CHAPTER 49

On The Seven Stars Altar, Zhuge Liang Sacrifices To The Winds;
At Three Gorges, Zhou Yu Liberates The Fire.
 

In the last chapter Zhou Yu was seized with sudden illness as he watched the fleets of his enemy. He was borne to his tent, and his officers came in multitudes to inquire after him. They looked at each other, saying, "What a pity our general should be taken ill when Cao Cao's legions threaten so terribly! What would happen if Cao Cao attacked?"

Messengers with the evil tidings were sent to Sun Quan, while the physicians did their best for the invalid. Lu Su was particularly sad at the illness of his patron and went to see Zhuge Liang to talk it over.

"What do you make of it?" said Zhuge Liang.

"Good luck for Cao Cao; bad for us," said Lu Su.

"I could cure him," said Zhuge Liang laughing.

"If you could, Wu would be very fortunate," said Lu Su.

Lu Su prayed Zhuge Liang to go to see the sick man. They went, and Lu Su entered first. Zhou Yu lay in bed, his head covered by a quilt.

"How are you, General?" said Lu Su.

"My heart pains me; every now and again I feel faint and dizzy."

"Have you taken any remedies?"

"My gorge rises at the thought; I could not."

"I saw Zhuge Liang just now, and he says he could heal you. He is just outside, and I will call him if you like."

"Ask him to come in."

Zhou Yu bade his servants help him to a sitting position, and Zhuge Liang entered.

"I have not seen you for days," said Zhuge Liang. "How could I guess that you were unwell?"

"How can any one feel secure? We are constantly the playthings of luck, good or bad."

"Yes; Heaven's winds and clouds are not to be measured. No one can reckon their comings and goings, can they?"

Zhou Yu turned pale and a low groan escaped him, while his visitor went on, "You feel depressed, do you not? As though troubles were piling up in your heart?"

"That is exactly how I feel."

"You need cooling medicine to dissipate this sense of oppression."

"I have taken a cooling draught, but it has done no good."

"You must get the humors into good order before the drugs will have any effect."

Zhou Yu began to think Zhuge Liang knew what was really the matter and resolved to test him.

"What should be taken to produce a favorable temper?" said Zhou Yu.

"I know one means of producing a favorable temper," replied Zhuge Liang.

"I wish you would tell me."

Zhuge Liang got out writing materials, sent away the servants, and then wrote a few words:

This he gave to the sick general, saying, "That is the origin of your illness."

Zhou Yu read the words with great surprise, and it confirmed his secret opinion that Zhuge Liang really was rather more than human. He decided that the only course was to be open and tell him all.

So he said, "Since you know the cause of the disease, what do you recommend as treatment? The need of a remedy is very urgent."

"I have no great talent," said Zhuge Liang, "but I have had to do with humans of no ordinary gifts from whom I have received certain magical books called Concealing Method. I can call the winds and summon the rains. Since you need a southeast breeze, General, you must build an altar on the Nanping Mountains, the Altar of the Seven Stars. It must be nine spans high, with three steps, surrounded by a guard of one hundred and twenty humans bearing flags. On this altar I will work a spell to procure a strong southeast gale for three days and three nights. Do you approve?"

"Never mind three whole days;" said Zhou Yu, "one day of strong wind will serve my purpose. But it must be done at once and without delay."

"I will sacrifice for a wind for three days from the twentieth day of the moon; will that suit you?"

Zhou Yu was delighted and hastily rose from his couch to give the necessary orders. He commanded that five hundred men should be sent to the mountains to build the altar, and he told off the guard of one hundred and twenty to bear the flags and be at the orders of Zhuge Liang.

Zhuge Liang took his leave, went forth, and rode off with Lu Su to the mountains where they measured out the ground. He bade the soldiers build the altar of red earth from the southeast quarter. It was two hundred and forty spans in circuit, square in shape, and of three tiers, each of three spans, in all nine spans high. On the lowest tier he placed the flags of the twenty-eight "houses" of the heavens and four constellations; on the east seven, with blue flags; on the north seven, with black flags; on the west seven, with white flags; and on the south seven, with red flags. Around the second tier he placed sixty-four yellow flags, corresponding to the number of the diagrams of the Book of Divination, in eight groups of eight. Four men were stationed on the highest platform, each wearing a Taoist headdress and a black silk robe embroidered with the phoenix and confined with wide sashes. They wore scarlet boots and square-cut skirts. On the left front stood a man supporting a tall pole bearing at its top a plume of light feathers to show by their least movement the wind's first breathing. On the right front was a man holding a tall pole whereon was a flag with the symbol of the seven stars to show the direction and force of the wind. On the left rear stood a man with a sword, and on the right rear a man with a censer. Below the altar were forty-four men holding flags, umbrellas, spears, lances, yellow banners, white axes, red banderoles, and black ensigns. And these were spaced about the altar.

On the appointed day Zhuge Liang, having chosen a propitious moment, bathed his body and purified himself. Then he robed himself as a Taoist, loosened his locks, and approached the altar.

He bade Lu Su retire, saying, "Return to the camp and assist the General in setting out his forces. Should my prayers avail not, do not wonder."

So Lu Su left him. Then Zhuge Liang commanded the guards on no account to absent themselves, to maintain strict silence, and to be reverent; death would be the penalty of disobedience.

Next, with solemn steps he ascended the altar, faced the proper quarter, lighted the incense, and sprinkled the water in the basins. This done he gazed into the heavens and prayed silently. The prayer ended he descended and returned to his tent. After a brief rest he allowed the soldiers by turns to go away to eat.

Thrice that day he ascended the altar and thrice descended; but there was no sign of the wind.

During that time, Zhou Yu, with Cheng Pu and Lu Su and other military officials on duty, sat waiting in the tent till the wished-for wind should blow and the attack could be launched. Messengers were also sent to Sun Quan to prepare to support the forward movement.

Huang Gai had his fire ships ready, twenty of them. The fore parts of the ships were thickly studded with large nails, and they were loaded with dry reeds, wood soaked in fish oil, and covered with sulfur, saltpeter, and other inflammables. The ships were covered in with black oiled cloth. In the prow of each was a black dragon flag with indentations. A fighting ship was attached to the stern of each to propel it forward. All were ready and awaited orders to move.

Meanwhile Cao Cao's two spies, Cai He and Cai Zhong, were being guarded carefully in an outer camp far from the river bank and daily entertained with feasting. They were not allowed to know of the preparations. The watch was so close that not a trickle of information reached the prisoners.

Presently, while Zhou Yu was anxiously awaiting in his tent for the desired wind, a messenger came to say that Sun Quan had anchored at a place thirty miles from the camp, where he awaited news from the Commander-in-Chief.

Lu Su was sent to warn all the various commanders to be ready, the ships and their weapons, sails and oars, all for instant use, and to impress upon them the penalties of being caught unprepared. The soldiers were indeed ready for the fight and yearning for the fray.

But the sky remained obstinately clear, and as night drew nigh no breath of air stirred.

"We have been cajoled," said Zhou Yu. "Indeed what possibility is there of a southeast wind in midwinter?"

"Zhuge Liang would not use vain and deceitful words," replied Lu Su.

Towards the third watch, the sound of a movement arose in the air. Soon the flags fluttered out. And when the Commander-in-Chief went out to make sure, he saw they were flowing toward the northwest. In a very short time the southeast wind was in full force.

Zhou Yu was, however, frightened at the power of the man whose help he had invoked.

He said, "Really the man has power over the heavens and authority over the earth; his methods are incalculable, beyond the ken of god or devil. He cannot be allowed to live to be a danger to our land of the south. We must slay him soon to fend off later evils."

So Zhou Yu resolved to commit a crime to remove his dangerous rival. He called two of the generals of his guard, Ding Feng and Xu Sheng, and said to them, "Each of you take a party of one hundred troops, one along the river, the other along the road, to the altar on the mountains. As soon as you get there, without asking questions or giving reasons, you are to seize and behead Zhuge Liang. Rich reward will be given when you bring his head back."

Xu Sheng and Ding Feng went off on their errand, the former leading dagger and ax-men going as fast as oars could propel them along the river, the latter at the head of archers and bowmen on horseback. The southeast wind buffeted them as they went on their way.

Ding Feng first arrived. He saw the guards with their flags, dropped off his steed, and marched to the altar, sword in hand. But he found no Zhuge Liang. He asked the guards; they told him, saying, "He has just gone down."

Ding Feng ran down the hill to search. There he met his fellow Xu Sheng, and they joined forces. Presently a simple soldier told them, saying, "The evening before a small, fast boat anchored there near a sand spit, and Zhuge Liang was seen to go on board. Then the boat went up river."

So Xu Sheng and Ding Feng divided their party into two, one to go by water, the other by land.

Xu Sheng bade his boatmen put on all sail and take every advantage of the wind. Before very long he saw the fugitive's boat ahead, and when near enough, stood in the prow of his own and shouted, "Do not flee, O Instructor of the Army! The General requests your presence."

Zhuge Liang, who was seated in the stern of his boat, just laughed aloud, saying, "Return and tell the General to make good use of his soldiers. Tell him I am going up river for a spell and will see him again another day."

"Pray wait a little while," cried Xu Sheng. "I have something most important to tell you."

"I knew all about it, that Zhou Yu would not let me go and that he wanted to kill me. That is why Zhao Yun was waiting for me. You would better not approach nearer."

Seeing the other ship had no sail, Xu Sheng thought he would assuredly come up with it and so maintained the pursuit.

Then when he got too close, Zhao Yun fitted an arrow to the bowstring and, standing up in the stern of his boat, cried, "You know who I am, and I came expressly to escort the Directing Instructor. Why are you pursuing him? One arrow would kill you, only that would cause a breach of the peace between two houses. I will shoot and just give you a specimen of my skill."

With that he shot, and the arrow whizzed overhead cutting the rope that held up the sail. Down came the sail trailing in the water and the boat swung round. Then Zhao Yun's boat hoisted its sail, and the fair wind speedily carried it out of sight.

On the bank stood Ding Feng. He bade his comrade come to the shore and said, "Zhuge Liang is too clever for any one; and Zhao Yun is bravest of the brave. You remember what he did at Dangyang, at the Long Slope Bridge. All we can do is to return and report."

So they returned to camp and told their master about the preparations that Zhuge Liang had made to ensure safety. Zhou Yu was indeed puzzled at the depth of his rival's insight.

"I shall have no peace day or night while he lives," said Zhou Yu.

"At least wait till Cao Cao is done with," said Lu Su.

And Zhou Yu knew Lu Su spoke wisely.

Having summoned the leaders to receive orders, first Zhou Yu gave orders to Gan Ning: "Take with you the false deserter Cai Zhong and his soldiers, and go along the south bank, showing the flags of Cao Cao, till you reach the Black Forest just opposite the enemy's main store of grain and forage. Then you are to penetrate as deeply as possible into the enemy's lines and light a torch as a signal. Cai He is to be kept in camp for another purpose."

The next order was: "Taishi Ci is to lead two thousand troops as quickly as possible to Huangzhou and cut the enemy's communications with Hefei. When near the enemy, he is to give a signal; and if he sees a red flag, he will know that our lord, Sun Quan, is at hand with reinforcements."

Gan Ning and Taishi Ci had the farthest to go and started first. Then Lu Meng was sent into the Black Forest with three thousand troops as a support to Gan Ning who was ordered to set fire to Cao Cao's depot.

A fourth party of three thousand troops was led by Ling Tong to the borders of Yiling and attack as soon as the signal from the forest was seen. A fifth party of three thousand under Dong Xi went to Hanyang to fall upon the enemy along the River Han. Their signal was a white flag; and a sixth division of three thousand commanded by Pan Zhang would support them.

When these six parties had gone off. Huang Gai got ready his fire ships and sent a soldier with a note to tell Cao Cao that he was coming over that evening. Four naval squadrons were told off to support Huang Gai.

The four squadrons, each of three hundred ships, were placed under four commanders: Han Dang, Zhou Tai, Jiang Qin, and Chen Wu. Twenty fire ships preceded each fleet. Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu went on board one of the large ships to direct the battle. Their guards were Ding Feng and Xu Sheng. Lu Su, Kan Ze, and the advisers were left to guard the camp. Cheng Pu was greatly impressed with Zhou Yu's ordering of the grand attack.

Then came a messenger bearing a mandate from Sun Quan making Lu Xun Leader of the Van. He was ordered to go to Qichun. Sun Quan himself would support Lu Xun. Zhou Yu also sent a unit to the Western Hills to make signals and to hoist flags on the Nanping Mountains.

So all being prepared they waited for dusk.

Liu Bei was at Xiakou anxiously awaiting the return of his adviser. Then appeared a fleet, led by Liu Qi, who had come to find out how matters were progressing. Liu Bei sent to call him to the battle tower and said, "The southeast wind had begun to blow, and that Zhao Yun had gone to meet Zhuge Liang."

Not long after a single sail was seen coming up before the wind, and Liu Bei knew it was Zhuge Liang, the Directing Instructor of the Army.

So Liu Bei and Liu Qi went down to meet the boat. Soon the vessel reached the shore, and Zhuge Liang and Zhao Yun disembarked.

Liu Bei was very glad, and after they had inquired after each other's well-being, Zhuge Liang said, "There is no time to tell of any other things now. Are the soldiers and ships ready?"

"They have long been ready," replied Liu Bei. "They only await you to direct how they are to be used."

The three then went to the tent and took their seats. Zhuge Liang at once began to issue orders: "Zhao Yun, with three thousand troops is to cross the river and go to the Black Forest by the minor road. He will choose a dense jungle and prepare an ambush. Tonight, after the fourth watch, Cao Cao will hurry along that way. When half his troops have passed, the jungle is to be fired. Cao Cao will not be wholly destroyed but many will perish."

"There are two roads," said Zhao Yun. "One leads to the southern regions and the other to Jingzhou. I do not know by which he will come."

"The south road is too dangerous; Cao Cao will certainly pass along the Jingzhou road, so that he may get away to Xuchang."

Then Zhao Yun went away. Next Zhuge Liang said to Zhang Fei, "You will take three thousand troops over the river to cut the road to Yiling. You will ambush in the Hulu Valley. Cao Cao, not daring to go to South Yiling, will go to North Yiling. Tomorrow, after the rain, he will halt to refresh his troops. As soon as the smoke is seen to rise from their cooking fires, you will fire the hill side. You will not capture Cao Cao, but you will render excellent service."

So Zhang Fei left. Next was called Mi Zhu, Mi Fang, and Kou Feng. They were to take command of three squadrons and go along the river to collect beaten soldiers and their weapons.

The three left. Then Zhuge Liang said to Liu Qi, "The country around Wuchang is very important, and I wish you to take command of your own troops and station them at strategic points. Cao Cao, being defeated, will flee thither, and you will capture him. But you are not to leave the city without the best of reasons."

And Liu Qi took leave.

Then Zhuge Liang said to Liu Bei, "I wish you to remain quietly and calmly in Fankou, in a high tower, to watch Zhou Yu work out his great scheme this night."

All this time Guan Yu has been silently waiting his turn, but Zhuge Liang said no word to him.

When Guan Yu could bear this no longer, he cried, "Since I first followed my brother to battle many years ago, I have never been left behind. Now that great things are afoot, is there no work for me? What is meant by it?"

"You should not be surprised. I wanted you for service at a most important point, only that there was a something standing in the way that prevented me from sending you," said Zhuge Liang.

"What could stand in the way? I wish you would tell me."

"You see Cao Cao was once very kind to you, and you cannot help feeling grateful. Now when his soldiers have been beaten, he will have to flee along the Huarong Road; and if I sent you to guard it, you would have to let him pass. So I will not send you."

"You are most considerate, Instructor. But though it is true that he treated me well, yet I slew two of his most redoubtable opponents, Yan Liang and Wen Chou, by way of repayment, beside raising a siege. If I happened upon him on this occasion, I should hardly let him go."

"But what if you did?"

"You could deal with me by military rules."

"Then put that in writing."

So Guan Yu wrote a formal undertaking and gave the document to Zhuge Liang.

"What happens if Cao Cao does not pass that way?" said Guan Yu.

"I will give you a written engagement that he will pass." Then Zhuge Liang continued, "On the hills by the Huarong Valley, you are to raise a heap of wood and grass to make a great column of smoke and mislead Cao Cao into coming."

"If Cao Cao sees a smoke, he will suspect an ambush and will not come." said Guan Yu.

"You are very simple," said Zhuge Liang. "Do you not know more of war's ruses than that? Cao Cao is an able leader, but you can deceive him this time. When he sees the smoke, he will take it as a subterfuge and risk going that way. But do not let your kindness of heart rule your conduct."

Thus was his duty assigned Guan Yu, and he left, taking his adopted son Guan Ping, his general Zhou Cang, and five hundred swordsmen.

Said Liu Bei, "His sense of rectitude is very profound; I fear if Cao Cao should come that way, my brother will let him pass."

"I have consulted the stars lately, and the rebel Cao Cao is not fated to come to his end yet. I have purposely designed this manifestation of kindly feeling for Guan Yu to accomplish and so act handsomely."

"Indeed there are few such far-seeing humans as you are," said Liu Bei.

The two then went to Fankou whence they might watch Zhou Yu's evolutions. Sun Qian and Jian Yong were left on guard of Xiakou.

Cao Cao was in his great camp in conference with his advisers and awaiting the arrival of Huang Gai. The southeast wind was very strong that day, and Cheng Yu was insisting on the necessity for precaution. But Cao Cao laughed, saying, "The Winter Solstice depends upon the sun and nothing else; there is sure to be a southeast wind at some one or other of its recurrences. I see nothing to wonder at."

Just then they announced the arrival of a small boat from the other shore with a letter from Huang Gai. The bearer of the letter was brought in and presented it. Cao Cao read it:

"Zhou Yu has kept such strict watch that there has been no chance of escape. But now some grain is coming down river, and I, Huang Gai, have been named as escort commander which will give me the opportunity I desire. I will slay one of the known generals and bring his head as an offering when I come. This evening at the third watch, if boats are seen with dragon toothed flags, they will be the grain boats."

This letter delighted Cao Cao who, with his officers, went to the naval camp and boarded a great ship to watch for the arrival of Huang Gai.

In the South Land, when evening fell, Zhou Yu sent for Cai He and bade the soldiers bind him.

The unhappy man protested, saying, "I have committed no crime!"

But Zhou Yu said, "What sort of a fellow are you, think you, to come and pretend to desert to my side? I need a small sacrifice for my flag, and your head will serve my purpose. So I am going to use it."

Cai He being at the end of his tether unable to deny the charge suddenly cried, "Two of your own side, Kan Ze and Gan Ning, are also in the plot!"

"Under my directions," said Zhou Yu.

Cai He was exceedingly repentant and sad, but Zhou Yu bade them take Cai He to the river bank where the black standard had been set up and there, after the pouring of a libation and the burning of paper, Cai He was beheaded, his blood being a sacrifice to the flag.

This ceremony over, the ships started, and Huang Gai took his place on the third ship. He merely wore breast armor and carried a keen blade. On his flag were written four large characters "Van Leader Huang Gai". With a fair wind his fleet sailed toward the Red Cliffs 1.

The wind was strong and the waves ran high. Cao Cao in the midst of the central squadron eagerly scanned the river which rolled down under the bright moon like a silver serpent writhing in innumerable folds. Letting the wind blow full in his face, Cao Cao laughed aloud for he was now to obtain his desire.

Then a soldier pointing to the river said, "The whole south is one mass of sails, and they are coming up on the wind."

Cao Cao went to a higher point and gazed at the sails intently, and his officers told him that the flags were black and dragon shaped, and indented, and among them there flew one very large banner on which was a name Huang Gai.

"That is my friend, the deserter," said he joyfully. "Heaven is on my side today."

As the ships drew closer, Cheng Yu said, "Those ships are treacherous. Do not let them approach the camp."

"How know you that?" asked Cao Cao.

And Cheng Yu replied, "If they were laden with grain, they would lie deep in the water. But these are light and float easily. The southeast wind is very strong, and if they intend treachery, how can we defend ourselves?"

Cao Cao began to understand. Then he asked who would go out to stop the approaching fleet, and Wen Ping volunteered, saying, "I am well used to the waters."

Thereupon Wen Ping sprang into a small light craft and sailed out, followed by ten cruisers which came at his signal. Standing in the prow of his ship, Wen Ping called out to those advancing toward them, "You southern ships are not to approach; such are the orders of the Prime Minister. Stop there in mid stream!"

The soldiers all yelled to them to lower their sails. The shout had not died away when a bowstring twanged, and Wen Ping rolled down into the ship with an arrow in the left arm. Confusion reigned on his ship, and all the others hurried back to their camp.

When the ships were about a mile of distant, Huang Gai waved his sword and the leading ships broke forth into fire, which, under the force of the strong wind, soon gained strength and the ships became as fiery arrows. Soon the whole twenty dashed into the naval camp.

All Cao Cao's ships were gathered there, and as they were firmly chained together not one could escape from the others and flee. There was a roar of bombs and fireships came on from all sides at once. The face of the three rivers was speedily covered with fire which flew before the wind from one ship to another. It seemed as if the universe was filled with flame.

Cao Cao hastened toward the shore. Huang Gai, with a few troops at his back, leaped into a small boat, dashed through the fire, and sought Cao Cao. Cao Cao, seeing the imminence of the danger, was making for the land; Zhang Liao got hold of a small boat into which he helped his master; none too soon, for the ship was burning. They got Cao Cao out of the thick of the fire and dashed for the bank.

Huang Gai, seeing a handsomely robed person get into a small boat, guessed it must be Cao Cao and pursued. He drew very near and he held his keen blade ready to strike, crying out, "You rebel! Do not flee. I am Huang Gai."

Cao Cao howled in the bitterness of his distress. Zhang Liao fitted an arrow to his bow and aimed at the pursuer, shooting at short range. The roaring of the gale and the flames kept Huang Gai from hearing the twang of the string, and he was wounded in the shoulder. He fell and rolled over into the water.

Huang Gai's fate will be told in the next chapter.

Notes

1 This battle is known to history as the battle of Red Cliffs.

 

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