The man replied, “This is medicinal plaster to get rid of virulent poison, to regain vision on both eyes.” Lowering his voice he said, “It has a name, it’s called ‘Drive Qing Restore Ming’ plaster.”
Wei Xiaobao turned his attention to the man; he was around thirty years old, with thriving heroic spirit, not at all like the old man Xu his Shifu had described to him. He became suspicious, so he asked, “How much do you want for this medicinal plaster?”
“Three taels of silver and three taels of gold,” the man replied.
“Would you sell it for five taels of silver and five taels of gold?” Wei Xiaobao asked.
“Isn’t that a bit too expensive?” the man replied.
“Not expensive, not expensive,” Wei Xiaobao said, “As long as it can really get rid of clear poison and restore clarity, even if I have to work like an ox or a horse for you, it is not expensive at all.”
The man pushed the medicinal plaster toward Wei Xiaobao and said in low voice, “Gong-gong, please step aside to talk.” Finished speaking, he stood up and walked out of the teahouse. Wei Xiaobao tossed two-hundred wen worth coins on the table, took the medicinal plaster, and walked out.
The man was waiting outside the teahouse; he walked toward the east, turned into an alley, and stopped. “The earth shakes high mound, a mountain creek is elegant for all eternity,” he said.
Wei Xiaobao said, “The gate faces the ocean, the three rivers and the water will flow for ten thousand years.” Without waiting for the man to reply, he asked him first, “Which hall by the red flower pavilion does Sire live?”
The man replied, “Xiongdi is from the Green Wood Hall.”
Wei Xiaobao asked, “How many fragrant incense sticks are burning in the hall?”
The man replied, “Three fragrant incense sticks!”
Wei Xiaobao nodded. He thought, “Your position is two levels below mine.”
The man cupped his fist and bowed, he said in a low voice, “Gege [‘older brother’ – used in a more intimate way] is the one burning five incense sticks in the Green Wood Hall, Wei Xiangzhu?”
“Exactly,” Wei Xiaobao replied; in his heart he said, “You are much older than I am, but you call me Gege; it’s really pleasant to hear, but why don’t you call me Yeye or Shushu [paternal grandfather and younger uncle, respectively]?”
The man said, “Xiongdi is surnamed Gao, called Yanchao, I am Wei Xiangzhu’s subordinate. I have long heard about Xiangzhu’s illustrious name, today we can meet, it is indeed my great fortune.”
Inwardly, Wei Xiaobao was very happy, he laughed and said, “Gao Dage is too kind. We all are brothers, there is no need to be polite.”
Gao Yanchao said, “There is a Dage by the surname Xu in our Hall who sells medicine at the Heavenly Bridge. Today he was beaten and is seriously injured; I came with a specific purpose to inform Wei Xiangzhu.”
Wei Xiaobao was shocked; he said, “I was busy in the Palace these days, I haven’t had time to go look for him. How is his injury? Who beat him?”
“This is not a convenient place for a detailed report,” Gao Yanchao said, “Would Wei Xiangzhu please come with me?” Wei Xiaobao nodded.
Passing through seven, eight streets, they reached an alley, where Gao Yanchao entered a drug store. Wei Xiaobao noticed the board above the door had five characters on it, but naturally he did not recognize even a single one, yet he did not need to examine the board carefully, presumably it was the name of the drug store; he simply followed Gao Yanchao into the store.
Behind the counter sat a fat shopkeeper. Gao Yanchao went up to him and whispered something into his ear. The fat storekeeper repeatedly replied, “Yes, yes!” Standing up, he nodded to Wei Xiaobao and said, “Honorable guest wants to buy superior quality drug ingredients, please come in!” He directed Wei Xiaobao and Gao Yanchao toward the inner hall, passed through several doors, then leaned over to lift open a trap door on the floor, revealing a hole with stone steps leading down.
Wei Xiaobao saw the hole was pitch-black, his heart was full of suspicions, “Are these two really Tian Di Hui brothers? I am afraid they are a bit unreliable. If downstairs is a room to slaughter Wei Xiaobao, won’t it be terrible?” But Gao Yanchao was right behind him, he simply could not shrink back, so without any choice he had to follow the shopkeeper walked into the tunnel. Fortunately the tunnel was quite short; after walking only a dozen or so steps, the shopkeeper pushed open a plank door, from which came a lantern light.
Wei Xiaobao walked in. It was a small room about ten chi square, there were five men sitting in that room, plus a man lying on a low couch. With the addition of the three of them, there was barely enough room to turn around. Fortunately the shopkeeper withdrew immediately.
Gao Yanchao said, “Brothers, Wei Xiangzhu has arrived!”
The five men inside the room cheered together; they stood up and bowed to salute. The underground room was too small, they all crowded together. Wei Xiaobao cupped his fist to return the salute. He saw there was a Taoist priest among these people, whom he had met before, it was Priest Xuanzhen. Wei Xiaobao remembered that the priest had cracked a joke, telling Guan Anji to divorce his wife, the '100% real gold'. There was another man surnamed Fan, whom he also had met. Seeing these two familiar faces, Wei Xiaobao was relieved.
Gao Yanchao pointed to the man lying on the low couch and said, “Xu Dage is seriously injured, he is unable to get up to pay his respect.”
“You are too kind, you are too kind!” Wei Xiaobao said. He stepped forward to look at the man lying on the couch and saw that on his wrinkled face there was not the least bit trace of blood, his eyes were shut tight, his breathing was weak, and there were spots of blood on his white long beard. "I wonder who has injured Xu Dage?" he asked, "Is it ... is it the Tatars' eagle claws?"
Gao Yanchao shook his head, "It's not," he said, "It was people from Mu Palace of Yunnan."
Wei Xiaobao was startled, "Mu Palace of Yunnan?" he asked, "They ... they are on our side, aren't they?"
Gao Yanchao slowly shook his head and said, "Reporting to Xiangzhu Dage: Just now when Xu Dage was brought here into the Return Of Spring Drug Store, he spoke haltingly that two young men from the Mu Palace, both of them have the surname of Bai ..."
"Surname Bai?" Wei Xiaobao said, "Aren't they the descendant of four great generals of the Mu Palace?"
"Most likely," Gao Yanchao replied, "Probably they are Bai Hansong and Bai Hanfeng brothers, the so-called 'Twin Tree of the Bai Clan'."
"A pair of rotten woods," Wei Xiaobao muttered to himself, "What's so special about that?"
Gao Yanchao said, "From what Xu Dage was saying, they had a dispute over supporting Tang or supporting Gui, the more they talked, the more heated the argument, finally a fight broke. It was hard for Xu Dage's pair of fists to match four hands, hence he suffered a serious injury."
"Two against one, it was not the conduct of a hero or a warrior," Wei Xiaobao said, "What do you mean by Tang and Gui? Could it be ... could it be ..." He thought that 'supporting Gui' might mean they were supporting him, Xiao Guizi, but then he thought it was unlikely, so he did not say anything.
Gao Yanchao said, "The Mu Palace are King Gui's followers, we Tian Di Hui are the subordinates of the King Tang, the Son of Heaven of the past. Xu Dage must have been arguing with them over the successor of the throne to such an extent as the argument turned into a fight."
Wei Xiaobao still did not understand, "What King Gui's followers, King Tang's subordinates?"
Gao Yanchao said, "King Gui is not the rightful emperor ordained by heaven, our King Tang is the true heir of the Son of Heaven."
Priest Xuanzhen understood Wei Xiaobao's background; he knew the amount of information in Wei Xiaobao's belly was limited, so he chimed in, "Wei Xiangzhu, when Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, he hounded Emperor Chongzhen to his death. Wu Sangui was leading the Qing troops to enter the pass and occupy our beautiful rivers and mountains. One after another loyal ministers and patriots across the country endorsed the descendant of Taizu Huangdi as the King. First it was King Fu who became the Emperor in Nanjing. Afterwards King Fu was harmed by the Tatars, our King Tang became the Emperor in Fujian; he was the one to whom Koxinga, the Zheng family, gave their allegiance to, naturally he was the true heir of the Son of Heaven. Who would have thought that another group of people in Guangxi and Yunnan was endorsing King Gui as the Son of Heaven, and yet another group of people in Zhejiang was endorsing King Lu to be the Emperor. All of them were phony sons of heaven."
Wei Xiaobao nodded and said, "The sky cannot have two suns, the people cannot have two masters. If King Tang has become the Emperor, King Gui and King Lu cannot be the Emperor."
"That's right," Gao Yanchao said, "What Wei Xiangzhu said is very true!"
Priest Xuanzhen said, "But the people of Guangxi and Zhejiang are seeking after riches and honor, in their strive they say that whoever gets their support is the true heir of the rightful emperor, so everybody has been fighting violently." He sighed, and then continued, "Later on, King Tang, King Lu and King Gui met disaster one after another. Over the last several years, Jianghu heroes do not forget the Ming household, separately they try to find the descendants of these three kings, and regarded them as their masters, while continuing the great undertaking of fighting the Qing restoring the Ming. King Gui's followers supported King Gui's descendants, King Lu's followers supported King Lu's descendants; they are called the Gui faction and the Lu faction; to them, we, Tian Di Hui are known as the Tang faction. All three factions, Tang, Gui, and Lu are fighting the Qing to restore the Ming. But only our Tian Di Hui is legitimate, those Gui and Lu factions are simply usurping the throne."
Wei Xiaobao nodded. "I understand," he said, "Those people from Mu Palace belong to the Gui faction, right?"
"Exactly," Priest Xuanzhen said, "For the least dozen of years, the people from these three factions are continuously fighting each other."
Wei Xiaobao recalled that day on the road north of Jiangsu they came across someone from Mu Palace, who was very arrogant and rude. That man's surname was also Bai, he wondered if he had any relation with these two rotten woods. At that time he saw how scared Mao Shiba was, so early on he already had dissatisfaction toward the Bai family. He said, "Since King Tang was already made the heir of the throne, they should not vie for it anymore. I heard Mu Gongye [‘master duke] was a very good man, I am afraid after the Senior returned to heaven, the people under his command were creating all these disturbance."
Everybody in that underground room said together, "Wei Xiangzhu is absolutely right."
Priest Xuanzhen said, "The warriors of Jianghu look at Mu Tianbo, Mu Gongye's display of utter loyalty to his death that whenever we come across people from the Mu Palace we are 30% yielding to them. Thus, even any cat and dog from Mu Palace are all arrogant and conceited. You won't find a better man than our Xu Dage, formerly he served under the rightful emperor King Tang; he is truly loyal and devoted, whenever the late emperor is mentioned, tears would flow from his eyes. It must be that the Mu Palace people were talking one thing or another and have insulted the late emperor. Otherwise, how could Xu Laoge fight those Mu Palace people?"
Gao Yanchao said, "Just before noon Xu Dage came to his senses for a while, he wanted all the brothers to vent his anger. Presently, Wei Xiangzhu is the only Xiangzhu within the Zhili borders; according to our Society's rules, in important matter such as this, we must report clearly to Wei Xiangzhu before taking any action. It's not a big deal if we were dealing with Tatars' eagle claws, the more we kill Tatars and eagle claws the better, our brothers would gladly sacrifice ourselves for our Society. But Mu Palace's reputation in Jianghu is so resounding, plus they are on our side. If we go to negotiate with them, we might end up waging a war with them. What will the consequences be, it is hard to say."
"Mmm," Wei Xiaobao mumbled noncommittally.
Gao Yanchao continued, "Xu Dage said that he has been waiting for Wei Xiangzhu's visit; he has been waiting for several months. Sometimes he saw Wei Xiangzhu on the street or in the market buying things, sometimes he saw you sitting in the teahouse listening to stories."
Wei Xiaobao's face blushed slightly. "So he has seen me," he said.
Gao Yanchao said, "Xu Dage said that according to Zongduozhu's order, if Wei Xiangzhu has anything he needed, he will go to look for him. Therefore, although Xu Dage has seen Wei Xiangzhu, he did not dare to come forward and introduce himself."
Wei Xiaobao nodded, he cast a glance toward the old man lying on the couch and mused, "Turns out this old fox has been following me in secret. He had early on seen me buying things and eating indiscriminately on the street, spending money recklessly. Damn it, someday he will see my Shifu and will definitely tell tales. It would be best if this old fox won't recover from his injury and die!"
"We talked about this, and had no choice but to ask Wei Xiangzhu's presence and preside over this matter," Priest Xuanzhen said.
Wei Xiaobao thought, "I am but a child, what matter can I possibly preside over?" But seeing these people were so respectful toward him, in his heart he could not help but feeling very proud of himself. When he first joined Tian Di Hui, besides his Shifu, the other nine Xiangzhu were all much more senior than him. Presently, his position was the highest among these people, suddenly he felt his body was as light as a feather.
A thick and solid middle-aged man indignantly said, "We are 30% yielding to the Mu Palace people, it is indeed out of deep respect toward Mu Gongye's loyalty and self-sacrifice for the country. Speaking about great undertaking of overthrowing the imperial court, perhaps our Koxinga was ten times better than Mu Wangye."
The one surnamed Fan, Fan Gang said, "I respect you five chi, you should respect me one zhang. When we are polite to them, how can they be more arrogant instead? If we do not sort this matter clearly, later on when Mu Palace step on our Tian Di Hui's head, we won't be able to stand up, how can we lift our head high when dealing with them?"
One said a word, the other said a sentence, everybody was very angry. Priest Xuanzhen said, "How to handle this matter, everybody must listen to Wei Xiangzhu's instruction." If he wanted Wei Xiaobao to imitate the dog and steal the chicken or swindle people, Wei Xiaobao would have come up with some ideas; but facing an important matter like this and his decision was expected, it would be the same as telling him to make a fool of himself on the spot. However, he was indeed a disciple of Chen Jinnan, one of the ten Xiangzhu of Tian Di Hui, within the whole region of Zhili, he was the leader of Tian Di Hui brethrens; that old man surnamed Xu and those other people were Green Wood Hall members, subordinates under his personal command. Immediately everybody’s eyes were on his face; he could not help but feeling embarrassed. “Hot piece mama,” he cursed in his heart, “What … what shall I do?”
 The names Hansong and Hanfeng literally mean 'cold pine' and 'cold maple', respectively.
 Old provincial territory during Ming and Qing dynasties, encompassing Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei, Henan, and part of Shandong.