Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 47


Kan Ze Presents The Treacherous Letter;
Pang Tong Suggests Chaining The Ships Together.

Kan Ze was from Shanyin, a son of a humble family. He loved books, but as he was too poor to buy, he used to borrow. He had a wonderfully tenacious memory, was very eloquent and no coward. Sun Quan had employed him among his advisers, and he and Huang Gai were excellent friends.

Now Huang Gai had thought of Kan Ze to present the treacherous letter to Cao Cao, as Kan Ze’s gifts made him most suitable.

Kan Ze accepted with enthusiasm, saying, “When you, my friend, have suffered so much for our lord, could I spare myself? No; while a person lives, he must go on fulfilling his mission, or he is no better than the herbs that rot in the field.”

Huang Gai slipped off the couch and came over to salute him.

“However, this matter must speed,” continued Kan Ze. “There is no time to lose.”

“The letter is already written,” said Huang Gai.

Kan Ze received it and left. That night he disguised himself as an old fisherman and started in a small punt for the north shore, under the cold, glittering light of the stars. Soon he drew near the enemy’s camp and was captured by the patrol.

Without waiting for day, they informed Cao Cao, who said at once, “Is he not just a spy?”

“No,” said they, “he is alone, just an old fisherman. And he says he is an adviser in the service of the South Land named Kan Ze, and he has come on secret business.”

“Bring him,” said Cao Cao, and Kan Ze was led in.

Cao Cao was seated in a brilliantly lighted tent. He was leaning on a small table, and as soon as he saw the prisoner, he said harshly, “You are an adviser of East Wu. What then are you doing here?”

“People say that you greedily welcome people of ability. I do not think your question a very proper one. O friend Huang Gai, you made a mistake,” said Kan Ze.

“You know I am fighting against East Wu, and you come here privately. Why should I not question you?”

“Huang Gai is an old servant of Wu, one who has served three successive rulers. Now he has been cruelly beaten, for no fault, before the face of all the officers in Zhou Yu’s camp. He is grievously angry about this and wishes to desert to your side that he may be revenged. He discussed it with me, and as we are inseparable, I have come to give you his letter asking whether you would receive him.”

“Where is the letter? said Cao Cao.

The missive was produced and presented. Cao Cao opened it and read:

“I, Huang Gai, have been generously treated by the Sun family and have served them single-heartedly. Lately they have been discussing an attack with our forces on the enormous army of the central government. Everyone knows our few are no match for such a multitude, and every officer of the South Land, wise or foolish, recognizes that quite well. However, Zhou Yu who, after all, is but a youth and a shallow minded simpleton, maintains that success is possible and rashly desires to smash stones with an egg. Beside, he is arbitrary and tyrannical, punishing for no crime, and leaving meritorious service unrewarded. I am an old servant and for no reason have been shamed in the sight of people. Wherefore I hate him in my heart.

“You, O Prime Minister, treat people with sincerity and are ready to welcome ability and so I, and those under my leadership, desire to enter your service whereby to acquire reputation and remove the shameful stigma. The commissariat, weapons, and the supply ships that I am commanding will also come over to you. In perfect sincerity I state these matters. I pray you not to doubt me.”

Leaning there on the low table by his side, Cao Cao turned this letter over and over and read it again and again.

Then he smacked the table, opened his eyes wide with anger, saying, “Huang Gai is trying to play the personal injury trick on me, is he? And you are in it as the intermediary to present the letter. How dare you come to sport with me?”

Cao Cao ordered the lictors to thrust forth the messenger and take off his head. Kan Ze was hustled out, his face untroubled. On the contrary, he laughed aloud.

At this Cao Cao told them to bring him back and harshly said to him, “What do you find to laugh at now that I have foiled you and your ruse has failed?”

“I was not laughing at you. I was laughing at my friend’s simplicity.”

“What do you mean by his simplicity?”

“If you want to slay, slay. Do not trouble me with a multitude of questions.”

“I have read all the books on the art of war, and I am well versed in all ways of misleading the enemy. This ruse of yours might have succeeded with many, but it will not do for me.”

“And so you say that the letter is a vicious trick?” said Kan Ze.

“What I say is that your little slip has sent you to the death you risked. If the thing was real and you were sincere, why does not the letter name a time of coming over? What have you to say to that?”

Kan Ze waited to the end and then laughed louder than ever, saying, “I am so glad you are not frightened but can still boast of your knowledge of the books of war. Now you will not lead away your soldiers. If you fight, Zhou Yu will certainly capture you. But how sad to think I die at the hand of such an ignorant fellow!”

“What mean you? I, ignorant?”

“You are ignorant of any strategy and a victim of unreason. Is not that sufficient?”

“Well then, tell me where is any fault.”

“You treat wise people too badly for me to talk to you. You can finish me and let there be an end of it.”

“If you can speak with any show of reason, I will treat you differently.”

“Do you not know that when one is going to desert one’s master and become a renegade, one cannot say exactly when the chance will occur? If one binds one’s self to a fixed moment and the thing cannot be done just then, the secret will be discovered. One must watch for an opportunity and take it when it comes. Think: Is it possible to know exactly when? But you know nothing of common sense. All you know is how to put good people to death. So you really are an ignorant fellow!”

At this Cao Cao changed his manner, got up, and came over to the prisoner bowing, “I did not see clearly. That is quite true. I offended you, and I hope you will forget it.”

“The fact is that Huang Gai and I are both inclined to desert to you. We even yearn for it as a child desires its parents. Is it possible that we should play you false?”

“If you two could render me so great a service, you shall certainly be richly rewarded.”

“We do not desire rank or riches. We come because it is the will of Heaven and the plain way of duty.”

Then wine was set out, and Kan Ze was treated as an honored guest. While they were drinking, someone came in and whispered in Cao Cao’s ear.

He replied, “Let me see the letter.”

Whereupon the man pulled out and gave him a letter, which evidently pleased him.

“That is from the two Cai brothers,” thought Kan Ze. “They are reporting the punishment of my friend, and that will be a proof of the sincerity of his letter.”

Turning toward Kan Ze, Cao Cao said, “I must ask you to return to settle the date with your friend. As soon as I know, I will have a force waiting.”

“I cannot return. Pray, Sir, send some other one you can trust.”

“If someone else should go, the secret would be discovered.”

Kan Ze refused again and again but at last gave way, saying, “If I am to go, I must not wait here. I must be off at once.”

Cao Cao offered him gold and silks, which were refused. Kan Ze started, left the camp, and reembarked for the south bank, where he related all that had happened to Huang Gai.

“If it had not been for your persuasive tongue, then had I undergone this suffering in vain,” said Huang Gai.

“I will now go to get news of the two Cai brothers,” said Kan Ze.

“Excellent,” said Huang Gai.

Kan Ze went to the camp commanded by Gan Ning.

When they were seated, Kan Ze said to his host, “I was much distressed when I saw how disgracefully you were treated for your intercession on behalf of Huang Gai.”

Gan Ning smiled. Just then the two Cai brothers came, and host and guest exchanged glances.

Gan Ning said, “The truth is Zhou Yu is over confident, and he reckons us as nobody. We count for nothing. Everyone is talking of the way I was insulted.”

And he shouted and gritted his teeth and smacked the table in his wrath.

Kan Ze leaned over toward his host and said something in a very low voice, at which Gan Ning bent his head and sighed.

Cai He and Cai Zhong gathered from this scene that both Gan Ning and Kan Ze were ripe for desertion and determined to probe them.

“Why, Sir, do you anger him? Why not be silent about your injuries?” said they.

“What know you of our bitterness?” said Kan Ze.

“We think you seem much inclined to go over to Cao Cao,” said they.

Kan Ze at this lost color. Gan Ning started up and drew his sword, crying, “They have found out. They must die to keep their mouths shut!”

“No, no,” cried the two in a flurry. “Let us tell you something quite secret!”

“Quick, then!” cried Gan Ning.

So Cai He said, “The truth is that we are only pretended deserters, and if you two gentlemen are of our way of thinking, we can manage things for you.”

“But are you speaking the truth?” said Gan Ning.

“Is it likely we should say such a thing if it were untrue?” cried both at the same moment.

Gan Ning put on a pleased look and said, “Then this is the very heaven-given chance.”

“You know we have already told Cao Cao of the Huang Gai affair and how you were insulted.”

“The fact is I have given the Prime Minister a letter on behalf of Huang Gai, and he sent me back again to settle the date of Huang Gai’s desertion,” said Kan Ze.

“When an honest person happens upon an enlightened master, his heart will always be drawn toward him,” said Gan Ning.

The four then drank together and opened their hearts to each other. The two Cai Zhong and Cai He wrote a private letter to their master saying Gan Ning has agreed to join in our plot and play the traitor, and Kan Ze also wrote, and they sent the letters secretly to Cao Cao.

Kan Ze’s letter said:

“Huang Gai has found no opportunity so far. However, when he comes, his boat can be recognized by a black, indented flag. That shall mean he is on board.”

However, when Cao Cao got these two letters, he was still doubtful and called together his advisers to talk over the matter.

Said he, “On the other side Gan Ning has been put to shame by the Commander-in-Chief whom he is prepared to betray for the sake of revenge. Huang Gai has been punished and sent Kan Ze to propose that he should come over to our side. Only I still distrust the whole thing. Who will go over to the camp to find out the real truth?”

Then Jiang Gan spoke up, saying, “I failed in my mission the other day and am greatly mortified. I will risk my life again and, this time, I shall surely bring good news.”

Cao Cao approved of him as messenger and bade him start. Jiang Gan set out in a small craft and speedily arrived in the Three Gorges, landing near the naval camp. Then he sent to inform Zhou Yu.

Hearing who it was, Zhou Yu chuckled, saying, “Success depends upon this man.”

Then Zhou Yu called Lu Su and told him to call Pang Tong to come and do certain things for him.

This Pang Tong was from Xiangyang. And he had gone to the east of the river to get away from the strife. Lu Su had recommended him to Zhou Yu, but he had not yet presented himself.

When Zhou Yu sent Lu Su to ask what scheme of attack he would recommend against Cao Cao, Pang Tong had said to Lu Su, “You must use fire against him. But the river is wide and if one ship is set on fire, the others will scatter unless they are fastened together so that they must remain in one place. That is the one road to success.”

Lu Su took this message to the General, who pondered over it and then said, “The only person who can manage this is Pang Tong himself.”

“Cao Cao is very wily,” said Lu Su. “How can Pang Tong go?”

So Zhou Yu was sad and undecided. He could think of no method till suddenly the means presented itself in the arrival of Jiang Gan.

Zhou Yu at once sent instructions to Pang Tong how to act, and then sat himself in his tent to await his visitor Jiang Gan.

But the visitor became ill at ease and suspicious when he saw that his old student friend did not come to welcome him, and he took the precaution of sending his boat into a retired spot to be made fast before he went to the General’s tent.

When Zhou Yu saw Jiang Gan, Zhou Yu put on an angry face and said, “My friend, why did you treat me so badly?”

Jiang Gan laughed and said, “I remembered the old days when we were as brothers, and I came expressly to pour out my heart to you. Why do you say I treated you badly?”

“You came to persuade me to betray my master, which I would never do unless the sea dried up and the rocks perished. Remembering the old times, I filled you with wine and kept you to sleep with me. And you, you plundered my private letters and stole away with never a word of farewell. You betrayed me to Cao Cao and caused the death of my two friends on the other side and so caused all my plans to miscarry. Now what have you come for? Certainly, it is not out of kindness to me. I would cut you in two, but I still care for our old friendship. I would send you back again, but within a day or two I shall attack that rebel. If I let you stay in my camp, my plans will leak out. So I am going to tell my attendants to conduct you to a certain retired hut in the Western Hills, and keep you there till I shall have won the victory. Then I will send you back again.”

Jiang Gan tried to say something, but Zhou Yu would not listen. He turned his back and went into the recesses of his tent. The attendants led the visitor off, set him on a horse, and took him away over the hills to the small hut, leaving two soldiers to look after him.

When Jiang Gan found himself in the lonely hut, he was very depressed and had no desire to eat or sleep. But one night, when the stars were very brilliant, he strolled out to enjoy them. Presently he came to the rear of his lonely habitation and heard, near by, someone crooning over a book. Approaching with stealthy steps, he saw a tiny cabin half hidden in a cliff whence a slender beam or two of light stole out between the rafters. He went nearer and peeping in, saw a man reading by the light of a lamp near which hung a sword. And the book was Sun Zi’s classic “The Art of War.”

“This is no common person,” thought Jiang Gan, and so he knocked at the door.

The door was opened by the reader, who bade him welcome with cultivated and refined ceremony. Jiang Gan inquired his name.

The host replied, “I am Pang Tong.”

“Then you are surely the Master known as Young Phoenix, are you not?”

“Yes; I am he.”

“How often have I heard you talked about! You are famous. But why are you hidden away in this spot?”

“That fellow Zhou Yu is too conceited to allow that anyone else has any talent, and so I live here quietly. But who are you, Sir?”

“I am Jiang Gan.”

Then Pang Tong made him welcome and led him in, and the two sat down to talk.

“With your gifts, you would succeed anywhere,” said Jiang Gan. “If you would enter Cao Cao’s service, I would recommend you to him.”

“I have long desired to get away from here. And if you, Sir, will present me, there is no time like the present. If Zhou Yu heard of my wish, he would kill me, I am sure.”

So without more ado, they made their way down the hill to the water’s edge to seek the boat in which Jiang Gan had come. They embarked and, rowing swiftly, they soon reached the northern shore. At the central camp, Jiang Gan landed and went to seek Cao Cao to whom he related the story of the discovery of his new acquaintance.

When Cao Cao heard that the newcomer was Master Young Phoenix, Cao Cao went to meet him personally, made him very welcome, and soon they sat down to talk on friendly terms.

Cao Cao said, “And so Zhou Yu in his youth is conceited and annoys his officers and rejects all their advice: I know that. But your fame has been long known to me, and now that you have been gracious enough to turn my way, I pray you not to be thrifty of your advice.”

“I, too, know well that you are a model of military strategy,” said Pang Tong, “but I should like to have one look at your disposition.”

So horses were brought, and the two rode out to the lines, host and visitor on equal terms, side by side. They ascended a hill whence they had a wide view of the land base.

[e] Wu Qi, aka Wu Zi, a famous general in the Warring States period. He first served Lu, then went to Wei, his native, and led Wei army against Qin. He made enemies in Wei, so he fled to Chu, where King Dao made him prime minister. Wu Qi made Chu a powerful state; expanded her territory; defended her against Wei, Zhao, and Han; and attacked Qin. But right after King Dao died, Wu Qi was put to death by his enemies at court. Wu Qi is the author of a military treatise named “Wu Qi’s Art of War”. …..
[e] Sun Zi (aka Sun Wu, Sunzi, Suntzu, Sun-tzu, Sun tzu) the author of the famed treatise The Art of War. A general of Wu in the Spring and Autumn period, Sun Zi made her the mightiest state during his lifetime by defeating Chu and conquering Yue. His treatise the Art of War is still avidly read today by many. …..

After looking all round Pang Tong remarked, “Wu Qi the Great General*, came to life again, could not do better, nor Sun Zi the Famed Strategist* if he reappeared! All accords with the precepts. The camp is beside the hills and is flanked by a forest. The front and rear are within sight of each other. Gates of egress and ingress are provided, and the roads of advance and retirement are bent and broken.”

“Master, I entreat you not to overpraise me, but to advise me where I can make further improvements,” said Cao Cao.

Then the two men rode down to the naval camp, where twenty four gates were arranged facing south. The cruisers and the battleships were all lined up so as to protect the lighter crafts which lay inside. There were channels to pass to and fro and fixed anchorages and stations.

Pang Tong surveying all this smiled, saying, “Sir Prime Minister, if this is your method of warfare, you enjoy no empty reputation.”

Then pointing to the southern shore, he went on, “Zhou Yu! Zhou Yu! You are finished. You will have to die.”

Cao Cao was mightily pleased. They rode back to the chief tent and wine was brought. They discussed military matters, and Pang Tong held forth at length. Remarks and comments flowed freely between the two, and Cao Cao formed an exalted opinion of his new adherent’s abilities and treated him with the greatest honor.

By and bye the guest seemed to have succumbed to the influence of many cups and said, “Have you any capable medical people in your army?”

“What are they for, Master?” said Cao Cao.

“There is a lot of illness among the marines, and you ought to find some remedy.”

The fact was that at this time Cao Cao’s men were suffering from the climate. Many were vomiting and not a few had died. It was a source of great anxiety to him, and when the newcomer suddenly mentioned it, of course he had to ask advice.

Pang Tong said, “Your marine force is excellent, but there is just one defect. It is not quite perfect.”

Cao Cao pressed him to say where the imperfection lay.

“I have a plan to overcome the ailment of the soldiers so that no one shall be sick and all fit for service.”

“What is this excellent scheme?” said Cao Cao.

“The river is wide, and the tides ebb and flow. The winds and waves are never at rest. Your troops from the north are unused to ships, and the motion makes them ill. If your ships, large and small, were classed and divided into thirties, or fifties, and joined up stem to stem by iron chains and boards spread across them, to say nothing of soldiers being able to pass from one to the next, even horses could move about on them. If this were done, then there would be no fear of the wind and the waves and the rising and falling tides.”

Coming down from his seat, Cao Cao thanked his guest, saying, “I could never defeat the land of the south without this scheme of yours.”

“That is only my idea,” said Pang Tong. “It is for you to decide about it.”

Orders were then issued to call up all the blacksmiths and set them to work, night and day, forging iron chains and great bolts to lock together the ships. And the soldiers rejoiced when they heard of the plan.

[hip, hip, hip]
In the Red Cliffs’ fight they used the flame,
The weapon here will be the same.
By Pang Tong’s advice the ships were chained,
Else Zhou Yu had not that battle gained.
[yip, yip, yip]

Pang Tong further told Cao Cao, saying, “I know many bold people on the other side who hate Zhou Yu. If I may use my little tongue in your service, I can induce them to come over to you. If Zhou Yu be left alone, you can certainly take him captive. And Liu Bei is of no account.”

“Certainly if you could render me so great a service, I would memorialize the Throne and obtain for you one of the highest offices,” said Cao Cao.

“I am not doing this for the sake of wealth or honors, but from a desire to succor humankind. If you cross the river, I pray you be merciful.”

“I am Heaven’s means of doing right and could not bear to slay the people.”

Pang Tong thanked him and begged for a document that would protect his own family.

Cao Cao asked, “Where do they live?”

“All are near the river bank.”

And Cao Cao ordered a protection declaration to be prepared. Having sealed it, he gave it to Pang Tong.

Pang Tong said, “You should attack as soon as I have gone, but do not let Zhou Yu doubt anything.”

Cao Cao promised secrecy, and the wily traitor took his leave. Just as he was about to embark, he met a man in a Taoist robe, with a bamboo comb in his hair, who stopped him.

The man said, “You are very bold. Huang Gai is planning to use the ‘personal injury ruse’, and Kan Ze has presented the letter of pretended desertion. You have proffered the fatal scheme of chaining the ships together lest the flames may not completely destroy them. This sort of mischievous work may have been enough to deceive Cao Cao, but I saw it all.”

Pang Tong become helpless with fear—his viscera flown away, his spirit scattered.

[hip, hip, hip]
By guileful means one may succeed,
The victims too find friends in need.
[yip, yip, yip]

The next chapter will tell who the stranger was.

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