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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 39

Chapter 39
Men seeking pleasure selectively, young men leaving floating footprints like duckweed.

Along the journey, government officials welcomed them and delivered bribe in abundant. Naturally Wei Xiaobao refused nobody; the farther they travelled south, his luggage became heavier and heavier. To his Tian Di Hui brothers he explained that they were corrupting Tatars’ government; the more bribes they received, the more the common people would grumble, hence the reputation of the government officials everywhere would be damaged. When the time came to rise in rebellion, it would be easier to succeed. Xu Tianchuan and the others believed he was right.

One day they arrived in Yangzhou. The Zongdu [governor-general] of the Two Rivers[1] Ma Leiji, the Xunfu [inspector-general/provincial governor] of Jiangning Ma You and his subordinates: provincial administrative commissioner, surveillance commissioner, provincial educational officer, Huai River road construction, supply line, river control work managers, Yangzhou prefectural magistrate, Jiangdu County head magistrate, as well as military officers of all levels, had already received the news; they all were waiting several li outside the city.

The imperial envoy field office was setup at the Huai River Taotai [lit. raised circuit, or ancient official title; circuit intendant?] Yamen. Wei Xiaobao thought that the place was too constraining; he only stayed for one night, and the next day he requested to be moved to different place. He felt that the best place for the imperial envoy field office would be his old home, the Lovely Spring Courtyard, since he was bestowed honor by the Emperor himself, it would be fitting to come back to his former residence in silken robes. But he could not find any justification to have the imperial envoy field office in a brothel. Thinking about his past in Yangzhou, his most cherished desire, other than opening several big brothels, was to pull all the Chinese peony flowers in the Chinese Peony Garden in front of the Chanzhi [Dhyana/Zen wisdom] Temple from their roots.

Yangzhou’s Chinese Peonies were claimed to be the most famous in the world, the Chinese Peony Garden in front of the Chanzhi Temple was especially grand; the different variety in the garden numbered in hundreds or thousands, the flowers were as big as rice bowls. When Wei Xiaobao was around ten years old, he, along with a group of street urchins, went out to play there. Seeing the beautiful blooming peonies, he picked two flowers to play. The monk of the Temple saw him, snatched the flower back, and slapped him twice on his ears. Wei Xiaobao kicked and bit; he created quite a ruckus with the monk, and was able to push the big and fat monk to the ground, and kicked him several times. The rest of the urchins roared and swarmed into the garden, randomly pulling the Chinese peonies.

The monk cried out for help, a bunch of monks and kitchen helpers rushed out from the Temple with clubs in their hands, to chase the urchins away. Because Wei Xiaobao was the chief offender, he suffered quite a bit of beating with the clubs, his head grew a big lump. When he returned to the Lovely Spring Courtyard, his mother punished him by not giving him any supper that night. Although eventually he managed to go to the kitchen and stole some food until he was full, but the ‘Chanzhi Temple Picking Flower Disgrace’ was deeply etched in his heart. The next day he returned to the Temple to rain curses from a distant; he cursed the monks, from ‘Tathagata Buddha’s mama’ all the way to cursing the monks’ daughters. He swore, “There will come a day when laozi will pull out all the Chinese peonies in front of this Temple clean, will tread on your stinky temple to level it to the ground, will dig hole in it as latrine pit.” He cursed until the monks of the Temple chased him away, and then he ran away as fast as he could.

Many years later, he had already forgotten about this matter. It was not until that day he returned to Yangzhou and was looking for a place to setup his field office did he remember Chanzhi Temple; immediately he told the Huai River Taotai about his intention. The Taotai thought, “Chanzhi Temple is a well-known Buddhist place, a thousand-year old ancient temple. If the imperial envoy stays there, I am afraid he would disturb the peace and stir up confusion.” Thereupon he said, “Reporting to Daren: the scenery in the Chanzhi Temple is indeed magnificent, Daren has a superb idea, lowly officer admires it exceedingly. However, I am afraid it won’t be too convenient to have non-vegetarian food and wine in the Temple.”

“What’s not convenient?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Just move the Bodhisattva inside the Temple out; problem solved.”

Hearing that he wanted the Bodhisattva to be moved, the Taotai was even more scared; he thought that it would invite misfortune. If the common people inside Yangzhou’s city wall were angered, they would be very difficult to handle. Therefore, with a force laugh he bowed with cupped fist and said in a low voice, “Reporting to Daren: Yangzhou’s prostitutes are famous throughout the world. Along the way Daren has toiled to render great merits, now that you have arrived at my humble place, lowly officer ought to serve you with all my heart; I have already selected not a few good-looking girls who are adept at strumming the lute and singing songs, ready to be inspected by Daren. The monks’ temple has hard bed and stiff backless stool, I am afraid it will spoil the fun very much.”

Wei Xiaobao thought what he said actually made a lot of sense; he laughed and said, “In your opinion, where should we set the field office?”

The Taotai said, “Among the salt merchants of Yangzhou, there is one surnamed He, his home is called the He Garden, it is considered the most famous garden in Yangzhou. He has a mind to curry favor with Imperial Envoy Minister, and has already prepared proper invitation card, with the hope that Daren would honor him with your presence. It’s just that his scholarly honor (in imperial exams) is too low, he did not dare to speak out. If Daren does not look down on him, there is no harm in you taking the trouble to visit and take a look.”

This salt merchant surnamed He was very rich and powerful; when he was a kid, Wei Xiaobao often walked by the high wall outside his house. He heard the sound of string and wind instruments from the inside, and was very envious; however, he had never had any opportunity to look inside. Thereupon he said, “Very well, I’ll stay there for several days; if it is not enjoyable, we’ll move again. There are a lot of salt merchants in Yangzhou; we can stay from one house to the next. Even if we eat there, we won’t make them poor.”

The He Garden’s rooms were connected like clouds, there were serene rocky small streams winding around the garden, the pavilions were elegant, the construction was exquisite; with just a glance one could tell that each foot of land had cost not a few gold and silver. Wei Xiaobao was very satisfied; he ordered his personal guards to also stay in the garden. Zhang Yong and the others, four generals, as well as the troops under their command were spread around neighboring government officials’ private residences.

By this time Yangzhou was flourishing, it was considered one of the most bustling cities in the world. During the Tang Dynasty, there was a saying about Yangzhou: ‘ten li of pearl curtain, twenty-four romantic bridges’. At the beginning of Qing Dynasty, it had become the collection and distribution center Huai River salt, thus it became even more prosperous. According to historical records, at the end of the Ming Dynasty, there were a total of more than 375,000 ‘ding’ (men sixteen years old and older). During the Ming-Qing transition, Yangzhou suffered Qing troops’ massacre, by Shunzhi’s third year, there were only 9,320 ‘ding’ remained, but by Kangxi’s sixth year, the number increased again to more than 397,900 ‘ding’. Not only the vitality was completely restored, it even surpassed its former glory.

Early morning the next day, all government officials, big and small, within Yangzhou’s city wall appeared at the Imperial Envoy Field Headquarters to pay their respect. Wei Xiaobao received them, and then he read aloud the Imperial Edict. He did not know any character in Kangxi’s imperial edict, hence earlier he asked the secretary to read it and he memorized it. This time he recited character by character; his memory was quite good, he did not make any mistake. In his haste he only held the imperial edict carelessly, but nobody detected anything.

When the numerous officials heard that the Emperor issued an edict to exempt Yangzhou’s residents in every county three years of land tax, plus compensation to the orphans and widows of the victims of disaster during the founding of the country, and construction of Martyr Shrine for the loyal minister Shi Kefa, none did not shout ‘long live’, and kowtowed to thank the vast and mighty imperial kindness.

Finished announcing the imperial decree, Wei Xiaobao said, “Gentlemen, Daren, when Xiongdi left the Capital, His Majesty instructed me that Jiangsu province’s output is prosperous, but for the past few years, the government is somewhat relaxed, troops preparation is also not in order; Xiongdi was ordered to investigate and reorganize properly. His Majesty cherished Yangzhou’s common people so much, as government officials, we ought to spare no effort to repay the Holy Sage’s grace.”

All the civil and military officials voiced their agreement, but they could not help being secretly anxious. Actually, these words were taught by Songgotu. Wei Xiaobao knew that to receive a lot of bribes, first, have the opposite party asking for a favor; second, have the opposite party somewhat afraid. For this reason, he threatened Jiangsu’s civil and military officials a bit; he must flaunt his authority, but the threat must be neither too light nor too heavy, it must be just right, yet must be discreet and completely delivered in government official lingo. He would not be able to do this if Songgotu did not coach him.

With the bureaucratic protocol completed, he had the local official selecting the location for the Martyr Shrine, and also drawing up a plan to get the victims’ names registered. He sent people to the four townships to announce the edict about Emperor’s benevolence in exempting the people from land tax. All these businesses were not something that could be done in one morning one evening; while waiting, he lived comfortably in a golden nest in Yangzhou. For the next several days, the governor-general and inspector-general prepared banquet for him, the administrative commissioner and chief of police prepared banquet for him, various departments’ officials prepared banquet for him. In every banquet room, delicacies were spread out, it was extremely extravagant, no expense was spared.

Every day Wei Xiaobao was thinking of going to the Lovely Spring Courtyard to visit his mother, but the exchange of toasts never stopped, from the beginning it was never convenient for him to do so. Imperial Envoy high-ranking official’s mother worked as a prostitute in Yangzhou, this matter must never be exposed. The disgrace and loss of face was a minor matter, but the loss of imperial court’s dignity was a major issue. Much less Wei Xiaobao had been a high-ranking official for quite a long time, all along he did not fetch his mother to live a happy and prosperous life with him in the Capital, instead he allowed her to be reduced to prostitution; it was a greatly unfilial thing. If this matter was ever found out by the imperial censor, even the Emperor would find it difficult to protect him.

He was thinking that as soon as things had settled down, he would quietly put on a disguise and go to the Lovely Spring Courtyard to take a look, and then he would have his personal guard escorted his mother to settle down in Beijing. He thought that it would be best if the gods did not know and the ghosts did not detect.

At first he had always had a plan to escape [orig. ‘anoint oil at the bottom of his feet’], as soon as he saw something amiss, he would immediately ‘spur the horse to full speed’, and escape without a trace. Unexpectedly his official position was getting higher and higher, the longer he was in office, the happier he was. By the time he actually had a thought to fetch his mother back to the Capital, he had already been in office for too long.

Several days later, it was Yangzhou’s prefectural magistrate Wu Zhirong’s turn to invite him to a banquet and wash the dust from the Imperial Envoy’s feet. Wu Zhirong had heard from the Taotai that the Imperial Envoy has had a thought to make Chanzhi Temple his field office. He thought that the Chanzhi Temple’s best feature was merely the Chinese peony garden in front of the Temple, the Imperial Envoy set his heart on the Temple, it must be because he appreciate the flowers’ beauty. He was very good at flattery, hence several days ahead of the banquet, he had a flower canopy built at the bank of the Chinese peony garden. He had artisans built it, the pine frame still had its bark intact, the branches and leaves remained on the trunk, inside the canopy the table and chairs were made of natural trees and rocks, the floor inside the canopy was covered with shrubs and grass, they used bamboo pieces to channel water to create streams around the canopy, complete with its gurgling noise, the details were extremely well-thought, it was as if the banquet was held on the mountain and fields, compared to rich people home’s engraved beams and jade-brick hall, it had different feeling and local flavor.

Who would have thought that Wei Xiaobao was an unbearably uncouth person, who did not have even half an elegant bone in his entire body; when he arrived at the flower canopy, the first question he asked was, “How can there be an arbor here? Ah right, it must be the Temple monks built it for their Buddhist ceremony; they are going to set it on fire, and put some food in here to feed the hungry ghosts.”

Wu Zhirong’s meticulous effort was totally in vain; he could not help but looking very awkward. He still thought that the Imperial Envoy was intentionally ridiculing him; with no other choice he let out a forced laugh and said, “Lowly officer’s knowledge and experience is shallow and crude, I failed to make arrangement that satisfies Daren’s taste; indeed I deserve to die.”

Seeing that the other guests had already stood respectfully to wait for his arrival, Wei Xiaobao greeted them and then took a seat. After socializing with Wei Xiaobao for several days, the governor-general of the Two Rivers had already returned to Jiangning to do his duty. The inspector-general of Jiangsu province and administrative commissioner had their administrative offices in Suzhou, but they all stayed in Yangzhou to accompany the Imperial Envoy. As for the rest of the guests, if not famous scholar, then they must be salt merchants with scholarly honor in imperial exam, or have some official position in Yangzhou.

Yangzhou’s banquet was very elegant and very rich in variety. Just the pre-banquet tea, fruits and delicacy were already more than a dozen varieties. Although Wei Xiaobao was born and raised locally, he could not know everything. After drinking a round of tea, the sun was gradually tilting to the west, the sun illuminated the several thousand Chinese peony outside the canopy, like glorious and magnificent luster of gems, just like brocade clothes. But the more Wei Xiaobao looked at it, the angrier he got, thinking about the grudge of the past, when he was beaten and humiliated by the monks of the Temple. Right then and there he was thinking of having all the Chinese peony pulled and burned, but he must have a legitimate pretext to do that.

While he was mulling over this, the Inspector-General Ma You said with a laugh, “Wei Daren, listening to Daren’s accent, it seems that you have lived in Huai Yang region before. Huai Yang’s water and soil is rich, thus it produces talented persons, as well as good flowers.”

The rest of the officials only knew that the Imperial Envoy was a Yellow Banner Manchu, the last several days the Inspector-General heard him speaking, he could detect Yangzhou accent in his speech, thereupon he seized this opportunity to flatter him a little bit.

Wei Xiaobao was thinking about the hateful monks of Chanzhi Temple. “Yangzhou’s monks are no good,” he blurted out.

The Inspector-General was startled, he was not sure what Wei Xiaobao was referring to. The administrative commissioner Mu Tianyan was a very perceptive, as well as highly educated; he interrupted, “Wei Daren’s observation is very true. Yangzhou monks selfishly concerned with gaining advantages for themselves, they fawn on local authorities, humiliate the poor; they were just like that since ancient times.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he laughed and said, “That’s right. Mu Daren is a scholar, you knew that it was written in the books.”

Mu Tianyan said, “Isn’t the story of ‘Jade Green Muslin Covering’ by Wang Bo of the Tang Dynasty set in Yangzhou?”

Wei Xiaobao just loved to hear stories; he hastily asked, “What is the story of ‘yellow cloth [huang bu] versus sandy dragon’ [bi sha long, same pronunciation, different characters from ‘Jade Green Muslin Covering’]?”

“The story happened in Yangzhou’s Shita [stone pagoda] Temple,” Mu Tianyan said, “During the early Qian years of the Tang Dynasty, the Shita Temple was called Mulan [lily magnolia] Courtyard. When the poet Wang Bo was young, his family was poor …”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out this person was called Wang Bo, not a piece of yellow cloth.” He heard Mu Tianyan continued, “… he lived away from home in Mulan Courtyard. The monks in the temple rang a bell to signal meal times, when Wang Bo heard the bell, he went to the dining hall to eat. The monks disliked him, there was one time when everybody ate first, and rang the bell after they all finished eating. Wang Bo heard the bell, he went to the dining hall, but saw that the monks had already dispersed, the food had already been eaten clean …”

Wei Xiaobao slapped the table and angrily said, “Damn monks are so repulsive.”

“That’s right,” Mu Tianyan said, “Just a meal, how much does it cost? At that time Wang Bo was very ashamed, he inscribed a poem on the wall, ‘Attending a lesson from west to east, ashamed returning to black after-meal bell.’”

“What kind of fellow was this ‘Hui Li’ [return black]?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The numerous officials had been in contact with him these past few days, they knew that the Imperial Envoy was not a scholar; in fact, a lot of famous, rich and honorable banner men did not come from academic field, hence nobody thought it strange. Mu Tianyan said, “Hui Li means monk.”

Wei Xiaobao nodded. “So they are the bald thieves,” he said, “And then what happened?”

Mu Tianyan said, “And then Wang Bo became a high-ranking official, the imperial court sent him to guard Yangzhou, and he returned to Mulan Courtyard. Naturally those monks were fawning on him. He went to see if the poem he inscribed on the wall was still there or not, but he saw a piece of expensive jade green muslin pasted on the wall, covering the two lines of poem he wrote, in order to avoid it being damaged. Wang Bo was deeply moved, he added two more lines after the original poem, ‘Thirty years ago dust covered the surface, only now it is covered with jade green muslin.’”

“Surely he arrested those bald thieves and had them flogged?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Mu Tianyan said, “Wang Bo was an elegant scholar, he thought that the two lines of poem already ridiculed them, hence he let it pass.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If it were me, how could I give up that easily? But if I had to write a poem, I don’t have that kind of skill. Laozi can only defecate, cannot write a poem.”

After the story, the tea was removed and the wine was poured. Wei Xiaobao looked around. He caught Wang Jinbao on separate table was pouring a cup of wine into his mouth; the way he drink was very straightforward. Wei Xiaobao had an idea, “General Wang,” he said, “You told me once that the war-horses that eat Chinese peony are especially full of power and grandeur, didn’t you?” While he spoke, he winked at him.

Wang Jinbao did not understand his intention, “This …” he stammered.

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty selects and uses famous species of good horses: Mongolian horses, Western Region horses, Sichuan horses, Yunnan horses, what have you. His Majesty instructed us to raise those horses carefully, didn’t he?”

Wang Jinbao knew about Kangxi accumulated war horses with diligent care. “Daren is right,” he said.

“You are well acquainted with horses’ character,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “When we were in Beijing, you said that if war-horses are fed Chinese peony, their running speed will double. His Majesty loves horses like this, we as his servants should uphold the Holy Sage’s intention. If we dig the Chinese peony in this place and send it to the Capital, so that the Ministry of War’s carriage manager can feed the horse. When His Majesty finds out, his dragon countenance will surely be very pleased.”

When the people heard this, their countenance looked extremely strange; Chinese peony flowers can strengthen the horse? It was the first time that they heard about it. Looking at Wang Jinbao, they noticed his expression was ambiguous, apparently he disagreed, but did not dare to object blatantly. Yet Wei Xiaobao kept saying His Majesty this and His Majesty that, he was ‘lifting high the Emperor’s hat’; who would dare to show the slightest objection? They all could see that these several thousand famous varieties of Chinese peony would be destroyed in his hands. Henceforth Yangzhou would lose one scenic spot. But why did this Wei Daren hate these Chinese peonies so much? Everybody looked at each other in dismay, nobody could say anything.

Prefectural magistrate Wu Zhirong said, “Wei Daren’s scholarly knowledge is profound, indeed worthy of other people’s admiration. This Chinese peony’s root is called Scarlet Peony. The Compendium of Medical Herbs[2] mentions that its function is to reduce internal blood clot and improve blood circulation. The name Chinese peony [shaoyao] itself has the character ‘yao’ [medicine] in it; apparently the people of old recognized its good medicinal character. When the horse eats Chinese peony, its blood vessels unimpeded, naturally it can run like flying. When Daren returns to the Capital, lowly officer will have all the Chinese peony flowers here dug out and have Daren carry it back to the Capital.”

When the other officials heard this, in their hearts they all scolded Wu Zhirong as despicable and shameless, in order to curry favor with a superior officer, he was willing to go as far as destroying Yangzhou’s beautiful scenery. Wei Xiaobao clapped his hands and said, “Wu Daren is capable and experienced. Very good, very good.”

Wu Zhirong felt much honored; he hastily stood up to bow and said, “Thank you for Daren’s compliment.”

The administrative commissioner Mu Tianyan walked out of the canopy toward a cluster of Chinese peonies. He picked a big Chinese peony, as big as a rice bowl, and returned to the table; with both hands he presented the flower to Wei Xiaobao and said with a laugh, “Would Daren please stick this flower on your hat? Lowly officer has a story for Daren to hear.”

Hearing that he was about to listen to another story, Wei Xiaobao received the flower; he saw that the Chinese peony’s petals were dark red, with a yellow line running right in the middle of each petal, it was indeed a tender and beautiful flower, hence he inserted it onto his hat.

Mu Tianyan said, “Congratulations Daren, this Chinese peony has a name; it is called the ‘Gold Band All Around’. It is a very rare variety, there is a writing in the ancient books that whoever can see this ‘Gold Band All Around’, in the future he could be the Prime Minister.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “How can there be such thing?”

Mu Tianyan said, “The story originated during the Northern Song Dynasty. In those days Han Weigong [Duke of Wei], Han Qi, was guarding Yangzhou. In the Chinese peony garden, right here, in front of the Chanzhi Temple, suddenly four big flowers bloomed on one Chinese peony tree, the petals were dark red, with gold thread right in the middle; it was precisely this ‘Gold Band All Around’. This kind of Chinese peony had never been seen before, it was extremely rare. His subordinates promptly reported this, Han Weigong graced the garden with his presence to enjoy the scenery; he was very happy. Seeing there were four flowers, he thought about inviting three guests to enjoy the flowers together.”

Wei Xiaobao took down his hat to look at the flower again; indeed the red and yellow produced stark contrast, it was exceptionally marvelous. The lines of golden stripes may not be found in a hundred flowers.

Mu Tianyan said, “At that time there were two well-known persons in Yangzhou, one was Wang Gui, the other Wang Anshi[3]; both were people of talent and learning, of knowledge and experience. Han Weigong thought, there were four flowers, but only three people; unavoidably ‘everything is fine except for one small defect’. If he were to invite other person, their prestige may not fit the other three. While he was hesitating, suddenly someone came to pay respect to him; it was Chen Shengzhi. He was also a famous scholar. Han Weigong was greatly delighted; the next day he held a big feast in front of the Chinese peony garden. He had the four ‘Gold Band All Around’ flowers picked and inserted into each man’s hat. This story is called ‘The Feast of Four Prime Ministers with flowers on their hats’. These four men later on became Prime Ministers.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Interesting. These four honorable friends were all famous intellectual, people who could write poem and write essays. Xiongdi cannot be compared to them.”

“That is not necessarily so,” Mu Tianyan replied, “During the Northern Song Dynasty, only intellectuals can become Prime Ministers. Our Great Qing conquered the world on horseback. The ones esteemed the most by His Majesty are brave and cunning heroes and warriors.” Hearing the comment ‘brave and cunning heroes and warriors’, nine characters [you yong you mou de ying xiong hao han], Wei Xiaobao could not help but was very happy. He nodded his head repeatedly.

Mu Tianyan continued, “Han Weigong was conferred the title Duke of Wei Country, it goes without saying. Wang Anshi was bestowed the title Duke of Jing Country, Wang Gui was made Duke of Qi Country, and Chen Shengzhi became Duke of Xiu Country. Not only these four famous feudal officials became Prime Ministers, they were all bestowed the title ‘Country Duke’; not only each one had riches and honor, they also had long life. Wei Daren attained much in your youth, right now you are bestowed the title Bojue [Earl/Count], if you are promoted one more level, you will be Houjue [Marquis]; one more level and you will become Gongjue [Duke]. Even Wang [King] or Qinwang [Prince (royalty)] is just a matter of time.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “If only it will be according to Mu Daren’s golden mouth, then everybody here will also be promoted and gain wealth.”

All the officials rose and held the wine cups with both hands; they said, “Congratulations to Wei Daren for your upcoming promotions, Gong and Hou for ten thousand generations.”

Wei Xiaobao also stood up and drank the toast together with the numerous officials; he thought, “This official is both scholarly and eloquent, he can tell stories and attract people’s attention. If I call him to Beijing to work for me, I can frequently listen to his stories, won’t it be better than listening to the storytellers? By nature this man is a big king of flattery, he was given the name Mu Tianyan [lit. admiring heaven’s countenance]; clearly he always wanted to have an audience with the Emperor.”

Mu Tianyan continued, “Afterwards Han Weigong led the troops to guard the western border. Seeing him, Western Xia people were scared to death, they did not dare to send any troops to disturb the border. At that time the Western Xia people feared two Song Dynasty ministers, one was Han Weigong, Han Qi; the other was Fan Wenzhenggong[4], Fan Zhongyan. At that time there was a saying, ‘With a Han in the army, western thieves hear it and their hearts tremble; with a Fan in the army, western thieves hear it and were frightened that their guts busted’. In the future Wei Daren will lead the troops to guard the western border, there will be a saying, ‘With a Wei in the army, western thieves see it and hastily kneel down’!”[5]

Wei Xiaobao loved it very much; he said, “These two characters ‘western thieves’ are very clever. Ping Xi Wang that western …” Suddenly he remembered, “Wu Sangui has not yet risen in rebellion; I cannot call him ‘western thief’.” Hastily he corrected himself, “Ping Xi Wang is guarding the western border, we have peace and security without any problem; he has rendered very great merit.”

Wu Zhirong said, “Ping Xi Wang is brave and resourceful, he performs high service through hard work, he was bestowed the title Qinwang, the heir apparent has become the Prince Consort. In the future Wei Daren will have great riches and great honor, will live as long as Mount Nan, definitely you will be no different than Ping Xi Wang.”

In his heart Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Hot piece mama, you want me to be no different than Wu Sangui that big traitor. This old turtle will have his head removed any day, you want me to be the same as him?”

Mu Tianyan usually paid closed attention to what’s happening in the imperial court, just a few days ago he saw the imperial bulletin that the Emperor has issued the imperial decree of border defense removal. He immediately foresaw that Wu Sangui would be in deep trouble. Right now, seeing Wei Xiaobao’s countenance slightly changed, his suspicion was confirmed and he understood it clearly. He said, “Wei Daren is promoted by the Emperor himself, he is the trusted aide that the Holy Sage depends on, the pillar of the imperial court, the ridgepole and beams of the nation. Ping Xi Wang, on the other hand, while his official ranking right now is high, in the end he cannot be compared to Wei Daren. Wu Fuzun [prefectural magistrate] comparison is not too correct. Wei Daren’s ancestor was Tang Dynasty’s Zhongwu Wang [lit. loyal martial/military king] Wei Nie; who once destroyed four hundred and eighty thousand foreign troops, whose prestige shook the western frontier. When Zhu Ci rebelled that time, he sent people to invite Wei Zhongwu Wang to send troops into battle together. Zhongwu Wang was loyal to the Emperor and was not double-minded, how could he be willing to do such treason and heresy? Immediately he had the rebel thief’s envoy beheaded, and then he sent his troops to help the imperial court defeat and pacify the rebel thieves, hence he set up great merit. Wei Daren appearance is stately, his good fortune great, incomparable; in all likelihood, he inherits Wei Zhongwu Wang’s good fortune.”

Wei Xiaobao smiled and nodded. Actually, he did not even know his own surname; it was only because his mother’s name was Wei Chunfang that he went by his mother’s surname. It had never occurred to him that surname Wei had this kind of high-profile persona, this administrative commissioner even said with conviction that he was his own ancestor. It seemed that the administrative commissioner was determined to ‘paste gold onto Wei Xiaobao’s face’. From the tone of his voice, it seemed that he already figured out that Wu Sangui was about to revolt. This man’s ability and wisdom was really amazing.

Being refuted by him, Wu Zhirong was dissatisfied, but he did not dare to openly contradict his senior; he said, “I heard that Wei Daren is a Plain Yellow Banner man.” His implication was clear: he was a Manchu, how could he have anything to do with Wei Nie of the Tang Dynasty?

Mu Tianyan laughed and said, “Wu Fuzun only knows one does not know two. The present Holy Sage reigns the world; toward the millions of people all over the world, he treats everyone equally favorably. Manchu and Han are one family, why make any distinction between the two?” This argument was actually rather forcing the logic, but Wu Zhirong did not dare to argue. He thought that if he spoke several more sentences, he might very well offend the Imperial Envoy; hence he repeatedly stated his agreement.

Mu Tianyan said, “Ping Xi Wang is our Yangzhou’s Gaoyou [county] man, do Wu Fuzun and Ping Xi Wang belong to the same family?”

Wu Zhirong was really not from Gaoyou, hence he did not have any relationship with Wu Sangui, but at that time Wu Sangui’s power and influence was overpowering, hence he hurriedly borrowed the influence and claimed some honor due to his surname Wu. He said, “According to genealogy, lowly officer is one generation younger than Ping Xi Wang; I should call Wangye my uncle.”

Mu Tianyan nodded, no longer paid him any attention. He said to Wei Xiaobao, “Wei Daren, although this ‘Gold Band All Around’ Chinese peony is not as rare as it was during the Song Dynasty, yet it is in full bloom like this, it is also exceptionally rare. Today Wei Daren arrived and enjoy the flower when it is in full bloom, this is not a coincidence; it must be the Heaven’s will. Lowly officer has a tiny bit of idea, would Daren listen to me?”

Laoxiong, please give your advice,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“Giving Advice, these two characters, how can I dare?” Mu Tianyan said, “The root of the Chinese peony indeed has some medical benefit. Daren wants to use it to feed the horse, if it is further refined by drug store, the effect will be even more powerful. Lowly officer will order my men to procure a large quantity of it, and will have medicine expert in Beijing process it. As for the Chinese peony in this place, to think that they have merit in announcing the good news to Daren, is it possible to leave them behind? When the day come in which Wei Daren takes command to destroy the thieves, and you are bestowed the title Wang [king], just like Han Weigong, Wei Zhongwu Wang, you can come back here to enjoy the flower. At that time I am sure the ‘Gold Band All Around’ will be in full bloom again to welcome the noble; won’t that be a beautiful thing indeed? In lowly officer’s opinion, in the future there will be an opera developed based on this story.”

Wei Xiaobao was happy and excited, “Are you saying that there will be an actor playing me in the opera?”

“That’s right,” Mu Tianyan said, “Naturally there will be an elegant, attractive young actor playing the role of Wei Daren. But there will also be actors with white beard, black beard, ‘big flower face’ [referring to lots of makeup], and ‘white nose [cunning/sly person] little clown’ playing us, the officials.” The government officials roared into laughter.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and asked, “What will this story called?”

Mu Tianyan turned to the inspector-general Ma You and said, “For that, please Futai [inspector-general (old)] Daren pick a good name.” He noticed that the inspector-general has been very quiet, he thought that they must not give him a cold shoulder.

Ma You laughed and said, “Wei Daren will be bestowed the title Wang in the future, how about this opera is called ‘Wei Wang inserts the flower on his hat’?” The numerous officials voiced their approval together.

In his heart Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he no longer desired to haggle over the old grievance of the past. He thought, “Laozi will never be a prime minister, or destroying western thieves. Being a wangye just for fun, perhaps I can, but if I pulled these Chinese peonies, I am afraid I will bring bad omen.” Looking at the flower garden, he saw that there were at least several dozen more of ‘Gold Band All Around’; he thought, “How can there be this many prime ministers? Could it be that all of you will become prime ministers? Futai or Fantai [vassal state governor (old)], there is still hope. This Wu Zhirong has a thief head and dog brain, no matter what he won’t be a prime minister. In the future, the ‘white nose little clown’ must be playing his role.”

He was fully aware that this administrative commissioner spoke in a roundabout way, spending a lot of effort planning his speech, his main intention was to save these several thousand Chinese peonies in front of the Chanzhi Temple. This was government official trick that was passed through in front of everybody; it was called ‘flowered sedan chair people lift the people’, since you have lifted me up, I cannot be obstinately clinging to my own way. He could not make these Yangzhou officials lose face. Thereupon he no longer mentioned anything about the Chinese peony. He laughed and said, “In the future, if there is indeed an opera like that, we can’t watch it anyway. Right now, why don’t we listen to songs first?” The numerous officials voiced their approval at once.

Wu Zhirong had already prepared everything, he issued the order, from outside the canopy they could hear the tinkling noise of girdle ornament, followed by a whiff of perfume. Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was aroused; he thought, “There’s a beauty I can look at.”

Sure enough, a woman gracefully walked into the flowered canopy, paid her respect to Wei Xiaobao and with a delicate voice she said, “May Imperial Envoy Daren and all Daren have ten thousand good fortune and peace like gold. Xiao Nuzi [little/lowly woman] will serve by singing a song.” The woman was approximately thirty years old, her attire was gorgeous, but her facial features were only average.

The flute player started to blow the bamboo flute, and she sang. The song she sang was Du Mu’s [(803-852) Tang Dynasty poet] two-stanza Yangzhou poems: “There are faint green mountains and far green waters, And grasses in this river region not yet faded by autumn; And clear in the moon on the Twenty-Four Bridges, Girls white as jade are teaching flute-music[6].” “With my wine-bottle, watching by river and lake, For a lady so tiny as to dance on my palm; I awake, after dreaming ten years in Yangzhou, Known as fickle, even in the Street of Blue Houses.[7]”

The flute was melodious, the singing voice winding amidst the music; it was very pleasant to listen to. But looking at this courtesan, Wei Xiaobao felt rather impatient.

When the woman finished singing, another courtesan walked in. This woman was around thirty-four or thirty-five years old, her bearing was elegant, her voice was even more trained, she was able to sing the most complicated melody. Her voice remained even while the pitch and rhythm were dynamically rising and falling. The song she was singing was Qin Guan’s poem, ‘Watching The Waves’[8]; “The stars divide the Niu [ox] and Dou [big-dipper] constellations, the horizon borders Huai River and the ocean, Yangzhou’s ten thousand wells raised to prominence. Flowers along the streets emitted its fragrance, at the hawk’s cry the people arise, ten li of Vermillion curtain brought the spring breeze. Hero’s aura like a rainbow, dragging the spring’s gold and purple out, flying pass each other over the canopy. The lane enters hanging down poplar, painting of a bridge running north and south behind the bluish-green smoke.”

The poem was definitely sung very beautifully, but listening to it, Wei Xiaobao was extremely bored; he could not help but yawning loudly. The ‘Watching The Waves’ was only sung halfway, Wu Zhirong was very perceptive, seeing the Imperial Envoy was not interested, he waved his hands, the courtesan immediately stopped singing, saluted, and withdrew. With a forced laugh Wu Zhirong said, “Wei Daren, these two courtesans are the most well-known in Yangzhou, they were singing about the liveliness of Yangzhou. I wonder what does Daren think?”

It never occurred to him that for Wei Xiaobao to listen to songs, first, the singer must be young and good-looking, second, the song must be romantic and simple, third, the way she sang it must be flirtatious. That day when Chen Yuanyuan sang about the downfall of the country, she had the gorgeous appearance, plus she added explanation to the verses all the way through before he could finish listening to the ‘Yuanyuan Song’. Right now these two courtesans’ appearance was mediocre, their expression stiff, and he did not have any idea what they were singing about. He was only yawning; it could be considered that he was being extremely polite.

Hearing Wu Zhirong’s question, he said, “Not bad, not bad, it’s just that they are a bit too old. This kind of aging goods and old stock, Xiongdi does not have much appetite.”

“Yes, yes,” Wu Zhirong said, “Du Mu was a Tang Dynasty man, Qin Shaoyou was a Song man, indeed they are too old-fashioned. There is one new poem, written by a new poet, called Zha Shenxing; he made his name not too long ago. He was writing about the charm of Yangzhou’s farmer family girl; it’s really fresh, really fresh.” Signaling with his hand, he ordered his attendant to summon another courtesan.

When Wei Xiaobao talked about ‘aging goods and old stock’, he was referring to the courtesans, but Wu Zhirong thought that the songs and poems were too old-fashioned. Wei Xiaobao did not have the slightest idea about the Du Mu or Qin Shaoyou that he was talking about, he did understand, however, about ‘the charm of Yangzhou’s farmer family girl; it’s really fresh, really fresh’. He thought, “Since it’s about a very fresh Yangzhou’s farmer family girl, there is no harm in taking a look.”

When the courtesan entered the flowered canopy, it would be alright if Wei Xiaobao did not look at her, but as soon as he looked, he could not stop anger from rising in his breast, malicious intent arose to the edge of his guts, ready to flare up. Turned out this courtesan, perhaps she was not quite fifty yet, but for sure she was way over forty; there were graying hair on her temples, lots of wrinkles on her forehead. Her eyes should be big and round, but they were thin instead, her mouth should be small, but it was huge instead. Seeing this courtesan was holding a pipa, Wei Xiaobao’s anger ablaze; he thought, “Someone like you wants to copy Chen Yuanyuan!”

Soon the strings were plucked, like the sound of jade or leaping pearls, singing oriole or twittering swallow; it was very pleasant to hear. And then she sang, “Reflection of distant mountain on Huai River so bluish-green, overflowing water on Huai River so clear. Inverted image enters the tower, the entire fence is draped with flower. Who would have guessed that outside the marketplace fence and gate the reed hut is still there? When the woman with light makeup appears, her dark green skirt drags a long tail.”

Her singing voice was simple yet elegant, each line was accompanied by beautiful segment of pipa melody; sometimes it sounded like gurgling water, other time it sounded like the ringing of silver bells. On the final line ‘her dark green skirt drags a long tail’, the pipa was diminishing into soft ritardando. None of the government officials did not feel ‘their heart untroubled, their spirit pleased’. Some closed their eyes in concentration, some shook and swayed their heads in keeping with the music. When last note of the pipa vanished, the government officials cheered together.

Mu Tianyan said, “Good poem, good song, good pipa. It is indeed chaste tree branch hairpin and plain cloth skirt does not cover ‘divine fragrance, national grace’ [i.e. outstanding beauty]. It doesn’t matter if it is a poem or a song, natural beauty can be seen from simplicity and elegance. This is a first class skill.”

“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted; he asked the courtesan, “Do you know the song ‘Eighteen Touches’? Sing it for me.”

As soon as the government officials heard the request, their countenance turned pale. The courtesan’s countenance changed even more. Suddenly tears streamed down her face; she turned around and ran out. ‘Crash’, the pipa in her hands fell to the ground, the courtesan did not even pick it up, she continued running out.

Wei Xiaobao laughed heartily and said, “You can’t sing the song, I won’t punish you; why are you so scared?”

The ‘Eighteen Touches’ was actually an extremely obscene folk song, it was about touching eighteen parts of a woman’s body, each touch was accompanied by a metaphor to describe it. Although all the government officials had heard this song, but in this grand feast of distinguished assembly, who dared to mention it openly? Wouldn’t that be a major disgrace to their reputation as government officials? The courtesan’s pipa playing skill and her singing voice had a long standing reputation in Yangzhou. Not only she was good at singing poems, she was also good at composing poems, her fame spread among the high-ranking court officials. Even Yangzhou’s rich merchants and powerful families could not casually see her. Wei Xiaobao’s request was a major humiliation to her.

Mu Tianyan said in a low voice, “If Wei Daren loves to hear folk songs, we’ll find someone who can sing, so you can enjoy it.”

“Even the ‘Eighteen Touches’ she couldn’t sing, this old wh0re is really disappointing,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Next time I’ll take you to Lovely Spring Courtyard at Ming Yu Alley, the prostitutes over there know a lot of folksongs.” As soon as those words came out of his mouth, he immediately felt it was improper; he thought, “No matter what I cannot invite him to Lovely Spring Courtyard. Luckily there are a lot of brothels in Yangzhou; for nine brothels with big names, there are nine brothels with small names. Any courtyard will provide the amusement.” Lifting up the wine cup, he laughed and said, “Let’s drink, let’s drink.”

When the civil government officers heard his vulgar talks, they all felt embarrassed, they all raised their cups and drank, pretending not to hear anything. The military government officials, however, were delighted; they thought that the Imperial Envoy Minister was somewhat like-minded with them.

Right this moment, he saw a yamen bailiff walked out of the flowered canopy with lowered head. Wei Xiaobao only saw his back, but his heart was moved, “This man’s back looks very familiar; who is he?” But the bailiff never returned. After a while, Wei Xiaobao forgot all about him.

After drinking several more cups of wine, Wei Xiaobao felt that socializing with these civil government officials was dull and boring; since there was no opera and no gambling, he was extremely bored. To amuse himself, he sang the ‘Eighteen Touches’ in his heart, “One touch, two touches, touching the end of Jiejie’s [older sister, used in more intimate way] hair.” Unable to endure the boredom anymore, he stood up and said, “Xiongdi has enough wine, I’ll take my leave now.” He bowed with cupped fist toward the inspector-general, the administrative commissioner, the chief police officer, and other high-ranking officials before walking out. All the government officials also arose and send him off, out of the flowered canopy, and waited until he sat on a large sedan chair.

Wei Xiaobao returned to his field headquarters and told his personal guards that he wanted to rest; any guest, no matter who, must not be allowed to see him. Entering his bedroom, he changed into a set of tattered clothing. Several days ago he ordered Shuang’er to go to the marketplace to buy a set of old clothing. He tore the clothing in several place, trampled it on the ground, and poured some lantern oil on it, so that the clothes were unbearably filthy and greasy. His hat, shoes and socks, even the string tying his braid were all exchanged with shabby, low-quality goods. From the wood burning stove he grabbed a handful of ashes, diluted it with water, and smeared it all over his face, his arms and hands. When he looked in the mirror, his appearance had indeed returned to that of the little servant at the Lovely Spring Courtyard many years ago.

Shuang’er helped him changed; she laughed and said, “Xianggong, in the opera there is the Imperial Envoy Minister Bao Longtu[9] took a disguise to make private investigation; I wonder if he’d look like you?”

“More or less,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “But Bao Longtu was born with dark skin, he did not need to rub ashes on his face.”

“Is it all right if I go with you?” Shuang’er asked, “You are going alone, if something bad happens, no one is going to help you.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “The place that I am going to, a good looking young lady like you must not go.” Finished speaking, he hummed the song, “One touch, two touches, touching the side of my good Shuang’er’s cheek …” Reaching out to her, he stroked her face. Shuang’er blushed and giggled, she stepped away to evade.

Wei Xiaobao took a big wad of banknotes and stuffed it into his pocket, he also took a bundle of loose money, grabbed Shuang’er, and lightly kissed her face, before he slipped out from the back door.

The personal guard on guard duty at the back door shouted, “What are you doing?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am the He Family’s wet-nurse’s son’s older [male] cousin’s younger sister’s husband. Do you understand the family relationship?” The personal guard was startled; before he was able to figure out the family relationship, Wei Xiaobao had already slipped out of the door.

None of Yangzhou’s main streets and small alleys he did not know thoroughly, so much so that he would not get lost even if he was blindfolded. Not too long afterwards he had already reached the Ming Yu Alley by the bank of Shouxi Lake; faintly he heard from behind the doors everywhere the sound of pan pipes, drum, string and woodwind instruments, intersperse with the sound of finger-guessing game, of singing, and people shouting ‘Six!’ When these sounds entered his ears, he felt it was ten times better than listening to great immortals’ heavenly music; there was an unspeakable comfort and joy in his heart.

When he arrived at the Lovely Spring Courtyard, he saw that the gate and the front courtyard were just as before, there was no difference from when he left many years ago. He quietly walked around to the side, pushed open the side door, and slipped in. He tiptoed toward his mother’s room. Peeking inside, he did not see anybody, hence he knew that his mother was accompanying a guest. He mused, “Hot piece mama, I wonder which pest is visiting my Mama this time to be my foster father tonight.”

Entering the room, he saw the bedclothes was the same as he remembered it, it’s just that it looked a lot more worn-out. He mused, “Mama’s business is not too good, my foster fathers are not too many.” Turning sideways, he saw his own little bed was still standing against the wall. In front of the bed there was his own pair of old shoes. The bedding on the bed had been washed and starched clean. He walked over and sat down on the bed. Seeing his old bamboo-green long gown was folded neatly on the corner of the bed, there was a tinge of regret in his heart, “Ma is waiting for me to come back. Damn it, Laozi is living merrily in Beijing, I did not send anybody to deliver money to Ma. I really don’t have a good heart.” He reclined on the bed, waiting for his mother to come back.

The rule in the brothel was that if the patron wanted to stay overnight, another fine, clean and big room would be prepared for them. The prostitutes’ own rooms were smaller, and rather simple and crude. Young and beautiful, popular prostitutes would have comparatively better accommodation. Women like Wei Xiaobao’s mother, Wei Chunfang, for example, their age was not young anymore, business was scarce; naturally the brothel proprietress treated them very carelessly, their rooms were made of thin boards.

Wei Xiaobao lay down for a while. Suddenly he heard someone in the adjacent room was shouting in stern voice, it was the brothel proprietress’ voice, “Laoniang [old lady, referring to self] bought you with white shining silver, you use all kinds of excuses, always refuse to receive patrons. Humph, do you think I bought you to put you in the courtyard to be Bodhisattva Guanyin that we offer sacrifice to, so that we will look good? Beat her; beat her well for me!” Right away there was the sound of whip lashing on flesh, the cry of pain, the weeping, and the cursing noises mixed into one.

Wei Xiaobao was accustomed to hear this kind of noise since he was little; he knew that the brothel proprietress had just bought a young girl, forced her to receive a patron, and whipped her for a while. It was quite common. If the young woman still refused, pricking her fingernail with needle, branding her skin and flesh, all kinds torture could be used on her one by one. This kind of sound never failed to be absent in the brothels. It’s just that he had left for a long time that this time he heard the noise again, he felt he was reliving past experience. Toward the young girl, however, he did not feel any pity.

The young girl cried and said, “Just beat me to death; I won’t receive any patron even if I am dead, I’d rather bash my head against the wall and let you see!”

The brothel proprietress instructed the ‘turtle slave’ to beat her fiercely. After twenty, thirty lashes, the young girl was still crying and shouting that she would not give in. The turtle slave said, “We can’t beat her anymore today, let’s talk it over again tomorrow.”

The brothel proprietress said, “Drag this little s1ut out.”

The turtle slave helped the young girl out. A moment later he came back. The brothel proprietress said, “This s1ut is impossibly stubborn, we must use soft technique, give her Mi Chun [lit. confused/lost spring] wine.”

The turtle slave said, “She won’t drink wine.”

“Idiot!” the brothel proprietress said, “Put the Mi Chun wine inside the meat. That will do the trick.”

“Yes, yes,” the turtle slave said, “Qi Jie [seventh (older) sister], you are just amazing!”

Wei Xiaobao peeped through a crack on the wooden partition, and saw the brothel proprietress was standing in front of the cupboard; she took out a bottle of wine, and poured a cup, which she then gave to the turtle slave. He heard her saying, “Have Chunfang accompany those two gongzi [young master] drink. The money they bring is indeed not a few. They said they want to stay overnight in the courtyard, waiting for a friend. This kind of young, inexperienced people would not fancy Chunfang, later I will talk to them, to see if they want to ‘comb the covering’ of this s1ut. If we are lucky, I won’t be surprised if we’ll swindle three, four hundred taels from them.”

The turtle slave laughed and said, “Congratulations Qi Jie on ushering in wealth and prosperity; I will also hold on to your good fortune, that way I will strike my gambling debt in one stroke.”

The brothel proprietress cursed, “Lowly road kill [orig. lowly embryo, a corpse who died along the road], painstakingly we earn several taels, and you lost it all in thirty-two domino tiles. This is not good, watch out or I’ll cut your turtle tail.”

Wei Xiaobao knew that Mi Chun wine was a type of drug wine, those who drink it will lose their conscience. All brothels used this kind of drug toward young prostitutes who were unwilling to receive guests. When he was little, he thought this was very mysterious, but now he realized that it was no more than knockout drug mixed into the wine; to him this matter became very ordinary. He thought, “Today my foster fathers are two young gongzi? What kind of fellow are they? I must take a look.”

He quietly slipped away toward the Sweet Nectar Hall, where they usually received rich merchant or grand guests. He stood on the round stone block outside the hall where he used to stand and peeked inside. In the past, whenever there was a grand guest coming to visit the brothel, he would always stand on this round stone block to peep inside, right here the crack on the window was especially big, when he looked inside, he could get a very clear view. The guests usually sat with their side to the window, hence they never saw any shadow outside the window. He had peeped several hundred times before, and had never bumped into a nail.

He saw the red candle inside the room was burning hot, his mother’s face was covered in makeups, she wore a pink satin gown, and a red flower on her head; she was pouring wine for the guests with a smile on her face. Wei Xiaobao took a good look at his mother; he thought, “Turns out Ma is already old; she won’t be in this business for long, only blind pest like these two rookies can possibly call her to accompany them drinking. Ma’s folksong is also not too pleasant to hear; if it were me who visited the courtyard, if she were not my Ma, even if I lose twelve-hundred taels I would not have called her.”

He heard his mother said with a laugh, “When two gongzi drink this cup, I will sing ‘Lovesickness Before Dawn’ tune to accompany you downing your wine.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed inwardly; he mused, “Ma’s folksongs are very limited; if not ‘Lovesickness Before Dawn’ [orig. thinking of each other at the fifth hour (between 3-5am)], then it must be ‘One Straight Black Bamboo Sprout’, or ‘One Folding Fan Seven Cun Long’, or ‘One Person Fanning Two Persons Cool Down’. She never wanted to learn some more. As a prostitute, she is not diligent.” Suddenly he had a brainwave and almost burst out laughing, “In learning martial art I am not diligent either; turns out my lazy character I inherited from Ma.”

Suddenly he heard a tender and delicate voice saying, “No need!” As soon as he heard these three words [bu yong le], Wei Xiaobao’s entire body shook, he almost slipped down from the stone block. Slowly he squinted and saw a slender jade-white hand holding a wine cup; his eyes traced the delicate hand through the sleeve and up to the face. He saw the side of a pretty face; who else but Ah Ke? Wei Xiaobao’s heart leaped in joy, the surprise and delight in his heart was hard to suppress. “How could Ah Ke be in Yangzhou?” he mused, “How could she come to the Lovely Spring Courtyard and called my Ma to accompany her drinking? She’s a woman dressed as a man and did not call anybody else but only my Ma, she must be eager to see me. Turns out in the end she still has conscience, she remembered that I am her husband who has bowed to the heaven and the earth with her. Aha! Wonderful, wonderful! You and I, husband and wife are having reunion, today we can have wedding festivities [orig. bridal room and ornamented candles], I will wrap my arms around you …”

Suddenly he heard a male voice, “Right now Wu Xiandi [worthy brother surnamed Wu] is not drinking anything, but when those Mongolian friends arrived …” Wei Xiaobao’s ears were buzzing; immediately he knew things were far from good. Before his eyes the sky spun and the earth went around, for a moment his eyes were blurry; he closed his eyes and calmed himself. When he opened his eyes and looked at the young master who was sitting by Ah Ke, he saw who else but Taiwan’s Er Gongzi [second young master] Zheng Keshuang?

Wei Xiaobao’s mother Wei Chunfang said with a laugh, “Since Xiao Xianggong [little/younger ‘young master’] does not drink, Da Xianggong [big/older ‘young master’] must drink one more cup.” While pouring a cup of wine for Zheng Keshuang, her butts sat on Zheng Keshuang’s lap.

“Hey,” Ah Ke said, “Show some respect.”

Wei Chunfang laughed and said, “Aiyo, Xiao Xianggong’s face is too tender, you cannot bear to see this kind of teasing. After this you should come here every day to have fun, I am afraid you will not like it if people do not flirt with you enough. Xiao Xianggong, let me get a young miss to accompany you, what do you say?”

“No, no, don’t!” Ah Ke busily said, “You sit nicely on the side!”

Wei Chunfang laughed and said, “Ah, you are jealous! You blame me for accompanying Da Xianggong and not you.” She stood up, and sat on Ah Ke’s lap.

When Wei Xiaobao saw that, he was irritated, but amused at the same time. He thought, “Unexpectedly there is such thing in the world, my wife came to patronize [‘visit a prostitute’] my Mama.”

He saw Ah Ke stretched out her hand to push. Wei Chunfang could not stand, she spun and fell on her buttocks. Wei Xiaobao was enraged; he thought, “Little wh0re, you pushed your mother-in-law; so lacking in manners!”

But Wei Chunfang was not angry, with a giggle she stood up and said, “Xiao Xianggong is afraid of disgrace; how about you come and sit on my lap?”

Ah Ke angrily said, “Not good!” [A bit of explanation: when asking ‘is it alright?’, Chinese use the phrase ‘hao bu hao?’ (good or not good)] She turned to Zheng Keshuang and said, “I want to leave! We can meet people any place, but why did you insist on this place?”

Zheng Keshuang said, “We have agreed to meet here; we won’t leave until we meet. I did not know that this is actually a dirty place. Hey, I want you to sit properly.” The last sentence was directed toward Wei Chunfang.

The more Wei Xiaobao thought, the angrier he got; he mused, “That day in Guangxi by the River Liujiang, you pleaded laozi to spare your dog life, you swore a heavy oath that you would not speak to my wife even for one word. Today, in spite of everything, you came together to patronize my Mama. Patronizing my Mama is still alright, but you have spoken I don’t know how many thousand words, tens of thousand words. That day I did not cut your tongue, it was really laozi’s biggest blunder.”

Wei Chunfang was in high spirit, she reached out to wrap her arm around Zheng Keshuang’s neck. Zheng Keshuang pushed her arm away and said, “Wait for us outside. The two of us brothers have something we need to discuss, don’t come in before I call you.”

Wei Chunfang had no choice but to leave the room. Zheng Keshuang lowered his voice, “Ke Mei [younger sister, term of endearment], small disturbance must not harm big scheme, if we want to accomplish big thing, we have to endure small inconvenience.”

Ah Ke said, “That Prince Galdan is not a good person, why would he want us to meet him here?”

Hearing the words ‘Prince Galdan’, Wei Xiaobao mused, “That Mongolian scoundrel is also coming; marvelous, marvelous. Most likely they are going to discuss rebellion plan. Laozi can move an army and send a general to catch them in one net.”

He heard Zheng Keshuang said, “These days Yangzhou’s security is so tight. If the guests to the inns and hotels are not frequent visitors, the yamen and local military troops would ask endless questions. If we reveal the least bit of our background, it would not be good at all. This brothel does not have any officers coming to harass us, it is much safer for us to stay here. You and I are still alright, but Prince Galdan and his party, a group of Mongolians’ appearance will be too conspicuous. Besides, with your appearance like an immortal, if we stayed in an inn, all Yangzhou’s men would want to come to see you. Sooner or later something bad will happen.”

Ah Ke let out some soft giggles, “You don’t need to be oily-mouthed and smooth talker to fawn on me.”

Zheng Keshuang stretched out his arm around her shoulder, and landed a light kiss on the corner of her mouth. He said with a laugh, “When was I ever be oily-mouthed and smooth talker? If there was any immortal as beautiful as you, those Lu Chunyang, Iron Crutch Li, and the others would not want to descend to the world, all deities would stay in Heaven, unable to take their eyes off my little treasure.”

“Pfft,” Ah Ke stifled her laughter, and lowered her head. Wei Xiaobao’s rage shot to the heavens, he could not endure it anymore; his hand reached his dagger, he was ready to charge inside. Immediately he had a second thought, “This fellow’s martial art skill is stronger than mine. Ah Ke will definitely help him. If I rush in, this adulterous couple will surely murder her own husband. In the world, people can be anything, except big wanderer without martial art skill.” Thereupon he struggled to suppress his anger, and had no choice but to close his eyes so that he would not see the intimacy of those two people.

He heard Ah Ke said, “Gege [big brother, term of endearment], actually …” As soon as she said this word, ‘Gege’, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was filled with bitterness and anger. “Damn it,” he mused, “No sense of shame at all; you even call him ‘Gege’.”

He did not hear the rest of Ah Ke’s words, but he heard Zheng Keshuang said, “He is in the open, while we are in the dark. Galdan’s warriors are really formidable; leave it to me, this time we will definitely stab several open holes on his body.”

“That fellow really bullies intolerably,” Ah Ke said, “If this hatred is not avenged, all my life I won’t be happy. Did you know that I originally did not want to acknowledge my father? It was simply because he promised that he would send eight martial art experts to accompany me dealing with this matter that I finally agreed to acknowledge him.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Who offended you? If you want revenge, you can simply tell your husband. Nothing is impossible, you did not need to acknowledge Wu Sangui, that big traitor as your father.”

Zheng Keshuang said, “It’s really not difficult to stab him dead, it’s just that the Tatars officers and men are taking strict precautions. After assassinating him, to withdraw and escape alive is not too easy. We have to think an entirely different strategy before we make our move.”

Ah Ke said, “Father promised to send people to kill him was not entirely for my sake. He wants to deploy his troops to attack the Tatars, and this man is a major roadblock. He instructed me that I should never let Ma know, I suspect he has his own selfish reason.”

“Have you told your Ma?” Zheng Keshuang asked.

Ah Ke shook her head, “I have not,” she said, “In this kind of matter, the more secretive the better. You never know, Ma might say something to stop me. If I did not obey her, that won’t be good. I might as well not say anything to her.”

Wei Xiaobao wondered, “Who is it that she wants to assassinate? Why is this person a roadblock to Wu Sangui’s plan of deploying his troops?”

He heard Zheng Keshuang said, “These days I am watching his coming and going, the security is indeed very tight, it is very difficult to come near him. I gave it a lot of thought, this fellow is a lecher, someone disguised as a courtesan might be able to get very close to him.”

“A lecher?” Wei Xiaobao wondered in his heart, “Is he talking about Futai [inspector-general]? Or Fantai [vassal state governor]?”

“Only if Shijie and I disguise ourselves,” Ah Ke said, “But I don’t want to disguise myself as that kind of lowly woman.”

“Or we attempt to bribe the cook,” Zheng Keshuang said, “Put some poison in his wine.”

Ah Ke hatefully said, “Killing him by poison, my anger cannot be vented. I want to chop his hands, to cut his tongue that always talks nonsense to me! That little demon, I … I hate him!”

As soon as the three words ‘that little demon’ entered his ears, Wei Xiaobao’s head spun. Instantly he understood; he said repeatedly in his heart, “Turns out you want to kill your own husband.” Although he knew that Ah Ke wholeheartedly leaned toward Zheng Keshuang, he had never imagined that she hated him that much. “When did I ever offend you?” he wondered in his heart.

This doubt was instantly answered, as he heard Zheng Keshuang said, “Ke Mei, this fellow is infatuated with you, he has never dared to offend you the least bit. I know the reason you wanted to kill him is because you want to vent my anger. You have this kind of affection to me, I … I really don’t know how to repay you.”

Ah Ke said in a gentle voice, “I hate him more for humiliating you one part compared to him humiliating me ten parts. If he beats me, curses me, I look at Shifu’s face, and swallow my hatred, but toward you he … he repeatedly treated you that rude. When I remember it, I really wish I could make mincemeat of him.”

“Ke Mei,” Zheng Keshuang said, “How about if I repay you right now?” His right arm also reached out to embrace her body. Ah Ke’s face looked so lovely and bashful, she buried her head in his bosom.

Wei Xiaobao’s heart was aching, angry, and bitter at the same time. Suddenly his head was jerked back, somebody grabbed his braid. He was greatly shocked; immediately afterwards somebody twisted his ear. He was about to scream when a voice that he was very familiar with spoke near his ear in a low voice, “Little b@stard, come with me!” [the word here is ‘wang ba dan’ – turtle (derogatory way) egg]

In all his life, he could not remember how many hundreds or thousands times he has heard this scolding ‘little b@astard’; without thinking he obeyed immediately. The grabbing of his braid and the twisting of his ear was executed very skillfully; it was also something that he could not remember how many hundreds or thousands times he has had his braid pulled and his ear twisted like that. He knew it was his mother Wei Chunfang.

The two of them arrived at her room. Wei Chunfang kicked backward to slam the door closed. As soon as she released his braid and ear, Wei Xiaobao called out, “Ma! I am back!”

Wei Chunfang stared at him for quite a long time. Suddenly she threw herself onto him and hugged him tightly, while crying and sobbing uncontrollably. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Haven’t I come back to see you? Why are you crying?”

Still sobbing and sniffling, Wei Chunfang said, “Did you die? Where did you go? I looked for you everywhere inside and outside Yangzhou, I beseeched the deity and worshipped Buddha, I don’t know how many times I raised my prayers, how many times I knocked my head. Dear Xiaobao, finally you return to Mother’s [‘niang’] side.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am not a child anymore, I went out to roam outside, you don’t have to worry.”

With tears still in her eyes, Wei Chunfang’s eyes were blurry. She saw her son had grown tall, his build was thick and solid, she was very happy. She broke into crying again and scolded him, “You little b@stard, without saying anything to your Niang, you went away that long. This time if I don’t ferociously feed you sautéed bamboo shoots in meat, little b@stard won’t know his laoniang’s fierceness.”

The so-called ‘sautéed bamboo shoots in meat’ was spanking of his bottoms by feather duster with bamboo stick handle. Wei Xiaobao has not had that in a very long time. Upon hearing his mother, he could not help but laughing in amusement.

Wei Chunfang also laughed. She took out her handkerchief to rub the mud and filth from his face. After wiping for a while, she looked down and saw the front lapel of her new satin gown was stained with tears and snoot, plus a lot of charcoal ashes from her son’s face; she could not help but feeling upset. ‘Slap!’ she heavily struck his face and scolded him, “This is my new clothes, I just sewed it to celebrate the New Year three years ago, I haven’t worn it quite several times yet. Little b@stard, you came back is not a good thing, you made your laoniang’s new clothes dirty. How am I going to accompany the guests?”

Seeing how his mother treasuring the new clothes, making noises with flushed face and looked very angry, Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Ma, don’t worry about your new clothes. Tomorrow I am going to have a hundred new clothes sewn for you, they will be ten times better than this one.”

Wei Chunfang angrily said, “Little b@stard can only talk big; what kind of skill do you have? Looking at your revolting behavior, can you get rich outside and come back here?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Riches, I haven’t gotten any, but my gambling luck has been good, I won some money.”

Wei Chunfang had a 30% confidence in her son’s ability to cheat in gambling; she held out her palm and said, “Give it to me! When you have a bit of money in you, not too long afterwards you would spend it all.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “This time I won really big, too big that no matter what I cannot spend it all.”

Wei Chunfang raised her palm and slapped him again. Wei Xiaobao ducked, the palm missed. He thought, “As soon as she sees me she wants to beat me. I have the Princess in the north, and my laoniang in the south.”

He was just putting his hand into his pocket to get some money out when the turtle slave outside called, “Chunfang, the guests want you. Come quickly!”

“I am coming!” Wei Chunfang said. She walked over to the table and picked the mirror box, hurriedly put up some cosmetics in front of the mirror inside the lid of the box. “Just lie down here,” she said, “When Laoniang is back, I want to examine you carefully. You … you must not go away!”

Wei Xiaobao saw his mother’s eyes were brimming with concern, she was afraid that he would be gone missing again, thereupon he laughed and said, “I am not leaving, don’t worry!”

“Little b@stard,” Wei Chunfang cursed again, but her face looked happy. Brushing off her clothes, she left the room.

Wei Xiaobao lay down on the bed, he pulled the quilt to cover himself. He only lay down for a moment, Wei Chunfang was back in the room, carrying a wine pot. Seeing her son was lying on the bed, she was relieved. She turned around to go out. Wei Xiaobao knew that Zheng Keshuang ordered her to get more wine. Suddenly he had an idea. “Ma,” he said, “Are you getting some wine for the customer?”

“Right,” Wei Chunfang replied, “Just lie down nicely for me, when Ma returns, I will swindle something good for you to eat.”

“Get some more wine,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me drink some.”

“Gluttonous ghost,” Wei Chunfang scolded him, “Little child is not supposed to drink wine.” She took the wine pot away.

Hastily Wei Xiaobao peeked through the wooden partition. Seeing nobody in the adjacent room, like an arrow he dashed out of the room and entered the adjacent room, opened the cupboard and took the brothel proprietress’ bottle of Mi Chun wine, returned to his own room and hid the bottle underneath the quilt. Pulling the cork out, he said in his heart, “Zheng Keshuang you little b@stard [the word here is ‘za zhong’ – mixed breed], you want to put poison in my wine, today laozi will strike first and gain the upper hand!”

Before long, Wei Chunfang returned, carrying a pot brimming with wine. Upon entering the room, she said, “Quickly drink two mouthfuls.”

Still lying down on the bed, Wei Xiaobao received the wine pot. He sat up and drank a mouthful. Wei Chunfang looked at her son stealing brothel patron’s drink, she was not able to refrain her face from revealing overflowing tenderness.

“Ma,” Wei Xiaobao said, “There is a big soot on your face.”

Wei Chunfang hastily went to the mirror to look. Wei Xiaobao brought the wine pot into the quilt, and poured more than half a bottle of the Mi Chun wine.

Seeing her face was clean, without any soot in sight, Wei Chunfang realized that her son had been playing trick with her, to get her attention away from him, so that he could steal a big mouthful of wine. She turned around at once, snatched the wine pot and cursed, “Little b@stard came out of laoniang’s belly; how could I not know your trick? Humph, formerly you could not drink wine, after loitering around outside these days, you learned all kinds of bad deeds.”

“Ma,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That Xiao Xianggong’s temperament is not good. No matter what you must give him several more cups to drink. After he is drunk and does not make any sound, it will be easier to swindle that Da Xianggong’s money.”

Wei Chunfang said, “Laoniang has been in this business all my life, do I still need you to teach me this child’s play?” But in her heart she secretly agreed that her son’s idea was good. She also thought, “Little b@stard is home, this is indeed a tremendously happy occasion. Tonight I’d better not have any pest asking me to spend the night with him, laoniang wants to be with my son.” Taking the wine pot, she hurriedly left.

Wei Xiaobao lay back down on the bed, anger and complacency alternated in his mind, he thought, “Laozi is really lucky. That stinky thief surnamed Zheng did not visit other prostitute, he came here to give me advantage, he wanted to be laozi’s foster father. Let’s see if I don’t stab him with a sword and scatter some corpse transforming powder.” He thought about how after sprinkling some corpse transforming powder on his wound, Zheng Keshuang would soon turn into a puddle of yellow liquid; when Ah Ke’s drunkenness was over, her ‘Gege’ would have been disappeared without a trace, his whereabouts unknown, even if she broke her head she would never figure out what happened. “Damn it,” he mused, “If you want to call your ‘Gege’, quickly call him several more time. Very soon you won’t be able to call at all.”

He was very happy. Crawling out of his bed, he went back to the Sweet Nectar Hall to peek inside. He saw Zheng Keshuang had just downed a cup of wine. Ah Ke had a cup on her lips, which she daintily sipped. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he saw his mother poured another cup for Zheng Keshuang. Zheng Keshuang waved his hand and said, “Out, out, we don’t need you to serve.”

Wei Chunfang complied. When she put down the wine pot, her sleeve covered a dish of sliced ham. Wei Xiaobao smiled and said in his heart, “I am going to eat some ham tonight.” He hastily returned to the room.

Not too long afterwards, Wei Chunfang came back with a plate of sliced ham. She laughed and said, “Little b@stard, when you were dead outside, did you have this kind of good food to eat?” Grinning from ear to ear she sat on the bed, watching her son eating with gusto; she felt better than if she was eating it herself.

“Ma,” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Did you drink the wine?”

“I did, several cups,” Wei Chunfang replied, “If I drank some more I am afraid I will be drunk, and then you’ll slip away.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I did not drug Mama, I could not achieve big thing.” He said, “I won’t leave. Ma, I haven’t accompanied you sleeping for a long time. Tonight don’t go to keep those two pests company, you stay here with me.”

Wei Chunfang was greatly delighted; her son hated to leave her like this, the last time it happened he was about seven, eight years old. She could not believe that after suffering outside, he finally remembered to love his mother. She could not help but beaming with joy as she said, “Alright, tonight Niang will accompany obedient Xiaobao to sleep.”

“Ma,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Although I was outside, I remembered you every day. Come, let me take your clothes off.”

His bootlicking skill had been used on the Emperor, the Cult Leader, the Princess and his masters; it was honed to perfection. Presently he was using it on his own mother, unexpectedly he received an unusual reaction. Wei Chunfang was used to social interaction with the patrons of the brothel, men’s hand groping her body, she just hardened her heart. But when her own son’s hand was extended to unbutton her clothes, she could not stop her body from turning weak; she let out a giggle. After Wei Xiaobao took off his mother’s outer clothes, he proceeded by loosening her trousers’ belt. “Pei,” Wei Chunfang spat, and gently slapped his hand; she said with a laugh, “I can do it myself.” Suddenly she felt shy, she went inside the quilt and took off her trousers, and from underneath the quilt she put it on top the quilt.

Wei Xiaobao fished two ingots of silver, altogether worth more than thirty taels, and stuffed it into his mother’s hand; he said, “Ma, I am giving this to you.”

Wei Chunfang was very happy; suddenly she burst into tears. “I … I’ll keep it for you,” she said, “In … in a few years I’ll give it back to you to get yourself a wife.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “I already have.” He blew the oil lantern off and said, “Ma, quickly sleep. I will wait for you to fall asleep, before I go to sleep myself.”

Wei Chunfang laughed and said, “Little b@stard, you really have a lot of tricks,” and then she closed her eyes.

She was tired after working all day, plus she drank several cups of wine; seeing her son returned, she was unbearably happy. As soon as she closed her eyes, it did not take long before she dozed off.

As soon as Wei Xiaobao heard her snore, he tiptoed toward the door. An idea struck him, hence he returned and took his mother’s trousers and tossed it on top of the mosquito net; he thought, “When she wakes up, without trousers she won’t be able to catch me.”
He went outside Sweet Nectar Hall, and saw Zheng Keshuang splayed on his chair face up, and Ah Ke slumped face down on the table; they were both motionless. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he waited for a moment, seeing that the two of them were still unmoving, he entered the hall. He was about to close the door behind him when he suddenly had a second thought, “There is no hurry to close the door. If this fellow only pretend to be drunk, I can’t escape if the door is closed.”

Pulling his dagger, he walked over to him, and pushed Zheng Keshuang with his right hand. He was completely motionless; it was obvious that he had lost his consciousness. Wei Xiaobao also pushed Ah Ke; she mumbled something, but did not sit up. He thought, “The wine she drank was too little; I am afraid she will wake up soon, and that will be dangerous.”

Inserting the dagger back into his boot, he propped her up until she was sitting up. Ah Ke’s eyes were closed, “Gege,” she mumbled incoherently, “I … I can’t drink anymore.”

Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Good Meizi, drink one more cup.” He poured a cup full of wine and pushed it into her little mouth with his left hand that the wine trickled down. Still in a daze Ah Ke swallowed the Mi Chun drugged wine. Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “You and laozi have bowed to the Heaven and the Earth in an official wedding, you were unwilling to celebrate the wedding festivities with your husband, but came to Lovely Spring Courtyard to be a little wh0re, you want your husband to be the pest who ‘comb your covering’. You are indeed a lowly pervert.”

Ah Ke’s beauty was originally matchless. Now that she was drunk, under the red candle’s light, she looked even more ‘thousand-adorable hundred-charm’. Wei Xiaobao’s sexual desire was greatly aroused. No longer cared whether Zheng Keshuang was dead or alive, drunk or awake, he carried Ah Ke in his arms toward the large bedroom next to the Sweet Nectar Hall.

The large bedroom was prepared for grand patrons who wanted to spend the night. The big bed was at least six chi [foot] wide. The mattress and quilt were embroidered, the furnishing was magnificent. Wei Xiaobao gently put Ah Ke down on the bed. He went back outside to pick the candlestick, which he put on the table next to the head of the bed. Looking at Ah Ke’s rosy complexion, he could not stop his heart from thumping madly. Leaning over her, he took her long robe, exposing her thin, close-fitting light green undergarment.

He reached out to loosen the knots on her thin underpants, suddenly he heard footsteps behind his back; someone was rushing in. He was about to turn around when his braid tightened, his ear was twisted; once again he was grabbed by Wei Chunfang. “Ma,” Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Let go, quickly!”

“Little b@stard,” Wei Chunfang cursed, “Although we are poor, we must not violate the courtyard’s rule. Among the nine famous courtyards of Yangzhou, which one ever had the guest’s money stolen? Quickly return it!”

“I did not steal anybody’s money,” Wei Xiaobao anxiously said.

Wei Chunfang pulled his braid as hard as she could, and forcefully dragged him back to their own room. She scolded, “If you did not steal money, why did you take people’s clothes off? These several tens of taels, you must have become little thief and stole it. I raised you up with great trouble, it had never occurred to me that you would become a thief.” In her bitter anger, she burst into tears. She took the two ingots of silver at the head of the bed and threw it to the floor.

Wei Xiaobao found it hard to explain; if he said that the guest was a woman dressing up as a man, and that she was his own wife, one, it was complicated and was not easy to express succinctly, two, no matter what his mother would not believe him. He could only say, “Why would I want to steal anybody’s money? Look, I have a lot of money.” From his pocket he took out the big wad of banknotes. “Ma,” he said, “I wanted to give all this money to you, but I was afraid I might scare you off, hence I am going to give it to you slowly.”

Wei Chunfang saw several dozen sheets of banknotes worth several hundred taels each, she was so scared that her eyes grew big. “This … this … little thief,” she stammered, “You … you … didn’t you take this from those two xianggong? Even if you re-enter the womb and reincarnate as little b@stard ten lifetimes, you won’t make this much money. Quickly return other people’s money, we do business in the courtyard, if we have the ability, we may swindle other people’s money a hundred or eighty thousand taels, but the pest has to be most willing to do it, he has to present it with both hands. If you ever steal one thing from other people, Er Lang Shen [deity with three eyes] would never spare you, you will still do the same thing to earn a living in your next life. Xiaobao, Niang is doing this for your own good!” When she spoke the fast few sentences, her tone turned gentle. She also said, “When those people wake up tomorrow and do not see this much money, won’t they raise a ruckus? And then officials from yamen will come to investigate, they will arrest you, won’t they beat you until your skin breaks and your flesh rotten? Obedient Xiaobao, we cannot covet this much money belonging to other people.”

After talking back and forth, the bottom line was that she wanted her son to return the money. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Ma making a lot of fuss, this matter cannot be explained succinctly. If the noise reaches the brothel proprietress, the turtle would find out, everybody will make a fuss, then this matter will turn for the worst.” His heart was moved, he had an idea, “Alright, alright,” he said, “Ma, I will listen to you.”

Pulling his mother’s hand along, he went back to the Sweet Nectar Hall, and stuffed his wad of banknotes into Zheng Keshuang’s pocket. He pulled his own two pockets inside out and brushed his body, saying, “I don’t even have one tael left on me; you feel better?”

Wei Chunfang sighed and said, “Good, you are doing the right thing.”

Returning to their own room, Wei Xiaobao noticed that his mother was wearing a pair of old trousers, he could not help but scoffing. Wei Chunfang bent her finger and knocked his forehead with her knuckle; she scolded, “I woke up to use the toilet, and could not find my trousers, hence I knew you were not doing a good thing.”  Finished speaking, she could not refrain from laughing.

“Aiyo, not good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I need to sh1t.” Hugging his belly, he rushed out.

Wei Chunfang was afraid he might return to Sweet Nectar Hall; seeing he was running toward the latrine [orig. thatched hut] at the back garden, she was relieved. “You want to go to the reception hall again, you won’t escape laoniang’s eyes,” she mused.

Wei Xiaobao exited from the side door and dashed back to the He Garden. The personal guard on duty raised his arms to block, “What do you want?” he shouted.

“I am the Imperial Envoy Minister,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Don’t you know me?”

The personal guard was startled; he looked closer, indeed it was the imperial envoy minister. “Yes, it’s Daren …” he hastily said.

Without waiting for him to finish, Wei Xiaobao quickly returned to his room and said, “Good Shuang’er, quick, quick, help me change back into Imperial Envoy Minister.” While talking, he pulled off the long robe he was wearing.

Shuang’er served him washing his face and changing his clothes; she said with a laugh, “Imperial Envoy Minister going out to make personal investigation, have you found the actual facts?”

“I have,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We are going to make arrest right now. Quickly wear your personal guard uniform, go get eight personal guards and follow me.”

“Do you want me to get Xu Laoyezi [old master] and the others?” Shuang’er asked.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Zheng Keshuang and Ah Ke are already unconscious, just stretch a hand and grab it, it’s going to be as easy as blowing off dust. If Xu Tianchuan and the others come with me, they won’t let me kill that stinky fellow surnamed Zheng. Taking personal guards with me, I can put on airs and scare my Niang, scare the brothel proprietress, the turtle.” Thereupon he said, “No need.”

Shuang’er put on her personal guard uniform, “How about taking Miss Zeng along?” she asked.

Within the personal guard squad, only she and Zeng Rou were women dressed as men. These days these two girls were in contact with each other, and were already very close to each other. Wei Xiaobao thought, “If I want to carry Ah Ke back here, Shuang’er alone cannot do it, I must have two persons carrying her. Imperial Envoy Daren cannot do the job himself in front of other people, and I can’t let any personal guard’s stinky hands touch my wife’s fragrant body, can I?” He said, “Very well, you may take her along. Just don’t call those Wangwu Pai people.”

Zeng Rou quickly put on the personal guard uniform and was ready in a short time. Leading the two women and eight personal guards, Wei Xiaobao returned to the Lovely Spring Courtyard. Two personal guards went up to knock on the door, “Canjiang [administrator/colonel] Daren is here,” they shouted, “Quickly open the door and greet him.” The personal guards were instructed to say that Wei Xiaobao was a Canjiang; to scare the brothel proprietress and the turtle, a Canjiang is more than enough.

After beating the door for half a day, the main gate was finally creaking open, a turtle slave came out to meet them. “Visitors!” he shouted. The word was called out in such a bored way.

Wei Xiaobao was afraid he might be recognized, he did not dare to look at the man. A personal guard shouted, “Canjiang Laoye [old master] personally arrived, tell laobao [brothel keeper] to serve him well.”

Wei Xiaobao went to the main hall, the brothel proprietress came out to greet him; she did not even look at Wei Xiaobao as she said, “Laoye please come to the reception pavilion for some tea.”

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “It’s best that you did not look at me, so that you won’t recognize me; I also don’t need to see my Ma. I ought to simply tell them to bring Ah Ke and Zheng Keshuang out and leave this place.” However, usually this brothel proprietress was very attentive in receiving the guests, she was even more deferential and polite toward government officials, yet today she was that cold, the way she spoke was very odd, unconsciously he was rather astonished.

When he entered the Sweet Nectar Hall, he saw that the feast had not been cleaned up, Zheng Keshuang was still splaying face up on the chair. He was about to give order when suddenly a man with magnificent attire walked in. “Wei Daren, how are you?” the man said.

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “How did you know me?” he mused, and looked at him. His shock was not a small matter. Immediately he stooped down to pull the dagger from his boot, suddenly his hand tightened; somebody behind him grabbed his wrist, and coldly said, “Sit down nicely, don’t make unnecessary move!” With his left hand the man grabbed the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck and lifted him up and dropped him into a chair.

Wei Xiaobao groaned secretly. He heard Shuang’er’s tender voice shouting and yelling as she fought the man. Zeng Rou also stepped forward to join the fray. A young master in brocade clothes sent a palm to hack at her, the two of them immediately fought. Wei Xiaobao focused his attention to look, turned out this young master in brocade clothes was a woman dressed as a man, she was none other than Ah Ke’s martial older sister Ah Qi. The man fighting Shuang’er was tall and thin, he was actually Tibetan Lama Sangjie; only right now he was wearing casual clothes, complete with a hat on his head and a fake braid. The first man with magnificent attire was Mongolian Prince Galdan.

“I am too muddleheaded,” Wei Xiaobao mused, “I plainly heard Zheng Keshuang said that they have an appointment with Galdan in here; why didn’t I guard against this? As soon as I saw Ah Ke, I was in a daze that I don’t even remember laozi’s own surname. Damn it, laozi’s surname, I actually do not know; no wonder …”

He heard Shuang’er cried out, “Aiyo,” as the acupoint on her waist was sealed by Sangjie, and she fell to the ground. In the meantime, Zeng Rou was still engaged in fierce battle with Ah Qi. Although Ah Qi’s style was exquisite, her attacks were lacking strength; several times she hit Zeng Rou, but failed to injure her. Sangjie came over, and in just two moves he was able to seal Zeng Rou’s acupoint too. The eight personal guards either had their acupoint sealed by Sangjie, or were killed by Galdan; their bodies were scattered around the courtyard outside the hall.

Sangjie let out a ‘hey, hey’ laugh and sat down. “Wei Daren,” he said, “Where is your Shifu?” While saying that, he stretched out both his hands with the fingers right in front of Wei Xiaobao’s face.

Wei Xiaobao saw that all ten of his fingers were short by one section; human fingers originally have three sections, right now his fingers only have two sections left. It looked extremely strange and scary. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “That day he flipped through the Sutra, the tips of his fingers were moistened by my poison. This man is unexpectedly very ruthless; he has the heart to cut his own ten fingers. Today laozi has fallen into his hands, if he wants to take revenge, he would chopped all my ten fingers, which is not a big deal; but what if he also want to cut a section of my head?”

Seeing that Wei Xiaobao was so scared that he was merely staring blankly; Sangjie was very proud of himself. “Wei Daren,” he said, “That day I saw you were just a small kid, I did not know that you are a person of high rank within the imperial court; I have offended you much.”

“I don’t dare to accept the honor,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “That day I only thought you were an ordinary Lama, I did not know that you are a really great hero; I have offended you much.”

“Humph,” Sangjie snorted; he asked, “How do you know I am a hero?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Someone put violent poison on the Sutra, with the intention of harming my Shifu. Shifu was able to see through the scheme, she did not dare to reach out and touch it. You insisted on looking at the Sutra, my Shifu had no other choice but to give it to you. Great Lama, after your fingers were poisoned, you made prompt decision to chop your fingers at once, it is really amazing! People swipe their own neck to suicide is easy, people chop their own ten fingers, since ancient times there has never been one great hero who had done it. Back then Guan Yunchang scraped his bone to remove poison, without knitting a single brow, but it was someone else who scrape his bone for him; for him to chop his own fingers, I don’t think he can do that. You are more formidable than Guan Yunchang; doesn’t it mean that you are a great hero, the first under heaven since ancient times?”

Sangjie was fully aware that Wei Xiaobao was flattering him big time, thinking that he would show leniency toward him, which was no difference than asking Sangjie to spare his life. However, when those words entered his ears, admittedly he enjoyed a comfortable feeling. That day he had to ruthlessly cut his own fingers before he was able to save his own life. Although his pair of hands was mutilated, his martial art skill was greatly reduced, but thinking that in that juncture of life and death he unexpectedly had this kind of courage, he was actually very proud of himself. He took twelve of his martial younger brothers to the Central Plains to seize the ‘Forty-two-chapter Sutra’. The outcome was that all twelve people perished while his pair of hands was mutilated; it was indeed a bad luck. Naturally he never mentioned about this matter to anybody, while there has never been anybody who dared to ask either as why he chopped his own ten fingers. Consequently, it was the very first time that he heard something like what Wei Xiaobao had just said.

Unconsciously, a hint of smile appeared on the Great Lama’s grim face. “Wei Daren,” he said, “We found out that you have graced Yangzhou with your presence; hence we all agreed to meet you here. You especially caused trouble for Ping Xi Wang, spoiling not a few of his, the Senior’s important matters. When the Prince Consort wanted to return to Yunnan to visit his family, he was also blocked by you; is that right?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Gentlemen’s information is actually very quick, it is indeed incredible! This time I left the Capital, I wonder if Gentlemen knew what His Majesty instructed me to do.”

“Please advise,” Sangjie said.

“With pleasure, with pleasure,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “His Majesty said, ‘Wei Xiaobao, you are going to Yangzhou on a mission, I am afraid Wu Sangui would send people to assassinate you, Zhen is somewhat uneasy. Luckily his son is in Zhen’s hands; if you ever meet unexpected misfortune, Zhen will treat this fellow Wu Yingxiong the same as whatever they are doing to you. Wu Sangui sends people to cut the tip of your little finger, inevitable this fellow Wu Yingxiong will also lack the tip of his little finger. That old fellow Wu Sangui sends people to kill you, it’s is equal to killing his own son.’ I said, ‘Your Majesty, I can be anybody’s son, but I definitely don’t want to be Wu Sangui’s son.’ His Majesty roared in laughter. As such, I am coming to Yangzhou.”

Sangjie and Galdan looked at each other, their countenances changed slightly. Sangjie said, “His Highness the Prince and I this time go to Yangzhou to find you, at first we thought that the Imperial Envoy His Majesty sent must be an extraordinary character, who would have thought that when the two of us looked from afar, turned out it was an old acquaintance. Even this Miss Ah Qi also knew you.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “We are indeed old friends.”

Ah Qi picked up a chopstick from the table and jabbed it on Wei Xiaobao’s forehead. She spat and said, “Who wants to be old friend with you?”

Sangjie said, “We made appointment to meet Taiwan’s Zheng Er Gongzi in here, originally it was to discuss how to deal with you. Who would have thought that you personally came to pay a visit, hence you saved us a lot of trouble.”

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty interrogated that big beard, the Prince’s subordinate Hantiemo for three days; we know everything.”

When Sangje and Galdan heard the name Hantiemo, they were greatly shocked; they both rose up and asked, “What?”

“It’s nothing really,” Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty and Hantiemo talked in Mongolian, jabbering words that I did not understand even one. Afterwards His Majesty bestowed him quite a lot of money, and sent him to the Ministry of War to work for Shangshu Ming Zhu Daren. Less than three days later, he sent me to rush him to draw some maps. This is military stuff; I don’t know anything. I said to His Majesty, ‘Your Majesty, Mongolia and Tibet are too cold, if you want to send troops to fight a war, your servant is considering to have a vacation with you, I want to go to beautiful world of Yangzhou to have a stroll.’”

Galdan’s face showed concern; he asked, “Did you say the young Emperor is going to dispatch troops to attack Mongolia and Tibet?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “This kind of matter, I am not really clear. His Majesty said: it would be best if we deal with the old fellow, one person. If Mongolia and Tibet want to help us, then we’ll consider them as friends; if they help the old fellow, there is no other way, we have to gain the initiative by striking first.’”

Sangjie and Galdan looked at each other; they felt relieved, and sat down. Galdan asked about Hantiemo, Wei Xiaobao described his appearance and mannerism vividly and realistically, Galdan and Sangjie could not not believe him. Noticing that these two men were frowning slightly, Wei Xiaobao guessed that as the two of them find out that Hantiemo had surrendered to the Qing, they expected that the collusion between Mongolia, Tibet and Wu Sangui could not be concealed from the young Emperor, hence they were afraid Kangxi would gain the initiative by striking first.

Wei Xiaobao saw Shuang’er and Zeng Rou had their acupoints sealed and were lying on the floor, while most of the eight personal guards had perished. This time he quietly went to the Lovely Spring Courtyard; because he was afraid other people might know his life’s secret, Xu Tianchuan, Zhang Yong, Zhao Qixian, and the others did not know at all. It seems that even if he was chopped into mincemeat, made to be the famous Yangzhou’s lion’s head [i.e. pork meatball], perhaps simmer-fried or steamed in broth, or cooked with crab meat, nobody would come to rescue him. Since he had no way out anyway, he might as well babble anything, it was better than sitting and waiting for death quietly.

“His Majesty heard that Prince Galdan’s martial art skill is superior, that he is an unparalleled hero,” he continued, “He is very full of admiration.”

Galdan smiled and asked, “Did the Emperor also train martial art? How did he know about my martial art?”

“Naturally His Majesty knows martial art,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “And his skill is not bad at all. That day Your Highness fully displaying your capabilities at the Shaolin Temple, you beat Shaolin Temple’s Abbot that he concede defeat. The heads of Damo Hall, Luohan Hall, Bo’re Hall, three great halls, flee at the mere distant sight. Xiongdi told His Majesty everything.” That day Galdan left Shaolin with his tail between his legs, yet right now hearing Wei Xiaobao tooting the horn on his behalf, giving him a lot of face in front of Sangjie, he could not refrain from showing a satisfied look on his face.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Shaolin Temple Fangzhang [abbot] Hui Cong Dashi’s martial art skill can be considered first or second best in Wulin, but Your Highness the Prince merely flicked your sleeve and Hui Cong Fangzhang could not hold his stand and fell sitting down. Fortunately when he fell, his buttocks happened to land on a putuan [round meditation mat used by Buddhists], hence he was saved from breaking a few of his old bones …” Actually, it was Galdan who was brushed by Hui Cong’s sleeve that day, so that he landed on a chair and was unable to stand up; Wei Xiaobao turned the story around. He said in his heart, “Hui Cong Shixiong treatment to me was not bad, but today as his Shidi I am facing a calamity, in a moment I will die in a sitting posture [referring to Buddhism death] and leave for the Western Paradise. I have no choice but to treat emptiness as appearance, and appearance as emptiness; Shixiong’s victory as defeat, and other people’s defeat as victory.”

While his mouth was babbling nonsense, in his heart he let his imagination run wild, his eyes looked to the east and gazed to the west. In a glance he saw Ah Qi’s expression; she seemed to be smiling yet she was not exactly smiling, her pair of beautiful eyes was fixed at Galdan’s face, her gaze was brimming with affection.

Wei Xiaobao had a sudden inspiration, “This wicked girl wants to be Mongolian Princess.” Thereupon he said, “His Majesty said, ‘Prince Galdan’s martial art skill is high, his appearance is handsome; if he wants to take a Princess, he ought to marry young, good looking, as well as with high level of martial art skill Miss …” Stealing a glance toward Ah Qi, sure enough, he noticed that her face was blushing; it was obvious from her expression that she was paying full attention; hence he continued, “Although that Chen Yuanyuan is known as the first beauty under the heavens, but right now she is older; I wonder why Galdan is determined to marry her?”

Ah Qi could not bear not to talk, “Who said he wanted to marry Chen Yuanyuan? You are talking nonsense!”

Galdan shook his head, “How can there be such thing?” he said.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I said, ‘Reporting to Your Majesty: His Highness Prince Galdan has a very good lady friend, called Miss Ah Qi …’”

Ah Qi spat, but her face looked very happy; Galdan cast her a glance with a smile on his face. Wei Xiaobao continued, “… This Miss Ah Qi’s martial art skill is number three in the world, she is only below Great Lama Sangjie and His Highness Prince Galdan. Compared to Your Majesty, hee hee … she is still a bit stronger. Your servant is telling the truth, Your Majesty must not take offense …’”

At first Sangjie was somewhat bored listening to his babbling, but when he heard that unexpectedly Wei Xiaobao told the Emperor that Sangjie’s martial art skill was the first under the heavens, he knew perfectly well that out of ten words that this little demon said, he ought not believe even half a word; yet he could not help feeling happy and content. His nose made a snort though, hinting that he did not believe him.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “His Majesty said, ‘I don’t believe you. Even if this young lady’s martial art was stronger, can it be that she is superior to her Shifu?’ I said, ‘Your Majesty did not know this, but this young lady’s Shifu is a Buddhist nun wearing white clothes, her martial art skill was actually very strong, she could be considered number three in the world. However, once upon a time, during a duel against Great Lama Sangjie, she was struck by Great Lama Sangjie’s palm. The Shitai could not resist, the entire internal energy in her body disappeared without any trace. Therefore, the title of number three martial artist in the world was snatched by her disciple.’”

When Ah Qi heard him exposing her school background, she was surprised and baffled, “How did he know my Shifu?” she mused.

Although Sangjie had not personally fought with Jiu Nan, his twelve martial brothers all died a violent death under her, master and disciples’ hands; it was really an extraordinary shame and disappointment of his life. This moment as he heard Wei Xiaobao asserted that Jiu Nan was struck by his palm that her internal energy dissipated, he knew that Wei Xiaobao was pasting a lot of gold on his face. Previously he and Galdan were most worried that Wei Xiaobao would unmask their disgrace, and thus both of them were thinking to kill this man as quickly as possible to close his mouth; but when they heard that he had reversed their great defeat into great victory, they thought that there was no harm in letting him live a bit longer.

Sangjie turned his gaze toward Ah Qi for a moment; he thought, “This is the first time that I knew that you are the little nun in white’s disciple. There is something odd here.”

Ah Qi asked, “You mentioned Chen Yuanyuan; what about her?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That Chen Yuanyuan, I have seen her with my own eyes in Kunming. To tell Miss the truth, she is quite much older than I am; however, the title ‘number one beauty under the heavens’ [tian xia di yi mei ren] six characters is indeed not in vain. When I saw her, immediately my soul flew out, my hands and feet ice-cold, I shook all over, my heart said, ‘How can there be such a beauty in the world?’ Miss Ah Qi, your Shimei Ah Ke can be considered very beautiful, but compared to this Chen Yuanyuan, her appearance and her physique, she is far too inferior.”

Naturally Ah Qi knew that Ah Ke was stunningly beautiful, she was far above her; she also knew that Wei Xiaobao was ‘spirit and soul upside-down’ toward Ah Ke. If even he could say those words, very likely it was the truth. But in her mouth she still said she was unconvinced, “You, little kid, is a little lecher, looking at people’s thirty-percent good looks, you said she was a hundred percent beauty. Chen Yuanyuan is at least forty years old this year, even if she was previously good-looking, nowadays she can’t be that beautiful.”

Wei Xiaobao repeatedly shook his head. “Not right, not right,” he said, “Just look at you, Miss Ah Qi. This year you are no more than eighteen, nineteen years old; it’s only natural that you are exceedingly beautiful. In thirty more years, definitely you will still be extremely beautiful. If you don’t believe me, you and I can make a bet. If after thirty years your appearance is not beautiful, I will cut my head for you.”

Ah Qi giggled. Any woman who hears other people call her beautiful will be delighted, especially if she was praised in front of her boyfriend, she would burst with joy even more. Much less she had quite a confidence in her own beauty to begin with, she believed that after thirty years, she could not possibly be a lot more uglier.

Wei Xiaobao was hoping that she would accept the bet, so that Galdan would perhaps look at his beloved’s face and let Wei Xiaobao live thirty more years; when that time comes, it would not be too late to decide victory or defeat. Unexpectedly Sangjie snorted and said with a cold laugh, “Too bad you won’t live pass tonight. Miss Ah Qi’s beautiful appearance thirty years later, you won’t have the good fortune of seeing.”

Wei Xiaobao giggled and said, “That’s not a big deal. I only hope that Great Lama and Your Highness the Prince will remember what I said tonight, thirty years from today, you will know that Wei Xiaobao already had the foreknowledge.” Sangjie, Galdan and Ah Qi, three people, could not bear not to burst into laughter.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I went to Kunming; that was a matter of several months ago; I escorted Princess Jianning to marry Wu Sangui’s son, the three of you already knew. It was originally a very happy occasion, but as soon as I entered the city of Kunming, I saw people crying and wailing loudly on the streets. Not several houses later, I saw a coffin; there were many women and children in mourning clothes, they cried until the sky darkened and the earth black.”

“Why is that?” Galdan and Ah Qi asked together.

“I also felt it was very strange,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I asked Yunnan’s officer, everybody hummed and hawed but nobody gave me any answer. Afterwards I sent my personal guard to make discreet inquiry, and only then did I find out. Turns out early that morning Chen Yuanyuan learned about the arrival of the Princess, she wanted to personally welcome her. When she came out of the sedan chair, more than a hundred thousand Kunming men went wild; everybody rushed forward to see her, they all said that a celestial fairy has descended to the world of the immortals. You pushed, I throng forward, several thousand men were trampled to death. At first the military officers and soldiers under Ping Xi Wang’s command desperately tried to suppress the disturbance, but later on they saw Chen Yuanyuan, everybody’s sword and spear all fell to the ground; their jaw dropped, their mouth watered as they have their eyes fixed at Chen Yuanyuan.”

Sangjie, Galdan and Ah Qi, three people, were ‘you look at me, I look at you’, while thinking, “This child definitely added oil and soya paste in his speech, but perhaps Chen Yuanyuan’s beauty is indeed out of the ordinary. It would be good if I can see it myself.”

Seeing that the three of them were gradually convinced, Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Highness the Prince, Ping Xi Wang has a zongbing under his command by the name of Ma Bao; have you heard this name before?”

Galdan and Ah Qi nodded. The two of them went together with Ma Bao to the Shaolin Temple, how could they not know? Galdan said, “That day at Shaolin Temple, you have also met him.”

“Was it he?” Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t remember. That day I was only paying attention to Your Highness the Prince’s obviously marvelous skill, beating Shaolin Temple’s eminent monks, I did not have time to look at other people. Even if I did have a bit of free time, I would rather steal several glances toward Miss Ah Qi’s countenance of a flower, face like the moon.” Ah Qi spat, but in her heart she was very happy.

“What about Ma Zongbing?” Galdan asked.

Wei Xiaobao sighed. He said, “Ma Zongbing was part of the problem that day. He received Ping Xi Wang’s order to protect Chen Yuanyuan, who would have thought that as he looked at Chen Yuanyuan several times, unexpectedly he was also in a daze, and went as far as stroking her white and tender little hand. Afterwards Ping Xi Wang found out about it, and had him flogged forty times with army club. Ma Zongbing quietly told other people: ‘I stroked Chen Yuanyuan’s left hand, actually I expected Wangye to cut my hand. If I had known that I only got forty army-club floggings, I would have stroke her right hand too. Eighty floggings will not necessarily kill me.’ Under his command, Ping Xi Wang altogether has ten big zongbing, the other nine zongbing were really envious. These words of him were passed on to Ping Xi Wang, in turn, he passed on a military order: henceforth whoever stroke Chen Yuanyuan’s hand will have both his hands chopped. Ping Xi Wang’s son-in-law Xia Guoxiang was one of the ten big zongbing, right away he had a master artisan to create a pair of fake hands. He said that every now and then he might see this fairy-like mother-in-law, just in case he could not bear not to touch her hand, he might as well make false hands first, in case when that happens he did not have time to have the hands made to order. This is called ‘anticipating trouble’.”

Galdan was listening with his mouth open and his eyes staring blankly as if he was entranced. Sangjie repeatedly shook his head and said, “Absurd, absurd!” But it was unclear whether he meant the ten big regional commanders were absurd, or that Wei Xiaobao’s story was absurd.

“You have seen Chen Yuanyuan,” Ah Qi said, “How come you did not stroke her hand?”

“There is a reason behind it,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Before I went to see Chen Yuanyuan, Wu Yingxiong came to see me first, he said that I have travelled thousands of li to deliver the Princess to be his wife, he was very grateful. From his bosom he took out something, it was shiny yellow, fully inlaid with emerald, beautiful jade, ruby and kitten eyes; turned out it was a golden manacles.”

“How can manacles be that precious?” Ah Qi asked.

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “At that time I asked him what kind of toy was that; I thought he was going to give it to me as a present. Who would have thought that ‘clack’, he shackled my hands. I was gobsmacked. ‘Prince Consort’, I cried out, ‘Why are you arresting me? What crime did I commit?’ Wu Yingxiong said, ‘Imperial Envoy Daren, you must not misunderstand, Xiongdi only has good intention toward you. You are going to see my Chen Yiniang [father’s concubine], you simply must wear this manacles, in case you cannot restraint yourself and reach out to touch her. If you only touch her hand, Fu Wang [father king] may look at your face as the Imperial Envoy Daren, and may not do anything. But I am afraid you will touch her once, touch her twice, touch her three times or more. Fu Wang will inevitably commit major offense by killing Imperial Envoy Daren. While admittedly it was Daren who was being improper, our Wu family will be ruined.’ I was so scared that I wore the manacles to see Chen Yuanyuan.”

The more Ah Qi listened, the more she thought it was ridiculous. “I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Next time you go to Beijing,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Ask Wu Yingxiong to show you these golden manacles, then you cannot not believe. He always has it with him, so that as soon as he sees Chen Yuanyuan he can immediately take it out and put it on. If he was one step slower, it would be desperately serious.”

“Humph,” Sangjie said, “Chen Yuanyuan is his shu mu [concubine mother], could it be that he has the audacity to be impolite to her?”

“Naturally he doesn’t,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “And that’s exactly why he is carrying the golden manacles.”

Ah Qi said, “He is in Beijing now, why would he want to carry it?”

Wei Xiaobao was startled; he mused, “Bad! The horn I tooted is broken.” But his brain could move very fast; he said at once, “Wu Yingxiong was thinking of returning to Kunming immediately, he did not expect to stay in Beijing for long. He stayed in Beijing against his will.”

Sangjie glowered at him and said, “In that case, you repaid kindness with evil. Others lent you manacles, showing you a lot of friendship, but you stopped him, you did not let him return to Yunnan.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “What kindness did Wu Yingxiong show to me? He and I have an enmity that we cannot live under the same sky.”

Sangjie was surprised, “What did he do to offend you?” he asked.

“Why hasn’t he offended me?” Wei Xiaobao said, “He loaned the manacles to me, it was more malicious than having my laozi [in this case, old man, father] killed. At that time, if I did not wear that manacles, I would have touched even Chen Yuanyuan’s face. Ay, Great Lama, Your Highness the Prince, at that time, if only I could touch Chen Yuanyuan’s face, which is ten thousand times more beautiful than the petal of a flower, what do I care even if Wu Sangui chopped both of my hands? Even if he chopped both of my legs to be made Yunnan’s Xuanwei Ham, I consider it nothing.”

Three people’s thoughts flew to the southern sky, imagining Chen Yuanyuan’s peerless glowing countenance; listening to Wei Xiaobao, unexpectedly they did not laugh.

Wei Xiaobao lowered his voice and with a mysterious expression he said, “I have a very top secret, the three of you must not divulge it. Actually I should not say it, but the opportunity to chat amiably with you is very rare; there is no harm in telling our own people.”

“What secret?” Galdan hastily asked.

Wei Xiaobao lowered his voice even more, “His Majesty is about to move an army and send a general to attack Wu Sangui.”

Sangjie and the others, three people, looked at each other and laugh; they all thought, “What kind of secret is that? If the Emperor does not attack Wu Sangui, Wu Sangui will deploy his troops to attack the Emperor.”

“Do you know why the Emperor is deploying his troops to Yunnan?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “This is rather difficult to guess.”

“Could it be also because of Chen Yuanyuan?” Ah Qi asked.

Wei Xiaobao slapped the table, he appeared extremely amazed. “Uh! How did you know?” he asked.

“Casual guess,” Ah Qi replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Miss is indeed a female Zhuge, you can prophecy with supernatural accuracy. As the Emperor, His Majesty has everything; the only thing that is lacking is this ‘number one beauty under the heavens’. Why do you think last time His Majesty sent me, a little child to Yunnan, and not some people of virtue and prestige, a cabinet minister who has rendered great merit through hard work? It was precisely because he wanted me to take a look, whether this woman was really extremely beautiful. He also wanted me to sound out Wu Sangui, whether he would be willing to present Chen Yuanyuan to the Palace. If he sent a white-bearded high-ranking minister to handle this matter, it would be rather embarrassing, wouldn’t it? Who would have thought that as soon as I raised this subject, Wu Sangui furiously slapped the table and said, ‘You deliver one Princess here, and want to have my living Guanyin in exchange? Humph, humph, even if you give me a hundred princesses, I won’t give you any.’”

Sangjie and Galdan looked at each other, they both had a nagging feeling that they had fallen into Wu Sangui’s ruse; turned out this matter involved this kind of beauty entanglement. When Wu Sangui ‘flushed the crown in anger due to beautiful woman’ in the past, it was precisely because of Chen Yuanyuan that he forfeited the Ming Dynasty’s three hundred years’ rivers and mountains; everybody in the world knew about it. The young Emperor was young and romantic, hence this matter actually made sense.

Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Xiao Xuanzi, you are raw bird fish soup [see Chapter 14]; definitely you won’t covet the old turtle’s wife. I, Xiao Guizi, am facing a great catastrophe, I have no choice but to make some malicious remark about you, it is indeed not a good thing.” Seeing Sangjie and Galdan’s grim expression, he continued, “When I saw that Wu Sangui was angry, I did not dare to talk anymore. At that time, although I brought several thousand troops and horses to Yunnan, how could I match the magnificent army with thousands of men and horses under Wu Sangui’s command? What choice did I have but to shut my mouth and quietly amassed great fortune?” Galdan nodded.

“One evening,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “That big beard Hantiemo came to see me. He said he was sent by His Highness the Prince to Kunming to establish contact with Wu Sangui. But in Kunming he discovered that something was not right. He said that Mongolians are descendants of Geng something Khan, that each one is a hero and a warrior; why would they go to war and deliver their lives for the sake of Wu Sangui’s beautiful woman? He asked me to smuggle him back to Beijing to see the Emperor, he wanted to personally tell the Emperor that Chen Yuanyuan has nothing to do with Mongolian Prince and Tibetan Lama, that Mongolian Prince Galdan has already had Miss Ah Qi, he can’t possibly want to have Chen Yuanyuan. Tibetan Great Lama also has … has a lot of good-looking Tibetan girls …”

“Nonsense!” Sangjie shouted, “We, Yellow Hat[10] Lama strictly maintain purity, rule and monastic discipline, we can’t possibly have a voracious desire for beauty and lust.”

Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “It was Hantiemo who said that, it has nothing to do with me. Great Lama, to win favor from the Emperor, I am afraid Hantiemo told him not to worry, he can be rest assured that you will not fight over Chen Yuanyuan.”

“Humph,” Sangjie said, “Next time I see Hantiemo, I will ask him clearly, whether he was telling lies, or it was you who told lies, and thus ruin my clean reputation.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted, “He wants to ask Hantiemo, apparently he won’t kill me right away.” He busily said, “Yes, yes, next time you can tell me to confront Hantiemo. You are helping Wu Sangui to revolt, honestly you won’t get any benefit. Even if the rebellion was successful, if the two of you don’t have any manacles handy, you will always be fearful and apprehensive …” Suddenly seeing angry expression appeared on Sangjie’s face, he said hastily, “Great Lama, you treat emptiness as appearance, and appearance as emptiness; when you see Chen Yuanyuan, naturally your heart will not be tempted, it’s just that, it’s just that … ay!”

“It’s just that what?” Sangjie asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Last time I went to Kunming, Chen Yuanyuan came out to welcome the Princess, were not several thousands of people being crushed to death? These dead people’s families wanted to conduct burial ceremony, but suddenly they could not invite any Buddhist monk or Taoist priest.”

“Why?” Ah Qi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Many of those monks who saw Chen Yuanyuan had their worldly desire aroused; in one day, several thousand monks in Kunming returned to secular life, they did not want to leave home anymore. Just think, suddenly the number of monks decreased by several thousands, naturally there was not enough monks to perform the ceremony.”

Galdan and the others, three people, were half believing and half-doubting; they all thought that his story was rather too unbelievable, but toward Chen Yuanyuan’s beauty, they had no doubt at all. Ah Qi cast a glance toward Galdan, she said softly, “Kunming is a strange place, I don’t want to go there. If you want to help Wu Sangui, you can go alone.”

“Who said that I want to go to Kunming?” Galdan hastily said, “I do not wish to see Chen Yuanyuan. In my opinion, our Miss Ah Qi is not necessarily inferior to Chen Yuanyuan.”

Ah Qi’s countenance sank, she said, “You said that I am not necessarily inferior to Chen Yuanyuan, obviously you are saying that I am inferior to her. You definitely want to see her.” While saying that, she stood up and said, “I am leaving!”

Galdan was greatly embarrassed; he hastily said, “No, no! I swear to the Heaven, in my whole life, I will not cast a single glance to Chen Yuanyuan.” Ah Qi turned from anger to happiness; she sat back down.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You will not cast a single glance to Chen Yuanyuan, you are speaking correctly. No matter who, as soon as he sees her, will one glance be enough? A hundred glances, a thousand glances will not be enough.”

“You little devil,” Galdan cursed, “You only know how to talk nonsense. I swear not to see Chen Yuanyuan forever, and that’s that. If I see her, let my eyes be blind immediately.” Ah Qi was greatly delighted; she gazed at him full of tender feelings.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I listened to the young Emperor speaking, he really did not understand why the two of you want to help Wu Sangui. If it is because of Chen Yuanyuan, then nothing we can do; there is only one Chen Yuanyuan under the heavens, even the young Emperor does not have it. Other than because of this beautiful woman, whatever Wu Sangui has, the young Emperor has ten times as much. If the two of you are willing to help the Emperor, gold, silver, money and valuables, you will get whatever amount you want.”

Sangjie coldly said, “Although Tibet and Mongolia are poor, we do not covet gold, silver, money and valuables.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “These two do not want gold, silver, money and valuables, they do not want beautiful women, what do they want the most?” He had a second thought, “That’s right,” he mused, “Lowly men cannot survive a day without money, great men cannot survive a day without power. I, Wei Xiaobao, am a little man, these two are great men.” Thereupon he said, “The young Emperor said, Galdan is only a prince, his power is not high enough, if he helps me fighting Wu Sangui, I will make him the Mongolian King.”

Galdan’s eyes shone with delight; he said excitedly, “The Em … Emperor really said that?”

“Of course!” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Why would I lie to you?”

“There is no such thing as ‘Mongolian King’ in the world,” Sangjie said, “If the Emperor can really help His Highness to be the Dzungar Khan [orig. ‘zhun ka’er han’], His Highness will be perfectly contented.”

“Possible, possible!” Wei Xiaobao said, “This title ‘zheng ge’er hao’ [complete/total good], the Emperor will definitely agree to grant.” While in his heart he mused, “What in the world is damned ‘total good’? Could it be there is another title ‘half good’?”

Looking at his expression, Sangjie knew that Wei Xiaobao did not understand; he said, “Mongolia is divided into several divisions, among those, the Dzungars[11] are the biggest. Mongolian rulers are not called ‘Kings’, they are called ‘Khans’. His Highness the Prince is not a Khan yet.”

“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As long as Your Highness the Prince helps His Majesty, won’t become one or two Zhengge’er [complete/total] Khan be easy? The Emperor can issue an edict, send several tens of thousands troops and horses, will the other Mongolian people dare to resist?”

Hearing this, Galdan was very happy; he said, “If the Emperor is willing to do that, naturally it will be easy.”

Wei Xiaobao struck his chest and said, “You don’t have to worry, leave it to me, I’ll accomplish it for you. His Majesty hates only Wu Sangui, one person. Although Miss Ah Qi is beautiful, as long as you keep the Emperor from laying his eyes on her, I guarantee that he won’t snatch her from you. As for Great Lama Sangjie, if you help the Emperor, His Majesty can make you the grand ruler of the entire Tibet.” He did not know what they called the grand ruler of Tibet, hence he did not dare to speak irresponsibly.

Sangjie said, “The entire Tibet is under the Living Buddha Dalai Lama’s rule, the office cannot be casually bestowed by the Emperor.”

“Others can be the Living Buddha,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why can’t you? In Tibet, how many Living Buddhas are there?”

Sangjie said, “There is also Panchen Lama Living Buddha, altogether there are two.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “One sky cannot have three suns, but everything else must have three to make sense. We can ask His Majesty to grant the title Living Buddha Sangjie. Grand Living Buddha Sangjie will be in charge of Da something, Pan something, two little Living Buddhas.”

Sangjie’s heart was moved; he mused, “This kid talks nonsense, but he actually made some sense.” Thinking about this, a smile appeared on his thin face.

This moment Wei Xiaobao was only trying to survive and escape with his life, whatever the opposite party asked, he would readily agree. Much less granting these people the titles of Dzungar Khan or Tibetan Grand Living Buddha did not cost him one tael of silver. He said, “I am not tooting my horn, whatever plan Xiongdi suggested to the Empeor, 99% he will see, hear and obey. Besides, the two of you agree to fight Wu Sangui, not only the Emperor will bestow the title to you, Xiongdi will render great merit as well, I will definitely enjoy promotion and gain wealth. As the saying goes: ‘the imperial court needs good people to be the officials’. In the imperial court, Xiongdi is a high-ranking official, the two gentleman separately become high-ranking officials in Mongolia and Tibet; I’ll say it would be better if the three of us do obeisance and become sworn brothers. From now on the three of us will enjoy blessing together and will face difficulty together; we are not fated to be born on the same year same month same day, but willing to die on the same year same month same day. In this world, other than the young Emperor, the three of us are the greatest; won’t that be wonderful?” He thought, “To die on the same year same month same day, these words are important. As soon as the two of them nodded their heads in approval, they cannot kill me. If they do, it will be the same as committing suicide.”

Before Sangjie and Galdan went to Yangzhou, they had already investigated carefully, and knew that this young Imperial Envoy was the number one favorite among the people who served in front of the Emperor, his career has enjoyed meteoric rise, his promotion was speedy; it’s just that they had never imagined that he was the same youngster they had met in the past. Galdan did not have any enmity with him to begin with. Sangjie had his twelve younger martial brothers killed by his master and he, and had his ten fingers chopped because of him; originally he hated Wei Xiaobao to the bones, but after listening to his talk, he thought that his martial brothers were dead, they could not be brought back to live, his fingers were chopped and would not grow anymore. Even if he could strike this man dead with his palm, he was merely venting his anger; nothing more. If he helped Wu Sangui accomplishing his goal, he would simply exert his strength in vain, without any benefit to himself. But if he became sworn brother with him, he would absolutely reap tangible benefit, the advantage to him was really great. The two of them ‘you look at me, I look at you’, they both slowly nodded their heads.

Wei Xiaobao was overjoyed at the unexpected turn of events; he would have never imagined that his speech would move these two evil people’s hearts. Afraid that they might change their mind, he hastily said, “Da Ge, Er Ge, Er Sao [big brother, second brother, second sister-in-law, respectively], let us swear brotherhood right now. It does not matter if Er Sao wants to join us or not, as soon as you bow to the Heaven and the Earth with Er Ge, we become one family.” Blushing, Ah Qi spat, but in her heart she felt that this little kid really know how to make people happy.

Sangjie suddenly stretched out his hand and ‘slap!’ he broke a corner of the table. Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “What is he doing?” he mused.

He heard Sangjie said in stern voice, “Wei Daren, whatever you told me, today I believe you. But if in the future you repeatedly changing, you don’t live up to your promises, let the corner of this table become your example.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Whatever Da Ge says, the three of us brothers will do it together, everybody will reap the benefit. If Xiongdi deceive the two of you, you can dispatch army from Mongolia and Tibet to give the Emperor some trouble; if the Emperor is angry, he would definitely have my head chopped. Two Gege please think, will Xiongdi dare to do you wrong?”

Sangjie nodded and said, “Well said, you are right.”

Immediately the three of them arranged the red candle in the hall, kneeled down and bowed toward the outside to become sworn brothers. Sangjie was the oldest, Galdan next, Wei Xiaobao became the third brother. He bowed to the first brother and the second brother, and then also kowtowed to Ah Qi, while calling her ‘Second Sister-in-law’ in a very intimate way. He thought, “Now that you have become my Er Sao, next time I am fooling around with my own wife Ah Ke, I wonder if you’d feel embarrassed to do so.”

Ah Qi picked up the wine pot and poured four cups; she laughed and said, “Today the three of you boys swore brotherhood, I wish from now on you will carry things through, that you will accomplish this great undertaking. Xiaomei [little sister, referring to self] toast the three of you a cup.”

Sangjie also laughed; he said, “Naturally I must drink this toast.” Finished speaking, he picked up the wine cup.

Dage, wait!” Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “This wine is spoiled, it’s not too clean, we must have it replaced. Waiter!” he called out loudly, “Quickly get some wine.” He felt something was not right, “What happened in Lovely Spring Courtyard? It’s been quite a while and I haven’t seen anybody serving us.” But then he remembered, “Ah right, seeing a fight, plus some government officers get killed, the brothel proprietress, the turtle slave must have run far away.”

Right this moment, he saw a turtle slave came in with head hung low. “What is it?” the man mumbled.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “The turtle slaves of Lovely Spring Courtyard, which one I did not know? This fellow must be new, how can he be this without-propriety toward the guest? He must be so scared that he turned silly.” He shouted, “Quickly get two pots of wine.”

“Right away!” the turtle slave replied, turned around and left.

Looking at the turtle slave’s back, Wei Xiaobao’s heart was moved. “Uh! Who is this man? I have seen him during the day at the Chinese peony garden outside the Chanzhi Temple; how can he be a turtle slave in here? Something’s strange here.” He pondered deeply, and soon his back was wet with cold sweats. “Ah!” he exclaimed, and sprang up.

“What is it?” Sangjie, Galdan and Ah Qi, three people asked in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao spoke in a low voice, “This man is Wu Sangui’s martial art expert warrior in disguise. He must have heard everything we said just now.”

Sangjie and Galdan were shocked; they both said, “In that case we can’t let him live.”

“Two Gege,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please … please don’t act too soon. Let’s pretend we did not know, we’ll see how many are they, and … and what trick they are playing.” While saying that, his voice was actually trembling.

If that turtle slave was really Wu Sangui’s warrior in disguise, he would not be this panic-stricken; actually, that man was Divine Dragon Cult’s Lu Gaoxuan. This man was coming with him from the Divine Dragon Island to Beijing, and had been in contact with Wei Xiaobao for quite a long time. This time his disguise was extremely ingenious, his real face was completely unrecognizable; but looking at his back, Wei Xiaobao had a feeling that it looked familiar. Outside the Chanzhi Temple that day, he had not recognized him; but now at the Lovely Spring Courtyard he saw the same back once again, he felt something was not right, hence he gave it a careful thought, and only then did he realize who the man was.

If it was only Lu Gaoxuan, one person, Wei Xiaobao had nothing to fear. It seemed that outside the Chanzhi Temple Lu Gaoxuan had overheard Wei Xiaobao accidentally said that he wanted to go to Lovely Spring Courtyard to listen to songs, hence Lu Gaoxuan also came and disguise himself as a turtle slave. But since he was here, most likely Fat and Thin Toutuo were also here. Perhaps even Cult Leader Hong has also personally come. If Wei Xiaobao wanted to repeat his ruse by having Hong Jiaozhu to swear brotherhood with him, to pledge that they were going to die on the same year same month same day, it would be extremely difficult. The more he thought about it, the more he was scared. Beads of sweats appeared on his forehead.

He saw Lu Gaoxuan came in, carrying a wooden tray with two pots of wine. With his head hung low, he put the wine pots on the table. Wei Xiaobao mused, “He hangs his head low, must be because he is afraid I might see through his disguise. Humph, I wonder who else is coming?” He said, “How come there’s only you in the Courtyard? Quickly call some more people to serve us.”

Lu Gaoxuan let out an ‘Um’, and quickly turned around and left. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “Da Ge, Er Ge, Er Sao, wait for my signal. If I roll my eyes and throw my head back, you must act immediately, kill whoever comes in. This man has superior martial art skill, it is no small matter.”

Sangjie and the others nodded their compliance; but in their hearts they thought, “What’s so amazing about Wu Sangui’s warrior even if his martial art skill were higher? There is no need to make such a big fuss over nothing.”

A moment later, Lu Gaoxuan came back with four prostitutes, who then separately sat by the four people’s side. When Wei Xiaobao saw them, he did not recognize all four prostitutes, they were not the original Misses of the Lovely Spring Courtyard. All four of them were extremely ugly, some had drooping eyes, some had twisted mouth, or sickly yellowish skin or dark skin, or perhaps bumpy face like they had edema, or face full of scars. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Lovely Spring Courtyard’s girls are very pretty.”

He saw the one sitting by Sangjie, a young woman with face full of scars, winked at him, and signaled him with her eyes. Wei Xiaobao saw her eyes were alive, her glance was very beautiful; he thought, “These four are from Shen Long Jiao, deliberately disguising themselves like this, but she is repeatedly signaling me with her eyes, I wonder what’s her intention?” He picked the original Mi Chun wine and poured one cup each for the four prostitutes. “Everybody must drink one cup!” he said.

In the brothels, there was no such thing as the guest pours the wine for the prostitutes. As soon as the guest reaches out toward the wine pot, the prostitute would immediately pour the wine; but these four prostitutes only sat down with their heads hung low. Wei Xiaobao pour the wine for them, unexpectedly the four of them did not say a single word. Wei Xiaobao mused, “These four women masquerade as prostitutes, their skill is extremely lacking.” He said, “You are here to serve the guests, how come you did not understand the custom? You must drink one cup first.” While saying that, he poured another cup and said to Lu Gaoxuan, “Are you new? You can’t even be a turtle. All of you are disrespecting the guest’ wine; if the guest is angry, would he spend his money?”

Lu Gaoxuan and the four prostitutes thought that it was really a brothel’s custom, they all replied, “Yes!” and picked up the wine and drank it.

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Now that’s good. Are there more turtles and prostitutes in the courtyard? Call everybody here for me. Such a big Lovely Spring Courtyard, how come there are only the five of you? I am afraid this is rather strange.”

The prostitute with swelling yellowish face signaled Lu Gaoxuan with her eyes. Lu Gaoxuan turned around and left. When he returned, he brought two turtle slaves along. With a hoarse voice he said, “No more prostitutes, but we have two more turtles.”

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused; he thought, “Prostitutes, turtles, are the terms people say behind your back; you are a turtle slave yourself, how can you say ‘prostitute’ and ‘turtle’? Even if you are a patron of the brothel, you can’t be this rude. In the courtyard, you would say ‘Miss’ and ‘waiter’. I just tested you, and immediately you ‘reveal the horse’s foot’. Humph, humph, Hong Jiaozhu can prophecy with supernatural accuracy, but even in his dream he would never imagine that I, Wei Xiaobao, grew up in this Lovely Spring Courtyard.”

He saw that both the two turtle slaves were big, fat and tall. One was Fat Toutuo in disguise; he could tell with just one look. The other one vaguely reminded him of Thin Toutuo, but how come he was this tall? After a quick thinking, he knew that his feet must have stepped on some elevated platform; if Wei Xiaobao had not known in advance, he could never have guessed. Wei Xiaobao poured two more cups of wine and said, “The guest tell you turtles to drink, you two turtles must drink!”

Fat Toutuo quietly picked up the cup and drank; Thin Toutuo was hot-tempered, he could not show restraint. “You, little b@stard, are a turtle!” he cursed.

Lu Gaoxuan hastily pulled his sleeve and shouted, “Quickly drink the wine! How could you dare to offend the guest?”

This time Thin Toutuo became a turtle slave, he had received the Cult Leader’s strict warning. He was startled and quickly drank his wine.

“Is everybody here?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Is there anybody else?”

“Nobody else,” Lu Gaoxuan replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Is Hong Jiaozhu also masquerade as a turtle?” When he said those words, he rolled his eyes and threw his head backwards.

As soon as Lu Gaoxuan and the others, seven people, heard this, they were shocked; the four prostitutes rose up at once. Sangjie had been preparing himself by circulating his chi, his hands moved simultaneously and hit Thin Toutuo and Lu Gaoxuan’s waists. As soon as these two fingers moved, Lu Gaoxuan fell down immediately; but Thin Toutuo only grunted before he swiped his palm in a hacking move toward Sangjie’s head. Sangjie was surprised; he thought that his ‘two Zen-fingers’ skill could be considered unparalleled in the world. After his fingers were poisoned and shortened by one section, his movement was not as agile as before; but precisely because the fingers were one section shorter, when it hit the enemy’s body, the power was thirty percent stronger than before. This moment he was very sure that he had hit the acupoint on this big and fat man’s waist, why did the man act as if nothing had happened to him? Could it be just like Wei Xiaobao, he had also trained ‘Jin Gang Hu Ti Shen Gong’ [Vajra’s (Budha’s warrior attendant) (or diamond) divine skill to protect the body] to perfection?

Actually, these two did not have any ‘Jin Gang Hu Ti Shen Gong’ at all. Wei Xiaobao was impervious of saber and spear, because he was wearing the treasured vest to protect his body, while Thin Toutuo was standing on stilts so that he was one chi taller. Sangjie thought that he was really a tall and sturdy person, so that when he aimed his jab, his middle finger actually hit the outside of Thin Toutuo’s thigh. Thin Toutuo felt a sharp pain, but his acupoint was not sealed.

By this time Fat Toutuo already fought Galdan. The prostitute with face full of scars fought with Ah Qi. Another prostitute pounced on Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Are you crazy? [the original word implies ‘sexual craziness’, sex maniac] Why are you dressed in ugly appearance ugly shape like this?”

He saw like a pair of claws, the prostitute’s ten fingers came swiftly and viciously toward him. He was shocked; immediately he ducked down and crawled underneath the table. Stretching out his hand, he pushed the prostitute’s legs. The prostitute had drunk the Mi Chun wine, by this time the drug was starting to take effect; her mind blurred, as soon as Wei Xiaobao pushed, she was unable to stand, she swayed several times before her buttocks landed on the floor, and then she was unable to stand anymore. The other three fake prostitutes also fainted one after another.

Thin Toutuo and Sangjie exchanged several moves. Thin Toutuo did not like the stilts as they impeded his movements; sending his strength to his legs, ‘crack, crack’, he broke the stilts. Sangjie cursed, “Turns out you are a dwarf.”

Thin Toutuo angrily said, “Formerly Laozi was a lot taller than you are; I like to be a dwarf, what does it have to do with you?”

Sangjie laughed aloud. While their mouth exchanged words, their hands and feet did not stop moving least bit. Both of them were martial art experts; after exchanging several moves, they both admired each other. Sangjie thought, “Unexpectedly there is such fat and short warrior under Wu Sangui’s command with this kind of superb martial art skill.” While Thin Toutuo thought, “Although your martial art skill is high, you have been made a hunting dog [i.e. lackey] by this little demon Wei Xiaobao; not a really good role [referring to Chinese opera].”

On the other front, after several moves Galdan proved to be no match for Fat Toutuo. It’s just that Fat Toutuo had drunk Mi Chun wine, his hands and feet were not too agile, hence the reason Galdan had not been knocked down yet. Ah Qi saw that the prostitute who fought with her had very exquisite style, but after no more than several moves, the prostitute fainted; Ah Qi was baffled. Turning her head, she saw Galdan withdrew repeatedly; hastily she rushed to help him.

Fat Toutuo’s vision blackened, his body swayed several times, he felt the enemy struck the pit of his stomach with a palm, but the power behind the palm was not formidable. He closed his eyes and stretched out his hands in different directions to parry the opponents’ arms. The index fingers of both hands hit the enemies’ armpits. Ah Qi immediately felt her body weakened and slowly slumped to the ground; she collapsed on top of Lu Gaoxuan’s back. While panicked, she saw Fat Toutuo suddenly lurched forward and fell.

“Ah Qi, Ah Qi,” Galdan called out, “Are you alright?” Suddenly Fat Toutuo leaped up and sent a punch toward Galdan’s chest, sending him back several zhang that he heavily crashed onto the wall.

Fat and Thin Toutuo’s internal energy was really deep; although they had drunk the Mi Chun wine, it was no more than ordinary knock-out drug used by the brothels, not something that was difficult to deal with. Although the two of them were dizzy, their internal strength was enough to overcome the drug’s effect. By this time Thin Toutuo felt as if his eyes were covered by a veil of mist, Sangjie’s shadow blurrily swayed back and forth in front of him. Each strike he sent was easily parried by Sangjie, while his left shoulder and right cheek successively ate two fists.

Sangjie’s fist power was very heavy, even though Thin Toutuo’s skin was rough his flesh thick, he could not endure it. He could not help but repeatedly howling before turning around and running out of the door.

Lu Gaoxuan shakily tried to stand up; the acupoint on the upper part of his body had not been unsealed, with a blurry vision he also rushed out of the door.

Galdan was hit by Fat Toutuo that he crashed onto the wall, he felt as if his back was about to break apart. In his heart he was actually scared, but he saw the enemy was supporting himself against the table with his left hand, while his eyes were closed, and his right palm constantly moving in front of the pit of his stomach, as if he was afraid the enemy would attack. Galdan seized this opportunity by leaping forward and sending a violent kick toward Fat Toutuo’s buttocks. Fat Toutuo roared, his left hand reached backward to grab the pit of Galdan’s stomach and raised him up. Sangjie rushed forward to help. Fat Toutuo suddenly opened his eyes; still grabbing Galdan, he rushed out of the Sweet Nectar Hall, and flew over the wall.

“Put him down!” Sangjie shouted, as he ran after him and leaped over the wall in hot pursuit. The sound of the two men shouting gradually vanished in the distance.

Wei Xiaobao crawled out from underneath the table. He saw a bunch of people sprawling all over the floor; Shuang’er and Zeng Rou lay down on the corner of the hall, four fake prostitutes fainted on the floor, Zheng Keshuang was originally slumped over the table, during the fight the chairs were pushed over that he rolled down under the table. The lower part of Ah Qi’s body was draped over an overturned chair, the upper part of her body was lying on the floor. All these people were motionless; some had their acupoints sealed, some were unconscious because of the Mi Chun wine, it was as if they were all dead.

The one Wei Xiaobao most concerned of was Shuang’er; hastily he held her up. Seeing her eyes were turning and she was breathing as usual, he was relieved; it’s just that he could not unseal her acupoint, hence he had no choice but to lift Shuang’er, Zeng Rou and Ah Qi, three women, up and sat them on the chairs.

Concerned over his mother’s safety, he rushed toward her bedroom. He saw Wei Chunfang was lying on the floor by the bed and was greatly shocked; hastily he helped her up. He saw her body limp, yet her breathing and heartbeat were normal, he guessed her acupoint must have been sealed by Divine Dragon Cult people. In the Lovely Spring Courtyard, all the prostitutes and turtles must have had their acupoints sealed too, they should be able to wake in several sichen [two hours], hence he did not have to worry.

Returning to the Sweet Nectar Hall, he cocked his ears to listen attentively, and did not hear the least bit sign that Fat and Thin, two Toutuo or Sangjie and Galdan had returned; he mused, “The fake prostitute with face full of scar was signaling me with her eyes, apparently she was telling me to be careful. This person’s conscience is good, I wonder who she is.” He walked over and stooped down to wipe the woman’s face several times. A layer of plaster flaked off, exposing a tender and lovely, white and soft cheek. Wei Xiaobao cheered; turned out this woman was Xiao Junzhu Mu Jianping.

Lowering his head, he kissed her face gently and said, “When all is said and done, you still have conscience toward me; you must have been forced by them to deceive me.” Suddenly his heart jumped, “Who are those three fake prostitutes? Is Miss Fang among them? That little wh0re is a specialist in harming me, if this time she is not here, I will be greatly surprised.” Thinking about Fang Yi, his heart was both sweet and bitter. He saw that the woman with swollen yellow face had a slim and graceful body, most likely she was Fang Yi. Thereupon he reached out to wipe the makeup from her face. The putty powder fell, exposing an attractive, beautiful and charming face; she was around five, six years older than Fang Yi, but her countenance was more beautiful than Fang Yi. Turned out she was Madame Hong Jiaozhu.

After she was drunk, her cheeks looked like peach blossom, her skin looked as if it exuded water. In the past, although Wei Xiaobao felt that Madame Hong was beautiful and alluring, he had never dared to look at her with the least bit of frivolous intention. This time she was as drunk as mud, the opportunity had presented itself. Extending his right hand, he pinched her cheek, and saw her eyes tightly closed; she did not feel the pinch at all. His heart was thumping wildly, he pinched her other cheek.

Turning around, he walked over to the other two women. These two women’s bodies were obese, they did not look like Fang Yi at all. One of these women had fiercely pounced on him. Wei Xiaobao picked up the wine pot and drenched her face with the wine, and then pulling her lapel, he used it to wipe her face, exposing her real face; surprisingly she was the fake empress dowager. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he thought, “I am rendering a really great service. His Majesty and Empress Dowager wanted me to arrest this old wh0re for revenge. With thousand ways, a hundred plans I failed to arrest her, who would have thought she unexpectedly came to the Lovely Spring Courtyard on her own to be an old wh0re. It can clearly be seen that by calling her the old wh0re, all along it was a divine strategy, early on I have a foresight.”

Wiping the fourth fake prostitute’s makeup, he found out that behind the makeup was Fang Yi’s face. Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked, “How did her waist become so thick? Could it be that she had an illicit intercourse with a man and conceive a child? By the heaven and the earth, the old wh0re really became an old wh0re, could it be that Little Turtle Wei has indeed become a little turtle?” Reaching out, he ran his hand over her undergarment, his hand did not touch skin and flesh; when he pulled it, turned out it was a pillow. Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he said with a laugh, “Your conscience is a lot worse than Xiao Junzhu’s. For fear that I might fall into your evil scheme, she repeatedly signaled me with her eyes. But for fear that I might recognize you, you even dare to disguise yourself as a big-bellied woman. Ha ha … you, little wh0re, become a big-bellied woman in Lovely Spring Courtyard, I will have an abortion for you. Early morning abortion or late night abortion, I will have the pillow taken out of you.”

Walking out of the hall, he saw several personal guards lying dead on the ground. The courtyard was without lantern, without any flame; there was not even a whisper to be heard. He thought, “Fat and Thin Toutuo have drunk the drugged wine, in the end they won’t be able to defeat those two sworn brothers of mine, but if Hong Jiaozhu and the others waiting to rescue them on the outside, the outcome will be very difficult to say. Two Gege, if today you return to heaven, please forgive Xiaodi [little brother] for not accompanying you dying on the same year the same month and the same day!”

Returning to the hall, he saw Madame Hong, Fang Yi, Mu Jianping, Shuang’er, Zeng Rou, and Ah Qi, six beautiful women were either unconscious or unable to move. Each one had her own beauty, each one had her own charm; his heart was greatly moved, he mused, “There is another good-looking young Miss inside on the bed, she is a lot more beautiful than these six persons, the one I already bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with, but have not consummate the marriage in bridal room with ornamented candles. Tonight you anxiously looked for me, if your husband did not pay you any attention, won’t I be too cold and ruthless [orig. ‘without any sense of justice’]? Won’t I wrong you too much?”

He was about to step inside when he noticed Zeng Rou’s pair of pretty eyes was fixed on him, her cheeks were blushing, her expression was tender and bashful; he thought, “From Wangwu Mountain to Yangzhou, along the way you, this little girl, were always avoiding me, I can’t even talk to you one more sentence. Tonight I must not be too polite to you.” He carried her in his bosom into the room and put her by Ah Ke’s side.

He saw Ah Ke was still fast asleep; her long eyelashes hung down, the corner of her lips slightly curled into a smiling expression. Most likely in her stupor she was having a very sweet dream, she was being intimate with Zheng Keshuang.

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Either give up, or go through to the end. I might as well have this bunch of old wh0re, fake prostitutes, good Miss, bad women, everybody moved in. This is Lovely Spring Courtyard, women came to a brothel, what good could they possibly do? It was you who came here, when you are awake, you can’t blame me.”

Since childhood, his lofty ambition was to open a big brothel in Yangzhou, to come to Lovely Spring Courtyard and have dinner party with singsong girls, to have the prostitutes of the entire courtyard to accompany him. This moment, although the situation was not the same as the plan he drew in the former days, actually it was quite a magnificent feat, not a small matter indeed.

Immediately he carried Shuang’er, Ah Qi, Madame Hong, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, one by one into the room. Finally even the fake empress dowager was also brought in. Eight women lay side by side on the bed. Suddenly he recalled, “Must not take unfair advantage of a friend’s wife. Er Sao, you are my older brother’s wife; we are heroes and warriors, must uphold yi qi.” Hence he carried Ah Qi back into the hall and sat her properly on the chair. He saw there was a considerable praise in her gaze. Seeing her lovely and pretty countenance, her labored breathing, her chest moved up and down endlessly, Wei Xiaobao suddenly felt regret, “I become sworn brothers with Great Lama and Mongolian Prince, it was not because we have affinity with each other, but simply because of a scheme, so that they won’t come to kill me; those Da Ge, Er Ge are nonsense. This Miss Ah Qi is so pretty, it’s a pity to call her Er Sao, I might as well make her my wife. The storyteller has told the story of ‘Three Laughing Marriage Affinities, Nine-Beauty Scheme’, Tang Bohu[12] had nine wives. If I include Ah Qi, I only have eight beauties, still short one beauty. Pei, pei, pei!” he spat, “The old wh0re is old and vicious, how can I consider her as a beauty?”

Compared to Tang Bohu, he was short one beauty; it was still acceptable. But now he had to lose two beauties, he was actually quite disappointed. Thereupon he brought Ah Qi back into the room. But only a few steps later, he suddenly recalled, “Guan Yunchang escorted Huang Sao [older brother the emperor’s wife] for a thousand li; he did not turn Liu Da Sao into Guan Er Sao [referring to Liu Bei and Guan Yu, Romance of the Three Kingdoms]. Wei Xiaobao escorted Er Sao for seven steps, I can’t ignore yi qi too much. If I have to have two less beauties, then let me short two beauties; why afraid that I can’t get it back in the future?” Thereupon he immediately turned around and put Ah Qi back on the chair.

Ah Qi did not know the raging battle inside his mind; being brought back and forth like that, she wondered what kind of trick he was playing, and was a bit surprised.

Wei Xiaobao entered the room and said, “Miss Fang, Xiao Junzhu, Madame Hong, the three of you entered the Lovely Spring Courtyard to be prostitutes on your own. Shuang’er, Miss Zeng, the two of you voluntarily came with me to Lovely Spring Courtyard. What kind of place this is, although when you came you did not know, but since little girls have come to this kind of place, it won’t be right if you don’t accompany me. Ah Ke, you are my wife, you came here to patronage my Mama, that is, you patronage your own mother-in-law. Your husband is going to patronage you.” Stretching out his hand he pushed the fake empress dowager far away to the corner of the bed. He shook and spread the quilt to cover the remaining six women. Kicking his shoes off, with a loud shout he crawled into the quilt.

Heaven and Earth in confusion. After an unknown period of time had passed, the candle on the table went out, the room became completely dark. Also a long time had passed, Wei Xiaobao hummed the ‘eighteen touches’ in a low voice: “A hundred and seven touches, touching Jiejie Meimei’s [older and younger sisters] seven hands … a hundred and eight touches, touching Jiejie Meimei’s eight feet …”

During this ‘seven-hand, eight-feet’, suddenly he heard tender and gentle voice softly said, “No … don’t … Zheng … Zheng Gongzi … is that you?” It was precisely Ah Ke’s voice. She drank the Mi Chun wine the earliest, after sleeping for a long time, the drug effect gradually diminished, and she slowly regained her consciousness.

Wei Xiaobao was furious; he thought, “Even in your dream you are thinking of Zheng Gongzi, thinking that he is climbing onto your bed; is it good?” Lowering his voice he said, “It’s me.”

“No, no!” Ah Ke said, “You must not …” She struggled a little bit.

Suddenly they heard Zheng Keshuang’s voice calling out from the hall, “Ah Ke, Ah Ke, where are you?” Crash! Bang! There was a lot of noise as the chair, as well as the cups and plates on the table fell down to the floor.

Since his voice was coming from the hall, naturally the one embracing her was not him; in her shock Ah Ke’s mind sobered a little bit. With a trembling voice she said, “You … who are you? Why … I … I …”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “It’s your own husband; don’t you recognize me?”

To say that Ah Ke was mildly surprise was a gross understatement. She struggled desperately to break away from his embrace, but her body was limp and without any strength. “Zheng Gongzi, Zheng Gongzi!” she cried out in fear.

Zheng Keshuang staggered into the room, but there was not the least bit of light inside, ‘Bang!’ his forehead bumped onto the doorframe. “Ah Ke, where are you?” he called out.

“I am here!” Ah Ke replied, “Let me go! Little demon, what did … what did you do?”

“What?” Zheng Keshuang was baffled; he did not know that the last two sentences were addressed to Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao was very excited and in high spirit, how could he be willing to let her go? “Good Shidi,” Ah Ke pleaded, “Please, let me go.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I said I won’t let go, then I won’t let go! A real man gave his words, dead horses cannot pull it back.”

Zheng Keshuang was startled and angry at the same time, “Wei Xiaobao,” he said, “Where are you?”

With an air of complacency Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am on the bed, embracing my wife. I am in the bridal room with ornamented candles; what are you doing here? You want to disturb the bridal chamber?”

Zheng Keshuang was furious. “Disturb your Ma’s bridal chamber!” he cursed.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You want to disturb my Ma’s bridal chamber? Not today, because today she does not accept any visitor, unless you yourself want to be the groom.”

“Rubbish!”  Zheng Keshuang yelled angrily. Following the direction of the voices, he pounced toward the bed. He wanted to uncover Wei Xiaobao, but in the dark he grabbed an arm. “Ah Ke,” he asked, “Is this your arm?”

“It’s not,” Ah Ke replied.

Since it was not Ah Ke’s arm, Zheng Keshuang thought it must be Wei Xiaobao’s. Thereupon he fiercely pulled with all his strength. Unexpectedly he pulled the fake empress dowager, Mao Dongzhu’s arm.

After drinking the Mi Chun wine, her brain was murky, but feeling that someone was pulling her arm, instinctively her left hand went up and slapped backhandedly. It happened to strike the top of Zheng Keshuang’s head. Her strength had gone about 80, 90%, this palm strike did not have any real power behind it. But Zheng Keshuang was greatly surprised; he quickly turned around to withdraw. His head happened to hit the pillar of the bed and he fainted right away.

“Zheng Gongzi, what happened to you?” Ah Ke cried out in alarm, but she heard no response.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He went to disturb the bridal chamber; he has crawled under the bed.”

Crying, Ah Ke said, “He did not. Quickly let me go!”

“Don’t move, don’t move!” Wei Xiaobao said.

Ah Ke struck with her elbow and happened to hit his throat. Feeling severe pain, Wei Xiaobao threw his head backward. Ah Ke struggled free and hastily wanted to get off the bed. As soon as she rolled around, her body pressed the pit of Mao Dongzhu’s stomach. Mao Dongzhu screamed from the pain and reached out to wrap her arms tightly around Ah Ke’s body. In the darkness, Ah Ke did not have any idea who was holding her; in her abject terror, she lost all the strength in her body. Suddenly she felt that someone got hold of her right foot. She was so scared that her body was drenched in cold sweats, “There are so many men on the bed!” she thought.

Wei Xiaobao could not find Ah Ke in the darkness. “Ah Ke,” he called, “Quickly make some noise, where are you?”

Ah Ke said in her heart, “Even if you chop my head, I won’t make any noise.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You won’t make any noise, I will touch one, I will touch two, I will touch everywhere, in the end I will touch you.” He suddenly sang the folksong, “One touch, two touches, touching the beautiful woman. The beauty’s face is like melon seed, could it be that you are the old wh0re?” [The original rhymes: melon seed – guazi, wh0re – biaozi.] While his mouth was singing the folk song, his hands were busy groping.

Suddenly they heard the clamor of voices outside the courtyard, some people shouted orders, a large number of troops had several brothels surrounded; and then there were footsteps, some people were entering the Lovely Spring Courtyard. Wei Xiaobao knew that these people must be either his own troops or Yangzhou’s local officials; he was very happy. He was about to crawl out from underneath the quilt, but unexpectedly the incoming people were very fast; he saw torches and very soon those people had already entered the Sweet Nectar Hall. He heard Priest Xuanzhen’s voice calling out, “Wei Daren, are you in here?” His voice was filled with anxiety.

Before he could even think, Wei Xiaobao blurted out, “I am here!”

As soon as Tian Di Hui warriors found out that Wei Xiaobao had disappeared, for fear that he might be in danger, they came out to look for him. They knew that he took several personal guards toward the Ming Yu Lane area, hence they investigated that area and found out that there was a fight in the Lovely Spring Courtyard. Upon entering the courtyard, they saw several dead personal guards lying on the ground and were greatly shocked. It was not until they heard his voice replying that they felt relieved.

Wei Xiaobao heard people shouting and calling, and then everybody seemed to swarm this way. He hastily stood up to let the mosquito net down, in the process his feet were stepping on several bodies, but he could not care less on whose bodies.

The mosquito net had just come down, Priest Xuanzhen and the others already entered the room. Each person had a torch in his hand; in one glance they all saw Zheng Keshuang fainted in front of the bed, and were very surprised. Someone called out, “Wei Daren, Wei Daren!”

Wei Xiaobao called back, “I am in here. Don’t open the mosquito net.”

Hearing his voice, they all cheered. Everybody ‘you look at me, I look at you’, with smiling expression on their faces; they all thought, “Everybody was worried, you are actually here to have fun.”

Under the torch light Wei Xiaobao put on his clothes, found his hat and wore it, and then crawled out of the bed. While putting on his shoes he said, “I used some trick to capture quite a few offenders, they are all on the bed. This time everybody’s merit is not small.”

They all felt very strange, but they knew for some time that the way he worked was like ‘gods appear and devils vanish’; for the time being it was inconvenient to ask too much.

Wei Xiaobao ordered the men to have Zheng Keshuang bound, and have Ah Qi carried to the field headquarters on a sedan chair. He also had the edges of the mosquito net squeezed firmly underneath the bedding, and then asked for ten personal guards and ordered them to take the big bed back to the Imperial Envoy Field Headquarters. The captain of the personal guards said, “Reporting to Daren: the door is too small, we cannot lift the bed out.”

“Idiot,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Can’t you tear the wall open?”

The captain understood immediately, he repeatedly said ‘yes’, and shouted his order. The personal guards set to work immediately, tearing the three walls of Lovely Spring Courtyard open. About a dozen personal guards fetched six or seven sedan chair poles and set the poles at the bottom of the bed, and then they lifted up the big bed, level and steady, and brought it out of the room.

By this time it was already daylight, the big bed was paraded through the main streets and marketplace of Yangzhou. The personal guards carried the ‘do not panic’ and ‘step back’ signs, with a gong and herald to clear the way, while the rest of the party marched behind the bed. When the common people of Yangzhou saw it, none of them did not click their tongue in amazement.

The big bed arrived at the He Garden, the gate was still too small. Learning from experience, this time the captain of the personal guards did not wait of the Imperial Envoy Daren’s instruction, he immediately ordered his men to tear the wall open and brought the big bed into the reception pavilion, and set it down in the middle of the hall. Wei Xiaobao passed on his order: the captured offenders on the bed were not a small matter, he ordered several dozen higher-rank military officers to lead the troops with bows strung, with sabers unsheathed, to form a tight perimeter around the garden. He also had Xu Tianchuan and the others guarding outside the room, to prevent Thin Toutuo and the others from coming in and seizing the prisoners by force.

Although there were multitude men guarding all around the reception pavilion, in the hall itself Wei Xiaobao was left alone with the big bed. He thought, “In the Lovely Spring Courtyard a moment ago, it was such a good opportunity, but out of seven beauties, apparently I only embraced less than half. Besides, in the darkness I did not know which one I already embraced, and which one I have not embraced. I’d better start anew, from the first line of ‘one touch’.” Thereupon he hummed softly, “One touch, two touches, touching Meimei …” pulling the mosquito net open, he threw himself onto the bed.

Suddenly his braid tightened, followed by a sharp pain on his throat; someone pulled his braid and lifted it up, the person’s left hand fingers were wrapped around his neck. It was none other than Madame Hong. After all these time, the effect of Mi Chun wine had disappeared. Madame Hong, Mao Dongzhu, Fang Yi, and Mu Jianping, four women, had already awakened; while the acupoints on Shuang’er and Zeng Rou’s body had gradually unsealed. It’s just that the bed was carried along Yangzhou’s streets, the bed was surrounded by numerous officers and soldiers, so that the seven women on the bed did not dare to move, they did not dare to make noise. This moment Wei Xiaobao wanted to enjoy tender, amorous good fortune, as soon as he climbed onto the bed he was grabbed by Madame Hong.

Madame Hong had a ‘smile, yet not a smile’ look on her face; she sternly said in low voice, “Little demon, you have the nerve to amuse yourself even with me!”

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his soul flew to the outer space; with a forced laugh he said, “Madame, I … I did not amuse myself; this … this …”

“What song did you sing?” Madame Hong asked.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “That was something that I heard randomly in the brothel, you must not take it seriously.”

Madame Hong said in a low voice, “Do you want to live, or do you want to die?”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Subordinate White Dragon Envoy respectfully wishes Madame and Jiaozhu to enjoy immortal good fortune forever, your long life the same as the heaven’s. Madame’s order, subordinate will receive and obey without delay.”

Madame Hong noticed that he was speaking those words frivolously, without any respect or sincerity. She spat and said, “You must remove the officers and soldiers around the hall first.”

“Very well,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Won’t that be easy? Let me go, I will issue the order.”

Madame Hong said, “Issue the order from here.”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice, he loudly called out, “Everybody outside, Zongdu [governor general], Xunfu [inspector general], Ministry of War Shangshu [department head], Minister of Revenue Shangshu, listen up: all officers and soldiers must withdraw, no one is allowed to remain here.”

Madame Hong pulled his braid and shouted, “What Ministry of War Shangshu, Minister of Revenue Shangshu? Rubbish!” While saying that, she pulled his braid again, hard.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao screamed, “I am dying!”

When the officers and soldiers outside heard him calling Zongdu, Shangshu, and so on, they were already suspicious, as soon as they heard him crying in pain, several dozen men with sabers and spears in their hands immediately rushed into the hall. “Imperial Envoy Daren,” they asked, “What is it?”

Wei Xiaobao called out, “No … nothing! Aiyo, Mama!”

The officers looked at each other in dismay, they were at a loss of what to do.

Madame Hong was furious; she raised her hand, ‘slap!’ she heavily struck Wei Xiaobao’s face. Wei Xiaobao cried out again, “Mama! Don’t hit your son!”

Although Madame Hong did not know that when Wei Xiaobao called someone his mother, he was actually cursing her as a prostitute, yet seeing his mischief, she raised her palm again to strike. Suddenly the ‘tian zong’ [heaven reservoir] and ‘shen tang’ [divine hall] two acupoints behind her shoulder went numb, her right arm went limp and dropped down. Madame Hong was startled; she quickly turned her head around to see who had sealed her acupoints. But the person closest to her back was Fang Yi.

“Miss Fang,” she said with a cold laugh, “Your martial art skill is not bad at all!” Her left hand swiftly moved toward Fang Yi’s eyes.

“It wasn’t me!” Fang Yi cried out, while leaning her head sideways to evade.

Madame Hong was about to attack again, suddenly two hands behind her back reached out and grabbed her left arm; it was Mu Jianping. “Madame,” she called out, “It was not my Shijie who sealed your acupoints!” She saw that it was Shuang’er who sealed Madame Hong’s acupoints.

Mao Dongzhu raised her hand to strike Mu Jianping, fortunately she lost her internal energy that Mu Jianping did not suffer any injury. Mao Dongzhu’s second palm strike came, Fang Yi stretched out her hand to block.

Seeing the four women were fighting each other, Ah Ke turned around, she wanted to get down of the bed. Her right foot had just stepped out of the quilt, “Ah!” she cried, and immediately pulled her foot back. Wei Xiaobao was pulling her left foot. “Don’t go!” he said.

Ah Ke struggled hard and cried out, “Let me go!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You guess: will I or will I not let you go?”

Ah Ke panicked; she turned around and sent out a punch. Wei Xiaobao ducked, ‘Bang!’ her fist landed on Zeng Rou’s left cheek. “What did you hit me for?” Zeng Rou shouted.

“I … I’m sorry … Aiyo!” Ah Ke said, but she was hit by Fang Yi’s palm.

In an instant the bed was in great confusion, seven women beating and twisting randomly. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he mused, “This is called ‘the whole country in rebellion, the heroes …’ no, ‘the heroines[13] fight each other in muddled battle!’”

While he was thinking to fish in troubled water, suddenly ‘crack, crash!’, the big bed collapsed. Eight people ‘you press on my hand, I push down your leg’. Seven women screamed together. Witnessing this scene, the officers and soldiers were dumbstruck. Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter while crawling out from among the crowd. But someone grabbed his left leg and twisted it. “Everybody, let go!” he shouted, “Officers, arrest all my wives, young and old!”

The officers stood in circle, but nobody dared to make any move. Wei Xiaobao pointed to Mao Dongzhu and said, “This old wh0re is a criminal, you must never let her escape.”

The officers felt strange, “You said these women are all your wives, young and old, how come one of them is a criminal, and two of them dressed as personal guards?” Immediately some of them pointed their sabers and spears to Mao Dongzhu, while some others dragged her out. ‘Click, click!’ they put manacles on her hands.

Wei Xiaobao pointed to Madame Hong and said, “This Madame is my superior, but we’d better put her in shackles as well.”

The officers were even more surprised, but they put manacles on Madame Hong’s hands anyway. Madame Hong’s martial art skill was high, but her acupoints were sealed by Shuang’er, half of her body was numb and aching, it would be difficult for her to resist.

By this time Shuang’er and Zeng Rou managed to extricate themselves from the crowd. Recalling last night’s experience, they were blushing, but also found it very amusing.

Wei Xiaobao pointed to Fang Yi and said, “She is my first concubine!” Pointing to Mu Jianping he said, “And she is my second concubine. First concubine needs to be put in shackles, second concubine does not need.”

The officers put manacles on Fang Yi’s hands. The Imperial Envoy Minister’s strange words and weird speech came out one after another, but by this time the officers had heard a lot, hence nobody thought it strange.

By this time, only Ah Ke was left sitting on the floor. They saw her hair was in a mess, her clothes was in disorder, she was wearing men’s clothes, nevertheless her countenance was bright and outstandingly beautiful; her hands were holding down the hem of her long gown tightly to cover her naked legs. Her head was hung low, her cheeks were blushing. The officers and soldiers all thought, “Of all Imperial Envoy Daren’s wives, young and old, this wife is the most beautiful.”

They heard Wei Xiaobao said, “She is my officially wedded wife, let me help her up.” He took two steps forward and said, “Niangzi [wife (formal)], please rise!” while extending his hand to help her up.

Suddenly there was a ‘Slap!’ sharp and clear, the Imperial Envoy Daren’s face was heavily slapped. With head hung low, Ah Ke cried and said, “All you can do is bully me. Just kill me. I … even if I die I don’t want to marry you.”

The officers looked at each other in dismay; they were all shocked. The Imperial Envoy Minister was beaten in public. As the officers, it was their official duty to protect him with all their might. But the person beating and disgracing him was the Imperial Envoy Minister’s own lawful wife; they could not step forward to stop her with force, but shouting to berate her also did not seem to be the proper thing to do. For a moment they were at a loss.

Caressing half of his face which was hit, Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “How can I be willing to part with you by killing you? Niangzi needs not be angry, otherwise I’ll have my men kill Zheng Gongzi.” He raised his voice to ask, “Where is the man arrested at the Lovely Spring Courtyard?”

A Zuoling [Company Commander] replied, “Reporting to Dutong [Commander]: this fellow has his hands and feet shackled and is being guarded well.”

“Very good,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If he wants to run away, chop his left leg first, and then cut his right leg …”

Ah Ke was scared. “Don’t … don’t … cut his legs,” she called out anxiously, “He … he won’t run away.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If you want to run away, I will chop Zheng Gongzi’s hands.” Sweeping his gaze on Fang Yi, Mu Jianping, and the others, he said, “If these first concubine, second concubine of mine ran away, cut Zheng Gongzi’s ears and nose.”

Ah Ke anxiously said, “You … you … what do these women have to do with Zheng Gongzi? Why do you put the blame on him?”

“Naturally they have something to do with him,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My women all have countenance of a flower, face like the moon, while Zheng Gongzi is a sex maniac. If he saw them, he would definitely harbor evil designs.”

Ah Ke thought, “It’s still not his responsibility.” But she knew that this person spoke without reason; it was useless to argue with him. In her anxiety, she broke into crying again.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The women with manacles, take them away and guard them well, put fetters on their legs. Tell the kitchen to set up a banquet, the good Miss without manacles are to accompany me drinking wine in here.” The personal guards complied with loud voice.

Still crying, Ah Ke said, “I … I don’t want to accompany you to drink. Just put shackles on my hands.”

Without saying anything Zeng Rou walked out with her head hung low. “Hey,” Wei Xiaobao called, “Where are you going?”

Zeng Rou turned her head around and said, “You … you are really shameless! I don’t want to see you again!”

Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Why?” he asked.

“You … you still ask me why?” Zeng Rou said, “Others are not willing to marry you, you compel them to. You are a high-ranking official, do you think you can bully common people like this? Previously I thought you were a … a hero, who would have thought …”

“Who would have thought what?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Suddenly Zeng Rou broke into crying; covering her face, she said, “I don’t know! You … you are an evil man, not a good person.” While saying that she ran toward the door.

Two military officers raised their saber to block; they shouted, “You insulted Imperial Envoy, you must not leave. Wait for Imperial Envoy Daren’s decision on how to punish you.”

Reprimanded by Zeng Rou like that, the happiness in Wei Xiaobao’s heart immediately vanished into the thin air; he thought that what she said actually made a lot of sense. Being a Tatar high-ranking officer, he was relying on force to bully others, thus he was no different from the treacherous court officials and evil tyrants that the storytellers were talking about. He thought, “I can’t be a hero; that’s fine. But I must not be a treacherous court official.”

Heaving a deep sigh he said, “Miss Zeng, please come back, I want to say something.”

Zeng Rou turned her head and boldly said, “I offended you, you might as well chop my head.”

Shuang’er had a good relationship with her; she hastily urged, “Zeng Jiejie, don’t be angry, Xianggong can’t possibly kill you.”

Wei Xiaobao low-spiritedly said, “You are right, if I force them to marry me, I am like the painted face treacherous court official (in the opera) seizing common people’s daughter, just like the Tiger Wang kidnapping the bride in the ‘Three Laughing Marriage Affinities’.”

Pointing to Ah Ke, he said to the Zuoling, the captain of his personal guards, “Take this Miss out, also release that man surnamed Zheng, let them go and be husband and wife.” When speaking those words, he was extremely grieving. He also pointed to Fang Yi and said, “Take her manacles off, release her as well, let her go find her beloved Liu Shige. Ay, my lawful wife loves her lover, my first concubine also loves her lover. Damn it, what kind of Imperial Envoy Daren, Dutong Daren am I? I am a double cuckold Daren.”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao was throwing a fit, the Zuoling was so scared that he stood with head hung low; he did not dare to make any noise. Wei Xiaobao said, “Quickly take these two women out.” The Zuoling complied, he escorted Ah Ke and Fang Yi out.

Wei Xiaobao looked at the two women’s back; in his heart he was really reluctant to let them go. As they walked out, Fang Yi and Ah Ke did not even turn their heads; there was not a word of thanks, there was not a single grateful glance.

Zeng Rou took two steps forward and said in a low voice, “You are a good person! You … please punish me.” There was a deep regret on her tender face.

Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was immediately aroused; he was beaming with joy as he laughed and said, “Right, right! I must punish you. Shuang’er, Xiao Junzhu, Miss Zeng, the three of you are good women. Come, let us go in and talk.”

He was about to take the three women into the inner hall and had some intimate time with them when a military officer walked in and said, “Reporting to Dutong Daren: there is someone outside, saying that he was sent by Hong Jiaozhu, asking to have an audience with Daren.”

Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits; he hastily said, “What Red Jiaozhu, Green Jiaozhu [the word ‘Hong’ sounds like ‘Red’, different characters]? I don’t want to see, I don’t want to see! Quickly kick him out.”

The officer bowed and said, “Yes!” He took a step backward, and then said, “That man also said that they have two men in their hands, they want to trade them with two women in Dutong Daren’s hands.”

“Trade with two women?” Wei Xiaobao said. His gaze swept on Madame Hong and Mao Dongzhu’s faces; he shook his head and said, “He must be joking! Such good merchandise, why do I want to trade?”

“Yes,” the military officer said, “Let lowly officer drive him away.”

Wei Xiaobao asked, “What kind of men he wanted to trade with? Damn it, what’s so good about men? Trading men for women, I will suffer too much loss.”

The officer said, “That man is talking nonsense, he said one was a Lama, the other was a Prince; they both are Dutong Daren’s sworn brothers.”

“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed; he thought, “Turns out Sangjie Lama and Prince Galdan are caught by Hong Jiaozhu.” He said, “A Lama and a Prince, what am I supposed to do with them? Go tell that fellow, these two women, even if he offered two million men, I don’t want to trade.” The officer repeatedly said yes, then he withdrew.

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance to Zeng Rou; he thought, “Previously she said that I am an evil man, not a good person. I have to let my own wives go, to let them marry their lovers before she considered me a good person. Humph! To be a good man, the capital is indeed not small. Sangjie and Galdan, two men, have already sworn brotherhood with me, if I don’t trade them back, Hong Jiaozhu will definitely have them killed. Even if I keep Madame Hong, what do I do with her? Although she is extremely beautiful, she won’t agree to enjoy immortal good fortune together with me, to have live as long as the heaven’s with me. Damn it, paying more attention to a lover than friends is not a hero!” “Hold on!” he shouted.

“Yes!” the officer replied. He bowed to await the order.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go tell him: have Hong Jiaozhu release those two men, I will return Madame Hong to him. This Madame has countenance of a flower, face like the moon; she is better than Xi Shi and Yang Guifei[14], she is the world’s priceless treasure. Originally even if he killed me I would not want to release her; to have me trade his two men with her, actually it is greatly advantageous to him. As for the other woman, although she is disappointing, I can’t let her go.” The officer complied and withdrew.

All along Madame Hong maintained a wooden expression; only this moment she showed a smiling expression as she said, “Imperial Envoy Daren really knows how to compliment others.”

“Madame,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are seriously beautiful, why be modest? We must be good people to the end, if I have to eat into my capital, then so be it. Deliver the goods first, receive the payment later. Guards! Quickly open my boss’ manacles.” Receiving the key, he personally unlocked Madame Hong’s manacles and walked her out.

When they reached the main hall, they saw the officer was talking to Lu Gaoxuan. Wei Xiaobao said, “Mr. Lu, you must serve Madame well on her way back. Madame, your subordinate respectfully sends you, Senior, off in a triumphal return, wishes you and Jiaozhu will enjoy immortal good fortune forever, your long lives will be the same as the Heaven’s.”

Madame Hong giggled tenderly; she said, “And I wish Imperial Envoy Daren promotion and wealth, a life as long as Mount Nan, lovely wife and beautiful concubines, and to be rewarded nobility titles as Duke and Marquis for ten thousand generations.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed; he shook his head and said, “To be promoted and gain wealth is easy, to have lovely wife and beautiful concubines, that will be difficult.” Raising his voice he ordered, “Play the music, send the guest off, prepare a sedan chair.”

Amidst the sound of music, he personally walked her off to the main gate, and watched as Madame Hong climbed onto the sedan chair.

[1] The Viceroy of Liangjiang (两江总督), fully referred to as the Governor General of the two Yangtze Provinces and surrounding areas, overseeing military affairs, food production; Manager of waterways; Director of Civil Affairs, was one of eight regional viceroys in China proper during the Qing Dynasty of China. The Viceroy of Liangjiang had jurisdiction over the provinces of Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Anhui. Because Jiangsu and Anhui were once the combined province of Jiangnan (South of the Yangtze), the province was known, along with Jiangxi (west of the Yangtze) as the two rivers (jiang), hence the name ‘Liangjiang’. Chinese historians often rank the Viceroy of Zhili as the most honorable and powerful, and the Viceroy of Liangjiang as the richest of the eight (Courtesy of Ace High).

[2] Compiled by Li Shizhen, c. 1596.

[3] Wang Anshi (1021-1086), Song Dynasty politician and writer, one of the Eight Giants.

[4] Duke of Wenzheng, ‘wen (culture/literature/gentle) zheng (upright/just)’ being his posthumous title.

[5] In these three phrases, the word ‘tremble’ (han) rhymes with the surname Han, the word ‘busted guts’ (po dan) rhymes with the surname Fan, and the word ‘knee down’ [xia gui] rhymes with the surname Wei.

[6] A Message To Han Cho The Yangzhou Magistrate, http://www.shiku.org/xlib/lingshidao/hanshi/dumu.htm

[7] A Confession, from the same web site.

[8] Qin Guan (1049-1100), Song Dynasty Poet. I found an English version (Translated by Laijon Liu), but it seems to be a different poem. Perhaps Mr. Liu was translating the essence, while I translate it literally?

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/qin-guan-wang-hai-chao-watching-the-waves/

[9] ‘Bao the Dragon Image’, fictional name used for Bao Zheng (999-1062), Northern Song official renowned for his honesty. Justice Bao stories were based on this character.

[10] Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism.

[11] Wikipedia has a couple articles on Dzungar and Galdan, as well as Sangjie (Sengge). If you are interested, search using those three keywords.

[12] Tang Bohu or Tang Yin (1470 – 1523), Ming painter and poet, one of four great Jiangnan talents of the Ming Dynasty.

[13] Hero and Heroines: Orig. ‘qun xiong’ and ‘qun ci’, with the word ‘xiong’ and ‘ci’ refer to ‘male’ and ‘female’ species, usually used to describe animals.

[14] Xi Shi (c. 450 BC), famous Chinese beauty, foremost of the Four legendary beauties, given by King Gou Jian of Yue as concubine to King of Wu as part of a successful plan to destroy Wu. Yang Yuhuan or Yang Guifei (719-756), famous Tang beauty, consort of Emperor Xuanzhong, blamed for extravagance and killed as a scapegoat during the Anshi rebellion.

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