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Romance of the Three Kingdoms/chapter 66

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Chapter 66

Armed With Sword, Guan Yu Goes To A Feast Alone;
For The State, Empress Fu Offers Her Life.

The scheme, which Zhang Zhao had in mind, he laid before his master thus: "The one man upon whom Liu Bei relies most is Zhuge Liang. Now his brother is in your service and in your power. All you have to do is to seize Zhuge Jin's family and send him west to see Zhuge Liang and make Zhuge Liang persuade Liu Bei to return Jingzhou. If Liu Bei refuses, the family of Zhuge Jin will suffer, and Zhuge Liang will not be able to resist the claims of brotherhood."

"But Zhuge Jin is a loyal and true gentleman. I could not lay hands upon his family!" said Sun Quan.

"Explain the ruse to him. That will set his mind at rest," said Zhang Zhao.

Sun Quan consented and issued the command to confine the family of his retainer in the palace but not really imprison them. Then he wrote a letter for Zhuge Jin to take with him on his mission. Before many days Zhuge Jin reached Chengdu and sent to inform Liu Bei of his arrival.

Liu Bei at once sought the advice of Zhuge Liang.

"Why think you your brother has come?"

"He has come to force the return of Jingzhou."

"How shall I answer him?"

"You must do so and so," said Zhuge Liang.

The plan of action being prepared, Zhuge Liang went out of the city to welcome his brother. But instead of taking him to his own residence, Zhuge Liang took him to the guest-house. When the greetings were over, the visitor suddenly lifted up his voice and wept.

"If you have any trouble, my brother, pray tell. Why do you weep thus?" asked Zhuge Liang.

"Alas! My family are lost!" cried he.

"I suppose it is in the matter of the return of Jingzhou? If your family have been seized on my account, how can I bear it calmly? But do not be anxious, my brother. I shall certainly find some way out of the difficulty."

This reply pleased Zhuge Jin, and the two brothers went to visit Liu Bei.

The letter of Sun Quan was presented, but when Liu Bei had read it he said, angrily, "He is related to me by marriage, and he has profited by my absence from Jingzhou to steal away his sister. That is a sort of kindliness I find it hard to bear. When I am just going to lead my army to the South Land to take vengeance, is it likely he will get Jingzhou out of me?"

At this point Zhuge Liang prostrated himself weeping at his lord's feet and said, "The Marquis of Wu has seized my brother's family, and he will put them all to death if the land be not given up. Can I remain alive if such a fate befall them? I pray my lord for my sake to give back the region and prevent any breach between my brother and me."

But Liu Bei refused. He seemed obdurate, but Zhuge Liang persisted in his entreaty. Finally Liu Bei reluctantly consented.

"Since things are so, and the Instructor pleads for it, I will return half," said he. "I will give up three territories---Changsha, Lingling, and Guiyang."

"Then, as you have consented, prepare letters ordering Guan Yu to yield these three territories," said Zhuge Jin.

Liu Bei said, "When you see my brother, you must use most gracious words to him, for his nature is as a fierce fire, and even I fear what he may do. So be very careful."

Zhuge Jin, having got the letter, took his leave and went straightway to Jingzhou. He asked for an interview, and was received in the grand reception hall.

When both were seated in their respective places, the emissary produced the letter of Liu Bei, saying, "The Imperial Uncle has promised to return three territories to my master, and I hope, General, you will hand them over at once and let me return."

Guan Yu's countenance changed, and he said, "The oath sworn in the Peach Garden bound me and my brother to support the dynasty of Han. Jingzhou is a portion of their domain, and how can any part be given to another? When a leader is in the field, he receives no orders, not even those of his prince. Although you have brought letters from my brother, yet will I not yield the territories."

"But the Marquis of Wu has laid hands upon my family, and they will be slain if the land be not given up. I crave your pity, O General!"

"This is but a ruse on his part, but it does not deceive me!"

"Why are you so pitiless?"

Guan Yu drew his sword, saying, "Let us have no more. This sword is pitiless!"

"It will put the Instructor to shame," said Guan Ping. "I pray you not to be angry, my father."

"Were it not for my respect for the Instructor, you would never go back to the South Land," said Guan Yu to Zhuge Jin.

Zhuge Jin, overwhelmed with shame, took his leave, sought his ship, and hastily returned to Chengdu to see his brother. But Zhuge Liang had gone away upon a journey. However, he saw Liu Bei and related what had happened, and said that Guan Yu was going to slay him.

"My brother is hasty," said Liu Bei. "It is difficult to argue with him. But return home for the present, and when I have finished my conquest of Hanzhong, I will transfer Guan Yu to another post, and then I may be able to return Jingzhou."

Zhuge Jin had no choice but to accept this reply and carry the unsatisfactory news to his master.

Sun Quan was greatly annoyed and said, "This running to and fro was nothing more than one of your brother's tricks."

The unhappy messenger denied, saying, "No, no! Zhuge Liang had interceded with many tears and obtained the promise to return three territories from Liu Bei. It was the obstinacy of Guan Yu that spoiled all."

"Since Liu Bei said he would return three territories, we may send officials to take over their administration. Think you that might be done?" said Sun Quan.

"What you say, my lord, seems most proper."

The family of Zhuge Jin were restored to liberty, and officers were sent to take charge of the three territories of Changsha, Lingling, and Guiyang.

But they quickly returned, saying, "Guan Yu would have none of us, but had chased us away at once with threats to kill us if we did not hasten!"

Sun Quan then summoned Lu Su and laid the blame on him.

"You are Liu Bei's guarantor in this matter. How can you sit quietly looking on while Liu Bei fails to perform his contract?" said Sun Quan.

"I have thought out a plan and was just going to impart it to you," said Lu Su.

"And what is your plan?"

Lu Su said, "There is a camp at Lukou. Invite Guan Yu to a banquet there and try to persuade him. If he still remains obstinate, have some assassins ready to slay him. Should he refuses the banquet, then we must try conclusions with an army."

"This suits me," said Sun Quan, "and it shall be done."

"It should not be done!" interrupted Kan Ze. "The man is as bold as a tiger and not at all like common humans. The plan will fail and result in more harm."

"Then when may I expect to get my Jingzhou?" asked Sun Quan, angrily.

Sun Quan ordered Lu Su to carry out his plan, and Lu Su went to Lukou forthwith and settled the preliminaries of the banquet with Lü Meng and Gan Ning. The place selected was by the river. Then Lu Su wrote a letter and found a persuasive person to deliver it. The messenger set out and sailed across the river to the post, where he was received by Guan Ping, who conducted him to his father.

"As Lu Su invites me, I will come tomorrow. You may return," was Guan Yu's reply.

After the messenger had gone, Guan Ping said to his father, "Why did you promise to go? I think Lu Su means you no good."

"Do you think I do not know? This has all come out of my refusal to yield those three territories. They are going to try coercion at this banquet. If I refuse, they will think I fear them. I will go tomorrow in a small ship with just my ten personal guards, and we shall see whether Lu Su will dare to come near me."

"But, Father, why risk your priceless self in the very den of a tiger? I think you are not giving due importance to my uncle's charge."

"I have been in the midst of million blades and arrows, yet I have been riding through it like traveling through a meadow of no one. Think you that I shall begin to show fear of a few such rats as those?"

Nor was the son alone in remonstrance. Ma Liang also warned his chief.

"Although Lu Su has a great repute, yet now he is pushed hard. He certainly is badly disposed toward you, and you must be careful, General."

Guan Yu replied, "I have given my word, and shall I withdraw from it? In the days of the Warring States, Liu Xiangru[1] of the state of Zhao had not the force even to bind a chicken, yet in the assembly at Shengchi Lake he regarded not the prince and the ministers of the powerful state of Qin, but did his duty without fear of consequences. Have I not learned to face any number of foes? I cannot break my promise."

"If you must go," said Ma Liang, "at least go prepared."

"Tell my son to choose out ten fast ships and five hundred of good marines and be in readiness to help me at need. And when he sees a red flag waved, he can come over to my aid."

The order was given, and the little squadron was got ready.

The messenger returned to his master and told him that Guan Yu had boldly accepted the invitation, and Lu Su and Lü Meng took counsel together.

"What do you think of this?" asked Lu Su.

"If Guan Yu comes with a force, Gan Ning and I will be in readiness for him by the riverside. And you will hear our bomb as a signal that we are attacking. If he has no force with him, the assassins can set on during the banquet."

Next day a look-out was kept on the bank, and early in the day a single ship came along. It was manned by very few men, and a simple red flag flew out on the breeze showing but one word, Guan. Presently they could see him, a handsome figure in a green robe and navy-blue turban. Beside him stood Zhou Cang, his sword-bearer, and near him were eight or nine fine-looking men, each with a sword at his side.

Guan Yu landed and was received by the trembling Lu Su, who conducted him to the hall, bowed his greetings, and led him to the banquet chamber. When Guan Yu drank to his host, Lu Su dared not raise his eyes, but Guan Yu was perfectly composed.

When they had become mellow with wine, Lu Su said, "I have a word to say to you, Sir, if haply I may have your attention. You know that your illustrious brother, the Imperial Uncle, made me surety with my master that Jingzhou would be returned after Yizhou had been taken. Well, now that country is in his possession, but Jingzhou is still unreturned. Is not this a breach of good faith?"

"This is a government affair," said Guan Yu. "Such matters should not be introduced at a banquet."

"My master only has petty possessions in the east, and he allowed the temporary loan of Jingzhou out of consideration for the need in which you then were. But now you have Yizhou, and Jingzhou should be given up. The Imperial Uncle has even yielded three territories, but you, Sir, seem unwilling to let them go. This seems hard to explain on reasonable grounds."

Guan Yu replied, "After the Red Cliffs, my brother braved the arrows and the stones in the battle at Wuling and with all his strength drove back the enemy. Did he get a single foot of land for all his efforts? Now you come to force this place out of him."

"No, I do not," said Lu Su. "But at the time that you and your brother suffered defeat at Dangyang, when you were helpless and in the greatest straits, fugitives you knew not whither, then my master was moved with pity and did not grudge the land. So he gave your brother a foothold whence he might be able to accomplish other ends. But your brother has presumed upon long-suffering. He has attained his end---the country of his desire---and still he occupies Jingzhou. Such greed and such treachery will make the whole world laugh him to shame, as you know quite well."

"All that is no affair of mine; it is my brother's. I cannot yield the land."

"I know that by the oath in the Peach Garden you three were to live or die together. But your brother has consented to yield: How are you going to get out of that?"

Before Guan Yu could reply, however, Zhou Cang burst into the conversation, roaring out, "Only the virtuous get hold of territory: Does that mean only you people of East Wu?"

Guan Yu's anger now showed itself. His face changed; he rose in his place, took his sword from his sword-bearer, and said fiercely, "How dare you talk like this at a discussion of state matters? Go! And go quickly!"

Zhou Cang understood. He left the hall, made his way to the river and waved the red call-flag. The ships of Guan Ping darted across like arrows and were ready for action.

The mighty sword in his right hand, Guan Yu laid hold of Lu Su with his left and, simulating intoxication, said, "You have kindly invited me today, Sir, but do not say anything about Jingzhou, for I am so drunk that I may forget our old friendship. Some other day I hope to invite you to Jingzhou, and then we will talk about that matter."

Poor Lu Su's soul almost left his body with fright as he was led down to the river bank in the grip of his guest. Lu Meng and Gan Ning, who Lu Su had placed in ambush, dared not act and so made no move lest they should bring about the doom of Lu Su. When they got to the bank, Guan Yu released his host, got on board, and then said farewell. Lu Su stood dumbfounded, staring at the ship, while a fair breeze bore it quickly out of sight.

This episode has been commemorated in verse:

He showed his contempt for the soldiers of Wu
By going alone to their traitor feast;
As Liu Xiangru of old he was much bolder;
As the Shengchi Lake game was played again.

Guan Yu took his homeward way, while Lu Su and his two confederates talked over what had occurred.

"What can be done now?" said Lu Su.

"The only thing is to tell our master and let him send an army," replied Lü Meng.

Lu Su sent a messenger to Sun Quan, who, in his wrath, was for sending every available soldier at once against Jingzhou.

But at this crisis there came news that Cao Cao was raising a huge army with the intention of attacking the South Land. So hasty orders were sent to Lu Su to make no move, but to send all the troops he could toward Hefei and Ruxu in the north to repel Cao Cao.

However, Cao Cao did not march south. One of his military advisers, Fu Gan, sent in a memorial against the scheme:

"I, Fu Gan, understand that inspiring fear is the chief consideration in war, as inculcating virtue is in government. These two combined in one person fit him to be a prince. Formerly, in the days of disturbance, you, Illustrious Sir, attacked the rebels and restored tranquillity almost everywhere, the only regions unsubdued and not under your control being Wu and Shu. The former of these is protected by the Great River, the latter secured by its mountains, and both difficult to conquer by force of arms.

"My humble opinion is that it is more fitting to increase the authority of civil government, to lay aside arms and rest weapons, to cease from war and train your soldiers until the times shall be favorable. If your mighty legions be now sent to camp on the river bank and the rebels should take refuge behind their natural defenses, your soldiers will be unable to prove their prowess; and should extraordinary strategies be planned, the rebels will not be available. In such a case your high prestige would be impaired. I trust, Illustrious Sir, you will deign to examine this."

After reading this, Cao Cao ceased to think of an expedition against the south. Instead, he established schools and set himself to attract people of ability.

About the same time four of his officers---Wang Can, Du Xi, Wei Kai, and He Xia[2]---conceived the idea of getting for Cao Cao the honor of "Prince of Wei".

But Xun You opposed this course, saying, "The Prime Minister's rank is already that of "Duke", and he has received the additional honor of the Nine Dignities, so that his position is extremely high. If he advances to the rank of kingship, it will be inconsistent with reasonableness."

But Cao Cao was annoyed at this opposition and said, "Does the man wish to emulate Xun Yu?"

When Xun You heard of Cao Cao's anger, he was grieved and fell ill, so that in a few days he died. He was fifty-eight years of age. Cao Cao had his remains interred honorably, and he stayed his ambition for princely rank.

But there came a day when Cao Cao entered the Palace wearing his sword and made his way to the apartment where the Emperor Xian and the Empress were seated. The Empress rose in a fright, and the Emperor gazed at his minister in terror.

"Sun Quan and Liu Bei have each seized a portion of the empire and no longer respect the court. What is to be done?"

To this abrupt speech the Emperor replied, "The matter lies within your province."

Cao Cao answered, angrily, "If such a remark be known outside, they will say I treat my prince without respect!"

"If you will help me, I shall be most happy," said His Majesty. "If not, then I trust to your kindness to let me alone."

At this Cao Cao glared at the Emperor and went out full of resentment.

The courtiers said, "It is said that the Duke of Wei desires to become Prince of Wei, and soon he will aspire to the throne."

Both the Emperor and his consort wept.

Presently Her Majesty said, "My father, Fu Wan, has long nourished a desire to slay this man. Now I will indite a secret letter to my father to accomplish his end."

"Remember the former attempt with Dong Cheng. The plot was discovered and great misery ensued. I fear that this will leak out also, and both of us will be undone."

Said the Empress, "We pass our days in constant discomfort, like sitting on a rug full of needles. If life is to be like this, one were better dead. But I know one loyal man among the attendants to whom I may entrust the letter. That one is Mu Shun, and he will deliver it."

Thereupon Empress Fu summoned Mu Shun within, and having sent away all others, they told their distress to the faithful one.

Emperor Xian said, "That fellow Cao Cao desires the dignity of a prince, and soon he will aspire to the throne itself. I, the Emperor, wish to order the father of my consort to make away with the man, but the difficulty is that all the courtiers are his creatures and there is none whom I can trust save yourself. I desire you to convey this secret letter to Fu Wan. I know your loyalty and am sure you will prove no betrayer."

"I am the recipient of much graciousness for which not even death would prove my gratitude. Thy servant prays that he may be allowed to undertake this."

The letter was given to Mu Shun, who hid it in his hair, made his way out of the precincts and handed it to its owner. Fu Wan recognized the handwriting of his daughter and read it.

Turning to the messenger, Fu Wan said, "You know the fellow's creatures are many, and one must act with extreme caution against him. Unless we have the aid of Sun Quan's and Liu Bei's armies, Cao Cao will certainly attain his ends. In this matter we must gain the support of every loyal and faithful one in the court so that within and without there may be a simultaneous attack."

"Then, O Father of the Empress, write a letter in reply asking for a secret edict, so that we may send to the south and the west to join in the attack."

So Fu Wan composed a reply, which he gave to Mu Shun to take into the Palace. This time also the letter was concealed in his hair.

But there was a traitor, and Cao Cao heard of the letters. So he waited at a Palace gate for Mu Shun to come out.

"Where are you going?" asked Cao Cao, when Mu Shun appeared.

"The Empress is indisposed and has bidden me call a physician."

"Where is the summon for the physician?"

"There is no summon."

Cao Cao bade his guards search Mu Shun, but they did not find the letter.

So he was allowed to go. But just then a gust of wind blew off his hat, and it struck Cao Cao that that had not been examined. So Mu Shun was called back. Nothing was found in the hat, but when it was given back Mu Shun put it on with both hands. There was something suspicious about the movement, and Cao Cao bade the searchers examine his hair.

Therein the letter of Fu Wan was found. Cao Cao read it, which said that Sun Quan and Liu Bei were to be induced to help. The unhappy Mu Shun was taken away into a secret place and interrogated, but he would confess nothing.

That night three thousand soldiers surrounded the dwelling of Fu Wan, who was arrested with all his family. Searching the house, they found the first letter in the handwriting of the Empress. Fu Wan and his family were then consigned to a gaol.

At dawn, a party of Imperial Guards, under Chi Lü, bearing ensigns of authority, entered the Forbidden City with orders to take away the seal of the Empress. On the way they met the Emperor, who asked the reason for a company of armed guards being in the Palace.

"I have orders from the Duke of Wei to get the Empress's seal," said Chi Lü.

The Emperor grew alarmed. When Chi Lü reached the apartments of the Empress, she had just risen. Chi Lü ordered to take the seal of the Empress and went away.

As soon as the Empress knew of this, she recognized her danger and hid herself in the hollow walls of her private apartments behind one of the ceremonial halls. She had not been long in hiding when Hua Xin with a company of five hundred armed soldiers appeared and asked where she was. The Palace people said they did not know. The red doors of the hall were burst open, and Hua Xin looked in, but he saw no lady there. It occurred to him where she might be hidden, and he ordered his men to break open the wall. With his own hands, he laid hold of the lady's hair and dragged her forth.

"Spare my life!" pleaded she.

"You may say what you have to say to the Duke!" cried he.

She pulled down her hair and kicked off her shoes, but a couple of soldiers pushed her along in front of them outside.

It may be said here that this Hua Xin had a reputation for learning. He and two others, Bing Yuan and Guan Ning, all good friends, made a little coterie which was known as "The Dragon". Hua Xin was the "head"; Bing Yuan, the "belly"; and Guan Ning, the "tail". One day Guan Ning and Hua Xin were hoeing in their garden to grow some vegetables, when they turned up an ingot of gold. Guan Ning went on with his labors without giving a second glance at the find, but Hua Xin picked it up. After regarding it a moment, he threw it away again.

Another day Guan Ning and Hua Xin were reading together when there arose a great shouting outside the window of the study. A minister from the Palace was passing. Guan Ning took no notice, but kept his eyes on his book; Hua Xin rose and went to the window. For this, Guan Ning despised his companion and the two parted for good.

Sometime after, in the disturbance of the empire, Guan Ning fled into Liaodong, where he led the life of hermit. He wore a white cap and lived in the upper part of a house, never touching the ground with his feet. He would have nothing to do with Cao Cao and would not enter his service.

But Hua Xin led a totally different life. For a time he was with Sun Quan; then he went over to Cao Cao and served him. And here he is found actually laying hands upon the Empress.

His conduct in this particular is the subject of a poem:

That was a dastardly thing that Hua Xin did,
When he broke don the wall where the Empress hid
And dragged her forth by the hair.
He lent his aid to a foul, foul crime
And execrations throughout all time,
Have been, and shall be, his share.

A poet also wrote concerning Guan Ning:

East of Liaodong, so stories tell
Is Guan Ning's tower, where long he dwelt.
Ignoble wealth was Hua Xin's quest,
The hermit's simple life was best.

As Hua Xin hurried the unhappy woman out of the hall, the Emperor saw her. He went over and clasped her to his bosom, weeping.

Hua Xin tried to force her onward, saying, "The Duke of Wei ordered no delay!"

"My doom is sealed," wept the Empress.

"And I know not when my turn will come," sighed the Emperor.

The soldiers hustled the Empress onward, leaving His Majesty beating his breast in despair.

"Can it be that such things happen in the world?" cried the Emperor to Chi Lü, who stood by.

And the Emperor swooned. Chi Lü made the courtiers pick him up, and they bore him into the Palace.

Meanwhile, the unhappy Empress had been taken before Cao Cao.

"I have dealt well with you," said he angrily, "and you requited me by plotting my murder. It is the death of one of us, I see."

He ordered the executioners to beat her till she died. After this, he went into the Palace, seized her two sons and had them poisoned. In the evening of the same day the whole households of Mu Shun and Fu Wan were put to death publicly. Such terrible deeds spread terror everywhere. They happened in the eleventh month of the nineteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 214).

As Cao Cao stands first in cruelty,
So stands Fu Wan in loyalty.
A married pair of low estate,
Had not been torn apart by fate.

The Emperor grieved bitterly over the loss of his consort, and in his despair refused all food. Cao Cao did not wish him to die of starvation and loneliness, so he proposed his own daughter as consort.

"Be not sad," said Cao Cao. "Thy servant is no rebel. My daughter is already in your palace as a secondary lady. She is wise and dutiful, fit to be your consort and occupy the first rank."

Emperor Xian dared not refuse, and therefore at the new year (AD 215), in the time of the festivities, Lady Cao's name was inscribed on the dynastic rolls as Empress. And no one of the courtiers dared protest.

Wherefore Cao Cao became even more powerful. But it pleased him not to have rivals in the land, so he again thought of subduing Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Cao Cao 曹操

Jia Xu proposed, saying, "Xiahou Dun and Cao Ren, who are serving on the frontiers, should be called to give their advice."

They were sent for, and Cao Ren was the first to arrive. As a relative, he felt he had the right to see the great minister without delay and went directly to the palace.

But it happened that Cao Cao had been drinking heavily, and his faithful henchman, Xu Chu, would not admit the new arrival.

"I am of the family," said Cao Ren, angry at the hindrance. "Dare you stop me?"

"General, you may be a relative, but here you are but an officer from the frontier. I am of little account, but a duty lies on me here in the palace. Our lord is overcome with wine and asleep, and I dare not allow you to enter."

The refusal came to Cao Cao's knowledge, and he commended the loyalty of Xu Chu.

Soon after, Xiahou Dun came and was called to the council.

Xiahou Dun gave his opinion, saying, "The two rivals should be left until Zhang Lu of Hanzhong has been subdued. The great army that can overcome Zhang Lu will be in condition to attack the West River Land, and it will be conquered without difficulty."

The advice coincided with Cao Cao's own idea, and so he prepared an expedition for the west.

By a crime he showed his power over a feeble king;
This done, at once he hastened to destroy his neighbor.

What happened will be told in later chapters.

NotesEdit

  1. Liu Xiangru, prime minister of Zhao in the Warring States period, boldly behaved in the court of the powerful Qin. When King Zhaoxiang of Qin tried to make away the purest jadestone from Zhao, Liu Xiangru threatened to destroy the stone, and so King Zhaoxiang backed up and let Liu Xiangru to return to Zhao.
  2. GJCM notes: this man was called He He in the original Brewitt-Taylor translation.

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