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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 33

Chapter 33
Those without chronic disease find it hard to laugh, being distinguished and accomplishment are not the same.

After several days of travel, they had left the City of Kunming far behind them. Since all along they did not see Wu Sangui’s troops or horses pursuing, gradually everybody was relieved. One particular day they arrived at Qujing [prefecture, still in Yunnan]. When the night fell, four riders were rushing directly toward them. One rider jumped down for the horse and talked to the Valiant Cavalry vanguard that they had an urgent military intelligence to report to the Imperial Military Minister.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao received the report, he granted them an audience at once. He saw that the one in the front was a thin and small man with dark complexion; he had just about to ask the man what kind of military intelligence, when Qian Laoben, who was standing behind him, suddenly said, “You are Kuang Xiong, are you not?”

The man bowed and said, “Xiongdi is indeed Kuang Tianxiong. Qian Dage, how are you?”

Wei Xiaobao looked at Qian Laoben. Qian Laoben nodded and said in a low voice, “Our own people.”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Kuang Laoxiong has toiled much, let us go sit at the back.”

They went to the rear hall; all the attendants were Tian Di Hui brothers. Qian Laoben said, “Kuang Xiongdi, this is our Green Wood Hall’s Wei Xiangzhu.”

Kuang Tianxiong bowed with cupped fist; he said, “By Heaven my father and Earth my mother, fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. Scarlet Fire Hall’s Gu Xiangzhu’s subordinate Kuang Tianxiong pays his respect to Wei Xiangzhu and all Green Wood Hall Dage.”

“Turns out it is Scarlet Fire Hall’s Kuang Dage, nice to meet you, nice to meet you,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Qian Laoben had met this Kuang Tianxiong several times in Hunan in the past; presently he introduced Li Lishi, Qi Biaoqing, Feng Jizhong, Xu Tianchuan, Priest Xuanzhen, Gao Yanchao, and the others to him. In turn, Kuang Tianxiong also introduced his three Scarlet Fire Hall brothers. Everybody knew that the Scarlet Fire Hall was in charge of Guizhou province. In just a few days they would reach Guizhou border. Having made contact with their fellow Society brothers, the Green Wood Hall warriors were very happy.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Last time I parted with Gu Xiangzhu in Zhili, and we have not seen each other ever since. Is everything going well with Gu Xiangzhu?”

“Gu Xiangzhu is well,” Kuang Tianxiong replied, “He instructed subordinate to send his regards to Wei Xiangzhu and all Green Wood Hall Dage. We have heard that Wei Xiangzhu and all Dage have accomplished many important matters in recent days, and we admire you very much. Today we can pay a formal visit, this is indeed the blessing of three lifetimes.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “We are all brothers here, there is no need for words of politeness. In just a few more days we are going to arrive at your honorable province, I wish to chat with Gu Xiangzhu.”

Kuang Tianxiong said, “Gu Xiangzhu instructed subordinate to report to Wei Xiangzhu that it would be best if gentlemen change route eastwards, do not go through Guizhou.”

Wei Xiaobao and the warriors were startled. Kuang Tianxiong said, “According to Gu Xiangzhu, he also wishes very much to have a chat with Wei Xiangzhu and all Dage, however, it would be best to meet within Guangxi.”

“And why is that?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Kuang Tianxiong replied, “We obtained information that Wu Sangui has dispatched troops and horses to Xuanwei [county level city in Qujing], the town of Hongqiao, and Xin Tian Pu district to intercept Wei Xiangzhu and all Dage to bring you harm.”

“Ah!” all Green Wood Hall warriors exclaimed in surprise. Wei Xiaobao was shocked and angered at the same time. “His granny,” he cursed, “This traitor is indeed unwilling to concede. He is even willing to forfeit his own son’s life.”

“Wu Sangui is very sinister and ruthless,” Kuang Tianxiong said, “He dispatches not a few martial art experts, saying that they are to deal with certain Shitai by Wei Xiangzhu’s side, whose martial art skill was extremely high, and then have his son, the Tatar Princess, and Wei Xiangzhu captured, while the rest of the people would be killed to shut their mouths. Presently the Shaoguan mountain pass between Qujing and Zhanyi [another county in Qujing] has been closed, nobody could go through. The four of us took a detour through small paths on the mountain to get here; we were afraid that Wei Xiangzhu would come too late and fall into the big traitor’s scheme, hence we hurried along day and night to catch up.”

Wei Xiaobao saw the four people’s eyes were bloodshot, their cheeks hollow, obviously they were extremely weary. He said, “Four Dage have toiled very much, we are very grateful.”

Kuang Tianxiong said, “Finally we managed to deliver the news in time and have not harmed the important matter.” He sounded very relieved.

Wei Xiaobao asked his subordinates, “All Dage, what do you think?”

Qian Laoben said, “I wonder if Kuang Dage know the total number of troops that Wu Sangui sent to ambush us.”

Kuang Tianxiong replied, “Wu Sangui did not have enough time to dispatch his troops from Kunming. I heard he sent the letter via flying pigeon to mobilize northern Yunnan and southern Guizhou’s military forces, altogether there will be more than thirty thousand men.”

Everybody cursed and swore. The number of troops under Wei Xiaobao’s command was no more than two thousand men, less than 10% of the opposite party’s force; indeed the few are no match for the many.

Qian Laoben asked again, “Did Gu Xiangzhu say where in Guangxi he wants to meet us?”

Kuang Tianxiong said, “Gu Xiangzhu has already sent people to notify our Society’s Latter Family Hall’s Ma Xiangzhu in Guangxi; if Wei Xiangzhu agrees, the three Xiangzhu can meet at Lucheng, Guangxi. From here to Lucheng in the east, the road is not too easy to travel, the distance is farther, but there won’t be Wu Sangui’s troops guarding it. Latter Family Hall’s brothers will provide support along the way, nothing should go wrong.”

When he heard that Wu Sangui had deployed more than thirty thousand troops to intercept them, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was already trembling in fear; but when he heard that Gu Xiangzhu had made appropriate arrangement and Ma Xiangzhu would also send people to provide support along the way, his spirit was boosted instantly. “Good,” he said, “We are going to Lucheng. That old fellow Wu Sangui, damn it, there will come a day we will show him good.” Immediately he issued an order to change their course southeast. He also ordered Kuang Tianxiong, four people, to sit in a large carriage so that they could rest.

When his troops heard that Wu Sangui was sending his army to intercept and kill them, nobody was not alarmed; knowing that they were in a dangerous place, they all hastened on with their journey. Not daring to alert the local authorities, every night they pitched camp in the wilderness.

One day they arrived at Lucheng. Ma Chaoxing, the Xiangzhu of Latter Family Hall and Gu Zhizhong, the Xiangzhu of Scarlet Fire Hall of Tian Di Hui, as well as the other brothers holding leadership positions of the two Halls had already waited in Lucheng. As the three Halls’ brothers met, the meeting was very warm.

That evening Ma Chaoxing prepared a large banquet to welcome Wei Xiaobao and the Green Wood Hall warriors. During the banquet they talked about how the Mu Palace had conceded to Tian Di Hui; everybody was in high spirit.

After the banquet, the Scarlet Fire Hall’s sentry post reported an incoming message: Wu Sangui’s troops found out about Wei Xiaobao making a detour into Guangxi, they urgently pursued, and were currently at the Guangxi border, but did not dare to enter. They had already sent urgent report to Kunming, asking for instructions, whether they should disguise themselves as robbers and infiltrated Guangxi to handle this matter.

Ma Chaoxing laughed and said, “Guangxi is not Wu Sangui’s territory. If that traitor leads his troops across the border, it will mean open rebellion. If he sends his troops masquerading as robbers, thinking that he could push the blame toward Guangxi’s Kong Sizhen, even though he is rushing, it would still be too late.”

They rested in Lucheng for one day. Wei Xiaobao still thought that they were too close to Yunnan, he was still afraid, hence he urged his party to continue their journey eastwards. By early morning the third day, he took his leave from Gu Zhizhong and Scarlet Fire Hall brothers, and led his entourage heading to the east. Ma Chaoxing and the Latter Family Hall’s brothers accompanied them.

The farther they left Yunnan, the more Wei Xiaobao felt at ease. Along the way, they never stopped more than a day in one place, until they finally reached central Guangxi. After being frightened and were in limbo for a while, the Imperial Bodyguards and other officers and soldiers reverted back to their old ways, once again they extorted the local prefecture and county officials and harassed the region.

One day they reached Liuzhou [prefecture, Guangxi]. When the local prefectural magistrate heard about the arrival of the Princess, he did his utmost to curry her favor by supplying everything, nothing was too difficult. The Imperial Bodyguards and the Valiant Cavalry officers and soldiers were like fish back in water; they gorged themselves and indulged themselves everywhere in the city.

In the evening of the third day, Wei Xiaobao was having idle talk with Ma Chaoxing and other Tian Di Hui brothers in a side room, when the captain of the Imperial Bodyguards Zhang Kangnian hurriedly walked in, and called in a loud voice, “Wei Fu Zongguan,” and stopped without continuing, his face looked awkward.

Wei Xiaobao noticed that the left part of his face was swollen, his right eye was black; obviously he had been fighting and lost. Wei Xiaobao thought, “The Imperial Bodyguards don’t hit people, others are already happy; who would be brazen enough to beat him up?” He did not want the Imperial Bodyguard to lose face in front of the Tian Di Hui brothers, hence he said to Ma Chaoxing, “Ma Dage, please continue sitting at ease, Xiongdi must excuse myself for a while.”

“You are too kind,” Ma Chaoxing said, “Wei Jueye, please do as you wish.”

Wei Xiaobao went out of the side room, with Zhang Kangnian followed behind him. As soon as they were outside, he said, “Reporting to Fu Zongguan, Zhao Erge is arrested.” What he meant by ‘Second Brother Zhao’ was the other Imperial Bodyguard captain, Zhao Qixian.

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Who has the guts to do that? Is it Liuzhou guard? Or prefectural magistrate yamen? What did he do? Kill people?” He was thinking that if it were not for major violation, the local authorities would not dare to arrest Imperial Bodyguards.

Zhang Kangnian looked embarrassed. “Not local official,” he said, “It’s … it’s a gambling establishment.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. “His granny,” he said, “Liuzhou casino dares to detain Imperial Bodyguards, it’s indeed huge news. You lost, didn’t you?”

Zhang Kangnian nodded. With a forced laugh he said, “The seven of us went to gamble, it was ‘big or small’. Damn it, that casino has a ghost in it, thirteen times in a row it produced ‘big’; the seven of us lost more than two thousand taels. Before the fourteenth throw, Zhao Erge and I both said that this time it must be ‘small’ …”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Wrong, wrong. Most likely it would be ‘big’.”

Zhang Kangnian said, “Too bad we did not invite Fu Zongguan to guide us in gambling, otherwise we would have not fallen into this mess. The seven of us cleaned up our silver and banknotes, and bet everything on ‘small’. Ay!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “When it was opened, it was ‘big’, wasn’t it?”

Zhang Kangnian spread out his arms with the palm up, gesturing a hopeless situation. He said, “The banker wanted to take our money, we did not allow him; we said that in all gambling establishment under the heavens, there is no way you could have fourteen ‘big’ in a row; they must be cheating. The casino owner came out to help to resolve the dispute, he said this time it did not count, nobody wins, nobody loses. Zhao Erge said no, he did not accept; this time it should have been ‘small’, the banker must have been cheating. We have lost such a lot of money, and this time obviously we won big, how could he say it did not count?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Damn it,” he cursed, “You guys have no shame; clearly you lost, yet you still made a scene. Fourteen ‘big’ in a row is nothing, I have seen twenty four ‘big’ in a row.”

Zhang Kangnian said, “The casino owner said the same thing, but Zhao Erge said that in Beijing, under the Son of Heaven’s foot, there is no such rule. He threw a fit. I pulled my saber. The casino owner was so scared that his face turned white. He said that he was indebted to the Imperial Bodyguard Daren for our visit, he said that for the last several play, how could they dare to win our Imperial Bodyguard Daren’s money. Whatever amount the Imperial Bodyguard Daren lost, Xiaoren would return everything along with his gratitude. Zhao Erge said, ‘Alright, we did not lose, you just swindled our money, three thousand one hundred fifty three taels. We don’t want the change, just consider it our bad luck; you can pay us back only three thousand taels.’”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. In the meantime, they had reached the garden. “Doesn’t it mean that you have just gotten rich?” he asked, “Did he pay?”

Zhang Kangnian said, “The casino boss was also very straightforward, he said that with friends, yi qi must be held first and foremost. He presented three thousand taels with both hands and handed it to Zhao Erge. Zhao Erge took it without so much of a thanks, he said that he accepted his gesture, just consider it his good luck. If he cheats again next time, he would not let him go.”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows and said, “This time it is clear that Zhao Qixian is in the wrong. Others have given you face, plus let you walk out with shining white silver in your hands; not only you have your face intact, you also gain wealth, why would he say such thing?”

“That’s right,” Zhang Kangnian said, “If Zhao Erge said some pleasant talk and thanked him, it would be all right. But, after taking the money he still had to say offensive words …”

“Correct!” Wei Xiaobao said, “We eat and make our living in Jianghu; stealing, robbing, swindling, everything is permissible, but we must never offend our friends. There is a saying, ‘When one split the bamboo into two, one must not harm the bamboo shoot.’”

“Yes, yes,” Zhang Kangnian replied, but in his heart he thought, “Clearly we make our living in the Palace, you are the Imperial Envoy Minister, first class viscount; how could you say that we eat and make our living in Jianghu?”

Wei Xiaobao asked further, “So how did the fight start? That casino owner’s martial art skill is very high?”

“It’s not that,” Zhang Kangnian replied, “The seven of us took the money, we were about to leave the casino, when one of the casino guests suddenly cursed, ‘Damn it, if getting rich is that easy, why would we have to gamble a fart? It would be better if everybody just enter the imperial palace to serve the Emperor … Emperor …’ Fu Zongguan, when that rebel thief mentioned His Majesty, he spoke very disrespectful words, I do not dare to repeat it.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “I understand,” he said, “This fellow’s nerve is indeed not small.”

“Isn’t that so?” Zhang Kangnian said, “When we heard him, naturally we were enraged. Zhao Erge threw the money onto a table; he drew his saber, and tried to grab that man’s chest with his left hand. ‘Bang!’ that man punched Zhao Erge that he passed out. The rest of us, six people, made our move together. This rebel thief’s martial art skill is indeed not low. Before I could see clearly, my face was punched; I was thrown out of the casino door, immediately the sky was dark and the earth black. I did not know what happened next. When I woke up, I saw Zhao Erge and the five brothers lying on the floor. That man put his foot on Zhao Erge’s head and said, ‘There are seven animals in here, one thousand taels each. You go quickly to get the money to redeem them. Laozi will only wait for four hours [orig. two sichen]. After four hours, if you don’t come back, laozi will slaughter them and sell them off. For ten taels a catty, if the business is not bad, I can sell one animal for more than a thousand taels.”

Wei Xiaobao was amused and shocked at the same time; he asked, “Do you know which group this fellow belongs to? Did you manage to find out?”

Zhang Kangnian replied, “This man is very tall, his fist is bigger than a rice bowl, his face is covered in grizzled beard, his clothes were tattered, he almost looks like a beggar.”

“How many companions does he have?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Kangnian replied, “This … this … subordinates is not too clear. There were about seventeen, eighteen guests in the casino at that time, but I don’t know if they are his companions or not.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that since Zhang Kangnian was beaten by the man that he passed out, naturally he wanted to get away as soon as he could without daring to look around too much. He thought, “This old beggar must be a Jianghu hero; seeing the Imperial Bodyguards gambled shamelessly, he could not refrain from making his move. He would not necessarily want to slaughter them and sell them. I don’t think anybody would agree to pay ten taels a catty of Zhao Qixian’s meat. If I deployed large military force to deal with him, one person, it’s not the conduct of a real man.”

He thought further, “This old beggar has a very good martial art skill. If I ask Shifu to help me deal with him, I am sure it would be a cinch; but how could Shifu be willing to spend some effort for the Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards? If I let this matter known to Ma Ziangzhu and the others, they would definitely laugh at my subordinates, thinking that the Imperial Bodyguards are useless.” Hence he also thought that asking for Feng Jizhong, Xu Tianchuan or the other’s help would also be inappropriate. Suddenly he remembered two people. “Don’t be anxious,” he said, “I will personally look at this matter.”

Zhang Kangnian’s face lit up. “Yes, yes,” he said, “I’ll get a hundred men, I think it should be enough.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “No need to bring that many.”

Fu Zongguan should be a bit more careful,” Zhang Kangnian said, “That old beggar’s hands and feet were very fierce.”

“No worries,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have me.”

Returning to his own room, he fetched a large fold of banknotes, a dozen or so gold ingots, and stuffed everything into his pocket. Next he went to a room in the eastern wing and knocked, “Are the two gentlemen here?” he called.

The door opened, Lu Gaoxuan appeared and said, “Please come in.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Could the two gentlemen come with me? We have something to handle.”

Lu Gaoxuan and Fat Toutuo were wearing Valiant Cavalry Sergeant uniform; they always go with Wei Xiaobao as his companions, but in Kunming and along the way, they had not done anything for fear that other people might recognize their identity. Day in and day out they always hid in their room, and were quite bored. Hearing Wei Xiaobao was going to take them on some errand, they followed him enthusiastically.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao was only taking two Valiant Cavalry Sergeants, Zhang Kangnian was greatly disappointed. “Fu Zongguan,” he said, “Let subordinate call several Imperial Bodyguard brothers to wait upon Fu Zongguan.”

“No need,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Too many people will be troublesome instead. You brought a hundred people, if he gets us all, a thousand taels each, a hundred thousand taels total, it is going to hurt me a little bit. But if only four of us going, it is only four thousand taels, merely a trifle, I won’t take it to heart.”

Zhang Kangnian knew he was only joking, but seeing him casually bringing only two sergeants to face such a serious danger, he thought Wei Xiaobao was pulling his rank too much. “Yes, yes,” he said, “But that rebel thief’s martial art skill is really high.”

“Fine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me have a match with him. If I lose, he only needs to cut my flesh in pieces and sell it; it’s not such a big deal.”

Zhang Kangnian knitted his brows, he did not dare to say anything anymore. He did not know that these two Valiant Cavalry Sergeants were first-class characters of the Wulin world. Any rogue character of the casino, no matter how high his martial art skill, he could not possibly surpass the two martial art experts of the Divine Dragon Cult.

Zhang Kangnian took Wei Xiaobao to the gambling establishment. They had just reached the door when they heard someone inside the casino called out loudly, “I have a pair of seven here, isn’t it big enough?”

Another man laughed aloud and said, “Awfully sorry, in Xiongdi’s hand, I just happen to have a pair of eight.” Followed by a loud slap, apparently the first man slapped his tiles [of card] onto the table, while cursing loudly.

Wei Xiaobao and Zhang Kangnian looked at each other; they thought, “How come they are still gambling inside?” Wei Xiaobao stepped in. Zhang Kangnian cowered behind him. Lu Gaoxuan and Fat Toutuo stepped into the door and stopped at the threshold, waiting for Wei Xiaobao’s instruction.

They saw a large platform in the hall, four people were sitting on the four corners, gambling. Zhao Qixian and five Imperial Bodyguards were lying on the floor. On the east sat a man, his face was covered in grizzled beard, his clothes were tattered, from the holes in his garment they could see hairy, dark-colored muscles; he must be the old beggar.

On the south sat a young, handsome scholar. Wei Xiaobao was startled, he recognized the man as Li Xihua, whom he had met in Beijing. His martial art skill was rather good, he was hit by Chen Jinnan’s ‘Blood Clotting Divine Claw’, and since then Wei Xiaobao had never seen him. Unexpectedly now they met again at a Liuzhou gambling establishment.

On the west sat a man dressed as a farmer, a peasant, about fifty years or so, with an anxious expression, drooping eyebrows and lowered eyes; evidently he had lost and could not recover his money.

The one sitting on the north looked very peculiar, he was very short and very fat, his entire body looked like a meatball, but his clothing was extremely luxurious, his long robe and magua [buttoned mandarin jacket] were embroidered. The five sense organs on his face [i.e. nose, eyes, lips, tongue, ears] were crowded together, as if someone had taken his head and rubbed it between his palms, turning it into a ball. This short and fat man’s hands were holding a pair of dominoes, his pair of big eyes turned into a slit, as he focused his attention to the tiles.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I wonder if this Li Xihua recognizes me? It has been a long while, plus I am wearing officer’s uniform today; most likely he does not recognize me. There is no hurry to greet him.” Thereupon he laughed and said, “Four friends look very exciting, Xiongdi also wants to play a hand, I wonder if I can?”

While saying that, he walked over to the table. He saw piles of money, about five or six thousand taels, and surprisingly, the pile in front of the peasant was the biggest. He was the biggest winner, yet his face carried the biggest loser expression; Wei Xiaobao felt a bit strange.

The short and fat man reached out to slowly draw a tile with his three fat fingers. Suddenly, “Aha!” he yelled. Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright. The short and fat man laughed aloud and said, “Wonderful, wonderful! This time I won’t lose to you, will I?” ‘Slap!’ he slapped the tile onto the table. It was a ten-dot, a ‘plum blossom’ [i.e. five dots and five dots].

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Most likely the tile in his hand is also a ‘plum blossom’; a pair of plum blossoms’ chance of winning is very high.” The short and fat man was all smiles. ‘Slap!’ he slapped the other tile onto the table.

As the other people looked at it, they were staring blankly for a moment, and then broke into hearty laugh. Turned out it was a ‘four and six’, also a ten-dot; ten-dot plus ten-dot was no more than a departing ten. In Pai Jiu [paigow], nothing is smaller than a departing ten. He was only a player; even if the banker also had a departing ten, departing ten beats departing ten, the banker still wins.

The peasant still had a distressed look on his face, it did not have the least bit of smiling expression. Wei Xiaobao looked at the tiles in front of him, it was a pair of nine. Currently he was the banker, hence the difference between his pair and the short and fat man’s was 108,000 li. Wei Xiaobao thought, “This man has neither word nor movement; he is a very formidable gambler.”

“What’s so funny?” the short and fat man asked. He turned to the peasant, “My pair of tens beats your pair of nines. A hundred taels, quickly pay.”

The peasant shook his head, “You lost,” he said.

The short and fat man was angry. “Are you nuts?” he cried out, “Count it; this tile has one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, ten dots. That tile also one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, ten dots. Aren’t they a pair of tens?”

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward Zhang Kangnian; he thought, “This short and fat man will make a good Imperial Bodyguard; winning he takes the money, losing he makes a racket.”

The peasant still shook his head, saying, “This is a departing ten. You lost.”

The short and fat man could not restrain his rage, he sprang up. However, as he stood up, unexpectedly he was a head shorter than when he sat. Turned out when he sat on the stool, his legs were hanging in the air, hence he was taller compared to when he was standing up. Extending his fat hand, he pointed his finger to the peasant’s nose and shouted, “I got an a departing ten, you got a departing nine. Naturally departing ten beats your departing nine.”

The peasant said, “Mine is a pair of nines, yours is a departing ten. Departing ten means zero.”

The short and fat man said, “Isn’t this a plain bullying?”

Wei Xiaobao could not hold his peace much longer. “Laoxiong,” he interjected, “What you have is not a pair.” While saying that, he picked a plum blossom, and a four-and-six from the tiles scattered on the table, then he paired the plum blossom with the other plum blossom, and the four-and-six with the other four-and-six. “Now these,” he said, “Are pairs. Your two ten-dots have different pattern, plum blossom are all black, while four-and-six have some reds on it. They are not a pair.”

The short and fat man still refused to accept; pointing to the pair of nines, he said, “Are you saying that your pair of nines has the same pattern? One tile is entirely black, the other has some reds on it, they are not the same. Ten dots is bigger than nine dots.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that this man was stubborn and always wanted to win the argument; temporarily he was at a loss as how to make him understand. He said, “This is Pai Jiu’s rule, it has been always like that.”

The short and fat man said, “Even if it has been always like that, it is still illogical. Anything illogical is out of the question. Are we following reason or not?”

All along, Li Xihua and the old beggar were only sitting quietly with a smile on their faces, they did not interrupt at all. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Naturally in gambling we must follow the rule; if there is no rule, how can we gamble?”

“Alright,” the short and fat man said, “Let me ask you, the little baby: why is it that my ten dots cannot beat his nine dots?” While saying that, he picked a pair of plum blossoms and slammed it in front of him.

“Uh, yours was not this pair,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The short and fat man was furious; both sides of his cheeks were bulging, as he shouted, “Muddleheaded kid, who says mine was not this pair?” Picking up the pair of plum blossoms, he casually flipped it over, slapped it onto the table in front of him, flipped it back up, and said, “When I slapped it earlier, it left a mark on the table, just look!”

He saw a clear impression of the tiles on the table, as if the dots of a pair of plum blossoms were embossed on the wood. His hand strength was indeed not weak; Wei Xiaobao was agape and tongue-tied, he was speechless.

The peasant said, “Right, right, laoxiong won. Here’s a hundred taels.” He picked a silver yuanbao and pushed it to the front of the short and fat man. And then he picked thirty-two tiles and turned them over. After shuffling it for a while, he arranged the tiles, eight tiles in a row, four rows in total, neat and tidy rows of tiles. Lightly he pushed the rows of tiles to the middle of the table, and then he also pushed the large pile of money in front of him forward.

Wei Xiaobao had keen eyes; he could see a neat and tidy impression of the thirty-two tiles on the table. Although the impression was not as deep as the plum blossoms earlier, it was only a faint and barely visible imprint on the wood, but considering his movement was very light, apparently his martial art skill was not below that of the short and fat man’s. As he pushed the tiles forward, most of the imprint was uncovered. In a glance Wei Xiaobao could see pair by pair of ‘heaven’, ‘earth’, and ‘men’ in a row. He knew the peasant was secretly playing tricks.

The short and fat man pushed two hundred taels toward the Heaven Gate as his stake. “Throw the dice, throw the dice!” he called out. Turning toward Li Xihua and the old beggar he said, “Quickly put your bet down, why are you so slow?”

Li Xihua laughed and said, “Laoxiong is so impatient, why don’t the two of you gamble?”

“Very well,” the short and fat man said. Turning to the old beggar he asked, “Are you going to make a bet?”

The old beggar shook his head. “I won’t. Departing ten beats departing nine, this kind of Pai Jiu I don’t know how to play.”

The short and fat man was angry. “Are you saying I was wrong?” he asked.

“I said I don’t know how to play,” the old beggar replied, “I have never said you were wrong.”

“Damn it,” the short and fat man angrily cursed, “You are all not a good thing. Hey, little baby, you are babbling nonsense in here, are you going to gamble or not?” Naturally the last question was directed toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Let me help the banker,” he said, “Dage here, I want to form partnership with you to be the banker; can I?” While saying that, he took eight or nine small gold ingots from his pocket and put them on the table. The shiny gold was gleaming, it worth at least a thousand taels of silver.

“Alright,” the peasant said, “Xiao Xiongdi has good fortune and good luck, we are guaranteed to win.”

The short and fat man angrily said, “Are you saying I am guaranteed to lose?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If you are afraid of losing, you may bet a little less.”

The short and fat man was furious. “I want to bet two hundred more taels,” he said, while taking two more yuanbao and put them on the Heaven Gate.

The peasant said, “Xiao Xiongdi’s luck in gambling is good; you throw the dice.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao replied. Picking up the dice, he weighed it in his hands, and to his great delight, he found out that the dice were loaded with lead. He thought, “Unexpectedly the dice in this gambling establishment also have this kind of secret.” At first he was afraid that he was a bit rusty, his hand was out of practice, but as soon as he picked the lead-loaded dice, he felt relieved instantly. His mouth mumbled, “Spirit of Heaven, spirit of the Earth, the first spirit of gambling deity, Bodhisattva, little demon of the dice carrying the yuanbao, one by one enter in! Clear kill!” While his mouth was shouting, his fingers turned, he threw the dice into the bowl; as expected, he got seven dots. The Heaven Gate took the first set, the banker took the third set.

By looking at the impression on the table, Wei Xiaobao knew that the short and fat man had a ‘four and six’, and a ‘tiger head’ [i.e. five and six], valued at one dot, while his side got two pairs of ‘earth’ [i.e. double one]. “Laoxiong,” he said to the peasant, “I threw the dice, you look at the tiles. Win or lose, it is decided by the mandate of Heaven.”

The peasant picked the tiles, felt it with his fingers, and put it down on the table.

“Ha!” the short and fat man exclaimed as he flipped the ‘four and six’ tile. “Ten dots,” he said, “Wonderful!” And then with another ‘Ha!’ he flipped the ‘tiger head’ and said, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven; eleven dots. Wonderful!” Reaching out, the opened up the banker’s tiles and said, “One, two, three, four; four dots altogether. My twenty-one dots eat your four dots. I win!”

Wei Xiaobao and the peasant looked at each other in dismay. The short and fat man said, “Quickly pay!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “More dots win, less dots lose, regardless of heaven or earth, pair or no pair, is that right?”

“Why not?” the short and fat man said, “How can more dots lose to less dots? Your four dots want to win against my twenty-one dots?”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s the rule.” He paid the short and fat man four small gold ingots, saying, “Each gold ingot worth a hundred taels of silver. Place your bet.”

The short and fat man was very happy; he laughed and said, “I still bet four hundred taels, if I bet more, I am afraid you will lose and become anxious.”

Wei Xiaobao looked at the tile imprint on the table, he threw five dots. The banker picked the tiles first, it was a pair of ‘heaven’ [i.e. double six]. The short and fat man got a ‘long three’ [i.e. double three] and a ‘bench’ [i.e. double two]. Both tiles combined, the number of dots was still less than one ‘heaven’ tile. He cursed under his breath, yet he had no choice but to pay. And then he bet four hundred taels again.

Three sets of hand later, the short and fat man lost everything, there was not a single tael left in front of him. His face was bulging deep red like a blood ball. His short and fat arms groped around his pocket, but he could not find anything that he could bet. Suddenly he pointed to Zhao Qixian, who was still lying on the floor, and said, “This fellow worth several hundred taels, doesn’t he? I bet him.” While saying that, he picked Zhao Qixian and put him on the table.

Zhao Qixian’s acupoints were sealed, he could not move a hair. The old beggar suddenly said, “Wait a minute, it was zaixia who caught these several Imperial Bodyguards, how could laoxiong take them as your bet?”

The short and fat man replied, “I just want to borrow them, can I?”

“If you lost, how are you going to pay me back?” the old beggar asked.

The short and fat man was startled. “I won’t lose,” he said.

“Just in case laoxiong’s luck is not good, and you lost?” the old beggar asked.

“That’s easy,” the short and fat man said, “Presently in the city of Liuzhou Imperial Bodyguards are indeed not a few; I’ll just go grab some and pay you back.”

The old beggar nodded. “That will work,” he said.

The short and fat man urged Wei Xiaobao, “Quickly throw the dice.”

By this time the set of tiles had already been used up. Wei Xiaobao said to the peasant, “Would laoxiong shuffle and arrange the tiles just like before?”

Without saying anything the peasant shuffled the thirty-two tiles back and forth on the surface of the table. After a while, he arranged the tiles in a square. Wei Xiaobao was startled; not only he did not see any new imprint on the table, even the previous imprint was also erased by him secretly exerting his internal energy while he was pushing and rubbing the tiles around; what’s left was only faint traces of horizontal and vertical lines so that Wei Xiaobao could not distinguish the dots anymore.

If the short and stout man was still betting gold and silver, Wei Xiaobao would not mind too much, he would let the peasant gamble with him; who would win, who would lose, it had nothing to do with him. But right now, placed on the Heaven Gate as the bet was Zhao Qixian, while he could not shirk from being the banker. Since he would not know where the strong suit would be, loaded dice or not, it would be worthless.

“Since only two people gambling,” he said, “Why must we play Pai Jiu? Won’t it be better just to play dice? He who has more dots, win.”

The short and fat man shook his round head like a kettledrum, “Laozi loves to play Pai Jiu,” he said.

“You don’t understand Pai Jiu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “What will you play?”

The short and fat man was furious; he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s chest, raised him up, and gave him a good shaking. “Your granny,” he said, “Are you saying I don’t understand Pai Jiu?”

Being shaken randomly like this, the bones in Wei Xiaobao’s body were crackling. Suddenly he heard someone behind him calling out, “Let him go, you must not do that!” It was precisely Fat Toutuo’s voice.

The short and fat man’s right hand raised Wei Xiaobao high in the air. “Uh, how can you be here?” he asked in surprise, “Why can’t I do this?”

They heard Lu Gaoxuan’s voice replying, “This is Wei … Wei Daren; he has a very special background, you must by all means not offend him. Quickly put him down.”

The short and fat man was delighted. “He … he is Wei … Wei … damn it, he is Wei Xiaobao? Ha ha, wonderful, wonderful! I happen to be looking for him. Ha ha, finally I found him.” While saying that, he turned around and headed out toward the door, with his right hand still carrying Wei Xiaobao.

Both Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan barred his way. “Shou Zunzhe [lit. thin revered master],” Lu Gaoxuan said, “Since you already knew Wei Daren’s background, why are you still this rude? Quickly put him down.”

The fat and short man said, “Even if Jiaozhu is here personally, I would still not letting him go. Unless he gives me the antidote.”

“Don’t make a scene,” Fat Toutuo said, “You did not take the leopard … that pill, what do you need the antidote for?”

“Humph,” the short and fat man replied, “You don’t understand anything. Quickly get out of the way, don’t blame me for being impolite to you.”

With his body hanging in the air, Wei Xiaobao heard the exchange between these three people, he mused, “So this short and fat man is actually Fat Toutuo’s Shixiong, Thin Toutuo. No wonder he is unusually fat, and amusingly short.”

At the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful the other day, there was a big-meatball-like freak hiding inside the fake Empress Dowager’s quilt, who was then ran out stark naked while carrying her out of the Palace. Afterwards Wei Xiaobao inquired of Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan, and found out that it was Fat Toutuo’s martial brother Thin Toutuo. It was because that day he was running away so fast that Wei Xiaobao did not see his appearance clearly, so much so that although he had been gambling with him for half a day, he had not recognized him.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was churning, “Fat Toutuo once said that in the past he and his Shixiong, Thin Toutuo, two men, were sent on a mission overseas by Jiaozhu, and were unable to return within the appointed time, to such an extent that the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill they took flared up. Fat Toutuo became tall and thin, while thin Toutuo became short and fat. By this time the two of them have already taken the antidote, yet their original stature did not return. So why would this short and fat man want the antidote? Ah, right, the poison of the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill in the old wh0re fake Empress Dowager’s body has not been neutralized. This Thin Toutuo slept with her under the same quilt, obviously they are lovers.” He said in a loud voice, “You want the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill antidote, yet you still have not put me down?”

As soon as Thin Toutuo heard the five characters ‘leopard embryo tendon-altering pill’, his entire fat body immediately shivered. Bending his right arm, he put Wei Xiaobao down, stretched out his left hand and said, “Bring it out quickly.”

“You are so rude to me, humph, humph! What did you just say to me?” Wei Xiaobao said.

Thin Toutuo suddenly leaped forward, pressed his left hand on Wei Xiaobao’s back, and shouted, “Bring the antidote out quickly.” The point his fat left hand pressed on was precisely the ‘Da Chui’ [big hammer/spine] acupoint. If he exerted a bit of strength in his palm, Wei Xiaobao’s heart arteries would be shaken and would break immediately.

Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan called out together, “You must not do that!”

Their voice had not disappeared, three palms already landed on Thin Toutuo’s body. The old beggar’s palm rested on the ‘bai hui’ [hundred meeting] acupoint of the crown of his head. Li Xihua’s palm was pressing on the ‘yu zhen’ [jade pillow] acupoint on the back of his head. The peasant’s palm was actually pushing on his face, the forefinger and middle finger were pressing above his eyelid. The ‘bai hui’ and ‘yu zhen’ were two vital acupoints on a human’s body, plus if the farmer exerted slightly more strength onto his fingers, he would be able to dig the Thin Toutuo’s eyeballs out. Thin Toutuo, however, was really too short; compared to Wei Xiaobao, he was still half a head shorter, so that when the three of them made their moves together, they had to target his round head, because they could not conveniently reach the vital acupoints on his chest or back.

When Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan saw the way the three men move, they knew that these three were martial art experts. If the three of them exerted their strength simultaneously, perhaps Thin Toutuo’s fat head would be immediately crushed to pulp. “You must not do that!” they cried out together.

“Short and fat,” the old beggar said, “Quickly let him go.”

“As soon as he give me the antidote, I’ll let him go,” Thin Toutuo replied.

The old beggar said, “If you don’t let go, I’ll exert my strength!”

Thin Toutuo said, “If I have to die anyway, we’ll perish together …” Suddenly, Fat Toutuo’s right palm moved toward the old beggar’s flank, while Lu Gaoxuan’s palm went toward the back of Li Xihua’s neck.

Fat and Lu, two people, were standing really closed behind them. They were wearing the uniform of Valiant Cavalry Sergeant. Although from the earlier exchange the old beggar and Li Xihua knew that these two men were acquainted with Thin Toutuo, they had never expected that these two people’s martial art skill was extremely superior. In just one move they already fell under their control.

Fat and Lu, two people, spoke at the same time, “Everybody let go!”

The peasant suddenly removed his palm from Thin Toutuo’s face, and swiftly moved both palms toward Fat and Lu, two people’s backs. “You two let go first,” he said.

“Ha ha,” Li Xihua laughed, “This is fun! Interesting, interesting!” He removed his palm from Thin Toutuo, but quick as lightning the palm landed on the top of the peasant’s head.

This way, Wei Xiaobao, Thin Toutuo, Li Xihua, Lu Gaoxuan, Fat Toutuo, the peasant and the old beggar, seven people were under the other’s control, each one of them had his vital point under the other’s palm. In that instant the seven of them were like clay figurines or wooden statues, nobody dared to make a reckless move. Wei Xiaobao was the only one being threatened, but did not threaten anybody else. He was also the only one who was fully aware of why his vital point was under someone else’s control; it was an unfathomable mystery to the other six people.

“Zhang Kangnian!” Wei Xiaobao called out.

By this time, other than several casino workers huddled at the corner, only Zhang Kangnian remained inside the gambling establishment. “Cha!” he replied. ‘Shua!’ he pulled his saber.

“Dog Imperial Bodyguard,” Thin Toutuo yelled, “Come here if you have guts!”

Zhang Kangnian raised his yaodao saber; but afraid that this short and fat man might harm Wei Xiaobao, he did not dare to take even one step closer.

Wei Xiaobao was surrounded in the middle. He felt that in among the strange things that had happened to him in his entire life, nothing was more strange than this. “Interesting, interesting!” he called out, “Short and fat, kill me with one palm, it’s not a big deal. You yourself will die, it’s not a big deal. But you will never get the leopard embryo tendon-altering pill’s antidote. That old lover of yours, the flesh of her entire body will rot piece by piece; she will have a rotten bald head first, and then …”

“Stop it!” Thin Toutuo shouted.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Her face will rot, one by one her eyes, nose, ears will fall, the holes will appear …”

Right this moment, suddenly from the entrance of the hall someone said, “In here!” And then someone else said, “Seize them all!” Everybody turned their heads at the same time toward the entrance. Suddenly a white ray flashed; someone with a sword in his hand circled around them. They felt the vital points on their back, flank, waist, shoulder, slightly went numb, as their acupoints were sealed. In an instant, they all went down to the floor.

They saw three people were standing at the door. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Ah Ke,” he called out, “You have finally come …” But as soon as the word ‘come’ came out of his mouth, his heart sank, and he stopped immediately. He saw two men standing by her side, on her left was Li Zicheng, on her right was the person he loathed the most in all his life, Zheng Keshuang. On the east was a man who had just put the sword back into its sheath, standing with arms akimbo, and a cold laugh on his face; it was none other than ‘One Sword without Blood’ Feng Xifan.

Thin Toutuo, the old beggar, Li Xihua, Fat Toutuo, Lu Gaoxuan and the peasant, six martial art masters had their hands threatening each other’s vital points; this one did not dare to move, that one also did not dare to move. Suddenly another martial art master appeared, without expending the slightest effort he managed to paralyze them all; even Zhang Kangnian was also hit by the sword.

Thin Toutuo was sitting on the ground, but compared to when he was standing, he actually did not appear too much shorter. “What kind of ‘thing’ are you?” he angrily shouted, “You dare to seal laozi’s ‘yang guan’ [positive pass] and ‘shen tang’ [divine hall] acupoints.”

With a cold laugh Feng Xifan said, “Your martial art skill is not bad at all, unexpectedly you know which acupoints of yours are being sealed.”

Thin Toutuo angrily said, “Quickly unseal laozi’s acupoints, I’ll fight you. What kind of damn hero are you, launching a sneak attack like that?”

Feng Xifan laughed, “Are you a hero?” he said, “Damn it, a hero who is lying on the floor, unable to move at all.”

Thin Toutuo angrily said, “Laozi is sitting on the floor, not lying on the floor. Damn it, don’t you have eyes?”

Feng Xifan raised his left foot and lightly pushed on Thin Toutuo’s shoulder. Thin Toutuo fell face up. But the fat on his buttocks was unusually thick, the weight on his entire body was concentrated there, so that when he fell down, although he could not exert any strength, his body involuntarily sat back up.

Zheng Keshuang laughed aloud and said, “Ke Mei, look, don’t you think this roly-poly toy is fun?”

Ah Ke smiled and said, “It’s very strange.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “You wanted to find this little demon to take revenge, finally your cherished dream has arrived. Are we going to catch him and slowly control him, or just kill him with a stab of the sword?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he thought, “Little demon, these two characters can only mean me; could it be that Ah Ke is looking for me to take revenge? But I have never offended her.”

Clenching her teeth, Ah Ke said, “As soon as I see this man, I get angry; I’ll just kill him with a stab of the sword.” While saying that, ‘shua!’ she drew the sword and walked toward Wei Xiaobao.

“Don’t kill him!” Thin Toutuo, Fat Toutuo, Lu Gaoxuan, the old beggar, Li Xihua, and Zhang Kangnian, six people shouted together.

“Shijie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have never …”

“I am not your Shijie!” Ah Ke angrily said, “Little demon, you are always thinking of harming me, of humiliating me!” Lifting her sword, she thrust it toward the pit of Wei Xiaobao’s stomach.

Everybody cried out in alarm. But they saw the sword bounced back. Turned out Wei Xiaobao was wearing his treasured vest to protect his body, the sword was unable to penetrate.

Ah Ke was startled. “Pierce his eyes!” Zheng Keshuang said.

“Right!” Ah Ke said. Raising her sword, she thrust it forward again.

Suddenly from the corner of the roof someone flew down and threw himself on Wei Xiaobao’s body. The sword stabbed the person’s shoulder. Holding Wei Xiaobao in his arms, the person brought him rolling toward the corner of the hall, away from the sword, while pulling the dagger from Wei Xiaobao’s boot and held it in his hand. This person was also wearing Valiant Cavalry Sergeant uniform, his movement was nimble, his stature short and small, his face was covered in mud and dirt, hence his appearance was unclear.

Seeing he willingly took the sword on Wei Xiaobao’s behalf, everybody thought, “This person is very loyal.”

Feng Xifan drew his sword and slowly walked over. He shook his sword that it turned into a flower sword with more than a dozen petals. Suddenly there was a ‘Ding!’ the sword in Feng Xifan’s hand was cut into two, while blood was gushing from the Valiant Cavalry Sergeant’s shoulder. Turned out the person used Wei Xiaobao’s dagger to break the sword in the opponent’s hand; if not for the fact that Wei Xiaobao’s dagger was incomparably sharp, perhaps by this time he was dead. With the sword stab from Ah Ke on his shoulder earlier, his shoulder suffered two sword wounds in a row.

Feng Xifan’s countenance turned pale. “Humph,” he snorted, and threw the broken sword to the floor. Temporarily he could not make up his mind; should he fetch another sword and attack again or not?

“Ha ha,” Wei Xiaobao called out, “One Sword without Blood Feng Xifan, you stab a soldier under my command that he shed this much blood. Your title should be changed, you should be called ‘Half Sword with Blood’ Feng Xifan.”

With his left hand pressing on the wound on his shoulder, with his right hand the Valiant Cavalry Sergeant massaged the acupoints on Wei Xiaobao’s chest and back, trying to unseal them.

Fat and Thin, two Toutuo, Lu Gaoxuan, Li Xihua, and the others were controlling each other when suddenly someone else launched a sneak attack and hence all of them had fallen into this plot, in their hearts they all were very dissatisfied. Hearing Wei Xiaobao, they all burst out laughing. The old beggar said in a loud voice, “Half Sword with Blood Feng Xifan, marvelous, marvelous! Speaking about shameless people in the world, Sire can be considered number two.”

“Why is he considered number two?” Li Xihua asked, “Would you care to advice?”

The old beggar said, “Compared to Wu Sangui, this Half Sword with Blood’s skill seems to be a bit lacking.”

They all burst out laughing. Li Xihua said, “In my opinion, the difference is quite a lot.”

Feng Xifan had always been extremely proud of his martial art skill; hearing everybody was scoffing at him like that, he could not stop his entire body from trembling. If right now he picked another sword and attacked that Valiant Cavalry Sergeant, to injure him would be as easy as turning his hand over; but of course it would not be fitting to his status. Staring at the sergeant, he asked, “What’s your name? I won’t take your life today, but next time you come into my hand, I will make you die a miserable and unspeakable death.”

The sergeant replied, “I … I …” His voice was very tender and delicate.

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in surprise and delight, “You are Shuang’er, my precious, good Shuang’er!” Reaching out, he removed her hat, her long hair fell down, draping over her shoulder. Wei Xiaobao embraced her waist with his left arm, and said, “She is my little servant girl. Half Sword with Blood, you can’t even defeat my little servant girl, yet you are still tooting your horn?”

Feng Xifan was extremely angry; he raised his left foot, ‘Crash! Bang!’ he kicked the gambling table in the middle of the hall, along with all the piles of coins and yuanbao, plus Zhao Qixian who was lying on the table. The table flew up and crashed onto the roof. Money and Pai Jiu tiles rained down on Thin Toutuo and the others’ heads; they all cursing and yelling. Without saying anything Feng Xifan turned around and left.

Right this moment, two men walked side-by-side through the main gate. “Get out of my way!” Feng Xifan shouted, and pushed with both hands. The two men blocked with their palms; as their two palms met Feng Xifan’s two palms, the three of them made stifled grunts. The two men fell back several steps, their backs crashed heavily onto the wall. Feng Xifan swayed; he took a deep breath, and walked out in big strides. ‘Wah!’ the two men spurted out a mouthful of blood. Turned out they were Feng Jizhong and Priest Xuanzhen.

In quick steps Wei Xiaobao walked over to support Feng Jizhong, while asking Priest Xuanzhen, “Daozhang [Taoist priest], are you alright?”

Xuanzhen coughed twice before answering, “I am alright. Wei … Wei Daren alright?”

“Not bad,” Wei Xiaobao replied, as he turned his head to look at Feng Jizhong. Feng Jizhong nodded with a forced laugh. His martial art skill actually far surpassed Xuanzhen, but when exchanging palm strike just now, he happened to receive Feng Xifan’s right palm, hence he received a lot stronger palm force, consequently, his injury was heavier than Xuanzhen.

“Wei Xiongdi,” Li Xihua said, “In your Valiant Cavalry Regiment the number of capable persons is indeed not a few!” Turns out the clothes Feng Jizhong and Xuanzhen were wearing were also Valiant Cavalry Sergeant uniform.

“Ashamed, ashamed!” Wei Xiaobao replied. He heard more footsteps, Qian Laoben, Xu Tianchuan and Gao Yanchao, three people also walked in.

Seeing the increasing number of Wei Xiaobao’s subordinates, Ah Ke signaled Li Zicheng and Zheng Keshuang with her eyes, she wanted to retreat.

Li Zicheng walked over to Wei Xiaobao, he stomped the monk staff in his hand heavily to the ground, and said in a stern voice, “A real man clearly distinguish gratitude and grudges; the other day your Shifu did not kill me, today I will spare your life. From now on, if you cast a glance toward my daughter, speak a word to her, I will smash your body into mincemeat.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man gave his words, so what? The other day at the Three-Sage Nunnery you and your lover Chen Yuanyuan have already promised to give Ah Ke to me in marriage, could it be that you want to renege? You won’t allow me to cast a glance toward my own wife, to speak a word to her, how can there be such a father-in-law in this world?”

Ah Ke was so mad that her face turned deep red. “Father,” she said, “Let’s go. Don’t talk rubbish with this kid! He … his dog mouth will never grow ivory, how can he speak anything good?”

“Very good!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Finally you acknowledge him. This is your parents’ order, are you going to obey or not?”

Li Zicheng was angry; raising his monk staff up, he shouted, “Little b@stard, you haven’t shut up?”

Qian Laoben and Xu Tianchuan charged forward immediately; two sabers went to chop Li Zicheng’s back. Li Zicheng swung his monk staff backwards, ‘Dang!’ he parried the two sabers.

Gao Yanchao had already drawn his saber and held it across his chest, while he stood in front of Wei Xiaobao to protect him. He shouted, “Li Zicheng, in the city of Kunming, who has saved your lives, father and daughter? Forget favors and violate justice, you have no sense of shame!”

In the past Li Zicheng ran amuck in the world, founded a dynasty and called himself the Emperor, nobody in the world did not know that. As soon as Gao Yanchao shouted his name, the old beggar, Thin Toutuo and the others cried out in alarm.

Li Xihua loudly said, “You … you are Li Zicheng? You are unexpectedly not dead? Good, good, good!” His voice was filled with rage.

Li Zicheng stared at him. “What is it?” he asked, “Who are you?”

Li Xihua angrily said, “I wish I could eat your flesh and sleep in your skin. I thought you have died long ago. Laotianye have eyes. Very good!”

“Humph,” Li Zicheng snorted. “In all my life laozi have killed people like scything flax,” he said with a cold laugh, “I don’t know how many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands people in the world wanted to kill me to take revenge, yet isn’t laozi still alive and well? You want to take revenge, I am afraid it won’t be that easy.”

Ah Ke pulled his sleeve and said in a low voice, “Father, let’s go.” Li Zicheng stomped his monk staff on the ground again, and then he turned around and walked toward the door. Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang followed behind him.

“Li Zicheng,” Li Xihua called out, “By this time tomorrow, I am waiting for you in here. If you are a hero, come and fight me one on one, we’ll decide who will live and who will die. Do you have the guts?”

Li Zicheng turned his head to look at him, his face showed contempt; he said, “When laozi traversed the earth, you, this kid, have not even been out of your mother’s womb. Whether the Ol’ Li is a hero or not, I don’t need Sire to tell me.” Stomping his monk staff, he went out.

Everybody looked at each other in silence; they all thought that there was a truth in what he just said. Li Zicheng killed people like scything flax, common people slandered him much but praised him little. Yet he was a hero who dared to do what he said he would do. Even people who hated him to their bones cannot deny this fact. By this time he was already old, yet he still carried that god-like imposing aura around him. Almost nobody in the hall had weak martial art skill, they were all Jianghu veteran, yet when he swept them with his gaze, they still could not stop fear from creeping up their hearts.

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You clearly betrothed your daughter to me to be my wife, but now you denied it. I say you are a coward, a fart hero.”

Seeing Shuang’er was tearing her clothes to wrap the wound on her shoulder, he helped her attending to her injury. “Good Shuang’er,” he asked, “How did you come? I am lucky that you arrived coincidentally to save me, otherwise my wife would have committed premeditated murder on her own husband, she would have pierced my eyes blind.”

“It was not a coincident,” Shuang’er replied in a low voice, “I have always been by Xianggong’s side. It’s just that you did not know.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised. “You were always by my side?” he repeatedly asked, “How can that be?”

“Hey,” Thin Toutuo called out, “Quickly unseal my acupoints, quickly give me the antidote; otherwise, humph, humph, laozi will immediately smash your head into pulp!”

Suddenly the hall was filled with ha ha, heh heh, hey hey, and hee hee laughter. Wei Xiaobao’s subordinate kept coming in, while this extremely short and extremely fat fellow had his acupoints sealed, he was unable to move a single step, yet he unexpectedly uttered some threatening words; everybody thought it was laughable.

Thin Toutuo angrily said, “What are you laughing at? What’s so funny? When my acupoints are unsealed and he still has not given me the antidote, you’ll see if I am going to smash his head into pulp or not.”

Qian Laoben raised a single-blade saber and with a giggle he came over, saying, “Right now if I chop your damn head three times, I wonder if laoxiong’s head will burst open or not?”

“Do you have to ask?” Thin Toutuo angrily retorted, “Naturally it will burst open!”

Qian Laoben laughed and said, “While your acupoints are not opened yet, I will smash your head into pulp first, so that when your acupoints are unsealed, you can’t smash my master’s head into pulp.” When the people heard this, they roared in laughter again.

“My acupoints are not sealed by you,” Thin Toutuo angrily said, “If you smash my head into pulp, you can’t be considered a hero.”

Qian Laoben laughed. “Why do I care whether you consider me a hero or not,” he said, “I am not a hero to begin with.” While saying that, he raised his saber.

Fat Toutuo called out, “Wei … Wei Daren, my Shixiong is rude and has offended you, please forgive him, let subordinate apologize on his behalf. Shige, quickly apologize. Wei Daren is also your superior; don’t you know it?” He could not turn his neck, so when he talked to Wei Xiaobao and Thin Toutuo, he was unable to face them.

Thin Toutuo said, “If he gives me the antidote, let’s not talk about apologizing, I am even willing to kowtow, or be his ox or his horse. But if he does not give me the antidote, I am going to smash his melon head into pulp.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “What’s so good about that old wh0re that you unexpectedly show her this much kindness and devotion?”

While they were still talking, suddenly they saw the peasant cupped his fist and walked out from among the crowd, saying, “Everybody, Xiongdi must say good bye now.”

All of them were shocked; the eight of them had their vital acupoints sealed by Feng Xifan. Other than Wei Xiaobao who had his acupoints massaged by Shuang’er, the remaining seven people were unable to lift a finger. Feng Xifan’s internal energy entered the acupoint via the tip of his sword, it was very formidable, even people with higher martial art skill would still need two to four hours to be able to move again. This peasant’s appearance was just like ordinary farmer of rural area. When he was playing Pai Jiu a moment ago he was able to press the tiles until they created an impression on the table; obviously he was a martial art master with profound internal energy; however, in just a short period of time he was unexpectedly able to open his own acupoints, it was indeed a skill that was seldom heard. They saw him dragging his shoes as he limped away.

Wei Xiaobao told Qian Laoben, “Unseal our brothers’ acupoints. This Li … Mr. Li is also one of our own.” While saying that, he pointed toward Li Xihua.

“Yes,” Qian Laoben complied.

He put the saber back into its scabbard, and was about to unseal Li Xihua’s acupoints when suddenly the old beggar said, “Ming restore Qing fought, mother Earth father Heaven.” [ming fu qing fan, mu di fu tian]

“Ah,” Qian Laoben exclaimed in surprise. Xu Tianchuan stepped forward to massage the old beggar’s back several times, and then he walked around to face the old beggar with the thumbs of both hands bent toward the old beggar’s face.

Tian Di Hui brethren were numerous; it was hard for them to know their fellow brothers. When someone was initiated into the Society, often times they would use the phrase ‘Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming’ [tian fu di mu, fan Qing fu Ming] eight characters to recognize a fellow brethren. But in the presence of outsiders, they must not reveal their secret; hence they usually reversed the eight characters, so that even if the outsiders heard it, they could not make head or tail of it. Xu Tianchuan saluted the old beggar with crooked fingers was also part of the secret signal they used in front of other people.

Qian and Xu, two people successively opened the sealed acupoints of Li Xihua, Fat Toutuo, Lu Gaoxuan, three people. Only Thin Toutuo was left sitting on the floor. His entire face was bulging red, as he shouted, “Shidi, why haven’t you unsealed my acupoints? Damn it, what are you waiting for?”

“Unsealing acupoints is not difficult,” Fat Toutuo replied, “But you must not be rude toward Wei Daren.”

“Who told him not to give me the antidote?” Thin Toutuo angrily said, “It is he who offends me, not I offend him! If he gives me the antidote, I’ll consider he apologizes to me, laozi will let bygones be bygones, and that’s the end.”

Fat Toutuo was hesitant, “This is difficult,” he said.

The old beggar shouted, “You, this short and fat fellow, you keep rambling on and on. Let’s not talk about Wei Xiongdi does not give you the antidote, even if he wanted to give, I will urge him not to give.” Stretching out his right hand finger, ‘Chi!’ a gust of strong wind shot toward Thin Toutuo. Followed by two fingers, ‘chi, chi’, the acupoints on Thin Toutuo’s body were immediately opened.

Suddenly a large meatball shot up from the floor and pounced on Wei Xiaobao. ‘Whoosh!’ the old beggar’s palm swiftly struck out, Thin Toutuo’s body was still in the air, his palm also struck out, his body shot up again. His martial art skill was indeed superior. He flipped midair, and pounced on the old beggar with both palms struck toward the top of the beggar’s head. The old beggar’s left foot flew up toward Thin Toutuo’s lower back. Thin Toutuo swiftly reversed his palms. The force of his palms collided with the force of the old beggar’s leg, his fat body flew up to the air.

Thin Toutuo’s body stayed in the air like a big rubber ball. The old beggar striking with his palms and kicking with his feet, but all along he failed to hit him. This short and fat fellow looked clumsy and funny, yet he was surprisingly very agile; his feet never touched the ground, yet he was able to turn around as he pleased.

Li Xihua and the Tian Di Hui warriors could be considered experienced and knowledgeable, yet in all their lives they had never seen movements like Thin Toutuo was demonstrating just now. Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan watched the fight with rapt attention. They saw how in each move the old beggar’s strength was swift and fierce; Thin Toutuo’s more than two-hundred-catty body was kept fluttering in the air and did not fall down by the old beggar’s sheer power.

The two people fought tighter and tighter, the wind from the fists and palms were forcing the spectators to stand with their backs against the wall. Suddenly they heard Thin Toutuo shouted with his strange voice as he launched the move ‘five nails opening the mountain’; his left palm struck out first, his right fist followed, both were aimed at the crown of the old beggar’s head.

“Good move!” the old beggar shouted. He squatted and launched the move ‘the King of Heaven supporting the pagoda’, to meet the attack head-on.

Two tremendous forces collided. Thin Toutuo soared back into the air, his back crashed onto the beam. ‘Crack! Bang!’ The roof tiles, mud and dirt rained down; the dust and sand in the hall rose up. Thin Toutuo pounced down again, the old beggar pulled back to evade. Thin Toutuo’s attack hit an empty space, ‘Crash!’ he fell heavily to the ground.

The old beggar roared in laughter, but before his laugh stopped, Thin Toutuo had already shot up again; fast and nimble beyond belief his head flew toward the old beggar’s chest. Everybody could see that this strike carried an overwhelming power. The old beggar sidestepped; his right palm landed on Thin Toutuo’s buttocks, with a loud shout he exerted his internal energy to give him a push.

The momentum of Thin Toutuo’s strike was already huge, on top of that, the old beggar’s internal strength was also very powerful; two tremendous forces worked together, Thin Toutuo flew even faster, his head crashed into the wall. Everybody thought that his brains would definitely burst open from the impact. They all cried out in alarm. Fat Toutuo grabbed a casino worker standing on the corner and threw him toward the wall. ‘Bonk!’ Thin Toutuo’s head struck his chest and abdomen, penetrated his belly and crashed into the wall, creating a big hole on the wall.

He stood up shakily, his big fat head hung down, dripping with the casino worker’s blood and intestines. Frantically he wiped his face with both hands while cursing angrily. “Damn it, what trick was that?”

Everybody was overwhelmed with shock and amazement. The old beggar shouted, “Are we going to continue fighting or not?”

“If my body was still big and tall like in the past,” Thin Toutuo replied, “You would not be able to beat me.”

“What about now?” the old beggar asked.

Thin Toutuo shook his head. “Now I cannot beat you,” he said, “I am finished, I am finished!” Suddenly he leaped and slammed through the wall. With a loud rumble another large hole appeared on the wall, even the casino worker’s body also vanished into the hole.

“Shige, Shige!” Fat Toutuo called out, and flew out through the hole.

“Wei Daren,” Lu Gaoxuan said, “I’ll go take a look.” With feet first his body flew horizontally out through the hole, he still managed to cup his fist to salute Wei Xiaobao; his style was amazing, the people cheered together.

Xu Tianchuan, Qian Laoben and the others all thought, “Where did Wei Xiangzhu get these two subordinates? Their martial art skill is surprisingly amazing; it is ten times higher than ours.”

Li Xihua cupped his fist and said, “I can’t accompany you much longer.” And he left via the main door in quick steps.

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist toward the old beggar. “Xiongtai [another way of saying ‘brother’],” he said, “Would you let them go?” While saying that, he pointed to Zhao Qixian and the others.

The old beggar chuckled and said, “Sorry for the offense.” Casually he pulled Zhao Qixian and the others up. Nobody saw him massaging those men, but with just these grabs, he had opened these Imperial Bodyguards’ acupoints.

“Many thanks,” Wei Xiaobao said, and ordered Zhao Qixian, Zhang Kangnian and the others to return first.

Xu Tianchuan looked at Shuang’er and asked, “Is this Miss Wei Xiangzhu’s trusted friend?”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We don’t need to conceal anything from her.”

The old beggar said, “Although this Miss is young, her loyalty and righteousness is difficult for others to follow. If she had not acted boldly, disregarding her own safety just a moment ago, protecting her master with devotion, Wei Xiongdi’s eyeballs could not be protected.”

Pulling Shuang’er’s hand, Wei Xiaobao said, “True, true. Luckily she has saved me.”

Listening to these two people complimenting her in front of everybody, Shuang’er was bashful; her entire face reddened, she lowered her head and did not dare to meet anybody’s gaze.

Xu Tianchuan took a step forward, and spoke to the old beggar in a loud and clear voice, “Five men separately compose a poem, nobody knows the Hong Ying [lit. great courage. See also Chapter 8 for more info on Tian Di Hui] on their body.”

The old beggar replied, “Henceforth it is passed on to the brothers, afterwards we will know each other and have a reunion.”

When Wei Xiaobao was initiated into the Heaven and Earth Society, the brethren had informed him on all kinds of ceremonial protocol and secret codes within the Society, they also made sure that he memorize everything well. The secret codes were actually very unrefined and common, the sentences seemed to make sense, yet they did not really made any sense. Tian Di Hui brethren were mostly Jianghu people, more than half came from the same background as Wei Xiaobao; their eyes could not recognize the letter ‘T’ [i.e. totally illiterate]. If the secret codes were too abstruse, how could the Society brothers remember?

When he heard the old beggar reciting the secret codes to identify each other, Wei Xiaobao immediately caught on, “Entering the Hong Gate for the first time, one swears brotherhood with older brothers; that day the oath was clearly made with sincerity.”

The old beggar recited, “Two trees pine and cypress standing on the left and right, in the middle was Hong Flower Pavilion where the oath of brotherhood was made.”

Wei Xiaobao continued, “The brothers are in front of the Loyal and Righteous Hall, the elected general with millions of soldiers in the middle of the city.”

The old beggar said, “Coming to the front of Fu De [lit. good fortune and virtue] Ancestral Hall willing to swear brotherhood, fighting the Qing restoring the Ming I am Hong Ying.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Xiongdi Wei Xiaobao, the current Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu; may I ask Xiongzhang’s [I don’t understand why the Chinese use so many different words for ‘brother’] respected surname and great given name? Which Hall do you belong to? And which duty do you currently serve?”

The old beggar said, “Xiongdi Wu Liuqi, currently serving as the Red Banner Xiangzhu of the Great Obedience Hall. Today I can meet Wei Xiangzhu and the other brothers, truly I am delighted.”

Everybody was pleasantly surprised to learn that this man was unexpectedly the well-known-throughout-the-world ‘Iron Beggar’ Wu Liuqi; they all bowed with cupped fist to pay their respect. Xu Tianchuan and the others announced their surname and given name; they all said that they have long admired him.

Wu Liuqi was the provincial governor of Guangdong, commanding the massive military force in the whole province. In the past he was advised by Zha Yihuang, and his ‘fighting the Qing restoring the Ming’ spirit was aroused; he secretly joined Tian Di Hui, and had held the Red Banner Xiangzhu position of the Great Obedience Hall ever since.

Tian Di Hui paid special attention to the character ‘Hong’. First, it was because Ming Taizu’s [first Ming Emperor] regnal name was Hong Qu. Second, the ‘hong’ ( 洪 ) character was actually the character ‘han’ ( 漢 ) minus the character ‘tu’ [earth] ( 土 ); the idea was that our Han people had lost our land, had become captive in an occupied land. Thereupon the Tian Di Hui brethren call themselves ‘Hong Ying’, signifying they would not forget their origin, and that they were determined to restore their land.

The Red Banner Xiangzhu was not the official Xiangzhu, it did not involve commanding the Hall’s brethren either, but this position was actually above the official Xiangzhu, a position that was highly respected in the entire Society, second only to their Zongduozhu. The fact that Wu Liuqi was the Red Banner Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui was a top secret, even Xu Tianchuan, Qian Laoben, and the others did not know.

Wu Liuqi pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hand and said with a laugh, “Wei Xiangzhu, you went to Yunnan on a mission to deal with the big traitor Wu Sangui, Zongduozhu dispatched an order to our Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan and Guizhou, four provinces’ brothers to provide support as the circumstances allow. As soon as I received the order, I sent ten competent brothers to Yunnan to provide help in secret. However, Wei Xiangzhu handled everything appropriately, Green Wood Hall brothers are also very able, in everything you were able to turn peril into safety; our Great Obedience Hall did not need to help anything. A few days ago we heard that Wei Xiangzhu and the brothers have arrived in Guangxi, hence Xiongdi put on my disguise to rendezvous with you, brothers.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao happily said, “My Enshi [benevolent master], the Senior is very attentive; Wu Xiangzhu’s good intention, your Xiongdi is indeed very grateful. Wu Xiangzhu’s great name, on the four seas no one has not heard; turns out you are our Society brother, that is a top-notch, made-me-want-to-jump-with-joy, seriously-pleasant kind of news.” Actually, today was the very first time he ever heard of Wu Liuqi’s name, but seeing Xu Tianchuan and the others showed deep veneration to him, their faces lit up with delight, he simply blurted out several bootlicking sentences.

Wu Liuqi laughed and said, “Wei Xiongdi killed the big treacherous court official Oboi with your own hand, now that is something ‘on the four seas no one has not heard’. We are all on the same side, no need for words of politeness. I have offended the Imperial Bodyguards under Wei Xiongdi’s command, it was only to invite you to come here; please do not blame me.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “His granny,” he said, “Those fellows are dog skin who were unlucky, they lost money yet did not want to accept. Wu Dage made them eat a little bit of suffering, you taught them a lesson, so that next time they gamble they would follow the rule. Xiongdi still needs to thank you very much.” Wu Liuqi roared in laughter.

After they were all seated, Wu Liuqi asked about the Yunnan mission. Wei Xiaobao briefly explained to him. When Wu Liuqi heard that they had obtained conclusive evidence that Wu Sangui was about to revolt, he was greatly delighted, and talked incessantly of his commendation. “When this traitor rises into rebellion, he will definitely attack Guangdong. This time we must go all out with him. When this treacherous bandit has been defeated, we will withdrew the troops again to the north to strike Beijing.”

While they were still talking, the Latter Family Hall Xiangzhu Ma Chaoxing rushed in; he was introduced to Wu Liuqi, it was a warm meeting. They talked about what had just happened in the gambling establishment. Wu Liuqi cursed Feng Xifan all around, saying that he surreptitiously carried out sneak attack, that he was treacherous and despicable, and that Wu Liuqi would definitely have a good fight with him. Wei Xiaobao also told them about how Feng Xifan was trying to kill Chen Jinnan in Beijing. Wu Liuqi stretched out his hand and heavily slapped the gambling table, saying, “In this case, we will deal with him in here; first, to avenge Guan Fuzi, second, to get rid of one big danger from a trusted aide for Zongduozhu, third, to wipe away the humiliation we suffered today from his sneaky scheme.” In all his life he seldom met a worthy adversary; this time he unexpectedly fell under Feng Xifan that he was unable to move a finger, no wonder he was incomparably furious.

Ma Chaoxing said, “Li Zicheng was the big rebel who caused the Son of Heaven Chongzhen’s death; since he has come to Liuzhou, we must not let him off easily.” Tian Di Hui was loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Chongzhen was hounded by Li Zicheng until he finally hanged himself on Coal Hill. Since that time, Tian Di Hui had been regarding Li Zicheng as their enemy.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Zheng Family of Taiwan flaunts the Great Ming’s Banner, yet this fellow Zheng Keshuang is going the same way as Li Zicheng, in which case he also has become a rebel. Since we started, we might as well carry it through whatever happens, we’ll deal with him as well. We will get rid of one more big danger from a trusted aide for Zongduozhu.”

Everybody looked at each other in dismay, nobody said anything. Tian Di Hui was a subordinate of the Zheng Clan of Taiwan. There was no harm in killing Feng Xifan, but they must not kill Zheng Er Gongzi [Second Young Master]. Besides, it was very clear in everybody’s mind that Wei Xiaobao wanted to kill Zheng Keshuang, 99% was to use his official authority for private interests.

Wu Liuqi changed the subject by asking Wei Xiaobao about the background of the Fat and Thin Toutuo. Wei Xiaobao gave a vague answer, saying that Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan were Jianghu friends who were indebted to him, hence those two were very loyal to him. Wu Liuqi admired that peasant who was able to unseal his own acupoints very much, he said, “In all my life Xiongdi only submit to very few people, this gentleman’s martial art is extremely brilliant, Xiongdi is ashamed of my own inferiority. There are very few people with this kind of skill in Wulin world. I have racked my brain trying to think it over, yet I cannot find out his identity.”

They all discussed it over briefly. Ma Chaoxing sent his Hall’s brothers to investigate where Li Zicheng, Feng Xifan’s and the others were staying, while helping Feng Jizhong, Xu Tianchuan and Shuang’er to tend to their injury.

Wei Xiaobao asked Shuang’er how did she follow him along the way? What happened was that after she lost contact with Wei Xiaobao on Mount Wutai, she looked for him everywhere. Later on she learned from the monks at the Qing Liang Temple that Wei Xiaobao had returned to Beijing, hence she also returned to Beijing, naturally the man Wei Xiaobao sent to summon her could not find her. By that time Wei Xiaobao was heading south, immediately she set on a journey to catch up with him, and managed to overtake him before they even reached the border of Hebei province. Being a young girl, she had different thought; she was worried that after Wei Xiaobao became a high ranking Tatar official, he would not want her to serve him anymore. Thereupon she stole a set of Valiant Cavalry Sergeant uniform, disguised herself and mingled among the Valiant Cavalry Brigade. She had been following him to Yunnan and back to Guangxi. It was at the gambling establishment did she see Wei Xiaobao was in danger, Ah Ke was about to stab his eyes, that she boldly jumped forward to save him.

Wei Xiaobao was very grateful in his heart, he held her in his arms and kissed her cheek gently. “Silly girl,” he said with a laugh, “How can I not want you to serve me? I want you to serve me for the rest of my life, unless you yourself are not willing to take care of me, you want to go off and get married.”

Shuang’er was happy and bashful at the same time, her face blushed as she said, “No, no, I … I won’t possibly go off and get married.”

That evening Ma Chaoxing arranged a banquet in honor of Wu Liuqi in a Liuzhou brothel. When they were drinking, the Society brothers arrived to report that they have found Li Zicheng and his party, they were in a wooden raft hut on Liujiang River. Liuzhou was rich in lumber. Liuzhou coffins were world-famous. There was a saying, ‘Live in Suzhou, doing business in Hangzhou, eat in Guangzhou, die in Liuzhou.’ The lumber were tied together into rafts, and floated east on Liujiang River. There were countless wooden rafts on Liujiang River. When someone went to hide in one of the raft, it would be difficult for others to find him. If not for the fact that Tian Di Hui had a large number of people locally, perhaps they would be unable to find out.

Wu Liuqi slapped the table and stood up. “Let us quickly go,” he said, “No need to drink the wine.”

Ma Chaoxing said, “It’s still too early, gentlemen may drink slowly. Let Xiongdi make arrangement first, they won’t be able to run away.” And he walked out to instruct his subordinates.

By the second watch that night [between 9-11pm], Ma Chaoxing led everybody to the bank of Liujiang River, and they all boarded two boats. The three Xiangzhu rode on one boat. Without waiting for any instruction, the boatmen rowed immediately. Soon afterwards, seven or eight boats followed some distance away. After rowing for about seven, eight li along the river, the boat stopped. A boatman entered the cabin and said in a low voice, “Reporting to three Xiangzhu: the target is inside the wooden raft directly in front of us.”

Wei Xiaobao peeked out from the cabin’s curtain, and saw a small cabin on the raft, from which came a flicker of yellow light. He looked around and saw boats to the east, and boats to the west; at least there were thirty, forty boats altogether. Ma Chaoxing said in a low voice, “Those boats are ours.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he thought that if one boat had ten people in it, they had three, four hundred people on their side; even if Li Zicheng and Feng Xifan were more formidable, could they fly up to the sky?

Right this moment, suddenly they heard someone calling out from the river bank while dashing along the same direction the boat was traveling, “Li Zicheng … Li Zicheng … you shrink your head like a turtle, where do you think you can hide? Li Zicheng … come out if you have guts … Li Zicheng …” It was Li Xihua’s voice.

From the wooden raft cabin someone shouted, “Who is making a racket in here?”

From the riverbank a shadow leaped toward the wooden raft, the sword in his hand flickered under the cold moonlight. Someone came out of the wooden raft cabin, holding a monk staff in his hand; he was none other than Li Zicheng. “You are bored of living, aren’t you? You want laozi to deliver your little life away, don’t you?”

“I am going to take your life today,” Li Xihua replied, “I am just afraid that in your death you will be a confused ghost. Do you know who I am?”

“The Ol’ Li killed people by millions,” Li Zicheng said, “How could I ask their names one by one? Come up here!” These three words ‘come up here’ sounded like clap of thunder in the air; it echoed far on the river. With a loud shout the staff swept toward Li Xihua.

Li Xihua leaned sideways to evade, he stuck the flat of his sword against the body of the staff, and leaped up. And then the tip of his sword shot down from the air. Li Zicheng thrust his staff straight up. Since he was still flying in the air, Li Xihua had no way of evading it, his left foot kicked the head of the staff, borrowing the momentum he made a somersault backward and landed on one foot at the edge of the wooden raft.

Wu Liuqi said, “Row the boat closer so we can see clearly.” The boatmen pulled the oars that the boat moved forward.

Ma Chaoxing said, “While someone else is holding him, we’d better make our move.” Turning to a boatman standing at the bow he said, “Send the signal.”

“Yes,” the boatman replied. He took a red lantern from the cabin and hung it on the mast. Immediately from the boats all around them people were slipping into the river.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he repeatedly exclaimed. His martial art skill was too low, he was not too interested in watching one-on-one combat. This time there were several hundred people on his side besieging two people of the opposite party; it was a ‘grasp it and victory is assured’ situation, exactly where he wanted to be. Moreover, the people on his side were all skilled in water, they only had to swim to the bottom of the raft, cut the ropes connecting the raft, and the logs would immediately separate. Wouldn’t capturing the opposite party be as easy as stretching their hands?

As soon as he thought about the wooden raft disintegrating, he said busily, “Ma Dage, there is a young woman in that little cabin, she is Xiongdi’s betrothed wife; you must not let her drown.”

Ma Chaoxing laughed and said, “Wei Xiongdi, don’t worry, I have already arranged it. Among the brothers going down into the river, ten are specifically tasked with rescuing your Madame. These ten brothers have first-class water skill, even live fish will not escape their grasp; I guarantee there won’t be any accident.”

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “That’s wonderful.” He thought, “It would be best if they let Zheng Keshuang drown.” He wanted to ask Ma Chaoxing to issue an order not to save Zheng Keshuang, but eventually he was unable to say so.

The boat slowly came near. They saw a clump of black shadow and a strip of white shadow circled around and fluttered on the wooden raft in a tight combat. Wu Liuqi shook his head and said, “Li Zicheng has not trained upper-class martial art, he only relies on brute force; in no more than thirty moves, he is going to lose his life under Li Xihua’s sword. It’s hard to imagine that an ambitious and ruthless character of our generation will unexpectedly meet his fate on Liujiang River.”

Wei Xiaobao could not see the fight clearly; he only saw that Li Zicheng was forced to withdraw step by step. Suddenly he heard Ah Ke’s voice from the cabin saying, “Zheng Gongzi, please ask Feng Shifu to quickly help my father.”

“Very well,” Zheng Keshuang said, “Shifu, please drive that kid away!” The cabin’s door opened, Feng Xifan walked out with a sword in his hand. By this time Li Zicheng had been forced to withdraw to the edge of the raft; just one more step and he would have fallen into the river.

“Hey little kid,” Feng Xifan called out, “I am going to stab the ‘ling tai’ [spirit platform] acupoint on your back.” His sword slowly moved forward, it was really going to stab Li Xihua’s ling tai acupoint.

Li Xihua was about to swing his sword backward to block, suddenly from the cabin’s roof someone shouted, “Hey little kid, I am going to stab the ling tai acupoint on your back!” White light flashed, like a bird someone pounced down, the weapon in his hand went straight toward Feng Xifan’s back.

This turn of events was indeed beyond everybody’s expectation; nobody expected someone was hiding on the roof of the little cabin. Feng Xifan could not continue his attack toward Li Xihua, he sidestepped and raised his sword to parry the enemy’s blade. ‘Dang!’ there was a continuous ringing. The weapon in the newcomer’s hand was a single-edged saber. As two blades collided, both of them were forced to take a step back. “Who’s there?” Feng Xifan shouted.

The man laughed and said, “I know you are the ‘Half Sword with Blood’ Feng Xifan; don’t you know me?”

Wei Xiaobao and the others were able to see clearly by now, the man was wearing coarse homespun cloth clothing, a plain white cloth was wrapped around his head, a strip of wide blue cloth was wrapped around his waist, and a pair of straw sandals on his feet; he was none other than the peasant who was able to open his own sealed acupoints in the gambling establishment earlier that day. Presumably he was unhappy because had fallen under Feng Xifan’s sneak attack, and had come to avenge the humiliation by the sword.

Feng Xifan imposingly said, “Based on Sire’s skill, why did you act like a nameless character, hiding the head showing the tail, sneaky and evasive like this?”

The peasant replied, “Even if I am a nameless character, I am still better than a ‘Half Sword with Blood’.”

Feng Xifan was furious; he raised his sword and stabbed straight forward. The peasant neither evaded nor blocked the attack, he simply lifted his saber and chopped down on Feng Xifan’s head. It looked like a desperate move in a fight where both side would suffer, but actually while the saber started to move later, it arrived earlier; the speed was extraordinary. The tip of Feng Xifan’s sword was still about a chi away from the opponent, the opponent’s saber had already reached his forehead. In great alarm he jumped to the left to evade.

The peasant swept his saber horizontally toward Feng Xifan’s waist. Feng Xifan waved his sword down to parry. The single-blade saber in the peasant’s hand suddenly changed direction, light as feather, hacking down on Feng Xifan’s left arm. Feng Xifan leaned sideways to evade, and counterattack with a stab. Still the peasant did not block, he simply turned his saber toward Feng Xifan’s wrist.

The two of them had exchanged three moves, unexpectedly the peasant had attacked three times. His appearance was simple, wooden and slow, with 30% sign of stupidity, but his saber technique was swift, fierce and ruthless. Saber technique like his was seldom seen in Wulin world. Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing were secretly surprised and amazed.

“Hold on!” Feng Xifan called out suddenly. Leaping two steps back, he said, “Turns out Sire is the Hundred Victory …”

“If you want to fight then fight,” the peasant shouted, “Why talk too much?” Leaping forward, ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ his saber attacked three times.

Feng Xifan was unable to speak leisurely, he had no choice but to brace himself to counter every move. Feng Xifan’s swordsmanship had also reached profound attainments; since he now focused all his attention to withstand the enemy, the peasant could no longer hold the upper hand. The sword and saber moved sometimes fast sometimes slow, sometimes the two weapons collided with each other several dozen times in rapid succession, sometimes they circled around each other without colliding for even once.

On the other front, Li Zicheng and Li Xihua were still fighting fiercely. Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke, each with unsheathd weapon in their hand, were standing close to Li Zicheng, ready to help. Li Zicheng brandished his monk staff to block each attack, the power behind it was ‘hard’ and violent; although Li Xihua’s swordsmanship was exquisite, for a short while he was unable to close the distance.

After fighting for a while, Li Xihua suddenly pulled his arms and legs close to his body, and rolled around. When he rolled close to the enemy’s legs, suddenly the tip of his sword went up diagonally toward Li Zicheng’s lower abdomen. “Do you think you can live pass today?” he shouted.

It was the move ‘lying on overturned cloud’, the unique skill handed down by Song Dynasty’s Liangshan Lake hero Langzi [wanderer] Yan Qing, a very exquisite technique, incomparably fast and nimble, impossible for the opponent to guard against. Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang were shocked; but by the time they realized Li Zicheng was under the enemy’s control, it was already too late to help.

Suddenly Li Zicheng threw his head back and roared. Everybody was stunned, their ears were buzzing. The power behind this roar was just like a jolt of thunder. Li Xihua was startled, unexpectedly the sword fell from his hand. Li Zicheng’s left leg flew up and kicked him, sending him tumbling away. The head of the monk staff rested against his chest, Li Xihua was pressed in between the staff and the raft, he was unable to move a single step.

In just a split second the victory and defeat was easily flipped; Li Zicheng only had to pound his monk staff and the ribs in Li Xihua’s chest would be broken, his heart and lungs would shatter into pieces, and he would not be alive anymore. Li Zicheng shouted, “If you admit defeat, I will let you live.”

“Just kill me quickly,” Li Xihua replied, “I cannot avenge my father’s big enmity, how can I have the face to live in this world?”

Li Zicheng let out a long laugh, and then said, “Very good!” He was about to send his strength to his arms to push the monk staff into Li Xihua’s body when a ray of clear, cold moonlight from behind happened to illuminate Li Xihua’s face. He saw his face looked tranquil, with a faint smile on his lips; unexpectedly there was not a trace of fear on it. Li Zicheng’s heart was shaken. “Are you a Henan man by the surname of Li?” he shouted.

Li Xihua replied, “It’s a pity that from our surname Li there is someone as narrow-minded as you are, a coward who failed to accomplish great things.”

Li Zicheng’s voice was trembling, “Li Yan, Li Gongzi, who is he to you?”

“So you know,” Li Xihua replied, “That’s very good.” While saying that he showed a faint smile.

Li Zicheng lifted the monk staff and asked, “You are Li XiongdiXiongdi’s son?”

Li Xihua said, “It’s a shame you still have the face to call my father ‘brother’.”

Li Zicheng’s body swayed several times, his left hand was pressed on his own chest. “Li Xiongdi left behind a descendant?” he muttered to himself, “You … you are Hong Niangzi’s[1] son?”

Seeing Li Zicheng’s monk staff was raised several chi up, Li Xihua sternly said, “Quickly make your move! What do you bring these matters up for?”

Li Zicheng withdrew two steps back, he rested the monk staff on the wooden raft, and said slowly, “My first blunder in life was precisely harming your father. You cursed me as narrow-minded, a coward who failed to accomplish great things. You are right, absolutely right! You want to avenge your father, which is only natural. In all my life I, Li Zicheng have killed people beyond counting, and I never take it to heart. But killing your father, I … I am truly ashamed.” Suddenly ‘Wah!’ he threw up a mouthful of blood.

Li Xihua had never expected this turn of events; he leaped up and picked his sword. Seeing Li Zicheng’s white beard was full of drops of blood, Li Xihua could not thrust his sword forward. He said, “Since I have seen the shame and remorse in your heart, it beats killing you with the sword.” He flew up, his left foot kicked on the very thick rope connecting the wooden rafts, with several leaps he reached the shore, and then after bounding ups and downs several time, he disappeared into the darkness.

“Father!” Ah Ke called out, and rushed toward Li Zicheng to support him.

Li Zicheng shook his hand. He walked to the edge of the raft, his left foot stepped out, his body then went down into the river. “Father!” Ah Ke cried out in fear, “You … you must not …” They all saw no movement on the surface of the river, and thought that he must have killed himself by drowning; they were all startled and found it surprising.

After a while, they saw the top of Li Zicheng’s head appeared on the surface of the river. Turned out he was holding his breath while walking along the bottom of the river. The iron monk staff in his hand was very heavy, hence his body did not float.

They saw his head and shoulder gradually emerged from the river as he treaded on the shallow water of the river bank. Step by step he climbed up the shore, dragging the iron monk staff, hobbling away slowly.

Ah Ke turned around and said, “Zheng Gongzi, my father … he … he’s gone.” ‘Wah!’ she broke into crying and threw herself into Zheng Keshuang’s bosom.

Zheng Keshuang wrapped his left arm around her and gently patted her back with his right hand. “Your father is gone, but you still have me!” he consoled her. But before he could finish, the logs beneath his feet disintegrate. “Aiyo!” they both screamed and fell into the river.

The experts of Tian Di Hui’s Latter Family Hall who were proficient in water skill dived into the river and cut the bamboo rope binding the wooden raft; the logs separated immediately. Feng Xifan anxiously leaped up; spotting a large log, he lightly landed on it. The peasant also leaped after him. ‘Whoosh!’ his saber hacked down on Feng Xifan’s head. Feng Xifan brandished his sword to parry. The two of them continued their fierce combat on the log.

This fight was several times more difficult compared to the fight they just had on the wooden raft. The log was rolling continuously on the water, hence it was difficult to get a steady footing, plus they could not use it as the base with which they could jump around; yet Feng Xifan and the peasant were able to fight steadily; saber and sword moved back and forth without slowing down the slightest bit. Brought by the river’s current, gradually the log floated to the middle of the river.

“Aiyo!” suddenly Wu Liuqi exclaimed, “I remember now. This Xiongdi is the ‘Bai Sheng Dao Wang’ [Hundred Victory Saber King] Hu Yizhi. He … how did he turn to be like that? Quickly pursue them, row the boat!”

“Hu Yizhi?” Ma Chaoxing asked in surprise, “Isn’t he also nicknamed ‘Mei Dao Wang’ [Handsome (lit. beautiful) Saber King]? This man is outstandingly handsome; it was said in the past that he was the number one handsome man of Wulin; unexpectedly he disguises himself as a stupid-looking peasant!”

In the meantime, Wei Xiaobao kept asking, “Have you rescued my wife?”

Wu Liuqi showed a displeased expression, he stared hard at him, obviously he was saying, “‘Bai Sheng Dao Wang’ Hu Yizhi is encountering a powerful enemy, the water surface is treacherous, how can we not immediately go forward to help him? You are only concerned about your woman, you are paying more attention to a lover than friends; it’s not a hero’s conduct.”

Ma Chaoxing called out, “Quickly pass the order: get more people, we must rescue that girl.” The boatman on the stern shouted the order.

Suddenly they saw two men appeared on the surface of the river, holding soaking wet Ah Ke. “We got the girl,” they called out. Immediately afterwards, someone on the left also appeared, pulling Zheng Keshuang’s collar and pushed him up to the boat; the man called out, “We also got the boy.” Everybody burst into loud laughter.

Wei Xiaobao felt relieved immediately. Beaming from ear to ear he said, “Let’s go to that ‘Hundred Victory Saber King’, see how he is doing against that ‘Half Sword with Blood’.”

Under Wu Liuqi’s urging, the four oars had already been rowing that the boat rapidly approached the big log on which Hu and Feng, two people were fighting. Under the bright moonlight they saw white rays flashing on the surface of the river; the two of them were still engaged in close combat.

Originally these two’s martial art skill was more or less equal, but when Feng Xifan exchanged palm strikes with Feng Jizhong and Priest Xuanzhen earlier during the day, due to Feng Jizhong’s strong internal energy, he had already felt the chi and blood in the pit of his stomach could not flow unimpeded. This moment, after a prolonged battle, he started to feel a dull ache on the right side of his chest.

Fighting on a continuously rolling log, other than advancing or retreating a step or half step, really there was no room for freedom of action. Hundred Victory Saber King Hu Yizhi’s saber technique was dangerous, the power behind it was fierce, he only attacked and did not defend, each saber strike looked to be a desperate attack with the intention of perishing together. Fighting technique like this, if it was used by someone with mediocre martial art skill, would appear brutish, brazen act of playing dirty; but Hu Yizhi’s saber technique was a style of its own, although it looked dangerous, it was actually executed in calmness. His martial art was strange to begin with, and now he was attacking swiftly and fiercely in a seemingly desperate all-out effort with total disregard of his own life, Feng Xifan could not help but was intimidated, plus he also noticed the boat that was coming fast. On the bow stood several men, as he took a quick glance, he was surprised to recognize the old beggar, whom he had met at the casino earlier, was among those men.

Giving a loud shout, Hu Yizhi struck to the left once, and to the right twice, he struck upward once, and downward twice; six saber strikes altogether, one after another. Feng Xifan did everything he could to block, yet in his frantic effort he still managed to counter with two sword strikes. His defense was exceptionally tight.

“Good saber technique! Good sword technique!” Wu Liuqi praised.

Hu Yizhi brandished his saber directly onto Feng Xifan’s face. Feng Xifan retreated half a step, while bending his upper body backward to evade, his sword swept to the front to shield his body. By this time his left foot was stepping on the tip of the log, his heel was already in the water, he could not retreat even for half a cun more. Hu Yizhi chopped down three more times, Feng Xifan countered with three sword strikes, unexpectedly he did not retreat at all. With a loud shout, Hu Yizhi raised his saber up and hacked down. Feng Xifan leaned sideways to evade, to his surprise, however, Hu Yizhi did not pull back, the saber continued chopping down. ‘Crash!’ he chopped the log into two sections. Feng Xifan was standing on the tip of the log, as soon as the log was cut, “Ah!” he cried out and fell into the water.

Hu Yizhi threw his saber toward Feng Xifan. Submerged in the water, Feng Xifan did not have any way of evading, seeing the steel saber flying toward him, he also quickly threw his sword. ‘Clang!’ the saber and the sword collided midair, creating sparks in the dark; both weapons were thrown far away and fell into the river. Feng Xifan dived into the water and disappeared.

Hu Yizhi was secretly alarmed, “This man has a superb water skill; had I fell into the river together with him a moment ago, I would have fallen into his evil scheme.”

Wu Liuqi called in a loud and clear voice, “Hundred Victory Saber King, your name is not in vain! I have witnessed your divine skill today, it has indeed broaden my horizon. How about coming onboard and drink a cup of wine?”

“Thank you for your hospitality!” Hu Yizhi replied, and leaped onto the boat.

The bow was only sinking slightly, unexpectedly the hull did not sway at all. Wei Xiaobao did not understand the difficulty of this jump, but Wu Liuqi, Ma Chaoxing and the others were full of admiration. Wu Liuqi cupped his fist and said, “Zaixia Wu Liuqi. This gentleman is Ma Chaoxing Xiongdi, this one is Wei Xiaobao Xiongdi. We are all Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu.”

Hu Yizhi raised his thumb and said, “Wu Xiong, the fact that you belong to Tian Di Hui is a top secret; if this matter is leaked out, the lives of your entire family cannot be protected. We just met for the first time today, yet you did not conceal anything to Xiongdi. This kind of heroic spirit is worthy of other people’s admiration.”

Wu Liuqi laughed and said, “If I don’t trust Hundred Victory Saber King, won’t that mean Xiongdi is a despicable lowly person?”

Hu Yizhi was greatly delighted; he grabbed Wu Liuqi’s hands and said, “These years Xiongdi lives in seclusion, growing vegetables, no longer pay any attention to Jianghu matters; yet unexpectedly today I can become good friends with the Iron Beggar Wu Liuqi.” While speaking, they walked hand-in-hand into the cabin. He merely nodded slightly toward Ma Chaoxing, Wei Xiaobao, and the others, and did not pay them any attention.

Seeing he had defeated Zheng Keshuang’s shifu, Wei Xiaobao was full of admiration and gratitude; he said, “Hu Daxia [great hero] defeated Feng Xifan and threw him into the river, the turtles and terrapins in the river must be biting his body bloody. The ‘Half Sword with Blood’ has turned into ‘Without Sword with Blood’. Ha ha …”

Hu Yizhi smiled and said, “Wei Xiangzhu, your skill in throwing dice is indeed not bad.” In saying that, he was actually mocking Wei Xiaobao in that his martial art skill was lacking, that he was only skilled in throwing the dice, in cheating those ‘cattle’.

But Wei Xiaobao did not think it was an insult; he felt very proud instead. He laughed and said, “Hu Daxia’s skill in arranging the tiles is first-class. The two of us brothers working together as the banker, we won not a few of that short and fat fellow’s money. Hu Daxia owns half, when we return, I will give you your share.”

Hu Yizhi laughed and said, “Next time when Wei Xiangzhu becomes the banker, Xiongdi will still help you. Gambling with you, I will definitely not lose.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wonderful, wonderful!”

Ma Chaoxing ordered his men to replenish the wine. They drank on the boat together. After drinking several cups, Hu Yizhi said, “Since as soon as we met we hit it off right away, Xiongdi does not dare to conceal my problem. Speaking of which, I am actually quite ashamed. For more than twenty years Xiongdi has withdrawn from Jianghu, and live in seclusion at the outskirts of the city of Kunming; it was all because of a woman.”

“In her song,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Chen Yuanyuan did mention some hero’s affection. Since he is a hero, naturally he is passionate.”

Wu Liuqi knitted his brows; he thought, “Little kid loves to speak nonsense. What do you know anyway?”

Unexpectedly Hu Yizhi’s countenance changed slightly; he sighed and spoke slowly, “A hero has no choice but to be passionate. Wu Meicun’s poem was very well-written, but that Wu Sangui is not a hero, he is not passionate either; he is no more than a dirty old man.” And then he hummed ‘Yuanyuan Song’ softly, “How could a wife consent to shut down such a matter of paramount importance? Reluctant hero is full of affection.” Turning to Wei Xiaobao he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, when you were at the Three-Sage Nunnery that day, you listened to Miss Chen singing this song; your ears’ good fortune is indeed not shallow. I have lived by her side on and off for twenty-three years, I have heard this song three times. The last time was thanks to your good luck.”

Wei Xiaobao asked in surprise, “You have lived by her side for twenty-three years? Are you … are you also Chen Yuanyuan’s love … lover?”

With a bitter laugh Hu Yizhi said, “She … she … hey hey, she has never even looked at me straight in the eye. I live in the Three-Sage Nunnery, growing vegetables and sweeping the floor, chopping firewood and carrying water, she only knew me as a countryside farmer.”

Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing looked at each other, they both felt strange, thinking that this ‘Handsome Saber King’ must be infatuated with Chen Yuanyuan’s beauty so much so that he was willing to be her servant. This man’s martial art skill was very high, his prestige was grand; in the past, he was considered as a first-class character of the Wulin world. Unexpectedly he was most willing to humble himself and do servile work; it was indeed very puzzling. Looking at Hu Yizhi, they saw a man with grey hair, his sparse beard had more white than black, his face was full of wrinkles, his skin dark; how could he be called ‘handsome’?

“Hu Daxia,” Wei Xiaobao asked in amazement, “Your martial art skill is superb; why didn’t you just grab Chen Yuanyuan and take her go?”

When Hu Yizhi heard this, an angry look flitted through his face, a murderous intent flashed through his eyes. Wei Xiaobao was terrified; his grip loosened, the wine cup in his hand dropped, the wine splashed all over the place. Hu Yizhi lowered his head, sighed and said, “That day I was in Chengdu, Sichuan when inadvertently I caught a glimpse of Miss Chen. Ay, that was a predestined relationship. Since that day my soul and spirit turn upside-down, I can’t no longer free myself. Wei Xiangzhu, the ol’ Hu is someone without any future prospect, a man without any ambition. When Miss Chen was in Ping Xi Wang mansion, I became a gardener in the mansion, growing flowers and pulling the weeds for her. When she moved to the Three-Sage Nunnery, I followed her and gathered firewood for her. I have no other desire than to stole a glance of her every morning and evening, and then I would be perfectly contented. How … how could I treat a beautiful woman with the slightest degree of rudeness?”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “In that case, you love her this much, but these past twenty years or so, she did not know?”

Hu Yizhi shook his head with a bitter laugh, “I am afraid to reveal my real identity. Usually, I rarely speak more than three sentences in one day, in her presence I became even more dumbstruck and unable to reply. These past twenty-three years, I only spoke thirty-nine sentences to her. In return, she has spoken to me fifty-five sentences.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You remember very clearly.”

Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing felt sorrowful, they both thought that he even counted clearly the number of time those two people spoke; it was indeed a case of infatuation to the extreme. Wu Liuqi was afraid Wei Xiaobao would babble more nonsense and hence hurt his feeling, so he said, “Hu Dage, our nature is different from each other. Some people like to study martial art like crazy, some love to drink wine, some like to gamble. Chen Yuanyuan is the number one beauty in the world, you appreciate beauty, but your feeling toward her is pure, it is really rare. Xiongdi is being bold, I would like to offer an advice, I wonder if it can be accepted.”

Hu Yizhi replied, “Wu Xiong, please speak.”

Wu Liuqi said, “Thinking about that Chen Yuanyuan, naturally in the past her beauty was incomparable, but by this time, she is growing old, it may be assumed that …”

Hu Yizhi repeatedly shook his head, he was unwilling to hear the rest. “Wu Xiong,” he said, “Some people are ambitious, yet Xiongdi is a silly big melon. If you look down upon me, let us part now.” While saying that, he stood up.

“Wait a minute!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Hu Xiong, Chen Yuanyuan’s beauty, no one in the mortal world has it; she is like the eternal, celestial fairy. Fortunately Wu Xiangzhu and Ma Xiangzhu have never seen her; otherwise, as soon as they saw her, I am afraid they would also be willing to grow vegetable and fetch water for her, and then our Tian Di Hui will be short two Xiangzhu …”

Wu Liuqi secretly cursed in his heart, “Damn it, the little demon is speaking without thinking.”

Wei Xiaobao continued, “… I have seen her with my own eyes. Her daughter Ah Ke is only half as beautiful as she is, but to be really honest with you, I have already made up my mind that even if I am hacked to pieces, that my body is torn and my bones crushed, I simply have to take her as my wife. At the casino yesterday, she wanted to dig my eyes out, she was vicious and merciless, yet laozi did not care. This matter, laoxiong has seen it with your own eyes, this is not a pretense at all.”

When Hu Yizhi heard this, he was overwhelmed with the feeling that they were fellow sufferers who empathized with each other. He sighed and said, “In my opinion, that Ah Ke seem to be a bit uninterested in Wei Xiongdi.”

“What do you mean a bit uninterested?” Wei Xiaobao said, “She practically hates me to the bones. Damn it … Hu Dage, please don’t misunderstand, I am simply cursing thoughtlessly, I was not cursing her Ma, Chen Yuanyuan … [note: damn it (ta ma de) lit. ‘his/her mother’] Didn’t that Ah Ke already pierce my chest hatefully with her sword? Later on she also pierced my eyes; if not for my luck was good, she would have murdered her own husband early on. She … she … humph, she has taken a liking to that Zheng Gongzi of Taiwan, she is concentrating her thoughts and efforts to be husband and wife with him. Unfortunately that surnamed Zheng did not drown to his death in the river.”

Hu Yizhi sat down, held his hand, and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, in this world, a matter involving feeling like this cannot be forced. You can meet Ah Ke, and can have Shijie Shidi relationship with her, it was already predestined affinity, not whether you can be husband and wife with her. In all your life, you have already seen her many, many times, you have talked to her many, many times. She beats you, she curses you, she uses blade to stab you, it can be said that in her heart she already has you. This is your share of enormous good fortune.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “What you said is very true,” he said, “If she take no notice and ignore me, that means in this world there is no me; this feeling is definitely very unpleasant. I’d rather she curses me and beats me, using blades trying to kill me; as long as she does not kill me, it’s alright with me.”

Hu Yizhi sighed and said, “Even if she killed you, that would be very good. If she killed you, she would inevitably feel a little bit guilty. When she is asleep in the night, perhaps she would dream of you; when she is idling with nothing to do during the day, she would occasionally be thinking of you. Don’t you agree that it surpasses the thought that she has never had you in her heart?”

Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing looked at each other in amazement; they both thought that this man had brought the word ‘sentimental’ to the extreme. If not for the fact that they had witnessed his battle against Feng Xifan just now, that they had also seen his martial art skill, which had reached perfection, they would have not believed that this man was the distinguished and accomplished, the elegant ‘Handsome Saber King’, whose name was well-known in the four seas.

Wei Xiaobao was nodding his head again and again, however, as he said, “Hu Dage, indeed you cannot say those words more clearly than that. I had not thought about it before, but when I like a woman, I am determined to make her my wife; I don’t have patience like yours. If Ah Ke really wants me to grow vegetables and fetch water, if she wants me to accompany her for a lifetime, naturally I would do it. But if that Zheng Gongzi is also by her side, laozi will stab him with the knife that a white blade came in, a red blade came out.”

Xiao Xiongdi,” Hu Yizhi said, “What you said is not exactly correct. If you like a woman, you must make her happy, for her sake, not for yours. If she wanted to marry that Zheng Gongzi, then you should help her accomplish her heart’s desire by ‘thousand ways, a hundred plans’. If someone is going to harm Zheng Gongzi, for the sake of your beloved, you ought to protect Zheng Gongzi with all your strength; even if you have to deliver your life in the process, you must not harm the essentials [?? Not sure].”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “I am afraid I must harm the essentials. Doing business and suffer a loss, Xiongdi is not willing to do. Hu Dage, Xiongdi admires you very much, I really want to bow to you and take you as my master. Not to learn your saber technique, but to learn about your infatuation toward Chen Yuanyuan. This kind of skill, Xiongdi is far inferior to you.”

Hu Yizhi was greatly delighted. “Bowing and taking me as your master is not necessary, but there is no harm in the two of us brothers compare notes and encourage each other.”

Both Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing have never had any regards for women, they thought that the joy houses had no lack of pretty women, as long as they produced white, shiny silver, they could get however many they wanted. It seemed to them that Hu and Wei, these two fellows, had lost their minds and went insane. But the more Hu and Wei, one was old the other young, talked to each other, the more they found out that they shared much in common, they both felt regret of not meeting each other earlier.

Actually, Wei Xiaobao’s desire to take Ah Ke as his wife was a firm resolution, he was determined to overcome countless difficulties, and was willing to undergo any hardship to the end; it was completely different from Hu Yizhi’s infatuation. One was passionately devoted to Chen Yuanyuan, the other was set on possessing Chen Yuanyuan’s daughter. Although their aspirations differed, they found some common ground in this matter. Besides, Hu Yizhi had already concealed this affection in his heart for twenty-three years, he had never revealed it to anyone else. This moment he freely poured out his heart, unexpectedly there was someone nearby who sighed in admiration. Being able to ramble on incessantly, the delight in his heart was unspeakable.

Seeing Hu and Wei, two people were chatting amiably, Ma Chaoxing felt it was inappropriate to break the two people’s moods. At first he was still listening to their conversation, but as time went by, he felt it was growing more offensive. Both he and Wu Liuqi frowned secretly, they thought, “Wei Xiangzhu is a little child who does not understand anything, nothing we can do about it. You, Hu Yizhi, are old but do not show respect of your seniority, teaching this youngster bad things.” They could not stop the disdain in their hearts to grow several points.

Xiao Xiongdi,” suddenly Hu Yizhi said, “You and I feel like old friends at the first meeting. The one hardest to come by in this life is an intimate friend. As the saying goes, ‘Finding a good friend, dying will have no regret’. The Ol’ Hu used to have acquaintances all over the world, but not one person knew me intimately. Today we are brought together by fate, how about the two of us swear brotherhood?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “That is very good,” he said; but suddenly he hesitated. “I am afraid there is something that is not proper,” he said.

“What is it?” Hu Yizhi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “In case you and I both accomplish our hearts’ desire, you marry Chen Yuanyuan, and I marry Ah Ke, you will be my wife’s father. If we become brothers now, it won’t be appropriate later.”

As soon as Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing heard this, they could not help but bursting into loud laughter. Hu Yizhi’s countenance changed, “Ay,” he said indignantly, “You never understand my affection toward Miss Chen. In all my life, I will never raise a finger to touch the corner of her clothes. If I am speaking empty words, let me be like this table.” While saying that, he reached out with his left hand, ‘crack!’ he grabbed a corner of the small table inside the boat’s cabin, and rubbed it between his hands, the piece of wood turned into splinters, which rained down to the floor.

“Good martial art skill!” Wu Liuqi praised.

Hu Yizhi cast him an angry look; he thought, “What’s so good about my martial art skill? My deep love is what’s considered rare. Obviously you are not my intimate friend.”

Wei Xiaobao did not have the ability to copy him grabbing the wood and turning it into dust; he pulled his dagger and lightly cut the other corner of the table, put it on the table, raised the dagger, and conveniently chopped it several times, turning the wood into several small pieces. He said, “If Wei Xiaobao cannot marry Ah Ke to be my wife, let me be like the corner of this tea table, cut by other people into eight pieces, without able to retaliate.”

When the others saw the sharpness of this dagger, they were all amazed, but listening to his oath, they were all amused. Wei Xiaobao said, “Hu Dage, in that case, in all my life I won’t be your son-in-law; let’s swear to be brothers then.”

Hu Yizhi laughed heartily. He pulled Wei Xiaobao’s hands to the bow, took him kneeling down side by side toward the moon, and said, “Hu Yizhi today swear to be brothers with Wei Xiaobao. Hereafter blessing will be enjoyed together, difficulties will be faced together. If I violate this oath, let me be drowned in the river.”

Wei Xiaobao repeated the oath, but on the last sentence, he changed it to ‘let me be drowned in this Liujiang River’. He thought, “Definitely I will never betray Hu Dage, but if by any chance I commit a mistake, from now on I won’t come back to Guangxi, hence I won’t be drown in this Liujiang River. If it was any other river, it does not count.”

The two of them laughed aloud, and returned to the cabin hand-in-hand; they looked very intimate to each other already. Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing congratulated the two, the four of them made a toast and drank together. Wu Liuqi was afraid that if these two lovesick sworn brothers would talk about Chen Yuanyuan and Ah Ke again, he would be sick of listening to them, thereupon he said, “Let’s go back.”

Hu Yizhi nodded his head. “Very well,” he said, “Ma Xiong, Wei Xiongdi, I have a request: I want to bring this Miss Ah Ke back to Kunming.”

Ma Chaoxing did not care. Wei Xiaobao, however, was greatly shocked. “Whatever for?” he busily asked.

Hu Yizhi sighed and said, “That day when Miss Chen saw her daughter for the first time at the Three-Sage Nunnery, that very same night she fell ill. She only called, ‘Ah Ke, Ah Ke, why haven’t you come to see your mother?’ She also said, ‘Ah Ke, mother only have you, my darling, my precious; mother misses you very much.’ I could not endure listening to her, hence I hurried along to catch up with you. Along the way I painstakingly persuaded Miss Ah Ke to come back, to accompany her mother, but no matter what she flatly refused. This matter cannot be forced; my hands are bound and I am unable to do anything. My only choice was to follow her in secret; my only hope is to persuade her to change her mind. Now she has fallen into your hands, if Ma Xiangzhu wants her to promise that she returns to Kunming to see her mother before you can release her, perhaps she won’t have any choice but to comply.”

Ma Chaoxing said, “In this matter Zaixia does not have any objection; I’ll leave it to Wei Xiangzhu’s discretion.”

Xiongdi,” Hu Yizhi said, “You want to take her as your wife, there will be enough time to do that later, but if Miss Chen does not recover from her illness, she may not see her daughter anymore. This … this will be a lifelong regret.” While speaking the last sentence, his voice broke.

Wu Liuqi shook his head secretly; he thought, “This man’s heroic spirit has worn down completely, he had turned into a fainthearted man. For the sake of Wu Sangui’s beloved concubine unexpectedly his spirit and soul have turned upside-down like this; where has the lofty quality of a hero and warrior gone? Chen Yuanyuan is one of the chief offenders who forfeited the Great Ming’s rivers and mountains; next time laozi leads my troops to invade Kunming, I will stab her with a knife first.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Dage wants to take her to Kunming, of course you can. But … but let me be honest with Dage: she and I have been officially wed, we have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth long ago, acting as the matchmaker was Mu Family’s Shaking-head Lion Wu Lishen. Unfortunately my wife is unwilling to get married with me, she wants to remarry that Zheng Gongzi. If she agrees to be husband and wife with me, naturally we can let her go.”

Listening to this point, Wu Liuqi flew into a rage; he could not endure patiently anymore. Raising his palm he slapped the small table heavily, all the wine pot and cups were overthrown. “Hu Dage, Wei Xiongdi,” he said in loud voice, “This little girl is unwilling to see her mother; she greatly violates filial piety. She and Wei Xiongdi have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth, and thus they are bound in marriage contract as husband and wife, yet she still wants that Zheng Gongzi, she greatly violates chastity. This kind of unfilial and unchaste woman, why should we let her live in the world? The more beautiful her appearance, the worse her moral quality is. I might as well go and wring her neck, ‘crack!’ and be done with it, so that those who hear it won’t be annoyed, those who see it won’t be provoked to anger.” With a stern voice he ordered the boatmen, “Row faster, row faster!”

Hu Yizhi, Wei Xiaobao and Ma Chaoxing, three people looked at each other with changed countenance. They saw his awe-inspiring presence, his scathing murderous intent, the blue veins on his forehead were bulging; obviously he was extremely angry, who would dare to persuade him?

Their boat gradually approached the river bank. Wu Liuqi called out, “Where are those boy and girl?”

“They are bound in here,” someone on another boat replied.

Wu Liuqi signaled the boatmen, their boat turned easterly toward the other boat. Wu Liuqi said to Wei Xiaobao, “Wei Xiongdi, you and I are brothers of the same Society, we are as close as flesh and blood brothers. As your Gege, I cannot bear to see you making mistake because of woman’s charm, and thus ruining your life. Today I am going to break it for you.”

With a trembling voice Wei Xiaobao said, “This matter … must be … must be discussed carefully.”

“What is there to discuss?” Wu Liuqi said in a stern voice.

The two boats were getting close to each other. Wei Xiaobao was very anxious as if he was burning inside, he had no choice but to turn to Ma Chaoxing to appeal for help, “Ma Dage, please persuade Wu Dage.”

“There are a lot of good women in the world,” Wu Liuqi said, “Your Gege will guarantee that I will find you a wife from an agreeable home to your satisfaction. Why do you reluctant to part with this kind of lowly woman?”

Wei Xiaobao looked distressed. “Ay, this … this …” he said.

Suddenly, ‘whoosh!’ someone leaped up toward the bow of the opposite boat; it was Hu Yizhi. They saw him entering the cabin, and went out from the stern; there was someone in his arms. His movement was extremely fast and nimble, immediately he leaped onto the shore, and then with several ups and downs he was already several dozen zhang away. His voice came from the distance, “Wu Dage, Ma Dage, Wei Xiongdi, I am really sorry for the offense. Someday I will visit you to beg forgiveness and receive punishment.” His voice gradually went far away, but because of his abundant chi, it could still be heard clearly.

Wu Liuqi was startled and angry; he was about to jump to chase after him, but then he saw that Hu Yizhi was already far away. After thinking the better of it, he could not help but roaring in laughter. Wei Xiaobao also clapped his hands and cheered; he presumed that Hu Yizhi took Ah Ke away, naturally he was taking her to see Chen Yuanyuan.

[1] Hong Niangzi literally means Red Madame. Coincidentally, these two names (Li Yan and Hong Niangzi) also appeared in Liang Yusheng’s White Haired Demoness (See WHD, translated by Faerie Queene and yours truly. The story of Li Yan and the Red Madame can be found in Chapter 21).

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