A Falling Star: The Prime Minister Ascends To
The unhappy Wei Yan did not suffer the edge of the sword, for Zhuge Liang stayed the stroke, saying, "It is my fate---not his fault."
So Jiang Wei put up his sword.
Zhuge Liang spat a few mouthfuls of blood, then sank wearily upon his couch.
Said he, "Sima Yi thinks I am dead, and he sent these few troops to make sure. Go and drive them off."
Wei Yan left the tent and led out a small party to drive away the troops of Wei, who fled as they appeared. He chased them to more than seven miles and returned. Then Zhuge Liang sent Wei Yan to his own camp and bade him keep a vigilant lookout.
Presently Jiang Wei came in, went up to the sick man's couch, and asked how he felt.
Zhuge Liang replied, "My death is very near. My chief desire has been to spend myself to the utmost to restore Han to its glory and to regain the Middle Land. But Heaven decrees it otherwise. My end is not far away. I have written a book in twenty-four chapters, 104,112 words, treating the Eight Needfuls, the Seven Cautions, the Six Fears, and the Five Dreads of war. But among all those about me there is no one fit to receive it and carry on my work save you. I pray you not to despise it."
He gave the treatise to Jiang Wei, who received it sobbing.
"I have also a plan for a multiple crossbow, which I have been unable to execute. The weapon shoots ten bolts of eight inches length at every discharge. The sketches are quite ready, and the weapons can be made according to them."
Jiang Wei took the papers with a deep bow.
The dying man continued, "There is no part of Shu that causes anxiety, save the Yinping Mountains. That must be carefully guarded. It is protected naturally by its lofty precipices, but it will surely be the cause of great losses."
Next Zhuge Liang sent for Ma Dai, to whom he gave certain whispered instructions, and then said, "You are to follow out my instructions after my death."
Soon after, Yang Yi entered the tent and went to the couch. He received a silken bag containing certain secret orders.
As Zhuge Liang gave it to him, he said, "After my death, Wei Yan will turn traitor. When that happens and the army is in danger, you will find herein what to do."
Just as these arrangements were finished, Zhuge Liang fell into a swoon, from which he did not revive till late in the evening. Then he set himself to compose a memorial to the Latter Ruler.
When this reached the Latter Ruler, he was greatly alarmed and at once sent Chief Secretary Li Fu to visit and confer with the dying minister.
Li Fu traveled quickly to the Wuzhang Hills and was led to the tent of the Commander-in-Chief. He delivered the Latter Ruler's command and inquired after the sick man's welfare.
Zhuge Liang wept, and he replied, "Unhappily I am dying and leaving my task incomplete. I am injuring my country's policy and am in fault to the world. After my death you must aid the Emperor in perfect loyalty, and see that the old policy is continued, and the rules of government maintained. Do not lightly cast out the people I have employed. My plans of campaign have been confided to Jiang Wei, who can continue my policy for the service of the state. But my hour draws near, and I must write my testament."
Li Fu listened, and then took his leave.
Zhuge Liang made one final effort to carry out his duties. He rose from his couch, was helped into a small carriage, and thus made a round of inspection of all the camps and posts. But the cold autumn wind chilled him to the bone.
"I shall never again lead the army against the rebels," said he. "O Azure Heaven, when will this regret end?"
Zhuge Liang returned to his tent. He became rapidly weaker and called Yang Yi to his bedside.
Said he, "Ma Dai, Wang Ping, Liao Hua, Zhang Yi, Zhang Ni may be depended on to the death. They have fought many campaigns and borne many hardships; they should be retained in the public service. After my death let everything go on as before, but the army is to be gradually withdrawn. You know the tactics to be followed, and I need say little. My friend Jiang Wei is wise and brave; set him to guard the retreat."
Yang Yi received these orders, weeping.
Next, writing materials were brought in and the dying minister set himself to write his testament. It is here given in substance:
"Life and death are the common lot, and fate cannot be evaded. Death is at hand, and I desire to prove my loyalty to the end. I, thy servant Zhuge Liang, dull of parts, was born into a difficult age, and it fell to my lot to guide military operations. I led a northern expedition, but failed to win complete success. Now sickness has laid hold upon me and death approaches, so that I shall be unable to accomplish my task. My sorrow is inexpressible.
"I desire Your Majesty to cleanse your heart and limit your desires, to practice self-control and to love the people, to maintain a perfectly filial attitude toward your late father and to be benevolent to all the world. Seek out the recluse scholars that you may obtain the services of the wise and good; repel the wicked and depraved that your moral standard may be exalted.
"To my household belong eight hundred mulberry trees and a hundred acres of land; thus there is ample provision for my family. While I have been employed in the service of the state, my needs have been supplied from official sources, but I have not contrived to make any additions to the family estate. At my death I shall not leave any increased possessions, even an excess roll of silk, that may cause Your Majesty to suspect that I have wronged you."
Having composed this document, the dying man turned again to Yang Yi, saying, "Do not wear mourning for me, but make a large coffer and therein place my body, with seven grains of rice in my mouth. Place a lamp at my feet and let my body move with the army as I was wont to do. If you refrain from mourning, then my leadership star will not fall, for my inmost soul will ascend and hold it in place. So long as my star retains its place, Sima Yi will be fearsome and suspicious.
"Let the army retreat, beginning with the rearmost division; send it away slowly, one camp at a time. If Sima Yi pursues, array the army and offer battle, turn to meet him and beat the attack. Let him approach till he is very near and then suddenly display the wooden image of myself that I have had carved, seated in my chariot in the midst of the army, with the generals right and left as usual. And you will frighten Sima Yi away."
Yang Yi listened to these words intently. That night Zhuge Liang was carried into the open and gazed up at the sky.
"That is my star," said he, pointing to one that seemed to be losing its brilliancy and to be tottering in its place. Zhuge Liang's lips moved as if he muttered a spell. Presently he was borne into his tent and for a time was oblivious of all about him.
When the anxiety caused by this state of coma was at its height, Li Fu arrived.
He wept when he saw the condition of the great leader, crying, "I have foiled the great designs of the state!"
However, presently Zhuge Liang's eyes reopened and fell upon Li Fu standing near his couch.
"I know your mission," said Zhuge Liang.
"I came with the royal command to ask also who should control the destinies of the state for the next century," replied Li Fu. "In my agitation I forgot to ask that."
"After me, Jiang Wan is the most fitting man to deal with great matters."
"And after Jiang Wan?"
"After him, Fei Yi."
"Who is next after Fei Yi?"
No reply came, and when they looked more carefully, they perceived that the soul of the Prime Minister had passed.
Thus died Zhuge Liang, on the twenty-third day of the eighth month in the twelfth year of Beginning Prosperity, at the age of fifty and four (AD 234).
The poet Du Fu wrote some verses on his death.
A bright star last night falling from the
And Bai Juyi also wrote a poem:
Within the forest dim the Master lived
Now in past days, Commander Liao Li in Changshui had a high opinion of his own abilities and thought himself perfectly fitted to be Zhuge Liang's second. So he neglected the duties of his proper post, showed discontent and indiscipline, and was constantly slandering the minister. Thereupon Zhuge Liang degraded him and transferred him to Minshan.
When Liao Li heard of Zhuge Liang's death, he shed tears and said, "Then, after all, I shall remain a barbarian!"
Li Yan also grieved deeply at the sad tidings, for he had always hoped that Zhuge Liang would restore him to office and so give him the opportunity of repairing his former faults. After Zhuge Liang had died, he thought there was no hope of reemployment, and so he died.
Another poet, Yuan Weizhi, also wrote in praise of the great adviser.
He fought disorder, helped a weak king;
Heaven grieved and earth mourned on the night of Zhuge Liang's death. Even the moon was dimmed, as Zhuge Liang's soul returned to Heaven.
As the late commander had directed, Jiang Wei and Yang Yi forbade the mourning of his death. His body was placed in the coffer as he had wished, and three hundred of his trusted leaders and soldiers were appointed to watch it.
Secret orders were given to Wei Yan to command the rearguard, and then, one by one, the camps were broken up and the army began its homeward march.
Sima Yi watched the skies. One night a large red star with bright rays passed from the northeast to the southwest and dropped over the camps of Shu. It dipped thrice and rose again. Sima Yi heard also a low rumbling in the distance.
He was pleased and excited, and said to those about him, "Zhuge Liang is dead!"
At once he ordered pursuit with a strong force. But just as he passed his camp gates, doubts filled his mind and he gave up the plan.
"Zhuge Liang is a master of mysteries: He can get aids from the Deities of the Six Layers. It may be that this is but a ruse to get us to take the field. We may fall victims to his guile."
So he halted. But he sent Xiahou Ba with a few dozen scouts to reconnoiter the enemy's camps.
One night as Wei Yan lay asleep in his tent, he dreamed a dream. In his vision two horns grew out of his head. When he awoke he was much perplexed to explain his dream.
Marching General Zhao Zhi came to see him, and Wei Yan said, "You are versed in the Book of Changes. I have dreamed that two horns grew upon my head, and would trouble you to expound the dream and tell me its portent."
Zhao Zhi thought a moment and replied, "It is an auspicious dream. Dragon and Jilin both have horns on the head. It augurs transformation into an ascending creature."
Wei Yan, much pleased, said, "If the dream proves true as you said, I will thank you with very generous gifts."
Zhao Zhi left and presently met Fei Yi, who asked whence he came.
"From the camp of our friend Wei Yan. He dreamed that he grew horns upon his head, and I have given him an auspicious interpretation. But really it is inauspicious. However, I did not wish to annoy him."
"How do you know it is inauspicious?"
"The word for horn is composed of two parts, 'knife' above and 'use' below, and so means that there is a knife upon his head. It is a terrible omen."
"Keep it secret," said Fei Yi.
Then Fei Yi went to the camp of Wei Yan, and when they were alone, he said, "The Prime Minister died last night in the third watch. He left certain final orders, and among them, that you are to command the rearguard to keep Sima Yi at bay while the army retreats. No mourning is to be worn. Here is your authority, so you can march forthwith."
"Who is acting in place of the late minister?" asked Wei.
"The chief command has been delegated to Yang Yi, but the secret plans of campaign have been entrusted to Jiang Wei. This authority was issued from Yang Yi."
Wei Yan replied, "Though the Prime Minister is dead, I am yet alive. Counselor Yang Yi is only a civil officer and unequal to this post. He ought to conduct the coffin home while I lead the army against Sima Yi. I shall achieve success, and it is wrong to abandon a whole plan of campaign because of the death of one man, even if that be the Prime Minister."
"The Prime Minister's orders were to retire, and these orders are to be obeyed."
"If the Prime Minister had listened to me, we should now have been at Changan. I am the Van Leader, General Who Conquers the West, and Lord of Nanzheng. I am not going to act as rearguard for any civil official," said Wei Yan, angry.
"It may be as you say, General, but you must not do anything to make us ridiculous. Let me go back to Yang Yi and explain, and I may be able to persuade him to pass on to you the supreme military authority he holds."
Wei Yan agreed, and Fei Yi went back to the main camp and told Yang Yi what had passed.
Yang Yi replied, "When near death the Prime Minister confided to me that Wei Yan would turn traitor. I sent him the authority to test him, and now he has discovered himself as the Prime Minister foretold. So I will direct Jiang Wei to command the rearguard."
The coffer containing the remains of Zhuge Liang was sent on in advance, and Jiang Wei took up his post to cover the retreat.
Meanwhile Wei Yan sat in his tent waiting for the return of Fei Yi and was perplexed at the delay. When the suspense became unbearable, he sent Ma Dai to find out the reason.
Ma Dai returned and told him: "Jiang Wei is covering the retreat, and that most of the army has already gone."
Wei Yan was furious.
"How dare he play with me, the pedantic blockhead?" cried he. "But he shall die for this!"
Turning to Ma Dai, Wei Yan said, "Will you help me?"
Ma Dai replied, "I have long hated Yang Yi; certainly I am ready to attack him."
So Wei Yan broke camp and marched southward.
By the time Xiahou Ba had reached the Shu camps, they were all empty, and he hastened back with this news.
"Then Zhuge Liang is really dead! Let us pursue," said Sima Yi, much irritated at being misled.
"Be cautious," said Xiahou Ba. "Send an subordinate leader first."
"No; I must go myself this time."
So Sima Yi and his two sons hastened to the Wuzhang Hills. With shouts and waving flags, they rushed into the camps, only to find them quite deserted.
Sima Yi said to his sons, "You are to bring up the remaining force with all speed, whereas I will lead the vanguard."
Sima Yi hastened in the wake of the retreating army. Coming to some hills, he saw them in the distance and pressed on still harder. Then suddenly a bomb exploded, a great shout broke the stillness, and the retiring army turned about and came toward him, ready for battle. In their midst fluttered a great banner bearing the words, Prime Minister of Han, Lord of Wuxiang, Zhuge Liang.
Sima Yi stopped, pale with fear. Then out from the army came some score of generals of rank, and they were escorting a small carriage, in which sat Zhuge Liang as he had always appeared, in his hand the feather fan.
"Then Zhuge Liang is still alive!" gasped Sima Yi. "And I have rashly placed myself in his power."
As he pulled round his horse to flee, Jiang Wei shouted, "Do not try to run away, O rebel! You have fallen into one of the Prime Minister's traps and had better stay!"
The soldiers, seized with panic, fled, throwing off all their gear. They trampled each other down, and many perished. Their leader galloped fifteen miles without pulling rein. When at last two of his generals came up with him, and had stopped his flying steed by catching at the bridle, Sima Yi clapped his hand to his head, crying, "Have I still a head?"
"Do not fear, Commander, the soldiers of Shu are now far away," they replied.
But he still panted with fear, and only after some time did he recognize that his two companions were Xiahou Ba and Xiahou Hui. The three found their way by by-roads to their own camp, whence scouts were sent out in all directions.
In a few days the natives brought news: "The Shu army had really gone, and as soon as the retiring army entered the valley, they raised a wailing for the dead and hoisted white flags. Zhuge Liang was really dead, and Jiang Wei's rearguard consisted of only one thousand troops. The figure in the carriage was only a wooden image of the Prime Minister."
"While he lived, I could guess what he would do; dead, I was helpless!" said Sima Yi.
The people had a saying that "A dead Zhuge Liang can scare off a live Sima Yi."
In the depth of night a brilliant star
Now indeed Sima Yi knew that his rival was no more, so he retook the pursuit. But when he reached the Red Hills, the Shu army had marched too far away.
As he took the homeward road, he said to his officers, "We can now sleep in comfort."
As they marched back, they saw the camps of their enemies, and were amazed at their skillful arrangement.
"Truly a wonderful genius!" sighed Sima Yi.
The armies of Wei returned to Changan. Leaving officers to guard the various strategic points, Sima Yi himself went on to Luoyang to see the audience.
Yang Yi and Jiang Wei retired slowly and in good order till they neared the Plank Trail, when they donned mourning garb and began to wail for their dead. The soldiers threw themselves on the ground and wailed in sorrow. Some even wailed themselves to death.
But as the leading companies entered upon the Plank Trail, they saw a great blaze in front, and, with a great shout, a cohort came out barring the way. The leaders of the retreating army were taken aback and sent to inform Yang Yi.
The next chapter will tell who they were.
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