The King of Nanman Is Captured The Fifth Time.
|Zhuge Liang's small carriage was escorted by only a few horsemen. Hearing that a sluggish river, the West Er River, lay in the way, and having no boat, Zhuge Liang bade the escort cut down some trees and make a raft. They did so, but the raft sank.
So Zhuge Liang turned to Lu Kai, who said, "There is close by a mountain covered with bamboos. I have heard of these bamboos, and some are several spans in girth. We can make a bridge of them for the army to cross."
So thirty thousand soldiers were sent to the mountains, where they cut down many thousands of bamboos, and floated them down river. Then at the narrowest point they made a bridge a hundred spans or so in length. Next the main army was brought down to the river and camped in line along the bank. The camp was protected by a moat, crossed by a floating bridge, and a mud rampart. On the south bank they constructed three large stockades so as to prepare for the coming of the Nanman soldiers.
They had not long to wait. Meng Huo was hot with rage and came quickly with an army of one hundred thousand. As soon as he got near the river, he led out ten thousand fierce warriors, armed with big swords and shield, and challenged the first stockade.
Zhuge Liang went forth in simple state. He wore a silk cap and a crane-white robe and held in his hand a feather fan. He sat in a four-horse carriage, and his generals rode right and left.
The King of the Nanman was clad in mail of rhinoceros hide and wore a bright red casque. In his left hand he bore a shield, and his right gripped a sword. He rode a red ox. As soon as he saw his enemies, he opened his mouth and poured forth abuse and insults, while his warriors, huge and bold, darted to and fro brandishing their weapons.
Zhuge Liang at once ordered the army to retire within the stockades and bar the gates. The Nanman came close up to the stockade and pranced about naked, shouting in derision.
Within the stockade the Shu generals grew very angry, and they went in a body to see their leader.
They all said, "We volunteer to march out and fight until death!"
But Zhuge Liang would not listen.
Presently he said, "These men are not submissive to the Imperial Government and are naturally fierce and turbulent. In that mood we are no match for them. But all we have to do is to remain on guard for a few days till their ferocity has spent itself. Then I have a plan that will overcome them."
Days passed, and the army of Shu made no move; they only maintained the defensive. Zhuge Liang watched the besiegers from an eminence, and saw the first vigor of their advance give way to careless idleness.
Then Zhuge Liang called together his generals and asked, "Dare you give battle now?"
To Ma Dai he said, "I am going to abandon these stockades and retire north of the river. As soon as we have crossed, you are to cut loose the floating bridge and move it down the stream so that Zhao Yun and Wei Yan may cross."
To Zhang Yi he said, "You are to remain by the camp and light it up at night---as if it is still occupied. When Meng Huo pursues, then you are to cut off his retreat."
Last of all, Guan Suo was to escort Zhuge Liang's carriage.
The soldiers marched out of the camp at evening, and the lamps were hung up as usual. The Nanman saw this from a distance and dared not attack. But the next morning at dawn Meng Huo led his troops to the stockades and found all was quiet. He went close up and saw they were all empty and bare; not a soldier was there. Grain and fodder lay about among empty carts. All was in confusion, suggesting hasty departure.
"They have abandoned the camp," said Meng You to his brother. "But this is only a ruse."
Said Meng Huo, "I think that Zhuge Liang has important news from the capital that has made him leave without his baggage train like this. Either Wu has invaded or Wei has attacked. They left these lamps burning to make us think the camps were occupied, but they ran away leaving everything behind. If we pursue, we cannot go wrong."
So the King urged his army onward, himself heading the leading division. When they reached the bank of the West Er River, they saw on the farther side that the camps were all in order and the banners flying as usual like a brightly tinted cloud of silk. Along the bank stood a wall of cloth. They dared not attack.
Meng Huo said to his brother, "This means that Zhuge Liang fears lest we may pursue. That is only a temporary halt, and they will retire in a couple of days."
The Nanman camped on the river bank while they sent into the mountains to cut bamboos to make rafts. The boldest of the soldiers were placed in front of the camp till the rafts should be ready to cross. Little did Meng Huo suspect that the army of Shu was already within his borders.
One day when the wind blew violently, the Nanman saw great flames spring up around them, and at the same time the rolling of drums heralded an attack. The Nanman, instead of going out to meet the enemy, began to force their way out of the Shu attack. Meng Huo became alarmed and fled with all his clans and dependents. They fought their way through and made a dash for their former camp.
Just as they reached it, there appeared a cohort of the enemy led by Zhao Yun. Meng Huo turned off west and sought refuge in the mountains. But he was fiercely attacked by a cohort under Ma Dai. With a small remnant of followers, he got away into a valley. Soon he saw in the west, north, and south clouds of smoke rising and the glow of torches, so that he was forced to halt. However, the east remained clear, and presently he fled in that direction. As he was crossing the mouth of a gully, he noticed a few horsemen outlined against a thick wood and saw they were escorting a small carriage. And in that carriage sat Zhuge Liang.
Zhuge Liang laughed, and said, "So King of the Nanman has got here! You have been defeated. I have waited for you a long time."
Meng Huo angrily turned to his followers and said, "Thrice have I been the victim of this man's base wiles and have been put to shame. Now chance has sent him across my path, and you must attack him with all your energy. Let us cut him to pieces and those with him."
The Nanman horsemen, with Meng Huo shouting to encourage them, pushed forward in hot haste toward the wood. But in a few moments they all stumbled and disappeared into some pits that had been dug in the way. And just then Wei Yan emerged from the wood. One by one the Nanman were pulled out of the pits and bound tight with cords.
Zhuge Liang returned to his camp, where the captors of the King could bring in their prisoner. Zhuge Liang busied himself in soothing the other Nanman prisoners. Many of the notables and chiefs of the tributaries had betaken themselves to their own ravines and villages with their followers. Many of those who remained came over and yielded to Shu. They were well fed and assured of safety, and allowed to go to their own. They went off gladly enough.
By and by Zhang Yi brought up the King's brother, Meng You. Zhuge Liang reproached him for his brother's behavior.
"Your brother is a misguided simpleton. You ought to remonstrate with him and persuade him to change his course. Here you are, a captive for the fourth time. Are you not ashamed? How can you have the effrontery to look anyone in the face?"
A deep flush of shame passed over Meng You's face, and he threw himself to the earth begging forgiveness.
Zhuge Liang said, "If I put you to death, it shall not be today. This time I pardon you, but you are to talk to your brother."
So Meng You was loosed from his bonds and allowed to get up. He went away weeping.
Very soon Wei Yan brought up Meng Huo, and to him Zhuge Liang simulated great rage, saying, "What can you say now? You see you are in my hands again."
"I am again an unfortunate victim," said Meng Huo. "Once more I have blundered into your net, and now I shall die with unclosed eyes."
Zhuge Liang shouted to the lictors to take him away and behead him.
Meng Huo never blenched at the sentence, but he turned to his captor and said, "If you freed me only once more, I would wipe out the shame of all four captures."
Zhuge Liang smiled at the bold reply and bade the lictors loose his bonds, and the attendants served him with wine. Meng Huo was invited to sit in the commander's tent.
Said Zhuge Liang, "Four times you have been treated generously and yet you are still defiant. Why?"
"Though I am what you call a barbarian, I would scorn to employ your vile ruses. And that is why I remain defiant."
"I have liberated you four times. Do you think you can give battle again?"
"If you catch me again, I will incline my heart to yield and I will give everything in my ravine to reward your army. I will also take an oath not to cause any further trouble."
Zhuge Liang smiled, but let him go. The King thanked him and left.
As soon as he was set at liberty, Meng Huo got together several thousand of his adherents and went away southward. Before long he fell in with his brother, Meng You, who had got together an army and was on his way to avenge his brother. As soon as they saw each other, the brothers fell upon each other's necks and wept. They related their experiences.
Meng You said, "We cannot stand against the enemy. We have been defeated several times. Now I think we had better go into the mountains and hide in some dark gully where they cannot find us. Those soldiers of Shu will never stand the summer heat. They must retire."
"Where can we hide?" asked his brother.
"I know a valley away southwest from us called 'Bald Dragon Ravine', and the King, Duosi, is a friend of mine. Let us take refuge with him."
"Very well. Go and arrange it," said Meng Huo.
So Meng You went. When he got there and talked to the chief, King Duosi lost no time but came out with his soldiers to welcome Meng Huo, who then entered the valley. After the exchange of salutations, Meng Huo explained his case.
Duosi said, "O King, rest content. If those men from the River Lands come here, I will see to it that not one goes home. And Zhuge Liang will meet his death here too."Naturally, Meng Huo was pleased. But he wanted to know how his host could feel so secure.
Duosi said, "In this ravine there are only two roads, the one you came by and another by the northwest. The road you traveled along is level and soft, and the waters are sweet. Humans and horses may both use it. But if we close the mouth of the ravine with a barricade, then no one, however strong, can get in. The other road is precipitous, dangerous, and narrow. The only path is beset with venomous serpents and scorpions, and as evening comes on there are malarial exhalations which are dangerous till past noon the next day. The road is only practicable between two watches before sunset. Then the water is undrinkable. The road is very difficult.
"Then again there are four streams actually poisonous. One is called 'The Dumb Spring'. Its water is pleasant to the palate, but it makes people dumb and they die in a few days. A second fountain is called 'The Destruction Spring' and is hot. But if a person bathes therein, his flesh rots till his bones protrude and he dies. The third is 'The Black Spring'. Its water is clear. If it be sprinkled on a person's body, his limbs turn black and presently he dies. The fourth is 'The Weak Spring', ice cold. If a person drink of this water his breath is chilled, he becomes weak as a thread and soon dies. Neither birds nor insects are found in this region, and no one but the Han General Ma Yuan, who was styled General Who Quells the Waves for this exploit, has ever passed. Now the northeast road shall be blocked, and you may hide here perfectly safe from those troops of Shu, for, finding that way blocked, they will try the other road, which is waterless save for the four deadly springs. No matter how many they be, they will perish, and we need no weapons."
"Now indeed I have found a place to live in," cried Meng Huo, striking his forehead. Then looking to the north he said, "Even Zhuge Liang's wonderful cunning will be of no avail. The four springs alone will defeat him and avenge my army."
The two brothers settled down comfortably as guests of King Duosi, with whom they spent the days in feasting.
In the meantime, as the Nanman did not appear, Zhuge Liang gave orders to leave the West Er River and push south. It was then the sixth month, and blazing hot. A poet sang about the bitter heat of the south:
A raging heat fills all the sky,
Throughout the whole wide universe
No spot exists where heat is worse.
Another poem runs:
No cloud gives shelter from the blaze.
In parching heat there pants a crane,
The whale swims through the hissing main.
The brook's cool margin now I love,
Or idle stroll through bamboo grove.
I would not march to deserts far
Just at the moment of setting out southward, the spies brought news of Meng Huo's retreat: "Meng Huo has fled into the Bald Dragon Ravine, and there he has barricaded the entrance. The valley is garrisoned; the hills are precipitous and even impassable."
So Zhuge Liang called in Lu Kai and questioned him, but he did not know exactly the conditions.
Then out spoke Jiang Wan, saying, "Meng Huo's repeated captures have broken his spirit so that he dare not take the field again. Our soldiers are exhausted with this intense heat, and little is to be gained by prolonging the campaign. The best move would be to return to our own country."
"If we do this, we shall fall victims to Meng Huo's scheme," said Zhuge Liang. "If we retreated, he would certainly follow. Beside, having advanced so far, it would be fruitless to turn back now."
Wang Ping was sent on with the advanced guard and some of the Nanman as guides to seek an entrance on the northwest. They found the road and came to the first spring---the Dumb Spring---, of which the thirsty men and horses drank freely.
Wang Ping returned to report his success, but by the time he reached camp, he and all his soldiers were speechless. They could only point to their mouths.
Zhuge Liang knew they had been poisoned, and was alarmed. He went forward in his light chariot to find out the cause. He came to the spring. The water was very deep and dark green. A mass of vapor hung about the surface rising and falling. They would not touch the water. Zhuge Liang went up the hills to look around, but could see nothing except a rampart of mountains. A deep silence hung over all, unbroken by the cry even of a bird. He was perplexed.
Presently he noticed an old temple away up among the crags. By the aid of the lianas and creepers he managed to clamber up, and in a chamber hewn out of the rock he saw the figure of an officer. Beside it was a tablet saying the temple was dedicated to Ma Yuan, the famous general who had preceded him in that country. The natives had erected it to sacrifice to the leader who had headed the campaign against the Nanman.
Zhuge Liang, much impressed, bowed before the image of the great leader, and said, "Your humble servant received a sacred trust, the protection of the son of the First Ruler. That son, the present Emperor, sent him here to subdue the Nanman that the land might be free from peril when he decided to attack Wei and take possession of Wu and thereby restore the glory of Han. But the soldiers are ignorant of the country, and some of them have drunk of a poisonous spring so that they have become dumb. Your servant earnestly prays your honored spirit, out of regard for the kindness and justice of the present Emperor, to reveal your spiritual character and manifest your holiness by safeguarding and assisting the army."
Having prayed thus, Zhuge Liang left the temple. While seeking some native whom he might question, he saw in the distance, on a hill opposite, an aged man leaning on a staff. He approached, and as he drew nearer, Zhuge Liang noted his extraordinary appearance. When he had reached the temple, Zhuge Liang asked the venerable visitor to walk in. After the salutations, the old man sat on the stones, and Zhuge Liang opened the conversation with the usual questions.
The old gentleman replied, "Sir Minister, I know you well by repute, and am happy to meet you. Many of the Nanman owe their lives to you, and all have been deeply impressed by your kindness."
Then Zhuge Liang returned to the matter nearest his heart, the mystery of the spring.
The old man told him, "That is the Dumb Spring that your soldiers have drunk, and they will die in a few days. Besides that, there are other three poisonous streams called Destruction Spring, Black Spring, and Weak Spring. All miasma gathers there in the four streams, and it only vaporizes during the two watch before sunset."
"In short, the Nanman cannot be conquered," said Zhuge Liang when the old man had finished. "And Wu cannot be repressed, nor Wei overcome. And the Hans cannot be restored. So, I fail in the task set me by my Prince: I wish that I might die."
"Be not so cast down, O Minister," said the aged one. "I can lead you to a place where you may counteract all this."
"I would ask for your instruction, Venerable One," said Zhuge Liang. "What exalted advice have you to confer upon me? I hope you will instruct me."
"West of this, not far off, is a valley, and seven miles from its entrance is a stream called the 'Spring of Eternal Peace', near which there lives a recluse known as the Hermit of the Stream. He has not left the valley these twenty years. Behind his hut there gushes out a spring of water, called the 'Spring of Peace and Joy'. This is the antidote to your poison. Bathing in its waters is a cure for skin diseases and for malaria. Moreover, near the hut grows an herb called the 'garlic-leaved fragrance'. Chewing a leaf of this safeguards one from malaria. You can do no better than go to the hut of the recluse forthwith and get these remedies."
Zhuge Liang humbly thanked his aged counselor, and said, "Venerable Sir, I am profoundly affected by your merciful kindness and compassion. May I ask again by what name may call you?"
The old man rose and entered the temple, saying, "I am the Spirit of this mountain, sent by Ma Yuan to guide you."
As he said this, he shouted at the solid rock behind the temple, and it opened of itself and let him in.
Zhuge Liang's astonishment was beyond words. He made another obeisance to the Spirit of the temple and went down by the way he had come. Then he returned to his camp.
Next day, bearing incense and gifts, Wang Ping and his stricken men went west to the spot which the old man had indicated. They luckily found the valley and followed its narrow road till they came to a small, farm-like enclosure, where tall pines and lofty cypresses, luxuriant bamboos, and gorgeous flowers sheltered a few simple huts. An exquisite perfume pervaded the whole place.
Zhuge Liang rejoiced to recognize the spot and at once knocked at the door.
A lad answered his knock, and Zhuge Liang was telling his name when the host came out quickly, saying, "Surely my visitor is the Prime Minister of the Han Dynasty?"
Zhuge Liang saw at the door a man with a bamboo comb holding back his hair, grass shoes on his feet, and a robe of white girded in by a black girdle. He had green eyes and yellowed hair.
"Great Scholar, how did you know who I was?" said Zhuge Liang.
"How could I not have heard of your expedition to the south?"
He invited Zhuge Liang to enter.
When they had seated themselves in their relative positions as host and guest, Zhuge Liang said, "My former Prince, the First Ruler, confided to me the care of his son and successor. That son, now Emperor, gave me a command to lead an army to this country, get the Nanman on our side, and spread our culture among them. But now to my disappointment Meng Huo, the King, has hidden himself in the Bald Dragon Ravine, and some of my soldiers on the way to seek him drank of a certain fountain and are dumb. But last evening the former leader of an expedition, Ma Yuan, manifested his sacred presence and told me that you, Exalted Sir, had a remedy for this evil, and I pray you of your pity to give me of the potent fluid whereby my soldiers' lives may be saved."
The recluse replied, "I am only a worthless old man of the wild woods and unworthy of the visit of such as you, O Minister. The water you desire flows out at the back of my cottage, and you may take what you will of it."
The serving lad then showed Wang Ping and his dumb companions to the Spring of Peace and Joy, and he dipped up the waters for them to drink. As soon as they had drunk, they coughed up some poisoned mucus and could speak. The lad also led the soldiers to the Spring of Eternal Peace where they could bathe.
In the cottage the recluse regaled Zhuge Liang with tea made of cypress seeds and a conserve of pine flowers.
He also told his guest, saying, "In this region, the lands are full of serpents and scorpions, and the lily flowers blown into the springs by the wind make them unfit to drink. However, if you dig wells, you will find good water."
Then Zhuge Liang begged some of the garlic-leaved herb as an antidote against malaria. The recluse said the soldiers could pluck as much as they wanted. And so everyone put a leaf in his mouth and thus became malaria-proof.
Zhuge Liang, with a low bow then begged to be told the name of his benefactor.
"I am Meng Huo's eldest brother," said the recluse, smiling. "My name is Meng Jie."
Zhuge Liang started.
"Do not be afraid," said the recluse. "Let me explain. We were three brothers of the same parents, the eldest being myself. Our parents are both dead. My brother Meng Huo, being headstrong and vicious, has never been amenable to culture. I have talked to him many times, but he kept his own course. Finally, under an assumed name, I retired to this spot. I am ashamed for my brother's rebellion, which has put you, O Minister, to the trouble of making this expedition into a barren country, but it has given me the privilege of seeing you. For my responsibility in this I deserve to die a thousand times, as I own to your face, and I beg your pardon."
Zhuge Liang sighed, saying, "Now I believe that story of the two brothers---Robber Liu Zhi and Noble Liu Xiahui. This is the same thing over again. People renowned for villainy and virtue may come from the same stock."
Then he said to his host, "Would you wish me to represent your merits to the Emperor and get you created a king?"
"How can you think I desire honors or wealth when I am here because of my contempt for all such things?"
Zhuge Liang then wished to make him certain presents, but the recluse would have none of them.
So taking leave of his host, Zhuge Liang went back to his camp.
Zhuge Liang found a high-born recluse in a shady solitude.
Up till then the gloomy forests were thought destitute of men,
That no curling smoke wreath ever floated upwards from the glen.
As soon as Zhuge Liang reached camp, he set the soldiers digging for water. They dug to a great depth but found none; nor were they more successful when they tried other places. They were very discouraged.
Then Zhuge Liang in the depths of the night burned incense and prayed to God: "Unworthy as is thy servant Zhuge Liang, he has received favor from the Great Han and now has been ordered to subdue the Nanman. Alas! Now our water is spent and my soldiers and animals are parched with thirst. If Thy will be to preserve the line of Hans, then give, I beseech Thee, sweet water; but if their course is run, then may Thy servant and those with him die in this place."
The morning after this prayer the wells were full of sweet water.
Though his skill was superhuman, yet he held the righteous way;
As the wells gave forth sweet water when Geng Gong's head bowed full low,
So the reverent prayers of Zhuge Liang made the lower springs to flow.
The soldiers' spirits revived with the supply of water, and the army soon advanced by hill paths to the Valley of the Bald Dragon, where they camped. When Meng Huo heard the news, he was greatly taken aback.
"These troops do not appear to have suffered either thirst or fever," said he. "Our springs have lost their power."
King Duosi heard it, but doubted. He and Meng Huo ascended into a high hill whence they could see their enemies. They saw no signs of illness or distress. All went on calmly and quietly in the camps, water carrying and cooking, eating and attending to the cattle. Duosi's hair stood on end as he looked at them.
"These are not human soldiers," said he, shivering. "They must be sent from Heaven."
"Our two brothers will fight one fierce battle with these troops of Shu and die therein," said Meng Huo, "We cannot wait calmly to be put into bonds."
"But, O King, if your army should be beaten, my whole family will also perish. Let us encourage the people of the ravines. Let us kill bullocks and slaughter horses to feed them, and urge them to go through fire and water to rush right up to the camp of the enemy and seize upon victory."
So there was great feasting before the Nanman took the field. Just as this was going on, there arrived one Yang Fang, King of twenty-one ravines in the west, and he led thirty thousand troops.
Meng Huo rejoiced exceedingly, saying, "This addition to our forces shall surely bring us victory."
So he and Duosi went out of their own valley to welcome Yang Fang.
Yang Fang said, "I have with me thirty thousand troops in iron mail, brave and intrepid warriors, who can fly over mountains and bound across the peaks. They of themselves are a match for the enemy even if the enemy numbered a hundred legions. And, moreover, my five sons, all trained in arms, are with me, all to help you, O Kings."
The five sons were brought in and presented. They were handsome young fellows, bold and martial looking. Father and sons were entertained at a banquet. Halfway through the feast Yang Fang proposed a diversion.
"There is but scanty amusement in the field," said Yang Fang, "and so I have brought along some native singing girls who have been taught fencing and such things. If you care for it, they might give an exhibition."
The feasters hailed the suggestion with joy, and soon thirty maidens came to the front of the tent. Their hair hung about their shoulders, and they were barefooted. They danced and skipped and went through their performance outside. The guests inside clapped their hands and applauded their skill, and the soldiers joined in the choruses.
Presently, at a signal from their father, two of Yang Fang's sons bore two goblets to Meng Huo and Meng You. Meng Huo and Meng You took the cups and were raising them to their lips when Yang Fang shouted a single word of command, and, instantly, the cupbearers had the two brothers out of their seats and helpless in their hands. At this, Duosi jumped up to run away, but Yang Fang gripped him, and he was a prisoner too. The Nanman maidens ranged themselves in a line along the front of the tent so that none dared approach.
"When the hare dies the fox mourns," said Meng Huo. "One sympathizes with one's own as a rule. We are both chiefs and have been friends. I know not why you should injure me."
"I had to repay Zhuge Liang the Minister for his compassion on me and my people, and there was no way till you rebelled. Why should I not offer up a rebel in propitiation?"
Leaving Meng Huo, Meng You, and Duosi in the hands of Yang Fang, the Nanman warriors dispersed, each man returning to his own valley.
Yang Fang then took the prisoners to the camp of Shu, where he bowed at the tent door, saying, "I and my sons and the sons of my brother are grateful to you for much kindness, wherefore we bring to you as an offering the persons of these rebels."
Zhuge Liang rewarded Yang Fang and bade them bring forward Meng Huo.
"This time are you prepared to yield?" said the Prime Minister.
"It is not your ability, but the treachery of my own people that has brought me to this. If you wish to slay, slay. But I will not yield."
"You know you were the cause of my army entering into a waterless land, where there were those four evil streams, and yet my soldiers were not poisoned and came to no harm. Does it not seem to you like evidence of a superior protecting power? Why will you follow this misguided road and always be obstinate?"
Meng Huo replied, "My fathers have long held the Silver Pit Ravine, and the three rivers and the two forests are their ramparts. If you can take that stronghold, then will I and my heirs forever acknowledge your power and yield."
"I am going to liberate you once more," said Zhuge Liang, "and you may put your army in order if you will and fight a decisive battle. But after that, if you are my prisoner and are still refractory and unsubmissive, I shall have to exterminate your whole family."
Zhuge Liang ordered the lictors to loose the prisoner's bonds and let him go. After he had gone, the other two, Meng You and Duosi, were led in and they also received their liberty. They were given wine and food. but they were confused and could not look Zhuge Liang in the face. They were given horses to travel on.
But faith in their leader banishes fear.
The next chapter will tell how Meng Huo reorganized his army and whose the victory was.
- ↑ Ma Yuan (BC 14-AD 49) a general who first served Wang Mang, then join Liu Xiu in restoring Han Dynasty. In his life of career, Ma Yuan contributed much to Liu Xiu's success by putting down rebellions throughout the empire and abroad.