Translated by Foxs.
In most peculiar circumstance best friendship at first meeting.
Since the ancient time Yangzhou has always been known as a flourishing city with famous scenic spots. Tang dynasty’s poet Du Mu wrote, “I awake, after dreaming ten years in Yangzhou, Known as fickle, even in the Street of Blue Houses[foot]From the poem ‘Confession’, translated by Bynner. Source: http://wengu.tartarie.com/wg/wengu.php?l=Tangshi&no=293[/foot].” People of old said that among the pleasures of life, nothing can surpass ‘having a string of a thousand taels wrapped around one’s waist and ride a crane to Yangzhou[foot]Idiom, meaning: get an official position.[/foot]. Yangzhou was located within the canal built by Emperor Yang of Sui [569-618 AD, reigned 604-618 AD], consequently, the water traffic between Jiangsu and Zhejiang must pass through Yangzhou. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it had become the gathering place of major salt merchants, and thus it prospered to be one of the wealthiest place in China.
During Kangxi of Qing Dynasty’s early years, Ming Yu Fang [‘Fang’ means a district, a subdivision of a city, ‘Ming’ – cry (of a bird), ‘Yu’ – jade] by the Shouxi [lit. ‘slender/thin west’] Lake of Yangzhou, where the Street of Blue Houses was located, was known for its high concentration of famous courtesans.
It was a nice evening in the spring, the lanterns were just lit, from each courtyard in Ming Yu district came the sound of bamboo flutes and happy laughter, mixed with shouts of people playing drinking game and ordering more drink, plus songs and drunken brawl. Music and wine were everywhere; it was indeed a picture of gaiety in a peaceful time.
Suddenly, from both the south and the north side of the area came the sound of about five or six men shouting together, “Friends of courtyard businesses, ladies, and guests who are here to have fun, everybody, listen up: We are looking for a man, we are not interested in everybody else, please do not shout or move needlessly. If you do not obey our instruction, please do not blame us for being rude!”
After a short burst of commotion, Ming Yu district immediately turned very quiet, but not for long, because noise was rising from all directions in the courtyards; the women were screaming and the men were shouting in great confusion.
A large banquet was being held at the Li Chun Yuan [lit. ‘beautiful/lovely spring courtyard’], about a dozen or so prominent salt merchants were sitting around three tables, each one of them had a courtesan sitting next to him. As soon as they heard the commotion, their countenance was greatly changed. “What is it?” “Who is it?” “Are they policemen investigating a case?” they all wondered.
Suddenly there was the beating-drum-like sound outside the main gate, or perhaps the main gate itself was being beaten. The servants [orig. ‘turtle slave’] were so frightened that they did not know whether they should open the door. ‘Bang!’ the main gate was broken, about seventeen, eighteen big men burst in. These men were wearing short clothes, with plain white band tied around their heads and dark green belt around their waists. In their hands they held either a flickering saber, an iron club, or an iron stick. As soon as the salt merchants saw them, they recognized these men as salt smugglers.
At that time the salt duty was quite heavy. To avoid paying tax, these smugglers sold the salt in the black market and made quite a fortune. Yangzhou was the salt distribution center of the Huai River north of the Yangtze River. Generally outlaws would form gangs of smugglers. These salt traffickers were very fierce and tough, and would disperse instantly whenever they met a squad of government officers and soldiers, but if they came across a smaller number of soldiers, without saying anything they would simply take out their weapons and attack. Therefore, the local authorities would frequently close their eyes and did not intervene.
The salt merchants were aware that these salt smugglers’ trade was usually limited to illegal salt; they neither rob travelling merchants nor commit other crimes, they only dealt with common people and usually were quite fair, seldom use force. Today, seeing those smugglers breaking into Ming Yu district carrying malicious air, the merchants panicked, but they were also surprised.
A man, about fifty years of age, among the smugglers said, “Friends, we apologize for this disturbance.” While saying that, he raised his cupped fist from left to right, then again from right to left; and then he said loud and clear, “I wonder if a friend of Tian Di Hui[foot]Lit. ‘heaven and earth society’. I am aware that Minford translated this as ‘Triads’, however, I prefer the original form.[/foot] by the surname of Jia, Jia Laoliu [lit. ‘Ol’ Six’], Jia Laoxiong [Old Fellow Jia], is here?” His gaze swept the faces of the salt merchants one by one.
Meeting his sharp gaze, the merchants were terrified; they repeatedly shook their heads, but inwardly they were quite relieved, thinking, “It’s only the clan and society in Jianghu carrying vendetta against each other in a bustling street, it may have nothing to do with outsiders.”
Raising his voice, the elderly smuggler called out, “Jia Laoliu, this afternoon at a tavern by Lake Shouxi you were talking rubbish; you said Yangzhou’s salt smugglers are cowards who do not dare to rebel by killing government officials, who can only smuggle salt, small-scale business which does not require any guts. You were drunk [orig. ‘full of yellow soup’], shouting and mumbling big; you said that if Yangzhou’s salt smugglers refuse to accept, we should go to Ming Yu district to look for you. Well, here we are! Jia Laoliu, you are a warrior of the Tian Di Hui, how come you are now shrinking back your head like a turtle?”
The rest of them, a dozen or so salt smugglers, echoed, “Tian Di Hui warrior, how come you are shrinking back your head like a turtle? Hot piece mama, are you the Heaven and Earth Society, or Turtle Head Society?”
The elderly man said, “It was Jia Laoliu alone who spoke rubbish, we must not drag the other good friends of Tian Di Hui into this. We are salt smugglers, we earn our food with sweat and blood, how can we be compared to the heroes of Tian Di Hui? But we are not turtles who pull back our heads either!”
After waiting for quite a while, that Jia Laoliu of Tian Di Hui had never answered. The old man shouted, “Go and search every room, if you see that turtle head surnamed Jia, invite him to go out. This man has a big blade scar on his face, he is very easy to recognize.” The salt smugglers complied loudly and immediately went from room to room.
Suddenly from a room on the eastern wing came a rough yet heroic voice, “Who’s shouting and rambling in here, disturbing laozi seeking merriment?”
The salt smugglers called out one after another, “Jia Laoliu is here!” “Jia Laoliu, come out!” “Damn it, this dog thief has guts!”
The man on the east wing laughed aloud and said, “Laozi is not surnamed Jia, it’s just that you guys recklessly scolding Tian Di Hui, it’s not pleasing in laozi‘s ears. Laozi is not of Tian Di Hui, but I know each and every one of Tian Di Hui friends are heroes and warriors. You, salt smugglers, are not even fit to carry their shoes or wipe their butt.”
The salt smugglers shouting and yelling indistinctly; three men wielding sabers charged into the room, but a series of ‘Aiyo!’ was heard, the three men flew out of the room one by one and dropped to the floor. One man’s saber knocked his own forehead, blood flowed and he passed out instantly. Six salt smugglers charged together into the room, but with repeated cry every single one of them was thrown back out. These people continued swearing and cursing, but no one dared to enter.
The old man took several steps forward toward the room, under the dim light he saw a big burly man with dragon-like [orig. ‘虬’ – qiu, young dragon with horns] whisker was sitting on the bed, his head was wrapped in plain white cloth. There was no blade scar on his face, apparently he was not Jia Laoliu. In loud voice the old man asked, “Sire has quite a talent, may I ask your honorable surname and your great given name?”
The man inside the room cursed, “Whatever your Die-die’s [see Chapter 1] surname and given name are, naturally that’s what laozi‘s surname and given name are. Good kid, you have forgotten your own [paternal] grandpa’s name and surname?”
From among the crowd of courtesans standing on the side, a woman, approximately thirty years old, suddenly giggled. A salt smuggler rushed a step forward and ‘slap! slap!’ he struck the courtesan that tears flowing for her eyes and nose. “Damn it!” the salt smuggler cursed, “Stinky prostitute, what’s so funny?” The courtesan was so scared that she did not dare to make any noise.
Suddenly from the main hall a boy, about twelve, thirteen years old, scrambled in and swore loudly, “You dare to hit my Ma! You are a dead turtle, rotten bastard. I wish a thunder will strike you when you go out, I wish the back your hands will be infected by rotten boils, which will eat your hands and your tongue. I wish bloody pus will go into your belly, rotting your stomach and intestine!”
The salt smuggler was livid, reaching out, he was trying to grab the boy, but the boy dodged and hid behind another salt smuggler. With his left hand the first salt smuggler pushed the second salt smuggler, toppling him down in the process, then with his right fist he punched the boy’s back as hard as he could.
“Daye[foot]Master Sir, lit. big master.[/foot], please spare his life!” the middle-aged courtesan called out in great alarm.
The boy was very slippery, he ducked and slipped under the salt smuggler’s crotch, while reaching up to grab; he happened to grab his scrotum, which he squeezed with all his might. The salt smuggler was so much in pain that he let out a strange ‘wah! wah!’ cry. The boy quickly slipped away. To vent his anger, the salt smuggler punched the middle-aged courtesan. ‘Bang!’ the courtesan passed out instantly.
The boy threw himself on her body while calling out, “Ma, Ma!” The salt smuggler grabbed the back of the boy’s collar and lifted him up. He was about to punch the boy when the older salt smuggler shouted sternly, “Don’t create trouble! Put that little boy down!” The salt smuggler put the boy down and kicked his buttocks, sending him rolling down on the floor and ‘bang!’ he hit the wall.
The older man cast a glance to the salt smuggler, then he said toward the door, “We are the brethrens from the Green Gang; just because a friend from Tian Di Hui by the surname of Jia insulted the Green Gang in public and said he would wait for us to settle the account here in Ming Yu district, we have come to look for him. Since Sire is not a friend from Tian Di Hui, we are like the well water does not mix with the river water; why did you injure us? Please leave your name, so that when our Bangzhu [Clan or Gang Leader] ask, we can explain to him.”
The man inside the room laughed and said, “You are looking for a Tian Di Hui friend to settle an account, what does it have to do with me? I am here looking for pleasure. Since we are like the well water does not mix with the river water, then don’t come here bothering laozi. I do have an advice for laoxiong, though: Tian Di Hui people, it would be better if laoxiong do not provoke them. If they curse you, just let it go, you’d better tuck your tail between your legs and continue smuggling salt quietly, making some money.”
The older man angrily said, “I have never seen anybody in Jianghu more unreasonable than you.”
The man inside the room coldly said, “Reasonable or not, what do I have to do with you? Could it be that you are looking for someone to marry into your family, and you want to call me your Jiefu [older sister’s husband]?”
Right this moment, three men quietly sneaked in from outside, they were also dressed as salt smugglers. One of them was a skinny man wielding spear chain, in a low voice he asked, “What is this all about?”
The older man shook his head and said, “He doesn’t want to talk, just keep on saying that we must swallow Tian Di Hui’s insult. Perhaps that man surnamed Jia is hiding inside.”
The skinny man swung his spear chain and tossed his head. The older man pulled out a pair of about a foot long daggers from his waist. Suddenly the four of them charged together into the room, followed by the sound of weapons colliding.
Lovely Spring Courtyard was one of four biggest courtyards in Ming Yu district, each room was exquisitely furnished with pear wood tables and chairs, with mahogany beds and couches. An uninterrupted series of ‘Bing! Bang! Crack!’ was heard; obviously all the furniture inside the room was shattered. The madame proprietor’s chubby face was trembling, her mouth mumbled prayers to Buddha, her heart was in constant pain.
The four salt smugglers did not stop shouting and yelling, but the man in the room did not make any noise. The people in the hall stood far away for fear that they might suffer disaster by accident. The noise of colliding weapons inside the room was getting faster and faster. Suddenly someone let out a miserable scream; presumably one of the salt smugglers was hit.
The burly man who kicked the boy, whose scrotum was still hurting really bad, saw that the boy was crawling up from the bottom of the wall. His anger flared again, and he swung his fist to punch the boy. The boy sidestepped, but the burly man flipped his hand and slapped him on the face, sending the boy spinning twice. The crowd of servants and salt merchants saw how vicious the salt smuggler was, if the beating continued, the boy would be killed, but nobody dared to intervene. The burly man raised his right fist to strike the crown of that boy’s head. The boy darted forward to escape, he pushed the side-room door open and dashed in.
“Ah!” everybody in the hall gasped. The burly man was also startled, but he did not dare to pursue into the room.
As the boy dashed inside, for a moment he was unable to see clearly. Suddenly the weapons clashed again, ‘Ding! Dang!’ Under the sparks he saw a man was sitting on the bed, his head was wrapped in white cloth bandage; his appearance looked terrifying. “Ah!” the boy screamed in terror.
When the sparks vanished, the room turned dark again. But the candles in the hall shone their light through the door, gradually his eyes adjusted to the dark and he was able to see clearly. The man with bandaged head was wielding a single-edged saber, which he brandished furiously. From the four salt smuggler leaders, only two remained, the other two were lying on the floor. The two that remained were the older man wielding a pair of daggers, and a tall and sturdy man. The boy thought, “This man’s head is heavily injured, and he is unable to fight standing up, he won’t be these salt smugglers’ match; I’d better flee immediately. But I wonder how Mama is?”
Remembering how his mother was beaten and humiliated, anger surged up in his breast; he swore through the door, “Turtle thief, your granny, f*ck your eighteen generations ancestor’s stinky salt skin … your salt smuggling home is full of salt. Your granny, your mother, your wife are all dead, and you pickle them with salt and you sell them as pork jerky on the street, three catties for a wen [coin of smallest denomination], as if people would want to buy your stinky salt-cured meat …” Hearing his malicious and sarcastic swearing, the salt smugglers in the hall were furious; they wanted to rush inside and beat him to death, but nobody dared to enter the room.
The man in the room suddenly swept his saber diagonally down, ‘shua!’ he chopped the tall and sturdy man’s shoulder that even his shoulder bone was severed. The big man staggered back while screaming in loud voice, his body swayed and he almost fell down. The older man raised his pair of daggers and stabbed straight toward the pit of the man’s stomach. The man lifted up his saber to parry. Right this moment there was a dull slap as the big man’s whip struck his right shoulder. With a ‘clang!’ the saber fell down. The older man howled and struck with his pair of daggers. The man turned his left palm over and ‘Crack! Crack!’ several of the older man’s ribs were broken as he was thrown outside the room, spurted fresh blood, and fainted on the floor.
Although the big man’s left shoulder was heavily injured, he was still very bold. Grabbing a mace, he swung it down on the top of the man’s head. The man was unable to dodge, as if his entire strength was already depleted and he was unable to move even a single muscle. Actually, the big man’s strength was almost spent as well, the mace in his hand moved very slowly.
Seeing the critical situation, the boy’s anger and hatred rose up again; throwing himself forward, he grabbed both of the big man’s legs and pulled backward with all of his might. The big man weighed at least two hundred catties, while the boy was small and skinny; normally, the boy would not be able to move even half a hair of the big man’s. However, this moment the man was heavily injured, while he used the last ounce of his strength to move the weapon. With a sudden pull from the boy, his legs gave up; he fell down and lay still on a pool of blood.
Gasping for breath, the man on the bed laughed and said, “Come in and fight if you have guts!”
The boy shook his hand repeatedly, telling him not to provoke the people outside. But when the older man was thrown out of the room, his body bumped against the door, sending it swinging continuously. Illuminated by the candle light from the hall, the man’s dragon whisker and his face full of blood looked very mean and ferocious.
The crowd of salt smugglers in the hall was unclear of the real situation inside; they looked at each other in shock, only to hear the man inside shouted again, “Son of a b*tch, you don’t dare to come in, the old man will come out and kill you one by one.”
The crowd of salt smugglers cried out and lifted their wounded comrades lying on the floor, they bolted out the door. The man laughed aloud, and then lowering his voice he said, “Kid, go … go bolt the door.”
The boy thought the door definitely must be bolted. “Yes!” he hastily replied and bolted the door, then he slowly walked toward the bed. In the dark his nose caught the intermittent smell of blood.
The man said, “You … you …” but before he could finish, he slumped down; apparently he fainted. His body swayed and was about to fall off the bed. The boy quickly rushed forward to prop him up. This man’s body was very heavy. The boy struggled hard to straighten him up and put his head on a pillow.
The man was breathing laboriously; a moment later he said in a low voice, “Those salt smugglers will come back in an instant, my strength has yet to return, I must get … get damn away from here.”
Holding out his hand to stand up, he seemed to bump a sore spot for he groaned loudly. The boy quickly helped him up. The man said, “Pick the saber, give it to me!” The boy picked the saber from the floor and stuffed it into the man’s right hand. The man slowly got up from the bed, his body was constantly swaying. The boy stepped forward and set his right shoulder underneath the man’s left armpit.
“I am leaving,” the man said, “Don’t help me, otherwise if those salt smugglers saw you, they would kill you as well.”
“Damn it,” the boy said, “If they want to kill, just kill, I am not afraid. We, good friends, must uphold yi qi [loyalty, code of brotherhood], I cannot not help you.”
The man burst out in laughter, mixed with several coughs. He said with a laugh, “You and I must uphold yi qi?”
“Why not?” the little boy replied, “Good friends enjoy blessings and endure misfortune together.”
In the teahouses around Yangzhou, there were many storytellers; they told the story of the Three Kingdoms, the Water Margin, the Ming Dynasty’s ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’, and all kinds of heroic tales. Day in and day out this little boy went in and out of brothels, casinos, teahouses and restaurants, running errands and buying things for the customers; by scrapping here and there, he was able to earn some money. Whenever he had free time, he would squat by the tea table listening to people telling stories. He always sweet-talked the teahouses’ proprietors by calling them uncle this and uncle that, and thus the proprietors had never chased him away.
He had heard quite a few stories, and was extremely fascinated by the sagas of heroes and warriors of old. Seeing this man that albeit his heavy injury was able to defeat not a few of salt smugglers, his heart was filled with admiration. Since the heroes in the story often said those words, he just blurted it out.
The man laughed aloud and said, “Those words are well said. In Jianghu laozi has heard it mentioned a thousand times, the fellows who enjoying blessing together seem to be many, but I haven’t seen too many of those who endure difficulties together. Let’s go!”
With his right shoulder the boy supported the man’s left arm; he opened the door and walked into the hall. When the people saw them, they were startled and scrambled away from them.
“Xiaobao, Xiaobao,” the boy’s mother called out, “Where are you going?”
“I am walking this friend out,” the boy replied, “I will be back soon.”
“This friend! Ha ha … now I have become your friend!” the man said with a laugh.
“Don’t go,” the boy’s mother called out, “You must quickly hide.” The boy laughed and walked away from the hall in big strides.
The two of them left Lovely Spring Courtyard and found the alley was surprisingly extremely quiet; presumably because they met a formidable opponent, the salt smugglers went back to call for reinforcement. As they left the alley and entered a small street ahead, the man looked up to the stars above and said, “Let’s go to the west.”
After walking for several zhang [unit of length, approximately 10 ft or 3 m], they came across a donkey cart. “Let’s rent a cart!” the man shouted. The driver halted. Seeing the two of them were covered in blood, his face showed astonishment and suspicion. The man took out a silver ingot from his pocket, about four or five taels [1 tael worth approximately 50 grams or 2 oz. of silver] worth. He said, “Take the money first!”
Seeing a quite valuable silver ingot, the driver stopped the cart immediately and put down the footboard. The man slowly heaved his body up on the cart. From his pocket he fished another yuanbiao [gold or silver ingot, shaped like a boat], worth ten taels, and gave it to the boy. He said, “Little friend, I am leaving. I give this yuanbiao to you.”
Seeing such a big yuanbiao, the boy could not help but mumbling indistinctly and swallowing his saliva, while thinking, “What a good guy!” However, he remembered many chivalrous tales he had heard and recalled that heroes and warriors only make friends, they do not love money. Today, after so many difficulties, he finally had a chance to become a hero; whatever happened, he must continue to the end, he cannot be a useless person who was greedy for money. Thereupon, with a loud voice he said, “We are speaking about yi qi, and not about money. If you give me the yuanbiao, you are considering me unworthy. You are injured, and I am going to send you off.”
The man was startled, but then he laughed to his heart’s content with his face to the sky. “Very good! Very good!” he said, “You meant well.” And he put the yuanbiao back into the pocket. The boy crawled up the cart and sat by his side.
“Mister, where do you want to go?” the cart driver asked.
“To the west of town,” the man replied, “The Victory Hill!”
“Victory Hill?” the cart driver was startled, “Going to the west of town in the dead of the night?”
“Exactly!” the man said, while lightly knocking his saber against the side of the cart.
The cart driver was scared, “Yes, yes!” he hastily said. Pulling down the cart’s curtain, he drove the donkey out of town. The man closed his eyes to rest, his breathing was short and heavy, sometimes he would cough several times.
Victory Hill was a large rural area about thirty li [unit of length, about 0.5 km or 1/3 of a mile] northwest of Yangzhou. During the Shaoxing years of the Southern Song Dynasty, Han Shizhong scored a major victory against the Jin army on this hill, hence the name ‘Victory’. The cart driver drove his donkey in great haste, in just over two hours they had reached the bottom of the hill. “Mister, we have arrived!” he said.
The man saw the hill was only seven, eight zhang high, it was only a knoll actually. “Pei!” he spat and asked, “Is this the damned Victory Hill?”
“It is,” the cart driver said.
The boy also said, “This is indeed the Victory Hill. When my Ma and the sisters went to burn incense in the Madame Ying Lie [lit. ‘heroic deed’] Temple, I came along and played in here. The Madame Ying Lie Temple is a bit farther ahead.”
The Madame Ying Lie Temple was dedicated to Madame Han Shizhong, Liang Hongyu. Yangzhou residents called it ‘Distinguished Prostitute Temple’. When she was young, Liang Hongyu[foot]Liang Hongyu was a female general and the wife of a mighty Song Dynasty general, Han Shizhong. Even today, it is said that, standing on Golden Mountain, one can still hear her beating the mighty war drum which stirred the hearts of her Song soldiers. (Wikipedia)[/foot] was a courtesan, and that was how she met Han Shizhong. Every year the courtesans of Yangzhou would visit the Madame Ying Lie Temple to burn incense and pray, asking the spirit of this mistress from Anguo, Hebei province, of the Song Dynasty, to look after the latter generation sisters of the same trade.
The man said, “Since you know it, it must be right. Get down.”
The boy jumped down and then he helped the man stepped down the cart. It was pitch-black all around. The boy thought, “That’s right, this is a desolate place. If we are hiding here, those salt smugglers will never find us.”
The cart driver was afraid this man, whose body was covered in blood, would ask him to take him someplace else; pulling the reins, he whipped the donkey to leave. “Hold it,” the man said, “Take this little friend back to the city.”
“Yes,” the cart driver replied.
“Let me keep you company for a while,” the boy said, “Early tomorrow morning I can buy some steamed buns for you to eat.”
“Do you really want to stay with me?” the man asked.
“No one is taking care of you,” the boy replied, “It won’t be right otherwise.”
The man roared in laughter again. “In that case,” he said to the cart driver, “You may go!” The cart driver hurriedly urged the donkey to walk.
The man sat on a big rock. When the cart driver was out of sight, no more noise was heard all around. The man suddenly shouted, “Two bastard turtles behind the willow tree, roll out to laozi here!”
The boy jumped in fright. “Someone is here?” he mused. But then he saw two men walking slowly from behind the willow tree. Those two wore plain white band around their heads and dark green belt around their waists; obviously they belong to the salt smuggler gang.
The two men had flickering sabers in their hands. After taking only two steps, they halted. The man shouted, “Bastard son of turtles, you have been trailing your old man all the way from the pleasure house to this place; not coming out to deliver your life, what are you waiting for?”
The boy thought, “That’s right, they are here to ascertain where we are, then they are going to send reinforcement to kill him.”
The two men talked to each other in low voice, then suddenly they turned around and ran. The man quickly leaped to pursue. “Ay!” he exclaimed, and fell sitting down. His injury was simply too heavy that he was incapable of running after those men.
The boy thought, “The donkey cart has already left, the two of us cannot go too far. If those two managed to spread the news, it would be terribly bad if a large number of troops come here to kill us.” Suddenly he cried loudly, “Aiyo, why did you die? You must not die! You cannot die!”
The two salt smugglers were running like crazy, suddenly hearing the boy’s cry, they were startled and halted their steps immediately, only to hear the boy crying out, “Why did you die?” They could not help but were pleasantly surprised. One of them wondered, “The evil thief died?” The other man replied, “His injury was very heavy, he could not bear it. The little demon is crying like that, I am sure he is really dead.”
Looking from the distant, they saw the man curled up on the ground. The first man said, “Even if he is not dead yet, we need not be afraid of him. Let’s chop his head and take it back; won’t we render a great service that way?”
“Wonderful!” the other man agreed. With a saber in their hands, the two of them slowly came near.
The boy was wailing loudly while beating his chest and stomping his feet. “Laoxiong,” he called out, “Why did you die suddenly? If those salt smugglers came back, how am I supposed to deal with them?”
The two men were greatly delighted, they leaped toward them. One of them said, “Evil thief, it is best that you die!” He grabbed the back of the boy’s clothes, while the other man chopped his saber down on the man’s neck.
Suddenly a saber flashed; one man’s head flew up, while the other man who grabbed the boy had his chest and abdomen cut open from top to bottom. The man laughed aloud up stood up, propped by his saber.
The boy cried, “Aiyo, salt smuggler friend, how come your head is missing? The two of you, Seniors, are going to see Yan Wang [Yama, King of Hell]; who will come back to tell your friends? Isn’t it terrible?” Crying to this part, he could not refrain from breaking out in laughter.
The man said with a laugh, “You, this little demon, are really smart, your crying is really convincing. If you did not cry like that, those two bastards would not come back.”
The boy replied with a laugh, “What’s so difficult about pretending to cry? When my Ma was about to beat me, before the whip even reach my body, I cried my heart out, that way the whip would not come down too heavily.”
“Why would your mother want to beat you?” the man asked.
“It depends,” the boy replied, “Sometimes it was because I stole her money, sometimes it was because I created trouble for the aunties or uncles.”
The man sighed. “If I did not kill these two scouts, we will have a serious problem,” he said. “Hey, when you cried just now, why didn’t you call me ‘master’ or ‘uncle’, but you called me ‘laoxiong‘?”
The boy said, “But you are my friend, of course I would call you ‘friend’. What damned ‘Master’ are you? You want me to call you ‘Master’, what in the devil are you to me?”
The man roared in laughter. “Very good!’ he said, “Little friend, what is your name?”
“Are you asking my honorable surname and my great name?” the boy replied, “I am called Xiaobao [lit. ‘little treasure/precious’].”
The man laughed, “Your great name is Xiaobao,” he said, “What about your honorable surname?”
The boy knitted his eyebrows. “I … my honorable surname is Wei,” he said.
He was born in a brothel, his mother’s name was Wei Chunhua [lit. ‘spring flower’]. As for his father, even his own mother did not know who. Everybody called him Xiaobao, nobody had ever asked his surname before. This time the man asked, he simply blurted out his mother’s surname. This Wei Xiaobao was born in a brothel and grew up in a brothel; he had never been to school. When mentioning his ‘honorable surname and great name’, he was not joking; it’s just that he often heard the storytellers mentioning the four words ‘honorable surname’ and ‘great name’, without realizing that it was a way of respectfully addressing other people, and thus it was inappropriate to be used to refer to oneself.
Following the example, he also asked, “What is your honorable surname and your great name then?”
The man smiled and said, “Since you are my friend, I should not hide my name from you. I am surnamed Mao, the ‘mao’ from ‘maocao’ [cogon grass], not the ‘mao’ from ‘maochong’ [caterpillar]. I am the eighteenth in rank, thus I am called Mao Shiba [eighteen].”
“Ah!” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed and jumped, “I have heard that the government … the government wants to arrest you?” he said, “They said you are a big robber[foot]Both the online text and the book have 江洋大盗 (jiang yang da dao – Lit. ‘big robber of river and ocean’); however, my dad says that it should be 汪洋大盗 (wang yang da dao, meaning ‘the biggest robber/high-caliber criminal’), since ‘jiang yang da dao’ does not mean anything.[/foot] or something.”
Mao Shiba grunted and said, “That’s right, aren’t you afraid of me?”
Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Afraid of what? So what if you are a big robber? Lin Chong, Wu Song, those heroes from the Water Margin were also big robbers.”
Mao Shiba was very happy. “You are comparing me with Lin Chong, Wu Song, those heroes; that’s wonderful!” he said, “Who told you that the government wants to arrest me?”
Wei Xiaobao said, “There are official announcements posted all around Yangzhou; it says that the big robber Mao Shiba is wanted, dead or alive. Whoever can kill you will be rewarded two thousand taels. If anybody can give information leading to your arrest, the reward is somewhat less, only a thousand taels. Yesterday I heard some people talking about it at the teahouse; they said that you possess such a great skill that whoever is thinking to arrest you or kill you should forget it. It is best if anybody knows your whereabouts and informs the authority, thus collecting the thousand taels reward, which actually is an ill-gotten gain anyway.”
Mao Shiba leaned his head sideways to look at him and snorted contemptuously. A thought flashed through Wei Xiaobao’s mind, “If I can collect this thousand taels reward, Ma and I, two people, will have enough money to spend: eating chicken, duck, fish and beef, gambling and fooling around; this money won’t be spent for several years.” Seeing Mao Shiba leaning his head looking at him with somewhat strange expression, Wei Xiaobao angrily said, “What are you thinking? You think I am going to report you for the reward?”
“Yes,” Mao Shiba admitted, “White and shiny silver, who does not love?”
“F*ck your granny,” Wei Xiaobao swore, “What Jianghu’s yi qi are you talking about?”
“It’s up to you,” Mao Shiba replied.
“Since you do not trust me, why did you tell me your real name?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your head and your face are wrapped in that much bandage, you look completely different from the picture on the official announcement. If you did not say that you are Mao Shiba, who would recognize you?”
Mao Shiba said, “You said that we should enjoy blessings and endure misfortune together. If even my real name I conceal from you, what kind of damn bastard friend am I?”
Wei Xiaobao was greatly delighted, he said, “Absolutely correct! Even if there is a ten thousand taels, a hundred thousand taels reward, no way would laozi report you.” While in his heart he said, “If there really is a ten thousand taels, a hundred thousand taels reward, will I or won’t I betray a friend?” He was not so sure.
“Very well,” Mao Shiba said, “Let us sleep for a while, tomorrow at noon [orig. ‘wu shi’, between 11am-1pm] there will be two friends coming for me. We have an appointment to meet at the Victory Hill west of Yangzhou; even if I am dead, I won’t leave before we meet.” Wei Xiaobao had been running around for the whole day, he was already tired early on. As soon as he heard him, he leaned against a tree trunk and fell asleep.
When he woke the next day, he saw Mao Shiba was pressing both his hands against his chest; he said with a laugh, “You are awake. Drag these two dead men behind the tree, and sharpen these three sabers.”
Wei Xiaobao pulled the dead bodies as told. The morning sun had just appeared, it was only now that he was able to see clearly: Mao Shiba was roughly forty years of age, his hands and arms were bulging with muscle, his eyes were bright, his expression was bold and powerful. He took the three sabers to a mountain stream nearby, dipped the saber into the water, and then sharpened it on a rock. He thought, “To deal with the salt smugglers, one saber is enough. Supposing this Mao Laoxiong is killed, why do I have to sharpen the other two? So that other people can use it to kill Wei Xiaobao?” He was always lazy, after putting an act of sharpening the blades for some time, he said, “Let me go buy some deep-fried breadstick and steamed buns for us to eat.”
“Where would you buy some deep-fried breadstick and steamed buns?” Mao Shiba asked.
“There’s a small town over there, not too far from here,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Mao Dage, may I borrow two taels of your money?”
Mao Shiba chuckled; taking out the big yuanbiao from his pocket, he said, “We are brothers, what’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours, you can just use mine, there is no need to say the word ‘borrow’.”
Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he thought, “This hero indeed considers me as a friend; even if there is a ten-thousand taels of reward, I simply cannot report him to the authority. But what about a hundred thousand? Now that is going to be a problem. Pei! Just look at him, will he worth that much money? I don’t need to think too much.” Receiving the money, he asked, “Do you want me to buy you some medicine?”
“No need,” Mao Shiba said, “I have my own medicine.”
“Alright, I am leaving,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mao Dage, don’t worry, supposing I am caught by the authorities, even if they kill me, I will never tell them that you are Mao Shiba.” Hearing the sincerity in his voice, Mao Shiba nodded. Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, “You will have two friends coming over, I’d better buy a pot of wine, and several catties of cooked beef.”
Mao Shiba happily said, “Nothing’s better than wine and meat; go quickly and return quickly. I can kill better with a full stomach.”
Wei Xiaobao was startled, “Do the salt smugglers know you are here?” he asked, “Are they after you?”
“It’s not that,” Mao Shiba said, “I have an appointment to fight with someone on the Victory Hill. Otherwise, why would I rush to this place?”
Wei Xiaobao let out a breath. “You are still injured,” he said, “How can you fight? Why do you have to keep the appointment? It won’t be too late to wait until you recover, it’s just that … it’s just that I am afraid the other party won’t agree to it.”
“Pei!” Mao Shiba spat, “The other party is a famous hero and warrior, why won’t he agree? It’s me who is unwilling. Today is the twenty-ninth day of the third month, isn’t it? Half a year ago, the appointment has been decided. Afterwards I was caught by the authorities and was put in jail. I was concerned over this appointment, I have to keep it; hence I had to break out from jail and in the process killed several Eagle Claw’s[foot]‘Eagle claw’ usually refer to martial artists/pugilists/fighters who work for imperial court. Additional info courtesy of Forgot Password: Besides some other meanings, 鹰爪 (eagle claws) can also be used to refer to lackeys, underlings, hired thugs and the likes. I think it is a combination of two words 鹰犬 (eagles and dogs) and 爪牙 (talons and fangs), both of which can be applied to lackeys.[/foot] grandsons, only then was the city of Yangzhou thrown into a complete mess, and so they put up some damn posters to arrest laozi. His granny, just the day before yesterday I came across several Eagle Claw’s kids, whose martial art skill was very strong. I killed three of them, but unexpectedly I also suffered a bit of injury in the process; just consider it my bad luck.”
“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I will hurry to buy something to eat. When you are full, you may fight.” He started to run immediately. Rounding the hillside, he rushed for six, seven li before reaching a small town. He made a plan in his heart, “Mao Dage cannot even walk from his wound, how can he fight? He said the opposite party is a famous hero and warrior, his martial art skill must be good; what can I do to help him?”
With the money in his hand, his heart was itching unbearably; in all his life, he had never held that much money, he knew he would not be happy unless he spend it all. Going to a grocer, he bought two catties of cooked beef, a duck marinated in soy paste, and two bottles of yellow wine. He still had quite a bit of money left. With it he bought a dozen steamed buns, and eight strips of deep-fried breadstick, at most it was only twenty-some wen. Suddenly he had an idea, “Why don’t I buy a roll of rope? I can put some horse-tripping rope on the ground. When they fight, if the opponent is not careful, he may trip on the rope and fall down, then Mao Dage can chop him with his saber.”
He remembered a storyteller once told a story about a general who went to battle, his horse was tripped and he fell down, the enemy general raised his saber and chopped down the man into two pieces. In high spirit he went to buy the rope. When he reached the general store, however, he saw a row of four big vats in the store; one contained rice, the next one soy bean, the next one salt, and the last one contained small chunks of lime. Right away he recalled, “Last year, when gangs of salt smugglers fought by the Fairy Bridge, someone threw lime at their eyes and turned defeat into victory at once; why didn’t I think about it earlier?” Therefore, he did not buy rope, but a bag of lime instead, and returned to Mao Shiba.
Mao Shiba was lying by a tree, sleeping; hearing his footsteps, he woke up immediately. Opening a wine bottle, he took two mouthfuls and loudly praised it. “Aren’t you going to drink?” he asked.
Wei Xiaobao had never had wine before, but since he was acting as a hero or warrior, he took the bottle and took a mouthful. He felt a rush of heat bubbling up his stomach and he coughed immediately. Mao Shiba roared in laughter and said, “Little hero has not learned drinking wine skill.”
Suddenly from a distant someone was calling out loud and clear, “Shiba Xiong, are you well since we parted?”
“Wu Xiong, Wang Xiong,” Mao Shiba called back, “You two also look very well!”
Wei Xiaobao’s heart was pounding. He looked up to the direction of the voice, and saw two men were walking quickly along the main road, whom very soon had arrived in front of them. One was an old man, with long white beard hanging in front of chest, yet his countenance was ruddy and bright, without any wrinkle at all. The other one was a middle-aged man in his forties, short and stout. His head was bald, with a small braid hanging from the back of his head, his forehead looked like a hard-boiled egg without its shell.
Mao Shiba raised his cupped fist and said, “Xiongdi [generic term for ‘brother’; referring to self] is inconvenienced on the legs, cannot stand up to pay my respect.”
The bald man slightly frowned. The old man laughed and said, “Why be polite?”
Wei Xiaobao thought, “Mao Dage is too honest, why must he tell people his legs are injured?”
“We have wine and meat here,” Mao Shiba said, “Would the two of you eat a little bit?”
“Thank you for your hospitality,” the old man replied. Sitting next to Mao Shiba, he took the wine bottle.
Wei Xiaobao was delighted. “Turns out these two are Mao Dage‘s friends, they are here not to fight with him,” he thought, “That’s wonderful! When the enemy arrives, these two may help him fight.”
As the old man brought the bottle to his lips, the bald man said, “Wu Dage, you must not drink this wine!”
The old man was startled, but he laughed immediately, he said, “Shiba Xiong is a firm and frank good man, how can there be any poison in the wine?” ‘Glug, glug’ he drank two mouthfuls of wine, and then handed the bottle to the bald man and said, “If you don’t drink the wine, you are holding a good friend in contempt.”
Hesitation flashed on the bald man’s face, but it was inappropriate for him to defy the old man’s words, thereupon he received the wine bottle. He was just about to bring the bottle to his mouth when Mao Shiba suddenly reached out and snatched the bottle away, saying, “We don’t have much wine! Since Wang Xiong does not like to drink wine, save several mouthfuls for me.” Raising the bottle, he poured two mouthfuls of wine into his mouth. The bald man’s face turned red; he sat down and grabbed some beef and started to eat.
Mao Shiba said, “Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine.” Pointing toward the old man, he said, “This is Wu Laoyezi [Old Master Wu], his title is Dapeng [lit. ‘the Great Roc’], in Jianghu he is known as ‘Cloud Scraper Hand’. His punching and kicking skill is very famous.”
The old man laughed and said, “Mao Xiong has painted gold on my face.” Looking all around, he did not see any other people, hence he was rather astonished.
Mao Shiba pointed to the bald man and said, “This is Wang Shifu [respectful form of
address for older men], whose given name is a single character ‘Tan’; his nickname is ‘A Pair of Pens Cut Into a Mountain’. His skill in using a pair of judge-pens has truly reached perfection.”
“Mao Xiong is making fun of me,” the bald man said, “I have been defeated under your hands, I am really ashamed.”
“You flatter me,” Mao Shiba said. Pointing toward Wei Xiaobao he said, “This young friend is my newly found brother …” Listening to this point, Wu and Wang, two people were startled. They looked at each other, and then turned their gaze toward Wei Xiaobao. In all honesty they could not figure out the background of this skinny twelve, thirteen years old boy. In the meantime, Mao Shiba continued, “This young friend is surnamed Wei, given name Xiaobao. In Jianghu he is known as … known as, um, his nickname is … is …” After pausing for a moment, he said, “He is known as the Little White Dragon. His water skill is superb, he can stay in the water for three days and three nights, live on fish and shrimp, and his face will not change.”
He wanted to give this new friend some face, so that he would not appear discouraged in front of strangers, hence he had a mind to boast somewhat. However, Wei Xiaobao did not know any martial art, while Wu and Wang, two people were martial art experts, they would know from his voice or his movements, so it would be hard to deceive them. After thinking for a moment, Mao Shiba decided to say that Wei Xiaobao’s water skill was truly formidable. Wu and Wang, two people, were northern warriors, they did not know their way around the water, hence they would not know the genuine from the fake. He then said, “The three of you are good friends, you should know each other better.”
Wu and Wang, two people, raised their cupped fist and said, “It’s an honor to meet you at last!”
Wei Xiaobao simply copied what they were doing, he also raised his cupped fist and said, “It’s an honor to meet you at last!” While inwardly he was pleasantly surprised, “Mao Dage brags on my behalf, what kind of Jianghu warrior am I? I am sure this trickery will be exposed later.”
With the four of them, the wine, meat and steamed buns were finished in no time. The bald Wang Tan’s appetite was really good; at first he was rather shy, but later on he started to take big bites. The amount of beef, steamed buns and deep-fried breadsticks he alone ate was more than the other three people combined.
Mao Shiba used the sleeve of his clothes to wipe his mouth. “Wu Laoyezi,” he said, “This young friend’s water skill is fabulous, but he has not learned his land’s skill yet. Without any choice I will have to fight you one against two; it is not because I am looking down on the two of you.”
Wu Dapeng said, “I’ll say our appointment can be postponed another half a year.”
“And why is that?” Mao Shiba asked.
Wu Dapeng said, “Mao Xiong is injured, obviously you cannot unleash you true skill. If the old man defeats you, there is no glory in that; if I am defeated, I won’t have any face to see other people even more.”
Mao Shiba laughed aloud and said, “Injured or not, there is not much difference. If I have to wait another half a year, won’t I be anxious even more?” With left hand pressed against the tree trunk for support, he slowly stood up; his right hand already held his saber. “Wu Laoyezi has always been bare-handed,” he said, “Wang Xiong, pull your weapon!”
“Very well,” Wang Tan said. Both hands entered his pocket, ‘clang!’ he pulled out a pair of judge-pens.
Wu Dapeng said, “In that case, Wang Xiandi [‘worthy (younger) brother’], please give your humble brother an opportunity to have a try first. If I fail, it won’t be too late for you to try.”
“Yes!” Wang Tan complied, and retreated three steps.
With left palm upturned and right hand moved in circle, light as a feather Wu Dapeng delivered a strike toward Mao Shiba. Mao Shiba’s saber hacked down diagonally, lightly chopped Wu Dapeng’s left arm. Wu Dapeng lowered his head, and quickly came in under the blade, with his left hand slapped under Mao Shiba’s right elbow. Mao Shiba leaned sideways and dodged behind the tree. ‘Slap!’ Wu Dapeng’s palm struck the tree trunk. The tree was about five, six zhang tall, the trunk was thick and solid, yet Wu Dapeng’s palm strike had made the yellow leaves of the tree fall down like rain.
“Good palm strength!” Mao Shiba called out. His saber cut horizontally across Wu Dapeng’s waist. Wu Dapeng suddenly leaped up and from the air pounced down, his white beard floating; it was a wonderful sight. Mao Shiba countered with ‘Westerly Wind Rolling In’, his saber swept up from below. Wu Dapeng made a somersault in the air and leaped away. Mao Shiba’s saber was less than half a foot from his abdomen. The saber was no doubt swift and fierce, but the way Wu Dapeng evaded it was also swift and brilliant.
Wei Xiaobao had seen too many fights in his life, but it was all marketplace brawls where the rogues butting head with each other, kicking and pulling the opponent’s braid, wrestling and beating each other randomly. Other than Mao Shiba’s fierce battle with the salt smugglers at the Lovely Spring Courtyard the previous day, he had never seen martial art masters dueling each other in such a dangerous competition.
He saw Wu Dapeng advancing and retreating in quick successions, his palms danced, while Mao Shiba brandished his saber in front of his body like a silvery light shield. Several times did Wu Dapeng press in, but each time he was pushed back by the saber light.
In the midst of intense battle, suddenly they heard hoof beats as about a dozen riders came galloping by; they were all dressed in Manchurian Qing military attire. When they were near, those dozen or so soldiers spread out and surrounded these four men in the middle. The leader shouted sternly, “Don’t move! We have an order to arrest the Big Robber Mao Shiba. It has nothing to do with anybody else, please step away!”
Hearing this, Wu Dapeng held his palms. Mao Shiba said, “Wu Laoyezi, the Eagle Claws have arrived! They are coming for me, you don’t need to pay attention, let’s continue our fight!”
Wu Dapeng turned toward the soldiers and said, “This Xiongtai [brother, generic term] here is a law-abiding common person, how can he be the Big Robber? You mistook him as someone else.”
The leader laughed coldly and said, “He is a law-abiding common person, too bad there are too many law-abiding common people in the world. Friend Mao, you have committed a horrendous crime in Yangzhou. A real man is always responsible for what he did. Come follow us nicely!”
“Just wait a moment,” Mao Shiba said, “Wait until victory or defeat between me and these two friends is decided, then we’ll talk.” Turning toward Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan he said, “Wu Laoyezi, Wang Xiong, we must decide victory or defeat today, if you want to wait for another half a year, I don’t know if I, the one surnamed Mao, will still alive. In short, why don’t the two of you come together?”
The leader shouted, “If the two of you are not Mao Shiba’s accomplices, leave this place at once, do not get involved in this matter.”
“Your granny,” Mao Shiba said, “What are these shouting and screaming for?”
“Mao Shiba,” the leader said, “You broke out of jail and killed people, that was the local authority’s business, we need not take notice of it. But I heard that in a brothel you were yelling and boasting that the traitors of Tian Di Hui, who started a rebellion, are heroes and warriors; did you or did you not say such thing?”
Mao Shiba loudly said, “Of course the friends of Tian Di Hui are heroes and warriors; are you saying that people like you, traitors of the Hans who lick the imperial court’s eggs, are heroes and warriors?”
The leader’s eyes flashed a murderous look; he said, “Ao Shaobao [Oboi, see Chapter 1] sends us from Beijing to the south exactly to arrest the Tian Di Hui rebels. Mao Shiba, come with us.” While saying that, he turned toward Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan, he said, “The two of you were fighting with this traitor and bandit, presumably you are not his accomplice. You may leave.”
Wu Dapeng said, “May I know your honorable surname and great name?”
The leader proudly patted the shiny black flexible whip wound around his waist and said, “I am the Black Dragon Whip Shi Song, on assignment from Ao Shaobao to capture Tian Di Hui rebels.”
Wu Dapeng nodded; he turned to Mao Shiba and said, “Mao Xiong, by Heaven my father and Earth my mother!”
With eyes wide open Mao Shiba asked, “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Wu Dapeng smiled and said, “Mao Xiong, you probably are not a Tian Di Hui brother, but why did you speak well of Tian Di Hui?”
“Tian Di Hui protects common people and kills traitors, they are doing heroes and warriors’ work, naturally they are heroes and warriors,” Mao Shiba said, “There is a saying in Jianghu: ‘Whoever never knew Chen Jinnan, he calls himself a hero in vain.’ Chen Jinnan, Chen Zongduozhu [see note 14 Chapter 1], is the leader of Tian Di Hui. All Tian Di Hui friends are working under Chen Zongduozhu, how can there be anyone who is not a hero and warrior?”
Wu Dapeng asked, “Mao Xiong, have you met Chen Zongduozhu?”
“What?” Mao Shiba angrily said, “Are you saying I am not a hero and warrior?” Since he was that angry, apparently he had never met Chen Jinnan.
Wu Dapeng smiled, “I do not dare to presume,” he said.
Mao Shiba said, “Are you saying you have met Chen Zongduozhu?” Wu Dapeng shook his head.
Shi Song asked Wu and Wang, two people, “Do you know any Tian Di Hui people? If you have any information that will lead to the arrest of Tian Di Hui leader, that Chen Jinnan or whatever his name is, Oboi will certainly heap you with rewards.”
Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan had not replied, Mao Shiba laughed aloud with his face to the sky; he said, “You mother’s dreaming a big dream in a clear autumn day; a lump of brick like you wants to arrest Tian Di Hui’s Chen Zongduozhu? You keep saying Ao Shaobao this and Ao Shaobao that; this Oboi calls himself the number one warrior or Manchuria, how is his martial art skill anyway?”
Shi Song said, “Ao Shaobao is supernaturally brave, his martial art skill matchless. Once on a Beijing street he killed a mad bull with his fist; do you, a traitor, also know about it?”
“His granny,” Mao Shiba swore, “I don’t believe Oboi is that formidable, I am just about to go to Beijing to challenge him.”
With a cold laugh Shi Song said, “Are you worthy to fight with Ao Shaobao? The Senior only needs to extend one finger and you will be a dead man. The one surnamed Mao, we have talked enough nonsense, come follow us!”
“You think it’s that easy?” Mao Shiba replied, “You have thirteen men; laozi will fight one against thirteen. Even though I know I am not your match, I will still fight you.”
Wu Dapeng laughed and said, “Why does Mao Xiong consider us as outsiders? We have here three against thirteen; one man takes four, we may not necessarily lose.”
Both Shi Song and Mao Shiba were stunned. Shi Song said, “The two of you must not have a change of mind and make a mistake; committing treason by helping a rebel is not a fun thing to do.”
Wu Dapeng laughed and said, “If you say we are helping a rebel, so be it; but to commit treason, that we do not dare.”
Shi Song said, “Helping a rebel is committing treason! You two think carefully, are you determined to help this traitor?”
Wu Dapeng said, “Half a year ago, Mao Xiong and this Wang Xiongdi here made an appointment for a friendly duel in this place, it has nothing to do with me. Unexpectedly the government authority was not sensible enough by locking this Mao Xiong in jail. He is a good man of his words; if he did not keep this appointment today, how would he conduct himself in Jianghu in the future? So it was because he was forced by the government authority that he broke out of jail and killed people. It is called the government official drives the people to revolt, he has no choice but to rebel. Shi Daren, if you would give laohan [‘the old man’, referring to self] a face, please take your squad back, let laohan and Mao Xiong have a competition to measure their martial art skills. Whether you are going to arrest him tomorrow, laohan and Wang Xiongdi will not care!”
“No, can’t do,” Shi Song said.
One of the soldiers suddenly shouted, “Old fellow, you speak too much already!” While saying that, he pulled out his saber and squeezed his legs to spur the horse; raising his saber, he chopped it down on the top of Wu Dapeng’s head. Wu Dapeng tilted his body to evade the saber, his right arm reached out while leaping up at the same time to grab the soldier’s back. With one smooth motion he threw the soldier to the ground.
The rest of the soldiers cried out, “Revolt! Revolt!” and jumped down their mounts to surround Wu Dapeng, three people. Mao Shiba’s legs were injured, he was still leaning on the tree, but he lifted his saber and hacked down a soldier to his death. The saber pared across and cut another soldier’s waist, sending him to his death. Seeing his ferocity, the rest of the soldiers did not dare to close in. With hands on his waist, Shi Song sat on the horseback, watching.
At first Wei Xiaobao was also at the center of the encirclement, but when Shi Shong was still talking to Mao Shiba and Wu Dapeng, step by step he walked away. The soldiers did not know what this skinny and shriveled kid was doing in that place, so they did not pay him any attention. When the fight broke, he hid behind a tree several zhang away. “Shall I go now, or shall I stay and watch?” he asked himself, “Mao Dage only has three on their side, they will be killed by this soldiers for sure. After that, will these soldiers come and kill me as well?” But then he had a second thought, “Mao Dage considers me as his good friend, we should enjoy blessings and endure misfortune together. If I sneak out quietly, I am not holding up yi qi.”
With a sweep of his palm, Wu Dapeng struck down a soldier. Wielding his pair of judge pens, Wang Tan fought three soldiers. By this time Mao Shiba had chopped down another soldier’s right leg. The soldier fell down on his own pool of blood, cursing and swearing loudly, his voice was sad and shrill.
Shi Shong let out a loud and long cry; with the Black Dragon Whip in his hand, he also jumped down his mount. Before his feet landed on the ground, the tip of his whip had already coiled toward Mao Shiba. Mao Shiba unleashed the saber technique ‘Five Tigers Breaking the Gates’ to counter move for move. Shi Song lashed out his flexible whip seven, eight times in succession with formidable stances, but Mao Shiba countered each and every one with his saber.
Suddenly Wu Dapeng shouted loudly, one soldier flew up and ‘Bang!’ he fell to the ground. The number of soldiers was reduced by one. On the other front, Wang Tan was fighting one against three, he gradually fell under a disadvantageous position, his left leg had been gashed by a sawtooth saber; blood gushed out of his wound, yet while limping and soaked in blood, he was still fighting hard.
The three soldiers who fought with Wu Dapeng were not weak either; two sabers and one sword were weaving in and out around his body, Wu Dapeng’s Cloud Scraper Hand failed to land on their bodies.
Shi Song’s flexible whip moved faster and faster, yet all along he was unable to subdue Mao Shiba. Suddenly he launched the stance ‘White Snake Spitting At Will’, the tip of his whip went straight toward Mao Shiba’s right shoulder. Mao Shiba raised his saber to block; to his surprise, however, Shi Song’s attack was an empty move, with a flick of his wrist, the former move, ‘Make a Sound in the East and Strike in the West’ changed into ‘Jade Belt Wrapped Around the Waist’, where the Black Dragon Whip was lashing to the left, but then immediately coiled back to the right to wrap itself around Mao Shiba’s waist.
Mao Shiba’s legs could walk only with difficulty, all along he was standing against a big tree for support. As Shi Song’s attack, the ‘Jade Belt Wrapped Around the Waist’ arrived, he should have either dash forward or leap backward, since it was the only way to evade. But now he had no choice but to take the attack head-on; ‘Crack!’ he struck the tip of the whip with his saber that it fell down. Shi Song shook his whip loose. As the whip handle was loose, the whip dropped slightly, but suddenly it coiled up again, with an unimaginable speed it wrapped itself around Mao Shiba and the tree trunk; altogether it circled three times around. ‘Stab!’ the tip of the whip hit Mao Shiba’s right chest.
Shi Song wanted to capture Mao Shiba alive so he could interrogate him on the Tian Di Hui. Seeing Wu Dapeng and Wang Tan had not surrendered, he was eager to retrieve the Black Dragon Whip, thereupon he stooped down to pick up a discarded saber on the ground with the intention of chopping Mao Shiba’s right arm. With the saber in his hand, he was just about to straighten up his body when a white cloud swayed in front of his eyes, countless fine powder assaulted his eyes, his nose, and his mouth. Instantly he choked up, followed by burning pain on his eyes, as if they were pricked by ten thousand steel needles at once. He wanted to open up his mouth to shout, but it was filled with the powder, even his throat seized up that no sound came out of his mouth. This mishap happened so suddenly that although he was a veteran of Jiang Hu, he was panic-stricken. Dropping the saber in his hand, he raised both hands to rub his eyes. After rubbing for a while, he suddenly realized, “Aiyo! The enemy scattered lime on my eyes!” Raw lime would boil in contact with water, immediately his eyes were burning. Right this moment, he felt an ice-cold sensation on his abdomen; a saber had penetrated his belly.
When the whip wrapped his body, Mao Shiba had lost all hope. Suddenly he saw white dust fly upward, Shi Song’s saber dropped down, both hands were rubbing his eyes. While still in shock, he saw Wei Xiaobao pick up the saber and with both hands thrust it into Shi Song’s abdomen, and immediately dashed away to hide behind a tree.
Shi Song’s hands were shaky, he staggered and swayed several turns, then tumbled face down on the ground. Several soldiers were greatly shocked, they called out together, “Shi Dage! Shi Dage!”
Wu Dapeng moved his left palm in ‘Iron Tree Blooming’, concentrating his power in the palm, sending a soldier flying several zhang away, spurting blood from his mouth. The remaining five soldiers knew they were lost, and were not in the mood to prolong the battle. They turned around and fled, forgetting even their own horses.
Wu Dapeng turned around and said, “Mao Xiong‘s skill is indeed superb, this Black Dragon Whip Shi Song’s martial art skill is superior, yet today he lost his life in your hand!” He saw that Shi Song died with a saber in his abdomen, so he assumed it came from Mao Shiba’s hand.
Mao Shiba shook his head and said, “I am ashamed! It was Wei Xiaoxiongdi [little/younger brother (generic term)] who killed him.”
Wu and Wang, two people were greatly amazed, “The little kid killed him?” they asked. Just now they were busy fighting the enemy, so they did not see Wei Xiaobao throw the lime. The ground was covered with blood, since before his death Shi Song was rolling around on the ground, his body was covered with mud; although there were traces of lime on the ground, they had not paid attention.
With his left hand Mao Shiba grabbed the tip of the Black Dragon Whip and shook it off. ‘Whoosh!’ he lashed the whip on Shi Song’s head. Although his abdomen was penetrated by the saber, Shi Song did not die immediately; as his crown was struck with the whip, his life was gone instantly. “Wei Xiongdi,” Mao Shiba called out, “What a good skill!”
Wei Xiaobao came out from behind the tree. Realizing that he had killed a famous government official, 10% of his heart was proud of himself, but the other 90% was afraid. Half believing half doubting, Wu and Wang, two people looked at him from top to bottom, sizing him up. They noticed his countenance was pale, his body trembled, his eyes brimming with tears, his legs shaky as if he was about to fall. He also looked like he was about to cry, or perhaps he was going to call, ‘I want my mommy!’. In any case, they could not believe he killed the Black Dragon Whip Shi Song.
“Xiaoxiongdi,” Wu Dapeng said, “With what style did you kill this man?”
With a trembling voice Wei Xiaobao said, “I … I … killed this of … officer? No, it wasn’t me. No … not me …” He knew that killing a government official was a capital offense; panic-stricken, the only thing he could think of was to deny.
Mao Shiba frowned; he shook his head and said, “Wu Laoyezi, Wang Xiong, I owe you for helping me in critical time and saving my life. Shall we continue fighting?”
“What saving your life? It is not worth mentioning,” Wu Dapeng replied, “Wang Xiongdi, I think we do not need to continue fighting.”
“No, we don’t!” Wang Tan said, “Mao Xiongdi and I did not have either deep enmity or grudges to begin with. Why don’t we all become friends? Mao Xiongdi‘s martial art skill is superior, he has guts, and has knowledge and experience; I admire him wholeheartedly.”
Wu Dapeng said, “Mao Xiong, we say goodbye now. The mountain is long, the river is far, we will meet again someday. Mao Xiongdi admires Tian Di Hui’s Chen Zongduozhu very much, I will do my best to convey your words to Chen Zongduozhu.”
Mao Shiba was elated, he took a step forward and said, “You … you … you know Chen Zongduozhu?”
Wu Dapeng laughed and said, “Actually, Wang Xiongdi and I are humble members of the Great Transformation Hall of the Tian Di Hui. Since Mao Dage has such a high esteem to our humble society, even if we have had serious enmity between us, we will definitely write it off, much less we did not have any grudges to begin with.”
Mao Shiba was pleasantly surprised, “Turns out … turns out you really knew Chen Jinnan.”
“Our society brethrens are numerous, Chen Zongduozhu‘s whereabouts is uncertain,” Wu Dapeng said, “My position in the society is low, I really have not seen Chen Zongduozhu personally. I was not trying to deceive you a moment ago.”
“So that’s how it is,” Mao Shiba said.
Wu Dapeng raised his cupped fist and turned around to leave. His palms did not stop striking here and there. A continuous ‘Slap! Slap!’ was heard, he struck the soldiers lying on the ground one by one; regardless of whether the soldier was dead or alive, after being hit by his Cloud Scraping Palm, the dead soldiers’ tendon would be broken tendon and their bones crushes, those who were still alive would take his last breath instantly. In a low voice Mao Shiba mumbled, “What a palm strength!”
When the two of them had left far, he muttered to himself, “Turns out they are Tian Di Hui people.” A few moments later, he turned to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Go get me a horse!”
Wei Xiaobao had never been near a horse before; seeing the horse was big and tall, he was scared, so he slowly approached the horse from its back.
“Stay in front of the horse,” Mao Shiba bellowed, “If you approach a horse from its butt, it will kick you!”
Wei Xiaobao circled to the horse’s head and put out his hand to pull the reins. Fortunately the horse was docile, it followed him obediently. Mao Shiba tore a piece of his own clothes to bind the wound on his right arm. Pressing the saddle with his left hand, he jumped onto the horseback. “Go home!” he said.
“Where are you going?” Wei Xiaobao asked.
“Why do you ask?” Mao Shiba replied.
Wei Xiaobao said, “Since we are friends, of course I have to ask.”
Mao Shiba’s countenance fell, “Your granny,” he swore, “Who’s your friend?”
Wei Xiaobao took a step back, his small face turned completely red, tears rolled down from his eyes; he did not understand why one moment Mao Shiba was fine, the next moment he was very angry. Mao Shiba asked, “Why did you throw lime on Shi Song’s eyes?” His voice was stern, his expression looked even more frightening.
Wei Xiaobao was really scared; he took another step backward. “I … I saw he was about to kill you.” His voice trembled.
“Where did you get the lime from?” Mao Shiba asked.
“I … I bought it,” Wei Xiaobao replied.
“Why did you buy it?” Mao Shiba pressed.
Wei Xiaobao said, “You said you were about to fight people, and I know you are injured, so … so I bought the lime powder to help you.”
Mao Shiba was really angry. “Little bastard!” he cursed, “Your granny, where did you learn such trick from?”
Wei Xiaobao’s mother was a prostitute, nobody knew who his biological father was, so what he hated most was for people to call him ‘little bastard’. His anger flared, he also cursed, “Your granny’s old bastard, f*ck your seventeen, eighteen generations of Mao’s bastard ancestors. Turtle bastard, why do you care where I learned the trick from? Stinky turtle, to your death nothing will ever get through your old turtle head …” While his mouth was swearing, his feet was running to hide behind a tree.
Mao Shiba squeezed his legs, the horse jumped forward, his long arm reached out to grab the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck. Lifting him up, he roared, “Little demon, let’s see if you can still curse!”
Wei Xiaobao’s legs kicked randomly in the air, he called out, “You are a thief bastard, stinky turtle, a road kill, a swine that has been cut in a thousand pieces …” He grew up in a brothel, and thus had learned countless cursing words of all dialects from north to south. This time he was really angry, so filthy speech flowed out of his mouth effortlessly.
Mao Shiba was getting more upset. ‘Whack!’ he slapped Wei Xiaobao’s face really hard! Wei Xiaobao screamed and wailed, his cursing was getting filthier and filthier. Suddenly he opened his mouth and bit the back of Mao Shiba’s hand as hard as he could. In pain Mao Shiba tossed him down on the ground. Wei Xiaobao quickly stood up and ran, while his mouth did not stop shouting obscenity. Mao Shiba unhurriedly followed on horseback. Although Wei Xiaobao was not slow, his stature was small and his legs were short; how could he possibly beat a running horse? Only about a dozen of zhang later he was out of breath and was quite exhausted, but when he turned his head to look, Mao Shiba’s horse was only less than a zhang away. In his panic he tripped and fell down on the ground. Since he was already down on the ground, he continued rolling away while wailing and screaming loudly. Having lived in a brothel and on the street, he was accustomed to fighting. Whenever he was not the opponent’s match, he would usually resort to this trick. If the opponent was an adult, they would simply shake their heads and leave.
“Get up,” Mao Shiba said, “I have something to talk to you.”
“I won’t get up,” Wei Xiaobao wailed, “Even if I have to die in here I will not get up!”
“Fine,” Mao Shiba said, “I’ll just let the horse loose to trample you to death!”
Wei Xiaobao had never taken anybody’s threat seriously. If someone said, ‘I will beat you to death’, ‘I will kick you to death’ or something of that nature, he was almost always able to escape unscathed only to hear it once or twice more; therefore, he had never placed such threat in his heart. Immediately he screamed, “Somebody is beating me to death! There’s an adult bullying a child! A turtle bastard riding a horse is going to trample me to death!”
Mao Shiba pulled the reins, the horse reared up on its hind legs until it almost stand vertically up. Wei Xiaobao rolled away to evade. Mao Shiba laughed and swore, “Little demon, you are scared!”
Wei Xiaobao shouted back, “I am scared of a dog sh*t like you, not a hero and a warrior!”
Seeing his unyielding spirit, Mao Shiba could not continue his act any longer; he laughed and said, “And you are a hero and a warrior? Alright, get up. I won’t beat you anymore, see, I am stepping away!”
Wei Xiaobao stood up. With face full of tears and nasal mucus he said, “I don’t care if you hit me, but never call me ‘little bastard’.”
Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “Your swearing is ten times worse than mine, ten times filthier than mine. Let’s just say we are even.”
Wei Xiaobao wiped his eyes with his hand and instantly turned tears into laughter. “You slapped my face, I bit your hand. Let’s just say we are even. Where are you going?” he asked.
“I want to go to Beijing,” Mao Shiba replied.
“Beijing?” Wei Xiaobao wondered, “You are wanted by the authority, why do you want to deliver yourself to their gate?”
“I always hear that Oboi is Manchu’s number one warrior,” Mao Shiba replied, “Damn it, some others say that he is the world’s number one warrior. I don’t believe it. I want to go to Beijing to prove it myself.”
Hearing that he wanted to challenge Manchu’s number one warrior, Wei Xiaobao knew he did not want to miss this exciting event. Day in and day out at the teahouses he heard the guests mentioning all kinds of stories about Beijing, the Son of Heaven’s domain, his heart was already filled with envy. He also thought that since he had killed Shi Song, the local authority’s follow-up investigation would not be fun. Although most of the blame would fall on Mao Shiba, there was still one in ten thousand chance that his trickery would be exposed, and then he would be in deep trouble. In any case, he would be extremely lucky if he could simply slip away. Thereupon he said, “Mao Dage, can I ask you a favor? But this matter is definitely not easy, I am afraid you won’t dare to agree.”
What Mao Shiba hated most was for others to call him a coward; his anger flared at once as he cursed, “Your granny! Little …” he was about to blurt out ‘Little Bastard’, but was able to stop his mouth in time. He said, “Why would I not dare to agree? Speak up, I will definitely agree.” He also remembered that he owed his life to Wei Xiaobao, so even if it was an immensely difficult matter, he simply must help him.
Wei Xiaobao said, “A real man gave his words, some horses cannot pull it back. Once you agreed, you must not go back.”
“I definitely won’t,” Mao Shiba promised.
“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Take me to Beijing.”
“You want to go to Beijing?” Mao Shiba was surprised, “What for?”
“I want to see your duel with that Oboi,” Wei Xiaobao replied.
Mao Shiba shook his head repeatedly, “Yangzhou and Beijing are thousands of li apart, the authorities are posting a reward for my capture, there will be grave danger along the way, how can I take you?”
“I knew it!” Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you would go back on your own words. By taking me, it would be easier for the authorities to catch you; of course you wouldn’t dare.”
Mao Shiba angrily shouted, “Why wouldn’t I dare?”
“Then take me with you,” Wei Xiaobao replied.
“Taking you is very cumbersome,” Mao Shiba said, “You haven’t even asked your Ma’s permission; won’t she be worried?”
Wei Xiaobao said, “I often do not go home for several days, Ma has never been worried.”
Mao Shiba raised the reins, the horse immediately walked away. “You, little demon, are truly full of tricks.”
Wei Xiaobao raised his voice to shout, “You do not dare to take me because you are not Oboi’s match, you are afraid I will see it and you will lose face!”
Mao Shiba’s anger shot through the roof, he pulled the horse around and roared, “Who says I am not Oboi’s match?”
Wei Xiaobao said, “You do not dare to take me must be because you are afraid I would see your disgraceful loss. He will beat you until you are crawling on the ground and cry out, ‘Oboi Laoye, have mercy; Oboi Daren, please spare lowly Mao Shiba’s dog life’. If I hear it, you will want to die of shame!”
Mao Shiba was so angry that he let out some indistinct cries. Jumping down from the horseback he reached out to grab Wei Xiaobao and threw him up the saddle. “I’ll take you along, I want to see who is going to cry for mercy!” he angrily said.
Wei Xiaobao was delighted, he said, “If I do not see it with my own eyes, I can only guess that the one crying for mercy will be you, not Oboi.”
Mao Shiba raised his left palm and smacked Wei Xiaobao’s buttock very hard while shouting, “I will make you cry for mercy first!”
“Aaah!” Wei Xiaobao cried out in pain, but he laughed and said, “When a dog’s paw hit people, it is actually quite heavy.”
Mao Shiba roared in laughter, he said, “Little demon, I really cannot win against you.”
Wei Xiaobao was unwilling to lose out the least bit, he also said, “Old demon, I also cannot win against you.”
Mao Shiba laughed. “I’ll take you to Beijing, but along the way you must listen to what I say and not create any trouble.”
“Who is making trouble?” Wei Xiaobao retorted, “You went into jail, you left the jail, you killed the salt smugglers, you killed government officers, aren’t all those things trouble?”
Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “I said I cannot win against you, I give up.” He sat Wei Xiaobao on the saddle and jumped and sat behind him. Pulling another horse along, he look around to get his bearing, then he spurred the horses to gallop toward the north.
Wei Xiaobao had never ridden a horse before, at first he was rather scared. Five or six li later, his courage returned, “Can I ride that horse?” he asked.
“If you know how to ride, then go ahead,” Mao Shiba said, “But if you don’t, you’d better be careful lest you will fall and break your leg.”
Wei Xiaobao wanted to win at all cost, he bragged, “I have ridden dozen horses, why do you say I can’t ride?” Jumping down from the horse, he walked to the other horse’s left side. His right foot stepped on the stirrup, he exerted his strength to pull himself over the horseback. He did not realize that he must step on the stirrup with his left foot. Since he was climbing up using his right foot, he landed with his face facing the horse’s buttocks. Mao Shiba roared in laughter and let go of Wei Xiaobao’s horse’s reins. He lashed his whip and the horse galloped away immediately.
Wei Xiaobao was scared out of his wits; he almost fell down from the horse. With both hands holding on tightly to the horse’s tail, his legs clung desperately to the saddle while his body crouched low on the horseback. He heard the wind rushing on his ears and felt his body was slipping down. Luckily he was small and his body was light that by holding tight on the horse’s tail, he managed to stay on the horseback. His mouth did not stop shouting and cursing, “My good mama, hot piece mama! Mao Shiba, if you don’t stop the horse, laozi will f*ck your eighteen stinky ancestors. Aiyo, aiyo, aiyo …”
The horse was galloping fast on the major road for more than three li without slowing down the least bit. Rounding a bend, they came into a fork on the road. There was a mule cart coming slowly from the right, behind the cart was a man of about twenty-seven, twenty-eight riding a white horse. The cart and the horse were also heading north. Since nobody was holding the reins of Wei Xiaobao’s horse, it was startled as it ran toward the cart and the horse. The distance between them was getting closer and closer.
“A mad horse!” the cart driver called out, as he hastily trying to steer his cart clear of the road.
The man riding the horse pulled his horse around. In the meantime, Wei Xiaobao had already arrived in front of him. The man reached out and pulled Wei Xiaobao’s horse. The horse was running fast, the man’s arm strength was quite big, with a powerful tug, the horse stopped immediately. Spurting a burst of white cloud from its nose, the horse was unable to continue galloping forward. From inside the cart came a female voice, asking, “Bai Dage, what is it?”
“A runaway horse,” the man replied, “There is a child on the horseback, I don’t know if he is dead or alive.”
Wei Xiaobao turned over and sat up; turning his head around he said, “Of course I am alive, how can I be dead?” He saw the man had an oval face, his shining eyes were lively; he was wearing a thick dark blue long robe, and a cap adorned with a piece of white jade, obviously this man came from a wealthy family. Wei Xiaobao came from a lowly background, so he detest anybody from a rich family. Spitting a mouthful of spittle on the ground, he said, “Damn it, laozi was having fun riding a splendid steed before coming across a corpse blocking the road that laozi had to stop, had to stop …” Before he was able to finish, he bent down on the horse’s buttocks and coughed violently.
Because its buttocks were roused, the horse kicked the ground with its left hind leg. “Aiyo!” Wei Xiaobao cried out while slipping down from the horse. “Aiyo hey, aiyo hey!” he screamed.
When he heard Wei Xiaobao’s foul mouth earlier, the man was about to get angry, but seeing Wei Xiaobao’s pathetic condition as he fell down from the horse, he smiled and turned his horse around to catch up with the mule cart.
Rushing on a horseback, Mao Shiba caught up with him. “Little demon,” he called out, “You haven’t fallen down and died?”
“I have fallen alright, but I haven’t died yet,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Laozi was having fun falling down from the horse, but that stinky kid blocked the way; I am mad to death. Aiyo hey …” groaning and moaning he crawled back up. His kneecaps hurt, he fell back down, kneeling on the ground.
Mao Shiba jumped down in front of him. Pulling him up by the back of his collar he threw Wei Xiaobao on the saddle. After learning a hard lesson, Wei Xiaobao did not dare to say that he wanted to ride by himself anymore.
The two of them rode together for more than thirty li. The sun was right above their heads. Finally they saw a small town ahead. Mao Shiba slowly dismounted the horse, then he helped Wei Xiaobao down in front of an inn. Growing up in a brothel, Wei Xiaobao had always been eating in the kitchen, sitting on the threshold, holding a large blue and white bowl in his hands, filled with rice and a pile of chicken or duck or fish or meat, leftover from the food that the guests had eaten. Although the vegetable and meat dishes were plenty, he had never sat next to anybody else on a table eating the meal properly. This time Mao Shiba was treating him as a friend, an equal. Although their meal only consisted of several bowls of coarse noodles and some scrambled eggs, his heart was very happy.
He had just finished half a bowl of noodles when he heard the clamor of people and horses outside the door, followed by seventeen, eighteen people crowding in. Judging from their appearance they looked like government officials. Wei Xiaobao was inwardly startled; in a low voice he said, “Soldiers! Perhaps they are here to arrest you. Let’s run away quickly!”
“Humph,” Mao Shiba snorted. Setting down his chopsticks, his hand quietly went toward the hilt of his saber. But those men did not pay him the least bit of attention. They were busy calling the waiter to hurry up and prepare food for them. An inn in a small town like this would not have too many choices of food; there were only pork cooked in soy-sauce, smoked fish, dried marinated tofu, and scrambled eggs. The leader ordered his men to get some ham and chicken they had brought as the side dish.
One man said, “In Yunnan we have always heard that Jiangnan is a good place, where the people wear silk and satin, and eat delicacies of all kinds. I’ll say, just from the food, that Jiangnan is not necessarily better than our Kunming.”
Another man said, “It’s because you, LaoGe [‘Ol Big Brother’], are used to live comfortably at Ping Xi[foot]Lit. ‘peaceful west’. Ping Xi Wang – king who pacifies the west.[/foot] Wang’s Mansion; what you eat and what you drink is entirely different from the rest of us. It’s not that Jiangnan is inferior to Yunnan. You must know that perhaps only a few places on earth are better than Ping Xi Wang’s Mansion.” The rest of the men voiced their agreement.
Mao Shiba’s countenance changed. “So this bunch of dog’s legs[foot]‘one who follows a villain’, henchman, hired thug.[/foot] is that big traitor to China Wu Sangui’s men?” he mused.
A man with a sallow cheek asked, “Huang Daren, this time you are going to Beijing, do you think you will be able to see the Emperor?”
A plump man with fair complexion said, “Based on my position alone, I should not be able to see the Emperor, but perhaps by reason of our Wangye‘s [Lit. ‘master king’, Prince/Lord/Duke] face, we might see him! The senior officials of the imperial court have always regarded us, the officials of the Xi Xuan [lit. ‘western elect’], with special favor.”
“That’s only natural,” another man piped in, “Among the current government officials, next to the Emperor, our Wangye has the greatest authority.”
“Hey, Xiaobao,” Mao Shiba called out loudly, “Do you know who is the most shameless man on earth?”
“Of course I do,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “It’s the son of turtle bastard!” Actually, he did not know, what he said was the same as not saying anything.
Mao Shiba slapped the table heavily, “That’s right!” he said, “Do you know who is the son of turtle bastard?”
“Damn it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That son of turtle bastard is a damn bad thing.” While saying that, he also slapped the table as hard as he could.
Mao Shiba said, “Let me tell you, good kid, that the son of turtle bastard is the big traitor to China, who consider the bandit as his father, who with both hands handed out our great and beautiful rivers and mountains [a common term to refer to one’s country, in this case, China], our wonderful world, to the Qing troops …” As he spoke to this point, those dozen or so government officers had already stared at him, some with angry expression on their faces. Mao Shiba continued, “This big traitor is surnamed Wu; damn it, one turtle is Wu Yigui, two turtles are Wu Ergui, how about three turtles?”
In a loud voice Wei Xiaobao said, “Wu Sangui[foot]Yigui, Ergui and Sangui mean ‘one’, ‘two’ and ‘three turtles’, respectively. Actually, the character 桂 ‘gui’ of ‘Wu Sangui’ is different from ‘gui’ of ‘turtle’ [乌龟].[/foot]!”
Mao Shiba laughed aloud and said, “It’s exactly Wu Sangui this big …”
Suddenly a series of ringing sound was heard as seven, eight men unsheathed their weapons and rushed toward Mao Shiba. Wei Xiaobao hastily hid beneath the table. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ the noise of weapons colliding with each other continuously ringing, Mao Shiba brandished his saber to fight the attackers. Wei Xiaobao saw him still sitting on the long bench, he knew that his leg was still injured and could not walk conveniently, thus he was very anxious inwardly.
A moment later, ‘clang!’ a saber fell to the ground, followed by a man crying a miserable cry as he also fell to the ground. Still, the opponents were too many, Wei Xiaobao saw all around the table feet were constantly moving. Some of these feet were wearing cloth shoes, some were wearing leather boots; obviously the feet belonged to the enemy, since Mao Shiba was wearing straw sandals.
He heard Mao Shiba was fighting and cursing at the same time, “Wu Sangui is a big traitor to China, you are all little traitors to China; if laozi do not kill you all … Aiyo!” He cried out loudly; apparently he was injured. Then a man fell face up with blood spurting out of his chest. Wei Xiaobao picked up a saber from the ground and slashed it on a leg wearing cloth shoe. The saber hacked, the lower half of leg was chopped completely. “Aaah …!” the man screamed and fell backwards.
It was rather dark under the table, plus the men were fighting a tangled battle, nobody knew who had wounded the man, they all thought it was Mao Shiba. Seeing his idea seemed to be working, Wei Xiaobao raised his saber and hacked at another ankle. The man, however, did not fall down; he screamed in pain and loudly called out, “Under the … the table …” While he was stooping down to look, Mao Shiba struck the back of his head with the saber; he fell down and fainted immediately.
Right this moment Wei Xiaobao hacked another man’s calf. The man screamed; he lifted the table with his left hand, the bowls, chopsticks, soups and noodles all flew up. The man immediately chopped his saber down toward Wei Xiaobao’s head. Mao Shiba swept his saber to block. Wei Xiaobao quickly rolled away from the crowd. The man whose calf was cut was extremely furious, with saber upheld high he gave a chase. “Hot piece mama!” Wei Xiaobao cried out, while slipping underneath another table.
“Little demon, come out!” the man bellowed.
“Old demon, you come in!” Wei Xiaobao replied.
The man was livid, he was extending his left hand to lift the table again, suddenly ‘bang!’ a fist punched the pit of his stomach, his body flew out. It was a man who was sitting on that table who hit him. The man who threw the punch immediately took chopsticks from the cylindrical chopstick container, which he threw one by one. Miserable cries of ‘Aiyo! Aiyo!’ were heard incessantly, as the men surrounding them were pierced by the chopsticks; some were pierced on their eyes, some others on their cheeks, but all injuries were on vital places.
One of the man called out, “The bandit is formidable, let’s go!” Helping their wounded comrades, they scampered out of the door. The sound of hoof beats were heard as the men mounted their horses and left in a hurry.
Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and crawled out from beneath the table, his hand was still holding the blood-stained saber. Mao Shiba stood up and walked limply with cupped fist toward the man sitting by the table, he said, “Thank you, Sire, for your help; otherwise Mao Shiba would be heavily outnumbered, and would not be able to deal with today’s matter.”
Wei Xiaobao turned his head around and was slightly startled. Turned out the man sitting on the table was the man he encountered earlier, who pulled the runaway horse he was riding on the road, the man to whom he had thrown several cursing sentences.
The man rose up to return the salute, he said, “Mao Xiong’s body still sustains injury, yet you were still moved by righteous indignation, heavily denouncing the traitor to China, generating respect in the hearts of others.”
Mao Shiba said with a laugh, “In all my life the man I hate most is the big traitor Wu Sangui; too bad this evil thief lives in the faraway Yunnan, so I have no way of venting out my anger. Today I can beat his cronies of little traitors, I am very happy. I’d like to consult Sire’s honorable surname and great given name.”
“This is a public place, it’s inconvenient for me to say it out loud,” the man replied, “Mao Xiong, let us part now, I am sure we’ll meet again someday.” Finished speaking, he turned around to help a young woman stand up. This woman had been sitting quietly by the table with her head hung low, so her face was not clearly visible.
Mao Shiba angrily said, “Even your name you are not willing to say, aren’t you looking down on others too much?”
The man did not pay him any attention, holding the young woman’s hand, they walked toward the door, but as he passed by Mao Shiba, he whispered something on his ear. Mao Shiba’s body shook, instantly his face showed a respectful expression. With a bow he said, “Yes, yes, Mao Shiba met a hero today, it’s really … it’s really the fortune of three lifetimes.” Surprisingly the man did not respond, still holding the woman’s hand, they walked out the inn’s gate, mounted the horse and the carriage, and left.
Seeing Mao Shiba’s expression turned from haughty to respectful, Wei Xiaobao was greatly astonished. “Who is that guy?” he asked, “Why are you scared of him?”
“What guy?” Mao Shiba scolded him, “You need to clean your mouth a bit more.”
Seeing the inn’s boss and waiters look around, the inn was in a complete mess with blood everywhere, Mao Shiba said, “Let’s go!” Holding on to the tables for support, he went out the door, picked up the door bolt[foot]Door bolts in those days are long pieces of wood placed across the door.[/foot] along the way and used it as a crutch as he made his way out to the horse post to untie the horses. “Mount that one,” he said, “Left foot on the stirrup first, then get on the horse … That’s it, exactly like that.”
“I knew how to ride a horse,” Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s just that I haven’t done it in a very long time, I kind of forget. What’s so strange about it?”
Mao Shiba laughed, he leaped onto the other horse, pulling the reins of the horse Wei Xiaobao was riding with his left hand, he led both horses northbound. “I am still injured,” he said, “I won’t be able to deal with any more Eagle Claws. We must not travel along the major road, we must find a hiding place. After I recuperate we will ride again.”
Wei Xiaobao said, “The man we met just now, his martial art skill is superior, one by one the chopstick flew, he struck those men and made them run. Mao Dage, I think you won’t be able to beat him.”
“That’s for sure,” Mao Shiba said, “He is a hero of the Mu Palace in Yunnan, how can his skill be not superior?”
“So he is from the Mu Palace in Yunnan?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “I thought he was that Chen Zongduozhu of the Tian Di Hui, because I notice how scared you are of him.”
Mao Shiba angrily said, “What am I scared of? Little demon speaks nonsense. I respect the Mu Palace, hence I was being 30% polite toward him.”
Wei Xiaobao said, “But he was not polite toward you! You asked his honorable surname and great given name, he simply ignored you; he only said, ‘let us part now, I am sure we’ll meet again someday’.”
Mao Shiba said, “Didn’t he tell me in the end? Otherwise, how would I know he is from the Mu Palace?”
“What did he whisper in your ear?” Wei Xiaobao asked.
Mao Shiba said, “He said, ‘Zaixia is from the Mu Palace of Yunnan, surnamed Bai’.”
“Um,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Surname Bai? Turns out he is Chi Baishi[foot]‘Bai’ means white or vain/empty. ‘Chi Bai Shi’ means ‘to eat without paying’.[/foot].”
“Little kid must not speak nonsense,” Mao Shiba said.
“You saw someone from the Mu Palace and you were scared out your wits, Laozi will not keep it in mind,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mao Dage, you are not afraid of Oboi, you are not afraid of the big traitor Wu Sangui, yet you are afraid of the Mu Palace; do they have three heads and six arms? Ah, I know! You are afraid he might throw two chopsticks to your eyes, and then Mao Shiba will become the Blind Mao.”
“It’s not that I am afraid of them,” Mao Shiba said, “It’s just that in Jianghu, if a warrior offends the Mu Palace, losing life is nothing, but he will attract the condemnation of tens of thousands people, and will be held in contempt by everybody.”
“What kind of place is Mu Palace anyway?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “How can they be that formidable?”
“Damn it,” Mao Shiba said, “What kind of question is that? From the start I have never thought it strange.” He continued, “For us in Jianghu, to see the people from Mu Palace of Yunnan is really not easy, to befriend them is even more extremely difficult. It just happened that today I was fighting Wu Sangui’s cronies. Mu Palace is the sworn enemy of Wu Sangui, naturally they came to my aid. It was you, this little kid, who did not learn well and have resorted to cheap bastard’s trick, so that even laozi was looked down by others.” As he spoke, he could not refrain angry look from appearing on his face.
“Aiyo, tsk, tsk, tsk,” Wei Xiaobao clicked his tongue, “Others were putting on an obnoxious air and not willing to become friends with you, how come you are blaming me?”
Mao Shiba angrily said, “You hid underneath the table, chopping people’s feet with a saber, damn it, what kind of skill was that? Heroes and warriors always look at each other’s eyes, how can they consider you a friend?”
“Your granny,” Wei Xiaobao retorted, “If not for laozi chopping several feet, I am afraid your life has already gone, yet now you are placing the blame on me.”
Mao Shiba thought about how he was despised by the people of Mu Palace of Yunnan; the more he thought, the angrier he became. “I told you not to come with me, but you insist on coming,” he said, “You threw lime on people’s eyes, this kind of cheap bastard’s trick is the most despised by Jianghu people, it is three levels lower than using knock-out drug or burning poisoned incense. I would rather be killed by that Black Dragon Whip Shi Song than rescued by you using such a mean and shameless trick. Damn it, you, little demon, the more I look at you, the more I am mad.”
It was only then did Wei Xiaobao understand that throwing lime on people’s eyes was a mean and lowly matter in Jianghu; without realizing it, he had violated Wulin’s biggest taboo. But hiding under the table and chopping people’s feet was obviously not something to be proud of either. However, being scolded, from shame he became angry. “Killing people with a saber is murder, killing people with lime is still murder, what ‘respectable’ or ‘lowly’?” he hatefully said, “If it were not for me, the little demon, using a ‘lowly’ trick to save you, you, the old demon, would have become ‘respectable’ ghost early on. Is not your thigh injured? People chopped your thigh using saber, I chopped other people’s feet using saber. Both thigh and feet are lower body parts, what’s the difference? You are not willing to take me to Beijing, just go your way, let me go mine. From now on, let’s just say that we do not know each other.”
Seeing how Wei Xiaobao was covered in dust and bloodstain, Mao Shiba recalled that the child was injured all because of him. That place was far away from Yangzhou, he definitely could not abandon the child in the wilderness, much less this child had saved his life twice, how could he forget favor and violate justice? Thereupon he said, “Alright, I will take you to Beijing, but you must agree to my three conditions.”
Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he said, “Agree to your three conditions, what’s so difficult about that? A real man speak the words, some horses cannot chase it!” He had heard the storyteller mention ‘team of four horses cannot chase it’, but for some reason he always forget the ‘four horses’ part.
Mao Shiba said, “First condition, you must not create trouble, must not curse people with filthy words, you must clean up your mouth a bit.”
“That’s easy,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “You don’t want me to curse, then I won’t curse. But what if someone is provoking me?”
“If you are being good, why would anybody want to provoke you?” Mao Shiba said, “Second condition, when you are fighting, you must not bite people, you must not throw lime in their eyes, or rolling around on the ground, or hiding underneath a table and chopping people’s feet, or crawling underneath someone’s crotch and grab their scrotum, or screaming and crying when you are beaten, or lying down pretending to be dead; you must not do any of those dirty tricks. Those are all despicable things, not things that heroes and warriors would do.”
“If I am not somebody’s match, must I just take the beating without hitting back?” Wei Xiaobao asked.
Mao Shiba said, “If you want to hit back, you must use real skill, don’t use your hoodlum or gangster method; don’t let others laugh at you until their mouth crooked. You have lived in a brothel, that was all right, but you are roaming the Jianghu with me, you must not resort to those kinds of tricks.”
Wei Xiaobao said in his heart, “Easy for you to say to fight with real skill. I am just a little kid, what ‘real skill’ do I have? Must not do this, must not do that, won’t that be the same as taking the beating without hitting back?”
Mao Shiba continued, “Martial art must be learned; who can do martial art as soon as he is out of his mother’s belly? You are still very young, there is still time if you start training now. You can kowtow and take me as your Shifu, I will take you as my disciple. All my life I have been wandering around in Jianghu, I never had several days of peace and quiet to take any disciple; so consider it your good fortune. As long as you are obedient, study diligently and practice hard, in the future you may not necessarily unable to become a martial art master.” As he spoke, there was a hint of hope in his gaze toward Wei Xiaobao.
Wei Xiaobao shook his head and said, “No, can’t do. You and I are friends of the same standings; if I take you as my Shifu, won’t I be a generation lower than you? Your granny, you harbor malicious intentions, you want to take advantage of me.”
Mao Shiba was furious; countless people in Jianghu had wanted to take him as their master, wanted to learn his saber technique ‘Five Tigers Breaking the Gates’, which was famous throughout the Jianghu. It was just that if not the candidate’s heart was not in the right place, then his aptitude was not good, or perhaps it was not the opportune time; he did not have the time to leisurely passing on his skill to his disciple. Today, remembering how Wei Xiaobao had saved his life, he wanted to teach him martial art; who would have thought that Wei Xiaobao would flatly refuse? In his anger, he wanted to strike him with his palm. His hand was raised, but in the end he held his hand; he said, “Let me tell you: right now, on an impulse I am willing to take you as my disciple. If later on you kowtow to me a hundred times and ask, I will not take you.”
“What’s so strange about that?” Wei Xiaobao said, “If later on you kowtow to me three hundred times and entreat me to take you as my master, I will still be unwilling. If I be your disciple, I will have to obey you in everything, where’s the fun in that? I don’t want to learn your martial art.”
Mao Shiba angrily said, “Fine, you don’t want to learn then don’t learn. If in the future someone catch you, making you neither dead nor alive, don’t regret it.”
“What’s to regret?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let’s just say I learn your martial art skill, what’s so good about it? You were tied down by the Black Dragon Whip without being able to move at all; seeing that eating-without-paying fellow from the Mu family of Yunnan you bowed down respectfully to flatter him, to become friends with him, while he plainly ignored you. Although my martial skill is inferior to you, but …”
The more Mao Shiba listened, the angrier he got. Finally he could not endure patiently and ‘smack!’ he slapped Wei Xiaobao’s mouth heavily. Wei Xiaobao had anticipated this, surprisingly he did not cry but burst into loud laughter instead, he said, “I was right on target, wasn’t I? That’s why you are angry. Let me ask you: you wanted to befriend others, but others ignored you, and thus you vent your anger on Laozi?”
Mao Shiba was exasperated by this child; beating him had failed, scolding him had also failed, ignoring him did not do anything either. His natural temperament was fiery, but now he was forced to exercise patience. “Humph,” he snorted, as he puffed his cheeks and blew a mouthful of air. Releasing the reins, he called out, “Horsey, oh, horsey, quickly do a tiger leap, let this little demon fall down and half dead.” At first he wanted Wei Xiaobao to agree to his three conditions, but since the second condition had already fallen apart, he did not want to think about the third condition.
Wei Xiaobao pulled the reins by himself and managed to make the horse trotting nicely, it did not give him any difficulty at all. Wei Xiaobao was inwardly very happy, he mused, “You don’t teach me horse riding, can’t Laozi learn it by myself?” He also thought, “When I follow you roaming the Jianghu in the future, I will watch how you are going to fight with other people. You do not teach me, don’t tell me that I don’t have eyeballs that I cannot look. Not only will I learn your martial art skill, I will also learn your opponents’ skill at the same time. The skills of several people combined, naturally I will be stronger than you. Pei,” he spat, “Damn it, what’s so special about your skill? That eating-without-paying fellow’s skill in throwing chopsticks is very effective. If he wanted Laozi to kowtow and learn his school’s skill, Laozi will have no problem in agreeing. Damn it, why would he want me to kowtow and learn his school’s skill?” Thinking to this point, he could not help but scoffing and then burst into laughter.
Mao Shiba turned his head, “What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I was thinking about that eating-without-paying fellow from the Mu Palace …” Wei Xiaobao replied.
“What eating-without-paying fellow?” Mao Shiba asked.
“Isn’t his surname Bai?” Wei Xiaobao asked.
“Surname Bai is surname Bai,” Mao Shiba said, “How does surname Bai turn into eating-without-paying? In the Mu Palace of Yunnan, their Bai family is highly regarded. Liu, Bai, Fang and Su were four great generals of the Mu Palace of Yunnan.”
“What three great generals, four great generals?” Wei Xiaobao asked again, “What kind of ghost place is Mu Palace of Yunnan anyway?”
“Can’t you clean up your mouth a little bit?” Mao Shiba said, “In Jianghu, whenever the name Mu Palace is mentioned, nobody does not filled with admiration; what do you mean ‘ghost place’?”
“Uh”, Wei Xiaobao mumbled.
Mao Shiba continued, “When Ming Taizu [First Ming Emperor, the founder of Ming Dynasty] raised arms against the Yuan [Dynasty, the Mongols], Mu Wangye, Mu Ying has rendered a great merit by subduing Yunnan. Taizu bestowed Yunnan to his family forever. After his death, the title Guo Gong [State Duke] was granted to his offsprings from generation to generation.”
Wei Xiaobao slapped his saddle and exclaimed, “Turns out it was that Mu Palace, the home of Mu Ying, Mu Wangye. You only said Mu Palace of Yunnan, you did not say it clearly. If you had said Mu Ying, Mu Wangye, how can I not know? Mu Wangye has been dead for several thousand years, you don’t have to be that afraid.”
“What several thousand years?” Mao Shiba said, “Rubbish! We, the warriors of Jianghu, have a deep respect of Mu Palace, not only because of Mu Ying, Mu Wangye, but because of his descendant, Mu Tianbo. When the last Ming emperor, King Gui ran away to Yunnan, the Duke of Qian [i.e. Guizhou Province], Mu Tianbo, that’s right, I remember now, the Duke of Qian was loyal and devoted, he escorted the Emperor and protected his master. When that traitor Wu Sangui attacked Yunnan, Duke of Qian protected King Gui escaping to Burma. The bad people of Burma wanted to kill King Gui, Mu Tianbo died in place of his master. This kind of loyalty is indeed rare among the heroes and warriors, from ancient age to today.”
“Ah,” Wei Xiaobao exclaimed, “So this Mu Tianbo, Master Mu was a descendant of the Legend of Heroic Deeds’ Mu Ying. Mu Wangye was brave and unstoppable, he was the Taizu Emperor’s trusted lieutenant, this much I know, you don’t have to tell me.” He had heard the Legend of Heroic Deeds told by the storyteller, about Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, Hu Dahai, Mu Ying, and other great generals; in fact, he was very familiar with their stories. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?” he asked, “If I knew the Mu Palace is Mu Wangye‘s family, I would be 30% more polite toward that eating-without-paying fellow. What kind of people are Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, the four great generals?”
“Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, four families have always been commanders under the Mu Palace,” Mao Shiba replied, “Their ancestors helped Mu Wangye to subdue Yunnan. When Tianbo Gong [lit. honorable gentleman] was escorting the Emperor to Burma, the descendants of these four great generals were also fighting to their deaths, only their younger sons and disciples managed to escape with their lives. It was because I remember that that surnamed Bai gentleman was such a hero that I was being polite to him. Besides, in one hand, he had helped me repelling the Eagle Claws working for that great traitor …”
“I was also helping you repelling the Eagle Claws working for that great traitor,” Wei Xiaobao cut him off, “Why aren’t you polite to me?”
Mao Shiba stared at him, and continued, “On the other hand, he is still very much a loyal subject, all Jianghu people highly esteem him. If we offend the Mu family of Yunnan, wouldn’t we be reviled by all the people under the heavens?”
“So that’s how it is,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Seeing a loyal subject, naturally we must show a bit of respect.”
“Since I’ve known you, this is the first time you are speaking reasonably,” Mao Shiba said.
“I don’t know how long do I have to wait until I can hear some reasonable words from you,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye blew the copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket, that kind of great hero, who does not respect deeply? Surely I don’t have to wait for you to fart?”
“What blowing the copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket?” Mao Shiba asked.
Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “You only know how to bootlick Mu Palace of Yunnan, yet you don’t know how great of a hero Mu Wangye was. Do you know what position Mu Wangye held under the Taizu Emperor?”
“Mu Wangye was a great general under the Taizu Emperor, who does not know?” Mao Shiba replied.
“Pei!” Wei Xiaobao spat, “Great general? Of course he was a great general, would he be a nameless soldier? Um, under the Taizu Emperor there were six kings; I am sure you have heard about Xu Da, Xu Wangye, and Chang Yuchun, Chang Wangye, do you know who were the other four kings?”
Mao Shiba was a hero of the wilderness, he knew nothing about the history of the founding of the Ming Dynasty. Of course he had heard the names Xu Da and Chang Yuchun, but he did not know that they were kings, and neither did he know there were four other kings. Wei Xiaobao, on the other hand, heard the story of the Legend of Heroic Deeds in Yangzhou teahouses so many times that he knew it inside-out. The fall of the Ming Dynasty happened not too long ago, the hearts of the people were still attached to the old way, but nobody dared to openly discuss anti-Qing, restoring-Ming sentiment. The storytellers in the teahouses only talked about the old stories of the Ming Dynasty. The stories the listeners liked most were about the founding of the Ming Dynasty and the defeat of the Tatars, which were recorded in the ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’.
During the founding of the country, the most arduous battle Ming Taizu faced was the great Lake Poyang battle against Chen Youliang, but the one the listeners most interested to hear was how the Mongolian army was driven away beyond the Great Wall, how the enemy was completely routed on the desert and they fled. In the listeners’ ears, it was the story of Ming Taizu defeating the Mongolian army; in their hearts, however, it changed into the Qing army. The great victory of Han people, the crushing defeat of the enemy; the listeners’ spirits were swelling with pride. Therefore, among the various ministers who had given outstanding service during the founding of the Ming Dynasty, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun and Mu Ying, were the three names the listeners adored most. When the storytellers narrated how these three people kill the enemy, they were always adding ‘oil and vinegar’, with much flourish, so that the audience was radiant with delight as if they were drunk and stupefied.
Seeing Mao Shiba was unable to answer, Wei Xiaobao smugly said, “The four kings were Li Wenzhong, Deng Yu, Tang He, and of course Mu Ying, Mu Wangye. On how these four Wangye were granted the title King, I supposed I should tell you, since I am sure you did not know it, am I right?” Actually, neither did he remember how these six kings get their titles. Mao Shiba nodded.
Wei Xiaobao said, “Tang He was Ming Taizu’s old friend, he was older than Taizu. Deng Yu had also known Taizu for a very long time, they had always been fighting together for the country. Li Wenzhong was Taizu’s nephew[foot]Orig. ‘wai sheng’ – sister’s son or wife’s sibling’s son.[/foot]. Mu Wangye was Taizu’s foster son, so his surname was originally Zhu, he was called Zhu Ying. Afterwards he rendered a great service, Taizu granted him a two-character surname, thereupon he was called Mu Ying.”
“So that’s the story,” Mao Shiba said, “What about blowing the copper horn and shooting the elephants? What’s the story?”
“It was ‘blowing the copper horn and crossing the river, shooting the elephants with rocket’, not ‘blowing the copper horn and shooting the elephants’,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Taizu subdued the land under the heavens, until only Yunnan left. The King Liang of Guizhou had not surrendered. That King Liang whatsisname was the Mongol’s last emperor’s nephew, he defended Yunnan and Guizhou, and was not willing to surrender.” The King Liang’s original name was Basalawarmi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basalawarmi); Wei Xiaobao could not remember his name, so he said whatever comes into his head.
Although Mao Shiba felt strange, he did not dare to argue, he simply listened as Wei Xiaobao continued, “Taizu Emperor’s dragon heart was enraged, he dispatched three-hundred thousand cavalry under the leadership of Mu Wangye to launch an attack. When they arrived at Yunnan border, they met the Yuan army. Yuan army’s marshal was called Delmek, who was ten zhang tall, whose head was like a round-bottomed wicker basket …”
“How can there be any ten zhang tall man?” Mao Shiba protested.
Wei Xiaobao knew he had a slip of tongue, but he argued, “Mongolians are bigger and taller than we, Han people, that Delmek’s entire body was covered in iron armor, his hand carried a long spear, he was shouting mumbo-jumbo loudly by the river bank, as if there were three thunderclaps in the air. Suddenly there were continuous ‘splash, splash’ noises from everywhere, do you know what happened?”
“I don’t know, what happened?” Mao Shiba asked.
Wei Xiaobao said, “Turned out Delmek’s ‘Wah! Wah!’ shout had reached the other side of the river, scaring a dozen or so Ming soldiers out of their wits that they fell down from their horses and into the river. Mu Wangye knew something was terribly wrong, he thought that if Delmek cried out several more times, my troops will fall into the river one by one, then our mission will fail. Thereupon he knitted his brows and thought hard of an idea.”
When he spoke, usually Wei Xiaobao’s mouth would constantly spit out vulgar language; the words ‘damn it’ had never left his mouth. However, talking about Mu Ying subduing Yunnan, he adapted the storyteller’s tone, surprisingly, not a single vulgar word escaped his mouth; occasionally, he would even quote or misquote Chinese adages.
He continued his story, “As soon as Mu Wangye saw Delmek was about to open his ferocious mouth, he strung his bow and shot an arrow. ‘Whoosh!’ the arrow went straight toward Delmek’s mouth. Mu Wangye’s shooting skill has reached the ‘penetrating the poplar tree in a hundred steps, penetrating the mouth in a thousand steps’ level. Splitting the air, the arrow flew across the surface of the river toward Delmek’s big mouth. Delmek was also a hero and a warrior, seeing how powerful and fearsome the incoming arrow was, he hastily lowered his head and dodged it. The troops behind him cried out together, ‘Not good!’ Delmek turned around and saw that ten generals had the pit of their stoimachs pierced by the arrow, blood spurt out violently. Turned out Mu Wangye’s arrow successively bored through ten generals, from the first general’s pit of the stomach and went out from his back, then it went to the second general’s pit of the stomach, and so on. Altogether it passed through ten men.”
Shaking his head, Mao Shiba said, “How can there be such thing? Even if Mu Wangye had a supernatural power, it’s impossible for one arrow to pierce through ten men.”
“Mu Wangye was the celestial constellation descending into the world of the immortals,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He was sent by the Jade Emperor to protect Taizu Emperor; how could be the same as an ordinary person? Did you say you are Mao Shiba? This arrow has penetrated ten, and it even has a special name, it’s called ‘Cloud Penetrating Arrow’.”
Mao Shiba was incredulous, “And then, what happened?” he asked.
“Delmek was furious,” Wei Xiaobao said, “He thought, ‘you can shoot arrow, do you think I can’t?’ Thereupon he raised his bow and also shot an arrow to Mu Wangye. Mu Wangye called out, ‘Bring it on!’ Stretching out the two fingers of his left hand, he lightly caught the arrow. Right that moment, a flock of wild geese flew overhead, their cry filled the sky. Mu Wangye had an idea, he called out, ‘I am going to shoot the left eye of the third wild goose!’ ‘Swish!’ he shot an arrow. Delmek mused, ‘It’s not easy just to shoot the third goose, how can you distinguish the left eye from the right eye?’ So he looked up. Right this moment, Mu Wangye repeatedly shot, three arrows were sent flying toward Delmek.”
“Wonderful!” Mao Shiba exclaimed, “It’s called ‘making a sound in the east and strike to the west’ tactic!”
“It seemed like Delmek was not fated to die yet,” Wei Xiaobao said, “The first arrow struck his left eye, he fell back with his face up. The second arrow and the third arrow successively killed eight of his generals. Yuan soldiers were hairy, so the Ming soldiers called them ‘hairy soldiers, hairy generals’. Mu Wangye released three arrows, and killed eighteen hairy generals. It was called ‘Mu Wangye fought the Great War across the river, three arrows shot dead eighteen hairy men’[foot]The word ‘mao’ (hairy) sounds like Mao Shiba’s surname. ‘Shiba’ means eighteen.[/foot]!”
Mao Shiba was startled, “What?!?” he asked.
Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye shot arrows across the river and killed Mao Shiba!” Speaking to this point, he could not help breaking up in giggles.
It was only then that Mao Shiba understood that Wei Xiaobao was actually cursing him in a roundabout way. “Damn it!” he swore, “Rubbish! Mu Wangye fought the Great War across the river, three arrows shot dead Wei Xiaobao!”
Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “At that time I was not even born yet, how could Mu Wangye shoot me to death?”
“Stop making irresponsible remarks,” Mao Shiba said, “Delmek was hit on his left eye, and then what?”
“Seeing their marshal was hit by the arrow and fell down from his horse, the Yuan army was immediately thrown into chaos,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye was about to give his troops an order to cross the river, when suddenly he heard loud cry from the other side of the river, the Yuan army’s reinforcement had arrived. From the opposite bank, the enemy shot arrows randomly, darkening the sky. Mu Wangye had another idea, he dispatched four great generals under him to quietly lead the troops crossing the river downstream. When they were behind the Yuan troop’s formation, they blew the copper horns.”
“Those four generals must be Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, weren’t they?” Mao Shiba asked.
Wei Xiaobao did not know any better, but he was not willing Mao Shiba to outguess him, thereupon he said, “No, those four generals were Zhao, Qian, Sun and Li. Liu, Bai, Fang and Su stayed behind by Mu Wangye’s side.”
Mao Shiba nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said.
“Mu Wangye passed on his order,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “He instructed Liu, Bai, Fang and Su to have the troops under their command to shout together while lowering small boats and wooden rafts into the river, dispatching a thousand Ming soldiers to pretend they were about to cross the river. Seeing the Ming troops were coming their way, the Yuan soldiers desperately released more arrows. Immediately Mu Wangye withdrew the troops, but less than an hour later, he dispatched the troops again, pretending they were about to cross the river. Again the Yuan soldiers released more arrows. Nobody knows how many fish, turtles, shrimps and crabs died in the river that day.”
“I don’t believe you,” Mao Shiba said, “Shooting dead some fish, that is still possible; but shrimps are extremely slender, crabs and turtles have hard shells protecting their bodies, how can they shoot them dead?”
“If you don’t believe me,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Why don’t you buy a turtle in the small town ahead, also buy a crab and a shrimp. String them together and hang them, then shoot an arrow through them. See if you can shoot them dead or not.”
Mao Shiba thought, “We are in a hurry for an urgent matter, how can there be any time to do this troublesome matter?” He was enthralled by the story, however, and was afraid Wei Xiaobao would sulk and did not continue; thereupon he said, “Alright, if you say they were shot to death then they were shot to death. What happened next?”
“Afterwards,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “The troops under Mu Wangye‘s command picked up eighteen animals shot dead by the arrows, some were hairy turtles, so they cooked and ate them, and that’s the end of the story.”
“Little demon,” Mao Shiba cursed, “You are still cursing me in a roundabout way. Tell me, how did Mu Wangye cross the river?”
Wei Xiaobao said, “Seeing the Yuan soldiers release the arrow, Mu Wangye ordered his men to beat the drums and shout, as if they were going to cross the river, but actually they were not going to cross the river. They heard the loud blaring noise of the copper horns from behind the Yuan army, so they knew Zhao, Qian, Sun and Li, four generals succeeded in crossing the river downstream and circled behind the Yuan army. Only then did Mu Wangye give the order to cross the river. The soldiers held up their shields in the front while pushing the boats and the rafts to cross the river and attack. The Yuan soldiers had been shooting arrows for half a day, by this time their arrow supply was almost depleted. Hearing the enemy’s attack from behind while their commander was seriously injured, their hearts were thrown into chaos. Mu Wangye was the first to charge on his horseback. The Yuan soldiers fled to the east and ran to the west in great confusion. Mu Wangye saw a general lying down on a horseback among the Yuan army, with a lot of Yuan soldiers all around protecting him, so he knew it must be Delmek. Immediately he spurred his horse to pursue, while with a stern voice he shouted, ‘Delmek, you haven’t get down from the horse and surrender?’ Delmek said, ‘I … I am not Delmek, I am Mao …’ Mu Wangye saw a feathered arrow sticking out from his left eye, with a gold character near the arrowhead, it was precisely the character ‘Mu’. Whose arrow was that if it was not his own? Mu Wangye did not hesitate anymore, reaching out he grabbed and brought the man down, while shouting, ‘Tie him up!’. And so Liu, Bai, Fang and Su, four generals, who had been following him, grabbed Delmek and tied him up solidly. The Yuan army suffered a crushing defeat, with countless soldiers drowned to death in the river. The turtles in the river ate quite a bit of hairy bodies that day, and grew hair on their bodies. This kind of turtles are called Hairy (Mao) Turtles, which are not found anywhere else.”
Mao Shiba had a feeling that Wei Xiaobao was cursing him again. “Humph,” he snorted, but did not dare to argue, for all he knew, there might be real hairy turtles in Yunnan’s rivers.
Wei Xiaobao said, “As he seized a total victory that day, Mu Wangye advanced his troops onto King Liang’s capital immediately. When they reached the outskirt of the city, he saw the city was deathly still. Mu Wangye gave his order to beat the drum to provoke a battle, but then he saw a wooden tablet hanging on the top of the city wall, with two character ‘cease fighting’ written on it.”
“It must be that the King Liang knew they were no match for the enemy and thus hung the ‘cease fighting’ tablet,” Mao Shiba commented.
“Mu Wangye was benevolent and broadminded,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “He thought that since the King Liang was hanging the ‘cease fighting’ tablet, most likely they were about to surrender. If I proceed by attacking, after the wall is down, there will be many casualties among the common people; I’d rather give them three days to surrender, so as to avoid killing innocent people.”
Mao Shiba slapped his thigh and exclaimed loudly, “That’s right! Mu Wangye‘s family has been the guardians of Yunnan, they exist and perish together with the Ming Dynasty. It must be because Mu Wangye cherished common people, he was kindhearted, that’s why the Heaven blessed him.”
Wei Xiaobao said, “That night Mu Wangye was sitting in the army camp, reading the Spring and Autumn Annals by the lantern light.”
“It was Guan Wangye who sat by the light reading the Spring and Autumn Annals,” Mao Shiba said, “Could it be that Mu Wangye also read the Spring and Autumn Annals?”
“They were both Wangye,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Of course they both read the Spring and Autumn Annals. If they did not read the Spring and Autumn Annals, are you saying that they should read the Summer and Winter Annals? It was Zhang Fei[foot]A general of Shu, the sworn brother of Liu Bei in the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’.[/foot] who read the Summer and Winter Annals. The impertinent Zhang Fei was brave but not shrewd; Mu Wangye was the celestial constellation descending into the world of the immortals, just like Guan Wangye, naturally they read the Spring and Autumn Annals and not the Summer and Winter Annals.” Not knowing anything about the Spring and Autumn Annals or Summer and Winter Annals, Mao Shiba could only nod his head in agreement.
“Mu Wangye read for a while,” Wei Xiaobao continued, “All of a sudden he needed to pee, he stood up, took the golden chamber pot bestowed to him by the Taizu Emperor, and was about to pee when suddenly he heard several loud cries coming from inside the city wall. It was very loud, it did not sound like tiger’s roar, and did not sound like horse’s neigh either. When Mu Wangye heard it, he knew something was amiss …”
“What cry was that?” Mao Shiba asked.
“Why don’t you try to guess?” Wei Xiaobao said.
“Seems to me like several Yuan generals were roaring in the city, just like Delmek earlier,” Mao Shiba guessed.
“No,” Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “As soon as Mu Wangye heard it, he changed his mind and did not pee. Respectfully he put the chamber pot back on the table …”
“Why did he put a chamber pot on the table?” Mao Shiba cut him off.
“It was a golden chamber pot bestowed by the Taizu Emperor; do you think it was an ordinary chamber pot?” Wei Xiaobao argued, “That’s why when Mu Wangye put it down, he must be respectful. After laying down the pot, he beat the drum to summon the generals into his command tent. Picking up a golden arrow as a symbol of his authority, he said, ‘General Liu, receive this order: Take three thousands soldiers to catch field mice this very night; reward will be given to those who catch many, martial law will apply to those who catch a few.’ General Liu replied, ‘Command received!’ Taking the golden arrow, he left to catch field mice.”
“Why did he want field mice?” Mao Shiba wondered aloud.
Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye led his troops like a deity, how could he divulge secret military tactic? The marshals received the order, they followed it to the letter. If the officer receiving the order asked too much, Mu Wangye might be enraged and would send the officer outside the tent to be beheaded. If you were one of Mu Wangye‘s generals and you keep asking questions like this, even if you have eighteen melon heads, damn it, all eighteen will be chopped by Mu Wangye.”
“If I were one of the generals, naturally I won’t ask anything,” Mao Shiba said, “But you are not Mu Wangye, why can’t I ask you questions?”
Wei Xiaobao shook his head, “No question, no question!” he said, “Mu Wangye picked up the second golden arrow and gave it to General Bai, saying, ‘I order you to lead twenty thousand men to dig a trench within five li of this place. The trench must be two li long, two zhang wide, and three zhang deep. You must finish the trench this very night without any mistake.’ General Bai received the order and left. Mu Wangye then gave his order to retreat, to break the camp and pitch the camp again six li from the city walls.”
The more Mao Shiba listened, the more baffled he was. “That’s really strange,” he said, “I cannot guess anything at all.”
“Humph,” Wei Xiaobao snorted, “If you could guess Mu Wangye‘s military tactics, Mu Wangye would become Mao Shiba, Mao Shiba would become Mu Wangye. At daybreak the next day, the two generals Liu and Bai returned: They caught more than ten thousands field mice, and the trench was dug. Mu Wangye nodded his head and said, ‘Very well, send a scout to the city to spy the enemy movements. About wupai hour [seventh hour, between 11am – 1 pm] suddenly they heard thundering drums from the city, followed by loud battle cry. The scout returned, galloping the horse like flying, and reported: ‘Reporting to the Marshal, the situation is not good!’ Slapping the table, Mu Wangye sternly said, ‘Damn it, what matter makes you panic?’ The scout said, ‘Reporting to the Marshal, the Yuan army opened wide the northern gate, and out of the city came several hundred long-nosed cow demons, running toward our camp to attack!’ Mu Wangye roared in laughter and said, ‘What long-nosed cow demons? Gather more info!’ The scout received the order and left.”
“What kind of animal is a long-nosed cow demon?” Mao Shiba wondered.
With a straight face Wei Xiaobao said, “I knew you would not know it either. This animal is bigger than a cow, its hide is rough, its muscle thick, its nose is long, with two tusks protruding forward, its pair of large ears look like curtain, its appearance is incomparably fierce; don’t you think it looks like a long-nosed cow demon?”
“Um,” Mao Shiba grunted, and nodded his head, apparently he was trying to picture the long-nosed cow demon in his mind.
Wei Xiaobao continued, “Mu Wangye thought aloud, ‘This scout is really muddleheaded, he sees little and marvels at a lot of things; seeing a camel he says it’s a horse with a swelling back, seeing an elephant he says it’s a long-nosed cow demon!’”
Mao Shiba was startled; and then he burst out in laughter. “That scout was indeed muddleheaded,” he said, “Unexpectedly he regarded elephants as long-nosed cow demons. But he was a northerner, had never seen an elephant, so you can’t really blame him.”
Whenever the storyteller in Yangzhou was telling this ‘long-nosed cow demon’ story, the teahouse audience always broke out in laughter. This time Wei Xiaobao imitated the way the story was delivered, and sure enough, Mao Shiba also broke out in laughter.
Wei Xiaobao continued, “Mu Wangye arranged his troops in battle formation; looking to the distance, he saw dust was rising high, those several hundred elephants, with daggers tied onto their heads, were rushing wildly toward them, the elephants’ tails were ablaze. Yunnan is very close to Burma; King Liang had purchased several hundred elephants from Burma, and trained the elephants to be a fiery formation, by tying pine branches onto the elephants’ tails and lighted it with fire. The elephants were scared and thus they charged toward the Ming army. Elephants’ skin is firm and their muscle thick; crossbow arrows cannot harm them. As soon as the Ming army was thrown into confusion, the Yuan army would follow behind the elephants and make a surprise attack. The Ming troops were northerners, they have never seen elephants; as soon as they saw the elephants, they cried out inwardly, ‘King of cow demon’s tail can shoot flames, today’s matter can’t be good!’”
Mao Shiba’s expression was grim, with subdued tone he said, “Those flaming elephants were formidable for sure.”
“Mu Wangye remained calm and collected, he simply laughed coldly,” Wei Xiaobao, “When the elephants were about ten zhang away, he suddenly barked, ‘Release the field mice!’ Those more than ten thousand field mice were released, instantly the ground was covered with mice running around randomly. You must know that elephants do not fear lions, bears, tigers or leopards, but they are most afraid of mice. If a mouse get into an elephant’s ear, it can eat the elephant’s brain without the elephant able to do anything. As soon as the elephants saw the mice, they were so frightened as if their spirits had flown up to the sky. They turned around and fled, charging into the Yuan army formation, trampling the Yuan generals and soldiers’ head and legs. Some elephants could not tell east from west and ran toward the Ming army, but one by one they all fell into the trench. Mu Wangye called out, ‘Release the rocket [orig. ‘fire arrow’]!’ As soon as he, the Senior [orig. ‘laorenjia’ – a polite term to address older (or more respectful) people] gave his order, the sky was filled with thousands, tens of thousands sparks. It was a wonderful sight.”
“How can the arrows catch fire?” Mao Shiba asked.
“You think those rockets [‘fire arrow’] were arrows on fire?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Wrong! Those rockets were firecrackers and cannons. The Ming army was equipped with cannons, saltpeter and sulfur gunpowder. The previous night Mu Wangye had issued an order to the sergeants to load the cannons with gunpowder and firecrackers. When the cannons were fired, sparks filled the sky with loud ‘Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom! noise. Those elephants were even more scared and ran away desperately, trampling the Yuan army into pulp; scattered, collapsed and out of their minds. Mu Wangye gave the order to beat the drums to signal an attack. His troops responded by loud battle cry as they followed the elephants breaking into the city. King Liang, taking along his concubine, was drinking wine at the top of city wall, waiting for the news of the Ming army’s defeat. Seeing several hundred elephants bursting into the city, King Liang cried out, “Guluabutu, wuliwu! Guluabutu, wuliwu!”
Mao Shiba was puzzled, “What did he call wuyewu for?” he asked.
Wei Xiaobao said, “He is a Mongolian, naturally he cried out in Mongolian. He said, ‘Aiyo, not good! The elephants are revolting!’ Rushing down the wall, he saw a well and immediately jumped in, wishing to kill himself. Unexpectedly, because King Liang was extremely fat, his belly was enormous; as he jumped halfway down, his belly stuck on mouth of the well, he could neither go up nor down. He cried out, ‘Oh, this is bad! The king is hanging in the air!’”
“How come this time he did not speak Mongolian?” Mao Shiba asked.
“He was crying out in Mongolian,” Wei Xiaobao said, “But I know you wouldn’t understand, so I changed it into our language. Riding on his horse, Mu Wangye was the first to break into the city. Seeing an old Tatar wearing yellow gown and golden crown on his head, he knew it was King Liang. Seeing the king’s big belly stuck in the mouth of the well, he could not help but bursting into loud laughter. Grabbing the king’s hair, he lifted him up, but he smelled a stench to the high heaven, it was because King Liang was extremely scared that he pooped and peed in his pants!”
Mao Shiba roared in laughter and said, “Xiaobao, the way you tell the story is very good. Turns out Mu Wangye subdued Yunnan with both bravery and wisdom. If he did not release the mouse formation, King Liang’s fiery elephant formation would crush the Ming army to utter defeat.”
“That goes without saying,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Mu Wangye fought a war with mice, we fought with lime, there is not much difference between us.”
“Wrong!” Mao Shiba shook his head, “As the saying goes, ‘all’s fair in war’, fighting a war with anything is permissible. Didn’t Zhuge Liang[foot]A military leader and Prime Minister of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period.[/foot] use the empty city strategy? But we use saber and spear, wandering the Jianghu with straightforward and upright attitude; fighting a war and fighting one-on-one are completely different.”
“I’ll say they are more or less the same,” Wei Xiaobao said.
The two of them talking and chatting along the way, so the journey did not feel so lonely. Mao Shiba explained all kinds of customs, virtues, and taboos of the Jianghu; finally he said, “You do not know martial art, people also know that you are not from any school or societal family, they won’t deal with you with heavy hands; you must never pretend to be what you are not, otherwise you will suffer worse fate.”
Wei Xiaobao said, “I, the Little White Dragon Wei Xiaobao, am an expert in water skill, I can stay underwater, living on fish and shrimp. But my land based skill is nothing to be talk about.” Mao Shiba roared in laughter.
That evening the two of them sought lodging in a peasant family home. Mao Shiba took out several taels of silver and gave them to the peasant family, so that they could stay for a dozen more days to recuperate. When most of injury was healed, they hired a large cart to continue their journey.
Book Note: ‘Best friendship at first meeting’ means ‘familiarity at first sight’, not at all talking about friendship at first meeting is the best, and then later on it gradually becomes not good.