Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 31


Cao Cao Overcomes Yuan Shao In Cangting;
Liu Bei Seeks Shelter With Liu Biao In Jingzhou.

Cao Cao lost no time in taking advantage of Yuan Shao’s flight, but smote hard at the retreating army. Yuan Shao without helmet or proper dress, and with few followers, crossed hastily to the north bank at Liyang. He was met by one of his generals, Jiang Yiqu, who took him in and comforted him and listened to the tale of misfortunes. Next Jiang Yiqu called in the scattered remnants of the army, and when the soldiers heard that their old lord was alive they swarmed to him like ants, so that Yuan Shao quickly became strong enough to attempt the march to Jizhou. Soon the army set out and at night halted at Huang Hills.

  That evening, sitting in his tent, Yuan Shao seemed to hear a far off sound of lamentation. He crept out quietly to listen and found it was his own soldiers telling each other tales of woe. This one lamented an elder brother lost, that one grieved for his younger brother abandoned, a third mourned a companion missing, a fourth, a relative cut off. And each beat his breast and wept.

  And all said, “Had he but listened to Tian Feng, we had not met this disaster!”

  Yuan Shao, very remorseful, said, “I did not hearken unto Tian Feng, and now my soldiers have been beaten and I was nearly lost. How can I return and look him in the face?”

  Next day the march was resumed, and Yuan Shao met Peng Ji with reinforcements, to whom he said, “I disregarded Tian Feng’s advice and have brought myself to defeat. Now shall I be GREatly ashamed to look him in the face.”

  This tribute to Tian Feng’s prescience roused the jealousy of Peng Ji, who replied, “Yes; when he heard the news of your defeat, though he was a prisoner, he clapped his hands for joy and said, ‘Indeed, just as I foretold!’”

  “How dare he laugh at me, the blockhead? Assuredly he shall die,” said Yuan Shao.

  Whereupon Yuan Shao wrote a letter and sent therewith a sword to slay the prisoner.

  Meanwhile Tian Feng’s gaoler came to him one day, saying, “Above all humans I felicitate you.”

  “What is the joyful occasion and why felicitate?” said Tian Feng.

  the gaoler replied, “Imperial Protector Yuan Shao has been defeated and is on his way back. He will treat you with redoubled respect.”

  “Now am I a dead man!” said Tian Feng.

  “Why say you that, Sir, when all people give you joy?”

  “the Imperial Protector appears liberal, but he is jealous and forgetful of honest advice. Had he been victorious, he might have pardoned me. Now that he has been defeated and put to shame, I may not hope to live.”

  But the gaoler did not believe Tian Feng. Before long came the letter and the sword with the fatal order.

  the gaoler was dismayed, but the victim said, “I knew all too well that I should have to die.”

  the gaoler wept.

  Tian Feng said, “An able person born into this world who does not recognize and serve the right lord is ignorant. Today I die, but I am not deserving of pity.”

  Whereupon he cut his throat in the prison.

  [hip, hip, hip] Ju Shou but yesterday was killed, Tian Feng ends his life his fate fulfilled;the Yellow River’s main beams break one by one, Mourn ye that Yuan House! Its day is done. [yip, yip, yip]

  Thus died Tian Feng, pitied of all who heard of his fate.

  When Yuan Shao came home in Jizhou, he was with troubled mind and distorted thoughts. He could not attend to the business of government and became so ill that his second wife, who came of the Liu family and had replaced the first wife after her death, besought him to make his last dispositions.

  Now three sons had been born to Yuan Shao: Yuan Tan the eldest, who was commander at Qingzhou; Yuan Xi, who ruled over Youzhou; and Yuan Shang, borne to him by Lady Liu. This youngest son was very handsome and noble looking, and his father’s favorite. So he was kept at home.

  After the defeat at Guandu, the lad’s mother was constantly urging that her son should be named as successor, and Yuan Shao called together four of his counselors to consider this matter. These four happened to be divided in their sympathies: Shen Pei and Peng Ji being in favor of the youngest son, and Xin Ping and Guo Tu supporters of the eldest.

  When they met to consult, Yuan Shao said, “As there is nought but war and trouble outside our borders, it is necessary that tranquillity within be early provided for, and I wish to appoint my successor. My eldest son is hard and cruel, my second is mild and unfit. The third has the outward form of a hero, appreciates the wise, and is courteous to his subordinates. I wish him to succeed, but I wish that you tell me your opinions.”

  Guo Tu said, “Yuan Tan is your first born, and he is in a position of authority beyond your control. If you pass over the eldest in favor of the youngest, you sow the seeds of turbulence. The prestige of the army has been somewhat lowered and enemies are on our border. Should you add to our weakness by making strife between father and son, elder and younger brothers? Rather consider how the enemy may be repulsed and turn to the question of the heirship later.”

  then the natural hesitation of Yuan Shao asserted itself, and he could not make up his mind. Soon came news that his sons Yuan Tan was coming from Qingzhou with sixty thousand troops, Yuan Xi coming from Youzhou with fifty thousand troops, and his nephew Gao Gan coming from Bingzhou with fifty thousand troops to help him, and he turned his attention to preparations for fighting Cao Cao.

  When Cao Cao drew up his victorious army on the banks of Yellow River, the aged natives brought an offering of food and sauce to bid him welcome. Their venerable and hoary appearances led Cao Cao to treat them with the highest respect.

  He invited them to be seated and said to them, “Venerable Sirs, what may be your age?”

  “We are nearly a hundred,” replied the old villagers.

  “I should be very sorry if my army had disturbed your village,” said Cao Cao.

  One of them said, “In the days of the Emperor Huan a yellow star was seen over by way of the ancient states of Chu and Song in the southwest. Yin Kui of Liaodong, who was learned in astrology, happened to be passing the night here, and he told us that the star foretold the arrival in these parts, fifty years hence, of a true and honest man here in the Yellow River. Lo! That is exactly fifty years ago. Now Yuan Shao is very hard on the people and they hate him. You, Sir, having raised this army in the cause of humanity and righteousness, out of pity for the people and to punish crimes, and having destroyed the hordes of Yuan Shao at Guandu, just fulfill the prophecy of Yin Kui. The millions of the land may look now for tranquillity.”

  “How dare I presume that I am he?” said Cao Cao with a smile.

  Wine was served and refreshments brought in, and the old gentlemen was sent away with presents of silk stuffs. And an order was issued to the army that if anyone killed so much as a fowl or a dog belonging to the villagers, he should be punished as for murder. And the soldiers obeyed with fear and trembling while Cao Cao rejoiced in his heart.

  It was told Cao Cao that the total army from the four regions under the Yuan family amounted to two hundred thirty thousand soldiers and they were camped at Cangting. Cao Cao then advanced nearer to them and made a strong camp.

  Next day the two armies were arrayed over against each other. On one side Cao Cao rode to the front surrounded by his commanders, and on the other appeared Yuan Shao supported by his three sons, his nephew, and his leaders.

  Cao Cao spoke first, “Yuan Shao, your schemes are poor, your strength is exhausted, why still refuse to think of surrender? Are you waiting till the sword shall be upon your neck? Then it will be too late.”

  Yuan Shao turned to those about him, saying, “Who dares go out?”

  His son Yuan Shang was anxious to exhibit his prowess in the presence of his father, so he flourished his pair of swords and rode forth.

  Cao Cao pointed him out to his officers and asked, “Anyone knows him?”

  “He is the youngest son of Yuan Shao,” was the reply.

  Before they had finished speaking, from their own side rode out Shi Huan, armed with a spear. The two champions fought a little while and suddenly Yuan Shang whipped up his horse, made a feint and fled. His opponent followed. Yuan Shang took his bow, fitted an arrow, turned in his saddle, and shot at Shi Huan, wounding him in the left eye. Shi Huan fell from the saddle and died on the spot.

  Yuan Shao seeing his son thus get the better of his opponent, gave the signal for attack, and the whole army thundered forward. The onslaught was heavy, but presently the gongs on both sides sounded the retire and the battle ceased.

  When he had returned to camp, Cao Cao took counsel to find a plan to overcome Yuan Shao. then Cheng Yu proposed the plan of the “Ten Ambushes” and persuaded Cao Cao to retire upon the river, placing troops in ambush as he went. Thus would Yuan Shao be inveigled into pursuit as far as the river, when Cao Cao’s army would be forced to make a desperate stand or be driven into the water.

  Cao Cao accepted this suggestion and told off ten companies of five thousand soldiers each to lie in ten ambush on two sides of the road of retreat. The arrangement of the ambushes were thus: On the left, first company under Xiahou Dun; second company, Zhang Liao; third company, Li Dian; fourth company, Yue Jing; fifth company, Xiahou Yuan; on the right, first company was under Cao Hong; second company, Zhang He; third company, Xu Huang; fourth company, Yu Jin; fifth company, Gao Lan. Xu Chu commanded the advanced front.

  Next day the ten companies started first and placed themselves right and left as ordered. In the night Cao Cao ordered the advanced front to feign an attack on the camp, which roused all the enemy in all their camps. This done, Xu Chu retreated and Yuan Shao’s army came in pursuit. The roar of battle went on without cessation, and at dawn Cao Cao’s army rested on the river and could retreat no farther.

  then Cao Cao shouted, “There is no road in front, so all must fight or die.”

  the retreating army turned about and advanced vigorously. Xu Chu simply flew to the front, smote and killed ten generals and threw Yuan Shao’s army into confusion. They tried to turn and march back, but Cao Cao was close behind. Then the drums of the enemy were heard, and right and left there appeared two ambush companies of Gao Lan and Xiahou Yuan. Yuan Shao collected about him his three sons and his nephew, and they were enabled to cut an alley out and flee. Three miles further on they fell into another ambush of Yue Jing and Yu Jin, and here many troops of Yuan Shao were lost so that their corpses lay over the countryside and the blood filled the water courses. Another three miles and they met the third pair of Li Dian and Xu Huang barring their road.

  Here they lost heart and bolted for an old camp of their own that was near, and bade their men prepare a meal. But just as the food was ready to eat, down came Zhang Liao and Zhang He and burst into the camp.

  Yuan Shao mounted and fled as far as Cangting, when he was tired and his steed spent. But there was no rest, for Cao Cao came in close pursuit. It seemed now a race for life. But presently Yuan Shao found his onward course again blocked by Xiahou Dun and Cao Hong, and he groaned aloud.

  “If we do not make most desperate efforts, we are all captives!” said he.

  And they plunged forward. His second son Yuan Xi and his nephew Gao Gan were wounded by arrows, and most of his soldiers were dead or had disappeared. He gathered his sons into his arms and wept bitterly. Then he fell into a swoon. He was picked up, but his mouth was full of blood which ran forth in a bright scarlet stream.

  He sighed, saying, “Many battles have I fought, and little did I think to be driven to this. Heaven is afflicting me. You had better return each to his own territory and swear to fight this Cao Cao to the end.”

  then Yuan Shao bade Xin Ping and Guo Tu as quickly as possible follow Yuan Tan to Qingzhou and prepare to give battle to Cao Cao lest he should invade. Yuan Xi was told to go to Youzhou and Gao Gan to Bingzhou.

  So each started to prepare armies and horses for repulsing Cao Cao. Yuan Shao with his youngest son Yuan Shang and the remnant of his officers went away to Jizhou, and military operations were suspended for a time.

  Meanwhile Cao Cao was distributing rewards to his army for the late victory, and his spies were scouting all about Jizhou. He soon learned that Yuan Shao was ill, and that the youngest son Yuan Shang and Shen Pei were in command of the city, while his brothers and cousin had returned each to his own. Cao Cao’s advisers were in favor of a speedy attack.

  But he objected, saying, “Jizhou is large and well supplied. Shen Pei is an able strategist. And it behooves me to be careful. I would rather wait till the autumn when the crops have been gathered in so that the people will not suffer.”

  While the attack was being talked over there came letters from Xun Yu:

  “Liu Bei was strengthening himself at Runan with the force of Liu Pi and Gong Du and, when he heard that you was attacking Jizhou, he said he would take the opportunity to march on the capital. Wherefore you, Sir, should hasten homeward to defend Xuchang.”

  This news disconcerted Cao Cao. He left Cao Hong in command on the river bank, with orders to maintain the appearance of strength there, while he led the main part of his army to meet the threatened attack from Runan.

  Meanwhile Liu Bei, his brothers, and the leaders, having gone forth with the intention of attacking the capital, had reached a point near the Rang Mountains when Cao Cao came upon them. So Liu Bei camped by the hills and divided his army into three, sending Guan Yu and Zhang Fei with ten thousand troops each to entrench themselves southeast and southwest respectively of the main body, which he and Zhao Yun commanded.

  When Cao Cao came near, Liu Bei beat his drums and went out to where Cao Cao had already arrayed his army.

  Cao Cao called Liu Bei to a parley, and when the latter appeared under his GREat standard, Cao Cao pointed his whip at him and railed, saying, “I treated you as a guest of the highest consideration. Why then do you turn your back on righteousness and forget kindness?”

  Liu Bei replied, “Under the name of Prime Minister you are really a rebel. I am a direct descendant of the family, and I have a secret decree from the Throne to take such offenders as you.”

  As he said these words, he produced and recited the decree which is known as the “Girdle Mandate.”

  Cao Cao GREw very angry and ordered Xu Chu to go out to battle. As Liu Bei’s champion, out rode Zhao Yun with spear ready to thrust. the two warriors exchanged thirty bouts without advantage to either. Then there arose an earth-rending shout and up came the two brothers, Guan Yu from the southeast and Zhang Fei from the southwest. The three armies then began a great attack, which proved too much for Cao Cao’s troops, fatigued by a long march, and they were worsted and fled. Liu Bei having scored this victory returned to camp.

  Next day he sent out Zhao Yun again to challenge the enemy, but it was not accepted and Cao Cao’s army remained ten days without movement. Then Zhang Fei offered a challenge which also was not accepted. And Liu Bei began to feel anxious.

  then unexpectedly came news that the enemy had stopped a train of supplies brought by Gong Du, and at once Zhang Fei went to the rescue. Worse still was the news that followed, that an army led by Xiahou Dun had got in behind to attack Runan.

  Quite dismayed, Liu Bei said, “If this be true, I have enemies in front and rear and have no place to go.”

  He then sent Guan Yu to try to recover the city and thus both his brothers were absent from his side. One day later a horseman rode up to say that Runan had fallen, its defender Liu Pi had fled, and Guan Yu was surrounded. To make the matters worse, the news came that Zhang Fei, who had gone to rescue Gong Du, was in like case.

  Liu Bei tried to withdraw his troops, fearing all the time an attack from Cao Cao. Suddenly the sentinels came in, saying: “Xu Chu is at the camp gate offering a challenge.”

  Liu Bei did not allow his army to go out. they waited till dawn, and then Liu Bei bade the soldiers get a good meal and be ready to start. When ready the foot went out first, the horsemen next, leaving a few troops in the camp to beat the watches and maintain an appearance of occupation.

  After traveling some miles, they passed some mounds. Suddenly torches blazed out, and on the summit stood one who shouted, “Do not let Liu Bei run away! I, the Prime Minister, am here awaiting you!”

  Liu Bei dashed along the first clear road he saw.

  Zhao Yun said, “Fear not, my lord, only follow me!”

  And setting his spear, Zhao Yun galloped in front opening an alley as he went. Liu Bei gripped his double swords and followed close. As they were winning through, Xu Chu came in pursuit and engaged Zhao Yun, and two other companies led by Yu Jin and Li Dian bore down as well. Seeing the situation so desperate, Liu Bei plunged into the wilds and fled. Gradually the sounds of battle became fainter and died away while he went deeper and deeper into the hills, a single horseman fleeing for his life. He kept on his way till daybreak, when a company suddenly appeared beside the road. Liu Bei saw these men with terror at first, but was presently relieved to find they were led by the friendly Liu Pi. They were a company of his defeated army escorting the family of their chief. With them also were Sun Qian, Jian Yong, and Mi Fang.

  they told him, “The attack on Runan was too strong to be resisted, and so we were compelled to abandon the defense, and the enemy followed, and only Guan Yu’s timely arrival saved us from destruction.”

  “I do not know where my brother is,” said Liu Bei.

  “All will come right if you will push on,” said Liu Pi.

  they pushed on. Before they had gone far, the beating of drums was heard and suddenly appeared Zhang He with a thousand soldiers.

  Zhang He cried, “Liu Bei, quickly dismount and surrender!”

  Liu Bei was about to retire when he saw a red flag waving from a rampart on the hills and down came rushing another body of troops under Gao Lan.

  Thus checked in front and his retreat cut off, Liu Bei looked up to Heaven and cried, “O Heaven, why am I brought to this state of misery? Nothing is left me now but death!”

  And he drew his sword to slay himself.

  But Liu Pi stayed his hand, saying, “Let me try to fight a way out and save you. Death is nothing to me!”

  As he spoke Gao Lan’s force was on the point of engaging his. The two leaders met and in the third bout Liu Pi was cut down. Liu Bei at once rushed up to fight, but just then there was sudden confusion in the rear ranks of the opponents, and a warrior dashed up and thrust at Gao Lan with his spear. Gao Lan fell from his steed. The newcomer was Zhao Yun.

  His arrival was most opportune. He urged forward his steed thrusting right and left, and the enemy’s ranks broke and scattered. Then the first force under Zhang He came into the fight, and the leader and Zhao Yun fought thirty or more bouts. However, this proved enough, for Zhang He turned his horse away recognizing that he was worsted. Zhao Yun vigorously attacked, but was forced into a narrow space in the hills where he was hemmed in. While seeking for some outlet, they saw Guan Yu, Guan Ping, and Zhou Cang, with three hundred men, coming along. Soon Zhang He was driven off, and then Liu Bei’s troops came out of the narrow defile and occupied a strong position among the hills where they made a camp.

  Liu Bei sent Guan Yu for news of the missing brother. Zhang Fei had been attacked by Xiahou Yuan who had killed Gong Du, but Zhange Fei had vigorously resisted, beaten him off, and followed him up. Then Yue Jing had come along and surrounded Zhang Fei.

  In this pass he was found by Guan Yu, who had heard of his plight from some of his scattered soldiers met on the way. Now they drove off the enemy. The two brothers returned. Soon they heard of the approach of a large body of Cao Cao’s army. Liu Bei then bade Sun Qian guard his family and sent him on ahead, while he and the others kept off the enemy, sometimes giving battle and anon marching. Seeing that Liu Bei had retired too far, Cao Cao let him go and left the pursuit.

  When Liu Bei collected his army, he found they numbered only a thousand, and this halting and broken force marched as fast as possible to the west. Coming to a river they asked the natives its name and were told it was the Han River, and near it Liu Bei made a temporary camp. When the local people found out who was in the camp, they presented flesh and wine.

  A feast was given upon a sandy bank of the Han River.

  After they had drunk awhile, Liu Bei addressed his faithful followers, saying, “All you, Fair Sirs, have talents fitting you to be advisers to a monarch, but your destiny has led you to follow poor me. My fate is distressful and full of misery. Today I have not a spot to call my own, and I am indeed leading you astray. Therefore I say you should abandon me and go to some illustrious lord where you may be able to become famous.”

  At these words they all covered their faces and wept.

  Guan Yu said, “Brother, you are wrong to speak thus. When the GREat Founder of Han contended with Xiang Yu, he was defeated many times, but he won at the Nine-Mile Mountains and that achievement was the foundation of a dynasty that endured for four centuries. Victory and defeat are but ordinary events in a soldier’s career, and why should you give up?”

  “Success and failure both have their seasons,” said Sun Qian, “and we are not to grieve. Jingzhou, which your illustrious relative, Liu Biao, commands, is a rich and prosperous country. Liu Biao is of your house, why not go to him?”

  “Only that I fear he may not receive me,” said Liu Bei.

  “then let me go and prepare the way. I will make Liu Biao come out to his borders to welcome you.”

  So with his lord’s approval, Sun Qian set off immediately and hastened to Jingzhou. When the ceremonies of GREeting were over, Liu Biao asked the reason of the visit.

  Said Sun Qian, “the princely Liu Bei is one of the heroes of the day, although just at the moment he may lack soldiers and leaders. His mind is set upon restoring the dynasty to its pristine glory, and at Runan the two commanders, Liu Pi and Gong Du, though bound to him by no ties, were content to die for the sake of his ideals. You, Illustrious Sir, like Liu Bei, are a scion of the imperial stock. Now the Princely One has recently suffered defeat and thinks of seeking a home in the east with Sun Quan. I have ventured to dissuade him, saying that he should not turn from a relative and go to a mere acquaintance; telling him that you, Sir, are well known as courteous to the wise and condescending to scholars, so that they flock to you as the waters flow to the east sea, and that certainly you would show kindness to one of the same ancestry. Wherefore he has sent me to explain matters and request your commands.”

  “He is my brother,” said Liu Biao, “and I have long desired to see him, but no opportunity has occurred. I should be very happy if he would come.”

  Cai Mao, who was sitting by, here broke in, “No, no! Liu Bei first followed Lu Bu, then he served Cao Cao, and next he joined himself to Yuan Shao. And he stayed with none of these, so that you can see what manner of man he is. If he comes here, Cao Cao will assuredly come against us and fight. Better cut off this messenger’s head and send it as an offering to Cao Cao, who would reward you well for the service.”

  Sun Qian sat unmoved while this harangue was pronounced, saying at the end, “I am not afraid of death. Liu Bei, the Princely One, is true and loyal to the state and so out of sympathy with Lu Bu, or Cao Cao, or Yuan Shao. It is true he followed these three, but there was no help for it. Now he knows your chief is a member of the family, so that both are of the same ancestry, and that is why he has come far to join him. How can you slander a good man like that?”

  Liu Biao bade Cai Mao be silent and said, “I have decided, and you need say no more.”

  Whereat Cai Mao sulkily left the audience chamber.

  then Sun Qian was told to return with the news that Liu Bei would be welcome, and Imperial Protector Liu Biao went ten miles beyond the city to meet his guest.

  When Liu Bei arrived, he behaved to his host with the utmost politeness and was warmly welcomed in return. Then Liu Bei introduced his two sworn brothers and friends and they entered Jingzhou City where Liu Bei finally was lodged in the Imperial Protector’s own residence.

  As soon as Cao Cao knew whither his enemy had gone, he wished to attack Liu Biao, but Cheng Yu advised against any attempt so long as Yuan Shao, the dangerous enemy, was left with power to inflict damage.

  He said, “My lord should return to the capital to refresh the soldiers so that they may be ready for a north and south campaign in the mild spring weather.”

  Cao Cao accepted his advice and set out for the capital. In the first month of the eighth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 203), Cao Cao once again began to think of war, and sent to garrison Runan as a precaution against Liu Biao. Then, after arranging for the safety of the capital, he marched a large army to Guandu, the camp of the year before, and aimed at Jizhou.

  As to Yuan Shao, who had been suffering from blood-spitting but was now in better health, he began to think of measures against Xuchang, but Shen Pei dissuaded him, saying, “You are not yet recovered from the fatigues of last year. It would be better to make your position impregnable and set to improving the army.”

  When the news of Cao Cao’s approach arrived, Yuan Shao said, “If we allow the foe to get close to the city before we march to the river, we shall have missed our opportunity. I must go out to repel this army.”

  Here his son Yuan Shang interposed, “Father, you are not sufficiently recovered for a campaign and should not go so far. Let me lead the army against this enemy.”

  Yuan Shao consented, and he sent to Qingzhou and Youzhou and Bingzhou to call upon his other two sons and his nephew to attack Cao Cao at the same time as his own army.

  [hip, hip, hip] Against Runan they beat the drum, And from Jizhou the armies come. [yip, yip, yip]

  To whom the victory will be seen in the next chapter.

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