Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

With Contributor Notes
ThreeKingdoms.com
(Original Online Novel)
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Attributed to
Luo Guanzhong
(Circa 1300–1400)
Translated by
C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Edited by
Snow N. Snow

Chapter 54

The Lady Wu Sees Her Son-in-Law
The Liu Bei Takes a Worthy Consort

Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang went out of the city to welcome the envoy of the South Land and led him to the guest-house.

After the usual greetings, Lu Su said, “Hearing of the death of your nephew, my lord Sun Quan has prepared some gifts and sent me to take his place at the funeral sacrifices. General Zhou Yu also sends regards to the Liu Bei and to you, Master Zhuge Liang.”

Both rose at once and thanked him for the courtesy. Then the gifts were handed over and a banquet prepared, and while it was in progress, the guest brought up the real object of his visit.

“You said, Sir, that Jingzhou should be returned to us after the death of Liu Qi. Now that that event has happened, rendition becomes due, and I should be glad to know when the transfer can take place.”

“We will discuss that later. In the meantime let us go on with our wine,” said Liu Bei.

So the feasting continued. Some time later Lu Su returned to the subject, but this time his host remained silent.

However, Zhuge Liang, changing color, said, “Lu Su, you are unreasonable. You could not wait till some other has to explain this matter to you. From the very foundation of the empire by our illustrious ancestor, the great heritage has descended in due course till today when, unhappily, evil doers have risen among the powerful and they have seized upon such portions as they could. But with God’s favor and help, unity is nearly restored. My lord is a scion of the Imperial House, a great great grandson of Emperor Jing. Now, as the Emperor’s Uncle, should he not have a share of the empire? Moreover, Liu Biao was my lord’s elder brother, and there is certainly nothing extraordinary in one brother’s succession to another’s estate.

“What is your master? The son of a petty official on the banks of the River Qiantang, absolutely without merit so far as the state is concerned. Just because he is powerful, he holds actual possession of six territories and eighty-one counties, which has whetted his insatiable appetite till he now desires to swallow the whole empire. The land is the estate of the Liu family and my lord, who is of that name, has no share thereof, while your master, whose name is Sun, would dispute with, and even fight him. Beside, at the battle at the Red Cliffs my lord did good service and acquired great merit while his commanders risked their lives. Was it solely the strength of your southern soldiers that won that fight? Had I not brought that southeast wind that meant so much for Zhou Yu, could he have done anything? Had the South Land been conquered, it is needless to say that the two paramount beauties would now be gracing the Bronze Bird Palace. And as for yourself and other officers, insignificant though your families be, could you have been sure to survive? Just now my lord did not reply because he was willing to believe rather that a scholar of your abilities would understand without a detailed explanation, and I trust now that you will.”

This speech absolutely shut the guest’s mouth for a time, and he said no word in reply. But after an interval he said, “What you say, Zhuge Liang, I think is devoid of reason, and means much unpleasantness for me.”

“What unpleasantness?” asked Zhuge Liang.

The guest replied, “When Liu Bei was in serious straits at Dangyang, I conducted you across the river and introduced you to my lord. I opposed Zhou Yu when he was going to capture Jingzhou, and then it came to agreement that the place was to be ours when the young man died. And I pledged myself to that. Now how can I go back and say you break your promise? Both my lord and Zhou Yu will hold me guilty. I would not mind death so much, but I fear that my master will be very wrathful and make war on the Liu Bei, who will have no place of refuge and he will look ridiculous in the eyes of the world for no reason.”

Replied Zhuge Liang, “I care not for Cao Cao with his million troops and the Emperor in name at his back, and do you think I fear such a youngster as Zhou Yu? However, as it may cause you some loss of consideration, I will try to persuade my master to put the matter in writing and give you a paper to the effect that he is temporarily occupying Jingzhou as a base. When he can obtain possession of some other city, this shall be returned to you. What think you the South Land would say to this?”

“Wait till what other place was obtained?” said Lu Su.

“My master can scarcely think of attacking the Middle Land yet, but Liu Zhang in Yizhou is ignorant and weak, and my master will attack him. If he gets the western region, then this place will be given up to you.”

Lu Su had no alternative and accepted the offer. Liu Bei with his own hand wrote the pledge and sealed it. Zhuge Liang being named as guarantor also signed the document.

“Since I belong to this side of the compact and one can hardly have a guarantor of the same party, I would trouble you, Lu Su, also to sign. It will look better when you reach the South Land again,” said Zhuge Liang.

Lu Su said, “I know that your master is perfectly honorable and will adhere to the bargain.”

And so Lu Su signed. Then he received the document in formal style and took his departure. He was sent off with every mark of great respect, both Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang attending him to his boat.

There the Directing Instructor delivered him a last exhortation, “When you see your master, speak discreetly and explain fully so as not to create a bad impression. If he rejects our document, we may get angry and we will take his whole country. The one thing now is for our two houses to live in harmony and not give our common enemy, Cao Cao, an opportunity against us.”

Lu Su went down into his ship. He reached Chaisang and there saw Zhou Yu, who said, “Well, how did you speed with your demand for Jingzhou?”

“Here is the document,” said Lu Su, giving it to Zhou Yu to read.

“You have been victimized by Zhuge Liang!” said Zhou Yu, stamping his foot with irritation. “In name it may be temporary occupation, but in fact it is humbug. They say the place is to be returned when they get the west. Who knows when that will be? Suppose ten years: Then it will be ten years before they give us Jingzhou. What is the use of such a document as this? And you are a guarantor of its due performance! If they do not give us the city, you get into trouble. Suppose our lord finds you in the wrong, what then?”

Lu Su was dumbfounded. When he had somewhat recovered his self-possession, he said, “I think Liu Bei will be true to me.”

“You, my friend, are simple and sincere. Liu Bei is a scoundrel adventurer, and Zhuge Liang is a slippery customer. They and you are utterly different.”

“What then is to be done?” cried Lu Su distressfully.

“You are my dear friend, and your kindness in freely offering your store of grain to relieve my army is still fresh in my memory. Of course I will save you. Do not be anxious, but wait a few days till we get news of what is doing on the north of the river, and then we can decide upon a plan.”

Lu Su passed some very uneasy days. Then the scouts came back saying that in Jingzhou everything seemed in excellent order and the white flags were flying everywhere, while outside the city they were building a magnificent mausoleum for Empress Gan, wife of Liu Bei. All the soldiers were in mourning.

When Zhou Yu knew who was dead, he said to Lu Su, “My scheme is made. You will see Liu Bei just stand still to be bound, and we shall get Jingzhou like turning a hand.”

“What is the main spring of your plan?” said Lu Su.

Liu Bei will want to remarry, and our lord has a sister, Lady Sun [Sun Shangxiang]. She is a tough lady, whose women guards number many hundreds, all armed with weapons of war. Her apartments also are full of such things. I will write to our lord to send an intermediary to arrange that the lady shall wed Liu Bei at her family home, and thus we shall entice Liu Bei to Nanxu. But instead of marrying a wife, Liu Bei will find himself a prisoner, and then we will demand Jingzhou as ransom. When they have handed over the region, I shall find something else to say and nothing will fall on your head.”

Lu Su was very grateful. Then Zhou Yu wrote letters to his master, and a swift boat was chosen to take Lu Su to see the Sun Quan.

After the lending of Jingzhou had been discussed, Lu Su presented the document given him by Liu Bei.

“What is the use of such nonsense as this?” said Sun Quan, when he had read it.

“There is another letter from General Zhou Yu. And he says that if you will employ his scheme, you can recover Jingzhou,” replied Lu Su.

Having read that letter, Sun Quan was more pleased and began to consider who was the best person to send.

Suddenly he cried, “I have it. Lü Fan is the man to send.”

Sun Quan called Lü Fan and said to him, “I have just heard that Liu Bei has lost his wife. I have a sister whom I should like to marry to him and so make a bond of union between our two houses. Thus we should be united against Cao Cao and in support of the House of Han. You are the one man to be intermediary, and I hope you will go to Jingzhou and see to this.”

Under these orders, Lü Fan at once began to prepare his ships for the voyage and soon started.

Liu Bei was greatly distressed at the death of Empress Gan, fretting for her day and night. One day when he was talking with his adviser, they announced the arrival of Lü Fan who had come on a mission from the South Land.

“One of Zhou Yu’s devices,” said Zhuge Liang smiling, “and it is all on account of this region. I will just retire behind the screen and listen. But you, my lord, agree to whatever the messenger proposes. Then let the messenger be taken to the guest-house while we arrange what is to be done.”

So the envoy was introduced. Bows having been exchanged, host and guest being seated in due order and the tea drunk, Liu Bei opened the interview.

“You must have some commands for me, Sir, since you come thus.”

“News has just been received that you, O Liu Bei, have just been bereaved of your consort. I venture to hope you would not object to an advantageous match, and I have come to propose one. Are you disposed to listen?”

“To lose one’s wife in middle age is truly a great misfortune,” said Liu Bei. “While her body is still warm, I cannot listen to proposals for another marriage.”

Lü Fan said, “A man without a wife is like a house without a ridge pole. At your age, one should not live an incomplete life. I am come on the part of Marquis Sun Quan, who has a sister, beautiful as she is, accomplished and well fitted to be a mate for you. Should the two families become allied as formerly were Qin and Jin, then that ruffian Cao Cao would never dare so much as look this way. Such an alliance would be to the benefit of both our houses and of the state. I hope, O Liu Bei, that you will fairly consider the proposal. However, since the young girl’s mother is dotingly fond of her, the mother does not wish her to go far away, and so I must ask you to come into our country for the wedding.”

“Does the Marquis know of your coming?”

“How dare I come without his knowledge?”

“I am no longer young,” said Liu Bei. “I am fifty and grizzled. This fair damsel, the sister of the Marquis, is now in the flower of her youth and no mate for me.”

“Although the damsel is a woman, yet in mind she surpasses many a man, and she has said she will never wed anyone who is unknown to fame. Now, Sir, you are renowned throughout the four seas. Marriage with you would be the chaste maiden mating with the born gentleman. Of what consequence is the difference in age?”

“Sir, stay here awhile, and I will give you a reply tomorrow,” said Liu Bei.

So that day the envoy was entertained at a banquet and then conducted to the guest-house to repose, while, late as it was, Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang discussed their plans.

“I knew what he had come about,” said the adviser. “While he was talking, I consulted the oracle and obtained an excellent sign. Wherefore you may accept the proposal and send Sun Qian back with this envoy to arrange the details. When the promise has been ratified, we will choose a day and you shall go to complete the ceremony.”

“How can I thus go into enemy territory? Zhou Yu has wanted to slay me for a long time.”

“Let Zhou Yu employ all his ruses. Think you he can get beyond me? Let me act for you, and his calculations will always fail halfway. Once Sun Quan’s sister is in your power, there will be no fear for Jingzhou.”

Still Liu Bei doubted in his mind. However, Sun Qian was sent to the South Land, with definite instructions, and traveled thither with Lü Fan.

At the interview Sun Quan said, “I wish my sister could induce Liu Bei to live here with us. He would come to no harm.”

Sun Qian took his leave. And returning to Jingzhou, he told the bridegroom elect, saying, “Sun Quan’s sole desire is for our lord to go over and complete the marriage.”

However, Liu Bei feared and would not go.

Zhuge Liang said, “I have prepared three plans, but I need Zhao Yun to carry them out. He will be sent as your guard.”

So Zhuge Liang called in Zhao Yun, gave him three silken bags, and whispered in his ear, saying, “Here are three schemes enclosed in three bags. When you escort our lord to the South Land, you will take these with you and act as they direct.”

Zhao Yun hid the three silken bags in his breast so that they should be at hand when required.

Zhuge Liang next sent the wedding gifts, and when these had been received, the preliminaries were settled.

It was then the early winter of the fourteenth year of Rebuilt Tranquillity (AD 209). The bridegroom elect, his escort, and the intermediary left the city of Jingzhou with a fleet of ten fast ships to sail down the river to Nanxu. Zhuge Liang remained to guard and rule the region.

But Liu Bei was far from feeling comfortable. They arrived and the ships were made fast. This done, the time had come for the first of the silken bags to be opened. And so it was. Thereupon Zhao Yun gave each of his five hundred guards his instructions, and they went their several ways. Next Zhao Yun told Liu Bei what he was to do: To pay his visit first to the Qiao Xuan, who was the father-in-law of Sun Ce and of Zhou Yu.

The Qiao Xuan resided in Nanxu and to his house, leading sheep and bearing wine jars, went the bridegroom elect. Having made his obeisance, Liu Bei explained that as Lü Fan had arranged, he had come to marry a wife.

In the meantime the five hundred guards, all in gala dress, had scattered over the city place buying all sorts of things, as they said, for the wedding of Liu Bei with the daughter of the Sun House. They spread the news far and wide and the whole town talked about it.

When Sun Quan heard of Liu Bei’s arrival, he bade Lü Fan wait upon him and take him to the guest-house. Meanwhile the Qiao Xuan went to the Lady Wu, mother of Sun Quan, to congratulate her on the happy event.

“What happy event?” exclaimed the old lady.

“The betrothal of your beloved daughter to Liu Bei. And he has arrived too, as surely you know.”

“My poor old self does not know,” said the Dowager. “I have heard nothing of all this.”

She at once summoned her son and also sent her servants out into the town to see what was going about.

They quickly returned to say: “The whole city know of the coming wedding, and the bridegroom is now at the guest-house. Moreover, he has come with a large escort, and they are spending freely, buying pork and mutton and fruits, all in readiness for the wedding feasting. Lü Fan and Sun Qian are the intermediaries on each side, and they are in the guest-house too.”

The Lady Wu was terribly taken aback and upset so that, when Sun Quan arrived, he found his mother beating her breast and weeping bitterly.

“What has disturbed you, Mother?” asked he.

“What you have just done,” said she. “You have treated me as a nonentity. When my elder sister lay dying, what did she tell you?”

Sun Quan began to be frightened, but he said boldly, “Please speak out plainly, Mother. What is this great sorrow?”

“When a son is grown, he takes a wife; and when a girl is old enough, she goes to her husband. And that is right and proper. But I am the mother, and you ought to have told me that your sister was to become the wife of Liu Bei. Why did you keep me in the dark? It was my place to promise her in marriage.”

“Whence comes this story?” said the Marquis, really much frightened.

“Do you pretend ignorance? There is not a soul in the city who does not know! But you have succeeded in keeping me in the dark.”

“I heard it several days ago,” said the Qiao Xuan. “And I came just now to offer my felicitations.”

“There is no such thing,” said Sun Quan. “It is just one of the ruses of Zhou Yu to get hold of Jingzhou. He has used this means to inveigle Liu Bei here and hold him captive till Jingzhou is restored to us. And if they will not give it back, then Liu Bei will be put to death. That is the plot. There is no real marriage.”

But the Dowager was in a rage and vented her wrath in abusing Zhou Yu.

She said, “Zhou Yu is a pretty sort of governor over the six territories and eighty-one counties, if he cannot find any means of recovering one region except making use of my child as a decoy. Truly this is a fine deed, to spoil the whole of my child’s life and condemn her to perpetual widowhood, because he wants to use the fair damsel ruse to slay a man! Who will ever come to talk of marriage with her after this?”

Said the Qiao Xuan, “By this means you may indeed recover Jingzhou, but you will be a shameful laughing stock to all the world. What can be done?”

Sun Quan had nothing to say. He could only hang his head, while the Dowager abused his general.

The Qiao Xuan tried to soothe her, saying, “After all Liu Bei, the Liu Bei, is a scion of the reigning family. You can do nothing better now than to welcome him as a son-in-law and not let this ugly story get abroad.”

“I am afraid their ages do not match,” interposed Sun Quan.

Liu Bei is a very famous man,” said the Qiao Xuan. “There can be no shame in having such a son-in-law.”

“I have never seen him,” said the Dowager. “Arrange that I may get a look at him tomorrow at the Sweet Dew Temple. If he displeases me, you may work your will on him. But if I am satisfied with him, then I shall simply let the girl marry him.”

Now Sun Quan was above all things filial and at once agreed to what his mother said. He went out, called in Lü Fan, and told him to arrange a banquet for the morrow at the temple so that the Lady Wu might see the bridegroom.

“Why not order Jia Hua to station some men in the wings of the temple? Then if the Dowager be not pleased, we can call them out and fall upon him,” said Lü Fan.

Accordingly the ambush was prepared and five hundred ruffians posted to act as the Dowager’s attitude might determine.

When the Qiao Xuan took his leave and had reached his house, he sent to tell Liu Bei, saying, “Tomorrow the Marquis and the Lady Wu wished to see you. So be careful!”

Liu Bei and his faithful henchman discussed their plans.

Zhao Yun said, “The morrow bodes rather ill than well. However, your escort shall be there.”

Next day the Lady Wu and the Qiao Xuan went to the Temple of Sweet Dew as had been arranged. Sun Quan came with a number of his strategists; and when all were assembled, Lü Fan was sent to the guest-house to request Liu Bei to come. He obeyed the summons, but as a precaution he put on a light coat of mail under his brocaded robe. His followers too took their swords upon their backs and followed close. He mounted his steed, and the cavalcade set out for the temple. At the door of the temple he met Sun Quan on whom the visitor’s brave demeanor was not lost. After they had exchanged salutations, Sun Quan led Liu Bei into the presence of his mother.

“Just the son-in-law for me!” said the Dowager delighted with the appearance of Liu Bei.

“He has the air of an emperor and a look like the sun,” remarked the Qiao Xuan. “When one remembers also that his fair fame has spread over the whole earth, you may well be congratulated on getting such a noble son-in-law.”

Liu Bei bowed, in acknowledgment of his reception. Soon after they were all seated at the banquet in the temple, Zhao Yun entered and took his place beside Liu Bei.

“Who is this?” asked the Dowager.

“This is Zhao Yun of Changshan.”

“Then he must be the hero of Dangyang, who saved the little Liu Shan.”

“Yes, this is he,” replied Liu Bei.

“A fine general!” said the Dowager, and she gave him wine.

Presently Zhao Yun said to his master, “I have seen a lot of armed ruffians hidden away in the purlieus of the temple. They can be there for no good, and you should ask the Dowager to get them sent away.”

Thereupon Liu Bei knelt at the feet of the Dowager and, weeping, said, “If you would slay me, let it be here.”

“Why do you say this?” asked she.

“Because there are assassins in hiding in the wings of the temple. What are they there for if not to kill me?”

The Dowager wrathfully turned on Sun Quan, “What are armed men doing there today, when Liu Bei is to become my son-in-law and the pair are my son and daughter?”

Sun Quan said he did not know and sent Lü Fan to inquire. Lü Fan put the blame on Jia Hua. The Dowager summoned him and upbraided him severely. He had nothing to say, and she told them to put him to death.

But Liu Bei interceded, saying, “The General’s death will do me harm and make it hard for me to stay at your side.”

The Qiao Xuan also interceded, and she only ordered the general out of her presence. His subordinates also scattered and ran like frightened rats.

By and bye, strolling out of the banquet room into the temple grounds, Liu Bei came to a boulder. Drawing his sword he looked up to heaven and prayed, saying, “If I am to return to Jingzhou and achieve my intent to become a chief ruler, then may I cleave this boulder asunder with my sword. But if I am to meet my doom in this place, then may the sword fail to cut this stone.”

Raising his sword he smote the boulder. Sparks flew in all directions, and the boulder lay split in twain.

It happened that Sun Quan had seen the blow, and he said, “Why do you thus hate that stone?”

Liu Bei replied, “I am near my fifth decade and have so far failed to rid the state of evil. I greatly regret my failure. Now I have been accepted by the Dowager as her son-in-law, and this is a critical moment in my life. So I implored of Heaven a portent that I might destroy Cao Cao as I would that boulder and restore the dynasty. You saw what happened.”

“That is only to deceive me,” thought Sun Quan. Drawing his own sword, he said, “And I also ask of Heaven an omen, that if I am to destroy Cao Cao, I may also cut this rock.”

So he spoke. But in his secret heart he prayed, “If I am to recover Jingzhou and extend my borders, may the stone be cut in twain.”

He smote the stone and it split in twain. And to this day there are cross cuts in the stone, which is still preserved.

One who saw this relic wrote a poem:

The shining blades fell and the rock was shorn through,
The metal rang clear and the sparks widely flew.
Thus fate then declared for the dynasties two
And the tripartite rule there began.

Both put up their swords and returned hand in hand to the banquet hall.

After some more courses, Sun Qian gave his master a warning look, and Liu Bei said, “I pray you excuse me as my drinking powers are very small.”

Wherefore Sun Quan escorted him to the gate.

As they walked down looking at high land and rolling river spreading in glorious panorama before their eyes, Liu Bei exclaimed, “Really this is the finest scene in the whole world!”

These words are recorded on a tablet in the Temple of the Sweet Dew, and one who read them wrote a poem:

From the riverside hills the rain clears off,
And the black clouds roll away,
And this is the place of joy and mirth
And never can sorrow stay.
And here two heroes of ages past
Decided their parts to play,
And the lofty heights flung back wind and wave
Then, as they do today.

Yes, they stood both entranced by the beautiful scene. And gradually along the vast river the wind whipped the waves into snowy foam and raised them high toward heaven. And in the midst of the waves appeared a tiny leaf of a boat riding over the waves as if all was perfect calm.

“The northern people are riders and the southern people sailors. It is said quite true,” sighed Liu Bei.

Sun Quan hearing this remark took it as a reproach to his horsemanship. Bidding his servants lead up his steed, Sun Quan leaped into the saddle and set off, full gallop, down the hill. Then wheeling he came up again at the same speed.

“So the southerners cannot ride, eh?” said Sun Quan laughing.

Not to be outdone, Liu Bei lifted the skirts of his robe, jumped upon his horse and repeated the feat.

The two steeds stood side by side on the declivity, the riders flourishing their whips and laughing.

Thence forward that hillside was known as the “Slope Where the Horses Stood,” and a poem was written about it:

Their galloping steeds were of noble breed,
And both of spirit high,
And the riders twain from the hill-crest gazed
At the river rolling by.
One of them mastered the western mountains.
One ruled by the eastern sea;
And the hill to this very day
Still is the Slope Where the Horses Stood.

When they rode side by side into Nanxu, the people met them with acclamations. Liu Bei made his way to the guest-house and there sought advice from Sun Qian as to the date of the wedding.

Sun Qian advised, “It should be fixed as early as possible so that no further complications could arise.”

So next day Liu Bei went to the Qiao Xuan and told him in plain words, “Many the people of the place mean harm to me, and I cannot stay here long. I must return soon.”

“Do not be anxious,” said the Qiao Xuan. “I will tell the Lady Wu, and she will protect you.”

Liu Bei bowed to express his thanks.

The Qiao Xuan saw the Dowager, and she was very angry when she heard the reason for Liu Bei’s desire to leave.

“Who would dare harm my son-in-law?” cried she.

But she made Liu Bei move into the library of the palace as a precaution, and she chose a day for the celebration of the wedding. But his soldiers could not keep guard at the library and were removed from his commands. Liu Bei explained to his hostess, and when she understood this, she gave her son-in-law and his people rooms in her own palace so that he might be quite safe.

Liu Bei was very happy, and there were fine banquets, and the bride and bridegroom duly plighted their troth. And when it grew late and the guests had gone, the newly wedded pair walked through the two lines of red torches to the nuptial apartment.

To his extreme surprise, Liu Bei found the chambers furnished with spears and swords and banners and flags, while every waiting-maid had girded on a sword.

Walls hung with spears the bridegroom saw,
And armed waiting-maids;
His heart fell back on all its fears
Of well-laid ambuscades.

What happened will be related in the next chapter.