Romance of Three Kingdoms Chapter 81


Eager For Vengeance, Zhang Fei Is Assassinated;
Athirst Of Retribution, The First Ruler Goes To War.

Zhao Yun was opposed to the attempt to fight Wu, and spoke against the plan.

“The real rebel was not Sun Quan, but Cao Cao. Now it is his son who has usurped the Imperial Throne and called forth the anger of gods and humans. You should first aim at the Land Within the Passes by camping on the River Wei, from which to attack the rebel. After that the loyal people in the East of the Pass will cart their grains and herd their horses to welcome your army. If you leave River Wei out of consideration in order to fight Wu, your military force will be engaged, and could you disengage it quickly in case of necessity? It is worth reflection.”

The First Ruler replied, “Sun Quan slew my brother. Furthermore, Fu Shiren, Mi Fang, Pan Zhang, and Ma Zhong are on his side, all of whom I hate so much that I could eat their flesh with gusto and devour their relatives, whereby I should have my vengeance. Why, Noble Sir, do you obstruct me?”

“Because the enmity against Cao Cao is a public matter; vengeance for the manner of your brother’s end is private. The empire should be placed first.”

“What care I for myriads of square miles of territory as long as my brother is unavenged?”

So Zhao Yun’s remonstrance was disregarded, and orders went forth to prepare an army against Wu. The First Ruler also sent into the Five Valleys to borrow the aid of fifty thousand of tribesmen. He sent a messenger to Langzhong conferring on Zhang Fei the rank of General of the Flying Cavalry and the title of Lord of Xixiang. Zhang Fei became also Governor of Langzhong.

When Zhang Fei heard the tidings of Guan Yu’s death at the hands of Sun Quan, he wept very bitterly day and night, so that his raiment was soaked with his tears. His subordinates tried to cheer him with wine, but he over-drank, and this increased his ill-humor, which he vented on any offender in his camp. Some of his people even died under the lash. Every day he gazed southward, grinding his teeth with rage and glaring. He wept and groaned without ceasing.

Then a messenger was announced. He was summoned immediately, and Zhang Fei at once tore open and read his dispatches. When Zhang Fei read the edict, he accepted his new rank in all humility, bowing northward toward the imperial mandate. Then he gave a banquet to the messenger.

He said, “My enmity for the death of my brother is deep as the sea. Why do not the officers at the court propose an avenging expedition?”

The messenger replied, “Most of them favor first the destruction of Wei. Wu is to follow.”

“What sort of talk is this?” cried Zhang Fei angrily. “When we three swore brotherhood in the Peach Garden, we pledged ourselves to die together. Now, alas! my brother has perished by the way, and can we enjoy wealth or honors without him? I must see the Son of Heaven and pray to be allowed to lead the van. I will wear mourning, and in that garb I will smite Wu and capture the bandit that rules there. Sun Quan shall be sacrificed to my brother’s manes in virtue of our oath.”

Zhang Fei accompanied the messenger to Capital Chengdu. In the meantime the First Ruler had been training his armies. Day after day he went to the drill ground, and he decided upon a day to start, and he would accompany the expedition. Thereupon a number of courtiers went to the palace of the Prime Minister to talk with Zhuge Liang, trying to get this intention modified.

They said, “It is not in accordance with the importance due to the Emperor’s position that he should go in personal command of this army, particularly as he has but lately assumed his throne. You, Sir, hold the weighty post of adviser in such a matter, and why do you not dissuade him?”

“I have done so, most sincerely and repeatedly, but he will not listen. But now you all come with me to the drill ground, and we will try once more.”

So they proceeded thither, with Zhuge Liang at their head, and he said, “Your Majesty has but lately taken the imperial seat. If the expedition was one to march northward to destroy the rebels against Han and in the interest of rectitude, it would be perfectly correct for the Emperor to lead the army. But an officer of high rank should more properly be sent against Wu. Why should Your Majesty expose yourself to such fatigues?”

The First Ruler was touched by the depth of his minister’s concern and the sincerity of his counsel, and was on the point of yielding when the arrival of Zhang Fei was announced. Zhang Fei was immediately summoned and came to the pavilion on the drill ground, where he threw himself on the ground and clasped the First Ruler’s feet, weeping bitterly. The First Ruler joined in the lamentation.

“Your Majesty is now ruler and too quickly forgets the oath in the Peach Garden. Why is our brother’s death not avenged?”

The First Ruler replied, “Many officers dissuade me from such a course. I cannot act rashly.”

“What do others know of our oath? If Your Majesty will not go, then let me sacrifice myself to avenge our brother. If I cannot, then would I rather die and see your face no more.”

“Then will I go with you,” said the First Ruler. “Bring your own troops from Langzhong, and I will bring my veterans to meet you at Jiangzhou. We will both attack Wu and wipe out the reproach.”

As Zhang Fei rose to take leave, the First Ruler said to him, “I know that your weakness for wine leads you astray, and you become very cruel in your cups, and hog your people, and keep the beaten ones near you. They may be dangerous, and it is certainly the road to misfortune. Now you must be more kindly and not give way to passion as before.”

Thus admonished, Zhang Fei said farewell and left.

Soon after, when the First Ruler was preparing to march out, High Minister Qin Mi memorialized, saying, “That Your Majesty, the Lord of a Myriad Chariots, should risk his person in what is not the way of perfect rectitude is not what the ancients would have done. I pray that this may be reflected upon.”

But the First Ruler replied, “Guan Yu and I were as one body, and the way of perfect rectitude is here. Have you forgotten?”

But the officer remained at his feet and said, “I fear disaster if Your Majesty disregards your servant’s words.”

The First Ruler replied angrily, “Why do you use such bad words when I desire to march?”

He bade the executioners thrust forth and put to death the bold speaker. Still Qin Mi’s face showed no sign of fear.

He only smiled, saying, “I die without regret. It is a pity that this newly established state should be overturned ere it be well begun.”

Other officials interceding, the death punishment was remitted, but the faithful officer was committed to prison.

“Your fate will be decided when the Army of Vengeance return,” said the First Ruler.

Zhuge Liang sent up a memorial in favor of Qin Mi, saying:

“I, Zhuge Liang, address Your Majesty in my own name and those of my colleagues. We regard as most grievous the recent events—Wu’s perfidy, by which Jingzhou was lost, the star of a great general was brought down, and the pillar holding the sky was broken—, and we shall never forget. But it is to be remembered that the crime of overturning the Throne of Han rests on Cao Cao, and the fault of driving away the Liu Family lies not on Sun Quan. We venture to think that the destruction of Wei would cause the submission of Wu, wherefore we beg consideration of the valuable words of Qin Mi. Thus the army will be spared needless exertion and occasion given to make other plans for the prosperity of the Throne and the happiness of the people.”

But having listened to the memorial, the First Ruler threw it to the floor, saying, “I have decided, and no remonstrance should be raised!”

Then he appointed the Prime Minister to take care of his son and the two River Lands. Then the Generals of the Flying Cavalry—Ma Chao and Ma Dai—, together with the General Who Defends the North, Wei Yan, were ordered to guard Hanzhong against Wei. The Tiger General Zhao Yun was to be in reserve and to control the supplies; Huang Quan and Cheng Jin were made Counselors; Ma Liang and Chen Zhen, Secretaries; Huang Zhong, the Van Leader, assisted by the Marching Generals Feng Xi and Zhang Nan; Fu Tong and Zhang Yi, Marching Commanders of the Center Army; Zhao Rong and Liao Chun, the rear guards. The whole army, including the borrowed foreign troops, numbered seven hundred fifty thousand, and high-rank officials amounted several hundred. And the “tiger” day of the seventh month of the first year of Manifest Might was selected as the most propitious day for the start.

As soon as Zhang Fei had got back to his post, he issued orders that his soldiers should be ready to march in three days and the whole body was to be in mourning, white uniforms and whitened arms.

Just after the order appeared, two generals named Fan Jiang and Zhang Da came to their chief, saying, “The time allowed is insufficient to make white flags and armors. Pray give us more time, General.”

“I am hot to avenge my brother!” roared Zhang Fei. “My only regret is that I cannot reach the miserable wretch’s country tomorrow. Do you dare to disobey my order?”

Zhang Fei called in the lictors, had the two officers bound to trees, and ordered each to receive fifty lashes.

At the close of the flogging, he said, “Now you will be ready tomorrow. If you are not, I will put you to death as an example!”

The two generals returned to their place, spitting blood and hot with anger.

They said one to another, “We have been beaten today. What about tomorrow? This man’s temper is unbearable; and if things are not ready, we shall suffer death.”

“Suppose we slay him,” suddenly said Zhang Da, “since if we do not, he will kill us.”

“But how can we get near him?”

“If we are to have a chance to live, he will get drunk and go to bed tonight; if we are to die, he will remain sober.”

They made all their arrangements for the crime.

That day Zhang Fei was greatly disturbed in his mind and restless.

He told some of his subordinates, saying, “I feel nervous and creepy and shivery and cannot not rest. What does it mean?”

“This is due to too much brooding over the loss of your brother,” said they.

Then Zhang Fei bade them bring in wine, and he drank with his officers. Presently he became quite intoxicated and lay down on a couch in his tent.

Meanwhile the two assassins had followed all his doings, and when they knew he was lying on his couch intoxicated and incapable, they went into the tent, each armed with a water-sharp dagger. They got rid of the attendants by saying they had confidential matters to talk about and so got into the inner rooms.

But even then they dared do nothing, for Zhang Fei slept always with open eyelids, and he lay on his couch as if still awake. However, huge snores soon convinced them that their victim really slept, and they crept to the side of the couch. Then both stabbed simultaneously deep into the body. Zhang Fei uttered one cry and lay still. So he died at the hand of assassins at the age of fifty-five years.

[hip, hip, hip]
He who whipped the inspector in Anxi,
Who swept vile rebels from the land of Han,
And thereby won great glory for the Lius,
Whose valor shone at Tiger Trap Pass,
Who turned the tide of victory at Long Slope Bridge,
Who freed Yan Yan and thus won a friend
That helped him and his brothers conquer Shu,
Whose wisdom defeated Zhang He to get Hanzhong,
Is dead, the victim of assassins’ blows.
Not his avenge his brother’s death on Wu,
Langzhong will grieve him all the ages through.
[yip, yip, yip]

Having done their victim to death, Fan Jiang and Zhang Da hacked off his head, and made off for Wu without loss of time. Fleeing with them were a few dozen close subordinates. When the deed was known, they had got too far for capture.

The assassination was reported in a memorial by a commander of Zhang Fei named Hu Ban, who had left Jingzhou to see the First Ruler and then had been sent to serve under Zhang Fei. He wrote a memorial to the First Ruler and bade the eldest son, Zhang Bao, prepare a coffin for the remains. After the ceremony, leaving his younger brother, Zhang Shao, to hold Langzhong, Zhang Bao went to see the Emperor.

The day of departure had already come, and the First Ruler had left the capital. Zhuge Liang and many officers had escorted him out of the city for three miles and taken leave.

Returning to Chengdu, Zhuge Liang felt ill at ease, and he remarked to his colleagues, “If Fa Zheng had been alive, he would have been able to interdict this expedition.”

One night the First Ruler felt nervous and shuddered from time to time. He could not sleep, so he went out of his tent and looked up at the stars. Suddenly he saw a bright meteor fall in the northwest, and began to wonder what the portent meant. He sent at once to ask Zhuge Liang to tell him.

Zhuge Liang sent back the reply: “This means the loss of a great leader, and there will be bad news in a few days.”

So the army was halted and did not march. Then the arrival of a message from Hu Ban of Langzhong was announced.

The First Ruler’s foreboding increased, and he stamped his foot, saying, “Alas! My other brother is gone!”

Opening the letter he found it was indeed so. As he read the news of the assassination, he uttered a loud cry and fell in a swoon. He was raised, and presently they brought him back to life.

Next day they reported a body of horsemen coming. The First Ruler went out of the camp to look at them and presently saw a young general, dressed all in white armor, sweeping forth in quite a terror. The First Ruler recognized that was Zhang Bao.

As soon as Zhang Bao reached the First Ruler’s presence, he dismounted and bowed to the earth, weeping, “My father has been killed by Fan Jiang and Zhang Da. They have gone over to Wu, taking my father’s head with them!”

The news was very grievous, and the First Ruler burst into tears and even refused food.

His officers remonstrated, saying, “Now Your Majesty has the loss of two brothers to avenge, and you must not destroy yourself.”

So after a time he began to eat and drink, and he then offered the leadership of the van to Zhang Bao, saying, “Are you and Hu Ban willing to lead your troops to attack Wu and to avenge your father?”

“For my country or for my father, I would shrink from no sacrifice,” said the young man.

Just as the force for the young man’s leadership was being organized, another party of horsemen approached, also dressed in white armors. This was a small force under Guan Xing, son of Guan Yu. The youth also threw himself to the ground and wept.

At sight of Guan Xing, thoughts stirred in the First Ruler’s breast, and he burst into tears. Neither reason nor persuasion could stop them.

“I think of the plain and simple days of long ago when we pledged ourselves one to the other. Now I am Emperor. How I should rejoice to share my good fortune with them! But they have met violent deaths, and the sight of these two youths wrings my heart to the very core.”

“Young gentlemen, please retire,” said the officers to the two youthful generals, “and let our Sacred One repose his dragon body.”

They went.

Said the attendants, “Your Majesty is no longer young. You are over sixty, remember, and it is not fitting that you give way to such extreme sorrow.”

“But my brothers—dead,” wailed the First Ruler. “How can I live without them?”

He broke into a fresh paroxysm and beat his head on the ground.

“What can be done?” asked the officers one to another. “He is in such trouble! How can we comfort him?”

Ma Liang said, “Sire, it is bad for the army to spend whole days in wailing and tears when leading against the enemy.”

And then Chen Zhen said, “There is a certain hermit living among the Blue Mountains, near Chengdu, who is said to be three hundred years old. He is called Li Yin, and people say he is a seer. Let us tell His Majesty and let him send for this old man that he may know what the future may have in store. It will have more weight than anything we can say.”

They went to the First Ruler and told him. He agreed to summon the seer and sent Chen Zhen with the command. Soon the messenger reached the town near the hills and asked the people where the prophet dwelt. They led him far into a secluded valley like a fairy village, very unlike any ordinary spot. Soon a lad came to receive the visitor.

“You are surely Chen Zhen.”

Chen Zhen was startled that the lad knew him, and still more so at the familiar address, and said, “O superhuman boy, how do you know my name so well?”

“Last evening my master told me that a messenger with an imperial command would come today and mentioned your name.”

“Truly he is more than wise,” said Chen Zhen. “His reputation is not unfounded.”

So the two proceeded to the old man’s abode, and Chen Zhen declared his errand. The old man said he was too aged to travel.

“But the Emperor anxiously desires to see you face to face, if haply you would not mind making the effort.”

In the end, and after much persuasion, Li Yin consented and went. The First Ruler received him affably, surprised at the contrast between his hoary head and fresh boyish complexion. The venerable one had green eyes, with square and sparkling pupils. His carriage was erect, and he stood straight as a pine tree.

“This is no common man,” thought the First Ruler, and he treated him with distinguished courtesy.

The seer said, “I am but an old man of the barren hill country, without learning or wisdom. You shame me, O Emperor, by calling me, and I know not why.”

“My two brothers and I swore a mutual oath some thirty years ago. But now my both brothers have gone, both by violent deaths. I would lead a great army to avenge them and wish to know how the expedition will end. Hearing that you, Venerable Sir, are learned in the deeper mysteries, I sent for you and beg you to tell me.”

“But this is fate. It is not for an old man like me to know.”

But the First Ruler pressed him to say. However, the aged one got paper and a brush and wrote “soldiers, horses, weapons” again and again on many sheets of paper. Having done this, he suddenly tore them into fragments. Further, he drew a picture of a tall man lying supine and another above him digging a grave. And over all he wrote “white”.

After this he bowed and departed, leaving the First Ruler annoyed.

“This is only a demented man. What he says is not worthy of confidence,” said the First Ruler.

And he burned the paper. Then he ordered an advance at full speed.

Zhang Fei’s son, Zhang Bao, came in, saying, “Hu Ban and his army have come. I pray that I may be appointed to lead the van.”

The First Ruler admired his noble intent and gave him a Van Leader’s seal.

But just as Zhang Bao was attaching the seal to his girdle, another youth boldly stepped forth and said, “Leave that seal to me!”

It was Guan Xing, son of Guan Yu.

“I have already received my commission,” said Zhang Bao.

“What abilities have you for such a task?” cried Guan Xing.

“That I have been training as a soldier since my boyhood. I can shoot and never miss.”

“I should like to see your prowess,” said the First Ruler, “that I may decide who is the better.”

Zhang Bao ordered some of his people to set up a flag at a hundred paces, and on the flag he drew a heart in red. Then he took his bow and shot three arrows, each of which went through the heart. Those present commended the performance.

Then Guan Xing seized his bow, saying, “What is it to hit such a mark?”

Just as he said this a flock of wild geese flew over his head.

“I will hit the third of the flying geese,” said he.

He shot; and the third fell.

“Fine!” cried all the assembly as one voice.

But Zhang Bao was enraged. Leaping on his steed, he seized the long serpent halberd left him by his father, crying, “Dare you try a real combat?”

Guan Xing took up the challenge at once. He sprang into the saddle, took his great saber, and galloped out.

“You can use the spear, think you that I cannot wield a sword?” cried he.

The two impetuous youths were on the point of a battle when the First Ruler bade them hold.

“Do not behave so badly!” cried he.

Both dropped out of the saddle, threw aside their weapons, ran to his feet, and begged pardon.

“Young men, from the time I left my native place Zhuo and swore brotherhood with your fathers, they were as my own flesh and blood. You two are also brothers, and you should help each other in vengeance rather than quarrel and dispute. You have lost the sense of rectitude while your fathers’ deaths are still recent, and what will happen in future?”

Both fell at his feet and implored forgiveness.

“Which of you two is the elder?” asked the First Ruler.

“I am the elder by a year,” said Zhang Bao.

The First Ruler then bade Guan Xing bow to Zhang Bao as to an elder brother, and there, in front of all, they broke an arrow as a pledge that each would always succor the other.

Then the First Ruler issued a mandate appointing Hu Ban the Van Leader, and the two young men were enrolled as his own escort.

The advance began on land and on water, and they made a brave show as they moved against the land of Wu.

In the meantime the two assassins, Fan Jiang and Zhang Da, with the grim evidence of their deed, duly reached Wu and told their story to the Marquis who received them.

Then Sun Quan said to his assembled officers, “Liu Bei has declared himself Emperor and is leading against us in person a great host of more than seven hundred thousand. What shall we do, for the danger is imminent?”

They all turned pale and looked one at another. Then Zhuge Jin spoke out.

“I have been in your service these many years and have never justified the favor you have shown me. I will risk my life and go to this Liu Bei of Shu that I may talk to him plainly and prove to him the advantages of friendship and alliance against Cao Pi.”

This offer pleased Sun Quan, who then appointed Zhuge Jin as his messenger to try to induce the First Ruler to keep the peace.

[hip, hip, hip]
Messengers pass when states are at wrangle;
May this one succeed and unravel this tangle!
[yip, yip, yip]

What fortune attended this messenger will be related in the next chapter.

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