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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 43

Chapter 43
The body becomes like red cloud that always stay close to the sun, the heart follows green jade grass facing the wind.

Kangxi went out from the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. Wei Xiaobao followed him back to Yang Xin Dian [Nurturing Heart Palace Hall], and waited outside to hall to be summoned. After waiting for a long time he saw the Vanguard Battalion Commander Ajichi came out of the Hall. Wei Xiaobao thought, “His Majesty must be mobilizing the Vanguard Battalion to intensify the guard against the assassins.” And then a eunuch came out to summon Wei Xiaobao.

Kangxi dismissed the Imperial Bodyguards and the eunuchs, and ordered Wei Xiaobao to close the Hall’s door. With knitted brows Kangxi paced back and forth in the Hall. It looked as if he had a difficult problem but was not sure how to deal with it. Seeing Kangxi like that, Wei Xiaobao was quite anxious and scared. The young Emperor was growing older, his power and influence was flourishing more and more by the day. For each time Wei Xiaobao saw him, he always felt that their closeness decreased by one part, while the fear toward him increased by one part; they were no longer the same boys who wrestled each other absolutely unrestrained.

After a while, Kangxi said, “Xiao Guizi, there is one thing, but I don’t know what to do.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty is intelligent and wise, even Zhuge Liang would step down gracefully to you. Your idea must be brilliant.”

“This time even Zhuge Liang would be at a loss,” Kangxi said, “You have rendered three great merits, yet I have rewarded you not a single thing. Capturing Mao Dongzhu is the first merit. Talking to Mongolia and Tibet that the two military forces surrender to us is the second merit. Just now you sent people to kill the rebel thief and saved the Empress Dowager is the third merit. You are very young, yet you are already bestowed the title Bojue [Earl]; I can’t grant you the title Wang [King]!” At this point he burst into loud laughter.

Only then did Wei Xiaobao know that the Emperor was joking with him; he said happily, “These several merits are due to the Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s flood of good fortunes, all merits are Your Majesty’s own meritorious service. Too bad Your Majesty cannot promote your own official rank; otherwise, Your Majesty should promote yourself three grades at once.”

Kangxi roared into laughter again; he said, “Although emperors cannot promote their own official rank, but since ancient times I don’t know how many emperors loved to give themselves honorific title. Whenever they celebrate something, or achieve tiny victory, they would add several titles to their name. Although it was said that the subject respectfully proposed, the fact is still the emperors who paste gold onto their own faces. Genuinely good emperor who praises himself is rather ridiculous, much less there were a lot of tyrants and muddle-headed rulers who bore the title holy sage, adept in pen and sword, brilliant ruler, wise and farsighted, or whatever title they want to string together. The more muddleheaded the emperor, the longer his title was, they really had no sense of shame. Since the ancient times, have there been any virtuous ruler and sovereign who surpassed Yao Shun Yu Tang [see chapter 14]? But Yao is Yao, and Shun is Shun; when later generations want to venerate and look up to, at most they only say ‘Great Shun’ or ‘Great Yu’. Those who become the emperor, if they have only thirty-percent of self-realization, they would not add several-dozen-character long title to their name.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Turns out Niao Sheng Yu Tang [‘raw bird fish soup’; again, see chapter 14] did not add their own title. Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’, naturally you won’t add any title to your name. It’s just that in your servant’s opinion, after we defeat and pacified Wu Sangui, if Your Majesty did not add several grand titles, you would suffer too much losses.”

Kangxi laughed. “Suffer what loss?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “After defeating and pacifying Wu Sangui, Your Majesty will greatly rewarded the ministers who have given outstanding service, the three armies; everybody will be promoted and gain wealth. Not only Your Majesty yourself will not be promoted, you will have to open wide the coffer instead; glistening yellow gold, shining white silver, will have to be carted out and spent; won’t that mean you will suffer financial loss?”

Kangxi laughed. “You are unlearned, and don’t have any future prospect,” he said, “After sweeping away the rebel Wu, the whole world at peace, common people live in harmony and work happily; that will be your lord’s promotion and gain.”

“I see,” Wei Xiaobao said.

Kangxi continued, “However, after the rebel Wu is wiped out, the ministers will definitely want to propose a title. This kind of ‘boot-licking the big king’ is not something that Zhen wants to waste my time worrying about right now. When the task is successfully accomplished, they will come together to bootlick big time.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty has foresight of everything. When that time comes, we will quietly see which ministers will propose some honorific title for Your Majesty, who will bootlick the big king.”

Kangxi laughed. “Right!” he said, “At that time laozi will kick some damn dogs’ butt.” Both the lord and his minister burst out in loud laughter.

Indeed it happened as Kangxi had expected; as soon as Wu Sangui was subdued, the ministers immediately proposed honorific title, sang Kangxi’s praises, and bootlicked him big time. Kangxi issued an imperial edict: “Although the traitor has been subdued, the wound has not been healed; the ruler and his ministers should rebuild the country, give relief to the troops and support the people, spreading encouragement, in integrity restoring the affairs to its former condition, together delivering peace and security. If the mission is believed to be satisfied with achievements and virtue, honorific title will be granted; excessive request of grace is very shameful.”

The wording of the edict was very stern, but the ministers still did not understand, they thought Kangxi was only pretending to decline, hence they submit the proposal again. Kangxi issued another decree: “Since childhood Zhen has read books, and is aware of the ancient rulers’ conduct, from the beginning to the end very few have been able to escape from this narrow way of life, and I have always tried to guard against it. For fear that several affairs might be neglected, I exercise restrain to the end, eat late and get up early, in vast coldness and flourishing heat, do not dare to neglect. Occasionally feel unwell, also make an effort to go out and head and decide. In the middle of the night several proper memorials are reported, draping my clothes I go out, always planning on behalf of the people under the heavens. Today the efficacy of cleanliness and quietness is even more rare, the people are without abundant health but with rough lives, the ruler and his ministers are completely without merits and achievements that can be recorded. Supposing honorific title for Zhen is repeated, plus all of you officers get promoted in rank, this vanity is shameful, where is the honor and glory in that?”

The crowd of ministers wanted to ‘pat the horse’s buttocks’ [i.e. bootlick], but they patted the horse’s leg instead; after making so much noise their heads and faces were filthy with grime, so now they did not dare to propose anymore. All of these were something that happened later, our book will not show it.

Kangxi laughed and said, “Emperors who grant themselves honorific titles are indeed too many; it can’t be considered rare. The Ming Dynasty has a certain Emperor Zhengde[1], now that was rare.”

“This Emperor,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant has met him several times.”

“You met him several times?” Kangxi asked in surprise, “In your dream?”

“No,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Your servant saw him on stage. There is a play called ‘Plum Dragon Town’; Emperor Zhengde was roaming the Jiangnan, in Plum Dragon Town he saw a young woman selling wine, Li Fengjie, who was very beautiful. He fooled around with her.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “Emperor Zhengde loved to roam around in plain clothes, it is not known whether this Li Fengjie matter really happened or not. This Emperor did not grant himself any honorific title, but he loved to assign himself an official rank. He bestowed himself the title ‘Zongdu [governor-general] Junwu [military affairs] Wei Wu [formidable/mighty, usually in military force] Dajiangjun [great general] Zongbing [regional commander] Guan [officer]’, coming across something like ‘wind blowing grass moving’. He issued an imperial edict: ‘to the northern bandit rebel boundary, specially assigned Zongdu Junwu Wei Wu Dajiangjun Zongbing Guan Zhu Shou in command of six armies took the journey.’ Zhu Shou was his name. Afterwards he fought a battle, which he actually lost, but he said it was a victory, his meritorious service was great, hence he issued another decree, bestowing himself the title of ‘Zhen Guo Gong’[2], plus an official salary of five thousand dan of rice.” [1 dan is approximately 100 liters or 100 quarts]

Wei Xiaobao roared in laughter; he said, “This man did not want to be the Emperor, but wanted to be ‘Zhen Guo Gong’ instead; he was really muddleheaded.”

Kangxi laughed and said, “At that time his high-ranking ministers opposed the idea, saying that if he took the title ‘Zhen Guo Gong’, he must also confer posthumous title to his ancestors to the third generation. The Emperor became ‘Zhen Guo Gong’ was not a big deal, but the Emperor’s three generation ancestors were all Emperors, they would definitely not agree to be demoted. Emperor Zhengde did not care, he was determined to be ‘Zhen Guo Gong’. Later on he rendered another meritorious service and conferred himself the title of ‘Taishi’ [imperial tutor]. Fortunately he died early, otherwise he would grant himself higher and higher title, until in the end he would have usurped his own throne and just be the Emperor.”

Hearing the word ‘usurping the throne’, two characters [cuan wei], Wei Xiaobao did not dare to talk too much; he only let out some hollow laughs.

Kangxi said, “Emperor Zhengde had done a lot of stupid things, he had caused the common people so much hardship. While it is true that he himself was not good, but half of those were from the eunuchs and ministers who taught him bad things.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Bad emperors loved to employ bad eunuchs and treacherous court officials, good emperors employ good eunuchs and loyal court officials.”

Kangxi shook his head slightly. “That is not necessarily true,” he said, “Bad eunuchs and treacherous court officials also exist around a good emperor, it’s just that if the emperor is not muddleheaded, even if others deceived him, in the end he would be able to uncover the treacherous official’s sinister plot.”

“Yes, yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, his heart could not help thumping madly.

Kangxi asked, “That s1ut Mao Dongzhu’s lover [orig. male adulterer], what’s his name?”

“He is called Thin Toutuo,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “His real name, your servant does not know.”

Kangxi said, “But he is so fat, he looked like a meatball, why was he called Thin Toutuo?”

“I heard that he was originally very tall and very fat,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Afterwards he took Shen Long Jiao Jiaozhu’s poison, he curled up and became a short and fat person.”

Kangxi asked further, “How did you know he and Mao Dongzhu were hiding inside Shen Taifei’s [first imperial concubine Shen] sedan chair, and were forcing the Empress Dowager to escort them out of the Palace?”

Wei Xiaobao’s mind churned lightning fast, “First the Emperor said that I sent people to kill the rebel thief and save the Empress Dowager, and that my merit was very big. But now he said that those two people were hiding inside the Taifei’s sedan chair and the Empress Dowager was forced to take them out of the Palace. In that case the Emperor still does not know the matter of Gui Family’s three people assassination attempt. However, whether by this time the Gui Family trio have escaped, or are caught alive, or are killed, in the end this matter cannot be concealed. What should I say?”

Seeing him hesitating without answering, Kangxi asked, “What is it? Is there something I shouldn’t know?”

“No, no!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant is wondering in my heart, how could those two rebel thieves hide inside the Taifei’s sedan chair? I really cannot figure it out even after thinking about it until my skull cracks. I was about to ask Your Majesty to enlighten me.”

“Let me ask you first,” Kangxi said, “How did you know that the one sitting in the sedan chair was not Taifei, and thus you ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to assault the imperial sedan chair?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Turns out the Emperor still thinks that it was the Imperial Bodyguards of the Palace who killed Thin Toutuo and Mao Dongzhu. This matter will be exposed sooner or later, I’d better tell him the truth.” Thereupon he said, “Your servant is guilty and deserves ten thousand deaths. Your Majesty, please forgive me.” While saying that he dropped to his knees.

Kangxi frowned. “What is it?” he asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant received Your Majesty’s imperial decree to escort the offender to the throne Mao Dongzhu to the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful. When I walked through the imperial garden, suddenly from behind the rockery ‘hua la!’ jumped out three people wearing Imperial Bodyguards and court eunuchs uniform. They grabbed your servant, and forced me to take them to see Your Majesty. These three people’s martial art was very high; pinched by them, your servant’s fingers were nearly broken.” Speaking to this point, he lifted his left hand, and indeed his five fingers were black and swollen.

“Why did they want to see me?” Kangxi asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Those three must be the assassins sent by Wu Sangui; even if they pinched your servant to death, I would never agree to take them to violate your holy self. It just so happens that … no, not just so happens, it was by good luck. By good luck the Empress Dowager and the First Concubine’s luan-selves [luan is mythical bird related to phoenix] came by. Those three assassins were muddleheaded; they thought inside Taifei’s sedan chair was Your Majesty’s holy self, right away they dashed out to commit the violent crime. It was due to the Empress Dowager and Your Majesty’s flood of good fortune that unexpectedly the rebel thieves killed other rebel thieves. I don’t know if by this time those three assassins have been killed by the Imperial Bodyguards, or have been captured alive. Your servant will go right away to find out and will come back to present a memorial.”

Kangxi said, “Those three assassins are not necessarily muddleheaded; most likely it was you who gave them direction, wasn’t it? You thought that rather that let the assassins violate my holy self, it would be better to harm Taifei. As soon as they made their move, the Palace would be thrown to confusion, they would not be able to harm me, and your little life would also be preserved; isn’t that so?” Having his innermost thought penetrated by Kangxi, Wei Xiaobao knew it was useless to deny, he could only kowtowed repeatedly.

Kangxi said, “You pointed the assassins to endanger Taifei, you really deserve to have your head chopped, but considering you still have three-part [i.e. to some degree] loyalty and love to me …”

Wei Xiaobao busily said, “Not three-part, it’s ten-part [i.e. completely], a hundred-part, a thousand-part, ten-thousand-part loyalty and love.”

Kangxi smiled and asked, “Can it be proven?”

“It can be proven, it can be proven,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Totally can be proven!”

Kangxi stretched out his foot to kick lightly on his forehead. “Damn it,” he said with a laugh, “Get up.”

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his head was damp with sweats; he kowtowed several more times before standing up. Kangxi laughed and said, “You have rendered three great meritorious services; at first I did not know how to reward you, but now I have found a way. You gave directions to the assassins, hence you offended your superior with violent crime; you also do not have a heart to submit yourself to your master, but I am not going to punish you. You atone for your crimes by meritorious acts; we are even.”

“Marvelous, marvelous,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just like Your Majesty playing Pai Jiu, at first your servant wins, later on Your Majesty win, in the end we are even. Your Majesty did not eat my money, yet you also do not pay me anything.” In his heart he said, “No promotion is fine. Do you think you are going to bestow me the title ‘Wei Wu Dajiangjun’ [mighty great general], ‘Zhen Guo Gong’ [duke of Zhen country]? Even if you bestowed me the title ‘Taishi’ [imperial tutor], there’s nothing amazing about it. In those years Tang Bohu [Ming painter and poet] painted the Imperial Tutor Hua’s two sons, Hua Da and Hua Er [first and second son, respectively] as fools. The two sons that I, Wei Taishi, will have, Wei Da and Wei Er, will also be a mess, a really big mess.”

Kangxi said, “That short and fat thief, his motive was really malicious. After his lover was caught by you, he knew it was hard to seize her back, anticipating that you would eventually deliver her to the Palace to be dealt with by the Empress Dowager, he unexpectedly took a risk out of desperation and broke into the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful, rebelling against the Emperor and coercing the Empress Dowager. At this moment the number of active Imperial Bodyguards was increased several times, the Palace is heavily-guarded, he could not like the last time taking us by surprise and jumped over the wall to escape. He was hoping that by sitting in Shen Taifei’s sedan chair, with the Empress Dowager personally escorted them to the Palace gate, the two of them could escape together. He had never even dreamed that demons and gods at work, unexpectedly you gave the assassins the direction to attack the First Concubine’s luan sedan chair, and killed the two rebel thieves.”

Wei Xiaobao suddenly saw the light, “So that’s what happened,” he said, “That Empress Dowager and Your Majesty have a flood of good fortune is indeed not the least bit incorrect.” In his heart he mused, “No wonder when I delivered the old wh0re, the Empress Dowager put on a bad luck face, as if I owed her three million taels of silver and did not pay her back. Turns out at that time Thin Toutuo was already hiding in her bedroom, most likely he was hiding in her bed. Thin Toutuo had lived in the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful for many days, naturally he was familiar with the layout. Perhaps he had also slept in that big bed for many nights. We were really lucky that he was thinking of this scheme. I wonder how many days had he been hiding in the Empress Dowager’s bedroom? Perhaps it was several days already. Aiyo, not good! Thin Toutuo and Empress Dowager, one man one woman, hiding in the room for several days in a row, I wonder if they had done some other trick or not? The Buddhist hat on the Old Emperor’s head on Mount Wutai, perhaps it will turn somewhat green.” [‘wearing green hat’ – a cuckold]

Naturally Kangxi could not read his dirty mind; he laughed and said, “Empress Dowager and me have great good fortune, your own good fortune is not small either.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your servant actually does not have any good fortune, it’s because I have been with Your Majesty for such a long time that Your Majesty’s good fortune has rubbed on me.”

Kangxi burst into loud laughter. He asked, “That Gui Xinshu’s nickname, ‘Shen Quan Wu Di’ [divine fist without equal], is his martial art really that formidable?”

In the midst of his laughter Kangxi suddenly asked this question, in Wei Xiaobao’s ears it was like a thunderclap. His body shook, he felt instead of blood, vinegar was flowing through his legs; they turned limp and painful. “This … this …” he stammered.

With a cold laugh Kangxi said, “Heaven is my father, Earth is my mother, Fighting the Qing, Restoring the Ming! Wei Xiangzhu, what a big guts you have!”

Wei Xiaobao felt the sky spun, the earth turned around, his brain crumpled into a ball; the first thought he had was reaching out to pull the dagger in his boot, but he immediately remembered, “He knows everything! Since he even asked me that, that means his card is better than mine. His martial art skill is higher than mine, I cannot kill him with one stab. Even if I could, I am not sure if I can kill him!” Thereupon without hesitation he kneeled down and called out, “Xiao Guizi surrenders, I ask Xiao Xuanzi to spare my life!”

As soon as these three words ‘Xiao Xuanzi’ entered his ears, the memory of when they were playing and having martial art contest surged up in Kangxi’s mind. He could not help but heaving a deep sigh and said, “You … all along you have concealed everything from me well.”

Wei Xiaobao kowtowed and said, “Although your servant’s body in Tian Di Hui, toward Your Majesty I am loyal and devoted; I have not done anything that offend Your Majesty.”

Kangxi sternly said, “If you have the slightest rebellious thought, how could you live until today?”

Listening to the tone of his voice, Wei Xiaobao could hear the leniency in it; busily he kowtowed again and said, “Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’, you surpass Zhuge that Liang, your servant will be loyal to the end to my master, just like Guan Yun that Chang.”

Kangxi was unable to restrain a smile; in his heart he swore, “Damn it, what Zhuge that Liang, Guan Yun that Chang?” But it was such a critical junction in their relationship, if he showed a somewhat false expression, this clown would perform some impromptu comedic act [referring to the opera], would crawl up along the stick, and then Kangxi would not be able to subdue him. Thereupon he shouted, “Tell me everything from head to tail! If you speak half a word of empty words, I’ll chop you into dog meat in soy paste instantly!” Yet when speaking the last sentence, he could not refrain a smile from appearing on the corner of his mouth.

Wei Xiaobao was crawling on the ground, he could not see that Kangxi’s expression had softened, but listening to his grim voice, he busily kowtowed and said, “Yes, yes. Your Majesty already know everything, how can your servant dare to conceal anything?” Thereupon he narrated how he went to Prince Kang’s mansion and killed Oboi and was captured by Tian Di Hui, how he bowed to Chen Jinnan and took him as his master, how he was forced to enter the Society and be the Xiangzhu of Green Wood Hall, et cetera. Finally he recounted how he came across the three people of Gui Family, how he lost to Gui Zhong in a game of dice, how he drew the secret memorial, how in the garden of Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful he was captured by Gui Erniang, how he guided the three of them to attack the First Concubine’s luan sedan chair in order to warn the Emperor, et cetera. Naturally he skipped the part where he stole the Forty-two-chapter Sutra and other important facts surrounding it. He spoke at length and talked in great details; unexpectedly there were very few lies and extremely a lot of truth, it could be considered the first time in his life that he had ever done this.

Kangxi constantly inquired him of Tian Di Hui situation, Wei Xiaobao told him truthfully. After listening for a while, Kangxi nodded and said, “Five men share a poem, the Hong Ying in them nobody knows.”

Wei Xiaobao was startled, “The Emperor knew even the secret code used by my Society’s brothers to identify each other,” he mused. He then recited, “Henceforth it is passed on to the brothers, afterwards knowing each other and have a reunion.”

Kangxi said, “Entering the Hong Gate for the first time, swearing brotherhood with elder brothers, that same day taking an open oath to show sincerity.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Pine and cypress [fig. chaste and undefiled] two branches on the left and right, in the middle the Hong Hua [flood/great flower] Pavilion to swear brotherhood.”

Kangxi said, “The brothers in front of Zhong Yi [lit. loyal and righteous] Hall, generals and millions of troops selected inside the city wall.”

Wei Xiaobao recited, “Taking an oath in front of the Fu De [good fortune and virtue] Ancestral Hall, our Hong Ying desire is to fight the Qing and restore the Ming.”

According to Tian Di Hui rule, once this exchange was finished, the two of them would then announce their names and surnames, and give an account of which Hall they were affiliated with, plus their rank and official duty within the Society. But Kangxi only smiled slightly.

Wei Xiaobao happily said, “Turns out Your Majesty is also my Society brother. I wonder which Hall do you belong to? And how many incense stick do you burn …” Speaking to here, he realized that he had been thoroughly muddleheaded; Kangxi was the Great Qing Emperor, how could he ‘fight the Qing restore the Ming’? “Beat you this silly kid, beat you this silly kid!” he repeatedly said, while ‘slap, slap!’ he gently slapped his own mouth.

Kangxi stood up, he paced up and down the hall, and said, “You are an officer of our Manchu, you eat our Great Qing’s good fortune and rice, yet in your heart you harbor the idea of fighting the Qing and restoring the Ming. If I did not remember that you have rendered some tiny merit, even if you have a hundred heads, all would have been chopped down long ago.”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Only because Your Majesty is magnanimous that your servant’s head can be preserved until today. Your servant will withdraw from the Society at once, I don’t want to be Tian Di Hui Xiangzhu no matter what. From now on I won’t fight the Qing restore the Ming at all, I will turn around and fight the Ming restore the Qing.”

In his belly Kangxi was secretly amused; but he cursed, “My Great Qing has not perished yet, what are you going to restore? A mouthful of nonsense!”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “Your servant will defend and protect my master’s rivers and mountains for ten thousand years. Whatever Your Majesty wants me to restore, I will restore that. Whatever you want me to fight, your servant will fight it.”

Kangxi lowered his voice, he spoke slowly, word by word, “Very well! I want you to fight Tian Di Hui!”

“Yes, yes!” Wei Xiaobao said; but in his heart he was groaning, automatically his face revealed a distressed look.

Kangxi said, “You have a mouthful of graceful words, flowery speech, saying that no matter what you would be loyal and devoted to me, but I don’t know if that’s the truth or a lie.”

Wei Xiaobao hastily said, “A hundred percent pure gold, a hundred percent pure gold! Nothing can be purer.”

Kangxi said, “I will examine you carefully, whether or not you have not committed any evil conduct in treason or heresy against me. If you obey my order, this time you incite Tian Di Hui, cut the weeds and eliminate the roots, kill all those rebels clean, then you will atone for your crimes by meritorious acts, I will pardon your guilt of deceiving your lord; maybe I will even reward you with something. If you are still craftily cheating me, being two-faced, three knives, humph, humph, do you think I cannot kill Tian Di Hui’s Wei Xiangzhu?”

Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his back was drenched in cold sweats. “Yes, yes,” he repeatedly said, “Your Majesty want to kill your servant, it will be like pinching an ant. But … but Your Majesty is ‘raw bird fish soup’, you won’t kill a loyal minister.”

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted, “What loyal minister are you? You are big-white-face treacherous court official.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty please understand: while it’s true that there are something that your servant concealed from Your Majesty, in all honesty I am not a big-white-face treacherous court official. Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao[3], definitely I am not them.”

“Alright!” Kangxi said, “Even if you are not a big-white-face treacherous court official, you are a white-nose clown.”

The Emperor assigned him different roles of the opera, Wei Xiaobao was relieved instantly; he busily said, “Being a clown is fine. Just like … just like Shi Qian, Zhu Guangzu, they can also render meritorious service to Your Majesty.”

Kangxi smiled slightly. “Humph,” he said, “You always insist on presenting yourself as a good person. Very well, you select troops and horses, go get Tian Di Hui, Mu Palace, Gui Xinshu, and those bunch of rebel thieves’ heads and bring them here. If you short one head, I will chop one of your hands, if you leave four, I will chop your pair of hands and two legs. If you leave five, which part of you should I chop?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “This … this … your servant has no choice but to become a real eunuch.”

Kangxi could not help bursting into loud laughter. “Damn it,” he cursed, “You really know how to count your chickens before they are hatched.”

With a frown on his face Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty chops my two hands and two legs, most likely your servant won’t live. This head above my neck, whether you chop it or not, it would not make much difference.” He thought, “He even knows about the Mu Palace; he is seriously well-informed.”

Kangxi put his hand into his sleeve and took out a sheet of paper. He read, “Tian Di Hui Zongduozhu Chen Jinnan, Green Wood Hall Xiangzhu Wei Xiaobao, subordinates Li Lishi, Xu Tianchuan, Priest Xuanzhen, Qian Laoben, Gao Yanchao, Feng Jizhong, and the others; Mu Family’s Mu Jiansheng, Liu Dahong, Wu Lishen and the others, the three assassins who entered the Palace were Gui Xinshu, Gui Erniang, Gui Zhong. One, two, three, four, five … altogether there are forty-three rebel thieves. If you are not included, the total is forty-two names.”

Wei Xiaobao dropped on his knees again and knocked his head twice. “Your Majesty,” he said, “Although this bunch of people say that they want to fight the Qing and restore the Ming, they have not been able to fight successfully, nor restore successfully. Let me talk to them. Above Your Majesty know astronomy, below you know geography, past and future, you know everything. Your Majesty have said that the Great Qing’s rivers and mountains will last ten thousand upon ten thousand years; that is definitely not wrong. Fighting the Qing they cannot fight successfully, it would be better if they disband their groups.”

Kangxi reached out and slapped the table heavily; he said in a stern voice, “You are stubbornly refusing to accept orders, unwilling to arrest the rebel thieves?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “Heroes of Jianghu attach most importance to yi qi. If I arrest Shifu and the others, His Majesty will definitely chop their heads. If that happens, Wei Xiaobao is selling his friends, I become Wu Sangui. Ay, at that time why I did not masquerade as other people, but masqueraded as Xiao Guizi instead. Xiao Guizi, Xiao Guizi, isn’t that Wu Sangui’s son? [same ‘gui’ character] I don’t want to be Bojue Daren anymore, I have to find a way to warn Shifu and the others to run away, to roll out of damn stinking duck egg.”

Seeing he did not answer, Kangxi was even more angry. “So what is it?” he barked, “Don’t you know that you have committed a great crime? I give you a chance to reform and start afresh, a golden opportunity to atone for your crimes by meritorious acts, you are still haggling with me?”

“Your Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They wanted to come and harm you, I staked everything to stop them; your servant upheld yi qi toward you. Your Majesty wanted to arrest them, your servant stood in the middle, it’s hard for me to conduct myself, I have no choice but to plead with you; this is also for the sake of yi qi.”

Kangxi angrily said, “In your heart you are leaning toward the rebel thieves; that is ‘undivided obedience toward the rebels, eyes not looking at the lord’, yet you are still talking about yi qi?” After a short pause he continued, “You have saved my life, you have saved Fu Huang, saved the Empress Dowager. If I kill you today, in your heart you won’t submit; you will say that I did not have yi qi toward you, will you not?”

At this stage, Wei Xiaobao might as well harden his scalp. “That’s true,” he said, “Your Majesty has promised that if your servant ever makes mistake, Your Majesty will spare my life. The Lord of Ten Thousand Year’s golden mouth, once said you cannot go back on your word.”

“Alright,” Kangxi said, “You have deep plans and distant thoughts; you have prepared this move early on. Humph, your heart must be put to death.”

Wei Xiaobao did not understand the meaning of the four-word phrase ‘your heart must be put to death’[4], but he presumed it was not a good word. Ever since he knew Kangxi, he had never seen him losing his temper like this; he mused, “My head has been chopped more than half. With the young Emperor’s bad temper, pleading for leniency is useless; I’d better reason with him.” He said, “Your Majesty, I did obeisance to you as my master, you have agreed to take me as your disciple. That Chen Jinnan is also my Shifu. If I harbor any intention to harm you, that means I ‘deceive my master exterminate my ancestor’. If I go to harm that other Shifu, that means I also ‘deceive my master exterminate my ancestor’. Besides … besides, an emperor chopping his servant’s head is of course perfectly normal. But Shifu chopping his disciple’s head, it’s a bit out of place.”

Kangxi thought, “Accepting him as a disciple was just a joke; it was clearly stated then. This kid relies on my favor and his pride, he is undisciplined and out of control, unexpectedly he talked about me and the bandit chief in one breath, he is really creating a lot of trouble …” While he was thinking to this point, suddenly there was faint noise of people shouting and yelling from a distant, and ‘bing bing bang bang’ noise of weapons clashing.

Wei Xiaobao sprang up and said, “Seems like there are assassins. Shifu, please sit down and don’t move, let disciple block in front of you.”

“Humph,” Kangxi snorted; he thought, “This kid has committed thousands of inappropriate deeds, but to me he actually has a loyal and loving heart.” He said, “Later on you must not me Shifu anymore. You did not abide by the law of our school, as the Shifu, I am expelling you.” Speaking those words, he could not help feeling amused.

They heard footsteps, several people were rushing outside the Hall’s gate and stopped there. Wei Xiaobao rushed behind the door and immediately lifted up the latch to bolt the door. In a matter of life and death like this, his hands and feet could move very quickly, indeed it was unbelievable. “Who’s there?” he shouted.

Outside someone said in a loud voice, “Reporting to Your Majesty: Three assassins are breaking into the Palace, the night guards have already surrounded them, very soon they will be captured.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “In the end the three people of Gui Family are not able to escape.” He shouted, “His Majesty knew. Quickly get a hundred Imperial Bodyguards around Yang Xin Hall to protect the holy self, also station thirty guards on the roof.” The Imperial Bodyguard Captain outside the Hall acknowledged the order and left.

Kangxi thought, “He is very thorough. That day when I met with danger on Mount Wutai, that nun in white broke the tile from the roof and jumped down, it was indeed very hard to guard against. Luckily this kid dashed on bravely with no thought of his own safety and blocked the sword in front of me.”

After a while the sound of clamor gradually diminished, but a moment later the noise of clashing weapons arose again. Kangxi frowned and said, “Only three assassins and they cannot capture them. What if there are three hundred or three thousand assassins?”

“Your Majesty need not be worried,” Wei Xiaobao said, “People with background like Gui Xinshu are very few in the world, at most there are only four or five.”

Another moment passed, they heard footsteps and the ringing sound of swords and sabers; the deployed night guards arrived outside the Hall. They also heard noise from all around the roof; the night guards had leaped onto the roof of the Hall. The guards knew that the Emperor was inside the Hall, hence they all stood on the eaves and the corners of the roof; nobody dared to walk across the roof, otherwise it would be extremely disrespectful if they stood above the top of the Emperor’s head.

Kangxi knew that around the Yang Xin Hall alone there were at least four or five hundred Imperial Guards protecting him, he had absolutely nothing to worry about, thereupon he no longer care about the assassins. “Look what I have here,” he said. From inside his sleeve he took out a piece of paper and spread it out on the table.

Wei Xiaobao came over to look; it was a drawing. In the middle there was a big building, with a flagpole and stone lions in front of the building; it looked a lot like his own Earl Mansion. There were a dozen or more cannon arranged all around the building, the mouths of the cannon were aimed at the big building. After he looked closer, the building looked more and more like his house. “Do you recognize the building?” Kangxi asked.

“It looks a bit like your servant’s dog house,” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“It’s good that you recognize it,” Kangxi said. Pointing to the four characters above the drawing he asked, “Do you also recognize these four characters ‘Zhong Yong Bo Fu’ [Loyal and Brave Earl Mansion]?”

Realizing that the building was indeed his house, Wei Xiaobao could not help but breaking into cold sweats. That many cannon were set up around all four sides of his residence, naturally it was not a good thing. He had personally seen the two foreign devils Tang Ruowang and Nan Huairen fired the cannon; when the cannon went off, with a loud bang a blaze rose to the sky, mud and rocks splashed several dozen zhang into the air. Even if he wore a hundred protective treasured vests, he would still be blown into dog meat paste. Thinking about the power of the cannon blast, he could not help but shuddered.

Kangxi slowly said, “Tonight, your Tian Di Hui, Yunnan’s Mu Family, Huashan Pai’s surnamed Gui, plus Wang Wu Pai disciples Situ He and their people will convene at your house. Right now my twelve cannon are set up in private houses all around your house, the cannon are already loaded with cannonballs and gunpowder. We only need to open the window, exposing the muzzle, lighted the fuse, and I am afraid not a single rebel thief will be able to escape alive. If they are not dead from the bombardment and escape outside, several squads of Vanguard Battalion troops and horses are stationed in the surrounding area, they won’t be able to eat rice no matter what. Did you see Vanguard Battalion Commander Ajichi just now? He has gone to inspect the troops in preparation for the action. The Vanguard Battalion has never had a harmonious relation with the Valiant Cavalry Brigade under your command, they may not necessarily let you go.”

Wei Xiaobao said with a trembling voice, “Your Majesty has considered everything, but you tell it clearly to your servant only now, it is because you want to spare your servant’s life. Whatever little merit your servant previously has, hereby it is used to atone for my crime; it is all used up, not the slightest bit is left.”

Kangxi smiled and said, “It’s good that you understand. Just like the two of us playing Pai Jiu, you won quite a bit of money first, but in one bet you lost everything to me. Your previous wins all at once are lost, from now on you neither win nor lose. If we want to keep playing, we have to start anew.”

Wei Xiaobao let out a gentle sigh, he said, “I really have to thank Your Majesty’s kindness. From now on your servant will concentrate on working for Your Majesty. Forget about Tian Di Hui, even Tian Jiu Hui’s [heaven nine society] Xiangzhu your servant will not want to do it.” In his heart he was secretly worried, “Shifu and the others agreed to meet again at my house tonight, how can I warn them so they won’t come?” He said, “Your Majesty ordered your servant to capture this bunch of rebel thieves, you were simply testing your servant’s heart. The fact is that Your Majesty has already had divine foresight and amazing plan, everything else is a thousand-li distant.”

They heard someone outside the Hall said in a loud and clear voice, “Reporting to Your Majesty: the rebel thieves have been arrested!”

Kangxi’s face showed delight. “Bring them in!” he shouted.

“Yes!” Wei Xiaobao complied. He turned around and lifted the bolt and opened the Hall’s gate.

Several dozen Imperial Bodyguards, with the Gui Family three people in the midst of them, came in. They shouted together, “Kowtow to His Majesty, kneel down!”

The several dozen Imperial Bodyguards kneeled down together. Gui Xinshu, Gui Erniang and Gui Zhong, three people, were covered in blood, their bodies were full of wounds, but they stood upright and unafraid. All three of them were bound with thick ropes, each person had two Imperial Bodyguards standing by their side holding the other end of the ropes. The Imperial Bodyguard captain shouted, “Kneel down! Kneel down!” But how could the Gui Family trio pay him any attention?

They heard dripping noise in the Hall, the blood from the three Gui Family people and the wounded Imperial Bodyguards was continuously dripping to the floor. Gui Erniang glowered at Wei Xiaobao and shouted, “Little traitor, you … you are a stinky thief!” Seeing the miserable condition of these three people, Wei Xiaobao could not help feeling grieved; he did not even try to answer the insult.

Kangxi nodded and said, “Turns out Shen Quan Wu Di Gui Xinshu is such an old man! How many of our men are dead or injured?”

The Imperial Bodyguard captain replied, “Reporting to Your Majesty: the rebel thieves are extremely vicious, Imperial Bodyguards who died in the line of duty were more than thirty, those who are injured are more than forty.”

“Hey,” Kangxi said, while waving his hand. Inwardly he praised, “Amazing!”

The Imperial Bodyguard captain ordered his men to bring the three people out. Suddenly Gui Xinshu let out a loud shout and exerted his internal strength, his right shoulder crashed onto the Imperial Bodyguard standing by his side.

“Ah!” the Imperial Bodyguard cried out, while his body flew out, his head crashed onto the wall, sending him to instant death.

Gui Xinshu grabbed the rope binding Gui Zhong. Stretching and pulling, ‘Snap!’ the rope broke. Gui Xinshu grabbed Gui Zhong’s body and shouted, “Child, quickly go, Mama and I will follow really soon.” He threw Gui Zhong outside, Gui Zhong’s body flew out of the Hall’s gate.

Right this moment the Gui Family husband and wife leaped together to pounce on Kangxi. Seeing this adverse turn of events, Wei Xiaobao was greatly shocked; he scrambled up to embrace Kangxi and pull him down underneath the table, his back was facing outward, acting as a shield to protect Kangxi.

They heard ‘slap, slap!’ twice, followed by several Imperial Bodyguards rushed over to protect Kangxi and Wei Xiaobao. When they looked at the Gui Family husband and wife, they saw that they were lying in a pool of blood, with seven or eight sabers and swords sticking out of their backs; looked like they were no longer alive.

After strenuously killing several dozen Imperial Bodyguards, Gui Xinshu suffered serious injury, lastly, he used up his internal energy to break the rope binding his son before pouncing on Kangxi. Gui Erniang understood her husband’s intention. On one hand, at the death’s door they hoped to take the Tatar Emperor’s life with their last strike; on the other hand, they hoped that in the confusion their child would be able to escape. But their hands and feet were firmly tied, they had no strength left to break the ropes; therefore, they both leaped together to attack Kangxi. However, after the fierce battle outside, they were like drying oil lantern. Their bodies were in the air when their mouths spurted blood, they could not endure anymore and fell to the floor; even if the Imperial Bodyguards did not hack and chop, they would have died anyway.

Kangxi calmed down a little bit. He frowned and said, “Pull them out, pull them out!” The Imperial Bodyguards replied in chorus.

They were just about to lift the two bodies when from the Hall’s door a shadow flashed by. Someone was flying in, his movement was extremely fast, he threw himself to the Gui Family husband and wife’s bodies and called out loudly, “Ma, Dad!” It was Gui Zhong.

Several Imperial Bodyguards hacked down with their sabers and swords, unexpectedly Gui Zhong did not evade at all. The blades landed on his body. They only heard him gasping for breath and said, “Ma, you … you are not coming with me, what should I do? I don’t know the way …” He coughed twice, his head drooped down and he died. In all his life he followed his mother closely; his mother took care of everything. This moment as he left his father and mother, he felt completely lost. Although he managed to leave Yang Xin Hall, in the end he came back to be with his father and mother.

The Imperial Bodyguards Zongguan [chief] Dolong rushed into the Hall. He kneeled down and said, “Reporting to Your Majesty: The assassins in the Palace have been completely … completely purged …” Seeing blood all over the floor of the Hall, he was terrified. He kowtowed and said, “The assassins have frightened the Holy Self, your servant … your servant deserves to die!”

Just now Kangxi was grabbed and brought down by Wei Xiaobao. Although it was such a sorry situation and was harmful to his dignity, this person was risking his life to protect the holy self; his loyalty toward the master was undoubtedly real. He said to Dolong, “There are still people outside who want to assassinate Wei Xiaobao. You must protect him well, don’t leave him even a cun or a step. You must not let him leave the Palace even more. Tomorrow early in the morning I will give you further instruction.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong hastily replied, “Your servant will strive to protect Wei Dutong.”

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “The Emperor is going to bombard Tian Di Hui tonight, he is afraid I might tip them off, hence he instructed Dolong to watch over me.”

Kangxi walked to the Hall’s gate; he thought, “Xiao Guizi is cunning and extremely crafty, this old boor Dolong is not his match.” Turning his head around, he said, “Dolong, get more people, follow Wei Xiaobao closely, don’t let him talk to other people, also don’t let him send anything out of the Palace. In short, the situation is dangerous, you just have to treat him like an offender to the throne.”

“Yes, yes,” Dolong replied, “Your Majesty treats your subject with kindness in every possible way.” He thought that the Emperor treasured Wei Xiaobao so much that he did not want to give the assassins any opportunity to harm him.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Majesty’s kindness, your servant cannot repay even if my body torn my bones crushed.” In his heart he knew that by saying that, the Emperor was taking Wei Xiaobao’s face into consideration; in the future he might still find Wei Xiaobao useful.

Kangxi smiled and said, “You won another round. Starting from tomorrow, we will play again. That golden rice bowl of yours, you must hold it firmly with both hands, don’t let it be broken and rotten!” Finished speaking he went out the Hall’s gate.

Naturally only Wei Xiaobao understood what Kangxi was saying. Just now he had protected Kangxi’s holy self, hence Kangxi considered him rendering another merit. Tonight, after his Shifu Chen Jinnan and the others were killed, he would not have anything to do with Tian Di Hui anymore, the Emperor could reinstate him into an important position. The golden rice bowl was engraved with these four characters ‘gong zhong ti guo’ [serving one’s country loyally]. The Emperor wanted him to be loyal and devoted to him, and not be two-hearted.

Wei Xiaobao imagined the devastation of his Shifu and Tian Di Hui brothers, flesh and blood flying everywhere; even if his nobility rank was raised again, how could his heart be at peace? He thought, “If as a human being I do not uphold yi qi, what am I if not a turtle b@stard?” He pondered further, “Why is the Emperor so well-informed all of a sudden? Which son of a b1tch told him? This morning when I first saw the Emperor, he was very good to me, saying that he was going to send me to victorious battle, hoping that I would catch Wu Sangui and he would bestow me the title Ping Xi Wang. I am sure at that time the Emperor still did not know anything about Tian Di Hui Wei Xiangzhu. He must have received the information while I was taking the old wh0re to be presented to the Empress Dowager; but which dog thief giving him the tip off? Humph, most likely it was Wu Palace people, or perhaps Wang Wu Pai Situ He’s subordinate. Otherwise, how could the Emperor not know other matters such as I stole the Forty-two Chapter Sutra, or I became the White Dragon Envoy of the Divine Dragon Cult?”

Seeing Wei Xiaobao frowning and worried, with blank expression on his face, Dolong patted his shoulder and said with a laugh, “Wei Xiongdi, His Majesty dotes on you like this, I wonder for how many previous incarnations you have cultivated good deeds? It doesn’t matter which, Princes, Beilei, Generals, Cabinet Ministers, of the imperial court, His Majesty has never sent any Imperial Bodyguards to protect him. Everybody says that before Wei Dutong reaches twenty, he will be bestowed the title Gong and Wang. You don’t have to worry, as long as you do not step out the Palace gate for one step, even if the rebel thieves have magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, they won’t be able to harm a single strand of your hair.”

Wei Xiaobao could only force a laugh as he said, “His Majesty’s benevolence is as high as the heaven and is deep as the earth, we as the servants can only do our utmost to repay it.” He saw dozens of Imperial Bodyguards stood in front of him, behind him, on his left and right; to send a letter to Tian Di Hui brothers would be extremely difficult. He thought, “Any Gong or Wang title, Laozi does not want. I would rather the young Emperor kick me in the butt and shout at me: ‘Get your Ma’s stinky duck egg out of here! From now on I don’t want you to see my face.’ This kind of protection can’t really protect my old life.”

Dolong said, “Wei Xiongdi, His Majesty instructed you not to move carelessly. Do you want to return to your old residence to rest, or do you want to go to the Imperial Bodyguard office, so that everybody can accompany you several rounds?” He knew throwing dice or playing Pai Jiu would definitely fit Wei Xiaobao’s fancy.

Wei Xiaobao had a sudden inspiration, he said, “Empress Dowager ordered me to do something very important, I have to do it right away. Would Duo Dage [‘Dolong’ in Chinese is ‘Duo Long’] come with me?”

Dolong’s face appeared to be reluctant; he said, “Empress Dowager’s order, naturally you must do it immediately. It’s just that … it’s just that His Majesty’s imperial decree was very strict, he said Wei Xiongdi must never ever leave the Palace …”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “This is something that I have to do inside the Palace, Duo Dage needs not be worried.”

Dolong was relieved instantly; he laughed and said, “As long as you don’t go out the Palace gate, all taboos are off.”

Wei Xiaobao ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to bring the First Imperial Concubine Shen’s luan sedan chair to the burning ground west of Shen Wu Gate. He said, “Whoever opens the curtain of the sedan chair, Empress Dowager ordered me to immediately chop his head.”

Dolong and the Imperial Bodyguards were all aware about the assassins attacking the First Imperial Concubine’s sedan chair. Although they did not know the details, they all knew that it was the Empress Dowager’s secret, and all along they felt queasy about it. When they heard that Wei Xiaobao wanted to bring the sedan chair to be cremated at the burning ground, it meant they were getting rid of a fetus of a gargantuan disaster; everybody felt as if a large rock was taken off their heads.

Right away Dolong came with Wei Xiaobao to get the luan sedan chair and bring it to the burning ground. Along the way, blood was still dripping from the sedan chair, as for who died in the sedan chair, naturally nobody dared to ask even half a question.

Arriving at the burning ground, they had the sula [odd jobs/part-time worker] pile up firewood around the luan sedan chair and burn it. Wei Xiaobao picked up a piece of wood and with a charcoal drew a small sparrow on it. He cupped the piece of wood in hands as he faced the burning sedan and prayed, “Thin Toutuo, Old Wh0re, in this world you could not be husband and wife, in the underworld you can be husband and wife for a thousand years, ten thousand years. By this time the three Gui people who killed you are also dead. You two left first, they were right at your heels. If you meet each other at the bridge as you gaze toward the edge of the platform, everybody must be friendly with each other.”

Dolong and the others saw him moving his lips, they assumed he was praying for the departed spirit to be reincarnated soon. They saw him moving several pieces of rock and made a small pile, and then he stuck the piece of wood into the rocks, just like an incense stick. How could they know that it was a secret code between him and Tao Hongying when they wanted to communicate with each other?

When the sedan chair and the corpses inside it were burned to ashes, Wei Xiaobao returned to his former dwelling place. Earlier some eunuchs who wanted to fawn on him had already come over and swept the place clean, and delivered food and drink as well as some light refreshments. Wei Xiaobao gave the eunuchs some tips and then he invited Dolong and the Imperial Bodyguards to have some.

“Duo Dage,” he said, “You and the gentlemen please sit and relax here, Xiongdi has been working all night last night for His Majesty, I am really tired.”

Xiongdi,” Dolong replied, “There is no need to stand on ceremonies, please go to bed quickly. Your Gege will protect you.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “That is really one thousand times, ten thousand times, I do not dare to accept. Duo Dage, what is it that you want His Majesty bestow to you? Tell me, Xiongdi will remember it in my heart. Next time I see His Majesty is happy, I will ask him on your behalf, I have 80% confidence that it will be successful.”

Dolong was greatly delighted. “Wei Xiongdi is willing to ask His Majesty on my behalf, how can it not be successful?” he said.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Duo Dage’s business is Xiongdi’s own business; why would I not strive to accomplish it?”

Dolong laughed and said, “Your Gege has been doing errands in the Capital for a while, I am somewhat tired, hence I am thinking of going to outside provinces for a change of pace.”

Wei Xiaobao slapped his thigh and said with a laugh, “Dage is not wrong at all. Within the city of Beijing, I don’t know how many princes, dukes and high-ranking officials whose rank is higher than ours; in all honesty we cannot display our prestige at all. If we are out of the Capital, it will be free and easy. If we want several taels of silver, we only need to cough, other people will immediately deliver it with both hands.” The two of them roared in laughter.

Wei Xiaobao went into the bedroom and lay down in the bed; he mused, “Duo Dage received the Emperor’s decree, he is keeping a very close watch on me. It’s impossible for me to go out of the Palace to warn Shifu. I will have to wait for Tao Gugu and ask her to pass on the message. It’s just that I am afraid she will come here too late in the evening. If she arrived in the depth of the night to see me, over there the cannon will already be fired, over here what can I do?” A moment later he thought, “Right now the only plan I have is to send some Imperial Bodyguards out to beat the grass to scare the snake.”

Once his mind was set, he closed his eyes to nap for about two hours. When he woke up, the sun was slightly slanting to the west; it was already passed Wei hour [between 1-3pm]. He walked out of the bedroom to talk to Dolong.

“Duo Dage,” he said, “Do you know the reason why those bunch of assassins wanted to make their move on me?”

“That, I do not know,” Dolong replied.

Wei Xiaobao said, “One group is Tian Di Hui, the other is Mu Palace.”

Dolong stuck out his tongue. “Those two groups of rebel thieves are very formidable,” he said, “No wonder His Majesty is very anxious.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am thinking of hiding in the Palace for one day, but I don’t want to hide for life. Today although I have Duo Dage to protect me, but if the rebel thieves are not wiped out, they will cause no end of trouble.”

Dolong said, “By the time His Majesty summons us for the morning audience tomorrow, he will definitely have a marvelous plan. Wei Xiongdi does not need to worry.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I won’t conceal it from Dage, in Xiongdi’s home, there are several girls whose appearance is like flower or like jade, whom Xiongdi loves very much. Apparently tonight the rebel thieves will come to my house to assassinate me. When they fail to harm Xiongdi, most probably they will kill these several girls; that … that will be a pity.”

Dolong laughed and nodded his head. He recalled the instant when Wei Xiaobao wanted him to pretend and put on airs to give Zheng Keshuang some trouble, it was precisely for the sake of a beauty. This young brother was loose and lecherous; although he was still young, he must have had a collection of not a few good-looking concubines in his house. Thereupon he said, “That’s easy, I’ll send some men to Xiongdi’s mansion to protect them.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he cupped his fist to express his gratitude. “The young girls in Xiongdi’s house,” he said, “There are three that I most dote on, one is Shuang’er, the second is Zeng Rou, and then there is another one called … called Jianping (he thought that if he mentioned the name Mu Jianping, the word ‘Mu’ might cause suspicion); their appearances are quite not bad. Xiongdi is really worried. I ask Dage to send the men to protect them, tell them that tonight some Tian Di Hui and Mu Family assassins will come over, tell them to hide immediately. It would be best if Dage send a bit more people to guard Xiongdi’s house, so that when the assassins arrive, they can capture that his granny bunch. Whichever brothers are working hard, I will heavily thank them with gifts.”

Dolong struck his chest and said with a laugh, “That’s easy. It’s Wei Bojue Mansion’s matter, who would not want to strive to step forward?” Immediately he ordered the Imperial Bodyguard captain to select several men and send them out.

All Imperial Bodyguards knew that Wei Xiaobao was very generous; usually, even without any problem at all he would often tip them eight hundred or a thousand taels. This time it was to protect his beloved concubines, he would definitely reward them handsomely. Immediately they all happily accept the assignment. Inevitably those who were out of turn and not selected were sighing and moaning inwardly, blaming their own poor luck.

Wei Xiaobao was somewhat relieved; he thought, “When Shuang’er and the others hear the Imperial Bodyguards’ message that the Palace is sending people to protect them, to wait for and arrest Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace’s assassins, they will tell my Shifu and the others to flee. But if my Shifu and the others stay out, Shuang’er, Miss Zeng and Xiao Junzhu, three people might die from the bombardment; that would be terrible! But with a large group of Imperial Bodyguards in my house, the gunmen outside will not open fire carelessly.”

He then had a second thought, “If the gunmen received the Emperor’s strict order, it does not matter if three by seven is twenty-one, they absolutely must open fire, and then what would happen?” Xiao Junzhu and Zeng Rou were not a big deal, but Shuang’er’s love and loyalty to him was very deep, she was the most important person in his heart, he simply must not let her delivering her life. Only it was such a dilemma for him; if he ordered the Imperial Bodyguards to get Shuang’er and the others out first, there would be nobody left to warn Shifu and the brothers. If he saved Shuang’er but did not save Shifu, he would be paying more attention to a lover than friends, then he would be a turtle b@stard. Momentarily he paced back and forth in his room in distress for not able to find an ingenious plan.

More than an hour later the captain of the Imperial Bodyguards that was sent to Zhong Yong Earl Mansion returned and reported: they had not reach the Earl Mansion and were already stopped by Vanguard Battalion’s officers and men. The Canling [regimental commander] of the Vanguard Battalion said that they were on imperial orders to protect the Earl Mansion, there was no need for the Imperial Bodyguards officers to take the trouble. The Imperial Bodyguards wanted to come in to protect the women, but no matter what the Vanguard Battalion would not allow them, saying that everything had been arranged by His Majesty. Afterwards even the Vanguard Battalion’s Commander Ah [from ‘Ajichi’] also personally stepped forward to stop them. The Imperial Bodyguards were unable to change their mind, and were obliged to return.

When Wei Xiaobao heard this, he uttered a series of groaning in his heart. Dolong laughed and said, “Xiongdi, His Majesty is really considerate toward you, unexpectedly he sends the Vanguard Battalion to protect your pretty women. What else are you worried about? Ha ha, ha ha!”

Wei Xiaobao had no choice but to accompany him with some hollow laugh. He thought, “In everything the young Emperor is a thousand li ahead of me. This time my Shifu and the others really face imminent catastrophe. The Vanguard Battalion must have received strict order to guard around my Earl Mansion; seeing common people, they let them come in, so that tonight they will be blasted to death together. If it is civil or military government officers, they won’t let them in.”

His mind went further, “If I suddenly release the ‘Han Sha She Ying’ [see Chapter 41] secret projectiles, taking Duo Dage’s life is not difficult, but there are many Imperial Bodyguards in here, how can I kill them all? Too bad last time my knockout drug has been used up in the Zhuang House.” He saw the sun was getting lower and lower, he was like an ant inside a hot pot, his body was burning hot, and he had to pee several time, but all along he could not come up with the least bit of idea.

More than two hours later, the sky was gradually turning dark. Wei Xiaobao pushed the window to look out, and saw seven or eight Imperial Bodyguards patrolling back and forth outside his room, the security was extremely tight. He looked in all directions, but where was Tao Hongying’s shadow? Heaving a very deep sigh he dejectedly collapsed onto his bed; thinking that perhaps by this time quite a few of his friends had already inside the Earl Mansion. For every moment he was delayed, all his brothers were a step closer in their journey to the underworld.

From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the big water jar standing at the corner of his building, it was the one Hai Dafu used to use. That day he was totally dependent on this big jar to kill Rui Dong; he thought, “Why don’t I lure Duo Dage to enter the room, and kill him with the secret projectile, and then set the room on fire? Then I can escape in the midst of confusion. Duo Dage’s treatment to me is not bad at all, without any reason whatsoever I am harming his life, in all honesty I am doing him too much wrong. But there is big yi qi and then there is small yi qi; the dozens of my Shifu and the others’ lives are somewhat more important than his, one person’s life.”

His mind was set, he took a fire-knife and a flint to light a candle; he thought, “The mosquito net will be burned the fastest; after I kill Duo Dage, I’ll set the mosquito net on fire.”

Right this moment he suddenly heard Dolong calling out from outside the room, “Wei Xiongdi, the food and drink is here, come out and drink some wine.”

“Let’s the two of us brothers eat inside!” Wei Xiaobao replied.

“Alright!” Dolong said. He instructed the eunuch who deliver the food and drink to bring the food case inside.

The eunuch was around sixteen, seventeen years old. When he entered the room, he paid his respect to Wei Xiaobao before opening the food case and taking out the food and drink. A divine light suddenly flashed inside Wei Xiaobao’s brain, he thought of an idea. “Stay here to serve us drinking the wine,” he said to the eunuch.

The little eunuch was extremely delighted; he had long understood that Wei Bojue was formerly the chief of the Imperial Kitchen, and had always treated the people working under him generously. Serving him eating and drinking would definitely be beneficial; thereupon delightedly he set up the bowls and chopsticks.

Dolong followed inside; he said with a laugh, “Xiongdi, you have not been working in the Palace for quite a while, yet His Majesty did not take away your room. Even a prince or a Beilei would not receive such preferential treatment.”

“It’s not preferential treatment by His Majesty,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “His Majesty is dealing with a lot of important matters in the world, how can he care about this kind of irrelevant small matter? Honestly speaking, Xiongdi living here is totally against the rule.”

Dolong laughed and said, “To others it may be against the rule, but to Xiongdi it’s not a big deal.” He knew that the chief of the court eunuchs wanted to fawn on Wei Xiaobao, so nobody dared to send other people to live in this building. Besides, there was no lack of rooms in the Imperial Palace, plus there was nothing special with Hai Dafu’s residence, naturally the eunuch in charge of the imperial kitchen had other accommodation.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “If Dage did not mention it, Xiongdi would have forgotten. Tomorrow I should notify Zongguan Taijian [chief manager eunuch] that I need to hand this room back. If we as external ministers lived in the Palace, if the external imperial censor found out and he submitted a report to our superior, it won’t taste very good.”

“His Majesty likes you,” Dolong said, “Who would care about that?”

“Please sit down, please sit down,” Wei Xiaobao said, “This room has nothing special, it’s just that Xiongdi was accustomed to live here, it’s not that Xiongdi does not feel that living in the Earl Mansion is not as comfortable as living in here.”

He slowly walked around Dolong’s back, pulled his dagger, and said, with a laugh, “These eight bowls of dish are all the food that Xiongdi loves to eat; the imperial kitchen still remembers. Dage, how about trying this crab meat lion’s head [i.e. meatballs]?”

Dolong said, “The food that Xiongdi loves to eat must be the best …” before he could finish, suddenly he felt coldness on the left side of his back; he slumped to the table and stopped moving. Turned out Wei Xiaobao already aimed the dagger at the middle of his back, and thrust it in.

The dagger was completely noiseless; the little eunuch did not notice at all, he was still pouring the wine. Wei Xiaobao walked over to his back and noiselessly thrust his dagger into his heart. Immediately he turned around and bolted the door, and quickly took off his clothes and cap, shoes and socks, leaving only his underwear and his protective vest. And then he wore the little eunuch clothes and hat, and put on his clothes and hat on the little eunuch. The two of them were more or less of the same height, hence their clothes and hats also fit on each other’s body. Afterwards he dragged the little eunuch’s body and sat it on the chair; raising his dagger, he made random cuts on the little eunuch’s face, destroying his facial features beyond recognition.

While his hands were busy working, in his heart he said, “Duo Dage, you are a Tatar, our Tian Di Hui makes our living by killing Tatars, so I have to kill you. Today I harmed your life, I really am sorry. Luckily you are bound to die anyway. Tonight I escape, tomorrow His Majesty will definitely have your head chopped, so you died only half a day earlier, it can’t be considered big loss. Moreover, because I killed you, you died in the line of duty. If the Emperor chopped your head, your possessions will be searched and confiscated, your wife and children will be dragged into this; you might as well die half a day earlier, your family will receive pensions and gift for the bereaved. Come to think about it, you are actually in a much more convenient situation.” But thinking that usually Dolong was really not bad toward him, and that he was compelled by circumstances to kill him, in his heart he was genuinely grieved and was unable to stop tears from flowing down his face.

After wiping his tears, he turned around to look at the little eunuch; he said in his heart, “You, Xiao Xiongdi, are wearing the Yellow Magua, you look very impressive. Originally, even you reincarnate ten times, you could not dream of achieving even half a part of the Yellow Magua. On your head you are wearing Bojue Daren’s hat. Just the ruby alone is enough to last you seven or eight lifetimes. Hey, hey, you are being promoted and gain wealth, it could be the Will of Heaven. In those days I, Wei Xiaobao, masqueraded Xiao Guizi; since then I enjoyed meteoric rise, until I become a high-ranking officer. Today you masquerade Wei Xiaobao, whether you could enjoy meteoric rise in the future or not, it will depend on your ability.”

He also thought, “Previously I masqueraded a little eunuch, today I let a little eunuch masquerade me. The debt I previously owed, I pay it back fair and square. Xiao Xuanzi, oh Xiao Xuanzi, I do not do you any wrong.”

Straightening up his clothes and hat and did not see any flaw, he said in a loud voice, “Xiao Wa’er [lit. little baby], you may leave; no need to serve here anymore. Here’s five taels for you to buy some candy.”

And then with an unclear voice he said, “Thank you very much Bojue Daren.”

Raising his voice again he said, “I am drinking wine and have a heart-to-heart chat with Duo Zongguan in here, I don’t want anybody to come in and disturb us!”

In the Palace, the court eunuchs’ assignment was to serve the Emperor, the Empress, the Imperial Concubines, princes and princesses, but it was not uncommon for the senior eunuchs with official duty to have little eunuchs serving them. Although Wei Xiaobao was not a eunuch anymore, previously his prestige in the Palace was impressive, he was a big time eunuch; for him to have a little eunuch serving him and then rewarding him with money was a very common occurrence. When the Imperial Bodyguards outside heard this, nobody notice anything was out of place. They saw the door opened, the little eunuch came out, carrying the food box in his hands, with head hung low he turned around to close the door.

Carrying the food box, Wei Xiaobao walked to the main gate with head hung low. He saw the Imperial Bodyguards were getting rice and pouring wine, nobody paid him any attention. Wei Xiaobao was secretly delighted; he thought, “It will be at least two hours before the Imperial Bodyguards find out that the two people inside the room are dead; they would think that Wei Bojue and Duo Zongguan were murdered by the assassins. It will scare them off that they will piss in their pants in terror.”

Stepping over the main door, he saw a procession of several eunuchs and palace maids, the leader carried a lantern, the rest of them carried a sedan chair. The sedan chair was decorated like a pheasant tail and feather; it was called a ‘long-tail pheasant sedan chair’. The eunuch leading the procession announced in loud voice, “Her Highness the Princess has arrived.”

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “The Princess did not come late, she did not come early, but she came exactly at this moment. As soon as she enters the room, she will immediately see me, Wei Xiaobao, killed; won’t she raise a ruckus in the Palace like the sky and the earth turning upside down? Now it will be extremely difficult to go out.”

Momentarily he was at a loss of what to do. He saw the sedan chair stopped, Princess Jianning stepped out from the sedan chair. “Is Xiao Guizi inside?” she called out.

Wei Xiaobao gritted his teeth; he stepped forward and said in a low voice, “Princess, Wei Jueye [noble master] is drunk, let your servant take Princess inside.”

The lantern was not too bright, the Princess did not recognize him. Seeing the Imperial Bodyguards coming out of the room together to welcome her, she thought, “Why are there so many people?” Frowning, she waved her left hand and said, “Everybody wait outside.” In big stride she walked in.

Wei Xiaobao followed her in. As soon as he was in, he turned around and closed the door. The Princess said, “You also go out.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wei Bojue is in the inner room.”

The Princess entered in quick steps. She pushed the door open, and saw ‘Wei Xiaobao’ and Dolong two men were slumping over the table; obviously they were very drunk. She knitted her beautiful eyebrows and sternly said, “You are still not out?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said in a low voice, “If I go out, I cannot burn the rattan-armored troops.”

The Princess was startled; she quickly turned around, and under the candlelight, she was shocked to see Wei Xiaobao standing behind her. She could not help but was surprised and delighted at the same time. “Ah,” she cried out. “You … what are you doing?” she asked.

“Don’t make noise!” Wei Xiaobao hissed.

The Princess looked at him, and then she looked at the ‘Wei Xiaobao’ crouching on the table. “What trick are you playing?” she asked in a low voice.

Wei Xiaobao pulled her into the room and closed the door. “Things are not good,” he said in a low voice, “His Majesty wants to kill me!”

Huangdi Gege has already killed the Prince Consort,” the Princess said, “Why does he want to kill you too? He … he … if he killed you, I will stake my life against him.”

Wei Xiaobao reached out and pulled her into her arms, he planted a kiss on her cheek and said, “Let us quickly flee from the Palace. His Majesty knew about you and me, he wants to chop my head.”

Being embraced and kissed by him, the Princess’ body went weak; she said in a tender voice, “Huangdi Gege has killed the Prince Consort, I thought he was going to give me to you in marriage, how … how could there be such thing? How did he find out?”

“It must be you who tip him off, wasn’t it?” Wei Xiaobao said.

The Princess blushed. “It was not,” she said, “I only asked several times, when are you coming back.”

“And you said it wasn’t you?” Wei Xiaobao said, “It does not matter. Anyway, the two of us are already husband and wife; let us quickly get out of the Palace.”

The Princess hesitated. “I will plead with Huangdi Gege tomorrow,” she said, “He can’t possibly kill you. When he killed the Prince Consort, he already told me that he really offended me, and he promised to find another good Prince Consort for me. He is always very fond of you …” Speaking to this point, she felt that the reeking of blood in the room was getting thicker and thicker. Sniffing twice, she asked, “What is …” Suddenly a burst of bad chi bubbled up in the pit of her stomach, ‘Wah!’ she leaned over the back of a chair and threw up; her throat felt nauseated, she vomited another mouthful of bad-taste clear liquid.

Wei Xiaobao lightly patted her back and gently comforted her, “What happened? Did you eat any bad food? Are you feeling better?”

The Princess threw up two more times; suddenly she turned around and shot a heavy slap on his face. “I ate some bad food?” she cursed, “It’s you who are not good, you are not good!” With both fists she punched the pit of his stomach continuously.

The Princess had always been harsh, unreasonable, and rough; this moment she suddenly threw a fit, Wei Xiaobao did not think it strange; however, realizing the urgency of the situation, for every moment he was delayed, the time the cannon would be fired would also be a moment closer. He really could not afford to have unnecessary bickering with her. “Alright, alright” he said, “I am not good.”

The Princess twisted his ear and shouted, “You and I are going to see Huangdi Gege, the two of us are going to immediately bow to the Heaven and the Earth to become husband and wife.”

Wei Xiaobao was greatly anxious; he pleaded, “Leave the matter of bowing to the Heaven and the Earth to be husband and wife to me, but as soon as we see His Majesty, your husband will turn into a headless Prince Consort instantly. Let us flee out of the Palace immediately, it is very important.”

The Princess pulled Wei Xiaobao’s ear hard, he was in so much pain that he could not bear not to cry out. The Princes cursed, “You don’t have any head, what’s the big deal? You are a little demon, originally you did not have any head anyway. What shall I do with the baby little demon in my tummy?” Speaking to this point, ‘Wah!’ she broke into crying.

Wei Xiaobao was shocked, “What … what … baby little demon?”

The Princess’s leg flew, she kicked his lower abdomen, while saying with a cry, “In my tummy there is a baby little demon; it’s you who are not good. If we do not become husband and wife immediately, my belly … my belly will grow every day … His Majesty knew Wu Yingxiong was a eunuch, he could not do it, I … how can I conduct myself as a human?”

Wei Xiaobao’s countenance turned deathly pale; right now a thousand pounds was hanging by a thread, he was facing an urgent matter, and then this highly embarrassing matter arose. He busily said, “If we don’t get out of the Palace quickly, the baby little demon won’t have any Dad. After we escape out of the Palace, we will immediately bow to the Heaven and the Earth and get married. You give birth to a baby little demon, won’t that … won’t that be His Majesty’s nephew [orig. waisheng – sister’s son]? His Majesty becomes a maternal uncle, he will become my dajiuzi [wife’s older brother], won’t he feel it’s embarrassing to kill his meifu [younger sister’s husband]?”

“Why would he feel embarrassed?” the Princess said, “Wu Yingxiong was his meifu, didn’t he kill him with one chop of a saber?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “His Majesty knew that Wu Yingxiong was a fake meifu, I, Wei Xiaobao, on the other hand, is the genuine goods at fair prices. He killed fake meifu, he can’t possibly kill real meifu. Good Princess, after our baby little demon is born, he will wrap his arms around your neck and call you Mama, won’t it be beautiful?” While saying that, he reached out to embrace her neck.

The Princess let out a tender giggles; she happily said, “If I can get the beautiful thing, which is you, this son of a b1tch, I won’t want any baby little demon calling me Mama.” Her mouth said those words, but her hand that was twisting Wei Xiaobao’s ear actually loosened up. She said in tender voice, “I haven’t seen you for such a long time; were you thinking of me?” While saying that, she threw herself into his embrace.

“I was,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “I was thinking of you every day, I was thinking of you every night, I think of you all the time.” But in his heart he cursed, “This hopeless romantic is really a damn dead wh0re.” He saw her lingering feeling, her blushing face, but this was really not a good time to be intimate with her, yet he did not dare to offend her. In a low voice he said, “As soon as we are out of the Palace, later on day and night we will be together, we won’t be separated anymore. Let us go now.”

The Princess wriggled herself free from his embrace. “Can’t do!” she said, “We must become husband and wife tonight.”

“Alright, alright!” Wei Xiaobao said, “If you say tonight, then tonight it is. But we must get out of the Palace first and talk about it later.”

“What do you mean get out?” the Princess said, “Huangdi Gege loves me most, he is your Shifu, he also loves you the most. Tomorrow we will plead with him, he won’t be angry. Huangdi Gege hates Wu Sangui the most, you can ask him to issue an imperial decree, assigning you to lead the troops to attack Wu Sangui, I will go with you. I will be the grand marshal of the army, you can become my deputy, we will beat Wu Sangui that he will be utterly defeated. Huangdi Gege may bestow you the title Wangye.” While saying that, she embraced him tightly.

Wei Xiaobao was in an extremely difficult situation. Suddenly someone knocked the window lightly three times, and then after a short pause knocked again twice. Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted; he said in a low voice, “Is it Tao Gugu?” He gently pushed the Princess away, and scrambled toward the window to open it. A shadow flashed, someone leaped in; it was precisely Tao Hongying.

As the two women faced each other, both were shocked. Tao Hongying called in a low voice, “Princess.”

The Princess angrily said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Thinking it over, immediately her jealousy arose, thinking that in the dead of the night this palace maid hopped over the window into Xiao Guizi’s room, it couldn’t possibly be a good thing, could it? Doubtlessly she must be his lover. Although she saw that Tao Hongying was old, thinking that Xiao Guizi was fooling around with this old and ugly palace maid, she could not forgive him even more. She was feeling rather amorous, but this woman suddenly broke in and spoiled the mood, her fury blazed like crazy. “Gu …” she loudly called out. Wei Xiaobao had already prepared against this possibility. As soon as he knew that she was going to yell ‘guards’, he reached out and pressed his hand on her mouth.

The Princess struggled hard; she slapped backhandedly to strike Wei Xiaobao’s face. In his panic and fright, Wei Xiaobao’s right hand reached to her neck and tightened his grip. “Dead wh0re,” he cursed, “I’ll strangle you to death!” The Princess could not breathe, her hands and feet flailing randomly. Wei Xiaobao pulled his left hand to hammer it on her head twice.

Seeing he dared to beat up the Princess, Tao Hongying was shocked; she knew immediately that this matter would get noisy really quick. Stretching out her finger, she jabbed the Princess’ waist and the pit of her stomach three times in succession, sealing several acupoints on the upper part of her body. It was only then did Wei Xiaobao let go of his grip.

Gugu,” he said in a low voice, “Things have turned really bad, the Emperor wants to kill me, I have to escape right away.”

“There are a lot of Imperial Bodyguards outside,” Tao Hongying said, “I have been here quite a while ago, I waited behind the flower terrace more than an hour before I was able to sneak in. Look.” She quietly pushed the window a slit.

Wei Xiaobao peeked out, and indeed he saw seven or eight Imperial Bodyguards patrolling back and forth with lanterns in their hands. He thought for a moment, Thin Toutuo and Mao Dongzhu came into his mind; he mused, “Those two people’s luck was not good, they came across Gui Xinshu, husband and wife. Laozi can imitate their method. Those three people from the Gui Family can’t possibly reincarnated in someone else’s bodies, I can ride in the Princess’ sedan chair.”

Turning to the Princess, he said, “Princess, please don’t drink vinegar [i.e. be jealous], she is my Gugu, my Dad’s Meizi [younger sister], my Mama’s Jiejie [older sister]. You must not throw a fit randomly.”

After her acupoints were sealed by Tao Hongying, the Princess was so angry that she nearly pass out; hearing Wei Xiaobao’s explanation, her heart calmed down. She did not think that ‘Dad’s Meizi and Mama’s Jiejie’ couldn’t possibly be the same person. In any case, this woman was not Xiao Guizi’s lover, so there was no problem. Instantly her face showed a smiling expression as she said, “In that case quickly release me.”

Wei Xiaobao wanted to make her happy; he said, “You are my wife, quickly greet Gugu.”

The Princess was very happy, to everybody’s surprise, she really called, “Gugu!”

Tao Hongying was bewildered; a moment ago these two were beating each other, how could the Princess suddenly call her ‘Aunt’?

Wei Xiaobao said, “Order the sedan chair to be carried inside the room, and then tell everybody to get out, close the door, and then you and I will ride inside the sedan chair. We will sneak out of the Palace, and immediately bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married. During the wedding ceremony, we must have an elder standing on the side as the witness, otherwise the ceremony will not count. Our Gugu can be the witness. What do you think?”

The Princess was overjoyed; her face blushed as she said in a low voice, “Good!”

Wei Xiaobao pushed her back away and urged, “Quickly go, quickly go!”

Being rushed urgently like that, without waiting for the acupoints on her upper body to be unsealed, the Princess went to the door and ordered, “Bring the sedan chair into the room!”

All the eunuchs and palace maids were baffled, but this Princess has always been unpredictable, the orders that she gave usually had very little common sense, but had a lot of wildest things imaginable; therefore, they complied in chorus and brought the sedan chair inside.

The First Imperial Concubine Shen’s luan sedan chair could be brought into the Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful and quietly brought Thin Toutuo and Mao Dongzhu out. Wei Xiaobao’s door was only several chi wide, how could the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair be brought through the door? Only the two long sedan chair poles could go in, the body of the sedan chair was stuck on the doorway and could not get in.

“Useless bunch,” the Princess cursed, “Get out!”

The two eunuchs carrying the front part of the sedan chair thought, “The door is too narrow, how can you blame us?” Immediately they slipped out from the side of the sedan chair.

Wei Xiaobao whispered in the Princess’ ear, “Order the Imperial Bodyguards not to come in.”

The Princess raised her voice, “Xiao Guizi, you must accompany me in the room, I forbid you from going out.”

“Yes,” Wei Xiaobao replied in loud voice, “It’s getting late, Your Highness the Princess please take a rest earlier.”

The Princess cursed, “But I definitely want to go out to have a stroll, what do you care?”

Wei Xiaobao replied loudly, “There’s assassin in the Palace, it would be better if Your Highness the Princess is a bit more careful.”

The Princess said, “His Majesty raised these many Imperial Bodyguards, the only thing they are good at is eating. Have everybody stand outside, nobody can go in.” The crowd of Imperial Bodyguards complied in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao climbed into the sedan chair and sat down; he beckoned Tao Hongying to unseal the Princess’s acupoints. The Princess also climbed into the sedan chair and sat in front of his bosom. Wei Xiaobao wrapped his arms around her and said in a low voice to Tao Hongying, “Gugu, please accompany us out of the Palace.” He thought that her martial art skill was superb; with her escorting them next to the sedan chair, if their trickery was discovered, she could help fighting and killing people.

Tao Hongying readily agreed. She was wearing palace maid uniform, standing next to the Princess’ sedan chair, nobody would suspect anything. The Princess shouted, “Take the sedan chair out.”

The two eunuchs carrying the front part of the sedan chair slipped back into the room from the side of the sedan chair. Together with the two eunuchs carrying the rear part of the sedan chair they lifted the sedan chair poles. They brought the sedan chair in reverse for several steps, and then they turned around and carried the sedan chair away. In their hearts they were all puzzled, “How come the sedan chair suddenly grows heavier?”

The Princess followed Wei Xiaobao’s direction and ordered their carrier to get out of the Palace via the Shen Wu Gate. When the long-tail pheasant sedan chair reached the Shen Wu Gate, as the Imperial Bodyguards guarding the Gate saw that the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair wanted to get out of the Palace very late at night, they stepped forward to inquire. The Princess leaped out from inside the sedan chair and shouted, “I want to get out of the Palace, quickly open the door.”

The captain of the Imperial Bodyguards on duty at the Shen Wu Gate that night happened to be Zhao Qixian. Immediately he bowed to salute and said with a laugh, “Reporting to Your Highness: there are assassins in the Palace tonight, it’s not too safe; would Your Highness please wait for the daybreak before going out of the Palace.”

The Princess angrily said, “I am in a hurry, I am not scared of the assassins.”

Originally Zhao Qixian would not dare to disobey, but he knew that the Prince Consort Wu Yingxiong has been put to death, the Princess wanted to get out of the Palace this late at night, perhaps this matter had something to do with Wu Sangui’s rebellion. If that was true and this matter was investigated, he would not escape grave responsibility. Thereupon he repeatedly bowed in respect, but all along he refused to open the gate. But because the Princess urgently pressing him, he said, “Since that is the case, let your servant ask for Duo Zongguan’s instruction. Would the Princess please wait a little bit, as soon as your servant receive the instruction, I will rush back to open the Gate.”

Inside the sedan chair Wei Xiaobao heard the Princess was getting angry, but no matter what Zhao Qixian refused to open the Gate. If he really went to find Dolong, things would turn from bad to worse. In desperation he said, “Zhao Qixian, do you know who I am?”

Zhao Qixian had been following him in various missions for quite some times, naturally he recognized Wei Xiaobao’s voice. Pleasantly surprised, he asked, “Is it Wei Fu Zongguan [deputy chief]?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Exactly.” Sticking out his head from inside the sedan chair he beckoned Zhao Qixian to come closer. Zhao Qixian hurriedly came over. Wei Xiaobao said in a low voice, “I received His Majesty’s secret order to go on a top secret mission; if I show my face, I might spoil the mission. Therefore, His Majesty ordered me to sit inside the Princess’ sedan chair, and ask the Princess to cover me up as I go out of the Palace.”

Zhao Qixian was well aware that he was the Emperor’s most doted on and most trusted aide, and was very familiar with the secretive way [orig. gods disappear and devils vanish] he handled his missions; hence Zhao Qixian did not have any doubt. “Yes, yes,” he busily said, “Lowly officer will open the gate immediately.”

Wei Xiaobao was suddenly struck by a brainwave, “Do you want to be promoted and gain wealth?” he asked in a low voice.

Zhao Qixian had worked with him, and all these years his rank had been promoted twice; as for wealth, he had gained more than twenty thousand taels. As soon as he heard the four-character phrase ‘be promoted and gain wealth’ [sheng guan fa cai], he knew that since Deputy Chief Wei had already asked the question, it meant that he was supporting him to be promoted to a higher job. Bursting with joy, hastily he bent his knees to pay his respects and said, “Thank you very much Fu Zongguan for supporting me. Whatever errand Fu Zongguan is sending me to do, even with torn body and crushed bones lowly officer will not decline under any circumstances.”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “You said it yourself. When the cannon bombard, blasting you until your body torn and your bones crushed, you said you won’t decline under any circumstances; you must not blame me.” He said in a low voice, “There is a group of rebel thieves in collusion with Wu Sangui. His Majesty concocted a brilliant plan, this very moment we managed to lure them into my Earl Mansion. His Majesty is sending me to lead the Vanguard Battalion troops to capture them. The Vanguard Battalion are usually not in good term with my Valiant Cavalry Brigade; do you know why His Majesty is sending me to lead the Vanguard Battalion?”

“Lowly officer is very stupid,” Zhao Qixian replied, “I do not know.”

Wei Xiaobao lowered his voice even more, “The Vanguard Battalion’s Commander Ah colluded with Wu Sangui, His Majesty wanted to seize this opportunity to catch everything in one net. The Princess is Wu Sangui’s daughter-in-law, when they see the Princess, they won’t suspect a thing.”

Zhao Qixian suddenly saw the light, “So that’s how it is,” he said, “I can’t imagine Commander Ah has the audacity to commit treason and heresy. Most likely this matter was uncovered by Wei Fu Zongguan’s investigation too, and you have set up another great merit.”

“This merit was set up by the Emperor himself, which he then handed over to me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “We are good brothers; promotions we enjoy together, wealth we gain together. Take forty Imperial Bodyguards and come with me to render great merit.”

Zhao Qixian was greatly delighted; he thanked Wei Xiaobao profusely, while hurriedly asked the Princess to get on the sedan chair. He then selected forty Imperial Bodyguards who usually loved to lick his behind, telling them that they would act on instructions from a secret imperial decree. They opened the Shen Wu Gate wide and escorted the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair out of the Palace. He ordered the remaining sixty Imperial Bodyguards to increase their vigilance in guarding the Gate.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Under no circumstances this Palace Gate is to be opened tonight; unless there is a direct order from either Duo Zongguan or myself, nobody is to be allowed to leave the Palace.” Zhao Qixian passed on Wei Xiaobao’s order. The remaining sixty Imperial Bodyguards guarding the Palace Gate complied in chorus.

Wei Xiaobao was secretly amused, “This time Laozi left, I will never come back. I wonder if Duo Zongguan’s ghost can come back to give the order to open the Palace Gate?”

Tong Mao’er [copper hat] Lane was not far from the Imperial Palace, not too long afterwards the party arrived at the Zhong Yong Bo Fu [Loyal and Brave Earl Mansion]. Along the way Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding rapidly, he was afraid that they only reached half way, ahead the cannon were already fired for days on end. Fortunately from beginning to end it was extremely quiet with no sound of activity to be heard.

When they reached the mouth of the alley, the Vanguard Battalion Commander Ajichi, who had already been informed of the arrival of the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair, was already waiting to welcome her. In the sedan chair, the Princess was enjoying Wei Xiaobao rubbing his back as he gave her detailed instruction on what to say and how to act. When she heard that Ajichi announced his greeting, she immediately stuck out her head from behind the sedan chair curtain and said, “Commander Ah, His Majesty’s secret imperial order: the task at hand tonight is extremely important; have you prepared everything well?”

Ajichi bowed and responded, “Yes, everything is ready.”

The Princess said in a low voice, “Those cannon have also been prepared?”

“Yes,” Ajichi replied, “It’s under Nan Huairen Daren’s personal direction.”

Inside the sedan chair, Wei Xiaobao was able to hear everything clearly; he mused, “The Emperor really did not lie to me. That foreign devil Nan Huairen is here to personally aim the cannon, how can they miss?”

The Princess said, “His Majesty’s order: I am to enter the Earl Mansion to do something, you come with me.”

Ajichi replied, “Reporting to Your Highness: this is a critical time, we must not come in.”

The Princess angrily said, “What do you mean we can’t come in? This is an imperial edict; you dare to defy?”

“Your servant does not dare,” Ajichi replied, “But … but … it is really very dangerous. Your Highness’ ten-thousand gold body …”

Inside the sedan chair Wei Xiaobao coughed once, Tao Hongying stepped forward, her finger moved like the wind, she sealed the three acupoints on Ajichi’s body, left and right waist and the side of his torso. Ajichi cried out in surprised, the upper part of his body was immediately paralyzed; and then he felt his back turned cold, followed by a sharp pain, as a sharp blade made a long cut on his back. He was scared out of his wits and was totally at a loss.

The Princess said, “His Majesty’s secret order: if you refused, you are to be chopped down immediately, along with the execution of your whole family unto the third generation.”

“Yes, yes,” Ajichi replied in trembling voice.

Wei Xiaobao had an idea, “These Imperial Bodyguards have come with me on various missions, they always obey my orders, why would I want to deliver their lives? I’d better have the Vanguard Battalion as the scapegoats.” He whispered in the Princess’ ear, “Tell him to select fifty Vanguard Battalion officers and men to come with us inside.”

The Princess thundered, “Take fifty of your sergeants, come with us inside to work.”

Ajichi responded with trembling voice, “Yes … yes …” Immediately he passed on an order to have fifty sergeant follow behind the Princess’ sedan chair into the Earl Mansion.

Wei Xiaobao ordered Zhao Qixian to lead his Imperial Bodyguards to guard outside the gate, while the sedan chair proceeded to the second reception hall. The Princess and Wei Xiaobao got off the sedan chair, and ordered the fifty sergeants to wait in formation in the courtyard. With Ajichi in custody, Tao Hongying followed the two of them into the reception pavilion.

When they pushed the door open, they saw Chen Jinnan, Mu Jiansheng, Xu Tianchuan and the others inside the hall. Everybody was greatly puzzled to see Wei Xiaobao entered with a woman dressed in exquisite attire, a palace maid, and a military officer. Wei Xiaobao beckoned, they all crowded around him; he said in a low voice, “The Emperor found out about our meeting in here. The alley outside is surrounded by officers and men; plus there are about a dozen cannon aimed at this place.”

Everybody was shocked; their countenance changed greatly. Liu Dahong said, “Let’s charge out.”

Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “Can’t do!” he hissed, “The officers and men outside are a lot, and the cannon are even more formidable. I have brought dozens of officers and men. Let us strip their clothes and sneak out.” The crowd of warriors all praised this brilliant scheme.

Wei Xiaobao turned around to talk to the Princess. The Princess nodded and said to Ajichi, “Tell twenty sergeants to come in.”

Ajichi could readily see that the situation was far from good, but there was a steel blade pressed against his neck, how could he dare to disobey? Without any choice he issued the order. Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace warriors laid an ambush behind the door. As soon as twenty Vanguard Battalion sergeants entered the reception pavilion, punches, kicks, elbow-strikes and finger jabs flew everywhere, the twenty men were immediately knocked down.

The second time they called fifteen people, the third time they also called fifteen people; after all fifty sergeants were overthrown, their uniforms were stripped. The crowd of warriors quickly changed their clothes. Even the Princess also changed her clothes.

Wei Xiaobao saw Mu Jianping and Zeng Rou also changed their clothes, but he did not see Shuang’er; hastily he asked Zeng Rou. Zeng Rou said, “Shuang’er Meizi saw you entered the Palace and did not come back for a very long time, while Gui Er Xia and the others also went into the Palace to assassinate but we also have not heard any news, she was very anxious, hence accompanied by Feng Daye [big master, term of respect for older man] they went out to scout for information.”

Mu Jianping said, “The two of them left right after lunch; why haven’t they come back until now?”

Wei Xiaobao knitted his brows; he was quite worried. Although he knew that Feng Jizhong was exceptionally skillful in martial arts and was quite capable of protecting Shuang’er thoroughly, but the two of them did not know about the Emperor’s plan. Supposing they returned after everybody else escaped and the cannon happened to fire, wouldn’t it be terrible?

After short deliberation he said to Qian Laoben, “Qian Dage, Feng Dage and Shuang’er went out to scout for information and have not come back, we must leave a number of warning sign so that when they see it, they will immediately leave.”

Qian Laoben complied. The situation was urgent, he pulled a dagger, cut the thigh of two Qing soldiers, cut a piece of their clothes, dipped it to the blood on the two men’s wounds, and wrote two big bloody characters ‘kuai tao’ [quickly flee] on the doors. In succession he wrote the characters on all eight doors, while everybody finished changing their clothes.

Wei Xiaobao led everybody to the stable to get some horses. Four Tian Di Hui brothers masqueraded themselves as eunuchs to carry the Princess’ long-tail pheasant sedan chair. With Ajichi in custody they went out of the Earl Mansion. The fifty sergeants were left inside the Earl Mansion with either their acupoints sealed or their hands and feet bound. Wei Xiaobao was still sitting inside the Princess’ sedan chair. When they were out of the mansion, he sighed, thinking, “Those attendants, stable hands, cooks, personal guards, men and maidservants, in their respective rooms in the Mansion will inevitably die of the cannon blast. But if I told them to leave, the officers and men guarding outside would definitely see something was wrong.” He also recalled, “That day on Mount Wutai by disguising ourselves as Lama, we saved the Old Emperor’s life. Today we are using the same trick. First this ‘turtle shedding its shell’ stratagem saved the Old Emperor’s life, now it saves Xiao Guizi’s life. It is greatly useful.”

The crowd of warriors, with the Princess and Ajichi in the middle, reached the end of the alley. They saw officers and men on patrol, the security was very tight, but momentarily they were not able to see where the cannon were set up.

Having escaped from danger, Wei Xiaobao heaved a deep sigh. Seeing his Shifu and all his friends escaped the disaster of artillery barrage, he was greatly comforted. He said to Zhao Qixian, “This Commander Ah rebels against the Emperor, he committed treason and heresy; I want you to put him in jail. Unless His Majesty personally wants to bring him to trial, wait for my return before you can let him go.” Zhao Qixian complied.

Wei Xiaobao continued, “This man is an offender to the throne, His Majesty hates him to the bones; when hearing his name, he will be very angry. Tell the brothers, everybody must be a bit more careful, don’t let His Majesty hear this rebel thief’s name.”

Zhao Qixian received the order; leading the forty Imperial Bodyguards, they left with Ajichi in custody. With Ajichi in jail, Wei Xiaobao did not give a damn as to when he was going to be released.

The group of warriors continued walking in silence toward a secluded area. After about a li or so, Wei Xiaobao abandoned the sedan chair and mounted a horse instead. Chen Jinnan asked, “After Gui Er Xia and the others entered the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, what happened next?”

“The three of them …” Wei Xiaobao started. Suddenly they heard ‘bang, bang, bang!’ loud explosion, followed by black smoke rising from the direction of the Earl Mansion. From the distance they saw beams, tiles and bricks flew to the air. The group of warriors felt the ground under their feet was shaking. At this time the cannon blast was rumbling continuously, from the Earl Mansion red-blood flame rose high, reaching more than ten zhang into the sky. The group of warriors was already far away from the Copper Hat Lane, but they still felt blasts of hot air hit them on the face. They looked at each other, aghast; nobody had ever imagined that the cannon power was that formidable. If they were late even for a short moment, how could they stay alive?

Liu Dahong cursed, “His granny, what an earth shaking …” his voice was drowned in the subsequent cannon blast that nobody heard the rest of his words.

Looking toward the Earl Mansion, they saw the flame subsided, but immediately afterwards it rose again to the sky, burning half the sky red. Wei Xiaobao thought, “The young Emperor must have heard the explosion, if he sent someone to get me, the trickery would be exposed immediately.” Walking away from the sedan chair, he said to Chen Jinnan, “Shifu, we must leave the city without delay. As soon as the news spread, the questioning on the city gates will be very strict, it won’t be easy to leave town.”

“That’s right,” Chen Jinnan said, “Let’s go.”

The Princess leaped out of the sedan chair immediately. Wei Xiaobao turned toward the Princess and said, “You should return to the Palace, after the situation is calmed down, I will come to get you.”

The Princess was shocked and angered at the same time. “What did you say?” she shouted. Wei Xiaobao repeated his words.

The Princess shouted, “You burn the plank after crossing the bridge? You want to cast me away now?”

“No, not that …” Wei Xiaobao started. But before he could finish, ‘Slap!’ his face was heavily slapped.

The crowd of warriors was flabbergasted. Just now the bombardment was shaking the heaven and the earth, everybody thought that were it not for Wei Xiaobao’s scheme to save them, by this time each one of them had already turned into flying ash, there would not be any opportunity to flee for their lives at all. As a result, even though usually they did not hold this youngster Xiangzhu in such a high regard, this moment they could not refrain from being grateful and were filled with admiration. Suddenly seeing the Princess made her move and beat him, some people immediately stepped forward to push her away, while some others shouted and scolded her.

The Princess cried loudly and threw a tantrum, “You said you wanted to bow to the heaven and the earth with me, so I obeyed you, I took you out from the Imperial Palace, I also told that Vanguard Battalion commander to save your friends. You … you are a stinky thief, you want to deny, it’s not over between you and me. In my belly …”

Wei Xiaobao was afraid she might have a slip of the tongue and announce the scandal in public; he hastily said, “Alright, alright! You can come with me. Let’s get out of the city and then we’ll talk.” The Princess turned tears into laughter; she turned around and mounted a horse.

The party reached the Chao Yang Gate at the east side of the city. Wei Xiaobao called out, “His Majesty’s secret order: we must get out of the city to pursue and capture the rebel thieves. Quickly open the city gate.”

Valiant Cavalry Brigade, Guarding Military Camp [national guards?], Vanguard Battalion, three military units were the Emperor’s Yu Lin Jun [lit. imperial forest army] personal guards. Within the City of Beijing, they were the boss [orig. bashing sideways and colliding straight on]; all civil and military officials were somewhat afraid of them. When the officers and men guarding the gate saw a group of Vanguard Battalion sergeants, how could they dare to disobey? Besides, a moment ago they heard the rumbling of the cannon, there must be something big happening in the city; thereupon they opened the city gate at once.

Everybody exited the city and galloped to the east. Wei Xiaobao and Chen Jinnan rode side by side, he told his Shifu briefly how Gui Xinshu and his family failed in their attempt to assassinate the Emperor, and how the Emperor discovered his secret. Chen Jinnan praised him, “Xiaobao, usually I see you as a flippant and insincere, very dishonest boy, but in this critical moment surprisingly you are able to attach most importance to yi qi, not coveting riches and honor by selling your friends; it is indeed rare.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “I don’t care much about other friends, but ‘cardinal offense of exterminating master’ [大义灭师 – da yi mie shi], I absolutely must not do.”

“What do you mean you don’t care much about other friends?” Chen Jinnan said, “As long as he is your friend, you must never betray him. As for ‘cardinal offense of exterminating master’ these four characters, you did not use it correctly.”

Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue. “Disciple is unlearned,” he said, “I said it wrong, Shifu must not blame me.” Thinking about how in the past he was able to talk nonsense with the young Emperor and had a good time, but with what had been happening today he would never be able to see him face to face, he could not help feeling sad.

Chen Jinnan said, “We came out dress as Vanguard Battalion sergeants, in less than a day the Tatars will find out. We’d better change our clothes as soon as possible.”

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As soon as we reach the small town ahead, we can buy some clothes and change.”

They galloped eastwards for more than twenty li before reaching a small town, but the town did not have any used clothing store. Chen Jinnan was a veteran in marching to battle, and was very adept in governmental affairs, but facing this kind of trivial matter, momentarily he felt as if he had his hands bound and was unable to do anything; seeing there was no place to buy change of clothes, he said, “Let’s go to the next town and see; I hope we can find a used clothing store there.”

Passing the small town, they saw at the end of the market there was a large house that must belonged to a rich family; it has high wall and vermillion gate, the building looked grand. Wei Xiaobao had an idea; “Shifu,” he said, “Let us go into that house to borrow some clothes so that we can change.”

Chen Jinnan hesitated. “I am afraid they won’t let us borrow some clothes,” he said.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “We are military officers. Military offices do not eat the rich, do not rob from the rich, who else should we eat, who else should we rob?” Leaping down from the horse, ‘dang, dang!’ he banged the copper door knocker randomly.

A manservant came out to open the gate, everybody swarmed in; whenever they saw someone, they would strip his clothes. The head of the household was a retired government official from the Capital who had returned to his hometown. Seeing these Vanguard Battalion sergeants were acting like wolves and tigers, he repeatedly called, “Gentlemen officers, please do not act rough, let Xiongdi order my people to arrange some food and drink that gentlemen can use, I will also prepare some travel expense for you …”

Before he could finish, someone already grabbed him and peel off the robe and socks he was wearing. In his fright he screamed, “Xiongdi is already old, this provocation is out of the question …”

Giggling and laughing, the crowd of warriors stripped several dozen men of their clothes. The retired officer and the womenfolk were frightened as if their souls have left their bodies. Luckily these bunch of Vanguard Battalion officers and men were acting strangely, they only stripped the men’s clothes, but did not insult the women at all. After they stripped the men’s clothes, they did not do any other shady business either. With roar of laughter they simply went out, leaped onto their horses and left. All the men in the house were left stark naked; they could only look at each other in bewilderment.

When the group of warriors reached a secluded place, they stopped to change their clothes. The Princess, Mu Jianping and Zeng Rou, three women also changed into men’s clothing. And then everybody mounted their horse to continue their journey. Wei Xiaobao was very concerned about Shuang’er; he said, “I wonder what happened to Feng Dage and my servant girl in the Capital. I am thinking of asking a brother from out of the province whose appearance is not familiar in the Capital to come back and ask around about them.” Two Tian Di Hui brothers from Guangxi accepted the order and left.

Seeing that there were no government troops chasing them at all, the group of warriors felt rather relieved. After traveling for a little bit more, “Ah!” suddenly Mu Jianping cried out in alarm, but then she immediately broke into giggle. Turned out Zeng Rou’s mount suddenly excreted a large puddle of watery feces, it almost splashed onto Mu Jianping’s foot.

Not too long afterwards, several more horses also excreted some watery feces. And then the horse Priest Xuanzhen was riding suddenly neighed and sank to the ground; no longer willing to stand up. “Daozhang [Taoist priest],” Qian Laoben said, “Let us two brothers ride on one horse!”

“Alright!” Priest Xuanzhen replied. He leaped onto Qian Laoben’s horse to ride behind him.

Wei Xiaobao suddenly realized something; he could not help but was greatly alarmed. “Shifu,” he called out, “Retribution! Retribution! This is bad!”

“What is it?” Chen Jinnan asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu … Wu Yingxiong ghost is looking for me. He hated me … hated me for capturing him back, also stole his … his …” he really could not bring himself to speak the last two characters ‘lao po’ [wife].

He remembered when he received the imperial order to pursue Wu Yingxiong that day, because the horses that Wu Yingxiong’s party were riding were fed with large amount of croton, along the way the horses constantly excreted watery feces, followed by one after another the horses fell dead. Because of this, Wu Yingxiong was not able to escape far and was captured back by Wei Xiaobao. If that time Wu Yingxiong managed to escape to Yunnan, naturally the Emperor could not kill him. So if he thought it over, Wu Yingxiong’s death was caused by him sending people to poison his horses. Now that it was his turn to run away, one by one their horses also suffered diarrhea and fell dead, what is it if not Wu Yingxiong’s ghost was playing trick on him? What’s more, in his escape Wei Xiaobao was taking Wu Yingxiong’s wife along. After Wu Yingxiong had become a ghost, he was still wearing a dark-green-emerald-inlaid one-pin­-rank big green hat; naturally he was unwilling to let his wife go. The more Wei Xiaobao thought about it, the more frightened he was; he could not stop his body from trembling as he heard several horses whinnying, and two more horses fell down.

Chen Jinnan could also see that something was amiss, hastily he asked for the full details. Wei Xiaobao then told him what happened that day when he captured Wu Yingxiong back; with a trembling voice he said, “Wu Yingxiong ghost lingers on, today he came back for revenge. This … this …”

The Princess angrily said, “That fellow Wu Yingxiong, when he was alive he was stupid and cowardly, after he was dead, he is also a useless ghost. Why are you afraid of him?”

Chen Jinnan frowned and said, “Clear sky under the sun, how could there be any ghost? That day you poisoned Wu Yingxiong’s horses, did the Tatar Emperor know about it?”

“He did,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “He even praised me as a good-luck general.”

Chen Jinnan nodded. “Right,” he said, “Since the Tatar Emperor knew you are following the good-luck general way, he also knew that you have a good-luck general body. He is afraid you might escape, hence he had already sent people to feed croton to your horses.”

Wei Xiaobao instantly saw the light. “Right, right,” he repeatedly said, “That day when we captured Wu Yingxiong, the young Emperor was very happy, he bestowed a petty official rank to my head stable hand, sending him to work for the officer in charge of the carriage of the Ministry of War. This time he must have sent him to poison my horses.”

“That’s right,” Chen Jinnan said, “He is very familiar with your horses, he knew each horse’s temperament, naturally to poison the horse is ‘a hundred shots a hundred hits’.”

Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “Next time I catch this stable hand, I will stuff all the watery feces in here into his mouth …” Before he could finish, suddenly he felt the mount underneath his crotch lurched forward and dropped on its knees. Wei Xiaobao hopped down, and saw the horse was struggling to get up, but after struggling several times, its hind legs kneeled down again.

Chen Jinnan said, “These animals are no good. We must buy some horses at the next town.”

Liu Dahong said, “It’s not easy to find dozens of horses all at once.”

“Absolutely right,” Chen Jinnan said, “Everybody, let’s disperse for the time being.” While he was still speaking, suddenly they heard faint noise of hoof beats on the road.

Priest Xuanzhen happily said, “Soldiers are coming to pursue us. Let us kill the damn kids and grab their horses.”

Chen Jinnan called out, “Tian Di Hui brothers hide on the left of the road, Mu Palace and Wang Wu Mountain brothers hide on the right. Wait till the soldiers arrive, we will attack by surprise. Aiyo, not right …”

They heard the hoof beats was getting nearer, the ground was faintly shaking, the pursuing soldiers were at least one of two thousand men. The group of warriors did not need to ask him why he cried ‘aiyo, not right’, these four words, their countenance changed greatly. The group of warriors was only several dozen men. Although their martial art skill was not weak, in broad daylight on an open plain fighting a large group of cavalry, the enemy troops would easily surround them several layers thick. Those with high level of martial art skill might escape alive, but most of the rest were bound to deliver their lives.

Chen Jinnan made a prompt decision, “The pursuing troops are not a few,” he called, “We cannot fight a head-on battle, everybody disperse into villages, hills and woods.” He only spoke those few words, the hoof beats were getting even closer. As far as the eye could see, the dust on the road rose high into the sky, like a wide expanse of black cloud rolling near.

“Bad, bad!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, and moved his legs to run.

“Hey!” the Princess called, “Where are you going?” while running close behind him.

“Go back to the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao called out, “Coming with me won’t do you any good.”

“Stinky Xiao Guizi,” the Princess cursed, “You want to run away? Not so easy.”

(Book Note: In the title of this Chapter, ‘red cloud that always stay close to the sun’ is referring to accompanying the Emperor, ‘the heart follows green jade grass’ is referring to the idea of a long journey.)

[1] Zhengde, 11th Ming Emperor Zhu Houzhao (1491-1521, reigned 1505-1521).

[2] Duke who Receives Grace and Guards the Nation (奉恩镇国公; feng en zhen guo gong), simplified as ‘Duke who Guards the Nation’ (镇国公; zhen guo gong) is the first subgrade of National Dukes (国公; guó gōng), a title granted only to members of the imperial clan. The rank of National Duke (国公; guó gōng) was higher than ‘Commoner’ Duke (民公; mín gōng)’ which often simplified as ‘Duke’, but lower than a king (王; wáng). (Courtesy of Ace High)

[3] Dong Zhuo (-192), top general of late Han, usurped power in 189, murdered empress dowager and child emperor, killed in 192 by Lü Bu. Cao Cao (155-220), famous statesman and general at the end of Han, noted poet and calligrapher, later warlord, founder and first king of Cao Wei, father of Emperor Cao Pi, the main villain of novel the Romance of Three Kingdoms.

[4] ‘your heart must be put to death’ (其心可诛) is a chengyu which essentially means that a person is worthy of punishment due to having prepared a premeditated plan/intention, even if that plan wasn’t carried out. Basically, it means that the premeditated intent, in and of itself, is sufficient to condemn someone as guilty. In this specific instance, Kangxi is saying that Wei Xiaobao’s preparation of an escape route for himself, in and of itself, was sufficient to condemn him as being guilty, even if it was never used (which he now was). (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

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