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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 34

Chapter 34
Rise and fall of a document to take care of restoring the deer, thousand years of ash to take the great wild goose from the deep by force.

Shortly afterwards the two boats drew close to each other. The Tian Di Hui brothers pushed Zheng Keshuang out.

“His granny,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “You murdered Tian Di Hui brothers, and wanted to harm Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu; I must cut your chest and open your belly. Hot piece mama, you know very well that Ah Ke is my wife, yet you dare to fool around with her.” While saying that, he stepped closer and ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’, he slapped him on the face from left and right four times.

Zheng Keshuang had drunk a lot of river water, he had lost the will to resist; seeing Wei Xiaobao’s devilish appearance, he begged, “Wei Daren, please consider my father’s face and spare my life. From this day forward, I … I will no longer dare to speak one sentence to Miss Ah Ke.”

“What if she speaks to you?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I will not reply,” Zheng Keshuang said, “Otherwise … otherwise …” Whatever it was, momentarily he was not able to decide.

“You speak like you fart,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I’d better cut your tongue first, so that even when you want to speak to Ah Ke, you won’t be able to.” While saying that, he pulled his dagger, and then shouted, “Stick out your tongue!”

Zheng Keshuang was greatly alarmed. He hastily said, “I won’t speak with her; if I speak even one word, I am a scoundrel b@stard.”

Wei Xiaobao was afraid Chen Jinnan might punish him, hence did not really dare to kill Zheng Keshuang. “In the future, if you ever be rude to Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu and brothers later, if you ever dare do some dubious thing to my wife, thinking to make a green hat for laozi to wear, laozi will insert a sword into your adulterer head.” He raised the dagger and lightly tossed it forward. The dagger went straight into the bow of the boat.

“I don’t dare, I don’t dare,” Zheng Keshuang hastily said, “I will not dare to do that anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao turned his head toward Ma Chaoxing and said, “Ma Dage, it was your Latter Family Hall who caught him, please deal with him.”

Ma Chaoxing sighed and said, “Guoxing Ye [Koxinga, lit. ‘Master of Guoxing’] is such a hero, his grandson is actually a good-for-nothing kid.”

Wu Liuqi said, “When this man returns to Taiwan, he would surely make things difficult for Zongduozhu, we’d better cut him into two, then I guarantee we won’t have any future trouble.”

Zheng Keshuang was greatly alarmed. “No, it won’t happen,” he busily said, “When I return to Taiwan, I will ask my father to make Chen Yonghua, Mr. Chen an officer, a very high-ranking officer.”

“Humph,” Ma Chaoxing snorted, “Do you think Zongduozhu will like that?” Lowering his voice, he said to Wu Liuqi, “This man is Zheng Wangye’s son; if we kill him, I am afraid the charge of ‘killing the master’ will fall upon Zongduozhu.”

Tian Di Hui was founded by Chen Yonghua under Zheng Chenggong’s [Koxinga’s real name] order. Chen Yonghua was the head of Tian Di Hui, but he was still an officer under the Taiwan’s Yanping Jun Wang. If the Society brothers killed Yanping Jun Wang’s son, although Chen Yonghua was not present, he would not escape responsibility.

Wu Liuqi thought he was right; pulling with both hands, he snapped the ropes binding Zheng Keshuang. Standing him up, Wu Liuqi shouted, “Get lost!” and threw him to the shore. Immediately Zheng Keshuang flew out as if he was soaring over the clouds or riding on the mists, crying out ‘wah, wah’ while still in the air; he must have expected that when he dropped, his muscle would be broken and his bones fractured. Who would have thought that as his butts landed on the ground, he slid over a grassy lawn? Although his body was aching from the shock, he was not injured at all. Quickly he crawled up and ran away. Wu Liuqi and Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter.

Ma Chaoxing said, “This fellow disgraced Guoxing Ye’s face.”

Wu Liuqi asked, “How did this fellow murder our Society brothers and harm our Zongduozhu?”

“It’s a long story,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Let’s go ashore, Xiongdi will tell Dage in details.” Looking at the horizon, he said, “There are black clouds over there, I am afraid heavy rain is coming; let us come ashore quickly.” A burst of strong wind came, it blew everybody’s clothes that it made rustling noise; they mouths and noses were blown by the wind.

Wu Liuqi said, “This storm will be most likely a big one, let us sail to the middle of the river, we can drink wine and talk in the midst of big wind, big rain; it must be very interesting.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he hastily said, “This little boat may not be able to withstand the wind; if it capsized, won’t it be bad?”

Ma Chaoxing smiled. “No need to worry about that,” he said. Turning his head around, he gave the boatman some orders; the boatman complied, he went to the bow and raised the sail.

By this time the wind was picking up speed, the sail received the full force of the wind, like an arrow the boat sailed to the middle of the river. The waves billowed, the small boat went up and down abruptly, the water from the river splashed into the cabin. Wei Xiaobao bore the nickname ‘little white dragon’ in vain, since he did not have any water skill. While it’s true that he was still ‘little’, and by now his face was ‘white’ from the terror, apparently he had nothing to do with the character ‘dragon’.

Wu Liuqi laughed and said, “Wei Xiongdi, I don’t have any water skill either.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised. “You can’t swim?” he asked.

Wu Liuqi shook his head, “I never learn,” he said, “As soon as I saw water, I am dizzy and light-headed.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Then … then why did you tell the boat to sail to the middle of the river?”

Wu Liuqi laughed and said, “Everything in the world, the more frightening it is, the more I wanted to try it. The worst that could happen is that the billow will overthrow the boat, then everybody will become Liujiang River ghosts; it’s not such a big deal. Besides, Ma Dage’s nickname is ‘Xijiang Divine Dragon[1]’; how excellent do you think his water skill is? Ma Dage, let us agree in advance: if the boat did capsize, you must rescue Wei Xiongdi first, and then rescue me next.”

Ma Chaoxing laughed. “Alright,” he said, “It’s a deal.” Wei Xiaobao felt slightly better.

Presently the wind and waves were getting stronger, the little boat was tossed around, sometimes it went up more than a zhang into the air, and then suddenly dropped straight down as if the boat was heading to the bottom of the river. Wei Xiaobao was thrown up, and then ‘bang!’ he landed heavily on the cabin’s floor. “My goodness; that was serious!” he cried out in a shrill voice.

The sail made a loud flapping noise, the rain poured down, followed by a burst of gale, blowing the lanterns on the bow and the stern of the boat off; the lantern inside the cabin also went off. Wei Xiaobao cried out again, “Aiyo, not good!” From inside the cabin he peered outside, and saw the surface of the river was white with the surging waves. The wind was strong, the rain heavy; there was grandeur in the power of nature.

Xiongdi, don’t be afraid,” Ma Chaoxing said, “This storm is indeed violent, I will take the helm.” Walking to the stern, he shouted at the boatman, ordering them to go into the cabin. The storm was usually bad, the two boatmen had just reached the mast when they were blown by the wind that they nearly fell into the river. They held on to the mast tightly and did not dare to let go.

In the big storm, the boat was suddenly blown that it leaned to one side. Wei Xiaobao was thrown to the left; he screamed in terror, while in his heart he cursed, “This is the old beggar’s damned weird idea. You yourself don’t know how to swim, you don’t want to go someplace else to play, yet you are going to this gale and heavy rain in the river to play a joke? The wind is big the rain is big, your Mama’s belly is also big.”

The gale brought torrential rain with it. Burst after burst of rain invaded the cabin. Wei Xiaobao was already drenched from head to toe. Suddenly they heard loud crashing noise, the sail mast broke, the hull leaned to the side. Wei Xiaobao was thrown to the right. ‘Crash!’ his head bumped onto the small table. Suddenly he had a thought, “I have not been unfair to Hu Dage, why should I be drowned to death in Liujiang River today? Aiyo, that’s right, when I made that oath, I was having evil designs in my heart that someday I would cheat on him. Jade Emperor, Yan Wang of the Ten Palace, Guanyin Bodhisattva who helps those in distress, with all sincerity Wei Xiaobao wants to enjoy blessing and endure hardship together with Hu Dage. But what blessing would we enjoy together? If he marry Chen Yuanyuan … could it be that I will also …”

Amidst the wind and the rain, suddenly he heard Wu Liuqi opened his mouth and sang loudly, “Walking to the waterfront, the heart is filled with resentment, but to whom can I talk to? Old tears are blown by the wind, a lone city walls, the eyes piercing the distance hoping for a rescue, exerting all my strength to destroy the troops in bloody battle. Jumping out the tight encirclement, longing with grief of the old country, who knew the song would end leaving the bamboo mat empty? Along the Chang Jiang [Yangzte River], the head in Wu and tail in Chu in three thousand journeys, home exhausted the surname left behind, the rain turns over the cloud changes. Cold wave rolls up to the east, everything is handed over to the smoke in the air. The spirit moves in a prominently big way, the voice pursues the horizon where the sea meets the sky.”

The sound of singing was carried far on the surface of the river; although the wind and the rain were loud, they could not suppress his voice. From the stern Ma Chaoxing did not stop cheering. He called out, “What a good verse! The voice pursues the horizon where the sea meets the sky!”

Listening to him singing fervently, Wei Xiaobao did not understand what he was singing about. He cursed in his heart, “You have such a nice voice, why don’t you go up the stage and become an actor [orig. ‘hua mian’ – flowery/fancy face]? The Old Beggar, with a loud voice calls, ‘Master, Madame, please give alms some leftovers and cold rice’, then you won’t die hungry.”

Suddenly from the distance someone with a clear and resonant voice called out, “Throughout the ages the Southern Dynasties’ words were passed on, grieving heart and tears of blood scattered on mountains and plains.”

The call was coming from a very far distance, yet in the mid of storm it was heard very clearly; obviously that man’s internal energy was very profound. Wei Xiaobao was startled. He heard Ma Chaoxing called out, “Is that Zongduozhu? Xiongdi Ma Chaoxing here.”

“Precisely,” from the other side came the reply, “Is Xiaobao there?” It was indeed Chen Jinnan’s voice.

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised. “ Shifu,” he called out, “I am here.” But in that storm, how could his voice travel far?

Ma Chaoxing called out, “Wei Xiangzhu is here. We also have Great Obedience Hall’s Red Banner’s Wu Xiangzhu.”

“Wonderful!” Chen Jinnan replied, “No wonder he sang a song on the river, his voice resounding into the clouds.” From his voice it was evident that he was genuinely happy.

Wu Liuqi said, “Subordinate Wu Liuqi pays his respect to Zongduozhu.”

“We are all brothers here,” Chen Jinnan said, “No need to be polite.” His voice sounded closer, the boat he was riding was approaching fast.

The storm had not abated, from inside the cabin Wei Xiaobao looked out, the river was pitch black, with only a dot of light slowly moving on the river’s surface toward them, Chen Jinnan’s boat still had a lantern on it.

After quite a while, the lantern arrived near them. The bow of their boat sank slightly; Chen Jinnan had already jumped onboard. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Shifu is here, this time my little life will be saved.” He rushed toward the cabin entrance, but in the darkness he could not see Chen Jinnan’s face, so he only called out again, “Shifu!”

Chen Jinnan pulled his hand and dragged him back into the cabin. “This storm is really bad,” he said with a laugh, “Are you scared?”

“Not bad,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing also entered the cabin to pay their respect. Chen Jinnan said, “I went into the city, and was told that you went to the river, hence I came to look for you. I did not expect the storm to be this bad. If it were not for Wu Dage singing loudly, I would never found you.”

Wu Liuqi said, “Subordinate’s spirit was aroused, I was only incurring Zongduozhu’s ridicule through my poor performance.”

Chen Jinnan said, “We, brothers, match each other. The song Wu Dage sang, was it the ‘Sinking in the River’ from the play ‘Peach Blossom Fan’?”

“Precisely,” Wu Liuqi said, “This song was written about the history of Ge Bujing who loyally fought the enemy, and sacrificed himself by drowning in the river. Xiongdi usually love to listen to this song the most. This time the storm flared up on the river, I could not stop myself from singing it.”

“You sang very well,” Chen Jinnan praised, “Indeed very good.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Turns out this song is called ‘Sinking in the River’. Why didn’t you sing form a good play, but sang this bad luck play instead? If you want to sink into the river, please excuse Xiaodi for not keeping you company.”

Chen Jinnan said, “The other day on the Jiaxing boat, Zhejiang, I heard Mr. Huang Zongxi, Mr. Lu Liuliang, and Mr. Zha Yihuang, the three Jiangnan scholars telling me about Wu Xiong’s past achievements; Xiongdi was full of admiration. Although you and I are brothers of the same Society, Xiongdi has so many complicated businesses I need to take care of; all along I failed to pay you a visit in Guangdong. Wu Xiong’s capacity is unusual, you cannot come to the north either. Unexpectedly today we can be together here; this is indeed a great comfort in my life.”

Wu Liuqi said, “Ever since Xiongdi entered Tian Di Hui, there was not a day I did not wish to see Zongduozhu. There is a saying in Jianghu, ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain.’ Starting today, I can call myself a hero. Ha ha, ha ha …”

Chen Jinnan said, “Jianghu friends praised me too much, I am really ashamed.”

The two of them were genuinely happy to see each other, there was instant bond between them as they talked freely about their long life’s aspiration; immediately they forgot the wind and the rain outside the boat.

After chatting for a while, the storm gradually subsided. Chen Jinnan asked about Wu Sangui’s affair, Wei Xiaobao told him everything in thrilling details, unavoidably he added spices and soy paste; as well as everything else they had been through, so that it was the first time even for Ma Chaoxing to hear about it. Chen Jinnan was very delighted to hear that they had obtained the Mongolian emissary Hantiemo, a conclusive proof that Wu Sangui would definitely raise arm to rebel. When he heard about Luocha Country was going to respond Wu Sangui from the north by seizing a large of territory outside the Pass, he could not help knitting his brows and did not say anything for half a day.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Luocha Country people have red hair and green eyes, those we do not need to be afraid, at most we won’t look at their faces too much and that’s the end. Their firearms, however, are very formidable. When their guns explode, no matter what kind of hero or warrior you are, you won’t be able to withstand.”

“That is the reason I am worried,” Chen Jinnan replied, “Wu Sangui and the Tatars fighting each other until both sides suffer, that is exactly the golden opportunity bestowed by the Heaven to restore our Han people’s mountains and rivers. However, we drive the tiger out from the front door, and let the wolf come in from the back door. We drive away the Tatars, the Luocha Country, who is more ferocious that the Tatars, will come and occupy our beautiful rivers and mountains. How can that be good?”

Wu Liuqi asked, “Is there really nothing we can do to handle the Luocha Country’s firearms?”

“There is one person,” Chen Jinnan replied, “I may introduce him to the two gentlemen.” Walking to the cabin’s mouth, he called, “Xingzhu, come over here.”

From the opposite boat someone replied, “Yes.” He leaped onboard and entered the cabin. He bowed slightly toward Chen Jinnan. This man was about forty years old, his stature was thin and small, his face carried a heroic expression.

Chen Jinnan said, “Please meet Wu Dage, Ma Dage. And this is my disciple, surnamed Wei.” The man bowed with cupped fist. Wu Liuqi and the others stood up and returned the propriety.

Chen Jinnan said, “This is Lin Xingzhu, Lin Xiongdi. He has been in Taiwan working with me, a very competent man. When Guoxing Ye defeated the red-haired devils in the past and captured Taiwan, Lin Xiongdi has rendered great merit.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Lin Dage has fought with the red-haired devils; that is very good. Luocha devils have firearms, the red-haired devils also have firearms. Lin Dage must have a way to deal with them.”

Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing applauded together; they both said, “Wei Xiongdi’s brain is very quick.”

At first Wu Liuqi did not take Wei Xiaobao seriously, he thought that it was only because he was the Zongduozhu’s disciple that he achieved such a high position as the Xiangzhu of the Green Wood Hall. Although for the past few years the Green Wood Hall had accomplished not a few meritorious deeds, it was not necessarily because of this young fellow. Seeing him to be infatuated with Ah Ke, his despise was elevated by several degrees. However, this time he could not help but admiring him, “This little baby can see matters very quickly, he must have some ability.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “When Guoxing Ye attacked Taiwan in the past, the red-haired devils’ firearms were very formidable, it was indeed extremely difficult to withstand. At that time we built earth embankment, encircling several thousands of the red-haired troops in the city. We cut the water supply to the city, so that they had no water to drink. The red-haired troops could not endure anymore, they charged out of the city. We did not fight during the day, we only engaged them at night. Xingzhu, why don’t you tell everybody how we fought the battle?”

Lin Xingzhu said, “Our Jun Shi’s [lit. army master – military strategist] divine strategy was very clever …” Chen Jinnan was serving Zheng Chenggong as his military strategist, and was able to render great merit, hence the armed forces called him the ‘Jun Shi’.

“Jun Shi?” Wei Xiaobao questioned. He saw Lin Xingzhu was looking at Chen Jinnan, his Shifu smiled; immediately he understood. “Ah,” he said, “Shifu, turns out you are Zhuge Liang. Zhuge Jun Shi defeated the rattan-armored troop, Chen Jun Shi defeated the red-haired troop.”

Lin Xingzhu said, “Guoxing Ye offered sacrifice on the river on the first day of the second month of Yong Li’s fifteenth year, leading all civil and military officials, personal guards and armed self-defense troops. They sailed on battleships, from Ke Luo Bay out to the ocean, and reached Penghu [county, Pescadores Islands, Taiwan] twenty-four days later. By the first of the fourth month they arrived at Taiwan’s Lu Er Men [lit. deer ears gate]. There was sandbar outside the Gate, several dozen li long, the red-haired troops drilled holes on their ship and scuttled it to block the harbor, our battleship could not enter. While we were at a loss of what to do that time, suddenly the tide sharply rose, the soldiers’ cry of joy shook the heavens, our battleships rode the water and went ashore at the naval base port. The red-haired troops opened fire. Guoxing Ye told everybody that if we retreated a single step and were driven back to the ocean, it would mean we die without a burial site. Although the red-haired devils’ firearm was formidable, everybody charged forward courageously. The troops followed the order together, with Jun Shi personally led the assault. Suddenly, there was an explosion by my ears, as if several hundreds or thousands thunderclap struck together, a row of the brothers in front fell down. We panicked and ran away.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The first time I heard the red-haired gun exploded, I was also so scared that I collapsed and lost my mind.”

Lin Xingzhu said, “Just as I was moving my hands and feet in confusion like a fly without a head, I heard Jun Shi’s loud voice, ‘After red-haired devils fire their guns, they must reload the gunpowder and the bullet, everybody charge!’ I hastily led the brothers to charge forward. Sure enough, for a short while the red-haired devils could not open fire. However, we have just charged forward, the red-haired devils opened fire again. I immediately rolled down on the ground to evade, not a few brothers were killed. There was no other way; we were forced to retreat. The red-haired devils did not dare to pursue. Several hundred brothers died in this battle, we were all crestfallen. Thinking about the red-haired devils’ firearms, ‘our heart was alarmed, our flesh leaping’.”

“And then Jun Shi figured out an ingenious plan?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“That’s right!” Lin Xingzhu shouted, “That evening, Jun Shi came to me and asked, ‘Lin Xiongdi, you are a disciple of Mount Wuyi’s [in Fujian] Di Tang [paradise terrestrial] School, are you not?’ I said yes. Jun Shi said, ‘When the red-haired devils opened fire earlier, you immediately rolled down on the ground; your movement was very nimble.’ I was extremely ashamed; I said, ‘Reporting to Jun Shi: Xiao Jiang [little/lowly general – referring to self] will not dare to be greedy for life, afraid of death anymore. In the battle tomorrow, I will definitely not dare to roll around to evade, and thus damaging our Great Ming’s officers and men’s power and prestige. Otherwise, you may just chop my head.’”

“Lin Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “My guess is that Jun Shi did not blame you for being greedy for life, afraid of death; he was praising the way you rolled around to evade as very good, and he wanted you to impart that skill to the other brothers.”

Chen Jinnan cast him a glance; there was a hint of smile on his face, apparently he was praising his disciple. Lin Xingzhu slapped his thigh and loudly said, “That’s right. You are Jun Shi’s disciple, indeed brilliant master produces brilliant student …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You are my Shifu’s subordinate, indeed there are no weak soldiers under a capable general.” Everybody laughed.

Lin Xingzhu continued, “That night Jun Shi indeed instructed me just that. He said, ‘You must not misunderstand my meaning. I think your Yan Qing [lit. swallow green] Eighteen Tumble, Flying Squirrel on the Grass’ style will be very useful; you can roll to the enemy, and then use the saber to hack their legs. How’s your mastery of Di Tang Saber Technique?’ When I heard that Jun Shi was not scolding me as a coward who was afraid to die, I was relieved. I said, ‘Reporting to Jun Shi: Xiao Jiang did practice some Di Tang Saber Technique. In the past Shifu told me that if I go into battle, I could roll forward and hack the enemy horse’ legs; but the red-haired devils do not ride on horses, I am afraid it is useless.’ Jun Shi said, ‘Although the red-haired devils do not ride horses, we can chop their legs; why can’t we?’ When I heard that, I suddenly saw the light. ‘Yes, yes,’ I repeatedly said, ‘Xiao Jiang’s brain did not work, I did not think about that.’”

Wei Xiaobao smiled; he mused, “Just because your Shifu told you that this saber technique could be used to chop horses’ legs, you assumed it cannot be used to chop people’s legs. Laoxiong’s [old fellow] brain is really not too bright.”

Lin Xingzhu said, “And then Jun Shi instructed me to demonstrate the saber technique. He praised my mastery as adequate, he said, ‘Your Di Tang School’s saber technique, if you had not had ten summers and winters worth of training, you would not have reached this level. But we must fight the battle tomorrow, if we want everybody to train, there won’t be enough time.’ I said, ‘Yes, Xiao Jiang’s training in this Di Tang School Saber Technique is not good, but I have indeed trained it for more than ten years.’ Jun Shi said, ‘We will catch-up by building earth embankment, and defend it with bow and arrow. You will immediately teach the soldiers and generals the technique of rolling and chopping the enemy’s legs. If everybody can learn only three or four styles, that will do. You should not need to teach them the profound martial art of Di Tang School.’ I accepted Jun Shi’s order, and that very same night I taught the troop of our own team. Early in the morning the next day, the red-haired devils attacked. We returned with bows and arrows. Our team had mastered five moves of the Di Tang Saber Technique, in turn they taught the officers and soldiers of other teams. Jun Shi also instructed everybody to cut down tree branches and tie them together as shields to keep off the red-haired troops’ lead bullets. Early morning the fourth day, the red-haired troops launched a large-scale attack. We went up to meet the enemy head-on. Rolling forward, we managed to completely rout the red-haired devils. The battlefield was littered with several hundred hairy legs. Even the head of the red-hairs, Chikan City’s garrison commander’s left leg was also chopped down. And thus this head of the red-haired devils surrendered. Afterwards, when we attacked the defense cities, we also used the same method.”

Ma Chaoxing happily said, “When we fight the war against the Luocha devils someday, we can use this skill to deal with them.”

“However,” Chen Jinnan said, “The situation is somewhat different. In those days, there were no more than three, four thousand red-haired troops in Taiwan; we kill one, their number decreases by one. If Luocha troops came to invade, at least there would be several tens of thousands people. If they come in a steady stream, we won’t be able to kill them all. What’s more, Di Tang Saber Technique can only be used in close combat. If Luocha troops used cannon to bombard us, it would be difficult to withstand.”

Wu Liuqi nodded his agreement. “In Jun Shi’s opinion, what should we do?” he asked. He noticed that when Chen Jinnan introduced him to Lin Xingzhu, he did not address Wu Liuqi as ‘Xiangzhu’; presumably because Lin Xingzhu did not belong to Tian Di Hui. Therefore, he also refrained from addressing Chen Jinnan as ‘Zongduozhu’.

Chen Jinnan said, “Our China’s land is vast and its people numerous; if there is no traitor who respond to them from the inside, it will be extremely difficult for foreigners to force their way in.”

“Precisely,” everybody said, “The Tatars occupies our rivers and mountains, they were entirely dependent upon that traitor Wu Sangui to lead the way.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Nowadays Wu Sangui is colluding with the Luocha Country. When he deploys his troops to rebel, in one vigorous effort we must try to destroy him first. If Luocha Country does not have anybody inside to respond, they will not invade rashly.”

Ma Chaoxing said, “But if Wu Sangui is defeated too quickly, he won’t fight the Tatars until both sides suffer.”

“That is also correct,” Chen Jinnan said, “But in term of formidable power, Luocha people are more dreadful than the Tatars.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Tatars also have yellow skin, black eyes and flat nose; not much different than us. Their language is also similar. Foreign devils have red hair and green eyes, plus they talk gibberish; who could understand?”

They discussed the affair of the country for a while. The sky gradually brightened, the storm had also abated. Ma Chaoxing said, “Everybody’s clothes are wet, please come ashore and drink a cup to drive the cold away.”

“Very well,” Chen Jinnan said.

The storm had blown the boat more than thirty li; by the time they returned to Luizhou, it was already almost noon. They all disembarked from the same dock they left. They saw someone rushed over and called out, “Xianggong [young master], you … you are back.” It was none other than Shuang’er. Her whole body was dripping wet, but her face looked happy.

“Why are you here?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shuang’er replied, “There was a big storm last night, and you were travelling by boat; I was really worried. I only hoped Xianggong would come back sooner safe and sound.”

“And you have been waiting here all along?” Wei Xiaobao asked in surprise.

“Yes,” Shuang’er replied, “I … I … was worried …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Worried that the boat I ride on would sink?”

Shuang’er said in a low voice, “I know your luck is good, your boat can’t possibly sink, but … but …”

A boatman standing nearby on the dock said with a laugh, “This young master, late at night last night, when the storm was the fiercest, wanted to hire our boat to go to the river, saying that he must look for someone. At first he offered fifty taels, nobody took it. And then he offered a hundred taels. Zhang Laosan [ol’ Zhang the third] was greedy for the money; he agreed. But as they were about to set sail, ‘crack!’ the storm blew his mast and broke it. When that happened, nobody dared to go. He was so anxious that he could only cry.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was touched; he grabbed Shuang’er’s hands and said, “Shuang’er, you are very good to me.” Shuang’er blushed, and lowered her head.

The party arrived at Ma Chaoxing’s temporary lodging and changed their clothes there. Chen Jinnan instructed Ma Chaoxing to send his people out to investigate Zheng Gongzi and Feng Xifan’s whereabouts. Ma Chaoxing complied. He sent his people to investigate, and then he reported the Latter Family Hall’s business.

Ma Chaoxing prepared a banquet and asked Chen Jinnan to sit on the seat of honor, with Wu Liuqi sat on the seat next to him. He asked Wei Xiaobao to sit on the third seat, but Wei Xiaobao said, “Lin Dage broke through Taiwan, Di Tang Saber chopped the red-hair’s ham. He has established such a great merit, even if Xiongdi has to stand up to accompany him drinking, I am most willing. This kind of hero, how could Xiongdi dare to sit above him?” He pulled Lin Xingzhu and had him sit on the third seat. Lin Xingzhu was greatly delighted; he thought that although Jun Shi’s disciple was young, he was truly a good friend.

After the banquet was over, the four Tian Di Hui men gathered in the side room to discuss official business. “Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan said, “You have an important matter at hand, this time we, master and disciple, still cannot be together too long. Tomorrow you may head north.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s a pity that this time I cannot listen too much to Shifu’s instruction. Actually, I also wanted to listen to Wu Dage’s heroic exploits, but I have to wait until Wu Sangui is defeated before I can listen to his story.”

Wu Liuqi laughed and said, “Your Wu Dage does not have any heroic exploits. In all my life, I have actually committed not a few bad things. If not for Mr. Zha Yihuang giving me a lesson, I would have still acted as an accomplice to the tiger, haplessly giving my life for the Tatars.”

Wei Xiaobao took out the foreign-made gun presented by Wu Sangui as a gift, and said to Wu Liuqi, “Wu Dage, you have travelled far to see Xiongdi, I really can’t thank you enough. Please take this Luocha Country’s gun as a souvenir.” Actually, Wu Sangui gave him a pair. When Wei Xiaobao was rescuing Mu Jianping, he gave the other one to Xia Guoxiang as a proof. And then in his rush to leave Yunnan, he did not have time to ask it back.

Wu Liuqi thanked him and received the gun. He packed the gunpowder and installed a bullet in it. Igniting the fuse, he aimed the gun toward the front courtyard. There was a spark, followed by a loud bang; the green flagstone on the front courtyard shattered, fragments of stone flew everywhere. Everybody was scared.

Chen Jinnan knitted his brows, thinking, “Luocha Country’s firearms are surprisingly this sharp; if they send troops to invade, it would be really hard to stop them.”

Wei Xiaobao took out four sheets of five thousand taels banknote, and gave them to Ma Chaoxing; he said with a laugh, “Ma Dage, I will have to bother you to invite your precious Hall’s brothers to drink a cup of wine.”

Ma Chaoxing laughed and said, “Twenty thousand taels? Might be too much. Even if we drink for three years, there will still be some left over.” He thanked him and accepted the gift.

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down in front of Chen Jinnan to take his leave. Chen Jinnan reached out to help him up; he patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said with a laugh, “You are very good, you become Chen Jinnan’s disciple not in vain.”

Wei Xiaobao stood close to him, he could see him clearly; he saw both sides of his temples were graying, his countenance was thin and pallid. Wei Xiaobao thought that his Shifu was always on the go in Jianghu over the past few years, braving the wind and frost and hardships; he could not help but was grieved, and wanted very much to give something to him. He mused, “Shifu does not want money; jewels, curios or toys he also does not like. Shifu’s martial art skill is superb, he won’t want my dagger or precious clothes.” Suddenly he said on impulse, “Shifu, there is something I need to report to you, Senior.”

Knowing that those two, master and disciple had something to discuss, Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao reached into his inner pocket, the one closest to his flesh, and took a package. Untying the string outside the package, he uncovered a layer of oilcloth, and then inside there were two more layers of wax paper. Finally he showed the pieces of sheepskin he took from the cover of the eight copies of the Forty-two-chapter Sutra. “Shifu,” he said, “Disciple does not have anything to show filial respect to you, Senior; please accept this package of skin pieces.”

Chen Jinnan was greatly astonished. “What are those?” he asked.

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao told him everything about the history of these pieces of skin. The more Chen Jinnan listened, the more his face turned serious. He heard about the Empress Dowager, the Emperor, Oboi, the Great Lama of Tibet, the one-armed nun Jiu Nan, the Cult Leader of Divine Dragon Cult, and the others, people with special background, not one of those people did not rack their brains trying to get these pieces of skin. He heard about the secret hidden in these skins involving Manchurian Qing Tatars’ dragon vein and large amount of treasure. Not even in his wildest dream would he think about these things. He questioned Wei Xiaobao in details, and Wei Xiaobao told him everything. Naturally some details, like the Cult Leader of Divine Dragon Cult taught him some moves, and that he bowed to Jiu Nan to take her as his Shifu, were skipped.

Chen Jinnan was deep in thought for half a day. Finally he said, “This package is really no small matter; we, master and disciple, could lead the brothers of our Society to dig the Tatars’ dragon vein, take out the treasure, send the troops in an uprising; this is indeed an amazing merit of our age. However, I am about to return to Taiwan to appear before Wangye. If I carry this package with me on the sea back and forth, I am afraid I might lose it. For the time being you’d better keep it. When I am back from Taiwan, I am going to Beijing to see you, and then we will attempt to do this important matter together.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “In that case, Shifu, please come to Beijing as quickly as possible.”

“Don’t worry,” Chen Jinnan said, “I won’t stay a moment longer. Xiaobao, your Shifu has been rushing about all his life, for the sake of conspiring to restore the Ming. I see it with my own eyes that as the days go by, the previous dynasty is gradually fading from the common people’s mind. The Tatars’ young emperor is running the administration very properly; the great undertaking is getting more and more uncertain. Unexpectedly Wu Sangui is finally going to raise the troops in rebellion, plus you obtained this buried treasure map. This is indeed a huge favorable turn of events.” Speaking to this point, his countenance brightened considerably.

His facial features were actually elegant, but he always appeared to be filled with concerns. This moment his spirit was greatly aroused, Wei Xiaobao was very happy to look at him.

“How is the poison in your body?” Chen Jinnan asked, “Is it better?”

“Disciple has taken the antidote given by Shen Long Jiao’s Hong Jiaozhu,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The poison is completely neutralized.”

“That’s very good,” Chen Jinnan happily said, “You are bearing the ten-thousand catty of great responsibility of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming on your shoulders, in everything you must take a good care of yourself.” While saying that, he put his hands on Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Disciple is a hideous mess, I don’t understand anything. Obtaining these pieces of skin is no more than stroke of luck. Each time it was just like I was being the banker, eating the bounty of the family for free. Heaven’s pole eats heaven’s pole, departing ten eats departing ten; winning is very easy.”

Chen Jinnan smiled. “When you get back to Beijing,” he said, “Bolt your door and close your window at night, slowly piece these skins together, construct the map, and then record the map firmly in your mind, memorize it well. After you can remember it without any mistake, disassemble the pieces of skin, divide it into seven or eight packages, and hide them in different places. Xiaobao, there will always be good things and bad things about someone’s luck; you can’t expect to always have propitious wind throughout the journey. In such an important matter like this, we must not depend on good luck alone.”

“Shifu is right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Just like when I play Pai Jiu and become the banker, until now I have won eight plays; if I happen to lose and have to compensate, this package of pieces of skin might be taken away by other people, won’t that be a total defeat of an army, a leveling off of my bank? Therefore, after successively winning eight plays, I have to stop being the banker.”

Chen Jinnan thought that this child’s gambling character was really strong. He smiled and said, “It’s good that you understand this logic. Winning or losing in gambling is not a big deal. In the important matter we are planning, even if we have to deliver our lives, it is also a common matter. But the object in this package involves the lives and properties of million upon millions of people in the world; you must absolutely not lose it.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “After I won, I brought the money home, and hid it under my bed. I would chop my finger so that I cannot gamble anymore; that way I will never lose.”

Chen Jinnan walked to the window and looked up to the sky. “Xiaobao,” he softly said, “After hearing this news, even if I had to die immediately, my heart is very happy.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “When I saw Shifu in the former days, he was always in high spirit; why is it this time he is always thinking of dying?” He said, “Shifu, whatever it is that you have to attend to at the Yanping Wang palace, your heart is not too happy; is that right?”

Chen Jinnan turned around with a surprised look on his face. “How do you know?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I can see that Shifu does not appear to be very happy. But I know that in this world, even more difficult things, you have never taken it to your heart. All heroes and warriors of Jianghu are also holding you in high regards. I think that you are not afraid of even the Emperor himself. Throughout the world, only Zheng Wangye, one person, could give you reason to worry.”

Chen Jinnan sighed. After half a day of silence, he said, “Wangye has always treated me with respect, plus he relies on me heavily.”

“Um, it must be that fellow Zheng Er Gongzi [second young master] who put on damned obnoxious airs and offended you,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“In the past,” Chen Jinnan said, “Guoxing Ye’s kindness to me was as heavy as the mountain. I have early on pledged my life to repay it, to bend to a task and spare no effort in attending to his Zheng family’s matters until the day I die. Zheng Er Gongzi is young, he may have said some improper things to me, but I do take it to heart. Wangye’s heir apparent is wise and loves the people, but he is born of a concubine.”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand, “What do you mean ‘he is born of a concubine’?”

“That means he was not born to the Wangfei [wife of a ‘king’, I guess the western equivalent would be a duchess],” Chen Jinnan explained.

“Ah, I understand,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He was born of Wangye’s mistress.”

Chen Jinnan felt that Wei Xiaobao’s wording was too vulgar, but remembering that he was uneducated, he did not care too much. “Right,” he said, “In the past, Guoxing Ye’s death was also closely related to this issue, for this reason Wangtaifei [mother of the ‘king’] did not like the heir apparent very much. She repeatedly told Wangye to depose the heir apparent, and set up the Er Gongzi as the heir apparent.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head vehemently and said, “Er Gongzi is a useless muddle head, and he fears death; that won’t do! This fellow is a scoundrel, useless, a damned b@stard son of a b1tch. The other day he was trying to kill Shifu, you, Senior.”

Chen Jinnan’s countenance sank slightly. “Xiaobao,” he reprimanded, “Clean your mouth a bit! Didn’t that mean you were cursing Wangye?”

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, while pressing his hand over his mouth. “I deserve to die!” he said, “I must not curse people with these three characters ‘wang ba dan’ [s.o.b.] casually.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Comparing those two young masters, in everything Er Gongzi cannot surpass his Gege; only his facial features are smart, his mouth is sweet, he knows how to make his [paternal] grandmother happy …”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh. “That’s right,” he said, “Womenfolk don’t know anything; seeing a pretty boy who knows how to flatter, they thought he is a treasure.”

Chen Jinnan did not know Wei Xiaobao was referring to Ah Ke. He shook his head and said, “Wangye has not agreed to change the heir apparent. All the civil and military officials are also urging Wangye not to change his mind. Consequently, while it’s true that these two young masters have become estranged, oftentimes Taifei and Wangye, mother and child, are also in disagreement with each other over this matter. Sometimes when Taifei is angry, she would summon us to vent her anger.”

“This old …” Wei Xiaobao started; he was about to say ‘old wh0re’, three characters [lao biao zi], but managed to stop just in time. Hastily he changed his statement, “When elderly ladies [orig. lao tai tai] grow old, they become muddleheaded. Shifu, since you cannot solve the Zheng family problem and you cannot offend them, you might as well let each of them sweeping the snow from their own front door, don’t care if there is frost on the tiles of their roof.”

Chen Jinnan sighed, “My life is no longer mine,” he said, “I have already sold it to Guoxing Ye long time ago. In this life, when you receive kindness you ought to repay. In the past Guoxing Ye has entrusted our country’s territory to me, I should be responsible for our country’s territory to repay him. Presently the number of capable people by Wangye’s side is diminishing with each passing day, I simply cannot cultivate my own moral worth and abandoning him. Ay! The great undertaking is difficult. All I can do is to let this matter runs its own course.” Speaking to this point, he sounded like he had lost any enthusiasm.

Wei Xiaobao wanted to say something to console him, but momentarily he did not know what to say. After a while he said, “Yesterday we were originally going to …” while saying that, he raised his hand and ran it across his neck, “… with one knife cutting that Zheng Keshuang into two, to get rid of him completely. But Ma Dage said that if we do that, we may make Shifu lose your standing, you would be charged with something like ‘tearing the master’ [si zhu] accusation.”

“Yes, ‘killing the master’ [shi zhu],” Chen Jinnan said, “Ma Xiongdi is absolutely right. If you killed Zheng Gongzi, how could I have the face to see Wangye? Another day in the next world [orig. nine springs], I will have no face to see Guoxing Ye.”

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why don’t you take me to see this Wangtaifei of the Zheng Family? Disciple has various techniques to deal with this kind of elderly lady.” He thought that since he managed to deal with the fake empress dowager, that even the real Empress Dowager was very obedient to him, dealing with one Wangtaifei should not be any problem.

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Don’t fool around!” Holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand, he took him out of the room.

[Book note[2]: Taiwan’s Yanping Jun Wang Zheng Jing’s eldest son, Keshang, was Chen Yonghua’s son-in-law; he was a resolute and decisive man. Zheng Jing appointed him as the heir apparent, and to act as the Regent in military campaigns. As Keshang solidify his power and win public approval, his numerous [younger] uncles and [younger] brothers became resentful of him. They made up a story that his mother pregnancy was with certain Butcher Li. After the deaths of Zheng Jing and Chen Yonghua, Keshang murdered Dong Taifei and his numerous [younger] brothers.]

Immediately Wei Xiaobao took his leave from his Shifu, Wu Liuqi and Ma Chaoxing. Wu and Ma, two people, walked him to the door.

“Wei Xiongdi,” Wu Liuqi said, “Your little servant girl, Shuang’er, I have sworn brotherhood with her, we are now brother and sister.”

Wei Xiaobao and Ma Chaoxing were stunned. They turned their head to look at Shuang’er, and saw her looking down, but her cheeks were blushing; she looked extremely bashful.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Wu Dage is very good at making jokes.”

With a serious expression Wu Liuqi said, “It’s not a joke. My Yi Mei [foster/sworn younger sister] is loyal, righteous and brave; she surpasses men. She is precisely the woman of our generation. As her Gege, I respect her very much. I saw how you swear brotherhood with the ‘Hundred Victory Saber King’ Hu Yizhi; your brotherhood is very strong. I wanted to follow suit, thereupon I wanted to become the sworn brother of Shuang’er. She said she did not want to, no matter what, saying that she could not climb the social ladder. I told her I am an old beggar, what climbing or descending social ladder? I simply must swear brotherhood with her. She had no choice but to comply.”

Ma Chaoxing said, “So when the two of you had a private discussion in that room a moment ago, you were talking about this brotherhood.”

“Exactly,” Wu Liuqi said, “Shuang’er Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment] told me not to say anything about this. Ha ha … becoming sworn brother and sister is just and honorable; why can’t I tell anybody?”

Only after listening to him did Wei Xiaobao realize that he was not joking. He looked at Wu Liuqi, and then he looked at Shuang’er, he felt it was very strange.

“Wei Xiongdi,” Wu Liuqi said, “From now on you must view this Yi Mei of mine in a new light. If you offend her, I will make life difficult for you.”

“No … that’s impossible,” Shuang’er busily said, “Xianggong, he … he treats me very well.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “With a Dage like you supporting her, even the Jade Emperor, the old man Yanluo [Yama, King of Hell] would not dare to offend her.” The three of them roared in laughter. They cupped their fists across their chests and bade farewell.

Returning to their temporary lodging, Wei Xiaobao asked Shuang’er about the sworn brotherhood business. Shuang’er was very bashful, she said, “That Wu … Wu Ye [master] …”

“What Wu Ye?” Wei Xiaobao cut her off, “Dage is Dage; you have sworn brotherhood with him, don’t tell me it did not count.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er said, “He said that in his opinion, I am not bad; hence he was determined to become sworn brother and sister with me.” From her pocket she took out the gun and said, “He said that he did not bring anything good with him; this gun was presented by Xianggong as a gift to him. In turn, he gave this to me. Xianggong, please take it to defend yourself.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his hand repeatedly; he said, “It was a gift from your Dage, how can you return it to me?”

Remembering Wu Liuqi’s conducts had always been beyond other people’s expectation, he could not help but clicking his tongue in wonder; he also thought, “His name is ‘Liuqi’ [six strange/wonderful/weird]; no wonder, no wonder! I wonder what are the other five?”

The party slowly headed back to the Capital. Along the way Jiu Nan taught Wei Xiaobao a boxing technique, and told him to practice. But Wei Xiaobao was unstable and jumpy, no matter what he just could not concentrate on learning martial art. Jiu Nan told him to demonstrate in her presence, but from her disciple’s stance and style, she could tell that he had not learned even half a part of real martial art. She sighed and said, “Although you and I have a master-disciple relationship, but looking at your temper, frankly you are not a martial art practitioner material. Very well, let’s do it this way: our Tie Jian Men [Iron Sword School] have a skill called ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ [divine line hundred changes], it was created by my Enshi [benevolent master] Priest Mu Sang. It is the chief among the qinggong skills in the world. This type of qinggong needs profound internal energy as its foundation that even you will not be able to comprehend. You don’t have even one school’s skill on you; someday when you meet a danger, how would you deal with it? I have no choice but to teach you a technique with which you can escape.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said, “When the soles of the feet can rub oil, fighting is nothing to worry about. If Shifu teach me the technique to escape, definitely no one can overtake me.”

Jiu Nan smiled and said, “‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ is incomparable in the world, in those days its prestige shook Wulin, yet now you only want to use it to rub oil on your feet. If under the ground Enshi knew, he would not want to acknowledge a lacking-prospect grand-disciple like you. However, apart from this, I have no other skill to pass on to you that you can learn.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Shifu accepted a lacking-prospect disciple like me, you have already shown great favor. However, in gambling there are winning and there are losing; this time Shifu’s luck is no good and thus have accepted this kind of disciple. It can be considered that you have lost big. Laotianye has eyes; He will bless Shifu so that in the future Shifu will win eight plays in a row, you will accept eight good disciples whose prestige will shake the world.”

Jiu Nan let out a ‘hey, hey’ laugh; she patted his shoulder and said, “Those with good martial art skill are not necessarily good people. You don’t like learning martial art, it was your inborn nature; we can’t force it. Other than your glib tongue, you can be considered my good disciple.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, there was a burst of excitement bubbling up in his heart, and on impulse he wanted to give the sheepskin pieces to Jiu Nan; but then he thought, “I have already given these skin pieces to my man Shifu, I can’t give it to my woman Shifu as well. Fortunately both Shifu wish to drive the Tatars away, to recover our Han people’s rivers and mountains, it does not matter if I give it to one or the other.”

Thereupon Jiu Nan explained a little bit of the stance and footwork of the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ that did not require any internal energy foundation. Strange things happened. Generally, when he learned fist technique or palm technique, he would dabble and stop, and was unwilling to train diligently. Toward this escape technique, however, he showed great interest. The whole journey he learned it with keen interest; as soon as he was free, he would practice. Sometimes he would ask Xu Tianchuan, whose qinggong was outstanding, to chase him around, while he would run to the east and flee to the west to evade. Seeing his marvelous movements, Xu Tianchuan was quite impressed. Initially Xu Tianchuan was able to overtake him several times, but as Jiu Nan continuously imparted new tricks, by the time they reached Zhili’s border, no matter what Xu Tianchuan was not able to catch him anymore.

Seeing that Wei Xiaobao seemed to have a predestined affinity to the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ qinggong, Jiu Nan herself was also greatly amazed. She said, “Looks like you were born with a natural talent in ‘escaping without a trace’.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Disciple’s training is inadequate. The ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ has become the ‘Shen Xing Mo You’ [divine line rubbing oil]; in the end it was not a total failure.”

He poured a bowl of fresh tea and presented it with both hands to Jiu Nan. “Shifu,” he asked, “Since Shizu [ancestor master] Priest Mu Sang has passed away, in the world today, you, Senior, are the number one in martial art?”

Jiu Nan shook her head. “I am not,” she said, “How can I dare to make the claim those six characters ‘the world’s number one martial artist’ [tian xia wu gong di yi] without justification?” She cast her glance outside the window and grimly said, “There is someone who deserves the title ‘the world’s number one martial artist’.”

“Who is that?” Wei Xiaobao hastily asked, “Disciple surely must call to pay my respect.”

“He … he …” Jiu Nan said; suddenly her eyes reddened and she stopped talking.

“Who is this Senior?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “If by fate someday disciple is able to meet him, I will respectfully kowtow several times to him.”

Jiu Nan waved her hand, telling him to get out. Wei Xiaobao was very baffled; he slowly stepped out, while thinking, “Shifu’s expression is very strange. Could it be that this ‘number one martial artist in the world’ was her old lover?”

At this moment Jiu Nan’s mind was precisely on Yuan Chengzhi, who was ten-thousand li away across the sea. She had fallen in love to Yuan Chengzhi, but Yuan Chengzhi’s feeling toward her was different. For more than twenty years this feeling had been buried deep at the bottom of her heart, but this time it had resurfaced due to Wei Xiaobao’s provocation.

The next day he came to Jiu Nan’s room to pay his respect, but she had already left, and left only a brief note. Wei Xiaobao took the note and asked Xu Tianchuan to read it for him, it says, ‘Do your best’ [hao zi wei zhi], four characters. Wei Xiaobao felt a twang of heaviness in his heart; he mused, “I asked Shifu yesterday about ‘the world’s number one martial artist’; is it possible that my question have offended her?”

One day the party arrived in Beijing. Princess Jianning and Wei Xiaobao went to have an audience with the Emperor together. Kangxi had already received the memorial to the throne, and had issued an imperial decree to allow Wu Yingxiong to come to the Capital to conclude the wedding ceremony. Upon seeing his younger sister and Wei Xiaobao, his heart was very happy.

Princess Jianning threw herself forward and wrapped her arms around Kangxi. Bursting into tears, she said, “That fellow Wu Yingxiong bullied me.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “That fellow is this brazen, let me spank his bottom later. How did he bully you?”

The Princess cried, “You ask Xiao Guizi. He bullied me, he bullied me! Huangdi Gege [big brother emperor], you must back me up.” While crying, she repeatedly stomped her foot.

Kangxi laughed and said, “Alright, why don’t you go back to your room and take a rest. I will ask Xiao Guizi.”

Early on Princess Jianning and Wei Xiaobao had decided on how they were going to report Wu Yingxiong’s rudeness when they saw Kangxi. As soon as the Princess withdrew, Wei Xiaobao then told Kangxi in details.

Kangxi frowned, he listened quietly until Wei Xiaobao finished. After pondering for half a day, he suddenly said, “Xiao Guizi, you are very brazen!”

Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright. “Your servant does not dare,” he said hastily.

“You are in cahoots with the Princess, you dare to deceive me,” Kangxi said.

“I did not,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can your servant dare to deceive Your Majesty?”

Kangxi said, “Wu Yingxiong being rude to the Princess, you did not see it with your own eyes. How could you report to me in this way based on the Princess’s one-sided statement?”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “My goodness, this is serious. The young Emperor is very formidable; he is able to look through the flaw.” Busily he kneeled down and kowtowed, saying, “Your Majesty can see clearly for ten-thousand li. As how Wu Yingxiong was being rude to the Princess, your servant indeed did not see it with my own eyes; but at that time there were many people standing outside the Princess’ window. Everybody could hear it with our own ears.”

“That is even worse,” Kangxi said, “This man Wu Yingxiong, I have met him twice. He is competent and efficient, a talented individual. Plus he is not too young, I don’t know how many good-looking concubines he had in his house; how could he have the audacity to be arrogant and treated the Princess impolitely? Humph, do you think I don’t know the Princess’ temperament? It must be that she had some disagreement with Wu Yingxiong, and she cut … she cut his damned eggs.” Speaking to this point, he could not help but bursting in laughter.

Wei Xiaobao also laughed; he stood up and said, “It’s not convenient for the Princess to tell this kind of matter in details; your servant naturally did not dare to ask too much. Whatever Princess said, that was what your servant reported.”

Kangxi nodded. “You are right,” he conceded. “This fellow Wu Yingxiong has been wronged. Go pass on my edict, tell them to select an auspicious date to conclude the wedding in the Capital. After a full month, they may return to Yunnan.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Concluding the wedding is not a big deal, that fellow Wu Sangui is about to rebel, you must not let the Princess return to Yunnan.”

Kangxi remained calm and collected; he simply nodded and said, “So Wu Sangui is about to rebel. What did you see?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao told in details how Wu Sangui colluded with Tibet, Mongolia, Luocha Country and Divine Dragon Cult. Kangxi listened with serious expression, he was deep in thought and did not say anything. After quite a while, he finally said, “That traitor! Unexpectedly he is colluding with that many foreign powers!”

Wei Xiaobao knew early on that this matter is extremely thorny; hence he did not dare to make a sound.

After a while, Kangxi asked again, “And then what happened?”

Wei Xiaobao told him that they had captured the Mongolian Prince’s emissary. He recounted how he pretended to be Wu Sangui’s younger son and swindle the emissary into spilling everything; how Wu Yingxiong wanted to seize Hantiemo back by setting the Princess’ dwelling on fire, but suffered castration instead; how Wei Xiaobao sent the troops under his command to masquerade as the Palace’s guards, and fight in a brothel over some beauties, and thus gave the impression that they killed Hantiemo.

Kangxi was listening leisurely while stretching on his chair; he said, “That’s much more fun.” He continued, “This man Wu Sangui, I have never seen him. That day there was news spreading in the Palace that when Fu Huang [father emperor] returned to Heaven, Wu Sangui led a massive military force to the Capital to offer sacrifice. I wanted to go see him, several regent ministers wanted to guard against him entering the Capital with his soldiers and suddenly revolted; therefore, they told him to mourn and offer sacrifice outside Beijing, they did not allow him to enter Beijing’s city walls.”

Speaking to this point, he stood up, paced back and forth, and said, “That servant Oboi failed to see this matter clearly. If he was worried that Wu Sangui would enter the Capital and revolt, he only need to issue a decree granting them, father and son, to enter the Capital to worship, while his large army must remain outside the city; what could he possibly achieve? If he did not dare to enter the City, that means his etiquette was lacking. By not allowing him to enter the city, the message was clear: ‘We are afraid of your large army, we are afraid that you will enter the Capital and revolt. You must not come in!’ Hey, hey, it was a display of utmost weakness! Wu Sangui must know that the imperial court is suspicious and jealous of him and also afraid of him; how can he not know? Perhaps his rebellion scheme was born because of this incident.”

Listening to Kangxi’s detailed analysis, Wei Xiaobao’s admiration grew from the bottom of his heart. “Supposing he saw Your Majesty that time,” he said, “Your Majesty could enlighten him well, maybe he would not dare to revolt.”

Kangxi shook his head. “At that time I was too young,” he said, “I did not understand military and national affairs. If I did see him, I would not have any formidable things to say to him, he might rise in rebellion sooner.” And then he inquired in details Wu Sangui’s appearance and mannerism. He also asked, “About that white tiger skin in his study, what exactly is that?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised; he described the appearance of the white tiger skin, and then said, “Even small matter like that Your Majesty also knows.”

Kangxi smiled, but did not say anything. He then asked about Wu Sangui’s troops and horses deployment, about the temperament and talent of the ten great zongbing [regional commander] under Wu Sangui’s employment. In these questions, he seemed to have a detailed knowledge of Wu Sangui’s situation; he knew which great general under Wu Sangui was greedy for money, which one was given to lust, which one was courageous, which one was muddleheaded. He clearly understood everything.

Wei Xiaobao was already stunned, now he was full of admiration. “Your Majesty,” he said, “You have not been to Yunnan, yet you know about Ping Xi Wang Mansion’s inside situation better than your servant.” He suddenly realized, “Ah, right, you must have sent not a few spies to Kunming.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “This is called ‘know yourself, know your enemy, emerge victorious in every battle’. He wholeheartedly wants to rebel, do you think we will simply ignore him? Xiao Guizi, your merit this time is very big, you managed to verify Wu Sangui’s collusion with Tibet, Mongolia and Luocha Country. My spies are not able to uncover this big secret. They can only find minor matters, but cannot investigate important matters.”

Wei Xiaobao felt the bones in his body were considerably lighter. “This is all due to Your Majesty’s flood of good fortune fills the heavens,” he said.

Kangxi said, “Bring that Hantiemo into the Palace; let me interrogate him personally.” Wei Xiaobao complied. Leading ten Imperial Bodyguards, he brought Hantiemo to the Upper Study Room.

As soon as Kangxi saw him, he started questioning him in Mongolian. Hantiemo was surprised to hear his native tongue Mongolian was spoken, but he also felt warmness in his heart. Seeing the grandeur of the Palace, he no longer dared to cover up the truth, he told Kangxi everything he wanted to know ‘in fives and tens’.

Kangxi interrogated him for more than four hours; other than about the collusion between Mongolia and Wu Sangui, he also asked in detail about Mongolian military strength and disposition, the monetary, grain and production situation, the mountain and river topography, local conditions and customs, as well as various Mongolian ruling class, the princes and dukes: who were astute, who were mediocre, who had enmity with whom, and who had close relationship with whom.

All along Wei Xiaobao was waiting on Kangxi on the side, listening to these two people talking gibberish incessantly. He saw sometimes Hantiemo looked impressed, some other times he looked afraid, until finally he went down on his knees and kowtowed repeatedly, as if he was expressing a deep gratitude. And then Kangxi ordered an Imperial Bodyguard to take Hantiemo back to prison.

A little eunuch delivered a bowl of ginseng soup. Kangxi received it and drank it. He said to the little eunuch, “Pour another bowl for Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief].” Wei Xiaobao kowtowed to express his gratitude for the kindness shown, and drank the soup.

They heard the sound of footsteps outside the Study Room. A little eunuch appeared and said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Nan Huairen[3] and Tang Ruowang[4] are here to serve Your Majesty.” Kangxi nodded. The little eunuch called out the notification. Two big and tall foreigners came in, kneeled down and kowtowed before Kangxi.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised; he mused, “How come we have foreign devils in the Palace? This is really strange.”

After doing their obeisance, the two foreigners both took a scroll from their bosom, and placed the scrolls on Kangxi’s desk. The younger one, the foreigner by the name of Nan Huairen said, “Your Majesty, we are going to discuss about the shooting of the cannon today.”

Wei Xiaobao could hear Beijing dialect in his speech, sharp, clear and fluent; he could not help but exclaiming in surprise. In great amazement he thought, “Strange, strange, very strange; the devils cannot release foreign fart.”

Kangxi laughed at Wei Xiaobao, and then he turned his attention to the scroll on his desk. Nan Huairen stood by Kangxi’s side; with finger on the scroll he made some explanations. Whenever Kangxi saw something he did not understand, he immediately asked.

Nan Huairen talked for about an hour. The other foreigner, the old and white-bearded Tang Ruowang, continued by speaking about astronomy and calendar system; he also talked for about an hour. And then the two of them kowtowed and withdrew.

Kangxi laughed and said, “The foreigners speak our Chinese language, you were surprised, weren’t you?”

“At first your servant felt it was very strange,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But after thinking about it, I am not surprised anymore. The Sacred Son of Heaven is blessed by a hundred gods. The Luocha Country conspires against you, the Heaven then sent two foreign devils who can speak Chinese language to assist the Sacred Dynasty in manufacturing firearms to sweep away the Luocha.”

Kangxi said, “Your mind is quick. However, the foreign devils can speak Chinese is not due to divine providence. That old man arrived in China during the Ming’s Tianqi Emperor[5]; he is a German. The younger one is from Belgium, he came during Shunzhi’s reign. They are Jesuits clergymen, and came to China to do missionary work. To preach, they need to learn how to speak Chinese.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant has always been worried that Luocha Country’s firearms are too formidable. After listening to those foreigner talking clearly and logically about those cannon or short gun today, I am relieved.”

Kangxi paced back and forth slowly in the Study Room. “Luocha people are humans,” he said, “We are also humans. If they can build firearms, we can do the same thing. It’s just that all along we did not understand how. When we fought the Ming Dynasty at Liaodong Peninsula in the past, the Ming troops had cannon, we suffered quite a bit of defeat. Taizu Huangdi [posthumous title for the founder of a dynasty] was injured by gunfire, he rode the dragon and returned to Heaven. However, didn’t we still manage to take the Ming Dynasty’s land under the heavens? It can be seen clearly that firearm is important for the people to use, but if the people using it fail to live up to expectations, even a more formidable firearm will be worthless.”

“Turns out Ming Dynasty had cannon,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I wonder where are those cannons now? We can take them and blast Wu Sangui that old fellow, blast him so that one Buddha get reborn, two Buddhas ascend to heaven!” [not sure about this]

Kangxi smiled and said, “Ming Dynasty’s cannons were only a few, they were purchased from Aomen’s [Macao] red-haired people. Only buying the devils’ firearm is useless. If we fight a battle against the devils, they will refuse to sell it to us, won’t that be terrible? We must build it ourselves, then we won’t be afraid other people would make us desperate.”

“Very true, very true,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty is still concerned that those Jesuits clergymen would build western cowrie shells to swindle you, thus you personally want to know how to do it. From now on, let those devils give an exaggerated account of things, trying to confuse you [orig. seven meat eight elements], you won’t be deceived.”

“You understand my intention,” Kangxi said, “The technique to build firearm is very complicated and very difficult. Just to refine the highest quality fine iron is greatly not easy.”

“Your Majesty, let me go get all blacksmith inside and outside of Beijing,” Wei Xiaobao volunteered, “We call them together, everybody pump the bellows, push and pull, push and pull, refine several million catties of those fine iron.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “When you were in Yunnan, we have already refined several tens of thousands catties of fine iron. Tang Ruowang and Nan Huairen are in the process of supervising the building of cannons. When the time comes, you will come with me to take a look.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “That is very good,” he said. Suddenly he remembered something and said, “Your Majesty, foreign devils are malicious and two-faced, we must guard against either one of those. The place we build cannon will have gunpowder and lots of ironware. Your Majesty must not go personally, let your servant supervise it for you.”

“No need to be worried,” Kangxi said, “This matter concerns the country’s destiny. I won’t feel reassured if I do not see it with my own eyes. Nan Huairen is loyal and upright. Tang Ruowang’s old life was rescued by me, he is very grateful to me. These two men can’t possibly have different feelings toward me.”

“Unexpectedly Your Majesty has saved the foreign old devil’s old life,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That is indeed strange.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “Kangxi’s third year, Tang Ruowang said that the imperial observatory’s calculation of the solar eclipse contains errors; he and the imperial observatory’s Chinese officials had a sharp debate. Imperial observatory Chinese official Yang Guangxian[6] argued, but failed to find any flaw in Tang Ruowang’s argument; hence he submitted a memorial to the throne, saying that Tang Ruowang formulated the document ‘Great Qing Constitution Period Calendar’, in which he calculated a total of two hundred years. But our Great Qing has obtained the Heaven’s provision, the divine blessing has no bound, our rivers and mountains will last tens of thousands of years. Tang Ruowang’s calendar stops at only two hundred years. Isn’t that the same as putting a curse on our Great Qing that it will only last for two hundred years?”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. “Formidable, formidable! This foreign old devil can calculate astronomy and geography, but he cannot calculate the trick of the government official.”

“Isn’t that so?” Kangxi said, “At that time Oboi was in power. That fellow randomly accused Tang Ruowang of cursing the imperial court, hence he deserved to be executed by lingering death. The decree was sent to me to review, immediately I was able to see a flaw in it.”

“Kangxi’s third year, that means you were only ten,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Yet you were already able to see the deceit in it. Indeed the Sacred Son of Heaven is intelligent and wise, a rarity from time immemorial.”

Kangxi laughed. “You should pat the horse hindquarters less,” he said, “Actually, this case was quite shallow. I asked Oboi, when did Tang Ruowang finish the ‘Great Qing Constitution Period Calendar’? He said he did not know. Upon further investigation, he returned with a report that it was finished during Shunzhi’s tenth year. At that time the Late Emperor bestowed a commendation by conferring him the title of ‘Tong Xuan Jiao Shi’ [lit. master/teacher who understands mystery]. I said, ‘That’s right, because when I was six, seven years old, I have already seen this ‘Great Qing Constitution Period Calendar’ book in the Study Room. This document was finished ten years ago, why didn’t anybody say that he was wrong back then? At this time someone is having a strife with him, isn’t that simply settling an old debt? This is not fair. Oboi thought I was right, hence he did not have him killed, but have him locked up in prison. Afterwards I have forgotten about this matter. Only recently Nan Huairen brought it up to my attention, and then I issued a decree to have him freed.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let your servant put some thoughts in him to create the ‘Great Qing Ten Thousand Year Calendar’.”

Kangxi chuckled for a moment, and then his expression turned serious as he said, “I have read the previous dynasty’s history book; those who cherish common people were sure to reign for a long time, otherwise, what good would it bring to simply say auspicious speech? Since the ancient times, everybody always call the Emperor as Lord of Ten Thousand Years, while in reality, forget ten thousand years, not one of the emperors had ever reached a hundred years. What ‘ten thousand years of boundless longevity’? It’s all nonsense to deceive people. Fu Huang earnestly urged me to obey his particular instruction of ‘never raise taxes’. As long as I observe these four characters [yong bu jia fu], our rivers and mountains will be as strong as iron. All those foreigners’ cannon, Wu Sangui’s troops and horses, are nothing to worry about.”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand all these governing-the-country principles; he only repeatedly nodded and made some noise to voice his agreement. From his pocket he took out the copy of ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’ he stole from Wu Sangui’s desk, and presented it with both hands to Kangxi, saying, “Your Majesty, this sutra was indeed embezzled by that old fellow Wu Sangui. Your servant saw it in his study room, hence I led away a goat in passing, and return it to its rightful owner.”

Kangxi was greatly delighted. “Very good, very good,” he said, “The Empress Dowager is always concerned over this matter. I’ll go and present it to her, the Senior, and then take it to the imperial ancestral temple and cremate it there. No matter what secret is hidden inside, henceforth nobody will find out.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “It is best that you are burning it! This is called ‘destroy the corpse and leave no trace’. Nobody will ever find out that I stole the pieces of thin leather inside the sutra.”

He returned to his viscount mansion. When the night fell, he bolted the door, took out the bundle of skin pieces, and summoned Shuang’er. “I have a ‘rubbing the water’ job I’d like you to do for me,” he told her. And then ordered her to assemble and restore the several thousand pieces of thin leather into its original state.

Bending over the table, Shuang’er slowly looked at the cutting mark, and paired the pieces one by one to see if there was a match. But these several thousand pieces of skin were jumbled together at random; restoring the pieces into the original condition was indeed easier said than done.

At first Wei Xiaobao was still sitting by the table, offering some advice, taking a piece from the east, a piece from the west, trying to find a match. But after doing it for half a day, he could not find even a pair of matching pieces; his interest waned, he went to sleep without saying anything.

When he woke up the next morning, he noticed that there was candlelight in the outside room. With a piece of skin in her hand, Shuang’er was staring at the table as if she was in daze. Wei Xiaobao tiptoed behind her back, and then ‘Ha!’ he yelled. Shuang’er jumped in fright. She laughed and said, “You are awake?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “These pieces of skin are very troublesome, I don’t need it right away, why didn’t you sleep the whole night? Quickly go to bed!”

“Alright,” Shuang’er said, “I will tidy up first.”

Wei Xiaobao saw a large sheet of white paper on the table, on which about eleven or twelve pieces of skin were pinned down with embroidery needles; the pieces were joined together in a good fit, he was delighted. “You have fitted quite a few pieces,” he said.

“The beginning was the most difficult,” Shuang’er said, “Right now I already understood some logic behind it, later on I should be able to assemble the pieces a bit faster.” She put the pieces back into the bundle and carefully wrapped it with oilcloth, along with the large sheet of white paper, and locked everything inside a gold-painted chest.

Wei Xiaobao said, “These pieces of skin are very useful, we must not let anybody steal it.”

Shuang’er said, “I will stay to guard here, I won’t leave even for half a step. I am only afraid if I fell asleep, something bad might happen.”

“No worries,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will get a small group of Valiant Cavalry Brigade sergeants to guard outside the room, and guard you as well.”

Shuang’er smiled and said, “I feel much better.”

Wei Xiaobao saw her pair of beautiful eyes was bloodshot, obviously she worked really hard the previous night; he felt tenderness toward her. “Quickly go to sleep, I’ll carry you to the bed.”

Shuang’er’s face blushed of shyness, she repeatedly waved her hand and said, “No, no, not good.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “What do you mean good or not good? You helped me, you worked hard the entire night, I carry you to the bed, what’s the big deal?” While saying that, he reached out to carry her. Shuang’er squealed and slipped out of his arms.

Wei Xiaobao tried to grab her several times, but each time he only caught empty air. He knew that his qinggong was far below hers, in his heart he was quite dismayed. Taking a deep sigh, he sat down on a chair. Shuang’er chuckled and came near him, saying, “Let me serve you have a wash and eat light breakfast, and then I’ll go sleep.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head without saying anything. Seeing him in low spirits, Shuang’er was worried. “Xianggong,” she said in a low voice, “Are you … are you angry?”

“I am not angry,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My qinggong is too lacking. Shifu taught me a lot of good techniques, I always cannot learn it. Even a little girl like you I cannot catch, what a useless fart am I?”

Shuang’er smiled and said, “You wanted to carry me, naturally I ran away desperately.”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly sprang up and called out, “I must catch you.” With arms spreading wide, he threw himself toward Shuang’er. Shuang’er giggled and leaned sideways to evade. Wei Xiaobao pretended he was pouncing to the left, but as soon as she fled to the right, he reached out to grab the corner of her garment. “Ah!” Shuang’er cried out. Afraid that he might tear the garment, Shuang’er did not dare to pull too hard. Wei Xiaobao reached out with both arms and grabbed her waist. Shuang’er only giggled. Wei Xiaobao’s right hand went down behind her knees, and carried her horizontally across his chest, and put her on his own bed.

Shuang’er blushed deep red. “Xianggong,” she cried, “You … you …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “I what?” he said. Pulling the quilt, he covered her body. And then he bent over and planted a gentle kiss on her face. “Quickly close your eyes,” he said with a laugh, “Go to sleep.” And he turned around, walked out the room, and closed the door behind him. “This girl was afraid that I was angry, she deliberately let me catch her,” he mused. When he got to the hall, he ordered his personal guard to summon a squad of Valiant Cavalry Brigade sergeants to guard outside his room.

For the next several days he distributed the money and gifts he received from Yunnan to the imperial concubines, princes and dukes, court ministers, imperial bodyguards and palace eunuchs; scheming in his heart, “If I said it is a gift from Wu Sangui, that means these people would receive favor from that old fellow. I’d better let laozi be the good man.” Therefore, these several hundred thousand taels of gold and silver from Wu Sangui became the Imperial Envoy Minister, the Valiant Cavalry Brigade Commander Wei Xiaobao’s gifts. Naturally the recipients of his gifts poured high praise on him. Everybody in the Palace and the Imperial Court said that the Emperor was indeed an enlightened sage, he promoted this astute, capable and experienced young commander into a very fitting official position.

These days, Shuang’er worked hard every day assembling the pieces of sheepskin. Each time she found a matching piece, she would pin it to the sheet of paper with an embroidery needle. Wei Xiaobao watched her every night; he saw the finished section was growing bigger and bigger. As expected, he saw mountains and rivers terrain drawn on the map, there were also curvy characters written on the map. “These are foreign characters,” Shuang’er said, “I do not recognize even one of them.”

Wei Xiaobao had lived in the Palace for a long time, hence he knew that those were Manchurian characters; but since he did not know even Han characters, he could not care less of what were written on the map.

At the evening of the eighteenth day, Wei Xiaobao returned to his residence, and saw Shuang’er with happy expression all across her face. He reached out to stroke her chin, and asked, “What is it that makes you this happy?”

Smiling, Shuang’er said, “Xianggong, go ahead and guess.”

Before he went to sleep the previous night, Wei Xiaobao saw there were still two, three hundred pieces not assembled yet. In this kind of assembling effort, one piece assembled means one piece less remaining, and the task became one part easier. The first one or two days were the most difficult, in one sichen [2 hours] she may not necessarily be able to find two matching pieces; afterwards, however, she was able to make a rapid progress.

He guessed that Shuang’er had been able to assemble the entire map, and thus her delight overflowed to the tip of her brows. Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Let me guess,” he said, “Hey, you must have wrapped some Huzhou zongzi for me.” [See chapter 17, first time Wei Xiaobao met Shuang’er.]

Shuang’er shook her head, “Not that,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You found and picked up a treasure from the floor?”

“No,” Shuang’er said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Yi Xiong [foster/sworn older brother] sent some good things for you from Guangdong?”

“No,” Shuang’er replied, “He is so far away, how can he send something for me?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Zhuang Family’s Third Mistress sent a letter to you?”

Shuang’er shook her head, her eyebrows slightly knitted. “She did not,” she said softly, “I wonder how the Zhuang Family’s Third Mistress and the others are doing? I often think about them.”

“I got it!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “Today is your birthday.”

Shuang’er smiled and said, “It’s not. My birthday is not today.”

“When is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shuang’er said, “It’s ninth month ten[7] …” Suddenly she blushed and said, “I forget.”

“You lie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can you forget your own birthday? Right, right, it must be the old monk, your friend when you live by Shaolin Temple, came to visit you.”

“Pfft!” Shuang’er stifled her laugh. “Xianggong is funny,” she said, “How can I have a Shaolin Temple old monk as a friend? It is you who have some.”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head and muttered, “It’s neither this nor that; this is a difficult riddle. I was actually going to guess that you have finished piecing the map together, but last night I saw there were still two, three hundred pieces not joined together yet, at the quickest you will need five, six more days.”

Shuang’er’s pairs of eyes were gleaming with delight as she smiled and said, “What if I finished it today for real?”

“You are deceiving me,” Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “I don’t believe you.”

“Xianggong,” Shuang’er said, “Come and see, what is this?”

Wei Xiaobao followed her to the table and saw the large white sheet was full of several thousand embroidery needles, the several thousand pieces of skins had been assembled together into a complete, whole large map. What was amazing was that several thousand pieces of skin fit together; there was not a single extra piece, and there was not a single hole either.

Wei Xiaobao cried out in delight, turned around and gave Shuang’er a hug. “It is a great success, you deserve a kiss,” he called out, while planted a kiss on her mouth.

Shuang’er was shy, her face blushed as she turned her head sideways, so that Wei Xiaobao’s kiss landed on her earlobe. Shuang’er felt her body had turned into a jelly. “No, I don’t want it!” she cried out in fear.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and let her go. He pulled her hand and had her stood next to him as they looked at the map together, while he clucked his tongue incessantly and praised her, saying, “Shuang’er, if you did not help me with this task, if I had to do it myself, I am not sure if I would not be able to piece everything together in three years and six months.”

Shuang’er said, “How many important matters you have to manage? How can you find the time to do this kind of stupid effort?”

“Aiyo,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Did you call this a stupid effort? This is the most brilliant effort in the world.”

Hearing his praise, Shuang’er was very happy.

Wei Xiaobao pointed to the map and said, “This must be a mountain, and this is the river.” He pointed at a bend of a big river, where eight small circles with different colors gathered together, and said, “The entire map is drawn in writing brush, but these eight small circles are red, white, yellow, blue, and there’s yellow circle with red border. Ah, I know, these are Manchu people’s eight banners. The location of these eight small circles must be very special. I wonder what mountain this is, and what river this is.”

Shuang’er took out a pack of thin cotton paper, there were more than thirty sheets altogether, each sheet had some curvy Manchurian characters. She gave the papers to Wei Xiaobao. “What is it?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Who wrote it?”

“I did,” Shuang’er replied.

Wei Xiaobao was pleasantly surprised. “Turns out you know Manchurian characters,” he said, “You were deceiving me a few days ago.” While saying that, he stretched out his arms to hug her.

Shuang’er hastily moved aside to evade. “I didn’t deceive you,” she said with a laugh, “I don’t know Manchurian characters. I only put these thin sheets on the map and traced every stroke every line.”

“Ingenious plan, ingenious plan,” Wei Xiaobao delightedly said, “I’ll summon the Manchurian secretary to read it and translated it into our Chinese characters, and then we’ll know what’s written on the map. Good Shuang’er, precious Shuang’er, you are very attentive, you knew this map is a matter of great concern; hence you divided these Manchurian characters into several dozen sheets. I am going to ask several different people, so that the secret won’t be leaked.”

Shuang’er smiled and said, “Good Xianggong, smart Xianggong, as soon as you saw it you have guessed my intention correctly.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s a great success, you deserve a kiss.” As soon as Shuang’er heard him, she turned around and leaped, fleeing outside the room.

When Wei Xiaobao went out to the hall, he ordered one of his personal guards to summon the Valiant Cavalry Brigade’s Manchurian clerk. He took out a sheet from his pocket and asked him the meaning of the Manchurian characters written on it. The clerk replied, “Reporting to Dutong [commander] Daren: these are ‘Argun River’, ‘Jing Qili River’, Huma Erwoji Mountain’, they all are our Manchuria place name outside the Pass.”

“What ‘Jili Gulu’ [lit. gibberish] River, ‘Huni Made’ [lit. shouting at your mother] Mountain? Those are so vulgar,” Wei Xiaobao said.

The clerk said, “Reporting to Dutong Daren: Argun River, Jing Qili River, Huma Erwoji Mountain are great rivers and great mountain of our Manchuria.”

“Where are they?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The clerk replied, “Reporting to Dutong Daren: they are at the extreme north outside the Pass.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted, “That’s right,” he mused, “These places must be where the Manchu people hiding their treasure. They moved the gold, silver and valuables outside the Pass, naturally the farther they hide it the better.” He said, “Write these Jili Gulu River and Huni Made Mountain names in Chinese characters.” Following his order, the clerk wrote the names.

Wei Xiaobao took out another sheet and asked, “And what river and what mountain are these?”

The clerk replied, “Reporting to Dutong Daren: this is Silimu River, Amur Mountain and Amur River.”

“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “It’s getting stranger and stranger! Are you sure you are not just speaking nonsense? Why didn’t you pick good names, but picked something like Xini Made [lit. admiring your mother], Ama’er [‘amah’], Aba’er [‘abba’]?”

The clerk’s face was filled with terror, he bowed in respect and said, “Lowly officer does not dare to speak nonsense. In Manchurian, those names have different meaning.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You write down those Ama’er, Aba’er, and that Xini Made River in Han characters on these papers. Later I am going to ask other people, I want to see whether you are talking drivel or not.”

“Yes, yes,” the clerk said, “Even if lowly officer had gargantuan nerve, I would not dare to talk drivel with Dutong Daren.”

“Ha, do you have gargantuan nerve?” Wei Xiaobao said.

“No, no,” the clerk replied, “Lowly officer is a coward like a mouse.”

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter. “Guard,” he called, “Go get fifty taels for this friend who is a coward like a mouse. Hey, if you ever mention these Xini Made River, Xini Bade Mountain to other people and I find out about it, I will immediately take your fifty taels back, both principal and interest, a total of a hundred fifty taels.”

The clerk was overjoyed at the unexpected good news; his monthly soldier’s pay was no more than twelve taels of silver. Dutong Daren bestowed fifty taels, busily he bowed to express thanks and repeatedly promised, “Lowly officer will definitely not dare to talk at random.” While thinking, “With fifty taels capital you want a hundred taels interest. My mother, what a heavy interest. Even if you cut my head, I won’t be able to pay it.”

For the next several days, Wei Xiaobao had asked around seventy, eighty names. When he looked at the map, he found out that those eight small circles in four colors were located north of Heilongjiang, right where Amur River and Heilongjiang [lit. black dragon river] converged, due north of Huma Erwoji Mountain, and northwest of Amur River. There were two Manchu characters written among the eight small circles, when translated into Han characters, they became ‘Lu Ding Shan’ [Deer and Cauldron Mountain], three characters.

Wei Xiaobao committed the map and the places’ names into memory, he also told Shuang’er to memorize it. Thinking that if these pieces of skin were taken away by other people, inevitably the secret would be leaked; thereupon he threw it into the stove to burn it. Seeing the blazing fire, he felt an unspeakable joy in his heart. He thought, “Shifu told me to divide it into several packages and bury it in several different places, but other people might still be able to find it. Right now it is buried in my heart; even if they dig my heart out, they won’t find the map inside. It’s just that naturally I must not let anybody dig my heart out.”

Turning his head around, he saw the flame illuminated Shuang’er’s face; she looked rosy and very tender and beautiful. “My little Shuang’er is very beautiful,” he praised in his heart.

Being stared by him, Shuang’er was bashful, she lowered her head. “Good Shuang’er,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We have pieced together the map, we have found out the places’ names, those Xini Made River, Xini Bade Mountain, have also been stored in our hearts; don’t you think it was a great success?”

Shuang’er hastily leaped back, and said with a laugh, “Oh no, no … you don’t.”

“What do you mean I don’t?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shuang’er laughed while rushing out through the door. “I don’t know,” she said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and ran after her. “You don’t know, but I do,” he said.

Suddenly he saw a personal guard hurriedly walked in and said, “Reporting to Dutong: His Majesty summons you, he wants you to come quickly.”

Wei Xiaobao made faces to Shuang’er, and went out to the Palace. He saw a row of Guards of Honor lined up at the Palace gate, Kangxi’s imperial chariot was just coming out from the Palace. Wei Xiaobao circled behind the cavalcade, and knelt and kowtowed by the road. Kangxi saw him; he smiled and said, “Xiao Guizi, come with me to see the foreigners testing the cannons.”

Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “That’s great,” he said, “They managed to finish the cannon very quickly.”

The party arrived at the Long Tan [dragon pool] Artillery Field inside the Zuo’anmen [lit. left peaceful gate]. Nan Huairen and Tang Ruowang had already knelt far away by the street to welcome the imperial chariot. “Rise up, rise up,” Kangxi said, “Where are the cannon?”

Nan Huairen said, “Reporting to Your Holiness[8]: The cannon are outside the city. Respectfully request Your Holiness to take the trouble to visit and do the inspection.”

“Very well!” Kangxi said. He stepped out from the chariot. Surrounded by the Imperial Bodyguards, he went out the Zuo’an Gate and saw three cannon arranged in a row.

Kangxi approached the cannon; he saw the cannon’s body was shiny gunmetal blue, the barrel was thick, the wheel, axle and so on were all built extremely solid. Kangxi was delighted. “Very good,” he said, “Let us try firing the cannon several times.”

Nan Huairen personally loaded gunpowder into the barrel, and packed it solid with iron rod. Picking up a cannonball, he loaded it into the barrel; and then he turned around and said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: this cannon’s firing range is a li and a half; the target has been set up over there.”

Following his finger, Kangxi looked up into the distance. He saw about a li and a half away, there were ten earthen blocks standing side by side. He nodded and said, “Good, you may fire.”

Nan Huairen said, “Respectfully request Your Majesty to take the trouble to move ten zhang away; that way, you will be completely safe.” Kangxi smiled and withdrew to get out of the way.

Wei Xiaobao volunteered, “Let your servant fire the first shot.” Kangxi nodded. Wei Xiaobao walked toward the cannon’s side and said to Nan Huairen, “Foreign Old Friend, you aim, I ignite.”

Nan Huairen had already calibrated the muzzle’s height, this time he checked the alignment one more time. Wei Xiaobao received the flare; he lighted the fuse and hurriedly jumped back. Casting the flare aside, he lifted his hands to tightly cover his ears.

There was a flash, followed by a loud explosion, black smoke rose up, and then one earthen block in the distant exploded, a column of flame ascended to the sky. Turned out there was a large amount of sulfur hidden inside the earthen block. As the cannonball landed, it ignited the sulfur so that the power of the cannon appeared more astonishing.

The crowd of sergeants cheered in one voice, they turned toward Kangxi and shouted, “Long live, long live, long, long live[9]!”

The three cannon were fired in turn, altogether they shot ten cannonballs, and hit seven earthen blocks; only three blocks were not hit squarely, they leaned sideways, but did not explode. Kangxi was extremely pleased, he bestowed great rewards to Nan Huairen and Tang Ruowang; he promoted Nan Huairen as the Supervisor of the Imperial Observatory on the spot. Tang Ruowang was originally a high-ranking official of the Minister of Ceremonies department and a government communication envoy, with the title ‘Tong Xuan Jiao Shi’. He was removed from office during Oboi’s reign. Later on Kangxi reinstated his office, but changed his title to ‘Tong Wei Jiao Shi’ [lit. master/teacher who understands profound matter]. Kangxi’s given name was ‘Xuan Ye’ [lit. mysterious blaze of fire]; therefore, the character ‘Xuan’ became taboo and must not be used for other people. The three cannon were dubbed the ‘Shen Wu Da Pao’ [Cannon of Supernatural Might].

Returning to the Palace, Kangxi summoned Wei Xiaobao into the Study Room; with a grin on his face he said, “Xiao Guizi, we will work around the clock to build several hundred ‘Shen Wu Da Pao’, set them up in a row, and damn blast that old fellow Wu Sangui. Do you think he will still rebel?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “With divine strategy and amazing calculation, even if there was no ‘Shen Wu Da Pao’, to Your Majesty, dealing that old fellow Wu Sangui is as easy as stretching a hand and grab it. But with the ‘Shen Wu Da Pao’, it’s like … like … like a dragon that has grown wings.” He was about to say ‘like a tiger that has grown wings’; but then he thought that comparing an emperor with a tiger was very disrespectful.

Kangxi laughed and said, “You said those words without any knowledge. The dragon can fly in the sky, why would it need wings?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Yes, yes,” he said, “It can be seen clearly that even without the cannon, Your Majesty still does not fear Wu Sangui.”

Kangxi laughed, “You always know what to say,” he commented. Suddenly he frowned and said, “Speaking of dragon, I remember something: Wu Sangui colludes with Mongolia, Tibet and Luocha Country, and also with a certain Shen Long Jiao [Divine Dragon Cult]. That old wh0re to committed treason and heresy by masquerading the Empress Dowager, she was sent by Shen Long Jiao to bring filth and chaos in the Palace, wasn’t she?”

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Kangxi said, “If I don’t catch this rebel and cut her to pieces, how can I avenge the enmity of my queen mother’s murder and the disgrace of Empress Dowager’s imprisonment?” Speaking to this point, he gnashed his teeth, obviously he was extremely enraged.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “From the tone of his voice, the Emperor wants me to catch the old wh0re. But that old wh0re is with that short and fat Thin Toutuo; I don’t know where they are right now. To catch this person is indeed not easy.” In his hesitation, he did not dare to say anything.

Sure enough, Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, this matter is top secret, other than sending you to deal with it, I can’t send anybody else.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I was just wondering where did that old wh0re run away? That meatball lover [orig. male adulterer] of hers seems to know some witchcraft.”

Kangxi said, “If the old wh0re ran to some remote mountain or desolate land, naturally catching her will not be easy. But there is a clue you may follow. You lead the troops, go and eliminate the Divine Dragon Evil Cult, arrest the evil cult’s henchmen, interrogate them one by one, you will most likely find the old wh0re’s whereabouts.” Noticing the awkward expression on Wei Xiaobao’s face, he said, “I know this matter is like fishing a needle from the sea, it is very difficult to do. However, one, you are very competent, two, you are a person with tremendous good luck. Other people may find some matters to be extremely thorny, but in your hands, oftentimes it turned into instant success. I won’t set any time limit for you, I will send you outside the Pass first to handle several matters for me. Once you are out of the Pass, you mobilize your force at Fengtian [modern day Shenyang, Liaoning province], and wait for an opportunity to break into Shen Long Island.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The Emperor is licking my behind. If I did not accept this mission, it would be inappropriate.” He said, “Your servant’s good fortune was bestowed by Your Majesty. Your Majesty has shown me particularly great favor, naturally my portion of good luck is also great. I only hope that by relying on Your Majesty’s flood of good luck this time, I can capture the old wh0re.”

Hearing that he was willing to go, Kangxi was overjoyed. He patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said, “Although taking revenge and wiping out old grudge is important, compared to national security, it is a small matter. If you can capture the old wh0re, no doubt it would be the best; but the most important matter is still breaking through the Shen Long Island. Xiao Guizi, outside the Pass was where our Great Qing’s dragon arose. Shen Long Jiao is staring maliciously from the side. If they join hands with Luocha people and occupy the area outside the Pass, the Great Qing will lose its foundation. By breaking the Shen Long Island, it’s just like you are cutting off the stretched-out five fingers of the Luocha people.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Precisely.” Suddenly he raised his voice and cried out, “Ahluowu! Guluhu!” while lifting up his right hand and fling it around randomly.

Kangxi laughed and asked, “What are you doing?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Luocha Country broke its five fingers, naturally they are crying in pain in Luocha language.”

Kangxi burst out laughing. “I promote you to be Viscount First Class,” he said, “And I bestow you the title ‘Ba Tu Lu’ [I think this is Manchurian word, ba – long for/wish/close to/next to, tu – diagram/map/drawing, lu – crass/stupid/rude]. Your mission will be to mobilize the troops and horses stationed to guard Fengtian, to eradicate the rebels of Shen Long Island.”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down to express his gratitude; he said, “Your servant’s official position is rising higher and higher, my portion of good fortune is also increasing bigger and bigger.”

Kangxi said, “This matter must be kept without any fanfare to guard against Wu Sangui, Shang Kexi and the others knew about it, and then their hearts would be troubled and they may rebel earlier. Everything must be done ‘the gods did not know, the ghosts did not realize’; Shen Long Jiao must be destroyed in complete surprise. Let’s do it this way: tomorrow I will send you as an imperial envoy minister to offer sacrifice at Changbai Mountain. Changbai Mountain is the sacred place where my Aisin Gioro [Manchu: Golden Clan] ancestors were born. I am sending you to offer sacrifice to my ancestors, nobody would suspect anything.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “With Your Majesty’s divine strategy, the Shen Long Jiao’s Jiaozhu’s long life will be the same as the insect’s.”

“What do you mean his long life will be the same as the insect’s?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “That Jiaozhu’s life span will be no more than a small insect’s; he won’t live much longer.”

In Kangxi’s presence Wei Xiaobao braced himself to accept this mission; however, thinking about Cult Leader Hong’s unsurpassed martial art skill, about the martial art masters surrounding him like a cloud, while he would bring some troops who could only whirling the sabers in their hands or shooting some arrows to attack Shen Long Island, he knew that most likely it would be Wei Xiaobao whose long life the same as the insect’s.

Leaving the Palace, Wei Xiaobao was depressed. But then he had a thought, “Laozi definitely won’t go to Shen Long Island. Even if Xiao Xuanzi treated me better than this, it’s not worth losing my life in vain for his sake. My life as a government official has reached the end; as soon as I am outside of the Pass I’d better seize the opportunity to go to Lu Ding Shan north of Heilong Jiang, to dig the buried treasure, to obtain great wealth in one stroke, and then quietly return to Yunnan, to get Ah Ke’s hand in marriage. Henceforth I will hide: I will gamble and watch the play every day; won’t I be happy, free and unfettered?”

Thinking about this, his anxiety was somewhat reduced. He thought, “Although running away just before the battle is not so brilliant on the face, plus I am turning my back on Xiao Xuanzi’s great trust, but this is a matter of life and death; how can I play a joke on it? After digging the buried treasure, I won’t dig and cut Manchu people’s dragon vein; this way I am also doing the right thing for Xiao Xuanzi.”

During the audience with the Emperor the next day, Kangxi proclaimed a decree, raising Wei Xiaobao’s official position, and sending him to Changbai Mountain to offer sacrifice to the ancestors. After the court was adjourned, one after another the nobles and the ministers came to congratulate him.

Songgotu’s friendship with him stood out from the masses; he especially accompanied Wei Xiaobao back to his viscount mansion to continue their chat. Seeing Wei Xiaobao’s enthusiasm was somewhat waning, he said, “Xiongdi, going to Changbai Mountain to offer sacrifice is naturally not as lucrative as going to Yunnan to knock on Ping Xi Wang Mansion’s bamboo pole; the difference is as far as the Heaven from the Earth. No wonder you are not too interested.” [See note 11, Chapter 10 on ‘knocking on bamboo pole’.]

Wei Xiaobao said, “Be honest with Dage, Xiongdi is a southerner, I am always most afraid of cold. As soon as I am thinking about the world of ice and snow outside the Pass, I am already shivering in cold. Tonight I must have my stove burning high and roast myself well.”

Songgotu burst into loud laughter; he said consolingly, “You don’t have to worry about that, when I go home, I will send you a fire sable overcoat here, so that Xiongdi can resist cold. Inside the warm sedan chair put some coal pots, then you won’t feel too cold. Xiongdi, going on a mission outside the Pass still has some benefits.”

“This Liaodong is a place where people could freeze their noses off,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can I reap any benefit? Would Dage please advise?”

Songgotu said, “Our Liaodong has three treasures …”

“That’s great,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Three treasures. If I can get one, I can spend it all.”

Sonngotu laughed. “There is a saying in Liaodong, I wonder if Xiongdi has heard it?” he said, “It is called ‘Guandong[10] has three treasures: ginseng, mink fur and wula grass’.”

“I have never heard it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Ginseng and mink fur are valuable goods. But that wula grass, what’s so valuable about it?”

“Wula grass is Kuhaha’s treasure,” Songgotu explained, “When winter arrives in Guandong, the weather gets cold, the ground gets frozen. Poor people cannot afford mink fur, they cannot take warm sedan chair to travel; if their feet are frozen, who would carry Wei Xiongdi’s sedan chair? You can find Wula grass everywhere in Guandong, as long as you pull a handful, dry it in the sun, and pound it into pulp, you can stuff it into your shoes, and your feet will very nice and warm.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wula grass is a treasure, but we have no need of it. But there is no harm in getting several dozen shoulder pole buckets of ginseng and several thousand mink fur to bring back, and then I can divide it to relatives and friends.” Songgotu roared in laughter again.

While they were chatting, Wei Xiaobao’s personal guard came to report, saying that Fujian’s Navy Tidu [local commander] Shi Lang had come to pay his respect. Wei Xiaobao immediately remembered Zheng Keshuang had mentioned that Shi Lang was a martial art expert from Wuyi Pai [See also note 2 of Chapter 26], who had taught Zheng Keshuang some martial art; later on he surrendered to the Great Qing. He could not stop his face from changing as he thought about the possibility of this man surnamed Shi was sent by Zheng Keshuang to make things difficult for him. Feng Xifan was so vicious and formidable, this man surnamed Shi must also be difficult to deal with. “What does he want?” he asked the personal guard, “I don’t want to see him.”

The personal guard complied and went out to inform the guest. Wei Xiaobao still did not feel at ease; he called another personal guard, “Quickly summon Ah San and Ah Liu [ol’ third and ol’ six, respectively].” Ah San and Ah Liu were Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan’s fictitious names.

“What kind of friendship Wei Xiongdi have with Shi Jinghai[11]?” Songgotu asked.

Wei Xiaobao was rather shaken. “Shi … Shi Jing what?” he asked.

Songgotu said, “Shi Tidu was conferred the nobility title ‘Jing Hai Jiang Jun’ [lit. the general who pacifies the ocean], don’t Wei Xiongdi know him?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Never met him,” he said.

While they were speaking, Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan, two people arrived; they stood behind Wei Xiaobao. With these two great martial art masters to protect him, Wei Xiaobao felt a bit better.

The personal guard returned to the inner hall, carrying a tray in his hands. He reported, “General Shi presents the Viscount this gift.”

Wei Xiaobao saw an open brocade box on the tray, inside the box there was a white jade bowl, and inside the bowl there were several rows of characters engraved on the surface. The jade bowl was pure white, it was of extremely fine quality jade, the engraving was also very exquisite. Wei Xiaobao thought, “He gives me a present, apparently he is not here to deal with me; but I must still guard against him.”

Songgotu laughed and said, “This gift is not light, the meticulous effort Old Shi spent must not be small either.”

“What?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Songgotu explained, “The engraving inside the jade bowl has your, laodi[12], respected name, and the four characters ‘jia guan jin jue’ [to confer a title of official position/to be promoted], and then below it says ‘Junior Shi Lang respectfully present’.”

Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “This man and I are total strangers, yet he is this courteous to me, he must be harboring malicious intentions.”

Songgotu laughed and said, “The Old Shi’s intention cannot be more clear. He wholeheartedly wants to attack Taiwan, to avenge his father and mother, wife and children. These last several years is always entangling us, wants us to talk to the Emperor on his behalf. For this matter, he has spent if not twenty thousand taels, then at least fifteen thousand taels. He knew Xiongdi is His Majesty’s most favorite person; naturally he is here to get the right social connection.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly relieved. “So that’s how it is,” he said, “Why is he bending on attacking Taiwan?”

Songgotu said, “The Old Shi was originally a great general under Zheng Chenggong. Later on Zheng Chenggong suspected that he was about to rebel, hence he was going to be arrested, but he managed to escape. Zheng Chenggong was so angry that he had Shi Lang’s father and mother, wife and children …” he ran his right palm across his neck to the left, signaling execution; and then he continued, “This man is very skilled in naval warfare. After surrendering to the Great Qing, he led a battle against Zheng Chenggong, and unexpectedly he defeated Zheng Chenggong.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. He said, “Even such a hero and warrior like Zheng Chenggong also suffered defeat in his hands; this kind of person, I simply must see.” Turning to his personal guard he said, “If General Shi has not left, tell him that I am coming out.” Turning to Songgotu, he said, “Dage, please come with me to see him.”

Although he had Fat and Lu, two people to protect him, there was still dread toward Shi Lang in his heart. Songgotu was an imperial court minister of the first-pin rank; with him by his side, supposedly Shi Lang would not dare to play rough without careful consideration. Songgotu laughed and nodded. Hand in hand they entered the main hall.

Shi Lang was sitting on the farthest seat on the right, the lowest seat. As soon as he heard the sound of boots, he stood up. Seeing the two people walking out from the inner hall, he immediately took several steps forward and bowed respectfully. “Suo Daren, Wei Daren, lowly officer Shi Lang pays his respect,” he called in a loud and clear voice.

Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the propriety and said with a laugh, “I do not dare to accept the honor. You are a general, I am only a small Dutong [commander]; how can I accept the propriety? Please sit down, please sit down; everybody should not use too much formality.”

Shi Lang respectfully said, “Wei Daren is so modest, you make other people full of admiration. Wei Daren is a first-class Viscount, your nobility rank is a lot higher than lowly officer; much less Wei Daren rises to your current rank when you are still young. To be conferred the title ‘Gong’ [Duke] or ‘Hou’ [Marquis] is just a matter of time; in less than ten years, Wei Daren will surely be conferred the title ‘Wang’ [king].”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “If that day indeed comes, I should thank your precious words [orig. golden mouth].”

“Old Shi,” Songgotu said with a laugh, “Being in Beijing these past several years, you have learned how to be oily-mouthed and talk smoothly, unlike when you first came to Beijing, you offended people left and right.”

“Lowly officer is an uncouth military man; I did not understand the compass and set square,” Shi Lang replied, “It was entirely due to all Daren who tolerated me graciously that now lowly officer can thoroughly rectify my misdeeds.”

“You have learned everything well,” Songgotu said with a laugh, “Unexpectedly you knew that Wei Daren is His Majesty’s most favorite officer. By using him to get the right social connection, your chance of success is better than if you ask ten or even a hundred princess and dukes, or various ministers.”

Shi Lang bowed respectfully to the two people and said, “For all two Daren’s advice and instructions, lowly officer will be eternally grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao sized Shi Lang up; he estimated his age to be about fifty, his physique seemed to be solid and his eyes bright, indeed he had a heroic aura around him. However, his countenance was wan and sallow, rather like someone who was weary of the wind and the dust. “General Shi gave me that jade bowl; it is very valuable,” he said, “But there is something that is not so good.”

Shi Lang was quite terrified; he sprang up immediately. “Lowly officer is a muddle head,” he said, “I wonder which part of the jade bowl is defective; would Daren please advise?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed, “There is no defect,” he said, “It’s just that it is too much of a liability. When I eat rice, I would hold it in my hand with fear and trepidation. I am scared that if I am not careful, I would shatter the rice bowl. Ha ha, ha ha …”

Songgotu also roared in laughter. Shi Lang had no choice but to accompany by letting out some hollow laugh.

“When did General Shi arrive in Beijing?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Lowly officer has already been in Beijing for three whole years,” Shi Lang replied.

Wei Xiaobao was surprised. “General Shi is Fujian’s Navy Tidu,” he said, “You are not leading the troops in Fujian, but having fun in Beijing instead, why is that? Ah, I know, General Shi surely has a good sister in Beijing brothel, with whom you are reluctant to part.”

“Wei Daren is teasing me,” Shi Lang said, “His Majesty summoned lowly officer to the Capital to discuss the strategy to pacify Taiwan. Lowly officer is muddleheaded, I failed the imperial decree, all along His Majesty has not instructed me to proceed. Lowly officer stays in the Capital, it is precisely to wait respectfully on His Majesty’s order.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The young Emperor is very astute; among the important matters he is thinking in his heart, other than securing the three borders, is how to attack and seize Taiwan. Even if your speech were not pleasant to hear, as long as you really know what you are doing, His Majesty would definitely tolerate you. There must some other reason behind this.”

Thinking about what Songgotu had told him earlier, he thought, “This man has rendered not a few merits, he must be arrogant. His Majesty summoned him to the Capital, he definitely did not admit being in the wrong at all, and thus has offended not a few people of authority, to such an extent as they deliberately gave him a lot of trouble.”

Therupon he laughed and said, “His Majesty is extremely wise, if he wants General Shi to wait for his decree in the Capital, he must have a profound reason. You don’t need to be impatient, the time has not yet come, worrying is useless.”

Shi Lang stood up and said, “I have received Wei Daren’s instruction today, the murky darkness suddenly opens. For the last three years, lowly officer has been terrified in my heart, I was afraid I had been disobedient and offended His Majesty. Turns out His Majesty have some other profound reason, lowly officer feels a lot better. Wei Daren’s enlightenment is an immeasurable kindness. When lowly officer return home today, my rice I will be able to eat, my sleep I will be able to enjoy.”

Wei Xiaobao was very good at patting the horse’s back, hence he also did not take other people’s flattering seriously; however, listening to Shi Lang flattering him, he was nonetheless happy. He said, “His Majesty has said that when someone is too arrogant, he will be unfit for anything; hence his arrogance must be set back first. Let’s not talk about His Majesty did not strip you of your official post, even if he take away your troops, have you beaten and put you in prison, it is all to cultivate your good intention.”

Shi Lang repeatedly voiced his agreement; he could not stop the palm of his hands from sweating. Songgotu stroked his beard and said, “That’s right, nothing is more correct than what Wei Jueye has just said. If the jade is not cut, it won’t become a utensil. If your jade bowl were not shaped with a lathe and ground, it would stay a block of rough stone; what’s the use?”

“Yes, yes,” Shi Lang said.

“General Shi, please sit down,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard you used to be Zheng Chenggong’s subordinate, for what matter did you have fallout with him?”

Shi Lang said, “Responding to Daren’s question: lowly officer was originally Zheng Chenggong’s father, Zheng Zhilong’s subordinate, afterward I was transferred under Zheng Chenggong’s command. Zheng Chenggong raised troops in rebellion, lowly officer could not see this matter clearly, in my confusion I followed the order by working for him.”

“Um, you fought the Qing restoring …” Wei Xiaobao started; he was going to say, ‘You fought the Qing restoring the Ming, so you should do what you were supposed to do.’ He was used to be with the Tian Di Hui brothers, hence he was used to the way they speak, and almost reveal his secret; fortunately he managed to stop in time, and hastily said, “And then what happened?”

Shi Lang said, “That year Zheng Chenggong fought a battle in Fujian; originally he was based in Xiamen, the Great Qing’s troops launched a surprise attack and captured Xiamen. Zheng Chenggong had no choice; he was in a very difficult situation. Lowly officer indeed deserve to die ten thousand deaths, not understanding to which king and master I should vow my loyalty and devotion, unexpectedly I led my troops and seized Xiamen back from the Great Qing troops’ hand.”

“Hence you rendered a very great merit to Zheng Chenggong,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“At that time Zheng Chenggong also promoted lowly officer’s rank,” Shi Lang said, “He bestowed not a few gifts. However, because of a minor matter later on, we had a big argument.”

“What matter was that?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shi Lang replied, “Under lowly officer’s command there was a low-rank soldier, lowly officer sent him out to spy the enemy. Unexpectedly, not only this person was afraid of death, he was also lazy; he went out to the wilderness and slept for several days. When he returned, he spoke some nonsense. As I listened to him, I knew something was not right. Upon careful investigation, I found the truth. Immediately I ordered him to be locked up and beheaded the next day. Unexpectedly this low-rank soldier was very sly; he escaped in the middle of the night and ran to Zheng Chenggong’s mansion, he complained tearfully to Mrs. Zheng Chenggong, Madame Dong, saying that I have wrongly accused him. Madame Dong’s heart was soft; she sent someone to plead with me, asking me to forgive this low-rank soldier, saying that when I sent someone on a mission, I must not kill my subordinate without authorization, so as not to terrify the soldiers.”

Hearing him mentioning Madame Dong, Wei Xiaobao remembered Chen Jinnan told him that this Madame Dong favored her grandson Keshuang and that she repeatedly wanted to set him up as the heir apparent. He could not stop his anger from flaring up, “That old wh0re,” he cursed, “What did that woman know about military matter? His granny, important things in the world fail in this kind of old wh0re’s hands. If a soldier violating martial law was not beheaded, everybody would violate martial law; how can you lead troops to war that way? This old wh0re is thoroughly muddleheaded, she only knows how to favor ‘little white face’ [i.e. pretty boy].”

Shi Lang had never expected that when he heard about this matter, Wei Xiaobao would be that angry; immediately feeling of friendship arose in Shi Lang’s heart. Slapping his thigh, he said, “Nothing can be truer than what Wei Daren has just said. You are also accustomed to leading the troops, you know martial law is as rigid as the mountain. Subduing the enemy and scoring a victory all depend on strict commands.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You don’t have to pay attention to that old wh0re; just grab that low-rank soldier or high-rank soldier, ‘ka-cha’, one saber and it is done.”

Shi Lang said, “Lowly officer’s thought at that time was exactly the same as Wei Daren’s. I said to the person sent by Madame Dong that the one surnamed Shi was Guoxing Ye’s subordinate, I only accept Guoxing Ye’s military order. My meaning was that I was not Madame Dong’s subordinate, hence I was not obligated to accept Madame Dong’s order.”

“Absolutely right,” Wei Xiaobao was fuming, “Whoever wanted to be the old wh0re’s subordinate must be a big pustule.”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao repeatedly cursing Madame Dong as the old wh0re, Songgotu and Shi Lang were amused; but how could they know that Wei Xiaobao had a different, selfish reason?

Shi Lang said, “That old … that Madame Dong was angry at lowly officer’s reply, unexpectedly she made that low-rank soldier a Mansion’s personal guard, and also sent words to me, saying that if I had the ability, to capture and kill that low-rank soldier myself. Momentarily lowly officer could not endure that kind of words, I personally went to grab that low-rank soldier, and with one chop I separate his head from his body.”

Wei Xiaobao clapped and praised him greatly, “Kill him well, kill him swell, kill him neatly, send him packing to hell, to the satisfaction of everyone.”

“After lowly officer killed that low-rank soldier,” Shi Lang continued, “I realized I had run into a disaster, hence I thought I would go to Zheng Chenggong to apologize. I thought I had rendered great merit, a troop under my command violated martial law, killing him was not wrong at all. But Zheng Chenggong was listening to the Madame’s words, he said I had offended my superior and was insufficiently respectful to her, so he put me in custody. I thought Guoxing Ye was a hero and a broadminded man, momentarily he was upset and had me locked up several days, so I did not mind much. Who would have thought that after quite a long time, my father and my younger brother, as well as my wife and children, were all arrested and put in prison. It was then that I knew this matter was far from good, Zheng Chenggong wanted to chop my head. Taking advantage when the man in charge of me was being negligence, I escaped. Not too long afterwards, I received the news that Zheng Chenggong had executed my whole family that not even one survived.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and heaved a deep sigh; he repeatedly stated, “It’s all because that old wh0re Madame Dong was not good.”

Gnashing his teeth, Shi Lang said, “My enmity with the Zheng Family is as deep as the ocean. It’s a pity that Zheng Chenggong had already died, it’s hard for me to avenge my enmity. Lowly officer has sworn a heavy oath, there will be a day I will kill the Zheng Family, each and every one of them, I will wipe them clean.”

Wei Xiaobao was already aware that Zheng Chenggong was an overseas king, a big hero, but hearing that Shi Lang wanted to kill the entire Zheng Clan, which naturally included his big rival Zheng Keshuang, he felt Shi Lang and he were like-minded. Nodding his head repeatedly, he said, “You should kill them, you should kill them! If you do not avenge this enmity, you are not a hero or a warrior.”

Ever since Shi Lang was summoned by Kangxi to Beijing, he only saw the Emperor one time, and then he was lying idle in Beijing. His official position was Fujian’s Naval Tidu, his nobility title was still ‘Jinghai Jiangjun’ [the general who pacify the ocean], but in Beijing he received his soldier’s pay in vain, because he did not hold any authority; in fact, compared to a lowly officer of Shun Tian[13] yamen, his power was still inferior. To an aggressive and grand man like him, naturally being confined in the city with an anxious heart, he was like an ant in a hot pot.

For the last three years, every few days he would go to the Ministry of War to beat around the bush. He gave present excessively, and had spent considerable amount of money; the savings that he accumulated from his career over the years had actually been thrown away into the bottomless pit of Beijing bureaucracy, but the Emperor no longer granted him any interview. He did not even know when would he receive the imperial edict sending him back to his official post in Fujian. Afterwards, when the Ministry of War yamen heard Shi Lang’s name, they would feel a headache. His personal fund had been depleted, he no longer had money to give gifts, nobody paid him any attention anymore. This time, hearing Wei Xiaobao was in complete agreement with everything he said, he felt that returning to his duty in Fujian was no longer a hopeless desire, his face was full of excitement.

“General Shi,” Songgotu said, “Zheng Chenggong killed your entire family, he really should not do that. However, you are also reaping a profit from this disaster: you renounced the dark and sought the light. If this matter did not happen, I am afraid by this time you would still be in Taiwan defying your king and master, committing those treason and heresy.”

“Suo Daren is right,” Shi Lang said.

“Zheng Chenggong killed your entire family, and then in rage, you surrendered to the Great Qing?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Yes,” Shi Lang replied, “The Late Emperor’s benevolence was as heavy as the mountain; when lowly officer surrendered, the Late Emperor sent me to Fujian on a mission. Lowly officer was grateful and seeking to repay the kindness, I dashed on bravely with no thought of personal safety, and set up some minor merits, hence I was promoted to be the Fujiang [deputy general] of Tong’an [district of Xiamen city], Fujian. As it turns out, Zheng Chenggong led his troops to attack, lowly officer staked everything I had against him, relying on the Late Emperor’s flood of good fortune, I seized total victory. By his great benevolence, the Late Emperor promoted me to be Tong’an’s Zongbing [regional commander]. Later on I captured Xiamen, Jinmen and Wuyu; and then in alliance with the red-haired troops, riding large sailing ship and using foreign firearms and ocean cannon, we beat Zheng Chenggong out to the sea. The Late Emperor promoted lowly officer to be the Fujian Naval Tidu, and bestowed the title ‘Jinghai Jiangjun’. Actually, lowly officer did not have even half a part of contribution; one, I was a dog, enjoying great part of Qing Emperor’s good fortune, two, I received appropriate instruction from various Daren of the Imperial Court.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and said, “You were formerly in Zheng Chenggong’s army, and you have won several tough battles with him in Fujian, naturally you are also very familiar with the situation in Taiwan. His Majesty summoned you here to discuss the strategy to attack Taiwan, what did you tell him?”

Shi Lang said, “Lowly officer submitted a report to His Majesty: Taiwan is sitting alone in the ocean, it is easy to guard, hard to attack. The officers and soldiers of Taiwan are crack troops who have followed Zheng Chenggong in hundreds of battle in the past. If we want to attack Taiwan, our officers and men must be united under one command, there must not be any pulling or elbowing inside, people who act as they see fit; only then we will achieve success.”

“Are you saying that you want to take charge in this important task and to let you one man have the authority to boss people around?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Lowly officer does not dare to have such arrogance,” Shi Lang replied, “But attacking Taiwan must be done when it is the least expected, attack when they are not prepared. The Capital and Fujian are several thousand li apart, when the good opportunity to attack Taiwan arises, and we have to submit a memorial to the throne to ask for instruction, by the time the imperial court makes decision, perhaps the good opportunity will be lost. Taiwan’s various generals and officers are not a big deal; there is one Chen Yonghua who is full of stratagems, and then there is one Liu Guoxuan who is brave and good at fighting. In all honesty, these two are greatly formidable opponent. If we send the troops in haste, victory will be hard to grasp.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, “That is true. His Majesty is extremely brilliant, he would not blame you as saying wrong things. What else did you tell him?”

Shi Lang said, “His Majesty also inquired about the strategy to attack Taiwan. In response to the imperial inquiry, lowly officer reported: Although Taiwan’s troops are exquisite, when all is said and done, their number is small. When the Great Qing attacks Taiwan, we should attack one problem from two angles at the same time [orig. ‘painting using two brushes’]. The first step is to use spies, we scheme to set the people inside to be at odds with each other. It would be best if we could disseminate rumors, saying that Chen Yonghua is harboring the desire to abandon his master and be independent, that he and Liu Guoxuan, two people, are plotting to seize the throne. As soon as Zheng Jing is suspicious, there is a good chance that he would kill Chen and Liu, two people. Even if he did not kill them, he would not put them in important position, he would strip them of any authority. Chen and Liu, two people, one an important figure the other a general, they are indeed Taiwan’s two pillars. If we can deal with both, that is certainly the best. But if we can only get rid of one of them, one of them working alone, a single log cannot support a large building.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly shocked, “Damn it,” he mused, “You want to harm my Shifu.” He asked, “Isn’t there a certain ‘One Sword Without Blood’, Feng Xifan?”

Shi Lang was greatly surprised, “Unexpectedly Wei Daren also know about Feng Xifan.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I heard His Majesty mentioned it when we were chatting. His Majesty is very clear about Taiwan’s inside story! His Majesty said, ‘Madame Dong is fond of her ‘little white face’ grandson Zheng Keshuang, she does not like the heir apparent Zheng Keshang; she wants her son to change the heir apparent, but Zheng Jing is unwilling. Is there really such thing?”

Shi Lang was startled, but was also full of admiration, “The Holy Son of Heaven is intelligent and wise, indeed a rarity since the dawn of time. He resides deep in the Palace, but can see clearly ten thousand li away. His Majesty’s words are not the least bit incorrect.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You said that there are two ways to attack Taiwan; one is using scheme to kill Chen Yonghua and Liu Guoxuan, what is the other one?”

Shi Lang said, “The other is to attack using naval force. Attacking only in one direction won’t be easy to succeed, we must attack it from three directions at once. From the north attack Jilong Gang [lit. chicken coop port], in the middle attack Taiwan’s government seat, from the south attack Dagou Gang [lit. beating a dog port; my dictionary says ‘old name for Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan’]. As long as one direction succeed, the landing will definitely plant our feet in Taiwan, the people’s heart will be thrown into confusion, it will be a clean sweep.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Leading naval forces, fighting naval battle, you are the expert.”

Shi Lang said, “In all my life lowly officer has been in the navy, I am well acquainted with naval warfare.”

Wei Xiaobao had a brainwave; he pondered, “This man wants to kill the entire family of surname Zheng, hence he will get rid of that kid Zheng Keshuang; that won’t be so bad. However, Zheng Chenggong was a great hero, killing his entire family cannot be justified. Much less attacking Taiwan means bringing harm to my Shifu; that won’t be good at all. This man is an expert in naval battle, by sending him on this mission, I will kill two birds with one stone.”

Turning toward Songgotu he asked, “Dage, what do you think we must do?”

Songgotu said, “His Majesty is wise, he stands tall and sees far, his reckoning will not fail. As his servants, all we need to do is just listen to his instruction, and that’s that.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “What a crafty fellow you are; you are unwilling to take any responsibility.” He picked up the teacup with both hands. The servant waiting on them loudly announced, “See the visitor out!”

Shi Lang stood up, saluted, and took his leave. Songgotu stayed for a short chat, and then he also took his leave.

Wei Xiaobao went to the Palace to see the Emperor, he reported Shi Lang’s wish to attack Taiwan. Kangxi said, “Eliminate threats from three borders first, then pacify Taiwan; this is the basic order of priority. This man Shi Lang indeed has talent, but I am afraid after I let him go back to Fujian, this man will become impatient to render merit and take revenge, he would act blindly without thinking, and then Taiwan would be alerted instead; therefore, all along I keep him in Beijing.”

Wei Xiaobao was immediately enlightened. “Right, right,” he said, “As soon as Shi Lang reached Fujian, he would want to build battleships and recruit the troops, he would beat the grass to scare the snake. While if we want to attack Taiwan, it has to be ‘the gods did not know, the ghost did not realize’; everybody has to think that we are not attacking, and then we suddenly attack, so that the kid surnamed Zheng will be thrown into confusion.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “That should be the way to move the troops. Besides, dispatching a general is not as good as stimulating a general; I keep Shi Lang in Beijing, so that his strength won’t be used, he will be bored half-dead. By the time I send him out, he will do everything he can to follow my order, and will not dare to goof off.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This strategy of Your Majesty’s, even Zhuge Liang cannot surpass. Your servant has seen the play ‘Ding Jun Shan’ [lit. Fixing-the-army Mountain], Zhuge Liang stimulated Huang Zhong[14] that he staked everything and fought ruthlessly, and thus with one saber he chopped that ‘chunxiaqiudong’ [spring, summer, autumn, winter – the four season] painted-face.”

Kangxi smiled, “Xia Houyuan,” he said.

“Right, right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty’s memory is really good, you watched the play, and remember that big painted-face’s name.”

Kangxi laughed. “That big painted-face’s name is actually written in the book,” he said, “What did Shi Lang give you?”

Wei Xiaobao was surprised. “Your Majesty knows everything,” he said, “That Shi Lang gave me a jade bowl, but I don’t like it too much.”

“So what’s not good about the jade bowl?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Although the jade bowl is precious, once it fell it breaks. Your servant has worked for Your Majesty, my pair of hands are holding a golden rice bowl [an allegory to ‘secure and lucrative job’], which for a thousand years won’t break when it fell, for ten thousand years won’t rust. That is the big difference.”

Kangxi burst out laughing. Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, your servant suddenly thinks of an idea, would you hear it and tell me if it is possible?”

“What idea?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “That Shi Lang said that he is a naval commander, and is very good at naval warfare …”

Kangxi slapped his left hand on the table. “Good idea, good idea,” he said, “Xiao Guizi, you are very smart. You may take him to Liaodong, send him to attack Shen Long Jiao.”

Wei Xiaobao was very amazed in his heart, he stared at Kangxi for half a day before saying, “Your Majesty must be an immortal descending into the world; your servant had not even said the thought in my mind, Your Majesty already knew.”

Kangxi smiled. “Enough patting the horse’s butt,” he said, “Xiao Guizi, that is a wonderful idea. I was anxious, you are going to attack Shen Long Jiao, I don’t know if you will succeed. This Shi Lang is a talent in naval warfare, I’ll have him going Shen Long Island to practice first, but he must not leak the secret beforehand.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao hastily said.

Kangxi sent for Shi Lang at once. When he arrived, Kangxi said, “Zhen is sending Wei Xiaobao to Changbai Mountain to offer sacrifice to the Heaven. He highly recommends you, saying that you handled matters competently; he wants to take you along. Zhen accepted his words a bit reluctantly, I am not quite convinced yet.”

Wei Xiaobao was amused inwardly. “Zhuge Liang is stimulating the Old Huang Zhong,” he thought.

Shi Lang repeatedly kowtowed; he said, “Your Servant [orig. ‘chen’, a minister referring to self in front of the Emperor] will go with Wei Dutong on this mission, I will definitely display utter loyalty in obeying his order, I will dash on bravely with no thought of personal safety, in order to repay Your Majesty’s as-high-as-the-sky kindness.”

Kangxi said, “This is a test for you. If you succeed, I will send you on different mission in the future.”

Shi Lang was greatly delighted; he kowtowed and said, “Your Majesty’s kindness ascends the sky, it is broad and powerful.”

Kangxi said, “This is a secret mission, other than Wei Xiaobao one person, nobody else in the Imperial Court knew about it. In everything you are to follow Wei Xiaobao’s order. You are dismissed.”

Shi Lang kowtowed. He was about to withdraw, Kangxi suddenly smiled and said, “Wei Dutong treats you well; go, send him a big golden rice bowl.”

Shi Lang complied, in his heart he did not understand a thing, he was unclear of the Emperor’s intention; but seeing ‘the Heaven’s countenance’ was very happy, he believed it must not be a bad thing.

By the time Wei Xiaobao returned to his viscount mansion, he saw Shi Lang was already waiting at the gate, saying a lot of things about gratitude for the promotion. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “General Shi, this time I have no choice but to wrong you: I would like you to be a tiny Canling [Regimental Commander[15]] in my brigade, to protect against outsider knew about this.”

Shi Lang was greatly delighted; he said, “In everything I will follow Dutong Daren’s instruction.” He realized that the lower the official position Wei Xiaobao assigned to him, that means the more Wei Xiaobao considered him as his own people, the more opportunity for him to gain meteoric rise [orig. ‘the divine steed Huang flashes past’] in his career later on. If Wei Xiaobao assigned him to be his personal guard, that would be even better. He also said, “His Majesty instructed lowly officer to make a golden bowl and present it as a gift to Dutong; I wonder which style Dutong Daren likes the most, lowly officer will send for some master artisan to manufacture one overnight.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That was His Majesty’s grace; no matter what style, we as the servants will hold the golden bowl with both hands to eat our rice, with our hearts full of gratitude for the vast and mighty benevolence of the Emperor.” Shi Lang repeatedly voiced his agreement.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Laozi originally wanted to escape without a trace, to resign and not have anything to do with government anymore. And now I found you, this scapegoat, it would be best if you fight desperately with Hong Jiaozhu that both of you perish together; then you two brothers’ long lives will be the same as the bugs.”

After Shi Lang left, Wei Xiaobao summoned Li Lishi, Feng Jizhong, Xu Tianchuan, Priest Xuanzhen, and the other Tian Di Hui brothers; he told them what had happened in details. Li Lishi said, “This thief surnamed Shi rebelled against Guoxing Ye, and he wants to attack Taiwan and frame Zongduozhu; it’s by the Heaven’s providence that he came across Wei Xiangzhu. What should we do to manipulate him?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shen Long Jiao colludes with Wu Sangui and Luocha Country, presently the Emperor is sending me leading Shi Lang to destroy Shen Long Jiao. Let’s let this surnamed Shi fight with Shen Long Jiao until the sky turns dark and the earth black, until both sides suffer, and then we’ll come to pick the fish out of the net.” Everybody approved this plan in one voice.

Wei Xiaobao said, “This surnamed Shi is astute and competent, I need to rely on him to strike Shen Long Island, so we cannot kill him yet. All Gege must be careful, don’t let him see through our secret.”

Gao Yanchao said, “We will dress as Valiant Cavalry Brigade Tatars; ordinarily we won’t see him too much. Even if we do, he won’t dare to offend the Tatars.”

By the afternoon of the next day, Shi Lang came to the viscount mansion asking for an audience, carrying a brocade box with both hands. Wei Xiaobao opened the brocade box, and sure enough, he saw a big golden rice bowl, weighed at least six or seven taels[16]. Shi Lang said, “Lowly officer should make it a bit bigger, but I am afraid … I am afraid it would not be convenient for Dutong Daren to use.”

Wei Xiaobao weighed the golden bowl with his left hand. “It’s heavy enough,” he said with a laugh, “General Shi, what do these many characters say?”

Shi Lang said, “The middle four large characters say, ‘Gong Zhong Ti Guo’ [serving one’s country loyally’. This line of little characters above it says, ‘Personally presented to Internal Imperial Bodyguard Deputy Minister, simultaneously holding Valiant Cavalry Brigade Plain Yellow Banner Dutong position, the wearer of Yellow Magua, Batulu Brave title, First Class Viscount Wei Xiaobao.’ Below, in even smaller characters, are ‘Made by Minister Jinghai Jiangjun Shi Lang on imperial orders.’”

Wei Xiaobao was very happy; he laughed and said, “Thank you very much for this.” He said in his heart, “That’s right, my golden bowl is bestowed by His Majesty; how can you give me any golden rice bowl [i.e. secure and lucrative job]? This Old Shi is actually not a fool?”

Two days later, Kangxi proclaimed the imperial edict, ordering Wei Xiaobao to take the ten ‘Shen Wu Da Pao’ and set out to sea from Dagu[17], passing through Liaodong Bay to the north; first to offer sacrifice at Liaohai [east and south of Liaoning province], and then to land at Liaodong, travel to Changbai Mountain and set off the cannon to offer sacrifice to the Heaven.

Wei Xiaobao accepted the imperial edict; thinking that since this time they were going to attack Divine Dragon Cult, he could not bring Fat Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan along, hence he ordered the two of them to stay in Beijing. He brought Shuang’er and Tian Di Hui brothers, leading the Valiant Cavalry Brigade troops, and set off to Tianjin.

Hundreds of civil and military officials welcomed the Imperial Envoy Minister; some of them were respectful and solemn beyond ordinary, a hundred-percent bootlicking; some of them flattered appropriately, it was just perfect. There was only one bearded military officer with haughty air, when he saluted, it was clear that he was saluting half-heartedly, obviously he did not have any regard toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao was angry, he was about to lash it out immediately when he had a second thought, “His Majesty’s order: this time everything must be kept in strict confidence, must not create too much disturbance and attract unnecessary attention. You look down on me, do you think Laozi will look up to your big beard? Let us, two boys, have a contest, whose official position is higher?” And then another official highly praised him for his heroic deed in killing Oboi with his own hand. Wei Xiaobao was immensely proud of himself, and was no longer bothered with the big beard.

That evening Wei Xiaobao invited Tianjin’s Naval Zongbing [regional commander] to come over, and showed him Kangxi’s secret order. The Naval Zongbing was called Huang Fu. He read the imperial decree ordering him to lead the naval officers and men to board the ships and follow the Imperial Envoy Minister’s direction, in an important clandestine military mission. He received the imperial decree and bowed, saying he was ready to hear the direction. Wei Xiaobao inquired about the strength of the navy: how many sailors they had, how many boats were available, and so on. And then he summoned Shi Lang to join them. He ordered Shi Lang and Huang Fu to discuss the plan to go to sea, while he himself went to the rear barrack and gambled and played Pai Jiu with the soldiers.

They stopped over in Tianjin for three days, the Naval Force Brigade loaded food, fresh water, ammunition, bows and arrows and other stuffs onto the ships. Wei Xiaobao led the Naval Force Brigade, the Valiant Cavalry Brigade, ten big battleships, and thirty-eight second-class battleships, to set sail.

It was not until after they left Dagu and reached the open sea that Wei Xiaobao announced the imperial decree, that their mission this time was to eliminate Divine Dragon Island, that all officers and men must follow the order bravely, and that after their success, there would be promotion and rewards all around. The officers and soldiers saw that their side had overwhelming numerical strength, plus the Imperial Envoy Minister had ten western-style cannon, while their opponent on the Divine Dragon Island was no more than a bunch or pirate who illegally occupied the island. With a series of bombardments from the cannon, the pirates would be struck that none will remain. This time meritorious service and promotion were guaranteed. Immediately they broke out in cheers, their spirit was boosted a hundred times.

Wei Xiaobao rode the main ship. He reminisced about the last time he went to the Divine Dragon Island under Fang Yi’s deception. Although that young woman was crafty, looking back this time, he was greatly charmed by the warmth of their being together for several days on the ocean. He thought, “As soon as we reach the Island, if the cannon fire randomly, most of the Cult members of Shen Long Jiao will die by the explosion first. Once the several thousand officers and soldiers rush ashore, even if Hong Jiaozhu’s martial art skill were higher, he won’t be able to resist the enemy. However, if this happens, perhaps my Xiao Niang Pi [little mother skin] Fang Yi will be blasted to death; that will be very far from good. Even if she did not die, if she lost an arm in the explosion, that will be too bad.”

Originally, he was afraid of Cult Leader Hong, and only wanted to smear oil to the soles of his feet and would feel very lucky if he could escape alive; but now with Shi Lang in charge plus several dozen battleships deployed to the ocean and ten newly-manufactured ‘Shen Wu Da Pao’, this battle would only result in victory and not defeat. If only he could find a way to guarantee Fang Yi’s safety while destroying the Divine Dragon Cult completely, then he would get the best of both worlds. Thereupon he summoned Shi Lang and asked him about the plan of attacking the Island.

Shi Lang opened the file he brought along in his hand; he took out a large map and spread it out on the table. Pointing to a small island on the map, he said, “This is the Shen Long Island.”

Wei Xiaobao noticed that there was a red circle drawn on the island, with three arrows from north, east and south pointing to the red circle. He was full of admiration, saying, “Turns out you have already prepared a plan to attack the Shen Long Island. I only announced the Emperor’s secret order after we left Dagu, how could you have a nautical chart ready?”

Shi Lang replied, “Lowly officer heard that Daren was going to leave Dagu and proceed toward Liaodong by the sea, thereupon I prepared this nautical chart. Lowly officer has always loved to have a career in the ocean, I am accustomed to look at nautical charts.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Apparently in our mission this time we are bound to win a victory on raising the flag, to succeed upon embarking the ships.”

“That is entirely dependent on His Majesty’s sacred virtue and Wei Daren’s prestige,” Shi Lang said, “In Lowly officer’s humble opinion, we must divide our forces into three groups; we’ll launch tree-pronged attack from the north, east and south of the Island, and leave the west side of the Island free of any assault. After the cannon blast, the bandits on the Island won’t be able to withstand, most likely they would run to the west of the Island to escape to sea. Behind this little island about thirty li or so west of the Island, we prepare an ambush of twenty ships. As soon as the bandit escapees arrived, these twenty battleships will appear to cut their escape route, the cannon blast, the battleships from the north, east and south will catch up, and surround the pirate ship in the middle. At that time we can catch everything in one net, not one pirate would be able to escape alive.”

Wei Xiaobao cheered and applauded, repeatedly saying that it was an ingenious plan. Shi Lang said, “I am asking Daren to lead the troops, by setting up a central command and supervise the battle from this nameless island, please do not get on the boat and join the battle. The central command must be as steady as Mount Tai. If there is any slightest damage to the command flagship, the mast is broken by the gale or what have you, inevitably the morale of the troops will be shaken. Lowly officer will lead the battleships to launch the three-pronged attack. Huang Zongbing will lead the ambushing ships to intercept the enemy. Ten little ships will come and go to communicate military intelligence. About how the operation should be executed, Daren may give orders at any time, Lowly officer and Huang Zongbing will follow.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he thought, “This man is actually very perceptive; he knew perfectly well than I am afraid of death, hence he let me assume personal command on this little island more than thirty li away, so that I will be absolutely safe. Even if you are completely wiped out, laozi will still have enough time to go onboard a ship and make a dash out of there. Ingenious plan, ingenious plan.” Thereupon he praised him greatly.

Shi Lang said, “When Lowly officer first heard of Wei Daren’s prestige, I found out that Wei Daren has killed the Manchu’s Number One Warrior Oboi with your own hand, and has snatched the title Manchurian-Han’s Number One Warrior; therefore, you were bestowed the ‘Batulu’ title of bravery, your courage became famous all over the world. Lowly officer is only afraid that in your desire to repay the Heaven’s benevolence, Daren might dash on bravely in battle with no thought of personal safety. Supposing the cannon harm Daren’s one little finger, His Majesty would surely greatly blame Lowly officer. That my whole life career would be ruined is not a big deal, but I would fail to live up to Daren’s kindness by entrusting this heavy responsibility to me, a crime that Lowly officer will not be able to redeem by ten thousand deaths. Therefore, I urgently ask Daren’s to show understanding by taking a good care of your ten-thousand-gold body.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Fighting a battle on a ship is a very interesting experience. I originally wanted to personally lead the attack and capture that Shen Long Jiao’s Jiaozhu. But since you put it that way, I have no choice but to let you do it.”

“Yes, yes,” Shi Lang said, “Daren is showing understanding, Lowly officer is deeply grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You were simmering in Beijing for three years, already you are very proficient in the way of the government officials. Laozi originally wanted to deal with you, but seeing you this well-behaved, I cannot bear to do it. This is the first time I‘ve ever heard the title ‘Manchurian-Han’s Number One Warrior’; only you can fabricate such title.” He said, “There are several hundred young women on Shen Long Island, including several women who escaped from the Palace. His Majesty instructed that they must be captured alive. When attacking the Island, you must be very careful, the cannon cannot be fired randomly. If those several palace maids die in the blast, His Majesty will definitely blame us; even if you render bigger merit, your merit cannot make up for it. This is most important.”

Shi Lang was shocked; he said, “If not for Daren’s warning, Lowly officer nearly rush into a disaster. When we attack the Island, as long as it is a female, we will capture her alive, no one can kill or injure them; we’ll send them all to Daren to be dealt with.”

“So be it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I have seen these several palace maids, as soon as I see them, I would be able to recognize them. But this kind of imperial palace’s matter, um, you know.”

“Yes,” Shi Lang replied, “Daren please set your heart at ease, Lowly officer will guard my mouth like a closed bottle. The matter of the Palace, who dares to speak thoughtlessly and talk randomly?”

The battleship continued their voyage northeasterly, they happened to meet headwind, hence the progress was very slow. One day Shen Long Island was not too far away ahead. Shi Lang pointed to a small island to the port side and said, “That is the place where Dutong Daren will set up your command station. This small island does not have any name, would Daren bestow a name to it?”

Wei Xiaobao scratched his head, “You want me to think of a name is like you want me to deliver my old life,” he said, “Hmm, this time I am the banker, you are my subordinate, the banker’s assistant who opens the corner of the tiles; we are playing Pai Jiu, and we must beat Shen Long Island and sweep it clean. Hence, this small island will be called ‘Tong Chi’ Island[18].”

Shi Lang laughed. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he said, “Wei Daren assumes personal command on Tong Chi Island, indeed it is great luck, great profit; no matter how strong or formidable the enemy is, we will always ‘eat’ them clean. Daren was dealt ‘heaven’ pair first, this is Daren’s own hand. Later you’ll be dealt ‘supreme treasure’, that will be His Majesty’s. With these two sets of card, how can we not sweep the deck (of cards) clean?”

Wei Xiaobao burst out in laughter. “Generals!” he shouted, “Move the troops to Tong Chi Island!” He had seen an actor shouted that order on the stage; now he shouted it out, it was indeed majestic, extremely high-spirited and vigorous.

Dozens of battleships all around followed the flagship of their commander-in-chief, slowly sailed to the Tong Chi Island. Suddenly a sailor in one of the smaller ships shouted. Soon afterwards the small ship came near to report, saying that they saw a body floating on the water. Wei Xiaobao frowned; he thought, “It’s a bad omen for the deployed troops to come across a floating corpse! Could it be that this time I become the banker I must pay all[19]?”

Shi Lang said, “Congratulations Daren on winning a victory on raising the flag; before we even fire the cannon and shoot the arrows, one of the enemy is already dead; this is indeed a greatly lucky omen. Let lowly officer go over to look.” Finished speaking, he jumped onto the small ship.

A moment later, Shi Lang returned to the flagship and said, “Reporting to Dutong Daren: the floating corpse has its hands and feet tied behind its back. Apparently the pirates killed him for his money and pushed him into the ocean.” Just as he spoke, there was another shout from the small ship, saying that they saw two more floating corpse.

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance turned really ugly. This time Shi Lang could not say anything auspicious. He jumped onto the small ship again, and when he returned to the command ship, there was a happy expression across his face. “Reporting to Daren,” he said, “It seems that these three floating corpses came from Shen Long Island.”

“How did you know?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shi Lang said, “The first corpse did not show anything, but the following two corpses are obviously pirates; their bodies look strong, clearly they knew martial art.”

“Could it be that there is an internal strife within the Shen Long Island?” Wei Xiaobao wondered.

Shi Lang said, “The wind is blowing from the Shen Long Island’s direction, most probably these three corpses were blown here by the wind. If there is indeed an internal strife within the enemy’s rank, this time Wei Daren become the banker, you can eat them all as simmer-fried tofu; no need to bite, just swallow them all clean.”

Wei Xiaobao cast his gaze to the distance, but fog was rising from the ocean, the white mist filled the air, he was unable to see Shen Long Island. Suddenly he seemed to see something like a ball bobbing up and down on the surface of the water, the ball gradually floated near. “What is that?” he asked.

Shi Lang focused his gaze. “There is something strange about that thing,” he said. He transmitted an order to the small ship to fish the object up. Following the order, the small ship sailed away to dredge the object up from the water. The officer on the ship shouted loudly, “Another floating corpse. It’s a short and fat guy.”

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved. “Could it be him?” he mused. He said, “Lift it up here, let me look.”

Three sailors heaved the floating corpse onto the flagship, and lay it down on the deck. This floating corpse’s hands and feet were also bound with leather rope. As soon as Wei Xiaobao saw it, sure enough, it was Thin Toutuo. He was already very fat, and by this time he had drunk a lot of water, his belly was bloated up, just like a fully blown leather ball. He saw sea water gurgling out from his mouth, after a while, his fat tummy started to rise and fall, he started to breathe. The soldiers called out, “The floating corpse came back to live!”

Shi Lang raised Thin Toutuo and propped his lower back on the chain block at the bow of the ship. With head hanging down, the stream of seawater from his mouth flowed faster. After a while, Thin Toutuo jerked up and cursed, “Your granny!” But then he dropped down again, sitting on the bow. The soldiers were scared, but then they roared in laughter.

Thin Toutuo struggled, but the leather rope was wet with seawater, it became even more tough and pliable, how could he break it? He shook his head with a bewildered look on his eyes “Damn it,” he said, “Is this the Dragon Palace[20], or the underworld?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “This is the Dragon Palace, and I am Hai Long Wang [sea dragon king].” The officers and soldiers roared in laughter again.

Thin Toutuo opened wide his pair of slit eyes, and stared hard at Wei Xiaobao. “You … you … why are you here?” he said.

For fear that he might reveal his secret, Wei Xiaobao said, “This man is a freak, perhaps he knows the inside information on Shen Long Island. Quickly take him to my cabin, let me interrogate him.” Two personal guards brought Thin Toutuo into Wei Xiaobao’s cabin. “Wait outside,” Wei Xiaobao ordered them, “If you do not hear my call, don’t come in.”

After the personal guards closed the cabin’s door, Wei Xiaobao asked, “Thin Toutuo, your martial art skill is very high, how could you get tied and thrown into the ocean?”

Thin Toutuo said, “Laozi is not the number one martial artist under the heavens, why can’t I get tied and thrown into the ocean?”

Wei Xiaobao was taken aback. “Ah, you are unable to defeat Jiaozhu,” he said with a laugh.

Thin Toutuo said, “What’s so funny about that? And who can possibly defeat Jiaozhu?”

“How did you offend Jiaozhu?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Who dares to offend Jiaozhu, the Senior?” Thin Toutuo said, “Madame said that Mao Dongzhu did not do her best in her mission in the Palace, she deceived Jiaozhu, therefore, she was to be sent into the Divine Dragon Cave to be fed to the dragons. I … I … I …” Speaking to this point, his eyes were bulging, his teeth clenched, the expression on his face showed that he was extremely outraged.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly understood; that night at the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful the fake Empress Dowager, the old wh0re told his Shifu Jiu Nan that she was the daughter of a great general of the Ming Dynasty by the name of Mao something Long, her real name was Mao Dongzhu. He laughed and said, “In the Palace you slept with Mao Dongzhu under the same quilt; that was extremely fun!”

Thin Toutuo looked very pleased with himself. “Isn’t that so?” he said.

“I have saved your life, haven’t I?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“Just consider it yes,” Thin Toutuo said.

“What do you mean just consider it or not consider it yes?” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you want to say that I did not save your life, isn’t that also very easy?”

“What do you mean very easy?” Thin Toutuo asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I’ll simply push you back into the ocean, then you can consider that I did not save your life; that’s it.”

“That won’t do, that won’t do!” Thin Toutuo yelled, “You drown me, it’s not a big deal, but my Dongzhu Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment] won’t stay alive.”

“Whether she will stay alive or not, in any case you are dead,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“That won’t do, that won’t do!” Thin Toutuo yelled.

“If I let you go,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “What are you going to do?”

“Then I will thank you very much,” Thin Toutuo replied, “But I still have to return to Shen Long Island to save my Dongzhu Meizi.”

Wei Xiaobao raised his thumb and praised him, “You have both the passion and the righteousness!” while thinking in his heart, “His Majesty wanted me to capture the old wh0re, I was just worried that I could not find her, now I am certain I will find the old wh0re from this fat and short fellow. But this man’s martial art skill is superior; if I let him go, it will be like ‘releasing the tiger is easy, catching the tiger is difficult’. Can’t say for sure, perhaps with an ‘Ahoy’, he will bite me instead.”

Thin Toutuo said, “Luckily there is fighting on Shen Long Island that the sky and earth are turning upside down; it will be a lot more convenient to save someone.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard it, his heart was shaken. “How can there be fighting on Shen Long Island that the sky and earth are turning upside down?” he busily asked.

Thin Toutuo said, “The Five Dragon Gates, you hit me, I strike you, they have been fighting for more than ten days. Whoever got caught by the other party would be immediately bound hands and feet and thrown into the sea to feed the Dragon King.”

“Why are they fighting?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Thin Toutuo leaned his fat head sideways, he cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Dongzhu Meizi said that you are our Cult’s White Dragon Envoy, wielding the Five Dragon Command; how can you not know?”

“I received Jiaozhu’s order to go to the Central Plains on a mission,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Hence I am not clear of what’s been happening on the Island.”

Thin Toutuo suddenly cried out some strange noises. Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright and withdrew two steps back. The four personal guards outside the door heard the strange noise. Afraid that this fat and short man might injure their Commander, with sabers in their hands they burst into the room. Ony after seeing the fat and short man was still bound hands and feet and was sitting nicely on the floor did they feel relieve. Wei Xiaobao waved his hand and said, “You may get out, I am all right.” The personal guards withdrew from the room.

Wei Xiaobao asked, “Why did you let out those strange noises?”

“That’s bad!” Thin Toutuo said, “You are Jiaozhu and Madame’s trusted aide, but I’ve told you everything.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It’s not that bad. You can just consider that I have not saved you, that you are still floating around on the ocean, ‘glug, glug’, drinking the seawater to your heart’s content.”

“His granny,” Thin Toutuo said, “That saltwater really does not taste good.”

“If you don’t want to drink saltwater,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Then tell me truthfully, why did the Five Dragon Gates fight each other?”

“By the time Dongzhu Meizi and I returned to Shen Long Island, they have already been fighting for a few days,” Thin Toutuo said, “When I asked someone, I was told that the Blue Dragon Envoy Xu Xueting was suddenly murdered one night. There was one bloody saber on the floor. After some investigation, turned out this bloody saber belonged to the Scarlet Dragon Envoy Priest Wugen’s first disciple, He Sheng.”

Hearing that Xu Xueting was murdered, Wei Xiaobao was slightly startled. He immediately thought, “Most likely Hong Jiaozhu sent someone to kill him.”

He heard Thin Toutuo continued, “Jiaozhu was greatly furious; he asked He Sheng why he plotted against the Blue Dragon Envoy. He Sheng adamantly denied, saying that he did not kill the Blue Dragon Envoy. Afterwards the Blue Dragon Gate’s members avenged their Zhangmen Shi [sect leader envoy, see also Note 1 of Chapter 20] and killed He Sheng. And thus the Scarlet Dragon Gate and Blue Dragon Gate are fighting each other.”

“But that is the Scarlet Dragon and Blue Dragon, two Gates’ business,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why did you say the Five Dragon Gates are fighting each other silly?”

“I don’t know why,” Thin Toutuo said, “But Black Dragon Gate helped the Blue Dragon Gate, Yellow Dragon Gate helped Scarlet Dragon Gate; you kill me, I kill you, they have been fighting to their hearts’ delight.”

“What about my White Dragon Gate?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Thin Toutuo stared at him; he said, “You are the White Dragon Envoy; how come you did not know your own Gate’s business?”

“I have told you,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I was not on the Island; naturally I did not know.”

“Your Gate is divided into two factions,” Thin Toutuo said, “Older brothers became one faction, helping Blue Dragon Gate; the younger disciples are the other faction, helping the Scarlet Dragon Gate.”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows. “The Five Dragon Gates are beating each other, could it be that Jiaozhu does not pay any attention?” he asked.

Thin Toutuo said, “Everybody is rising on their own, Jiaozhu is unable to suppress it.”

Right this moment, suddenly they felt that the ship had stopped; they heard the sailors yelled, the chain rattled, dropping the anchor into the sea. They had arrived at the Tong Chi Island.

Wei Xiaobao stepped out to the bow. He saw lush vegetation on the island, rolling hills all around; it was indeed a very good place. Turning to Shi Lang he said, “There are snakes everywhere on the island, you need to send people to scout first whether there are snakes on Tong Chi Island or not.”

Shi Lang complied and transmitted the order. Immediately ten small boats were rowed onto the island. The sailors went ashore and entered the woods to look for snakes. Not too long afterwards they lighted a torch to signal that the island was peaceful and nothing to worry about, there was no footprint, and there were no poisonous snakes.

The vanguard landed first, and put up army tents. One large command banner, embroidered with a large graceful character ‘Wei’, was raised in front of the tents. Wei Xiaobao then disembarked; with Shi Lang and Huang Zongbing walking on his left and right he stepped down onto Tong Chi Island. Bugle horns and firecrackers sounded, the troops bowed to salute. With head held high Wei Xiaobao entered the army camp and took his seat. He ordered his personal guard to imprison Thin Toutuo at the back of the tent, and to give him some wine and meat for him to eat, but not to loosen the leather rope binding his hands and feet; instead, he added several links of iron chain to bind him before Wei Xiaobao felt completely safe.

Following which, he issued an order to have Shi Lang leading thirty battleships and attack the Shen Long Island from the east, north and south, three directions; he also ordered Regional Commander Huang to lead the rest of the battleships hiding on the west side of the Tong Chi Island. As soon as they hear Shi Lang’s cannon signal, they were to appear and cut the enemy’s escape route. Which battleship would sail in the front, which battleship would provide support, how to launch the assault, how to make flank attack. All assignments were laid out clearly and in orderly manner, the directives were very detailed.

Regional Commander Huang, as well as the deputy generals and the regimental commanders of the Navy, the garrison commanders, the Valiant Cavalry Brigade’s regimental commanders, the company commanders, and the others military officers, high and low, all gasped in admiration to see that although their Dutong Daren was young, he was surprisingly very well versed in naval warfare; his tactic was exquisite, his commands were appropriate. They did not know that it all came from Shi Lang’s scheming, this Dutong Daren was no more than an actor in front of the stage, singing a shuanghuang[21].

That evening the troops stuffed themselves with eve-of-battle dinner. When the night fell, one by one the battleships sailed out. The three-pronged attack was scheduled at dawn, at the maoshi hour [between 5-7 am].

The next day at dawn, Wei Xiaobao climbed onto the observation tower the sergeants erected in haste. He looked eastwards, and heard the distant sound of artillery, saw faint flash of sparks, and gusts of thick smoke rising up from the surface of the ocean. He knew that Shi Lang had already started the assault, and could not help but was anxious over Fang Yi’s safety. However, thinking that Shi Lang would handle this matter discretely, plus he himself had repeatedly warned Shi Lang not to harm the women on the Island, he presumed Shi Lang would definitely be particularly careful.

After standing on the observation tower for a while, his feet were aching. He returned to the command tent and asked for six dice. He mused, “If we seize total victory this time, let me throw a hall full of red[22].” But when he threw the dice, unexpectedly all were blacks, not even one red dot turned up.

“Damn it,” he cursed, “You are messing up with me!” Employing his cheating technique, he held the dice in such a way that all three-dots are facing up, and then using a bit of strength in his hand he rolled the dice. This time, as expected, there were five dice showing reds, all four-dots. There was only one showing blacks, a five-dot. He was fully aware than he cheated, hence it could not be considered as a good throw; yet he was quite happy.

Shuang’er came with a bowl of tea for him. “Xianggong,” she said, “Don’t be anxious, this time we will definitely have a greatly successful battle.”

“How do you know?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Shuang’er said, “We have fired the cannon many times, how can the enemy withstand it?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Come, Shuang’er, throw the dice with me. If you win, I’ll give the control to you. If I win, this can be considered great success.”

Shuang’er blushed; she hastily said, “No, I won’t come, I won’t come.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Let’s gamble for money then,” he said, “If I win, you pay me one qian [one-tenth of a tael]. If you win, I will pay you one tael of silver. Won’t you say this way you’ll have nothing to lose?”

Shuang’er laughed and said, “I have no money to lose to you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You want money? That’s not easy.” But he took out some banknotes from his pocket and gave them to her.

Shuang’er laughed and said, “I have no use of money.”

“Ay,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You have no gambling nature. I’d better release that fat and short man and have him gamble with me.”

Speaking to this point, suddenly they heard repeated cannon shots. Wei Xiaobao sprang up to embrace Shuang’er. “Great success,” he said, “You deserve a kiss.”

Shuang’er hastily laughed and lowered her head. Wei Xiaobao planted a couple of kiss on the back of her neck. “Your neck is really white!” he said.

They heard the ‘toot, toot’ of bugle horn, he rushed out of the command tent and climbed up the observation tower. He saw in the distant three columns of flame rose up from Shen Long Island, went up straight to the sky, while the whole island was blanketed in black smoke; presumably the explosion had turned Shen Long Island into a piece of scorched earth. He also saw one by one the battleships were sailing eastwards; he thought, “This fellow Shi Lang calculates like a half smelly cobbler, his ‘prophecy with supernatural accuracy’ is not worth mentioning, his ‘predicting future matter like a ghost’ is only so-so.”

The battleships went back and forth on the ocean very slowly, he had been standing on the observation tower for half a day, yet did not see any ships from Shen Long Island escaping his way, let alone seeing Shi Lang and Regional Commander Huang’s converging attack from east and west; thereupon he returned to the command tent to take a rest.

After waiting for more than four hours, his personal guard came to report that he had just seen fireworks signal, two groups of battleships were reporting their success to Dutong Daren. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he thought, “Laozi sits quietly in the command tent, my eyes see victory report arrives, my ears hear good news. In this battle victory comes as easy as blowing off dust. I just hope that Fang Yi, that ‘little mother skin’, won’t have even a strand of her hair scorched by the cannon.”

[1] Orig. ‘Jiao’ – a legendary dragon with the ability to control rain and floods.

[2] This book note does not exist in the book (3rd edition), but it does in the online text (2nd edition).

[3] My dictionary did not give me any names, but Yahoo! Babelfish returned ‘Ferdinand Verbiest’. Wikipedia has an article on him.

[4] Johann Adam Schall von Bell,

[5] Regnal name of the 15th Ming Emperor, Zhu Youxiao (1605-1627), reigned 1620-1627. Zhu Youxiao (or Youjiao?) also appeared in Liang Yusheng’s White Haired Demoness (See WHD, translated by Faerie Queene and yours truly).

[6] Yang Guangxian, (Courtesy of Smurf120)

[7] In Chinese, ten to nineteen start with the character ‘ten’, shi, shi yi, shi er (ten, eleven, twelve), and so on. Hence Shuang’er birthday could be anywhere between ten and nineteen.

[8] Orig. ‘shengshang’ [lit. ‘the saint’], courtier’s or minister’s form of address for the current Emperor.

[9] Orig. ‘wan shui’ – ten thousand years.

[10] Northeast China/Manchuria. Lit. ‘east of the Pass’ (Shanhai Pass).

[11] Jing – quiet/peaceful/to make tranquil/to pacify, Hai – ocean/sea.

[12] Lit. old younger brother, an affectionate form of address to a much younger man.

[13] Shuntian (lit. ‘obey-the-heaven’) is an another name for Beijing.

[14] A general of Shu in Romance of the Three Kingdons, portrayed as an old fighter.

[15] FYI, Wei Xiaobao was a Dutong [commander], under him was Fu Dutong [deputy commander]; and then Canling. Hence he made Shi Lang two ranks below him.

[16] 1 tael = 1/16 catty, approximately equal to modern 50 grams.

[17] Da – great, Gu – abbreviation for Tianjin (also called Jin Gu).

[18] Lit. ‘eat all’, in the context of playing cards: ‘sweeping the (card) deck clean’.

[19] Orig. ‘tong pei’, again, in the context of playing cards: ‘lost to everybody’.

[20] According to Chinese legend, the Dragon Palace is where the Dragon King resides, at the bottom of the Eastern Sea.

[21] A form of theatrical double act, popular since Qing dynasty, with one player seated stage front and acted out the poem or song of the second player hidden backstage.

[22] Hall full of red (Man tan hong) – success across the board, victory in everything one touches.

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