Ma Su's Disobedience Causes The Loss Of Jieting;
Zhuge Liang's Lute Repulses Sima Yi.
Sima Yi's army was two hundred thousand strong. They marched out through the pass and made a camp.
When encamped, Sima Yi summoned Zhang He to his tent and admonished him, saying, "A characteristic of Zhuge Liang is his most diligent carefulness; he is never hasty. If I were in his place, I should advance through the Ziwu Valley to capture Changan and so save much time. It is not that he is unskillful, but he fears lest that plan might miscarry, and he will not sport with risk. Therefore he will certainly come through the Xie Valley, taking Meicheng on the way. That place captured, he will divide his force into two, one part to take Chi Valley. I have sent Cao Zhen orders to guard Meicheng strictly and on no account to let its garrison go out to battle. The generals Sun Li and Xin Pi are to command the Chi Valley entrance, and should the enemy come, they are to make a sudden attack."
"By what road will you advance?" asked Zhang He.
"I know a road west of Qinling Mountains called Jieting, on which stands the city Liliu. These two places are the throat of Hanzhong. Zhuge Liang will take advantage of the unpreparedness of Cao Zhen and will certainly come in by this way. You and I will go to Jieting, whence it is a short distance to Yangping Pass. When Zhuge Liang hears that the road through Jieting is blocked and his supplies cut off, he will know that Xizhou is impossible to keep, and will retire without losing a moment into Hanzhong. I shall smite him on the march, and I ought to gain a complete victory. If he should not retire, then I shall block all the smaller roads and so stop his supplies. A month's starvation will kill off the soldiers of Shu, and Zhuge Liang will be my prisoner."
Zhang He took in the scheme and expressed his admiration, saying, "O Commander, your calculation exceeds human!"
Sima Yi continued, "However, it is not to be forgotten that Zhuge Liang is quite different from Meng Da; and you, as leader of the van, will have to advance with the utmost care. You must impress upon your generals the importance of reconnoitering a long way ahead and only advancing when they are sure there is no ambush. The least remissness will make you the victim of some ruse of the enemy."
Zhang He, having received his instructions, marched away.
Meanwhile a spy had come to Zhuge Liang in Qishan with news of the destruction of Meng Da and the failure of his conspiracy.
"Sima Yi marched rapidly in eight days to Xincheng. He had Shen Yi, Shen Dan, Li Fu, and Deng Xian plot against Meng Da from within. Meng Da had not been able to do anything and was killed. Now Sima Yi has gone to Changan, when he has marched through the pass with Zhang He."
Zhuge Liang was distressed.
"Meng Da's destruction was certain," said he. "Such a scheme could not remain secret. Now Sima Yi will try for Jieting and block the one road essential to us."
So Jieting had to be defended, and Zhuge Liang asked who would go. Ma Su offered himself instantly.
Zhuge Liang urged upon him the importance of his task.
"The place is small, but of very great importance, for its loss would involve the loss of the whole army. You are deeply read in all the rules of strategy, but the defense of this place is difficult, since it has no wall and no natural defenses."
"I have studied the books of war since I was a boy, and I may say I know a little of the art of war," Ma Su replied. "Why alone is Jieting so difficult to hold?"
"Because Sima Yi is an exceptional man, and also he has a famous second in Zhang He as leader of the van. I fear you may not be a match for him."
Ma Su replied, "To say nothing of these two, I would not mind if Cao Rui himself came against me. If I fail, then I beg you to behead my whole family."
"There is no jesting in war," said Zhuge Liang.
"I will give a written pledge."
Zhuge Liang agreed, and a written pledge was given and placed on record.
Zhuge Liang continued, "I shall give you twenty-five thousand veterans and also send an officer of rank to assist you."
Next he summoned Wang Ping and said to him, "As you are a careful and cautious man, I am giving you a very responsible position. You are to hold Jieting with the utmost tenacity. Camp there in the most commanding position so that the enemy cannot steal by. When your arrangements are complete, draw a plan of them and a map of the local topography and let me see it. All my dispositions have been carefully thought out and are not to be changed. If you can hold this successfully, it will be of the first service in the capture of Changan. So be very, very careful."
After Ma Su and Wang Ping had gone and Zhuge Liang had reflected for a long time, it occurred to him that there might be some slip between his two leaders, so he called Gao Xiang to him and said, "Northeast of Jieting is a city named Liliu, and near it an unfrequented hill path. There you are to camp and make a stockade. I will give you ten thousand troops for this task; and if Jieting should be threatened, you may go to the rescue."
After Gao Xiang had left, and as Zhuge Liang thought Gao Xiang was not a match for his opponent Zhang He, he decided there ought to be additional strength on the west in order to make Jieting safe. So he summoned Wei Yan and bade him lead his army to the rear of Jieting and camp there.
But Wei Yan thought this rather a slight, and said, "As leader of the van, I should go first against the enemy; why am I sent to a place where there is nothing to do?"
"The leadership of the van is really a second-rate task. Now I am sending you to support Jieting and take post on the most dangerous road to Yangping Pass. You are the chief keeper of the throat of Hanzhong. It is a very responsible post and not at all an idle one. Do not so regard it and spoil my whole plan. Be particularly careful."
Wei Yan, satisfied now that he was not being slighted, went his way.
Zhuge Liang's mind was at rest, and he called up Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi, to whom he said, "Now that Sima Yi is in command of the army, the whole outlook is different. Each of you will lead a force out to Chi Valley and move about so as to mislead the enemy. Whether you meet and engage them or not, you will certainly cause them uneasiness. I am going to lead the main army through the Xie Valley to Meicheng. If I can capture that, Changan will fall."
Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi took the orders and went off.
Zhuge Liang appointed Jiang Wei as leader of the van, and they marched to the Xie Valley.
When Ma Su and Wang Ping had reached Jieting and saw what manner of place it was, Ma Su smiled, saying, "Why was the Prime Minister so extremely anxious? How would the Wei armies dare to come to such a hilly place as this?"
Wang Ping replied, "Though they might not dare to come, we should set our camp at this meeting of many roads."
So Wang Ping ordered his soldiers to fell trees and build a strong stockade as for a permanent stay.
But Ma Su had a different idea.
"What sort of a place is a road to make a camp in? Here is a hill standing solitary and well wooded. It is a heaven-created point of vantage, and we will camp on it."
"You are wrong, Sir," replied Wang Ping. "If we camp on the road and build a strong wall, the enemy cannot possibly get past. If we abandon this for the hill, and the troops of Wei come in force, we shall be surrounded, and how then be safe?"
"You look at the thing like a child," said Ma Su, laughing. "The rules of war say that when one looks down from a superior position, one easily overcomes the enemy. If they come, I will see to it that not a breastplate ever goes back again."
"I have followed our Commander-in-Chief in many a campaign, and always he has carefully thought out his orders. Now I have studied this hill carefully, and it is a critical point. If we camp thereon and the enemy cut off our water supply, we shall have a mutiny."
"No such thing," said Ma Su. "Sun Zi says that victory lies in desperate positions. If they cut off our water, will not our soldiers be desperate and fight to the death? Then everyone of them will be worth a hundred. I have studied the books, and the Prime Minister has always asked my advice. Why do you presume to oppose me?"
"If you are determined to camp on the hill, then give me part of the force to camp there on the west so that I can support you in case the enemy come."
But Ma Su refused. Just then a lot of the inhabitants of the hills came running along saying that the Wei soldiers had come.
Wang Ping was still bent on going his own way, and so Ma Su said to him, "Since you will not obey me, I will give you five thousand troops and you can go and make your own camp; but when I report my success to the Prime Minister, you shall have no share of the merit."
Wang Ping marched about three miles from the hill and made his camp. He drew a plan of the place and sent it quickly to Zhuge Liang with a report that Ma Su had camped on the hill.
Before Sima Yi marched, he sent his younger son to reconnoiter the road and to find out whether Jieting had a garrison. Sima Zhao had returned with the information that there was a garrison.
"Zhuge Liang is rather more than human," said his father regretfully when Sima Zhao gave in his report. "He is too much for me."
"Why are you despondent, Father? I think Jieting is not so difficult to take."
"How dare you utter such bold words?"
"Because I have seen. There is no camp on the road, but the enemy are camped on the hill."
This was glad news.
"If they are on the hill, then Heaven means a victory for me," said his father.
At night Sima Yi changed into another dress, took a small escort, and rode out to see for himself. The moon shone brilliantly, and he rode to the hill whereon was the camp and looked all round it, thoroughly reconnoitering the neighborhood. Ma Su saw him, but only laughed.
"If Sima Yi has any luck, he will not try to surround this hill," said he.
Ma Su issued an order to his generals: "In case the enemy come, you are to look to the summit for a signal with a red flag, when you shall rush down on all sides."
Sima Yi returned to his camp and sent out to inquire who commanded in Jieting. They told him Ma Su, brother of Ma Liang.
"A man of false reputation and very ordinary ability," said Sima Yi. "If Zhuge Liang uses such as Ma Su, he will fail."
Then he asked if there were any other camps near the place, and they told him Wang Ping was about three miles off. Wherefore Zhang He was ordered to go and check Wang Ping from coming to rescue.
This done, Sima Yi ordered Shen Yi and Shen Dan to surround the hill and to block the road to the water supply. Lack of water would cause a mutiny; and when that occurred, it would be time to attack. Zhang He marched out and placed himself between Wang Ping and the hill. Then Sima Yi led the main body to attack the hill on all sides.
From the summit of his hill, Ma Su could see the banners of his enemy all round, and the country about was full of soldiers. Presently the hemming in was complete, and the soldiers of Shu became dejected. They dared not descend to attack although Ma Su hoisted the red flag signaling for them to move. The generals stood huddled together, no one daring to go first. Ma Su was furious. He cut down two generals, which frightened the others to the point of descending and making one desperate rush. But the troops of Wei would stand firm against their attack, and they reascended the hill.
Ma Su saw that matters were going ill, so he issued orders to bar the gates and defend till help should come from outside.
When Wang Ping saw the hill surrounded, he started to go to the rescue, but Zhang He checked him, and after exchanging some ten encounters Wang Ping was compelled to retire whence he had come.
The Wei troops kept a close siege. The Shu soldiers in the hill camp, having no water, were unable to prepare food, and disorder broke out. The shouting was audible at the foot of the hill and went on far into the night. The soldiers on the south side got out of hand, opened the gates and surrendered. The men of Wei went round the hill setting fire to the wood, which led to still greater confusion in the beleaguered garrison. At last Ma Su decided to make a dash for safety toward the west.
Sima Yi allowed him to pass, but Zhang He was sent to pursue and chased him for ten miles. But then there came an unexpected roll of drums. Zhang He was stopped by Wei Yan while Ma Su got past. Whirling up his sword, Wei Yan dashed toward Zhang He, who retired within his ranks and fled. Wei Yan followed and drove Zhang He backward toward Jieting.
The pursuit continued for fifteen miles, and then Wei Yan found himself in an ambush, Sima Yi on one side and Sima Zhao on the other. They went around the hill and closed in behind Wei Yan, and he was surrounded. Zhang He then turned back, and the attack was now on three sides. Wei Yan lost many troops, and all his efforts failed to get him clear of the press. Then help appeared in the person of Wang Ping.
"This is life for me," said Wei Yan as he saw Wang Ping coming up, and the two forces joined in a new attack on the force of Wei. So the troops of Wei drew off, while Wei Yan and Wang Ping made all haste back to their own camps---only to find them in the hands of the enemy.
Shen Yi and Shen Dan then rushed out and drove Wei Yan and Wang Ping to Liliu. There they were received by Gao Xiang who had come out to meet his unfortunate colleagues.
When Gao Xiang heard their story, he at once proposed a night attack on the Wei camp and the recovery of Jieting. They talked this over on the hillside and arranged their plans, after which they set themselves to wait till it was dark enough to start.
They set out along three roads; and Wei Yan was the first to reach Jieting. Not a soldier was visible, which looked suspicious. He decided to await the arrival of Gao Xiang, and they both speculated as to the whereabouts of their enemy. They could find no trace, and the third army under Wang Ping had not yet come up.
Suddenly a bomb exploded, and a brilliant flash lit up the sky; drums rolled as though the earth was rending, and the enemy appeared. In a trice the armies of Shu found themselves hemmed in. Both Wei Yan and Gao Xiang pushed here and shoved there, but could find no way out. Then most opportunely from behind a hill rolled out a thunder of drums, and there was Wang Ping coming to their rescue. Then the three forced their way to Liliu. But just as they drew near to the rampart, another body of soldiers came up, which, from the writing on their flags, they read "Wei Commander Guo Huai".
Now Guo Huai had talked over Sima Yi's recall with his colleague Cao Zhen, and, fearing lest the recalled general should acquire too great glory, Guo Huai had set out to anticipate him in the capture of Jieting. Disappointed when he heard of Sima Yi's success there, he had decided to try a similar exploit at Liliu. So he had diverted his march thither.
He engaged the three Shu armies at once and slew so many of them that at Wei Yan' suggestion they all left for Yangping Pass, which might be in danger.
Guo Huai, pleased with his success, gathered in his army after the victory and said to his officers, "I was disappointed at Jieting, but we have taken this place, and that is merit of high order."
Thereupon he proceeded to the city gates. Just as he arrived, a bomb exploded on the wall, and, looking up, he saw the rampart bedecked with flags. On the largest banner he read the characters "Sima Yi, General Who Pacifies the West". At that moment Sima Yi himself lifted a board that hung in front of him and looked over the breast-high rail.
He looked down and smiled, saying, "How late you are, friend Guo Huai!"
Guo Huai was amazed. "He is too much for me," said he.
So Guo Huai resignedly entered the city and went to pay his respects to his successful rival.
Sima Yi was gracious, and said, "Zhuge Liang must retire now that Jieting is lost. You join forces with Cao Zhen and follow up quickly."
Guo Huai agreed and took his leave.
Sima Yi called to him Zhang He, and said, "Cao Zhen and Guo Huai thought we should win too great merit, so they tried to get ahead of us here. We are not the only ones who desire to achieve good service and acquire merit, but we had the good fortune to succeed. I thought Wei Yan, Ma Su, Wang Ping, and Gao Xiang would first try to occupy Yangping Pass; and if I went to take it, then Zhuge Liang would fall on our rear. It says in the books on war that one should crush a retreating enemy, not pursue broken rebels; so you may go along the by-roads and smite those withdrawing down the Chi Valley, while I oppose the Xie Valley army. If they flee, do not press them too much, but just hold them up on the road and capture the baggage train."
Zhang He marched away with half the force to carry out his part of this plan, while Sima Yi gave orders to go to the Xie Valley by way of Xicheng, which though a small place, was important as a depot of stores for the Shu army, beside commanding the road to the three counties of Nanan, Tianshui, and Anding. If this place could be captured, the other three could be recaptured.
Sima Yi left Shen Yi and Shen Dan to guard Liliu and marched his army toward the Xie Valley.
After Zhuge Liang had sent Ma Su to guard Jieting, his mind was constantly disturbed. Then arrived the messenger with the topography and plan prepared by Wang Ping. Zhuge Liang went over to his table and opened the letter. As he read it he smote the table in wrath.
"Ma Su's foolishness has destroyed the army!" he cried.
"Why are you so disturbed, O Minister?" asked those near.
"By this plan I see that we have lost command of an important road. The camp has been made on the hill; and if the Wei army come in force, our army will be surrounded and their water supply interrupted. In two days the soldiers will be in a state of mutiny; and if Jieting shall be lost, how shall we be able to retire?"
Here High Counselor Yang Yi said, "I am none too clever I know, but let me go to replace Ma Su."
Zhuge Liang explained to Yang Yi how and where to camp; but before he could start, a horseman brought the news of the loss of Jieting and Liliu.
This made Zhuge Liang very sad, and he sighed, saying, "The whole scheme has come to nought, and it is my fault."
Zhuge Liang sent for Guan Xing and Zhang Bao, and said, "Each of you takes three thousand of good soldiers and go along the road to Wugong Hills. If you fall in with the enemy, do not fight, but beat drums and raise a hubbub and make them hesitate and be doubtful, so that they may retire. Do not pursue, but when they retire, make for Yangping Pass."
He also sent Zhang Yi to put Saber Pass in order for retreat and issued instructions for making ready to march. Ma Dai and Jiang Wei were told to guard the rear, but they were to go into ambush in the valleys till the whole army would have retreated. Trusty messengers were sent with the news to Tianshui, Nanan, and Anding that the officers, army and people might go away into Hanzhong. He also sent to remove to a place of safety in Hanzhong the aged mother of Jiang Wei.
All these arrangements made, Zhuge Liang took five thousand troops and set out for Xicheng to remove the stores.
But messenger after messenger, more than ten of them, came to report: "Sima Yi is advancing rapidly on Xicheng with an army of one hundred fifty thousand troops."
No leader of rank was left to Zhuge Liang; he had only the civil officials and the five thousand soldiers, and as half this force had started to remove the stores, he had only two thousand five hundred left.
His officers were all frightened at the news of near approach of the enemy. Zhuge Liang himself went up on the rampart to look around. He saw clouds of dust rising into the sky. The Wei armies were nearing Xicheng along two roads.
Then he gave orders: "All the banners are to be removed and concealed. If any officer in command of soldiers in the city moves or makes any noise, he will be instantly put to death."
Next he threw open all the gates and set twenty soldiers dressed as ordinary people cleaning the streets at each gate. When all these preparations were complete, he donned the simple Taoist dress and, attended by a couple of lads, sat down on the wall by one of the towers with his lute before him and a stick of incense burning.
Sima Yi's scouts came near the city gate and saw all this. They did not enter the city, but went back and reported what they had seen. Sima Yi smiled incredulously. But he halted his army and rode ahead himself. Lo! It was exactly as the scouts had reported; Zhuge Liang sat there, his face with all smiles as he played the lute. A lad stood on one side of him bearing a treasured sword and on the other a boy with the ordinary symbol of authority, a yak's tail. Just inside the gates a score of persons with their heads down were sweeping as if no one was about.
Sima Yi hardly believed his eyes and thought this meant some peculiarly subtle ruse. So he went back to his armies, faced them about and moved toward the hills on the north.
"I am certain there are no soldiers behind this foolery," said Sima Zhao. "What do you retire for, Father?"
Sima Yi replied, "Zhuge Liang is always most careful and runs no risks. Those open gates undoubtedly mean an ambush; and if our force enter the city, they will fall victims to his guile. How can you know? No; our course is to retire."
Thus were the two armies turned back from the city, much to the joy of Zhuge Liang, who laughed and clapped his hands as he saw them hastening away.
The officials gasped with astonishment, and they asked, "Sima Yi is a famous general of Wei, and he was leading one hundred fifty troops. By what reason did he march off at the sight of you, O Minister?"
Zhuge Liang said, "He knows my reputation for carefulness and that I play not with danger. Seeing things as they were made him suspect an ambush, and so he turned away. I do not run risks, but this time there was no help for it. Now he will meet with Guan Xing and Zhang Bao, whom I sent away into the hills to wait for him."
They were still in the grip of fear, but they praised the depth of insight of their chief and his mysterious schemes and unfathomable plans.
"We should simply have run away," said they.
"What could we have done with two thousand five hundred soldiers even if we had run? We should not have gone far before being caught," said Zhuge Liang.
Quite open lay the city to the foe,
"But if I had been in Sima Yi's place, I should not have turned away," said Zhuge Liang, smiling and clapping his hands.
But Zhuge Liang's lute of jasper wonders wrought;
It turned aside the legions' onward march
For both the leaders guessed the other's thought.
He gave orders that the people of the place should follow the army into Hanzhong, for Sima Yi would assuredly return.
They abandoned Xicheng and returned into Hanzhong. In due course the officials and soldiers and people out of the three counties also came in.
It has been said that Sima Yi turned aside from the city. He went to Wugong Hills. Presently there came the sounds of a Shu army from behind the hills.
Sima Yi turned to his sons, saying, "If we do not retire, we shall yet somehow fall victims to this Zhuge Liang."
Then appeared a force advancing rapidly, the banners bearing the name of Zhang Bao. The soldiers of Wei were seized with sudden panic and ran, flinging off their armors and throwing away their weapons. But before they had fled very far, they heard other terrible sounds in the valley and soon saw another force, with banners of Guan Xing. The roar of armed troops echoing up and down the valley was terrifying; and as no one could tell how many men there were bearing down on them, the panic increased. The Wei army abandoned all the baggage and took to flight. But having orders not to pursue, Zhang Bao and Guan Xing let their enemies run in peace, while they gathered up the spoils. Then they returned.
Seeing the valley apparently full of Shu soldiers, Sima Yi dared not marched by the main road. He hurried back to Jieting.
At this time Cao Zhen, hearing that the army of Shu was retreating, went in pursuit. But at a certain point he encountered a strong force under Ma Dai and Jiang Wei. Valleys and hills seemed to swarm with enemies, and Cao Zhen became alarmed. Then Chen Zao, his van-leader, was slain by Ma Dai, and the soldiers were panic-stricken and fled in disorder. And the soldiers of Shu were hastening night and day along the road into Hanzhong.
Zhao Yun and Deng Zhi, who had been lying in ambush in Chi Valley, heard that their comrades were retreating.
Then said Zhao Yun, "The army of Wei will surely come to smite us while we are retreating. Wherefore let me first take up a position in their rear, and then you lead off your troops and part of mine, showing my ensigns. I will follow, keeping at the same distance behind you, and thus I shall be able to protect the retreat."
Now Guo Huai was leading his army through the Chi Valley. He called up his van-leader, Su Yong, and said to him, "Zhao Yun is a warrior whom no one can withstand. You must keep a most careful guard lest you fall into some trap while they are retreating."
Su Yong replied, smiling, "If you will help me, O Commander, we shall be able to capture this Zhao Yun."
So Su Yong, with three thousand troops, hastened on ahead and entered the valley in the wake of the Shu army. He saw upon a slope in the distance a large red banner bearing the name of Zhao Yun. This frightened him, and he retired.
But before he had gone far a great uproar arose about him, and a mighty warrior came bounding forth on a swift steed, crying, "Do you recognize Zhao Yun?"
Su Yong was terrified.
"Whence came you?" he cried. "Is there another Zhao Yun here?"
But Su Yong could make no stand, and soon fell victim to the spear of the veteran. His troops scattered, and Zhao Yun marched on after the main body.
But soon another company came in pursuit, this time led by a general of Guo Huai, named Wan Zheng. As they came along Zhao Yun halted in the middle of the road to wait for the enemy. By the time Wan Zheng had come close, the other Shu soldiers had gone about ten miles along the road. However, when Wan Zheng drew nearer still and saw who it was standing in his path, he hesitated and finally halted. Presently he turned back and retired altogether, confessing on his return that he had not dared to face the old warrior, who seemed as terrible as ever.
However, Guo Huai was not content and ordered him to return to the pursuit of the retreating army. This time Wan Zheng led a company of several hundred horsemen.
Presently they came to a wood, and, as they entered, a loud shout arose in the rear, "Zhao Yun is here!"
Terror seized upon the pursuers, and many fell from their horses. The others scattered among the hills. Wan Zheng braced himself for the encounter and went on. Zhao Yun shot an arrow which struck the plume on his helmet. Startled, Wan Zheng tumbled into a water stream.
Then Zhao Yun pointed his spear at him and said, "Be off! I will not kill you. Go and tell Guo Huai to come quickly, if he is coming."
Wan Zheng fled for his life, while Zhao Yun continued his march as rear-guard, and the retreat into Hanzhong steadily continued. There were no other episodes by the way.
Cao Zhen and Guo Huai took to themselves all the credit of having recovered the three counties---Nanan, Tianshui, and Anding.
Before the cautious Sima Yi was ready to pursue the army of Shu, it had already reached Hanzhong. He took a troop of horse and rode to Xicheng and there heard from the few people who had formerly sought refuge in the hills, and now returned, that Zhuge Liang really had had no men in the city, with the exception of the two thousand five hundred soldiers, that he had not a single military commander, but only a few civil officers. Sima Yi also heard that Guan Xing and Zhang Bao had had only a few troops whom they led about among the hills making as much noise as they could.
Sima Yi felt sad at having been tricked.
"Zhuge Liang is a cleverer man than I am," said he with a sigh of resignation.
He set about restoring order, and presently marched back to Changan.
He saw the Ruler of Wei, who was pleased with his success and said, "It is by your good service that Xizhou is again mine."
Sima Yi replied, "But the army of Shu is in Hanzhong undestroyed; therefore, I pray for authority to go against them that you may recover the Western Land of Rivers also."
Cao Rui rejoiced and approved, and authorized the raising of an army.
But then one of the courtiers suddenly said, "Your servant can propose a plan by which Shu will be overcome and Wu submits."
The generals lead their beaten soldiers home,
Who offered this plan? Succeeding chapters will tell.
The victors plan new deeds for days to come.