The Deer And The Cauldron 33


The Deer And The Cauldron 33
第三十三回 谁无痼疾难相笑 各有风流两不如

Chapter 21 In which Trinket and Party make their way to the Province of Guizhou, and thence to Peking; there is Singing on the River, and Tales are told of Taiwan; Two Elderly Jesuit Fathers prove their Skill at the Art of making Cannon; Devoted Doublet pieces together the Map; and Trinket is put in command of a Naval Expedition

In the Mountains-A Number of Familiar Faces-In the Gambling Den-A Surprising Intervention-Beggar, Meatball, and other Combatants-Triad Talk-The Log Rafts- Exit Sir Zheng-The Storm on the River-The Helmsman presents an Old Hero-The Helmsman Informed-The Art of Escape-In the Capital Once More- Of Jesuits and Cannon-Piecing together the Scraps- me Cauldron-Cannon of Divine Might-Mission Impossible-The Three Treasures of Manchuria-Pacifying the Ocean-Strategy, and a Golden Bowl-Trinket at Sea-Meatball, and other Floating Objects-Smoke Signals and Big Guns


In the Mountains


After several days of travelling, the city of Kunming was well and truly behind them, and there was no visible sign of the Satrap’s troops following them. They felt they could finally begin to relax a little.One evening, as they were approaching the county town of Qujing, they saw four riders galloping towards them. One of them leapt from his horse and announced to the vanguard of Trinket’s party that he was carrying important military intelligence for the Imperial Envoy Lord Wei. Trinket immediately summoned the manbefore him. He was a diminutive, scrawny, swarthy fellow. Trinket was about to interrogate him when Butcher Qian called out from behind him’ ‘Aren’t you Brother Kuang?’ The man bowed. ‘At your service, Brother Qian!’ Trinket glanced at Qian, and Qian nodded back, muttering’ ‘He’s one of ours.’

Trinket escorted the man to the back, where the only others present were Triads. Butcher Qian introduced him to Kuang as their Lodge Master, whereupon Kuang clasped his hands together and bowed, pronouncing the words of the Triad oath’ ‘By Heaven my father and Earth my mother, I will overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming! Brother Kuang Tianxiong of the Red Fire Lodge greets Lodge Master Wei and Brothers of the Green Wood Lodge.’ ‘Pleased to meet you, Brother Kuang,’ replied Trinket.

Butcher Qian had run into this man a few times in Hunan in the past, on Triad business. He now proceeded to introduce him to his fellow Triads, including Brothers Li Lishi, Tertius Qi, Feng Jizhong, Apothecary Xu, Obscurus, and Gao Yanchao. The three men accompanying Kuang were also members of the Red Fire Lodge. This was the Lodge responsible for the Province of Guizhou, which they would be entering in a few days. It was reassuring that the local Brothers should have come all this way to welcome them. Trinket enquired after their Lodge Master Gu, whom he had last seen at the great gathering in the north. Kuang conveyed his Lodge Master’s best wishes to them all, and the admiration of his Lodge for what they had achieved. Lodge Master Gu also wished to warn them that they should change their plans and travel by a more easterly route, through southern Guangxi, bypassing Guizhou Province altogether. This came as something of a shock to Trinket and his friends. Kuang went on to say that Lodge Master Gu was still looking forward to seeing them, but that the meeting would now have to take place in Guangxi Province. ‘Why there?’ asked Trinket.

‘We have information that Satrap Wu has dispatched a large detachment of cavalry to Xuanwei, and other parts of eastern Yunnan, with a view to ambushing your party.’ They all gasped with horror when they heard this.’That turtle just doesn’t know when to give in!’ cried Trinket. ‘Doesn’t he even care if he puts his own son’s life in danger?’Kuang briefed him on what they had gleaned of the Satrap’s plans. These were to send a sizeable contingent of crack fighters to apprehend ‘a certain dangerous woman Shifu’, and then to make off with Young Wu, the Tartar Princess, and Lodge Master Wei, having killed all the others in cold blood. The pass beyond Qujing at Songshao had already been closed and no one could get through. They themselves had made their way by small mountain tracks, and had travelled day and night, to forewarn Trinket of the dangers he faced.

Trinket thanked them profusely. The four of them did look truly done in, and were red’eyed from lack of sleep. Trinket consulted with his comrades. Butcher Qian enquired of Kuang how many men the Satrap had sent.’He couldn’t get his own troops up from Kunming in time; so he sent a message by carrier pigeon with orders for troops from northern Yunnan and southern Guizhou to be seconded for this mission-about thirty thousand in all.’There were cries and curses all round at this. Trinket’s entire force amounted to only two thousand men-only a fraction of the enemy’s strength. They were well and truly outnumbered.

‘Whereabouts in Guangxi does Lodge Master Gu want us to meet up?’ asked Qian.’He has sent one of his men ahead to make contact with Lodge Master Ma of the Clan Lodge in Guangxi. If Lodge Master Wei agrees, the three Lodge Masters can meet in Lucheng. That’s in western Guangxi, a long way from here, and hard roads all the way. But at least the place is not patrolled by the Satrap’s troops. And the Clan Lodge Brothers of Guangxi will be there for us if need be. It should be safe enough.’Trinket was greatly relieved to hear this.’Good. We’d better head towards Lucheng then. But that fat turtle of a Satrap has got it coming to him one day soon!’He gave the order for the party to set off in a new direction, and head towards the south’east, into the mountainous province of Guangxi. Brother Kuang and his friends were to be carried in a comfortable conveyance, so that they could rest after their exertions. Knowing that the Satrap was still after them, they hurried forward with a new sense of urgency, camping out every night in the open, not wishing to alert the local officials to their presence.

A few days later they reached Lucheng. Lodge Master Ma Chaoxing of the Clan Lodge, Lodge Master Gu Zhizhong of the Red Fire Lodge, together with leading members of both Lodges, were gathered there to greet them. That evening Lodge Master Ma presided over a banquet. The local Triads were pleased to learn of the recent turn of events in Kunming, and the consequent loss of prestige of their traditional rivals in the Resistance, the Mu Family. When the feast was ended a detachment of Red Fire Lodge scouts returned to report that the Satrap’s men had learned about Trinket’s changed route, and were already in hot pursuit. They had reached the Guangxi border, but had not dared to cross over. They had sent back to Kunming for instructions as to whether or not they should penetrate into Guangxi disguised as brigands. Lodge Master Ma laughed. ‘Guangxi is outside the Satrap’s jurisdiction. If he were to send his men in here, it would be as good as an open declaration of rebellion. He probably thinks that by disguising his men he can shift the responsibility for whatever happens onto the shoulders of the Princess Kong Sizhen-but it will never work!’ He was referring to the daughter of the general Kong Youde, who had himself died soon after the Manchu conquest. Later, during Kang Xi’s reign, the Princess had been showered with honours, and she continued to control Guangxi Province, which had been her father’s fief during his lifetime.

They all rested a day in Lucheng. Trinket still felt they were too close to Yunnan for comfort, and was for moving further east. The following day he said farewell to Gu and the Red Fire Triads, and set off with his party eastwards into Guangxi, accompanied by Ma and the Clan Lodge Triads. A Number of Familiar Faces After several days on the road, they finally came to central Guangxi, sufficiently far away from danger for the members of the Imperial Guard (including Trinket’s old friends, Captains Zhang and Zhao) to feel that they could begin indulging again in their usual practices of extortion and trouble’making. When they arrived in the city of Liuzhou, the local Prefect, knowing that the party included an Imperial Princess, entertained them lavishly. The troops were back in their element, and went out on the town.

During their third evening in Liuzhou, Trinket was engaged in conversation with Lodge Master Ma and other Triads, when Captain Zhang Kangnian came up in a great fluster, demanding urgendy to see Colonel Wei. He would say nothing more, but looked extremely ill at ease. Trinket saw that his left cheek was swollen, and that on the right side he had a black eye. He had obviously been in some sort of a brawl, and had come out of it somewhat the worse for wear. Trinket left his Triad friends (not wishing to humiliate a Guard in front of them), and drew Captain Zhang into a side’room. As soon as they were alone, Zhang informed Trinket that their friend Captain Zhao Qixian was being held in custody.’What a bloody cheek!’ cried Trinket angrily. ‘Who was it? One of the Liuzhou guard? One of the Yamen constables? What did he do? Kill someone?’

Trinket was thinking to himself that, for a Palace Guard to have been arrested, it must have been something extremely serious. A shamefaced Zhang confessed that their friend had been apprehended in a gambling den. Trinket roared with laughter.’Tamardy! You mean he’s been nabbed by some local gamblers! That’s rich! The two of you lost a lot of money, I’ll bet!’Zhang nodded. It transpired that at the end of a long (and disastrous) gambling session, Captain Zhao had provoked trouble by abusing the operators of the den and accusing them of cheating, despite the fact that they had let him off very generously.’Not a very River and Lake sort of thing to do!’ commented Trinket.’That’s an odd remark,’ reflected Zhang silently to himself, ‘seeing that we all work in the Palace, and neither you nor I norZhao have anything to do with the River and Lake fraternity at all.’

Confusion such as this was becoming only too common on Trinket’s part, as he sought unsuccessfully to manage his complex identities. Anyway, as a result of Captain Zhao’s abusive behaviour, he and Zhang and five of their friends from the Guard had been knocked unconscious by a strange dishevelled old fellow, a large man, who had leapt to the defence of the gambling establishment, at the same time saying all manner of insulting things about theEmperor. The man had used devastating kungfu on them. When Zhang recovered consciousness, he found himself lying on the ground, with his friends sprawled around him. The big fellow was standing with one foot on Captain Zhao’s head, demanding that they each pay a thousand taels of silver. If they didn’t come up with the money within four hours, he would start selling them off as meat, in medium’sized chunks, at ten taels a pound!

‘What sort of a fellow is he?’ asked Trinket, intrigued. ‘He’s huge, he’s got fists bigger than rice’bowls, and his face is covered in whiskers. He’s dressed in rags, like a beggar.’ Clearly this was some River and Lake figure, thought Trinket to himself, and dealing with him would require appropriate River and Lake measures (and a certain amount of money, no doubt). It suddenly occurred to him that he had the very people for the job. He disappeared for a moment and returned with a bag full of money and a couple of officers from the Valiant Regiment. Captain Zhang was dismayed. How was Colonel Trinket going to deal with such a deadly fighter aided by only these two men’ Zhang could not know that beneath their uniforms, these men were none other than those redoubtable warriors, our old friends Doctor Lu and Fat Dhuta (the scrawny one), who had accompanied Trinket throughout his trip to Yunnan, dressed as officers in the Valiant Regiment of Household Cavalry. They had kept a very low profile for fear of complicating life unnecessarily for him and for themselves (and, no doubt, for the indulgent reader as well). They had spent most of their time indoors, and had stayed well out of trouble. When Trinket told them he had a special mission for them, they were only too pleased to be involved in some action at last.


In the Qambling Den

Zhang led Trinket, the Doctor, and Fat Dhuta to the gambling den, where play was in full swing. Trinket strode boldly into the room, while Doctor Lu and Fat Dhuta stood in the doorway, awaiting his orders. Zhang skulked behind them. There were four men playing around a large table. Captain Zhao and the five other Palace Guards were still lying motionless on the ground. The man sitting to the right of the table (East in gambling parlance) was a big, hairy fellow, certainly the kungfu beggar described by Zhang. To his left, in South position, was a handsome young gentleman or scholar.

Trinket recognized him at once as Li Xihua, a man he had once met in Peking, a young fighter of supreme skill. On that occasion, Li had been involved in a staggering display of kungfu virtuosity, involving the Helmsman Chen Jinnan himself, who had been obliged to use his Blood’Curdling Snatch on Li’s ankle. Trinket was more than a little surprised to see him again in these outlandish provincial surroundings. Opposite the beggar, in West position, was a man of sixty or so, dressed like a peasant, a sour’faced, glum’looking individual, whose expression suggested that he had sustained heavy losses at the table. In North position was the oddest’looking character of them all, a short, fat individual, round as a meatball, dressed in a luxurious silken jacket and gown. His face was all squashed together, as if someone had literally pounded it into a ball. He was totally engrossed in the game.

‘I wonder if Li Xihua remembers me?’ wondered Trinket silently. ‘Probably not. After all, it was such a long time ago, and I’m all dressed up in these official clothes. But I’d better watch my step with him.”Good evening to you all, friends!’ he announced cheerfully. ‘I wonder if I could join you for a round or two?’ As he approached the table, Trinket saw large piles of money on somewhere between five and six thousand taels in all. And the largest pile of all was stacked right in front of the sour-faced peasant. Despite his glum expression, he was clearly by far the biggest winner. Odd. The short round man in the silken gown tapped his dominoes with his stubby fingers. Then suddenly he let out a startling cry.









It was evident that he suspected the sullen Peasant sitting on his right of cheating. There was a heated exchange between the two of them, during which Li Xihua and the old Beggar (who had both retired from the game) sat on the sidelines quietly chuckling. As the game progressed, Trinket could see that the Peasant was actually using a clever system of marking. Meatball went on losing more and more heavily, until finally he was cleaned out altogether and had nothing left to bet with. The blood had gone rushing to his face, so that it looked like one huge, crimson, bloated blood vessel. He began rummaging through all his pockets with his podgy hands, without finding anything, and seemed about to despair, when suddenly he caught sight of Captain Zhao lying on the ground.That creature must be worth a few hundred taels! I’ll bet him!’ He promptly lugged Zhao up onto the table. The unfortunate Captain had had his Vital Points well and truly immobilized, and was incapable of offering even the slightest resistance.

‘Wait a minute!’ barked the old Beggar. ‘I’m the one who arrested these guards! What right do you have to bet with them?’ ‘Just lend him to me, will you?’ grovelled Meatball. ‘And if you lose’ What will I get back?’ A strange expression came into Meatball’s eyes. ‘I have no intention of losing-‘. ‘And supposing your luck doesn’t turn?’ ‘Oh, there are plenty more guards in town-I’ll get hold of another one for you.’ ‘I’m not so sure. . . .’ muttered the Beggar, but he nodded his head all the same. ‘Come on, you!’ Meatball urged Trinket. ‘Throw the dice for me!’ Trinket turned to the cheerless Peasant. ‘You shuffle the dominoes, would you’ Same as last time.’

The Peasant made a great racket shuffling the thirty’two bone dominoes, and then proceeded to divide them into piles. Trinket was astonished to observe how all his old cheating marks had been secretly erased, and no new ones were as yet visible in their place. If the two men had still been playing for money, it wouldn’t have mattered so much. But since the stake was now his old friend Captain Zhao, Trinket felt the need to intervene. ‘Why not just play with dice!’ he suggested to the two of them. Meatball shook his fat round head till it wobbled like a spinning’top. ‘I much prefer playing dominoes!’ ‘But you’re obviously not much good at it.’ Meatball reached out, grabbed Trinket by the chest, yanked him up into the air, and began shaking him up and down. ‘Nobody calls me a bad player! Nobody’ Trinket felt the bones rattling in his body.

Then a voice from behind him cried’ ‘Put him down! You can’t do that to him’ It was Fat Dhuta, who had suddenly made himself visible. Meatball still had Trinket suspended from his right hand. He pulled a face. ‘Why not’ And what the hell are you doing here anyway?’Doctor Lu replied on behalf of Fat Dhuta”Just put him down! He’s somebody important. You really mustn’t offend His Excellency . . . Mr Wei!’Meatball gave a great whoop of joy.’Mr Wei! You mean this is Mr Wei! Tamardy! The very man I’ve been looking for! Fantastic!’And so saying he went running towards the door, still suspending Trinket in mid’air and making for the street.

Fat Dhuta and Doctor Lu barred his way.’Come on, Skinny’ said Doctor Lu, addressing Meatball. ‘Now that you know who he is, show a little more respect. . . . Put him down!”If he was the Great Leader himself, I still wouldn’t put him down! Not till he gave me some of the Antidote!”Stop talking such rubbish! What would you want the Antidote for now?’ cried Fat Dhuta.’You don’t know anything.’ cried Meatball. ‘Out of my way! Unless you want a fight!’Trinket was following this strange conversation as best he could from his position in mid’air.’So Meatball must be Fat Dhuta’s long’lost brother’in’arms, Thin Dhuta. The one they sometimes call Lump’of’Flesh. He’s certainly fat and short and grotesque! Makes sense, I suppose. …’

He recalled that day in the Palace, in the Hall of Maternal Tranquillity, the Fake’Empress Dowager’s compound, when a fat spherical creature had come hurtling naked from under the bedcovers, and escaped from the Palace carrying the ‘Old Whore’ under his arm. (He’d been moving too fast on that occasion for Trinket to get a good view of his features, which is why he hadn’t recognized him this time in the gambling den.)Fat Dhuta had once told Trinket the whole story about him and Thin Dhuta’ how the two of them had been sent overseas on an important mission by the Great Leader, and were delayed on the way back, with the result that the Leopard Embryo Pills they’d taken had developed a violent toxicity-the originally fat member of the duo had grown into a tall, skinny beanpole, and the thin one had become a spherical dwarf. Afterwards, they had both taken the Antidote, so Fat Dhuta said, but it had been too late to reverse the process. Meatball’s current obsession with the Antidote seemed a bit futile-unless he wanted it for the Old Whore! Yes, that must be it! He wanted it for that vile slut of a lover of his! ‘Hey, you!’ Trinket yelled. ‘If you want that Antidote, you’d better put me down smartish.’

At the mention of the word ‘Antidote’ Meatball’s entire physical sphere started to tremble like a jelly. He put Trinket down and stretched out his left hand. ‘Give!’ ‘What, just like that’ When you’ve just been so rude to me’ After everything you said?’ Meatball, or Thin Dhuta as he really ought to be called from now on, lunged forward and poked Trinket in the small of the back. ‘Quick!’he cried.’The Antidote!’ His fat palm was now bearing down on Trinket’s Great Mallet point. A little more pressure, and Trinket’s Heart Meridian would be in serious trouble. It would be fatal.

‘Leave him alone!’ yelled Doctor Lu and Fat Dhuta simultaneously. And at the exact same moment, three other hands sought out Thin Dhuta’s pumpkin head. The Beggar’s palm pressed down on his Hundred Meetings point, on his crown; Li Xihua’s hand pressed on his Jade Pillow point, on the back of his head; and the surly Peasant shot his hand out at Thin Dhuta’s face and pressed two fingers-his index and middle fingers-into points just above one of his eyelids. These were lethal points, and it would only have taken a slight jab for the Peasant to rip out his eye’ball. Thin Dhuta was extremely short. He was half Trinket’s height. With all these hands descending on him from above, he was totally outmanoeuvred.

Doctor Lu and Fat Dhuta could tell that each of the three men possessed highly developed kungfu skills. If they were all three to press home their concerted attack, they would certainly make a messy pulp of Thin Dhuta’s fat head. ‘Hold back!’ the two of them cried in unison. ‘First you do some holding back, Fatso!’ demanded the Beggar. ‘Get your hands off Mr Wei.’ ‘If he gives me the Antidote!’ ‘If you don’t let go of him,’ continued the Beggar, ‘I’ll have to teach you a lesson.’ But before he could carry out his threat, Doctor Lu and Fat Dhuta stepped in. They soon had both the Beggar and Li Xihua immobilized.

A second later, the Peasant snatched his hand from Thin Dhuta’s face and transferred his attentions to Doctor Lu and Fat Dhuta. They could each feel one of his hands poking them in the small of the back. The seven of them-Trinket, Thin Dhuta, Li Xihua, Doctor Lu, Fat Dhuta, the Peasant, and the Beggar-rang the changes, taking it in turns to control and to be controlled. Then for an instant they were all motionless, like an array of clay dolls. Strictly speaking, Trinket was only ever on the receiving end of control. But then, he was the only one who knew what the fuss was all about. None of the others knew of Thin Dhuta’s liaison with the Old Whore. ‘This is all such fun!’ he cried. ‘Hey, Fatso, go ahead, kill me, who cares! Who cares if you get killed either, for that matter. The only pity would be if the Antidote disappeared with me.. . . Then a certain lady friend of yours might be very upset. She’d probably start falling apart, bit by bit. First chunks of her hair would fall out, and then she’d go completely bald. Then she’d-‘ ‘Stop!’ cried Thin Dhuta. ‘Then her face would collapse into a skull-‘

Suddenly a voice could be heard from the doorway. ‘Here they are! Take them all prisoner!’ They all turned to see a flash of steel, and realized that they were surrounded. They felt their points freeze, and then one by one, they sank immobile to the ground. A Surprising Intervention Trinket saw that one of the new arrivals in the gambling den was his darling Green Girl, and was about to cry out to her in delight, when he recognized two of the men with her as Bash’em Li Zicheng (her natural father) and the man who was in Trinket’s eyes the most loathsome, foul creature in the entire universe-her so’called fiance Zheng Keshuang. The third man, who had replaced his long sword in its scabbard and was standing there arms akimbo, sneering at them all, was Feng Xifan, the Bloodless Sword, Zheng Keshuang’s sinister mentor. It was his deadly blade that had immobilized every one of them, even Captain Zhang Kangnian.

Thin Dhuta, when he was sitting on the ground, was hardly any shorter than he was standing up. That tends to be the way with spherical objects. IL ‘Who the blazes are you?’ he yelled. ‘Who gave you permission to close my Sun Gate and Spirit Hall points?’ ‘I am impressed!’ sneered Feng. ‘At least you know which points they are! Excellent kungfu!’ But Thin Dhuta was not impressed by Feng’s sarcasm. ‘Open them, and I’ll challenge you to a proper fight! Sneaking up on people like that is not a very brave thing to do.’ Feng sneered yet again. ‘And what a brave little thing you are! Lying there on the ground, like a beached ball! Brave little ball!’ ‘I’m sitting, not lying! Haven’t you got any tamardy eyes in your head?’ Feng prodded Thin Dhuta on the shoulder with his left foot, and he rolled over onto his back. But the sheer weight of his great fat bottom brought him rolling back into a sitting position.

Zheng Keshuang burst out laughing. ‘Look at this roly’poly toy, Ah Kor! Isn’t it a scream!’ ‘He’s weird,’ was her reply. ‘So, my dear’ continued Zheng Keshuang, ‘you said you wanted revenge on the little brat. Shall we torture him, or kill him outright?’ ‘Yikes! Little brat-that has to be me!’ thought Trinket. ‘But what does Green want to be revenged on me for?’ ‘The very sight of him makes me mad!’ said Green, grinding her teeth. ‘Let’s just kill him and be done with it!’ There was a swishing sound as she drew her sword and advanced on Trinket.

‘Don’t kill him!’ cried a chorus consisting of the Two Dhutas, Doctor Lu, the Beggar, Li Xihua, and Zhang Kangnian. ‘Dearest sister’in’arms,’ pleaded Trinket. ‘What have I ever done-?’ ‘First, let’s get one thing straight’ I am not your sister’in’arms, you obnoxious little brat!’ snapped Green. ‘All you ever do is think of new ways of offending me, new ways of disgracing me. . . .’ She raised her sword and swung it with all her might at his chest. A cry of dismay rose from Trinket’s immobilized friends and supporters. But then to their utter amazement they saw the sword rebound. Trinket was wearing his magic waistcoat, and not even Green’s blade could get through that. She looked stunned. ‘Stab him in the eyes!’ cried her valiant paramour, Zheng Keshuang. ‘Good idea!’ She raised the sword again and this time lunged at his face.

Suddenly, a diminutive figure came hurtling from a darkened corner of the room. It wrapped itself protectively around Trinket and took the full impact of the oncoming blade directly on its shoulder. The figure then retreated with Trinket back into the comer of the room from which it had come, at the same time extracting Trinket’s dagger from his boot.It was a figure of slim build, clad in the uniform of the Valiants. The face was so heavily caked in mud that it was impossible to discern the features. Whoever it was, the spectators were deeply impressed by this act of blind devotion, and the skill with which it had been executed.

Feng drew his sword again, and advanced slowly on Trinket and his little saviour. Then suddenly he began swinging the sword through the air, describing a blinding series of figures. A great clang rang out and, to his own (and everyone else’s) utter astonishment, the sword (Feng’s famous Bloodless Blade) snapped clean in two’ Trinket’s adamantine dagger had shattered it. At the same moment blood began spurting from the unknown Valiant’s shoulder.Feng Xifan’s cadaverous face darkened, and he grunted as he . threw the pieces of his broken weapon to the ground, and pondered his next move.

Trinket laughed out loud.’Well, just take a look at the Bloodless Sword! No sword, and blood all over the place! Thanks to one of my junior officers. I think we’d better start calling you the Swordless Bloodbath!’The little Valiant was holding his left hand pressed to his own shoulder wound, while with his right hand he massaged Trinket’s chest and then the small of his back, and began releasing his points.The Beggar, Doctor Lu, the Two Dhutas, and Li Xihua all laughed heartily at Feng Xifan’s discomfiture.’I like it!’ bellowed the Beggar. ‘The Swordless Bloodbath! Suits the evil bastard exactly!’

Feng was shaking with rage and humiliation.’Who are you?’ he demanded of the Valiant. ‘I’ll let you live this once. I seem to have no choice. But I’m warning you, next time-”Who am I’ I’m… I’m just…’The Valiant’s voice seemed weak, almost effeminate. Trinket suddenly recognized the sound.’Why it’s you!’ he cried in delight. ‘Dear Doublet! My own dearest darling of a jewel of a Doublet!’ He removed her headgear at once, let down her hair, and wrapped his right arm around her. ‘She’s my maid,’ he said. ‘See, Swordless, you’ve been defeated by my maid. . . . Not much to brag about, eh?’

Feng, angrier than ever, kicked out his left foot and sent the gambling table flying up into the air, complete with the piles of money and the recumbent figure of Zhao Qixian. Cash and dominoes were scattered everywhere. Then Feng turned silently and made for the door. His exit was, however, blocked. Two men stood there grimly side by side in the doorway, two Triad brothers, the taciturn Feng Jizhong and the Taoist Father Obscurus. ‘Out of my way!’ he yelled, pulling them away from the doorway with both hands and crashing them into the wall. They both began spitting blood. Feng Xifan drew a deep breath and strode on out.

Trinket came over to check that the two men were not badly hurt. Brother Feng Jizhong had received a more serious injury than Obscurus, but he made light of it. Soon further Triad reinforcements arrived in the form of Butcher Qian, Apothecary Xu (the Eight’Armed Ape), and Gao Yanchao. Green glanced at Bash’em and Zheng Keshuang, indicating that it was time to beat a retreat. Bash’em walked over to Trinket and thumped the ground with his monk’s staff. ‘Since your Shifu spared my life the other day, I shall let you off today. It’s the honourable thing to do. But if you so much as look at my daughter ever again, or address a single word to her, I shall pound you into paste!’

‘Isn’t it the honourable thing to do, to keep your own promises’ On the very same day that my Shifu spared your life, you promised me your daughter in marriage. Remember’ It was a promise. It’s a pretty strange kind of father’in’law who won’t allow his son’in’law to even look at his own wife, or speak to her!’ Green was red with fury. ‘Father, let’s go. Don’t listen to that brat!’ ‘Excellent!’ chipped in Trinket. ‘So you’ve finally accepted that he is your father. About time too. . . . Well, are you going to obey Daddy’s orders?’ Bash’em Li raised his staff angrily into the air. ‘Shut your mouth, you misbegotten toad!’

At this, Butcher Qian and Apothecary Xu, who were standing behind Bash’em, launched a joint attack. Bash’em swivelled round and blocked both their swords with his staff. There was a resounding clang. Meanwhile Brother Gao had drawn his sword and was standing guard over Trinket.’Li Zicheng!’ Gao cried. ‘Who was it saved your life and your daughter’s in Kunming’ You are an ungrateful, wicked old man!’The others present had all heard of the great bandit General Li Zicheng, the man who some twenty years earlier had succeeded in taking Peking and proclaiming himself Emperor of China-even if it was only for a matter of days. But everyone believed him to be dead. They were amazed to hear his name spoken now.

‘You’ Li Zicheng?’ cried the young Li Xihua aghast. ‘You mean to say you’re still alive! My prayers have been answered!’There was a strange intensity in the way he said this, a tone of deep bitterness. Li Zicheng stared at him for a moment, a puzzled expression on his face.’And who are you?”Me’ I am the man who is going to eat your flesh, you foul monster!’ cried young Li, his voice trembling with rage. ‘I thought you were dead and beyond my grasp. But Heaven has granted me my dearest wish!’Bash’em grunted and gave a bitter laugh.’Many’s the man that bears me a grudge. I’ve killed hundreds of thousands in my time. But if you really want revenge, you’ll have to fight for it!’Green tugged him by the shoulder.’Come on, father, let’s go.’

Bash’em thumped his staff on the ground once more, turned on his heel, and strode out, followed by Green and Zheng Keshuang.’I shall be here tomorrow at this hour!’ Li Xihua called after him. ‘I’ll be waiting for you! If you’ve any courage, if you’re a true man, you’ll come and fight!’Nobody present had the slightest doubt that Bash’em Li was a true man, and a man of enormous courage. Despite his great age, he was still a fighter to be reckoned with. He was a living legend. One glance from him was sufficient to strike terror into the heart of most mortals.

Beggar, Meatball, and other Combatants

‘Tamardy!’ grumbled Trinket, when Bash’em had left. ‘You promised me your daughter, old man! Go back on your word, and ‘ say you’re no true man’ you’re no more than a dog’s fart!’ He helped Doublet, who was bandaging her shoulder wound. ‘Thank heavens you came to my rescue, dear Doublet’ he said. ‘It was a real stroke of luck.’ ‘It wasn’t anything to do with luck,’ protested Doublet touchingly. ‘I’ve never been far away. You just didn’t know I was there.’ ‘How come?’ Trinket was quite taken aback. But before Doublet could explain, there was a strangled cry from Thin Dhuta. ‘Undo my points! Get me some Antidote! Or I’ll smash your poxy little brain to bits!’

The strange noise he was making, his wild, empty threats, and the altogether sorry spectacle he presented, stuck there on the ground, incapable of any movement except a ridiculous rocking backwards and forwards, like a fat wobbly little ball, provoked a burst of hilarious laughter. Fat Dhuta (who was also still immobilized) begged Trinket to forgive his brother’in’arms for his rudeness. But Thin Dhuta wasn’t having any of it. ‘First he undoes my points and gives me some Antidote; then I’ll be polite, then I’ll do anything-I’ll go down on my hands and knees and kowtow to him! But if he doesn’t do the right thing, I’ll smash his ugly little face in!’

Trinket was lost in thought, wondering why Meatball was so devoted to the Old Whore, why he was going to such lengths to get her the Antidote, when all of a sudden the surly Peasant rose to his feet, waved both his hands in the air and walked out of the room, dragging his slippers noisily along the ground and bidding them all farewell. They were amazed. None of them could understand how he had managed to regain mobility. Doublet had succeeded in opening Trinket’s points by dint of some skilful and energetic massaging. But all the others were still frozen from Feng Xifan’s devilish kungfu. Such was the power of Feng’s Inner Force that he was able to immobilize an opponent’s Vital Points by merely touching him with the tip of his sword. He projected the force down the shaft of the blade and into his opponent’s body. The ensuing paralysis usually lasted for several hours. And yet the old Peasant had apparently shaken it off in a few moments. He must have had some extraordinary knack (in addition to his knack for cheating at dominoes).

No sooner had he left the room, than the Beggar suddenly exclaimed”By Brother my Earth and Sister my Heaven, I shall underthrow the Tartars and destroy the Ming!’This piece of nonsense was in fact a conventional distortion of the Triad password, for use in delicate first encounters, where outsiders might be present. Brother Qian was at first somewhat taken aback to hear these words from the Beggar’s mouth; but then he went on to exchange a number of secret signs with him, which confirmed that he was indeed one of the Brotherhood.Butcher Qian and Apothecary Xu went on to open everyone’s points, except for Thin Dhuta, who was still stranded on the ground, rocking and red in the face.’Come on! What are you waiting for? Undo me!’

‘Only if you promise to be respectful to Mr Wei!’ ‘But it’s his fault. Why can’t he just give me the Antidote?’ The old Beggar seemed to lose his patience, and with a click of his fingers he proceeded to release Thin Dhuta’s points. Before anyone could draw breath, the Ball shot towards Trinket.

The Beggar tried to intervene, but Thin Dhuta countered with some highly unconventional, and unbeatable, kungfu moves of his own devising. The Beggar used his left foot, but Thin Dhuta countered with his hand. And when he moved through the air, Thin Dhuta had all the speed and manoeuvrability of a football. None of them had ever seen anything remotely resembling this weird style of full’body ball kungfu.The fight between Thin Dhuta and the Beggar became quite a spectacle, with the little fat man ricocheting off the ceiling and bringing down an avalanche of broken tiles and dust.

Finally Thin Dhuta came hurtling forwards, head down and with all his might, and when the Beggar stepped nimbly aside, he looked set to collide with the wall and spill his brains. At the very last moment, Fat Dhuta grabbed hold of one of the gambling den attendants who was crouching huddled up in a corner of the room, and hurled him between the wall and the oncoming human missile. The impactwas such that Thin Dhuta’s head went clean through the poor man’s chest and embedded itself in the wall, creating a large dent in the masonry. ‘What the tamardy hell is going on?’ cried Thin Dhuta, staggering to his feet and wiping the waiter’s blood and guts from his own puffy face.

‘Still want a fight?’ asked the Beggar, as they all looked on aghast. ‘You’d never have been a match for me in the old days, when I was still tall!’ He shook his head sadly. ‘But the way I am now-‘ So saying, he charged once more at the wall, and this time he went clean through it, carrying bits of the dead waiter with him. Fat Dhuta went flying after him, followed by Doctor Lu, who dived head first through the hole in the wall, but managed as he did so to bid a polite farewell with clasped hands-a piece of balletic kungfu that evinced gasps of admiration all round. Butcher Qian and the Triads were wondering to themselves where on earth their Lodge Master had picked up these weird associates, with their eccentric kungfu prowess. Li Xihua for his part politely clasped his hands and took his leave, through the main doorway. The Beggar released the points of the various guards, and Trinket led them away. Triad Talk

Apothecary Xu glanced doubtfully at Doublet, and asked’ ‘Is she to be trusted?’ ‘We need have no secrets from her’ replied Trinket. ‘She’s a brave and devoted young lady,’ added the Beggar. ‘I think you owe her your eyes, Brother Wei.’ Trinket took Doublet by the hand. ‘I’m very grateful to her.’ At these words of praise, Doublet blushed and hung her head in confusion. Apothecary Xu took a step towards the Beggar and began declaiming’ ‘It’s in the lines of verses shared, That our allegiance is declared.

To which the Beggar promptly replied’ And in that sharing of the word Is known our bond of brotherhood. Trinket had been taught some of these jingles when he first joined the Triad fraternity. They were supposed to be easy to memorize, for the simple reason that most Triads were uneducated folk, and could read and write about as much (or as little) as he could. He himself was even able to provide the appropriate response to the Beggar’s lines’ One thing unites the brothers’ band’ An oath of trust throughout the land. To which the Beggar finally replied’ Before the tablets of our ancestors I vow, That we the Brethren of Hong will overthrow The Tartar foe, And restore the Ming. ‘Allow me to present myself,’ said Trinket. ‘Lodge Master Wei of the Green Wood Lodge. May I know the Brother’s affiliation?’ ‘Red Banner Master Wu Liuqi of the Obedience Lodge of Guangdong,’ came the reply. ‘It is my great pleasure to be with the Brothers today.’

They were totally amazed and absolutely delighted to discover that this man was none other than the famous Beggar General, Wu Liuqi, who had been doing heroic work for the Resistance under the cloak of his official position as Military Governor in the service of the Tartar Throne. As readers will remember,* Wu’s innate sense of patriotism had been greatly strengthened by his encounter in the snow with the generous Loyalist scholar Zha Yihuang, at a time when he had himself been thrown out of the Beggars Guild and was very much down on his luck. It was as a result of that encounter that Wu had secretly entered the Triad organization. His current position as a Red Banner Master was technically superior to that of (See the Prologue of the First Book) the regular Lodge Master of the Guangdong Provincial Lodge. His elevated Triad ranking was second only to that of the Helmsman himself. But of these details, rank and file Triad members such as Butcher Qian and Apothecary Xu would have been quite unaware. They just knew of him as a hero in their cause.

‘Lodge Master Wei’ continued Wu, ‘your exploits in Kunming have earned our highest respect and admiration. You did well to teach that Traitor a lesson. The Helmsman has issued orders to the Brothers of the Four Southern Provinces-Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan-to offer you what assistance they can. I had news that you were here in Guangxi, so made my way hither.’

‘I deeply appreciate my Shifu the Helmsman’s concern’ replied Trinket. ‘And all the Brothers know of your great renown, sir.’ In actual fact this was the first time that Trinket himself had ever heard of Wu. But he could see that the others were deeply impressed, and thought he’d better say something appropriately reverent. ‘It is your great renown, Brother Wei, that has reached my ears-on account of your heroic act in killing the wicked Tartar strongman Oboi! But come, between Brothers there is no need for all this formality. Please accept my apologies for having mistreated your guards. At least it had the effect of bringing you here so that I could meet you in person.’

Trinket laughed. ‘They were behaving like gutter’dogs- losing, and refusing to pay their debts. They deserved to be taught a lesson. I should thank you.’ Wu laughed out loud. The two of them went on to talk about events in Yunnan, and the fact that Trinket had uncovered incontrovertible proof of the Satrap’s planned rebellion. ‘Let him strike first at Guangdong!’ declared Wu. ‘We’ll put paid to him and then carry the struggle north to Peking!’

But his immediate desire for action was aimed at Feng Xifan, whose recent behaviour had considerably upset him. He was not used to having his points closed like that. And when he heard from Trinket about Feng’s encounter with the Helmsman, and the slaying of Brother Guan, his passions were truly roused. Presently Lodge Master Ma arrived, and greeted Wu. Ma insisted that they deal with Li Zicheng. It was Bash’em after all who was responsible for the death of the last Ming Emperor Chong Zhen. To this Trinket added that if Li was a traitor, then so was young Zheng Keshuang’ they should deal with him too, and thus doubly avenge the Helmsman. This raised a few eyebrows. After all, strictly speaking, Zheng Keshuang was the grandson of Coxinga, and the Triads therefore owed him allegiance. Killing the Bloodless Sword was one thing; killing Zheng was quite another. Besides, the Triads knew only too well that Trinket had purely personal reasons for wanting Zheng out of the way.

Wu changed the subject, and asked for some information on the Two Dhutas. Trinket (who for obvious reasons could not go into their real background as members of the Mystic Dragon Sect) succeeded in passing them off vaguely as a couple of River and Lake characters who had somehow become attached to him. Wu went on to enquire about the morose Peasant, whose skills in unblocking points had deeply impressed him. Who was he’ There was an inconclusive discussion on this point, after which Lodge Master Ma sent men out to ascertain Feng Xifan and Li Zicheng’s current whereabouts, and saw to it that Feng Jizhong, Father Obscurus, and Doublet’s wounds were given proper attention.

Trinket put his arm around Doublet, and gave her a little kiss on the cheek. It was so like her to have followed him in secret all this way, dressed as a Valiant, and to have rescued him so bravely in his most desperate hour of need. He asked her why she had never shown herself to him before. She replied shyly’ ‘I was worried that since you’d become such an important person you might not want me any more as your maid-‘ ‘Silly girl! I’ll always want you as my maid. Until the day comes when you want to go off and get married.’ Doublet blushed. ‘That day will never come!’

The Log Rafts

That evening Lodge Master Ma threw a big party in Wu’s honour, in one of Liuzhou’s best singsong’houses. As they were drinking, the Triad scouts returned to report that Li Zicheng’s party had been located on one of the log rafts on the River Liu. Liuzhou is famous for its timber, and most especially for its high quality coffin boards. Hence the popular saying: Live in Suzhou (famous for gardens and pretty women); Trade in Hangzhou (famous for silk and other items of luxury); Eat in Canton (famous for dim’sum and exotic dishes); Die in Liuzhou (famous for coffins). The logs from which the coffin boards were to be cut were tied together, made into rafts, and floated east down the Liu River. There were countless such rafts on the river, with cabins built on top of them, and Li and his companions must have reckoned it would be a smart move to hide in one of them. But they had not reckoned on the excellent network of Triad informers in the province.

Wu thumped the table. ‘Let’s waste no time! No more drinking tonight!’ ‘ .! Lodge Master Ma begged him to stay a while longer and drink, while he made some preparations. In the early hours of the morning, before sunrise, Ma led them all out to the banks of the Liu River. There were two light river craft waiting for them. The three Lodge Masters-Ma, Wu, and Trinket-took their seats in the cabin of one of the boats. The skipper set off, followed at a discreet distance by a little flotilla of seven or eight smaller boats. They travelled two or three miles down river, then came to a halt. A boatman appeared in the cabin and informed them that their ‘target’ was on the raft immediately ahead of them.

Trinket looked out through the matting that formed the wall of their cabin, and saw another little cabin’type structure atop one of the log rafts, and within it he caught a familiar flash of steel. The water all around them was completely clogged up with thirty or forty small boats. They’re all ours,’ whispered Ma. Trinket was reassured to hear this. If each boat held ten men, that meant they were several hundred against Li and Feng. They surely had them cornered now.

At that very moment, they heard a voice from the river-bank yelling across the water: ‘Li Zicheng … Li Zicheng . . . Do you hear me’ Come on out! I know you’re in there!’ In the darkness, they could just make out a figure hurtling along the bank towards them. It looked like Li Xihua. A voice boomed back from the little cabin on the raft ahead. ‘Who’s that out there?’The man on the bank leapt aboard the raft, and in the moonlight there was a chilly flash of steel as Li Xihua brandished his sword. Li Zicheng emerged from the cabin with his great monk’s staff.’Come to meet your death, eh’ Bored with life?”You’re the one who’s going to die today!’ declared Li Xihua fiercely. ‘But even when you’re dead, we’ll still have to put up with your vile ghost. . . . Do you know who I am?’

‘How could I possibly know’ I have sent millions to their deaths. Come closer!’The words were boomed out like a challenge into the darkness. Bash’em swung his great staff through the night air. Li Xihua dodged the blow, blocking the staff with his long sword. Then he leapt into the air, bringing the point of his sword down towards Bash’em, who parried with his staff, throwing Li Xihua off balance. He tumbled backwards, landing with one foot on the edge of the raft.’Steer closer’ Wu ordered the boatman. ‘I want to see more clearly.’The boatman punted the boat forwards. Ma spoke to one of the other men on board.’Give the signal! Distract them while we make our move!’

The man promptly hoisted a red lantern on the mast. At this signal, boats from all sides converged towards midstream, and one after another men could be seen diving into the water.As their boat approached the raft, they could still make out the two figures fighting’ intermittent shadows and flashes of steel.’Bash’em is not a skilful fighter,’ commented Ma. ‘He relies entirely on brute force, and on that great staff of his. It’s only a matter of time before Li Xihua has him lying dead.’Trinket could see that Bash’em was gradually being pushed back. Then he heard Green’s voice from within the cabin.

‘Quick, Keshuang! Ask your Master to come to my father’s rescue!”Shifu,’ came Zheng Keshuang’s voice, ‘will you deal with that young cur?’The door of the cabin opened, and out came Feng, his new sword in hand. By now Bash’em had been pushed to the very edge of the raft. Another step and he would be in the water.’Hey you!’ called out Feng Xifan. ‘Baby face! I’m going to split your Spirit Terrace for you!’ He aimed the tip of his sword at this highly sensitive point on Li Xihua’s back, and moved slowly forward. Li turned to block the move with his sword. Suddenly, from the roof of the cabin, came a cry’ ‘Hey you! Big baby face! I’m going to split your Spirit Terrace for youl’ A flash of steel, and a man dropped from the roof like a bird swooping from the sky, his blade homing in on Feng’s back.

Feng was obliged to turn back from his attack on Li Xihua, in order to parry this new and unexpected threat. There was a confused clanging as Feng’s sword met his opponent’s short’sword. ‘Who are you?’ asked Feng. The man laughed. ‘I know who you are’ Feng the Swordless Blade, the Kunlun Master. . . . Don’t you know me?’

By this time Trinket and his friends could see the man clearly. He wore rough trousers, a white turban wrapped round his head, a simple black cloth sash tied around his waist, and straw sandals. It was the sullen Peasant from the gambling den, come to give Feng a dose of his own medicine.

As the two men proceeded to fight, it became clear that the Peasant’s short’sword kungfu was in no way inferior to Feng’s Kunlun play with the long’sword. The Peasant moved with astonishing speed, and after three fierce exchanges they could see that the two men were very evenly matched. Now they were locked in close combat, entwined like a string of entangled pearls; now they swirled around each other, without making any physical contact.

Throughout this unexpected encounter, Bash’em and young Li Xihua were continuing their struggle on the side of the raft. Zheng Keshuang and Green stood by the cabin at a slight distance, waiting for a chance to intervene. Li Xihua suddenly curled himself into a ball, and rolled swiftly forward to his opponent’s feet, from which position he aimed his sword upwards at Bash’em’s groin. ‘Now!’ he cried. ‘Die!’

It was a lethal move known as the Hidden Cloud Tumble, handed down (according to tradition) from one of the famous Outlaws of the Marsh, back in the Song dynasty. Bash’em was at Li Xihua’s mercy. Zheng Keshuang and Green looked on aghast. Then suddenly Bash’em let out a great booming roar, like a mighty peal of thunder. Li Xihua was so taken aback, he let his sword fall from his grasp. Bash’em swung his left leg through the air, and sent Li Xihua tumbling backwards. In the same instant he brought his staff up against Li’s chest, and pinned him to the boards of the raft. One thrust of the staff, and Li’s ribs would be shattered, his entrails squashed to a pulp.’Surrender!’ boomed the old man.

‘And I will spare your life!”Kill me!’ cried Li. ‘If I cannot avenge my father’s death, how can I go on living in this world?’Bash’em was just about to go ahead and strike the deadly blow, when something in young Li’s expression caught his eye, something fearless, something peaceful and reconciled, illumined by the moonlight. He drew a sudden breath.’I know who you are! You’re the son of Prince Li Yan, aren’t you? Crimson’s child. . .’

Li Xihua gave a faint smile. Bash’em, once he knew that Li Xihua was indeed the son of Li Yan, his former comrade’in’arms and trusted adviser, broke down altogether. It was a most strange and dramatic turn of events. Bash’em confessed the remorse he felt at having killed Li Xihua’s father, and finally exploded in a great wail of emotion, and began spitting blood. Li Xihua could easily have taken his revenge. But instead of raising his sword and taking the life of this defenceless old man, he declared”It means more to me that you should feel remorse, than that I should take your life!’And with these words he leapt from the raft onto the rope that moored it, and from that up onto the bank. In a matter of seconds he was swallowed up in the shadows.Bash’em staggered to the very edge of the raft, and stood there a moment, his left foot swaying unsteadily in the air. Then he tumbled into the river.’Father!’ Green cried out.

There was no sign of movement in the water. They watched in horror, sure that Bash’em must have sunk to the bottom of the river. But a moment later, his head and shoulders re’emerged, and he stumbled through the shallow water and up onto the bank, dragging his great staff behind him. Slowly he shambled off along the bank.

Zheng Keshuang was consoling Green, when the raft tilted violently under them and they too both fell into the river. Triads from the local Clan Lodge now leapt into the water and severedthe mooring’rope. The raft drifted out into midstream. Feng Xifan, who had also been thrown into the water, caught hold of a loose log and floated out on it, still pursued by the Peasant, swinging at him with his short’sword. The two men clung to the same log. They managed to clamber onto it, and continued their fierce struggle with some difficulty as the log floated downstream.


Suddenly Beggar Wu cried out’ ‘I know that man! He’s Hu Yizhi, Hu the Gallant, Hu the Handsome, the King of Swordsmen. What on earth is he doing here, dressed in those rags’ Quick, punt after him!’ Trinket’s one and only concern, meanwhile, was to save Green. She and Zheng were soon pulled dripping from the water. Feng and Hu the Peasant continued their desperate struggle on the floating log. The Triad boat edged closer and closer to them. Short’sword and long’sword swung through the air again and again, until suddenly there was a great crash and the log was split in two, sending Feng Xifan, who was balanced on the very edge, toppling into the water. Hu hurled his sword after him, and Feng countered by throwing his own sword into its path. The two blades met in mid’air, giving off a series of sparks, then splashed into the river. Feng disappeared beneath the surface.

Beggar Wu called out to Hu to climb aboard the boat, and then introduced himself and his comrades. Hu expressed his enormous sense of honour at meeting the famous ‘Beggar’, General Wu. He decided the time had come to tell his own story. ‘All these years I have been lying low, growing my vegetables’ he began. These twenty years I’ve been retired from Raver and Lake. I’ve been living in hiding outside the city of Kunming. Incognito. And all for the sake of a woman . . .’


He had first set eyes on the beautiful Peerless Consort many years earlier in the city of Chengdu. And now, for twenty’three years, Hu the Gallant, famed for his good looks and martial prowess, had been tending the vegetable garden at the Hermitage where she had taken up residence. He fetched firewood and water for her, he swept the courtyards, and she just took him for a simple peasant. He had never once dared declare his love for her, convinced that she would regard him as utterly beneath her. And now he was an old man with grey hair and wrinkles. ‘You have no idea how fortunate you were that day to hear her sing her ballad!’ he said to Trinket. ‘In all the years I was there, you. … In all that time, I only ever spoke thirty-nine sentences to her. And she only spoke fifty-five sentences back.’

There was something deeply touching about his fanatical way of loving. Beggar Wu and Lodge Master Ma were both greatly moved. They were concerned that Trinket might say something foolish and offend Hu. But curiously enough, it was Trinket who seemed to understand Hu’s feelings most, who even identified with them. After all, had he not already admitted to himself that Green, Peerless-daughter, was only half as beautiful as her mother? And was he not himself totally infatuated with Green? And was she not totally heartless towards him?’ Trinket said all of this aloud.

After Hu had listened to Trinket’s protestations of love, he sat down and took him by the hand. ‘Listen to me, my friend. Love is a very special kind of thing. There’s no forcing it. You’ve had more than your share of good fortune. You’ve met Green, you have the same Shifu, you are already brother and sister’in’arms. Your fates are clearly intertwined. Don’t think to yourself that the only way to be happy is to marry her, to possess her. You’ve looked into her eyes, you’ve spoken to her; she has scolded you, she has hit you, she has struck you with her sword-all of this is proof that she has feelings about you, that you are important to her. That makes you one of the luckiest men alive.’

Trinket nodded.’I know you’re right. It would be so much worse if she took no notice of me at all. I’d much rather she treated me the way she does. So long as she doesn’t actually kill me . . .’Hu sighed.’Even that-who knows’ Suppose she did kill you. . . she’d probably feel remorse afterwards, and then at night she’d have feelings of guilt, she’d see you in her dreams. … Or else during the day she’d find herself thinking about you.’This kind of talk was utterly beyond the comprehension of the others. If they hadn’t witnessed with their own eyes his recent struggle with Feng Xifan, they would have found it impossible to believe that the man uttering these absurd sentimentalities was HuYizhi the Gallant.But Trinket understood every word, and kept on nodding as Hu spoke. ‘You’re absolutely right, Brother Hu. But I’ve always had this problem. If I meet a girl that I really like, I want to marry her. I can’t help it. I’m just not as patient as you are. If Green wanted me to grow veggies for her, I’d do it, of course I would. But I couldn’t bear to see that Zheng lout hanging around her. I’d have to deal with him. Out with my snick’a’snee-‘

Hu took him to task. ‘My young friend, you have much to learn. If you love a lady, then you want her to be happy. It’s her happiness that counts, not yours. If what Green wants is to marry the other man, then you must do everything you can to help her do so. If someone else tries to harm him, you must defend him, you must be willing to lay down your life for him-for her sake.’ Trinket shook his head. ‘I don’t think I could ever be like you. I’d like to. I can see that you’re a very superior kind of lover. But I know I could never be like that. I’d like to be your disciple, though!’ ‘No!’ protested Hu. ‘We are simply Brothers in the School of Love.’



Beggar Wu and Lodge Master Ma found this dialogue of theirs altogether excessive. They’d never wasted any time thinking about women-let alone prattling on about them in this highfalutin fashion. There were good’looking wenches aplenty in the whorehouses, and if you wanted one, for goodness sake, all you had to do was shell out a bit of cash and she was yours. All this sickening talk about the School of Love! They were clearly nuts, both of them. Plain bonkers. Hu the Gallant Peasant and Trinket by now felt like sworn brothers, and Hu proposed that they should formally seal their bond. They knelt on the deck of the boat in the moonlight and took a solemn oath of brotherhood. A toast was drunk. Then Hu asked for leave to perform one last task. ‘Green’s mother has been ailing ever since her daughter left her. All these years the girl has never even known who her real parents were. Let me take her back for a short visit to the Hermitage. It may help to heal her mother’s illness.’


Beggar Wu was extremely dubious about this sentimental way of seeing things. He was all for resolving matters by simply killing the Peerless Consort without further ado. When all was said and done, in his eyes (and those of many Chinese) she was still considered to have been one of the principal causes of the fall of the Ming dynasty. And as for her daughter Green, she was clearly guilty of being unfilial towards her own mother and unfaithful to her own betrothed-namely, Trinket. However beautiful Green might be, she was obviously a bad lot. Wu suggested that he go and break her pretty little neck. It would be good riddance. The veins were bulging on his great forehead, and he was a ferocious sight. He issued the command to row towards the boat where Green and Zheng Keshuang were being held captive. Even as Trinket pleaded with him to show mercy, the two boats drew side by side. But before Wu could carry out his threat, Trinket saw Hu leap aboard the other boat, dash into the cabin, and emerge through the rear door, clutching a human shape. He leapt onto the bank, and they could hear his voice trailing into the distance’ ‘Farewell, brothers! Till we meet again!’

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