber.

Wu Lishen rushed outside the hall, but saw that Wei Xiaobao was alone, kicking the window, making a lot of noise; obviously he was not fighting with anybody else. Wu Lishen nearly burst out laughing; he called out, “Everybody stops! You, little kid, what are you doing here?”

Wei Xiaobao loudly replied, “My Shijie asked me to save people; quickly let him go! Aiyo! Not good, these peasants have superb martial art skill.” While making a big fuss, he ran outside the door. Wu Lishen laughed and ran after him.

When they were outside, Wei Xiaobao stopped and said with a laugh, “Er Ge, thank you very much! The way you manage this matter is very interesting.”

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Is that Miss Xiongdi’s beloved? Her martial art is really good, her appearance also … also … hey, hey, not bad.” He was straightforward and frank; Ah Ke’s physical appearance was extremely beautiful, he did not think much of it, but her moves were refined and amazing, he was quite admiring her.

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “It’s a pity that she wholeheartedly wanted to marry that stinky fellow, and is unwilling to marry me. You can force that stinky fellow to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to marry that peasant girl; if only you could force her to marry me …” Suddenly he had an idea. “Er Ge,” he said, “I am asking you to help me to the end. Pretend that you capture me, and seize that Miss also, and then force us to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married. What do you think?”

Wu Lishen burst out laughing; he could not help but shaking his head, and hastily said, “Very good, very good. Xiongdi, I hope you don’t mind, shaking my head has become a second nature to me; it’s just that … it’s just that …” Speaking to this point, he slightly hesitated.

“It’s just that what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Wu Lishen said, “We are men of chivalrous and righteous way, it is all right to play a joke, Xiongdi, please don’t be oversensitive, your Gege is speaking frankly: you should absolutely have to guard against any voracious desire to satiate lascivious heart.”

“Naturally,” Wei Xiaobao said, “She is my Shijie; after we bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, she will be my official wife. Er Ge, you are the matchmaker; after bowing to the Heaven and the Earth, we will be officially married, won’t we? It’s not ‘picking flowers’ [i.e. enter houses at night to rape women] or visiting prostitute, so you cannot say ‘lascivious heart’, can you?”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Lishen said, “Xiongdi, please promise me, you must do not any … any bad things that are not according to chivalrous and righteous way.”

“Please set your hundred and twenty hearts at ease,” Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man make a promise, some horses cannot chase it.”

Wu Lishen was greatly delighted; he laughed and said, “I already knew that you are a well-known hero and warrior. This Miss can marry you, it is indeed her good fortune.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You are the matchmaker, we must offer you the first cup of the wine of happiness.”

“Wonderful!” Wu Lishen said with a laugh, “Xiongdi, let’s do it.”

Wei Xiaobao put his hands behind his back and said with a laugh, “No need to be polite.”

Wu Lishen grabbed his wrists with his left hand; raising his voice, he said, “I want to see where are you going to run to?” And then he pushed Wei Xiaobao into the main hall.

They saw Ah Ke’s saber had been knocked down, while three weapons were pointing to her front and back. Although Ao Biao and the others wanted to completely subdue her, they knew that she was Wei Xiaobao’s beloved, hence they did not dare to be rude to her at all.

Wu Lishen took off his belt to tie Wei Xiaobao’s hands, and then he pushed him to sit on a chair. Next, he also bound Ah Ke’s hands. Wei Xiaobao did not stop cursing.

“Little demon,” Wu Lishen shouted, “You curse one more time, I am going to dig your eyeballs out.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I’ll curse whenever I want to curse, stinky thief!”

“Shidi,” Ah Ke said in a low voice, “Stop cursing so you won’t suffer the present trouble.” Only then did Wei Xiaobao hold his tongue.

Wu Lishen said, “This Miss actually has more sense, her appearance is also not bad. Very good, very good. I have another brother who is not married yet, I’d better take her as my ‘difu’ [younger brother’s wife] today.”

Ah Ke was greatly shocked. “That won’t do, that won’t do!” she hastily said.

“Why not?” Wu Lishen said, “Big Miss of a good family will always be married, my Xiongdi is a hero and a warrior, he will not bring disgrace to you, why are you unwilling? You really fail to appreciate other people’s kindness! Play the music!”

Ao Biao and and the others picked up the gongs and drums and started beating them. ‘Dong! Dong! Dang! Dang!’ It was very lively.

Of all the frightening experiences Ah Ke went through in her entire life, nothing was scarier than this. She thought that these peasants were rough, uncouth and dirty, his younger brother must be of the same quality; if she lost her chastity to this kind of coarse peasant, even if she killed herself right now, it was already too late. She clenched her jaw and bit her lips, she was so scared that she was unable to utter anything.

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “Very good, you agree.” He waved his right hand, and everybody stopped beating the gongs and the drums.

“Not yet, I haven’t agreed yet,” Ah Ke called out, “Just kill me quickly!”

“Alright,” Wu Lishen said, “I will kill you. I will kill even your Shidi.” While saying that, he took the steel saber from Ao Biao’s hand and raised it high in the air.

Ah Ke cried and said, “Quickly kill me, if you don’t, you are not a real man. You … you kill my Shidi quickly, kill … kill him first.”

Wu Lishen cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao; he thought, “This Miss is so without feeling and without sense of justice toward you, why would you want to marry her?”

In his heart, Wei Xiaobao was also cursing, “Stinky little girl, why would you want to kill me first?”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “I simply won’t kill your Shidi. Ah Gou, take this stinky fellow and chop his head outside!” While saying that, he pointed to Zheng Keshuang.

Ao Biao replied, “Yes.” And dragged Zheng Keshuang away.

“No,” Ah Ke cried out in alarm, “Don’t harm him … he can’t be killed. His father … his father …”

“Never mind!” Wu Lishen said, “Are you going to be my Dixi [yet another word for ‘younger brother’s wife’] or not?”

Ah Ke cried and said, “No, no, you … just kill me.”

Wu Lishen tossed away his steel saber and picked up a horsewhip. “I won’t kill you,” he shouted, “I’ll lash you a hundred whip first.” In that moment the anger in his heart was unbearable. ‘Crack!’ he cracked the whip in the air, ready to lash it down onto her body.

“Hold on!” Wei Xiaobao shouted.

Wu Lishen halted the whip in the air and did not lash it down. “What?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “We are heroes and warriors; we pay particular attention to yi qi. Shijie and I are like hands and feet born on the same parents, this a hundred-lash whip, just strike it on me.”

Seeing Wu Lishen’s ferocious and tyrannical look as he raised his whip, Ah Ke was already scared and panicked. As soon as she heard Wei Xiaobao, her heart was delighted. “Shidi,” she said, “You are a really good person.”

Wei Xiaobao said to Wu Lishen, “Hey, Laoxiong, whatever it is, let me take it. This is called ‘being a real man, I am not afraid of calamity, I’ll step forward bravely’. You must not force her to marry your Xiongdi, if you have any Jiejie or Meimei [older and younger sister, respectively] who is not married yet, just let me bow to the Heaven and the Earth with her to marry her. This Zheng Gongzi has already married one, I will marry another one, successively we marry two of you; it’s not bad, is it? If you have another one, just let her marry me. Laozi is a junk copper, rusty iron; my brain is already rotten …”

He spoke to that point, Wu Lishen and the others burst out in laughter. Ah Ke also could not help feeling funny, but she only chuckled a moment, and immediately remembered the wrong she was suffering; her tears flowed down again.

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “You, this little kid, is very interesting; you are a real man. I was actually thinking of letting you go, and was saying all those things to scare you, but laozi is too worthless. This matter of bowing to the Heaven and the Earth must be done; you tell me, who is going to bow to the Heaven and the Earth? Will it be you, or she?”

Ah Ke was anxious to get away. “It’s he, it’s he!” she hastily said.

Wu Lishen fixed his gaze at her; raising his voice, he said, “You say he is to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married?”

Ah Ke felt slightly ashamed; she hung her head and said, “Yes.”

“Alright!” Wu Lishen said. Pointing to Wei Xiaobao he said in a loud voice, “Today I insist that you bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his gaze toward Ah Ke and said, “I … I …”

Ah Ke said in a low voice, “Shidi, you help me out of great catastrophe today, I will never forget it. Please agree!”

Wei Xiaobao looked distressed. “You want me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth and get married? Ay, you know, this is a very difficult matter.”

“I know,” Ah Ke said in a low voice, “If you did not help me out of this great difficulty today, I would have no choice but to crash my head and die. I … I have no choice but to ask for your help. They … they are extremely vicious.”

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said in a loud voice, “Today you opened your mouth to ask me for help. I, Wei Xiaobao, have no choice but to face the difficulty, to agree on your behalf. It is you who wanted me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married; it was not me who wanted to do it, am I right?”

“Yes,” Ah Ke replied, “It was me who asked you. You are the hero, a real man who steps forward bravely, who relieve other people’s distress, also … also someone who listen to my words the most.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh and said, “Shijie, my feelings to you, you have always understood. No matter what it is that you want me to do, I will readily agree, I won’t frown. Since you ask me to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, naturally I will comply.”

“I know you treat me very well,” Ah Ke said, “Later on … later on I will also treat you well.”

“So be it,” Wu Lishen said, “Xiao Xiongdi, I do not have any meizi for you to marry. My daughter is only three; she can’t marry you. Hey, if any of you have Jiejie or Meimei, quickly call her out to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married with this young hero.”

Ao Biao said with a laugh, “I don’t have any.”

Another man said, “This young hero’s righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky; if I can be his in-law, it will be my greatest good luck. Too bad I only have brothers and no sisters.”

Another man said, “My Jiejie has already married and gave birth to eight kids. Young hero, if you are willing to wait, wait for my jiefu [older sister’s husband] to die, then I will tell Jiejie to marry you.”

“He can’t wait,” Wu Lishen said, “Who has someone who is readily available?”

Everybody shook his head and said, “I don’t.” Everybody appeared to have missed a good opportunity and had deep regret.

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Gentlemen friends, it is not me who is unwilling, but you do not have any sisters, so please let us go.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “No we won’t. A real man said a word, a team of horses cannot chase it. Today you must bow to the Heaven and the Earth. Otherwise, we will offend Sha Shen [don’t know what it is, literally means demon deity] Taisui [God of the year], and then everybody here will die a violent death; won’t this joke be started again? Alright, you bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married with her.” While saying that, he pointed to Ah Ke.

Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao shouted together, “No, not good!”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “What do you mean not good? Little Miss, do you want to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with my Xiongdi, or do you want to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with this young hero? You decide.”

Ah Ke’s entire pretty face bloated with deep red; she shook her head and said, “I don’t want both!”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “Until now you still use all sorts of excuses. The time has arrived, if we miss this good hour, the demons will descend, no one here will stay alive. Hey, Ah San, Ah Gou, these two little fellows are not willing to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, cut their noses!”

Ao Biao and one of his younger martial brothers complied together; with raised steel saber, they rubbed the flat of the blade on Ah Ke’s nose several times. Ah Ke was not afraid of death, but thinking that if her nose was cut, she would be extremely ugly; she was scared to death that her face turned completely without any color.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t cut my Shijie’s nose, cut mine instead.”

Wu Lishen said, “We need to cut two noses as a sacrifice to the Sha Shen, you only have one. Hey, the one surnamed Zheng, how about we cut your nose as a substitute for this Miss’ nose?”

Ah Ke looked at Zheng Keshuang with begging-for-pity look. Zheng Keshuang looked the other way, he did not dare to meet her eyes, yet he shook his head.

Wu Lishen said, “This fellow is unwilling, yet your Shidi is. Hey, your Shidi treats you a lot better than he does. If you don’t marry this kind of person, whom are you going to marry? Bow to the Heaven and the Earth, play music!”

Amidst the sound of gongs and drums, Ao Biao took the head covering from the fake bride and put it on Ah Ke’s head; he also untied her. As soon as she was free, Ah Ke sent out a punch. ‘Wham!’ it hit the pit of Ao Biao’s stomach. Luckily she did not have any internal energy, so that although he was hit, it was not too painful. Ao Biao raised his steel saber and put it across the back of her neck.

Wu Lishen started the ritual, “The bride and groom bow to the Heaven!”

Ah Ke felt the coldness of the blade on the skin of her neck, as well as a slight pain; she had no choice but to stand alongside Wei Xiaobao and kowtow toward the outside.

Wu Lishen continued, “The bride and groom bow to the Earth.” Ao Biao pushed her body around to kowtow toward the inside.

At the ‘bride and groom bow to each other’, the two of them kneeled toward each other and kowtowed several times.

Wu Lishen laughed aloud and said, “The new husband and wife thank the matchmaker.”

Ah Ke was extremely angry; suddenly her leg flew up and kicked Wu Lishen’s lower abdomen. This kick was indeed not light. ‘Ah!’ Wu Lishen cried out and retreated several steps back, while repeatedly coughing. He then laughed and said, “The bride is so vicious, even the matchmaker is being kicked!”

Right this moment, there were repeated whistles outside the ancestral hall, followed by sounds of footsteps from east, south, west and north; at least there were forty, fifty people. Wu Lishen’s smiling expression immediately vanished. “Blow out the candles,” he hissed. Immediately the ancestral hall was pitch-black.

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward Ah Ke and pulled her hand, “There are enemies outside,” he said in a low voice.

Ah Ke was really angry and upset; she sobbed and said, “I … I have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with you.”

“To me, it was something that I always seek but fail to get,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “It’s just that the bowing to the Heaven and the Earth was rather too sloppy.”

Ah Ke angrily said, “It does not count. You think it was for real?”

“Why would it be a fake?” Wei Xiaobao said, “This is called ‘the (grain of) rice has become (steamed) rice’, ‘the wood has become a dog’ [mu yi cheng gou].”

With a whimper Ah Ke said, “What ‘the wood has become a dog’? It’s ‘the wood has become a boat’ [mu yi cheng zhou].”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Niangzi [wife] is well-educated, later on you need to teach me a lot to be a Xianggong [lord/master/young gentleman, but can also mean ‘husband’ (wife’s term of address)].”

Hearing him unexpectedly thickening his face by using the term ‘niangzi’ and ‘xianggong’ to call each other, Ah Ke was growing more anxious and broke into crying.

They heard the shout outside was deafening, dozens of people were shouting together. It sounded like the roar of a beast, or the bellow of an ox; it was so jumbled and indistinct that they did not know what they were shouting. Ah Ke was terrified, against her will she leaned close to Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao reached out and wrapped his arm around her; he said in a low voice, “Don’t be afraid, looks like a bunch of lamas are attacking.”

“What should we do?” Ah Ke asked.

Wei Xiaobao pulled her arm, he took her quietly sitting behind the image of the deity. Suddenly there was a flash of light, several dozen people rushed into the ancestral hall, each one of them had a torch and a weapon in his hands. As soon as Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke saw these people, they were shocked. These people’s faces were painted with green fancy patterns, they wore bird’s feather on their heads, and their upper bodies were naked. Their waists were wrapped in a piece of animal skin, their torso and their arms were also painted in elaborate patterns. Turned out these people were of ethnic groups from outside China.

Ah Ke thought that these barbarians did not look like human, but they did not look like ghosts either; each one of them had a sinister expression on his face. She was even more terrified, and shrank herself inside Wei Xiaobao’s embrace while trembling incessantly.

The barbarians uttered wild ‘wah, wah!’ noise; one of them, who was among the first to enter, shouted, “Han people, no good, kill them all! Barbarians, good, must kill people! Guhuatulu, ahbasili!” The barbarians shouted loudly, they were talking in barbarian language.

Wu Lishen was a Yunnan native, he understood barbarian language, but he did not understand even half a word of these barbarians’ talk. He said in barbarian language, “We are good Han people, we must not kill.”

The barbarian leader still said, “Han people, no good, must kill all. Guhuatulu, ahbasili!”

All the barbarians shouted together, “Guhuatulu, ahbasili!” They raised their big sabers and steel forks, and charged forward. Wu Lishen and his company did not have any choice but to raise their weapons and meet the enemy.

As soon as these people met, Wu Lishen and the others were greatly amazed. Turned out these barbarians’ martial art skill was quite refined and established; their weapon technique was conforming to the martial art study, their attack and defense was carefully measured, they did not randomly chop or wildly attack at all.

Several moves later, even Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke were able to see this fact. While engaging in a fierce fight, Wu Lishen shouted, “Everybody, be careful, these barbarians have learned our Han people’s martial art, we must not consider them lightly.”

The barbarian leader called out, “Han people’s killing technique, barbarians know them all, not afraid of Han people. Guhuatulu, ahbasili!”

The barbarians were many, their martial art skill was also very good. Each one of Mu Palace people had to face three, sometimes four, enemies. In a very short period of time they were already in a very dangerous position. Wu Lishen brandished his saber in a fierce combat against the leader, yet unexpectedly it did not look like he was having the slightest bit of advantage. The longer they fought, the more he was alarmed. Suddenly he heard ‘Ah, Ah’, twice; two of disciples were injured and fell down. Shortly afterwards, Ao Biao’s leg was stabbed by a hunting fork and he also fell down. Three barbarians pounced on him and captured him.

A moment later, about a dozen or so Mu Palace people had been knocked down. Zheng Keshuang’s had already been injured early on; he only offered a little bit of resistance and was quickly subdued. All the barbarians carried ox tendon, with which they bound their captives.

The barbarian leader hopped up and down while loudly blabbering in barbarian tongue. Wu Lishen groaned inwardly; he was thinking of escaping, but was concerned about Wei Xiaobao and his disciples’ safety. Thereupon he did everything he could to fight fiercely, hoping to subdue the leader and thus forcing them to let his people go. Suddenly the leader hacked his saber directly toward Wu Lishen’s head, Wu Lishen raised his saber to block. ‘Dang!’ his arm went slightly numb. Suddenly he felt a stick sweeping toward his back, hastily he leaped up to evade. The leader’s saber flipped over, and then landed on his neck. The leader shouted, “Han people, lose. Barbarian, not lose.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “This barbarian is so stupid, he does not know the word ‘win’, only knew the word ‘not lose’.”

Wu Lishen shook his head and heaved a deep sigh; he tossed his saber and immediately had his hands bound.

With torches raised high, the barbarians looked everywhere. Wei Xiaobao knew that they could not hide anymore. Pulling Ah Ke’s hand, he rushed outside while calling out, “Barbarians, good people. The two of us are barbarians. Guhuatulu, ahbasili!”

The leader reached out to grab Ah Ke’s neck. Three barbarians pounced forward and grabbed Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao only shouted half of “Guhua …” before his mouth was covered.

When the leader saw him, his expression changed. Stretching out his arm, he grabbed Wei Xiaobao in his arms while shouting, “Xihuahbu, qiliwendeng.” And then he carried Wei Xiaobao out of the ancestral hall.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked; turning his head toward Ah Ke, he called out, “Niangzi, this barbarian is going to kill me. You must live as a widow for me, you can’t remarry that …” Before he finished, they were already outside the main gate.

The barbarian leader ran more than ten zhang, before he released Wei Xiaobao and set him on the ground. He said, “Gui Gonggong, how come you are here?” He sounded genuinely surprised, but was also delighted.

Wei Xiaobao was startled and happy at the same time. “You … you are a barbarian, and you knew me?”

The man laughed and said, “Xiaoren is Yang Yizhi, the Yang Yizhi from Ping Xi Wang Mansion. Gui Gonggong did not recognize me. Ha ha …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. He was about to speak, Yang Yizhi pulled his hand and said, “Let’s go farther away to talk, don’t let the others hear us.”

The two of them went more than twenty zhang away before stopping. Yang Yizhi said, “Unexpectedly I can see Gui Gonggong in here, truly I am delighted.”

“How did Yang Dage come here?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “And you dress up as Guhuatulu, ahbasili?”

Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “There were a bunch of people having an assembly at Hejian Prefecture, planning to bring harm to our Wangye; Wangye obtained some information about it and sent Xiaoren here to investigate.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly alarmed; his brain turning very fast, trying to find an idea. He said, “Last time those Mu Palace fellows entered the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, framing Ping Xi Wang …”

Yang Yizhi hastily said, “And we owe it to Gonggong’s esteemed, as high as the cloud and the sky’s friendship, by presenting a memorial to the Emperor and clear this matter up, washing away the injustice our Ping Xi Wang received. Our Wangye is endlessly grateful, he often mentioned that he wanted to personally express his gratitude to Gonggong.”

“I do not dare to accept the gratitude,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wangye regards me highly like this, while I am by the Emperor’s side, if I can do such a trivial matter for Wangye, naturally I will. This time His Majesty knew that there are some rebellious thieves who were having an assembly at the Hejian Prefecture, with the intention of bringing harm to Ping Xi Wang. I volunteered to come over here to investigate.”

Yang Yizhi was greatly delighted. “Turns out His Majesty already knew about it,” he said, “There is no way the rebellious thieves’ evil schemes will succeed. That’s wonderful. Xiaoren received Wangye’s order to infiltrate those damn dog-heads’ congress. I heard them electing various provinces’ meng zhu, intending to harm our Wangye. I won’t conceal it from Gui Gonggong: in our hearts we are deeply concerned. It is easy to dodge the spear in the open, it is hard to avoid a stab in the dark. If the rebellious thieves dare to come to Yunnan to fight, it’s not that Xiaoren is boasting, but if a thousand of them came, we’ll capture a thousand, if ten thousand of them came, we’ll kill all ten thousand. What we are afraid of is that like last time the Mu Palace’s dog thieves committing outrages, yet they shifted the blame to our Wangye, and thus later on have brought us infinite trouble.”

Striking his own chest, Wei Xiaobao boldly said, “Yang Dage, please report to Wangye, there is nothing to be worried about. When I return to the Capital, about that dog-heads’ congress, I will report everything by fives and tens, by fifteens and twenties [i.e. systematically and in full detail], nothing will be left out in my memorial to the Emperor. Opposing Ping Xi Wang is the same as opposing His Majesty. The more they hate Ping Xi Wang, the more it shows that Wangye is loyal and devoted to His Majesty. If His Majesty is happy, not only Ping Xi Wangye, even Yang Dage will be heavily rewarded, you will be promoted and gain wealth; it’s a cinch.”

Yang Yizhi happily said, “We are heavily reliant of Gui Gonggong’s vigorous intercession. Xiaoren does not expect promotion and wealth. Wangye has shown great kindness to my late father, he has saved Xiaoren’s entire family’s lives. Just before his death, my late father left me his last words, instructing Xiaoren to pledge my life to protect Wangye completely. Gonggong, you came here, are you investigating Mu Family dog thieves’ plot?”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh. “Yang Dage,” he said, “Not only your martial art skill is superb, your foresight is also divine. My admiration, my admiration. My Shijie and I are in disguise, we want to find out what trick they are playing, but we were discovered. I talked some nonsense, surprisingly they believe it, and forced my Shijie and I to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married. Ha ha … this is called ‘profiting from a disaster’.”

Yang Yizhi thought, “You are a eunuch, how can you marry? Ah right, you and that young Miss pretended to be a pair of lovers and they believed it.” He said, “That Shaking-Head Lion’s martial art is not bad, nevertheless, he is bold but not very astute.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You dress as barbarians, is it for the purpose of capturing them?”

Yang Yizhi said, “Mu Family and our Prince’s Mansion have enmity as deep as the sea. Last time we suffered heavy damage from them, all along we have not been able to collect our capital back. This time at the dog-heads’ congress we saw them, Xiaoren then made a plan. If we made disturbance in Zhili [see Note 3 Chapter 9] and His Majesty finds out, I am afraid he will blame our Wangye, saying that Ping Xi Wang’s Mansion people are breaking the law in the vicinity of the Capital, committing murder and creating trouble.”

Wei Xiaobao gave him a thumb up; he praised, “Yang Dage’s stratagem is indeed very brilliant. You are dressing up as barbarians, guhuatulu, ahbasili; even if you massacre the whole lot of Mu Palace people, other people only know that it was the barbarian revolting, nobody would suspect Ping Xi Wang at all.”

Yang Yizhi laughed. “Exactly,” he said, “It’s just that by dressing like this, crazy and bizarre, we only make Gonggong laugh.”

“What do you mean ‘laugh’?” Wei Xiaobao said, “In my heart I envy you very much. I really want to shed these clothes, paint my face with green fancy patterns, and shouting and jumping around with you.”

Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “If Gonggong wishes, we can dress up together.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “This time I can’t; if my wife saw me dressing outlandishly like that, she will throw a fit.”

“Gonggong really getting married and have a wife now?” Yang Yizhi asked, “I thought you were forced by those dog thieves to pretend?”

This matter was not easy to explain clearly in just a few words, thereupon Wei Xiaobao changed the subject by saying, “Yang Dage, you and I hit it off very well with one another. If you consider me worthy, let the two of us tie the knot to become sworn brothers. There’s no need to use ‘Gonggong’ or ‘Xiaoren’ anymore, it sounds so awkward.”

Yang Yizhi was greatly delighted. First, Ping Xi Wang was in need of his help; hereafter, there would be many important matters in need of his aid in front of the Emperor. Second, this little Gonggong was generous, outspoken and straightforward, a really good friend. That day at the Prince Kang’s mansion, he was very polite to him. Thereupon he said, “That is exactly what I have been wishing for; but I am afraid I am not able to climb that high.”

“What do you mean climbing high or climbing low?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Speaking of high and low, are you the taller one, or I am the taller one?”

Yang Yizhi burst out laughing. Thereupon the two of them kneeled down on the spot, using dirt as the incense, they kowtowed eight times and made a statement to be brothers.

Xiongdi,” Yang Yizhi said, “From now on the two of us are as close as flesh and bones, a lot more than ordinary brothers. However, in front of other people, your Gege will still call you ‘Gonggong’, to avoid raising other people’s suspicion.”

“Naturally,” Wei Xiaobao replied. “Dage, what are you going to do with those Mu Family people?”

Yang Yizhi said, “I am going to take them to Yunnan and slowly torture them. After obtaining their confession that they framed our Wangye, we are going to take them to the Capital to let the Emperor know that Ping Xi Wang has whole-hearted loyalty, and make it clear that by protecting Ping Xi Wang, Xiongdi did not make the slightest mistake.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Very good, very good!” he said. “Dage, do you think that Shaking-head Tiger would confess?”

“It’s Shaking-head Lion Wu Lishen,” Yang Yizhi corrected, “This man has quite a reputation in Jianghu; I heard his manner is very unyielding, he won’t confess. I respect him as a real man, I won’t make things too difficult for him. But the rest of those people, inevitably there will be some who can’t endure the torture; they might confess.”

“Not bad,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This plan is not bad.”

Yang Yizhi could detect from his tone that he was speaking thoughtlessly and did not really mean it; thereupon he said, “Xiongdi, you and I are not outsiders. If you think something is inappropriate, please speak bluntly.”

“There is nothing inappropriate about it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard there is another rebellious thief within the Mu Family called Mu Jiansheng, there is also a certain Stiff-backed Black Dragon called Liu somebody.”

“Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong,” Yang Yizhi said, “He is Mu Jiansheng’s Shifu.”

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Dage, your memory is very good. His Majesty instructed me to find these two people’s trail. Have you caught them?”

Yang Yizhi said, “Mu Jiansheng also went to Hejian Prefecture. Along the way we scooped up information about him, but as soon as we entered Xian County, he slipped away, we do not know where he hides.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is somewhat embarrassing; just now I talked nonsense, and was able to deceive that Shaking-head Lion and turned him into Nodding-Head Lion, who agreed to take me to see their Xiao Gongye. I actually wanted to verify their plot in framing Ping Xi Wang, and then return to the Capital and present a report to the Emperor. Since Dage has already had assurance, you might be able to torture their conspiracy out. In the end it’s the same thing, Xiongdi actually does not need to take a risk.”

Yang Yizhi deliberately considered, “I torture several insignificant people, they may not necessarily know the real inside information. Even if they did, Mu Family dog thieves’ bones are very hard, they may not necessarily be willing to speak. Besides, Wangye personally offers an explanation is absolutely inferior to the report from someone whom the Emperor personally sent to investigate, which will emerge powerful. If we simply pretend we did not know anything and let Gui Xiongdi go submit the report to the Emperor, it will be much better.” Thereupon he pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and said, “Xiongdi, your plan is a lot more brilliant, I’ll listen to you in everything. But how are we going to release those Mu Family dog thieves without raising their suspicions?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “For that, I will need you to think of something.”

Yang Yizhi thought for a moment, and then said, “Let’s do it this way: You run away back to the ancestral hall, pretending that you are summoning up courage and determination to save your Shijie, I will pursue you, and then the two of us will speak gibberish, pretending to speak in the barbarian tongue. After talking for a while, you convince me, and I will respectfully leave. This way we won’t reveal the least bit of trace.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “Wonderful!” he said, “I, Gui Gonggong is fluent in barbarian tongue. There is an opera about that, Emperor Ming of Tang[2] had a subordinate scholar named Li somebody, when he was drunk, he produced an essay, scaring a bunch of barbarians that they pissed in their pants in terror.”

Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “That was Li Taibai’s drunken manuscript scared barbarian book.”

Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and said, “Right, right! Gui Gonggong awakes and speaks scary barbarian language is just as amazing as that. Dage, we must play a convincing act; you may punch and kick me, and I won’t be injured. Ah, right, I am wearing a treasured vest that saber and spear won’t penetrate. There is no harm in you chopping me several times; as long as you don’t use any internal energy, so you won’t shake and injure my five viscera and six bowels, I will be perfectly all right.”

Yang Yizhi said, “Xiongdi has that kind of treasured clothes, that’s very good.”

Wei Xiaobao bragged, “His Majesty sent me on a mission to investigate the rebellious thieves’ treacherous plan, he was afraid they might find out and have me killed; thereupon he took off from his own body this treasured vest, which was a tribute from the western red-haired country, and bestowed it to me. Dage, you do not need to worry that you might injure me, why don’t you chop me several times to test it?”

Yang Yizhi pulled his saber out and lightly slashed Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder. Sure enough, the saber cut open the outer garment, but as the blade came in contact with the inner garment, it could not go deeper. He increased the strength of his hand slightly, lightly chopping Wei Xiaobao’s left shoulder again, still he was not able to create any damage. “Good treasured clothes, good treasured clothes!” he praised.

Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a fellow surnamed Zheng inside; he is that young gentleman who wears gorgeous embroidered pillowcase. This fellow is always messing around my Shijie. Looking at him, Xiongdi is very angry. It would be best if you could take him away.”

“I’ll just send a palm strike and kill him then,” Yang Yizhi said.

“You must not kill him, you must not kill him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This man is wanted by the Emperor, in the future a very important matter will rest on his shoulder. Please just capture him and take him away. Guard him well, don’t make things difficult for him, but don’t interrogate him about anything either. After twenty, thirty years, I will let you know when I want him, then you send people to take him to Beijing.”

“Yes,” Yang Yizhi said, “I will take care of this thing for you properly.” Suddenly he raised his voice to shout, “Huluxidu, ailibala! Xulaoxulao!” Lowering his voice, he laughed and said, “The two of us have been talking for a while, I am afraid they will get suspicious.”

With a sharp voice Wei Xiaobao shouted several words of ‘barbarian tongue’. Yang Yizhi laughed and said, “Xiongdi’s ‘barbarian tongue’ is a lot more fluent than your Gege.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Naturally; in the past Xiongdi wandered destitute in a foreign land, the lord of the foreign land wanted to take me as fuma [emperor’s son-in-law, consort], hence I am accustomed to speak the ‘barbarian tongue’.” Yang Yizhi burst out in laughter.

Dage,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “I have a difficulty, I want you to help me finding a way out.”

Yang Yizhi struck his chest and generously offered, “Whatever trouble Xiongdi has, your Gege will give my life if you want me to. As long as you tell me, there is nothing that I won’t obey.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Thank you very much. To say that this matter is difficult, it is actually not difficult; but to say that it is easy, it is definitely not easy.”

Yang Yizhi said, “Xiongdi may just tell me, I will help you ponder over it. Supposing your Gege cannot do it, I am going to ask our Wangye. Several tens of thousands troops and horses, several million taels, can be easily mobilized.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled; he said, “Thousand armies ten thousand horses, mountain of gold and silver, I am afraid will be quite useless. It’s about my Shijie, she was forced to bow to the Heaven and the Earth and marry me, but in her heart she is very unwilling. It would be best if you have a marvelous idea, help me to change rice (grain) into (cooked) rice, tricking her to decide that the timber has been turned into a boat.”

Yang Yizhi could not help but feeling amused; he thought, “Turns out it is for that matter, I thought it was for some important matter, instead, it has something to do with dealing with that young girl. But you are a eunuch, how can you take a wife? Right, I heard during the Ming Dynasty it was common for some court eunuchs to take several wives. Xiongdi must be thinking of having some toys to satisfy his ‘dry craving’.”

Thinking that since his childhood Wei Xiaobao had had his body purified, Yang Yizhi could not help but feeling sad. Taking Wei Xiaobao’s hand in his, he said, “Xiongdi, in this life, we cannot always hope that everything is going as we wish. Since the ancient times, there are extremely numerous great heroes, great warriors who have physical defect; you don’t have to care about it. Let’s go in.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said. He shouted some words in ‘barbarian tongue’ and rushed into the ancestral hall.

Brandishing his saber, Yang Yizhi ran after him, also shouting some ‘barbarian’ words, and rushed into the main hall to grab Wei Xiaobao. The two of them exchanged some words. You said some ‘xilihulu’, I replied with ‘ahyibala’, they were prattling incessantly, while sometimes pointed to Wu Lishen, sometimes pointed to Ah Ke.

Wu Lishen, Ah Ke and the others were pleasantly surprised, they thought that there was hope. “Luckily he understands barbarian language,” they mused, “It would be best if he could make these barbarians retreat.”

Yang Yizhi raised his saber high, aiming it at the crown of Ah Ke’s head. “Woman, not good,” he said, “Kill her.”

Wei Xiaobao busily said, “Wife, mine, no kill!”

“Wife, yours, no kill?” Yang Yizhi asked.

Wei Xiaobao repeatedly nodded his head; he said, “Wife, mine, no kill!”

Yang Yizhi was angry; he shouted, “Wife, yours, no kill. Kill you!”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wife, mine, no kill. Kill me!”

‘Whoosh!’ Yang Yizhi swung his saber toward Wei Xiaobao’s chest. When the saber went down, the blade created a loud whooshing noise, obviously it carried a tremendous strength, yet as soon as the blade came into contact with Wei Xiaobao’s body, immediately he pulled his strength back; his wrist trembled, the blade of the saber bounced back. He feigned a shock and jumped backward. He then chopped three times in succession and made three long cuts on Wei Xiaobao’s outer garment.

“You, Bodhisattva, cannot be killed?” he shouted.

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I, Bodhisattva, cannot be killed,” he said.

Yang Yizhi raised his thumb and said, “You, Bodhisattva, not. Big hero, yes.” Pointing to Wu Lishen and the others, he asked, “Han people, kill?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his hand and said, “Friends, mine, no kill!”

Yang Yizhi nodded; he asked Ah Ke, “You, wife, Big Hero’s?”

Ah Ke wanted to deny, but looking at the flickering saber in his hand, she did not dare to say anything. Yang Yizhi’s saber chopped down on the sacrificial table, breaking it into two pieces; he shouted, “Husband, yours?” while pointing at Wei Xiaobao.

Ah Ke had no choice, with a low voice she said, “Husband, mine.”

Yang Yizhi laughed aloud. He lifted Ah Ke up and dropped her in front of Wei Xiaobao, saying, “Wife, yours, embrace.”

Wei Xiaobao spread his arms and embraced Ah Ke tightly. “Wife, mine, embrace,” he said.

Yang Yizhi pointed to Zheng Keshuang and asked, “Son, yours?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Son, mine? No!”

Yang Yizhi shouted several ‘barbarian’ words; he grabbed Zheng Keshuang and rushed outside, while his mouth repeatedly whistled. His men abandoned their captives and ran outside. And then the sound of hoof beats was heard; unexpectedly they left just like that.

Ah Ke’s fear and panic was somewhat subsided; she felt Wei Xiaobao still had his arms around her waist and did not let go. “Take off your hand,” she said.

“Wife, mine, embrace,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Ah Ke was ashamed and angry at the same time; using her hands she pried open Wei Xiaobao’s arms and struggled to free herself. Wei Xiaobao picked up a steel saber from the floor and cut off the ropes binding Wu Lishen and the others.

“Those barbarians’ martial art is superb,” Wu Lishen said, “Fortunately the groom knows how to speak barbarian tongue, plus you have trained the ‘golden bell shield iron cloth garment’ martial art, sabers and spears cannot penetrate, hence we were all saved by you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Although those barbarians’ martial art is quite high, they are very stupid. I talked nonsense a little bit, and they believed me.”

Ah Ke said, “Zheng Gongzi is captured by them, how can we save him?”

The fake bride suddenly yelled, “My husband is caught by the barbarians, they are going to boil and eat him.” And then she cried loudly.

Wu Lishen cupped his fist and said, “May I ask hero’s respected surname and great name?”

“I do not dare,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Zaixia surnamed Wei.”

Wu Lishen said, “Wei Xianggong and Wei Family Niangzi got married today, won’t a tiny bit of congratulatory present be considered as showing respect?” While saying that, he put his hand inside his pocket and fished out two tiny golden yuanbao.

“Thank you very much,” Wei Xiaobao said, while reaching out to accept it.

Ah Ke’s entire face turned red; stomping her feet, she said, “It was not real, it did not count.”

Wu Lishen laughed and said, “The two of you have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth, and just now you said to that barbarian, ‘Husband, mine’. How can you deny? The bride and groom should enjoy the bridal room and ornamented candle, we are not going to disturb.” Waving his hand, together with Ao Biao and the others he strode out of the ancestral hall.

Instantly such a big ancestral hall became extremely quiet, nobody made any noise. Ah Ke was scared, but also ashamed and resentful. She stole a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, thinking about how she herself had said, ‘Husband, mine’. Suddenly she threw herself on the table and cried. Stomping her feet she said, “It’s all because you are not good, it’s all because you are not good!”

In a gentle voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Yes, yes, it’s all because I am not good. Wait till I think of something to save Zheng Gongzi, and then you will say that I am good.”

Ah Ke raised her head and said, “You … you can save him?” Under the red flickering candle light, her incomparably tender and beautiful face made the several beads of teardrops looked like bright full moon, so that even pearls inlaid with white jade seemed inadequate by comparison, so that the first budding rose could not surpass her luminescence and elegance. Wei Xiaobao could not help but staring at her with blank expression, and forgot to answer.

Ah Ke tugged his clothes and said, “I am asking you, how are we going to save Zheng Gongzi?”

Wei Xiaobao woke up from his dream; he sighed and said, “That barbarian leader said that since they have come out, they cannot go back empty-handed, they must catch someone back to their cave, to be cooked so that everybody can eat …”

Ah Ke cried out in fear. “They want to cook him so that everybody can eat?” she asked. Thinking that the ‘bride’ had also cried out in fear, she was even more terrified.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They originally said that you have a soft skin and white flesh; you must have the best taste, so they wanted to catch you and eat …” Ah Ke could not endure it; her body shivered all over as she looked outside the door, afraid that those barbarians would come back.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “… I told them that you are my wife, only then did they let you off.”

Ah Ke anxiously said, “They caught Zheng Gongzi, are they going to cook … cook …”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Unless I volunteer myself to be eaten, in exchange for Zheng Gongzi.”

“Then you should go in exchange for him!” Ah Ke said. But as soon as she blurted it out, she realized that she had misspoken; her pretty face blushed and she lowered her head.

Wei Xiaobao was furious; he mused, “Stinky little mother, in your eyes your husband is not worth half a wen; you’d rather have the barbarians cook me and eat me to have your lover [orig. male adulterer] rescued.” With a cold voice he said, “Even if I go in exchange for him, it would be useless.”

Ah Ke anxiously asked, “Why … why useless?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Zheng Gongzi has bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with that peasant girl to get married; you have seen it with your own eyes. Since he already has a wife he officially married, the wood has been turned into a boat, you can’t marry him anymore.”

Ah Ke stomped her feet, “That was a fake.”

Seething with rage, Wei Xiaobao said, “Alright, you want me to go in exchange for him, I will go. I just don’t know where the barbarian cave is. Humph, let’s go.”

Ah Ke silently followed him out of the ancestral hall, she was afraid she might say anything wrong, and then he would not be willing to trade his life for Zheng Gongzi’s.

When they reached the main road, they saw the Zheng Mansion’s attendants standing in a circle with their raised lanterns, speaking loudly among themselves. When the two of them came near, a Zheng Mansion attendant said, “Miss Chen is here. Where is our Gongzi? Where is our Gongzi?” while rushing over to meet them.

From among the crowd suddenly a slim figure flashed by, his movement was fast, Wei Xiaobao only saw a blurred shadow and suddenly the man was already standing in front of him, and then he heard a sharp voice asking, “Where is our Gongzi?”

The man was standing with his back against the lantern, hence Wei Xiaobao was not able to see his face. His heart was frightened, he took two steps back. Who would have thought that as he withdrew two steps, the man also went forward two steps, so that they were still standing face-to-face, less than a chi apart. He asked again, “Where is our Gongzi?”

Ah Ke replied, “He … he was captured by the barbarians, they … they are going to cook and eat him.”

The man said, “How can there be any barbarians in the Central Plains?”

“They are really barbarians,” Ah Ke said, “Quick … quickly think of a way to save him.”

“How long have they been gone?” the man asked.

“Not too long,” Ah Ke replied.

The man’s body suddenly stiffened up, he leaped backward and landed on a horse’s back. His legs squeezed, the horse immediately galloped away, and in an instant disappeared in the darkness. Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke looked at each other in shock; one was dismayed, the other was delighted. They saw this person’s martial art skill was high, his movement was fast; they had rarely seen this kind of man in their lives, in their hearts they were full of admiration.

“I wonder who that martial art master is.” Ah Ke said.

The elderly attendant replied, “He is Gongzi’s Shifu, Feng Xifan; his title is ‘One Sword without Blood’. Feng Shifu is unmatched in the world, if he is going to rescue Gongzi, it is guaranteed that he will achieve success.”

“Turns out it is he,” Wei Xiaobao and Ah Ke said together. Ah Ke added, “Since Feng Shifu has arrived, why didn’t you ask him to immediately go to that ancestral hall over there to save Gongzi?”

An attendant said, “Feng Shifu has just arrived. He received our letter, sent by flying pigeon. From Hejian Prefecture he rushed over in the same night.”

“Feng Shifu was at Hejian Prefecture?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Why we did not see him?”

The attendants looked at each other, nobody answered. Knowing that he had blurted out a secret, the attendant who spoke earlier lowered his head.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out there was a martial art master hidden among the Zheng Family people who attended the ‘turtle-slaying assembly’, all along he did not show himself. Only after this stinky fellow was captured did he finally rush over for the rescue.” Pinching his own cheek, he said, “Flesh, oh flesh, someone else is going to save Zheng Gongzi, you don’t need to be exchanged with some darling treasure and be eaten by those barbarians.”

Ah Ke blushed; she wanted to explain, but had a second thought, “I don’t know whether Feng Shifu singlehandedly [orig. single spear one horse] will be able to defeat that many barbarians.”

Wei Xiaobao saw she was going to speak but refrained herself, he could guess what was in her mind; he said, “Don’t worry, if Feng Shifu is not able to rescue him, there is still this rotten flesh of mine to be exchanged with your darling. A real man gave his words, some horses cannot pursue.”

“It’s good if Feng Shifu is able to save him,” Ah Ke said.

Wei Xiaobao was angry, he started to walk away, but with the corner of his eyes he saw her pretty face, his heart turned soft; he turned around and sat by the roadside.

Seeing he was about to leave, Ah Ke could not help but was worried, thinking that if Feng Shifu was not able to save Zheng Gongzi, and Wei Xiaobao left, who would get Zheng Gongzi back? Only after seeing he came back and sat down did she feel relieved. She did not dare to offend him this time, hence she came over and sat next to him.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “This moment you need my help; if I don’t take any advantage now, what am I waiting for?” Reaching out with his left hand, he wrapped it around her waist, while with his right hand he held Ah Ke’s right hand. Ah Ke struggled slightly, and then stay motionless. Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he thought, “It would be best if that man surnamed Feng is killed by Yang Dage and the others, and won’t come back forever, so that I can sit waiting like this for the rest my life.”

He was fully aware that Ah Ke did not have even half a part of feeling toward him, early on he already had no high hopes in his heart; he only hoped he could sit embracing her for a lifetime, then he would be perfectly contented, he would be even happier if she did not ask him for a help.

Unfortunately, things turned out contrary to the way he wished; he only embraced her for a short time when they heard the faint sound of hoof beats on the main road. Ah Ke sprang up and called out, “Zheng Gongzi is back.”

The sound of hoof beats was getting nearer and nearer, it sounded like two horses were rushing over. “All right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I just got my life back, no need to have the barbarians eat me.” The tone of his voice was brimming with bitterness. But by this time, even if he was ten times more angry, why would Ah Ke care? She was anxiously running toward the main road.

The two horses arrived one after another. The attendants lifted high their lanterns, while cheering loudly. The one riding on the front was indeed Zheng Keshuang. Seeing Ah Ke rushing over to meet him, he leaped down from his horse. The two of them embraced each other with unbounded happiness. Ah Ke buried her head in his bosom, crying. She said, “I was afraid … afraid those barbarians would … would …”

Wei Xiaobao was actually starting to stand up, but seeing this sight, it was as if the pit of his stomach was punched, hard. He fell back sitting down, his head dizzy his eyes blurred. He made an oath in his heart, “His granny, if in this life I cannot make you, this stinky little mother, as my wife, I am your Zheng Keshuang’s seventeenth, eighteenth generation grandson. I, Wei Xiaobao, am a ‘wang jiu dan’, a ‘wang ba dan’ plus one egg[3].”

If other people undergo this situation, if they did not completely disheartened, broken hearted and shed some tears, then they would be determined to cut off all feeling and started to look for a better match. Wei Xiaobao, however, by nature was a hoodlum, with thick skin and very strong, tenacious personality; a thick-faced and strong-willed person.

“In short,” he continued his musing, “Laozi will hang around you for the rest of my life. If my life is spent, my soul will not go away, I will cling to you. Even if you marry eighteen times, the nineteenth time will be with laozi.”

He grew up in a brothel, he was accustomed to see the prostitutes welcoming new guests and sending off the old ones. He did not think that a woman’s heart was capable to be attached to any extraordinary important matter; all those ‘faithful unto death’, ‘chaste’ or ‘not double-hearted’, he had never heard of.

He was upset for only a short time, and then was able to giggle while walking over and said, “Zheng Gongzi, you are back; you haven’t been bitten by the barbarians?”

Zheng Keshuang was startled. “What do you mean bitten?” he asked. Ah Ke was also startled; she looked at him up and down; only after seeing that his five sense organs and fingers were whole did she feel relieved.

Feng Xifan was still sitting on the horseback. “Who is this little kid?” he asked.

“He is Miss Chen’s Shidi,” Zheng Keshuang replied. Feng Xifan nodded.

Wei Xiaobao looked up at him, he saw a slim face, yellowish, with black hair, two slanting swallowtail beard, his eyes turned into two slits; he really looked like a tuberculosis ghost. Concerned over Yang Yizhi’s safety, he asked, “Feng Shifu, you really have capability, in just a short time you are able to rescue Zheng Gongzi back. Did you kill that barbarian leader?”

“What barbarian?” Feng Xifan asked, “They dressed up.”

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly shocked; he said, “They dressed up? But they can speak barbarian tongue.”

“Fake!” Feng Xifan said. Feeling it was beneath his dignity to talk too much to this little kid, he turned to Zheng Keshuang and said, “Gongzi, you must be tired, why don’t we go to rest at that ancestral hall over there?”

Ah Ke was concerned about her shifu. “I am afraid Shifu will worry when she wakes up and did not see me.”

“Let’s go back immediately,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Ah Ke looked at Zheng Keshuang, she was hoping he would come with her. Zheng Keshuang said, “Shifu, let’s everybody go to the inn to have something to eat, and some good sleep.”

On the way Wei Xiaobao questioned Zheng Keshuang on how he escaped. Zheng Keshuang boasted about his shifu’s skill, how in just a few moves he killed the barbarians that they scattered away. Wei Xiaobao made sure he heard that ‘the barbarian leader did not lose his life’ before he felt relieved.

By the time they all arrived at the inn, the sky had already brightened, Jiu Nan was already awake for quite some time. She had already expected that Ah Ke would pull Wei Xiaobao to save Zheng Keshuang; therefore, she was not surprised to see the two of them went missing.

When Zheng Keshuang and the others arrived, he introduced Feng Xifan to her. Jiu Nan noticed his listless appearance, but occasionally his eyes would open wide, and she could see the unusual brightness of his gaze; she thought, “This man has a reputation as ‘One Sword without Blood’, apparently his name is not in vain, his martial art is indeed superb.”

After breakfast, Jiu Nan said, “Zheng Gongzi, we, master and disciples, have some business we need to take care of; we’ll have to separate here.”

Zheng Keshuang was startled; he was quite disappointed. “It’s a rare fate that brought me to see Shitai,” he said, “I was just thinking of asking a lot of guidance. I wonder where Shitai is heading; in any case junior does not have any important matter to manage, don’t you think it will be good if we travel together?”

Jiu Nan shook her head and said, “Those who have left home have many inconvenience.” Taking Ah Ke and Wei Xiaobao, she climbed into the carriage.

Zheng Keshuang was at a loss, he could not say anything. Ah Ke’s eyes turned red at once, she was barely able to refrain from crying. Wei Xiaobao struggled hard to maintain a straight face; he prayed silently, “May Shifu lives to be a hundred years, may she enjoys lots of good fortune and long life. Amituofo, may Buddha bless and protect her.”

“Shifu,” he asked, “Where are we going?”

“Beijing,” Jiu Nan replied.

After half a day, she said coldly, “If that surnamed Zheng is following us, nobody is to pay him any attention. Whichever of you does not obey, I will immediately kill that surnamed Zheng!”

Ah Ke was startled. “Shifu, why?” she asked.

“No reason,” Jiu Nan replied, “I love peace and quiet, I don’t like other people bothering me.”

Ah Ke did not dare to ask further. After a while, suddenly she remembered something. “What if Shidi talked to him?” she asked.

“Same thing,” Jiu Nan replied, “I will kill Zheng Gongzi.”

Wei Xiaobao could not bear it anymore; he coughed, and then snickered.

“Shifu, it’s not fair,” Ah Ke said, “Shidi might deliberately talk to him.”

Jiu Nan glowered at her. “If that surnamed Zheng did not follow us, how can Xiaobao talk to him? If he ignored my request and kept hanging around me, death cannot wipe out his crimes.”

Wei Xiaobao was bursting with joy, he felt that among good people on the earth, nobody surpasses his Shifu. Suddenly he pulled Jiu Nan’s hand and kissed the palm of her hand.

Jiu Nan shook his hand away. “Fooling around!” she spoke sternly. But for more than twenty years there had never been anyone who was this affectionate toward her; although this disciple was unbridled, he was showing a genuine affection. Her mouth was scolding, but a smile appeared at the corners of her mouth.

Ah Ke saw how partial her Shifu was, plus she was wondering when she would see Zheng Gongzi again. The more she thought about it, the sadder she was; tears streamed down her face.

A few days later the three of them arrived at Beijing, and found a small, secluded inn in Dongcheng [lit. eastern town, a district of central Beijing] area. Jiu Nan went to Wei Xiaobao’s room, bolted the door, and said in a low voice, “Xiaobao, can you guess why we are in Beijing?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am guessing that if not for Tao Gugu, then it must be for those remaining several copies of the sutra.”

Jiu Nan nodded, “Correct,” she said, “It is for those several copies of the sutra.”

After a short pause, she continued slowly, “This time I suffered a very serious injury, I got to think about a lot of things. One person, no matter how perfect he trained his martial art, inevitably his power is lacking. Ultimately, the important matters of the world need the pooling of brains and brawn of the men of great aspiration to succeed. The crowd of heroes initiated the ‘Turtle-Slaying Assembly’ at Hejian Prefecture; I have given it a careful thought: even if we managed to kill Wu Sangui, that traitor, one person, our rivers and mountains are still in the Tatars’ hands. It would be no more than we are venting our resentment for a short while; what else would it do? But if we can obtain the sutras, we can break the Tatars’ dragon vein, by appealing people aspiring to benevolence throughout the world to hold the banner of righteousness together. Only then will we have the hope to recover our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu is right.”

Jiu Nan said, “I need another half a month to recuperate before my internal energy can fully recover. After that I can go into the Palace to investigate. Finding the whereabouts of the other seven sutras is the first and foremost.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let the disciple sneak into the Palace first, I will open my eyes and ears wide. Who knows? The Heaven might bless me so that I can find a clue.”

Jiu Nan nodded. “You are very smart,” she said, “Perhaps you will be able to accomplish this important matter. This big merit …” Speaking to this point, she heaved a deep sigh, her eyes were brimming with encouragement.

Wei Xiaobao had a strong impulse to reveal the truth: “The other five sutras are in disciple’s hand.” But immediately he had a second thought, “Xiao Xuanzi treated me like a true friend; if I helped Shifu, I am destroying his rivers and mountains, then he won’t be the Emperor anymore. Won’t that mean I am violating yi qi too much?”

Seeing his hesitation, Jiu Nan thought he was concerned over if he would succeed or not; thereupon she said, “This matter is indeed very difficult. We simply have to do our best, and that’s all I can ask. This is called ‘man proposes Heaven disposes’ [orig. ‘planning is with man, success is with heaven’]. Ay, I wonder if the Zhu family has reached the end of its destiny, or will there still hope? Over the past dozens of years, all my hopes have turned to dust, my worldly thoughts broken. I did not expect that after seeing Hongying and you, originally I did not want to pay attention to the affairs of the nation, but the affairs of the nation managed to get back into my head.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu, you are a princess of the Great Ming, these rivers and mountains originally belonged to your family; it was usurped by other people, naturally we must snatch it back.”

Jiu Nan sighed and said, “This matter does not belong to my family alone. All the other members of my family are dead.” Stretching out her arm, she gently stroked Wei Xiaobao’s head, while saying, “Xiaobao, you must never leak even half a word about this matter in front of your Shijie.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded in respond; he thought, “Shijie is such a beautiful and lovely woman, yet Shifu does not like her too much; I wonder what’s the reason? I think it must be because she cannot lick Shifu’s behind.”

Early morning the next day, he went into the Palace to have an audience with the Emperor. Kangxi was greatly delighted; pulling his hand, he laughed and said, “Damn it, why do you come back only today? Every day I am waiting for you. I was quite worried, afraid that you were seized by that evil nun, your little life could not be guaranteed. The day before yesterday Dolong returned and submitted his report, saying that he saw you; only then did I feel relieved. How did you escape?”

“Thank you for Your Majesty’s concern, and sent the Imperial Bodyguards to go looking for your servant,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “That evil nun was originally very angry, she was determined to punch and kick me, later on I told her that Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’ [niao sheng yu tang, see Chapter 14], is a very good Emperor, that she must not kill you. She spoke many more treason and heresy words. I praised you one sentence, she gave me one slap on the face. Later on I was unwilling to suffer another imminent pain, I had no choice but to shut my mouth and expect for the best.”

Kangxi nodded. “If you were killed by her, that would be for nothing anyway,” he said, “What is actually the evil nun’s background? She came to assassinate me, who sent her?”

“Who sent her, your servant did not know,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “After she kidnapped me that time, she tied my wrists with rope, and then took me away like pulling a circus monkey. Your Majesty, with my mouth I did not dare to curse, but in my heart I cursed her seventeen, eighteen-generation ancestors.”

Kangxi laughed. “I am not surprised,” he said, “Why wouldn’t you?”

“She dragged me along for several days,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “Several times she wanted to kill me, fortunately along the way we came across someone. This man has a friendship relation with your servant; he helped me by saying a lot of good words on my behalf, and then the evil nun stopped beating me.”

“Who was that man?” Kangxi asked in astonishment.

“This man surnamed Yang,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He is the leader of the Ping Xi Wang’s Heir Apparent warriors.”

Kangxi was very interested. “So he is that servant Wu Sangui’s subordinate?” he asked, “Why did he help you by saying good things on your behalf?”

“Actually, it originated from Your Majesty’s benevolence,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “When the people of Mu Family of Yunnan entered the Palace and created disturbance the other day, they were framing Wu Sangui. Everybody else believed it, but Your Majesty is wise beyond compare, you were able to see through their plot. Your Majesty sent me to pass on the imperial edict to Wu Sangui’s son. It was at that time that the man surnamed Yang met with your servant.”

Kangxi nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said.

Before entering the Palace, Wei Xiaobao had already prepared a good story; he added, “That man surnamed Yang is called Yang Yizhi. He mentioned the Mu Family incident to the nun, saying that although the Emperor is young, his knowledge and experience may surpass the ‘raw bird fish soup’, very intelligent and wise; practically he is the Daoist Immortal or Bodhisattva descending into the mortal world. The nun was half believing and half doubting, but she did not treat me that strict anymore afterwards. One evening, Yang Yizhi and the nun talked in the room, I pretended to be asleep, but I opened my ears. Turned out the nun came to assassinate the Emperor under someone else’s order.”

“It’s Wu Sangui, that servant,” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao’s face showed a shocked expression. “So Your Majesty already know,” he said, “Did Dolong report it to you?”

“No, he did not,” Kangxi said, “The leader of Wu Sangui’s warriors knew this nun, and he discussed this matter with the nun in secret; what good can come out of that?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled but delighted; he kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Your Majesty, I am overjoyed to work for you; whatever it is, you can always guess it right the first time, no need for me to tell you. In all our lives, everything will be fine, we will never lose to anybody else.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Get up, get up! Last time it was dangerous enough at the Qingliang Temple on Mount Wutai. If you did not risk your life by blocking in front of me …” Speaking to this point, his expression turned serious; he continued, “This traitor’s evil plot would have prevailed.” Thinking how that day the nun in white strike like thunder or lightning, he could not help but shiver.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Actually, when the nun’s sword was thrust your way, your movement was very quick, naturally you could have used the move ‘single cloud coming out of the mountain peak’ to evade, and then you turned around and used the ‘red-crowned crane combing its tail feathers’ to strike the evil nun’s shoulder. She must have cried out ‘Surrender!’; it’s just that I was afraid you might be injured, my mind was confused, I was only thinking of blocking in front of you, to take the sword on your behalf. Your Majesty has not had any opportunity to unleash your martial art skill and create a stir in front of the Shaolin monks; it was indeed a pity.”

Kangxi burst out in laughter; he knew perfectly well that if that day Wei Xiaobao did not block in front of him, he would have died from the nun in white’s stab. This little fellow was so loyal and unexpectedly did not claim any credit for himself; a person like him was indeed hard to come by. He laughed and said, “You are very young, yet your official duty is already quite big. Wait till you are a few years older, I will promote you to be a high-ranking official.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “I don’t want to be a high-ranking official; I only hope to go on missions for Your Majesty. As long as I do not provoke you into anger, I am perfectly contented.”

Kangxi patted his shoulder. “Very good, very good,” he said, “Just do what I told you to do, I will be very happy, how can I be angry at you? What else did that man surnamed Yang say to the nun?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Yang Yizhi repeatedly persuaded the nun, saying that there are a lot of good things about Your Majesty. He said that Wu Sangui has shown kindness to his father, hence before his father died, he beseeched him to protect Wu Sangui. But Wu Sangui single-mindedly wants to be the Emperor, which is really a treason and heresy, something that he should have never wanted. When this matter is exposed in the future, everybody will be executed along with his family unto the third generation. The nun also said that her entire family was wiped our by the Ta … Ta … by us, Manchu people. Wu Sangui treated her with full respect. She came to assassinate you, first of all it was to give Wu Sangui a lot of face, secondly, she wanted to avenge her father and mother. The rest of her family has already died, hence she was not afraid of execution unto the third generation.”

Kangxi nodded. Wei Xiaobao continued, “Yang Yizhi said that Your Majesty treats the common people well, if … if she harmed you, and Wu Sangui became the Emperor, although he would become a high-ranking officer or a great general, but the common people under the heavens might suffer great hardship. The nun is actually softhearted, she pays particular attention to mercy. After thinking for a long time, she said that he was right, therefore, she decided not to continue her mission. The two of them then agreed that if Wu Sangui sent another assassin, the two of them would kill this assassin in secret.”

Kangxi happily said, “Those two people actually understood virtuous cause very well.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “But Yang Yizhi said that there was one more thing that is not easy to accomplish.”

“What other strange thing is that?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The two of them talked in low voice for quite a while, it was not too clear to me, I only heard something like ‘Yan Pin Jun Wang’ and ‘Zheng Family of Taiwan’ was mentioned, it seems to me that Wu Sangui wanted to divide the world equally with somebody surnamed Zheng.”

Kangxi stood up; he said in a loud voice, “Turns out that servant is colluding with those Taiwan’s rebellious thieves in secret.”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “What kind of damned b@stard is Zheng Family of Taiwan?”

“That rebellious thief surnamed Zheng occupies Taiwan illegally,” Kangxi explained, “They refuse to accept beneficial influence of the sovereign; only because they are far away overseas that temporarily it is not easy to pacify that region.”

Wei Xiaobao’s expression showed that he had just suddenly seen the light. “So that’s what happened,” he said, “By this time the more I heard, the more your servant was angry, thinking that these rivers and mountains are Your Majesty’s, what kind of ‘thing’ are those men surnamed Wu and surname Zheng anyway? How dare they want to divide Your Majesty’s land under the heavens equally? Yang Yizhi said that the one surnamed Zheng of Taiwan sent his second son, his name was Zheng Ke … Zheng Ke …”

“Zheng Keshuang,” Kangxi said.

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Your Majesty knows everything.”

Kangxi smiled without saying anything. The fact was: for the last several years he had been planning and preparing to take Taiwan back under his territory, he had long ago acquired clear information on the names of the Zheng family father and sons, as well as Taiwan’s military strength and their naval situation.

“That Zheng Keshuang visited Yunnan recently,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “He had a meeting with Wu Sangui for over half a month.”

Kangxi’s face suddenly showed displeasure. “Is there such thing?” he wondered aloud.

Taiwan and Yunnan were actually two regions that he was concerned about the most. He had never thought that Zheng and Wu, two people, would join hands in conspiracy. It was only this time that he heard about Zheng Keshuang’s visit to Yunnan.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Taiwan has a fellow whose martial art skill is very high, he protected Zheng Keshuang all the way. This fellow is surnamed Feng, he is called One Sword Bleeding [yi jian chu xue] or something like that.”

“One Sword without Blood [yi jian wu xue] Feng Xifan,” Kangxi said, “Along with Liu Guoxuan and Chen Yonghua, they are known as the Three Tigers of Taiwan.”

Hearing the Emperor mentioning his shifu’s real name, Wei Xiaobao’s heart turned cold. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Exactly, it was One Sword without Blood Feng Xifan. Yang Yizhi said that among the three tigers of Taiwan, Chen Yonghua is the good one, Feng Xifan and the other one are the bad ones. Chen Yonghua is unwilling to join the rebellion against Your Majesty, it’s just that he is only one tiger, he cannot stand up against the other two tigers.”

In front of Kangxi he was speaking good things about Jiu Nan, Yang Yizhi and Chen Jinnan, three people, for a one in ten thousand chance that they were captured by the Qing court, then he already had something with which he could try to save them.

Kangxi shook his head. “That’s not necessarily true,” he said, “Chen Yonghua is a lot more formidable than the other two tigers.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Yang Yizhi also told that nun that there are too many Wu Sangui’s adversaries in Jianghu, they assembled at Hejian Prefecture in a congress called the ‘Slaying-Turtle Assembly’, in which they discussed ways to kill Wu Sangui. That Zheng Keshuang and Feng Xifan mingled in the congress to gather information which they will then pass on to Wu Sangui. The longer they talked, their voices were getting lower and lower, I was trying to listen hard for half a day, and after knowing that they were not planning on harming Your Majesty, I did not pay too much attention anymore. Afterwards I fell asleep for real. Your Majesty, in this case your servant was a little bit lazy, but I was extremely exhausted. Around midnight Yang Yizhi quietly awakened me, unsealed my acupoints, and told me that the nun was meditating to cultivate her internal energy, he told me that it was the best time for me to sneak out.”

Kangxi nodded. “That man surnamed Yang actually still has conscience,” he said.

“Isn’t that so?” Wei Xiaobao said, “When in the future Your Majesty put Wu Sangui to death, I am asking Your Majesty to show mercy by sparing this Yang Yizhi’s life.”

Kangxi said, “If he can render meritorious service, not only I will spare his life, I will also bestow him rewards. What else did you hear at the ‘Slaying-Turtle Assembly’?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Each province elected an alliance leader, that Zheng Keshuang was elected Mengzhu of Fujian province, I think Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanxi or something are put under their Zheng Family’s jurisdiction.”

Kangxi smiled; he thought, “Xiao Guizi is wrong, it must be Jiangxi, not Shanxi.”

With hands behind his back, he paced back and forth in the Study Room. Successively he went back and forth for dozens of times before he suddenly said, “Xiao Guizi, do you dare to go to Yunnan?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; it was really beyond his expectation. “Your Majesty wants me to go secretly gather information at Wu Sangui’s place over there?” he asked.

Kangxi nodded; “This mission is indeed dangerous,” he said, “But you are young, Wu Sangui will not guard against you. Plus that Yang Yizhi is your friend, he will definitely look after you.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, it’s not that I am afraid of going to Yunnan, but I have just returned to the Palace, I haven’t seen you quite a few days yet, and now I have to leave you, I really hate to part with you.”

Kangxi nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I have the same feeling. Too bad that I am the Emperor, I can’t move around as I wish; otherwise the two of us can go to Yunnan together, I’ll grab Wu Sangui’s beard, you grab his hands, and together we’ll ask, ‘Damn it Wu Sangui, are you going to surrender or not?’ Won’t that be amusing?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “That’s a wonderful idea,” he said, “Your Majesty, you cannot go to Yunnan, I’ll swindle Wu Sangui to come to the Palace, and then we can grab his beard, what do you think?”

Kangxi burst out in loud laughter. “Good! Fabulous!” he said, “I am just afraid this servant is a wily old fox, he won’t be duped easily. Ah, Xiao Guizi, I have an idea that won’t raise his suspicion.”

“Your Majesty’s divine strategy is definitely very brilliant,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“We will marry Princess Jianning to his son,” Kangxi said, “Now that we become in-laws, he could not possibly guard against us.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “You want to marry her to that fellow Wu Yingxiong?” he asked, “This … isn’t this too convenient for him?”

Kangxi said, “She is that old s1ut’s daughter. We marry her to Yunnan, let her suffer a little bit of hardship first. In the future, when Wu Sangui is executed, along with his entire family unto the third generation, she will be executed together with them.” His voice was brimming with hatred.

Originally he liked this little sister very much, but ever since he found out that the Empress Dowager murdered his own mother and angered his father that he left home to become a monk, he also hated this little sister. He added, “At that time I can say that the old s1ut did not raise her daughter properly, then I can force her to commit suicide.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant has just heard a huge good news. Your Majesty must be very happy to hear it.”

“What good news?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao put his mouth near Kangxi’s ear and said in a low voice, “That old s1ut is a fake Empress Dowager, the real Empress Dowager is still alive and well in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.” In front of Kangxi, he still did not dare to utter the word ‘old wh0re’.

Kangxi was shocked. “What?” he said in a trembling voice, “What do you mean fake Empress Dowager?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao told Kangxi in details how the fake Empress Dowager imprisoned the real Empress Dowager, and then she assumed the Empress Dowager’s identity to commit all kinds of evil.

Kangxi was dumbstruck; he was speechless for half a day. After a long time passed he finally said, “Is there really such thing? Is there really such thing …? How did you know?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Knowing the old s1ut’s malicious character, your servant was afraid she might harm Your Majesty; therefore, I bribed a palace maid in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to secretly spy on her. As soon as I know something is not right, I will notify Your Majesty immediately, so that we can strike first and gain the upper hand. As soon as your servant entered the Palace today, the palace maid told me this very important matter.”

Beads of perspiration streamed down from Kangxi’s forehead; he said in a trembling voice, “Where is that palace maid?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I thought that this secret is too big; if she leaked it out, the consequences might be very serious. Therefore, your servant brazenly pushed her into a well, making sure that nobody will find her. Ay, I really wronged her.”

Kangxi nodded, a relief expression briefly appeared on his face. “You handled it well,” he said, “Tomorrow you pull her body up and give her a decent burial, find out where her family is, and generously give them gift to comfort the bereaved.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will do as Your Majesty’s instructed.”

“This matter should not be delayed,” Kangxi said, “Let us go to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful at once.” Finished speaking, he stood up, fetched a couple of swords from the wall and gave one sword to Wei Xiaobao. He said in a low voice, “We are going to take care of this matter ourselves, we must not let the palace maids and the court eunuchs know.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Your Majesty,” he said, “The old s1ut’s martial art is formidable, as soon as I enter the room to grasp her, Your Majesty should cut off her arms first, and then we can ask her the details.”

Kangxi nodded. “Very well!” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty should take a lot of Imperial Bodyguards, have them wait outside the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. If the situation turns really bad, we will have to call for help. Otherwise, if your servant is unable to hold the fake Empress Dowager firmly, this old s1ut might dash out and assault Your Majesty’s ten-thousand-gold body; that … that might be very inappropriate.”

Kangxi nodded; he made a decision right then and there: “If we absolutely have to have the Imperial Bodyguards’ help, after everything is done, these Imperial Bodyguards will have to be executed to close their mouths.”

Kangxi went out the Study Room and summoned eight Imperial Bodyguards to escort him. When they arrived outside the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, he ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to wait far away in the flower garden, while together with Wei Xiaobao they walked straight toward the Empress Dowager’s personal quarter. One after another the palace maids and court eunuchs of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful kneeled down to greet him. Kangxi said, “All of you go to the garden, nobody can come here.” Everybody obeyed and went away.

Wei Xiaobao knew that the fake Empress Dowager had sent his shifu Jiu Nan seven ‘transforming bones soft palm’ palm strikes, but all of this sinister and ruthless palm power was returned to her. Although his shifu had taught her how to dissolve the poison, but henceforth, as soon as she used internal energy, the bones in her body would immediately break into one-cun pieces. By counting the day, he calculated that by this time the poisonous power had not been completely dissolved; but even if it had, he calculated that she would not dare to fight. Plus, he still had the Five-Dragon Command in his hand. With this knowledge that he had a secure backing, his heart was calm.

Kangxi, on the other hand, knew that this fake Empress Dowager’s martial art skill was very formidable; his entire martial art skill was actually taught by him. Even if he had Wei Xiaobao as his backup, the skill difference between them was indeed very far. Their only advantage was that the two of them had a pair of swords, while she was barehanded, and that she was going to be caught unprepared, just like when they were dealing with Oboi in the past. And thus when he entered the bedroom, his palms were wet with perspiration.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Today is my chance to set up a great merit, I am going to pounce on the old wh0re, His Majesty only know that I am dashing on bravely without any thought of my personal safety, while in fact I am beating up a dead dog who cannot move a single step. Beating up a dead dog is what laozi can do best.” In a low voice he said, “This s1ut’s martial art is superb, Your Majesty must not take any risk. Let your servant move first!” Kangxi nodded, his right hand tightly grabbed the hilt of his sword.

When they entered the bedroom, they did not see anybody there, the bed curtain was hanging down. The Empress Dowager’s voice came out from inside the bed curtain, “Emperor, you have not visited the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful for many days; are you well?”

Previously, Kangxi would visit the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful every day to pay his respect to the Empress Dowager. Ever since he learned the inside story, his heart was filled with unspeakable hatred, hence his visit became very scarce.

Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao had not expected that she would sleep in the bed during the day, whatever method they had previously planned was quite useless now. Kangxi said, “I heard the Empress Dowager is not feeling very well, your son is paying the Empress Dowager a visit.” He made an eye signal to Wei Xiaobao, ordering him, “Raise the bed curtain!”

“Cha!” Wei Xiaobao complied[4], and walked toward the bed.

“I am afraid of the wind,” the Empress Dowager said, “Don’t raise the bed curtain.”

Kangxi thought, “If I did not heed her words and raise the bed curtain by force, she might guard against me.” He said, “Yes. I wonder what ailment does the Empress Dowager suffer; have you taken any medicine?”

“I have,” the Empress Dowager replied, “The imperial doctor says it’s a very light common cold, nothing serious.”

Kangxi said, “Your son wants to see how does the Empress Dowager look? Do you have any fever?”

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “I look all right, you do not need to see. Emperor, please go back.”

Suspicion arose in Kangxi’s heart, “What trick is she playing?”

Wei Xiaobao noticed the bed was pitch-black, he turned his body around and made a signal to Kangxi, hinting that he was going to grab her feet, and the Emperor should hack with his sword. In that instant, Kangxi was having a second thought, “Supposing everything Xiao Guizi said is wrong, then what happen? Although the man dressed as palace maid was real, but perhaps the Empress Dowager was just having a dirty confusion of mind against the Palace’s prohibition, and could not control her desire. Once my sword is chopping down, in case she is the real Empress Dowager, and not an impostor, won’t I not only be a muddle head, but an unfilial son as well? I would rather have the fake Empress Dowager guards against me and have the Imperial Bodyguards come to help me capturing her, but I must not be reckless in dealing with this matter and thus chopping and harming the real Empress Dowager.” Thereupon he shook his head and waved his hand, ordering Wei Xiaobao to back off.

“Empress Dowager,” he said, “Your son is worried.” In a quick step he walked to the bed and stretched out his hand to open the bed curtain.

As the brocaded curtain parted, he saw the Empress Dowager quickly turned around, facing the inside of the bed. Yet in that instant Kangxi was able to catch a glimpse of Empress Dowager’s thin cheeks, her appearance was substantially different. “Empress Dowager,” he said, “You, Senior suddenly became very thin lately.” His voice trembled.

The Empress Dowager sighed and said, “Ever since returning from Mount Wutai, my appetite has been bad, every day I can only eat less than half a bowl of rice. When looking at the mirror, I almost cannot recognize myself.”

Kangxi thought, “Xiao Guizi’s words are obviously not a lie, this old s1ut did not expect I would suddenly come back, she is sleeping on the bed, thinking that nobody would see her, today she did not put on her disguise, hence no matter what she did not allow me to see her face. Now that I have seen it with my own eyes, could I be mistaken?”

Burning with anger, he shouted loudly, “Aiyo, Empress Dowager, there’s a big rat behind the hanging bed curtain. Help! Quickly roll up the bed curtain to catch the rat!” While saying that, he retreated two steps backward, afraid that when the Empress Dowager saw her plot had been exposed, she might suddenly turn violent and attack.

But he only heard the Empress Dowager’s trembling voice, “What rat behind the bed curtain?”

Wei Xiaobao stepped forward to draw the woolen cord to roll up the curtain, exposing a wardrobe door behind it. “Uh!” Kangxi exclaimed, “Turns out there is a big wardrobe in here, the rat must be hiding inside the wardrobe!” While thinking, “Now that most of this matter has been exposed, she is prepared, we cannot launch a sneak attack anymore.” Retreating toward the door, he beckoned toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Summon the Imperial Bodyguards to come in. There’s a strange noise in the wardrobe, we must not let any assassin hiding in there and frighten the Empress Dowager.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. He turned outside and called out loudly from the door, “Summon the Imperial Bodyguards!” Eight Imperial Bodyguards appeared in front of the bedroom door and bowed, awaiting the imperial decree.

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “Emperor, what trick are you playing?”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Ah, right. Princess Jianning is hiding inside the wardrobe, playing hide-and-seek. Empress Dowager, I’ve been looking for her everywhere, she must be inside the wardrobe.” He waved his right hand.

Wei Xiaobao immediately opened the wardrobe, but the wardrobe door was locked, he could not open it. Kangxi laughed and said, “Empress Dowager, where is the wardrobe key?”

The Empress Dowager angrily said, “I am not feeling well, you two children are actually coming to my room to play. Quickly get out for me.” The Imperial Bodyguards knew that the Emperor often played with Princess Jianning. Hearing the Empress Dowager, they all broke into smile.

Kangxi said, “Pry the wardrobe door open. The Empress Dowager is ill, we must not disturb her, the Senior.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao complied. From his boot he pulled his dagger and inserted it into the wardrobe door. With a light cut the lock catch broke. He then pulled the handle and the wardrobe door opened smoothly. He saw a pile of brocade quilt inside, exactly what he saw that night inside the wardrobe, but there was nobody inside.

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “That night I clearly saw the real Empress Dowager was hidden inside the wardrobe,” he mused, “How can she disappear all of a sudden? Could it be that the old wh0re is afraid my shifu might reveal her secret and thus has killed the real Empress Dowager?”

Opening up the brocade quilt inside the wardrobe, he could vaguely see a book at the bottom of the quilt, the book looked like the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. Hastily he put down the brocade quilt to cover the book. Turning his head around, he saw Kangxi’s bewildered expression; when he turned his attention toward the bed again, he noticed the quilt on the bed was bulging, apparently there was someone else hiding underneath the bedding. “The Princess is hiding inside the Empress Dowager’s bedding,” he happily said.

“Quickly pull her out,” Kangxi urgently said. He was afraid that realizing her secret was exposed, the fake Empress Dowager would immediately kill the real Empress Dowager.

Wei Xiaobao rushed toward the bed and put his hand underneath the bedding at the Empress Dowager’s foot side, with the intention of pulling the real Empress Dowager’s foot out. As soon as he reached in, he felt that he was touching a hairy leg, and could not help but was very shocked. Right this moment, a big foot suddenly shot out and kicked his chest. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, and fell backward.

The quilt rose up, a stark-naked meatball leaped out; carrying the quilt, with the Empress Dowager inside, the meatball dashed out of the door.

The eight Imperial Bodyguards was greatly shocked; hastily they tried to block, but the meatball struck them. Three Imperial Bodyguards flew out of the door and fell on the ground outside the bedroom. Carrying the Empress Dowager, the meatball dashed out.

Kangxi bolted to the door, but saw that the meatball was leaping out as if it was flying. In just a few leaps it already reached the garden wall. With one leap it reached the top of the wall, and immediately disappeared on the other side. “Quickly pursue!” Kangxi shouted.

Three Imperial Bodyguards were struck by the meatball and were unable to crawl up from the ground. The remaining five Imperial Bodyguards rushed toward the wall, but they could no longer see the meatball’s shadow.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was fuzzy, there was a severe pain on his chest. He scrambled up toward the wardrobe, reached into the quilt, grabbed the sutra, and hid it inside his pocket. He heard Kangxi’s shouts in the garden, “Come back, come back!” Wei Xiaobao turned around and fell to the floor. He heard footsteps as the Imperial Bodyguards rushed back. Outside the bedroom, Kangxi ordered the Imperial Bodyguards, “Everybody stay here, don’t make any noise.”

Kangxi returned to the bedroom, closed the door, and said in a low voice, “What happened?”

Propping himself against a table, Wei Xiaobao stood up and said, “Mon … monster!” In his shock his face was devoid of any color.

Kangxi shook his head and said, “That’s not a monster! He is the old s1ut’s male adulterer.”

Wei Xiaobao’s mind had not cleared up yet. “What male adulterer?” he asked.

“That was a man, didn’t you see?” Kangxi said, “A short and fat man.”

Wei Xiaobao was astonished, but amused at the same time; he said, “The old s1ut was hiding a … short and fat man who was not wearing anything!”

Kangxi’s expression looked grave. “What about the real Empress Dowager?” he asked.

“It would be best if … if she has not been killed by the old s1ut …” Wei Xiaobao said. Suddenly he remembered something. Lifting up the mattress on the Empress Dowager’s bed, he said, “There is a secret compartment underneath the bed.” But he only saw an unsheathed platinum Emei Sting in the secret compartment; nothing else. Hesitatingly he said, “Let’s lift open the bed board and take a look.”

Kangxi rushed forward and helped Wei Xiaobao lifting up the bed board. They saw a woman lying on a mat underground, her body was covered with a thin quilt. When the bed board was in place, it seemed that the board was approximately less than half a chi from this woman’s face.

The bed room was dark, they could not see clearly. “Quickly light a candle,” Kangxi said.

Wei Xiaobao lighted a candle and brought the candlestick close to the hole. They saw the woman’s countenance was pale, her face was goose egg’s shape; apparently, she was the real Empress Dowager hidden inside the wardrobe the other night. The last time Kangxi saw the real Empress Dowager, he was very young. After so many years, he was not sure if she was the real Empress Dowager or not. Yet seeing this woman’s appearance looked a lot like the Empress Dowager he had seen daily, busily he helped her up and asked, “Is it … is it the Empress Dowager?”

With the candlelight right in front of her face, the woman temporarily was unable to open her eyes. “You … you …” she said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This is the current Emperor, he has personally come here to rescue your sacred good self.”

The woman opened her eyes a slit, she gazed at Kangxi for a moment, and then with a trembling voice said, “Are you … are you really the Emperor?” Suddenly, “Wah!” she cried and reached out to embrace Kangxi and hugged him tightly.

Wei Xiaobao took the candlestick several steps backward; he looked around everywhere to make sure there was no more male adulterer, assassin or fake palace maid. He thought, “The Emperor has met the real Empress Dowager, naturally there will be a lot to talk about. If I hear one more word, my head might not stay on my neck.” Putting the candlestick on the table, he quietly withdrew and closed the door behind him.

He saw outside the door, eight Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and court eunuchs were standing in the middle of the courtyard, with terrified look on their faces. He waved his hand, ordering them to go into the garden. He said, “Just now the Emperor was playing hide-and-seek with Princess Jianning, Princess was wearing a weird outfit, disguising herself as a large meatball, and then she jumped out. Did all of you see that?”

An Imperial Bodyguard was very perceptive; he busily replied, “Yes, yes. Princess Jianning can move very fast, her disguise is also very amusing.”

Wei Xiaobao showed a faint smile; he said, “His Majesty does not wish other people to know about this child play, whoever has an itchy mouth, the melon head above your neck might not be stable. Now, who wants to gossip and meddle, and talk rubbish?”

The Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and eunuchs replied in unison, “We do not dare.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded; turning toward the three injured Imperial Bodyguards, he said, “What happened to you? How come without any rhyme or reason you are injured?”

An Imperial Bodyguard replied, “Reporting to Fu Zongguan [deputy chief]: Xiaoren, three of us, were having martial art practice this morning, we were practicing a bit too heavy, and injured each other.”

“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You are all brothers, why did you move heavily during practice? You were not fighting to the death!”

“Yes, yes,” the three Imperial Bodyguards replied, “Next time we will be more careful.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those of you who are injured may take twenty taels medical expense.” The three Imperial Bodyguards busily bowed down to express their gratitude. Wei Xiaobao continued, “Your granny, your dad and mom raised you until you are this big, this life is not too cheap. If everybody wants to keep your melon head and still loves to eat rice, then your dog mouths must be a bit more careful. In case you are afraid you might talk in your sleep, you might as well cut your own tongue right now. All of you, report your names to Laozi.”

The Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and eunuchs reported their names at once. Wei Xiaobao said, “Very well, about the matter of hide-and-seek today, if laozi heard the least bit or rumor, I don’t care who talks too much, all thirty-five of you will be beheaded together. Anybody refuse to accept?”

In their hearts, everybody understood that after witnessing the strange event a moment ago, inevitably their lives would be very difficult to protect, most likely the Emperor would kill them all to close their mouths. By saying those words, Gui Gonggong was actually saving their lives. In their gratefulness, they all kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Thank you Gonggong for your great benevolence in saving our lives.”

Wei Xiaobao waved his hand and said, “Thank me for what? It’s His Majesty’s kindness.”

Returning to the bedroom door, he sat on the stone steps and waited quietly. It was more than an hour later that he finally heard Kangxi calling out, “Xiao Guizi, come in.”

He entered the bedroom and saw the Empress Dowager and Kangxi were sitting side-by-side on the bed, they were holding each other’s hand, and there were tears on their faces. He kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Congratulations Empress Dowager, congratulations Your Majesty. There are a total of thirty-five servants outside who witnessed Your Majesty playing hide-and-seek with Princess Jianning. If there is any one of them dares to leak half a word, your servant will put all these thirty-five people to death, nobody will be spared. They are all scared to death, I expect no one will dare to talk rubbish.”

Kangxi nodded. Wei Xiaobao continued, “If you want them killed right now to avoid future trouble, your servant will see to it right away.”

Kangxi hesitated slightly. The Empress Dowager said, “Today you and I, mother and son, meet each other. This is an enormously happy occasion, we must not harm anybody’s life too much.”

“Yes,” Kangxi said, “We must do as Buddha has commanded, we thank the Heaven and Bodhisattva for blessing and protecting us.”

The Empress Dowager turned her gaze toward Wei Xiaobao; she said, “Your age is young, yet you have set up these many meritorious service, it is indeed very rare.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “It is because of the Empress Dowager and the Emperor’s great fortune. I only hate the fact that your servant did not display utter loyalty in handling this matter, unable to uncover the evil scheme at the earliest possible time that the Empress Dowager must receive these many years of suffering.”

The Empress Dowager’s heart ached, tears streamed down her face. She said to Kangxi, “You must reward this child well.”

“Yes, yes,” Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, your official position is already not low, today I bestow a nobility rank to you. Our Great Qing has five orders of nobility, namely Gong [duke], Hou [marquis], Bo [count], Zi [viscount] and Nan [baron]. By the Empress Dowager’s grace, you are now a first class Zijue [viscount].”

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed for the kindness shown by the Emperor; he said, “Thank you for Empress Dowager’s grace, thank you for Your Majesty’s grace.” While in his heart he mused, “What should I do with this Zijue title? How much money does it worth?” Seeing Kangxi waving his hand, he withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence. He took the book from his pocket. As expected, it was another copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’, with which he was very familiar. This book had a blue silk cover with red border. “This must be the Bordered Blue Banner’s copy of the sutra,” he pondered, “Um, that’s right, Tao Gugu said that her Tai Shifu [grand master] tried to steal the sutra from the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander’s mansion. She failed to obtain the sutra, and was struck by a martial art master of Shen Long Jiao that she suffered a serious injury and died. This copy of sutra most likely fell into that Shen Long Jiao’s martial art master’s hand. Why is it that after so many years this book has not been submitted to Hong Jiaozhu? Perhaps it was not obtained then, but was obtained just recently.”

Expecting a lot of twists and turns in this matter, he knew it was hard for him to speculate. Feeling the pit of his stomach was still hurting very bad, he thought, “That short and fat meatball has a superb martial art skill. Aiyo, is it possible that he was the Shen Long Jiao’s martial art master who stole the sutra? He entered the Palace to meet with the old wh0re, the old wh0re treated him very well, she moved the real Empress Dowager under the bed to let him sleep inside the wardrobe. A moment ago the young emperor and I went to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful just at the right moment, by lucky coincidence we caught the fornication in bed. This meatball may come back for a revenge, but also want to return to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to retrieve the sutra.”

He must inform Dolong, telling him that he heard information that there was a possibility that some villain would enter the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, telling him to dispatch Imperial Bodyguards to strictly guard the Emperor and the Empress Dowager.

He thought, “It won’t be good if the old wh0re is going back to the Divine Dragon Island and report everything to Hong Jiaozhu. Laozi better strike first to gain the upper hand, I must take the map inside the sutra first, and then send one or two empty copies to the Divine Dragon Island. Hong Jiaozhu will want me to find the other copies, hence he will definitely give me the antidote. If he cannot find the map inside the sutra, that’s his problem, it has nothing to do with laozi. It’s his own fault that his share of luck is too small. In any case, his long life is the same as the heaven’s, no need to be impatient, he can look for it slowly. Even if he has to spend 108,000 years, he will eventually find it!”

[1] According to the dictionary, it is between 7 and 9 pm; however, during the Eagle Shooting Hero project, the source I used described it as between 11 pm and 1 am.

[2] Also known as Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, (685-762, reigned 712-756).

[3] ‘wang’ – king, ‘ba’ – eight, ‘dan’ – egg; strung together, it means ‘b@stard’ or son of a b1tch. ‘Wangba’ can also mean ‘tortoise’ or ‘cuckold’. He was simply increasing the level of ‘b@stardness’ by one degree.

[4] I don’t know if there is any English word for this, basically ‘Cha’ is ‘yes’, used by a subject to the Emperor. (Not that I am an expert, but I’ve watched enough movies to know this … J)

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