Cast of Appearing Characters
Yuen Ho - Pierre Ngo Ka Nin
Yuen Hong - Eddie Kwan Lai Kit
Yuen Mo Kei - Eddy Ko Hung
Yuen Lun - Jim Bing Hei
Yuen Chiu - Ben Wong Chi Yin
Yuen Long - Lee Kar Sing
1st Year of Ching Dak (1506)
The streets of Beijing were silent. Not a person walked the streets of the lonely Capital. There wasn’t even a bark from a dog, Not even the cold night breeze dared to howl when channelling swiftly through the empty streets. Every day after sunset, Beijing was a ghost city. No one dared venture out after dark. No one dared to even light their candles indoors. They had rather eat their dinner in the dark. It had been like this for six whole months.
It had been six months since Emperor Wang Chi had ascended to the heavens. Everyone around the country had been in mourning for many months. He was a well-loved Emperor who was wise and kind to the people, yet tough with the corrupt officials who plagued their lives. Taxes were alleviated during his reign and they were finally able to breathe and enjoy life. But now that Emperor Wang Chi was no longer on the throne what did the future hold for them?
Emperor Ching Dak was now their heavenly mandate. Rumours were spreading that he had not gone to court for five months already. No one dared talk much about the matter so those who talked the loudest in public were often not seen again. Since then, life in Beijing had been turned upside down.
The chilling silence of the winter night was suddenly interrupted by the galloping of distant hooves ploughing through the thick snow. A group of fast horses were approaching at top sped, all heading to the same unfortunate destination. It was a dark night as the moon was hidden by thick clouds. But still visible, a group of twenty black cloaked men had dismounted from horseback and rushed into Yuen Manor.
Yuen Hong was sitting in his favourite garden with his favourite concubine on his lap, serving him the most fragrant Red Daughter wine. For a man in his sixty-first year of life, he had all that a man could wish for - a powerful and influential family, strong political links and not to mention, a virtuous wife who did not mind his six young and beautiful concubines. He had twelve children – eight of them were young and healthy sons. What more could he want? But he did not expect this night to come.
Screams and yells suddenly filled the night air. “Who are you?” “What do you think you are doing here?” The old servant in charge of the front door shouted in protest as he was forced to lead these mysterious men to find his master.
Yuen Hong got up at once and prostrated himself. “What do YOU think you are doing?” he said with an air of arrogance, “How dare you enter my presence without being summoned?”
They all wore tall black hats but their dark cloaks shielded their hidden uniform as it flapped gently in the night breeze. They looked like large bloodthirsty bats hovering just above the snow with a ghostly presence, ready to attack at moment.
One of the intruders, their leader, stepped forward. He had a cold hard expression – like a statue chiselled from stone. Stiffly, he said. “We have orders to take Minister Yuen back to Headquarters for questioning. Please come with us now!” His request was more like an order.
“How dare you? Don’t you know who I am? I am a third-rank official! Who dares touch me?” blurted out Yuen Hong.
The stone-faced man said coldly, “If we did not know who you are, we would not be here tonight. Men! Escort minister Yuen back to Headquarters immediately!” Immediately, the bat-like figures answered a short “Yes!” moved forward all at once. Yuen Hong and his concubine staggered back.
“Hold it right there!” A strong and solid voice came from within one of the surrounding buildings. The doors opened and out stepped an old man in his eighties with a tall and dignified stature, showing no signs of fragility. Behind him, stood three middle-aged men, each dressed in rich brocades and each looking strong and calm.
The old man proclaimed, “On whose orders are you acting on to arrest my son and invade my Yuen manor?” The gentle moonlight revealed his kind facial features but his words were stern. “Yuen Manor was bestowed upon the Yuen family three decades again by the late Emperor Shing Fa. Our family has been loyal to the Great Ming Empire for four generations. Even though I, Yuen Mo Kei, am only a mere second-rank Head Minister of Revenue and my sons only of the third-rank, I believe the Brocade-Clad Guards still doesn’t have enough authority to intrude on our privacy like this. If you want to take my son into custody, then first seek permission from the Emperor at Court tomorrow!” The Yuen Clan had been very influential in the Court for many decades; most of their male descendents has positions in the government. Even though their power was no longer as strong as before, no one dared to offend them like this.
The stone-faced man seemed unfazed by these words and laughed, “The Brocade-Clad Guards might have the authority to take in Minister Yuen, but the Eastern Faction has no need to first gain Imperial permission prior action. Minister Yuen, I persuade you to let us do our job!” With that, the men removed opened their cloaks and revealed a dark grey uniform. Indeed, they were not dressed in the yellow-gold unform of the Brocade-Clad Guards.
One of the sons, Yuen Lun scoffed at him. “So it is an only a bunch of castrated officials!”
“Shut your mouth!” snapped Yuen Mo Kei. The Eastern Faction was no joking matter. Their power was greater than the Brocade-Guards and their actions much more mysterious. No one who they took rarely returned. “So it is Yau Jui who ordered this! Leave at once! You tell him that the first thing all Yuen Clan members will do tomorrow morning is to complain to the Emperor at Court! No one will lay a hand on my family!
The eunuch smiled. “I am afraid that none of you will be present at Court tomorrow. Our orders are to arrest all Yuen Clan members back to Headquarters regarding treason against the Great Ming Dynasty! Men! Take them all!” The Eastern Faction guards instantly unsheathed long sword and hooks previously hidden under their cloaks, and moved forward like a flock of crows.
Yuen Hong retreated towards his father as a silver hook gripped his beloved concubine by the neck and dragged her forward, breaking her slender neck. Another three guards leapt up and charged in mid-air at Yuen Mo Kei with the tip of their swords aiming for the Minister’s throat.
A long spear cut a path through the air and blocked the weapons just as they were centimetres from their intended victim. A smartly-dressed young man jumped in between his grandfather and the guards and caught his weapon in one hand and then twirled it menacingly before his opponents.
“No one can lay a finger on my family in front from Yuen Ho!” cried the young man. Fifty or so security guards had entered the courtyard and blocked all exits. Even the Eastern faction guards could capture their targets, they had to fight to the death to exit Yuen manor. And they did.
Soon, the quite night was filled with sword of metal clashing against metal, and the painful groans of injured men. The Lead Eunuch yelled out to his men, “Listen all! Supreme Commander Lau has given ordered to take all of those in Yuen Manor! No matter men or women, elderly or children, take all in, dead or alive!” The haunting command shook the hearts of all those who heard.
The Eastern Faction guards were greatly outnumbered but they were well-trained fighters. They had been carefully selected since young to participate in a ruthless and aggressive training program to make them efficient and vicious killers. Compared to the Brocade-Clad Guards, they had more freedom to explore their tactics and expand experience using real people for practice.
Soon, the Eastern Faction Guards were gaining the upper hands and many security guards were slaughtered. Women and maids were flocking to the exits but were blocked by the fighters and some even injured in the process. In his youth, Yuen Mo Kei may have been able to take five of these attackers at ease, but now he found it hard to catch his breath after delivering two deadly palms of force. His sons did not fare any better. All the male members of the Yuen family had been trained in martial arts but their age and years of good living had made them forget their reflexes and fighting instinct. Yuen Ho was a brave and skilled fighter but he was not well prepared to battle these trained assassins. He protected what he could of his family as they retreated into an opening but their enemies pursued. A fine mist of fragrance engulfed them as Yuen Ho felt his limbs beginning to weaken and his head begin to spin.
Out of the corner of his eye, Yuen Ho saw his mother and grandmother had been captured and beaten on the ground. A sharp pain seared across his right shoulder as a silver hook had appeared from nowhere and penetrated his flesh. Digging deep into the wound, he was dragged to one side by one attacker as the rest took down his grandfather, his father and his uncles. But he was helpless to come to come to their rescue as he had to fend off three of the Eastern Faction guards who had taken hold of his spear and locked him into a corner.
Suddenly, Yuen Hong broke free and pounced on one of the attackers, yelling out, “Run, Ho! Run! Don’t worry about us! Save yourself!” Yuen Ho wanted to stay but he knew he had to go or they would just all die together. Using his spear handle as a lever, he forced his two remaining opponents to one side created an opening just large enough for him to leap onto the roof. With one last longing look at his family, Yuen Ho turned and escaped from Yuen Manor.
For those unfamiliar with the history of the Ming Dynasty, it is famous for its spy agencies that arrested and tortured people without going through the official process. During the reign of Emperor Ching Dak (Zheng De), there were four as you will read later on in the story. The Brocade-Clad Guards (Jin Yi Wei) is the oldest yet lowest ranked agency made up primarily by men selected from the Imperial Guards. The next up is the second-oldest Eastern Faction (Dong Chang) which is governed and made up by eunuchs trained in martial arts and interogation. The existence of these factions secured the important political influence of eunuchs during the Ming Dynasty.