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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 40 : Lady Cai Renounces Jingzhou; Zhuge Liang Burns Xinye.

Chapter 40 : Lady Cai Renounces Jingzhou; Zhuge Liang Burns Xinye.

When Liu Bei asked how his adviser hoped to repel Cao Cao, Zhuge Liang replied, “Xinye is a small city and unfitted for our lengthy occupation. Liu Biao is ill and failing fast, so this is the time to take his region as a base where we may be safe against Cao Cao.”

“You speak well, but Liu Biao has shown me great kindness, and I could not bear to serve him an ill turn.”

“If you do not take this opportunity, you will regret it ever after,” said Zhuge Liang.

“I would rather perish than do what is wrong.”

“We will discuss it again,” replied Zhuge Liang.

When Xiahou Dun reached the capital, he presented himself to his master in bonds and craved death. But his master loosed him and let him tell his tale.

And Xiahou Dun said, “I was the victim of Zhuge Liang’s evil machinations: He attacked with fire.”

“As a soldier from your youth, you should have remembered that fire was a likely weapon in narrow roads.”

“Li Dian and Yu Jin reminded me. I am sorry enough now.”

Cao Cao rewarded Li Dian and Yu Jin who had warned their leader.

“Liu Bei as strong as he is now certainly is a menace to our existence, and he must be quickly destroyed,” said Xiahou Dun.

“He is one of my anxieties,” replied Cao Cao. “Sun Quan is the other. The rest do not count. We must take this chance to sweep the south clean.”

Then orders were issued to prepare an army of five hundred thousand troops, in five divisions of ten legions each. Each division had two leaders: Cao Ren and Cao Hong were in command of the first division; Zhang Liao and Zhang He, the second; Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan, the third; Yu Jin and Li Dian, the fourth. The fifth body was led by Cao Cao himself. The van was commanded by Xu Chu. The “horse” day of the seventh moon of the thirteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity was fixed for the march (AD 208).

The High Minister, Kong Rong, offered a remonstrance.

He said, “Liu Bei and Liu Biao are both of the Imperial House and should not be attacked without grave reasons. Sun Quan in the six territories of the South Land is terrible as a crouching tiger and, with the Great River as his defense, he is very secure. If, Sir Prime Minister, you undertake this unjustifiable expedition, you will forfeit the respect of the world, I fear.”

“All three of them are disobedient ministers and rebels, and how can I fail to punish them?” replied Cao Cao.

Cao Cao was angry, and bade the adviser go from his presence. Presently Cao Cao gave formal orders that he would put to death anyone who remonstrated on the subject of his expedition.

Kong Rong went forth from the Palace sadly.

Casting his eyes up to heaven, he cried, “Where is the chance of success when the perfectly inhumane attacks the perfectly humane? He must be defeated!”

One of the clients of the Imperial Inspector Chi Lu, whom Kong Rong had always treated contemptuously and disdainfully, happened to hear this apostrophe and told his patron who carried the tale to Cao Cao.

Chi Lu also added to it, saying, “Kong Rong habitually speaks disrespectfully of the Chief Minister and has been very friendly with Mi Heng. In fact the insults that Mi Heng had hurled at you had been deliberately arranged and intrigued by Kong Rong. Kong Rong and Mi Heng seemed to admire each other hugely, and Mi Heng used to say, ‘Confucius is not dead, because Kong Rong is he,’ and the other used to reply, ‘And his treasured disciple, Yan Hui, has risen again, because Mi Heng is he.’”

Chi Lu’s tale angered Cao Cao, who ordered the execution of the high minister.

Now Kong Rong had two sons, both young, who were sitting at home playing chess, when one of their servants ran in and said, “Your father has just been carried off for execution. Why do you not run away?”

The youths replied, “When the nest is pulled down, are the eggs left unbroken?”

Even at that moment the same executors came and carried off the whole household. The two youths were beheaded. The father’s corpse was exposed in the streets.

Minister Zhi Xi wept over the corpse. This public exhibition of sympathy rekindled Cao Cao’s anger, and he was going to punish it with death.

However, this additional punishment was prevented by Adviser Xun Yu, who said, “You should not slay a righteous man who came to mourn over his friend’s corpse. Zhi Xi had often warned Kong Rong against the danger his severe rectitude might lead him into.”

Zhi Xi took up the remains of father and sons and buried them.

Kong Rong, who dwelt on the north sea shore,

A noble reputation bore;

With him all guests warm welcome found,

And ceaselessly the wine went round.

For skill in letters he was famed,

In speech, he dukes and princes shamed,

Historians his merits tell,

Recorders say that he did well.

After wreaking his wrath on Kong Rong, Cao Cao issued the order to march. Xun Yu was left in command of the capital.

About this time the Imperial Protector of Jingzhou became seriously ill, and he summoned Liu Bei to his chamber. Liu Bei went accompanied by his two brothers, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, and Directing Instructor Zhuge Liang.

Liu Biao said, “The disease has attacked my very vitals, and my time is short. I confide my orphans to your guardianship. My sons are unfit to succeed to my place, and I pray you, my brother, administer the region after my death.”

Liu Bei wept, saying, “I will do my utmost to help my nephews. What else could I do, indeed?”

Even at this moment came the news of the march of Cao Cao’s armies, and Liu Bei, taking hasty leave of his kinsman, was forced to hurry to his station. The evil tidings aggravated the sick man’s condition, and he began to make his last arrangements. In his testament he appointed Liu Bei the guardian of his son Liu Qi, who was to succeed in the lordship.

This arrangement greatly angered his wife, Lady Cai. She closed the inner doors against all and confided to her own partisans, of whom Cai Mao and Zhang Yun were her confidants, the keeping of the outer gates.

The heir was at Jiangxia, and he came to make filial inquiries as soon as his father’s condition became serious.

But Cai Mao refused him admittance and said, “Your father sent you to guard Jiangxia. Such a very responsible post should by no means have been quitted without orders. Suppose it was attacked, what might not happen? If your father sees you, he will be very angry, and it will make him worse. That would be most undutiful, and you should return to your command at once.”

Liu Qi stood out for some time, but admittance was denied him in spite of his tears. So he returned to his post. Meanwhile Liu Biao rapidly grew worse. He anxiously looked for his son, but Liu Qi came not. Suddenly Liu Biao uttered piercing shrieks and then passed away.

When the Yuans were lords of the north,

And Liu Biao held the bank of the river,

It seemed, so strong were they both,

That they would endure forever.

But the family affairs troubled their states,

And, meddling, confusion made;

It was mournful indeed to see

How quickly the houses decayed.

So Imperial Protector Liu Biao died. Then the widow and her partisans took counsel together and forged a testament conferring the lordship of Jingzhou on the second son Liu Zong before they published the news of the death.

The wrongful heir was then fourteen years of age. But he was a cunning boy, so he assembled the officials and said, “My father has passed away, and my elder brother is at Jiangxia. More than that, our uncle is at Xinye. You have made me lord, but if my brother and uncle come here with an army to punish me for usurping the lordship, what explanation can I offer?”

At first no one replied.

Then Adviser Li Gui rose and said, “You speak well. Now hasten to send letters of mourning to your brother and ask him to come and take his inheritance. Also call upon Liu Bei to come and assist in the administration. Then shall we be safe against our enemies —-Cao Cao on the north and Sun Quan on the south. I consider this the most excellent plan.”

But Cai Mao replied harshly, “Who are you to speak thus wildly and oppose the testament of our late lord?”

Li Gui began to abuse him, saying, “You and your party have fabricated this testament, setting aside the rightful heir. Now the whole region is in the hands of the Cai family. If our dead lord knew your doings, he would slay you!”

Cai Mao ordered the lictors to take Li Gui away to execution. He was hurried out, but his tongue ceased not.

So the younger son was placed in his father’s seat, and the Cai clan shared among them the whole military authority of the region. The defense of Jingzhou was confided to Liu Xin and Deng Yi, while Lady Cai and her son took up their residence in Xiangyang so as to be out of the reach of the rightful heir and his uncle. They interred the remains of the late Imperial Protector on the east of Xiangyang, near the bank of the Han River. No notice of the death was sent to Liu Qi, the son, or to Liu Bei, his uncle.

Liu Zong arrived at Xiangyang, but, before he had had time to recover from the fatigue of the journey, the startling news of the approach of Cao Cao’s great army came in. He summoned Kuai Yue and Cai Mao and others to ask counsel.

One of the secretaries, Fu Xuan, offered his advice, saying, “Not only are we threatened by a great army from the north, but the elder son, who is the real heir, at Jiangxia, and his uncle at Xinye, are to be reckoned with. These two have not been notified of the death, and they will resent that. We shall be in sad case if they also march against us. But if you will adopt my suggestion, then our people will be as steady as Taishan Mountains and our young lord’s position and rank will be assured.”

“What is your plan?” asked the young lord.

“To offer the whole region to Cao Cao, who will treat our young master most liberally.”

“What advice!” said Liu Zong angrily. “Am I to yield my heritage to another before I have even fairly succeeded to it?”

“The advice is good,” said Kuai Yue. “Opportunism is a policy, and possibilities need consideration. In the name of government, Cao Cao is fighting against his neighbors. If our lord opposes him, he will be termed contumacious. Beside, any misfortune on our borders before our young lord is well established will react upon the internal administration, and our people will be panic-stricken at the mere news of the approach of a hostile army. How could we then offer any resistance?”

Liu Zong replied, “It is not that I disagree with you, but I should be a laughing stock to the whole world were I to abandon my heritage without an effort.”

He was interrupted by a speaker who said, “If their advice is good, why not follow it?”

They turned toward the speaker who was a certain Wang Can of Shanyang, a lean, cadaverous individual much below the middle height of a man.

However, his talents did not conform to his physical appearance. When he was yet a youth, he went to visit Minister Cai Yong, then a vice-chairman of the Secretariat; and although many guests of exalted rank were present, the host hastened to welcome the newcomer with the greatest deference. The others were astonished and asked why he was so respectful to a mere youth.

“He is a young man with the highest gifts,” said Cai Yong.

Wang Can was widely read and had a most retentive memory, better than any of his contemporaries. If he glanced at a roadside monument as he passed, he remembered every word of the inscription. If he saw people playing chess and the board was suddenly overthrown, he could replace every pip in its proper place. He was a good mathematician and his poems were exquisite. At seventeen he was appointed a court official but did not take up the appointment. When the disturbance in the empire grew serious, he sought refuge in Jingzhou, where he was received with great honor as guest of the Imperial Protector.

What he said was this, “General, how do you compare with Cao Cao?”

“Inferior,” replied Liu Zong.

Wang Can continued, “Cao Cao has many soldiers and bold leaders. He is able and resourceful. He took Lu Bu at Xiapi and broke the power of Yuan Shao at Guandu. He pursued Liu Bei into Longyou and destroyed Mao Dun at White Wolf Hills. The destruction of such firmly established men shows his invincible character. Now he is on the way here, and it will be very difficult to withstand him. The plan proposed is the best you can expect, and you should not delay and hesitate till it is too late for ought but regret.”

“Worthy Sir, you indeed speak to the point. I must inform my mother,” said the young ruler.

But just then they saw his mother appear from behind a screen. She had been listening to all that was said.

“Why refer to me when three such gentlemen coincide in their opinions?” said Lady Cai.

So Liu Zong decided, and the letter of surrender was composed and entrusted to one Song Zhong to convey secretly to Cao Cao. Song Zhong went straight to Wancheng and presented the letter. It was received with joy, and the bearer well rewarded.

The submission was accepted, and Cao Cao said, “Tell Liu Zong to go out to meet me in the open country, and he will be in perpetual tenure of his land.”

Song Zhong left the city and took the homeward way. He had nearly reached the ferry when he fell in with a party of horse. On a closer look he saw the leader was Guan Yu. The messenger tried to escape observation, but was presently captured and taken to the leader to be questioned. At first he prevaricated but on being closely questioned told the whole story. Then he was carried off to Xinye and made to retell his story to Liu Bei who heard it with lamentations.

Zhang Fei said, “This being so, I propose that we put this fellow to death, then cross the river, attack Xiangyang, and make an end of the Cai tribe and Liu Zong as well. Then we can attack Cao Cao.”

But Liu Bei replied, “Hold on. I have something more to say.”

Then turning to the prisoner, Liu Bei shouted, “When they did all this, why did you not come to tell me? As things are now, there is nothing to be gained by killing you. You may go.”

Song Zhong stammered his thanks, threw his arms over his head, and ran away. Liu Bei was very sad.

Presently Yi Ji from Jiangxia was announced. Liu Bei was very fond of this man and went down the steps to welcome him.

Then said Yi Ji, “The heir has heard that his father is dead, but his stepmother and her family are keeping back the news so that they may set up Liu Zong. He knows the news is true, as he sent a special messenger to find out. He thinks you, O Prince, may not know and has sent me to inform you, and his letter begs you to lead all the troops you can to Xiangyang to help him assert his claims.”

Liu Bei opened and read the letter.

Then he said, “Yes. You know that the younger son has usurped the lordship, but you have not heard that he has already sent to offer Jingzhou to Cao Cao.”

This news shocked Yi Ji, who asked, “How know you this?”

Liu Bei told of the capture of Song Zhong.

Yi Ji said, “You can go to Xiangyang as if to attend the mourning ceremonies and so draw Liu Zong into coming out of the city to welcome you. Then you can seize him, slay his party, and take the region.”

“Your advice is good,” said Zhuge Liang, “and my lord ought to take it.”

Liu Bei wept, saying, “In his last interview, my brother confided his son and heir to my care. If I lay hands upon another son and seize upon the inheritance, how shall I be able to look my brother in the face when I meet him by and by beyond the grave?”

“If you do not act in this way now, how will you repel Cao Cao, who has already reached Wancheng?” said Zhuge Liang.

“Our best plan is to take refuge in Fancheng,” replied Liu Bei.

Just about this time the spies came to say that Cao Cao’s army had reached Bowang. So Yi Ji was sent off with instructions to take measures for the defense of Jiangxia, while Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang discussed plans for meeting the enemy.

Zhuge Liang said, “My lord should not worry. We have burned the army of Cao Cao at Bowang Slope, so we will see them fallen into another ruse in Xinye. This is no place to live in. We will move over to Fancheng.”

Then notices were posted at all the gates that all the people, without any exception, were to follow their ruler at once to the new city to escape danger. Boats were prepared and the people sent away under the direction of Sun Qian. Mi Zhu saw to the safe conveyance of the families of the officials.

Then the officers assembled for orders.

Zhuge Liang gave directions, “Guan Yu is to go to the upper of the White River with one thousand troops. His men are to carry bags to fill with sand and earth to dam the river till the enemy shall be heard, about the third watch next day. Then the waters are to be freed to drown one of the armies. He is then to march down river.

“Zhang Fei is to go to the Boling Ferry, where the current is slow. After the waters of the White River have been let loose on Cao Cao’s soldiers, they will try to get over the river at the ferry. They are to be attacked by Zhang Fei and his one thousand troops.

“Zhao Zilong is to divide three thousand troops into four parties and take one to the east gate. The other three are for the other gates. The roofs of the houses within the city walls are piled with sulfur, saltpeter, and other combustibles. The intention is to set fire to the city when the army of the enemy has entered it for shelter. There will be a strong breeze next day in the evening which will fan the flames. When this wind begins to blow, fire arrows are to be shot into the city from all sides. When the flames are high, there is to be a great shouting outside to add to the general terror. The east gate is to be left free for escape, but the flying men are to be smitten after passing the gate.

“Mi Fang and Liu Feng are to take command of two thousand troops, one half with red flags and the other half with blue. They are to go to Magpie Tail Slope, about ten miles from the city and camp. When they see Cao Cao’s army coming along, the red flags are to move left and the blue right to confuse the enemy so that they shall be afraid to advance further. Then an ambush is to be laid to smite the enemy when the fire in Xinye starts. After that Mi Fang and Liu Feng are to go to the river to meet us.

“After the battle, all generals shall gather at Fancheng.”

All the orders given, the various leaders went their way to take up their positions and await the burning of the city. Zhuge Liang and Liu Bei went away to an eminence whence they could watch what happened and where they would await the reports of victory.

Cao Hong and Cao Ren, with their one hundred thousand troops, preceded by Xu Chu leading three thousand of mailed men, marched toward Xinye. They formed a mighty host and reached Magpie Tail Slope about noon. Looking ahead, they saw what seemed a goodly army with many blue and red flags. Xu Chu pressed forward. As he neared, the flags moved from side to side, and he hesitated.

He began to think, “It could be an ambush. It is unwise to advance.”

Finally Xu Chu decided to go no farther and called a halt, and he rode back to the main body to see Cao Ren.

“Those troops are only make-believe,” said Cao Ren. “Advance, there is no ambush. I will hasten up the supports.”

So Xu Chu rode to his own command again and advanced. When he reached the wood where he had seen the flags, he saw no one at all. It was then late in the afternoon but he decided to move on. Then he heard from the hills the sound of musical instruments and, looking up, saw on the hill top two umbrellas surrounded by many banners. There sat Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang quietly drinking.

Angry at their coolness, Xu Chu sought for a way up, but logs of wood and great stones were thrown down, and he was driven back. Further, from the rear of the hills came a confused roar. He could find no way to attack, and the sun began to set.

Then Cao Ren and Cao Hong arrived and ordered an attack on Xinye that he might have a place to rest in. They marched to the walls and found the gates wide open. They entered and found a deserted city. No one was visible.

“This shows they are done,” said Cao Hong. “They have all run away, people and all. We may as well occupy the city and rest our soldiers ready for tomorrow.”

The soldiers were fatigued with marching and hungry as well, so they lost no time in scattering among the houses and setting about preparing food in the deserted kitchens. The leaders took up their quarters in the state residence to rest.

After the first watch the wind began to blow. Soon after the gate guards reported that a fire had started.

“The careless men have let sparks fly about,” said Cao Ren.

He thought no more about it just then, but along came other reports of like nature, and soon he realized that fires breaking out in all quarters were not due to accident. So he gave orders to evacuate the city. Soon the whole city seemed on fire, and a red glow hung in the sky. The army was beset with fire fiercer than what Xiahou Dun had experienced at Bowang Slope.

Thrice wicked was Cao Cao, but he was bold;

Though all in the capital he controlled,

Yet with this he was not content,

So southward his ravaging army went.

But, the autumn wind aiding, the Spirit of Fire

Wrought to his army destruction dire.

Officers and troops dashing through the smoke and fire in utter confusion sought some way of escape, and hearing that the east gate was free, they made for that quarter. Out they rushed pell-mell, many being trodden down and trampled to death. Those who got through took the road to the east.

But presently there was a shouting behind them, and Zhao Zilong’s company came up and attacked. Then Cao Cao’s troops scattered, each fleeing for his life. No stand was made. A little later Mi Fang and Liu Feng came to take another toll. The fleeing Cao Ren then had very few followers, and those left him were scorched and burned.

They directed their way to the White River, joyfully remembering that the river was shallow and fordable. And they went down into the stream and drank their fill, humans shouting and horses neighing.

Meantime Guan Yu, higher up its course, had dammed the river with sandbags so that its waters were collected in a lake. Toward evening he had seen the red glow of the burning city and began to look out for his signal. About the fourth watch, he heard down stream the sounds of soldiers and horse and at once ordered the breaking of the dam. The water rushed down in a torrent and overwhelmed the men just then in the bed of the river. Many were swept away and drowned. Those who escaped made their way to where the stream ran gently and got away.

Presently Cao Ren and his troops reached the Boling Ferry. Here, where they thought there would be safety, they found the road barred.

“You Cao Cao brigands!” shouted Zhang Fei. “Come and receive your fate!”

Within the city the red flame leaps out;

On the river bank burning anger is met.

What happened will appear in later chapters.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 40 : Lady Cai Renounces Jingzhou; Zhuge Liang Burns Xinye.
Chapter 40 : Lady Cai Renounces Jingzhou; Zhuge Liang Burns Xinye.
Lady Cai Renounces Jingzhou; Zhuge Liang Burns Xinye.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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