CHAPTER 114

Driving To The South Gate, Cao Mao Plunges Into Death;
Abandoning Stores, Jiang Wei Defeats The Wei Army.
 

When the order to retreat was given, Liao Hua said, "A leader in the field is independent and need not obey even the command of his prince."

Zhang Yi said, "The country begins to resent these many years of war; rather take the occasion of the victory you have just won to return and pacify the people."

"It is good," said Jiang Wei.

A systematic and orderly retirement began. The army of Wei, loth to forgo an opportunity, followed, but the absence of the least confusion gave them no chance.

As he saw his enemy disappearing in perfect order, Deng Ai sighed, "Jiang Wei is a worthy inheritor of the warlike methods of Zhuge Liang."

Deng Ai did not pursue but returned to his camp on Qishan.

On his return to Chengdu, Jiang Wei had audience with the Latter Ruler, whereat he inquired why he had been commanded to return.

The Latter Ruler replied, "Because you have been so long on the frontier, noble Sir; I thought the soldiers must be weary. There was no other reason."

"Your Majesty, thy servant had got his camps on Qishan and was on the eve of complete success. To leave off thus in the middle just played into the hands of our enemies. Surely Deng Ai found means of sowing distrust in me."

The Latter Ruler sat lost in thought, and silent.

Jiang Wei continued, "I am pledged to destroy those rebels and prove my devotion to my country. Your Majesty should not listen to the babble of mean persons till distrust grows in your heart."

"I do not distrust you," said the Latter Ruler after a long pause. "You may return into Hanzhong and await the next favorable opportunity."

Jiang Wei left the court and betook himself into Hanzhong to the army.

Dang Jun went back to the Qishan camp and reported his success.

Deng Ai and Sima Wang rejoiced, saying, "In the Lands of Rivers, trouble is not far off when the ruler and his servants do not live in harmony."

They sent Dang Jun to Luoyang to tell his own story to Sima Zhao, who also rejoiced, for he ardently desired to subdue Shu.

On this matter he consulted Jia Chong, Commander of the Central Guard.

"What do you think of an attack upon Shu?"

"Not to be considered," said Jia Chong. "The Emperor does not trust you, and your departure would be the beginning of trouble for you. Last year, when a yellow dragon was seen in the well and all the officers were felicitating the Emperor upon such a very auspicious occurrence, the Emperor said, 'It is not auspicious; just the reverse. The dragon symbolizes the ruler. To be neither in heaven, nor on earth among the people, but to be in a well, is a dark portent and bodes evil.' He wrote some verses, and one stanza undoubtedly points to you, my lord. It reads:

The recital of the poem annoyed Sima Zhao.

"This fellow is very like Cao Fang, and if I do not remove him he will hurt me," said he.

"I will see to it for you," said Jia Chong.

In the fifth year of Sweet Dew, in Wei calendar (AD 261), during the fourth month, in summer, Sima Zhao had the effrontery to go to court armed. However, the Ruler of Wei received him with exaggerated courtesy.

The courtiers said, "The services of the Regent Marshal are so magnificent, and his virtue so high that he should be rewarded with the title 'Duke of Jin' and the Nine Gifts of Honors."

Cao Mao hung his head and kept silent.

And Sima Zhao himself said discontentedly, "My father and my brother have all given great services to Wei, and yet I deserves not being a mere Duke of Jin?"

"Should I dare not do what you requested?" said Cao Mao.

"That poem about the Lurking Dragon called us slimy creatures; what sort of politeness is that?" said Sima Zhao.

The Ruler of Wei had nothing to say, and the haughty minister left the chamber, smiling cruelly.

Cao Mao retired, taking with him Ministers Wang Shen, Wang Jing, and Wang Ye, and they went to a privy chamber to consult. Cao Mao was very sad.

He said, "There is no doubt that Sima Zhao intends to usurp the throne; everybody knows that. But I will not sit thereon patiently awaiting the indignity of being pushed off. Cannot you gentlemen help me to kill him?"

"He may not be slain," said Wang Jing. "That will not do. In the old state of Lu, King Zhao could not bear with the Ji family, and ran away, thus losing his country. But this Sima Zhao and his family have been in power very long and have innumerable supporters, many of whom are quite independent of any act of his whether loyal or disloyal. They support him under any conditions. Your Majesty's guards are few and weak and incapable; not the ones for any desperate effort. It would be most lamentable if Your Majesty could not bear this trial. The correct course is to wait and not act hastily."

"If I can bear this, what cannot I bear?" said Cao Mao. "But I will do something, and if I die, what matters?"

He went into the private apartments and spoke to the Empress Dowager.

Wang Shen, Wang Jing, and Wang Ye sat outside talking.

"This matter is coming to a head, and unless we want to be put to death and all our loved ones with us, we would better go and warn Sima Zhao," said Wang Shen.

This advice angered Wang Jing, and he said, "The prince's sorrow is the minister's shame, and a shamed minister dies. Dare you contemplate treachery?"

Wang Jing would have nothing to do with this visit to Sima Zhao, but the other two went to the Prime Minister's palace to betray their prince.

Shortly after, Cao Mao appeared, called the officer of the guard, Jiao Bo, and bade him muster his force, as many as he could. Jiao Bo got together about three hundred, and this little force marched out to the beating of a drum as escort to a small carriage, in which sat the Ruler of Wei gripping his sword. They proceeded south.

Wang Jing stepped to the front and prayed Cao Mao to stay his steps and not go.

"To go against Sima Zhao with such a force is driving the sheep into the tiger's jaws. To die such a death is a vain sacrifice. You can do nothing," said Wang Jing.

"Do not hinder me. I have made up my mind," replied the Ruler of Wei, heading toward the Dragon Gate.

Presently Jia Chong came in sight. He was armed and mounted on a fine horse. Beside him rode two generals, Cheng Zu and Cheng Ji, and behind him followed a body of mail-clad guards, who shouted one to another as they rode.

Then Cao Mao held up his sword and cried, "I am the Son of God. Who are you thus breaking into the forbidden precincts? Are you come to murder your lawful ruler?"

The soldiers suddenly stopped, for they were palace guards.

Then Jia Chong shouted to Cheng Ji, saying, "What did Duke Sima Zhao train you for if not for this day's work?"

Cheng Ji took his halberd and turned to Jia Chong, saying, "Death or capture?"

"Duke Sima Zhao said the man had to die," replied Jia Chong.

Cheng Ji rushed toward the carriage.

"Fool! How dare you?" cried the Ruler of Wei.

But the shout was cut short by a thrust from the halberd full in the breast; another thrust, and the point came out at the back, so that Cao Mao lay there dead beside his carriage. Jiao Bo coming up to strike a blow in defense was also slain, and the little escort scattered.

Wang Jing, who had followed, upbraided Jia Chong, shouting, "Rebel and traitor! How dare you kill the Emperor?"

Jia Chong got angry and bade his lictors arrest Wang Jing and stop his tongue.

When they told Sima Zhao, he went into the Palace, but the Emperor was dead. He assumed an air of being greatly shocked and beat his head against the carriage, weeping and lamenting the while. He sent to tell all the officials of high rank.

When Imperial Guardian Sima Fu saw the dead body of the Emperor, he threw himself beside it, his head resting thereon, and wept, saying, "It is my fault that they slew Your Majesty!"

Sima Fu had a coffin brought, and the remains were laid therein and borne to the west side hall. Therein Sima Zhao entered and summoned the chief officers to a council. They came, all but Minister Chen Tai. Sima Zhao noticed his absence and sent the Chair of the Secretariat Xun Yi, his uncle, to call him.

Chen Tai wept aloud, saying, "Gossips often class me and my uncle together. Yet today is my uncle less virtuous than I."

However, Chen Tai obeyed the summons and came, dressed in the coarse white cloth of mourning, and prostrated himself before the bier. Sima Zhao feigned to be grieved also.

"How can this day's work be judged?" said Sima Zhao.

"If only Jia Chong be put to death, that will only be a slight atonement to satisfy the empire," replied Chen Tai.

Sima Zhao was silent and thought long before he spoke. Then he said, "How about a little less severe?"

"That is only the beginning; I know not other punishments less severe."

"Cheng Ji is the ungodly rebel and actual criminal; he should suffer the death of shame; and his family, too," said Sima Zhao.

Thereupon Cheng Ji broke out into abuse of Sima Zhao and reviled him, saying, "It was not my crime; it was Jia Chong who passed on your own orders."

Sima Zhao bade them cut out his tongue and put him to death. They did so; and Cheng Ji and his brother Cheng Zu were both put to death in the market place, and their families were exterminated.

Wang Jing's whole household were imprisoned. He himself was standing in the courthouse when he saw his mother, Lady Zhao, being brought up a prisoner.

He knocked his head on the ground and wept, saying, "O unfilial son to bring distress upon a gentle mother!"

But his mother laughed.

"Who does not die?" cried she. "The only thing to be feared is not dying the proper death. Who would regret dying like this?"

When next day the family were led out to execution, both mother and son smiled as they went past. But the whole city wept tears of sorrow.

Imperial Guardian Sima Fu proposed that the body of the late Emperor should receive a royal funeral, and Sima Zhao consented. Jia Chong and those of his party urged Sima Zhao to assume the Throne and replace Wei, but he refused.

"Formerly King Wen had two-thirds of the empire, and yet he supported and served the state of Yin to its end. Wherefore Confucius called him 'Complete of Virtue.' Emperor Cao of Wei would not replace the Hans, nor will I accept an abdication of Wei."

Those who heard this felt that in these words was an implication that he intended to place his own son Sima Yan on the throne, and they ceased to urge him to act.

In the sixth month of that year, Cao Huang, Duke of Changdao, was raised to the throne as Emperor, the period-style being changed to Wonderful Beginning, the first year (AD 260). Cao Huang was a son of Cao Yu, Prince of Yan, and a grandson of Cao Cao.

Sima Zhao was made Prime Minister and Duke of Jin (an ancient state). Beside, he received gifts of one hundred thousand gold coins and ten thousand rolls of silk. All the officers were promoted or received honors.

When these doings in Wei were told in Shu, Jiang Wei seized upon them as pretext for another war, to punish Wei for the deposition of its ruler. So letters were written calling upon Wu to help, and a memorial was sent to the Throne. The army raised was one hundred fifty thousand, and there were many carts with boxes made to fit them. Liao Hua and Zhang Yi were the Leaders of the Van. Liao Hua was to march to the Ziwu Valley, and Zhang Yi to the Luo Valley, while Jiang Wei took the Xie Valley road. They marched at the same time and hastened toward Qishan.

Deng Ai was still on the Qishan Mountains training the Wei soldiers when he heard that the Shu armies were once more on the war path. He called his officers together.

And Military Adviser Wang Guan said, "I have a plan to propose, but I will not tell it openly. However, I have written it down for your consideration."

Deng Ai took the envelop, opened, and read it.

"Though excellent, I fear it is not enough to beguile the leader of Shu," said Deng Ai as he finished reading.

"I am willing to stake my life on it," said Wang Guan, "and I will lead the way."

"Since you have such confidence you may try. You ought certainly to succeed."

So five thousand troops were put under the leadership of Wang Guan, and they set out for the Xie Valley, where they fell in with the scouts of Jiang Wei's force.

Seeing these, their leader, Wang Guan, shouted, "We are deserters: tell your leader."

So the scouts told Jiang Wei, who replied, "Hold up the soldiers, letting their leader only come to me."

Wang Guan went forward and kneeled before Jiang Wei, saying, "I am a nephew of Wang Jing, and I hate Sima Zhao for what he has done to the Emperor and my family, and I wish to join you and my five thousand soldiers with me. I also desire to be sent against the rebel crew that I may avenge my uncle."

Then said Jiang Wei, "Since you are sincere in your desertion, I must be sincere in my treatment of you. The one thing my army needs is grain. There is plenty at the border of the Lands of Rivers; and if you can transport it to Qishan, I can go straightway and take the Qishan camps of Deng Ai."

This reply rejoiced Wang Guan, who saw that Jiang Wei was just going to walk into the trap. So he agreed at once.

"But you will not need five thousand troops to see after the transport. Take three thousand and leave two thousand as guides for me."

Wang Guan, thinking that suspicions would be raised if he refused, took the three thousand of his troops and marched away, and the other two thousand were attached to the army of Shu.

Then Xiahou Ba was announced, and, when he was come in, he said, "O Commander, why have you believed the tale of this Wang Guan? In Wei I never heard that Wang Guan was related to Wang Jing, though it is true I never made particular inquiries. You should look to it, for there is much pretense in his story."

"I know Wang Guan is false," said Jiang Wei, with a smile. "That is why I have taken away many of his force. I am meeting trick with trick."

"How do you know for certain he is a false?"

"Sima Zhao is as crafty as Cao Cao. If he slew all Wang Jing's family, would he have left a nephew and sent that nephew to the pass beyond his own reach with soldiers? You saw this, as did I."

So Jiang Wei did not go out by the Xie Valley, but he set an ambush there ready for any move of Wang Guan. And indeed, within ten days, the ambush caught a man with a letter from Wang Guan to Deng Ai telling him what had come about. From the letter and the bearer thereof, Jiang Wei learned that Wang Guan would divert a convoy of grain to the Wei camps on the twentieth and Deng Ai was to send troops to Yunshan Valley to help.

Jiang Wei beheaded the courier. Then he sent another letter to Deng Ai by a man dressed as a Wei soldier, the date being altered to the fifteenth instead of the twentieth.

As a preparation, Jiang Wei ordered many wagons to be emptied of their grain and laden with inflammables, covered with green cloth. The two thousand Wei soldiers were ordered to show flags belonging to the Shu transport corps. Then Jiang Wei and Xiahou Ba went into the valleys in ambush, while Jiang Shu was ordered to march to the Xie Valley, and Liao Hua and Zhang Yi were sent to capture Qishan.

The letter, apparently from Wang Guan, was sufficient for Deng Ai, and he wrote back to say it was agreed. So on the fifteenth day, Deng Ai led out fifty thousand veteran troops and moved in sight near Yunshan Valley. And the scouts saw endless carts of grain and fodder in the distance zigzagging through the mountains. When Deng Ai got closer, he distinguished the uniforms of Wei.

His staff urged him, saying, "It is getting dark; O General, hurry to help Wang Guan escort the convoy out of the valley."

"The mountains ahead are hazardous," said the general. "If by any chance an ambush has been laid, we could hardly escape. We will wait here."

But just then two horsemen came up at a gallop and said, "Just as General Wang Guan was crossing the frontier with the convoy, he was pursued, and reinforcements are urgently needed."

Deng Ai, realizing the importance of the request, gave orders to press onward. It was the first watch, and a full moon was shining as bright as day. Shouting was heard behind the hills, and he could only conclude it was the noise of the battle in which Wang Guan was engaged.

So Deng Ai dashed over the hills. But suddenly a body of troops came out from the shelter of a grove of trees, and at their head rode the Shu leader, Fu Qian.

"Deng Ai, you are stupid! You have just fallen into the trap set for you by our general. Dismount and prepare for death!"

Deng Ai halted and turned to flee. Then the wagons burst into flame. That flame was a signal, and down came the army of Shu. He heard shouts all round him, "A thousand ounces of gold for anyone who captures Deng Ai, and a lordship of ten thousand households as well!"

Terrified, Deng Ai dropped his arms, threw aside his armor, slipped from his steed, mingled with the footmen, and with them scrambled up the hills. The generals of Shu only looked for him among the mounted leaders, never guessing that he had got away among the common soldiers. So he was not captured.

Jiang Wei gathered in his victorious army and went to meet Wang Guan and his convoy.

Having made all arrangements, as he thought, complete, Wang Guan was patiently awaiting the development of his scheme, when a trusted subordinate came and told him that the ruse had been discovered and Deng Ai had already suffered defeat. Wang Guan sent out some scouts, and the report was confirmed, with the addition that the Shu armies were coming against him. Moreover, clouds of dust were rising. There was no way of escape, so Wang Guan ordered his troops to set fire to the convoy, and soon huge flames were rising high into the air.

"The case is desperate," cried Wang Guan. "It is a fight to the death!"

He led his force westward, but the army of Shu came in pursuit. Jiang Wei thought Wang Guan would try at all costs to get back to his own side, but instead, Wang Guan went on toward Hanzhong; and as his troops were too few to risk a battle, Wang Guan ordered them to burn and destroy all military stations and even the Plank Trail as he went. Fearing the loss of Hanzhong, Jiang Wei made all haste along the by-roads after Wang Guan. Surrounded on all sides, Wang Guan jumped into the Black Dragon River and so died. Those of his soldiers who survived were slain by Jiang Wei.

Though a victory had been won and Wang Guan killed, it was costly. Many wagons and much grain had been lost, and the Plank Trail had been destroyed. Jiang Wei led his army into Hanzhong.

Deng Ai made his way back to Qishan. From there he reported his defeat to the Ruler of Wei and asked for degradation as a penalty. However, Sima Zhao saw that Deng Ai had rendered good services, so he did not degrade the general, but, on the other hand, sent him magnificent gifts, which Deng Ai distributed to the families of the soldiers who had been killed. Sima Zhao also sent him fifty thousand troops as reinforcement lest Shu should attack again.

Jiang Wei set about the restoration of the Plank Trail ready for the next expedition.

The next chapter will tell who won.

 

< Back to Chapter 113

Next to Chapter 115 >