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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 42

Chapter 42
Hazy sky outside the imperial watchtower at Jiu Zhong [nine heavy] city walls, blowing wind and cloud spitting discontent.

The next day Wei Xiaobao took his leave from the host, and then he and Chen Jinnan went separately to the Capital. Chen Jinnan said, “Xiaobao, Gui Er Xia, husband and wife are going to assassinate the Emperor. They have agreed to accept the decision after everybody has discussed it over. When you reach Beijing, you must not notify the Emperor so that he will be on guard.”

Wei Xiaobao did indeed have this intention, but since his Shifu hit the nail on the head, he hastily said, “Of course; his Tatars occupy our Han people’s rivers and mountains, I became an official in the imperial court under Shifu, you, Senior’s order, how can I support him for real?”

“Then so be it,” Chen Jinnan said, “If you say something without meaning it, and do something to let everybody down, I will be the first who will not spare you.”

“Shifu, please let your hundred and twenty hearts at ease,” Wei Xiaobao said, while in his heart he said, “Let your hundred and nineteen hearts at ease! I, myself, am not too much at ease.”

Taking Shuang’er, Xu Tianchuan and the others, he went back to where Zhang Yong, Zhao Liangdong, and the others were waiting. With Mao Dongzhu in custody, they returned to Beijing.

As soon as he was back at the Tong Maozi Lane, he immediately wanted to see Kangxi, thinking, “The young Emperor is my good friend, how can I let him die under those three turtles’ hands? I got it; I will go to the Palace and order the Imperial Bodyguards to be on high alert, to form tight security. I promised Shifu I won’t tell the Emperor, a real man speaks and keeps his promise, I can’t tell him then I won’t tell him, but I can prevent those three turtles from succeeding.”

Just when he was going out the door, Chen Jinnan, taking Gu Zhizhong and Ma Chaoxing, arrived. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly. “How could you arrive so quickly?” he thought in his heart. Without any choice he raised his spirit to prepare the reception banquet.

Not long afterwards one after another Tian Di Hui warriors arrived in small groups, followed by Mu Jiansheng, leading his companions, the Iron Back Blue Dragon Liu Dahong, Shaking-Head Lion Wu Lishen, Divine Physician Hermit Su Gang and the others also arrived. Actually Mu Palace people were already in Beijing; they came together after they received the information about the conference.

Everybody finished eating and drinking, and waited for quite a long time before the three Gui Family arrived. Wei Xiaobao ordered his servants to prepare another banquet. “We already ate,” Gui Erniang said indifferently.

Gui Zhong glanced around; looking at the grand and luxurious mansion he said, “Baby, the appearance of your house is not too far below Ping Xi Wang’s Wuhua Palace. You did not lie, Wu Sangui is indeed your Bofu [father’s elder brother].”

“Right,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Wu Sangui is your …” when he said the word ‘your’, suddenly he closed his mouth, thinking that if blurted out that sentence casually, Shifu must be angry with him. Thereupon he changed his statement to, “Since the three of you have already eaten, please come to the eastern hall to have some tea.”

They all went to the eastern hall to enjoy some green tea and light refreshments, and then Wei Xiaobao sent all the servants out. Chen Jinnan also sent a dozen or so Society brethren to guard around and on the roof of the hall before he closed the door, bolted it, and started the meeting.

Chen Jinnan introduced Gui family husband and wife with the Mu Palace people, but he did not mention anything about Wu Liuqi. Although Gui family husband and wife had lived in seclusion for a long time, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen, and the others were still full of admirations, they were very respectful to them.

Gui Erniang got straight to the point, “After declaring war Wu Sangui attacked Hunan and Sichuan. The power of his troops is very sharp, as they swept everything. Although in the past Wu Sangui surrendered to the Tatars and forfeited the Great Ming’s world, his crime was great, his evil extreme, but he is, after all, still one of our Han people. In our Gui Er Ye’s [second master] opinion, we want to enter the Palace and assassinate the Tatar Emperor, so that the Tatars will be like a dragon without a head, and will be thrown into confusion. Gentlemen, what’s your wise opinion?”

Mu Jiansheng said, “Surely the Tatar Emperor ought to be killed, but if we do that, won’t that mean we give Wu Sangui that traitor a big help?”

Gui Erniang said, “In the past Wu Sangui killed Mu Wangye, naturally Mu Gongzi does not want to let him off. But the distinction between Manchurian and Han is of utmost importance, we must kill the Tatars first, it won’t be too late to slowly deal with Wu Sangui later.”

Liu Dahong said, “If in this rebellion Wu Sangui triumphs over the opponent, he himself will become the Emperor; to shake him later will not be easy. In Wanbei’s [Junior] opinion, we’ll let the Tatars and Wu Sangui massacre each other, fighting desperately against each other until you die, I live. And then we’ll reap the benefit of spreading the net over them. Thus Junior believes that it is inadvisable to assassinate the Tatar Emperor right now.” Although he had a chin full of white beard, Gui Family husband and wife had made their name long time ago, thus the reason he called himself ‘Junior’. Mu Palace’s enmity against Wu Sangui was as deep as the ocean; they would be very pleased to see his destruction first.

Gui Erniang said, “Wu Sangui is fighting for the Ming to demand prisoner of war, to rise the banner in assistance of the Third Zhu Crown Prince to ascend the throne. Here we have dispatch order from Wu Sangui, everybody please see.” From her pocket she took a large sheet of paper and spread it out on the table.

Chen Jinnan immediately read it aloud, “Former Shanhai Pass Guard Zongbing, current grand marshal under imperial orders to preside over water and land under the heaven, great general Wu to rise the Ming to demand prisoner of war, writing to make all civil and military officers, government officers, military soldiers and common citizens under the heavens know: our garrison profoundly received the benefit of the Great Ming’s nobility rank, to unite the garrisons of the Shanhai Pass …”

Chen Jinnan knew that most warriors did not understand literature; he read several sentences, then explained these sentences. After explaining clearly the first paragraph, he continued reading. The following section explained how Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, how Chongzhen returned to Heaven, how in order to avenge his lord father’s enmity he acted against his will to turn toward Manchurian Qing’s troops and gave them the opportunity to break in. After that he said, “Fortunately the main offender received favor under successive rulers, inherited command, received duty to guard the border, compensated the Manchu tribal chief. Caught unprepared by the deceit of going against the oath to the Heaven, availing myself to my inner void, grandly I seize Yanjing [old name for Beijing]. Humbly I become the divine tool of the former Dynasty, transforming my China’s crown and lower garment: fully aware that I must repel the entering wolves, and correcting the mistake of carrying firewood to put out a fire.”

Gui Erniang said, “Afterwards he was aware that lending assistance to Manchu troop was wrong, unfortunately it was too late.”

“Humph,” Liu Dahong snorted, “That traitor really know how to talk, it’s all a lie.”

“Chen Zongduozhu,” Gui Erniang said, “Please read on.”

“Yes!” Chen Jinnan said, and continued reading, “Our garrison pierce the heart and vomit blood, my remorse reaches the extreme, desiring to return to the north, wiping out the stench, receiving the late Emperor’s Third Crown Prince. The Crown Prince was only three years old, he did not remember the assassination, he lived as an orphan, he depended on his ancestor’s associates. For the time being drinking blood, waiting patiently, growing up in the dark waiting for an opportunity, selecting generals training soldiers, secretly drawing plans to rise and restore, until today, thirty years later!”

Listening to this part, Liu Dahong could not hold his patience any longer. He slapped the table and said, “Fart! Fart! This thief with a heart of wolf and lungs of dog whom the Heaven and the Earth cannot tolerate, if he really have half a heart of rising and restoring the Great Ming, why did he murder Emperor Yongli in the past? The Crown Prince Yongli! This matter is well known throughout the world, how would you deny that?”

When the crowd of heroes saw the look of Liu Dahong’s halberd-like eyebrows, none did not admire his loyalty. They thought that the fact that twelve years ago in Kunming City Wu Sangui hanged Emperor Yongli, father and son, could not be disputed.

Gui Erniang said, “Liu Dage is not wrong, Wu Sangui is definitely not a loyal subject or a patriot, even a three-year old knows that. The reason we want to assassinate the Tatar Emperor is to fight the Qing and restore the Ming, it is not to help Wu Sangui to become the Emperor.”

Chen Jinnan said, “Let me finish reading this dispatch order, everybody may take your time in reaching the decision.” He continued reading, “And now, to capture the tyrannical tribal chief, crafty and evil person of high status, let the scholars of righteousness and justice, colleagues who know: narrow-minded generation, all occupying prominent post …” Reading to this point, he laughed toward Wei Xiaobao and said, “Xiaobao, this sentence is talking about you.”

Listening to his Shifu reading the document, Wei Xiaobao only felt that his intonation, the falling and rising of his voice was very pleasant to hear. Suddenly he heard that Wu Sangui’s document was mentioning him, he could not help but was pleasantly surprised. “Shifu,” he hastily asked, “What did he say about me? That fellow can’t be talking anything good about me.”

Chen Jinnan said, “He said that well-educated, virtuous good men only become sesame-seed and mung-bean petty officials; those fellows without any skill whatsoever can be high-ranking officer. Isn’t he talking about you?”

“What about himself?” Wei Xiaobao said, “His official rank is higher than mine; wouldn’t it mean that he is more useless than I am?”

Everybody roared in laughter; they said, “That’s right! No one in the imperial court has a higher official position than Ping Xi Qin Wang.”

The final paragraph of the document said, “The mountains miserable the water anxious, women cry children sob, to such an extent as the comets fell the sky above shows its wrath, the landslide the soil cracks, the earth below voices its complaint. Our garrison look upward to observe and look down to examine, in sincerity dispatching expedition against cruelty to rescue the people, obeying the Heaven responding to the people’s days. Lovingly forecasting the first day of the first month of the Jiayin year [51st year of the 60-year cycle], respectfully presenting to the Crown Prince, offering sacrifice to inform the heaven and earth, in veneration ascending the great treasure. Establishing the first Zhou consultant.”

Finished reading, Chen Jinnan explained the document. With the exception of Chen Jinnan and Mu Jiansheng two people, these people had never read any literary works, they all thought that this dispatch order seemed to be clear and logical; if there was anything not right in it, they could not tell.

Mu Jiansheng pondered deeply for a moment before saying, “Chen Zongduozhu, if he wanted to present tribute to the Third Crown Prince Zhu and offer him to ascend the Great Treasure, why didn’t he reinstating the Great Ming’s dynasty title, but wanted to change the dynasty title to Zhou? There must be a very big hole in his argument. Let alone we do not know if the Third Crown Prince Zhu or what have you is real or fake; nobody has ever heard anything about him, but all of a sudden he appeared without a head without a brain. Most likely Wu Sangui went out to find a child who does not understand anything, and called him the Third Crown Prince Zhu to appeal to the heart of the people, while in reality he would use him as a puppet.” Everybody nodded their agreement.

Gui Erniang said, “Wu Sangui uses the Third Crown Prince Zhu as his puppet, naturally I do not doubt it. Whether this person is real or fake, there is not much difference. It’s just that the Third Crown Prince Zhu is not a little child, the late Emperor died for his country already thirty years ago, if the Third Crown Prince Zhu is real, at least he would also be in his thirties.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Thirty something baby who does not understand anything is not nonexistent, hee … hee …” While saying that he cast a glance toward Gui Zhong.

Several warriors were not able to stifle their laughter. Gui Erniang’s eyebrows stood up, she was about to lose her temper, but then she had a second thought: Wei Xiaobao was right, her own precious son was already over thirty years of age, but he was still a little baby who did not understand anything. She could not help sighing softly.

They talked for a long time. Some proposed to leave Kangxi alone and get rid of Wu Sangui first, and then draw a plan to restore the country; some thought that although Wu Sangui was crafty and evil, in the end he was still a Han, they ought to help him driving out the Tatars, after the Han people’s rivers and mountains were restored, then they would remove him. They kept debating on and on but could not reach the final conclusion. After a long time, they all turned their eyes toward Chen Jinnan, knowing that he was resourceful, certainly he would have a wise opinion.

Chen Jinnan said, “We attach most importance to our country. If at this moment we kill Kangxi, admittedly Wu Sangui’s momentum will get a lot of boost. But Taiwan’s Zheng Wangye can also cross the ocean and attack to the west; their troops could enter via Fujian and Zhejiang, and attacked straight toward Jiangsu. With this east-west converging attack, the Tatars will definitely collapse. At that time, if Wu Sangui wants to be the Emperor, Zheng Wangye’s force, combined with Mu Palace, Tian Di Hui and heroes from all over the world will be able to control and overpower him.”

Su Gang coldly said, “By saying that, isn’t Chen Zongduozhu leaning somewhat heavily toward the Taiwan’s Zheng Wangye?”

Chen Jinnan replied sternly, “Zheng Wangye’s loyalty is well-known throughout the world, could it be that Su Xiong did not believe him?”

Su Gang said, “Chen Zongduozhu is loyal, brave and chivalrous, everybody respect and submit to you. But by Zheng Wangye’s side, devious and despicable lowly people are abounded.”

Wei Xiaobao could not bear not to speak up, “That is absolutely correct; take that ‘One Sword Without Blood’ Feng Xifan for example, and then there is Zheng Wangye’s younger son Zheng Keshuang. They all are not good people.”

Hearing that Wei Xiaobao did not align himself with him, Chen Jinnan was slightly surprised; but thinking that what he said was not wrong, he could not refrain from heaving a sigh.

Gui Erniang said, “Driving out the Tatars is the most important task; as for who will be the Emperor, we have no right to interfere. Fighting the Qing is something we have to do, whether we restore the Ming or not, there is no harm in discussing it slowly. Emperor Chongzhen of the Great Ming was not a good thing anyway.”

Chen Jinnan and Mu Palace warriors had always been loyal to Zhu Family of Ming; as soon as they heard that, their countenances changed greatly. Mu Jiansheng said, “If we fail to support the offspring of the Zhu Clan to regain the throne, won’t that mean we are supporting that big traitor Wu Sangui?”

Gui Zhong suddenly said, “Wu Sangui is a good man. He gave me this white tiger skin to be made as my robe. Have you seen it?” While saying that, he opened up the lapel of his robe to expose the white tiger skin underneath, seemingly very pleased with himself.

Gui Erniang said, “Child, don’t talk nonsense in here.”

With a cold laugh Su Gang said, “In Gui Shaoye’s opinion, a leather robe is more important than our Han’s rivers and mountains.”

“Child,” Gui Erniang angrily said, “Take that leather robe off!”

Gui Zhong was shocked, “But why?” he asked.

Gui Xinshu stretched out his hand to pull the sword hanging on his son’s waist. White light flashed, ‘swish, swish!’ the sword in Gui Xinshu’s hand continuously flitted across his son’s chest, back, shoulders and arms. Everybody was shocked; they all leaped back from their chairs, they thought Gui Xinshu was killing his son. But then they saw that the leather robe Gui Zhong was wearing had become seventeen or eighteen pieces, falling around his body, revealing the short silk, cotton-padded undergarments. Gui Xinshu’s sword moved very fast; it cut the leather robe into pieces, yet it did not touch the cotton-padded silk undergarments at all. When the crowd of warriors had seen clearly, they all cheered.

Gui Zhong was so scared that he could only stared blankly, while coughing incessantly. He almost cried as he said, “Dad … (cough, cough) … (cough, cough) … Dad … (cough) … I …”

Gui Xinshu waved his hand, the sword went back into its sheath, and then he took off his own cotton robe and draped it over his son’s body. “Put it on!” he said.

Gui Erniang picked up the pieces of white tiger skin from the floor and threw them into the blazing stove; immediately the fire blazed higher, a burst of burning leather smell arose, the white tiger was gradually burned into ashes. “What a pity, what a pity,” Wei Xiaobao repeatedly stated.

“Let’s go,” Gui Xinshu said. He pulled his son’s hand and led him toward the door.

Chen Jinnan said, “Gui Er Xia is going to attempt great things, we would like to offer some plans.”

“I do not dare!” Gui Xinshu said, “No need!” While saying that, he walked toward the door of the hall.

Wei Xiaobao knew Gui Xinshu was going to make his move at once, it would be too late to inform the Emperor, he must use all kinds of delaying tactics. Blocking in front of Gui Xinshu, he said in a loud voice, “The number of rooms in the Palace, if not ten thousands, then there are at least five thousands. Do you know where the Tatar Emperor live?”

Gui Xinshu was startled; he realized these words made a lot of sense. Turning his head around he asked, “Do you?”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Nobody does,” he said, “Tatar Emperor is afraid someone might come to assassinate him, each night he moves from place to place to sleep. Sometimes he sleeps at the Chang Chun [eternal spring (season)] Palace, sometimes he sleeps at the Jing Yang [Bright (scenery) Positive] Palace, sometimes he sleeps at the Xian Fu [harmonious good fortune] Palace, Yan Xi [extended joy] Palace, or perhaps at the Li Jing [beautiful scenery] Pavilion, Yu Hua [rain flower] Loft, or Yu Qing [nurturing (a child) celebration] Palace.” In one breath he mentioned seven or eight different Palace or Pavilion names.

Listening to him, Gui Xinshu frowned. Wei Xiaobao added, “Even the court eunuchs and Imperial Bodyguards who serve on the Emperor’s side do not know where the Emperor will sleep tonight.”

“So how are we going to find the Emperor?” Gui Xinshu asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “When the Emperor holds the morning audience, all civil and military officials will see him. As he entered the building, he will come to see you, others will never find him.” Actually the situation was not as dire as he made it to be, Kangxi did not frequently move around to lie down, but Gui Xinshu, husband and wife, were ‘uncultivated land’ and ‘cloth clothes’; how could they know the Imperial Palace’s inner courtyards’ practices? Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s crazy nonsense, they thought that the Emperor taking strict precautions against assassins was rightly so, hence they were greatly hesitating.

Looking at Gui Xinshu’s expression, Wei Xiaobao knew that he realized the difficulty of this situation; in his heart Wei Xiaobao was very pleased. “Gui Laoyezi [old master],” he asked, “Do you know how many concubines the Emperor has?”

“Humph,” Gui Xinshu snorted; he stared at Wei Xiaobao without saying anything.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The storytellers said that the Emperor has three palaces and six courtyards, the chambers of imperial concubines’ beautiful girls … beautiful women are around three thousand. The Tatar Emperor does not have that many wives, I don’t think he has three thousand, but I’ll say he has at least eight or nine hundreds. Every night he becomes the groom; today he sleeps at the 351st imperial concubine’s room, tomorrow he’ll sleep at the 634th imperial concubine’s room. Even the imperial concubines themselves will not know where the Emperor will spend the night. They might have to wait three years, four years, and still do not know if the Emperor is coming or not.”

“Xiaobao,” Chen Jinnan said, “You have lived in the Palace for a long time, you must know a way to find the Emperor.”

Wei Xiaobao replied, “During the day it is easy to find him, but in the night, no matter what I have no idea how to find him.”

Chen Jinnan said, “In that case, during the day tomorrow we disguise ourselves and with you leading us, we’ll sneak into the Palace to execute the mission. Last time didn’t you take Qian Xiongdi and Wu Er Ge in and out of the Palace?” While saying that he pointed to Qian Laoben and Wu Lishen, two men.

“Qian Dage only went as far as the imperial kitchen,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as Wu Er Ge and the others entered the Palace, the bodyguards … the bodyguards discovered them. To see the Emperor’s face, it was still a hundred and eight thousand li away. Qian Dage, Wu Er Ge, don’t you agree?”

Qian and Wu, two men, nodded their heads. The two of them knew that to enter the Palace and look for the Emperor was like fishing a needle from the bottom of the ocean.

“Disciple has a way,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“What way?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Disciple is going to see the Emperor tomorrow, he will surely want to talk about Wu Sangui’s rebellion, how to send the troops to fight, disciple will advise him to come out and inspect the cannon. As long as he is out of the Palace, it would be a lot easier to make our move. Whether the assassination attempt is successful or not, we can put oil on the soles of our feet, and will be able to escape a lot easier; it will be a lot less dangerous.”

With a cold laugh Gui Erniang said, “So the Emperor will listen to you, a baby? If you do not come out of the Palace for three years, do you think we should wait for three years? You use all sorts of excuses, in the end you are not willing to lead us in, is that it?”

Mu Jiansheng said, “To enter the Palace and assassinate the Emperor, Xiongdi has done it. It was shameful actually, our Mu Palace lost quite a number of Xiongdi. My own little sister, along with Fang Shimei, also this Wu Shishu, as well as two other Shidi, were trapped inside the Palace and met quite an unexpected fate. Fortunately we received Wei Xiangzhu’s help for the sake of loyalty before we could get out of the danger. It’s not that we are coward who are afraid to die, this matter is truly difficult to succeed.”

Gui Erniang looked coldly at Wei Xiaobao; she asked, “You can rescue them out of danger?”

Wu Lishen hastily said, “Although Wei Xiangzhu is young, his benevolence and righteousness surpass others, he is quick-witted and smart; Xiongdi owes my life entirely to him.”

Gui Erniang said, “Mu Palace failed, that does not necessarily mean that surnamed Gui will also fail for sure.”

Liu Dahong stood up abruptly and said, “Gui Family husband and wife are Divine Fist Without Equal; it’s only natural that you surpass us, tiny Mu Palace, by a hundredfold. I would suggest you go at once, we will be waiting in here for good news.”

A brother from Great Benevolence Hall said, “Wei Xiangzhu, you’d better also go to the Palace. Wait until the Gui Family Three Da Xia [big hero] are captured by the Tatar bodyguards, you’d better find a way to rescue them.” He was still bitter over the Gui Family, three people murdered Wu Liuqi, so that even though they were in the presence of their Zongduozhu, he could not refrain from mocking them a bit.

Wei Xiaobao cursed in his heart, “If the three of you turtles enter the Palace and are caught, even if my head is chopped I won’t save you out.” He laughed and said, “How can the Gui Family Three Da Xia be caught by the Tatar bodyguards? There are more than eight thousand Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace, Gui Shaoye only needs to cough several times, these more than eight thousand guards will have their brains shaken and die.” Quite a number of people from Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace broke out in laughter.

Gui Zhong laughed. “Is there really such thing?” he said, “That will be really fun. So they are afraid to hear my (cough … cough, cough) …? (Cough, cough) … (cough, cough) …” The Gui couple was furious; one of them grabbed their son’s arm and the three of them walked out side-by-side.

“Gui Er Xia,” Chen Jinnan said, “Please calm down. Xiongdi has a plan.”

Gui Erniang always knew that Chen Jinnan was full of stratagems; she turned around, waiting for him to continue.

Chen Jinnan said, “Gui Er Xia virtuous husband and wife are exceptionally skillful in martial arts, you are unequaled in the present age, but you are entering a very dangerous ground, all in all there will be multitude of enemies, but only a few friends. We’d better discuss a foolproof plan to …”

Gui Erniang cut him off, “I thought Chen Zongduozhu really had a brilliant idea, humph!” Turning around again, she walked toward the door.

Liu Dahong and Wu Lishen suddenly rushed forward and blocked the door. Liu Dahong said, “If the two of you want to help Wu Sangui, we from Mu Palace absolutely will not allow it to happen.”

“What?” Gui Erniang said, “You want to fight?”

Liu Dahong said, “The two of you might better kill me and my martial brothers clean first before going out this door to lend a hand to Wu Sangui.”

“Who says we are going to lend a hand to Wu Sangui?” Gui Erniang said.

Liu Dahong said, “Although the two of you do not have any intention to help that traitor Wu, but if you succeed, that traitor Wu’s momentum will gain a lot of boost, he cannot be controlled anymore.”

“Get out of the way,” Gui Xinshu said in a low voice, while taking a step forward.

Liu Dahong spread his arms to block the door. Gui Xinshu stretched his left hand forward to grab Liu Dahong’s chest. Liu Dahong raised his hand to parry, ‘smack!’ two palms collided, Liu Dahong’s body swayed two times, his entire face turned deathly pale. “I only used fifty-percent of my power,” Gui Xinshu said.

Wu Lishen shook his head and said, “There is no harm in you using a hundred-percent of your power so that all of us martial brothers will die violently.”

Gui Zhong said, “You want a hundred-percent, I’ll give you a hundred-percent.” He raised both hands, one bent close to his body, the other outstretched. Wu Lishen stretched out his arm to parry. Gui Zhong pulled his hand back, Wu Lishen struck an empty space. Gui Zhong seized the opportunity when Wu Lishen was about to pull his hand back, quick as lightning his hands grabbed the acupoints on Wu Lishen’s chest and waist.

Chen Jinnan rushed forward to stop them. “We are all good friends here,” he persuaded, “Let’s not use force.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “We all argue incessantly, in the end we still don’t have any solution. Let’s do it this way: we throw dice, leave it all to luck. If Gui Laoyezi wins, not only we will not hinder the three of you from entering the Palace, Wanbei [junior] will explain in details the situation in the Palace to the two of you.”

“And if you win?” Gui Erniang asked.

Wei Xiaobao replied, “In that case we will put this matter on the shelf for the time being, after Wu Sangui is dead, we will make our move against the Emperor.”

Gui Erniang thought, “If we do it on our own, Mu Family will most likely go to inform the Tatars, in the end this matter will be difficult to accomplish. We might as well listen to him.” She turned to ask her husband, “Er Ye [second master], what do you think?”

Gui Xinshu said to Wei Xiaobao, “If you lose you must not go back on your word.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “A real man gave his words, dead horses cannot pull it back. The Tatar young Emperor is not my laozi [old man], why would I want to protect him? It’s just that if we win, we must win it heroically, if we lose, we must lose gracefully. No matter who wins or loses, we must not harm our friendship.”

Chen Jinnan thought that his last sentence made a lot of sense; he said, “This matter involves great responsibility, in the end it will affect the calamity or good fortune of our great undertaking of restoring our country; it is difficult to predict. People of old used divination when they were in doubt, we will roll the dice, the idea is the same. Everybody needs not argue opinionatedly, let’s depend on the Will of Heaven.”

Gui Erniang said, “Child, let him go.”

“I won’t,” Gui Zhong replied.

“This little brother wants to play with you by rolling the dice,” Gui Erniang said.

Gui Zhong was delighted; immediately he relinquished his grip, releasing the acupoint on Wu Lishen’s chest. Wu Lishen felt the pain on the pit of his stomach was unbearable, his breathing could not flow freely, he shook his head continuously.

“Gui Shaoye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please take your dice out. We’ll use yours.”

“Dice?” Gui Zhong asked, “I don’t have any. Do you have some?”

“I don’t have it either,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Who has some dice?” he asked around. Everybody slowly shook their head, they all thought, “We are not rotten gambling ghost, who would carry dice everywhere?”

Gui Erniang said, “No dice, we’ll flip a coin.”

“Throwing dice is more fair,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Genuine goods at fair prices, cheating neither old nor young. I am a boy, Gui Shaoye is an old gentleman, thus it is clear that we must throw dice. I am sure one of the personal guards would have some dice; I’ll go ask.” Finished speaking, he pulled the bolt, open the door, and went out of the hall.

He went out of the eastern hall, entered the main hall, and fetched six dice from his pouch. The dice were the talisman that he carried everywhere, but if he took out dice on the spot, Gui Family husband and wife would definitely suspect him. He sat down in the main hall for a moment before returning to the east hall and said with a laugh, “I found some dice.”

“How do you decide winning or losing?” Gui Erniang asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “The trick in throwing dice, I don’t understand the least bit. Gui Shaoye, how do you say we must gamble?”

Gui Zhong picked up two dice and said, “You and I compete in accuracy.” His finger flicked, ‘chi, chi!’ the two dice flew and extinguished two candles, followed by ‘pop, pop!’ the two dice embedded itself into the wooden partition. The crowd of warriors broke into praise, “Good skill!”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I have seen people throwing the dice; it’s a competition of the number of dots, big or small, not a competition of secret projectile throwing skill.”

“That’s right!” Gui Erniang said, “The two of you throw one time, who has the bigger number of dots wins.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Only throwing one time, maybe his luck is really good, all at once he rolls thirty-six dots.” Thereupon he said, “Let’s do it this way: each one of us will throw three times, two out of three will win.”

Gui Zhong thought that the more they throw the dice the more he would have fun. He said, “Each one of us will throw three hundred times, whoever wins two hundred times will be considered the winners.”

“That will be too much trouble,” Gui Erniang said, “Each one throwing three times is enough.”

Xu Tianchuan pulled the two dice embedded into the wooden partition and put them on the table. “Gui Shaoye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You throw first.”

Gui Zhong picked up the dice, and with a giggle he was ready to throw. “Hold on!” Gui Erniang said. Turning her head, he asked Liu Dahong and Mu Jiansheng, “If we win this game, will Mu Palace be considered lost too?”

Just now Liu Dahong exchanged a palm strike with Gui Xinshu, the blood and chi in his chest was still bubbling up, by this time he had not been able to regulate it yet; he thought that the opponent had said that he was only using fifty-percent of his power, this man was a senior hero, it must be not an empty word. If he really wanted to go to the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, based on Mu Palace’s power alone, how could they stop him? Thereupon he nodded. Mu Jiansheng said, “Let the Heaven reveal its will, the decision will be based entirely on the throw of the two gentlemen.”

“Very well!” Gui Erniang said. Turning to Gui Zhong she said, “Throw it! The bigger the number of dots the better.”

Gui Zhong examined the dice carefully. He said, “The biggest number of dots is six, the smallest is two, and then there is this big indentation here.”

“That big indentation is one dot,” Gui Erniang said.

Gui Zhong said, “It’s so weird, the four dots are red.” Waving his right palm, ‘Slap!’ the six dice went into the tabletop, all top surfaces had six dots on them. Turned out he arranged the dice on his palm, with all dice have one dot facing up, so that when he slammed the dice down, naturally all six dots were facing up.

Everybody was stunned, but they were also amused. This tuberculosis ghost seemed too weak to stand up to the wind, yet his internal energy was surprisingly this deep; but where in the world would there be throwing dice technique like this?

“Child,” Gui Erniang said, “That’s not the way to throw the dice.” Stretching out her palm, she slapped the table once, the six dice immediately jumped up. Everybody cheered. Gui Erniang picked up the dice and rolled it gently. She said, “Whatever dots come up, that will be the number of dots you get. You can’t rely on your own desire.”

“So that’s how you do it,” Gui Zhong said. Imitating his mother’s movement, he picked up the dice and gently tossed them on the table. The dice rolled. When they stopped, the number of dots was twenty. Six dice produced twenty dots, the chance of winning was slightly higher.

Wei Xiaobao picked up the dice, his little finger pushed a little bit, he was secretly employing his trick, and then he shouted, “Eat ‘em all!” while throwing the dice away. Five dice stopped to show seventeen dots, the last dice continued rolling. Based on Wei Xiaobao’s skill in cheating, the last die should stop at six dots, bringing the total to twenty-three dots, then he would win the first throw. Who would have thought that the die suddenly tripped into a little hole on the table, one of the holes created by Gui Zhong when he slammed the dice just a moment ago. The die shook slightly and stopped rolling altogether. The top surface showed one dot. Eighteen dots; he lost.

Wei Xiaobao said, “There are holes on the table, this one did not count.”

He picked up the dice and was about to throw again. Chen Jinnan shook his head and said, “This is the Will of Heaven, you lost the first round.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “There are two more throws, I will definitely win.” He handed the dice to Gui Zhong.

Gui Zhong won the first round, he was extremely pleased with himself. He gently rolled the dice, but only got nine dots. When Mu family people saw that this round his lost was guaranteed, they could not help but standing up and cheering.

Wei Xiaobao walked around the table to another corner, far from the six little holes, and threw the dice over there. Unexpectedly he got four dice at six dots each, and two dice at five dots each, bringing the total to thirty-four. Any combination of two dice already won. The victory was completely without any surprise without any risk.

Both sides had won one round each, the third throw would decide win or loss. Gui Zhong threw the dice. Six dice rolled around for a good while, finally they stopped at thirty-one dots, the chance of winning was very high. Anxiety reappeared on the Mu Family’s people’s faces, thinking that to beat these thirty-one dots they would need enormous good luck. But Wei Xiaobao was not worried at all, he thought, “I will use the same trick, I’ll throw thirty-four dots to beat you.”

With little finger pressed on the hollow of his palm, he set up the position of the dice and then gently rolled them out. He saw the six dice rolled on the table and stopped one by one; six dots, five dots, five dots, six dots … the first four dice all produced big numbers, he already had twenty-two dots. The fifth die also stopped at six dots, bringing the total to twenty-eight dots. The last die was still spinning. If it stopped at three, it would be a draw, then they would have to throw another round. One or two dots would mean he lost; four, five or six would give him victory. His chance of winning was 60%. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Even if it is three dots and we have to throw one more time, you won’t necessarily have the same good luck.”

The last die seemed to roll endlessly; they saw that it was going to land on six. “Good!” he shouted excitedly. Suddenly the die flipped over and rolled again. He was stunned. “There’s a ghost!” he cried out.

When he took a glance, he saw Gui Xinshu was blowing gently toward the dice. Right this moment, the die stopped rolling, the big indentation was facing up to the morning sky. It was one dot. Everybody shouted in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked and angered at the same time, he had seen people cheating in dice countless times, but to see people blowing on the dice to flip it over, this was his very first time; he had never even heard about it before. This old man’s internal energy was outstanding to the extreme, he was able to blow a thin stream of air; not only he was able to turn the six dots into one, perhaps when Gui Zhong threw thirty-on dots just now, it was not entirely due to his good luck in gambling, but because his laozi [old man] on the side was blowing air to help him. With face bulging red he shouted, “Gui Laoyezi, you … you … (whoosh, whoosh, whoosh)!” While saying that he pursed his lips to blow.

“Twenty-nine dots, you lose!” Gui Xinshu said. Reaching out, he picked the six dice and pinched them between his thumb and middle-finger. ‘Crack!’ the dice shattered, a few drops of mercury flowed out; the drops scattered around the tabletop and immediately turned into hundreds or perhaps thousands of small beads, which rolled everywhere.

Gui Zhong clapped his hands and cheered, “It’s fun, it’s fun! What is that thing? It looks like water, but also looks like silver.”

Seeing Gui Xinshu was exposing the mercury inside the dice to artificially increase their weight, Wei Xiaobao knew he could not argue over him blowing the dice. Pretending to be amazed, he said, “Turns out there is some mercury inside the dice. Laoyezi, you have taught Junior something new. The dice are made of ox bones, today I learned that mercury also come from cows. Previously I thought that it was silver plus water turned into mercury. Cows can cultivate soil, they also can produce mercury. Amazing, amazing!”

Gui Erniang ignored his nonsense; she said, “Anybody has anything else to say? Wei Xiongdi, please explain in details the situation of the Imperial Palace.”

Wei Xiaobao cast a glance toward his Shifu. Chen Jinnan nodded his head, saying, “It’s the Will of Heaven, you must explain honestly to the two Seniors.” He knew this disciple of his was very crafty, hence he added the word ‘honestly’.

Wei Xiaobao’s mind was churning; he had an idea, he said, “Since I have lost, naturally I can’t renege on the result of the bet. A real man steals, robs and cheats is not a big deal, but betting result must be honored. There are too many rooms in the Imperial Palace, even if I explain everything I can’t make you understand. I’ll draw a picture. Xu San Ge, Qian Dage, please accompany the guests, I’ll make the drawing.” Cupping his fist toward everybody, he turned around, walked out of the hall, and entered his study room.

This earl mansion was given to him by Prince Kang, inside the study room, the books filled the wall, writing brush and ink stone was prepared on the table. Wei Xiaobao was afraid his gambling luck would turn bad, books and loss [‘shu’ and ‘shu’] are homophone; normally he would not enter this Study Room [‘shu fang’ – book room, library] even for half a step. Right now he sat in front of the desk and shouted, “Grind the ink!” He had already summoned his personal attendant to serve him.

The Bojue Daren [Earl] has never written any letter, the personal attendant was bewildered, but his face showed admiration. Immediately he pulled himself together and started to work. He put fresh water into the antique purple coiled dragon stone ink slab that used to belong to Wang Xizhi[1], took the pine-black fragrant ink that was a leftover from Chu Suiliang[2] of the Tang Dynasty, pressed it by applying force from his wrist to his finger, and then while holding his breath and with full concentration ground the ink on the ink-stone to make thick liquid ink. From the brush container he fetched a writing brush made of mottled bamboo inlaid with silver, with best quality goat hair, manufactured by Zhao Meng of Huzhou. And then he spread a piece of gold-patterned jade edition note-paper, manufactured under imperial orders of Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, on the desk. Lastly, he lighted a dragon-essence musk-fragrance incense stick on the burner just like when Madame usually wrote letters, before waiting respectfully for Bojue Daren to start writing. When everything was set up, it was like: ‘Zhong Wang Ou Chu Yan Liu Zhao, it was a shame that everybody was inferior to Wei Xiaobao’. [Translator’s note: Not sure what it means, but the first line was a bunch of surnames, some of them appeared in the description of the product he was using (Wang Xizhi, Chu Suiliang, Zhao Meng, etc.)]

Wei Xiaobao bent his palm like a tiger claw, using qinna [grab and capture/grappling] power he grabbed the shaft of the brush, dipped it into the ink until the brush was soaked, suddenly with a light ‘plop!’ a large drop of ink dripped from the tip of the brush onto the paper, immediately staining the gold-patterned jade edition note-paper. The personal attendant thought, “Turns out Bojue Daren is not writing letters, he is going to paint, Liang-calligraphy style, by splashing ink onto the paper.” But then he saw him making a straight vertical line down on the left of the dot, as if he was drawing a curvy tree trunk. And then on the left of the tree trunk he lightly put another dot. It appeared like the northern school’s Li Sixun’s hatchet hacking style, or perhaps the southern school’s Wang Mojie’s draping hemp cloth style. It was definitely a combination of the two schools’, north and south, major styles.

The attendant had always been serving in the study room, he had quite a bit of ink in his belly [i.e. literary knowledge]; while he was sighing in admiration, suddenly he heard the Earl asked, “Is my ‘Xiao’ [little] character written well?” The attendant jumped in fright; he did not know that Bojue Daren was writing the character ‘Xiao’ [小]. Hastily he uttered some words of praise, saying, “Daren’s penmanship, the stroke from right to left, did not create a square, vertical line from the sky is genius.” [Translator’s note: honestly, I have no idea what he was talking about, perhaps about Chinese strokes?]

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go, summon Zhang Tidu here.”

The attendant complied and went out, thinking, “I wonder what Bojue Daren is going to write next?” But even if he guessed ten thousand times, he would never have guessed correctly.

Actually, after the character ‘Xiao’, Wei Xiaobao drew a circle. Underneath the circle, he drew a horizontal line, something that looked like stiff firewood or shoulder pole, and then a squiggly line like an earthworm passing through the shoulder pole. The earthworm passing through the shoulder pole was actually a ‘Zi’ [子] character. This three-character string was actually Kangxi’s name, ‘Xiao Xuanzi’. Since he did not know how to write the character ‘Xuan’, he substituted it with a circle[3].

He recalled that day when he was a monk in the Qingliang Temple, Kangxi drew some pictures in the imperial decree; Wei Xiaobao was happy and very impressed. Following the example of the Holy Sage, he respectfully copied what he did; today the situation was urgent, hence he submitted the memorial to the throne in drawings.

After writing the name ‘Xiao Xuanzi’, he drew a sword, with the tip of the sword penetrating the circle. If it meant to be a saber, it did not look like a saber, if it meant to be a sword, it did not look like a sword. Just by drawing these, his forehead was drenched in sweats.

He had just finished the drawing when Zhang Yong arrived.

Wei Xiaobao folded the gold-patterned jade edition note-paper and put it in an envelope. He sealed it well and handed it over to Zhang Yong, while saying in a low voice, “Zhang Tidu, this is a very important memorial to the throne. Please deliver it at once to the Palace and present it to His Majesty. Just say that this is my secret memorial, the Imperial Bodyguards and eunuchs will immediately announce your arrival.”

Zhang Yong complied. He received the envelope with both hands, and was about to put it into his pocket when they heard the two personal guards outside the study room asked in chorus, “Who’s there?” The door opened with a bang, three people burst in, they were none other than Gui Family husband and wife and Gui Zhong.

In a glance Gui Erniang saw the memorial in Zhang Yong’s hand; both reached from left and right, she snatched the envelope away, and asked Wei Xiaobao in stern voice, “You are going to inform the Tatar Emperor?”

Wei Xiaobao was so stunned that he could only stare blankly. “No … it’s not … it’s not …” he stammered.

Gui Erniang tore open the envelope, took the letter out and looked at the strange drawing on the paper. She was puzzled. “Look at this!” she said, while handing it over to Gui Xinshu. “What is this?” she asked Wei Xiaobao.

“I told him to go to the kitchen,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I am ordering some … some … some dumpling soup for the guests to eat, the small dumplings, not the big ones. I want some pattern to be carved on the dumplings. He … he did not know what I mean, I drew some picture for him.”

Gui Xinshu and Gui Erniang nodded; their expressions softened. The drawing on the paper indeed looked like carving a pattern on the dumpling with a knife, so he was not trying to inform the Emperor at all.

Wei Xiaobao waved his hand to Zhang Yong and said, “Quickly go, quickly go!” Zhang Yong turned around and exited the study room. Wei Xiaobao said, “Tell them to prepare well, get more people, do it quickly! Everybody is going to eat soon, this is life-and-death situation, must not delay even for a moment.” From the door Zhang Yong replied again.

Gui Erniang said, “It’s just light refreshment, no need to rush. Wei Xiongdi, have you drawn the Imperial Palace map?”

Wei Xiaobao took another sheet of gold-patterned jade edition notepaper, spread it on the desk, and handed the writing brush to Gui Erniang and said, “I tried drawing some, but it was not good. I’ll say, I’d better ask you to draw it.”

Gui Erniang received the brush, sat down, and said, “Very well. Please start.”

Wei Xiaobao thought that he had nothing to conceal, thereupon he started from Wu Men [Meridian Gate], to the north toward Jin Shui Qiao [Golden Water River Bridge]. Turning to the west, passing Hong Yi Ge [great/extensive righteousness pavilion (usually two-storied)], passing Tai He Dian [Hall of Supreme Harmony], Zhong He Dian [Hall of Central Harmony], Bao He Dian [Hall of Preserving Harmony], three main halls, passing Long Zong Men [grand ancestor gate] toward the imperial kitchen; Wei Xiaobao’s origin. From here to the east, passing Qian Qing Men, to Qian Qing Palace[4].

And then turning toward Tai Dian [grand/safe/peaceful palace hall], Kun Ning Gong[5], Yu Huayuan [imperial (flower) garden], Qin An Dian [veneration safe/secure hall]; from the imperial kitchen going north was southern warehouse, Yang Xin Dian [Hall of Mental Cultivation], Yong Shou Gong [Palace of Eternal Longevity], Yi Kun Gong [respectable female (see note) palace], Ti He Dian [body/form harmony hall], Chu Xiu Gong [Palace of Gathering Elegance], Li Jing Xuan [beautiful bright pavilion], Shu Fang Zhai [rinsing fragrance study-room], Chong Hua Gong [repeated magnificent palace].

From here southward was Xian Fu Gong [Palace of Universal Happiness], Chang Chun Gong [Palace of Eternal Spring (season)], Ti Yuan Dian [body/form origin/primary hall], Tai Ji Dian [supreme ultimate hall]. To the west was Yu Hua Ge [rain flower pavilion], Bao Hua Dian [magnificent guardian hall], Shou An Gong [long life safe/secure palace], Ying Hua Dian [brave magnificent hall].

Turning south again was Xi San Suo [western three buildings], Shou Kang Gong [long life healthy palace], Ci Ning Gong [Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful], Ci Ning Huayuan [flower garden], Wu Ying Dian [Hall of Martial Valor]. Out of Wu Ying Men [Gate of Martial Valor], passing the bridge going east, passing Xi He Men [Gate of Prosperous Harmony], going back to Wu Men, was Zijincheng’s [Forbidden City] western half section.

The Gui Family husband and wife listened as he rambled on for half a day, and only covered the western half section of the Imperial Palace. They could not even remember the names of ‘gong dian ge lou’ [palace, hall, pavilion, two-storied buildings], hence they could not help but breaking in cold sweats. Gui Erniang dutifully wrote down the names of palaces and gates. Wei Xiaobao then talked about the palaces and gates of the eastern half section. Fortunately his memory was very good, plus he loved to play around everywhere in the Imperial Palace, hence he was very familiar with it.

Gui Erniang wrote for quite a long time before she finally finished writing the position of the Imperial Palace’s Nine Inner Halls Forty-Eight Residences. She put down the writing brush, took a deep breath, smiled and said, “Sorry to bother Wei Xiongdi to explain everything this clearly. Thank you very much.” When listening to Wei Xiaobao mentioning all the palaces and gates’ names and locations, she noticed that he was talking as if enumerating his own family’s valuables, without the slightest hesitation, hence she presumed that it was the truth. She thought that even if he wanted to fabricate fiction, he did not have that kind of ability.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “This is the price Gui Shaoye collected from winning the dice, you do not need to thank me.” He also said, “The Emperor’s Imperial Bodyguards are usually waiting around the imperial sedan chair station by the Tong Hua Men [east magnificent gate], but now they are at war with Wu Sangui, the Tatar Emperor surely increases security. It may be assumed that in the Forbidden City’s forty-eight residences, there will be Imperial Bodyguards guarding inside.” He thought, “I’d better warn them first, so that when Xiao Xuanzi receives my secret memorial and sends more guards, these three turtles will not suspect me of informing him.”

“That is only natural,” Gui Erniang said.

“Although there are a lot of Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “They are not martial art masters; only there are a lot of them. Manchu people’s archery skill is very formidable, but naturally the three of you do not care about it.”

“Thank you for the advice,” Gui Erniang said, “We’ll take our leave now.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The three of you must eat some dumplings first, so that you will have the strength to work.” Walking to the door, he said loudly, “Guards, send some refreshments here.” The servant waiting outside the door responded loudly.

“No need,” Gui Erniang said. Taking her son’s hand, she exited the study room side-by-side with Gui Xinshu. Both husband and wife thought, “Most likely there will be some trick in your carved dumplings. Why would you carve something on dumplings? We fell into your trick once, we won’t fall the second time.” In Wei Xiaobao’s mansion, these three people did not even drink half a sip of tea.

Wei Xiaobao walked them out of the door; cupping his fist to bid them farewell, he said, “Junior’s eyes are looking towards the report of victory, my ears are waiting for good news.”

Gui Xinshu stretched out his hand toward the Chinese stone lion by the main gate, his palm struck the head of the lion, immediately fragments of stone swirled in the air. With a ‘hey, hey’ cold laugh, he shook his sleeve and left.

Wei Xiaobao stared blankly for half a day; he mused, “If that palm strikes laozi’s head, the feeling won’t be good at all. He is warning me not to spoil their important matter, otherwise he would strike me with his palm.” Stretching out his hand, he also struck the lion’s head with his palm. “Ah!” he cried out, while jumping back; the hollow of his palm hurt really bad. The top of lion’s head was originally very smooth, but because of Gui Xinshu’s palm strike just now quite a bit of stone flaked out that it became jagged and sharp. Wei Xiaobao raised his hand to look at it under the lantern light, fortunately it was not bleeding of cuts.

Returning to the eastern hall, he saw Chen Jinnan and the others were drinking wine. He reported to his Shifu that he had already explain the Forbidden City’s details to the Gui Family husband and wife, and he had just walked the three of them out. Chen Jinnan nodded and said with a sigh, “Even if the Gui Family husband and wife are able to assassinate the Tatar Emperor, I am afraid they won’t be coming back.” The crowd of heroes drank their wine in silence, everybody was busy with their own thought. Occasionally someone would say something, but nobody responded.

More than an hour later, someone outside the door said, “Reporting to Jueye: Zhang Tidu is seeking an audience.”

Wei Xiaobao was inwardly delighted; yet he said, “In the dead of the night, what urgent matter could it be? Tell him I am already asleep, whatever it is can wait until tomorrow.”

“Yes,” the man responded.

Chen Jinnan said in a low voice, “Perhaps some news from the Palace; go and ask.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He went to the main hall and saw Zhao Liangdong, Wang Jinbao and Sun Sike, three men were standing in the main hall, their expressions showed that they were panic-stricken, but he did not see Zhang Yong. Wei Xiaobao was startled. “Where is Zhang Tidu?” he asked in a low voice.

Wang Jinbao said, “Reporting to Daren: Something bad happened to Zhang Tidu, he collapsed outside the mansion’s gate, we brought him to the side room over there.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “How … how did he collapse?” he asked, while rushing toward the side room. He saw Zhang Yong’s eyes were tightly closed, his countenance was deathly pale, the pit of his stomach was moving up and down incessantly. “Zhang Tidu, what happened to you?” Wei Xiaobao called out.

Zhang Yong slowly opened his eyes, “Lowly … lowly …” he said. His eyes turned over and he fainted again. Wei Xiaobao busily reached out to feel his pocket, and found his own memorial was still there. He took out the envelope and sure enough it was his own ‘mist-like pen stroke’ drawing; he could not help but groaning inwardly.

Sun Sike said, “Just now the night patrol captain came to report that they found a military officer fainted on the curb several hundred steps outside the mansion gate. Someone went out to look, and recognized Zhang Tidu, hence they brought him back here. The blood on the back of Zhang Tidu’s head is already dry, apparently he has fainted for quite some time.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He has been unconscious for a long time, the memorial has not been delivered, that means he met misfortune as soon as he was out of the mansion’s gate. Could it be that those three turtles sent people to set an ambush outside the mansion gate because they were afraid I might send someone to inform the Emperor, and thus they made their move against Zhang Tidu?” In his heart he was very anxious.

By this time Zhang Yong had slowly regained his consciousness. Wang Jinbao busily raised the wine pot to let him drink several mouthful of Shaojiu [same as white wine]. Sun Sike and Zhao Liangdong used the Shaojiu to rub Zhang Yong’s palms. Zhang Yong’s spirit was somewhat aroused. “Lowly officer deserves to die,” he said, “Just as I left the mansion gate … not even … several hundred steps, suddenly the pit of my stomach … the pit of my stomach hurt like it was cut by a saber. I endured … endured for several more steps, my eyes suddenly went black, I could not … could not accomplish the task Daren entrusted to me. Lowly officer will immediately … immediately go …” While saying that, he propped himself, trying to get up.

“Zhang Dage, please lie down to rest,” Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “Let these three gentlemen do it, it will be the same.” Handing the memorial to Wang Jinbao, he ordered him and Zhao Liangdong and Su Sike, three men to contact the Imperial Bodyguards and rush to the Imperial Palace to submit the memorial. His heart was anxious, “Those three Guis have already left more than an hour ago, I am afraid Xiao Xuanzi’s life has already gone, we might as well give medicine to a dead horse.” Wang Jinbao and the others, three men, received the order and left.

Zhang Yong said, “That old fellow … old fellow in Daren’s study room has a formidable martial art skill. As I walked out of the study room, he pushed lightly on my … on my back … (cough, cough). At that time I did not feel anything; who would have thought that I have already suffered internal injury. As soon as I left the mansion gate, it … it flared out immediately … I failed Daren’s important task …”

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao understand that although Gui Xinshu saw the memorial was not a report to inform against them, he was still suspicious, hence he secretly dealt Zhang Yong a heavy hand, so that he would not be able to accomplish his mission. Seeing the ashamed look on Zhang Yong’s face, Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “Zhang Dage, set your heart at ease and recuperate, I do not blame you the least bit. Damn it, that old turtle plotted against you, we cannot let it rest.” After comforting Zhang Yong for a while, he ordered his personal guards to prepare some ginseng soup and summon the physician to treat his injury.

Returning to the eastern hall, he said, “That was not news from the Palace. Zhang Tidu is heavily injured by Gui Er Ye, I am afraid his life can’t be guaranteed.”

Everybody was shocked. “Why did he injure Zhang Tidu?” they asked hastily.

Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “Zhang Tidu was patrolling outside the mansion; seeing the three of them exited the mansion, he came forward to question them, Gui Er Ye then sent him a palm strike.”

Everyone nodded. They thought, “An ordinary military officer, how can he endure Shen Quan Wu Di’s little finger?”

Wei Xiaobao was quite regretful, he mused, “If I had known that Zhang Tidu would fall into evil scheme and the memorial could not be delivered to Xiao Xuanzi, I should have not told them the Imperial Palace’s situation that clearly, I should have muddled east, south, west and north randomly. Laozi should move mountains and drain seas for them, changing the Huang Ji Dian to Shou An Gong, Zhong Hua Gong to Wen Hua Dian; let those three turtles wander around in the Imperial Palace, crawling confused and disoriented.”

They sat waiting; they heard the ‘du di du tang tang tang tang’, signaling the fourth night watch period [1 – 3am] from outside the hall. After a while, from the alley some distance away came the sound of barking dogs; they all sprang up while grabbing the hilt of their weapons. Bending their ear to listen attentively, they heard the barks continued for a while before gradually dying down.

After a long while, a faint crow of a single rooster broke the quietness of the night, followed by roosters all around responded. From the lattice of the window they could see the faint streaks of dawn. “It’s daybreak,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must go to the Palace to ask around.”

Chen Jinnan said, “If the Gui Family, husband, wife and son, should meet misfortune and are defeated, you must find a way to save them. Wu Liuqi Dage’s affair was due to misunderstanding; we must not blame them indefinitely. We must attach most importance to virtuous cause and set aside personal matters. Their humiliation to us must not be taken too seriously.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Shifu’s instruction, disciple will hold in high regard. It’s just that … it’s just that if they have already killed the young Emperor, even if disciple stakes my little life, I won’t be able to help them out.” Thinking that most probably by this time the young Emperor had been assassinated by the Gui Family’s three people, he could not stop grief from rising in his heart. Immediately his tears flowed, with a sob he said, “Poor Wu Dage …” Seizing the opportunity, he broke into loud crying.

Mu Jiansheng said, “Regardless of whether the Gui Family husband and wife are successful or fail, today Beijing will be in chaos. Xiongdi has quite a bit of friends outside, I must hurry up and go out to warn them to disperse and hide; after this storm is passed, we’ll talk again.”

“Definitely,” Chen Jinnan said, “Quite a number of our humble Society brethren are also scattered throughout this city, everybody must go out separately to notify all Jianghu friends, we all must be a bit more careful, don’t invite any disaster. Tonight, early tenth hour [5-7 pm] we will meet here again to discuss what we are going to do next.” Everybody agreed.

Immediately four Tian Di Hui brothers were sent out first to go out and scout the situation; after they returned and reported that there was nothing unusual in that vicinity, they left the mansion in small groups.

Wei Xiaobao also went out the door, as it happened, Sun Sike returned, reporting that the memorial had been handed over to the Imperial Bodyguards at the Palace gate. When the Captain of the Imperial Bodyguards heard that it was the Fu Zongguan [Deputy Chief] Wei Daren’s secret memorial, he received it at once and dashed in to present it to the Emperor. The three of them waited outside the Palace gate. Until the fifth drum strike, the Captain had not come out. At this moment Wang Jinbao and Zhao Liangdong, two men, were still waiting outside the Palace gate for the news. Afraid that Wei Xiaobao might be concerned over them, Sun Sike went back to report to him.

“All right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You may go to take care of Zhang Tidu.” Deeply worried and sick at heart, he ordered his personal guards to get the fake empress dowager Mao Dongzhu and put her in a small sedan chair and have her brought to the Palace to have an audience with the Emperor.

Arriving at the Palace gate, he saw all around was quiet, about a dozen or so Imperial Bodyguards at the gate rushed forward to pay their respect; they all giggled and said, “Fu Zongguan must be exhausted. That place, Yangzhou, is very fun.”

Wei Xiaobao was relieved. He thought, “If the Palace is in great confusion, they would not be in the mood to chat about Yangzhou with me.” He smiled and nodded his head. “These days,” he asked, “Is everybody all right?”

“Relying on Fu Zongguan’s good fortune, from top to bottom we are all safe and sound,” an Imperial Bodyguard replied, “Only that old fellow Wu Sangui is rebelling, making His Majesty very busy. In the dead of the night he often summons cabinet minister to the Palace to discuss official business.” Wei Xiaobao was even more relieved.

Another Imperial Bodyguard said with a laugh, “With Zongguan Daren back in the Capital, you can help His Majesty handling important matter, His Majesty would have a bit more time for leisure.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “You need not pat the horse’s butt. The stuff I brought back from Yangzhou, good Xiongdi all will have some share, nobody will be lacking.” The Imperial Bodyguards were greatly delighted; they all paid their respect and expressed their gratitude.

Pointing to the small sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao said, “That is the prisoner that the Empress Dowager and His Majesty personally wanted me to arrest. I want you to keep an eye on it.”

The attendants opened the sedan chair’s curtain to let the Imperial Bodyguards at the gate to search. The Imperial Bodyguards did their job by checking the sedan chair for any weapons or prohibited objects. They laughed and said, “Fu Zongguan Daren’s meritorious service this time is not small, we will be invited for a drink to congratulate your promotion.”

Wei Xiaobao entered the Palace. He inquired of the night guards of the Qian Qing Men, and was told that the Emperor was in conference with cabinet ministers at the Yang Xin Dian since the previous evening and had not withdrawn until now. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted. He thought, “Turns out His Majesty was busy all night long and did not sleep. High-level meeting with cabinet ministers, naturally the security all around will be very tight. There were hundreds or thousands lanterns outside Yang Xin Dian, how could those three Gui Family turtles get near the Emperor? If Xiao Xuanzhi went to bed early, the lantern dark the fire black, I am afraid he might already meet calamity by now. It can clearly be seen that as the Emperor, indeed his flood of good fortune fills the heavens. Fortunately when that old fellow Wu Sangui went to war, he triumphed over the enemy, so that the Emperor is worried and he talked about it all night long.”

Arriving outside the Yang Xin Dian, he quietly stood to wait. Although he was the Emperor’s most favorite person, when the Emperor was talking about military and national affairs with princes and dukes, and cabinet ministers, he would not dare to come in without permission.

After waiting for more than an hour, the night guards opened the door. He saw Prince Kang Giyesu, Ming Zhu, Songgotu, and the others came out one by one. When these high-rankings ministers saw Wei Xiaobao, they all smiled and cupped their fists in greeting, but nobody dared to say anything. The eunuch announced Wei Xiaobao’s arrival, Kangxi immediately summoned him for audience.

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed at the entrance of the Hall before standing up. Seeing Kangxi seated on the imperial throne and was in high spirits, Wei Xiaobao felt of burst of happiness. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Your servant sees you, I … I’m really happy.” He was worried all night long; seeing Kangxi was safe and sound, he could not stop tears from flowing down his face.

Kangxi laughed and said, “No wind no rain, why are you crying?”

“It is tears of joy,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Seeing him revealing his real feeling, Kangxi laughed and said, “Very good, very good! That old fellow Wu Sangui really rises in rebellion. He attacked and snatched several victories; he thought I would be afraid to see him and would not dare to kill his son. Damn it, yesterday laozi chopped Wu Yingxiong’s head.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “Your Majesty has killed Wu Yingxiong?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Kangxi replied, “All ministers advised me against killing Wu Yingxiong, they said something like if the kingdom and troops are at disadvantage, we can still have peace talks with Wu Sangui, allowing him not to remove border defense and station him in Yunnan forever. They also said that as soon as we kill Wu Yingxiong, Wu Sangui will not have any apprehension anymore, and will be even more vicious. Pei! Those cowards.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty is brave and decisive. Your servant has watched the opera ‘Distinguished Gathering’, in which Zhou Yu and Lu Su told Sun Quan that as ministers they could surrender to Cao Cao, but the Lord and Master must not surrender. Today we are in similar situation, they, as princes, dukes and cabinet ministers are reaching out to Wu Sangui to have peace talks, Your Majesty must absolutely not have any peace talks.”

Kangxi was greatly delighted; he slapped the table and got off from his seat. “Xiao Guizi,” he said, “If you had arrived one day earlier, you could have explained that argument to the ministers, and then they would not dare to advise me to have peace talks. Humph, if they surrendered to Wu Sangui, they would still be ministers and generals, what advantage would they have?” He thought that although Wei Xiaobao was without learning or skills, he did not appear to be similar to those ministers who harbored selfish motives and only thought about their own selves.

Pulling Wei Xiaobao’s hand, Kangxi took him to a large table with a large map spread on it. Pointing to the map, Kangxi said, “I have sent people to lead the elite troops, to guard all the way from Jingzhou [prefecture, Hubei] to Changde [prefecture, Hunan], all the way from Wuchang [district, Hubei] to Yuezhou [not sure where]; I’ve appointed Shun Cheng Jun Wang [king/prince, not of royal blood] Lei’erjin as the Great General Ning Nan Jing Kou [pacify the south quieting the bandit/enemy] to lead all the generals in destroying the enemy. Just now I also appointed Ministry of Justice Shangshu [dept. head] Moluo as Jinglue[6] to be stationed and defend Xi’an. Even if Wu Sangui obtained Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan, and attack Hunan, we won’t be afraid of him.”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Please also send your servant to lead troops to deal with that old fellow Wu Sangui!”

Kangxi laughed; he shook his head and said, “Marching to war is not for entertainment. You’d better stay in the Palace to accompany me. Besides, this time the ones I am sending out are all Manchu generals Manchu troops; I am afraid they won’t have you rule over them.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said. In his heart he thought, “Wu Sangui wanted the Han people all over the world to rise against the Tatars. I am a fake Manchu man, naturally His Majesty does not trust me.”

Kangxi could read his mind, he said, “You are loyal and devoted to me, it’s not that I do not trust you. Xiao Guizi, Wu Sangui’s troops and horses are very formidable, not in three or five years, or even seven or eight years, will we be able to subdue him. A few years ahead of us we will definitely suffer defeat. This is going to be a hard battle, we will taste bitter first and sweet later, defeat first victory later. Do you prefer defeat, or do you prefer victory?”

“Naturally I love victory,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Throwing helmet dumping armor, fleeing in confusion, that won’t taste too good!”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You are loyal to me, I won’t let you suffer defeat. The defeat in the three to five years ahead of us is just to let others fight and fight. When we have tired out that rebel Wu until his spirit weary, his strength exhausted, the general situation has been decided, then I’ll send you out to Yunnan to personally catch this old fellow away. Do you know what will my imperial edict about this rebellion be?”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said, “Your Majesty’s benevolence is indeed as high as the heavens and as thick as the earth.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “I will proclaim it to the world, I will promise that whoever catches Wu Sangui, Wu Sangui’s official rank will be granted to him. Xiao Guizi, this will depend on your good fortune. Damn it, with your revolting behavior, do you think you can act like Ping Xi Wang? Ha ha, ha ha!” He cast a sidelong glance toward Wei Xiaobao for a moment before laughing and saying, “Nowadays you look like a little monkey, so you won’t look like him the least bit. But in six or seven years, you will be over twenty, at that time you will be granted the title ‘Wang’ [king], I am afraid you will be a bit off the chart. Ha ha …”

Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Ping Xi Qin Wang or whatever high-level title he has, I am afraid your servant will not have such good fortune to deserve it. But if Your Majesty would appoint me a great general, leading troops to Yunnan to catch Wu Sangui, the great general’s awe-inspiring authority resounds to eight direction, your servant will have a zhang-long eight-serpent spear in my hand as I shouted loudly, ‘Wu Sangui, come out to surrender your name!’ It would be extremely awesome. Thank Heaven and thank the Earth, Wu Sangui did not die early on, your servant will personally bring him over to kneel in here and kowtow to Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed. “Very good, very good!” he said. Instantly his face grew serious as he said, “Xiao Guizi, the first few years of war ahead of us will be very difficult. Defeat in battle is not a big deal, but even if we are defeated, we must not be in disarray. We need generals of great talent to endure defeat without being thrown in confusion, to be able to stand his ground. You are a good-luck general, not a brave general or famous general, and definitely not a great general. Ay, it’s a pity that the imperial court does not have any great generals.”

“But Your Majesty, you are a great general yourself,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty already knew that in the few years ahead of us we will suffer defeat, yet even though defeated, definitely we will not be in disarray. Just like playing Pai Jiu [pai-gow], Your Majesty is the banker, you pay him seven or eight losses, you do not give it a damn. Our capital is abundant, a stone tablet is erected on Mount Tai to ward off evil spirit, we keep our composure, losing some money is just lending it to him. Later on, we will get the harmony pair [pair of ones and threes], man pair [all four], earth pair [all ones], heaven pair [all sixes], all the way to supreme pair [one, two, two, four]; pair by pair we beat him up, until we eat ‘em all, kill ‘em all, throwing that old fellow Wu Sangui’s men face up and their horses belly up, that he will be completely routed, completely empty-handed, his pocket inside out, his tiles [cards] are all turned up, each pair he has is a departing ten.”

Kangxi roared in laughter; he thought, “There is no great general in the imperial court, but I am a great general; he was right. These eight words ‘enduring defeat without being thrown in confusion, maintaining our composure’ [sui bai bu luan, chen de shu qi], aside from myself, no other commander-in-chief or high-ranking minister in the imperial court is able to achieve.” From the imperial table he picked up the secret memorial Wei Xiaobao presented to him. “You said some people are going to assassinate me, and you wanted me to be careful and be on guard?” he asked.

“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “At that time the situation was urgent; your servant was under other people’s eyes, I could not summon the secretary to write it, without any other choice I drew this picture. Your Majesty is very intelligent, just one look and you understood. Those assassins looked on helplessly, and still did not understand its meaning. The Lord of Ten Thousand Years’ flood of good fortune fills the heavens, rebels and traitors trying to scheme against you in vain.”

Kangxi asked, “What kind of renegade are they?”

“They were sent to the Capital by Wu Sangui,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

Kangxi nodded. “As soon as rebel Wu deployed troops, I tripled the imperial bodyguards. When I received your memorial last night, I added the night guards.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This time Wu Sangui sends assassins with really high martial art skill. Although the Holy Son of Heaven has a hundred deities to protect and bless, still we must be doubly careful, so that Your Majesty will not be frightened.” Suddenly he remembered something, “Your Majesty,” he said, “Your servant have a treasured vest, when worn on the body, swords and spears cannot penetrate. Your servant will take it off and ask Your Majesty to wear it.” While saying that, he unbuttoned his long robe.

Kangxi smiled, “You took it from Oboi’s house, didn’t you?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; although his face was really thick, but caught completely off guard this time, unexpectedly his face turned bulging red. He dropped on his knees and said, “Your servant deserves to die, nothing can be concealed from Your Majesty.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “This gold-silk vest was obtained from the previous Ming’s Palace, at that time Oboi rendered a lot of meritorious service; he charged and broke through enemy lines, hence the injuries from saber, spears, arrows and rocks he received were quite a few. For this reason the former Regent bestowed this vest to him. When I sent you to search and seize Oboi’s house that time, this vest is not listed among the confiscated items.”

Wei Xiaobao could only giggle nervously, his expression looked very awkward. Kangxi laughed and said, “Today you want to take it off and give it to me to wear, it goes to show that you have an outstandingly loyal heart. But I am in the Palace, with Imperial Bodyguard numbers in hundreds and thousands, even the assassins would not be able to get close to me. I have no need of this vest. You are outside, working for me, oftentimes you encounter dangers. Just consider I give this vest to you today. From this day onward, this stealing is excused.”

Wei Xiaobao kneeled down again to express his gratitude, but his body was drenched in cold sweats; he thought, “I stole the Forty-two Chapter Sutra, it would be best if His Majesty did not know about it.”

“Xiao Guizi,” Kangxi said, “You are loyal to me, and I know that. But you should handle the matters following the rules and regulations. The vest that you are wearing right now, supposing in the future someone else is sent to search and confiscate your possession, and then that person secretly embezzles it, that won’t be good.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant will not dare anymore.” The sweats on his forehead dripped down as he kowtowed several more times before standing up.

Kangxi said, “The business in Yangzhou, you may return someday.” Finished speaking, he yawned. He did not sleep the whole night, naturally he was very tired.

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Relying on Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s good fortune, your servant has arrested that old wh0re whose crime is great, her evil extreme.”

As soon as Kangxi heard this, he cried out, “Quickly bring her in, quickly bring her in.”

Wei Xiaobao went out and ordered four guards to have Mao Dongzhu brought into the Hall, and have her kneeled in front of Kangxi. Kangxi walked over to her and shouted, “Look up!”

Mao Dongzhu hesitated, then lifted her head, fixing her gaze on Kangxi. Seeing her deathly pale countenance, Kangxi was suddenly overwhelmed with grief, “This woman murdered my birth mother, grieved Fu Huang’s heart [father emperor] that he left home to become a monk, making me an orphan without father and mother. She also imprisoned Empress Dowager for many years and tortured her. Among those with great crime and extreme evil in the world, really nobody has surpassed her. But … but … I lost my mother when I was a baby, all along she was the one who raised me. Over the last few years, she actually treated me with bestowed kindness, just like if she was my own mother. Deep in the Palace, those who genuinely care about me, I am afraid only this woman in front of me, and this crafty troublemaker Xiao Guizi.”

In the deepest part of his heart he had an indistinct feeling, “If not for her assassinating Consort Donggo and Consort Donggo’s son Prince Rong, based on how deeply Fu Huang doted on Consort Donggo, the throne would definitely be passed on to Prince Rong. Not only I would not be the Emperor, perhaps I should be worried over my life. That being said, I can say that this woman has rendered me a meritorious service.”

A few years ago, Kangxi was still very young, he always thought that the thing he hated the most was losing his father and mother. But for the last few years, his personal political power had grown, he was fully aware that if someone else seized the throne from him, everything would be lost. In the deepest part of his heart, the imperial power of being the Emperor was heavier than the love of his father and mother. It’s just that obviously he must not declare this feeling publicly, that even when in his heart he was thinking about it, he would inevitably feel very guilty.

Seeing Kangxi’s expression was changing indeterminably, Mao Dongzhu sighed and slowly said, “Wu Sangui is rebelling, Your Majesty must not be too anxious; you must take a good care of yourself. Do you still take Fu Ling Swallow Nest soup every morning?”

Kangxi was still lost in his thought; hearing her question, he absentmindedly replied, “Yes, I still take it every day.”

Mao Dongzhu said, “The sins I have committed are too big, you … please kill me with your own hands.”

A burst of sadness filled Kangxi’s heart. Shaking his head, he said to Wei Xiaobao, “Take her to Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to have an audience with Empress Dowager, tell her that I am asking the Holy Sage Empress Dowager to decide on how to deal with the offender.”

Wei Xiaobao bent his right knee and complied, “Cha!”

Waving his hand, Kangxi said, “You may go.”

From his pocket Wei Xiaobao took out Galdan and Sangjie’s two memorials. Taking two steps forward, he presented the memorials with both hands and said, “Congratulations Your Majesty, Tibetan and Mongolian troops and horses are turning their backs against Wu Sangui, they are determined to strive for Your Majesty.”

For the last several days Kangxi was moving an army and sending a general, he always had deep worry in his heart that Mongolia and Tibet’s military forces would respond to Wu Sangui’s rebellion. Hearing what Wei Xiaobao had just said, he could not help but was pleasantly surprised. “Is there such thing?” he asked.

Opening the envelope, he read the memorials, and was even more overjoyed at the unexpected good news. Waving his hand he ordered the Imperial Bodyguard to take Mao Dongzhu out of the Hall first, and then he asked Wei Xiaobao, “These two great services, how did you do it? Damn it, you are indeed a great good-luck general.”

By that time, Tibet and Mongolia, two places’ military power was considerably strong. Kangxi was aware than Sangjie and Galdan secretly colluded with Wu Sangui; hence he had already deployed massive military force in preparation to face these two fronts. Now that he saw that the wording in the memorials was deferent and sincere, and offered to be a strong support to suppress Wu Sangui instead, how could he not be overjoyed? It’s just that this turn of events was too abrupt that momentarily he could not believe it as the truth.

Wei Xiaobao knew that whenever the young Emperor used the phrase ‘damn it’ to him, it meant that the dragon heart was very happy; with a giggle he said, “Because of Your Majesty’s flood of good fortune, your servant has sworn brotherhood with them. Great Lama Sangjie is Dage [first brother], Prince Galdan is Erge [second], your servant is Sandi [third (younger) brother].”

Kangxi laughed and said, “You really possess great magical power. For them to agree to help me beat Wu Sangui, what benefit have your promised them?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Your Majesty is an enlightened sage, knowing that this sworn brotherhood is pretentious and not to be considered real. With one heart and mind they want Your Majesty to bestow them something. Sangjie wants to be the Living Buddha. Other than Living Buddha Dalai and Living Buddha Banchan, he wants to ask Your Majesty to give him a favor, to appoint him Living Buddha Sangjie. That Prince Galdan actually wants to be a ‘Zhengge’erhao’ [see chapter 39]; which your servant does not understand.”

Kangxi roared in laughter. “Zhengge’erhao?” he asked, “Ah, right, he must want to be Zhun’ga’er’han [Dzungar Khan]. These two matters are not difficult; it won’t cost the imperial court anything. When the moment comes, I’ll write an imperial order while building imperial treasure, sending you as the Imperial Envoy Minister to announce the decree. Go tell your Dage and Erge that if they really strive for me, just consider that I agree to grant them the desire of their heart. But they must not be two-faced, three-knives [i.e. double-cross/back stabbing]; their mouth says one thing, their conduct says another, seeing the wind and set the helm, seeing which side has the upper hand and helps that side.”

“Your Majesty is right,” Wei Xiaobao said, “These two sworn brothers of mine, their moral standing is not particularly brilliant. Your Majesty cannot trust them completely; we must put our guard up a little. As Your Majesty said, in the years ahead we will suffer some defeat, we must guard against not only they do not help the banker, they are helping the opponent instead, and place their bets on the Heaven Gate.” He thought that it would be better for him to speak in advance, lest the responsibility he bore would be too big.

Kangxi nodded and said, “You are right. But we are not afraid; if they dare to attack, Heaven Gate, left Green Dragon, right White Tiger, we will eat ‘em all!”

Wei Xiaobao burst into loud laughter; he was quite impressed. Turned out the Emperor was adept at playing Pai Jiu.

(Book note: Later on Galdan and Sangjie separately rose in rebellion, and were separately suppressed by Kangxi. Galdan died in Kangxi’s thirty-six year, Sangjie died in Kangxi’s forty-forth year.)

With Mao Dongzhu in custody, Wei Xiaobao went to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful to see the Empress Dowager. The eunuch passed on the decree, ordering Wei Xiaobao to bring the offender to the throne inside. Wei Xiaobao thought, “Formerly I was a eunuch, hence I could enter the Empress Dowager’s bedroom [orig. palace hall to lie down]. But now I am a high-ranking officer, why would she want me to enter the bedroom? Perhaps when Empress Dowager heard that the old wh0re has been caught, she is so happy that she forgot that I am not a eunuch anymore.” Thereupon with four eunuchs holding Mao Dongzhu, he went in.

The bedroom was pitch-black, just like when the fake Empress Dowager was still living there. The Empress Dowager sat on the bedside, behind her the bed curtain was drooping down. Wei Xiaobao kneeled down and kowtowed, respectfully wishing the Holy Sage well. The Empress Dowager glanced at Mao Dongzhu, nodded, and said, “You have arrested the offender to the throne. Hmm, you may go!” Wei Xiaobao kowtowed again before withdrawing, leaving Mao Dongzhu in the bedroom.

While walking out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, his heart was discontented, “I caught the Old Wh0re, rendering a great merit, but Empress Dowager did not appear to be happy at all, she did not even say half a sentence of praise. His granny, whoever lives in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful is a female b@stard; doesn’t matter if it was the real Empress Dowager or the fake Empress Dowager, they are all old wh0res.”

With a bellyful cursing and swearing he walked through the stone path of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful flower garden. While passing by the side of a rockery, suddenly a shadow flashed, three people jumped out from behind the rockery, one of them reached out and grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s left hand, and said with a laugh, “How are you?”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked; it was an old eunuch. He was about to ask sternly when he saw clearly that the old eunuch was actually Gui Erniang. His shock was no small matter; when he looked at the other two people by her side, he was not surprised to see Gui Xinshu and Gui Zhong, both were wearing night guard uniform. Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Turns out the three of you are hiding in here.”

Since his left hand was grabbed by Gui Erniang, half of his body was hurting and numb. He knew that if he made the slightest noise, Gui Xinshu would lightly strike him with his palm, his head would immediately shatter into pieces, remembering that his head can’t possibly be harder than the stone lion’s head at the gate of his Earl Mansion. With a forced laugh he said, “Are you, Senior, well?” while his mind was thinking of a plan to escape.

Gui Erniang said in a low voice, “Tell them not to move from here, I have something to say.”

Wei Xiaobao did not dare to disobey; turning his head around, he ordered the several Imperial Bodyguards who followed behind him, “You wait for me here.”

Pulling his hand along, Gui Erniang took several dozen steps forward and said in a low voice, “Take us to find the Emperor.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The three of you have arrived last night, why haven’t you found the Emperor?”

Gui Erniang said, “We asked several eunuchs and Imperial Bodyguards, they all said that the Emperor was in a meeting with the cabinet ministers; he did not sleep all night. We had no way of coming in, hence we could not make our move.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Just now I was thinking of seeing the Emperor myself, I wanted to inquire what has happened to the three of you, but the Emperor has gone to bed, I could not see him. The three of you have put on your disguise, nothing can be better than that. Let us go out of the Palace.”

Gui Erniang said, “We have not accomplished our mission, why would you want to get out of the Palace?”

“You can’t do it during the day,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If the three of you wish, there is no harm in coming again tonight to give it another try.”

“We came in with great difficulty,” Gui Erniang said, “Before the important matter is accomplished, we won’t go out. Quickly take us to wherever he is sleeping.”

“I don’t know where he is sleeping either,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I must find a eunuch and ask.”

“I won’t allow you to talk to anybody!” Gui Erniang said, “A moment ago you said you were going to see the Emperor, how could you not know where he is sleeping? Humph, you are thinking of playing trick in front of laoniang? That won’t be easy.” While saying that, her fingers tightened. Wei Xiaobao felt the pain was penetrating his bones, he felt like his five fingers were about to snap; he could not help making a loud grunt.

Gui Xinshu reached out to stroke the top of his head gently. “Very good!” he said.

Wei Xiaobao knew he was incapable of disobeying them; he had an idea, “I’ll take them to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, make a big fuss for a while, the young Emperor will hear it and will increase the guard. If they make their move by killing the Empress Dowager, it’s none of my business.” Thereupon he said, “I have just walked out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful; perhaps the Emperor is seeing the Empress Dowager to pay his respect. Let us go back to look.”

Gui Erniang did see him walking out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, so he was not lying. She said, “Since the three of us are already inside the Palace, we are not thinking of coming out alive. If you make the slightest wrong move, I don’t have any choice but to take your little life. The four of us will go together to see Yan Wang [King of Hell], our journey will not be lonesome. My child would be very happy to have you as company.”

With a forced laugh Wei Xiaobao said, “There’s no harm in accompanying you; let us spread out in the imperial garden! I’ll say we don’t have to take that journey to the underworld.”

Gui Erniang said, “Do you like to go to see Yan Wang, or to see the Tatar Emperor? You will have to see either one of these two fellows today.”

Wei Xiaobao sighed and said, “Alright, let’s see the Tatar Emperor then. But I want to be clear, as soon as you see the Emperor, the three of you do whatever you want to do, I will not help you.”

“Who needs your help?” Gui Erniang said, “As long as you take us to see the Emperor, I will immediately let you go. What happens afterward won’t have anything to do with you.”

“Alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “So be it.”

Coerced by the three people, Wei Xiaobao went back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Seeing the peacocks and red-crowned cranes, Gui Zhong was very fascinated. Wei Xiaobao pointed this and that and chatted with him incessantly, he was hoping to stall as long as possible. Although Gui Erniang was impatient, thinking that her child was sick all his life, and that he would not live for too much longer, in the death’s door he was having a little bit of fun, she could not bear to hinder his keen interest.

From a distance they saw a group of people coming out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, carrying two sedan chairs. With one hand pulling Wei Xiaobao and the other hand pulling her child, Gui Erniang ducked behind peony flower terrace. Gui Xinshu hid by her side.

The party gradually came near. Wei Xiaobao saw the one at the front was the eunuch from the Empress Dowager’s room; the two sedan chairs followed behind him, one belonged to the First Imperial Concubine, the other one belonged to the Empress Dowager. Each sedan chair had several eunuchs carried the sedan chair poles, behind the sedan chairs there were eunuchs holding up large yellow gauze umbrellas. At the end of the procession there were several dozen eunuchs and palace maids, plus about a dozen night guards. Usually when the Empress Dowager was traveling within the Palace, she did not have any Imperial Bodyguards to escort her. It may be assumed that ever since the Emperor received his information, he increased the number of Imperial Bodyguards on duty. A bright idea suddenly occurred; he said in a low voice, “Careful! The one inside the sedan chair in the front is the Tatar Emperor, the sedan chair behind it carries the Empress Dowager.”

The Gui Family husband and wife saw the pomp and the prestige of this procession, plus they were coming out of the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, it was only natural that they were the Emperor and the Empress Dowager. They could not refrain their hearts from beating faster, both looked at their child at the same time with tender expression.

“Child,” Gui Erniang said in a low voice, “The one sitting inside the sedan chair in the front is the Emperor. When they come near, I will say ‘go!’ the three of us will attack together and beat him rotten!”

Gui Zhong laughed and said, “Alright, this will be fun!”

The two sedan chairs were coming nearer and nearer. Wei Xiaobao’s palms were wet with perspiration. His ear heard the eunuch from the Empress Dowager’s room calling out incessantly, “Chi! Chi! Chi!” telling people to get out of the way.

In a low voice Gui Erniang commanded, “Go!” The three of them simultaneously charged forward.

These three people’s power and speed were extraordinary, they arrived like unexpected storm. ‘Bang!’ three people, six palms, struck together on the first sedan chair. Gui Xinshu and Gui Erniang were afraid their strike did not kill the Emperor, immediately they pulled the swords from their waists and stabbed forward. In an instant the swords were thrust into the sedan chair four, five times. Each time the swords were pulled, the blades were dripping with blood, even if the person in the sedan chair had ten lives, all ten lives would be gone.

The escorting Imperial Bodyguards were greatly shocked; they shouted and yelled and pulled out their weapons to charge forward.

Gui Erniang called out, “Success!” With her left hand she pulled her child and dashed to the north. Brandishing the sword in his hand, Gui Xinshu charged ahead to open the path; how could the Imperial Bodyguards stop him? They saw the three of them ran along the path in the flower garden west of Shou Kang Palace.

The palace maids and eunuchs were shouting and screaming; it was a total chaos. From all directions came the sound of gongs, hundreds or thousands doors in the Palace were shut and bolted, the night guards and the Imperial Bodyguards quickly blocked all major access in and out of the Palace. Inside and outside the Palace wall, the officers and men of the three banners’ guard battalions, the Vanguard Battalion and the Valiant Cavalry Battalion formed layer after layer of defense with strung bows and unsheathed sabers.

Wei Xiaobao was very happy to see the three people of the Gui Family had assassinated the First Imperial Concubine, how they were thinking that they had succeeded, and how they had escaped. Immediately he leaped out from behind the flower terrace and shouted loudly, “We must not panic, protecting the Empress Dowager is more important!”

The Imperial Bodyguards were in confusion just like a housefly without a head; seeing Wei Xiaobao suddenly appeared and took command, their confidence returned. Wei Xiaobao barked his order again, “Everybody surround the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair, if other assassin comes to assault, we must stake our lives to block!”

The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards complied in chorus, “We receive the order!”

Wei Xiaobao snatched a saber from a guard, he raised it high and said in a loud voice, “Today we display utter loyalty in dedicating ourselves to the service of our country, we fight to the death for the Empress Dowager, for the First Imperial Concubine; even a thousand or ten thousand assassins, everybody must protect the Empress Dowager’s holy self!”

Again the crowd of Imperial Bodyguards complied in chorus, “We receive the order!” They saw the Deputy Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards, the Bojue Daren’s [Earl] awe-inspiring presence, how he took command with confidence, his loyalty and devotion, viewing death as a return home, none did not admire him from the bottom of their hearts. They all thought, “Although he is young, he is actually a cut above the others!” About a dozen Imperial Bodyguards formed a fence around the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair.

Wei Xiaobao shouted to the crowd of eunuchs and palace maids, “What are you panicking for? Quickly form another circle outside to protect the Empress Dowager. If the assassin attacked, let him chop your people of little value’s heads first.”

The crowd of eunuchs and palace maids thought that although their heads were of little value, but they were not too willing to have it randomly chopped by others. However, seeing Wei Xiaobao brandishing his saber with imposing expression, nobody dared to disobey; trembling with fear, they had no choice but to form another circle outside the circle of Imperial Bodyguards. Several of them were so scared that they peed in their pants.

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao put down his saber and walked over to the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair. He said, “Your servant Wei Xiaobao was too late to save your highness, and has alarmed the Empress Dowager’s holy self. I respectfully wish the Empress Dowager holy peace, the assassin has already killed and retreated.”

From inside the sedan chair the Empress Dowager said, “Very good!”

Wei Xiaobao reached out to lift open the corner of the sedan chair’s curtain, he saw the Empress Dowager’s pale countenance, but she was smiling wide while nodding her head repeatedly. “Wei Xiaobao,” she said, “You are very good, very good! You saved me once again.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Empress Dowager has ten thousand good fortunes and holy peace, your servant is extremely delighted,” and he gently lowered the sedan chair’s curtain.

Turning around, he pointed to two Imperial Bodyguards and said, “Quickly go to report to His Majesty, the Empress Dowager’s holy self is safe and sound, ask His Majesty not to worry. Tell him his servant Wei Xiaobao is wishing His Majesty holy peace. Summoning courage and determination, all the Imperial Bodyguards are protecting the holy selves; the assassins have attacked and retreated.” The two Imperial Bodyguards received the order and left.

Suddenly he heard Empress Dowager called in low voice, “Wei Xiaobao!”

“Cha!” Wei Xiaobao responded, “Your servant is here.”

The Empress Dowager asked in low voice, “Are the two people inside the sedan chair in the front dead?”

“Two people?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

The Empress Dowager said, “Go look, be careful.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He was greatly baffled, “How could there be two people there? Why must I be careful?” He walked over to the first sedan chair, lifted up the sedan chair’s curtain, “Ah!” he could not help crying out; dropping down the curtain, he took several steps back. His knees went weak; he nearly fell down on his buttocks.

The sedan chair was bloody and in such a mess; indeed there were two dead people inside! The two bodies had several sword cuts and blood was still flowing out of the wounds. One was the fake Empress Dowager Mao Dongzhu, the other was a short and fat man, his five sense organs were crushed by the palm strikes, but looking at his stature, there was no doubt that he was Thin Toutuo. These two people died in each other’s arms.

He was not surprised to see Mao Dongzhu died in the sedan chair, it was he himself who held her in custody and brought her to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful and handed her over to the Empress Dowager; but where did this Thin Toutuo come from? These two people unexpectedly sat inside the First Imperial Concubine’s sedan chair, accompanied by the Empress Dowager; but where were they going?

After calming himself down, he returned to the Empress Dowager’s sedan chair and said in a low voice, “Reporting to the Empress Dowager: those two people are dead, they are dead in a confused heap, so dead that they could not be even more dead.”

The Empress Dowager laughed and said, “Very good! Let us go back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Bring the other sedan chair as well, don’t let anybody open it and look inside.”

Wei Xiaobao complied; he passed on the order, and personally escorted the Empress Dowager’s imperial sedan chair back to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. He opened the curtain of the sedan chair and helped the Empress Dowager out. The Empress Dowager smiled to him again and said, “You are very good!”

Wei Xiaobao smiled in return, but in his heart he was wondering, “What’s so good about me? Although the Empress Dowager is not young anymore, her appearance is extraordinarily beautiful.”

The Empress Dowager beckoned to him, telling him to follow her into the bedroom. She ordered the palace maids and the eunuchs to leave, and told Wei Xiaobao to close the door. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping, he could not stop his face from blushing. “Aiyo,” he groaned inwardly, “It’s desperately serious! The Empress Dowager continuously praised me very good, could it be that she wanted me to be Lao Huangye’s [old master Emperor] substitute? The fake Empress Dowager had a Shige who dressed as a palace maid; she also had Thin Toutuo inside her quilt. If this real Empress Dowager also wanted me to dress as a palace maid or squeeze into her quilt, what should I do?”

The Empress Dowager sat on the edge of the bed, she was lost in thought for a half a day before saying, “That was really dangerous; and it all depended on you exerting yourself.”

“Your servant has received Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s great kindness,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Even if my body is torn and my bones crushed I cannot repay it.”

The Empress Dowager nodded her head and said, “You are very loyal. His Majesty employs you, it is also our good fortune.”

“That is by Empress Dowager and His Majesty’s grace,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant only know how to display utter loyalty and strive for the sake of my masters.” While in his heart he said, “Jade Emperor, Guanyin Pusa, please bless and protect me, please don’t let her tell me to dress as a palace maid.”

The Empress Dowager smiled at him again; this smile made all the hair on Wei Xiaobao’s body stood up. He heard her say, “Take those two dead offenders to the throne, along with the sedan chair, and burn them all. Do not leak this matter even for half a sentence. The Imperial Bodyguards, palace maids and eunuchs who were present just now …” Speaking to here, she hesitated and did not continue.

Wei Xiaobao said, “May Empress Dowager has holy peace. Your servant has a way to make them not dare to even let out half a fart.”

Hearing Wei Xiaobao’s vulgarity, the Empress Dowager frowned slightly; she said, “Just finish the task well; it will be for your own benefit.”

Wei Xiaobao paid his respect and said, “Your servant will do it attentively. If anybody dares to leak the least bit of rumor, Empress Dowager can have your servant’s head.”

“Then I will feel relieved,” the Empress Dowager said, “You may go!”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he kowtowed and withdrew.

As he exited the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, he saw Kangxi’s imperial sedan chair was coming this way; several hundred night guards accompanied him in front, behind, left and right of the sedan chair. The security was several times tighter than normal. Wei Xiaobao stepped aside and waited. From inside the sedan chair Kangxi saw him. “Xiao Guizi,” he called out, “Wait for me here.”

Wei Xiaobao complied. He knew Kangxi must be going to pay his respect to the Empress Dowager. He thought hard, “How could Thin Toutuo hide inside the First Imperial Concubine’s sedan chair? This is really strange!”

[1] Wang Xizhi (303-361), famous calligrapher of Eastern Jin, known as the sage of calligraphy.

[2] Chu Suiliang (597–658), a chancellor of the Tang Dynasty, during the reigns of Emperor Taizong and Emperor Taizong’s son Emperor Gaozong. He became increasingly trusted by Emperor Taizong toward the end of his reign and was charged with the responsibilities of serving as the imperial historian and providing honest advice.

[3] In Cantonese, ‘Xuan’ of Xiao Xuanzi’s name is a homophone for circle. (Courtesy of Pannonian)

[4] Qian Qing Men: ‘qian’ – one of eight trigrams (bagua), symbolizing heaven, male principle, ‘qing’ – clear/quiet, ‘men’ – gate. Gate of Heavenly Purity. Qian Qing Gong – Palace of Heavenly Purity.

[5] Kun Ning Gong: ‘kun’ – one of eight trigrams, symbolizing earth, female principle, ‘ning’ – peaceful, ‘gong’ – palace. Palace of Earthly Tranquility. (Most of the English names are courtesy of Ace High.)

[6] Jing Lue – military position that was translated as the ‘managing governor’. [Faerie Queene, White Haired Demoness]

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