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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 38

Chapter 38
Criss-crossing the field a herd of horses flew across the road, domineering kite streaks across the sky.

All smiles Wei Xiaobao returned to the main hall, he saw Wu Yingxiong was chatting with the four generals. Zhao Liangdong and Wang Jinbao were involved in some heated argument on the side; both men were flushed with anger, they talked with raised voice. When they saw Wei Xiaobao, they both stopped. Wei Xiaobao laughed and asked, “What are the two of you arguing about? Can you tell it to me?”

Zhang Yong replied, “We are talking about horses. Wang Fujiang [deputy general] has an original insight in horses, the horses that he picked were always good colts. Just now everybody was talking about the beast of burden, Wang Fujiang praised Yunnan horses as very good. Zhao Zongbing [regional commander] did not believe him, he says that Sichuan horses, Yunnan horses have short legs, they can’t run fast. But Wang Fujiang says that Sichuan horses, Yunnan horses have enduring power, within ten li, they are not any better than other horses, but after running for twenty, thirty li, the more they run, the more they have vigor.”

“Is that so?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Xiongdi has several mounts, would Wang Fujiang please take a look?” He ordered his personal guard to go back to his mansion to fetch several good horses from the stable and bring them here.

Wu Yingxiong said, “Wei Dutong’s mount was given by Prince Kang, a famous Ferghana [orig. Dayuan, Central Asia] colt, called Yu Hua Cong [Jade Flower Buckskin Horse]; how can our Yunnan horses match this horse?”

Wang Jinbao said, “Wei Daren’s horse is naturally a very good horse. Dayuan produces good horses, lowly officer has heard about it. When lowly officer was in Gansu and Shaanxi, I have ridden many famous Ferghana colts. In short distance sprint, they can run very fast, no other horses can compare to them.”

“How about long distance race?” Zhao Liangdong asked, “Are you saying that Ferghana horse cannot beat Yunnan horse?

“Originally, Yunnan horse are not good at all,” Wang Jinbao replied, “But after surviving hardship and hard work, they have enduring strength. These past few years lowly officer has raised horses in northern Yunnan, I mated Sichuan horses with Yunnan horses, and contrary to expectation, the new species is not bad.”

Laoxiong,” Zhao Liangdong said, “You are an amateur. Horses must be purebred; the more pure they are bred, the better the result. I have never heard mixed stallions are better than the purebred.”

Wang Jinbao’s face was bulging red, “Zhao Zongbing,” he said, “I am not saying that all mixed-bred horse are good. There are different uses of horse; some are use to break through enemy lines, some are use to pull heavy military load. Even battle horses are greatly different from each other, some are hundred-li horses, some are thousand-li horses, some are long distance horse, some short distance; they are completely different.”

“Humph,” Zhao Liangdong said, “Surprisingly some people think mixed breed are better.”

Wang Jinbao was furious; he suddenly stood up and shouted, “Who are you calling mixed breed? What a foul-mouthed remark!”

Zhao Liangdong laughed coldly and said, “I was talking about horses, I am not talking about you. Whose breed is not pure, is a thief lacking in conscience; there is no need to get angry without any reason.”

Wang Jinbao was even more furious. “This is the Prince Consort Mansion,” he said, “Otherwise, humph, humph!”

“Humph, humph what?” Zhao Liangdong replied, “You want to fight with me?”

Zhang Yong intervened, “Gentlemen, you have just met each other for the first time; why would you fight over beast of burden? Come, come, come, let me toast both of you a cup, everybody must not fight.” He was a Tidu, his official rank was higher than Zhao Liangdong and Wang Jinbao. The two of them did not dare not to give him some face, they did not have any choice but to drink the wine.

The two of them ‘I stare at you, you stare at me’; if not for the fact that their superiors were present, these two men with fiery temper would definitely fight on the spot.

Shortly after, Wei Xiaobao’s personal guards returned from his mansion, with the stable hand led the horses. Everybody went to the stable at the back of the mansion to look at the horses. Wang Jinbao indeed understood horses, with just a quick look he was able to tell good aspects and weak points of each horse; he was even able to guess each horse’s nature and temperament with about seventy, eighty percent accuracy. The Wei Mansion’s stable hands were very impressed; they all praised Deputy General Wang’s keen insight.

Finally they looked at Wei Xiaobao’s mount, the Jade Flower Buckskin. This horse’s legs were long and fat, it’s appearance was like divine steed, its entire body was snow white with rouge spots everywhere, its coat was smooth and shiny, in short, it was a beautiful horse; everybody cheered incessantly. Wang Jinbao, however, showed neither approval nor disapproval. After looking for a long time, he said, “This horse’s intrinsic quality is superb, it’s a pity that it was raised incorrectly.”

“How was it raised incorrectly?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Please advise.”

Wang Jinbao said, “Wei Daren’s horse can be counted as a very good colt that is seldom found in the world. This kind of good horse has to be sprinted a dozen li or so, and let it canter several dozen of li every day; the more it is tempered the better. However, Wei Daren treasured it too much, he was unwilling to ride it too much. This beast has passed too many of comfortable days, eaten too much of good refined grain, it is seldom ridden for more than two trips a year. Ay, what a pity, what a pity; just like the children of rich and noble families, it is too spoiled.”

When Wu Yingxiong heard this, his countenance changed slightly; he uttered a soft ‘humph’. Wei Xiaobao noticed that, and knew that Wang Jinbao’s last few sentences had offended Wu Yingxiong. He thought, “There is no harm in my seizing this chance to sow dissension, let them, Yunnan’s commanders, not get along well with each other.” Thereupon he said, “I am afraid Wang Fujiang is only half right; children on rich and noble families can also have enormous skill. Take Prince Consort for example, he is your Wangye’s Heir Apparent, since childhood he holds golden bowl to eat rice, and jade bowl to drink his soup, yet he is not the least bit spoiled.”

With a bulging red face Wang Jinbao busily said, “Yes, yes. Wangye’s Heir Apparent is naturally not the same. Lowly officer was not talking about Prince Consort.”

With a cold laugh Zhao Liangdong said, “In your heart, I am afraid there is no difference.”

“Zhao Zongbing,” Wang Jinbao angrily said, “Why do you always make life difficult for Xiongdi? Xiongdi did not offend you at all.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Alright, don’t harm the friendship over a small matter. As military officers, some people often look down on young high-ranking minister of the imperial court; I have seen it.”

Wang Jinbao said, “Reporting to Dutong Daren: lowly officer does not dare to look down on you.”

“But you look down on the Prince Consort,” Zhao Liangdong said.

“I did not!” Wang Jinbao almost shouted.

“Wang Fujiang,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Too bad that the good horses you raised are all in Yunnan, otherwise you might be able to let us increase our knowledge.”

Wang Jinbao said, “The horses that I raised … yes, yes, I do not dare.”

Wei Xiaobao felt a bit strange, “Why did he called out, ‘yes, yes, I do not dare’?” he mused.

Zhao Liangdong said, “In any case, since Wang Fujiang’s good horses are in Yunnan, the dead cannot testify. Wei Dutong, ourside the Pass, Xiaojiang has also raised several hundred good horses, each one is capable of running three thousand li during the day, running two thousand li at night. It’s a pity that they all far away, I can’t have Dutong Daren take a look at them.” Everybody burst into loud laughter; they knew he was intentionally ridiculing Wang Jinbao.

Wang Jinbao was so angry that his face turned pale; pointing to the stable on his left, he said in a loud voice, “The several dozen of horses over there are precisely the one I brought from Yunnan this time. Zhao Zongbing, you may select ten horses of yours, and randomly pick ten of mine; have the horses compete in leg strength. We’ll see who wins who loses.”

Zhao Liangdong saw the Yunnan horses are thin and small, their coat bald, their skin dry, altogether there were fifty, sixty horses; he thought, “What’s so amazing about your beggar horses?” He said, “Indeed you have a lot of horses, but they are a bit ‘five tuberculosis seven wounded’. I guarantee that if I randomly pull several horses from Wei Dutong’s Mansion, they will surpass Wang Fujiang’s darling treasures that you personally raised.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “We all are arguing in vain. Prince Consort, let us each pick ten horses, we’ll have a race. Both sides place a bet.”

Wu Yingxiong said, “How can our Yunnan’s little horse compete against Wei Dutong’s Ferghana horse? No need to compete, of course we will lose.”

Wei Xiaobao noticed Wang Jinbao was fuming; his expression shows that he clearly did not accept defeat. Wei Xiaobao said, “Prince Consort admits defeat, but Wang Fujiang does not concede. How about this: I’ll get ten thousand taels of silver, Prince Consort also get ten thousand taels of silver, in a moment we all go outside the city to have a horse race. Whoever wins six races, the rest do not have to race. What do you say?”

Wu Yingxiong was about to decline again, suddenly he had another thought, “This boy is young and eager to win, let me deliberately lose ten thousand taels to him and let him be happy.” Thereupon he laughed and said, “Very well, let’s do it. Wei Daren, if you lose, you must not be angry.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Winning must be in style, losing must be graceful; where’s the logic in getting angry when losing?” As he took a glance, he caught Wang Jinbao’s eyes flickered with delight; he thought, “Aiyo, looking at this Wang Fujiang’s expression, he seems to be very sure of victory; could it be that these sickly looking horses really have good endurance? Not good, not good, I must resort to trickery.” In all his life, he loved to cheat at gambling; seeing that in this horse race he might not necessarily win, he immediately cooked up some plan. He thought, “If we have the race today, there won’t be enough time to rig up a scam.” Thereupon he said, “Since we are going to make a bet, I must carefully select the ten horses; how about if we have the race tomorrow?”

Wu Yingxiong had made up his mind not to go all-out, in ten races, he decided to let Wei Xiaobao win eight or nine. Today or tomorrow did not make any difference to him; thereupon he nodded his approval immediately. Wei Xiaobao continued drinking wine and watching the opera in the Prince Consort Mansion, he no longer said anything about the race. He invited Wu Yingxiong, along with Zhang Yong, Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike, three people to come over to his own mansion to have some drink that evening. Wu Yingxiong happily accepted the invitation. They went to Wei Xiaobao’s Count Mansion together.

After they were seated and were offered some light refreshment and tea, Wei Xiaobao excused himself, “Please sit down and enjoy yourselves, Xiongdi needs to make some arrangement.”

Wu Yingxiong laughed and said, “We are family, no need to be polite.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Honored guests grace me with their presence, I can’t be too shabby and crude in my hospitality.”

Going to the inner hall, he instructed his manager to prepare a feast and theatrical troupe; and then he summoned his mansion’s head stable hand, gave him three hundred taels of silver and said, “My Yu Hua Cong and other horses are still at Prince Consort’s Mansion; go and fetch them back. While you are at it, invite the Prince Consort’s stable hands for a drink; have them drink the damn wine until they are drunk rotten.” The head stable hand complied.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Give the horses something, make them weary and their legs soft that they won’t have any strength to run. Just don’t poison them dead.”

The head stable hand said, “Whatever it is that Jueye wants, Xiaoren will strive my hardest to do it.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I guess it’s not a big deal to tell you: Prince Consort has a batch of horses just arrived from Yunnan. They boast that the horses’ endurance strength is superb. Tomorrow they are going to have a race with us. We cannot let them win over us, can we?”

The head stable hand understood immediately; he laughed and said, “Jueye wants Xiaoren to concoct something and have Prince Consort’s horses eat it, so that during the horse race tomorrow we will win?”
Wei Xiaobao laughed. “Correct,” he said, “You are very smart. In the horse race tomorrow, we have a bet. If we win, I’ll divide the gold and you will get your share. Do this quietly, you must never let Prince Consort Mansion’s stable hands know. Take this three hundred taels of silver, give a dinner party, take them to a drink, to gamble, to visit prostitute, damn it, just do whatever you need to do, make them fall into dark sky and black earth before you drug the horses.”

The head stable hand said, “Jueye set your heart at ease, I won’t make mistake. Xiaoren will go buy several dozen catties of croton seed[1], mixed them inside the pea grain, and feed it to Wu Mansion’s horses, let those horses defecate all night long. In the race tomorrow, even a turtle will outrun them.”

Wei Xiaobao immediately went out to accompany Wu Yingxiong and the others drinking wine. He was afraid when Wu Yingxiong and the others came back, Wang Jinbao would go see the horses and would be able to see through their scheme; hence he attentively served them and constantly urging them to drink more wine. Zhao Liangdong’s drinking capacity was extremely great, all along he had a drinking competition against Wang Jinbao. Very late that night, other than Wei Xiaobao and Wu Yingxiong, the four military commanders were dead drunk.

After the morning audience the next morning, Wei Xiaobao went to the Palace to wait upon the Emperor. Kangxi was smiling from ear to ear, he was in a very good mood. “Xiao Guizi,” he said, “I have good news I want to share with you: Shang Kexi and Geng Jingzhong have accepted the imperial decree of border defense removal. In the coming days they are going to leave for the Capital.”

“Congratulations Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Shang and Geng, two border defenses accepted the imperial decree, that old fellow Wu Sangui’s one palm cannot clap hand …”

Kangxi laughed, “It’s hard to clap with only one hand,” he corrected.

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s hard to clap with only one hand. We’ll beat him that he will be in a sorry state.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “What if he also accepted the imperial decree of border defense removal?”

Wei Xiaobao was taken aback, “That would be great,” he said, “If he came to Beijing, Your Majesty wanted to roll him in your palm and make him round, he would not dare to be flat; Your Majesty wanted to knead him flat, no matter what he would not dare to be round.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “You know this logic too?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That time, he would be like ‘dragon[2] stranded on the sandy beach’, this old fellow would be like ‘tiger fell onto level ground …’” Speaking to this point, he stuck out his tongue and knocked his own forehead trying to remember the rest.

Kangxi roared in laughter; he said, “It is called ‘tiger fell onto flat land, you can take unfair advantage of it’. At that time, not only he would not dare to offend me, he would not even dare to offend you.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That will be extremely amusing.”

Kangxi said, “I have finished the imperial order to build Martyr Shrine in Yangzhou, I had a Hanlin Academy scholar wrote it. Bring it to Yangzhou, and have it engraved on a vertical stone tablet. Pick an auspicious day and make your journey.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “If all three border defenses accepted the imperial order, do we still need to build the Martyr Shrine?”

“We don’t know whether Wu Sangui will accept or not,” Kangxi said, “Besides, commending martyrs is a good deed; even if Wu Sangui did not revolt, we still need to do it.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. When chatting, he mentioned Princess Jianning was asking to have an audience with the Emperor. Kangxi nodded, he ordered the court eunuch serving him to immediately announce to Princess Jianning that her request had been granted.

Kangxi’s mood was really good; he asked in details about Luocha Country’s natural condition and social customs, as well as about the people there. He also wanted to know how the gunmen revolted, how Princess Sophia suppressed the rebellion, how the Senior and Junior Tsars could co-exist. After talking for a while, the Princess arrived at the Upper Study Room.

As soon as they saw each other, the Princess threw herself to Kangxi’s feet, she hugs his legs and bawled. “Huangdi Gege,” she said, “From now on I want to accompany you in the Palace, I don’t want to go back again.”

Kangxi stroked her hair. “What is it?” he asked, “Prince Consort bullies you?”

The Princess cried; she said, “He won’t dare. He … he …” and broke into crying again.

Kangxi said in his heart, “You castrated him, you made him unable to be your husband. You did it yourself and you suffer the consequence.” He consoled her for a moment, and then said, “Alright, alright, don’t cry. You can accompany me for a meal.”

The Emperor ate his meals not on a fixed schedule; whenever he was in the mood, the meal must be served at any time. At once the eunuchs from the imperial kitchen served the meals, while Wei Xiaobao waited upon him on the side. Although the Emperor extremely doted on him, he simply cannot accompany the Emperor eating and drinking. Kangxi bestowed on him a dozen or more big bowls of dishes, which he ordered the eunuchs to deliver the dishes to his mansion, to be eaten later when he came back home.

After drinking several cups of wine, the Princess’ face blushed, her eyes watery as she cast glance after glance toward Wei Xiaobao. In the Emperor’s presence Wei Xiaobao did not dare to show the slightest bit of rude behavior, all along he did not meet the Princess’ eyes, while his heart was thumping wildly. “If after drinking the Princess reveal the secret and the Emperor finds out,” he mused, “This head of mine won’t be too secure.” He escorted the Princess on imperial order to Yunnan to complete her marriage, yet on the journey he embezzled the goods by having illicit relationship with the Princess; the criminal charge against him was indeed not small. In his heart he started to regret, he really should not have mentioned to the Emperor that the Princess was seeking for an audience.

The Princess suddenly said, “Xiao Guizi, get me some rice.” While saying that, she held the empty bowl in front of his face.

Kangxi laughed and said, “You have a good appetite.”

“To be able to see Huangdi Gege, I can eat my rice,” the Princess replied.

Wei Xiaobao filled the bowl with rice, and then holding it with both hands, he respectfully put the bowl on the table in front of the Princess. Princess’ left hand dropped down, she heavily twisted his thigh. It was painful, but Wei Xiaobao did not dare to make any noise, he did not even dare to reduce the smile on his face for half a part; only inevitably his smile became awkward, his overall expression became rather strange. “Dead wh0re,” he cursed in his heart, “Why is it that each time you see me you always twist me?”

The cursing in his heart has not finished, his head was suddenly jerked backward; the Princess had reached to his back and forcefully pulled his braid.

This time Kangxi saw it; he smiled and said, “Princess is married now, yet you are still this naughty.”

The Princess pointed at Wei Xiaobao and said with a laugh, “It’s he, it’s he …” Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious, he wondered what it was that the Princess was about to say. Luckily the Princess only broke into giggles. She said, “Huangdi Gege, your reputation is getting better and better. I did not know it when I was still in the Palace, but during the round trip to and back from Yunnan, I heard the common people all say that with you as the Emperor, the days of the common people throughout the world are really good. Even this boy,” speaking to here, she cast Wei Xiaobao a malicious look, and then continued, “His official position was rising higher and higher. Only your little sister is actually getting more and more bad luck.”

Kangxi’s mood was very good to begin with, and now Princess Jianning’s compliment was just perfect; he laughed and said, “You are married to a dependable and noble husband. If Wu Yingxiong, father and son, nicely obey the imperial order of border defense removal, the whole world will be at peace. I promise you I will raise his official position.”

The Princess’ small mouth pouted; she said, “You raise Wu Yingxiong, this fellow’s official position or not, it has nothing to do with me. I want you to raise my official position.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “And what official position do you want?”

The Princess said, “Xiao Guizi said that the Luocha Country Princess became some Queen Regent. You can make me a great marshal, send me to fight foreign country.”

Kangxi burst into loud laughter. “How can women be great marshals?” he said.

The Princess said, “In the past, Fan Lihua, Yu Taijun, Mu Guiying[3], which one did not seize the seal of authority and become the great marshal? Why can they be one, but I can’t? If you say my martial art skill is inadequate, let’s try it.” While saying that, she stood up with a giggle.

Kangxi laughed and said, “You did not want to study, just like Xiao Guizi, you both do not have the knowledge, you only know the stories from the opera. In the previous dynasties, there were indeed women who became marshals. Tang Taizong Li Shimin’s meizi [younger sister] Princess Pingyang, helped Tang Taizong pacifying the world. She was a marshal, commanding a division of army called Niangzi Jun [women’s corps]. The mountain pass where her troops were stationed was called Niangzi Guan [women’s Pass], it was very formidable.”

The Princess clapped her hands and said, “That’s it then. Huangdi Gege, as an emperor, you surpass Li Shimin; let me be like Princess Pingyang. Xiao Guizi, what do you want to be? Gao Lishi? Or Wei Zhongxian?[4]”

Kangxi roared in laughter; he shook his head repeatedly and said, “You are speaking nonsense again. Xiao Guizi was a fake eunuch. Besides, Gao Lishi and Wei Zhongxian were both court eunuchs serving under muddleheaded rulers; by saying that, aren’t you scolding me?”

The Princess laughed and said, “I am sorry Huangdi Gege, you should not be offended; I did not know.”

Thinking about ‘Xiao Guizi was a fake eunuch’, she could not refrain herself from casting a glance toward Wei Xiaobao; the thoughts of love surged in her heart. She said, “I should go kowtow to the Empress Dowager.”

Kangxi was startled; he thought, “The fake Empress Dowager has become the real Empress Dowager; your mother has run away from the Palace.” He has always loved this younger sister dearly, he could not bear to see her be embarrassed. “These past few days Empress Dowager is not feeling very well,” he said, “There is no need to tire her, the Senior. Just go to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful and kowtow and pay your respect outside.”

The Princess complied. “Huangdi Gege,” she said, “I am going to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, and will be back to talk to you again. Xiao Guizi, you come with me.”

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to comply. Kangxi signaled him with his eyes, telling him to try to stop the Princess, not to let her see the Empress Dowager. Wei Xiaobao understood his intention; he nodded to signal that he received the Emperor’s order, and at once went to accompany the Princess toward the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.

Wei Xiaobao ordered a little eunuch to run ahead to report to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful first. As expected, the Empress Dowager instructed them that she was unwell, hence they did not need to kowtow and pay their respect. The Princess had not seen her mother for quite a long time, she was quite worried. “Empress Dowager is not feeling very well, I simply must take a look,” she said, while picking up speed, rushing toward the Empress Dowager’s personal quarter; how could the numerous court eunuchs and palace maids dare to stop her?

“Your Highness, Your Highness,” Wei Xiaobao anxiously called, “Empress Dowager, the Senior, catches cold; she must not be blown by the wind.”

The Princess said, “I will enter slowly, there won’t be the slightest wind.” Pushing the bedroom door open, she raised the door curtain, but saw the gauze screen was hanging down, the Empress Dowager was sleeping in the bed, with four palace maids stood by the bed. The Princess said in a low voice, “Empress Dowager, your daughter is here to kowtow to you.” While saying that, she went down on her knees and kowtowed several times.

She heard several groans from the Empress Dowager inside the gauze screen. The Princess walked toward the bedside; she was about to lift the mosquito net, a palace maid said, “Your Highness, Empress Dowager instructed us that nobody is to alarm Empress Dowager.”

The Princess nodded. She opened the net a slit and looked inside. She saw the Empress Dowager was facing inside, she seemed to be in a very deep sleep. The Princess called in low voice, “Empress Dowager, Empress Dowager.” The Empress Dowager did not respond at all. The Princess had no choice but to put the screen down and withdrew quietly. Her heart ached; she could not help but broke into crying.

Seeing she did not discover the truth, it was as if a large rock was removed from Wei Xiaobao’s heart; he persuaded her, “Princess lives in the Capital, you can enter the Palace at any time to pay your respect. Wait until Empress Dowager is well, you can come back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful.”

The Princess thought his advice was reasonable; she wiped her tears immediately and said, “I wonder how my former dwelling place is, I want to take a look.” Finished speaking she turned toward her former bedroom. Wei Xiaobao followed behind her.

The Princess’s former personal quarter, Jianning Palace was located next to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful; they arrived after only a short walk. After the Princess was married, Jianning Palace was dusted, swept, and looked after by eunuchs and palace maids, just like before.

The Princess stopped at the bedroom door, she saw Wei Xiaobao was standing outside, giggling; he did not follow her inside. The Princess blushed and said, “Dead eunuch, why aren’t you coming in?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I was a fake eunuch, I can’t come into the Princess’ bedroom.”

The Princess reached out to twist his ear; she shouted, “You don’t come in, I’ll twist your dog ear off.” She pulled hard, Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to come into the bedroom. The Princess closed the door and bolted it behind her.

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his heart was thumping madly. “Princess,” he said in a low voice, “We must not fool around in the Palace, I … I … I might lose my head!”

The Princess’ eyes were watery, as if drops of water were about to fall down; in a seductive voice she said, “Wei Jueye, I am your servant, let me serve you.” Reaching out with both arms, she hugged him tightly.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “No, we must not!”

The Princess said, “Alright, I’ll go tell Huangdi Gege, you coerced me on the journey, you told me to castrate that fellow Wu Yingxiong, and now you are ignoring me.” Reaching down to his thigh, she pinched and twisted him really hard.

It was quite a long time before the two of them emerged from the Princess’ bedroom. The Princess’s face was beaming with joy; she said, “His Majesty ordered you to tell me about the Luocha Country Princess; how come you have not finished telling me yet you already want to leave?”

“Your servant is extremely tired,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I don’t have the strength to tell you a story.”

The Princess laughed and said, “Next time you have to come again to tell me about how you caught fox-spirit [i.e. enchantress] in Liaodong.”

Wei Xiaobao squinted and cast her a sidelong glance; he said in a low voice, “If your servant talk much longer, I won’t be able to move.”

The Princess giggled; she reached out backhandedly and ‘slap!’ she made a mark on his face with her palm. The eunuchs and palace maids at the Jianning Palace were old timers, they knew that the Princess was pampered and was rough; seeing her slapping someone, they all thought, “Princess is married, but her old temperament has not changed a bit. Wei Bojue [Count] is the minister His Majesty most doted on, unexpectedly she still slaps him.”

The two of them returned to the Upper Study Room, she wanted to take her leave. The sky was getting dark. They saw Kangxi was looking at a large map on the desk; he looked deep in thought. The Princess said, “Huangdi Gege, Empress Dowager is unwell, I could not see her. I will be back in a few days to kowtow and pay my respect.”

Kangxi nodded and said, “Next time wait for her to summon you before you come here.” With right hand finger pointing to the map, he asked Wei Xiaobao, “You entered Yunnan from Guizhou, but came out from Guangxi; which route is easier to take?” Turned out he was studying Yunnan’s terrain.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Yunnan’s mountains are very high, it does not matter whether we enter from Guizhou or Guangxi, both are very difficult. The majority of the roads cannot be traveled by marching troops. The Princess had to take sedan chair, your servant rode a horse.”

Kangxi nodded. Suddenly he remembered something; he ordered a eunuch, “Summon the officer in charge of the carriage of the Ministry of War.” And then he turned toward the Princess and said, “Go back to your mansion, you have been out the whole day, the Prince Consort is waiting for you.”

The Princess pouted and said, “He can’t possibly wait for me.” She was thinking of leaving the Palace together with Wei Xiaobao; it would be good if she could only talk to him some more along the way. But hearing the Emperor was summoning an official to discuss national affair, she said, “Huangdi Gege, it is already late, you still worry about national affairs. Even in the past Fu Huang [father emperor] did not work over government affairs as hard as you do.”

Kangxi’s heart ached, remembering his father emperor lived in seclusion on Mount Wutai as a monk; he said, “Fu Huang was bright, wise and farsighted; the matter that he managed to do in one sichen [i.e. two hours], I cannot finish it in three sichen.”

The Princess smiled and said, “I heard people say that Huangdi Gege has heaven-sent wisdom, which is rarely found since the dawn of time. Nobody dares to say that you surpass Fu Huang; however, they say that you are a good Emperor who is seldom seen in China for the last several thousand years.”

Kangxi smiled. “Good Emperors in China are actually a lot,” he said, “Forget about Yao Shun Yu Tang [See Chapter 14] who were adept in both pen and sword, the three generations after them, Han Wendi, Han Guangwu, Tang Taizong, they were all enlightened rulers who were greatly admired by the people.”

The Princess noticed that as Kangxi spoke, he was staring without blinking at the map on the table; she did not dare to talk too much, hence she cast a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, her arms were hanging down, but her finger pointed toward him, and then she turned her finger around to point to herself; her meaning was that Wei Xiaobao should see her often. Wei Xiaobao understood; he nodded slightly. The Princess paid her respect to Kangxi and withdrew.

A moment later, Kangxi looked up and said, “In that case, I am afraid the cannon we make are too heavy and too big, not easy to haul over those mountainous roads.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he understood immediately that Kangxi was thinking of transporting the cannon to Yunnan to attack Wu Sangui. “Yes, yes,” he said, “Your servant is muddleheaded, I had not thought of this. It would be best if we could make small cannon that can be pulled by two horses; entering Yunnan will be a lot more convenient.”

Kangxi said, “Decisive engagement between opposing army on the mountainous region cannot depend on magnificent army with thousands of men and horses rushing in at the same time; infantry will be even more important than cavalry.”

Shortly afterwards, the Ministry of War’s three Manchu officials and one Han official in charge of the horse and carriage arrived together and kowtowed in front of Kangxi. Kangxi asked, “How’s the horse preparation?”

This particular department of the Ministry of War was in charge of relay station and moving vehicle logistics. Immediately the officers reported in details: how many horses they purchased from Western Region and Mongolia, how many horses they transported from outside the Pass, presently they had a total of more than 85,000 good horses, and they were still continuing to buy and raise more horses. Kangxi was very pleased; he uttered some words of praise. The four officials kowtowed to express their gratitude for the compliments.

Suddenly Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty, I heard that Sichuan, Yunnan’s horses are not the same as the outside the Pass and Western Region horses; although their body is smaller, they have good endurance and good at traveling on the mountainous road; I wonder if that’s true.”

Kangxi asked the four officials, “Is that true?”

The Han official replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Sichuan horses, Yunnan horses, are able to resist hardship and carry heavy load, their endurance is very good, and their ability to travel over mountainous roads is indeed very good. However, to charge and break through the enemy lines on flat land, they are far inferior to horses from outside the Pass and Western Region. For this reason, in the armed force we do not use Sichuan and Yunnan horses.”

Kangxi cast a glance toward Wei Xiaobao, and then asked the official, “How many Sichuan horses, Yunnan horses do we have?”

The official replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: in the defense forces stationed in Sichuan and Yunnan, Sichuan horses and Yunnan horses are not a few; however, in other places there are very few. In the defense force stationed in Hunan, we have more than 500 horses.”

Kangxi nodded, “Dismiss,” he said. He did not want to reveal to these officials his intention to attack Yunnan. After the four officials withdrew, he said to Wei Xiaobao, “Luckily you reminded me. Tomorrow I must issue a decree, ordering Sichuan Zongdu [governor-general] to immediately buy Sichuan horses in large quantity. It would be best if we can keep this matter top secret.”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly giggled with a very complacent look on his face. “What is it?” Kangxi asked.

“Prince Consort Wu has just had one batch of Yunnan horses shipped here from Yunnan,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He boasted that these horses have excellent endurance. Your servant did not believe him, so I made an appointment with him to have a race. Whether Yunnan horses really have good endurance, we will find out in a little bit.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “You should race him well then. How are you going to race?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We agreed to race ten pairs, he who wins six will win the bet.”

Kangxi said, “Only race ten, you won’t necessarily find out if Yunnan horses indeed have the good quality. Do you know how many Yunnan horses did he ship in?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I looked at his stable, there are at least fifty, sixty horses. All are newly shipped.”

Kangxi said, “Then you’d better race with him fifty, sixty pairs. Take the long route, it will be best if you go to Xishan [western mountain], run along the mountain roads.” Seeing Wei Xiaobao’s expression was bit strange, he said, “Damn it, you have no prospect! If you lose, I’ll pay you back your gold.”

Wei Xiaobao felt it was inappropriate to tell the Emperor honestly that he had played some trick in Wu Yingxiong’s stable. In this race his chance of victory was 99%, but when the race finished, the Emperor would think that Yunnan horses were useless; and then when they march to fight the war in the future, perhaps Wei Xiaobao had brought harm to this important matter. He smiled and said, “It’s not about the gold …”

“Uh,” suddenly Kangxi exclaimed, “Yunnan horses have good endurance, that fellow Wu Yingxiong has a large quantity of Yunnan horses shipped to Beijing; what for?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “It must be that he wanted to create quite a stir, boasting that his Yunnan horses are good.”

Kangxi frowned. “Not right!” he said, “This … this boy wants to escape.”

Wei Xiaobao still has not understood. “Escape?” he asked in surprise.

“That’s right!” Kangxi said, “Guards!” he called out. When several eunuchs appeared, he ordered them, “Issue a decree at once, close the Nine Gate, nobody is allowed to get out of the city, summon Prince Consort Wu Yingxiong to the Palace to see Zhen.”

The eunuchs complied and went out to issue the decree. Wei Xiaobao’s countenance changed slightly, “Your Majesty,” he said, “Are you saying that that fellow Wu Yingxiong is that audacious that unexpectedly he is going to escape?”

Kangxi shook his head, “I wish that my premonition is incorrect,” he said, “Otherwise, we will have to resort to arms immediately against Wu Sangui. At this time our preparation is insufficient.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If we are not prepared, Wu Sangui is not necessarily prepared either.”

There was a concerned look on Kangxi’s face as he said, “You’re wrong. Before he even reached Yunnan, Wu Sangui has already recruited soldiers and bought horses, he already has the intention to revolt. He has been prepared for a dozen or so years, while I only started large scale deployment in the last year or two.”

Wei Xiaobao could only speak some comforting words, “But Your Majesty is brilliant and wise; your one year deployment is equal to Wu Sangui’s twenty years.”

Kangxi raised his foot and pretended to kick Wei Xiaobao as he said with a laugh, “I kick you once, it’s equal to Wu Sangui kicking you twenty times. Damn it, Xiao Guizi, you must not take Wu Sangui too lightly. This old fellow is very good at deploying troops and fighting a battle. Li Zicheng was that formidable, yet he was defeated by him. Within the imperial court, not one general is his match.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We rely on numbers to gain victory. Your Majesty sends ten generals; ten beat damn one.”

“Even so,” Kangxi said, “Only if we send out capable great marshals will we succeed. If under my command I have Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, or perhaps Mu Ying, then I won’t have to worry.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty personally lead your troops into battle, you surpass Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, Mu Ying. In the past Ming Taizu defeated Chen Youliang, he also personally led his troops into battle.”

“It’s easy for you to bootlick,” Kangxi said, “You can say raw bird fish soup [niao sheng yu tang, see Chapter 14], brilliant and wise, et cetera. But to be brilliant, first you must know yourself. Marching troops into battle is no small matter. I have never been to battle; how can I be Wu Sangui’s match? Several hundred thousand soldiers and horses, if the command is improper, inevitable everything will fail and wiped over the floor. In the previous Ming’s Crisis of Tumu Fortress[5], the Emperor believed eunuch Wang Zhen, he personally led the army into battle, several hundred thousand troops suffered total defeat under this eunuch’s muddleheaded advice that even the Emperor was captured by the enemy.”

Wei Xiaobao was scared; he busily said, “Your Majesty, your servant is a fake eunuch.”

Kangxi roared in laughter; he said, “You don’t have to be afraid. Even if you were a real eunuch, I am not a muddleheaded ruler like that previous Ming’s Yingzong; how can I let you mess up with me?”

“Right! Right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty’s divine strategy is indeed not a small matter. There is a saying in the opera, it’s called … it’s called inside something something, something is ten thousand li away.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “That saying is too difficult; I am not going to teach you.”

While they were still talking, a eunuch came to report that Nine Gates’ Tidu already received the imperial order to shut the city walls. Kangxi was just feeling slightly relieved when another eunuch came to report, “The Prince Consort went hunting and has not returned, the city gate is already shut, we cannot go out of town to summon him.”

Kangxi slapped the table; he stood up and called out, “He has really left.” He asked, “What about Princess Jianning?”

The eunuch said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Her Highness the Princess is still in the Palace.”

“That fellow,” Kangxi hatefully said, “Unexpectedly he does not have the slightest bit feeling between husband and wife.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let your servant pursue this fellow and get him back; he has an agreement with your servant for a horse race today, unexpectedly he went hunting out of town; indeed it’s not right for him to do so.”

Kangxi asked the eunuch, “When did the Prince Consort go out of town?”

The eunuch replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: when your servant went to the Prince Consort’s Mansion to announce the imperial decree, the Prince Consort’s Mansion zongguan [manager] said that Prince Consort left early this morning to go hunting.”

“Humph,” Kangxi said, “This fellow must have received the news this morning that Shang Kexi and Geng Jingzhong accepted the imperial orders of border defense removal. I am guessing that he knew that his old man is going to revolt immediately, hence he sneaked out at once.” Turning toward Wei Xiaobao he said, “He has gone for six, seven sichen [i.e. 12 or 14 hours]; you won’t be able to catch up with him. He had several dozen of Yunnan horses shipped here from Yunnan, it is precisely so that he could exchange horses all the way to Kunming.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “The Emperor indeed can prophecy with supernatural accuracy; as soon as he heard that Wu Yingxiong had a large quantity of Yunnan horses shipped here, he could guess that he was planning to run away.” Seeing Kangxi’s countenance was not good, he did not dare to flatter randomly; but suddenly he remembered something. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Please don’t worry, perhaps your servant has a way to catch this fellow and bring him back.”

“How are you going to do that?” Kangxi said, “Rubbish! If Yunnan horses really have good endurance, and he has left Beijing far away, if he changed his appearance in disguise, you won’t be able to overtake him at all.”

Wei Xiaobao was not sure if his head stable hand managed to feed crotons to Wu Yingxiong’s Yunnan horses, hence he did not dare to boast extravagantly in front of the Emperor. He said, “Eating the ruler’s good fortune, loyal to the ruler’s matter. Let your servant try to pursue him; if I really cannot overtake him, there is nothing we can do anyway.”

Kangxi nodded. “Very well!” he said. Taking a brush-pen in hand, he quickly wrote an imperial edict, and stamped it with the imperial jade seal, ordering the Nine Gates’ Tidu to open the city gate to let Wei Xiaobao out; he said, “Take more Valiant Cavalry Brigade’s sergeants with you; if Wu Yingxiong resists arrest, overcome him with force.” Kangxi also handed over the golden seal to give him the authority to mobilize the troops.

“I obey the order!” Wei Xiaobao replied; he received the imperial edict and dashed out the Palace.

The Princess was waiting at the Imperial Palace gate. Seeing Wei Xiaobao hurrying out in quick steps, she called out, “Xiao Guizi, what are you doing?”

“It’s desperately serious,” Wei Xiaobao called back, “Your husband ran away.” Unexpectedly he did not stop, but ran even faster instead.

“Dead eunuch,” the Princess cursed, “You have no manners; quickly halt for me.”

Wei Xiaobao called out, “I am going to catch the Princess’ husband, I will go through water and tread on fire, I will not decline under any circumstances, I will travel through night and day, my horse will not stop to rest …” While babbling nonsense, he had already gone far.

Outside the Palace, Wei Xiaobao mounted his horse and galloped back to his mansion. He saw Zhao Liangdong was accompanying Zhang Yong and the others, three men, drinking in the reception pavilion. Immediately he turned around, summoned several dozen of his personal guards, and shouted his order to arrest Zhang Yong and the others, three generals. The personal guards immediately tied the tree generals up.

With an imposing voice Zhang Yong said, “May I ask Dutong Daren, what crime did Xiaojiang and the others commit?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have the imperial edict here, I don’t have time to talk to you.” While saying that, he waved the imperial edict in his hand, and fired up several orders in succession, “Get one thousand Valiant Cavalry Brigade Sergeants and fifty Imperial Bodyguards here to this Mansion immediately to receive order. Prepare horses.” His personal guards complied and left.

Wei Xiaobao told Zhao Liangdong, “Zhao Zongbing, that fellow Wu Yingxiong ran away. Wu Sangui is about to revolt. We must go out of the city to pursue.”

“That fellow is too brazen,” Zhao Liangdong called out, “Lowly officer receives the order and ready to go.”

Zhang Yong, Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike, three people were greatly shocked; they looked at each other in dismay. Wei Xiaobao ordered his personal guards, “Guard these three men well. Zhao Zongbing, let’s go.”

“Wei Dutong,” Zhang Yong called out, “We are Western Liang men, and we are Great Qing’s officers, we have never been Ping Xi Wang’s direct subordinates. Formerly the three of us were serving as military officers in Gansu, afterwards we were transferred to Yunnan on a mission, all along Wu Sangui has always pushed us out. He transferred us elsewhere, he wanted us, three people to leave Yunnan, because he knew perfectly well that the three of us are unwilling to associate ourselves with traitors; he was afraid we might spoil his plan.”

“How do I know that you are telling the truth and not lying to me?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Sun Sike replied, “Last year Wu Sangui was about to kill me, it was only because Zhang Tidu’s protection that lowly officer was able to preserve my head. In my heart I hate that old b@stard to the bones.”

Zhang Yong said, “If lowly officers, three people are Wu Yingxiong’s accomplices, why didn’t we run away with him?”

Wei Xiaobao thought that he was right; he hesitantly said, “Alright, whether you are in cahoots with Wu Sangui or not, I will examine when I come back. Zhao Zongbing, pursuing people is more important, let’s go.”

Dutong Daren,” Zhang Yong said, “Wang Fujiang is very good at tracking horses’ footprints, he can tell Yunnan horses’ hoof print as soon as he sees it.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded, “That skill is definitely very useful,” he said, “But if I bring you along, and on the way you pound the egg, laozi may fall into your great trap.”

In a loud and clear voice Sun Sike said, “Dutong Daren, you can tie Xiaojiang in here, take Zhang Tidu and Wang Fujiang along in pursuit. If the two of them have a change of heart, when you come back, you may kill Xiaojiang with a chop.”

“Good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You actually have yi qi. I am still rather undecided in this matter. Come, come, come, Zhang Tidu, let you and I throw the dice three times. If you win, I will listen to you, if I win, I have no choice but to borrow the three gentlemen’s heads.” Without waiting for Zhang Yong to respond, he called loudly, “Guards, get some dice!”

Wang Jinbao said, “Xiaojiang has dice with me, loosen my bondage, let Xiaojiang gamble with you.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised; he ordered his personal guard to loosen the rope binding him. Wang Jinbao groped into his pocket and sure enough, he had three dice. ‘Clink, clink, clink’ he threw the dice onto the table, his technique was very good. “Why do you carry dice in your pocket?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Wang Jinbao replied, “In my whole life Xiaojiang loves gambling the most, hence I always carry dice in my pocket. If I have nobody to gamble with, my left hand will gamble against my right hand.”

Wei Xiaobao was even more interested. “Your own left hand gamble against your right hand?” he asked, “How do you decide win or lose?”

Wang Jinbao replied, “If my left hand loses, my right hand will punch my left arm; if my right hand loses, my left hand will punch my right arm.”

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter. “Interesting, interesting,” he repeatedly said. “Laoxiong,” he added, “You and I are like-minded, you must be a good man. Come, I’ll release these two generals as well. Wang Fujiang and I will throw three times, no matter who win or lose, the three of you will come with me to pursue Wu Yingxiong. If I win, just consider my offense to the three of you just now is settled. If you win, I will kowtow to the three of you to apologize.”

Zhang Yong and the others, three men roared in laughter; they all said, “We do not dare.”

Wei Xiaobao took the dice. He was about to throw when his personal guard came in to report that the Valiant Cavalry Brigade Sergeants and Imperial Bodyguards have assembled outside the Mansion awaiting orders. Wei Xiaobao collected the dice and said, “There’s no time to lose, pursuing people is more important. Four generals, let’s go!” Taking Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, and the others, four people, and leading the Valiant Cavalry Brigade Sergeants and Imperial Bodyguards, he went out of the city heading south to pursue.

Wang Jinbao led the way in front. After pursuing for several li, he dismounted to look at the hoof print on the road. “Dutong Daren,” he said, “This is really strange; when the party reached this place, they turned eastwards.”

“It is indeed strange,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He is running away to Yunnan, he should be going south. Alright, everybody, let’s go east.”

Suspicion arose in Zhao Liangdong’s heart, “Running away to the east? It does not make sense. Could it be that this fellow Wang Jinbao is deliberately leading us on the wrong road, so that Wu Yingxiong can escape?” He said, “Dutong Daren, is it possible for Xiaojiang to lead a team of men and horses to continue pursuing southwards?”

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward Wang Jinbao. Noticing the angry look on his face, he said, “No need, we will all follow Wang Fujiang’s lead. Yunnan horses were raised by him, he will not recognize it incorrectly.” He ordered his personal guards to bring some weapons and let Zhang Yong and the others, three people to choose.

Zhang Yong selected a broadsword on staff; he said, “Dutong Daren is young, yet you are amazingly broad-minded and open. We are military officers from Yunnan, Wu Sangui is about to rebel, unexpectedly Dutong Daren gives us your bare heart and let us keep it without the slightest doubt.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You don’t need to praise me. I am gambling here, I put all my valuables, all my money on the table. If I win, I will win big: capturing Wu Yingxiong and gain three good friends. If I lose, I will also lose big: I will have my head chopped by you, laoxiong.”

Zhang Yong was greatly delighted; he said, “We are real men of Western Liang, we love to make friends with heroes and warriors the most. I am indebted that Wei Dutong holds me in such a high esteem, the one surnamed Zhang will throw my life for you forever.” While saying that, he tossed his broadsword to the ground and did obeisance toward Wei Xiaobao.

Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike also fell on their knees. Wei Xiaobao jumped down from his horse and kneeled down on the road to return the salute. The four of them kowtowed to each other, then they stood up and laughed heartily. Wei Xiaobao said, “Zhao Zongbing, please also come, let’s salute each other. From now on we will be like brothers, blessing we will enjoy together, difficulty we will face together.”

Zhao Liangdong said, “I only don’t trust this Wang Fujiang. I want to wait until he catches Wu Yingxiong, and then I will become sworn brothers with him.”

Wang Jinbao angrily said, “Although my official rank is low, I am a real man; why would I covet becoming sworn brothers with you?” While saying that, he jumped onto his horse and galloped ahead, following the trail.

Speeding along eastwards for ten or so li, Wang Jinbao jumped down the horse to look at the hoof print on the road and some manure. He knitted his brows and said, “Odd, odd.”

“What is it?” Zhang Yong hurriedly asked.

Wang Jinbao said, “The horse dung is pulpy, I don’t know the reason. This does not look like our Yunnan horses’ manure.”

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard this, he was greatly delighted; he laughed aloud and said, “That’s it, this is genuine goods at fair prices, treating both the young and the old honestly. This is indeed Wu Yingxiong’s caravan.”

Wang Jinbao muttered to himself, “The hoof print is correct, but the manure is too strange.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Not strange, not strange! Yunnan horses got to Beijing, they are not accustomed to the climate, their excrement will definitely become mushy; must wait seven or eight days before they get better. As long as the horse dung is pulpy, this is definitely Yunnan horse.”

Wang Jinbao looked at him; seeing Wei Xiaobao’s strange expression, like a smile yet not a smile, he could not help but half believing and half doubting.

They continued following the trail. After galloping for a while, they saw the hoof print turned southeast. Zhang Yong said, “Dutong Daren, Wu Yingxiong is running toward Tianjin, he wants to go out to sea from Tanggu. He must have prepared a boat on the shore, going to Guangxi by boat, and then continued on to Yunnan, in order to avoid government army cutting him off along the way.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “True!” he said, “From Beijing to Kunming, a great distance of a hundred and eight thousand li, he could be stopped by government army any time. Going on sea route is much safer.”

“We must pursue him even faster,” Zhang Yong said.

“Why?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Zhang Yong replied, “From the Capital to the seaside is only several hundred li. He does not need to empathize with the horses, he will definitely run desperately fast.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Zhang Dage can prophecy with supernatural accuracy; indeed you have the talent of a great general.” Hearing Wei Xiaobao calling him ‘big brother’, Zhang Yong was even more delighted.

Wei Xiaobao turned around and ordered a team of Valiant Cavalry Brigade to urgently run toward Tanggu harbor to transmit order to the naval commander there, to seal off the seaport and not allowing any ship to go out to sea. A zuoling [company commander] received the order and led his troops galloping away.

Before long, they saw two horses fell dead on the roadside, the horses were indeed Yunnan horses. Zhang Yong happily said, “Dutong Daren, the path Wang Fujiang picked to pursue is indeed not bad.” Yet Wang Jinbao was frowning and worried, his countenance looked very distressed.

“Wang San’ge [third brother],” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why aren’t you happy?”

Wang Jinbao thought, “I am not number three, why do you call me ‘San Ge’?” He said, “Xiaojiang raised these Yunnan horses, each one is a good colt, one in a thousand, how could they produce pulpy excrement and fall dead on the road? Even if Wu Yingxiong urged them desperately, those horses cannot be this useless! Ay, what a pity, what a pity!”

Wei Xiaobao knew he loved horses, hence he did not dare to mention about they sneakily feed the horses with crotons; he said, “That fellow Wu Yingxiong is solely engrossed in escaping, hence he worked these horse to their deaths, he wasted Wang San’ge’s heart and blood. Damn it, this fellow was not raised by humans.”

Wang Jinbao said, “How can Dutong Daren call Xiaojiang ‘Wang San’ge’? I really do not dare to accept.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Zhang Dage, Zhao Er’ge, Wang San’ge, Sun Sige [first, second, third, and fourth brother, respectively]; I only looked at which one has more grizzled beard, I considered him a bit older.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wang Jinbao said, “Wu Sangui’s entire family does not have even one good person. If those who serve in the army do not love horses, they won’t have a good fate.” While saying that, he heaved a deep sigh.

Not even several li later, they saw three more horses fell dead on the roadside. The farther they went, the more they saw dead horses. Zhang Yong suddenly said, “Dutong Daren, Wu Yingxiong’s horses get sick because they ate bad food, they cannot be forced to run. But we must guard against him dismounting and running into the countryside to hide.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Zhang Dage can indeed foresee everything, Xiongdi is full of admiration.” At once he transmitted his order to the Valiant Cavalry Brigade to spread out and outflank the area ahead of them.

Sure enough, several li later a team of Valiant Cavalry Brigade on the north side cried out joyfully, “We get Wu Yingxiong!”

Wei Xiaobao and the others were greatly delighted; following their voice, they rushed ahead and saw in the distant several hundred Valiant Cavalry Brigade sergeants forming a circle in the wheat field by the main road. This area had just had rain the previous day, the wheat field was muddy. Wei Xiaobao and the others urged their horses to run toward them. The sergeants were surrounding several men who were covered all over in mud and looked very dirty. The one in front was indeed Wu Yingxiong, only he was wearing marketplace small merchant attire, the graceful and luxurious ‘golden horse jade hall’ appearance was completely gone.

Wei Xiaobao jumped down from his horse, paid his respect and said, “Prince Consort, are you dressing up to play the opera? His Majesty suddenly carried away by a whim to watch an opera, he instructed Xiaode [little/lowly one, referring to self] to summon you. If you perform in front of His Majesty, I think it is very fitting. Ha ha … You dress as a beggar, isn’t it Mo Ji from the story ‘Precious [orig. gold and jade] Slave Stick Beating Unkind Boyfriend’?”

Wu Yingxiong was already scared that his entire body trembling; hearing Wei Xiaobao’s ridicule, he did not respond a single word. Wei Xiaobao was very happy and excited; with Wu Yingxiong in his custody he returned to the Capital. By the time they arrived at the Palace, it was already around noon the next day. Kangxi had already received the report brought by the Imperial Bodyguards riding fast horses. He immediately summoned Wei Xiaobao for an audience.

Wei Xiaobao deliberately did not wipe the mud and dust from his face. When Kangxi saw him, naturally he thought that this man handled this matter loyally, that he had worked hard and rendered extremely great merit. Kangxi reached out and patted Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder, as he laughed and said, “Damn it, Xiao Guizi, what kind of skill do you have? Unexpectedly you succeeded in catching Wu Yingxiong.”

Wei Xiaobao no longer concealed anything, he told Kangxi about his scheme of poisoning the horses. He laughed and said, “Actually, your servant was only hoping to win his ten thousand taels of silver, teaching him a lesson that he won’t boast, while at the same time your servant will have extra money to be spent, so that after working for Your Majesty, I won’t have to embezzle any money. Who would have thought that Your Majesty’s flood of good fortune fills the heavens; your servant fooled around a little bit, unexpectedly I obstructed Wu Sangui’s sinister plot from prevailing. It is obvious that that old fellow’s rebellion is doomed to failure.”

Kangxi laughed aloud. He also felt that in the heart of this matter there seemed to be a divine intervention, that his own good fortune was indeed not small. He laughed and said, “I am a blessed Son of Heaven, you are a lucky general. You may go and take a rest.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That fellow Wu Yingxiong has been handed over to the Imperial Bodyguards; we are waiting for the Holy Sage’s decision on how to discipline him.”

Kangxi hesitated. “For the time being, we must not say a word or make any movement,” he said, “Put him back in the Prince Consort Mansion. See if Wu Sangui is making any movement. It would be best if he knew that his son has been captured back and I did not kill him, perhaps he would be grateful for this and no longer want to revolt.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty is magnanimous, raw bird fish soup.”

Kangxi said, “Send a team of Valiant Cavalry Brigade to guard all the doors of the Prince Consort Mansion. Interrogate in details everybody going in and out of the Mansion. Take all horses and mules in his mansion out, don’t let even one animal remains.” For each order he spoke, Wei Xiaobao said ‘yes’ once.

Kangxi said, “All personnel who render merit this time, make a list and submit it to me, give them reward and promotion as appropriate. Even the head stable hand who fed crotons to the horses, promote him to be a petty official. Ha ha …”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down to express his gratitude; he mentioned Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike, four people’s names, and also said, “Zhang Yong and the others, three generals, were Yunnan’s high-ranking military officers, but it is clear that they vow loyalty and devotion to Your Majesty, they exerted themselves in the capture of Wu Yingxiong. It can clearly be seen that if Wu Sangui wants to revolt, the generals under his command are bound to surrender one after another.”

Kangxi said, “Zhang Yong and those two Fujiang do not wish to be associated with traitors, that is very good. Zhang Yong was originally Gansu’s Tidu, most likely the other two Fujiang are not Wu Sangui’s former subordinates.”

“Your Majesty is an enlightened sage,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Leaving the Palace, Wei Xiaobao personally escorted Wu Yingxiong back to the Prince Consort Mansion. “Fuma Ye [emperor’s son-in-law], only after I spoke not a few words of praise on your behalf in front of His Majesty that you can preserve your head. Next time you run away again, I cannot guarantee even my own head.”

Wu Yingxiong repeatedly expressed his thanks, but in his heart he did not stop cursing. On how dozens of good horses fell dead one after another on the road, to such an extent as he failed within sight of success, he could never figure it out.

Several days later, an imperial decree was issued, commending Wei Xiaobao, Zhang Yong, and the others for their effort, and promoting all of them one level up. Kangxi did not wish to make this matter widely known, to avoid inciting Wu Sangui to rise in rebellion. For this reason, the citation in the imperial edict was obscure, it only said that these people had worked efficiently.

Because of Wu Yingxiong’s attempted escape, Kangxi deduced that Wu Sangui’s rebellion was imminent. But because Wu Yingxiong was captured back, he hoped it would instill fear in Wu Sangui’s heart, perhaps it would slow down the rebellion plan somewhat. These days Kangxi was ‘moving the army and sending the general’, he manufactured cannon and purchased horses; he was very busy. It’s just that the treasury coffer was rather limited. Supposing the three border defense rose up in rebellion together, plus Taiwan, Mongolia and Tibet, three places, so that he had to deal with six armies at the same time, the military expenditure would be spent like running water. Managing the money was indeed not easy; if he could delay for one day, he would have one more day to raise soldier’s pay and prepare the provisions.

Kangxi thought that luckily Wei Xiaobao managed to break the Divine Dragon Island, and win the Luocha Country over. Divine Dragon Island was inconsequential, but Luocha Country was a real threat. This person was without learning or skills, yet he had tremendous luck; thereupon Kangxi issued an imperial edict, sending him to Yangzhou to build the Martyr Shrine, with a secret mission to detour south to Henan, to destroy the Mount Wangwu’s Situ Bolei’s gang of bandits, hence eliminating any ‘calamity within their bosom’. Wei Xiaobao presented a memorial, requesting Zhang Yong and the others, four generals to be allocated under his command. Kangxi promptly granted his request.

One day Wei Xiaobao, accompanied by Zhang Yong and the others, four generals, was ready to leave. Suddenly Shi Lang, Huang Fu, as well as Tian Di Hui’s Xu Tianchuan, Feng Jizhong, and the others arrived. As they see each other, they all were very happy. Turned out when Wei Xiaobao fell into Cult Leader Hong’s ‘beautiful woman trap’ and was captured, it was not that Shi Lang and the others did not dare to come back, rather, every day they sailed the battleships to look for him in every island, with the hope that they were able to save him. Xu Tianchuan and the others even separated themselves to look for him in Liaodong, Zhili, and Shandong, three provinces’ coastal area. It was not until they received Wei Xiaobao’s news, which he sent from the Capital that they finally returned to the Capital to see him.

Naturally Wei Xiaobao did not want to talk about the shameful way he was captured; he simply babbling nonsense a little bit to conceal his fault. Shi Lang and the others did not believe him, but nobody dared to ask too much question. Wei Xiaobao went back to present another memorial to the Emperor, reporting Shi Lang and the others’ merit; hence everybody was duly rewarded. Xu Tianchuan and the other Tian Di Hui brothers did not receive Qing Court’s officer’s salary, hence Wei Xiaobao did not even mention their names. They all had a big feast in Beijing for a day, the next day they all left together.

One day they arrived at the foot of Mount Wangwu. Wei Xiaobao quietly informed the Tian Di Hui brothers about his mission to exterminate Situ Bolei. Everybody was shocked. Li Lishi said, “Wei Xiangzhu, we must not do that. Situ Bolei’s aspiration is to restore the Ming, he is one great hero and a warrior. If we destroy Mount Wangwu, that means we are working for the Tatars.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “When I saw Ol’ Situ’s disciples, I noticed that they have the lofty quality of a hero. But I receive the imperial decree to destroy Mount Wangwu; this is a difficult thing to do.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “Wei Xiangzhu’s official position in the imperial court is getting higher and higher, I am afraid it is a bit inappropriate. In my opinion, we join hands with Situ Bolei, and rise in rebellion.”

Qi Qingbiao shook his head and said, “Our first step is to borrow the Tatars’ hand to deal with that big traitor Wu Sangui. If Wei Xiangzhu rebel at this time, there is a possibility the Tatar Emperor would ally himself with Wu Sanhui instead, and then we will ruin the enterprise for the sake of one basketful.”

Wei Xiaobao did not want to rebel against Kangxi to begin with, as soon as he heard this, he hastily said, “Right, right! We must get rid of Wu Sangui first before we do anything else; this is the number one important matter. Situ Bolei only has several hundred people on Mount Wangwu, this is a trivial matter, we must not save a little only to lose a lot.”

“The matter at hand,” Xu Tianchuan said, “Is how to dodge the Tatar Emperor’s order and explain to him. Besides, the Tatar Emperor has a heart to build Martyr Shrine for Shi Gebu in Yangzhou; in this matter, we must not spoil his plan.”

Shi Kefa’s utter devotion, his death for the country, none of the heroes and warriors of the world did not respect greatly. Hearing Xu Tianchuan, the Tian Di Hui warriors nodded their agreement. As for how to explain to the Emperor, nobody had better skill than Wei Xiaobao, thereupon everybody turned their eyes to him, waiting for him to come up with an idea.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Since we must not strike Wangwu Mountain, we can send a letter to Situ Laoxiong, asking the old brother to keep away.”

They all deliberated for half a day, yet in the end they all thought that this stratagem was the most feasible. Wei Xiaobao recalled when he threw the dice betting on their lives that day, Wangwu Pai had a melon seed faced little Miss Zeng Rou, with big round eyes, and was very graceful and lovely. He thought, “I do not have any friendship with the Ol’ Situ; if I want to do a favor, I might as well do it for Miss Zeng.”

Right this moment, Zhang Yong and Zhao Liangdong separately sent their people to report: they had Wangwu Mountain surrounded, all access to and from the mountain had been blocked. Turned out as soon as Wei Xiaobao entered Henan province’s border, he quietly informed Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, and the others, four generals, about the imperial edict to encircle and annihilate Mount Wangwu. Without a word or movement, the four generals separately let their troops to guard all access and strategic locations at the foot of Mount Wangwu; they were only waiting for the order to attack the mountain.

After the four generals followed Wei Xiaobao, only by capturing Wu Yingxiong, such an easy assignment, they all enjoyed promotion; hence they were very grateful, they hoped that this time they could strive to render meritorious service. They dug pits around the access roads everywhere, and covered the pits with horse-tripping ropes. Archers, hooks, scythes and spears guarded four sides and eight directions. The plan was to capture everybody from the mountain alive, not to let even one person escape. All four generals thought, “More than five thousand officers and soldiers attacking about a thousand bandits on the mountain, if we win, what’s so special about it? Only if we manage not to let even one person escape from the net will we be considered as rendering a tiny merit.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Capturing Situ Bolei and those bunch of old heads cannot be considered great merit; Tian Di Hui Xiongdi also greatly disapprove. The heroes of Jianghu attach most importance to yi qi, I simply must not offend my friends.”

While he was busy thinking about how to send letter to Zeng Rou and set Wangwu Pai master and disciples free, suddenly he heard sound of drums from the east side, and numerous sergeants shouting and yelling, followed by a sentry came in to report that some people were rushing and killing down the mountain. Wei Xiaobao thought, “In all three armed forces, I must not issue the order to let anybody go; we can only capture them alive and talk later, then I can slowly think of a way to set them free.” He ordered, “Capture all of them alive, not a single one can be killed or injured.” His personal guards went out to transmit the order. Wei Xiaobao added, “Especially the women, they must not be harmed even more.” With a glance he saw Xu Tianchuan, Qian Laoben and the others’ expression, and could not help but blushing a little. He said in his heart, “Don’t worry, this time it won’t be like Shen Long Island, where I fell into ‘beautiful woman trap’ and was captured.”

Leading the Tian Di Hui warriors, he went toward the mountain road on the eastern end to observe the battle, he saw halfway up the mountain a hundred or so men rushing down. The officers and men had received their commander-in-chief’s order, they did not dare to release any arrow, they only rushed upward to stop. They heard the shouts repeated continuously as the people rushing down fell into the trap one by one, and were captured by the soldiers wielding hooks, scythes and spears. Wei Xiaobao wanted to see if Zeng Rou had been captured, but the distant was too far, he could not see clearly.

Suddenly they saw someone leaping as if he was flying from one tree to the other, going down the mountain. The officers and men rushed forward to block, the man was extremely vigorous and nimble, unexpectedly nobody could stop him. Priest Xuanzhen sighed in admiration, “Good skill!”

The man gradually came near, in just several dozen more zhang he would have reached the foot of the mountain. Qian Laoben said, “This man’s martial art skill is this superb, could he be Situ Bolei?”

Xu Tianchuan said, “Other than Old Hero Situ, I am afraid other people would not have this kind of …” Before he could finish, Sun Sike suddenly called out, “That man looks like Wu Sangui’s guard.” While they were speaking, the man had dashed several zhang nearer. “Capture him first, talk later!” Wei Xiaobao shouted.

The Tian Di Hui warriors rushed to encircle the man. The man brandished a steel saber; with each wave of his saber, he hacked down a sergeant. Sun Sike stuck out his long spear to meet him; after he saw clearly the man’s face, he called out, “Ba Langxing, what are you doing in here?”

This man was precisely Wu Sangui’s trusted aide, Ba Langxing. He replied in loud voice, “I am under Ping Xi Wang’s order to remove evil from the imperial court, to kill this rebel thief Situ Bolei. Why are you hindering me?”

When Xu Tianchuan and the others heard this, they were greatly shocked; they saw hanging on his waist was a bloody, badly mutilated head, but they were not sure if it belonged to Situ Bolei or not. They swarmed around to surround him. Sun Sike said, “Wei Dutong is here, lay down your weapon and go up to pay your respect, let’s hear what Dutong Daren has to say in dealing with the offender.”

“Alright!” Ba Langxing said. Putting the saber back into the scabbard, he strode toward Wei Xiaobao and said in a loud voice, “I pay my respect to Dutong Daren.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are here …” Ba Langxing suddenly leaped with two outstretched claws toward Wei Xiaobao’s face and pit of his stomach.

“Aiyo! Mother!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, turned around and ran away.

Ba Langxing’s martial art skill was highly perfected and strong; he sneered and reached out to grab the clothes on Wei Xiaobao’s back with his left hand, while with right hand he grabbed the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head. Suddenly he felt a kick aimed at his right flank, a powerful and extremely fast kick. Ba Langxing leaned sideways to evade, the attacker followed up by a head-on palm strike; it was Feng Jizhong.

Ba Langxing raised his palm to parry, his body swayed, suddenly he felt his lower back tightened, Xu Tianchuan grasped him. Qian Laoben stretched out his finger to jab the pit of his stomach, Ba Langxing grunted. Feng Jizhong’s left leg swept across, Ba Langxing could not stand his ground, he fell down to the ground. Qian Laoben pressed him firmly down, Wei Xiaobao’s personal guards came over to tie him up and pushed him in front of Wei Xiaobao.

Ba Langxing loudly said, “Ping Xi Wang’s great army will arrive any day, at that time all of you will die without burial site, quickly surrender now.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Ping Xi Wang has dispatched his troops into battle? I did not know that. Is he, Senior, well?”

Seeing his genial manner, momentarily Ba Langxing was unclear of Wei Xiaobao’s intention. “Imperial Envoy Minister,” he said, “You have been to Kunming, Ping Xi Wang also have a very high regard of you. You are an intelligent person, why do you want to be Tatars’ servant? It would be better for you to pledge allegiance to Ping Xi Wang as soon as you can.”

Xu Tianchuan kicked his buttocks and shouted, “That big traitor Wu Sangui is mean and shameless, and you become his servant, you are even more shameless.” Ba Langxing was very angry, he turned his head around and spat toward Xu Tianchuan. Xu Tianchuan sidestepped, the spittle hit a personal guard’s face.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Ba Laoxiong, you want to say something, say it nicely, no need to get angry. You want me to pledge my allegiance to Ping Xi Wang, that is not a bad advice. You came to Mount Wangwu, for what purpose?”

Ba Langxing said, “It’s not a big deal to let you know; in any case I have already killed Situ Bolei.” While saying that, he cast a glance toward the severed head hanging on his waist.

“Why did Ping Xi Wang want to kill him?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Ba Langxing replied, “You can go see Ping Xi Wang with me, the Senior will definitely tell you.”

Xu Tianchuan and the others were greatly angry; they raised their fists to beat him. Wei Xiaobao signaled them with his eyes to stop, he ordered his personal guards to drag Ba Langxing into his tent to be interrogated. Who would have thought that this man was extremely obstinate, and was very loyal to Wu Sangui; he merely urged Wei Xiaobao to surrender, but unwilling to reveal anything else even for half a word. When he was searched, they found a document stamped with vermillion seal. Wei Xiaobao ordered his men to read it for him. Turned out it was a fake imperial order written by Wu Sangui, bestowing Situ Bolei the title ‘Kai Guo Jiang Jun’ [general who found a state]. When asked about the origin of this document, Ba Langxing only glowered at him without saying anything.

Realizing he would not find anything from Ba Langxing, Wei Xiaobao ordered his men to detain him. He had the other people who were captured flogged and interrogated. Some could not endure the torture and spilled everything. Turned out these days Wu Sangui was about to deploy his troops in rebellion, he sent his trusted aide Ba Langxing, leading a small team of soldiers, to go see his former subordinate Situ Bolei, wanting him to respond to the uprising. Wu Sangui told Ba Langxing that if Situ Bolei accepted the order, nothing can’t be better, but if he did not, he was to be killed to guard against him leaking the conspiracy.

When Situ Bolei heard about the uprising to ‘fight the Qing’, he was greatly delighted, and immediately promised to join the righteous uprising; however, when he asked about the particulars, he learned that Wu Sangui did not have ‘restoring the Ming’ in mind; rather, he wanted to be the Emperor. Hence the title ‘Kai Guo Jiang Jun’ could not be clearer. Situ Bolei was unwilling to accept the fake imperial order, he told Ba Langxing to return and inform Wu Sangui that if he pledge his allegiance to Ming Emperor’s later generations, Situ Bolei would definitely march at the front and would not balk at ten thousand deaths. But Wu Sangui murdered King Gui in the past, and now he wanted to be the Emperor, the world’s loyal-to-the-Ming-Dynasty patriots would never submit to him.

Ba Langxing persuaded him several times, Situ Bolei slapped the table and rained curses on him, telling him that Wu Sangui forfeited Han people’s rivers and mountains, he committed ten thousand evils and was beyond any pardon. If he was willing to reform and start afresh, he might still be able to atone his crimes by meritorious acts, otherwise Situ Bolei was ready to feed on his flesh and sleep in his skin.

Ba Langxing did not say anything else, that evening he caught Situ Bolei off-guard and killed him, cut his head, and led his troops escape down the mountain. Because Wangwu Pai disciples were unaware, it was too late for them to pursue. As luck had it, the officers and men happened to surround the mountain right that moment, hence Wu Sangui’s troops fell into the trap and were captured. Ba Langxing’s sudden attack to Wei Xiaobao was with the intention of capturing the commander and used him as a hostage so that they could escape.

After finding all the details, Wei Xiaobao convened Tian Di Hui warriors in private discussion. Li Lishi said, “Wei Xiangzhu, Old Hero Situ was a person of loyalty and righteousness [orig. ‘loyal liver righteous guts’], it was unfortunate that he lost his life in a crafty scoundrel’s hand. It’s only right for us to give him a proper burial.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have an idea.” And then he explained what he had in mind. Everybody clapped and praised his idea was good. Thereupon they went their separate way to make preparation.

That day not all of the officers and men attacked the mountain. As for Wangwu Pai people, because their leader was killed, they were thrown into confusion, they only guarded the mouth to their mountain strictly.

Early in the morning the next day, Wei Xiaobao led the Tian Di Hui warriors plus a team of Valiant Cavalry Brigade officers and men, bringing everything they had prepared, halfway up the mountain, where he ordered the officers and men to stay and guard, waiting for his order. He himself and Xu Tianchuan and the others, along with several of his personal guards, continued up the mountain. After walking for several li, they saw a dozen or so Wangwu Pai disciples with weapons in their hands blocking their way.

Xu Tianchuan stepped forward, alone, holding a white visiting card with both hands. The visiting cards had these words written on it: ‘Junior [orig. later generation] Wei Xiaobao, accompanied by Li Lishi, Qi Qingbiao, Priest Xuanzhen, Feng Jizhong, Fan Gang, Qian Laoben, Gao Yanchao and the others, solemnly come to deliver Old Hero Situ’s coffin and offer sacrifice.’

The Wangwu Pai disciples saw that the incoming people did not seem to carry any animosity, behind them there were some people carrying a coffin, and they also brought incense stick and candles, ritual paper money and other things; the disciples were greatly baffled. “Gentlemen, please wait, Zaixia will go up to report,” they said. Immediately one of them dashed up the mountain; while the rest of them still guarded the mountain road strictly. Wei Xiaobao and the others withdrew several dozen steps and sat on mountain rocks to rest.

Not too long afterwards, from up the mountain several dozen people walked down; the leader was Situ He, whom they had met in the past. He was Situ Bolei’s son; as the leader of the mountain passed away, he was to be in charge of Wangwu Pai’s affairs. Wei Xiaobao’s eyes, however, were looking at the people behind him; he saw a young, slender woman, wearing white flower on her head, which was precisely Zheng Rou. He could not help but was delighted.

In a loud and clear voice Situ He said, “Gentlemen have come to our humble place, I wonder for what purpose?” While saying that, he had his hand pressed on the hilt of the sword hanging on his waist.

Qian Laoben stepped forward with cupped fist and said, “Our superior Lord Wei learned that Old Hero Situ was unfortunate and was harmed by crafty scoundrel; he is deeply grieved, hence he leads Zaixia and the others to deliver the Old Hero’s coffin and offer sacrifice.”

Situ He looked at Wei Xiaobao from the distance and said, “He is a Tatar Imperial Court official, he leads imperial officers and men to surround the mountain, he is definitely harboring malicious intentions. You are planning evil schemes, we are not going to fall into your trick.”

Qian Laoben said, “May I ask, who is the assassin murdering Old Hero Situ?”

Gnashing his teeth, Situ He said, “He is Wu Sangui’s warrior, Ba Langxing, plus his subordinates, a bunch of evil thieves.”

Qian Laoben nodded and said, “Situ Shaoxia [young hero] does not believe our superior’s good intention, this is not surprising at all. Let us present the sacrificial offering first.” Turning his head around, he called out, “Bring it up!”

Two personal guards dragged a man slowly up the mountain. This man’s hands and feet were shackled, his head was covered in black cloth. Wangwu Pai disciples were greatly baffled; they wondered what kind of trick the other side was playing. When the man reached Qian Laoben, the personal guard held back the iron chain to stop him from walking further.

Qian Laoben said, “Situ Shaoxia, please look!” Reaching out, he pulled the black cloth covering the man’s head; they saw the man had furrowed brows and blazing eyes, he was none other than Ba Langxing.

As soon as Wangwu Pai disciples saw him, they shouted angrily, “That’s the treacherous bandit! Quickly kill him!” A series of ringing sound was heard as every one drew their weapons out, ready to chop Ba Langxing into pieces.

Situ He raised his hands to block in front of everybody. “Wait a moment!” he said. Cupping his fist toward Qian Laoben he asked, “Sire has caught the crafty scoundrel, I wonder how you are going to handle him.”

Qian Laoben said, “My superior highly esteemed Old Hero Situ; that day he also had predestined affinity to meet Situ Shaoxia. Today we apprehended this crafty scoundrel who committed the violent crime, along with the numerous evil thieves that he brought, we want to have everything hacked to pieces in front of Old Hero Situ’s coffin, to console the Old Hero’s spirit in Heaven.”

Situ He was surprised, thinking that how could there be such good deed in the world? He turned to look at Ba Langxing, in his heart he was half believing, half doubting, thinking, “Tatars are crafty; there must be an evil scheme behind this.”

Ba Langxing suddenly opened his mouth in curses, “F*ck your granny, you look at laozi’s bird, that old fellow of yours was killed by laozi …”

Qian Laoben’s right palm slapped on his back, his left foot flew and kicked his buttocks. Ba Langxing’s hands and feet were shackled, he could not dodge, his body tumbled forward, he was thrown toward Situ He, and was unable to crawl back up.

Qian Laoben said, “This is my superior’s small gift; Sire may handle this crafty scoundrel any way you wish.” Turning his head around, he called out, “Bring them all up.”

A team of personal guards dragged a hundred or more prisoners who had their hands and feet shackled, and their heads covered in black cloth. When the black cloths were removed, their faces were exposed; they were precisely Ba Langxing’s men. Qian Laoben said, “Situ Shaoxia may take them all away.”

Things had come this far, Situ He’s suspicion vanished. Turning toward Wei Xiaobao, he bowed from a distant and said, “Honored Sir’s great kindness, my humble Sect’s gratitude is inexplicable.” In his heart he mused, “He extended this kind of great friendship to us, I wonder what he wants from us. Could it be that he wants us to surrender to the Tatars? That is absolutely impossible.”

Wei Xiaobao quickly stepped forward to return the propriety; he said, “That day I threw the dice with Situ Xiong, Miss Zeng; I have always remembered that. I only hoped that some day we could play again.” Pointing to the coffin behind him, he said, “Old Hero Situ’s remains is in that coffin, please take it up the mountain, put it together with his body and give him a proper burial.”

Situ Bolei was decapitated, his severed head was brought down the mountain by Ba Langxing, none of Wangwu Pai numerous disciples was not extremely grieved. Situ He was still afraid they were being tricked; he walked over to the coffin, and saw the coffin lid had not been nailed down. When he uncovered it, he indeed saw his father’s severed head inside; he could not help but was overcome with grief, he kneeled down on the ground and cried loudly. When the rest of the disciples saw him like that, they also kneeled down and wept in sorrow.

Situ He stood up, he ordered four of his martial brothers to take the coffin up the mountain. He said to Wei Xiaobao, “Would Honored Sir visit my deceased father’s spirit tablet to burn an incense stick?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “We ought to kowtow in front of the Old Hero’s spirit tablet.” He ordered his personal guards to wait at the mouth of the mountain, and only brought Shuang’er and Tian Di Hui brothers to follow Situ He going up the mountain.

Wei Xiaobao walked over to Zeng Rou and said in a low voice, “Miss Zeng, how are you?”

The tears on Zeng Rou’s face had not dried yet, she cried so much that her eyes were red; she looked even more adorable and pitiful. She lifted up her head and with sobs and sniffles she said, “You … you are General … Huacha … Huacha?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. “You remember my name?” he said.

“Um,” Zeng Rou mumbled while lowering her head; her face blushed slightly.

Seeing her blushing, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was shaken, “Why is she blushing when she saw me? When a man is all smiles, it’s not a good thing; when a woman’s face is blushing, she is thinking about a husband. Could it be that she is thinking of me as her husband? I wonder if the dice I gave her is still here.” In a low voice he asked, “Miss Zeng, last time I gave you something, do you still have it?”

Zeng Rou blushed again and looked the other way. “What thing?” she asked, “I forget.”

Wei Xiaobao was quite disappointed; he sighed. Zeng Rou turned her head back and smiled gently; she said in a low voice, “Departing Ten!” [See Chapter 22]

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he could not stop the itch in his heart, which was difficult to scratch. He said in a low voice, “Mine was a Departing Ten, yours was a Supreme!”

Zeng Rou no longer paid him any attention; she quickened her steps and walked by Situ He’s side.

All four sides of Wangwu Mountain appeared like they were cut, the shape was like the top of a royal carriage; hence it got the name ‘Wang Wu’ [king’s room]. The peak was called ‘Temple of Heaven’; on the east there was ‘vibrant sun peak’, on the west there was ‘lunar corona peak’. The party followed Situ He to the Wang Mu Dong [queen mother cave] on the north side of Temple of Heaven. Along the way the pines were dark blue, the cypress bluish-green, the mountain scenery was beautiful and secluded.

Mount Wangwu was mentioned in literature as ‘Clear and Void Little Paradise[6]’. Among the thirty-six paradises under the heavens, it ranked number one. According to legend, it was the place the Yellow Emperor prepared as the dwelling place of Queen Mother. Wangwu Pai people lived in Wang Mu Cave and other caves nearby, where it was warm in the winter and cool in the summer, better than regular buildings. Situ Bolei’s memorial tablet was located inside the Wang Mu Cave. The disciples stitched the severed head together with the body and put him inside the coffin.

Wei Xiaobao led the Tian Di Hui brothers lighting the incense sticks and offered sacrifice in front of the spirit tablet. He kneeled down and kowtowed, thinking, “If I want to flatter Miss Zeng, I must act grieved, the more sorrowful the better.”

Pretending to cry was actually the trick he was an expert at. He recalled to mind the tragic suffering several times the old wh0re beat him up in the Palace, and then the dangerous situation when the Cult Leader Hong caught him, the repeated bad luck he had to suffer from Fang Yi cheated on him time and again, the helplessness he felt because Ah Ke loved Zheng Keshuang; he was overwhelmed with grieve, and burst into tears.

At first his crying was somewhat strained, yet as soon as he started to cry, it is only logical that the more he cried, the sadder he was. “Old Hero Situ,” he cried loudly, “For a long time Junior has heard that you are a loyal minister, a patriot, a great hero and warrior. In those days I saw your honorable son’s swordsmanship, I was even more convinced that your martial art was superb. I was hoping that I could do obeisance to you and be your disciple or grand-disciple; learning several moves of your martial art would be enough to feel proud and elated in the Jianghu. Who would have thought that you, Senior, was actually harmed by crafty scoundrel. Boo hoo … boo hoo … It really makes people exceedingly broken-hearted.”

Situ He, Zheng Rou and the others were already inconsolably heart-broken; listening to his crying, the cries of grief inside the Wang Mu Cave shook the heavens, the anguished wailing moved the earth. Xu Tianchuan, Qian Laoben, and the others originally did not want to cry, yet they were touched by the people’s mournful cry, and could not help but shedding some tears.

Wei Xiaobao beat his breast and stamped his feet, while continuously crying loudly; it was not until the Wangwu Pai disciples repeatedly consoled him instead that he finally held back his tears. He asked for Ba Langxing to be brought out; fetching a steel saber he handed it over to Situ He and said, “Situ Shaoxia, kill this treacherous bandit, avenge your esteemed father.”

With one chop of the saber Situ He severed Ba Langxing’s head and put it on the sacrificial table. Wangwu Pai disciples bowed down together to Wei Xiaobao to thank his great kindness. Actually, Wei Xiaobao was young, he would not think about the strategy of ‘buying people’s hearts’; he learned it from the opera ‘Wolong [i.e. Zhuge Liang] Condolence Visit’. After Zhou Yu was angered to his death by Zhuge Liang, Zhuge Liang himself came to Chaisangkou[7] to offer sacrifice, and cried with utmost grief on his knees, causing the various generals of Eastern Wu to have deep feeling toward him. Fortunately the Zhuge Liang in the opera recited a rather long memorial, his poetic oration was too elegant, so that Wei Xiaobao did not understand a single sentence; otherwise he would have copied the opera by reciting muddled memorial on Mount Wangwu, and thus would immediately expose the fox’s tail.

As such, naturally Wangwu Pai people were deeply grateful to him, to say nothing of when the other day after Wei Xiaobao captured Situ He and the others, he set them free and presented them silver as a gift, hence he had sold great friendship toward these people. However, he was a noble official of the Qing court, hence all along the people were quite baffled with his actions.

Qian Laoben then pulled Situ He aside, and explained that he and his companions were actually brothers of the Green Wood Hall of Tian Di Hui. Only he did not reveal Wei Xiaobao’s real status as he acted as an official of the imperial court, for fear that as soon as it leaked, their great endeavor might be spoiled. Qian Laoben only gave vague explanation that Wei Xiaobao had strong yi qi, that he ‘lived in Cao camp, but his heart was in Han camp’, that all the brethren regarded him as a good friend.

When Situ He heard this, he was enlightened at once; he repeatedly expressed his gratitude. This time he spoke most sincerely; completely different compared to a while ago, when misgivings in his heart had not yet explained.

They also discussed Wangwu Pai’s future. Situ He said that since their Sect had just suffered great mourning, plus there were officers and men surrounding the mountain, they had not really thought about this matter. Qian Laoben tried to attract their interest a little bit, by saying that in Jianghu, Tian Di Hui’s prestige was extremely resounding, that they were the present day leader of the fighting the Qing restoring the Ming movement, which Wangwu Pai had always respected and admired, plus they had a common goal.

When Situ He heard this, he was greatly delighted; straight away he discussed with the elders and all brothers of the Sect, and they all approved. Immediately he spoke to Qian Laoben, requesting to join the alliance. It was then that Qian Laoben explained clearly that Wei Xiaobao was actually the Xiangzhu of their Green Wood Hall.

In the afternoon of that very same day, Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall held a general assembly in Wang Mu Cave to admit Wangwu Pai brothers into their Society. They all bowed in respect to their Xiangzhu, and became Wei Xiaobao’s subordinates. Wei Xiaobao was very happy; after drinking the ‘forming of an alliance’ wine, he wanted to have a gambling session with the old and new brothers. Li Lishi, Qian Laoben and the others promptly advised him against gambling, saying that if they were gambling in high spirits, unavoidably it would be too disrespectful to Situ Bolei who had just passed away.

Wei Xiaobao was somewhat disappointed; he then asked how would they deal with the aftermath of this Wangwu Pai affair. Li Lishi said, “Wangwu Mountain is located on the common boundary of Shanxi and Henan, two provinces; they are outside our Green Wood Hall’s jurisdiction. According to our Society’s rule, there is no harm in accepting brothers into our Society across the border, but each Hall’s brothers cannot overstep the boundary in handling our matters. It would be best if Situ Xiongdi and the others move away to Zhili province and establish your residence there.”

Qian Laoben said, “Tatar Emperor sends Wei Xiangzhu to attack Wangwu Mountain, Situ Xiongdi and the others cannot stay on Wangwu Mountain anymore, Wei Xiangzhu most likely has to report to his superior.”

“Exactly,” Situ He said, “Xiaodi [little brother, referring to self] will respectfully follow all Dage’s instruction.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Situ Dage, right now we are heading to Yangzhou to build a Martyr Shrine for Shi Gebu. After this memorial hall is completed, everybody will go to fight Wu Sangui.”

Situ He stood up and said loudly, “Wei Xiangzhu is going to attack Wu Sangui, subordinate wishes to be in the vanguard, leading my martial brothers and sisters to fight that wicked thief Wu Sangui to the death, to take revenge and wipe out a grudge for my deceased father.”

Wei Xiaobao delightedly said, “Nothing can be better than that. In that case gentlemen may come with me to Yangzhou. It’s just that you must disguise yourselves as Tatar officers and men; I am afraid you will feel slightly wronged.”

Situ He said, “In order to fight Wu Sangui, we are willing to endure greater grievance. Wei Xiangzhu becomes Tatar officer, we will also become Tatar soldiers. Besides, don’t Li Dage, Xu Dage, and the others also disguise yourselves as Tatar soldiers?”

That evening they buried Situ Bolei, and then packed their belongings to go down the mountain. The men with martial art skills would come with Wei Xiaobao to Yangzhou. The old, the weak, women and children would go to Baoding [prefecture, Hebei] and picked a place where they would settle down. In that area there were small branches of Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall, hence they would be well taken care of.

Wei Xiaobao talked to Zhang Yong and the others, he explained that when the Wangwu Mountain bandits saw that they were surrounded by large army, they knew that they could not escape. After a bit of enlightenment, everybody agreed to surrender. He had already offered amnesty and enlisted the rebels as soldiers, incorporating them into their troops.

Zhang Yong and the others immediately congratulated him; they said that without any blood on the men’s blade Dutong [commander] had pacified Wangwu Mountain fierce bandits, hence he had set up great merit. Wei Xiaobao said, “This is the Four Generals’ merit; if you did not encircle the mountain so that the bandits were unable to escape even in they grew wings, they would not have agreed to surrender. Later Xiongdi will report to the Imperial Court, there will be reward and promotion for everybody.”

The four generals were greatly delighted; they knew that Ming Zhu, the Ministry of War’s Shangshu, would do everything he could to fawn on him. As long as it was Commander Wei who reported the merit, the Ministry of War would definitely give it preferential treatment.

At first Wei Xiaobao was worried that Zeng Rou would follow Wangwu Pai’s women and children to go to Baoding to settle there. He was thinking of assigning her to come with him to Yangzhou, but felt it was rather inappropriate. When he saw her putting on men’s clothing, ready to march with Situ He and her martial brothers, the delight in his heart was unspeakable.

All through the journey, he was always looking for an opportunity to have an intimate time with her, but Zeng Rou was always following her martial brothers closely. Each time she saw him, she only smiled shyly without saying anything. Wei Xiaobao wanted to say something intimate to her, but all along he did not have the opportunity to do so; inevitably his heart was unbearably itching. If as the Qing army’s commander-in-chief he wanted to use his official authority for private interests, he could simply transfer her into his personal guards brigade; however, in the capacity of a Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu, he knew that taking liberties with a woman, especially the woman of their Society, was a strict prohibition. Plus it would be unsightly in the eyes of the numerous brothers. Therefore, all he could do was swallowing his own saliva while waiting for a good opportunity.

[1] Croton has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat severe constipation since the seed of the plant can cause diarrhoea to human. Apparently, it has the same effect on horses. (Courtesy of Ace High)

[2] Orig. ‘jiaolong’ – legendary dragon with the ability to control rain and floods.

[3] All were female warriors. I could not find any useful information on them other than from Hong Kong TV series/movies: Fan Lihua from ‘Lady Fan’ and Yu Taijun from ‘Saving General Yang’, Mu Guiying from ‘Legendary Amazons’ (Yang Saga/Stories of the Yang Clan). Additional info courtesy of Ace High:

  1. Fan Lihua was the wife of Tang Dynasty General Xue Dingshan. She was a woman warrior from a minority tribe. As a capable and independent fighter, she insisted on being accepted as her husband’s partner and not his subordinate; the mutually strong-willed and unyielding couple argued constantly. At last, she moved back to her old home, and the hurt and angry husband decided to divorce her. Three times General Xue wrote her a letter of divorcement, but each time he could not bring himself to send it. Meanwhile, their old enemy had regrouped, and attacked. Xue Dingshan resisted, but soon realized that victory was impossible without the aid of his estranged wife. Swallowing his pride, the General called on her to seek her help. After arguing out their mutual grievances, the couple reunited and together forced the enemy into retreat.
  2. She (Yu) Taijun was the widow of General Yang Ye of the Yang Family Generals. At the age of 100, widow She Taijun, persuaded the Emperor to allow her to lead the troops with her granddaughter-in-law, Mu Guiying. Under She Taijun and Mu Guiying’s leadership, the Northern Song army successfully defeated the enemy.
  3. Mu Guiying was the daughter of Mu Ke, an official of the Song court who had been wrongfully sent into exile. Mu Guiying grew up in his fortress on Mount Mu which was where young people who distrusted the Emperor came. She practiced martial art skills from young age and mastered many esoteric aspects of it. The special skills she developed proved useful in helping her break the famous Heavenly-Gate Formation of the Liaos. But hers is a story of turning her back on her father and joining the side of her husband’s illustrious family of generals. Her life greatly changed when she met Yang Zongbao, scion of the illustrious Yang family of generals. He was the only male heir of this illustrious family. Rash and hot-headed, he provoked an argument with Mui Guiying which escalated into a full-blown duel. In the process, the two fell in love and Yang demanded the Dragon-Subduing Wood which the Song forces direly needed to counter the Heavenly-Gate Formation. Mu Guiying helped her husband get the Wood and chose to cast her lot with the Yang family. She thus left Mount Mu to serve the court her father despised. She was the second woman, after her grandmother-in-law, Yu Taijun, to hold the seal of Supreme Commander, and with it she led the Imperial Song troops to crack the Heavenly-Gate Formation.

[4] Gao Lishi (684–762), formally the Duke of Qi, was a eunuch official of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty and Wu Zetian’s Zhou Dynasty, becoming particularly powerful during Emperor Xuanzong of Tang’s reign. He is believed to have been in charge of many decisions that were supposed to be the emperor’s responsibility during Emperor Xuanzong’s later years, and was believed to have been richer than many of the nobility of the era.
Wei Zhongxian (1568 – October 19, 1627) is considered by most historians as the most powerful and notorious eunuch in Chinese history. Originally a hoodlum and gambler, he took the step of becoming a eunuch and entering palace service to escape from his creditors. After entering the palace, he got into the service of Madam Ke, the wet-nurse of the future Ming emperor. The couple began manipulating the Tianqi Emperor, who renamed him Wei Zhongxian. The emperor’s favor later gave Wei absolute power over the court.
Wikipedia has full article on each man. (Incidentally, Wei Zhongxian was an important character in White Hair Demoness, translated by Faerie Queene and yours truly.)

[5] Tumu Rebellion or Battle of Tumu Fortress http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumu_Crisis.

[6] Paradise here refers to ‘the dwelling place of Buddhist Immortals’.

[7] Not sure if this is a place’s name. Chai – firewood, Sang – mulberry tree, Kou – mouth/entrance.

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