In A Plum Garden, Cao Cao Discusses Heroes;
"Who is it?" was the question on the lips of the conspirators.
Ma Teng's reply was, "The Imperial Protector of Yuzhou, Liu Bei. He is here and we will ask him to help."
"Though he is an uncle of the Emperor, he is at present a partisan of our enemy, and he will not join," said Dong Cheng.
"But I saw something at the hunt," said Ma Teng. "When Cao Cao advanced to acknowledge the congratulations due to the Emperor, Liu Bei's sworn brother Guan Yu was behind him, and grasped his sword as if to cut down Cao Cao. However, Liu Bei signed to him to hold his hand and Guan Yu did. Liu Bei would willingly destroy Cao Cao, only he thinks Cao Cao's teeth and claws are too many. You must ask Liu Bei, and he will surely consent."
Here Wu Shi urged caution, saying, "Do not go too fast. Let us consider the thing most carefully."
They dispersed. Next day after dark Dong Cheng went to Liu Bei's lodging taking with him the decree. As soon as Dong Cheng was announced, Liu Bei came to greet him and led him into a private room where they could talk freely. The two younger brothers were there as well.
"It must be something unusually important that has brought Uncle Dong Cheng here tonight," said Liu Bei.
"If I had ridden forth by daylight, Cao Cao might have suspected something, so I came by night."
Wine was brought in, and while they were drinking, Dong Cheng said, "Why did you check your brother the other day at the hunt, when he was going to attack Cao Cao?"
Liu Bei was startled and said, "How did you know?"
"Nobody noticed but I saw."
Liu Bei could not prevaricate and said, "It was the presumption of the man that made my brother so angry. Guan Yu could not help it."
The visitor covered his face and wept.
"Ah," said he, "if all the court ministers were like Guan Yu, there would be no sighs for lack of tranquillity."
Now Liu Bei felt that possibly Cao Cao had sent his visitor to try him, so he cautiously replied, "Where are the sighs for lack of tranquillity while Cao Cao is at the head of affairs?"
Dong Cheng changed color and rose from his seat.
"You, Sir, are a relative of His Majesty, and so I showed you my inmost feelings. Why did you mislead me?"
But Liu Bei said, "Because I feared you might be misleading me, and I wanted to find out."
At this Dong Cheng drew out the decree he had received and showed it. His host was deeply moved. Then Dong Cheng produced the pledge. There were only six names to it, and these were Dong Cheng, Wang Zifu, Chong Ji, Wu Shi, Wu Zilan, and Ma Teng.
"Since you have a decree like this, I cannot but do my share," said Liu Bei, and at Dong Cheng's request he added his name and signature to the others and handed it back.
"Now let us but get three more, which will make ten, and we shall be ready to act."
"But you must move with great caution and not let this get abroad," said Liu Bei.
The two remained talking till an early hour in the morning when the visitor left.
Now in order to put Cao Cao quite off the scent that any plot against him was in progress, Liu Bei began to devote himself to gardening, planting vegetables, and watering them with his own hands. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei ventured to remonstrate with him for taking to such an occupation when great matters needed attention.
"The reason for this you may not know," replied he.
And they said no more.
One day when the two brothers were absent, and Liu Bei was busy in his garden, two generals of Cao Cao, Xu Chu and Zhang Liao, with an escort came from Cao Cao, saying, "The command of the Prime Minister is that you come at once."
"What important affair is afoot?" asked Liu Bei nervously.
"We know nothing. We were ordered to come and request your presence."
All he could do was to follow.
When Liu Bei arrived, Cao Cao met him and laughingly said, "That is a big business you have in hand at home."
This remark made Liu Bei turn the color of clay. Cao Cao took him by the hand and led him straight to the private garden, saying, "The growth of vegetables that you are trying to learn is very difficult."
Liu Bei breathed again. He said, "That is hardly a business. It is only a solace."
Cao Cao said, "I happened to notice the green plums on the trees today, and suddenly my thoughts went back to a year ago when we were thrashing Zhang Xiu. We were marching through a parched county, and everyone was suffering from thirst. Suddenly I lifted my whip, and pointing at something in the distance I said, 'Look at those fruitful plum trees in the forest ahead.' The soldiers heard it, and it made their mouths water. Seeing the plums kindles my appreciation. I owe something to the plums, and we will repay it today. I ordered the servants to heat some wine very hot and sent to invite you to share it."
Liu Bei was quite composed by this time and no longer suspected any sinister design. He went with his host to a small spring pavilion in a plum garden, where the wine cups were already laid out and green plums filled the dishes. They sat down to a confidential talk and free enjoyment of their wine.
As they drank, the weather gradually changed, clouds gathering and threatening rain. The servants pointed out a mass of cloud that looked like a dragon hung in the sky. Both host and guest leaned over the balcony looking at it.
"Do you understand the evolution of dragons?" asked Cao Cao of the guest.
"Not in detail."
"A dragon can assume any size, can rise in glory or hide from sight. Bulky, it generates clouds and evolves mist; attenuated, it can scarcely hide a mustard stalk or conceal a shadow. Mounting, it can soar to the empyrean; subsiding, it lurks in the uttermost depths of the ocean. This is the midspring season, and the dragon chooses this moment for its transformations like a person realizing his own desires and overrunning the world. The dragon among animals compares with the hero among people. You, General, have traveled all lakes and rivers. You must know who are the heroes of the present day, and I wish you would say who they are."
"I am just a common dullard. How can I know such things?"
"Do not be so modest," said Cao Cao.
"Thanks to your kindly protection I have a post at court. But as to heroes I really do not know who they are."
"You may not have looked upon their faces, but you must have heard their names."
"Yuan Shu of the South of River Huai, with his strong army and abundant resources: Is he one?" asked Liu Bei.
His host laughed, "A rotting skeleton in a graveyard. I shall put him out of the way shortly."
"Well, Yuan Shao then. The highest offices of state have been held in his family for four generations, and his clients are many in the empire. He is firmly posted in Jizhou, and he commands the services of many able people. Surely he is one."
"A bully, but a coward. He is fond of grandiose schemes, but is devoid of decision. He makes for great things but grudges the necessary sacrifice. He loses sight of everything else in view of a little present advantage. He is not one."
"There is Liu Biao of Jingzhou. He is renowned as a man of perfection, whose fame has spread on all sides. Surely he is a hero."
"He is a mere semblance, a man of vain reputation. No; not he."
"Sun Ce is a sturdy sort, the chief of all in the South Land. Is he a hero?"
"He has profited by the reputation of his father Sun Jian. Sun Ce is not a real hero."
"What of Liu Zhang of Yizhou?"
"Though he is of the reigning family, he is nothing more than a watch dog. How could you make a hero of him?"
"What about Zhang Xiu, Zhang Lu, Han Sui, and all those leaders?"
Cao Cao clapped his hands and laughed very loudly, saying, "Paltry people like them are not worth mentioning."
"With these exceptions I really know none."
"Now heroes are the ones who cherish lofty designs in their bosoms and have plans to achieve them. They have all-embracing schemes, and the whole world is at their mercy."
"Who is such a person?" said Liu Bei.
Cao Cao pointed his finger first at his guest and then at himself, saying, "The only heroes in the world are you and I."
Liu Bei gasped, and the spoon and chopsticks rattled to the floor. Now just at that moment the storm burst with a tremendous peal of thunder and rush of rain.
Liu Bei stooped down to recover the fallen articles, saying, "What a shock! And it was quite close."
"What! Are you afraid of thunder?" said Cao Cao.
Liu Bei replied, "The Sage One paled at a sudden peal of thunder or fierce gust of wind. Why should one not fear?"
Thus he glossed over the real fact, that it was the words he had heard that had so startled him.
Constrained to lodge in a tiger's lair,
The shower had passed, and there appeared two men rushing through the garden, both armed. In spite of the attendants, they forced their way to the pavilion where sat the two friends. They were Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.
The two brothers had been outside the city at archery practice when Cao Cao's invitation had come so peremptorily. On their return they heard that two officers had arrived and led away Liu Bei to the Prime Minister. They hastened to his palace and were told their brother was with his host in the grounds, and they feared something had happened. So they rushed in.
Now when they saw their brother quietly talking with Cao Cao and enjoying a cup of wine, they took up their usual places and meekly stood waiting.
"Why did you come?" said Cao Cao.
"We heard that you, Sir, had invited our brother to a wine party, and we came to amuse you with a little sword play," said they.
[e] At that time Liu Bang, Governor of Pei, and Xiang Yu, King of West Chu, were fighting Qin under the Chu banner. Liu Bang was the first commander who entered Qin's capital, Xianyang. The loss of this honor enraged Xiang Yu, and he was set to attack Liu Bang's force. But his uncle Xiang Ba wanted to mediate the situation, and Xiang Ba invited Liu Bang to visit Xiang Yu's camp in Hongmen. During a banquet at Hongmen, Xiang Yu's adviser Fan Zeng ordered Xiang Chang to perform a sword-dance and take the chance to kill Liu Bang. However, as Xiang Chang closed in Liu Bang, Xiang Ba rose to perform another sword-dance and fend off the attack. Just then Liu Bang's general Fan Kuai bursted in, armed and angry-looking. Fan Kuai proclaimed his lord's achievements and denounced the murder plot. In the confusion, Liu Bang slipped away and rushed back to his camp. .....
"This is not a Hongmen Banquet," replied Cao Cao. "What use have we for Xiang Chang and Xiang Ba of old?*"
Liu Bei smiled. The host ordered wine to be served to the two "Fan Kuais" to allay their anxiety and, soon after, the three took their leave and returned homeward.
"We were nearly frightened to death," said Guan Yu.
The story of the dropped chopsticks was told. The two asked what their brother intended by his actions.
"My learning gardening was to convince Cao Cao of my perfect simplicity and the absence of any ambition. But when he suddenly pointed to me as one of the heroes, I was startled, for I thought he had some suspicions. Happily the thunder at that moment supplied the excuse I wanted."
"Really you are very clever," said they.
Next day Cao Cao again invited Liu Bei and while the two were drinking, Man Chong, who had been dispatched to find out what Yuan Shao was doing, came to present his report.
Man Chong said, "Gongsun Zan has been completely defeated by Yuan Shao."
"Do you know the details? I should like to know how," interrupted Liu Bei.
"They were at war, and Gongsun Zan got the worst of it, so he acted on the defensive, building a high wall about his army and on that erecting a high tower, which he called the Yijing Tower. Therein he placed all his grain, one hundred thousand carts total, and took up his own quarters. His fighting troops passed in and out without ceasing, some going out to give battle, others returning to rest. One of them was surrounded and sent to ask Gongsun Zan to rescue him. Gongsun Zan said, 'If I rescue him, hereafter everyone will want to be helped and will not exert himself.' So Gongsun Zan did not go. This disgusted his soldiers, and many deserted to the enemy so that his army diminished. He sent letters to the capital to crave help, but the messenger was captured. He sent to Zhang Yan to arrange with him for a two-pronged joint attack, and those letters with the plans also fell into Yuan Shao's hands. The plans were adopted by Yuan Shao, who gave the signals agreed upon. Thus Gongsun Zan fell into an ambush, lost heavily, and retreated into the city. There he was besieged, and a subterranean passage was pierced into the tower where he lodged. The tower was set on fire, and Gongsun Zan could not escape. So he slew his wife and little ones and hanged himself. The flames destroyed the bodies of the whole family.
"Yuan Shao has added the remnants of the vanquished army to his own and so become yet stronger. His brother Yuan Shu in the South of River Huai, however, has become so arrogant and cruel that the people have turned against him. Then Yuan Shu had sent to say he would yield the title of Emperor, which he had assumed, in favor of Yuan Shao. Yuan Shao demanded the Imperial Hereditary Seal also, and Yuan Shu promised to bring it in person. Now Yuan Shu has abandoned River Huai and is about to move to the North of Yellow River. If he succeeded, the two brothers will control adjoining regions and be dangerous."
It was a sad story, and Liu Bei remembered with sorrow that, in the days of success and prosperity, the dead chieftain, Gongsun Zan, had pushed his interest and shown him much kindness. Moreover he was anxious to know the fate of Zhao Yun.
In his heart he thought, "What better chance am I likely to get of setting myself free?"
So Liu Bei rose and said to Cao Cao, "If Yuan Shu goes over to join his brother, he will surely pass through Xuzhou. I beg you to give me an army with which to smite him on the way. That will finish Yuan Shu."
"Memorialize the Emperor tomorrow, and I will give you an army," said Cao Cao.
So next day Liu Bei went to an audience, and Cao Cao gave him command of fifty thousand horse and foot, and sent Generals Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao with him.
At parting with Liu Bei, the Emperor shed tears.
As soon as Liu Bei reached his lodging, he set about preparations for immediate departure, taking his seal as General and preparing his weapons. Dong Cheng went three miles away from the city to bid him farewell.
"You must not mind my going. This journey will assuredly help on the scheme," said Liu Bei.
"Keep your mind fixed on that," said Dong Cheng, "and never forget what His Majesty requires of us."
They parted. Presently his brothers asked him why he was in such a hurry to get away.
Liu Bei replied, "I have been a bird in a cage, a fish in a net. This is like the fish regaining the open sea and the bird soaring into the blue sky. I suffered much from the confinement."
Then he ordered Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao to march the troops faster.
Now Guo Jia and Cheng Yu had been absent inspecting stores and supplies when Liu Bei left. As soon as they heard of his expedition, they went in to see their master, asking him why he had let Liu Bei go in command of an army.
"He is going to cut off Yuan Shu," replied Cao Cao.
"Formerly, when he was Imperial Protector of Yuzhou, we recommended that he should be put to death, but you would not hear of it. Now you have given him an army. You have allowed the dragon to reach the sea, the tiger to return to the mountains. What control will you have in future?"
So spoke Cheng Yu, and Guo Jia followed in the same strain, saying, "Even if you would not put him to death, you need not have let him go. As the proverb says, 'Relax opposition for one day and age-long harm ensues.' You must admit the truth of this."
Cao Cao recognized that these were prudent counsels, so he sent Xu Chu with five hundred horsemen and imperative orders to bring Liu Bei back again.
Liu Bei was marching as rapidly as possible when he noticed a cloud of dust in the rear and remarked to his brothers, "Surely they are pursuing us."
He halted and made a stockade, and ordered his brothers to be in readiness, one on each flank. Presently the messenger arrived and found himself in the midst of an army ready for battle. Xu Chu dismounted and entered the camp to speak with Liu Bei.
"Sir, on what business have you come?" asked Liu Bei.
"The Prime Minister has sent me to request you to return as he has further matters to discuss with you."
"When a general has once taken the field, even the royal command is of no effect. I bade farewell to the Emperor, I received the Prime Minister's commands, and there can be nothing further to talk about. You may return forthwith and take that as my reply."
Xu Chu was undecided what action to take. He thought, "The Prime Minister cherishes a friendship with Liu Bei, and I have no orders to kill. I can only return with this reply and ask further instructions."
So Xu Chu left. When he related what had occurred, Cao Cao still hesitated to take any action.
"This refusal to return means enmity," said Cheng Yu and Guo Jia.
"Still, two of my people are with him," said Cao Cao. "He will not dare do anything unfriendly, I think. Beside, I sent him and I cannot go back on my own orders."
So Liu Bei was not pursued.
He took his arms, he fed his steed,
As soon as Ma Teng heard that Liu Bei had set forth, he reported that pressing business called him and marched back to his own region, Xiliang.
When Liu Bei reached Xuzhou, the Deputy Imperial Protector, Che Zhou, came to meet him. When the official banquet was over, Sun Qian and Mi Zhu paid their visit to Che Zhou. Then Liu Bei proceeded to his residence to greet his family.
Scouts were sent out to see what Yuan Shu was doing. They came back with the intelligence: "Yuan Shu's arrogance had driven away his generals, Lei Bo and Chen Lan, who had returned to their mountain fastness in Mount Song. His forces thus reduced, he wrote resigning the imperial style he had assumed in favor of his brother Yuan Shao, who at once commanded his presence. Thereupon he packed up the palace fittings he had made, got the remnants of his army in order, and marched west."
When Yuan Shu neared Xuzhou, Liu Bei led out his force of fifty thousand soldiers and four generals---Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhu Ling, and Lu Zhao. Yuan Shu sent out Ji Ling to force a way through. But Zhang Fei opposed him and attacked without a parley. In the tenth bout Zhang Fei cut down Ji Ling. The defeated troops fled in all directions.
Then Yuan Shu came up with his own army. Liu Bei placed Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao in command of the left wing, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei the right wing, and himself in the center, and so met Yuan Shu.
As soon as the enemy came near, Liu Bei began to abuse him, crying, "O rebellious one, and wicked, I have a command to destroy you! Yield, then, with good grace and so escape your punishment!"
"Base weaver of mats and mean maker of straw sandals! How dare you make light of me?" replied Yuan Shu, and he gave the signal for an attack.
Liu Bei retired, and his generals from the flanks closed in. They smote the army of Yuan Shu till corpses littered the plain and blood flowed in streams. At the same time Yuan Shu's former generals, Lei Bo and Chen Lan from Mount Song, attacked the baggage train and completed the destruction. Yuan Shu tried to retreat to Shouchun, but Lei Bo and Chen Lan barred the road.
Yuan Shu sought refuge in Jiangling, with one thousand troops left of all his army. And these were the weakly ones, able neither to fight nor flee. It was then the height of summer, and their food was nearly exhausted. The whole provision consisted of thirty carts of wheat. This was made over to the soldiers, and the members of his household went hungry. Many died of actual starvation. Yuan Shu could not swallow the coarse food that the soldiers lived on. One day he bade his cook bring him some honeyed water to quench his thirst.
"There is no water, save that tainted with blood," replied the cook. "Where can I get honeyed water?"
This was the last straw. Yuan Shu sat up on his couch and rolled out on the floor with a loud cry. Blood gushed from his mouth and thus he died. It was the sixth month of the fourth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 199).
The last days of Han approached and
weapons clashed in every quarter,
Yuan Shu being dead, his nephew, Yuan Yin, taking his coffin and his wife and children, sought shelter in Lujiang. There the Magistrate, Xu Liu, slew all the survivors. Among the possessions Xu Liu found the Imperial Hereditary Seal, which he at once took to the capital and presented to Cao Cao, for which service he was made Governor of Gaoling. Since then the Imperial Hereditary Seal belonged to Cao Cao.
When Liu Bei heard that Yuan Shu was dead, he prepared a report to the Throne, and sent it to Cao Cao. He sent the two generals deputed by Cao Cao, Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao, back to the capital, keeping the army to defend Xuzhou. He also personally went through the countryside commanding the people to resume their ordinary avocations.
Cao Cao was angry when his two officers returned without their man and was going to put them to death. Xun Yu reasoned with him.
"The power was in Liu Bei's hands, and so these two had no alternative," said Xun Yu.
So they were pardoned.
"You should instruct Che Zhou, the Deputy Imperial Protector, to try to destroy him," said Xun Yu.
Accordingly he sent secret orders to Che Zhou, who took Chen Deng into his confidence and asked his advice.
Chen Deng said, "That is easy. Liu Bei is outside the city, and an ambush in the city gate to attack him on his return from the country will be final. I will attack the escort with arrows from the city walls."
Che Zhou agreed to try this.
Then Chen Deng went to his father to tell him. Chen Gui bade him go and warn the intended victim. Chen Deng at once rode away to do so. Before long he met Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, to whom he told his story.
Now Liu Bei was following some distance behind. As soon as Zhang Fei heard of the plot, he wanted to attack the ambush, but Guan Yu proposed another plan.
Said he, "Attacking the ambush will be a failure, since we are without the walls. And I think we can compass the death of Che Zhou. In the night we will pretend to be some of Cao Cao's soldiers and entice him out to meet us. We will slay him."
Zhang Fei approved of the plan. Now the soldiers still had some of Cao Cao's army banners and wore similar armor. About the third watch they came to the city wall and hailed the gate. Those on guard asked who they were. The men replied that they were Zhang Liao's troops sent from the capital. This was told Che Zhou who sent hastily for Chen Deng to ask his advice.
"If I do not receive them, they will suspect my loyalty," said Che Zhou. "Yet if I go out, I may be victim of a ruse."
So he went up on the wall and said, "It is too dark to distinguish friends from foes. You must wait till daylight."
"If Liu Bei know our presence, he will attack," shouted back the soldiers.
And they begged him to let them in. Still Che Zhou hesitated. They shouted louder than ever to open the gate.
Presently Che Zhou girded on his armor, placed himself at the head of one thousand cavalry and went out. He galloped over the bridge, shouting, "Where is Zhang Liao?"
Then lights blazed around, and he recognized Guan Yu with his sword drawn.
"Wretch!" cried Guan Yu. "You would plot to slay my brother, would you?"
Che Zhou was too frightened to make good defense, and he turned to reenter the gate. But as he reached the drawbridge, Chen Deng shot out flights of arrows, wherefore Che Zhou turned aside and galloped along under the wall. But Guan Yu came quickly in pursuit. His sword was raised aloft, and as it came down, Che Zhou fell to the earth.
Guan Yu cut off his head and returned, shouting, "I have slain the traitor. You others need not fear if you only surrender!"
They threw aside their spears and gave in. As soon as the excitement had calmed, Guan Yu took the head to show Liu Bei and told him the story of the plot.
"But what will Cao Cao think of this?" said Liu Bei. "And he may come."
"If he does, we can meet him," said Guan Yu.
But Liu Bei was grieved beyond measure. When he entered the city, the elders of the people knelt in the road to welcome him. When he reached his residence, he found that Zhang Fei had already exterminated the family of Che Zhou.
Liu Bei said, "We have slain one of Cao Cao's best officers, and how will he stand that?"
"Never mind!" cried Chen Deng. "I have a plan."
The plan proposed by Chen Deng will be disclosed next.
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