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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 41

Chapter 41
Yuyang instigation sends drunkenness toward the heavens, excessive supervision with poor planning will bring regret too late.

The next day Wei Xiaobao led his companions, the troops and horses, with Wu Zhirong and Mao Dongzhu in custody, leaving Yangzhou heading for the Capital. Kangxi’s imperial edict to summon him back was very urgent, the party did not dare to tarry too long when they lodged for the night, inevitably they had to skip quite a bit of opportunity to invite wealth by accepting bribes along the way. The news on the street was that after Wu Sangui started deploying his troops, Yunnan’s Tidu [local commander] Zhang Guogui, Guizhou’s Xunfu [inspector-general] Cao Shenji and Tidu Li Benshen had surrendered, while Yunnan’s Xunfu Zhu Guozhi was killed, and Yunnan and Guizhou Zongdu [governor general] Gan Wenkun committed suicide.

One day they arrived in Shandong. The local official grabbed the imperial bulletin and presented it to the Imperial Envoy Minister. It was an edict in which Kangxi denounced Wu Sangui. Wei Xiaobao summoned the secretary to read it for him. The secretary held the imperial edict with both hands and read aloud, “Rebel thief Wu Sangui desperately trying to gain authority. Remembering his surrender, my ancestors Emperor Zhang awarded him the troops and conferred the nobility title ‘Wang’ [king], as he bound himself to our mountains and rivers. With his pledge of allegiance he earned the cap (of officialdom), the esteemed hereditary office, with favor bestowed to him on top of everything: wide open space of Yunnan and the south, and whole-hearted responsibility to rely on. By Zhen’s time, distinguished and grand favors have been repeatedly granted, his rise through nobility has brought him the title Qinwang [prince], the country has heavily relied on him to manage the cities, indeed he was the backbone of the country. Special favor superior gift, resonating throughout the world with no precedence since the ancient times.”

Listening to the secretary’s reading, Wei Xiaobao nodded his head continuously; he said, “Indeed His Majesty treated this rebel thief very well, it was not an exaggeration at all. Take me, Wei Xiaobao, for example, I am completely loyal and devoted to the Emperor, yet I am given no more than the title Bojue [earl]. If I want to reach Qinwang, the road I have to take is still missing a large chunk.”

The secretary continued reading, “How it surprised me that Wu Sangui’s nature is poor and odd, in his bosom there is spying and cheating heart, he is pampering pride and scheming to go against the law. Just in the seventh month of this year, he himself was asking to be removed from his post. Depending on Wu Sangui’s sincerity, and remembering the years his strength is waning, and that master and disciples have been in garrison for a long time, Zhen has granted his request and ordered him to rest. Therefore, the placement minister was assigned to prepare a place for him, and special minister was dispatched to announce the content of Zhen’s heart. It could be said that Zhen had profound sentiment toward Wu Sangui, no more, no less. Reviewing Chuan Hu[1] Zongdu Cai Yurong and the others’ memorial: Wu Sangui is on his path to rebel; after the kindness of the imperial court to bear the burden of looking after his needs, he is showing off his power, sowing violence and rebellion, blotting out and burning the living beings, reasons and laws cannot contain, hated by both man and god.”

For each sentence that he heard, Wei Xiaobao uttered a sentence of praise, “His Majesty is magnanimous; he did not curse Wu Sangui’s granny, it can be considered very polite.”

Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, Wang Jinbao, Sun Sike, as well as Li Lishi and the others were listening on the side. They all thought, “The imperial edict only says that the Emperor’s treatment to him cannot be better, while reprimanding Wu Sangui for forgetting favor and violate justice; it did not mention even half a sentence of Manchu-Han relation, as well as how he murdered Ming Dynasty’s royal family, it’s extremely brilliant, so that the world only feel that Wu Sangui’s rebellion is something that he should not have done.”

The secretary continued reading, “The imperial edict urges and instructs local official and the people not to associate with the rebels. If by mistake they already join the thieves, as long as the conviction to turn back is sincere, they will not have to be investigated, their relatives who live in the provinces where the local officials live will not be charged with guilt by association, they will not be doubted. The edict also states: ‘Whoever is able to capture Wu Sangui and present him to the army will be granted his nobility title promptly; whoever is able to capture or put the rebel leaders under his command to death, as well as take back the troops, horses, and the cities, will enjoy preferential treatment upon evaluation of his merit. Zhen will not go back on my word.’”

Hearing the secretary read, ‘His Majesty promises that whoever is able to capture Wu Sangui and present him to the army, His Majesty will make him Ping Xi Qinwang’, Wei Xiaobao could not help to have an itch in his heart that was difficult to scratch. He turned his head around to Li Lishi and the others and said, “Let’s go catch Wu Sangui, then we can be Ping Xi Qinwang; it will be very interesting.” Everybody voiced their agreement.

Zhang Yong and the other military generals thought, “Wu Sangui’s troops numerous, his generals many; catching him is easier said than done.”

Li Lishi and the others thought, “We want to kill Wu Sangui because he overthrew Han people’s rivers and mountains, do you think that we want to strive for the sake of Tatar Emperor? But if Wei Xiangzhu can be Ping Xi Qinwang and lead troops in Yunnan, he can rise in rebellion again; it won’t be too bad.”

Finished listening to the imperial edict, Wei Xiaobao ordered immediate departure, he wanted to reach Beijing as soon as possible, he wanted to be sent to the battlefield, so that he would be the first to capture Wu Sangui and snatch the nobility title Ping Xi Qinwang.

One day they arrived at Xianghe [county, Langfang, Hebei], which was not far from the Capital. Wei Xiaobao commanded Zhang Yong, leading a large number of troops, to wait here and closely guard offender to the throne Mao Dongzhu, while he and Shuang’er and Tian Di Hui warriors, with Wu Zhirong in custody, turned southwest toward the big house of the Zhuang Family. He wanted to personally deliver Wu Zhirong to the Third Mistress to repay her generous gift of Shuang’er, such a good servant girl.

By that evening they arrived at a small town about twenty li away from the Zhuang Family’s big house. The party stopped at a restaurant to eat dinner. All of them have changed into civilian clothes. They sealed Wu Zhirong’s mute acupoint, as well as several acupoints on his body, but did not bind him to avoid drawing other people’s attention. They all sat around two wooden tables. Nobody wanted to sit at the same table with Wu Zhirong. Shuang’er was afraid that he might run away, she was the only one who was willing to sit at his table, to keep a close watch on him.

The food was delivered. Everybody was eating when a dozen or so soldiers entered the inn, led by a Shoubei [captain]. Outside the inn, the horses were neighing continuously, two ordinary soldiers fetched water and fed the horses. A Bazong [squad leader] shouted loudly, ordering the innkeeper to quickly kill the chicken and prepare a meal, saying that they were in urgent official business and wanted to reach the Capital as soon as possible to report. The innkeeper said ‘yes, yes’ repeatedly, while urging the waiters to wait upon the guanlaoye [master government official]. He personally wiped the captain’s table and chair.

The soldiers had just sat down, from the mouth of the town came the sound of cartwheel and hoof beats. The carriage and horses stopped in front of the inn, several people entered the restaurant. At the front were two big muscular men; the third was a middle-age man with the appearance of a tuberculosis ghost, short and thin, his cheeks were deep and hollow, his cheekbones high, his complexion wax-yellow, without any trace of even half a part of blood, there was a faint darkness surrounding his appearance, every few steps he coughed a bit.

Behind him were an old man and old woman walking side by side, they both appeared to be over eighty years old. The old man was also short and thin, but he looked spirited and full of life, his white beard floated in front of his chest, his face was ruddy. The old woman was slightly taller than the old man, her waist and back was straight, her eyes were bright and full of expression. At the rear were two twenty-something women.

Looking at the way these seven people dressed, the sick looking man’s clothes was luxurious, he appeared to be a landlord from a very wealthy family. The two men and two women were menservants and maidservants. The old man and old woman dressed in dark green robes, the material was very coarse, but very clean. It was unclear what their status was.

The old woman said, “Zhang Ma [nurse Zhang], get a bowl of hot water, help Shaoye [young master] taking his medication.”

One of the maidservants complied; she took out a china bowl from her basket, lifted up the copper kettle in the inn, and poured the hot water into the china bowl. She shook the bowl several times before throwing the water away, and then she poured half a bowl of hot water, and set it down in front of the sickly man.

The old women took out a porcelain bottle from her bosom, pulled the cork out, and tipped out a red pill, which she brought to the sickly man’s mouth. The sickly man opened his mouth and held the pill on his tongue. Picking up the water bowl he drank it to swallow the pill. After taking the pill, the sickly man panted endlessly, while also coughing nonstop.

The old man and the old woman fixed their gaze at the sickly man, their expression showed concern, but they also looked worried. After seeing his breathing slowing down and his coughing stopped they heaved a deep sigh. The sickly man frowned and said, “Dad, Ma, why are you always worried about me? I won’t die.”

“Humph,” the old man snorted, and turned his head away. The old woman laughed and said, “What are you talking about, dead or alive? My child will live to be a hundred years old.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Even if this fellow took the Jade Emperor’s miracle pill, he won’t last a few days. Turns out this old man and the old woman are his parents. This tuberculosis ghost is spoiled by his parents since he was little, his dad and mom only looked at him a bit more, his temper flared.”

The old woman said, “Zhang Ma, Sun Ma, go warm Shaoye’s ginseng soup, and then cook the meal.” The two maidservants complied. Each woman carried a basket as they walked toward the rear of the inn.

The captain inquired about the way to Beijing from the innkeeper. The innkeeper said, “Gentlemen may continue your journey twenty, thirty more li today, and stop-by for the night in the small town ahead. Tomorrow you may leave early in the morning, you should reach the Capital by the afternoon.”

“We have to continue over night,” the captain said, “No time to stay in any inn. Innkeeper, within a year from today, I guarantee your business will flourish. You’d better prepare some good food, good wine, so that when the moment comes you won’t be caught in confusion.”

The innkeeper laughed and said, “Laoye [old master] said it well. Small inns’ business is always ordinary. Business like today seldom comes by, usually only a few days in a month; it is because Laoye and other guests are showing consideration, how can I expect to have a lot of guests honoring us with your presence every day?”

The captain laughed and said, “Innkeeper, let me tell you something: Wu Sangui is rebelling, right now he has reached Hunan. We are hastening to the Capital to deliver military document. Once the big battle breaks out, at least it will take three to five years to defeat him. The troops who send reports of military intelligence every day will pass this place, hereafter you will gain wealth.”

The innkeeper repeatedly expressed his thanks, but in his heart he was grumbling incessantly, “Soldiers like you, what good business is there to make? You’ll eat and drink as much as you like, if you are generous at most you’ll give tips of a few qian. After ferociously beat and curse people, you’ll pat your buttocks and leave. Forget three to five years, in just half a year or a year, I will have to hang myself.”

Hearing that Wu Sangui had reached Hunan, Wei Xiaobao, Li Lishi and the others were shocked. “That servant moves very fast,” they thought.

In a low voice Qian Laoben said, “I ask?” Wei Xiaobao nodded. Qian Laoben walked over to the Captain and with a face full of smile he cupped his fist and said, “Just now I heard Jiangjun [General] Daren said that Wu Sangui has attacked Hunan. Xiaoren’s wife and children are actually in Changsha [prefecture, capital of Hunan]; I am very concerned. I wonder how is the situation over there? Is Changsha still safe?”

Being called a ‘general’, the captain was delighted; he said, “Whether Changsha is safe or not, I do not know. Wu Sangui dispatched his subordinate great general Ma Bao from Guizhou to attack Hunan; Yuanzhou has fallen, Zongbing Cui Shilu was taken prisoner. Wu Sangui’s subordinates Zhang Guozhu, Gong Yinglin, and Xia Guoxiang separately attacked to the east. Another great general Wang Bingfan went out to attack Sichuan; I heard his troops are very powerful. People of Sichuan and Hunan region are fleeing.”

Qian Laoben showed great concern on his face, “This … this is far from good,” he said, “But the Great Qing’s troops are very formidable, Wu Sangui won’t necessarily win, will he?”

The captain replied, “At first, everybody said so; but after Yuanzhou fell, we knew Wu Sangui’s troops and horses are not easy to resist. Ay, the situation is very difficult to say.”

Qian Laoben cupped his fist and returned to his seat. Some Tian Di Hui warriors thought, “We must not let this big traitor Wu Sangui becomes the Emperor.” Some other thought, “It would be best to let Wu Sangui attacked Beijing, let him fight with Manchurian Qing Tatars until both sides suffer.”

The soldiers ate and drank in a hurry. The captain stood up and said, “Innkeeper, I deliver to you good news, you should just invite us as your guests.”

The innkeeper bowed and said with a forced laugh, “Yes, yes. I should, I should. Gentlemen, Daren, please take care.”

The captain laughed and said, “Slow down? Then we should sit down and eat again.” With an awkward expression, the innkeeper could only force a smile. [Translator’s note: in Chinese, ‘man zou’ (lit. walk slowly) could also mean ‘take care’ or ‘wait a minute’.]

The captain walked toward the door. When he was passing the old man, the old woman, and the sickly man’s table, suddenly the sickly man reached out and grabbed his chest. “You are going to Beijing to deliver what document?” he asked, “Take it out, let me look.”

The captain’s body was thick and solid, but grabbed by this sickly man, he immediately buckled, his body shortened by one section. “Damn it,” he angrily shouted, “What are you doing?” He struggled hard until his face was bulging red, but was unable to move a single step.

‘Rip!’ the sickly man’s right hand tore the front piece of the captain’s clothes by his chest and took out a large envelope. The sickly man pushed lightly with his left hand, the captain was thrown out, and crashed onto two tables, turning everything upside down. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ bowls and plates fell to the floor and broke into pieces.

The rest of the troops shouted, “Rebellion, rebellion!” One after another they pulled their spears and sabers and pounced on the sickly man. The sickly man’s two menservants raised their fists and legs, punching and kicking, throwing down the soldiers. In an instant the soldiers were sprawled over the inn’s floor.

The sickly man tore the envelope open, removed the document and read it. The captain was scared out of his wits; in trembling voice he shouted, “That is a memorial to the Emperor; you … you dare to tear up the document, this … this … isn’t this rebellion?”

The sickly man read the document and said, “Hunan Xunfu is asking Tatar Emperor to send reinforcement to fight Ping Xi Wang. Humph, even if he sent a million troops, they will still … (cough, cough) … they will still be wiped out by Ping Xi Wang clean.” While speaking, he crumpled the document in his hand, pressed it into the hollow of his palm, and by the time he finished speaking, he spread out his palm and waved it in the air, countless pieces of paper fluttered like butterflies flying in the wind, scattered in all directions.

Seeing this kind of internal energy, the Tian Di Hui warriors’ countenance changed; they all thought, “From the tone of his voice, he seems to be Wu Sangui’s subordinate.”

The captain struggled to crawl up. Pulling the saber hanging on his waist he said, “You destroyed the document, Laozi cannot live anyway, I will fight you to the death!” Raising his saber he leaped forward and hacked it down with all his might to the top of the sickly man’s head. The sickly man stayed sitting, he merely raised his left hand and pushed slightly on the captain’s lower abdomen, as if he did not want him to cause trouble. Suddenly the captain’s arm that was holding the saber slowly drooped down, his body slowly slumped down until he sat on the floor. He opened his mouth wide to gasp for breath, but found out that he could not breathe.

Some of the overthrown soldiers crawled up, but they all stood far away. They shouted curses, but were powerless to anything. Nobody dared to step forward to help their superior.

Holding a bowl of hot soup with both hands, a maid carefully set it down in front of the sickly man; she said, “Shaoye, please take the ginseng soup.”

The old man and the old woman acted as if they were completely oblivious of the commotion happening around them; they did not pay the slightest bit of attention, their gaze was fixed on their son’s expression.

Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “These people are quite demonic, let us leave.” Gao Yanchao paid for the food and drink, and then they all quietly walked out the door. They saw the old woman held the ginseng bowl; she gently blew the steam and brought the bowl to the sickly man’s mouth to feed him the soup.

It was not until Wei Xiaobao and the others reached the outskirt of the small town did they break into discussion as the affiliation of the sickly man. Xu Tianchuan said, “That man ripped the officer’s clothes, his strength is that formidable, it’s really … really rare.”

Priest Xuanzhen said, “He only pushed the officer’s lower abdomen lightly, it appeared very sloppy and ordinary, but to evade or block that move is really not easy. Feng Xiongdi, what do you think?”

Feng Jizhong said, “Should not go near him three chi [foot].”

The warriors thought about it, and agreed that it made sense; it doesn’t matter if they wanted to dodge or to block, they could only do it if they were tree feet away from him, if they were too close, they would not be able to evade or to block. Xu Tianchuan suddenly said, “If I grabbed his wrist …” but before finishing it, he shook his head, knowing that the opponent’s internal energy was too strong; even if he managed to grab his wrist, as soon as the man flipped his palm and twisted, it would be highly likely that his finger bones, his wrist bones, would all be broken.

Everybody understood that the sickly man was on Wu Sangui’s side, but after seeing him violently injured people, nobody dared to make a move to stop him. Although the people he injured were Tatar military officers, in the end, it was not their habit as chivalrous heroes not to do anything. In their hearts they were quite ashamed, inevitably their mood was dampened; after talking for a while, no one was interested to discuss it any longer.

After traveling for several li, suddenly they heard hoof beats from behind, two riders galloped fast. The road they were traveling on was a small path leading to the Zhuang Family’s big house, it was not wide enough for two riders to ride side by side. The warriors were not in a good mood, although they heard the urgency of the hoof beats, other than Feng Jizhong and Shuang’er who reined their horses and stepped toward the side of the path, nobody else was willing to give way.

In a flash the two riders had reached their backs. The warriors turned their heads together, and saw that the two riders were unexpectedly the menservants of the sickly man. One of the menservants called out, “Our family’s Shaoye is asking gentlemen to wait a moment, he has something to ask gentlemen.”

Although it was not rude, the feeling of condescending could not be clearer. When the warriors heard it, they were all indignant. Priest Xuanzhen shouted, “We are busy, no time to wait. We are strangers, what do you want to ask?”

The servant replied, “It’s our family’s Shaoye’s order, it would be better if gentlemen wait, so that everybody won’t be inconvenienced.” This time the threat was obvious.

Qian Laoben said, “Is your master Wu Sangui’s subordinate?”

“Pei!” the servant spat, “What do you think my master’s status is? How can he be Ping Xi Wang’s subordinate?”

The warriors thought, “He did not say ‘Wu Sangui’, but addressed him as ‘Ping Xi Wang’; they must have some relation with that traitor Wu.”

Right this moment, they heard the sound of carriage wheels, a large carriage quickly caught up with them. The servant said, “Our master has arrived.” Turning his horse around, he rode back to welcome the carriage.

If this moment the warriors dismounted their horses and walked over, it would appear that they were afraid of the sickly man; thereupon they stayed on horseback, waiting.

The carriage approached fast, one of the maidservants drove the carriage, the other maid raised the carriage curtain, and they saw the sickly man was sitting right in the middle, his father and mother sat in front and behind him. The sickly man stared at the warriors and asked, “Why did you seal this man’s acupoint?” While saying that he pointed to Wu Zhirong, and then he asked again, “Who are you? Where are you going?” His voice sharp, his tone very arrogant.

Priest Xuanzhen said, “And what is Sire’s honored surname and great name? We are total strangers, river water does not interfere with well water, why are you meddling in other people’s business?”

“Humph,” the sickly man snorted, “You are not fit to ask my name and surname. Just now I asked you two questions, didn’t you hear? Why you did not answer?”

Priest Xuanzhen angrily said, “I am not fit to ask your name and surname, you are not fit to ask our business either. Wu Sangui started a rebellion, he is a great traitor, you kept calling him Ping Xi Wang, you must be of the same group as this traitor. I can see that Sire’s disease has already attack your vital organs, you had better go home as soon as possible so that you can die in your own bed; otherwise you’ll catch cold and cough, and will breathe your last.”

Amid the Tian Di Hui warriors’ hearty laughter, suddenly a shadow flashed, ‘Slap!’ Priest Xuanzhen’s left cheek was heavily hit by a palm, followed by another palm strike on the left side of his torso that he was thrown down from his horse. These two palm strikes were fast and nimble beyond belief; it was not until he fell to the ground did the warriors see clearly that the one making the move was the old woman. After knocking down Priest Xuanzhen with two palm strikes, she kicked the ground with both feet, and flew back into the carriage.

The warriors broke into a clamor and pounced toward the large carriage. The sickly man grabbed the maid’s, who was driving the carriage, back, lightly lifted her up, and swiftly swapped places with her; he tossed the maid into the carriage and took her seat as the carriage driver. Right this moment Qian Laoben happened to leap with both palms striking down. The sickly man sent out a left punch to meet his palms, surprisingly it was totally silent. Qian Laoben only felt a gust of powerful force rushing toward him, throwing him somersaulting backward twice in the air. As he landed on the ground, he tried to steady his legs, but suddenly felt his knees were without strength and felt that he was about to kneel down. In his shock he hastily struggled to throw himself backward so that he fell face up, hence he avoid being disgraced by kneeling in front of the enemy.

Qian Laoben had just fallen down, Feng Jizhong pounced; the sickly man sent out another punch. Feng Jizhong did not dare to meet the punch head-on, his right palm changed direction midway, suddenly it chopped down on the sickly man’s neck. “Ah!” the man exclaimed, as if he was surprised by the opponent’s superb martial art. His thumb hooked on his middle finger, and he flicked at the hollow of Feng Jizhong’s palm. Feng Jizhong quickly pulled back his palm, his right foot stepped on the mule’s back.

Gao Yanchao and Fan Gang separately attacked the two menservants. The two menservants leaped away from the horseback, “Let Shaoye deal with you,” they called out.

Gao and Fan, two people were actually thinking that by fighting the opponent’s menservants they were having an unfair advantage; seeing the two menservants withdrew, which was in agreement with their original thought anyway, they turned around at once and leaped together to attack the sickly man’s left flank.

Suddenly the mule let out a long neigh and limply dropped down to the ground, pulling the large carriage along that it leaned to one side. Turned out when Feng Jizhong stepped on the mule’s back, he secretly exerted his internal energy to his sole that as soon as he kicked, the mule’s backbone broke.

The sickly man’s feet did not seem to leap, his body did not seem to move, but amid his coughing sound he was already standing on the ground. The old man and the old woman in the carriage, each carrying a maid, also leaped out of the carriage. These three people’s movement did not seem too fast, yet they were out of the carriage before the large carriage began to topple.

Qian Laoben and Xu Tianchuan attacked the old man and the old woman. The old woman shook her left hand, while with her right hand she pointed toward the sickly man. “Go over there,” she said with a laugh, “Accompany my child playing.” Her meaning was clear; she wanted these two men to suffer her son’s punches to make him happy.

Xu Tianchuan’s right fist shot down on the top of the old man’s head; it’s just that because he saw the old man was really old, although he knew the old man’s martial art skill was not weak, Xu Tianchuan was afraid he might kill him with one punch, thereupon he shouted, “Watch the fist!” He only used 30% of his strength in this punch. Ever since he accidentally killed Bai Hansong and thus created quite a few of trouble with the Mu Palace, he had been very cautious.

The old man stretched out his hand to catch Xu Tianchuan’s fist. This old man was thin and short, unexpectedly his palm was unusually big; as he squeezed Xu Tianchuan’s fist, he said, “Go over there to play!” Although Xu Tianchuan was considerably younger than the old man, he was, after all, a white-haired old man; yet the way the old man talked to him was like he was addressing an urchin.

Xu Tianchuan exerted his strength to pull his right hand back, while with his left fist he sent out another punch. It was the move ‘Azure Dragon White Tiger’, a complementary style, in which the left punch was not really intended to strike the opponent, it was only to force the opponent to relinquish his grip; however, if the opponent did not want to let go, this punch would strike the bridge of his nose.

The old man spread his arms while letting go of his grip. Xu Tianchuan only felt a blast of muddy, thick and extremely strong force pushing him away; coupled with his own strength, his left fist punching forward and his right hand pulling back, his body whirled around like a spinning top, straight toward the sickly man.

The sickly man was fighting Feng Jizhong, Gao Yanchao, Fan Gang and Li Lishi; seeing the incoming Xu Tianchuan, he clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “It’s fun, it’s fun!” The four men’s punches and kicks rained down on him like storm, unexpectedly he still had time to clap and cheer; followed by reaching out to push. Xu Tianchuan changed direction; at first he was turning right, but now he was turning left, spinning at great speed toward the old man.

“Dad,” the sickly man said with a laugh, “It’s very fun, send this spinning top back to me!”

Xuanzhen did everything he can to attack. The sickly man casually push and pull, push and pull, unexpectedly he also turned Xuanzhen, Gao Yanchao, Fan Gang, and Li Lishi, four men into spinning tops. Only Feng Jizhong was not spinning, but he felt the chi and blood in the pit of his stomach were bubbling up in his chest; hastily he leaped three steps back with his palms as a shield in front of his body.

Five Tian Di Hui warriors were spinning incessantly; they wanted to exert their strength to stop spinning, but no matter what they do, they were unable to stop. When one of them was slowing down, the sickly man would leap and push and pull, immediately he would spin faster again. It was like a child playing with copper coins on the table; he spun five coins like tops, whichever was slowing down and was about to fall, the child would use his fingers to flick it so that the coin would continue spinning.

Watching all this, Wei Xiaobao was stunned; he was completely horrified. Shuang’er stood in front of him, trying to protect him while she herself was very scared and on edge. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “We must execute the thirty-sixth stance.” [i.e. run away]

“Quickly go to the Zhuang house,” Shuang’er replied.

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Once we reach the Zhuang house, great luck, great profit. As the banker we can eat the leg vise, and make big killing on the three directions[2].” He turned around and ran. Pulling Wu Zhirong along, Shuang’er ran after him.

The sickly man was having so much fun playing spinning tops, the old couple watched their son with smile on their face. The four menservants and maidservants were clapping and cheering while standing on the side, watching their young master having fun.

Seeing Feng Jizhong was standing firm on horse stance, his left palm high, right palm low, in the style ‘Ancient Pine Standing Up Strong’, the sickly man immediately stepped forward and stretched out his hand to push Feng Jizhong’s right shoulder. Feng Jizhong pulled his right foot one step, hence his shoulder also leaned sideways to evade the push, but he did not dare to strike back with his palm.

The sickly man angrily said, “You are a bad man, you don’t want to spin around?” Stretching out his hand again, he tried to push Feng Jizhong’s right shoulder.

Feng Jizhong withdrew another step; to his surprise a burst of strong force came pushing the back of his left shoulder, immediately he lost his balance and amidst the sickly man’s loud laughter his body started to spin in great speed. He wanted to use ‘thousand-catty drop’ to stop, but the sickly man gave him another strong push at the back of his waist that he continued spinning.

Seeing the sickly man was giving his opponents trouble, Wu Zhirong realized a good opportunity has presented itself; thereupon after walking a few steps he pretended to trip and fall to the ground. Shuang’er pulled him up, but he was unwilling to get up. Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious; afraid that Wu Zhirong would tell the enemy the truth, he grabbed his lower jaw and pinched as hard as he could so that Wu Zhirong opened his mouth. Wei Xiaobao pulled the dagger from his boot and swiped it in Wu Zhirong’s mouth, cutting most part of his tongue. Wu Zhirong fainted from the pain.

Shuang’er thought Wei Xiaobao had killed the traitor. “Xianggong,” she called out, “Hurry up!” The two of them dashed forward.

They had only run for less than a li when they heard the sound of hoof beats from behind, someone was pursuing them on horseback. Wei Xiaobao pointed to the rocky ridge to the left, the two of them left the path and scrambled over the pile of rocks. Riding on horses, the sickly man and one of his menservants soon caught up with them. Seeing the horses could not enter the rocky ridge, the servant jumped down the horse and called out, “Two children don’t be afraid. Our family’s Shaoye wants you to play with him. Come back quickly!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “To be a spinning top, laozi don’t want to do.” He ran even faster. The servant chased into the rocky ridge, but Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er were able to run very fast, the servant was unable to catch up with them.

The sickly man called out, “Do you want to play hide-and-seek? It’s fun, it’s fun!” He dismounted; while coughing incessantly, he cut them off from the south.

Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er turned and ran toward the northeast, rushing straight toward the servant. The servant pounced to catch Wei Xiaobao. Wei Xiaobao used the moved ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ [divine walk hundred changes] taught by Jiu Nan; he leaned sideways, the servant landed on empty space.

Shuang’er sent a backhand palm strike toward the servant’s lower back. Seeing she was only a little girl, the servant did not take her seriously at all, unexpectedly he did not even try to parry but stretched out his arm to twist her right arm instead. Shuang’er swiftly pulled her right palm back, ‘Crack!’ the edge of her palm hit his lower back. “Ah!” the servant cried out in pain. Right this moment, Shuang’er already grabbed his right wrist and twisted it backward. Another ‘Crack!’ ensued, his elbow joint was dislocated.

“Eh?” the sickly man exclaimed in surprise. Jumping from rock to rock, just in a few ups and downs he had landed in front of Shuang’er. With a sweep of his left hand he knocked the hat on Shuang’er’s head that her head-full of fine hair came loose. The sickly man laughed and said, “It’s a girl!” He reached out to grab her hair.

“Ah!” Shuang’er screamed; with the move ‘a pair of dragon return’ both her elbows struck backward. The sickly man laughed and said, “Good!” His left hand swept from left to right and grabbed both her fists, pulled the fists behind her back, and then with his right hand he pulled her long hair and coiled it twice around her wrists and tied it into a knot, while laughing aloud.

Shuang’er was so anxious that she cried. “Xianggong,” she called out, “Quickly run, quickly run!”

The sickly man stretched out his finger to jab lightly on her waist to seal her acupoint. “He won’t run away,” he said with a laugh. Tossing Shuang’er down, he ran after Wei Xiaobao, and in just a short time managed to get near him.

Wei Xiaobao fled to the east and ran to the west among the rocks, several times the sickly man almost caught him, but in the last moment Wei Xiaobao managed to evade using the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill. The sickly man laughed and said, “Your ability in playing hide-and-seek is very good.” [Translator’s note: I know it should be ‘playing tag’, but the original was 捉迷藏, which the dictionary defines as ‘hide-and-seek’.]

Wei Xiaobao’s internal strength was lacking, after running around for a while, he was already gasping for breath. Knowing that in a short while he would be caught, he called out, “You can’t catch me, now it’s my turn to catch you. Quickly run, I am going to catch you.” While saying that, he turned around and pounced on the sickly man.

The sickly man giggled, and surprisingly enough he did turn around and run around the piles of rocks. Wei Xiaobao had already figured out that although his martial art skill was superior, his conduct was silly like an imbecile; his age must be over forty, but his behavior was like that of a child. Yet he was able to move back and forth among the rocks swiftly; Wei Xiaobao had just seen him on the east, in a flash his shadow suddenly appeared on the west; his lightning speed movement was indeed like a ghost.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished, but also full of admiration. “I will definitely catch you,” he called out, “You won’t be able to escape!” Pretending to run after him, he rushed toward Shuang’er, picked her up, and called loudly, “Hey, even by carrying a person I will catch you.”

The sickly man roared in laughter, “Toot, toot, toot, you are blowing your conch, (cough, cough) … tweet, tweet, tweet, you are blowing your cowhide!” [Both mean: tooting your horn.] Carrying Shuang’er in his bosom, Wei Xiaobao pretended to run after the sickly man, but he ran farther and farther away.

The sickly man called out, “Useless little thing, you can’t catch me … (cough, cough) …” and ran a few steps closer to Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao yelled back, “See if this time I won’t catch you. You can’t run away when you are coughing.” While saying that he struck a posture like he was about to pounce.

“Little demon!” the old woman angrily shouted from far away, “You dare to make my child coughing!” ‘Zip!’ a pebble split the air. Although the pebble was small, the sound was astonishingly loud.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out and squatted down to evade. But he was still one step too late, the pebble hit him behind his knee and he tumbled down and rolled around, along with Shuang’er in his bosom, on the ground.

“Catch them!” the old woman called out. The other servant pounced on Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er; he caught their backs, brought them to the old woman and tossed them on the ground. The sickly man giggled and clapped his hands and sang, “Useless lot, can only eat shallot, (cough, cough) … drop a lot, bonk, bonk loud!”

Wei Xiaobao was scared and angered at the same time; he saw Xu Tianchuan, Feng Jizhong, and the others were strung together with a long rope into a human chain, with one of the maidservants holding the end of the rope; even Wu Zhirong was also tied at the end of the chain. Everybody had his head hung low in front of his chest, their eyes were closed, it seemed that all of them had passed out.

The old woman said, “You, baby girl who dress as a man, where did you learn your ‘separating tendon dislocating joint’ skill? And you, boy, where did you learn the ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he thought, “This granny’s vision is indeed formidable, she knew the name of my school’s unique skill.” Thinking that since other people were able to recognize it, his ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ skill must have been trained to almost perfection; he could not help feeling very proud of himself as he laughed and said, “What ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’? Did you say that I know ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’?”

“Pei!” the old woman spat, “Your doggy leaps did not look like doggy leap, your crabby crawls did not look like crabby crawl; can it be considered ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’?”

Wei Xiaobao sat up and said, “It was you who said ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’, I did not say it. How do I know if it was ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’ or ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’ [divine crawl hundred changes]?”

The sickly man clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “You know ‘Shen Tiao Bai Bian’ [divine jump/hop hundred changes] and also know ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’, ha ha … interesting.” He leaned over and poked a finger on Wei Xiaobao’s back.

Wei Xiaobao only felt a whiff of boiling heat stream from his finger penetrating his body, and the numb and aching feeling on his lower limbs immediately disappeared. He stood up and said, “Your unsealing acupoint skill is very brilliant.”

The sickly man said, “Quickly crawl. I want you to crawl in a hundred different styles; crawl like a tortoise, crawl like a frog, then you can call it ‘Divine Crawl a Hundred Changes’.”

“I don’t know any ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you do, show me how to crawl.”

“I don’t know either,” the sickly man replied, “My Dad says masters of martial art should not simply learn other people’s skill, but must be able to display originality, must show creativity, only then he can be called a ‘master’. Dad, in the martial art study, is there such thing as ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’ skill?” The old man frowned; he shook his head.

Wei Xiaobao said, “You are a martial art master. Since there is no such thing as ‘Shen Pa Bai Bian’ skill, you can create one, you can found Shen Pa School …”

Before he could finish, his buttocks were kicked by the old woman; he heard her thundered, “Don’t talk nonsense!” The old woman cast a sidelong glance toward her son, her face showed a concerned expression. Apparently she was afraid her son would listen to this youngster’s advice and really created this new skill ‘Divine Crawl a Hundred Changes’. She did not want her son to think too much; hence she asked Wei Xiaobao again, “What’s your name? Who is your Shifu?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “These two old monsters and one little monster … no, one midsize monster’s martial art skill is too strong, Laozi cannot fight them. A hero must not suffer humiliation in front of their eyes, I had no choice but to deceive them. If Laozi pretends to be Wu Sangui’s friend, perhaps they will not dare to give me trouble.” His glance caught Wu Zhirong, and he had a sudden inspiration; he said, “I am surnamed Wu, my name is Wu Zhirong, alias Xianyang, a native of Gaoyou county in Yangzhou. Hot piece mama, before long my bofu [paternal (older) uncle] Ping Xi Wang will attack Beijing. If you offended me, Ping Xi Wang will not be polite toward you!”

The old couple and the sickly man were greatly astonished; they looked at each other. “Fake!” the sickly man said, “How could Ping Xi Wang have a nephew like you?”

“How can it be fake?” Wei Xiaobao replied, “There is no harm in you asking me anything about Ping Xi Wang’s household. If I give you one wrong answer, you can just kill me.”

“Alright!” the sickly man said, “What is Ping Xi Wang’s favorite thing?”

“Are you talking about object, or people?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Previously, the person he loves the most was Chen Yuanyuan; later on when Chen Yuanyuan grew older, he was then very fond of a beautiful woman called ‘four-face Guanyin’. Nowadays, his most beloved beauty is called ‘eight-face Guanyin’.”

“What’s so good about beautiful women?” the sickly man said, “I am talking about his most beloved object.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Ping Xi Wang has three treasures he loves the most. The first is a sheet of white tiger skin, the second is a ruby the size of a chicken-egg, the third is a marble screen with a painting of a tiger.”

The sickly man laughed and said, “Ha ha … you really know. Look here!” Unbuttoning his clothes, his left hand grabbed the front lapel of his long robe and lifted it up, revealing a fur coat he wore on the inside. The fur coat was white with black stripes; it was made of white tiger skin.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly surprised, “Uh, oh! This is Ping Xi Wang’s most beloved object, the white tiger skin. You … you … how did you steal it?”

With an air of complacency the sickly man said, “What do you mean ‘steal’? Ping Xi Wang gave it to me.”

Shaking his head, Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t believe you. I heard my jiefu [older sister’s husband] Xia Guoxiang said …”

“Xia Guoxiang is your jiefu?” the sickly man asked.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “My tang jiefu [paternal female cousin’s husband]; my paternal cousin Wu Zhi … Wu Zhifang is married to him. My jiefu is an expert in battle, he is one of the ten great Zongbing under Ping Xi Wang’s command.”

The sickly man nodded. “So be it,” he said, “Ping Xi Wang invited my Dad, Ma and myself to drink wine, my Dad and Ma did not go, I went alone. Ping Xi Wang accompanied me personally, the ten Zongbing under his command all came, your jiefu ranks the first.”

“That’s right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “And then there are Ma Bao, Ma Dage, Wang Pingfan, Wang Dage, Zhang Guozhu, Zhang Dage; those are tops generals, expert in battle, great power and prestige, great aura of death!”

The sickly man said, “What did your jiefu say about this white tiger skin?”

Wei Xiaobao was determined to win his favor, he spoke without thinking, “My jiefu said, when Chen Yuanyuan was still Ping Xi Wang’s favorite, whenever she was under the weather, got a cold or a cough, people were saying that as long as this white skin tiger was used as a blanket, after three days under the cover, she would get well. She wanted to ask Wu … Ping Xi Wang for this white tiger skin. Ping Xi Wang said, ‘I don’t mind to lend you this blanket for a few days, but there is no way I would give this to you. This is the most auspicious treasure in the world, white tigers only appear once every eight hundred years. Even if it did appear, we can’t necessarily catch it, can’t necessarily skin it. If one has this white tiger skin in the house, when demons, ghosts, evil spirits saw it, they would immediately flee far away. When one is sick, no need to take any medicine, just use this white tiger skin as a blanket; a few days under the blanket, the skin will get rid of the illness. In the game of Pai Jiu [pai gow], the left gate is called Green Dragon, right gate is called White Tiger. Green dragon skin, white tiger skin, both are priceless treasures.”

The old woman listened as Wei Xiaobao was talking with ‘living spirit, living image’; her son was sick, and that was her only concern. When she heard that when used as a blanket the white tiger skin was capable of curing coughing, although she was not completely convinced, deep in her heart she hoped that it was true. “Son,” she said, “Ping Xi Wang gave this treasure to you, your face indeed is not small. You made the skin into a robe that you can wear, it was very clever. If this white tiger skin can really cure illness …”

The sickly man frowned and said, “I am not sick; why do you keep mentioning it?”

The old woman laughed and said, “Yes, yes, you are as lively as a dragon and as animated as a tiger. These people are Jianghu warriors, but you made them into spinning tops or shooting stars, you are having so much fun playing with them.”

The sickly man roared in loud laughter, interspersed with several coughing. The old woman said, “When you go to bed at night, we must remember to wear the skin robe as a blanket.” The sickly man turned his head away, refusing to acknowledge her.

The old man pointed to Feng Jizhong and the others and asked, “Are they all Ping Xi Wang’s subordinates?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “I pretend to be the old traitor’s nephew, it’s not a big deal; but to ask Xu San Ge [third (older) brother] and the others to acknowledge that they are Wu Sangui’s subordinates, they would never agree. They are hardheaded, I must not let them say anything that will reveal the horse’s foot.” He said, “They are my subordinates. We heard that Ping Xi Wang arises in rebellion, Prince Consort and the Princess are still in Beijing, they cannot escape. This Wu Yingxiong Gege loves to chat with me the most, we have the best friendship. I am taking these friends to Beijing to rescue the Prince Consort. Although it is a dangerous mission, all of us attach most importance to yi qi; this is called ‘going through the water and tread on fire, under no circumstances we will decline, knowing full well that it is a mountain of sabers or a forest of swords, we still want to charge through it.’” These words were spoken with extreme vehemence.

The old man nodded. He walked over; both hands pulled several times, immediately the long rope binding Feng Jizhong and the others fell off. And then he lightly patted each person’s back, twice, followed by massaging their back a bit, unsealing everybody’s acupoint. One of the maidservants went over to Shuang’er and untied her hair from her wrists. The old man turned to Wei Xiaobao, “I cannot trust you completely just by what you said. This matter is of grave importance, you said you are Ping Xi Wang’s nephew, but how can you prove it?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Laoyezi [old master], this is difficult. I do not have my Dad and my Mom in here. How about this: let us go to Beijing and see Prince Consort. If he is arrested by the Emperor, then we’ll go see Princess Jianning. I am sure Princess will tell you whether I am a genuine goods at fair prices, cheating neither old nor young, the real Wu Zhirong.” He thought that when he got to Beijing, why would he be afraid of them? In case they really twisted his arm and brought him to see Princess Jianning, even if he wanted to pretend to be the Jade Emperor of the Heaven, the Princess would definitely nod her head and confirm that it was true.

The old man and the old woman looked at each other, both were still unconvinced. Wei Xiaobao suddenly remembered something; he laughed and said, “Ah, I know, I have a letter written by Ping Xi Wang. If I show this letter to other people, unavoidably my whole family will be executed unto the third generation. But since you are Ping Xi Wang’s friends, there is no harm for you to take a look.” While saying that he put his hand into his pocket to retrieve the letter forged by Zha Yihuang, and handed it over to the old man.

The old man took the letter, and read it under the dim twilight. Wei Xiaobao was still afraid they might not understand the letter, he tried to explain, “Desiring to behead the white snake and bestow a gale, all those things are talking about Zhu Yuanzhang …” Since he did not understand it himself, as soon as he opened his mouth he had already made a mistake; it was a reference to Liu Bang and not Zhu Yuanzhang. Fortunately the old man and the old woman’s attention was focused on the letter, they did not even hear what he was saying.

After reading the letter, the old woman said, “Indeed it’s true, Ping Xi Wang wants to be Han Gaozu, Ming Taizu, and he wants him to be Zhang Zifang, Liu Bowen. Er Ge [second (older) brother], Ping Xi Wang said that the insurgence is for the sake of restoring the House of Ming; but judging from the tone of this letter, humph, he … his own ambition is definitely not small.” Casting a glance toward Wei Xiaobao she said, “You are still young …” Obviously in her heart she was saying, “You are still a baby, do you think you fit to be Zhang Zifang or Liu Bowen?”

The old man folded the letter and put it back into the envelope. Returning it to Wei Xiaobao, he said, “You are indeed Ping Xi Wang’s virtuous nephew. We have offended you much.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You are too kind, you are too kind! One who does not know is not guilty.”

By this time Xu Tianchuan and the others already regained their consciousness; hearing Wei Xiaobao claimed himself to be Wu Sangui’s nephew, and the opposite side unexpectedly believe without any doubt, they were all greatly surprised, but they were used to their young Xiangzhu‘s wily and mischievous conduct, thereupon they all kept silent.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Laozi pretended to be Wu Sangui’s son in front of that big beard Hantiemo; since I have been his son, what’s the harm of being his nephew this time? Next time I’ll pretend to be Wu Sangui’s papa. As long as I can pull this trick, I won’t suffer any loss.”

The sky had already darkened, they were all standing in a desolate area, waves of cold breeze were blowing, the sickly man did not stop coughing. Wei Xiaobao said, “May I ask Laoyezi, Laotaitai [old madame], what is your respected surname?”

“We are surnamed Gui [lit. return],” the old woman replied.

Wei Xiaobao mused, “Why didn’t you pick a good surname but pick the ‘Gui’ from ‘wugui’ [turtle, different character] as your surname? It’s a ridiculous joke.”

The old woman looked at her son and said, “It’s getting dark, we’d better find a place to lodge, other things can be discussed slowly.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now when I was on that hill, I saw smoke coming out from that side, there must be a lot of houses, let us go to ask for lodging.” While saying that, he pointed to the direction of the Zhuang Family’s big house. Actually, this place was still about ten li away from the Zhuang Family’s big house, separated by a hill; how could he see any smoke?

The menservants pulled two horses for the old man, old woman and the sickly man. The old woman rode with the sickly man, she sat behind her son, wrapping her arms around him. Wei Xiaobao and the others had their own mounts; they all jumped to their horses and left. The four menservants and maidservants walked.

After traveling for a while, Wei Xiaobao talked to Shuang’er loudly, “Go ride faster, see if ahead is a small town or a village. Find a big house or two and ask for lodging, and prepare hot water immediately. Gui Family Shaoye must drink warm ginseng soup. We will wash our feet first with hot water before eating and drinking wine. Give them a bit more money.”

For each sentence, Shuang’er said ‘yes’ one time. From his pocket Wei Xiaobao took out a big ingot of silver, along with a packet of knock-out drug. Shuang’er received both, and galloped away.

The old woman’s face light up; Wei Xiaobao ordered Shuang’er to boil water and warm the ginseng soup, obviously it was the thing that she intended to do.

After traveling several more li, Shuang’er galloped back. “Xianggong,” she said, “Ahead is not a small town, and not a village either; it’s just a large house. The people in the house said that all the men in that house have left, hence they cannot receive guests. I offered them money, they still refused.”

“Stupid girl,” Wei Xiaobao scolded her, “I don’t care if they want to receive us or not, we’ll just go there.”

“Yes,” Shuang’er replied.

The old woman said, “We only need to stay for one night. They don’t have any men, can’t we just force them to receive us in their house?”

The party arrived at the Zhuang House. A servant stepped forward to knock on the door. After a long time an elderly maid came out and opened the door; she was half deaf, and she mumbled indistinctly on and on about there was no man in the house.

The sickly man laughed and said, “There is no man in your house, don’t you see there are a lot of men coming into your house now?” He slipped past her into the house, squeezing the old maid to the side.

Everybody followed him inside and sat in the main hall. The old woman said, “Zhang Ma, Sun Ma, go boil some water and prepare some meal. The host does not like visitors, we will do everything ourselves.” The two maidservants complied and went inside to find the kitchen.

Xu Tianchuan had been to the Zhuang House before; later on he heard Wei Xiaobao talking with graceful words, flowery speech, swindling these three martial art experts whose skill was deep and immeasurable, Xu Tianchuan was secretly delighted. Thereupon he took the Tian Di Hui brethren to sit on the steps, far away from the sickly man and Wei Xiaobao, so that they would not reveal the horse’s foot.

Pointing to Wu Zhirong, the old man asked, “Who is this fellow with bloody mouth?”

“This fellow is an official of the imperial court,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “We met on the road. Afraid that he might inform the authority on our whereabouts, we then … then cut off his tongue.”

The old man was quite some distance away from him, but looking at his eyes, it was obvious that he still harbor suspicions in his heart. This time hearing Wei Xiaobao’s reply, he was still half-believing half-doubting. Walking over to Wu Zhirong, he asked, “You are an imperial court official, aren’t you?” Wu Zhirong was already hovering between life and death from the pain, he nodded immediately.

The old man asked again, “You knew there was going to be rebellion, and you were thinking of reporting it, is that right?” Wu Zhirong thought that he could not deny even if wanted to anyway, plus he was hoping that this old man would save him; thereupon he repeatedly nodded.

Wei Xiaobao said, “He knew that in the south there is a military general with authority over military force who was going to rebel; this military general is surnamed Wu, and when he starts rising in rebellion, it will be desperately serious.”

“Is that right?” the old man asked Wu Zhirong. Wu Zhirong nodded. The old man did not have any suspicion anymore, his trust in Wei Xiaobao increased several parts. Returning to his seat, he asked Wei Xiaobao, “I wonder which Shifu has taught Wu Xiongdi martial arts?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “I have quite a number of Shifu; one, two, three, altogether there are three, but I … I am stupid and lazy, I haven’t mastered any skill.”

The old man mused, “You haven’t mastered any skill, do you think I did not know it?” Yet he was still having a nagging suspicion about Wei Xiaobao’s ‘divine walk hundred changes’. Although Wei Xiaobao only used superficial technique of the said skill, his stance and footwork was no doubt the first-class qinggong ‘Shen Xing Bai Bian’. So he asked again, “Where did you learn your qinggong from?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He determined to know who taught me qinggong, he must have some enmity with that Shitai, Shifu of mine; I must not mention her name. He is of the same party with Wu Sangui, most likely he also have good relationship with Tibetan Lama.” Thereupon he said, “There is a Great Lama from Tibet, his name is Sangjie. He saw me at the Ping Xi Wang’s Wuhua Palace in Kunming, he said that my martial art skill is too lacking, I won’t be able to fight anybody, it would be better for me to learn some technique to escape, so he taught me for several days. I practiced very hard, believing that I was doing a great job; who would have thought that as soon as I came across you, Laogonggong [old grandpa], Laopopo [old grandma], and this young and vigorous Gui Shaoye, whose vitality is a hundredfold, it was completely useless.”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao complimenting her son as young and vigorous with a hundredfold vitality, the old woman was happier than if she was hearing any other flattering words; she could not help breaking into a big smile, and cast her glance toward her son, happiness bubbled up from the bottom of her heart. “Er Ge,” she said, “This past few days our child’s vitality seems to be flourishing.”

The old man nodded slightly; however, as he looked at his half-awake, half-asleep son who was slouching on a chair, he was actually very dispirited, he could not help but was very grieved. He turned to Wei Xiaobao and said, “So that’s how it is.”

The old woman asked, “How did Sangjie know Tie Jian Men’s [iron sword school] qinggong?”

The old man said, “There is certain Yuzhen Zi in Tie Jian Men [see also Chapter 27], who lived in Tibet for quite a long time.”

“Ah, yes,” the old woman said, “He was Priest Musang’s Shidi. Most likely he passed on his skill to someone in Tibet.” Turning toward Shuang’er, she asked, “Little Miss, where did you learn your martial art skill?”

The old couple fixed their gaze at her; it appeared that her martial art school background was very important to them. Being stared at like that, Shuang’er was somewhat flustered. “I … I …” she stammered. She was not used of telling lies, hence she did not know how to answer.

“She is my servant girl,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That Sangjie Lama also gave her some directions in martial art.”

The old man and the old woman shook their heads together, “Definitely not,” they said together with very serious expression.

Right this moment suddenly the sickly man let out loud coughing; the more he coughed, the worse it was. The old woman quickly went over and patted his back gently. The old man also turned his head to look at his son. The two maidservants came out of the kitchen carrying ginseng soup and hot tea on wooden trays. They stood in front of the sickly man; they waited for his cough to stop before serving him the ginseng soup, and then they distributed the teacups to everybody, even Xu Tianchuan and the others also received a cup each.

The old man drank his tea and was about to quiz Shuang’er further, but he saw she was already went to the rear hall. The old man stood up suddenly and asked Shun Ma, “Where did you get the water to make the tea?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; his heart was thumping madly. “Bad, bad!” he groaned inwardly, “This old die-hard man knew.”

Sun Ma replied, “Zhang Ma and I boiled it ourselves.”

The old man asked, “What kind of water did you use?”

Sun Ma replied, “We got it from the water jar in the kitchen.”

“We have inspected it carefully,” Zhang Ma added, “It was very clean …” Before she could finish, ‘bonk, bonk!’ the two menservants tumbled down to the floor and fainted.

The old woman sprang up, her body swayed; holding her head in her hand she called out, “There’s poison in the tea!”

Xu Tianchuan and the others had not drunk their tea, they signaled each other with their eyes and fell down together, pretending to pass out. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang’ the teacups fell to the ground.

“Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out and fell to the ground with closed eyes.

He heard Zhang Ma and Sun Ma spoke together, “We cooked the water ourselves, there was no one else in the kitchen.”

The old woman said, “The water in the jar is drugged. Son, how do you feel?”

The sickly man replied, “Not bad, not …” His head slumped, he also passed out.

Sun Ma said, “We did not add any water to the ginseng soup, we boiled and brought the water in the ginseng soup ourselves.”

The old man said, “When you boiled the water and warmed the soup at the same time, the steam might enter into the soup.”

“Right!” the old woman said, “And our child’s body is weak; this … this …” Hastily she reached out to touch the sickly man’s forehead, her palm was trembling continuously.

The old man circulated his strong internal energy to suppress the poison inside his stomach so that it did not disperse to other organs. “Go get two pots of cold water,” he said.

Zhang Ma and Sun Ma did not drink the tea, seeing the strange and out-of-control turn of events, they panicked and ran toward the inside.

The old woman said, “There is something strange about this house.” Since she did not carry any weapon, she stooped down to get a saber from one of the menservants’ waist, but as soon as she lowered her head, she felt as if the sky spun, the earth went around; she was unable to stand and was forced to sit down. She managed to touch the hilt of the saber, but did not have any strength in her grip.

The old man propped himself against the back of a chair with his left hand. His eyes were tightly closed, his body slightly swayed. Wei Xiaobao was lying on the floor; he took a furtive glance, and saw Shuang’er came out, leading a group of women.

The old man suddenly leaped with outstretched palm to hack onto a woman in white clothes, sending her about a zhang backward until she crashed onto a chair. Xu Tianchuan and the others yelled and shouted while leaping up toward the old man, but they saw that the old man had already passed out. Feng Jizhong quickly sealed his acupoints; he also sealed the old woman and the sickly man’s acupoints.

Wei Xiaobao sprang up with loud laughter. “Zhuang San Shaonai [third young mistress], how are you?” he called out, while bowing in respect toward a woman in white.

That woman was indeed the Third Mistress of the Zhuang Family; she hastily returned the propriety and said, “Wei Shaoye, you have captured our archenemy and brought him here, I really don’t know how to repay. Laotianye [God/Heaven] has eyes, He lets us avenge our deep enmity. Wei Shaoye, please meet our Shifu.” And she took him to a woman wearing yellow garment.

The woman in yellow was massaging the back of the woman struck by the old man. ‘Wah!’ the woman vomited a mouthful of blood, and then a moment later she vomited another mouthful of blood. The woman in yellow smiled and said, “No more danger.” Her voice was soft and was very pleasant to hear.

Wei Xiaobao saw that this woman was already old, but her voice sounded like a young girl. On her head she wore a gold headband, her feet were bare, her waist was adorned with an embroidered belt; all in all, her attire was quite unusual. Although her hair was greyed, her face was fair and tender, it’s just that the corner of her eyes were full of wrinkles. How old she actually was, it was hard to say. Looking at her hair, she looked about sixty, looking at her face, she looked about thirty. He thought that since she was the Third Mistress’ Shifu, he immediately stepped forward and kowtowed to her, saying, “Popo Jiejie [granny older sister], Wei Xiaobao pays his respect.”

The woman laughed and asked, “Child, what did you call me?”

Wei Xiaobao stood up and said, “You are San Shaonai’s Shifu, I ought to call you Popo, but looking at your appearance, at most you are no more than my Jiejie; therefore, I call you Popo Jiejie.”

The woman giggled. “At most I am no more than your Jiejie?” she said, “I wonder if I can be your Meizi [younger sister]?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If I were next door and I heard your voice, I would have called you Popo Meimei.”

The woman laughed so hard that her body was shaking. “This little ‘slippery head’ is so amusing,” she said, “His mouth is so full of guile and cunning, he really knows how to make others happy, no wonder even such a great hero like my Gui Shibo [older martial uncle] also fell under your ruse.”

As soon as she said those words, everybody was shocked. Wei Xiaobao pointed to the old man and said, “This … this Laogonggong is Popo Jiejie’s Shibo?”

“Why not?” the woman said with a laugh, “The Senior and I have not seen each other for about thirty years; at first I did not recognize him, it was not until the Senior made his move that I knew it was him. His palm strike, ‘Snow-covered Qinling [mountain range, Shaanxi]’ is so bold and powerful, in the Central Plains, there is no second person who can use it like that.”

Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, “Since he is on our side, what should we do?”

The woman shook her head and said with a laugh, “I don’t know what we should do either. If my Shifu found out, he would definitely scold me until I am stinking-dead.” Looking at several maidservants standing on the side with thick ropes in their hands, she laughed and said, “If you ordered them to bind these people, you must issue the order yourself, I don’t want to be involved. Shibo is not bound by me; but if he is not tied, when the Senior wakes up, I won’t be his match. Xiao Didi [little brother], do you think you can beat him?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly amused; he laughed and said, “If you can’t beat him, I can’t beat him even more.” He knew she was simply trying to escape responsibility, yet without any meaning to protect her martial uncle; busily he addressed Xu Tianchuan and the others, “These few people are on Wu Sangui’s side, they are not good people. We, Tian Di Hui, tie them up; it has nothing to do with Popo Jiejie.”

Xu Tianchuan and the others were just subjected to the sickly man’s jesting, it was an extraordinary shame and humiliation that they had never experienced in all their lives; they had been hatefully gnashing their teeth and were itching for revenge. Immediately they took the ropes and bound the old man, the old woman, the sickly man and the two menservants tightly.

The woman in yellow asked, “How can my Gui Shibo be on the same side as Wu Sangui? How are you going to deal with this matter?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao explained how they encountered the old man at the restaurant earlier. Naturally he skipped the part where the sickly man used Xu Tianchuan and the others as his toy, he only said that this tuberculosis ghost’s martial art was very formidable, and that everybody was not his match.

The woman said, “The Gui Family’s Xiao Shidi’s [little younger martial art brother] life was saved by my Shifu. Since he was little he has been suffering a serious illness, until today he has not been well. He is Gui Shibo couple’s only child.” After casting a glance toward the old man, she continued, “Gui Shibo is an upright man, how can he become that big traitor Wu Sangui’s ally? If that’s the case, my Shifu can’t possibly scold me. Hee … hee …” From the tome of her voice, apparently she was extremely afraid of her Shifu.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Whoever helps Wu Sangui deserves to be killed. If your Shifu knew, he would greatly praise you.”

The woman laughed and said, “Is that right?” She looked at the old man and the old woman, and then felt the sickly man’s breathing. “San Shaonai,” she said, “When my Shibo awakes, he will be very angry; yet we cannot kill him. Let’s do it this way: leave them here, we all will go away quietly, so that they won’t know forever who tied them up. What do you think?”

The Third Mistress replied, “Shifu commanded, we will do as instructed.” But thinking that they had lived there for many years and now suddenly they had to leave, in her heart she was very reluctant, plus she felt that moving everything away was really not easy; hence she could not help showing signs of unwillingness.

An old maidservant wearing white clothes said, “The enemy has been obtained; let us offer sacrifice in front of all the masters, and then the memorial tablets can be cremated.”

The Third Mistress said, “Popo is right.”

Thereupon everybody thronged to the mourning hall, dragging Wu Zhirong along. They made him kneel on the floor. The Third Mistress took a book from the sacrificial table and held it with both hands in front of Wu Zhirong. “Wu Daren,” she said, “Do you know what book this is?”

Wu Zhirong was very familiar [orig. ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine] with the book since long time ago; as soon as he saw the thickness, the size, and the formatting of the book, he immediately knew it was the ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’, which he relied on to be promoted and gain wealth. When he looked at the cover, it was indeed the ‘Ming Shu Ji Lue’ [‘Compilation of Ming Documents’, see Chapter 1]; thereupon he nodded.

The Third Mistress continued, “Look carefully, the memorial tablets on this sacrificial table, you know them all.”

Wu Zhirong focused his attention to read the names on the memorial tablets, and he noticed that the memorial tablets bore these names: Zhuang Yuncheng, Zhuang Tinglong, Li Lingxi, Cheng Weifan, Li Huan, Wang Zhaozhen, Mao Yuanxi … more than a hundred names on the memorial tablets, each one was executed because of his report to the imperial court in the case of ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’. Wu Zhirong read eight or nine names, and his soul had already flown to the sky. His tongue was cut, it was still bleeding continuously; he was already two-third dead anyway. This moment his body went weak and he slumped down on the ground, while trembling non-stop.

The Third Mistress said, “Due to your lust for fame and fortune you have killed this many people, other masters and mistresses of their families suffered torture in the prison and perished, some suffered the death of a thousand cuts, their bodies were subjected to thousand blades ten thousand cuts. If we did not receive Heaven’s providence and were saved by Shifu, we would have been died because of you. Today if we killed you with one blade, it would be too easy for you. However, the way we handle matters is not as merciless as you did. If you want to die easy, you may make your own decision.” While saying that, she unsealed the acupoints on his body. ‘Dang!’ she also tossed a short blade to the ground.

Wu Zhirong was shaking all over; he picked up the blade, but how could he find the courage to kill himself? Suddenly he turned around and made a dash out of the mourning hall. But he only took one step, he saw his way was blocked by several dozen women in white. His throat made a repeated ‘he, he’ noise as he slipped and fell, twisted several times, and then stopped moving altogether.

The Third Mistress pulled his body over and found that his breathing had stopped, his face was full of blood, his eyes were open wide, his expression was full of terror. “Evil has its retribution,” she said, “At last this traitor is dead.” Kneeling in front of the memorial tablets she said, “All of you Xianggong, your big enmity has been avenged, may your spirits in Heaven rest in peace.” All the women prostrated themselves on the ground as they cried loudly.

Wei Xiaobao and the Tian Di Hui warriors also bowed in front of the spirit tablets. The woman in yellow garment stood still and silently on the side with knitted eyebrows.

After crying for a while, the women turned to kowtow to Wei Xiaobao, thanking him for capturing the enemy and bringing him over. Wei Xiaobao hastily kowtowed in return and said, “A piece of cake, why be polite? If you still have other enemies, please tell me, I will catch them for you.”

The Third Mistress said, “Wicked minister Oboi was killed personally by Wei Shaoye, Wu Zhirong was also caught and brought over by Wei Shaoye. Our great hatred has been avenged in full, there are no more enemies.” Immediately the women disassembled the sacrificial table and cremated the memorial tablets.

The woman in yellow watched as these women performed their convoluted and overelaborate ritual, while making endless noise. Finally she lost her patience and went out to take a look at the people they caught. Wei Xiaobao and Tian Di Hui warriors followed her out. They saw the old man, the old woman and the sickly man were not awake yet.

The woman in yellow smiled and said, “Little baby, if you want to poison these people, you should really learn how to do it well.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Junior put knock-out drug because I really did not know what else to do, their martial art skill is too strong; if I did not use any trick, my neck would have been wrung by them. By using this trick, the heroes and warriors of Jianghu will look down on me. I know I was wrong, next time I will not dare anymore.”

The woman in yellow smiled. “What look down or look up?” she said, “Killing people is killing people; using blade to kill people, using fist to kill people, using poison or drug, won’t it all comes down to one thing: killing people? The heroes and warriors of Jianghu will look down on you? Humph, who needs their opinion anyway? Take that Wu Zhirong for example; he went to report to the imperial court and killed several thousand, several hundred people. He did not use poison, are you saying that we ought to have a high regard for him?”

Every single word had caused happiness and delight to rise from the bottom of Wei Xiaobao’s heart; he could not help but beaming with joy as he said, “Popo Jiejie, what you said is very true. When I was a kid, I helped people fighting by scattering lime on the enemy’s eyes; I helped him win the fight and saved his life, but instead of thanking me, he scolded me of using third-class method and he slapped me heavily on the face. Too bad at that time Popo Jiejie was not around, otherwise you would have taught him a lesson.”

The woman in yellow said, “But you poisoned my Gui Shibo, I should have slapped you heavily on the face several times.”

“At that time I did not know he was your Shibo,” Wei Xiaobao hastily said.

The woman said, “If you knew that he was my Shibo, and that he was going to wring your neck, while you have the poison in your hand, would you or would you not poison him?”

Wei Xiaobao giggled and said, “My life was threatened, I would have no choice but to offend him.”

“You are telling the truth,” the woman said, “Others want to take your life, how could you not want to take their lives first? I said I wanted to slap you, only because you really did not know what’s good for you. Others are people with grand reputation, ‘Divine Fist Without Equal’ Gui Xinshu, Gui Erye [second master], how deep of a power does he have? You just used the dog-fart knock-out drug to make his head dizzy and make his eyes not able to see, the Senior would just regard it as ground pepper.”

“But he … he …” Wei Xiaobao stammered.

The woman said, “You mixed your not-up-to-the-task knock-out drug in the tea, others are eighty-year old Jianghu veteran, would he simply being a muddle head and drink it? That is the cheap trick used by black inn criminals. If you want to use poison, you must use first-class one.”

Wei Xiaobao was surprised and delighted at the same time. “Turns out … turns out Popo Jiejie replaced it with first-class poison,” he said.

“Rubbish!” the woman said, “I did not replace it. Gui Shibo and the others were tired, they had headache and passed out; what do I have to do with it? One is a tuberculosis ghost, the others are eighty years old Lao Gonggong and Lao Popo, they suddenly fainted; what’s so strange about it?” Her mouth was speaking in deadly earnest, but her eyes were gleaming with mischievous looks.

Wei Xiaobao knew that she was afraid her Shifu might find out later and scold her, and thus she did not want to admit it; in his heart he had an unspeakable admiration toward this kindred spirit. Suddenly he dropped to his knees and said, “Popo Jiejie, I bow to you as my master, please take me as your disciple, I will call you Shifu Jiejie.”

The woman giggled; she reached out with her right arm and placed her palm under his chin. Wei Xiaobao felt a hard object on his chin; definitely it was not a human hand. When he looked down, he was utterly shocked; what he saw was bluish-black iron hook, the tip of the hook was very sharp, it gleamed under the light.

The woman laughed and said, “Look carefully.” With her left hand she pulled her right sleeve to expose a snow white upper arm, but it was cut at the wrist, there was no hand at all, the iron hook was fastened onto her wrist. “If you want to be my disciple,” the woman said, “I have no reason not to accept you, you simply need to cut your hand, then I’ll give you an iron hook.”

The woman in yellow was none other than the Cult Leader or Five-Poison Cult He Tishou [lit. iron hand], whose fame shook the world in the past. Afterwards she bowed to Yuan Chengzhi to be his disciple, and changed her name to He Tishou [lit. guarding respectfully]. After the Ming Dynasty fell, she accompanied Yuan Chengzhi traveling overseas. That year she was sent on a mission by her master to the Central Plains, by chance she saved the Zhuang Family’s Third Mistress and the other widows, and taught them martial arts.

This time she came again, by chance she saw Shuang’er took out the knock-out drug and told her the situation. Although she did not know who the enemy was, she knew that since their martial art skill was high, ordinary knock-out drug would be quite useless; thereupon she put another drug into the water jar.

He Tishou’s skill in using poison was unparalleled in her time, only after entering Hua Shan Pai she did not use this skill for a long time. Suddenly seeing someone putting drug into the water jar, she could not stop her hand from itching to try her skill again; as soon as she made her move, who in the world would be able to resist it? Were it not for her, Gui Xinshu’s internal energy was very deep, it was even superior to her own Shifu Yuan Chengzhi’s internal strength, how could the ordinary package of knock-out drug Wei Xiaobao obtained from the Imperial Bodyguards drug him that he fainted?

The sickly man, Gui Zhong, had been ill since he was still in his mother’s womb, he was actually not expected to live, later on he took a precious miracle drug that his life was spared, but his body and brain had been damaged, he would never be strong and healthy like ordinary people. Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, only had this child, they loved him more than life. Due to his lingering illness since childhood, inevitably the couple spoiled him rotten and failed to discipline him. Although Gui Zhong had mastered superior martial art skill, even though he was middle-age by now, his character and mental development was no different than an eight or nine years old child.

When He Tishou put poison, she did not know who the opponent was; after she found out that it was her own Gui Shibo and his family, she could not help feeling anxious. But things had come to this, she knew it was too late to worry. Listening to Wei Xiaobao’s amusing words, her fondness toward him grew. She thought how could there be such a witty and naughty boy outside the island?

When he heard that he had to cut his hand before he could take her as his master, Wei Xiaobao brought his hand in front of his eyes. He was afraid of pain, plus he really did not want to part with his hand; his face carried an awkward expression. He Tishou laughed and said, “You don’t need to bow to me as your Shifu, I don’t have time to impart you any martial art skill either. But I do have a very amusing secret projectile that I’d like to give to you, so that you won’t grieve in your heart that you have kowtowed to me and called me Shifu Jiejie in vain.”

“Shifu Jiejie,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That was not an empty call; even if you did not teach me any martial art skill, you did not give me anything, you are such a pretty young lady, I would be very happy to call you Shifu Jiejie several more times.”

He Tishou giggled and said, “Oily-mouthed and smooth talking little monkey, you talked drivel to your Popo with no respect to your seniors.” She was a Miao [ethnic group of southwest China] woman, and had never cared about Han people’s etiquette and compass and set-square. Wei Xiaobao praised her as pretty; she did not feel it was inappropriate, on the contrary, she was delighted. She laughed and said, “Little monkey, call me again.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Jiejie, good Jiejie!”

He Tishou laughed and said, “Aiyo, it’s getting more and more indecent.” Suddenly her left hand grabbed the back of his neck, lifted him up to the left, and then ‘zip, zip, zip!’, three candles on the table were extinguished immediately, followed by a series of dull thuds on the wooden partition on the opposite site, like the resounding patter of rain on wooden board.

Wei Xiaobao was startled and delighted at the same time, “What secret weapons are those?” he asked.

He Tishou laughed and said, “Go look yourself.” And then she released her grip to let him fall to the floor.

Wei Xiaobao picked up a candlestick from the side table and went over to the wooden partition to take a closer look. He saw dozens of flickering steel needles nailed deeply into the wooden wall. He was very impressed. “Jiejie,” he said, “You did not even move, how did you shoot these many steel needles? This kind of secret projectiles, who in this world would be able to dodge?”

He Tishou laughed and said, “In the past I used these ‘Han Sha She Ying’[3] secret projectiles against my Shifu, but he was able to dodge; not a single needle was able to hit him. Other than my Shifu, I am afraid not too many people would be able to do it.”

“Your Shifu must have told you to try to shoot him,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That’s why he was prepared. But if you shoot him suddenly, even if the Senior’s martial art skill was higher, how could he evade this kind of shadow-less, trace-less secret projectiles?”

“At that time Shifu and I were opponents,” He Tishou said, “We were in a hard fighting. He did not ask me to try to shoot him, he was completely without advance knowledge.”

“That is so,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But your Shifu was concentrating his attention completely on you, hence he was able to dodge. Supposing that time you pointed to the east and turned your head that way and called out, ‘Eh, who’s coming?’ Your Shifu would definitely turn to look to the east as well; if at that time you suddenly shot him with the secret projectiles, very likely he would be hit.”

He Tishou sighed and said, “Perhaps you are right. These steel needles have acute poison on them, if at that time my Shifu failed to evade, he would be killed immediately. At that time I did not wish to kill him at all.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “In your heart you were in love with your Shifu, weren’t you?”

He Tishou’s face blushed slightly. “Pei!” she spat, “There’s no such thing. Don’t talk rubbish. If my Shiniang [Shifu’s wife] heard it, she would definitely cut half of your tongue.”

The past events when she was young suddenly appeared in her heart; although it was a matter of several decades ago, He Tishou still could not stop her face from blushing. She took out two deerskin finger sheaths, which she put on her left thumb and index finger, and then she pulled the steel needles from the wooden partition one by one. She also reached into her pocket and took out an iron band, with a steel case mounted on the band, the lid of the steel case had a lot of small holes. Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized; he clapped his hands and called out, “Jiejie, this secret projectile is really ingenious. Turns out you wore it inside your clothes, and then you only need to activate the mechanism on the iron band, and the steel needles inside the iron case will shoot out.” He assumed that most likely the secret projectile she promised to give to him was this object; he could not help but was bursting with joy.

He Tishou smiled and said, “Even a secret projectile that is a lot more formidable than this will have to rely on the power and accuracy of the hand to shoot it. But your martial art skill is too lacking, other than this ‘Han Sha She Ying’, you can’t use anything else.”

Immediately she inserted the steel needles one by one into the case and told him to lift up his robe, and fastened it on his body; the steel case was positioned right on the pit of his stomach. She taught him how to activate the mechanism, she also taught him the ingredients and how to make the poison on the steel needle, as well as the antidote. She said, “The steel needles inside the case can be used for a total of five times. After that you will have to replenish the needles. My Shifu repeatedly warned me never to injure the innocent. These steel needles were originally dipped into lethal poison, but now the poison is not to take anybody’s life. When someone is hit, his body will be unbearably itchy and he will lose all his strength. But you still must not use it indiscriminately.”

Wei Xiaobao did not open his mouth to respond, he dropped on his knees again to express his gratitude. He Tishou said, “Go and help those three to sit up properly.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He helped Gui Xinshu into a chair first, but when he was helping Gui Zhong, he bumped onto a round and bulging object hanging on his waist, something like a wine gourd. When he lifted up his robe to look, turned out it was a leather sack. Wei Xiaobao’s curiosity was piqued; he untied the leather string of the sack and looked inside. Suddenly he cried out, “Aiyo, it’s a human head; he … he … he is staring at me.”

He Tishou also felt strange; she said, “I wonder what kind of important character he killed, why would he carry the severed head on his waist? Take it out and look.”

“Dead man, oh dead man!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I am going to take you out, you must not bite me.” Slowly he put his hand into the sack, grabbed the severed head by its braid, and took it out and placed it on the table. Under the candlelight he could see clearly, this severed head had its big and round eyes opened wide, its dragon-like beard was long and pointy. Wei Xiaobao screamed and withdrew three steps. “It’s … it’s Wu Dage,” he cried out in fear.

He Tishou was slightly startled. “You know him?” she asked.

“He … he is our Society brother,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wu Liuqi, Wu Dage!” His heart was grieving, he sobbed loudly.

The Tian Di Hui warriors heard Wei Xiaobao was screaming and crying loudly, they rushed into the hall, and saw Wu Liuqi’s severed head. They were all shocked with grief and indignation. Everybody pressed their hands on the hilt of their weapons while keeping their gaze fixed on He Tishou, thinking that Wu Liuqi was killed by her.

Soon Shuang’er also rushed inside. Wei Xiaobao pulled her hand and pointed to the severed head, shouting, “Shuang … Shuang’er, this is your sworn brother Wu Dage, he … he was murdered by this evil thief!” While saying that, he scrambled toward Gui Zhong and kicked him several times. He then turned to Xu Tianchuan and the others and said, “I found Wu Dage’s severed head hanging on this evil thief’s body.”

When everybody examined the severed head carefully, they saw that the blood was already dry, the neck was covered in lime; obviously they used some medicaments and lime to preserve the head so it would not rot.

Shuang’er stroked the severed head while sobbing loudly. Li Lishi said, “Let’s use cold water to wake this evil thief up, we must get the full details from him, and then we’ll kill him to pay for Wu Dage’s life.” All the warriors voiced their agreements.

He Tishou said, “This man is my Shidi, you must not touch a single strand of his hair!” While saying that, she stretched out her right hand iron hook and swept it across a candle on the table several times, before flying into the inner hall.

Priest Xuanzhen angrily shouted, “Even if he was your Shifu, I still want to chop him into mincemeat …”

“Uh!” suddenly Feng Jizhong exclaimed. With two fingers of his left hand he held a piece of candle, about seven or eight fen long [1 fen is approximately 1/3 of a centimeter or 1/8 of an inch], and picked it up. The candle on the candlestick was originally still seven or eight cun long [1 cun approx. 2.5cm or 1 inch], but now it was cut into six or seven pieces, each piece was less than a cun long, and still neatly stacked together; the candle did not collapse at all. This kind of martial art skill was truly shocking. None of the Tian Di Hui warriors’ countenance did not change.

‘Shua!’ Priest Xuanzhen pulled the saber hanging on his waist and said, “I’ll kill this servant to avenge Wu Dage, let that woman kill me.”

“Hold on!” Li Lishi said, “We must ask clearly first, and then we’ll kill the three of them together.”

“Right!” Wei Xiaobao said, “That Popo Jiejie is afraid of her Shibo. If we eliminate her Shibo and Shibo’s wife altogether, it should be all right. Shuang’er, go get a pot of cold water, but don’t get the poisoned water from the kitchen.”

Shuang’er went in and came back with a large basin of cold water. Xu Tianchuan took the basin and slowly poured the cold water onto Gui Zhong’s head. Gui Zhong sneezed several times and slowly opened his eyes. As soon as he tried to move, he realized that his hands and feet were bound, and the acupoint on his waist was sealed. “Who?” he said furiously, “Who is joking with me?”

Xuanzhen lightly tapped the blade of his saber on his face and swore, “Your ancestor is joking with you.” Pointing to Wu Liuqi’s head, he asked, “Did you kill this man?”

“Correct!” Gui Zhong replied, “Mama, Daddy, where are you?” He turned around and saw his father and mother were also bound; he was so scared that he almost cried. In all his life he had always followed his father and mother, everything happened as he wished, he had never experienced any setback; when did he ever experience such a scary situation? With a sullen expression he said, “You … what are you doing? You cannot beat me, why … why did you tie me up? Why did you tie my Daddy, my Mama?”

Xu Tianchuan raised his hand and slapped him on the face with the back of his palm, “How did you kill this man?” he shouted, “Quickly tell us, if there is half a word of lies, I will poke your eyes blind immediately.” While saying that he raised his saber and pointed the tip toward Gui Zhong’s right eye.

Gui Zhong was scared out of his wits; he coughed continuously as he said, “I … I’ll talk … don’t poke my eye blind. If I am blind, I can’t see … can’t see … (cough, cough) … (cough, cough) … Ping Xi Wang said that Tatar Emperor is a big, big ‘bad egg’; he occupies … occupies our … our Great Ming’s rivers and mountains. He asked me to … to kill Tatar Emperor …”

Tian Di Hui warriors looked at each other in dismay; they all thought, “What he said is not wrong.”

But Wei Xiaobao flatly refused to accept. “Hot piece Mama,” he cursed, “Wu Sangui is a damn good thing?”

Gui Zhong said, “Ping Xi Wang is your Bofu; he … he … he is not a good thing, then you are not a good thing either.”

Wei Xiaobao kicked him heavily; he cursed, “Nonsense! Wu Sangui is a big traitor, how can he be Laozi’s uncle? Wu Sangui is your uncle!”

Gui Zhong yelled, “You said it yourself. Aiyo, so you want to renege on your words? I don’t come, I don’t come!” [renege – 赖 ‘lai’, come – 来 ‘lai’]

Seeing him muddling things together, Li Lishi asked, “Wu Sangui asked you to kill Tatar Emperor, why did you kill him then?” While saying that, he pointed to Wu Liuqi’s severed head.

Gui Zhong said, “This man was high-ranking officer of Guangdong, Ping Xi Wang said that he was a big traitor, who determined to protect the Emperor. Ping Xi Wang wanted to move the troops to attack Guangdong, hence he must have him killed first. Ping Xi Wang gave me a lot of tonic to treat my coughing, he also gave me the white tiger skin. My Ma said that big traitor must be killed. (Cough, cough) … this man’s martial art skill was very good, I … my Ma and me fought him together before he could kill him. You must quickly let me go, release my Dad, my Ma. We are going to Beijing to kill Tatar Emperor, it will be an enormous service …”

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Killing the Emperor is not for you, a tuberculosis ghost, to do. All Gege, let’s kill these three fellows. I will deal with Popo Jiejie later.”

Suddenly they heard outside the manor several dozen people shouted together, “Tuberculosis ghost, get out quickly, we’ll hack you to pieces to avenge Wu Dage!” In front of the manor, behind the manor, they heard people all around; even all over the roof there were people shouting and yelling; apparently the manor was surrounded on all directions.

Hearing the incoming people were going to avenge Wu Liuqi, Tian Di Hui warriors knew those people were on their side; in their hearts they were delighted. Qian Laoben called loudly, “Ming restore Qing fought, mother Earth father Heaven. [ming fu qing fan, mu di fu tian – see also Chapter 33, casino scene.] I wonder which peaceful rudder road the friends outside belong to?”

Tian Di Hui slogan was ‘Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming’ [tian fu di mu, fan Qing fu Ming], but in front of unidentified people, these eight characters were reversed. If they were their own Society’s brethren, they would know how to respond; if it were outsiders, the opposite party would not know what they were talking about, hence their real identity would not be exposed.

There were seventeen or eighteen people outside, as well as on the roof of the manor, responding in chorus, “The earth shook the high ridge, a row of mountain creeks gracefully flow for all eternity.”

The warriors in the hall called out, “Morning gate facing the ocean, the water of the Three Rivers flows for ten thousand years.”

Someone on the roof asked, “Brothers from which Hall are in here?”

Qian Laoben replied, “Green Wood Hall brothers welcome our older brothers. Gege from which Hall have arrived?”

The door to the hall opened, someone came in and called, “Xiaobao, are you here?” This man was tall and slim, his expression elegant, he was none other than Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu Chen Jinnan.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he rushed forward and kneeled down. “Shifu, Shifu,” he called repeatedly.

“Everybody is well!” Chen Jinnan said, “Unfortunately …” Seeing Wu Liuqi’s severed head on the table he rushed over; he propped himself against the table and was overcome with grief, tears streamed down his face.

One after another people came into the hall; Guangxi’s Latter Family Hall Xiangzhu Ma Chaoxing, Guizhou’s Scarlet Fire Hall Xiangzhu Gu Zhizhong, and the others were there. When they saw Gui Zhong, they all pulled their sabers. There were more than twenty Guangdong’s Great Obedience Hall brethren in there, their hatred had reached the extreme. Seeing all these people had fiendish expression on their face, Gui Zhong coughed twice, and then he passed out.

Chen Jinnan turned around and asked, “Xiaobao, how did you all capture these three evil thieves?”

Thereupon Wei Xiaobao narrated what they had been through; naturally he skipped the shameful matters where Gui Zhong was amusing himself by playing with Xu Tianchuan and the others and where he was pretending to be Wu Zhirong. Finally he said, “These three evil thieves’ martial art is very formidable, we were no match for them, fortunately there was one Popo Jiejie who came to our rescue before we were able to capture them. However, Popo Jiejie also said that this old man is her Shibo, hence she did not allow us to kill him to avenge Wu Dage.”

Chen Jinnan frowned. “What Popo Jiejie?” he asked.

“Although based on her age she is a Popo, her appearance looks like a Jiejie, hence I call her Popo Jiejie,” Wei Xiaobao explained.

“Where is she?” Chen Jinnan asked.

“She is hiding in the back,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “She is unwilling to meet her Shibo. Shifu, Gu Dage, Ma Dage, how did all of you get here?”

Chen Jinnan said, “This evil thief harmed Wu Dage, as soon as we received the news, we all pursued to four sides eight directions.”

The Green Wood Hall warriors and the incoming people greeted each other; turned out there were brothers from all the Halls in Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Anhui, most of them were guarding outside all around the manor. Gu Zhizhong and Ma Chaoxing said, “Wei Xiongdi has rendered this great merit once again, Wu Dage’s spirit in Heaven will definitely feel deeply grateful.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Dage treated me very well, avenging him is something that I ought to do.”

Li Lishi said, “Reporting to Zongduozhu: this evil thief has just said that they are going to Beijing to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, he also mentioned some Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming matters, I don’t know the real story behind it.”

“What real story?” Wei Xiaobao said, “He was afraid we might kill him, hence he spoke some nonsense. He is wearing this white tiger skin, which was given by Wu Sangui. How can there be any good thing among Wu Sangui’s pig friends and dog companions? We’d better open these three evil thieves’ chests and scoop out their hearts to avenge Wu Dage, end of story.”

“Wake these three people up,” Chen Jinnan said, “We’ll ask them clearly.”

Shuang’er fetched another bucket of cold water and doused Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, as well as Gui Zhong to wake them up. As soon as Gui Erniang [second lady] awoke, she cursed and swore, saying that putting poison to drug people was Jianghu’s despicable and shameless shady business; but Gui Xinshu did not say a word.

Chen Jinnan said, “Looking at your skill, you are not a nobody. What’s your name? What enmity did you have against our Wu Liuqi, Wu Dage? Why did you commit evil scheme and harm his life?”

Gui Erniang angrily said, “You are stinky stuff, shameless little thieves who drugged people, do you think you fit to ask Laoniang’s [old lady] name and surname?”

Gu Zhizhong raised his saber threateningly, Gui Erniang was hot-headed, her cursing became even more vile.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They are surnamed Gui, the ‘gui’ of ‘wugui’ [turtle]; two old turtles and one little turtle. Let me kill the little turtle first and then we’ll talk.” Pulling his dagger, he pointed the tip to Gui Zhong’s throat.

Seeing Wei Xiaobao was going to kill her son, Gui Erniang panicked. “Little demon,” she called out, “If you have guts, come and kill Laoniang; just don’t touch a single strand of my child’s hair.”

“But I love to kill little turtle,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He lightly pushed the tip of his dagger into Gui Zhong’s throat. The dagger was extremely sharp, although the push was very light, Gui Zhong’s throat immediately spewed blood.

“Ma,” he cried loudly, “He … he is killing me.”

“Don’t … don’t kill my child!” Gui Erniang shouted.

Wei Xiaobao said, “My Shifu asks you a question, you obediently answer. Within an hour, your tuberculosis ghost son will not die.”

“My child is not sick,” Gui Erniang angrily said, “You are the tuberculosis ghost.” But hearing that Wei Xiaobao promised not to kill her son for the time being, she felt relieved instantly.

Wei Xiaobao pretended to cough; imitating Gui Zhong’s accent he said, “Ma, I … I … (cough, cough) … I almost die … Good Mama, quickly answer them truthfully … (cough, cough) … (cough, cough) … I don’t have tuberculosis, I am suffering from broken-steel-blade sickness … (cough, cough) … also from dagger-penetrating-the-throat illness, whole-body-become-mincemeat illness … (cough, cough) …”

He had an uncanny ability to imitate people’s accent that Gui Erniang was absolutely horrified. “Don’t talk like that! Don’t imitate my child!” she yelled.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Ma, if you don’t answer their questions, I … I … (cough, cough) … I will also contact the belly-cut-open sickness, intestines-flowing-out illness …” While saying that, he pulled open Gui Zhong’s robe and moved his dagger back and forth in front of Gui Zhong’s scrawny chest.

Gui Erniang could not bear any longer. “Alright!” she said, “We belong to Huashan Pai, our family is known as Shen Quan Wu Di [divine fist without equal] Gui Er Xia [second hero]. When our prestige was shaking the Central Plains, you, this bunch of little hairy thieves have not been reincarnated.”

Hearing that these two were unexpectedly the famous Shen Quan Wu Di Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, Chen Jinnan could not help but feeling deep veneration toward them. He also remembered how established Wu Liuqi’s martial art skill was. According to the Great Obedience Hall brethren who witnessed how he was harmed by this people, only the old woman and the tuberculosis ghost went into action, yet they were able to overthrow a dozen or more Great Obedience Hall’s martial art experts. The two of them attacked Wu Liuqi together and killed him, cut his head. These people were not impostors. Divine Fist Without Equal Gui Xinshu had become famous for a long time, but for the last several decades their movement in Jianghu was never heard. It was unclear how they were involved in this terrible tragedy; there must be a strong reason behind it.

Immediately Chen Jinnan stepped forward to bow with cupped fist in front of Gui Xinshu; he said, “Turns out you are Huashan’s Shen Quan Wu Di Gui Er Xia husband and wife. Xiaoren Chen Jinnan, indeed I have been lacking in manners.” Reaching out, he pulled and broke the ropes binding Gui Xinshu, and then he also massaged his back and his waist to unseal his acupoints. Turning around, he also pulled and broke the ropes binding Gui Erniang and Gui Zhong.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly worried. “Shifu,” he said, “These three people are very formidable; we must not release them.”

Chen Jinnan smiled and said, “Gui Erniang scolded us for using knockout drug, which is the conduct of Jianghu’s despicable low-class people. We, Tian Di Hui, have never used knockout drug. Even if we did, Gui Er Xia’s internal energy is very profound, how can despicable low-class people’s knockout drug affect him, the Senior …”

“Right, right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We, Tian Di Hui, did not use the knockout drug.” He thought that since the drug came from Popo Jiejie, and it was she who swapped it, technically they could not be considered drugged by Tian Di Hui. Besides, the drug was really not a knockout drug.

Gui Xinshu’s left hand brushed off his wife and son’s backs to unseal their acupoints. His technique was a lot faster than Chen Jinnan’s. He nodded and said, “It was not an ordinary knockout drug; it was a lot more powerful drug.” He stretched out his hand to feel his son’s pulse.

Gui Erniang fixed her gaze on her husband’s expression, “How is it?” she asked.

Gui Xinshu said, “For the time being he seems to be all right.”

He recalled that just before passing out, he had exchanged a palm strike with someone. Although that person’s martial art skill was very shallow, yet the internal energy cultivation was definitely from Huashan Pai. He also recalled the way Shuang’er run among the rocks on that hill, it was definitely Huashan Pai’s qinggong. In a glance he saw her among the crowd.

Seeing his bright and flickering gaze, Shuang’er could not help feeling afraid; she shrunk herself behind Wei Xiaobao. Gui Xinshu said, “Little girl, come here. You belong to Huashan Pai, don’t you?”

“I am not coming!” Shuang’er said, “You killed my sworn brother Wu Dage, I want to take revenge for him. I … I don’t belong to any Huashan Pai either.”

When He Tishou taught martial arts to the Third Mistress Zhuang, Shuang’er and the others, she did not officially accept them as her disciples, hence she did not mention her own sect or school either. These three words ‘Huashan Pai’, Shuang’er had just heard it for the first time today.

Gui Xinshu did not want to argue with this little girl. Suddenly he gathered his chi on his dantian, and with a loud and clear voice said, “Disciples and grand-disciples of Feng Nandi, come out.” Although his voice was not loud, his chi surged out, the dust on the roof rained down.

He thought that among the three martial brothers, Yuan Chengzhi’s disciples were all overseas, his Da Shixiong [oldest martial brother] Huang Zhen had passed away long time ago, but Huashan Pai still had Huang Zhen’s first disciple Feng Nandi who wielded some power; therefore, the Huashan Pai people in the manor must be Feng Nandi’s disciples. Who would have thought that after waiting for a long time, no noise came from the inner hall?

Chen Jinnan said, “Last year the heroes from all over the world held a general assembly at He Jian Fu, we swore an oath smearing our lips with blood, determined to work as one to kill the big traitor Wu Sangui. Your virtuous Shizhi [martial nephew], Senior Feng Nandi was the host of the Turtle-Slaying Assembly of He Jian Fu. Why would Senior Gui join hands with Wu Sangui instead and kill our humble Society’s patriot Wu Liuqi Xiongdi? Wouldn’t it be ‘enduring pain for the loved-one, acting in haste for the enemy’?” He said those words politely, but his remark was pointed and powerful.

Gui Erniang cast him a glance; she said, “I heard people say, ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain,’ but before Sire was born, we, husband and wife, have already criss-crossing the world. If the saying was true, we should have waited for Sire to be born before we could be called ‘hero’. Hey, hey, ridiculous, ridiculous.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Based on martial art skill, Zaixia only worth a laugh in front of Gui Er Xia, worthy husband and wife. Jianghu friends think highly of Zaixia, they are no more than saying that Zaixia understands right and wrong, that I am not likely to commit outrages and make friends with bandits.”

Gui Erniang was furious. “Are you saying we committed outrages and made friends with bandits?” she said.

“Wu Sangui is a big traitor!” Chen Jinnan retorted.

Gui Erniang said, “This Wu Liuqi acted as accomplice to the tiger, he became the Tatars’ high-ranking officer, bullying our Han’s common people, yet you open your mouth left and right and calling him Dage? Isn’t that committing outrages and making friends with bandits?”

Ma Chaoxing loudly said, “Wu Dage lived in Cao camp but had his heart in Han camp. He was Tian Di Hui’s Great Obedience Hall Red Banner Xiangzhu. He held power over Guangdong military force, as soon as opportunity arrives, he would move the troops to fight the Tatars. Great Obedience Hall brothers, will you or will you not say that it was so?”

“It’s true!” more than twenty subordinates of Great Obedience Hall replied in chorus.

Ma Chaoxing said, “Bare your chests, let these two great heroes have a look.” Twenty some men pulled the front piece of their jacket with both hands and parted it outward, the dozen or so buttons in front of their chests popped out, exposing their chests. They saw that on each man’s chest these eight characters were engraved deep into their flesh: ‘tian fu di mu, fan Qing fu Ming’ [Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming].

All along Gui Zhong was silent, but now seeing more than twenty men had their chests engraved with eight characters, he clapped his hands and laughed, “Interesting, interesting!” The Tian Di Hui warriors glowered at him.

Chen Jinnan said to Gui Xinshu, “Your esteemed son thinks it is interesting, what do Gui Er Xia, husband and wife think?”

Gui Xinshu was extremely dejected; he shook his head and said to Gui Erniang, “Killed the wrong man.”

Gui Erniang said, “We killed the wrong man! We have fallen into that traitor Wu Sangui’s trick.” Stretching out her left hand, she pulled the single-blade saber from Ma Chaoxing’s waist and swept it across her own neck.

“Don’t …” Chen Jinnan shouted, while swiftly stretching out his right hand to grab her left wrist.

Gui Erniang sent out her right palm, Chen Jinnan raised his left palm to parry, both people swayed. Chen Jinnan stretched out two fingers of his left hand to pinch the back of the blade. Gui Erniang sent out another right palm strike toward the pit of his stomach. If Chen Jinnan withdrew, he would not be able to seize the saber away, and he was afraid that she might try to kill herself again. By exchanging palm strikes with her just now, Chen Jinnan knew that although she was really old, her internal energy was not as strong as his; however, her movement was lightning fast, her fist and palm technique was extremely refined. If he withdrew even for a single step, his bare hand would not be able to snatch the blade from her hand away. Thereupon he braced himself and took the palm on his chest. ‘Bang!’ he was hit by the palm strike.

Gui Erniang was taken aback. Chen Jinnan’s left hand’s two fingers caught her saber and snatched it away. He withdrew two steps back, ‘Wah!’ and spurted a mouthful of fresh blood.

When Gui Erniang was swiping the blade to kill herself, if Gui Xinshu made his move, he could have prevented her; however, since he killed Wu Liuqi by mistake, he was ashamed and full of regrets, he even had thoughts of killing himself to apologize, hence he did not try to stop his wife at all. After seeing Chen Jinnan did not hesitate to put his own life in danger to seize the steel blade in Gui Erniang’s hand, he was even more ashamed. His clumsy words were only, “Chen Jinnan is a hero of the present age, your name is not in vain.”

Chen Jinnan supported himself against the table while regulating his breathing. Only after half a day he managed to say, “One who does not know is not guilty. The criminal ringleader, the main offender in the murder of Wu Dage is Wu … Wu San …” speaking to here, he threw up another mouthful of blood.

Although Gui Erniang was old, most of her power of the former years remained. In order to snatch her blade away, Chen Jinnan was unable to circulate his chi to protect himself; the palm strike he suffered was really not light. Gui Erniang said, “Chen Zongduozhu, if I tried to kill myself again, I would betray your great kindness. We, husband and wife, are determined to kill the Tatar Emperor, and then we will kill that traitor Wu Sangui.” Finished speaking, she kneeled down and kowtowed toward Wu Liuqi’s severed head three times.

Chen Jinnan said, “Wu Liuqi Dage’s conduct was always very secretive, a lot of Jianghu people also revile him. Virtuous husband and wife making your move this time, your intention was to kill the traitor; it just that unfortunately … unfortunately …” Speaking to this point, he could not stop the tears from flowing down his face again.

Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, had the same thought; they made up their minds to kill Kangxi and Wu Sangui, and then they were going to kill themselves to apologize to Wu Liuqi. But this moment they did not want to talk too much, they cupped their fists toward Chen Jinnan and said, “Chen Zongduozhu, we’ll take our leave now.”

“Would you stay for a moment?” Chen Jinnan asked, “Zaixia has something to report.” The Gui couple had already taken their son’s hand and were on their way out; hearing this, they stopped and turned around.

Chen Jinnan said, “Wu Sangui is deploying his troops from Yunnan, very soon the whole country will be in rebellion, this is a golden opportunity to reinstate our Han people’s rivers and mountains. There will be quite a number of heroes who in the coming days will gather in the Capital to discuss countermeasure for dealing with current situation. Everybody will be like-minded, how about the two Seniors consider going to Beijing to join the conference?”

In his heart Gui Xinshu was ashamed, he did not have any desire to see other people; hence he shook his head, and started to walk out again.

Wei Xiaobao heard the two of them said that they were going to assassinate the Emperor. He thought these three fellows surnamed ‘turtle’ had a very high level of martial art skill, the young Emperor had never guarded against them, he must prevent them from killing the emperor. “This is a very important matter concerning the world,” he called out, “Your Gongzi’s [young master] conduct is a bit messed up. If this time you spoil this matter, even if the three of you kill yourselves, inevitably your names will … will be a stench for ten thousand years.” He had heard the saying ‘yi chou wan nian’ [to have one’s name go down in history as a byword for infamy], but he could not remember the exact words, hence he said ‘chou qi wan nian’ [stench for ten thousand years].

Although he did not say it correctly, the Gui couple understood his meaning clearly. Gui Xinshu knew that in term of martial art skill he was quite superior, but in term of ability to see things clearly he was rather weak, otherwise he would not have blindly accepted Wu Sangui’s one-sided story as the fact, and thus committed this kind of blunder. Hearing Wei Xiaobao, he could not help but shivered inwardly. He thought, “Assassinating the Emperor is indeed an important matter concerning the fate of the nation.”

Wei Xiaobao continued, “Right now the Emperor is still young, he is not too sensible yet, as soon as Wu Sangui arose in rebellion, he would collapse silly. If you kill him, another Tatar, older and more formidable, will become the Emperor, then our Han people’s rivers and mountains will be spoiled under your hands.” Gui Xinshu nodded slowly and turned around.

Chen Jinnan said, “Two Seniors, this child is young, he talks with no respect for his elders, please don’t be offended.” While saying that he cupped his fist to apologize. And then he continued, “But it seems that his concern needs to be considered at length. Such an important matter like this, we must discuss and decide what would be the best course of action?”

Gui Xinshu thought that he had committed one mistake and must not commit another mistake; just because right now he was ashamed and indignant, he must not let himself to be a sinner for all ages. Thereupon he said, “Very well! I will sincerely listen to Chen Zongduozhu’s instruction.”

“That word ‘instruction’,” Chen Jinnan said, “I absolutely do not dare to give. Tomorrow morning we will all go to Beijing. In the evening we will meet at this child’s residence to discuss this important matter. What do the Seniors think?” Gui Xinshu nodded.

Chen Jinnan asked Wei Xiaobao, “Have you moved?”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “Disciple still lives at Tong Maozi [copper hat] Lane in Dongcheng [district, central Beijing].”

“Seniors,” Chen Jinnan said, “Tomorrow night Zaixia will wait respectfully for the two Seniors’ honorable presence in this child’s Zijue Fu [Viscount Mansion] at Tong Maozi Lane in Dongcheng district in Beijing.”

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please don’t be angry, right now it is called Bojue Fu [Earl Mansion].”

“Hey, you have been promoted,” Chen Jinnan said.

Gui Erniang stared at Wei Xiaobao. She asked, “You are Wu Sangui’s nephew, but also ‘live in Cao camp but have the heart in Han camp’; will you place righteousness before family?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I am not Wu Sangui’s nephew, Wu Sangui desperately wanted to be my grandson.”

Chen Jinnan scolded him, “Don’t be rude in front of the Seniors. Quickly kowtow and apologize.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied. He struck a posture ready to kneel, but he did so exasperatingly slowly.

Gui Xinshu waved his hands; he took his wife and child, as well as his servants, out of the door without saying anything. He knew perfectly well that there was no other place they could lodge for the night, but he would rather go hungry and spend the night in the wilderness since he did not want to be face the face with Tian Di Hui warriors.

Gui Zhong never had any playmate since he was little, seeing that Wei Xiaobao was very clever with words, plus was still young, he found him very amusing. He waved to him and said, “Baby, come with me, accompany me playing.”

“You killed my friend,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am not playing with you.”

Suddenly there was a ‘whoosh!’ a shadow flashed, Gui Zhong leaped over, grabbed Wei Xiaobao, and brought him to the door. His movement was very fast, while Chen Jinnan had just suffered quite a heavy injury, plus he was quite some distance away; unexpectedly not a single Tian Di Hui warrior had enough time to react.

Gui Zhong laughed aloud and shouted, “You must play hide-and-seek again with me, we will have a lot of fun!”

Gui Xinshu’s countenance sank; he said sternly, “Child, put him down.”

Gui Zhong did not dare to disobey his father, he was obliged to let Wei Xiaobao down, but his lips were already flat, obviously he was about to cry. Gui Erniang said consolingly, “Child, let us go buy two page boys to accompany you playing.”

“Page boys are no fun,” Gui Zhong said, “This baby is fun, let us go buy him.”

Seeing his son making a fool of himself, Gui Xinshu pulled his hand and went out the door in quick steps.

The crowd of warriors looked at each other in dismay; they all felt that Wu Liuqi was a hero, yet he died for no reason under the hands of an idiot. It was indeed too much of injustice.

“Shifu,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me invite Popo Jiejie here to meet everybody.” Together with Shuang’er he went into the inner hall. Who would have thought that He Tishou had already left?

The Third Mistress said that it was inappropriate for the womenfolk to meet the heroes, she only instructed the maidservants to prepare food and drink and to be hospitable to the guests.

Book note: In the title of this chapter, Yuyang instigation is an allusion to An Lushan’s rebellion [755-763] in reference to Wu Sangui’s rebellion. ‘Excessive supervision with poor planning’ is an allusion to Jing Ke [would-be assassin of King Ying Zheng of Qin (later the first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang)] assassinating King Tai. Our book borrows the allusion in reference to Gui Xinshu and the others mistakenly assassinated Wu Liuqi. It was too late to regret, yet they also wanted to assassinate Kangxi. The implied meaning has no relevance with actual historical fact.

[1] Chuan is abbreviation for Sichuan province. I am not sure about the ‘Hu’ (lake), since Hunan/Hubei are not adjacent to Sichuan.

[2]Zhuang house, ‘zhuang jia’ can also mean ‘banker’ (in gambling); ‘leg vise’ (夹棍), I don’t know what it is, I am assuming it has something to do with gambling; ‘three directions’, usually there are four positions in a gambling table, denoted by east, south, west, and north, respectively.

[3] I don’t know how to translate this without sounding strange: Han Sha She Ying, ‘han’ – to suck, to keep in the mouth, ‘sha’ – sand/grain, ‘she’ – shoot, ‘ying’ – shadow; ‘shooting at shadow with the sand kept inside the mouth’? Interestingly, the dictionary has special definition for ‘han sha she ying’: to attack someone by innuendo/to insinuate.

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