Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

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Attributed to
Luo Guanzhong
(Circa 1300–1400)
Translated by
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Edited by
Snow N. Snow

Chapter 22

Yuan Shao and Cao Cao Both Take the Field
Guan Yu and Zhang Fei Captures Two Generals

This was the plan Chen Deng proposed to Liu Bei, “Yuan Shao is Cao Cao’s terror. He is strongly posted in an extensive territory of four regions—Jizhou, Qingzhou, Youzhou, and Bingzhou—with one million fighting soldiers and numerous able officers. Write letters and pray him rescue you.”

Liu Bei replied, “But we have never had any dealings with each other, and he is unlikely to do such a thing for a person who has just destroyed his brother.”

“There is someone here whose family have been on intimate terms with the Yuans for a hundred years. Yuan Shao would surely come, if he wrote.”

“And who is this?”

“A man you know well and respect greatly. Can you not guess?”

“You surely mean Zheng Xuan,” said Liu Bei suddenly.

“That is he,” said Chen Deng smiling.

Now Zheng Xuan was a student and a man of great talent, who had long studied under the famed teacher Ma Rong, whose knowledge of the Book of Odes was universally recognized. Whenever Ma Rong lectured, he let fall a curtain behind which were a circle of singing girls. The students were assembled in front of this curtain. Zheng Xuan attended these lectures for three years and never once let his eyes wander to the curtain.

Naturally the master admired his pupil. After Zheng Xuan had finished his studies and gone home, Ma Rong praised him to the others, saying, “Only one man has penetrated the inner meaning of my instructions, and that one is Zheng Xuan.”

In Zheng Xuan’s household, the waiting maids were familiar with the Book of Odes. Once one of the maids opposed Zheng Xuan’s wishes, so as punishment she was made to kneel in front of the steps. Another girl made fun of her, quoting from an ode:

“What are you doing there in the mire?”

The kneeling girl capped the verse from another ode, quoted she:

“That was but a simple word I said,
Yet brought it wrath upon my head.”

Such was the family in which Zheng Xuan had been born. In the reign of the Emperor Huan [Liu Zhi], he rose to the rank of Chair of the Secretariat. But when the Ten Eunuchs began to control the government, he gave up office and retired into the country to Xuzhou. Liu Bei had known him before, had consulted him on many occasions, and greatly respected him.

Liu Bei was glad that he had remembered this man, and without loss of time, in company with Chen Deng, he went to Zheng Xuan’s house to ask him to draft this letter, which Zheng Xuan generously consented to do.

Sun Qian was entrusted with the task of delivery and set out at once. Yuan Shao read it and considered the matter long before speaking.

Liu Bei destroyed my brother, and I ought not to help him, but out of consideration for the writer of this letter I must.”

Thereupon Yuan Shao assembled his officers to consider an attack upon Cao Cao.

Adviser Tian Feng said, “Do not raise an army. The people are worn out, and the granaries are empty with these constant wars. Let us rather report the recent victory of Gongsun Zan to the Throne. If that does not reach the Emperor, then memorialize that Cao Cao is hindering the government. Then raise an army, occupy Liyang, assemble a Yellow River fleet in Henan, prepare weapons, send out your various divisions, and within three years you will win all round.”

Adviser Shen Pei replied, “I do not agree. The military genius of our illustrious lord having overcome the hordes of the north, to dispose of Cao Cao is as simple as turning one’s hand. It is not a matter of months.”

Adviser Ju Shou said, “Victory is not always to the many. Cao Cao’s discipline is excellent; his soldiers are brave and well drilled. He will not sit down quietly waiting to be surrounded as Gongsun Zan did. Now you abandon the intention to inform the Throne of our success, which I find a good plan, but you intend to send out an army without any valid excuse. Our lord should not do that.”

Then followed adviser Guo Tu, saying, “You are wrong. No expedition against Cao Cao can lack excuse. But if our master would take the chance now offering itself of coming into his own, he will accede to the request in the letter of Zheng Xuan and ally himself with Liu Bei for the destruction of Cao Cao. This would win the approval of Heaven and the affections of the people, a double blessing.”

Thus the four advisers differed and wrangled, and Yuan Shao could not decide which to follow.

Then there came two others, Xu You and Xun Chen, and, seeing them, Yuan Shao said, “You two have wide experience, how would you decide?”

The two made their obeisance, and Yuan Shao said, “A letter from Zheng Xuan the Chair has arrived, counseling me to support Liu Bei in an attack on Cao Cao. Now am I to send an army or not send an army?”

They both cried with one voice, “Send! Your armies are numerous enough and strong enough. You will destroy a traitor and help the dynasty.”

“Your words just express my desire,” said Yuan Shao and thenceforward the discussion turned on the expedition.

First, Liu Bei’s legate, Sun Qian, was sent back with Yuan Shao’s consent and instructions for Liu Bei to make ready to cooperate. Second, Yuan Shao assigned Shen Pei and Feng Ji as Commanding Generals; Tian Feng, Xun Chen, and Xu You as Military Advisers; Yan Liang and Wen Chou as Generals. The army was to be composed of three hundred thousand, horse and foot in equal numbers. They were to march on Liyang.

When the arrangements were complete, Guo Tu went to his chief, saying, “In order to manifest the righteousness of your attack on Cao Cao, it would be well to issue a manifesto with a summary of his various crimes.”

Yuan Shao approved of this, and Chen Lin, well known as a scholar, was entrusted to compose such a document. Chen Lin had been the Court Secretary in the reign of the late Emperor Ling. When Dong Zhuo unseated Regent Marshal He Jin, Chen Lin sought safety in Jizhou. This is the manifesto:

“A perspicacious ruler wisely provides against political vicissitudes; a loyal minister carefully foresees the difficulties in the assertion of authority. Wherefore a person of unusual parts precedes an extraordinary situation, and of such a person the achievements will be extraordinary. For indeed the ordinary person is quite unequal to an extraordinary situation.

“In former days, after having gained ascendancy over a weakling emperor of the powerful Qin Dynasty, Prime Minister Zhao Gao wielded the whole authority of the Throne, overruling the government. All dignity and fortune came through him, and his contemporaries were restrained so that none dared to speak openly. Slowly but surely evolved the tragedy of the Wangyi Palace, when the Emperor was slain and the Imperial Tablets perished in the flames. Zhao Gao, the author of these crimes, has ever since been held up to obloquy as the arch example of an evil doer.

“In the later days of Empress Lu of the Hans, after the death of the Liu Bang [Gaozu], the world saw Lu Chan and Lu Lu, brothers of the Empress and fellows in wickedness, monopolizing the powers of government. Within the capital, they commanded two armies, and without they ruled the feudal states of Liang and Zhao. They arbitrarily controlled all state affairs and decided all questions in the council chamber and the court. This dominance of the base and declension of the noble continued till the hearts of the people grew cold within them.

“Thereupon Zhou Bo, Lord of Jiang, and Liu Zhan, Lord of Zhuxu, asserted their dignity and let loose their wrath. They destroyed the contumacious ministers and restored their ruler to his royal state. Thus they enabled the kingly way to be reestablished and the glory to be manifested. Here are two instances where ministers asserted their authority.

“This Cao Cao, now Minister of Works, forsooth, had for ancestor a certain eunuch named Cao Teng, fitting companion of Xu Huan and Zuo Guan. All three were prodigies of wickedness and insatiably avaricious and, let loose on the world, they hindered ethical progress and preyed upon the populace. This Cao Teng begged for and adopted Cao Cao’s father who, by wholesale bribery, wagons of gold and cartloads of jewels presented at the gates of the influential, contrived to sneak his way into considerable office where he could subvert authority. Thus Cao Cao is the depraved bantling of a monstrous excrescence, devoid of all virtue in himself, ferocious and cunning, delighting in disorder and reveling in public calamity.

“Now I, Yuan Shao, a man of war, have mustered my armies and displayed my might that I may sweep away and destroy the evil opponents of government. I have already had to deal with Dong Zhuo, the ruffian who invaded the official circle and wrested the government. At that time I grasped my sword and beat the drums to restore order in the east. I assembled warriors, selected the best, and took them into my service. In this matter I came into relations with this Cao Cao and conferred with him to further my scheme. I gave him command of a subordinate force and looked to him to render such petty service as he was equal to. I suffered his stupidities and condoned his shortcomings, his rash attacks and facile retreats, his losses and shameful defeats, his repeated destruction of whole armies. Again and again I sent him more troops and filled the gaps in his depleted ranks. I even addressed a memorial to the Throne for him to be appointed Imperial Protector of Yanzhou. I made him feel as he were a tiger. I added to his honors and increased his authority, hoping that eventually he would justify himself by a victory against Dong Zhuo such as Qin used Meng Ming against Jin.

“But Cao Cao availed himself of the opportunity to overstep all bounds, to give free rein to violence and evil. He stripped the common people, outraged the good, and injured the virtuous. Bian Rang, Governor of Jiujiang, was a man of conspicuous talent and of world-wide reputation. He was honest in speech and correct in demeanor. He spoke without flattery. Cao Cao put him to death and his head was exposed, and his family utterly destroyed. From that day to this scholars have deeply mourned, and popular resentment has steadily grown. One person raised his arm in anger, and the whole countryside followed him. Whereupon Cao Cao was smitten at Xuzhou, and his territory was snatched by Lü Bu. He fled eastward without shelter or refuge.

“My policy is a strong trunk and weak branches, a commanding central government and obedient feudal lords. Also I am no partisan. Therefore I again raised my banners, donned my armor, and moved forward to attack. My drums rolled for an assault on Lü Bu, and his multitudes incontinently fled. I saved Cao Cao from destruction and restored him to a position of authority. Wherein I must confess to showing no kindness to the people of Yanzhou, although it was a great matter for Cao Cao.

“Later it happened that the imperial cortege moved east, and a horde of rebels of Dong Zhuo’s faction rose and attacked. The course of government was hindered. At that moment my territory was threatened from the north, and I could not leave it. Wherefore I sent one of my officers, Xu Xun, to Cao Cao to see to the repair of the dynastic temples and the protection of the youthful sovereign. Thereupon Cao Cao gave the rein to his inclinations. He arbitrarily ordered the removal of the court to Xuchang. He brought shame upon the Ruling House and subverted the laws. He engrossed the chairmanship of the three highest offices and monopolized the control of the administration. Offices and rewards were conferred according to his will; punishment was at his word. He glorified whole families of those he loved; he exterminated whole clans of those he hated. Open critics were executed; secret opponents were assassinated. Officials locked their lips; wayfarers only exchanged glances. Chairs of boards recorded levies, and every government official held a sinecure.

“The late Yang Biao, a man who had filled two of the highest offices of state as Chairs of two boards, because of some petty grudge was, though guiltless, charged with a crime. He was beaten and suffered every form of cruelty. This arbitrary and impulsive act was a flagrant disregard of constitutional rules.

“Another victim was the Counselor Zhao Yan. He was faithful in remonstrance, honest in speech, endowed with the highest principles of rectitude. He was listened to at court. His words carried enough weight with the Emperor to cause him to modify his intention and confer reward for outspokenness. Desirous of diverting all power into his own hands and stifle all criticism, Cao Cao presumed to arrest and put to death this censor, in defiance of all legal procedures.

“Another evil deed was the destruction of the tomb of Prince Xiao of Liang, the brother of the late Emperor. His tomb should certainly have been respected, even its mulberries and sweetgum trees, its cypresses and its pines. Cao Cao led soldiers to the cemetery and stood by while it was desecrated, the coffin destroyed and the poor corpse exposed. They stole the gold and jewels of the dead. This deed brought tears to the eyes of the Emperor and rent the hearts of all people. Cao Cao also appointed new offices—Commander Who Opens Grave Mounds and General Who Seeks for Gold—whose tracks were marked by desecrated graves and exhumed bodies. Indeed, while assuming the position of the highest officer of state, he indulged the inclination of a bandit, polluting the empire, oppressing the people, a bane to gods and humans.

“He added to this by setting up minute and vexatious prohibitions so that there were nets and snares spread in every pathway, traps and pitfalls laid in every road. A hand raised was caught in a net, a foot advanced was taken in an entanglement. Wherefore the people of his regions, Yanzhou and Yuzhou, waxed desperate and the inhabitants of the metropolis groaned and murmured in anger.

“Read down the names through all the years,
Of ministers that all people curse,
For greed and cruelty and lust,
Than Cao Cao you will not find a worse.

“I have investigated the cases of evil deeds in the regions, but I have been unable to reform him. I have given him repeated opportunities hoping that he would repent. But he has the heart of a wolf, the nature of a wild beast. He nourishes evil in his bosom and desires to pull down the pillars of the state, to weaken the House of Han, to destroy the loyal and true, and to stand himself conspicuous as the chiefest of criminals.

“Formerly, when I attacked the north, Gongsun Zan, that obstinate bandit and perverse brave, resisted my might for a year. Before Gongsun Zan could be destroyed, this Cao Cao wrote to him that, under the pretense of assisting my loyal armies, he would covertly lead them to destruction. The plot was discovered through his messengers, and Gongsun Zan also perished. This blunted Cao Cao’s ardor, and his plans failed.

“Now he is camped at the Ao Granaries, with the Yellow River to strengthen his position. Like the mantis in the story, who threatened the chariot with its forelegs, he thinks himself terrible. But with the dignity and prestige of Han to support me, I confront the whole world. I have spearmen by millions, horsemen by hundreds of thousands, fierce and vigorous warriors strong as Chong Huang and Wu Huo, those heroes of antiquity. I have enlisted expert archers and strong bowmen. In Bingzhou my armies have crossed the Taihang Range, and in Qingzhou they have forded River Ji and River Ta. They have coasted down the Yellow River to attack his van, and from Jingzhou the armies of Liu Biao have descended to Wancheng and Wangye to smite his rearguard. Thunder-like in the weight of their march, tiger-like in the alertness of their advance, they are as flames let loose among light grass, as the blue ocean poured on glowing embers. Is there any hope that he escape destruction?

“Of the hordes of Cao Cao, those who can fight are from the north or from other camps, and they all desire to return home. They weep whenever they look to the north. The others belong to Yanzhou or Yuzhou, being remnants of the armies of Lü Bu and Zhang Yang. Beaten, stern necessity forced them to accept service, but they take it only as a temporary expedient. They who have been wounded hate each other. If I give the signal to return and send my drums to the mountain tops, and wave the white flag to show them they may surrender, they will melt away like dew before the sun, and no blood will be shed. The victory will be mine.

“Now the Hans are failing and the bonds of empire are relaxed. The sacred dynasty has no supporter, the ministers are not strong enough to cope with the difficulties. Within the capital the responsible ministers are crestfallen and helpless. There is no one to rely upon. Such loyal and high principled people as are left are browbeaten by a tyrannical minister. How can they manifest their virtue?

Cao Cao has surrounded the Palace with seven hundred veterans, the ostensible object being to guard the Emperor, but the covert design being to hold him prisoner. I fear this is but the first step in usurpation, and so I take my part. Now is the time for loyal ministers to sacrifice their lives, the opportunity for officers to perform meritorious deeds. Can I fail to urge you?

Cao Cao has forged commands to himself to undertake the control of government affairs and, in the name of the state, sends out calls for military assistance. I fear lest distant regions may obey his behest and send troops to help him, to the detriment of the multitude and their everlasting shame. No wise person will do so.

“The forces of four regions—Bingzhou, Jizhou, Qingzhou, and Youzhou—are moving out simultaneously. When this call reaches Jingzhou, you will see their forces cooperate with those of Liu Biao. All regions and counties ought to organize volunteers and set them along their borders to demonstrate their force and prove their loyal support of the dynasty. Will not this be rendering extraordinary service?

“The rank of lordship, with feudal rights over five thousand households and a money reward of five millions, will be the reward of the one who brings the head of Cao Cao. No questions will be asked of those who surrender. I publish abroad this notice of my bounty and the rewards offered that you may realize that the dynasty is in real danger.”

Yuan Shao read this effusion with great joy. He at once ordered copies to be posted everywhere, in towns and cities, at gates, tax stations, ferries, and passes. Copies found their way to the capital, and one got into Cao Cao’s palace. That day he happened to be in bed with a bad headache. The servants took the paper to the sick man’s room. He read it and was frightened from the tips of his hair to the marrow of his very bones. He broke out into a cold perspiration, and his headache vanished.

Cao Cao bounded out of bed and said to Cao Hong, “Who wrote this?”

“They say it is Chen Lin’s brush,” replied he.

Cao Cao laughed, “They have the literary gift; they would rather have the military too to back it up. This fellow may be a very elegant writer, but what if Yuan Shao’s fighting capacity falls short?”

Cao Cao called his advisers together to consider the next move.

Kong Rong heard of the summons and went to Cao Cao, saying, “You should not fight with Yuan Shao: He is too strong. Make peace.”

Xun Yu said, “He is despicable. Do not make peace.”

Kong Rong replied, “His land is wide and his people strong. He has many skillful strategists like Guo Tu, Xu You, Feng Ji, and Shen Pei; loyal leaders like Tian Feng and Ju Shou; and formidable generals like Yan Liang and Wen Chou; able commanders like Gao Lan, Zhang He, Han Meng, and Chunyu Qiong. You cannot say he is despicable.”

Xun Yu laughed, saying, “His army is a rabble. One general, Tian Feng, is bold but treacherous; another, Xu You, is greedy and ignorant; Shen Pei is devoted but stupid; Feng Ji is steady but useless. And these four of such different temperaments, mutually incompatible, will make for confusion rather than efficiency. The brave Yan Liang and Wen Chou are worthless and can be disposed of in the first battle; and the others such as Gao Lan, Zhang He, Han Meng, and Chunyu Qiong are poor, rough stuff. What is the use even of their hundred thousands?”

Kong Rong was silent, and Cao Cao smiled.

“They are even as Xun Yu describes,” said Cao Cao.

Then Cao Cao issued orders. Generals Liu Dai and Wang Zhong were to lead an army of fifty thousand troops, displaying the Prime Minister’s banners, and march against Xuzhou to attack Liu Bei.

This Liu Dai had been Imperial Protector of Yanzhou but had surrendered to Cao Cao and entered Cao Cao’s service after the fall of his region. Cao Cao had given him a rank as Supernumerary Leader and now was disposed to make use of him.

Cao Cao himself took command of a large army of two hundred thousand troops for a simultaneous attack on Yuan Shao at Liyang.

Adviser Cheng Yu said, “The two Liu Dai and Wang Zhong sent against Liu Bei are unequal to their task.”

“I know,” said Cao Cao. “They are not meant to fight Liu Bei. It is merely a feint. They have orders not to make any real attack till I have overcome Yuan Shao. Then Liu Bei will be next.”

Liu Dai and Wang Zhong went their way, and Cao Cao marched out his grand army, which came into touch with the enemy, then thirty miles distant, at Liyang. Both sides made fortified camps and waited watching each other. This went on for two months of the autumn.

There was dissension in Yuan Shao’s camp. Xu You was at enmity with his colleague, Shen Pei, who was in commanding position; and the strategist Ju Shou resented the rejection of his plan. So they would not attack. Yuan Shao also could not make up his mind.

Tired of this state of inaction, Cao Cao then gave orders to his commanders: Zang Ba was to continue the pressure on Qingzhou and Xuzhou; Yu Jin and Li Dian to deploy troops along the Yellow River; Cao Ren to quarter the main force at Guandu. Then Cao Cao with an army marched back to Capital Xuchang.

The five legions sent against Liu Bei went into camp thirty-five miles from Xuzhou. The camp made an imposing display of the banners of the Prime Minister, but no attacks followed. Their spies were very busy north of the river to get news of Cao Cao’s movement. On the defensive side, Liu Bei, as he was uncertain of the strength of the force against him, dared not move.

Suddenly orders came for the Cao Cao’s army to attack, and then discord showed itself.

Liu Dai said, “The Prime Minister orders an attack: You advance.”

Wang Zhong replied, “You were named first.”

“I am the Commander-in-Chief. It is not my place to go first.”

“I will go with you in joint command,” said Wang Zhong.

“Let us cast lots, and he upon whom the lot falls must go,” said Liu Dai.

They drew lots, and it fell to Wang Zhong, who advanced toward Xuzhou with half the force.

When Liu Bei heard of the threatened attack, he called Chen Deng to consult.

Liu Bei said, “There is dissension in Yuan Shao’s camp at Liyang, so they do not advance. We do not know where Cao Cao is, but his own banner is not displayed in his Liyang’s camp. Why then is it shown here?”

Chen Deng replied, “His tricks take a hundred forms. It must be that he regards the north as more important and has gone there to look after its defense. He dares not show his flag there, and I feel sure it is only meant to mislead us. He is not here.”

Liu Bei then asked whether one of his brothers would find out the truth, and Zhang Fei volunteered to go.

“I fear you are unsuited for this,” said Liu Bei. “You are too impetuous.”

“If Cao Cao is there, I will haul him over here,” said Zhang Fei.

“Let me go first and find out,” said Guan Yu.

“If you go, I shall feel more at ease,” said Liu Bei.

So Guan Yu set out with three thousand soldiers to reconnoiter. It was then early winter, and snow was falling from a gloomy sky. They marched regardless of the snow and came near Wang Zhong’s camp with arms all ready to attack. Guan Yu summoned Wang Zhong to a parley.

“The Prime Minister is here. Why do you not surrender?” said Wang Zhong.

“Beg him to come to the front, for I would speak with him,” replied Guan Yu.

“Is he likely to come out to see such as you,” said Wang Zhong.

Guan Yu angrily dashed forward, and Wang Zhong set his spear to meet him. Guan Yu rode till he came close to his antagonist, then suddenly wheeled away. Wang Zhong went after him and followed up a slope. Just as they passed the crest, Guan Yu suddenly wheeled again, shouted, and came on flourishing the mighty sword. Wang Zhong could not withstand that and fled. But Guan Yu, changing the huge sword to his left hand, with his right laid hold of his victim by the straps of his breastplate, lifted him out of the saddle, and rode away to his own lines with the captive laid across the pommel of his saddle. Wang Zhong’s army scattered.

The captive was sent to Xuzhou, where he was summoned into the presence of Liu Bei.

“Who are you? What office do you hold? How dare you falsely display the ensigns of the Prime Minister?” said Liu Bei.

“What do you mean by falsely when I simply obeyed my orders?” said Wang Zhong. “My master wanted to produce the impression that he was present. Really he was not there.”

Liu Bei treated him kindly, giving him food and clothing, but put him in prison till his colleague could be captured.

Guan Yu said to Liu Bei, “I knew you had peaceful intentions in your mind; therefore, I captured Wang Zhong instead of slaying him.”

“I was afraid of Zhang Fei’s hasty and impulsive temper,” said Liu Bei. “He would have slain this man. So I could not send him. There is no advantage in killing people of this sort, and while alive they are often useful in amicable settlements.”

Here Zhang Fei said, “You have got this Wang Zhong; now I will go and get the other man.”

“Be careful,” said Liu Bei. “Liu Dai was once Imperial Protector of Yanzhou, and he was one of the nobles who met at Tiger Trap Pass to destroy Dong Zhuo. He is not to be despised.”

“I do not think him worth talking about so much. I will bring him in alive just as Second Brother did this other.”

“I fear that if his life be lost, it may upset our designs,” said Liu Bei.

“If I kill him, I will forfeit my own life,” said Zhang Fei.

So he was given three thousand soldiers and went off quickly.

The capture of his colleague made Liu Dai careful. He strengthened his defenses and kept behind them. He took no notice of the daily challenges and continual insults which began with Zhang Fei’s arrival.

After some days Zhang Fei evolved a ruse. He issued orders to prepare to rush the enemy’s camp at night, but he himself spent the day drinking. Pretending to be very intoxicated, he held a court-martial, and one soldier was severely flogged for a breach of discipline.

The man was left bound in the midst of the camp, Zhang Fei saying, “Wait till I am ready to start tonight: You shall be sacrificed to the flag.”

At the same time he gave secret orders to the custodians to let the man escape. The man found his opportunity, crept out of camp, and went over to the enemy, to whom he betrayed the plan of a night attack. As the man bore signs of savage punishment, Liu Dai was the more disposed to credit his desertion and tale. So Liu Dai made his arrangements, putting the greater part of his troops in ambush outside his camp so that it was empty.

That night, having divided his army into three parties, Zhang Fei went to attack the camp. A few men were ordered to advance directly, dash in and set fire going. Two larger bodies of troops were to go round to the rear of the camp and attack when they saw the fire well started. At the third watch, Zhang Fei, with his veterans, went to cut off Liu Dai’s road to the rear.

The thirty men told off to start a conflagration made their way into the camp and were successful. When the flames arose, the ambushing troops rushed out but only to find themselves attacked on both sides. This confused them, and as they knew nothing of the number of their assailants, they were panic stricken and scattered.

Liu Dai, with a company of footmen got clear of the fight and fled, but he went straight toward Zhang Fei. Escape was impossible, and the two men rode up each to attack the other. Zhang Fei captured his opponent, and the men surrendered. Zhang Fei sent news of this success to his brothers.

Liu Bei said, “Hitherto Zhang Fei has been rather violent, but this time he has acted wisely, and I am very pleased.”

They rode out to welcome Zhang Fei.

“You said I was too rough. How now?” said Zhang Fei to his brothers.

“If I had not put you on your mettle, you would not have evolved this stratagem,” said Liu Bei.

Zhang Fei laughed. Then appeared the captive Liu Dai, in bonds.

Liu Bei at once dismounted and loosed the cords, saying, “My young brother was rather hasty, but you must pardon him.”

So Liu Dai was freed. He was taken into the city, his colleague was released, and both were cared for.

Liu Bei said to them, “I could not help putting Deputy Imperial Protector Che Zhou to death when he tried to kill me, but Cao Cao took it as disaffection and sent you two generals to punish me. I have received much kindness from him and certainly would not show ingratitude by killing you. I wish you to speak for me and explain when you get back.”

“We are deeply grateful that you spare our lives, and we will certainly do so in gratitude for what our wives and children owe you.”

Next day the two leaders and their army were allowed to depart unscathed. But before they had got three miles from the boundary, they heard a mighty shouting and there appeared Zhang Fei barring the road.

“My brother made a mistake in letting you go. He did not understand. How could he give freedom to two rebels?”

This made the two men quake with fear, but as the fierce eyed warrior with uplifted sword was bearing down upon them, they heard another man galloping up and shouting, “Do not behave so disgracefully!”

The newcomer was Guan Yu, and his appearance relieved the unhappy men of all fear.

“Why do you stop them since our brother set them free?” cried Guan Yu.

“If they are let go today, they will surely come back,” cried Zhang Fei.

“Wait till they do, then you may kill them,” replied Guan Yu.

The two leaders with one voice cried, “Even if the Prime Minister slay our whole clans, we will never come again. We pray you pardon us.”

Said Zhang Fei, “If Cao Cao himself had come, I would have slain him. Not a breastplate should have gone back. But for this time I leave you your heads.”

Clapping their hands to their heads the two men scuttled off while the two brothers returned to the city.

Cao Cao will certainly come,” said Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.

Sun Qian said, “This is not a city that can hold out for long. We should send part of our forces to Xiaopei and guard Xiapi as a corner stone of our position.”

Liu Bei agreed and told off Guan Yu to guard Xiapi whither he also sent his two wives, Empress Gan and Lady Mi. The former was a native of Xiapi; the latter was Mi Zhu’s younger sister.

Sun Qian, Jian Yong, Mi Zhu, and Mi Fang were left to defend Xuzhou, and Liu Bei with Zhang Fei went to Xiaopei.

The two released leaders, Liu Dai and Wang Zhong, hastened home to Cao Cao and explained to him that Liu Bei was not disaffected.

But their master was exceeding angry with them, crying, “You shameful traitors, what use are you?”

He roared to the guards to take them away to instant execution.

How can a hare or a deer expect
To conquer in tiger strife?
Minnows and shrimps that with dragons contend
Already have done with life.

The fate of the two leaders will be told in the next chapter.