Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 24


Cao Cao Murdered The Consort Dong;
Liu Bei Flees To Yuan Shao.

 the last chapter closed with the discovery of the “girdle” decree and the assembly of Cao Cao’s advisers to consider the deposition of Emperor Xian.

  Cheng Yu spoke strongly against this, saying, “Illustrious Sir, the means by which you impress the world and direct the government is the command of the House of Han. In these times of turmoil and rivalry among the nobles, such a step as the deposition of the ruler will certainly bring about civil war and is much to be deprecated.”

  After reflection Cao Cao abandoned the project. But Dong Cheng’s plot was not to go unpunished. All five of the conspirators with every member of their households, seven hundred at least, were taken and put to death at one or another of the gates of the city. The people wept at such merciless and wholesale slaughter.

  [hip, hip, hip] A secret decree in a girdle sewn, In red blood written, the Emperor’s own, To the staunch and faithful Dong Cheng addressed, Who had saved him once when enemies pressed. And who, sore grieved at his Sovereign’s fate, Expressed in dreams his ceaseless hate, Carried misfortune and death in its train, But glory to him who died in vain. [yip, yip, yip]

  Another poet wrote of the sad fate of Wang Zifu and his friends:

  [hip, hip, hip] GREatheartedly these signed the silken roll, And pledged themselves to save their king from shame. Alas! Black death of them took heavy toll, To write their names upon the roll of fame. [yip, yip, yip]

  But the slaughter of the conspirators and their whole households did not appease the wrath of the Prime Minister. The Emperor’s consort was a sister of Dong Cheng; and, sword in hand, Cao Cao went into the Forbidden City determined to slay her also. The Emperor cherished her tenderly, the more so as she was then in the fifth month of pregnancy. That day, as they often did, the Emperor, Consort Dong, and Empress Fu were sitting in their private apartment secretly talking of the decree entrusted to Dong Cheng and asking each other why nothing seemed to have been done. The sudden appearance of the angry Prime Minister, armed as he was, frightened them GREatly.

  “Does Your Majesty know that Dong Cheng conspired against me?” said he.

  “Dong Zhuo died long ago,” replied the Emperor.

  “Not Dong Zhuo——Dong Cheng!” roared Cao Cao.

  the Emperor’s heart trembled, but he gasped out, “Really I did not know!”

  “So the cut finger and the blood written decree are all forgotten, eh?”

  the Emperor was silent. Cao Cao bade his lictors seize Consort Dong. The Emperor interposed asking pity for her condition.

  But Cao Cao said, “If Heaven had not interposed and defeated the plot, I should be a dead man. How could I leave this woman to work evil to me by and by?”

  Said the Emperor, “Immure her in one of the palaces till her confinement. Do not harm her now!”

  “Do you wish me to spare her offspring to avenge the mother?” said Cao Cao.

  “I pray that my body may be spared mutilation and not put to shame,” said Consort Dong.

  Cao Cao bade his men show her the white silk cord. The Emperor wept bitterly.

  “Do not hate me in the below realms of the Nine Golden Springs,” said the Emperor to her.

  His tears fell like rain. Empress Fu also joined in the lament, but Cao Cao said, “You are behaving like a lot of children.”

  And he told the lictors to take Consort Dong away and strangle her in the courtyard.

  [hip, hip, hip] In vain had the fair girl found favor in the sight of her lord. She died, and the fruit of her womb perished. Stern and calm her lord sat, powerless to save. Hiding his face while tears gushed forth. [yip, yip, yip]

  When leaving the Palace, Cao Cao gave strict orders to the keepers, saying “Anyone of the imperial relatives by marriage who enter the Palace will be put to death, and the guards will share the same punishment for lack of zeal.”

  To make more sure he appointed three thousand Imperial Guards from his own troops and appointed Cao Hong to the command.

  then said Cao Cao to his counselor Cheng Yu, “The conspirators in the capital have been removed, it is true, but there are yet two others, Ma Teng and Liu Bei. These must not be left.”

  Cheng Yu replied, “Ma Teng is strong in the west and would not be easily captured. He might be enticed to the capital by suave words and kindly praises, when he would be at your mercy. Liu Bei is at Xuzhou, strongly posted in an ox-horn formation, and not to be lightly attacked. More than this, Yuan Shao is at Guandu, and his one desire is to attack you. Any attempt on the east will send Liu Bei to Yuan Shao for help, and Yuan Shao will come here at once. Then what will you do?”

  “You are at fault,” replied Cao Cao. “Liu Bei is a bold warrior. If we wait till he is fully fledged and winged, he will be more difficult to deal with. Yuan Shao may be strong, but he is not to be feared. He is too undeciding to act.”

  As they were discussing these things, Guo Jia came in, and Cao Cao suddenly referred the matter to him.

  “If I attack Liu Bei, then Yuan Shao is to be feared. What do you think of it?”

  Guo Jia said, “Yuan Shao by nature is dilatory and hesitating, and his various advisers are jealous of each other. He is not to be feared. Liu Bei is getting together a new army and has not yet won their hearts. You could settle the east in one battle.”

  “This advice is in harmony with my thinking,” said Cao Cao.

  And he prepared an army of two hundred thousand troops, to move in five divisions against Xuzhou.

  Scouts took the news of these preparations to Xuzhou. Sun Qian first went to Xiapi to tell Guan Yu and then went to Xiaopei to tell Liu Bei. The two discussed the position and decided that help must be sought. So letters were written to Yuan Shao and given to Sun Qian, who went north, sought Tian Feng, and asked him to arrange an interview with Yuan Shao. Sun Qian was introduced and presented his letters.

  But Yuan Shao was of melancholy countenance, and his dress was all awry. Tian Feng said, “Why this disarray, my lord?”

  “I am about to die,” replied Yuan Shao.

  “But why do you utter such words?”

  “I have three sons, but only the youngest is clever enough to understand my ideas. Now he is suffering from scabies which places his life in jeopardy. Think you that I have any heart to talk over any other affairs?”

  “But,” said Tian Feng, “the present combination of circumstances is unparalleled. Cao Cao is going to attack the east, and Xuchang will be empty. You can enter it with a few volunteers and so perform good service to the Emperor and save the people from sorrow. You have only to make up your mind to act.”

  “I know the chance is excellent, but I am worried and distressed and fear failure.”

  “What are you distressed about?” said Tian Feng.

  “Among my sons only this special one is remarkable; and if anything happens, I am done.”

  Thus it became evident that no army would be dispatched.

  In confirmation of this, Yuan Shao said to Sun Qian, “Go home and tell Liu Bei the real reason, and say that if anything untoward happen, he can come over to me, and I will find some means of helping him.”

  Tian Feng struck the ground with his staff.

  “It is such a pity!” cried he. “Just as a unique opportunity presents itself, everything is spoiled by the illness of a child.”

  He went out. Sun Qian saw that no help could be hoped for and set out to return. When he had arrived and related what he had seen, Liu Bei was quite alarmed and asked what could be done.

  “Do not be troubled, brother,” said Zhang Fei. “We can destroy Cao Cao merely by a sudden attack before his army shall have time to camp.”

  “That would be according to the rules of war,” said Liu Bei. “You have always been a bold warrior, and that move against Liu Dai shows that you are becoming a strategist too.”

  So Liu Bei gave Zhang Fei command of enough soldiers to carry out this plan.

  Now while Cao Cao was in the midst of his march toward Xiaopei, a tornado sprang up and the howling gale tore down one of the banners and broke the staff. Cao Cao called together his advisers and leaders to ask them what this portended.

  Xun Yu said, “From what direction was the wind at the time, and what was the color of the flag?”

  “the wind was from the southeast, and the flag was blue and red.”

  “there is only one interpretation: A raid on the camp will occur tonight.”

  Cao Cao nodded. At that moment Mao Jie entered and reported a similar incident. Cao Cao asked him the portent.

  “My thinking tells me it means a night raid,” replied he.

  [hip, hip, hip] Alas for the weakness of this descendant of kings!

  He placed his faith on a night raid. But the broken staff of a banner warned his enemy. Why should the ancient of days favor the wicked?

  [yip, yip, yip]

  “This is evidently providence,” said Cao Cao.

  And he began to make preparations. He told off nine bodies of troops to take stations, leaving only one of them as if camped while he placed the others in ambush at eight points.

  there was but little moonlight as Liu Bei and Zhang Fei marched their respective armies toward Cao Cao’s camp. They had left Sun Qian to guard Xiaopei. Zhang Fei, since he was the originator of the stratagem, led the way with some light horse. As they drew near, everything seemed very quiet and no one seemed moving. Then suddenly lights FLASHed out all about them, and Zhang Fei saw he had fallen into a trap. At once from all the eight directions came out the ambushing troops. From east, west, north, south were Zhang Liao, Xu Chu, Li Dian, and Yu Jin. From northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest were Xiahou Dun, Xiahou Yuan, Xu Huang, and Yue Jing.

  Zhang Fei, dashing this way and rushing that, guarding his van and protecting his rear, vainly tried to clear himself. the soldiers he had, being originally Cao Cao’s troops, soon gave in and returned to their old leader. The position became very desperate.

  Zhang Fei met Xu Huang and engaged him, but his rear was also attacked by Yue Jing. At length he cut an alley out and with a half score of his troops started to return to Xiaopei. the retreat was cut off. He thought to make for Xuzhou but felt certain that way was also barred. No other way seemed open, and so he made for the Mangdang Hills.

  As Liu Bei drew near the camp, he intended to attack when he heard the din of battle. Then he was attacked in the rear and very soon had lost half his force. Next Xiahou Dun came to attack. Thereupon Liu Bei bolted. He was pursued by Xiahou Yuan. Presently Liu Bei looked about him and found he had less than half a hundred soldiers following him. He set his face in the direction of Xiaopei.

  But before long Liu Bei saw that place was in flames. So he changed his plan and went toward Xiapi. However he found the whole countryside full of the enemy, and he could not get through. So he bethought himself of the promise of Yuan Shao, that he would find refuge if things went unfavorable, and determined to go to Yuan Shao till he could form some other plan. Wherefore he took the Qingzhou road. But it also was blocked, and he went into the open country and made his way north, not without being pursued and losing the remainder of his few followers.

  He hastened toward Qingzhou City, traveling one hundred miles a day. When he reached the city and summoned the gate, the guards asked who he was and they told the Governor, who was Yuan Shao’s eldest son, Yuan Tan. Yuan Tan was GREatly surprised, but he opened the gates and went to meet Liu Bei, whom he treated with due consideration.

  Liu Bei told the story of his defeat and said he wished for harbor. He was given suitable quarters and hospitably entertained, while the young man wrote to inform his father. Then Yuan Tan provided an escort and sent Liu Bei on his journey as far as the boundary of Pingyuan.

  At the city of Yejun, Liu Bei was met by Yuan Shao in person ten miles outside the city, with a GREat escort. Liu Bei made a humble obeisance which Yuan Shao hastened to return and said, “I have been very distressed that, on account of my son’s illness, I did not come to your aid. It is a great joy to see you; the one desire of my life is satisfied.”

  Liu Bei replied, “the poor Liu Bei you see here has long desired to take refuge with you, but fate has hitherto denied him that privilege. Now attacked by Cao Cao, my family lost, I remembered that you, General, would receive good people from all sides. Wherefore I put my pride in my pocket. I trust that I may be found worthy and one day I will prove my gratitude.”

  Yuan Shao received him with much pleasure and treated him exceedingly well. And they both lived in Yuan Shao’s home region Jizhou.

  After the capture of Xiaopei, Cao Cao pressed on toward Xuzhou City, which, after a short defense and the flight of Mi Zhu and Jian Yong, was surrendered by Chen Deng. Cao Cao led his army into the city, restored order, and pacified the people. Next he wanted to press on to Xiapi, where Guan Yu was holding out and keeping guard of Liu Bei’s family.

  Xun Yu said, “Guan Yu is there, in charge of his brother’s family, and he will defend the city to the last. If you do not take it quickly, Yuan Shao will get it.”

  Cao Cao said, “I have always loved Guan Yu, both for his warlike abilities and his principles. I would engage him to enter my service. I would rather send someone to talk him into surrender.”

  “He will not do that,” said Guo Jia. “His sense of right is too solid. I fear anyone who went to speak with him would suffer.”

  then suddenly a man stepped out, saying, “I know him slightly, and I will go.”

  the speaker was Zhang Liao.

  Cheng Yu looked at him and said, “Though you are an old acquaintance, I do not think you are equal to talking over Guan Yu. But I have a scheme that will so entangle him that he will have no alternative. He will have to enter the service of the Prime Minister.”

  [hip, hip, hip] they set the fatal spring beside the lordly tiger’s trail, They hide the hook with fragrant bait to catch the mighty whale. [yip, yip, yip]

  How Guan Yu was to be entrapped will be told in the next chapter.

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