Huang Zhong Captures Tiandang Mountain By Stratagem.
|Zhang He's army, with which he felt so sure of victory, consisted of thirty thousand troops, and they were in three camps---Camp Dangqu, Camp Mengtou, and Camp Dangshi---which were protected by the hills. When Zhang He marched, he left half the soldiers in each camp as defenders.
Lei Tong said, "The country is bad and the hills full of danger in the area of Langzhong. Let us lay an ambush. You, General, go out to give battle, and I will help you by a sudden, unexpected attack. We ought to get Zhang He."
Whereupon Zhang Fei gave five thousand troops to Lei Tong, and himself led out ten thousand troops to a point ten miles from Langzhong. Having set them in order, he rode out and challenge Zhang He to single combat. Zhang He galloped out to meet him.
After the thirtieth or so bout, Zhang He's ranks suddenly began to shout and soon showed signs of confusion. The reason was the appearance of the banners of Shu from the cover of some hills. Zhang He dared not continue to fight, and he fled. Zhang Fei pursued him. Lei Tong also appeared in his road and attacked, and so, with enemies on both sides, Zhang He forced his way out and lost the day. Both Zhang Fei and Lei Tong continued to smite him, even into the night, till he got back to his camp at Dangqu.
Zhang He reverted to his old plan of defending the three camps, rolling down logs and hurling stones. But he remained behind his defenses. Zhang Fei made a camp three miles off.
Next day Zhang Fei went forth and offered battle, but Zhang He took no notice. Zhang He ascended to the summit of the hill and drank wine to the accompaniment of trumpets and drums, but he would not fight. Zhang Fei bade his soldiers shout insults, but these had no effect. Lei Tong was sent up the hill, but the rolling logs and hurtling stones forced him to retire. Then the defenders of the other two camps came out to the attack, and Lei Tong was discomfited.
Next day Zhang Fei again offered battle, but there was no response. Again the soldiers yelled every form of insult, but Zhang He from the hill top only replied by similar abuse. Zhang Fei was at his wits' ends; and this game was played for more than fifty days.
Then Zhang Fei made a strong stockade just in front of the hill, and therein he sat day after day drinking till he became half drunk. And when he was so, he reviled his opponent.
About this time Lui Bei sent gifts to the army, and when the messenger went back, he told Liu Bei that his brother was giving himself over to wine. This made Liu Bei anxious, so he lost no time in asking advice from Zhuge Liang.
Zhuge Liang was jocular, saying, "Since that is so, let us send him fifty vessels of the best brew of Chengdu. He probably has but poor stuff in the camp."
"But he has always had a weakness for wine, and he has failed because of it. Yet you would encourage him to drink by sending him more wine?"
"My lord, is it that you do not understand your brother even after all these years? He is brave and steady, yet when we first invaded West River Land, he released Yan Yan, which was not what a mere brave would have done. He is face to face with Zhang He, and has been for nearly two months, and day after day he drinks and rages and insults his enemy openly. He treats Zhang He with most perfect contempt. But this is not only the wine cup; it is a deep plan to get the better of Zhang He."
"This may be so," replied Liu Bei, "but let us not rely upon it too much. Let Wei Yan go to help him."
Zhuge Liang sent Wei Yan with the wine, and the carts set out, each flying a yellow flag with a writing in large characters: Fine Wine for the Frontier Army.
When Wei Yan reached the army, he handed over the wine, which he said was a gift from the Lord of Shu. And Zhang Fei received it with due respect.
Zhang Fei told Wei Yan and Lei Tong each to take a thousand troops and move out on the two wings, ready to act when they saw a red flag displayed. And then he had the wine laid out and called up some soldiers to drink with a great display of flags and a rolling of drums.
The spies reported all these doings on the hill-top, and Zhang He came out to look for himself. There he saw his opponent drinking, and two of the soldiers were boxing before Zhang Fei for his amusement.
"He despises me too much," said Zhang He.
And Zhang He gave orders to prepare for a night attack on the enemy camp. His own troops in Camp Dangqu should do the raiding, and those from Camp Mengtou and Camp Dangshi were to support them.
There was little moon that night, and Zhang He took advantage of the obscurity to steal down the side of the hill. He got quite close to the enemy camp and stood for a time looking at Zhang Fei sitting amid a blaze of lamps and drinking. Suddenly Zhang He dashed forward with a yell, and at the same moment his drums on the hill-top rolled out their defiance. Zhang Fei never stirred. Zhang He rushed at him and delivered a mighty thrust with his spear. Zhang Fei toppled over---it was a Zhang Fei of straw. Zhang He checked and turned his steed. At that moment he heard a string of detonations, and a warrior appeared before him barring his way. It was the real Zhang Fei, as the round head and thundering voice speedily made manifest.
With the serpent halberd set, Zhang Fei rode toward Zhang He. The two warriors fought many bouts under the gleaming lights. No help came to Zhang He. In vain he yearned for the assistance, which the two camps were to bring him. He did not know that his reinforcements had been driven back by Wei Yan and Lei Tong, and that the two camps, Mengtou and Dangshi, were now in possession of his enemies. As the help did not come, Zhang He was powerless; and, to add to his discomfiture, the glare of fire out in the moutains of Dangqu told him of the seizure of his third camp by Zhang Fei's rear force. Nothing could be done, and Zhang He cut an alley, forced out of the press, and fled to Wakou Pass. The victory was all to Zhang Fei.
The news of the success delighted Liu Bei, and he knew then that Zhang Fei's drinking had been part of a stratagem to entice his enemy into the open and defeat them.
Zhang He reached Wakou Pass, but with the loss of two-thirds of his army of thirty thousand troops. He stood on defense and sent urgent messages to Cao Hong to come to his rescue.
Cao Hong angrily replied, "He disobeyed my orders and marched. He has lost an important point and now he sends to me for help!"
While refusing aid, Cao Hong sent to urge his colleague to go out and fight. But Zhang He too greatly feared.
At length Zhang He decided upon a plan of action. He sent out two parties into ambush and said to them, "I will pretend defeat and fly. They will follow, and you can cut off their retreat."
When he did march out, he met Lei Tong. The two engaged in battle, and Zhang He presently ran away. Lei Tong pursued and fell into the ambush. Then Zhang He returned and slew Lei Tong. His troops went back and told Zhang Fei, who came up to provoke another fight. Zhang He again tried his stratagem, but Zhang Fei did not pursue. Again and again the ruse was tried, but Zhang Fei knew it was only a ruse and simply retired to his own camp.
He said to Wei Yan, "Zhang He has compassed the death of Lei Tong by leading him into an ambush, and he wants to inveigle me into another. What say you to meeting trick with trick?"
"But how?" said Wei Yan.
"Tomorrow I will lead the army forward, you following me with some reliable soldiers. When his army come out from their ambush, you can smite them, sending half your men against each party. We will secretly fill the by-roads with loads of combustibles, entice the enemy among them and start a fire. In the confusion, I shall try to capture Zhang He. So will we avenge our comrade's death."
So Zhang Fei went out, and Zhang He's troops came and began to fight. After a half score bouts, Zhang He ran away, and this time Zhang Fei pursued. Zhang He, now fleeing, now stopping to exchange a blow or two, led Zhang Fei through the hills to a valley. Here, suddenly changing front to rear and rear to front, Zhang He halted, made a camp, and offered battle.
It was now the time when Zhang He expected his hidden troops to appear and surround Zhang Fei. But none appeared. He knew not that his ambush had been broken up by Wei Yan's army and driven into the valley where the road was filled with cartloads of combustibles, and that the valley even then was all aflame.
Then Zhang Fei came to the attack, and the rout was complete. Zhang He, fighting desperately, got through to the Wakou Pass and there mustered the remnant of his force. He strengthened the position and remained behind his ramparts.
Zhang Fei and Wei Yan then tried to take the Pass, but day after day they failed. Zhang Fei, seeing no hope of success, retired seven miles and bivouacked. From this point he sent out scouts under Wei Yan to explore the country. While going along, they observed some burden-bearers, men and women, going up a very retired path, pulling down the creepers, and pushing aside the grasses.
"That is the way to take Wakou Pass," cried Zhang Fei, pointing with his whip to the wayfarers.
He ordered his soldiers not to scare the people, but to call a few gently and bring them to him. They soon had several standing before their leader, who spoke to them kindly and put them at ease.
"Whence come you?" asked Zhang Fei.
"We belong to Hanzhong and are going home. We heard that you were out fighting and the high road to Langzhong was blockaded, and so we have come across the Mist Torrent and Zitong Mountains and down River Guijin. We are going to our homes in Hanzhong."
"Can one reach Wakou Pass by this road? And how far is it?"
The country people replied, "A small road leads past to the rear of the Pass from Zitong Mountains."
For this piece of information Zhang Fei rewarded them by taking them into his camp and giving them a good meal. Then he sent off Wei Yan to make a frontal attack on the Pass, while he himself with five hundred light horse attacked it from the rear by way of Mount Zitong.
Zhang He was grieved and disappointed that Cao Hong sent no help, and the news of Wei Yan's attack only added to his sorrow. But he girded on his armor and was about to ride out when they told him that fires had started at half a dozen places behind the Pass. They most likely indicated soldiers. However, he went out to meet them, and, to his horror, when the flags opened out, his eyes fell on the figure of Zhang Fei. Away he ran along a by-road.
But his steed was not fast, and as Zhang Fei pressed him close, Zhang He dismounted and ran up the mountain side. So Zhang He escaped. He had, however, some ten followers, and it was a small and dejected party that presently found its way into Nanzheng. He saw Cao Hong, and Cao Hong was very angry at his plight.
"I told you not to go, but you were willful. And you gave in your written pledge. You have lost all your soldiers, yet you do not commit suicide. What will you do next?"
Cao Hong ordered the lictors to put Zhang He to death. But Marching General Guo Huai, interceded.
"An army is easily raised; a leader is hard to find. Though Zhang He is guilty, he is a great favorite with our prince. I think you should spare him. Rather give him command of another army and send him to take Jiameng Pass and so hold up the soldiers at all the stations. Hanzhong will be tranquil of its own accord. If he fails a second time, you can punish him for both faults."
Cao Hong was satisfied to do this, and instead of dealing with his fault, he gave Zhang He five thousand troops and told him to take Jiameng Pass.
The Commanders of the Pass were Meng Da and Huo Jun. They were at variance---Meng Da desiring to go out to meet Zhang He, but Huo Jun being in favor of defense. Meng Da being set on having his way went out, gave battle, and was defeated. Huo Jun reported this to the capital, where Liu Bei at once called in the Directing Instructor to ask advice. Zhuge Liang assembled all the chief generals into the hall.
"Jiameng Pass is in danger. We must get Zhang Fei from Langzhong to drive off Zhang He," said Zhuge Liang.
Fa Zheng replied, "Zhang Fei is encamped at Wakou Pass, and Langzhong is no less important than Jiameng Pass. I do not think he should be recalled. Choose one among the generals to go and defeat Zhang He."
Zhuge Liang laughed, "Zhang He is renowned in Wei. No ordinary leader will avail. Zhang Fei is the only man to send, the only one equal to the task."
Then among the generals one started up crying angrily, "Instructor, why do you thus despise us? I will use what little skill I have in slaying our enemy and will lay his head at the foot of our standard."
The speaker was Veteran General Huang Zhong, and all eyes centered on him.
"Friend Huang Zhong, you are bold enough, but what about your age? I fear you are no match for Zhang He."
Huang Zhong's white beard bristled, and he said, "I know I am old. But these two arms can still pull the four-hundred-fifty-pound bow, and the vigor of my body is not yet departed. Am I not strong enough to meet such a poor thing as Zhang He?"
"General, you are nearly seventy. Can you still hold you are not aged?"
Huang Zhong tore down the hall. Seizing one of the great swords off the rack, he whirled it as if it flew. And the stiffest bow that hung on the wall, he pulled till it snapped.
"Well, if you will go, who will second you?" said Zhuge Liang.
"I would prefer Veteran General Yan Yan. And if there is the least anxiety, well, here is this hoary head."
Liu Bei was pleased to let these two go to fight Zhang He. However, Zhao Yun put in a protest.
"Zhang He has already got through Jiameng Pass, so that the fighting will be no child's play, and the loss of that Pass endangers the whole of Yizhou. It is no task to set to a couple of old men."
Replied Zhuge Liang, "You regard the two as too old to succeed, but I think the attainment of Hanzhong depends upon these two."
Zhao Yun and many others sniggered as they went from the hall. They did not agree with Zhuge Liang.
In due course the two Veteran Generals arrived at the Pass.
At sight of them, Meng Da and Huo Jun, the defenders of the Pass, laughed in their hearts, thinking: "Zhuge Liang has slipped up in his calculations in sending such a pair of dotards on such an important mission."
Huang Zhong said to Yan Yan, "You see the behavior of these people? They are laughing at us because we are old. Now we will do something that will win admiration from all the world."
"I should be glad to hear your orders," replied Yan Yan.
The two generals came to a decision how to act. Huang Zhong led his army down below to meet Zhang He in the open plain. Both drew up their array. When Zhang He rode out and saw his venerable opponent, he laughed in his face.
"You must be very old, and yet you are unashamed to go into the battle, eh?" said Zhang He.
"You menial!" replied the veteran. "Do you despise me for my age? You will find my good sword, however, keen enough."
So he urged forward his steed and rode at Zhang He. The two chargers met and a score of bouts were fought. Then suddenly a great shouting came from the rear. Yan Yan had come up and fallen upon the rear portion of Zhang He's army. Thus attacked on two sides, Zhang He was defeated. The pursuit did not cease with nightfall, and Zhang He was driven back near thirty miles. Contented with this success, Huang Zhong and Yan Yan went into their camp, where they rested their soldiers for a time.
When Cao Hong heard of Zhang He's new defeat, he was going to exact the penalty. But Guo Huai persuaded him to forbear.
"If he is pressed too hard, he may take refuge in Shu," said Guo Huai. "Rather send him help. You will thus keep a hold over him and prevent his desertion."
Wherefore Xiahou Shang and Han Hao were sent with reinforcements. Xiahou Shang was a nephew of Xiahou Dun, and Han Hao was the brother of Han Xuan, the late Governor of Changsha. They had five thousand troops.
The two generals soon reached Zhang He, and asked how now the situation was going.
"That old man Huang Zhong is really a hero," said Zhang He, "and with Yan Yan's help he is very formidable."
"When I was at Changsha, I heard the old man was very fierce. He and Wei Yan yielded the city to Liu Bei and killed my own brother. Now that I shall meet him, I can have my revenge," said Han Hao.
So he and Xiahou Shang led out the new army.
Now, by means of spies Huang Zhong had got a thorough knowledge of the country.
Yan Yan said, "Hereabout there is a mountain named Tiandang Mountain wherein Cao Hong has stored his supplies. If we can gain its possession, we shall reduce the enemy to want and we shall get Hanzhong."
Huang Zhong replied, "I think so, too, and so let us do so and so."
Yan Yan agreed with him and marched off with a body of troops to carry out his part in the stratagem.
At news of the coming of new armies, Huang Zhong marched out to meet them. He found Han Hao in front of his array, and Han Hao began to abuse the veteran, shouting out, "Disgraceful old ruffian!"
Then Han Hao whipped up his steed and set his spear at Huang Zhong. Xiahou Shang also rode out and took part in the combat. The veteran held them both at bay for some half score bouts and then fled. They pursued him for seven miles, when they reached and seized his camp. Huang Zhong, however, quickly made another defense of brushwood. Next day Xiahou Shang and Han Hao renewed the pursuit, which ended with the capture of the temporary camp of the day before. And they had advanced seven miles further. Then they called upon Zhang He to protect the rear camp. When Zhang He came up, he dissuaded them from continuing.
"Huang Zhong has retreated before you for two days. There is some deep stratagem behind this," said Zhang He.
Xiahou Shang scoffed at him, saying, "You are such a coward that you have been defeated many times. Now say no more, but let us accomplish something."
Zhang He retired much mortified and shamed. Next day the two generals again went out to battle, and again Huang Zhong fled from them for seven miles. The two generals pursued as quickly as they could. The day after, Huang Zhong fled without any pretense of showing fight, except at short intervals. He got to Jiameng Pass and went on the defensive. The pursuers knocked at the very gate of the Pass and made a camp close by.
Then Meng Da secretly wrote to Liu Bei that Huang Zhong had been repeatedly defeated and now was in the Pass and unable to go out.
Liu Bei became alarmed and consulted Zhuge Liang, who said, "The old general is making the enemy over-confident---to their ultimate destruction."
But Zhao Yun did not share this opinion, nor did many others, and Liu Bei decided to send Liu Feng to reinforce his aged general.
The young man came to the Pass and saw Huang Zhong, who asked him, "General, what makes you come here?"
"My father heard that you have sustained several defeats, and he has sent me," said Liu Feng.
"But I am only employing the ruse of leading on the enemy," said Huang Zhong, smiling. "You will see tonight that in one battle I shall regain all the camps and capture their supplies and many horses. I have only lent the camps to them to store their supplies. Tonight I shall leave Huo Jun to guard the Pass, while General Meng Da will gather up the spoils for us. Now, young Sir, you shall see the destruction of the enemy."
That same night, at the second watch, Huang Zhong left the Pass with five thousand troops. But now Xiahou Shang and Han Hao, seeing no move from the Pass for many days, had become careless and so their camps were unable to resist. Their troops had no time to don their armors or to saddle their horses. All the leaders did was to flee for their lives, while their troops trampled each other down and were killed in great numbers. All three camps were recovered by dawn, and in them were found all sorts of military equipment. Horses and their caparisons also fell to the victors, and all the booty was carried off by Meng Da and stored in the Pass.
Huang Zhong pressed on his victory. Liu Feng ventured to say, "Our soldiers need repose."
"Can you seize the tiger's whelps without going into the tiger's den?" cried Huang Zhong. And he urged on his steed. The soldiers also were eager.
Zhang He's own army was thrown into confusion by the flying men from the defeated armies, and he could not maintain his station, but was forced to retreat. They abandoned all their stockades and rushed to the bank of River Han.
Then Zhang He sought the two generals who had brought about the misfortune and said to them, "This is Tiandang Mountain, where our stores are. Close by is Micang Mountain. The two mountains are the very source of life of the Hanzhong army. Lose them, and Hanzhong is gone too. We must see to their security."
Xiahou Shang said, "My uncle, Xiahou Yuan, will look out for the defense of Micang Mountain, which is next to his station at Dingjun Mountain; there need be no anxiety about that. And my brother, Xiahou De, guards Tiandang Mountain. Let us go to him and help to protect that."
Zhang He and the two generals set out at once. They reached the mountain and told Xiahou De all that had happened.
"I have one hundred thousand troops in camp here," replied he. "You may take some of them and recover your lost camps."
"No," replied Zhang He. "The only proper course is to defend."
Almost as they spoke the rolling of drums and the clang of gongs were heard, and the look-outs came to say that Huang Zhong was near.
"The old ruffian does not know much of the art of war," said Xiahou De with a laugh. "After all, he is only a brave."
"Be not mistaken: He is crafty and not only bold," said Zhang He.
"This move is against the rules and not at all crafty. He is worn from a long march and his soldiers are fatigued, and they are deep in an enemy's country."
"Nevertheless, be careful how you attack," said Zhang He. "You would still do well to depend upon defense only."
"Give me three thousand good soldiers, and I will cut him to pieces," cried Han Hao.
They told off the three companies for him, and down he went into the plain. As he approached, Huang Zhong arrayed his army.
Liu Feng put in a note of warning, saying, "The sun is setting, and our men are weary. Let us retire for the fight tomorrow."
But Huang Zhong paid little attention, saying, "I do not hold with your objections. This is the one God-given opportunity to make good, and it would be a sin not to take it."
So saying, the drums rolled for a great attack. Han Hao came forward with his troops, and the aged general went toward him whirling his sword. In the first encounter Han Hao fell. At this the soldiers of Shu gave a yell and went away up the hill, whereupon Zhang He and Xiahou Shang hastily moved out to withstand them. But a great red glare sprang into the sky from behind the hill, and a shouting arose. Hastily Xiahou De led off his troops to meet the danger there and went straight into the arms of Yan Yan. The Veteran General's arm rose, the sword fell, and Xiahou De dropped from his steed to rise no more.
This ambush, into which the dead general had rushed, had been carefully prepared by Huang Zhong, who had sent Yan Yan away before he marched himself and given Yan Yan orders what to do. It was the brushwood that Yan Yan's men had spent the time in collecting that now sent forth the flames reaching up to the heavens and filling the valleys.
Yan Yan, after slaying Xiahou De, came round the hill to aid in the attack so that the defenders were taken both in front and rear. They could do nothing and presently left the battlefield and rushed toward Dingjun Mountain to seek refuge with Xiahou Yuan.
Meanwhile the victors took steps to hold the position they had won and sent the good news of victory to Capital Chengdu. And when the news arrived, Liu Bei called together all his officers to rejoice.
Then said Fa Zheng, "Not long ago Zhang Lu submitted to Cao Cao, and thereby Cao Cao got possession of Hanzhong quite easily. Instead of following up this by an advance westward, he left two generals to guard it and went south. That was a mistake. Now, my lord, do not make a mistake yourself, but take advantage of the present favorable position, with Zhang He newly defeated and Tiandang Mountain captured, to attack Hanzhong and you will have it at once. Once that is yours, you can train your army and amass supplies ready for a stroke against the arch-rebel himself. This God-given advantage will be confirmed to you, and you should not miss it."
Both Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang saw the wisdom of this scheme and prepared to act. Zhao Yun and Zhang Fei were to lead the van, while Liu Bei with Zhuge Liang commanded the main army of one hundred thousand troops. A day was chosen to set out, and orders were sent to everyone to keep careful guard for Yizhou.
It was a certain auspicious day in the seventh month of the twenty-third year that the army marched (AD 218). Reaching Jiameng Pass, Huang Zhong and Yan Yan were summoned and well rewarded for their services.
Liu Bei said to Huang Zhong, "People said you were old, General, but the Directing Instructor of the army know you better than they, and you have rendered amazing service. Still, Dingjun Mountain is yet to be captured, and it is both a great central store and a major defense of Nanzheng. If we could get Dingjun Mountain, we could be quite easy about the whole region of Hanzhong. Think you that you are equal to taking Dingjun Mountain?"
To this harangue of Liu Bei, the veteran nobly answered that he was willing to try and was ready to start when they would.
Said Zhuge Liang hastily, "Do not be hasty. You are brave enough, General, but Xiahou Yuan is a man of different stamp from Zhang He. Xiahou Yuan is a real strategist and tactician; so much so that Cao Cao relies upon him as his defense against Xiliang. It was he who was set to defend Chang'an when threatened by Ma Chao. Now he is in Hanzhong, and Cao Cao puts his whole confidence in him and his skill as a leader. You have overcome Zhang He, but it is not certain you will conquer this man. I think I must send down to Jingzhou for Guan Yu for this task."
Huang Zhong hotly replied, "Old Lian Po was eighty years old and yet he ate a bushel of rice and ten pounds of flesh, so that his vigor frightened the nobles and not one dared encroach upon the borders of the state of Zhao. I am not yet seventy. You call me old, O Instructor; then I will not take any helper, but go out simply with my own three thousand troops, and we will lay Xiahou Yuan's head at your feet."
Zhuge Liang refused to allow him to go; Huang Zhong insisted. At last Zhuge Liang consented, but said he would send an overseer.
Youth's vigor may be lesser worth than age's powers, we know.
The next chapter will tell who the overseer was.
- ↑ Lian Po was the commander-in-chief of Zhao, who made Zhao a powerful state. Liu Xiangru, the Prime Minister, was his good friend.