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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 56 : Cao Cao Feasts In The Bronze Bird Tower; Zhuge Liang Provokes Zhou Yu A Third Time.

Chapter 56 : Cao Cao Feasts In The Bronze Bird Tower; Zhuge Liang Provokes Zhou Yu A Third Time.

The ambuscade into which Zhou Yu had fallen had been prepared by the orders of Zhuge Liang and was triple. However, Huang Gai and Han Dang contrived to get clear and found refuge in the ships, though with the loss of many troops. When Zhou Yu was in safety and looked about him, he saw Liu Bei and Lady Sun safely resting on a hilltop. How could such a sight fail to put him in a rage? And with the access of rage, his wound, not yet healed, burst open once again. He swooned and fell. They raised him and his ship set sail. Zhuge Liang ordered no pursuit, the southern fleet departed undisturbed, and Liu Bei proceeded to Jingzhou City, where were great rejoicings in honor of his recent marriage.
Meanwhile Zhou Yu had gone to Chaisang while Jiang Qin and those with him bore to Nanxu the sad tidings to Sun Quan. He was angry beyond words, and his first thought was to send an army under Cheng Pu to take Jingzhou. Zhou Yu also wrote from his sick bed urging his lord to take vengeance. But Zhang Zhao knew better and said it could not be done.

Said he, “Cao Cao has never forgotten his defeat at the Red Cliffs, but he dares not attempt to avenge himself while the Sun family are friendly with Liu Bei. If in any moment of anger you two fall upon each other, Cao Cao will certainly seize the opportunity and your position will be dangerous.”

Gu Yong supported Zhang Zhao, saying, “Beyond all doubt Cao Cao has his spies here. As soon as he hears of any rift in the friendship between the Sun and Liu families, he will desire to come to an understanding with the latter, and Liu Bei, who fears your power, will accept his offer and take his side. Such an alliance will be a continual menace to the land south of the river. No! The plan for the occasion is to secure the friendship of Liu Bei by memorializing that he be made Imperial Protector of Jingzhou. This will make Cao Cao afraid to send any army against the South Land. At the same time it will raise kindly feelings in the heart of Liu Bei and win his support. You will be able to find someone who will provoke a quarrel between Cao Cao and Liu Bei and set them at each other, and that will be your opportunity. In this way you will succeed.”

“These are good words,” said Sun Quan, “but have I a messenger who can accomplish such a mission?”

“There is such a man, one whom Cao Cao respects and loves.”

“Who is he?”

“What prevents you from employing Hua Xin? He is ready to hand.”

Wherefore Hua Xin was given letters and bidden go to the capital, Xuchang, whither he proceeded at once and sought to see Cao Cao. They told him that Cao Cao and all his friends were at Yejun, celebrating the completion of the Bronze Bird Tower. So thither he went.

Cao Cao had indeed never forgotten his great defeat at the Red Cliffs and nourished schemes to avenge it, but he feared the combination of his two chief enemies, and that fear restrained him.

In the spring of the fifteenth year (AD 210) the great Tower was completed, and Cao Cao invited a vast assembly to celebrate its inauguration with banquets and rejoicings. The feast was on the bank of River Zhang. The Bronze Bird Terrace stood in the center, flanked by two others named the Terrace of the Jade Dragon and the Terrace of the Golden Phoenix. Each tower was a hundred spans high, and two bridges connected them. Gold and jade vied with each other in the many apartments.

At the opening ceremony, Cao Cao wore a golden headdress inlaid with jewels and a robe of green brocaded silk, girded with a belt of jade. On his feet were pearl-encrusted shoes. So clad he took his seat as host, while his officers, civil and military, were drawn up below the terrace.

For the military officers was arranged an archery competition, and one of his attendants brought forth a robe of red crimson Xichuan silk as a prize. This was suspended from one of the drooping branches of a willow tree, beneath which was the target. The distance was a hundred paces. The competitors were divided into two bands, those of Cao Cao’s own family being dressed in red and the others in green. They all had carved bows and long arrows and were mounted. They stood holding in their steeds till the signal should be given for the games to begin. Each was to shoot one arrow, and the robe was the guerdon for hitting the target in the red; misses were to pay a forfeit of drinking a cup of cold water.

As soon as the signal was given, a red-robed youth rode quickly forth. He was Cao Xiu. Swiftly he galloped to and fro thrice. Then he adjusted the notch of his arrow to the string, pulled the bow to its full, and the arrow flew straight to the bull’s eye.

The clang of the gongs and the roll of the drums announced the feat, which astonished them all. And Cao Cao, as he sat on the terrace, was delighted.

“A very promising colt of my own,” said he to those about him, and he sent a messenger for the red robe that the winner might receive it from his own hands.

But suddenly from the green side rode out one who cried, “It were more fitting to let outsiders compete for the Prime Minister’s silken robe. It is not right that members of the family monopolize the contest.”

Cao Cao looked at the speaker, who was Wen Ping. And some of the officers cried, “Let us see what his shooting is like!”

So Wen Ping fitted an arrow to the string and fired also from horseback while galloping. To the surprise of the onlookers, he also made a bull’s eye, which was honored by another salute from gongs and drums.

“Quickly bring me the robe,” cried Wen Ping.

But at once from the ranks of the red-robed another competitor dashed forward, shouting fiercely, “How can you win what has been already won? But let me show you how I can shoot an arrow that shall overcome both your shots.”

He drew his bow to the full, and the arrow flew straight to the heart of the red. The surprised onlookers saw that this new competitor was Cao Hong, who now became also a claimant for the robe.

However, yet another archer came forth from the green-robed ranks, playing with his bow and crying, “What is there amazing in your shooting, you three? See how I can shoot.”

This man was Zhang He. He put his horse to the gallop, then turned his back and, shooting backwards, also hit the center of the red.

Thus four arrows were now sticking in the bull’s eye, and all agreed that it was marvelous archery.

“I think the robe should be mine,” said Zhang He.

Before he could finish speaking, a fifth competitor came out from the red robes and shouted, “You shot backwards; but that is commonplace enough. Look while I shoot better than you all.”

The speaker was Xiahou Yuan. He galloped off to the very limit, and then bending his body over backwards he sent his arrow right in among the other four.

As the gongs and drums broke out, Xiahou Yuan put aside his bow and rode up, saying, “Is not that a better shot than any of its predecessors?”

Then came out another from the greens who cried, “Leave the robe there for me, Xu Huang, to win!”

“What can you do that is better than my shot?” said Xiahou Yuan.

“That you hit the bull’s eye is no great feat. You will see me win the silken robe after all.”

So speaking, Xu Huang fitted an arrow to his bow. Then looking around, he aimed at the willow twig from which the robe hung down and shot thereat so true that his arrow cut it through, and the robe fluttered to the ground. At once Xu Huang dashed along, picked up the robe and slipped it on. Then riding swiftly to the terrace, he thanked the Prime Minister. No one present could withhold unstinted praise, and Xu Huang was turning to ride away.

But another green clad general leaped out, saying, “Where would you go with that robe? Quickly leave it for me!”

All eyes turned to this man who was Xu Chu.

Xu Huang cried, “The robe has already been adjudged to me. Would you dare take it by forces”

Xu Chu made no reply but galloped up to snatch the robe. As Xu Chu’s horse drew near, Xu Huang struck at his rival a blow with his bow. But Xu Chu seized the bow with one hand while with the other he simply lifted his opponent out of his seat. Wherefore Xu Huang let go the bow and the next moment lay sprawling on the ground. Xu Chu slipped out of the saddle too, and they began to pommel each other with their fists. Cao Cao sent one to separate them. But in the struggle, the robe had been torn and soiled. Cao Cao called the angry rivals before him; and they came, one darting fierce looks of hate, the other grinding his teeth with rage.

“Never mind the robe. I see only your magnificent courage,” said Cao Cao smiling. “What does a robe more or less matter?”

Whereupon Cao Cao called the generals to him one by one, and to each he presented a robe of Xichuan silk. They thanked him for the generous gifts, and he then commanded them to take their seats in due order. Then to the strains of a band of music, wherein each performer vied with all the others, the naval and military officers took their places. Civil officers of repute and generals of renown drank one to another, and hearty felicitations were exchanged.

Cao Cao looked around to those about him, saying, “Since the military officers have competed in mounted archery for our enjoyment and displayed their boldness and their skill, you, Gentlemen Scholars, stuffed full of learning as you are, can surely mount the terrace and present some complimentary odes to make the occasion a perfect success.”

“We are most willing to obey your commands,” they replied, all bowing low.

At that time there was a band of four scholars named Wang Lang, Zhong Yao, Wang Can, and Chen Lin, and each of them presented a poem. Every poem sang the praises of Cao Cao’s valuable services and great merits and said he was worthy to receive the highest trust of all.

When Cao Cao had read them, he laughed, saying, “You gentlemen are really too flattering. As a fact I am but an ignoramus who began life with a simple bachelor’s degree and recommendations for filial devotion. And when the troubles began, I built for myself a little cottage in the country near Qiao, where I could study in spring and summer and spend the rest of the year in hunting till the empire was once more tranquil and I could emerge and take office.

“To my surprise, I was chosen for a small military office which changed my intentions, and I determined to repress the rebellion and so make a name for myself. I thought that I might win an inscription on my tomb to the effect that it covered the remains of the ‘Lord Cao Cao Who Restores Order in the West.’ That would have been ample for a life’s work. I recall now how I destroyed Dong Zhuo and smote the Yellow Scarves; then I made away with Yuan Shu and broke the power of Lu Bu; next I exterminated Yuan Shao; and at the death of Liu Biao, I had subdued the whole empire.

“As a minister of state I have attained the topmost pinnacle of honor, and I have no more to hope for. Were it not for poor me, I know not how many there would be styling themselves emperors and dubbing themselves princes. Certain there be who, seeing my great authority, think I have some ulterior aim. But they are quite wrong. I ever bear in mind what Confucius said of King Wen of Zhou, that he was perfectly virtuous, and this saying is ever engraved on my mind. If I could, I would do away with my armies and retire to my fief with my simple title of Lord of Wuping. Alas! I cannot. I am afraid to lay down my military powers lest I should come to harm. Should I be defeated, the state would totter; and so I may not risk real misfortune for the sake of an empty reputation for kindness. There be some of you who do not know my heart.”

As he closed, they all rose and bowed their heads, saying, “None are your equals, O Prime Minister, not even Duke of Zhou or the great Minister Yi Yin.”

A poem has been written referring to this:

Had Duke Zhou, the virtuous, died, while foul-mouthed slander

was spreading vile rumors;

Or Wang Mang, the treacherous, while he was noted for the

deference paid to learned men;

None would have known their real characters.

After this oration Cao Cao drank many cups of wine in quick succession till he became very intoxicated. He bade his servants bring him brush and inkstone so that he might compose a poem.

But as he was beginning to write, they announced, “The Marquis of Wu has sent Hua Xin as an envoy and presented a memorial to appoint Liu Bei Imperial Protector of Jingzhou. Sun Quan’s sister is now Liu Bei’s wife, while on the River Han, the greater part of the nine territories is under Liu Bei’s rule.”

Cao Cao was seized with quaking fear at the news and threw the pen on the floor.

Cheng Yu said to him, “O Prime Minister, you have been among fighting soldiers by myriads and in danger from stones and arrows many a time and never quailed. Now the news that Liu Bei has got possession of a small tract of country throws you into a panic. Why is it thus?”

Cao Cao replied, “Liu Bei is a dragon among humans. All his life hitherto he has never found his element, but now that he has obtained Jingzhou: It is as if the dragon, once captive, had escaped to the mighty deep. There is good reason for me to quake with fear.”

“Do you know the reason of the coming of Hua Xin?” said Cheng Yu.

“No, I know not,” said the Prime Minister.

“Liu Bei is Sun Quan’s one terror, and Sun Quan would attack Liu Bei were it not for you, O Prime Minister. Sun Quan feels you would fall upon him while he was smiting his enemy. Wherefore he has taken this means of calming Liu Bei’s suspicions and fears and at the same time directing your enmity toward Liu Bei and from himself.”

Cao Cao nodded. “Yes,” he said.

Cheng Yu continued, “Now this is my plan to set Sun Quan and Liu Bei at one another and give you the opportunity to destroy both. It can be done easily.”

“What is your plan?” asked Cao Cao.

“The one prop of the South Land is Zhou Yu. Remove it by memorializing that Zhou Yu be appointed Governor of Nanjun. Then get Cheng Pu made Governor of Jiangxia, and cause the Emperor to retain this Hua Xin in the capital to await some important post. Zhou Yu will assuredly attack Liu Bei, and that will be our chance. Is not the scheme good?”

“Friend Cheng Yu, you are a man after my own heart.”

Wherefore Cao Cao summoned the emissary from the South Land and overwhelmed him with gifts. That day was the last of the feastings and merry-makings; and Cao Cao, with all the company, returned to the capital where he forthwith presented a memorial assigning Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu to the governorships of Nanjun and Jiangxia, and Hua Xin was retained at the capital with a post of ministry.

The messenger bearing the commissions for their new offices went down to the South Land, and both Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu accepted the appointments. Having taken over his command, the former thought all the more of the revenge he contemplated and, to bring matters to a head, he wrote to Sun Quan asking him to send Lu Su and renew the demand for the rendition of Jingzhou.

Wherefore Lu Su was summoned, and his master said to him, “You are the guarantor in the loan of Jingzhou to Liu Bei. He still delays to return it, and how long am I to wait?”

“The writing said plainly that the rendition would follow the occupation of Yizhou.”

Sun Quan shouted back, “Yes, it said so! But so far they have not moved a soldier to the attack. I will not wait till old age has come to us all.”

“I will go and inquire?” said Lu Su.

So he went down into a ship and sailed to Jingzhou.

Meanwhile Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang were at Jingzhou gathering in supplies from all sides, drilling their troops, and training their armies. From all quarters people of learning flocked to their side. In the midst of this they heard of Lu Su’s coming, and Liu Bei asked Zhuge Liang what he thought.

Zhuge Liang replied, “Just lately Sun Quan concerned himself with getting you appointed Imperial Protector of Jingzhou: That was calculated to inspire Cao Cao with fear. Cao Cao obtained for Zhou Yu the governorship of Nanjun: That was designed to stir up strife between our two houses and set us fighting so that he might accomplish his own ends. This visit of Lu Su means that Zhou Yu, having taken over his new governorship, wishes to force us out of this place.”

“Then how shall we reply?”

“If Lu Su introduces the subject, you will at once set up loud lamentations. When the sound of lamentation is at its height, I will appear and talk over your visitor.”

Thus they planned, and Lu Su was duly received with all honor.

When the salutations were over and host and guest were about to be seated, Lu Su said, “Sir, now that you are the husband of a daughter of Wu, you have become my lord, and I dare not sit in your presence.”

Liu Bei laughed. “You are an old friend,” said he. “Why this excessive humility?”

So Lu Su took his seat. And when tea had been served, the guest said, “I have come at the order of my master to discuss the subject of Jingzhou. You, O Imperial Uncle, have had the use of the place for a long time. Now that your two houses are allied by marriage, there should be the most friendly relations between you two, and you should hand it back to my master.”

At this Liu Bei covered his face and began to cry.

“What is the matter?” asked the guest.

Liu Bei only wept the more bitterly.

Then Zhuge Liang came in from behind a screen, saying, “I have been listening. Do you know why my lord weeps so bitterly?”

“Really I know not.”

“But it is easy to see. When my lord got the temporary occupation of Jingzhou, he gave the promise to return it when he had got the West River Land. But reflect. Liu Zhang of Yizhou is my lord’s younger brother, and both of them are blood relations of the ruling family. If my lord were to move an army to capture another region, he fears the blame of the ignorant. And if he yields this place before he has another, where could he rest? Yet while he retains this place, it seems to shame you. The thing is hard on both sides, and that is why he weeps so bitterly.”

The close of Zhuge Liang’s speech seemed to move Liu Bei to greater grief, for he beat his breast and stamped his feet and wept yet more bitterly.

Lu Su attempted to console him, saying, “Be not so distressed, O Uncle. Let us hear what Zhuge Liang can propose.”

Zhuge Liang said, “I would beg you to return to your master and tell him all. Tell him of this great trouble, and entreat him to let us stay here a little longer.”

“But suppose he refuses: What then?” said Lu Su.

“How can he refuse since he is related by marriage to my master?” said Zhuge Liang. “I shall expect to hear glad tidings through you.”

Lu Su was really the first of generous people. Seeing Liu Bei in such distress, he could do no other than consent and say he would do so. Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang both thanked him most cordially, and after a banquet the emissary went down into his ship to return.

On the way Lu Su called in to see Zhou Yu at Chaisang and told him.

But Zhou Yu stamped his foot with rage and said, “My friend, you have been fooled again. Long ago when Liu Bei was dependent on Liu Biao, he always cherished the intention to supplant him. Think you that he really pities Liu Zhang? This sort of evasive policy will certainly cause you much trouble. However, I have a scheme which I think Zhuge Liang will not be able to get the better of. Only you will have to make another journey.”

“I should be pleased to hear your fine scheme,” said Lu Su.

“Do not go to see our master. Return to Jingzhou and say to Liu Bei that since his family and the Suns are related by marriage, they really form but one house, and since he has qualms about attacking the west, we will do it for him. Thus, the South Land will march an army under this pretext, but really go to Jingzhou, and we shall take him unprepared. The road to the west runs through his city, and we will call upon him for supplies. He will come out to thank the army, and we will assassinate him whereby we shall revenge ourselves and at the same time remove a source of future evil.”

This seemed an excellent plan to Lu Su, and he returned at once to Jingzhou. Before receiving him, Liu Bei talked over the matter with his adviser.

Said Zhuge Liang, “Lu Su has not seen the Marquis of Wu. He has called in at Chaisang, and he and Zhou Yu have decided upon some scheme, which he is to talk you into accepting. However, let him talk. You, my lord, only watch me; and when I nod my head, then you agree to whatever he may propose.”

Lu Su was then admitted and said, “The Marquis of Wu praises the noble virtue of the Imperial Uncle; and after consultation with his officers, he has determined to take the western country on the Imperial Uncle’s behalf and, that done, Jingzhou can be exchanged for it without further delay. However, when the army marches through, it will be expected of you to contribute some necessary supplies.”

Zhuge Liang here nodded his head rapidly, at the same time saying, “We could hardly have hoped for such kindness.”

And Liu Bei saluted with joined hands and said, “This is due to your friendly efforts on our behalf.”

“When the brave army arrives, we shall certainly come out to meet it and entertain the soldiers,” said Zhuge Liang.

Lu Su felt great satisfaction and was quite happy at his success. He took his leave and went homeward. But Liu Bei as yet did not understand.

“What is their intention?” said he.

His adviser smiled, saying, “Zhou Yu’s end is very near. The ruse he is now trying would not take in a child.”


“This is the ruse known as ‘Borrow a Road to Destroy the Host’. Under the pretense of taking the west, they intend to capture this place; and when you go out to compliment the army, you will be seized and they will dash into the city which they hope to find unprepared.”

“And what are we to do?”

“Have no anxiety, my lord. All we have to do is to prepare a hidden bow to get the fierce tiger; to spread the enticing bait to hook the great leviathan. Wait till Zhou Yu comes. If he is not killed, he will be nine-tenths a corpse. We will call in Zhao Zilong for orders and give him secret instructions, and I will dispose the others.”

And Liu Bei was glad.

Let Zhou Yu lay what plans he will,

Zhuge Liang anticipates his skill;

That land of rivers fair bait did look,

But he forgot the hidden hook.

Lu Su hastened back to Zhou Yu to tell him that all was going as he desired and Liu Bei would come out to welcome the army.

Zhou Yu laughed with glee, saying, “At last! Now they will fall into my trap.”

Zhou Yu bade Lu Su prepare a petition for the information of the Marquis, and he ordered Cheng Pu to bring up reinforcements. He himself had nearly recovered from the arrow wound and felt well. He made his dispositions for the advance, appointing Gan Ning Van Leader, Xu Sheng and Ding Feng the Commanders of the body, and Ling Tong and Lu Meng Rear Guards. The army numbered fifty thousand troops, and Zhou Yu marched with the second division. While voyaging in his ship, he was always smiling to think how he was to have Zhuge Liang at last.

At Xiakou he inquired, “Is there anyone to welcome the brave army?”

They told him, “The Imperial Uncle has sent Mi Zhu to greet us.”

And Mi Zhu was called.

“What of the preparations for the army?” asked Zhou Yu as soon as Mi Zhu came.

“My master has seen to that. All is prepared,” said Mi Zhu.

“Where is the Imperial Uncle?” asked Zhou Yu.

“He is at the city of Jingzhou, waiting outside the walls to offer you the cup of greeting.”

“This expedition is on your account,” said Zhou Yu. “When one undertakes so long a march and such a task, the rewards for the army must be very substantial.”

Having got this idea of what Zhou Yu expected, Mi Zhu returned to his own city, while the southern battle ships in close order sailed up the river and took their places along the bank. As they went on, the most perfect tranquillity seemed to reign on all sides. Not a ship was visible anywhere, and no one hindered. Zhou Yu pressed forward till he came quite near Jingzhou, and still the wide river lay calm. But the spies who came back reported two white flags flying on the city walls.

Still not a person was seen, and Zhou Yu began to feel suspicious. He had his ship navigated in shore, and he himself landed on the bank, where he mounted a horse and, with a small army of three thousand veterans under Gan Ning, Xu Sheng, and Ding Feng, traveled along the land road.

By and bye he came to the city wall. There was no sign of life. Reining in his steed, he bade them challenge the gate.

Then someone from the wall asked, “Who is there?”

The soldiers of the South Land replied, “The Commander-in-Chief of the South Land, Zhou Yu, in person.”

Immediately was heard the thud of a club, and the wall became alive with troops all armed. And from the tower came out Zhao Zilong who said, “Why are you here, General?”

“I am going to take the west for you,” replied Zhou Yu. “Do you not know?”

“The Directing Instructor knows that you want to try the ruse of ‘Borrow a Road to Destroy the Host’. And so he stationed me here. And my master bade me say that he and the ruler of the West River Land are both members of the reigning family so that he could not think of such baseness as attacking Yizhou. If you people of the South Land do so, he will be forced to go away into the mountains and become a recluse. He could not bear to lose the confidence of humankind.”

At this Zhou Yu turned his horse as if to return. Just then his scouts came up to report: “Armed bands are moving toward us from all four sides, led by Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Huang Zhong, and Wei Yan. Their number is unknown, but the sound of their tramping shakes the heavens. They say they want to capture the Commander-in-Chief.”

At these tidings Zhou Yu’s excitement became so intense that he fell to the ground with a great cry, and the old wound reopened.

The game was now too deep; in vain he sought

A countermove; his efforts came to nought.

Later chapters will show what was Zhou Yu’s fate.



Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Chapter 56 : Cao Cao Feasts In The Bronze Bird Tower; Zhuge Liang Provokes Zhou Yu A Third Time.
Chapter 56 : Cao Cao Feasts In The Bronze Bird Tower; Zhuge Liang Provokes Zhou Yu A Third Time.
Cao Cao Feasts In The Bronze Bird Tower; Zhuge Liang Provokes Zhou Yu A Third Time.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
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