Across The Tan Torrent, The Hex Mark Horse Carries Its Master.
|The diggers at the spot whence the golden light proceeded presently unearthed a bronze bird. Looking at it, Cao Cao turned to his companion, saying, "What is the portent?"
Cao Cao was very pleased, and he ordered forthwith the building of a lofty tower to celebrate the find, and they began to dig foundations and cut timber, to burn tiles and to smooth bricks for the Bronze Bird Tower on the banks of the River Zhang. Cao Cao set a year for the building.
His younger son, Cao Zhi, said, "If you build a terraced tower, you should add two others, one on each side. The center tower as the tallest should be called the Bronze Bird Tower. The side towers named Jade Dragon Tower and Golden Phoenix Tower. Then connect these by flying bridges and the effect will be noble."
"My son, your words are very good; and by and bye when the building is complete, I can solace my old age therein."
Cao Cao had five sons, but this one Cao Zhi was the most clever and his essays were particularly elegant. His father was very fond of him and, seeing that the young man took an interest in the building, Cao Cao left him with his elder brother Cao Pi at Yejun to superintend the work, while he led a half-a-million army that had recently been captured from the Yuans back to Capital Xuchang.
When he arrived, he distributed rewards liberally and memorialized the Throne obtaining the title of the Pure Lord for the late Guo Jia. And he took Guo Jia's son, Guo Yi, to be brought up in his own family.
Next Cao Cao began to consider the reduction of Liu Biao's power.
Xun You said, "The Grand Army has only just returned from the north and needs rest. Wait half a year that the soldiers may recover from the fatigue of the campaign, and both Liu Biao and Sun Quan will fall at the first roll of the drums."
Presently Cao Cao approved of this plan. To enrich his troops, he assigned certain lands to them to till while they rested.
In Jingzhou, Liu Biao had been very generous to Liu Bei ever since he had come as a fugitive seeking shelter. One day at a banquet there came news that two generals, Zhang Wu and Chen Sun, who had tendered their submission, had suddenly begun plundering the people in Jiangxia. They evidently meant rebellion.
"If they really rebel, it will cause a lot of trouble," said Liu Biao, rather dismayed.
"Do not let that trouble you. I will go and settle it," said Liu Bei.
Pleased with this proposal, Liu Biao told off thirty thousand troops and placed them under his friend, and the army marched as soon as the orders were issued. In a short time it reached the scene, and the two malcontents came out to fight. Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Zhao Yun took their stand beneath the great banner and looked over at the enemy.
Zhang Wu was riding a handsome prancing horse, and Liu Bei said, "He certainly has a fine steed."
As he spoke, Zhao Yun galloped out with his spear set and dashed toward the enemy. Zhang Wu came out to meet him, but the combat was very brief for Zhang Wu was soon killed by a spear thrust. Thereupon Zhao Yun laid a hand upon the bridle of the fallen man's horse to lead it back to his own side. The slain rebel's companion Chen Sun at once rode after Zhao Yun, whereupon Zhang Fei uttered a loud shout and rode out to meet him. With one thrust Zhang Fei slew the rebel. Their followers now scattered, and Liu Bei speedily restored order in Jiangxia and returned to Jingzhou City.
Liu Biao, grateful for this service, rode out to the boundary to welcome the victors. They reentered the city and grand banquets were instituted, at which they emptied great goblets in congratulations over the victory.
At one of these banquets the Imperial Protector said, "With such heroism as my brother has shown, Jingzhou has one upon whom to rely. But a source of sorrow is the borders with the lands of Yue, Wu, and Shu, from which a raid may come at any time. Zhang Lu of Shu and Sun Quan of Yue and Wu are to be feared."
"But I have three bold generals," said Liu Bei, "quite equal to any task you can set them. Send Zhang Fei to keep ward on the southern border of Yue, Guan Yu to guard the city of Guzi against Zhang Lu in the west, and Zhao Yun holding the Three Gorges will protect you from Sun Quan. Why need you grieve?"
The scheme appealed strongly to the Imperial Protector, but Cai Mao did not approve.
So he spoke to his sister, Liu Biao's wife, saying, "Liu Bei is putting his troops in such commanding positions all round the region. That is the danger."
Lady Cai, thus influenced by her brother, undertook to remonstrate, and that night began by saying to Liu Biao, "Some in the Jingzhou army seem to have a great liking for Liu Bei. They are always coming and going. You ought to take precautions. I do not think you should let Liu Bei stay in the city. Why not send him on some mission?"
"Liu Bei is a good man," replied the Imperial Protector.
"I think others differ from you," said the lady.
Liu Biao said nothing but muttered to himself. Soon after he went out of the city to see Liu Bei and noticed he was riding a very handsome horse. They told him it was a prize taken from the recently conquered rebels; and as he praised it very warmly, Liu Bei presented it to him. Liu Biao was delighted and rode it back to the city. Kuai Yue saw it and asked where it had come from. The Imperial Protector told him it was a gift from Liu Bei.
Kuai Yue said, "My passed-away brother, Kuai Liang, knew horses very well, and I am not a bad judge. This horse has tear-tracks running down from its eyes and a white blaze on its forehead. It is called a Hex Mark horse, and it is a danger to his master. That is why Zhang Wu was killed. I advise you not to ride it."
Liu Biao began to think.
Soon after he asked Liu Bei to a banquet and in the course of it said, "You kindly presented me with a horse lately, and I am most grateful. But you may need it on some of your expeditions and, if you do not mind, I would like to return it."
Liu Bei rose and thanked him.
The Imperial Protector continued, "You have been here a long time, and I fear I am spoiling your career as a warrior. Now Xinye in Xiangyang is no poverty-stricken town. How would you like to garrison it with your own troops?"
Liu Bei naturally took the offer as a command and set out as soon as he could, taking leave of the Imperial Protector the next day. And so he took up his quarters in Xinye.
When he left Jingzhou City, he noticed in the gate a person making him emphatic salutations, and the man presently said, "You should not ride that horse."
Liu Bei looked at the man and recognized in the speaker one of the secretaries of Liu Biao named Yi Ji, a native of Shanyang. So Liu Bei hastily dismounted and asked why.
Yi Ji replied, "Yesterday I heard that Kuai Yue told the Imperial Protector that that horse was a Hex Mark horse and brought disaster to its owner. That is why it was returned to you. How can you mount it again?"
"I am deeply touched by your affection," replied Liu Bei, "but a person's life is governed by fate, and what a horse can interfere with that?"
Yi Ji admitted his superior view, and thereafter he kept in touch with Liu Bei wherever he went.
The arrival of Liu Bei in Xinye was a matter of rejoicing to all the inhabitants, and the whole administration was reformed.
In the spring of the twelfth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 207), Liu Bei's wife, Lady Gan, game birth to a son who was named Liu Shan. The night of his birth a crane settled on the roof of the house, screeched some forty times and then flew away westward.
Just at the time of birth a miraculous incense filled the chamber. Lady Gan one night had dreamed that she was looking up at the sky, and the constellation of the Great Bear had fallen down her throat. And she conceived soon after.
While Cao Cao was absent from the capital on his northern expedition, Liu Bei went to Liu Biao and said to him, "Why do you not take this opportunity to march against the capital? An empire might follow from that."
"I am well placed here," was the reply. "Why should I attempt other things?"
Liu Bei said no more. Then the Imperial Protector invited him into the private apartments to drink. While they were so engaged, Liu Biao suddenly began to sigh despondently.
"O brother, why do you sigh thus?" asked Liu Bei.
"I have a secret sorrow that is difficult to speak about," said Liu Biao.
Liu Bei was on the point of asking what it was when Lady Cai came and stood behind the screen, whereat Liu Biao hung his head and became silent. Before long host and guest bade each other farewell, and Liu Bei went back to his own place at Xinye.
That winter they heard that Cao Cao had returned from Liucheng, and Liu Bei sighed when he reflected that his friend had paid no heed to his advice.
Unexpectedly a messenger came from the capital city with a request that Liu Bei would go thither to consult with the Imperial Protector. So he started at once with the messenger to Jingzhou City. He was received very kindly, and when the salutations were over, the two men went into the private quarters at the rear to dine.
Presently Liu Biao said, "Cao Cao has returned, and he is stronger than ever. I am afraid he means to absorb this region. I am sorry I did not follow your advice for I have missed an opportunity."
"In this period of disruption, with strife on every side, one cannot pretend that there will be no more opportunities. If you only take what that offers, there will be nothing to regret."
"What you say, brother, is quite to the point," replied Liu Biao.
They drank on for a time till presently Liu Bei noticed that his host was weeping, and when he asked the cause of these tears, Liu Biao replied, "It is that secret sorrow I spoke of to you before. I wished to tell you, but there was no opportunity that day."
"O brother, what difficulty have you, and can I assist you? I am entirely at your service."
"My first wife, of the Chen family, bore me a son Liu Qi, my eldest. He grew up virtuous but weakly and unfitted to succeed me in my office. Later I took a wife of the Cai family, who bore me a son named Liu Cong, fairly intelligent. If I pass over the elder in favor of the younger, there is the breach of the rule of primogeniture. But if I follow law and custom, there are the intrigues of the Cai family and clan to be reckoned with. Further, the army is in the hollow of their hands. There will be trouble, and I cannot decide what to do."
Liu Bei said, "All experience proves that to set aside the elder for the younger is to take the way of confusion. If you fear the power of the Cai faction, then gradually reduce its power and influence, but do not let doting affection lead you into making the younger your heir."
Liu Biao pondered silent. But Lady Cai had had a suspicion why her lord had summoned Liu Bei and what was the subject of discussion, so she had determined to listen secretly. She was behind the screen when the matter was talked over, and she conceived deep resentment against Liu Bei for what he had said.
On his side, Liu Bei felt that his advice had fallen upon a forbidden subject, and he arose and walked across the room. As he did so he noticed that he was getting heavy and stiff, and a furtive tear stole down his cheek as he thought of the past. When he returned and sat down, his host noticed the traces of weeping and asked the cause of his sorrow.
"In the past I was always in the saddle, and I was slender and lithe. Now it is so long since I rode that I am getting stout, and the days and months are slipping by---wasted. I shall have old age on me in no time, and I have accomplished nothing. So I am sad."
"I have heard a story that when you were at Xuchang at the season of green plums, you and Cao Cao were discussing heroes. You mentioned this name and that to him as humans of parts, and he rejected everyone of them. Finally he said that you and he were the only two persons of real worth in the whole empire. If he with all his power and authority did not dare to place himself in front of you, I do not think you need grieve about having accomplished nothing."
At this flattering speech Liu Bei, as wine was getting the better of him and in a half maudlin manner, replied, "If I only had a starting point, then I would not be afraid of anyone in a world full of fools."
His host said no more and the guest, feeling that he had slipped up in speech, rose as if drunk, took leave, and staggered out saying he must return to his lodging to recover.
The episode has been celebrated in a poem:
Cao Cao reckoned up the forceful
Humans of real determination,
Only two he found; and one was
Liu Bei. But by inaction
He had grown both fat and slothful;
Yet the months and years in passing
Fretted him with nought accomplished.
Though Liu Biao kept silence when he heard the words of Liu Bei, yet he felt the more uneasy. After the departure of his guest, he retired into the inner quarters where he met his wife.
Lady Cai said, "I happened to be behind the screen just now and so heard the words of Liu Bei. They betray scant regard for other people and mean that he would take your territory if he could. If you do not remove him, it will go ill with you."
Her husband made no reply, but only shook his head.
Then Lady Cai took counsel with her kinsman Cai Mao, who said, "Let me go to the guest-house and slay him forthwith, and we can report what we have done."
His sister consented and he went out, and that night told off a party of soldiers to do the foul deed.
Now Liu Bei sat in his lodging by the light of a single candle till about the third watch, when he prepared to retire to bed. He was startled by a knock at his door and in came Yi Ji, who had heard of the plot against his new master and had come in the darkness to warn him. He related the details of the plot and urged speedy departure.
"I have not said farewell to my host. How can I go away?" said Liu Bei.
"If you go to bid him farewell, you will fall a victim to the Cai faction," said Yi Ji.
So Liu Bei said a hasty good-bye to his friend, called up his escort, and they all mounted and rode away by the light of the stars toward Xinye. Soon after they had left the soldiers arrived at the guest-house, but their intended victim was already well on his way.
Naturally the failure of the plot chagrined the treacherous Cai Mao, but he took the occasion to scribble some calumnious verses on one of the partitions.
Then he went to see Liu Biao to whom he said, "Liu Bei has treacherous intentions, as can be seen from some lines written on the wall. And his hurried departure is suspicious."
Liu Biao felt doubtful, but he went to the guest-house and there on the wall he read this poem:
Gazing at scenery day after day.
A dragon can never be kept in a pond,
He should ride on the thunder to heaven and beyond.
Greatly angered by what he read, Liu Biao drew his sword and swore to slay the writer. But before he had gone many paces, his anger had already died down, and he said to himself, "I have seen much of the man, but have never known him write verses. This is the handiwork of someone who wishes to sow discord between us."
So saying, he turned back and with the point of his sword scraped away the poem. Then, putting up his sword, he mounted and rode home.
By and bye Cai Mao reminded him, saying, "The soldiers are awaiting your orders to go to Xinye and arrest Liu Bei." 'There is no hurry," he replied.
Cai Mao saw his brother-in-law's hesitation and again sought his sister.
She said, "Soon there is to be the great gathering at Xiangyang, and we can arrange something for that day."
Next day Cai Mao petitioned the Imperial Protector, saying, "We have had several fruitful harvests recently. I pray you, Sir, attend the Full Harvest Festival at Xiangyang. It would be an encouragement to the people."
"I have been feeling my old trouble lately. I certainly cannot go," replied he, "but my two sons can go to represent me and to receive the guests."
"They are full young," replied Cai Mao. "They may make some mistakes."
"Then go to Xinye and request Liu Bei to receive the guests," said Liu Biao.
Nothing could have pleased Cai Mao more, for this would bring Liu Bei within reach of his plot. Without loss of time he sent to Liu Bei requesting him to go to preside at the Festival.
It has been said that Liu Bei made the best of his way home to Xinye. He felt that he had offended by that slip in speech, but determined to keep silence about it and attempt no explanation. So he discussed it with nobody. Then came the message asking him to preside at the Festival, and he needed counsel.
Sun Qian said, "You have seemed worried and preoccupied lately, and I think something untoward happened at Jingzhou. You should consider well before you accept this invitation."
Thereupon Liu Bei told his confidants the whole story.
Guan Yu said, "You yourself think your speech offended the Imperial Protector, but he said nothing to show displeasure. You need pay no attention to the babble of outsiders like Yi Ji. Xiangyang is quite near and, if you do not go, Liu Biao will begin to suspect something really is wrong."
"You speak well," said Liu Bei.
Said Zhang Fei, "Banquets are no good; gatherings are no better. It is best not to go."
"Let me take three hundred horse and foot as escort: There will be no trouble then," said Zhao Yun.
"That is the best course," said Liu Bei.
They soon set out for the gathering place, and Cai Mao met them at the boundary and was most affable and courteous. Soon arrived the Imperial Protector's sons at the head of a great company of officers, civil and military. Their appearance put Liu Bei more at ease. He was conducted to the guest-house, and Zhao Yun posted his men so as to guard it completely, while he himself, armed, remained close to his chief.
Liu Qi said to Liu Bei, "My father is feeling unwell and could not come, wherefore he begs you, Uncle Liu Bei, to preside at the various ceremonies and give encouragement to the officers who administer the region."
"Really I am unfit for such responsibilities," said Liu Bei. "But my brother's command must be obeyed."
Next day it was reported that the officials from forty-two counties of nine territories of Jingzhou had all arrived.
Then Cai Mao said to Kuai Yue, "This Liu Bei is the villain of the age and if left alive will certainly work harm to us. He must be got rid of now."
"I fear you would forfeit everybody's favor if you harmed him," replied Kuai Yue.
"I have already secretly spoken in these terms to the Imperial Protector," said Cai Mao, "and I have his word here."
"So it may be regarded as settled. Then we can prepare."
Cai Mao added, "My brothers are ready. Cai He is posted on the road to the Xian Hills from the east gate; Cai Zhong and Cai Xun are on the north and south roads. No guard is needed on the west as the Tan Torrent is quite safeguard enough. Even with legions, Liu Bei could not get over that."
Kuai Yue replied, "I notice that Zhao Yun never leaves him. I feel sure he expects some attack."
"I have placed five hundred men in ambush in the city."
"We will tell Wen Ping and Wang Wei to invite all the military officers to a banquet at one of the pavilions outside the city, and Zhao Yun will be among them. Then will be our opportunity."
Cai Mao thought this a good device for getting Zhao Yun out of the way.
Now oxen and horses had been slaughtered and a grand banquet prepared. Liu Bei rode to the residence on the horse of ill omen, and when he arrived, the steed was led into the back part of the enclosure and tethered there. Soon the guests arrived, and Liu Bei took his place as master of the feast, with the two sons of the Imperial Protector, one on each side. The guests were all arranged in order of rank. Zhao Yun stood near his lord sword in hand as a faithful henchman should do.
Then Wen Ping and Wang Wei came to invite Zhao Yun to the banquet they had prepared for the military officers. But he declined. However, Liu Bei told him to go, and, after some demur, he went. Then Cai Mao perfected his final arrangements, placing his people surrounding the place like a ring of iron. The three hundred guards that formed the escort of Liu Bei were sent away to the guest-house.
All were ready and awaiting the signal. At the third course, Yi Ji took a goblet of wine in his hands and approached Liu Bei, at the same time giving him a meaningful look. Then in a low voice he said, "Make an excuse to get sway."
Liu Bei understood and presently rose and went to the inner chamber, and then he went to the backyard. There he found Yi Ji, who had gone thither after presenting the cup of wine.
Yi Ji then told him, saying, "Cai Mao plots to kill you, and all the roads have been guarded except that to the west. My lord, you must lose no time to depart."
Liu Bei was quite taken aback. However, he got hold of the Hex Mark horse, opened the door of the garden, and led it out. Then he took a flying leap into the saddle and galloped off without waiting for the escort. He made for the west gate. At the gate the wardens wanted to question him, but he only whipped up his steed and rode through. The guards at the gate ran off to report to Cai Mao, who quickly went in pursuit with five hundred soldiers.
As has been said Liu Bei burst out at the west gate. Before he had gone far, there rolled before him a river barring the way. It was the Tan Torrent, many score spans in width, which pours its waters into the River Xiang. Its current was very swift.
Liu Bei reached the bank and saw the river was unfordable. So he turned his horse and rode back. Then, not far off, he saw a cloud of dust and knew that his pursuers were therein. He thought that it was all over. However, he turned again toward the swift river, and seeing the soldiers now quite near, plunged into the stream. A few paces, and he felt the horse's fore legs floundering in front, while the water rose over the skirt of his robe.
Then he plied the whip furiously, crying, "Hex Mark, Hex Mark, why betray me?"
Whereupon the good steed suddenly reared up out of the water and, with one tremendous leap, was on the western bank. Liu Bei felt as if he had come out of the clouds.
In after years the famous court official, Su Dongpo, wrote a poem on this leap over the Tan Torrent:
My sun slopes westward, soon will sink,
And I recall that yesteryear
I wandered by Tan River brink.
Irresolute, anon I paused,
Anon advanced, and gazed around,
I marked the autumn's reddened leaves,
And watched them eddying to the ground.
I thought of all the mighty deeds
Of him who set the House of Han
On high, and all the struggles since,
The battlefields, the blood that ran.
I saw the nobles gathered round
The board, set in the Banquet Hall;
Amid them, one, above whose head
There hung a sword about to fall.
I saw him quit that festive throng
And westward ride, a lonely way;
I saw a squadron follow swift,
Intent the fugitive to slay.
I saw him reach the River Tan,
Whose swirling current rushes by;
Adown the bank he galloped fast,
"Now leap, my steed!" I heard him cry.
His steed's hoofs churn the swollen stream;
What chills he that the waves run high?
He hears the sound of clashing steel,
Of thundering squadrons coming nigh.
And upward from the foaming waves
I saw two peerless beings soar;
One was a destined western king,
And him another dragon bore.
The Tan still rolls from east to west.
Its roaring torrent never dry.
Those dragons twain, ah! Where are they?
Yes, where? But there is no reply.
The setting sun, in dark relief
Against the glowing western sky.
Throws out the everlasting hills
While, saddened, here I stand and sigh.
Humans died to found the kingdoms three,
Which now as misty dreams remain.
Of greatest deeds the traces oft
Are faint that fleeting years retain.
Thus Liu Bei crossed the rolling river. Then he turned and looked back at the other bank which his pursuers had just gained.
"Why did you run sway from the feast?" called out Cai Mao.
"Why did you wish to harm a person who has done you no injury?" replied Liu Bei.
"I have never thought of such a thing. Do not listen to what people say to you."
But Liu Bei saw that his enemy was fitting an arrow to his bowstring, so he whipped up his steed and rode away southwest.
"What spirits aided him?" said Cai Mao to his followers.
Then Cai Mao turned to go back to the city, but in the gate he saw Zhao Yun coming out at the head of his company of guards.
Now follows him, on vengeance bent, his master's henchman brave.
The next chapters will tell what fate befell the traitor.
- ↑ King Shun was an ideal king in ancient China. King Yao gave him the throne due to his virtues and merits.
- ↑ GJCM notes: this man was called Guo Ye in the original Brewitt-Taylor translation.
- ↑ Yue, Wu, and Shu were three states during the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods. Yue and Wu's territory was approximately that of the South Land. Shu was in the mountainous region west of Jingzhou.
- ↑ GJCM notes: this horse was called Dilu horse in the original Brewitt-Taylor translation. The characters for 'Hex Mark', 的盧, are pronounced as 'Dilu'.
- ↑ GJCM notes: this man was called Liu Zong in the original Brewitt-Taylor translation.