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Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義)

by Luo Guanzhong (羅貫中) Translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor

Three Kingdoms

Chapter 39 : At Jingzhou, The Son Of Liu Biao Thrice Begs Advice; At Bowang Slope, The Directing Instructor Plans His First Battle.

Chapter 39 : At Jingzhou, The Son Of Liu Biao Thrice Begs Advice; At Bowang Slope, The Directing Instructor Plans His First Battle.

Now Sun Quan fought against Xiakou. When Huang Zu recognized that he was beaten and could not maintain his position, he abandoned Jiangxia and took the road to Jingzhou. Gan Ning, foreseeing this, had laid an ambush outside the east gate of Jiangxia. Soon after the fugitive, with a small following, had burst out of the gate, he found his road blocked.

From horseback, Huang Zu said, “I treated you well in the past. Why do you now press me so hard?”

Gan Ning angrily shouted, “I did good service for you, and yet you treated me as a pirate. Now what have you to say?”

There was nothing to be said, and Huang Zu turned his horse to escape. But Gan Ning thrust aside his troops and himself rode in pursuit. Then he heard a shouting in his rear and saw General Cheng Pu coming up. Fearing lest this other pursuer should overpass him and score the success he desired for himself, Gan Ning fitted an arrow to his bow and shot at the fugitive. Huang Zu was hit and fell from his steed. Then Gan Ning cut off his head. After this, joining himself to Cheng Pu, the two returned bearing the ghastly trophy to their lord. Sun Quan ordered them to place it in a box to be taken back home and offered as a sacrifice to the manes of his father.

Having rewarded the soldiers for the victory and promoted Gan Ning, Sun Quan next discussed the advisability of sending a force to hold Jiangxia.

But his adviser, Zhang Zhao, said, “It is impossible to try to hold one distant city alone. It is better to return home and prepare for the expedition that Liu Biao will surely send in revenge. We will meet and defeat his worn army, push home the attack, and capture his whole region.”

Sun Quan saw the advice was wise, so he left Jiangxia and led his army home to the South Land.

Now Su Fei was still confined, but he got someone to go to Gan Ning to beg him to plead for mercy. Gan Ning had expected this although the prisoner had said no word, and he was averse from leaving his friend and one-time protector to perish.

“I should not have forgotten him even if he had said nothing,” said Gan Ning.

When the army had returned, Sun Quan gave orders for Su Fei’s execution that his head might be offered with that of Huang Zu.

Then Gan Ning went in to his lord and said, weeping, “Long ago, if it had not been for Su Fei, my bones would have been rotting in some ditch and how then could I have rendered service under your banner? Now he deserves death, but I cannot forget his kindness to me, and I pray you take away the honors you have bestowed on me as a set-off to his crime.”

Sun Quan replied, “Since he once showed kindness to you, I will pardon him for your sake. But what can be done if he run away?”

“If he be pardoned and escape death, he will be immeasurably grateful and will not go away. If he should, then will I offer my life in exchange.”

So the condemned man escaped death, and only one head was offered in sacrifice. After the sacrificial ceremonies, a great banquet was spread in honor of the victories. As it was proceeding, suddenly one of the guests burst into loud lamentations, drew his sword, and rushed upon Gan Ning. Gan Ning hastily rose and defended himself with the chair on which he had been sitting. The host looked at the assailant and saw it was Ling Tong, whose father Ling Cao had fallen under an arrow shot by Gan Ning. The son was now burning to avenge his father’s death.

Hastily leaving his place, Sun Quan checked the angry officer, saying, “If he slew your noble father, then remember each was fighting for his lord for whom he was bound to exert himself to the utmost. But now that you both are under one flag and are of one house, you may not recall an ancient injury. You must regard my interests continually.”

Ling Tong beat his head upon the floor and cried, saying, “But how can I not avenge this? It is a blood feud, and we may not both live under the same sky.”

The guests interfered, beseeching the man to forgo his revenge, and at last he ceased from his murderous intention. But he sat glaring wrathfully at his enemy.

So soon after Gan Ning was dispatched with five thousand troops and one hundred warships to guard Xiakou, where he was beyond the reach of Ling Tong’s wrath. Then Sun Quan promoted Ling Tong, and so he was somewhat appeased.

From about this time the South Land enlarged her fleets, and soldiers were sent to various points to guard the river banks. The brother of the chieftain, Sun Kuang, was placed in command at Wujun, and Sun Quan himself, with a large army, camped at Chaisang.

Zhou Yu, Commander-in-Chief of the army and Supreme Admiral of the navy, was on the Poyang Lake training the naval forces, and general preparations were made for defense and attack.

By his spies, Liu Bei had tidings of the doings in the lower portion of the Great River, and knew of the death of Huang Zu. So he consulted Zhuge Liang as to his action. While they were discussing matters, there arrived a messenger from Liu Biao, begging Liu Bei to go to see him.

Zhuge Liang advised him to go and said, “This call is to consult you about avenging Huang Zu. You must take me with you and let me act as the circumstances direct. There are advantages to be got.”

Leaving Guan Yu in command at Xinye, Liu Bei set forth, taking Zhang Fei with five hundred soldiers as his escort.

On the way he discussed the course of action with his adviser, who said, “First you must thank Liu Biao for having saved you from the evil that Cai Mao planned against you at Xiangyang. However, you must not undertake any expedition against the South Land but say you must return to Xinye to put your army in good order.”

With this admonition Liu Bei came to Jingzhou and was lodged in the guest-house. Zhang Fei and the escort camped without the walls. In due course Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang were received, and after the customary salutations, Liu Bei apologized for his conduct at the banquet.

The host said, “Worthy brother, I know you were the victim of a vile plot; and I should have put the prime mover to death for it, had there not been so universal a prayer for mercy. However, I remitted that penalty. I hope you do not consider that I was wrong.”

“Cai Mao had little to do with it. I think it was due to his subordinates,” replied Liu Bei.

Liu Biao said, “Jiangxia is lost, as you know, and Huang Zu is dead. So I have asked you to come that we might take measures of vengeance.”

“Huang Zu was harsh and cruel and never used his people in the proper way: That was the real cause of his fall. But have you reflected what Cao Cao may do on the north if we attack the south?”

“I am getting old and weak, and I am unable to manage affairs properly. Will you aid me, brother? After I am gone you will have this region.”

“Why do you say this, my brother? Think you that I am equal to such a task?”

Here Zhuge Liang glanced at Liu Bei who continued, “But give me a little time to think it over.”

And at this point he took his leave.

When they had reached their lodging, Zhuge Liang said, “Why did you decline his offer of the region.”

“He has always been most kind and courteous. I could not take advantage of his weakness.”

“A perfectly kind and gracious lord,” sighed Zhuge Liang.

Soon after the son of the Imperial Protector, Liu Qi, was announced, and Liu Bei received him and led him in.

The young man began to weep, saying, “My mother cannot bear the sight of me. My very life is in danger. Can you not save me, Uncle?”

“My worthy nephew, this is a family affair. You should not come to me.”

Zhuge Liang who was present, smiled. Liu Bei turned to him to know what he should do.

“This is a family affair. I cannot touch it!” replied Zhuge Liang.

The young man soon left, and when Liu Bei was saying good-bye, he whispered, “I will get Zhuge Liang to return your call, and you can do so and so. He will advise you.”

Liu Qi thanked him and left. Next day when the call was to be returned, Liu Bei pretended to be suffering from colic and made that an excuse to send Zhuge Liang to return the call.

The adviser went, and when he had reached the palace, dismounted, and was led in, Liu Qi conducted him into one of the inner rooms.

When the tea had been brought, Liu Qi said, “I am an object of my stepmother’s dislike. Can you advise me what to do?”

“As a mere stranger guest, I can hardly have anything to do with your own ‘bone and flesh’ matters. If I did, and the story got abroad, much harm might ensue.”

With this he rose to take leave.

But Liu Qi was unwilling to say farewell, and he said, “Your glory has turned in my direction. You cannot mean to go away so pointlessly.”

Liu Qi led his visitor into a private chamber and had refreshments brought. While they ate and drank, Liu Qi repeated his first request: What was he to do since his stepmother disliked him.

“It is not the sort of thing I can advise in,” replied Zhuge Liang, as he rose for the second time to take leave.

“Master, if you will not reply, that is well. But why incontinently leave me?”

So the adviser once more seated himself, and Liu Qi said, “There is an ancient writing I should like to show you.”

And he led his visitor to a small upper room.

“Where is the writing?” said Zhuge Liang.

Instead of answering Liu Qi wept, saying, “My stepmother cannot bear me. My life is in danger. O Master, will you not say a word to save me?”

Zhuge Liang flushed and rose to go away. But he found the ladder by which they had mounted had been removed.

Again Liu Qi besought some advice, saying, “Master, you fear lest it may get abroad! Is that why you are silent? Here we are between earth and sky, and what you say will come out of your mouth directly into my ear. No other soul can hear. Now can you tell me what to do?”

“Sow not dissension among relatives,” said Zhuge Liang. “Is it possible for me to make any plan for you?”

“Then is my life indeed in danger,” said the young man. “I will die at your feet.”

So saying, Liu Qi pulled out a dagger and threatened to make an end of himself.

Zhuge Liang checked him, saying, “There is a way.”

“I pray you tell me.”

“You have heard of the old tale of the brothers Shen Sheng and Chong Er, have you not? Shen Sheng stayed at home and died; his brother Chong Er went away and lived in peace. Now that Huang Zu is gone and Jiangxia is weakly defended, why do you not ask to be sent there to guard it? Then you would be out of the way of harm.”

Liu Qi thanked him. Then he called to his people to restore the ladder, and he escorted Zhuge Liang down to the level ground.

Zhuge Liang returned to Liu Bei and related the whole interview. The young man soon acted on the advice given him, but his father would not at first consent to let him go.

To settle his doubts Liu Biao sent for Liu Bei, who said, “Jiangxia is important, and your son is the most suitable man to defend it. You must let him go. The southeast will be defended by your son. The northwest I will look after.”

“I hear that Cao Cao has been training a naval force, and I am afraid he has intentions against us. We must be on our guard.”

“I know all about it. You need feel no anxiety,” said Liu Bei.

He took leave of his relative and went home while Liu Qi received command of three thousand soldiers and went to guard Jiangxia.

At this time Cao Cao suppressed the three highest officers of state and exercised their functions himself as the Prime Minister. He appointed as his general secretaries Mao Jie and Cui Yan, and as literary secretary Sima Yi. Sima Yi of Henei was grandson of Sima Juan, Governor of Yingchuan; son of Sima Fang, Governor of Jingzhao; and younger brother of Sima Lang, Secretary General.

Cao Cao then called his officers to a council to discuss an expedition against the south.

Xiahou Dun opened the debate, saying, “Liu Bei is drilling his army at Xinye, and is a source of danger. He should be destroyed.”

Accordingly Xiahou Dun was appointed Commanding General, and four assistants —-Yu Jin, Li Dian, Xiahou Lan, and Han Hao —-were given him. With these he led one hundred thousand troops to Bowang, whence he could observe Xinye.

Xun Yu was opposed to this and said, “Liu Bei is a famous warrior, and he has lately taken to himself as his Directing Instructor Zhuge Liang. Caution is needed!”

Xiahou Dun replied, “Liu Bei is a mean rat! I will certainly take him prisoner.”

“Do not despise him,” said Xu Shu. “Remember he has Zhuge Liang to help him, and so he is like a tiger who has grown wings.”

Cao Cao said, “Who is this Zhuge Liang?”

“He has taken a Daoist cognomen of Sleeping Dragon. He is a perfect genius, god and devil combined, the greatest marvel of the age. Do not despise him.”

“How does he stand as compared with you?” asked Cao Cao.

“There is no comparison. I am a mere glow-worm spark; he is the glory of the full moon,” replied Xu Shu.

“You are mistaken,” replied Xiahou Dun. “This Zhuge Liang of yours is of no account. Who would fear him? If I do not take him and his master prisoners in the first battle, then here is my head, a free gift to our lord, the Prime Minister.”

“Hasten to comfort me with news of victory,” said Cao Cao.

Xiahou Dun hastened to depart.

The advent of Zhuge Liang and the extravagant deference shown him did not please Liu Bei’s sworn brothers who grumbled, saying, “He is very young, although he is clever and learned. Our brother really treats him too well. We have not seen any evidence of his wonderful skill.”

Liu Bei replied, “You do not know his worth. I have him as if the fish has got into the water again. Pray do not discuss this matter further, my brothers.”

They withdrew, silent but dissatisfied.

One day a man presented Liu Bei with a yak’s tail, and he at once was trying to weave it into his cap as an ornament. Zhuge Liang came in and noticed it at once.

“Then you have renounced all ambitions, my lord. You are just going to attend to this sort of thing,” Zhuge Liang quietly remarked.

Liu Bei snatched off his cap and flung it away, saying, “I was only amusing myself with the thing.”

“How do you think you stand compared with Cao Cao?” asked Zhuge Liang.


“Yes. Your army is less than ten thousand, and the chances are ten thousand to one that he will attack. How can we meet him?”

“I am greatly distressed about it, but I see no way.”

“You might recruit, and I will train them. Then we might be able to oppose him.”

So recruiting began and three thousand were enlisted. Zhuge Liang set about drilling them diligently.

Soon they heard that Xiahou Dun was leading an army of one hundred thousand troops against them.

When he heard it, Zhang Fei said to his brother, Guan Yu, “We will get this Zhuge Liang to go and fight them.”

Just at that moment they were summoned to their brother, who asked their advice.

“Why not send the ‘Water,’ brother?” said Zhang Fei.

“For method I rely on Zhuge Liang; but for action I put my faith in you, my brothers. Are you going to fail me?”

They went out, and Zhuge Liang was called.

“I fear your brothers will not obey me,” said Zhuge Liang. “Wherefore, if I am to direct the campaign, you must give me a seal of office and a sword of authority.”

So Liu Bei gave him both. Armed with these ensigns of power, Zhuge Liang assembled the officers to receive their orders.

“We will go just to see what he will do,” said Zhang Fei to Guan Yu.

In the assembly Zhuge Liang spoke, saying, “On the left of Bowang are Yushan Hills. On the right is Anlin Forest. There we will prepare an ambush. Guan Yu will go to Yushan Hills with one thousand soldiers. He is to remain there quiescent till the enemy has passed; but when he sees a flame in the south, that will be the signal to attack. He will first burn their baggage train. Zhang Fei will go to a valley behind Anlin Forest. When he sees the signal, he is to go to the old stores depot at Bowang and burn that. Liu Feng and Guan Ping will take five hundred soldiers each to the south, prepare combustibles and be ready with them beyond Bowang Slope. The enemy will arrive about dusk, and then the two generals can start the blare. Zhao Zilong, now recalled from Fancheng, is to lead the attack, but he is to lose and not win. And our lord is to command the reserve. See that each one obeys these orders and let there be no mistakes.”

Then said Guan Yu, “All of us are to go out to meet the enemy, but I have not yet heard what you are going to do.”

“I will just be sitting here guarding the city.”

Zhang Fei burst into a laugh, “We are to go out to bloody battle, and you are to stay quietly at home quite comfortable.”

“Here is the sword and here the seal!” replied the strategist, displaying the emblems of authority. “Disobedience of orders will be death.”

Liu Bei said, “Do you not understand that the plans elaborated in a little chamber decide success over thousands of miles? Do not disobey the command, my brothers.”

Zhang Fei went out smiling cynically.

Guan Yu remarked, “Let us await the result. If he fails, then we can look to it.”

The brothers left. None of the officers understood anything of the general line of strategy and, though they obeyed orders, they were not without doubts and misgivings.

Zhuge Liang said to Liu Bei, “You may now lead your soldiers to the hills and camp till the enemy shall arrive tomorrow evening. Then you are to abandon the camp and move away retreating till the signal is seen. Then you will advance and attack with all force. Mi Zhu, Mi Fang, and I will guard the city.”

In the city Zhuge Liang prepared banquets to celebrate the victory and also prepared the books to record exceptional services.

Liu Bei noted all these things, but his heart was also troubled not a little.

Cao Cao’s army of one hundred thousand troops in due course reached Bowang. Then half of them, the veterans, were told off for the first attack, and the remainder were to guard the baggage train and supplies. Thus they marched in two divisions. The season was autumn and a chilly wind began to blow.

They pressed forward. Presently they saw a cloud of dust ahead of them, and Xiahou Dun ordered the ranks to be reformed. He questioned the guides as to the name of the place.

“The place in front is Bowang Slope, and behind us is the River Luo,” was the reply.

Then Xiahou Dun rode to the front to reconnoiter, leaving Yu Jin and Li Dian to finish setting out the battle array.

Presently Xiahou Dun began to laugh and, when they asked the cause of this merriment, he replied, “Xu Shu praised Zhuge Liang to the very skies as something more than human. But now that I see how he has placed his soldiers and the stuff he has put into his vanguard, it seems to me that he is sending dogs or sheep against tigers and leopards. I bragged a little when I said I would take him prisoner, but I am going to make good my boast!”

Then he rode forward at full speed.

Zhao Zilong rode to meet him, and Xiahou Dun opened a volley of abuse, “You lot, followers of Liu Bei, are only like wraiths following devils!”

This angered Zhao Zilong and a combat began. In a little time Zhao Zilong turned and retreated as if he was worsted. Xiahou Dun pressed after him and kept up the chase for some three miles. Then Zhao Zilong suddenly turned again and offered fight, but only to retreat after a few passes.

Seeing these tactics Han Hao, one of Xiahou Dun’s generals, rode up to his chief and urged him to use caution, saying, “I fear he is trying to lead us into an ambush.”

“With such antagonists as these, I should not fear even Ten Ambushes!” replied Xiahou Dun, pressing forward eagerly.

Just as he reached the slope, he heard the roar of a bomb and out came Liu Bei to attack.

“Here is your ambush!” said Xiahou Dun, laughing. “I will get to Xinye this evening before I have done.”

Xiahou Dun urged his soldiers forward, and his opponents retired in measure as he advanced. As evening came on, thick clouds overcast the whole sky. The wind increased but the leader still urged his troops after the retreating foe.

The two generals in the rear came to a narrow part of the road with reeds and rushes thick all round them.

“Those who despise the enemy are beaten,” said Li Dian to Yu Jin. “Away south there the roads are narrow, and streams and mountains make the country difficult. The forests are dense, and if the enemy used fire we should be lost.”

“You are right,” replied Yu Jin. “I will get on and warn the Commanding General. Perhaps he will stop. You can halt those who come up.”

Yu Jin rode forward shouting at the top of his voice, “Halt the train!”

Xiahou Dun saw him coming up and asked what the matter was.

Yu Jin said, “The roads here are narrow and difficult. Around us are thick forests. What if they use fire?”

Xiahou Dun’s ferocity had then somewhat abated, and he turned his steed toward his main body.

Then there arose a shout behind him. A rushing noise came from in the reeds and great tongues of flame shot up here and there. These spread and soon the fire was in “the four quarters and the eight sides,” and fanned by a strong wind.

Xiahou Dun’s troops were thrown into confusion and trampled each other down. Many perished. Zhao Zilong turned on them again to make a slaughter. Xiahou Dun dashed through the fire and smoke to escape.

Now Li Dian saw that things were going very badly, so he turned to get back to Bowang but fell upon a body of troops in the way, led by Guan Yu. He desperately dashed into their midst and managed to get clear. Yu Jin saw the supplies were being destroyed and there was nothing left to guard, so he escaped along a bye-path. Two other generals, who came to try to save the baggage train, met Zhang Fei; and Xiahou Lan was slain forthwith, but Han Hao managed to flee. Next morning the countryside was strewn with corpses and drenched with blood.

The armies met on Bowang Slope

And Zhuge Liang fought with fire;

A perfect strategist, he bent

All humans to his desire.

But poor Cao Cao, his enemy,

He trembled in his shoes

Before the man, who’d never fought

But yet could armies use.

Xiahou Dun drew up the battered remains of his army and led them back to Xuchang.

Zhuge Liang ordered his armies to collect.

As Guan Yu and Zhang Fei rode homeward, they confessed, saying, “Zhuge Liang is really a fine strategist!”

Before long they saw Mi Zhu and Mi Fang leading out a small body of soldiers. Among them was a light carriage in which the Directing Instructor Zhuge Liang was seating. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei dismounted and bowed before him. The remaining bodies came in. The spoil was distributed among the soldiers and all returned to Xinye, where the populace lined the roads to bid them welcome.

“We owe our lives to the Prince!” they cried to Liu Bei.

Said Zhuge Liang, “Xiahou Dun has been driven off, but Cao Cao will come with a stronger force.”

“And what shall we do?” replied Liu Bei.

“My plan is quite ready,” said Zhuge Liang.

Always battles, nowhere rest for horse or human;

Must rely on ruses, dodging where one can.

The plan prepared against Cao Cao will be unfolded in the next chapter.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 39 : At Jingzhou, The Son Of Liu Biao Thrice Begs Advice; At Bowang Slope, The Directing Instructor Plans His First Battle.
Chapter 39 : At Jingzhou, The Son Of Liu Biao Thrice Begs Advice; At Bowang Slope, The Directing Instructor Plans His First Battle.
At Jingzhou, The Son Of Liu Biao Thrice Begs Advice; At Bowang Slope, The Directing Instructor Plans His First Battle.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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