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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 48 : Banquet On The Great River, Cao Cao Sings A Song; Battle On Water, Northerners Fight With Chained Ships.

Chapter 48 : Banquet On The Great River, Cao Cao Sings A Song; Battle On Water, Northerners Fight With Chained Ships.

In the last chapter Pang Tong was brought up with a sudden shock when someone seized him and said of his scheme. Upon turning to look at the man, Pang Tong saw it was Xu Shu, an old friend, and his heart revived.

Looking around and seeing no one near, Pang Tong said, “It would be a pity if you upset my plan. The fate of the people of all the eighty-one southern counties is in your hands.”
Xu Shu smiled, saying, “And what of the fate of these eight hundred thirty thousand soldiers and horse of the north?”

“Do you intend to wreck my scheme, Xu Shu?”

“I have never forgotten the kindness of Uncle Liu Bei, nor my oath to avenge the death of my mother at Cao Cao’s hands. I have said I would never think out a plan for him. So am I likely to wreck yours now, brother? But I have followed Cao Cao’s army thus far; and after they shall have been defeated, good and bad will suffer alike and how can I escape? Tell me how I can secure safety, and I sew up my lips and go away.”

Pang Tong smiled, “If you are as high-minded as that, there is no great difficulty.”

“Still I wish you would instruct me.”

So Pang Tong whispered something in his ear, which seemed to please Xu Shu greatly, for he thanked him most cordially and took his leave. Then Pang Tong betook himself to his boat and left for the southern shore.

His friend gone, Xu Shu mischievously spread certain rumors in the camp, and next day were to be seen everywhere soldiers in small groups, some talking, others listening, heads together and ears stretched out, till the camps seemed to buzz.

Some of the officers went to Cao Cao and told him, saying, “A rumor is running around the camps that Han Sui and Ma Teng are marching from Xiliang to attack the capital.”

This troubled Cao Cao, who called together his advisers to council.

Said he, “The only anxiety I have felt in this expedition was about the possible doings of Han Sui and Ma Teng. Now there is a rumor running among the soldiers, and though I know not whether it be true or false, it is necessary to be on one’s guard.”

At this point Xu Shu said, “You have been kind enough to give me an office, Sir, and I have really done nothing in return. If I may have three thousand troops, I will march at once to San Pass and guard this entrance. If there be any pressing matter, I will report at once.”

“If you would do this, I should be quite at my ease. There are already troops beyond the Pass, who will be under your command, and now I will give you three thousand of horse and foot, and Zang Ba shall lead the van and march quickly.”

Xu Shu took leave of the Prime Minister and left in company with Zang Ba. This was Pang Tong’s scheme to secure the safety of Xu Shu.

A poem says:

Cao Cao marched south, but at his back

There rode the fear of rear attack.

Pang Tong’s good counsel Xu Shu took,

And thus the fish escaped the hook.

Cao Cao’s anxiety diminished after he had thus sent away Xu Shu. Then he rode round all the camps, first the land forces and then the naval. He boarded one of the large ships and thereon set up his standard. The naval camps were arranged along two lines, and every ship carried a thousand bows and crossbows.

While Cao Cao remained with the fleet, it occurred the full moon of the eleventh month of the thirteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 208). The sky was clear; there was no wind; and the river lay unruffled. He prepared a great banquet, with music, and thereto invited all his leaders. As evening drew on, the moon rose over the eastern hills in its immaculate beauty, and beneath it lay the broad belt of the river like a band of pure silk. It was a great assembly, and all the guests were clad in gorgeous silks and embroidered robes, and the arms of the fighting soldiers glittered in the moonlight. The officers, civil and military, were seated in their proper order of precedence.

The setting, too, was exquisite. The Southern Hills were outlined as in a picture; the boundaries of Chaisang lay in the east; the river showed west as far as Xiakou; on the south lay the Fan Mountains, on the north was the Black Forest. The view stretched wide on every side.

Cao Cao’s heart was jubilant, and he harangued the assembly, saying, “My one aim since I enlisted my first small band of volunteers has been the removal of evil from the state, and I have sworn to cleanse the country and restore tranquillity. Now there is only left this land of the south to withstand me. I am at the head of a hundred legions. I depend upon you, gentlemen, and have no doubt of my final success. After I have subdued the South Land, there will be no trouble in all the country. Then we shall enjoy wealth and honor and revel in peace.”

They rose in a body and expressed their appreciation, saying, “We trust that you may soon report complete victory, and we shall all repose in the shade of your good fortune.”

In his elation, Cao Cao bade the servants bring more wine and they drank till late at night.

Warmed and mellowed, the host pointed to the south bank, saying, “Zhou Yu and Lu Su know not the appointed time. Heaven is aiding me bringing upon them the misfortune of the desertion of their most trusted friends.”

“O Prime Minister, say nothing of these things lest they become known to the enemy,” said Xun You.

But the Prime Minister only laughed.

“You are all my trusty friends,” said he, “both officers and humble attendants. Why should I refrain?”

Pointing to Xiakou, he continued, “You do not reckon for much with your puny force, Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang. How foolish of you to attempt to shake the Taishan Mountains!”

Then turning to his officers, he said, “I am now fifty-four; and if I get the South Land, I shall have the wherewithal to rejoice. In the days of long ago, the Patriarch Duke Qiao in the south and I were great friends, and we came to an agreement on certain matters, for I knew his two daughters —-Elder Qiao and Younger Qiao —-were lovely beyond words. Then by some means, they became wives to Sun Ce and Zhou Yu. But now my palace of rest is built on the River Zhang, and victory over the South Land will mean that I marry these two fair women. I will put them in the Bronze Bird Tower, and they shall rejoice my declining years. My desires will then be completely attained.”

He smiled at the anticipation.

Du Mu, a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, in one poem says:

A broken halberd buried in the sand,

With deep rust eaten,

Loud tells of ancient battles on the strand,

When Cao Cao was beaten.

Had eastern winds Zhou Yu’s plan refused to aid

And fan the blaze,

The two fair Qiaos, in the Bronze Bird’s shade,

Would have been locked at spring age.

But suddenly amid the merriment was heard the hoarse cry of a raven flying toward the south.

“Why does the raven thus cry in the night?” said Cao Cao to those about him.

“The moon is so bright that it thinks it is day,” said they, “and so it leaves its tree.”

Cao Cao laughed. By this time he was quite intoxicated. He set up his spear in the prow of the ship and poured a libation into the river and then drank three brimming goblets.

As he lowered the spear, he said, “This is the spear that broke up the Yellow Scarves, captured Lu Bu, destroyed Yuan Shao, and subdued Yuan Shu, whose armies are now mine. In the north it reached to Liaodong, and it stretched out over the whole south. It has never failed in its task. The present scene moves me to the depths, and I will sing a song in which you shall accompany me.”

And so he sang:

“When goblets are brimming then sang is near birth,

But life is full short and has few days of mirth,

Life goes as the dew drops fly swiftly away,

Beneath the glance of the glowing hot ruler of day.

Human’s life may be spent in the noblest enterprise,

But sorrowful thoughts in his heart oft arise.

Let us wash clean away the sad thoughts that intrude,

With bumpers of wine such as Du Kang once brewed.

Gone is my day of youthful fire

And still ungained is my desire.

The deer feed on the level plain

And joyful call, then feed again.

My noble guests are gathered round.

The air is trilled with joyful sound.

Bright my future lies before me.

As the moonlight on this plain;

But I strive in vain to reach it.

When shall I my wish attain?

None can answer; and so sadness

Grips my inmost heart again.

Far north and south,

Wide east and west,

We safety seek;

Vain is the quest.

Human’s heart oft yearns

For converse sweet.

And my heart burns

When old friends greet.

The stars are paled by the full moon’s light,

The raven wings his southward flight.

And thrice he circles round a tree,

No place thereon to rest finds he.

They weary not the mountains of great height,

The waters deep of depth do not complain,

Duke Zhou no leisure found by day or night

Stern toil is his who would the empire gain.”

The song made they sang it with him and were all exceedingly merry, save one guest who suddenly said, “When the great army is on the point of battle and lives are about to be risked, why do you, O Prime Minister, speak such ill words?”

Cao Cao turned quickly toward the speaker, who was Liu Fu, Imperial Protector of Yangzhou. This Liu Fu sprang from Hefei. When first appointed to his post, he had gathered in the terrified and frightened people and restored order. He had founded schools and encouraged the people to till the land. He had long served under Cao Cao and rendered valuable service.

When Liu Fu spoke, Cao Cao dropped his spear to the level and said, “What ill-omened words did I use?”

“You spoke of the moon paling the stars and the raven flying southward without finding a resting place. These are ill-omened words.”

“How dare you try to belittle my endeavor?” cried Cao Cao, very wrathful. And with that he smote Liu Fu with his spear and slew him.

The assembly broke up, and the guests dispersed in fear and confusion. Next day, when Cao Cao had recovered from his drunken bout, he was very grieved at what he had done. When the murdered man’s son, Liu Xi, came to crave the body of his father for burial, Cao Cao wept and expressed his sorrow.

“I am guilty of your father’s death. I was drunk yesterday. I regret the deed exceedingly. Your father shall be interred with the honors of a minister of the highest rank.”

Cao Cao sent an escort of soldiers to take the body to the homeland for burial.

A few days after, the two leaders of the naval force, Mao Jie and Yu Jin, came to say the ships were all connected together by chains as had been ordered, and all was now ready. They asked for the command to start.

Thereupon the leaders of both land and naval forces were assembled on board a large ship in the center of the squadron to receive orders. The various armies and squadrons were distinguished by different flags: Mao Jie and Yu Jin led the central naval squadron with yellow flag; Zhang He, the leading squadron, red flag; Lu Qian, the rear squadron, black flag; Wen Ping, the left squadron, blue flag; and Li Tong, the right squadron, white flag. On shore Xu Huang commanded the horsemen with red flag; Li Dian, the vanguard, black flag; Yue Jing, the left wing, blue flag; and Xiahou Yuan, the right wing, white flag. Xiahou Dun and Cao Hong were in reserve, and the general staff was under the leadership of Xu Chu and Zhang Liao. The other leaders were ordered to remain in camps, but ready for action.

All being ready, the squadron drums beat the roll thrice, and the ships sailed out under a strong northwest wind on a trial cruise. When they got among the waves, they were found to be as steady and immovable as the dry land itself. The northern soldiers showed their delight at the absence of motion by capering and flourishing their weapons. The ships moved on, the squadrons keeping quite distinct. Fifty light cruisers sailed to and fro keeping order and urging progress.

Cao Cao watched his navy from the Command Terrace and was delighted with their evolutions and maneuvers. Surely this meant complete victory. He ordered the recall and the squadrons returned in perfect order to their base.

Then Cao Cao went to his tent and summoned his advisers.

He said, “If Heaven had not been on my side, should I have got this excellent plan from the Young Phoenix? Now that the ships are attached firmly to each other, one may traverse the river as easily as walking on firm earth.”

“The ships are firmly attached to each other,” said Cheng Yu, “but you should be prepared for an attack by fire so that they can scatter to avoid it.”

Cao Cao laughed.

“You look a long way ahead,” said he, “but you see what cannot happen.”

“Cheng Yu speaks much to the point, my lord,” said Xun You. “Why do you laugh at him?”

Cao Cao said, “Anyone using fire depends upon the wind. This is now winter and only west winds blow. You will get neither east nor south winds. I am on the northwest, and the enemy is on the southeast bank. If they use fire, they will destroy themselves. I have nothing to fear. If it was the tenth moon, or early spring, I would provide against fire.”

“The Prime Minister is indeed wise,” said the others in chorus. “None can equal him.”

“With northern troops unused to shipboard, I could never have crossed the river but for this chaining plan,” said Cao Cao.

Then he saw two of the secondary leaders stand up, and they said, “We are from the north, but we are also sailors. Pray give us a small squadron, and we will seize some of the enemy’s flags and drums for you that we may prove ourselves adepts on the water.”

The speakers were two men who had served under Yuan Shao, named Jiao Chu and Zhang Neng.

“I do not think naval work would suit you two, born and brought up in the north,” said Cao Cao. “The southern soldiers are thoroughly accustomed to ships. You should not regard your lives as a child’s plaything.”

They cried, “If we fail, treat us according to army laws!”

“The fighting ships are all chained together, there are only small, twenty-men boats free. They are unsuitable for fighting.”

“If we took large ships, where would be the wonderful in what we will do? No! Give us a score of the small ships, and we will take half each and go straight to the enemy’s naval port. We will just seize a flag, slay a leader, and come home.”

“I will let you have the twenty ships and five hundred of good, vigorous marines with long spears and stiff crossbows. Early tomorrow the main fleet shall make a demonstration on the river, and I will also tell Wen Ping to support you with thirty ships.”

The two men retired greatly elated.

Next morning, very early, food was prepared, and at the fifth watch all was ready for a start. Then from the naval camp rolled out the drums and the gongs clanged, as the ships moved out and took up their positions, the various flags fluttering in the morning breeze. And the two intrepid leaders with their squadron of small scouting boats went down the lines and out into the stream.

Now a few days before the sound of Cao Cao’s drums had been heard on the southern bank, Zhou Yu had watched the maneuvers of the northern fleet on the open river from the top of a hill till the fleet had gone in again. So when the sound of drums was again heard, all the southern army went up the hills to watch the northern fleet. All they saw was a squadron of small ships bounding over the waves.

As the northern fleet came nearer, the news was taken to Zhou Yu who called for volunteers to go out against them. Han Dang and Zhou Tai offered themselves. They were accepted and orders were issued to the camps to remain ready for action but not to move till told.

Han Dang and Zhou Tai sailed out each with a small squadron of five ships in line.

The two braggarts from the north, Jiao Chu and Zhang Neng, really only trusted to their boldness and luck. Their ships came down under the powerful strokes of the oars. As they neared, the two leaders put on their heart-protectors, gripped their spears, and each took his station in the prow of the leading ship of his division. Jiao Chu’s ship led and as soon as he came near enough, his troops began to shoot at Han Dang, who fended off the arrows with his buckler. Jiao Chu twirled his long spear as he engaged his opponent. But, at the first thrust, he was killed.

His comrade Zhang Neng with the other ships was coming up with great shouts, when Zhou Tai sailed up at an angle, and these two squadrons began shooting arrows at each other in clouds. Zhou Tai fended off the arrows with his shield and stood gripping his sword firmly till his ships came within a few spans of the enemy’s ships, when he leaped across and cut down Zhang Neng. Zhang Neng’s dead body fell into the water. Then the battle became confused, and the attacking ships rowed hard to get away. The southerners pursued but soon came in sight of Wen Ping’s supporting fleet. Once more the ships engaged and the forces fought with each other.

Zhou Yu with his officers stood on the summit of a mountain and watched his own and the enemy ships out on the river. The flags and the ensigns were all in perfect order. Then he saw Wen Ping and his own fleets engaged in battle, and soon it was evident that the former was not a match for his own sailors. Wen Ping turned about to retire, Han Dang and Zhou Tai pursued. Zhou Yu fearing lest his sailors should go too far, then hoisted the white flag of recall.

To his officers Zhou Yu said, “The masts of the northern ships stand thick as reeds. Cao Cao himself is full of wiles. How can we destroy him?”

No one replied, for just then the great yellow flag that flapped in the breeze in the middle of Cao Cao’s fleet suddenly fell over into the river.

Zhou Yu laughed.

“That is a bad omen,” said he.

Then an extra violent blast of wind came by, and the waves rose high and beat upon the bank. A corner of his own flag flicked Zhou Yu on the cheek, and suddenly a thought flashed through his mind. Zhou Yu uttered a loud cry, staggered, and fell backward. They picked him up. There was blood upon his lips, and he was unconscious. Presently, however, he revived.

And once he laughed, then gave a cry,

This is hard to ensure a victory.

Zhou Yu’s fate will appear as the story unfolds.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 48 : Banquet On The Great River, Cao Cao Sings A Song; Battle On Water, Northerners Fight With Chained Ships.
Chapter 48 : Banquet On The Great River, Cao Cao Sings A Song; Battle On Water, Northerners Fight With Chained Ships.
Banquet On The Great River, Cao Cao Sings A Song; Battle On Water, Northerners Fight With Chained Ships.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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