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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 31

Chapter 31
Massive army of Luodian formed a deep barrier, great waves boiled in thousand-qing Dianchi

After dinner, Wei Xiaobao waited for more than an hour before strolling toward Princess Jianning’s room. The Princess had been waiting anxiously; seeing Wei Xiaobao, she angrily said, “Where have you been? I have been waiting for you.”

Wei Xiaobao angrily responded, “Your Gonggong [father-in-law] held me up to talk to him, he spoke treason and heresy, I argued with him for half a day. If I wasn’t anxious to see you, I would still be arguing with him right now.”

“What did he say?” the Princess asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He said that His Majesty always suspected him as a treacherous court official, he is very upset about it. I said if His Majesty suspected him, how could he send the Princess down here to marry your son? He said that it must be that His Majesty did not like you, he intentionally sent you down the pit to harm you.”

The Princess was enraged; she slapped the table heavily and shouted, “The old turtle is talking nonsense, I’ll tear off his beard. Tell him to see me quickly.”

Wei Xiaobao also put an angry look on his face. “His granny,” he cursed, “I was ready to risk my life against him. I said: the Princess is His Majesty’s favorite, she is good-looking, and intelligent too; which of your son’s quality can surpass her? I also said: you dare to speak such thing, the Princess won’t want to get married, we will return to Beijing tomorrow. Based on the Princess’ status, I don’t know how many men in the world who would fight to have her as his wife. There is something in my heart that I did not speak it out. I really wanted to tell the old turtle: I, Wei Xiaobao, am dying to marry the Princess myself.”

The Princess immediately beamed with joy. “Right, right!” she said, “Why didn’t you tell him that? Xiaobao, let us go back to Beijing tomorrow. I will tell Huangdi Gege: I must marry you.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “When the old turtle heard me, he calmed down immediately, saying that just now he was babbling nonsense, he was merely cracking jokes, and that I must not take him seriously; what’s more, I must not let the Princess hear anything he had just said. I said: nobody is more loyal to His Majesty and the Princess than I, the one surnamed Wei, I have never dared to speak even half a word of lie to His Majesty and the Princess.”

The Princess held her arms around his neck, and gently kissed his face. “I always knew you are very loyal to me,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao kissed her back and said, “The old turtle was so frightened that he almost kneeled down to ask for my help. He also gave me a pair of Luocha people’s guns, he wanted me to do my best to cover up for him.” Finished speaking, he took out the gun, put some gunpowder and an iron bullet, and let the Princess shoot toward the garden.

The Princess opened fire. There was a loud explosion, followed by a large tree branch broke and fell down. She stuck out her tongue and said, “How fierce!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You take one, I take the other, the two guns were originally a pair.”

The Princess sighed and said, “Two guns, one female one male, sleeping side by side inside this wooden case, how intimate is that? As soon as you separate them, both will be alone and very desolate. I don’t want it, you keep them together.” When saying that, she recalled that in the end, the Emperor’s decree could not be altered. Her desire to marry Wei Xiaobao was eventually an empty word.

Wei Xiaobao held her in his arms and gently comforted her, he whispered some frivolous words into her ears. Listening to the intense emotion, the Princess could not stop her cheeks from blushing red, and she giggled happily. Wei Xiaobao gently undressed her and pulled the brocade quilt over her naked body. He thought, “Why haven’t the big traitor’s subordinate lighted the fire yet? It would be best if when they rush in here to search, they found the Princess to be stark naked. Then the Princess would break out in anger.”

He sat on the bed, caressing the Princess’ cheeks gently, while raising up his ears to listen to the activity outside. The Princess was breathing heavily, she said in an intimate voice, “I … I want to sleep. You … you …”

They heard the gong from the garden announcing the first watch of the night. Wei Xiaobao was waiting impatiently. Suddenly the gong changed to a series of loud ‘tang, tang’, followed by a dozen people shouted, “Fire! Fire!” [Orig. ‘water flow’ or ‘flood’, see note 16 of Chapter 14, also the next occurrences in this Chapter.]

The Princess sat up with a start; she grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s neck and said with a trembling voice, “Fire?”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “The old turtle must be setting up the fire, he wants to burn you and I, two people to death to shut our mouths, to prevent us from divulging his ridiculous talk today.”

The Princess was frightened even more. “What … what should we do?” she asked.

“Don’t be afraid,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wei Xiaobao has a red-bellied devotion to you; even if I cannot protect my own life, I still have to protect my beloved Princess to ensure your complete safety.” He gently pried her arms from his neck, and walked toward the door. As soon as he saw people rushing in, he would get out of the Princess’ bedroom first.

But he heard the noise outside was like ‘a boiling cauldron of voices’, all around people were shouting, yelling and screaming, “Fire! Fire! Quickly protect the Princess!” Wei Xiaobao looked out the window, and saw a dozen or so people rushing in from the flower garden outside. He mused, “The big traitor’s subordinates came this quick. They must have entered Anfu Garden early on, and hid themselves around here; they rushed over as soon as they heard the fire alarm.” Turning his head toward the Princess he said, “Princess, it is not such a big fire, you don’t have to be afraid. The old turtle is here to catch some adultery.”

“Catch … catch what?” the Princess said with a trembling voice.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He must have suspected that you are good to me, hence he is hoping that he could catch us committing adultery.” Finished speaking, he pushed the door open and said, “Just lie on the bed, don’t get up, I am going to stand outside your door. If there is real fire, I will carry you out to safety.”

The Princess was very grateful. “Xiaobao,” she said, “You … you are very good to me.”

Wei Xiaobao stood outside the door for a moment, and then he raised his voice, “Everybody, protecting the Princess is most important.”

Amidst the hubbub, a captain of Ping Xi Wang Mansion guards rushed over. “Wei Jueye,” he called out, “The Garden is on fire, Shizi [Heir Apparent] has come here personally to protect the Princess.”

He saw from the northeast corner came two rows of lanterns, a group of people were coming his way. They arrived quickly; he saw that the one in the front was precisely Wu Yingxiong. Wei Xiaobao thought, “To search for that big beard Mongolian, unexpectedly the little traitor himself is leading the effort; obviously they consider the big beard to be very important. The conspiracy with Mongolia and Luocha Country, as well as the rebellion plot must be true.”

While he was still some distance away, Wu Yingxiong called out, “Is Her Highness the Princess alright?”

A guard responded, “Wei Jueye is already here to protect her.”

“That’s wonderful!” Wu Yingxiong said, “Wei Jueye, sorry for bothering you; Xiongdi can’t thank you enough.”

“Why am I bothered?” Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Princess and I are embracing each other intimately, was that a bother? Are you thanking me for this? In that case, you are welcome.”

In the meantime, the Imperial Bodyguards, the Valiant Cavalry Brigade chiefs under Wei Xiaobao’s command had also rushed in one after another. They were awakened from their slumber, their clothes were in disarray, some were even barefooted, some had not put on their jacket, they all looked pathetic. When they heard the fire-alarm, their first thought was: “If the Princess is burned to death, I will lose my head.” Therefore, they all rushed over.

Wei Xiaobao ordered his men to guard the perimeter of the Garden. Zhang Kangnian tugged Wei Xiaobao’s sleeve; Wei Xiaobao went with him several steps away from the crowd. “Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief],” Zhang Kangnian said in a low voice, “There’s something fishy here.”

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Kangnian replied, “As soon as there was fire-alarm, Ping Xi Wang Mansion guards jumped in over the wall from all directions [orig. four sides, eight directions]; obviously they were already prepared. With their mouths they cry out to fight the fire, but they entered every room searching for something. Our brothers shouted and scolded them to stop, but it was useless; several of us had already fought with them.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “Wu Sangui suspected that we know his plan,” he said, “I think he is going to rebel!”

Zhang Kangnian was shocked; he cast a glance toward Wu Yingxiong, and then with a low voice said, “Is it true?”

“Let them search,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t stop them.” Zhang Kangnian nodded; quietly he passed on the order to the officers and soldiers who came from Beijing.

By this time they could see a faint blaze of the fire on the southwest and southeast corners of the Garden. A dozen or more fire hoses had already spurting water, but the water was directed to the sky; columns of water swayed in the air, it looked like a large water fountain.

Wei Xiaobao went over to Wu Yingxiong and said, “Xiao Wangye, your divine ability to predict the future is indeed very admirable. Zhuge Liang and Liu Bowen[1] of the past are definitely inferior to you.”

Wu Yingxiong was startled. “Wei Jueye is making fun of me,” he said.

“Not at all,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It is obvious that you have already predicted that tonight, at the second watch of the night, Anfu Garden was going to catch fire, and may burn the Princess to death. You decided it was not going to be fun; therefore, you have prepared everything well in advance, and kept watch outside the Garden, waiting patiently for the fire. As soon as the fire broke, you gave your command, everybody immediately jumped in to fight the fire. Ha ha … good skill, good skill.”

Wu Yingxiong’s face reddened; he said, “I did not prepare it beforehand, it was a pure coincidence. Tonight my Jiefu [older sister’s husband] Xia Guo invited me to dinner; Xiongdi was on my way home after eating and drinking, accompanied by my family bodyguards, passing by this place. We happened to see the Garden is on fire.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “So that’s what happened,” he said, “I remember a storyteller said: ‘In all his life, Zhuge had always been cautious’; I said: Wangye actually surpasses Zhuge Liang. I was not wrong at all. Xiao Wangye went to your Jiefu’s home to drink wine; bringing along a team of fire fighters is definitely a big plus. Were you thinking of using it here?”

Wu Yingxiong knew that Wei Xiaobao had seen through his ploy; his face turned red again as he sheepishly said, “This time of the year the wind is strong the weather is dry, it is so easy to catch fire. We’d better be a bit more careful; this is called ‘preparedness averts peril’.”

“Absolutely,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Too bad there is one thing Xiao Wangye did not prepare.”

“Please advise,” Wu Yingxiong said.

“Next time Xiao Wangye go to your Jiefu’s home to drink wine, it would be best if you also bring a team of bricklayers and carpenters, as well as tiles and bricks, lumber, lime and nails.”

“I wonder what for?” Wu Yingxiong asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “There might be a one in ten thousand chance that your Jiefu’s home will catch fire. The fire fighters only spurting water upwards, they are unwilling to put out the fire, unavoidably your Jiefu’s house will be burned down to the ground. Xiao Wangye can issue an order immediately to have the bricklayers rebuild your Jiefu’s multi-story home. Now that, I’ll say, is called ‘preparedness averts peril’.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Wu Yingxiong let out several hollow laughs. He turned to a guard by his side and said, “Wei Jueye thinks the fire-fighters are not doing their best in putting out the fire. Go grab the captain and his deputy, and break their dog’s legs.” The guard complied and left.

Xiao Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “After breaking the fire-fighter team’s captain and his deputy’s dog’s legs, which official post are you going to promote them to?”

Wu Yingxiong was startled. “Wei Jueye,” he said, “I am afraid I don’t understand your words.”

“I don’t understand either,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I thought, ‘Hey, Xiao Wangye will have to build two more big prisons, so that he can promote these two, the captain and his deputy, to be the wardens’.”

Wu Yingxiong’s countenance changed; he thought, “This kid is indeed formidable. Lu Yifeng became the Hei Kanzi prison’s warden, unexpectedly you also knew.” Pretending to be oblivious of this matter, he laughed and said, “Wei Jueye is indeed very good in making jokes, no wonder His Majesty is very fond of you.” While in his heart he made up his mind, “As soon as I am back, I will send someone to get rid of Lu Yifeng; let this kid finds that the dead cannot testify.”

Soon afterwards, one after another the Ping Xi Wang Mansion guards returned to report that the fire did not spread too far, and that gradually the fire was dying down. Wei Xiaobao listened carefully as these people were giving their report, but he could not detect any code word. He noticed that as Wu Yingxiong listened to each person’s report, he did not seem pleased; apparently he knew that Hantiemo had not been found yet. He was wondering if there is a secret signal. Looking at these people’s expression as they gave their report, he did not see anything out of ordinary either.

Suddenly he saw an officer rushed over and reported that the fire intensity had increased and that it seemed to be heading their way; it would be best if the Princess was to be awakened and alerted of the fire. Wu Yingxiong nodded.

Wei Xiaobao was standing on the side; he did not seem to be paying any attention, but actually he watched closely the guard’s expression and posture. He noticed that Wu Yingxiong was looking down toward the guard’s right thigh. Wei Xiaobao followed his gaze, and saw that the guard had the thumb and index finger of his right hand formed a circle, which he placed by his knee. Wei Xiaobao immediately understood, “Turns out two fingers make a circle means they have not found Hantiemo; they do not use any code word at all.”

“Wei Jueye,” Wu Yingxiong said, “The fire is heading this way, we’d better ask the Princess to move her sacred self. If the Princess is frightened, we are guilty and deserve ten thousand deaths.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that Ping Xi Wang Mansion guards had looked everywhere and did not find Hantiemo. In the Garden, the Princess’ bedroom was the only room they had not searched. Since they already started, they might as well continue to the end; hence they wanted to also search the Princess’ bedroom. Wei Xiaobao could not help but was enraged. In that instant, his childish behavior flared-out, he raised his right hand with thumb and index finger forming a circle, and waved it in front of Wu Yingxiong’s face several times.

As soon as he saw this signal, naturally Wu Yingxiong was shocked; the countenance of his subordinates the guards also changed greatly. “Wei … Wei Jueye,” he stammered, “This … what is the meaning of this?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Are you saying that you don’t understand the meaning of this signal?”

Wu Yingxiong composed himself and said, “This signal … this signal … um, I got it. That’s a copper coin. Wei Jueye is saying that you want silver and copper coins before the Princess can move her sacred self.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “The little traitor’s brain actually can move very quickly.” Thereupon he laughed without saying anything.

Wu Yingxiong laughed and said, “About the silver and copper coins, we are brothers, naturally we can talk over everything.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Since Xiao Wangye is so generous, let me thank you on behalf of our brothers here. Xiao Wangye, about the moving of Princess’ sacred self, please handle it yourself.” After a chuckle, he continued, “You are husband and wife, you can talk over everything. In the middle of the night, it is inappropriate for Xiao Jiang to enter the Princess’ bedroom.” He continued in his heart, “So that you can see for yourself whether that Mongolian big beard is in the room or not.”

Wu Yingxiong hesitated slightly, and then he nodded, pushed the door open and entered the outer hall. He stopped in front of the bedroom door and spoke in a loud and clear voice, “Subject Wu Yingxiong is here to supervise and lead the fighting of the fire, and to protect the Princess. Currently the fire is spreading this way; would Princess please move, so that we can guarantee your complete safety?”

A moment later they heard a gentle and charming grunt from the inside, “Mm.”

Wu Yingxiong thought, “Although you and I have not officially married, I am the prince consort, it has been officially declared. Right now it is an emergency, by coming into your room, I cannot be considered overstepping my boundary. If I don’t investigate clearly this time, in the end it won’t be appropriate. Except me, other people should not enter your bedroom.” Thereupon he shoved the door open and entered.

Wei Xiaobao and a hundred or so Imperial Bodyguards, Valiant Cavalry officers and Ping Xi Wang Mansion guards were waiting outside the room. A long time passed, they did not hear anything from inside. After another while, they started to ‘you look at me, I look at you’, a smile started to appear on their eyes and on the corner of their mouths; everybody had the same thought, “This betrothed couple has never seen each other, suddenly they met inside the Princess’ lady chamber; it must be a romantic meeting. I wonder what they are talking about. Would Xiao Wangye embrace the Princess? Would he hold her in his arms? Would he kiss her?”

Wei Xiaobao was the only one consumed by jealousy; although he knew that Wu Yingxiong’s real intention was to look for Hantiemo, and it was unlikely that at this time he was in the mood to be intimate with the Princess, but he also knew that the Princess was a loose woman who could do anything. Whether she was intimate with Wu Yingxiong willingly or not, it would be very difficult to tell.

Suddenly they heard the Princess screamed, “You dare to be rude? You … you … stop! Get out, now!”

Outside, the people looked at each other, some giggled. They all thought, “Xiao Wangye cannot bear not to make his move.”

They heard the Princess screamed again, “You … you must not … must not take off my clothes. Get out! Aiyo! Help! Help! This man is raping me! He rapes me! Help! Help!”

Everybody could not help but was amused; they thought that Wu Yingxiong was overly anxious, he was also too brazen. Although the Princess would be his wife eventually, they had not yet married; how could he act rashly like that? Several military officers could not refrain from letting out an audible laugh. The Imperial Bodyguards looked at Wei Xiaobao, waiting for his signal, whether they should protect the Princess or not. They all thought, “This fellow Wu Yingxiong is raping the Princess. Although he is rude, in the end it is a private affair between them, husband and wife. If we as the servants rashly intervene, we will definitely invite trouble for ourselves.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding madly, “This little traitor is so shrewd, how could he fool around like this? Could it be … could it be that he really wants to harm the Princess?” Thereupon he called loudly, “Xiao Wangye, please get out quickly; you must not offend the Princess.”

The Princess suddenly screamed, “Help!” Her voice was extremely sad and shrill.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he waved his hand and shouted, “Forgive my offense, this is an emergency.” And then he rushed into the room. Several Imperial Bodyguards and the Mansion guards followed behind him.

They saw the bedroom door was opened wide, the Princess curled in the corner of the bed, her body was covered in embroidered quilt, a snow-white leg was exposed outside the quilt, both her arms were bare, it was clear that she was naked. Wu Yingxiong’s naked body was lying on the floor, motionless. The lower part of his body was bloody; his right hand was grasping a short blade. Seeing this scene, everybody was shocked and was momentarily at a loss. The Mansion guards hastily went over to Wu Yingxiong to see whether he was dead or still alive. They checked for breath, and found that he was still breathing, his heart was also still beating, he was merely fainted.

The Princess cried and said, “This man … this man is rude to me … Who is he? Wei Jueye, quickly arrest him and kill him.”

“He is the Prince Consort Wu Yingxiong,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“No, no, he is not,” the Princess cried out, “He tore off my clothes, then he took off his own clothes, he raped me … This bad guy, quickly kill him.”

The Imperial Bodyguards were angry, the Emperor sent them on a mission to protect the Princess. The Princess was the current imperial younger sister, her noble body was like golden branch, jade leaves, yet this fellow Wu Yingxiong had humiliated her like this. It could be said that they failed in their duty.

The Mansion guards looked awkward; deep in their hearts they were ashamed. There were several astute and competent men among them, these people thought that since things had come to this, if they could find Hantiemo inside the Princess’ room, perhaps they could make a false counter-charge against the Princess, or at least they could somehow deny the accusation or gain a little bit of leeway. Thereupon they busied themselves, pretending to administer first-aid to Wu Yingxiong, while actually they were looking everywhere, including underneath the bed, but how could they find any sign of Hantiemo’s?

Suddenly, one of the Mansion guards cried out, “ShiziShizi’s lower body … lower body …” Wu Yingxiong’s lower body was drenched with blood, everybody could see that, but at first they thought it was due to his rudeness toward the Princess. But now after they heard the man’s cry, they all looked at his lower body. They saw the blood was still gushing out, apparently he was injured. The Mansion guards panicked; those with metal cut medication in their possession busily tried to apply it on his wound.

Wei Xiaobao shouted harshly, “Wu Yingxiong is rude to the Princess, he committed grave offense by greatly disrespectful toward her. Arrest him first, we’ll present a memorial to the Emperor, let His Majesty decide on his punishment.” The Imperial Bodyguards complied at once, they rushed forward to pull Wu Yingxiong up.

The Mansion guards had heard with their own ears, and seen with their own eyes, that Wu Yingxiong was indeed being rude to the Princess; they simply could not deny it. Hearing Wei Xiaobao, they all groaned inwardly, “Bad, really bad!” Nobody had the heart to offer the slightest resistance. A Mansion guard bowed and said, “Wei Jueye, please show mercy. Shizi is injured, we are asking Wei Jueye to allow Shizi to return to the Mansion and have his wound treated. Our Wangye will be most grateful. Shizi is definitely guilty, but we ask the Princess to be magnanimous. Wei Jueye, please plead on his behalf.”

Maintaining a wooden expression Wei Xiaobao said, “This kind of grave offense, we do not dare to conceal it from His Majesty, who would dare to plead on his behalf? Let’s talk it over outside; we all gather inside the Princess’ bedroom like this, where are our manners? How can there be such thing?”

The Mansion guards repeatedly bowed in agreement, they carried Wu Yingxiong out. The Imperial Bodyguards also withdrew, leaving the Princess alone with Wei Xiaobao.

The Princess suddenly smiled, she beckoned Wei Xiaobao to come over. Wei Xiaobao came to the bed, the Princess wrapped her arms around his shoulder, and whispered in his ear, “I castrated him.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “You … you what?” he asked.

The Princess blew softly into his ear, she laughed in low voice and said, “I pointed the gun to him, forcing him to strip naked, and then using the gun handle I gave his head a knocking, so that he passed out, and then I cut his loathsome thing. From now on, he can only be my eunuch, he can’t be my husband.”

Wei Xiaobao found it amusing, but was also shocking. “You brazenly fool around like that, the disaster you brought is not small.”

“What disaster?” the Princess said, “I did this wholeheartedly for your sake. If I marry him, our marriage would be a fake marriage. In short, I simply cannot let you wear a green cap and be a turtle [i.e. someone whose spouse was cheating].”

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was churning, but this matter was indeed too far beyond his expectation, he did not know how to deal with it.

The Princess continued, “The rape and the rude treatment are all fake, but when I screamed and yelled, you heard it from the outside, didn’t you?” Wei Xiaobao nodded. The Princess smiled and said, “And so, what are we afraid of? Even is Wu Sangui is angry, he only knew that his own son is no good.”

Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh. “If he died because of your cut, then what should we do?” he asked.

“How could he die because of my cut?” the Princess said, “There are several thousand eunuchs in our Palace, which one died because of the cut?”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You will stick to your statement: he was raping you, he took the knife to force you, in your desperate struggle to resist him, you reached out to push him. He had the knife in his hand, and he was stark-naked. One pushing the other wielding, he cut himself.”

The Princess buried his head inside the embroidered quilt to stifle her laughter. “That’s right,” she said in a low voice, “Let’s say it that way: he cut himself.”

Wei Xiaobao went out of the bedroom, and told the Imperial Bodyguards in low voice how with a knife in his hand Wu Yingxiong had threatened the Princess, how the Princess desperately fought to resist him, how in the struggle Wu Yingxiong had castrated himself. The Imperial Bodyguards were shocked and amused at the same time; they all said that Wu Yingxiong’s lust had reached the heavens, hence what happened to him was a retribution well-deserved. There were several of Wu Yingxiong’s guards still lingered around to find out what had happened; they stood on the side and eavesdropped, ashamed look appeared on all their faces.

With such a major event going on in the Anfu Garden, the Mansion guards quickly extinguished the fire, then they flew back to report to Wu Sangui, while at the same time summoning a physician to treat Wu Yingxiong’s injury. The Imperial Bodyguards immediately spread the news about the root cause of Wu Yingxiong’s injury, so that even all the Mansion guards also agreed unanimously that it was because their Heir Apparent was being rude to the Princess.

Inevitably they added some oil and soy paste to the story; some said that they heard it when the Heir Apparent ripped the Princess’ clothes, some described how the Heir Apparent coerced the Princess with the knife in his hand. As for how the Heir Apparent finally got castrated, each storyteller narrated it with ‘living spirit, living image’: how the Heir Apparent put the knife on the Princess’ neck, how the Princess struggled to fight him, how she pushed the Heir Apparent’s hand, how the knife slipped and what a bad luck for him. All kinds of circumstances were described as if they were witnessing it with their own eyes. They were telling the story with gusto, their spittle splattered everywhere, their hands and feet were flailing; the audiences were dumbfounded, and did not stop nodding their heads.

Less than an hour later, Wu Sangui obtained the urgent report; he jumped onto his horse and flew to the Garden, and immediately kowtowed in front of the Princess’ bedroom to beg for forgiveness. Flustered and exasperated, he repeatedly said, “The guilt deserves ten thousand deaths!”

Wei Xiaobao stood by his side, showing concerns. “Wangye, please rise,” he said, “Let Xiao Jiang come in to probe the Princess’ mood.”

Wu Sangui took out emeralds, jade and pearls from his bosom, stuffed it into Wei Xiaobao’s hand, and said, “Wei Xiongdi, Xiao Wang was in a hurry, I did not have time to grab some banknotes; please kindly divide these jewels to the Imperial Bodyguard brothers. In front of the Princess, please urgently request an audience.”

Wei Xiaobao returned the jewels to him and said, “Wangye, please set your heart at ease. As long as it is within Xiao Jiang’s power, I will definitely do my best; for the time being I cannot accept Wangye’s gift. In all honesty, this matter is simply too big, I don’t know what it is that the Princess has in mind. Ay, this Princess is hot tempered and proud, she is ‘three-chaste nine-upright’ [i.e. exemplary in remaining faithful to one’s husband until death], a virgin who is pampered and spoiled since childhood, that even the Empress Dowager and His Majesty also yielded to her thirty-percent of the time. Shizi is indeed … indeed a bit too daring.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Sangui said, “Wei Xiongdi, please speak to the Princess, I must have an audience with her.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, his expression was serious, he walked toward the Princess’ door and said in a loud and clear voice, “Reporting to the Princess: Ping Xi Wangye personally came to apologize for the offense, would Princess remember he is an old minister who has rendered great merit, and deal with him leniently.”

Wu Sangui said in a low voice, “Yes, yes! The old minister is kowtowing in here, would Princess deal with me leniently.”

After half a day, they still heard nothing from the Princess’ room. Wei Xiaobao repeated his words. Suddenly they heard crashing noise, sounded like a stool fell down to the floor. Wei Xiaobao and Wu Sangui looked at each other in bewilderment. They heard a palace maid screamed, “Princess, Princess, you must not commit suicide!”

Wu Sangui was so frightened that his face was drained of any color; he thought, “If the Princess really killed herself, although right now everything is not completely ready, I will have no choice but to deploy the troops to stage a rebellion immediately. How can I face the charge of hounding the Princess to death?”

He heard several palace maids were wailing inside. A palace maid came out hurriedly and said with a cry, “Wei … Wei Jueye, Her Highness the Princess hanged herself on the beam, you … you come quickly and help … help her …”

Wei Xiaobao hesitantly said, “The Princess’ bedroom, it is inappropriate for us as the servants to come in.”

Wu Sangui lightly pushed his back and said, “Act according to special circumstances, rescuing the Princess is more important.” Turning toward a Mansion guard, he said, “Quickly summon the physician.” Finished speaking, he gave another push on Wei Xiaobao’s back.

Wei Xiaobao scrambled inside. He saw the Princess was lying on the bed, surrounded by seven, eight palace maids who were weeping around her. Wei Xiaobao said, “I know internal energy, I can help resuscitate the Princess.”

The palace maids stepped aside. The Princess’ eyes were tightly closed, her breathing was weak, and there was really a strip of red mark on her neck. A piece of rope was hanging from the beam, the other half of the rope was lying by her head, and an overturned stool was lying on the floor. Wei Xiaobao laughed inwardly; he thought, “What a performance! This Princess who loves to fool-around blindly is actually not an idiot.” He rushed to the bed and stretched his finger to pinch the ‘renzhong’ [human center] acupoint on her upper lip heavily.

The Princess moaned and slowly opened her eyes. “I … I don’t want to live,” she said vehemently, but weakly.

“Princess,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a thousand-gold lady, you have to come to accept an unpleasant fact. Ping Xi Wang is kowtowing outside, begging for your forgiveness.”

The Princess cried and said, “You … you tell him to quickly kill that evil man.”

Blocking the palace maids’ eyes with his body, Wei Xiaobao put his hand inside the quilt and pinched the Princess’ waist a little. The Princess struggled hard not to laugh; she grabbed his arm and ferociously dug her fingernails in his flesh, as she wailed, “I don’t want to live, I … how am I going to conduct myself from now on?”

Outside the room, Wu Sangui heard the Princess’ cry faintly; learning that her attempt to kill herself was unsuccessful, he could not refrain from heaving a deep sigh. And then he heard her cry, ‘how am I going to conduct myself from now on’, he thought, “I can’t really blame her for getting angry. Young husband and wife fighting with each other using spear or saber is not a big deal, they might injure the other anywhere. It’s just a real bad luck that the knife happened to cut right there. Even if Yingxiong is healed in the future, the Princess will only be a living widow for the rest of her life. Presently we must strive to cover this matter up, and not let it be widely known.”

Half a day later, Wei Xiaobao came out of the room, he did not stop shaking his head. Wu Sangui hastily stepped forward and asked in a low voice, “What did the Princess say?”

“She is not going to die,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But the Princess is unyielding, if she is determined to do something, she won’t listen to anybody’s advice, she would definitely try to kill herself again. I already instructed the palace maids to wait upon her well, and not to leave her side even for half a step. Wangye, I am afraid she would take poison.”

Wu Sangui’s countenance changed. He nodded and said, “Yes, yes. We must guard against that possibility.”

Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “If by any chance the Princess met any unexpected misfortune,while Xiao Jiang was sent by the Emperor to protect the Princess, this little life of mine will be difficult to protect. If that ever happened, Wangye, you must arrange a way out for me.”

Wu Sangui shivered with fear. “What way out?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I can’t tell you anything right now, I only hope that the Princess will be safe and sound, everybody will be happy. But her life is her own, if she really wants to die, we may be able to prevent her for three, four days, but we can’t stop her for ten days of half a month. Xiao Jiang has a selfish intention: I only hope that the Princess would marry into your Mansion sooner, so that Xiao Jiang will be relieved of my responsibility for the most part.”

Wu Sangui was secretly delighted. “In that case, let us have the wedding immediately,” he said, “My son is creating the trouble, he was rushing and thus resulting in this disaster. Wei Xiongdi is doing your best to maintain order, Xiao Wang is deeply grateful, I won’t possibly add another burden on Wei Xiongdi’s shoulder.” Lowering his voice, he said, “I just don’t know if the Princess is still willing … willing to be married?” He was thinking, “My son has become a useless person, I just hope that the Princess’ age is young and her experience shallow, she does not understand the matter between men and women yet. The cutting just now, she might not necessarily understands where the knife landed. She will get married confused and ignorant, the timber has turned into a boat, she will have nothing to say. Who knows? Perhaps she still thinks that all men in the world are like that.”

Wei Xiaobao also lowered his voice, “The Princess is young, she does not understand this kind of matters. She is a respectable person, she won’t say anything.”

Wu Sangui was greatly delighted; he mused, “Heroes usually agree [i.e. great minds think alike].” But then he immediately thought, “Damn it, what kind of hero is this kid anyway? How can he discuss things with me on equal terms?” He said, “Yes, yes, let’s do it. What happened just now, it’s not that we dare to conceal it from His Majesty, but the Lord of Ten-thousand Year has to deal with ten thousand different matters daily, he is taking care of the affairs of the nation, and is extremely busy. We, as the servants, are loyal to our master and love our country, we must not increase His Majesty’s concerns. The Empress Dowager and His Majesty treasure the Princess; if they hear this kind of matter, they might not be happy. Wei Xiongdi, being government officials, the secret of our success is to report only the good news, not the bad news.”

Wei Xiaobao patted his chest and flicked his own hat; he said magnanimously, “Hereafter Xiao Jiang will rely on Wangye to train me to get promotion. In this matter, I will stake my own little life in handling it according to Wangye’s instruction.” Wu Sangui repeatedly expressed his thanks. Wei Xiaobao said, “However, there are many people who witness this scandal tonight, if someone else reveals the secret, you can’t hold Xiao Jiang responsible.”

“Naturally,” Wu Sangui said. But in his heart he had already formulated a plan: he was going to dispatch his troops and horses, disguised as robbers, deep inside Guangxi to set an ambush. When Wei Xiaobao’s delegation returned to Beijing, he would have them all massacred. Guangxi was Sun Yanqing’s territory. His wife Kong Sizhen was the daughter of Kong Youde, the Ding Nan Wang [King who stabilized the South]. The Empress Dowager had taken her as her adoptive daughter, and bestowed her the title of Heshuo Gege [Hoxud or Xoshut Keke (princess, Manchu word)]; she was the darling of the Imperial Court. Let Kong Sizhen deal with the criminal charge of disturbance within her territory, robbers killing government officials within her jurisdiction.

Although Wei Xiaobao was quick-witted, he could not match Wu Sangui’s rigorous scheme and deep foresight. Seeing Wu Sangui was deep in thought, he still thought that Wu Sangui was worried over this matter might leak out; he laughed and said, “Wangye, don’t worry. Xiao Jiang will do my best to restrain my subordinates, I will order them not to speak thoughtlessly or make irresponsible remark.”

Wu Sangui said, “Today Wei Xiongdi has helped me with this major problem, it’s not enough to thank you with gold, silver and jewels. But the officers and men under Wei Xiongdi’s command is not a few, to close their mouths, you must let Xiao Wang do my best to send my regards. As soon as I am home, I will send someone to deliver it to you.”

“Let me thank you very much then,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I wonder how is Shizi’s condition; let us go take a look, I hope his injury is not so serious.” Wu Sangui and Wei Xiaobao went to visit Wu Yingxiong.

The physician knitted his brows. “Shizi’s life is not in danger,” he said, “It’s just that … it’s just that …”

Wu Sangui nodded and said, “His life is not in danger, that’s good.” Afraid that Wei Xiaobao might detain his son, he ordered the Mansion guards to immediately escort the Heir Apparent back to the Mansion to recuperate. He personally kept Wei Xiaobao busy, to prevent him from changing his mind. It was not before Wu Yingxiong finally left Anfu Garden did he take his leave.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “When the little traitor regains his consciousness, he will definitely tell what has really happened, but what’s the use? Who would believe a golden-branch-jade-leaves Princess would castrate her own husband for no reason at all? I would think that even the big traitor himself would not easily believe him, most likely he would give his son a severe scolding.” He also thought, “When the Princess is married, during our way back to Beijing, I must spend a lot of effort with Ah Ke.”

Returning to his quarter, Xu Tianchuan, Xuanzhen, and the others had already obtained the news, nobody did not clap their hands to express their delight. Wei Xiaobao did not wish to tell them the truth, he asked them how their visit to the brothel was. The warriors told them that everything went smoothly according to their plan. Wei Xiaobao thought that tonight an important matter had just happened, if they dispatched troops to return to the Capital right away, the big traitor would definitely suspect that they were going to report to the Emperor. Therefore, it would be best if they waited until things had calmed down before they sent the Mongolian big beard out.

After a flustered night, the warriors were about to withdraw, suddenly the Imperial Bodyguard Zhao Qixian rushed toward the door and said, “Reporting to Fu Zongguan [deputy chief]: Ping Xi Wang is attacked by an assassin!”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Assassinated?” he busily asked, “Who is the assassin?” He did not want Zhao Qixian to see the Tian Di Hui warriors in his room very late at night, hence he went outside the door and asked again, “The big han[2] … big … did Ping Xi Wang die?”

“He did not,” Zhao Qixian said, “I heard he only suffered light injury. The assassin was arrested on the spot, turned out … turned out she is a palace maid serving the Princess.”

Wei Xiaobao was even more shocked. “Palace maid serving the Princess?” he asked, “Which one? Why would she want to assassinate Ping Xi Wang?”

“I don’t know the details,” Zhao Qixian replied, “As soon as subordinate obtained the news that Ping Xi Wang was attacked by the assassin, I rushed here to report.”

“Go quickly, investigate clearly and report back to me,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Zhao Qixian complied and left. He had just taken a few steps when Zhang Kangnian walked in in quick steps; he said, “Reporting to Fu Zongguan: the palace maid assassinated Ping Xi Wang is called Wang Ke’er.”

Wei Xiaobao’s head spun; he said with a trembling voice, “She … she … why did she do that?” Wang Ke’er was Ah Ke’s alias, it was the character ‘Ke’ [珂] divided into character ‘Wang’ [王] and character ‘Ke’ [可].

Zhang Kangnian said, “Ping Xi Wang has brought her back to the Mansion, saying that he would personally interrogate her: who was the mastermind behind the attack.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard that his beloved was arrested, his mind was in chaos, he could not think anymore.

Zhang Kangnian said, “Everybody says, who else would send her? This Wang Ke’er is only a sixteen, seventeen years old girl, she must be very loyal to the Princess, seeing that Princess was humiliated until she wanted to kill herself, she must be very upset, and thus she went to avenge the Princess to vent off her anger.”

In the darkness of his mind, Wei Xiaobao suddenly saw a spark of light. “Right, right,” he busily said, “That must be it. Such a beautiful young girl, what enmity might she have against Ping Xi Wang? Even if we wanted to assassinate Ping Xi Wang, we would not send a young girl like her.”

Zhao Qixian and Zhang Kangnian looked at each other; they thought, “Wei Fu Zongguan must be confused; why would we want to send anybody to assassinate Ping Xi Wang?” Zhang Kangnian said, “I think Ping Xi Wang also did not suspect anybody else. If this matter were known, who would gain from it? Most likely he would quietly send someone to kill this palace maid, and be done with it.”

“She must not be killed, she must not be killed,” Wei Xiaobao said with a trembling voice, “If he killed her, laozi will fight him to the death, I will fight with that old turtle, the big traitor, ‘white blade coming in, red blade coming out’.”

Zhao and Zhang, two men, looked at each other again; they were doubting in their hearts, “Could it be that Wei Fu Zongguan is angry because the Princess was humiliated, and he sent this palace maid to assassinate?” The two of them stood with hands hanging by their sides, they did not dare to say anything.

“What should we do? What should we do?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Seeing he seemed to be not in his right mind and was extremely anxious, Zhang Kangnian comforted him, “Wei Fu Zongguan, this matter is indeed a big trouble, but if we report to His Majesty and have the main offender investigated, it is still Wu Sangui, father and son, who are in the wrong. Raping the Princess, what was he thinking? Besides, Wu Sangui did not die. Even if he investigated who incited the assassination, we can categorically deny that we do not know the person; he can’t do anything.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head with a bitter laugh, “I swear it was not me who incited her,” he said, “We are brothers, could I be concealing the truth from you?”

Zhao Qixian and Zhang Kangnian were relieved instantly; they heaved a deep sigh together. “It’s easy then,” Zhao Qixian said, “We’ll say that we are asleep, we feign ignorance, and that’s that.”

“No, can’t do,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am afraid I will have to brother two Dage: please take my visiting card to Ping Xi Wang, tell him that Wang Ke’er has offended Wangye, which is major offense, and that I am enraged. But she is the Princess’ personal palace maid, I am asking Wangye to hand this little girl to you, let me make a report to the Princess, and have her flogged heavily to vent Wangye’s anger.”

Zhao and Zhang, two people complied and left. They both felt that Wei Xiaobao was a bit superfluous; it would be better to have Wu Sangui kill this palace maid quietly, ‘the gods do not know, the ghosts are not aware’, everybody’s happy.

Wei Xiaobao hurriedly went to Jiu Nan’s room. When he pushed the door and went in, he saw she had just finished meditating and was still sitting on the bed; he said, “Shifu, do you know that Shijie … Shijie … about Shijie?”

“What about her?” Jiu Nan asked, “Why are you so flustered?”

“Shi … Shijie … she … she went to assassinate the big traitor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But she … she was caught.”

Rays of light flashed in Jiu Nan’s eyes. “Did she kill him?” she asked.

“She did not,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But … but Shijie was caught by him.”

“Humph,” Jiu Nan snorted. There was a disappointment on her face. “What a useless thing,” she coldly said.

Wei Xiaobao felt strange; he mused, “She is your disciple, and she is caught by the big traitor, yet you don’t seem to care?” But after thinking it over, he understood. “Shifu,” he said, “You have a way to rescue Shijie, don’t you?”

Jiu Nan stared at him; she shook her head and said, “I do not. She is such a useless thing!”

Along the way, Wei Xiaobao had noticed that his master was always cold and indifferent toward this martial sister, she did not seem to love her dearly, in fact, she did not treat her as well as she treated him. However, even if Shifu did not like her, I, Wei Xiaobao, liked her like crazy. He anxiously said, “The big traitor is going to kill her. I am afraid by this time he has already had her flogged that she is hovering between life and death; he wanted to … to find out who incited her.”

“It was me who incited her,” Jiu Nan coldly said, “If the big traitor has the ability, let him come to deal with me.”

Jiu Nan sent her disciple to assassinate Wu Sangui, Wei Xiaobao was not the least bit surprised. She was the former Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Chongzhen’s daughter, Wu Sangui was the person who delivered the Great Ming’s rivers and mountains on a platter, naturally she hated this man to her bones. Even she herself had tried to assassinate Kangxi on Mount Wutai. But Ah Ke’s martial art skill was mediocre, Wu Sangui had countless martial art experts as his guards by his side. Even if the assassination succeeded, it would be difficult for her to escape. Shifu sent her on this kind of mission, wouldn’t it be clear that she wanted her to deliver her own life?

Wei Xiaobao had myriads of doubts and suspicions in his heart, yet he did not dare to ask her openly. He said, “Shijie will never confess it was Shifu who sent her.”

“Is that so?” Jiu Nan said, and closed her eyes.

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to ask anything anymore, he went out of her room.

Since Zhao and Zhang, two people, went to Wu Sangui to ask for Ah Ke, he did not expect them to return quickly. He paced back and forth in the hall, until the sky gradually brightened. Three times he sent some Imperial Bodyguards to see if there was any news, but none of them came back to report anything. Finally he could not bear it anymore, selecting a squad of Valiant Cavalry sergeants, he personally led them toward to Ping Xi Wang mansion. About three li from Ping Xi Wang Mansion, he stopped at the Fa Hui [lit. Dharma wisdom/intelligent] Temple, and sent several Imperial Bodyguards ahead to find any news.

About the time needed to eat a meal later, he heard the urgent sound of hooves, Zhang Kangnian galloped over and reported to Wei Xiaobao: “Subordinate and Zhao Qixian went to see Ping Xi Wang under Fu Zongguan’s order. All along Wangye did not receive us. Zhao Qixian is still waiting outside the door.”

Wei Xiaobao was anxious and angry at the same time. He stomped his foot and cursed, “Damn it, Wu Sangui is putting on air!”

Zhang Kangnian said, “He is a king holding power over a territory; in the world, other than His Majesty, he is the most powerful. He is not willing to see us, lowly Imperial Bodyguards, this is a very normal occurrence.”

Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “I will personally come to see him. All of you come with me!” Wei Xiaobao turned his head toward a Valiant Cavalry Zuoling [company commander], “Call all of our troops, have them ready outside Wu Sangui’s doghouse, waiting for my order.” The Company Commander accepted the order and left.

When Zhang Kangnian and the others heard the order, they all panicked; looking at Wei Xiaobao’s flustered and exasperated appearance, it seemed to them that Wei Xiaobao was determined to go into conflict with Wu Sangui. But Ping Xi Wang’s troops and horses were numerous, while the people escorting the Princess from Beijing to Yunnan was only a little over two thousands men. If a war broke, perhaps in less than an hour they would all be decimated.

“Wei Fu Zongguan,” Zhang Kangnian said, “You are an imperial envoy, a high-ranking minister, you received His Majesty’s order to come to Kunming. Whatever happens, you must talk it over with him. Ping Xi Wang can’t possibly not give you any face. In your subordinate’s opinion, there is no harm in us coming slowly.”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “What ‘thing’ is Wu Sangui anyway? If we are coming slowly, he would kill my w … kill Wang Ke’er, and then who’s going to save her?”

Looking at his hasty words and stern countenance, Zhang Kangnian did not dare to say anything anymore; he thought, “Killing a palace maid, what’s the big deal? She is not your Meizi [younger sister], why would you want to mobilize the entire force to go to war?”

“Get the horse, get the horse!” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly called. He turned around and jumped onto his horse, and galloped away toward Ping Xi Wang mansion. Seeing the minister, the imperial envoy’s arrival, the guards at the gate busily welcomed him and escorted him into the main hall, while a guard rushed inside to report.

Xia Guoxiang and Ma Bao, two Zongbing [Regional Commander] went out to meet him. Xia Guoxiang was Wu Sangui’s son-in-law, the head of the ten Zongbing under Wu Sangui’s banner. After saluting Wei Xiaobao, he said, “Wei Jueye, it may be assumed that you have already obtained the news that Wangye was attacked by an assassin. Wangye’s injury is not light, he is unable to personally welcome you, please forgive his offense.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Wangye is injured?” he asked, “Didn’t they say he was not injured?”

With concern all over his face, Xia Guoxiang said in low voice, “The pit of Wangye’s stomach was stabbed by the assassin’s sword, the wound is about three, four cun deep …”

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed in shock, “That’s terrible.”

With knitted brows Xia Guoxiang said, “Whether Wangye can … can come out alive this time, right now it is still very difficult to say. We are afraid that the people’s hearts will be shaken, hence we did not announce it; we only said that he is not injured at all. Wei Jueye is one of us, naturally we must not conceal anything from you.”

“I want to visit Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Xia and Ma, two people looked at each other. Xia Guoxiang said, “Let Xiaoren show the way.”

Arriving at Wu Sangui’s bedroom, Xia Guoxiang said, “Yuefu [father-in-law], Wei Jueye is here to visit you, Senior.”

They heard Wu Sangui groaned behind the curtain several times, but he did not say anything. Xia Guoxiang lifted up the mosquito net. Wu Sangui was frowning with clenched teeth, as if he was suppressing the pain. There were splatters of blood on the quilt and the mattress. His chest was bandaged, from which blood did not stop seeping out. Two physicians were standing by the bed, with knitted brows and worried look on their faces.

Wei Xiaobao did not expect Wu Sangui’s injury to be this heavy. The anger that was filling his heart vanished into thin air in an instant; he could not help but was deeply anxious. He did not care whether Wu Sangui would live or would die, but if he died from his injury, it would be much more difficult for Wei Xiaobao to save Ah Ke. “Wangye,” he asked in a low voice, “Is your wound very painful?”

Wu Sangui let out some ‘he, he’ groans, he opened his eyes, there was no luster in them at all. “Yuefu,” Xia Guoxiang said said, “Wei Jueye is here to visit you, Senior.”

“Aiyo, aiyo,” Wu Sangui groaned several times, “I … I won’t make it. You … go kill Yingxiong … Yingxiong, that little animal. It was he … he who brought me to my death.”

Xia Guoxiang did not dare to reply; he gently laid down the curtain, and went out the room with Wei Xiaobao. As soon as they were outside, Xia Guoxiang covered his face and cried, “Wei Jueye, WangyeWangye … won’t make it. All his life the Senior displayed utter loyalty to his country, but he will end up succumbing to this fate. Really … really the Emperor of Heaven does not bless a good man.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Display fart loyalty to his country! The Emperor of Heaven does not bless the big traitor, that is indeed the heaven’s law and earth’s principle.” He said, “Xia Zongbing, in my opinion, although Wangye’s injury is heavy, he won’t die for certain.”

“Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth,” Xia Guoxiang said, “If only it will be as Jueye’s golden mouth said. But I wonder how did you know?”

“I can tell fortune by looking at someone’s facial features,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wangye’s appearance is unspeakably noble. In the future, his status will be a hundred times better than it is today. This time he will definitely not die.”

Wu Sangui was a Qin Wang [see note 14, Chapter 30], governing all military and civil affairs of two provinces, Yunnan and Guizhou. In term of order of feudal nobility, he had already reached the top, his government official rank was also already at the extreme point. Wei Xiaobao said that in the future his status would be a hundred times better than today; other than the Emperor himself, who would have a status a hundred times better than Ping Xi Wang?

As soon as Xia Guoxiang heard this, his countenance changed greatly. “The Emperor’s benevolence is vast and mighty,” he said, “Our Wangye’s rank and nobility has already reached the peak, he cannot rise higher than he currently is. I just hope that as Wei Jueye’s golden mouth said, the Senior will turn misfortune into blessing, from death back to life.”

Wei Xiaobao saw his look; he thought, “Wu Sangui is going to rebel, nine out of ten you already knew; otherwise, when I said that he will rise a hundred times higher, why would you look that scared? I might as well scare him some more.” Thereupon he said, “Xia Zongbing, please set your heart at ease; I look at your facial feature, your appearance is also unspeakably noble. Someday I might ask you for much promotion, for much improvement.”

Xia Guoxiang bowed and cupped his fists; he said respectfully, “Imperial Envoy Daren words are too heavy. Daren has strived to encourage me, Xiao Jiang will be loyal and dedicate myself to the service of my country; I do not dare to bear Imperial Envoy Daren’s high hope for me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Hey, hey, you are doing well! Your Heir Apparent becomes the Prince Consort, he is bestowed the titles Shao Bao [young protector] and Taizitaibao [tutor to the crown prince] simultaneously. In the past, Yue Fei, Grandfather Yue, who routed the Jin army at the Zhuxian town, massacred the Jins and drove them scared shitless, was only bestowed the title Shao Bao. Only by being the Princess’ husband one would reap this kind of benefit. Xia Zongbing, you are doing well!” They were talking while walking out.

Xia Guoxiang was so scared that the palms of his hands were wet with cold sweat; he thought, “Listening to this kid, it looks like he knew that my father-in-law wants to be the emperor. Could it be … could it be that this matter has leaked out? Or perhaps this kid does not know the immensity of heaven and earth and just casually talking rubbish?”

When they reached the winding corridor, Wei Xiaobao halted his steps and asked, “The assassin who attacked Wangye, did you catch him? Who is he anyway? Who sent him? Was it the remaining evil element of the previous Ming? Or perhaps Mu Family people?”

“The assassin was a woman,” Xia Guoxiang replied, “Her name is Wang Ke’er. Someone talked nonsense … that she is a palace maid serving the Princess. Xiao Jiang does not believe it, most probably she pretended to be a palace maid. Imperial Envoy Daren, please understand, Xiao Jiang is almost certain that this person was sent by the Mu Family.”

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao was frightened, he groaned inwardly, “Not good! They do not dare to offend the Princess, hence falsely accuse Ah Ke as Mu Family people, so that they could execute her at will. This is terrible!” He said, “Wang Ke’er? The Princess indeed has a palace maid serving her by the name Wang Ke’er. The Princess likes her very much, she would not allow her to leave her side even for a short time. Isn’t this girl about seventeen, eighteen years old, slim, and very pretty?”

Xia Guoxiang hesitated. “Xiao Jiang’s mind was occupied solely by Wangye’s injury, I did not pay any attention to the assassin at all. If this woman did not impersonate a palace maid, then she must have used fake name. Imperial Envoy Daren, please think: if this woman surnamed Wang is really the Princess’ favorite palace maid, then she must have received Princess’ instructions; she must be well-educated and understand propriety, gentle and obedient, how can she go and assassinate Wangye? It does not make any sense.”

The more he asserted that the assassin was not a palace maid serving the Princess, the more Wei Xiaobao was frightened. With a trembling voice he asked, “Have you … have you executed her?”

“Not yet,” Xia Guoxiang replied, “We want to wait for Wangye to heal and recover completely, then he can interrogate her in person to ascertain who is the mastermind behind the assassination.”

Wei Xiaobao was relieved. “Take me to see the assassin,” he said, “Whether she is a real palace maid or a fake one, I will know as soon as I see her.”

Xia Guoxiang said, “We do not dare to toil Imperial Envoy Daren’s honorable self in this matter. This woman is definitely not a palace maid serving the Princess. There are many rumors floating outside, Daren need not pay any attention.”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance sank; he said, “Wangye was attacked by an assassin, his injury is very heavy, supposing there is ‘three-long two-short’ or ‘two-short three-long’[3], nobody would escape the responsibility. When I return to Beijing, His Majesty will definitely ask me in details what happened, who was the assassin, who was the mastermind? If I don’t see it clearly with my own eyes, and His Majesty raises the question, how am I going to respond? Could it be that you want me to talk nonsense? This guilt of deceiving our lord, naturally I cannot take it upon myself. Xia Zongbing, hey, hey, I am afraid neither can you.”

As soon as he brought up the Emperor’s name, Xia Guoxiang did not dare to disobey anymore. “Yes, yes,” he repeatedly said, but did not move a single step.

Wei Xiaobao’s face showed his displeasure. “Xia Zongbing always uses all sorts of excuses, what trick are you playing?” he said, “If you have any trick, or prepare some trap, there is no harm in bringing it on, let’s see if I, the one surnamed Wei, can handle it or not.”

Because his beloved was captured, he believed unfortunate fate was more likely to befall her than a fortunate one; in his anxiety, in his speech he unexpectedly did not give Xia Guoxiang any leeway, the hypocritical façade of the officialdom was completely ripped down.

Xia Guoxiang anxiously said, “How can Xiao Jiang dare play any trick on the Imperial Envoy Daren? It’s just that … it’s just that I really have some difficulties.”

“Is that so?” Wei Xiaobao coldly said.

Xia Guoxiang said, “I am being honest to the Imperial Envoy Daren, our Wangye has always been very strict to his subordinates. Xiao Jiang is the Senior’s son-in-law, Wangye is twice as strict toward Xiao Jiang, so that the other subordinates cannot say behind his back that Wangye is unfair.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You are his son-in-law, but you do not make a good use of your position. I heard Wangye’s queen is called Chen Yuanyuan, the number one beauty under the heavens. Our Great Qing’s rivers and mountains have strong connection with Chen Wangfei [wife of a king]. Your mother-in-law has a ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ appearance, naturally your wife also has a ‘fish sink, goose alights’ appearance[4]. If you want to take full advantage of your position as the son-in-law, you only need to look at your mother-in-law several times more often, lick your father-in-law’s behind several times more often, you are not doing too bad …”

Xiao Jiang’s wife …” Xia Guoxiang started, but Wei Xiaobao cut him off, he said happily, “As the saying goes: when the mother-in-law sees the son-in-law, her saliva is dripping greedily. In my opinion, however, your mother-in-law is such a beauty, the saying must be reversed: when the son-in-law sees the mother-in-law, he swallows his saliva into his tummy. Ha ha, ha ha …”

Xia Guoxiang looked awkward; he thought, “This kid talk’s rubbish, the way he speaks is just like a marketplace hoodlum, there is not even half a point of high-ranking official’s manners.” He said, “Xiao Jiang’s wife is not Chen Wangfei’s daughter.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed, “What a pity, what a pity. Your luck is not good.” His countenance sank as he said, “I want to interrogate the assassin, yet you are talking about this and that, even steered the conversation toward your mother-in-law. Hey, hey, it’s really strange.”

Xia Guoxiang’s anger was rising, but he maintained a respectful expression as he said, “Imperial Envoy Daren wants to interrogate the assassin, nothing can be better than that. Imperial Envoy Daren’s one question surpasses a hundred questions, a thousand questions of ours; but I am afraid WangyeWangye …”

Wangye what?” Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “He won’t allow me to interrogate the assassin?”

“No, no,” Xia Guoxiang hastily said, “Imperial Envoy Daren must not misunderstand; if Daren can look at the assassin and investigate her background, our Wangye can only be grateful to you, he will not detain you, absolutely. Please forgive Xiao Jiang for being bold, I have something to say, and ask that Daren not to take offense.”

Wei Xiaobao stomped his foot and said, “Ay, you are always humming and hawing, there is not the least bit of real man’s lofty quality. You must be kneeling in front of your wife’s bed a lot. Speak up! Speak up!”

Xia Guoxiang cursed in his heart, “Your surname Wei’s eighteen generation ancestors are b@stards.” He said, “I am only afraid that if by any chance the assassin is indeed a palace maid serving the Princess, when Daren sees her, you would take her away, and then when Wangye wants to see her, Xiao Jiang cannot hand her over; that … that would be terrible.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “This fellow is very crafty indeed; he wants me to promise in advance that I will not take the assassin away. Your granny, this assassin is my dear wife; how can I let you bully her?” He laughed and said, “But you said the assassin is definitely not the Princess’ palace maid, why worry?”

“That was Xiao Jiang’s guess,” Xia Guoxiang said, “As for the actual fact, actually I am not clear myself.”

“So you won’t allow me to take the assassin away?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I do not dare,” Xia Guoxiang replied, “Would Imperial Envoy Daren please sit down in the hall and make yourself comfortable, let Xiao Jiang report to Wangye, and then Imperial Envoy Daren may discuss this matter with Wangye later. If Wangye is angry, he cannot blame Xiao Jiang.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Turns out you are afraid your father-in-law might spank your bottom, you don’t dare to take on the responsibility.” He let out a ‘hey, hey’ laugh, and said, “Alright, go and report. But let me tell you this: I don’t care if Wangye is asleep or awake, I want you to come back to me immediately. Your Wangye’s health is important, our Princess’ life or death is not a trivial matter either. After Her Highness the Princess was bullied by your Heir Apparent, I don’t know her condition right now, I must hurry back to check on her.” He was afraid Wu Sangui was still unconscious and was not awake, and thus Xia Guoxiang would stay by his bed and did not come out again.

Xia Guoxiang bowed and said, “I definitely do not dare to harm Imperial Envoy Daren’s business.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted. “This is your business, not mine,” he said with a cold laugh.

However, after Xia Guoxiang went in, it was quite a while before he came out again. Wei Xiaobao lost his patience, he repeatedly stomped his feet.

Wangye is not awake yet,” Xia Guoxiang said, “Xiao Jiang was afraid Imperial Envoy Daren is waiting anxiously, as soon as I finished my report, without waiting for Wangye’s instruction I came out to serve Imperial Envoy Daren to examine the assassin. Imperial Envoy Daren, please.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, and followed him inside. After passing through several winding corridors, they arrived at a garden. He saw several dozen guards with weapons in their hands, patrolling back and forth; the garden was heavily-guarded.

Xia Guoxiang led him toward a rock garden, where he showed a golden arrow banner of command to the military officer guarding in front of it. “Wangye’s order,” he said, “I am here to serve the Imperial Envoy Daren to examine the assassin.”

The military officer checked the arrow banner of command, bowed and said, “Imperial Envoy Daren, please. Zongbing Daren, please.” As he stepped aside to let them pass.

Xia Guoxiang said, “Let Xiao Jiang show the way.” And he entered into the cave in the rock garden.

Wei Xiaobao followed in. Only several steps later, he saw a large iron door. Two armed-guards stood on either side of the door. Turned out this rockery was the entrance to a dungeon. They walked through three such doors in succession; the path was sloping down. Finally they arrived in front of a small room. There were thick iron bars in front of the room, behind the bar a young girl was sitting on the floor, with both hands holding her head, she was sobbing quietly. There were several oil lamps hanging on the wall, illuminating the room with its pale yellow light. Wei Xiaobao rushed forward; with both hands gripping the iron bars, he focused his eyes on the young girl.

Xia Guoxiang shouted, “Stand up, Imperial Envoy Daren has some questions for you.”

The young girl turned her head around, the lantern light shone on her face. Wei Xiaobao’s and the girl’s four eyes met, “Ah!” both exclaimed in shock. The girl immediately stood up, the shackles on her hands and feet created clanking noise. “How … how did you get here?” she asked. They were both utterly amazed.

Wei Xiaobao would never expect that this girl was not Ah Ke at all; rather, she was the Mu Family’s Xiao Junzhu [young princess, see note 1 of Chapter 10] Mu Jianping.

After calming himself down, he turned his head around to ask Xia Guoxiang, “Why is she locked up in here?”

Daren knows the assassin?” Xia Guoxiang asked, “Is she … is she really a palace maid who serves the Princess?” His shock was not below Wei Xiaobao and Mu Jianping’s.

Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is she … is she the swordsman who assassinate Wu … assassinate Wangye?”

“That’s right,” Xia Guoxiang said, “This woman has a gargantuan nerve, she dares to commit this kind of crime, rebelling against the Emperor. In the end, who sent her? Would Daren please interrogate her clearly?”

Wei Xiaobao was slightly relieved. “Turns out it’s a big misunderstanding,” he thought, “The assassin who tried to kill Wu Sangui is not Ah Ke; actually, it’s the Mu Family’s Xiao Junzhu. Her father was killed by Wu Sangui. She tried to assassinate him, obviously it is to avenge her father. It’s not surprising at all.” He asked Xia Guoxiang again, “Did she say that her name is Wang Ke’er? And that she is a palace maid serving the Princess?”

Xia Guoxiang said, “After we captured her, we asked her name, surname and origin, as well as who sent her here. But she was unwilling to say anything. However, someone recognized her as the palace maid Wang Ke’er; I don’t know whether she is or she isn’t. We ask Daren to verify.”

Wei Xiaobao pondered, “Xiao Junzhu is captured, I have to try to save her. She is also my wife, I must not be partial.” He said, “Naturally she is a palace maid serving the Princess. Princess is very fond of her.” While saying that, he signaled Mu Jianping with his eyes. “Why did you assassinate Ping Xi Wang?” he asked, “Don’t you want your little life anymore? Who sent you? Quickly confess, otherwise you will suffer.”

Mu Jianping boldly said, “Wu Sangui is a big traitor to Han people, he acknowledge the criminal as his father, he handed over the Great Ming’s rivers and mountains to the Tatars. Among all Han people, which one does not wish to take his life? I only feel sorry that I failed to kill this traitor.”

“Little servant girl!” Wei Xiaobao pretended to be angry, “You dare to disregard the law and natural morality. You have lived in the Palace so long, unexpectedly you did not understand any rules and regulations, you dare to speak such treason and heresy? Aren’t you afraid you might lose your head?”

Mu Jianping retorted, “You have lived in the Palace a lot longer than I have, what rules and regulations do you know? If I am afraid of losing my head, I would not come to Kunming to kill that big traitor Wu Sangui.”

Wei Xiaobao took a step forward and shouted, “Quickly confess, who sent you to assassinate? Who else is your conspirator?” While talking, he curled his right thumb, and waved it several times toward his back, indicating that Xiao Junzhu should implicate Xia Guoxiang. His body was covering his thumb; since Xia Guoxiang was standing behind him, he did not see Wei Xiaobao was making signals with his finger and his eyes.

Mu Jianping caught his signals; pointing to Xia Guoxiang, she loudly said, “My conspirator is him! He was the one who sent me here.”

Xia Guoxiang was enraged. “Rubbish!” he shouted.

“You still want to deny?” Mu Jianping said, “You told me to assassinate Wu Sangui. You said that Wu Sangui is extremely evil, everybody hates him to the death. You said … you said that after I assassinated Wu Sangui, you would … you would …” She did not know Xia Guoxiang’s status, plus she was not good in telling lies, hence momentarily she was at a loss.

Wei Xiaobao prompted, “He would be promoted and gain wealth, and hereafter nobody would beat him or curse him?”

“That’s right!” Mu Jianping said loudly, “He said that Wu Sangui often beats him, scolds him, and is very ruthless to him. In his heart he resents it very much; he had always wanted to personally kill Wu Sangui, but … but he didn’t have the guts to do so.” Xia Guoxiang was cursing and yelling, but Mu Jianping did not pay him any attention.

“Be careful of what you say!” Wei Xiaobao shouted, “Do you know who this general is? He is Ping Xi Wang’s son-in-law Xia Guoxiang, Xia Zongbing. Although Ping Xi Wang often beats him, scolds him, it was for his own good.” While saying that, he raised his thumb in front of his chest, indicating that he approved of what she said.

Mu Jianping continued, “This Xia Zongbing told me that as soon as Wu Sangui is dead, he himself will be the Ping Xi Wang. He said that whether the assassination is successful or not, he would let me go, that he would not let me suffer the least bit of suffering. But he actually locked me up in here. Xia Zongbing, I have obeyed your order, I have finished the mission, when are you going to let me go?”

Xia Guoxiang was extremely angry; he thought, “This stinky girl originally did not know me, it was this kid who told her. This muddleheaded kid is playing a joke with laozi in order to save you. Turns out the two of you know each other; I really did not expect it.” He shouted, “If you keep talking nonsense, I’ll beat you until your skin is broken and your flesh lacerated, you are hovering between life and death.”

Mu Jianping was scared; she did not dare to say anything anymore. She thought that if Wei Xiaobao failed to save her, this military officer would definitely deal with her maliciously.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Whatever you want to say, there is no harm in you saying it. This gentleman, Xia Zongbing is my good friend. If it is really he who incited you to assassinate Ping Xi Wang, you can honestly tell me, I will not reveal it to anybody.” While saying that, he repeatedly signaled with his eyes.

Mu Jianping said, “But he … he is going to beat me to death, I don’t dare to speak.”

“In that case,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What you said earlier was the truth.” He sighed, took several steps back, and shook his head.

Xia Guoxiang said, “Daren please understand: rebellious-thief slanders senior official is a common occurrence, naturally you must not take her seriously.”

Wei Xiaobao hesitantly said, “You are not wrong. However, Ping Xi Wang is usually very strict toward Xia Zongbing; Xia Zongbing resents him very much, hence you wanted to kill the old man, your father-in-law. I am afraid a little girl like her cannot fabricate baseless rumor like that. After Ping Xi Wang is completely healed from his wound, I will try to persuade him, so that the two of you, father-in-law and son-in-law, will not become … become water something and fire something.”

Previously, when Xia Guoxiang heard Mu Jianping slandering him, although he was angry, he did not care too much, because his achievement, riches and honor, everything was actually bestowed by Ping Xi Wang; nobody would believe that he would conspire against him. However, if Wei Xiaobao really brought this matter up in front of Ping Xi Wang, his father-in-law might think that he was harboring a grudge, and that he complained to an outsider about it. For the past few years his father-in-law was short-tempered; he dealt with his subordinates even more strictly. If he heard this kind of talks, very likely Xia Guoxiang would suffer some misfortune. Thereupon he hastily said, “Wangye has always treated Xiao Jiang with extreme benevolence, he treated me just like his own son, Xiao Jiang is very grateful to him. Imperial Envoy Daren absolutely must not say such thing to Wangye.”

Seeing Xia Guoxiang was very anxious, Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “People do not wish to harm the tiger, the tiger wants to harm people. Biting the hand that feeds him is not uncommon in the world. Ping Xi Wang treats me pretty good, I must warn him to be vigilant, so that he won’t fall into his own people’s evil scheme. Ping Xi Wang has strong soldiers and sturdy horses, with countless martial art experts to guard him; if there is any outsider wanting to harm him, how could he succeed? However, inside thief is difficult to guard against, if one of his own people is backstabbing him, I am afraid he cannot dodge it.”

The more Xia Guoxiang heard it, the more frightened he was. He knew perfectly well that Wei Xiaobao was simply making it up, with the sole intention to save this young girl. But Ping Xi Wang tended to be overly suspicious of everything and everybody. Just a few days ago his own brother Wu Sanmei walked into the rear hall but forgot to take the saber hanging on his waist off. He personally tore the saber off and reprimanded him severely. If Wei Xiaobao ever mentioned anything like ‘outside enemy easy to resist, inside thief difficult to guard against’; granted that Ping Xi Wang might not believe him, but these words would plant a root in his heart, and then Xia Guoxiang’s future advancement might be greatly hindered. Thereupon he said in a low voice, “Imperial Envoy Daren’s advice on my promotion and future advancement, Xiao Jiang will forever never dare to forget your, Senior’s great kindness and great benevolence. If Daren has any order, Xiao Jiang will go through water and tread on fire, will not decline under any circumstances. Even if it involves huge responsibility, Xiao Jiang will do my best to accomplish it.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I was just giving you food for thoughts. What this little girl said, the Heaven knows, the Earth knows, you know, I know, plus the little girl herself knows, a total of three people. Actually, you should have killed her early on to close her mouth, nice and clean. But now the words have entered my ears; if you want to eliminate potential informants, then you must kill me as well. I have Imperial Bodyguards and troops and generals under my command, right now they are already on guard against this matter, several thousand people are waiting outside the Mansion. If you kill me, you will still find it difficult to overcome this matter.”

Xia Guoxiang’s countenance changed; he bowed with cupped fist and said, “Xiao Jiang will never dare to do that.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Since you cannot kill us to shut our mouths, sooner or later Ping Xi Wang will hear about this matter. Xia Zongbing, you are the leader of the ten Great Regional Commanders, plus you are the Ping Xi Wang’s son-in-law; I am afraid among the other nine Regional Commanders, as well as other civil and military officials of the Mansion, there are quite a few people are jealous of you [orig. ‘drinking your vinegar’]. As the saying goes: When you open the door, among the seven ingredients: firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy, vinegar and tea[5], there bound to be a few people who drink vinegar, and add some oil and soy paste. As soon as this rumor is leaked, even for a little bit, Ping Xi Wang’s ears will not be peaceful. Everybody will speak malicious words about you on the Senior’s ears, adding firewood and straw to it, and fan it into flame. Ping Xi Wang is injured; in his illness, how can his temper be good? This … this … ay!” While saying that, he continuously shook his head.

Wei Xiaobao was merely speculating, yet Xia Guoxiang thought that this kid really understood my Mansion’s affair clearly; the number of people who are jealous of me was indeed not a few. He said, “Daren gives Xiao Jiang food for thought, Xiao Jiang can’t thank you enough, but I wonder what should I do?”

“This problem is actually very difficult to solve,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Alright, let me carry some of the responsibility, just hand it over to your friend here. Give this little girl to me, I will take her away, and say that the Princess wants to personally interrogate her.” Lowering his voice, he whispered into Xia Guoxiang’s ear, “Tonight, I will kill her, and announce that she prefers death than confessing her crime; she is tortured, cannot endure it, and thus she meets her fate. Won’t that mean we turn big matter into small, small mater into nothing, clean and clear?”

Xia Guoxiang had already expected that Wei Xiaobao would say those words; he cursed in his heart, “Damn it, muddleheaded stinky kid, you want to save this girl, yet you make it as if you are doing me a favor, that you, the stinky kid, are helping me avoiding big problem. But how did you know this little girl? It really surprises me.” He asked, “Daren, could you confirm again: is she a palace maid serving the Princess? A while ago Xiao Jiang interrogated her, but she does not seem to know the Princess’ appearance and age, as well as general situation around the Palace.”

“She is unwilling to implicate the Princess, naturally she intentionally did not answer your questions correctly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “This girl is loyal to the Princess, plus she did not fail Xia Zongbing’s great trust. Very good, very good.”

Xia Guoxiang understood that once again Wei Xiaobao was turning this matter around and put the blame on his head; he hastily said, “Daren’s ingenious plan is indeed brilliant. Would Daren please put in writing that you order Xiao Jiang to hand over the prisoner, so that Xiao Jiang can give account for it in front of Wangye?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and cursed, “Damn it, laozi is totally illiterate, what hand order or foot order[6] is there to write?” Puting his hand into his pocket, he drew a short gun and said, “This is a gift from your Wangye. Take it and show it to Wangye, tell him that I am under the Princess’ order to take the prisoner away. This gun is the proof.”

Xia Guoxiang received the gun with both hands, and put it inside his pocket. He went out and came back with two military officers; he ordered them to open the iron bars, and removed the shackle on Mu Jianping’s feet, but left the handcuffs binding her hands. Xia Guoxiang grabbed the iron chain of the manacles and dragged her out of the Mansion’s gate, where he handed the iron chain over to Wei Xiaobao. He also gave the key to the handcuffs to him, and said in a loud voice, “Imperial Envoy Daren receives Her Highness, the Princess’s order to take the prisoner away for questioning. Everybody must guard the prisoner carefully, don’t let her escape.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Are you afraid that I would deny taking the prisoner from you?” he said, “Everybody here has seen it, they all have heard it. I cannot deny it even if I wanted to.”

Xia Guoxiang bowed and said, “Daren is making fun of me. Xiao Jiang does not have that intention.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go tell Wangye, I am very concerned about the Senior’s well-being, I will come back tomorrow to pay my respect and wish him well.”

Xia Guoxiang bowed again and said, “I do not dare.”

Wei Xiaobao took Mu Jianping back to Anfu Garden, straight into his room. He bolted the door, and asked with a giggle, “Good wife, what has actually happened?”

Mu Jianping’s little face turned deep red from embarrassment; she angrily said, “We have just met and nothing good coming out of your mouth?” She raised her hands, the iron chain of the manacles made ‘ding ding dang dang’ noise. She said, “Remove this thing first, and then we’ll talk.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I have to enjoy some intimacy with you first. As soon as the handcuffs are removed, you won’t be willing.” While saying that, he wrapped his arms around her slender waist and embraced her.

Mu Jianping was greatly anxious. “You … you are bullying me,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Alright, I won’t bully you. You can bully me.” He put his cheek toward her lips and touched it gently, and then taking out the key given by Xia Guoxiang, he unlocked the handcuffs. He pulled her to sit side-by-side with him on the bed before he finally asked her about the story behind Wu Sangui’s assassination.

Mu Jianping said, “Hong Jiaozhu and Madame were very delighted to receive the thing that you sent; they let me take the antidote, so that the poison in my body is neutralized. They sent the Scarlet Dragon Vice Envoy to take me here to see you, so that you will work for them loyally. Madame said that Jiaozhu and Madame knew that you missed me, therefore … therefore …”

Wei Xiaobao grabbed her hand and said, “Therefore they sent you here to become my wife?”

“No, not that,” Mu Jianping anxiously said, “Madame said that they were afraid in your heart you were anxious about me, and would not be able to do your work in peace. She really did not say anything else.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Madame must have said it, you are simply concealing it from me.”

Mu Jianping said, “If you don’t believe me, when you see Madame later, you can ask her yourself.”

Wei Xiaobao saw that she was so anxious that her eyes were brimming with tears; afraid that she would cry because of his teasing, he said warmly, “Alright, alright. Madame did not say that; but what about you? Don’t you miss me? Didn’t you want to see me?”

Mu Jianping turned her head away and nodded gently. Wei Xiaobao said, “What about the Scarlet Dragon Vice Envoy? Why did you assassinate Wu Sangui?”

“We arrived at Kunming three days ago,” Mu Jianping replied, “We wanted to see you right away, but unexpectedly we met my Gege and Liu Shifu outside the western gate.”

“Ah,” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “Your Gege and Liu Shifu are in Kunming? I did not know that.”

Mu Jianping said, “Ao Shige, Liu Shige, and the others have also arrived; only Wu Shishu did not come because he fell sick. Everybody has arrived at Kunming to set up a mission to assassinate Princess Jianning.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Assassinate Princess Jianning?” he asked, “But why? The Princess has never offended your Mu Family.”

“According to my Gege,” Mu Jianping said, “We want to topple the big traitor Wu Sangui, and right now we saw a very good opportunity. The Tatar Emperor is giving his Meizi in marriage to Wu Sangui’s son; if we can assassinate the Princess, the Emperor would definitely blame Wu Sangui for not protecting her satisfactorily. If an imperial decree was issued to chastise him, most probably Wu Sangui would be compelled to rebel.”

Listening to this, the palm of Wei Xiaobao’s hands were wet with cold sweats. He thought, “This plan was very malicious. I was so engrossed in scheming against Wu Sangui that I did not think of protecting the Princess well. If the Mu Palace struck first and gained the upper hand, I would be in a terrible mess.” He asked, “And then what happened?”

Mu Jianping said, “My Gege told me to dress as a palace maid to get close to the Princess and assassinate her. They were waiting outside to provide support. As soon as I succeeded, they would get me out. The Scarlet Dragon Vice Envoy heard their plan, he told me that since the White Dragon Envoy is in charge of protecting the Princess; if we killed the Princess, perhaps you would be implicated. I thought that he was right, and I wanted to discuss it with you. Unexpectedly Liu Shifu found out about it, he killed the Scarlet Dragon Vice Envoy with a chop of the saber.” Speaking to this point, her body trembled slightly; obviously she was recalling the circumstance at that time, and still had lingering fear.

Wei Xiaobao held Mu Jianping’s hands tightly and comforted her, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. You did that for my sake, I appreciate that very much.”

Mu Jianping’s tears trickled down her face; sobbing and sniffling she said, “But … but when you saw me, you bullied me, and … and you did not believe me.”

Wei Xiaobao lifted her hand and slapped it on his own face. “Scoundrel, you deserve to die, I’ll kill you, you son of a wh0re!” he cursed himself.

Mu Jianping hastily pulled his hand and said, “No, I don’t want you to beat yourself, to curse yourself.”

Wei Xiaobao lifted her hand again and gently slapped it on his own cheek; he said, “Wei Xiaobao still deserves to die. Your good wife, the dear little precious thing from Mu Family was caught by Wu Sangui, why didn’t you rescue her earlier?”

“Haven’t you rescued me out?” Mu Jianping said, “But we must think of a way to also save Gege and Liu Shifu.”

Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled. “Your Gege and Liu Shifu are also captured?” he asked.

“The night before last,” Mu Jianping told him, “The place where we stayed was suddenly surrounded by Wu Sangui’s guards. There were so many of them, there were more than twenty among them with superior martial art skill. We were only a few, and were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Ao Shige was killed on the spot. My Gege, Liu Shifu and I were captured by them.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Ao Shixiong was killed by the big traitor; what a pity, what a pity.” He also asked, “After you were captured, how did you manage to assassinate Wu Sangui?”

“Assassinate Wu Sangui?” Mu Jianping asked, “I did not. Naturally I wanted to kill the big traitor, but … but those evil men put me in fetters and handcuffs, how can I assassinate him?”

The more Wei Xiaobao listened, the more surprised he was. “You were captured the evening of the day before yesterday?” he asked, “Where were you in the last two days?”

“I was always locked up in a dark room,” Mu Jianping said, “Just today they took me to be locked up in that dungeon. Not too long afterwards, you came in.”

Wei Xiaobao had a nagging feeling in his heart that something was wrong; clearly he had fallen into Xia Guoxiang’s big trap, but as for what actually went wrong, he could not say. After hesitating for a moment, he asked, “Today Wu Sangui was assassinated, he received quite a heavy injury; was it you who assassinated him?”

“Of course not,” Mu Jianping replied, “I have never seen Wu Sangui. Will he die?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I don’t know,” he said, “Have you ever told them your identity or background?”

“I have not,” Mu Jianping replied, “I did not say anything. The military officer who interrogated me was very mad; he asked me whether I was mute. Wei Dage, you have also said that I was a mute.”

Wei Xiaobao gently kissed her cheek; he said, “You are my dear little mute. I also said that I was going to carve a little turtle on your face.”

Mu Jianping was shy and delighted at the same time, her eyes were brimming with tenderness, but she did not dare to turn her head to look at him. But Wei Xiaobao was too busy thinking to notice, “Why did Xia Guoxiang want Xiao Junzhu to pretend to be a palace maid? Right, he must be testing me, whether I knew Mu Palace people or not. This time I rescued Xiao Junzhu, it was a clear indication that we belong to the same group. He spread a trap, and luring me to tread on it and fall into it. This time laozi was not careful and has fallen into his trap. This is bad; this is really bad. Now that laozi is in this big mess, what is my next step to get out of this mess?”

Although he was sharp-witted and crafty, when all is said and done, he was still young. In dealing with a really important matter, he was not Wu Sangui, Xia Guoxiang, those extremely sly old traitors’ match. His heart was anxious, his body was drenched in sweats. “My dear good wife,” he said, “Please wait here, I must discuss with other people how we are going to rescue your Gege and Liu Shifu.”

Immediately he went to the western wing. After summoning the Tian Di Hui warriors, he explained the situation clearly. As soon as Xu Tianchuan and the others heard it, they all agreed that there was something really fishy going on.

Xuanzhen said, “Could it be that Wu Sangui was able to see through our stunt of impersonating Hantiemo and have him killed?”

Qian Laoben said, “I wonder how did Wu Sangui get the information that he managed to capture the Mu Palace friends in the middle of the night?”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved. “There is a fellow in the Mu Palace called Liu Yizhou,” he said, “This man harbors a grudge against me, plus his character is ‘greedy for life, afraid of death’. Most likely he was the one who disclose the information under interrogation.”

“Probably so,” Qian Laoben said, “But Wei Xiangzhu, you are the Tatar Emperor’s favorite and trusted Imperial Envoy Minister, no matter what the big traitor can’t possibly suspect you to have any connection with the Mu Palace people. There must be something else in this matter …” Knitting his brows, he pondered deeply.

Qi Biaoqing said, “My guess is that the big traitor did not suspect Wei Xiangzhu to have any connection with the Mu Palace people; it was just a coincidence.”

Wei Xiaobao busily asked, “What do you mean it was just a coincidence?”

“Most likely the one assassinating the big traitor was indeed that palace maid who served the Princess, Wang Ke’er,” Qi Biaoqing said, “Everybody said the same thing, I don’t think they are making it up.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That Wang Ke’er is really missing; she must have been caught by the big traitor.”

Qi Biaoqing said, “The big traitor naturally expected that the Princess would send Wei Xiangzhu to ask for her maid back. Looking at the Princess and the Imperial Envoy Daren’s faces, he won’t have any choice but to release her; but he actually is unwilling to set the assassin free. By lucky coincidence, they caught the Mu Family’s Xiao Junzhu. Hence they say that she was the assassin. When Wei Xiangzhu came to the prison and looked at her, naturally you would say that she was not Wang Ke’er. This way, Wei Xiangzhu would have your hands bound and would be unable to do anything about it.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh. “Right, right,” he said, “After all, Qi San Ge is a scholar, your thinking is very clear and logical. Even if they did not capture Mu Family’s Xiao Junzhu, they would randomly find a girl and press me to accept it, saying, ‘Imperial Envoy Daren, here is the assassin, do you, Senior, want her? If you want her, just take her away, don’t be polite. She is not a palace maid serving the Princess? That’s wonderful!’ His granny, at that time, the most laozi could say would be that the Princess is missing a palace maid, and ask them to diligently seek for her within the Kunming city walls, but I could not insist on taking the prisoner away. To their surprise, I knew the Mu Family’s Xiao Junzhu, it must be beyond their expectation. If the big traitor bring this matter up, it won’t be easy for me to dodge the question.”

“Wei Xiangzhu,” Qi Biaoqing said, “Things have come to this, you have no choice but to tough it out with Wu Sangui. Tell him that you have received the Emperor’s Imperial Edict to make friends with the Mu Family.”

Wei Xiaobao was reminded by his speech; he laughed aloud and said, “That’s right, that’s right. I released Wu Lishen and his gang, it was indeed …” But speaking to this point, he held his tongue, thinking, “His Majesty personally ordered me to release Wu Lishen and the others, but I definitely cannot tell them this.” Thereupon he changed the subject, “Although I can say that I received the Emperor’s Imperial Edict, I am afraid I cannot deceive the big traitor.”

Qian Laoben said, “To really deceive the big traitor, naturally it won’t be easy. But if Wei Xiangzhu stick to your statement that it was the Emperor’s idea, even if the big traitor do not believe it, he would not have any choice. In short, Wei Xiangzhu must not become hostile to him, wait till we are out of Yunnan Guizhou, two provinces, then we won’t have to be afraid of him.”

Xu Tianchuan nodded and said, “This is a brilliant plan. The big traitor has committed shameful deeds, inevitably he is overly suspicious, he is afraid the young Emperor would find out about his plan to rebel.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Mu Palace people knew very well that I am on imperial order to protect the Princess, yet they still wanted to assassinate her; indeed they did not uphold yi qi too much. If Wu Lishen, Wu Er Ge was here, he would definitely not approve.”

Qi Biaoqing said, “They knew that Wei Xiangzhu ‘live in Cao camp but his heart is in Han camp’, it’s not that he is really faithful in working for the Tatar Emperor, for this reason, they might have some misgivings in this matter. Although our Tian Di Hui made a bet with the Mu Palace, but everybody unites against a common enemy. Liu Dahong and the others have resounding reputation as real men, we simply cannot watch with folded arms and ignore them.”

However, speaking about how to save Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, and the others, this matter was really not easy, the warriors could not come out with the best plan. After discussing it for a long time, Wei Xiaobao said, “I am afraid we cannot use any of these plan. I am going to see the big traitor again, then we’ll look for another opportunity.”

After the warriors were dismissed, Wei Xiaobao thought, “Perhaps Ah Ke that wife of mine did not really go to assassinate the big traitor, neither was she captured by the enemy. Perhaps it was all false report from outsiders.”

He went to Jiu Nan room, but did not see Ah Ke. “Shifu,” he asked, “Is Shijie here?”

Jiu Nan only stared at him blankly. “Has Wu Sangui released her?” she asked, “He … he knows?” When speaking the last sentence, her expression looked different, her voice was slightly trembling.

Wei Xiaobao felt strange, “Wu Sangui knows what?” he asked.

Jiu Nan was silent. A moment later, she asked, “How is the big traitor’s injury?”

“Very heavy,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Disciple has just gone to see him, he was still unconscious, perhaps he won’t live.”

A happy expression appeared on Jiu Nan’s face briefly; immediately her brows were knitted again as she said in a low voice, “Must really let him know.”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to ask what is it that she wanted him to know, but looking at his Shifu’s grave expression, he did not dare to ask too much; he then excused himself.

In his heart, he still had a one-in-ten-thousand hope; hence he went around to inquire about Ah Ke’s whereabouts. Usually this palace maid ‘Wang Ke’er’ very rarely made an appearance, in her disguise, her beauty was well covered, hence nobody paid her any attention. All the palace maids, eunuchs and Imperial Bodyguards in Anfu Garden said that they had never seen her. An Imperial Bodyguard remarked, “Wang Ke’er? Isn’t she the palace maid who went to assassinate Ping Xi Wang? Has Ping Xi Wang released her? But I have not seen her.”

After being busy for the whole day and night, Wei Xiaobao was very tired. Returning to his room, he made some small talk with Mu Jianping, and then put his head down on the bed and fell asleep immediately.

Book note: Luodian (county) is located in central Guizhou (province), it was where Wu Sangui stationed a massive military force. Dianchi is a lake in Yunnan. Qing is a unit area, approximately 6.67 hectares (16.5 acres).

[1] Zhuge Liang (181-234), military leader and prime minister of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period, the main hero of the fictional Romance of Three Kingdoms, where he is portrayed as a sage and military genius. Liu Bowen (1311-1375), general under the first

Ming emperor Zu Yuanzhang, also has a reputation as a military genius.

[2] ‘Han jian’ literally means ‘traitor to China (i.e. Han people)’, I usually just simplify it to ‘traitor’. Here Wei Xiaobao was going to say ‘da han jian’.

[3] Three-long two-short ( 三长两短 ) is an idiom means ‘unexpected misfortune/accident’.

[4] An idiom from Zhuangzi: female beauty captivating even the birds and beasts.

[5] These seven substances are considered life’s daily necessities in ancient China.

[6] The phrase ‘written order’ is actually ‘shou yu’, with ‘shou’ means ‘hand’.

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