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 35

Liu Bei Meets a Recluse at Nanzhang
Xu Shu Sees a Noble Lord at Xinye

Just as Cai Mao was going into the city, he met Zhao Yun and his three hundred coming out. It had happened that, while at the banquet, Zhao Yun had noticed some movement of soldiers and horses and had at once gone to the banquet-hall to see if all was well with his lord. Missing Liu Bei from his place, Zhao Yun had become anxious and gone to the guest-house. There he heard that Cai Mao had gone off to the west gate with troops. So he quickly took his spear, mounted and went, he and the escort, in hot haste along the same road.

Meeting Cai Mao near the gate, he said, “Where is my lord?”

“He left the banquet-hall quite suddenly, and I know not whither he has gone,” was the reply.

Now Zhao Yun was cautious and careful and had no desire to act hastily, so he urged his horse forward till he came to the river. There he was checked by a torrent without ford or bridge.

At once he turned back and shouted after Cai Mao, “You invited my lord to a feast. What means this going after him with a squadron of horse?”

Cai Mao replied, “It is my duty to guard the officials of forty-two counties who have assembled here, as I am the Chief Commander.”

“Whither have you driven my lord?” asked Zhao Yun.

“They tell me he rode quite alone out through the west gate, but I have not seen him.”

Zhao Yun was anxious and doubtful. Again he rode to the river and looked around. This time he noticed a wet track on the farther side. He thought to himself that it was almost an impossible crossing for a person and a horse, so he ordered his followers to scatter and search. But they also could find no trace of Liu Bei.

Zhao Yun turned again to the city. By the time he had reached the wall, Cai Mao had gone within. He then questioned the gate wardens, and they all agreed in saying that Liu Bei had ridden out at full gallop. That was all they knew. Fearing to reenter the city lest he should fall into an ambush, Zhao Yun started for Xinye.

After that marvelous life-saving leap over the Tan Torrent, Liu Bei felt elated but rather dazed.

He could not help telling himself, “My safety is due to an especial interposition of Providence.”

Following a tortuous path, he urged his steed toward Nanzhang. But the sun sank to the west and his destination seemed yet a long way off. Then he saw a young cowherd seated on the back of a buffalo and playing on a short flute.

“If I were only as happy!” sighed Liu Bei.

He checked his horse and looked at the lad, who stopped his beast, ceased playing on the pipe, and stared fixedly at the stranger.

“You must be Liu Bei, the general who fought the Yellow Scarves,” said the boy presently.

Liu Bei was taken aback.

“How can you know my name, a young rustic like you living in such a secluded place?” said he.

“Of course I do not know you, but my master often has visitors, and they all talk about Liu Bei, the tall man whose hands hang down below his knees and whose eyes are very prominent. They say he is the most famous man of the day. Now you, General, are just such a man as they talk about, and surely you are he.”

“Well, who is your master?”

“My master’s name is Sima Hui. He belongs to Yingchuan and his Daoist appellation is Sima Hui.”

“Who are your master’s friends that you mentioned?”

“They are Pang Degong and Pang Tong of Xiangyang.”

“And who are they?”

“Uncle and nephew. Pang Degong is ten years older than my master; the other is five years younger. One day my master was up in a tree picking mulberries when Pang Tong arrived. They began to talk and kept it up all day, my master did not come down till the evening. My master is very fond of Pang Tong and calls him brother.”

“And where does your master live?”

“In that wood there, in front,” said the cowherd pointing to it. “There he has a farmstead.”

“I really am Liu Bei, and you might lead me to your master that I may salute him.”

The cowherd led the way for about one mile, when Liu Bei found himself in front of a farm house. He dismounted and went to the center door. Suddenly came to his ear the sound of a lute most skillfully played and the air was extremely beautiful. He stopped his guide and would not allow him to announce a visitor, but stood there rapt by the melody.

Suddenly the music ceased.

He heard a deep laugh and a man appeared, saying, “Amidst the clear and subtle sounds of the lute, there suddenly rang out a high note as though some noble man was near.”

“That is my master,” said the lad pointing.

Liu Bei saw before him a figure slender and straight as a pine tree, a very saint-like being. Hastening forward he saluted. The skirt of his robe was still wet from the river.

“You have escaped from a grave danger today, Sir,” said Sima Hui.

Liu Bei was startled into silence, and the cowherd said to his master, “This is Liu Bei.”

Sima Hui asked him to enter; and when they were seated in their relative positions as host and guest, Liu Bei glanced round the room. Upon the bookshelves were piled books and manuscripts. The window opened upon an exquisite picture of pines and bamboos and a lute lay upon a stone couch. The room showed refinement in its last degree.

“Whence come you, Illustrious Sir?” asked the host.

“By chance I was passing this way and the lad pointed you out to me. So I came to bow in your honored presence. I cannot tell what pleasure it gives me.”

Sima Hui laughed, saying, “Why this mystery? Why must you conceal the truth? You have certainly just escaped from a grave danger.”

Then Liu Bei told the story of the banquet and the flight.

“I knew it all from your appearance,” said his host. “Your name has long been familiar, but whence comes it that, up to the present, you are only a homeless devil?”

“I have suffered many a check during my life,” said Liu Bei, “and through one of them am I here now.”

“It should not be so. But the reason is that you still lack the one person to aid you.”

“I am simple enough in myself, I know. But I have Sun Qian, Mi Zhu, and Jian Yong on the civil side, and for warriors I have Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Zhao Yun. These are all most loyal helpers, and I depend upon them not a little.”

“Your fighting generals are good: Fit to oppose a legion. The pity is you have no really able adviser. Your civilians are but pallid students of books, not people fitted to weave and control destiny.”

“I have always yearned to find one of those marvelous recluses who live among the hills till their day arrive. So far I have sought in vain.”

“You know what the Teacher Confucius [Kong Qiu] said, ‘In a hamlet of ten households there must be one true person.’ Can you say there is no one?”

“I am simple and uninstructed. I pray you enlighten me.”

“You have heard what the street children sing:

“In eight and nine years begins decay,
Four years, then comes the fateful day,
When destiny will show the way,
And the dragon flies out of the mire!

“This song was first heard when the new reign style was adopted. The first line was fulfilled when Imperial Protector Liu Biao lost his first wife, and when his family troubles began. The next line relates to the approaching death of Liu Biao, and there is not a single person among all his crowd of officers who has the least ability. The last two lines will be fulfilled in you, General.”

Liu Bei started up in surprise, crying, “How could such a thing be?”

Sima Hui continued, “At this moment the marvelously clever people of the earth are all here and you, Sir, ought to seek them.”

“Where are they? Who are they?” said Liu Bei quickly.

“If you could find either Zhuge Liang or Pang Tong, you could restore order in the empire.”

“But who are these two?”

His host clapped his hands, smiled and said, “Good, very good!”

When Liu Bei persisted and pressed home his questions, Sima Hui said, “It is getting late. You might stay the night here, General, and we will talk over these things tomorrow.”

He called to a lad to bring wine and food for his guest and his horse was taken to the stable and fed. After Liu Bei had eaten, he was shown to a chamber opening off the main room and went to bed. But the words of his host would not be banished, and he lay there only dozing till far into the night.

Suddenly he became fully awake at the sound of a knock at the door and a person entering. And he heard his host say, “Where are you from?”

Liu Bei rose from his couch and listened secretly.

He heard the visitor reply, “It has long been said that Liu Biao treated good people and bad people as they each should be treated. So I went to see for myself. But that reputation is undeserved. He does treat good people correctly but he cannot use them, and he treats wicked people in the right way, all but dismissing them. So I left a letter for him and went away. And here I am.”

Sima Hui replied, “You, capable enough to be the adviser of a king, ought to be able to find someone fit to serve. Why did you cheapen yourself so far as to go to Liu Biao? Beside, there is a real hero right under your eyes and you do not know him.”

“It is just as you say,” replied the stranger.

Liu Bei listened with great joy for he thought this visitor was certainly one of the two he was advised to look for. Liu Bei would have shown himself then and there, but he thought that would look strange. So he waited till daylight, when he sought out his host.

“Who was it came last night?” said Liu Bei.

“A friend of mine,” was the reply.

Liu Bei begged for an introduction. Sima Hui said, “He wants to find an enlightened master, and so he has gone elsewhere.”

When Liu Bei asked his name, his host only replied, “Good, good!”

And when Liu Bei asked who they were who went by the names of Zhuge Liang and Pang Tong, he only elicited the same reply.

Liu Bei then, bowing low before his host, begged him to leave the hills and help him to bring about the restoration of the ruling house to its prerogatives.

But Sima Hui replied, “People of the hills and woods are unequal to such a task. However, there must be many far abler than I who will help you if you seek them.”

While they were talking, they heard outside the farm the shouts of troops and neighing of horses, and a servant came in to say that a general with a large company of soldiers had arrived. Liu Bei went out hastily to see who these were and found Zhao Yun. He was much relieved, and Zhao Yun dismounted and entered the house.

“Last night, on my return to Xinye,” said Zhao Yun, “I could not find you, my lord, so I followed at once and traced you here. I pray you return quickly, as I fear an attack on the city.”

So Liu Bei took leave of his host, and the whole company returned to Xinye. Before they had gone far another army appeared, and, when they had come nearer, they saw Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. They met with great joy, and Liu Bei told them of the wonderful leap his horse had made over the torrent. All expressed surprise and pleasure.

As soon as they reached the city, a council was called and Zhao Yun said, “You ought first of all to indite a letter to Liu Biao telling him all these things.”

The letter was prepared and Sun Qian bore it to the seat of government in Jingzhou City. He was received, and Liu Biao at once asked the reason of Liu Bei hasty flight from the festival. Whereupon the letter was presented, and the bearer related the machinations of Cai Mao and told of the escape and the amazing leap over the Tan Torrent.

Liu Biao was very angry, sent for Cai Mao, and berated him soundly, saying, “How dare you try to hurt my brother?”

And he ordered Cai Mao out to execution.

Liu Biao’s wife, Cai Mao’s sister, prayed for a remission of the death penalty, but Liu Biao refused to be appeased.

Then spoke Sun Qian, saying, “If you put Cai Mao to death, I fear Uncle Liu Bei will be unable to remain here.”

Then Cai Mao was reprieved, but dismissed with a severe reprimand.

Liu Biao sent his elder son Liu Qi back with Sun Qian to apologize. When Liu Qi reached Xinye, Liu Bei welcomed him and gave a banquet in his honor.

After some little drinking, the chief guest suddenly began to weep and presently said, “My step mother, Lady Cai, always cherishes a wish to put me out of the way, and I do not know how to avoid her anger. Could you advise me, Uncle?”

Liu Bei exhorted him to be careful and perfectly filial and nothing could happen. Soon after, the young man took his leave and wept at parting.

Liu Bei escorted Liu Qi well on his way and, pointing to his steed, said, “I owe my life to this horse. Had it not been for him, I had been already below the Nine Golden Springs.”

“It was not the strength of the horse, but your noble fortune, Uncle.”

They parted, the young man weeping bitterly. On reentering the city, Liu Bei met a person in the street wearing a hempen turban, a cotton robe confined by a black girdle, and black shoes. He came along singing a song:

“The universe is rived, O! Now nears the end of all.
The noble mansion quakes, O! What beam can stay the fall?
A wise one waits his lord, O! But hidden in the glen,
The seeker knows not him, O! Nor me, of common humans.”

Liu Bei listened.

“Surely this is one of the people Sima Hui spoke of,” thought he.

He dismounted, spoke to the singer, and invited him into his residence. Then when they were seated, he asked the stranger’s name.

“I am from Yingchuan, and my name is Xu Shu. I have known you by repute for a long time, and they said you appreciated humans of ability. I wanted to come to you but every way of getting an introduction seemed closed. So I bethought me of attracting your notice by singing that song in the market place.”

Liu Bei thought he had found a treasure and treated the newcomer with the greatest kindness. Then Xu Shu spoke of the horse that he had seen Liu Bei riding and asked to look at it. So the animal was brought round.

“Is not this a Dilu Horse [Hex Mark] horse?” said Xu Shu. “But though it is a good steed, it risks his master. You must not ride it.”

“It has already fulfilled the omens,” said Liu Bei, and he related the story of the leap over the Tan Torrent.

“But that was saving his master, not risking him. It will surely harm someone in the end. But I can tell you how to avert the omen.”

“I should be glad to hear it,” said Liu Bei.

“If you have an enemy against whom you bear a grudge, give him this horse and wait till it has fulfilled the evil omens on this person, then you can ride it in safety.”

Liu Bei changed color.

“What, Sir! You are but a new acquaintance, and you would advise me to take an evil course and to harm another for my own advantage? No, Sir! I cannot listen.”

His guest smiled, saying, “People said you were virtuous. I could not ask you directly, so I put it that way to test you.”

Liu Bei’s expression changed. He rose and returned the compliment, saying, “But how can I be virtuous while I lack your teaching?”

“When I arrived here, I heard the people saying:

“Since Liu Bei came here, O blessed day!
We’ve had good luck, long may he stay!

“So you see, the effects of your virtue extend to the ordinary people.”

Thereupon Xu Shu was made Commanding Adviser of the army.

The one idea that held Cao Cao after his return from Jizhou was the capture of Jingzhou. He sent Cao Ren and Li Dian, with the two brothers Lü Xiang and Lü Kuang who had surrendered, to camp at Fancheng with thirty thousand troops and so threaten Jingzhou and Xiangyang. Thence he sent spies to find out the weak points.

Then the two Lü Xiang and Lü Kuang petitioned Cao Ren, saying, “Liu Bei is strengthening his position at Xinye and laying in large supplies. Some great scheme is afoot, and he should be checked. Since our surrender we have performed no noteworthy service and, if you will give us five thousand soldiers, we promise to bring you the head of Liu Bei.”

Cao Ren was only too glad, and the expedition set out. The scouts reported this to Liu Bei who turned to Xu Shu for advice.

Xu Shu said, “They must not be permitted to cross the boundary. Send Guan Yu and Zhang Fei left and right, each with one thousand troops, one to attack the enemy on the march, the other to cut off the retreat. You and Zhao Yun will make a front attack.”

Guan Yu and Zhang Fei started, and then Liu Bei went out at the gate with two thousand troops to oppose the enemy. Before they had gone far they saw a great cloud of dust behind the hills. This marked the approach of the Lü brothers. Presently, both sides being arrayed, Liu Bei rode out and stood by his standard.

He called out, “Who are you who thus would encroach on my territory?”

“I am the great General Lü Kuang, and I have the order of the Prime Minister to make you prisoner!” said the leader.

Liu Bei ordered Zhao Yun to go out, and the two generals engaged. Very soon Zhao Yun with a spear thrust had disposed of his opponent, and Liu Bei gave the signal to attack. Lü Xiang could not maintain his position and led his troops off. Soon his force found themselves attacked by an army rushing in from the side led by Guan Yu. The loss was more than a half, and the remainder fled for safety.

About three miles farther on they found their retreat barred by an army under Zhang Fei, who stood in the way with a long spear ready to thrust, crying out, “Zhang Fei is waiting!”

Zhang Fei bore down upon Lü Xiang, who was slain without a chance of striking a blow. The troops again fled in disorder. They were pursued by Liu Bei, and the greater part killed or captured.

Then Liu Bei returned into Xinye where he rewarded Xu Shu and feasted his victorious soldiers.

Some of the defeated troops took the news of the deaths of the leaders and the capture of their comrades to Cao Ren at Fancheng.

Cao Ren, much distressed, consulted Li Dian who advised, saying, “The loss is due to our underestimation of our enemy. Now we should stay where we are, hold on, and request reinforcements.”

“Not so,” said Cao Ren. “We cannot support calmly the death of two leaders and the loss of so many soldiers. We must avenge them quickly. Xinye is but a crossbow-slug of a place and not worth disturbing the Prime Minister for.”

Liu Bei is a man of metal,” said Li Dian. “Do not esteem him lightly.”

“What are you afraid of?” said Cao Ren.

“The Rule of War says ‘To know your enemy and yourself is the secret of victory,’” replied Li Dian. “I am not afraid of the battle, but I do not think we can conquer.”

“You are a traitor!” cried Cao Ren angrily. “Then I will capture Liu Bei myself.”

“Do so. I will guard this city,” said Li Dian.

“If you do not go with me, it is a proof that you are a traitor,” retorted Cao Ren.

At this reproach, Li Dian felt constrained to join the expedition. So they told off twenty five thousand troops with which they crossed the River Yu for Xinye.

The officers all keenly felt the shame of many slain,
The chief determines on revenge and marches out again.

What measure of success the expedition met with will be related in the next chapter.