Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 51


Cao Ren Fights The South Land’s Troops;
Zhuge Liang Angers Zhou Yu.

Guan Yu would have died there but for his elder brother, who said to Zhuge Liang, “We three pledged ourselves to live and die together. Although my brother Guan Yu has offended, I cannot bear to break our oath. I hope you will only record this against him and let him atone later for the fault by some specially meritorious service.”

So the sentence was remitted.

In the meantime, Zhou Yu mustered his officers and called over his soldiers, noted the special services of each, and sent full reports to his master. The soldiers who had surrendered were all transported across the river. All this done they spread the feast of victory.

The next step was to attack and capture Nanjun. The van of the army camped on the river bank. There were five camps and the Commander-in-Chief’s tent was in the center. He summoned his officers to a council. At this moment Sun Qian arrived with congratulations from Liu Bei.

Zhou Yu received him and, having saluted in proper form, Sun Qian said, “My lord sent me on this special mission to felicitate the General on his great virtue and offer some unworthy gifts.”

“Where is Liu Bei?” asked Zhou Yu.

“He is now encamped at Youkou, the mouth of River You.”

“Is Zhuge Liang there?” asked Zhou Yu, taken aback.

“Both are there,” said Sun Qian.

“Then return quickly, and I will come in person to thank them.”

The presents handed over, Sun Qian was sent back forthwith to his own camp. Then Lu Su asked Zhou Yu why he had started when he heard where Liu Bei was camped.

“Because,” replied Zhou Yu, “camping at the mouth of River You means that he has the intention of taking Nanjun. Having spent much military energy and spared no expenditure, we thought the territory should fall to us easily. Those others are opposed to us, and they wish to get the advantage of what we have already accomplished. However, they must remember that I am not dead yet.”

“How can you prevent them?” asked Lu Su.

“I will go myself and speak with them. If all goes well, then, let it be so. In case it does not, then I shall immediately settle up with Liu Bei without waiting for Nanjun to be taken.”

“I should like to accompany you,” said Lu Su.

The General and his friend started, taking with them a guard of three thousand light horse. Having arrived at Youkou, they sought out Sun Qian, who, in turn, went in to see Liu Bei and told him Zhou Yu had come to render thanks.

“Why has he come?” asked Liu Bei of his Directing Instructor.

“He is not likely to come out of simple politeness. Surely he has come in connection with Nanjun.”

“But if he brings an army, can we stand against it?” asked Liu Bei.

“When he comes, you may reply thus and thus.”

Then they drew up the warships in the river and ranged the soldiers upon the bank. When the arrival of Zhou Yu was formally announced, Zhao Yun, with some horsemen, went to welcome him. When Zhou Yu saw what bold soldiers they looked, he began to feel uncomfortable, but he went on his way. Being met at the camp gates by Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang, he was taken in to the chief tent, where the ceremonies were performed and preparations for a banquet had been made.

Presently Liu Bei raised his cup in felicitation on the recent victory gained by his guest. The banquet proceeded.

After a few more courses Zhou Yu said, “Of course you are camped here with no other idea than to take Nanjun?”

Liu Bei said, “We heard you were going to take the place and came to assist. Should you not take it, then we will occupy it.”

Zhou Yu laughed, saying, “We of the South Land have long wished for this territory. Now that it is within our grasp, we naturally shall take it.”

Liu Bei said, “There is always some uncertainty. Cao Cao left Cao Ren to guard the region, and you may be certain that there is good strategy behind Cao Ren, to say nothing of his boldness as a warrior. I fear you may not get it.”

“Well, if we do not take it then, Sir, you may have it,” said Zhou Yu.

“Here are witnesses to your words,” said Liu Bei, naming Lu Su, Zhuge Liang, and those at table. “I hope you will never repent what you have just said.”

Lu Su stammered and seemed unwilling to be cited as one of the witnesses, but Zhou Yu said, “When the word of a noble person has gone forth, it is ended. He never regrets.”

“This speech of yours, Sir, is very generous,” interjected Zhuge Liang. “The South Land shall try first. But if the place does not fall, there is no reason why my lord should not capture it.”

The two visitors then took their leave and rode away.

As soon as they had left, Liu Bei turned to Zhuge Liang and said, “O Master, you bade me thus reply to Zhou Yu. But though I did so, I have turned it over and over in my mind without finding any reason in what I said. I am alone and weak, without a single foot of land to call my own. I desired to get possession of Nanjun that I might have, at least, a temporary shelter, yet I have said that Zhou Yu may attack it first. If it falls to the South Land, how can I get possession?”

Zhuge Liang laughed and replied, “First I advised you to attack Jingzhou, but you would not listen. Do you remember?”

“But it belonged to Liu Biao, and I could not bear to attack it then. Now it belongs to Cao Cao, I might do so.”

“Do not be anxious,” replied the adviser. “Let Zhou Yu go and attack it. Some day, my lord, I shall make you sit in the high place thereof.”

“But what design have you?”

“So and so,” said Zhuge Liang, whispering.

Liu Bei was satisfied with the reply, and only strengthened his position at Youkou.

In the meantime Zhou Yu and Lu Su returned to their own camp, and the latter said, “Why did you tell Liu Bei that he might attack Nanjun?”

“I can take it with a flick of my finger,” replied Zhou Yu, “but I just manifested a little pretended kindliness.”

Then he inquired among his officers for a volunteer to attack the city. Jiang Qin offered himself, and was put in command of the vanguard, with Xu Sheng and Ding Feng as helpers. He was given five thousand of veterans, and they moved across the river. Zhou Yu promised to follow with supports.

On the other side Cao Ren ordered Cao Hong to guard Yiling, and so hold one corner of an ox-horn defense.

When the news came that the South Land’s force had crossed the River Han, Cao Ren said, “We will defend and not offer battle.”

But General Niu Jin said impetuously, “To let the enemy approach the walls and not offer battle is timidity. Our troops, lately worsted, need heartening and must show their mettle. Let me have five hundred of veterans, and I will fight to a finish.”

Cao Ren could not withstand this offer, and so the five hundred went out of the city. At once Ding Feng came to challenge the leader, and they fought a few bouts. Then Ding Feng pretended to be defeated, gave up the fight, and retreated into his own lines. Niu Jin followed him hard. When he had got within the South Land’s formation, at a signal from Ding Feng, the army closed round and Niu Jin was surrounded. He pushed right and left, but could find no way out. Seeing Niu Jin in the toils, Cao Ren, who had watched the fight from the wall, donned his armor and came out of the city at the head of his own bold company of horsemen and burst in among the forces of the South Land to try to rescue his colleague. Beating back Xu Sheng, Cao Ren fought his way in and presently rescued Niu Jin.

However, having got out, Cao Ren saw several score of horsemen still in the middle unable to make their way out, whereupon he turned again to the battle and dashed in to their rescue. This time he met Jiang Qin on whom Cao Ren and Niu Jin made a violent attack. Then his brother Cao Chun came up with supports, and the great battle ended in a defeat for the troops of the South Land.

So Cao Ren went back victor, while the unhappy Jiang Qin returned to report his failure. Zhou Yu was very angry and would have put to death his hapless subordinate but for the intervention of the other officers. Then Zhou Yu prepared for another attack where he himself would lead.

But Gan Ning said, “General, do not be in too great hurry. Let me go first and attack Yiling, the supporting angle of the ox-horn formation. After that the conquest of Nanjun will be easy.”

Zhou Yu accepted the plan and Gan Ning, with three thousand troops, went to attack Yiling.

When news of the approaching army reached him, Cao Ren called to his side Chen Jiao, who said, “If Yiling be lost, then Nanjun is lost too. So help must be sent quickly.”

Thereupon Cao Chun and Niu Jin were sent by secret ways to the aid of Cao Hong. Cao Chun sent a messenger to the city to ask that they should cause a diversion by a sortie at the time the reinforcements should arrive.

So when Gan Ning drew near, Cao Hong went out to meet and engage him. They fought a score of rounds, but Cao Hong was overcome at last, and Gan Ning took the city. However, as evening fell the reinforcements under Cao Chun and Niu Jin came up, and the captor was surrounded in the city he had taken. The scouts went off immediately to tell Zhou Yu of this sudden change of affairs which greatly alarmed him.

“Let us hasten to his rescue,” said Cheng Pu.

“Our place is of the greatest importance,” said Zhou Yu, “and I am afraid to leave it undefended lest Cao Ren should attack.”

“But Gan Ning is one of our first leaders and must be rescued,” said Lu Meng.

“I should like to go myself to his aid, but whom can I leave here in my place?” said Zhou Yu.

“Leave Ling Tong here,” said Lu Meng. “I will push on ahead, and you can protect my advance. In less than ten days we shall be singing the paean of victory.”

“Are you willing?” said Zhou Yu to the man who was to act for him.

Ling Tong said, “If the ten-day period is not exceeded, I may be able to carry on for that time. I am unequal to more than that.”

Ling Tong’s consent pleased Zhou Yu who started at once, leaving ten thousand troops for the defense of the camp.

Lu Meng said to his chief, “South of Yiling is a little-used road that may prove very useful in an attack on Nanjun. Let us send a party to fell trees and barricade this road so that horses cannot pass. In case of defeat, the defeated will take this road and will be compelled to abandon their horses, which we shall capture.”

Zhou Yu approved, and the men set out. When the main army drew near Yiling, Zhou Yu asked who would try to break through the besiegers, and Zhou Tai offered himself. He girded on his sword, mounted his steed, and burst straight into the Cao Hong’s army. He got through to the city wall.

From the city wall Gan Ning saw the approach of his friend Zhou Tai and went out to welcome him. Zhou Tai told him the Commander-in-Chief was on the way to his relief, and Gan Ning at once bade the defenders prepare from within to support the attack of the rescuers.

When the news of the approach of Zhou Yu had reached Yiling, Cao Hong, Cao Chun, and Niu Jin had sent to tell Cao Ren, who was at Nanjun, and at the same time they prepared to repel the assailants.

As the army of the South Land came near, they at once attacked. Simultaneously Gan Ning and Zhou Tai went out to attack on two sides, and the troops of Cao Hong were thrown into confusion. The soldiers of the South Land fell on lustily, and the three leaders all fled by a bye road, but, finding the way barred with felled trees and other obstacles, they had to abandon their horses and go afoot. In this way the troops of the South Land gained some five hundred steeds.

Zhou Yu, pressing on as quickly as possible toward Nanjun, came upon Cao Ren and his army marching to save Yiling. The two armies engaged and fought a battle which lasted till late in the evening. Then both drew off, and Cao Ren withdrew into the city.

During the night he called his officers to a council.

Then said Cao Hong, “The loss of Yiling has brought us to a dangerous pass. Now it seems the time to open the guide-letter of the Prime Minister, and see what plans he arranged for our salvation in this peril.”

“You but say what I think,” replied Cao Ren.

Whereupon he tore open the guide-letter and read it. His face lighted up with joy, and he at once issued orders to have the morning meal prepared at the fifth watch. At daylight the whole army moved out of the city through three gates, but they left a semblance of occupation in the shape of banners on the walls.

Zhou Yu went up to the tower of observation and looked over the city. He saw that the flags along the battlements had no guards behind them, and he noticed that all troops carried bundles at their waists behind so that they were ready for a long march.

Thought Zhou Yu to himself, “Cao Ren must be prepared for a long march.”

So Zhou Yu went down from the tower of observation and sent out an order for two wings of the army to be ready. One of these was to attack and, in case of its success, the other was to pursue at full speed till the clanging of the gongs should call them to return. He took command of the leading force in person, and Cheng Pu commanded the other. Thus they advanced to attack the city.

The armies being arrayed facing each other, the drums rolled out across the plain. Cao Hong rode forth and challenged, and Zhou Yu, from his place by the standard, bade Han Dang respond. The two champions fought near two score bouts, and then Cao Hong fled. Thereupon Cao Ren came out to help him, and Zhou Tai rode out at full speed to meet him. These two exchanged a half score passes and then Cao Ren tied.

Cao Ren’s army fell into confusion. Thereupon Zhou Yu gave the signal for the advance of both his wings, and the forces of Cao Ren were sore smitten and defeated. Zhou Yu pursued to the city wall, but Cao Ren’s troops did not enter the city. Instead, they went away northwest. Han Dang and Zhou Tai pressed them hard.

Zhou Yu, seeing the city gates standing wide open and no guards upon the walls, ordered the raiding of the city. A few score horsemen rode in first, Zhou Yu followed and whipping his steed. As he galloped into the enclosure around the gate, Chen Jiao stood on the defense tower. When he saw Zhou Yu enter, in his heart he applauded the god-like perspicacity of the Prime Minister Cao Cao.

Then was heard the clap-clap of a watchman’s rattle. At this signal the archers and crossbowmen let fly, and the arrows and bolts flew forth in a sudden fierce shower, while those who had won their way to the van of the inrush went headlong into a deep trench. Zhou Yu managed to pull up in time, but turning to escape, he was wounded in the left side and fell to the ground. Niu Jin rushed out from the city to capture the chief, but Xu Sheng and Ding Feng at the risk of their lives got him away safe. Then the troops of Cao Ren dashed out of the city and wrought confusion among the troops of the South Land, who trampled each other down and many more fell into the trenches. Cheng Pu tried to draw off, but Cao Ren and Cao Hong came toward him from different directions, and the battle went hardly against the soldiers of Zhou Yu, till help came from Ling Tong, who bore back their assailants. Satisfied with their success, Cao Ren led his forces into the city, while the losers marched back to their own camp.

Zhou Yu, sorely wounded, was taken to his own tent and the army physician called in. With iron forceps, he extracted the sharp bolt and dressed the wound with a lotion designed to counteract the poison of the metal. But the pain was intense, and the patient rejected all nourishment.

The physician said, “The missile had been poisoned, and the wound will require a long time to heal. You, General, must be kept quiet and especially free from any irritation, which will cause the wound to reopen.”

Thereupon Cheng Pu gave orders that each division was to remain in camp. Three days later, Niu Jin came within sight and challenged the men of the South Land to battle, but they did not stir. The enemy hurled at them taunts and insults till the sun had fallen low in the sky, but it was of no avail and Niu Jin withdrew.

Next day Niu Jin returned and repeated his insulting abuse. Cheng Pu dared not tell the wounded general. The third day, waxing bolder, the enemy came to the very gates of the stockade, the leader shouting that he had come for the purpose of capturing Zhou Yu.

Then Cheng Pu called together his officers, and they discussed the feasibility of retirement into the South Land that they might seek the opinion of Sun Quan.

Ill as he was, Zhou Yu still retained control of the expedition. He knew that the enemy came daily to the gates of his camp and reviled him, although none of his officers told him. One day Cao Ren came in person, and there was much rolling of drums and shouting. Cheng Pu, however, steadily refused to accept the challenge and would not let anyone go out.

Then Zhou Yu summoned the officers to his bedside and said, “What mean the drums and the shouting?”

“The soldiers are drilling,” was the reply.

“Why do you deceive me?” said Zhou Yu angrily. “Do I not know that our enemies come day by day to our gates and insult us? Yet Cheng Pu suffers this in silence and makes no use of his powers and authority.”

He sent for Cheng Pu and, when he arrived, asked him why he acted thus.

“Because you are ill, and the physician said you were on no account to be provoked to anger. Wherefore, although the enemy challenged us to battle, I kept it from you.”

“And if you do not fight, what think you should be done?” said Zhou Yu.

And they all said they desired to return to the South Land till he had recovered from his wound, when they would make another expedition.

Zhou Yu lay and listened. Suddenly he sprang up, crying, “The noble person who has eaten of his lord’s bounty should die in his lord’s battles. To return home dead and wrapped in a horse’s hide is a happy fate. Am I the sort of people to bring to nought the grand designs of my lord?”

So speaking he proceeded to gird on his armor, and he mounted his horse. The wonder of the officers only redoubled when their General placed himself at the head of some hundreds of horsemen and went out of the camp gates toward the enemy, then fully arrayed. Cao Ren, their general, stood beneath the great standard.

At sight of the opponents, Cao Ren flourished his whip and began to hurl abuse at them, “Zhou Yu, you babe! I think your fate has met you. You dare not face my army!”

The stream of insult never ceased.

Presently Zhou Yu could stand it no longer. Riding out to the front he cried, “Here I am, base churl. Look at me!”

The whole Cao Ren’s army were taken aback. But Cao Ren turned to those about him and said, “Let us all revile him!”

And the whole army yelled insults.

Zhou Yu grew angry and sent Pan Zhang out to fight. But before he had delivered his first blow, Zhou Yu suddenly uttered a loud cry, and he fell to the ground with blood gushing from his mouth.

At this Cao Ren’s army rushed to the battle, and the army of the South Land pressed forward to meet them. A fierce struggle waged around the General’s body, but he was borne off safely and taken to his tent.

“Do you feel better?” asked Cheng Pu anxiously.

“It was a ruse of mine,” whispered Zhou Yu in reply.

“But what avails it?”

“I am not suffering, but I did that to make our enemies think I was very ill and so oppose them by deceit. I will send a few trusty men to pretend desertion and tell them I am dead. That will cause them to try a night raid on the camp, and we shall have an ambush ready for them. We shall get Cao Ren easily.”

“The plan seems excellent,” said Cheng Pu.

Soon from the tent there arose the sound of wailing as for the dead. The soldiers around took up the cry and said one to another, “The General is dead of his wound,” and they all put on the symbols of mourning.

Meanwhile Cao Ren was consulting with his officers.

Said he, “Zhou Yu lost his temper, and that has caused his wound to reopen and brought on that flow of blood. You saw him fall to the ground, and he will assuredly die soon.”

Just then there came in one who said that a few men had come over from the enemy asking to be allowed to join the army of Cao Ren. Among them were two of Cao Cao’s men who had been made prisoners. Cao Ren sent for the deserters and questioned them.

They told him, saying, “Zhou Yu’s wound reopened at his anger, and he died in the camp that day. The leaders are all clothing in white and in mourning. We desert because we have been put to shame by the second in command.”

Pleased at this news, Cao Ren at once began to arrange to make a night attack on the camp and, if possible, get the head of the dead general to send to the capital.

“Success depends upon promptitude, so act without delay,” said Chen Jiao.

Niu Jin was told off as Van Leader, Cao Ren himself led the center, while the rear was commanded by Cao Hong and Cao Chun. Chen Jiao and a small force were left to guard Nanjun.

At the first watch they left the city and took the way toward Zhou Yu’s camp. When they drew near, not a soldier was visible in the camp, but flags and banners and spears were all there, evidently to keep up an appearance of preparation. Feeling at once that they had been tricked, they turned to retreat.

But a bomb exploded, and this was the signal for an attack on all four sides. Han Dang and Jiang Qin pressed in from the east; Zhou Tai and Pan Zhang, from the west; Chen Wu and Lu Meng, from the north; and Xu Sheng and Ding Feng, from the south. The result was a severe defeat for the raiders, and the army of Cao Ren was entirely broken and scattered abroad so that no one part of the beaten army could aid the other.

Cao Ren, with a few horsemen got out of the press and presently met Cao Hong. The two leaders ran away together, and by the fifth watch they had got near Nanjun. Then they heard a beating of drums, and Ling Tong appeared barring the way. There was a small skirmish, and Cao Ren went off at an angle. But he fell in with Gan Ning, who attacked him vigorously. Cao Ren dared not go back to Nanjun, but he made for Xiangyang along the main road. The forces of the South Land pursued him for a time and then desisted.

Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu then made their way to Nanjun where they were startled to see flags on the walls and every sign of occupation.

Before they had recovered from their surprise, there appeared one who cried, “Pardon, General! I had orders from the Directing Instructor to take this city. I am Zhao Yun of Changshan.”

Zhou Yu was fiercely angry and gave orders to assault the city, but the defenders sent down flights and flights of arrows, and his troops could not stay near the rampart. So he withdrew and took counsel. In the meantime he decided to send Gan Ning with a force of several thousand to capture Jingzhou City, and Ling Tong with another army to take Xiangyang. Nanjun could be taken later.

But even as these orders were being given, the scouts came in hurriedly to report, saying, “After Nanjun fell, Zhuge Liang, suddenly forging a military commission, induced the guards of Jingzhou City to leave it and go to the rescue of Cao Ren. Whereupon Zhang Fei occupied the capital.”

Soon after another messenger came, saying, “Xiahou Dun, at Xiangyang, received from Zhuge Liang dispatches, supported by a commission in due form, saying that Cao Ren was in danger and needed help, whereupon Xiahou Dun marched off, and Guan Yu seized that city.”

Thus the two cities that Zhou Yu wanted had fallen, without the least effort, into the hands of his rival Liu Bei.

“How did Zhuge Liang get this military commission with which he has imposed on the generals?” asked Zhou Yu.

Cheng Pu replied, “He seized that of Chen Jiao and so has got all this region into his power.”

Zhou Yu uttered a great cry, for at that moment his wound had suddenly burst open.

[hip, hip, hip]
A city falls, but not to us the gain;
The guerdon is another’s; ours the pain.
[yip, yip, yip]

The next chapter will say what befell Zhou Yu.

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