CHAPTER 103

In Gourd Valley, Sima Yi Is Trapped;
In Wuzhang Hills, Zhuge Liang Invokes The Stars.
 

Heavily smitten in the battle, Sima Yi fled from the field a lonely horseman, a single spear. Seeing a thick wood in the distance, he made for its shelter.

Zhang Yi halted the rear division while Liao Hua pressed forward after the fugitive, whom he could see threading his way among the trees. And Sima Yi indeed was soon in fear of his life, dodging from tree to tree as his pursuer neared. Once Liao Hua was actually close enough to slash at his enemy, but Liao Hua missed the blow and his sword struck a tree; and before he could pull his sword out of the wood, Sima Yi had got clear away. When Liao Hua got through into the open country, he did not know which way to go. Presently he noticed a golden helmet lying on the ground to the east, just lately thrown aside. He picked it up, hung it on his saddle, and went away eastward.

But the crafty fugitive, having flung away his helmet thus on the east side of the wood, had gone away west, so that Liao Hua was going away from his quarry. After some time Liao Hua fell in with Jiang Wei, when he abandoned the pursuit and rode with Jiang Wei back to camp.

The wooden oxen and running horses having been driven into camp, their loads were put into the storehouse. The grain that fell to the victors amounted to ten thousand carts or more.

Liao Hua presented the enemy's helmet as proof of his prowess in the field, and received a reward of the first grade of merit. But Wei Yan had nothing to offer, and so was overlooked. Wei Yan went away angry and discontented, but Zhuge Liang pretended to be ignorant of his services.

Very sadly Sima Yi returned to his own camp. Bad news followed, for a messenger brought letters telling of an invasion by three armies of Wu. The letters said that forces had been sent against them, and the Ruler of Wei again enjoined upon his Commander-in-Chief a waiting and defensive policy. So Sima Yi deepened his moats and raised his ramparts.

Cao Rui had sent three armies against the invaders: Liu Shao led that to save Jiangxia; Tian Du led the Xiangyang force; Cao Rui himself, with Man Chong, went into Hefei. This last was the main army.

Man Chong led the leading division toward Lake Chaohu. Thence, looking across to the eastern shore, he saw a forest of battleships, and flags and banners crowded the sky. So he returned to the main army and proposed an attack without loss of time.

"The enemy think we shall be fatigued after a long march and have not troubled to prepare any defense; we should attack this night, and we shall overcome them."

"What you say accords with my own ideas," said the Ruler of Wei, and he told off the cavalry leader, Zhang Qiu, to take five thousand troops and try to burn out the enemy. Man Chong was also to attack from the eastern bank.

In the second watch of that night, the two forces set out and gradually approached the entrance to the lake. They reached the marine camp unobserved, burst upon it with a yell, and the soldiers of Wu fled without striking a blow. The troops of Wei set fires going in every direction and thus destroyed all the ships together with much grain and many weapons.

Zhuge Jin, who was in command, led his beaten troops to Miankou, and the attackers returned to their camp much elated.

When the report come to Lu Xun, he called together his officers and said, "I must write to the Emperor to abandon the siege of Xincheng, that the army may be employed to cut off the retreat of the Wei army while I will attack them in front. They will be harassed by the double danger, and we shall break them."

All agreed that this was a good plan, and the memorial was drafted. It was sent by the hand of a junior officer, who was told to convey it secretly. But this messenger was captured at the ferry and taken before the Ruler of Wei, who read the dispatch, saying, with a sigh, "This Lu Xun of East Wu is really very resourceful."

The captive was put into prison, and Liu Shao was told off to defend the rear and keep off Sun Quan's army.

Now Zhuge Jin's defeated soldiers were suffering from hot weather illnesses, and at length he was compelled to write and tell Lu Xun, and ask that his army be relieved and sent home.

Having read this dispatch, Lu Xun said to the messenger, "Make my obeisance to the General and say that I will decide."

When the messenger returned with this reply, Zhuge Jin asked what was doing in the Commander-in-Chief's camp.

The messenger replied, "The soldiers were all outside planting beans, and the officers were amusing themselves at the gates. They were playing a game of skill, throwing arrows into narrow-necked vases."

Then Zhuge Jin himself went to his chief's camp and asked how the pressing danger was to be met.

Lu Xun replied, "My messenger to the Emperor was captured, and thus my plans were discovered. Now it is useless to prepare to fight, and so we would better retreat. I have sent in a memorial to engage the Emperor to retire gradually."

Zhuge Jin replied, "Why delay? If you think it best to retire, it had better be done quickly."

"My army must retreat slowly, or the enemy will come in pursuit, which will mean defeat and loss. Now you must first prepare your ships as if you meant to resist, while I make a semblance of an attack toward Xiangyang. Under cover of these operations we shall withdraw into the South Land, and the enemy will not dare to follow."

So Zhuge Jin returned to his own camp and began to fit out his ships as if for an immediate expedition, while Lu Xun made all preparations to march, giving out that he intended to advance upon Xiangyang.

The news of these movements were duly reported in the Wei camps, and when the leaders heard it, they wished to go out and fight. But the Ruler of Wei knew his opponent better than they and would not bring about a battle.

So he called his officers together and said to them, "This Lu Xun is very crafty; keep careful guard, but do not risk a battle."

The officers obeyed, but a few days later the scouts brought in news that the armies of Wu had retired. The Ruler of Wei doubted and sent out some of his own spies, who confirmed the report.

When he thus knew it was true, he consoled himself with the words, "Lu Xun knows the art of war even as did Sun Zi and Wu Qi. The subjugation of the southeast is not for me this time."

Thereupon Cao Rui distributed his generals among the various vantage points and led the main army back into Hefei, where he camped ready to take advantage of any change of conditions that might promise success.

Meanwhile Zhuge Liang was at Qishan, where, to all appearances, he intended to make a long sojourn. He made his soldiers mix with the people in Wei and share in the labor of the fields, and the crops---the soldiers one-third, the people two-third. He gave strict orders against any encroachment on the property of the farmers, and so they and the soldiers lived together very amicably.

Then Sima Yi's son, Sima Shi, went to his father and said, "These soldiers of Shu have despoiled us of much grain, and now they are mingling with the people of Qishan and tilling the fields along the banks of River Wei as if they intended to remain there. This would be a calamity for us. Why do you not appoint a time to fight a decisive battle with Zhuge Liang?"

His father replied, "I have the Emperor's orders to act on the defensive and may not do as you suggest."

While they were thus talking, one reported that Wei Yan had come near and was insulting the army and reminding them that he had the helmet of their leader. And he was challenging them. The generals were greatly incensed and desired to accept the challenge, but the Commander-in-Chief was immovable in his decision to obey his orders.

"The Holy One says: 'If one cannot suffer small things, great matters are imperiled.' Our plan is to defend."

So the challenge was not accepted, and there was no battle. After reviling them for some time, Wei Yan went away.

Seeing that his enemy was not to be provoked into fighting, Zhuge Liang gave orders to Ma Dai to build a strong stockade in the Gourd Valley and therein to excavate pits and to collect large quantities of inflammables. So on the hill they piled wood and straw in the shape of sheds, and all about they dug pits and buried mines. When these preparations were complete, Ma Dai received instructions to block the road in rear of Gourd Valley and to lay an ambush at the entrance.

"If Sima Yi comes, let him enter the valley, and then explode the mines and set fire to the straw and the wood," said Zhuge Liang. "Also, set up a seven-star signal at the mouth of the valley and arrange a night signal of seven lamps on the hill."

After Ma Dai had gone, Wei Yan was called in, and Zhuge Liang said to him, "Go to the camp of Wei with five hundred troops and provoke them to battle. The important matter is to entice Sima Yi out of his stronghold. You will be unable to obtain a victory, so retreat that he may pursue; and you are to make for the signal, the seven stars by day or the seven lamps at night. Thus you will lead him into the Gourd Valley, where I have a plan prepared for him."

When Wei Yan had gone, Gao Xiang was summoned.

"Take small herds, forty or fifty at a time, of the wooden oxen and running horses, load them up with grain and lead them to and fro on the mountains. If you can succeed in getting the enemy to capture them, you will render a service."

So the transport wooden cattle were sent forth to play their part in the scheme, and the remainder of the Qishan soldiers were sent to work in the fields, with orders to join in the battle only if Sima Yi came in person. In that case they were to attack the south bank of the river and cut off the retreat. Then Zhuge Liang led his army away to camp next to the Gourd Valley.

Xiahou Hui and Xiahou He went to their chief, Sima Yi, and said, "The enemy have set out camps and are engaged in field work as though they intended to remain. If they are not destroyed now, but are allowed to consolidate their position, they will be hard to dislodge."

"This certainly is one of Zhuge Liang's ruses," said the chief.

"You seem very afraid of him, General," retorted they. "When do you think you can destroy him? At least let us two brothers fight one battle that we may prove our gratitude for the Emperor's kindness."

"If it must be so, then you may go in two divisions," said Sima Yi.

As the two divisions, five thousand troops each, were marching along, they saw coming toward them a number of the transport wooden animals of the enemy. They attacked at once, drove off the escort, captured them, and sent them back to camp. Next day they captured more, with soldiers and horses as well, and sent them also to camp.

Sima Yi called up the prisoners and questioned them.

They told him, saying, "The Prime Minister understood that you would not fight, and so had told off the soldiers to various places to work in the fields and thus provide for future needs. We had been unwittingly captured."

Sima Yi set them free and bade them begone.

"Why spare them?" asked Xiahou He.

"There is nothing to be gained by the slaughter of a few common soldiers. Let them go back to their own and praise the kindliness of the Wei leaders. That will slacken the desire of their comrades to fight against us. That was the plan by which Lu Meng captured Jingzhou."

Then he issued general orders that all Shu prisoners should be well treated and sent away free, and he rewarded those of his army who had done well.

As has been said, Gao Xiang was ordered to keep pretended convoys on the move, and the soldiers of Wei attacked and captured them whenever they saw them. In half a month they had scored many successes of this sort, and Sima Yi's heart was cheered. One day, when he had made new captures of soldiers, he sent for them and questioned them again.

"Where is Zhuge Liang now?"

"He is no longer at Qishan, but in camp about three miles from the Gourd Valley. He is gathering a great store of grain there."

After he had questioned them fully, he set the prisoners free.

Calling together his officers, he said, "Zhuge Liang is not camped on Qishan, but near the Gourd Valley. Tomorrow you shall attack the Qishan camp, and I will command the reserve."

The promise cheered them, and they went away to prepare.

"Father, why do you intend to attack the enemy's rear?" asked Sima Shi.

"Qishan is their main position, and they will certainly hasten to its rescue. Then I shall make for the valley and burn the stores. That will render them helpless and will be a victory."

The son dutifully agreed with his father.

Sima Yi began to march out, with Zhang Hu and Yue Chen following as the reserves.

From the top of a hill Zhuge Liang watched the Wei soldiers march and noticed that they moved in companies from three to five thousand, observing the front and the rear carefully as they marched. He guessed that their object was the Qishan camp, and sent strict orders to his generals that if Sima Yi led in person, they were to go off and capture the camp on the south bank.

When the troops of Wei had got near and made their rush toward the camp of Shu, the troops of Shu ran up also, yelling and pretending to reinforce the defenders. Sima Yi, seeing this, suddenly marched his center army with his two sons, changed his direction, and turned off for the Gourd Valley. Here Wei Yan was expecting him; and as soon as he appeared, Wei Yan galloped up and soon recognized Sima Yi as the leader.

"Sima Yi, stay!" shouted Wei Yan as he came near.

He flourished his sword, and Sima Yi set his spear. The two warriors exchanged a few passes, and then Wei Yan suddenly turned his steed and bolted. As he had been ordered, he made direct for the seven-starred flag, and Sima Yi followed, the more readily as he saw the fugitive had but a small force. The two sons of Sima Yi rode with him, Sima Shi on the left, Sima Zhao on the right.

Presently Wei Yan and his troops entered the mouth of the valley. Sima Yi halted a time while he sent forward a few scouts, but when they returned and reported: "Not a single Shu soldier is seen but a many straw houses on the hills."

Sima Yi rode in, saying, "This must be the store valley!"

But when he had got well within, Sima Yi noticed that kindling wood was piled over the straw huts, and as he saw no sign of Wei Yan he began to feel uneasy.

"Supposing soldiers seize the entrance; what then?" said he to his sons.

As he spoke there arose a great shout, and from the hillside came many torches, which fell all around them and set fire to the straw, so that soon the entrance to the valley was lost in smoke and flame. They tried to get away from the fire, but no road led up the hillside. Then fire-arrows came shooting down, and the earth-mines exploded, and the straw and firewood blazed high as the heavens.

Sima Yi, scared and helpless, dismounted, clasped his arms about his two sons and wept, saying, "My sons, we three are doomed!"

But suddenly a fierce gale sprang up, black clouds gathered, a peal of thunder followed, and rain poured down in torrents, speedily extinguishing the fire all through the valley. The mines no longer exploded and all the fiery contrivances ceased to work mischief.

"If we do not break out now, what better chance shall we have?" cried the father, and he and his two sons made a dash for the outlet.

As they broke out of the valley, they came upon reinforcements under Zhang Hu and Yue Chen, and so were once more safe. Ma Dai was not strong enough to pursue, and the soldiers of Wei got safely to the river.

But there they found their camp in the possession of the enemy, while Guo Huai and Sun Li were on the floating bridge struggling with the troops of Shu. However, as Sima Yi neared, the troops of Shu retreated, whereupon Sima Yi ordered the bridges burned and the north bank occupied.

The Wei army attacking the Qishan camp were greatly disturbed when they heard of the defeat of their general and the loss of the camp on River Wei. The troops of Shu took the occasion to strike with greater vigor, and so gained a great victory. The beaten army suffered great loss. Those who escaped fled across the river.

When Zhuge Liang from the hill-top saw that Sima Yi had been inveigled into the trap by Wei Yan, he rejoiced exceedingly; and when he saw the flames burst forth, he thought surely his rival was done for. Then, unhappily for him, Heaven thought it well to send down torrents of rain, which quenched the fire and upset all his calculations.

Soon after, the scouts reported the escape of his victims, and he sighed, saying, "Human proposes; God disposes. We cannot wrest events to our will."

From the new camp on the north bank of the river, Sima Yi issued an order that he would put to death any officer who proposed going out to battle. The final result of the late ill-advised expedition had been the loss of the south bank of the river. Accordingly no one spoke of attacking, but all turned their energies toward defense.

Guo Huai went to the general to talk over plans. He said, "The enemy have been carefully spying out the country and are certainly selecting a new position for a camp."

Sima Yi said, "If Zhuge Liang goes out to Wugong Hills, and thence eastward, we shall be in grave danger; if he goes southwest by River Wei, and halts on the Wuzhang Hills, we need feel no anxiety."

They decided to send scouts to find out the movements of their enemy. Presently the scouts returned to say that Zhuge Liang had chosen the Wuzhang Hills.

"Our great Emperor of Wei has remarkable fortune," said Sima Yi, clapping his hand to his forehead.

Then he confirmed the order to remain strictly on the defensive till some change of circumstances on the part of the enemy should promise advantage.

After his army had settled into camp on the Wuzhang Hills, Zhuge Liang continued his attempts to provoke a battle. Day after day, parties went to challenge the army of Wei, but they resisted all provocation.

One day Zhuge Liang put a dress made of deer hide in a box, which he sent, with a letter, to his rival. The insult could not be concealed, so the generals led the bearer of the box to their chief. Sima Yi opened the box and saw the deer hide dress. Then he opened the letter, which read something like this:

"Friend Sima Yi, although you are a Commander-in-Chief and lead the armies of the Middle Land, you seem but little disposed to display the firmness and valor that would render a contest decisive. Instead, you have prepared a comfortable lair where you are safe from the keen edge of the sword. Are you not very like a deer? Wherefore I send the bearer with a suitable gift, and you will humbly accept it and the humiliation, unless, indeed, you finally decide to come out and fight like a man. If you are not entirely indifferent to shame, if you retain any of the feelings of a tiger, you will send this back to me and come out and give battle."

Sima Yi, although inwardly raging, pretended to take it all as a joke and smiled.

"So he regards me as a deer," said he.

He accepted the gift and treated the messenger well. Before the messenger left, Sima Yi asked him a few questions about his master's eating and sleeping and hours of labor.

"The Prime Minister works very hard," said the messenger. "He rises early and retires to bed late. He attends personally to all cases requiring punishment of over twenty of strokes. As for food, he does not eat more than a few pints of grain daily."

"Indeed, he eats little and works much," remarked Sima Yi. "Can he last long?"

The messenger returned to his own side and reported that Sima Yi had taken the whole episode in good part and shown no sign of anger. He had only asked about the Prime Minister's hours of rest, and food, and such things. He had said no word about military matters.

"I told him that you ate little and worked long hours, and then he said, 'Can he last long?' That was all."

"He knows," said Zhuge Liang, pensively.

First Secretary Yang Yong presently ventured to remonstrate with his chief.

"I notice," said Yang Yong, "that you check the books personally. I think that is needless labor for a Prime Minister to undertake. In every administration the higher and subordinate ranks have their especial fields of activity, and each should confine his labors to his own field. In a household, for example, the male servants plow and the female servants cook, and thus operations are carried on without waste of energy, and all needs are supplied. The master of the house has ample leisure and tranquillity. If one individual strives to attend personally to every matter, he only wearies himself and fails to accomplish his end. How can he possibly hope to perform all the various tasks so well as the maids or the servants? He fails in his own part, that of playing the master. And, indeed, the ancients held this same opinion, for they said that the high officers should attend to the discussion of ways and means, and the lower should carry out details. Of old, Bing Ji was moved to deep thought by the panting of an ox, but inquired not about the corpses of certain brawlers which lay about the road, for this matter concerned the magistrate. Chen Ping was ignorant of the figures relating to taxes, for he said these were the concern of the controllers of taxes. O Minister, you weary yourself with minor details and sweat yourself every day. You are wearing yourself out, and Sima Yi has good reason for what he said."

"I know; I cannot but know," replied Zhuge Liang. "But this heavy responsibility was laid upon me, and I fear no other will be so devoted as I am."

Those who heard him wept. Thereafter Zhuge Liang appeared more and more harassed, and military operations did not speed.

On the other side the officers of Wei resented bitterly the insult that had been put upon them when their leader had been presented with the deer hide dress.

They wished to avenge the taunt, and went to their general, saying, "We are reputable generals of the army of a great state; how can we put up with such insults from these soldiers of Shu? We pray you let us fight them."

"It is not that I fear to go out," said Sima Yi, "nor that I relish the insults, but I have the Emperor's command to hold on and may not disobey."

The officers were not in the least appeased. Wherefore Sima Yi said, "I will send your request to the Throne in a memorial; what think you of that?"

They consented to await the Emperor's reply, and a messenger bore to the Ruler of Wei, in Hefei, this memorial:

"I have small ability and high office. Your Majesty laid on me the command to defend and not fight till the army of Shu had suffered by the flux of time. But Zhuge Liang has now sent me a gift of a deer hide dress, and my shame is very deep. Wherefore I advise Your Majesty that one day I shall have to fight in order to justify your kindness to me and to remove the shameful stigma that now rests upon my army. I cannot express the degree to which I am urged to this course."

Cao Rui read it and turned questioningly to his courtiers seeking an explanation. Xin Pi supplied it.

"Sima Yi has no desire to give battle; this memorial is because of the shame put upon the officers by Zhuge Liang's gift. They are all in a rage. He wishes for an edict to pacify them."

Cao Rui understood and gave to Xin Pi an authority flag and sent him to the River Wei camp to make known that it was the Emperor's command not to fight.

Sima Yi received the messenger with all respect, and it was given out that any future reference to offering battle would be taken as disobedience to the Emperor's especial command in the edict.

The officers could but obey.

Sima Yi said to Xin Pi, "Noble Sir, you interpreted my own desire correctly."

It was thenceforward understood that Sima Yi was forbidden to give battle.

When it was told to Zhuge Liang, he said, "This is only Sima Yi's method of pacifying his army. He has never had any intention of fighting and requested the edict to justify his strategy. It is well known that a general in the field takes no command from any person, not even his own king. Is it likely that he would send a thousand miles to ask permission to fight if that was all he needed? The officers were bitter, and so Sima Yi got the Emperor to assist him in maintaining discipline. All this is meant to slacken our soldiers."

Just at this time Fei Yi came. He was called in to see the Prime Minister, and Zhuge Liang asked the reason for his coming.

He replied, "The Ruler of Wei, Cao Rui, hearing that Wu has invaded his country at three points, has led a great army to Hefei and sent three other armies under Man Chong, Tian Du, and Liu Shao, to oppose the invaders. The stores and fight-material of Wu have been burned, and the army of Wu have fallen victims to sickness. A letter from Lu Xun containing a scheme of attack fell into the hands of the enemy, and the Ruler of Wu has marched back into his own country."

Zhuge Liang listened to the end; then, without a word, he fell in a swoon. He recovered after a time, but he was broken.

He said, "My mind is all in confusion. This is a return of my old illness, and I am doomed."

Ill as he was, Zhuge Liang that night went forth from his tent to scan the heavens and study the stars. They filled him with fear.

He returned and said to Jiang Wei, "My life may end at any moment."

"Why do you say such a thing?"

"Just now in the Triumvirate constellation the Guest Star was twice as bright as usual, while the Host Star was darkened; the supporting stars were also obscure. With such an aspect I know my fate."

"If the aspect be as malignant as you say, why not pray in order to avert it?" replied Jiang Wei.

"I am in the habit of praying," replied Zhuge Liang, "but I know not the will of God. However, prepare me forty-nine guards and let each have a black flag. Dress them in black and place them outside my tent. Then will I from within my tent invoke the Seven Stars of the North. If my master-lamp remain alight for seven days, then is my life to be prolonged for twelve years. If the lamp goes out, then I am to die. Keep all idlers away from the tent and let a couple of guards bring me what is necessary."

Jiang Wei prepared as directed. It was then the eighth month, mid-autumn, and the Milky Way was brilliant with scattered jade. The air was perfectly calm, and no sound was heard.

The forty-nine men were brought up and spaced out to guard the tent, while within Zhuge Liang prepared incense and offerings. On the floor of the tent he arranged seven lamps, and, outside these, forty-nine smaller lamps. In the midst he placed the lamp of his own fate.

This done, he prayed:

"Zhuge Liang, born into an age of trouble, would willingly have grown old in retirement. But His Majesty, Liu Bei the Glorious Emperor, sought him thrice and confided to him the heavy responsibility of guarding his son. He dared not do less than spend himself to the utmost in such a task, and he pledged himself to destroy the rebels. Suddenly the star of his leadership has declined, and his life now nears its close. He has humbly indited a declaration on this silk piece to the Great Unknowable and now hopes that He will graciously listen and extend the number of his days that he may prove his gratitude to his prince and be the savior of the people, restore the old state of the empire and establish eternally the Han sacrifices. He dares not make a vain prayer; this is from his heart."

This prayer ended, in the solitude of his tent he awaited the dawn.

Next day, ill as he was, he did not neglect his duties, although he spat blood continually. All day he labored at his plans, and at night he paced the magic steps, the steps of seven stars of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Sima Yi remained still on the defensive.

One night as he sat gazing up at the sky and studying its aspect, he suddenly turned to Xiahou Ba, saying, "A leadership star has just lost position; surely Zhuge Liang is ill and will soon die. Take a reconnoitering party to the Wuzhang Hills and find out. If you see signs of confusion do not attack; it means that Zhuge Liang is ill. I shall take the occasion to smite hard."

Xiahou Ba left with an army.

It was the sixth night of Zhuge Liang's prayers, and the lamp of his fate still burned brightly. He began to feel a secret joy. Presently Jiang Wei entered and watched the ceremonies. He saw Zhuge Liang was loosening his hair, his hand holding a sword, his heels stepping on Ursa Major and Ursa Minor to hold the leadership star.

Suddenly a great shouting was heard outside, and immediately Wei Yan dashed in, crying, "The Wei soldiers are upon us!"

In his haste Wei Yan had knocked over and extinguished the Lamp of Fate.

Zhuge Liang threw down the sword and sighed, saying, "Life and death are foreordained; no prayers can alter them."

Wei Yan fell to the earth and craved forgiveness. Jiang Wei got angry and drew his sword to slay the unhappy soldier.

The next chapter will unfold what happened.

 

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