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 46

Using Strategy, Zhuge Liang Borrows Arrows
Joining a Ruse, Huang Gai Accepts Punishment

Lu Su departed on his mission and found Zhuge Liang seated in his little craft.

“There has been so much to do that I have not been able to come to listen to your instructions,” said Lu Su.

“That is truly so,” said Zhuge Liang, “and I have not yet congratulated the Commander-in-Chief.”

“What have you wished to congratulate him upon?”

“Why Sir, the matter upon which he sent you to find out whether I knew about it or not. Indeed I can congratulate him on that.”

Lu Su turned pale and gasped, saying, “But how did you know, Master?”

“The ruse succeeded well thus played off on Jiang Gan. Cao Cao has been taken in this once, but he will soon rise to it. Only he will not confess his mistake. However, the two men are gone, and the South Land is freed from a grave anxiety. Do you not think that is a matter for congratulation? I hear Mao Jie and Yu Jin are the new admirals, and in their hands lie both good and evil for the fate of the northern fleet.”

Lu Su was quite dumbfounded. He stayed a little time longer passing the time in making empty remarks, and then took his leave.

As he was going away, Zhuge Liang cautioned him, saying, “Do not let Zhou Yu know that I know his ruse. If you let him know, he will seek some chance to do me harm.”

Lu Su promised. Nevertheless he went straight to his chief and related the whole thing just as it happened.

“Really he must be got rid of,” said Zhou Yu. “I have quite decided to put the man out of the way.”

“If you slay him, will not Cao Cao laugh at you?”

“Oh, no! I will find a legitimate way of getting rid of him so that he shall go to his death without resentment.”

“But how can you find a legitimate way of assassinating him?”

“Do not ask too much. You will see presently.”

Soon after all the officers were summoned to the main tent, and Zhuge Liang’s presence was desired. He went contentedly enough.

When all were seated, Zhou Yu suddenly addressed Zhuge Liang, saying, “I am going to fight a battle with the enemy soon on the water. What weapons are the best?”

“On a great river arrows are the best,” said Zhuge Liang.

“Your opinion and mine agree. But at the moment we are short of them. I wish you would undertake to supply about a hundred thousand arrows for the naval fight. As it is for the public service, you will not decline, I hope.”

“Whatever task the Commander-in-Chief lays upon me, I must certainly try to perform,” replied Zhuge Liang. “May I inquire by what date you require the hundred thousand arrows?”

“Could you have them ready in ten days?”

“The enemy will be here very soon. Ten days will be too late,” said Zhuge Liang.

“In how many days do you estimate the arrows can be ready?”

“Let me have three days. Then you may send for your hundred thousand.”

“No joking, remember!” said Zhou Yu. “There is no joking in war time.”

“Dare I joke with the Commander-in-Chief? Give me a formal military order. If I have not completed the task in three days, I will take my punishment.”

Zhou Yu, secretly delighted, sent for the secretaries and prepared the commission then and there.

Then he drank to the success of the undertaking and said, “I shall have to congratulate you most heartily when this is accomplished.”

“This day is too late to count,” said Zhuge Liang. “On the third from tomorrow morning send five hundred soldiers to the river side to convey the arrows.”

They drank a few more cups together, and then Zhuge Liang took his leave.

After he had gone, Lu Su said, “Do you not think there is some deceit about this?”

“Clearly it is not I! It is he who has signed his own death warrant,” said Zhou Yu. “Without being pressed in the least, he asked for a formal order in the face of the whole assembly. Even if he grew a pair of wings, he could not escape. Only I will just order the workers to delay him as much as they can, and not supply him with materials, so that he is sure to fail. And then, when the certain penalty is incurred, who can criticize? You can go and inquire about it all and keep me informed.”

So off went Lu Su to seek Zhuge Liang, who at once reproached him with having blabbed about the former business.

Zhuge Liang said, “He wants to hurt me, as you know, and I did not think you could not keep my secret. And now there is what you saw today, and how do you think I can get a hundred thousand arrows made in three days? You will simply have to rescue me.”

“You brought the misfortune on yourself, and how can I rescue you?” said Lu Su.

“I look to you for the loan of twenty vessels, manned each by thirty people. I want blue cotton screens and bundles of straw lashed to the sides of the boats. I have good use for them. On the third day, I shall undertake to deliver the fixed number of arrows. But on no account must you let Zhou Yu know, or my scheme will be wrecked.”

Lu Su consented, and this time he kept his word. He went to report to his chief as usual, but he said nothing about the boats.

He only said, “Zhuge Liang is not using bamboo or feathers or glue or varnish, but has some other way of getting arrows.”

“Let us await the three days’ limit,” said Zhou Yu, puzzled though confident.

On his side Lu Su quietly prepared a score of light swift boats, each with its crew and the blue screens and bundles of grass complete and, when these were ready, he placed them at Zhuge Liang’s disposal.

Zhuge Liang did nothing on the first day, nor on the second. On the third day at the middle of the fourth watch, Zhuge Liang sent a private message asking Lu Su to come to his boat.

“Why have you sent for me, Sir?” asked Lu Su.

“I want you to go with me to get those arrows.”

“Whither are you going?”

“Do not ask. You will see.”

Then the twenty boats were fastened together by long ropes and moved over to the north bank. The night proved very foggy and the mist was very dense along the river, so that one person could scarcely see another. In spite of the fog, Zhuge Liang urged the boats forward as if into the vast fairy kingdom.

There is a poem on these river fogs:

Mighty indeed is the Great River!
Rising far in the west, in the Emei and Min Mountains,
Plowing its way through Wu, east flowing, resistless,
Swelled by its nine tributary streams, rolling down from the far north,
Aided and helped by a hundred rivulets swirling and foaming,
Ocean receives it at last welcoming, joyful, its waters.
Therein abide sea nymphs and water gods,
Enormous whales a thousand fathoms long,
Nine-headed monstrous beasts, reptiles and octopi,
Demons and uncouth creatures wondrous strange.
In faith it is the home and safe retreat
Of devils and sprites, and wondrous growths,
And eke the battle ground of valiant humans.
At times occur strange strife of elements,
When darkness strives on light’s domains that encroach,
Whereat arises in the vaulted dome of blue
White wreaths of fog that toward the center roll.
Then darkness falls, too dense for any torch
Illumine; only clanging sounds can pass.
The fog at first appears, a vaporous wreath
Scarce visible. But thickening fast, it veils
The Southern Hills, the painted leopard’s home.
And spreads afar, until the northern sea
Leviathans are amazed and lose their course.
And denser yet it touches on the sky.
And spreads a heavy mantle over the earth.
Then, wide as is the high pitched arch of heaven,
Therein appears no single rift of blue.
Now mighty whales lead up their spouses to sport
Upon the waves, the sinuous dragons dive
Deep down and, breathing, swell the heaving sea,
The earth is moist as with the early rains,
And spring’s creative energy is chilled.
Both far and wide and high the damp fog spreads,
Great cities on the eastern bank are hid,
Wide ports and mountains in the south are lost,
Whole fleets of battle ships, a thousand keels,
Hide in the misty depths; frail fishing boats
High riding on a wave are seen—and lost.
The gloom increases and the domed sky
Grows dark and darker as the sun’s light fails.
The daylight dies, dim twilight’s reign begins,
The ruddy hills dissolve and lose their hue.
The skill of matchless King Yu would fail to sound
The depth and height; and Li Lou’s eye, though keen,
Could never pierce this gloom.
Now is the time, O sea and river gods, to use your powers.
The gliding fish and creeping water folk
Are lost; there is no track for bird or beast.
Fair Penglai Isles are hidden from our sight,
The lofty gates of heaven have disappeared.
Nature is blurred and indistinct, as when
A driving rain storm hurries over the earth.
And then, perhaps, within the heavy haze,
A noisome serpent vents his venom foul
And plagues descend, or impish demons work
Their wicked wills.
Ills fall on humans but do not stay,
Heaven’s cleansing breath sweeps them sway,
But while they last the mean ones cry,
The nobler suffer silently.
The greatest turmoil is a sign
Of quick return to state benign.

The little fleet reached Cao Cao’s naval camp about the fifth watch, and Zhuge Liang gave orders to form line lying prows west, and then to beat the drums and shout.

“But what shall we do if they attack us?” exclaimed Lu Su.

Zhuge Liang replied with a smile, “I think their fleet will not venture out in this fog. Go on with your wine, and let us be happy. We will go back when the fog lifts.”

As soon as the shouting from the river was heard by those in the camp, the two admirals, Mao Jie and Yu Jin, ran off to report to Cao Cao, who said, “Coming up in a fog like this means that they have prepared an ambush for us. Do not go out, but get all the force together and shoot at them.”

He also sent orders to the ground camps to dispatch six thousand of archers and crossbowmen to aid the marines.

The naval forces were then lined up shooting on the bank to prevent a landing. Presently the soldiers arrived, and ten thousand and more soldiers were shooting down into the river, where the arrows fell like rain. By and bye Zhuge Liang ordered the boats to turn round so that their prows pointed east and to go closer in so that many arrows might hit them.

Zhuge Liang ordered the drums to be kept beating till the sun was high and the fog began to disperse, when the boats got under way and sailed down stream. The whole twenty boats were bristling with arrows on both sides.

As they left, Zhuge Liang asked all the crews to shout derisively, “We thank you, Sir Prime Minister, for the arrows!”

They told Cao Cao, but by the time he came, the light boats helped by the swift current were seven miles long down the river and pursuit was impossible. Cao Cao saw that he had been duped and was very sorry, but there was no help for it.

On the way down Zhuge Liang said to his companion, “Every boat must have five or six thousand arrows and so, without the expenditure of an ounce of energy, we must have more than ten myriad arrows, which tomorrow can be shot back again at Cao Cao’s army to his great inconvenience.”

“You are really superhuman,” said Lu Su. “But how did you know there would be a thick fog today?”

“One cannot be a leader without knowing the workings of heaven and the ways of earth. One must understand the secret gates and the interdependence of the elements, the mysteries of tactics and the value of forces. It is but an ordinary talent. I calculated three days ago that there would be a fog today, and so I set the limit at three days. Zhou Yu would give me ten days, but neither artificers nor materials, so that he might find occasion to put me to death as I knew. But my fate lies with the Supreme, and how could Zhou Yu harm me?”

Lu Su could not but agree. When the boats arrived, five hundred soldiers were in readiness on the bank to carry away the arrows. Zhuge Liang bade them go on board the boats, collect them and bear them to the tent of the Commander-in-Chief. Lu Su went to report that the arrows had been obtained and told Zhou Yu by what means.

Zhou Yu was amazed and sighed sadly, saying, “He is better than I. His methods are more than human.”

Thick lies the fog on the river,
Nature is shrouded in white,
Distant and near are confounded,
Banks are no longer in sight.
Fast fly the pattering arrows,
Stick in the boats of the fleet.
Now can full tale be delivered,
Zhuge Liang is victor complete.

When, shortly after his return, Zhuge Liang went to the tent of the Commander-in-Chief, he was welcomed by Zhou Yu, who came forward to greet him, saying, “Your superhuman predictions compel one’s esteem.”

“There is nothing remarkable in that trifling trick,” replied he.

Zhou Yu led him within and wine was brought.

Then Zhou Yu said, “My lord sent yesterday to urge me to advance, but I have no master plan ready. I wish you would assist me, Master.”

“But where should I, a man of poor everyday ability, find such a plan as you desire?”

“I saw the enemy’s naval camp just lately, and it looked very complete and well organized. It is not an ordinary place to attack. I have thought of a plan, but I am not sure it will answer. I should be happy if you would decide for me.”

“General,” replied Zhuge Liang, “do not say what your plan is, but each of us will write in the palm of his hand and see whether our opinions agree.”

So brush and ink were sent for, and Zhou Yu first wrote on his own palm, and then passed the pen to Zhuge Liang who also wrote. Then getting close together on the same bench, each showed his hand to the other, and both burst out laughing, for both had written the same word, “Fire.”

“Since we are of the same opinion,” said Zhou Yu, “there is no longer any doubt. But our intentions must be kept secret.”

“Both of us are public servants, and what would be the sense of telling our plans? I do not think Cao Cao will be on his guard against this, although he has had two experiences. You may put your scheme into force.”

They finished their wine and separated. Not an officer knew a word of their plans.

Now Cao Cao had expended a myriad arrows in vain and was much irritated in consequence. He deeply desired revenge.

Then Xun You proposed a ruse, saying, “The two strategists on the side of the enemy are Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang, two men most difficult to get the better of. Let us send someone who shall pretend to surrender to them but really be a spy on our behalf and a helper in our schemes. When we know what is doing, we can plan to meet it.”

“I had thought of that myself,” replied Cao Cao. “Whom do you think the best person to send?”

“Cai Mao has been put to death, but all his clan and family are in the army, and his two younger brothers are junior generals. You have them most securely in your power and may send them to surrender. The ruler of the South Land will never suspect deceit there.”

Cao Cao decided to act on this plan, and in the evening summoned Cai Zhong and Cai He to his tent, where he told them, saying, “I want you to pretend to surrender to the South Land so that you can gather intelligence and sent it back. When all done, you will be richly rewarded. But do not betray me.”

“Our families are in Jingzhou, and that place is yours,” replied they. “Should we dare betray? You need have no doubts, Sir. You will soon see the heads of both Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang at your feet.”

Cao Cao gave them generous gifts. Soon after the two men, each with his five hundred soldiers, set sail with a fair wind for the opposite bank.

Now as Zhou Yu was preparing for the attack, the arrival of some northern ships was announced. They bore the two younger brothers of Cai Mao, who had come as deserters.

They were led in and, bowing before the general, said, weeping, “Our innocent brother has been put to death, and we desire vengeance. So we have come to offer allegiance to you. We pray you appoint us to the vanguard.”

Zhou Yu appeared very pleased and made them presents. Then he ordered them to join Gan Ning in leading the van. They thanked him and regarded their scheme as already a success.

But Zhou Yu gave Gan Ning secret orders, saying, “They have come without their families, and so I know their desertion is only pretense. They have been sent as spies, and I am going to meet their ruse with one of my own. They shall have some information to send. You will treat them well, but keep a careful guard over them. On the day our soldiers start the offense, they shall be sacrificed to the flag. But be very careful that nothing goes wrong.”

Gan Ning went away.

Then Lu Su came to tell Zhou Yu, saying, “Everyone agrees in thinking the surrender of Cai Zhong and Cai He feigned and they should be rejected.”

“But they wish to revenge the death of their brother,” said the Fleet Admiral. “Where is the pretense? If you are so suspicious, you will receive nobody at all.”

Lu Su left much piqued and went to see Zhuge Liang to whom he told the story. Zhuge Liang only smiled.

“Why do you smile?” said Lu Su.

“I smile at your simplicity. The General is playing a game. Spies cannot easily come and go, so these two have been sent to feign desertion that they may act as spies. The General is meeting one ruse with another. He wants them to give false information. Deceit is not to be despised in war, and his scheme is the correct one to employ.”

Then Lu Su understood.

That night as Zhou Yu was sitting in his tent, Huang Gai came to see him privately.

Zhou Yu said, “You have surely some wise plan to propose that you come at night like this.”

Huang Gai replied, “The enemy are more numerous than we, and it is wrong to delay. Why not burn them out?”

“Who suggested that to you?”

“I thought of it myself. Nobody suggested it,” replied Huang Gai.

“I just wanted something like this, and that is why I kept those two pretended deserters. I want them to give some false news. The pity is that I have no one to feign desertion to the other side and work my plan.”

“But I will carry out your plan,” said Huang Gai.

“But if you cannot show some injury, you will not be believed,” said Zhou Yu.

“The Sun family have been very generous to me, and I would not resent being crushed to death to repay them,” said Huang Gai.

Zhou Yu bowed and thanked him, saying, “If you would not object to some bodily suffering, then the South Land would indeed be happy.”

“Kill me. I do not mind,” repeated Huang Gai as he took his leave.

Next day the drums called all the officers together to the Commander-in-Chief’s tent, and Zhuge Liang came with the others.

Zhou Yu said, “The enemy’s camps extend about one hundred miles so that the campaign will be a long one. Each leader is to prepare supplies for three months.”

Scarcely had he spoken when Huang Gai started up, crying, “Say not three months. Be ready for thirty months, and even then it will not be ended. If you can destroy them this month, then all is well. If you cannot, then it were better to take Zhang Zhao’s advice, throw down your weapons, turn to the north, and surrender.”

Zhou Yu’s anger flared up, and he flushed, crying, “Our lord’s orders were to destroy Cao Cao, and whoever mentioned the word surrender should be put to death! Now, the very moment when the two armies are to engage, you dare talk of surrender and damp the ardor of my army! If I do not slay you, how can I support the others?”

He ordered the lictors to remove Huang Gai and execute him without delay.

Huang Gai then flamed up in turn, saying, “This is the third generation since I went with General Sun Jian, and we overran the southeast. Whence have you sprung up?”

This made Zhou Yu perfectly furious, and Huang Gai was ordered to instant death. But Gan Ning interfered.

Said he, “He is a veteran officer of the South Land. Pray pardon him!”

“What are you prating about?” cried Zhou Yu. “Dare you come between me and my duty?”

Turning to the lictors, Zhou Yu ordered them to drive Gan Ning forth with blows.

The other officials fell on their knees entreating pity for Huang Gai.

“He is indeed most worthy of death, but it would be a loss to the army. We pray you forgive him. Record his fault for the moment; and after the enemy shall have been defeated, then put him to death.”

But Zhou Yu was implacable. The officers pleaded with tears.

At length he seemed moved, saying, “Had you not interceded, he should certainly have suffered death. But now I will mitigate the punishment to a beating. He shall not die.”

Zhou Yu turned to the lictors and bade them deal the culprit one hundred blows. Again his colleagues prayed for remission, but Zhou Yu angrily pushed over the table in front of him and roared to the officers to get out of the way and let the sentence be executed.

So Huang Gai was stripped, thrown to the ground, and fifty blows were given. At this point the officers again prayed that he be let off.

Zhou Yu sprang from his chair and pointing his finger at Huang Gai said, “If you dare flout me again, you shall have the other fifty. If you are guilty of any disrespect, you shall be punished for both faults!”

With this he turned into the inner part of the tent, growling as he went, while the officers helped their beaten colleague to his feet. He was in a deplorable state. His back was cut in many places, and the blood was flowing in streams. They led him to his own quarters and on the way he swooned several times. His case seemed most pitiable.

Lu Su went to see the suffering officer and then called on Zhuge Liang in his boat.

Lu Su related the story of the beating and said, “Though the other officers have been cowed into silence, I think thought you, Sir, might have interceded. You are a guest and not under Zhou Yu’s orders. Why did you stand by with your hands up your sleeves and say never a word?”

“You insult me,” said Zhuge Liang smiling.

“Why do you say that? I have never insulted you: Never since the day we came here together.”

“Do you not know that terrible beating was but a ruse? How could I try to dissuade Zhou Yu?”

Then Lu Su began to perceive, and Zhuge Liang continued, saying, “Cao Cao would not be taken in unless there was some real bodily suffering. Zhou Yu is going to send Huang Gai over as a deserter, and Zhou Yu will see to it that the two Cao Cao’s spies duly tell the tale. But when you see the General, you must not tell him that I saw through the ruse. You say that I am very angry like the others.”

Lu Su went to see Zhou Yu and asked, “Why have you so cruelly beaten a proved and trusty officer?”

“Do the officers resent it?” asked Zhou Yu.

“They are all upset about it.”

“And what does your friend think?”

Zhuge Liang also resents it in his heart, and he thinks you have made a mistake.”

“Then I have deceived him for once,” said Zhou Yu gleefully.

“What mean you?” cried Lu Su.

“That beating that Huang Gai got is part of my ruse. I am sending him to Cao Cao as a deserter, and so I have supplied a reason for desertion. Then I am going to use fire against the enemy.”

Lu Su kept silence, but he recognized that Zhuge Liang was again right.

Meanwhile Huang Gai lay in his tent, whither all his colleague officers went to condole with him and inquire after his health. But Huang Gai would say never a word. He only lay sighing deeply from time to time.

But when the Strategist Kan Ze came, Huang Gai told them to bring him to the room where he lay. Then he bade the servants go away.

Kan Ze said, “Surely you must have some serious quarrel with the General.”

“I have none,” said Huang Gai.

“Then this beating is just part of a ruse?”

“How did you guess?” said Huang Gai.

“Because I watched the General, and I guessed about nine tenths of the truth.”

Huang Gai said, “You see I have been very generously treated by the Sun family, all three of them, and have no means of showing my gratitude except by offering to help in this ruse. True I suffer, but I do not regret that. Among all those I know in the army, there is not one I am intimate with except yourself. You are true, and I can talk with you as a friend.”

“I suppose you wish me to present your surrender letter to Cao Cao. Is that it?”

“Just that; will you do it?” said Huang Gai.

Kan Ze consented joyfully.

Even the warrior’s body is but a stake in the game,
The friend so ready to help him proves that their hearts are the same.

Kan Ze’s reply will be read in the next chapter.