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CHAPTER 21. In A Plum Garden, Cao Cao Discusses Heroes; Using The Host’s Forces, Guan Yu Takes Xuzhou.

| Articles of Ancient China, English Version - Romance of the Three Kingdoms Novel | March 7, 2011

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“Who is it?” was the question on the lips of the
Ma Teng’s reply was, “The Imperial Protector of
Yuzhou, Liu Bei. He is here and we will ask him to
“Though he is an uncle of the Emperor, he is at
present a partisan of our enemy, and he will not join,”
said Dong Cheng.
“But I saw something at the hunt,” said Ma Teng.
“When Cao Cao advanced to acknowledge the
congratulations due to the Emperor, Liu Bei’s sworn
brother Guan Yu was behind him, and grasped his
sword as if to cut down Cao Cao. However, Liu Bei
signed to him to hold his hand and he did. Liu Bei
would willingly destroy Cao Cao, only he thinks Cao
Cao’s teeth and claws are too many. You must ask
Liu Bei, and he will surely consent.”
Here Wu Shi urged caution, saying, “Do not go
too fast. Let us consider the thing most carefully.”
Three Kingdoms Romance
They dispersed. Next day after dark Dong Cheng
went to Liu Bei’s lodging taking with him the decree.
As soon as Dong Cheng was announced, Liu Bei
came to greet him and led him into a private room
where they could talk freely. The two younger
brothers were there as well.
“It must be something unusually important that
has brought Uncle Dong Cheng here tonight,” said
Liu Bei.
“If I had ridden forth by daylight, Cao Cao might
have suspected something, so I came by night.”
Wine was brought in, and while they were
drinking Dong Cheng said, “Why did you check your
brother the other day at the hunt, when he was going
to attack Cao Cao?”
Liu Bei was startled and said, “How did you
“Nobody noticed but I saw.”
Liu Bei could not prevaricate and said, “It was the
presumption of the man that made my brother so
angry; Guan Yu could not help it.”
The visitor covered his face and wept.
“Ah,” said he, “if all the court ministers were like
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Guan Yu, there would be no sighs for lack of
Now Liu Bei felt that possibly Cao Cao had sent
his visitor to try him, so he cautiously replied, “Where
are the sighs for lack of tranquillity while Cao Cao is
at the head of affairs?”
Dong Cheng changed color and rose from his
“You, Sir, are a relative of His Majesty, and so I
showed you my inmost feelings. Why did you
mislead me?”
But Liu Bei said, “Because I feared you might be
misleading me, and I wanted to find out.”
At this Dong Cheng drew out the decree he had
received and showed it. His host was deeply moved.
Then Dong Cheng produced the pledge. There were
only six names to it, and these were Dong Cheng,
Wang Zifu, Chong Ji, Wu Shi, Wu Zilan, and Ma
“Since you have a decree like this, I cannot but do
my share,” said Liu Bei, and at Dong Cheng’s
request he added his name and signature to the
others and handed it back.
Three Kingdoms Romance
“Now let us but get three more, which will make
ten, and we shall be ready to act.”
“But you must move with great caution and not let
this get abroad,” said Liu Bei.
The two remained talking till an early hour in the
morning when the visitor left.
Now in order to put Cao Cao quite off the scent
that any plot against him was in progress, Liu Bei
began to devote himself to gardening, planting
vegetables, and watering them with his own hands.
Guan Yu and Zhang Fei ventured to remonstrate
with him for taking to such an occupation when great
matters needed attention.
“The reason for this you may not know,” replied
And they said no more.
One day when the two brothers were absent, and
Liu Bei was busy in his garden, two generals of Cao
Cao, Xu Chu and Zhang Liao, with an escort came
from Cao Cao, saying, “The command of the Prime
Minister is that you come at once.”
“What important affair is afoot?” asked Liu Bei
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“We know nothing; we were ordered to come and
request your presence.”
All he could do was to follow. When he arrived,
Cao Cao met him and laughingly said, “That is a big
business you have in hand at home.”
This remark made Liu Bei turn the color of clay.
Cao Cao took him by the hand and led him straight
to the private garden, saying, “The growth of
vegetables that you are trying to learn is very
Liu Bei breathed again. He said, “That is hardly a
business; it is only a solace.”
Cao Cao said, “I happened to notice the green
plums on the trees today, and suddenly my thoughts
went back to a year ago when we were thrashing
Zhang Xiu. We were marching through a parched
county, and every one was suffering from thirst.
Suddenly I lifted my whip, and pointing at something
in the distance I said, ‘Look at those fruitful plum
trees in the forest ahead.’ The soldiers heard it, and
it made their mouths water. Seeing the plums kindles
my appreciation. I owe something to the plums, and
we will repay it today. I ordered the servants to heat
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some wine very hot and sent to invite you to share
it.” Liu Bei was quite composed by this time and no
longer suspected any sinister design. He went with
his host to a small spring pavilion in a plum garden,
where the wine cups were already laid out and green
plums filled the dishes. They sat down to a
confidential talk and free enjoyment of their wine.
As they drank, the weather gradually changed,
clouds gathering and threatening rain. The servants
pointed out a mass of cloud that looked like a dragon
hung in the sky. Both host and guest leaned over the
balcony looking at it.
“Do you understand the evolution of dragons?”
asked Cao Cao of the guest.
“Not in detail.”
“A dragon can assume any size, can rise in glory
or hide from sight. Bulky, it generates clouds and
evolves mist; attenuated, it can scarcely hide a
mustard stalk or conceal a shadow. Mounting, it can
soar to the empyrean; subsiding, it lurks in the
uttermost depths of the ocean. This is the midspring
season, and the dragon chooses this moment for its
transformations like a person realizing own desires
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and overrunning the world. The dragon among
animals compares with the hero among humans.
You, General, have traveled all lakes and rivers; you
must know who are the heroes of the present day,
and I wish you would say who they are.”
“I am just a common dullard; how can I know
such things?”
“Do not be so modest.”
“Thanks to your kindly protection I have a post at
court. But as to heroes I really do not know who they
“You may not have looked upon their faces, but
you have heard their names.”
“Yuan Shu of the South of River Huai, with his
strong army and abundant resources; is he one?”
His host laughed, “A rotting skeleton in a
graveyard. I shall put him out of the way shortly.”
“Well, Yuan Shao then. The highest offices of
state have been held in his family for four
generations, and his clients are many in the empire.
He is firmly posted in Jizhou, and he commands the
services of many able people. Surely he is one.”
“A bully, but a coward; he is fond of grandiose
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schemes, but is devoid of decision; he makes for
great things but grudges the necessary sacrifice. He
loses sight of everything else in view of a little
present advantage. He is not one.”
“There is Liu Biao of Jingzhou. He is renowned as
a man of perfection, whose fame has spread on all
sides. Surely he is a hero.”
“He is a mere semblance, a man of vain
reputation. No; not he.”
“Sun Ce is a sturdy sort, the chief of all in the
South Land. Is he a hero?”
“He has profited by the reputation of his father,
Sun Jian; he is not a real hero.”
“What of Liu Zhang of Yiazhou?” “Though he is of
the reigning family, he is nothing more than a watch
dog. How could you make a hero of him?”
“What about Zhang Xiu, Zhang Lu, Han Sui, and
all those leaders?”
Cao Cao clapped his hands and laughed very
loudly, saying, “Paltry people like them are not worth
“With these exceptions I really know none.”
“Now heroes are the ones who cherish lofty
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designs in their bosoms and have plans to achieve
them; they have all−embracing schemes, and the
whole world is at their mercy.”
“Who is such a person?” said Liu Bei.
Cao Cao pointed his finger first at his guest and
then at himself, saying, “The only heroes in the world
are you and I.”
Liu Bei gasped, and the spoon and chopsticks
rattled to the floor. Now just at that moment the
storm burst with a tremendous peal of thunder and
rush of rain. Liu Bei stooped down to recover the
fallen articles, saying, “What a shock! And it was
quite close.”
“What! Are you afraid of thunder?” said Cao Cao.
Liu Bei replied, “The Sage One paled at a sudden
peal of thunder or fierce gust of wind. Why should
one not fear?”
Thus he glossed over the real fact, that it was the
words he had heard that had so startled him.
Constrained to lodge in a tiger’s lair,
He played a waiting part,
But when Cao Cao talked of breaking humans,
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Then terror gripped his heart.
But he cleverly used the thunder peal
As excuse for turning pale;
O quick to seize occasions thus!
He surely must prevail.
The shower had passed, and there appeared two
men rushing through the garden, both armed. In
spite of the attendants, they forced their way to the
pavilion where sat the two friends. They were Guan
Yu and Zhang Fei.
The two brothers had been outside the city at
archery practice when Cao Cao’s invitation had
come so peremptorily. On their return they heard that
two officers had arrived and led away Liu Bei to the
Prime Minister. They hastened to his palace and
were told their brother was with his host in the
grounds, and they feared something had happened.
So they rushed in.
Now when they saw their brother quietly talking
with Cao Cao and enjoying a cup of wine, they took
up their usual places and meekly stood waiting.
“Why did you come?” said Cao Cao.
Three Kingdoms Romance
“We heard that you, Sir, had invited our brother to
a wine party, and we came to amuse you with a little
sword play,” said they.
“This is not a Hongmen Banquet,” replied Cao
Cao. “What use have we for Xiang Chang and Xiang
Ba of old? 1”
Liu Bei smiled. The host ordered wine to be
served to the two “Fan Kuais” to allay their anxiety
and, soon after, the three took their leave and
returned homeward.
“We were nearly frightened to death,” said Guan
The story of the dropped chopsticks was told. The
two asked what their brother intended by his actions.
“My learning gardening was to convince Cao Cao
of my perfect simplicity and the absence of any
ambition. But when he suddenly pointed to me as
one of the heroes, I was startled, for I thought he had
some suspicions. Happily the thunder at that
moment supplied the excuse I wanted.”
“Really you are very clever,” said they.
Next day Cao Cao again invited Liu Bei and while
the two were drinking, Man Chong, who had been
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dispatched to find out what Yuan Shao was doing,
came to present his report.
He said, “Gongsun Zan has been completely
defeated by Yuan Shao.”
“Do you know the details? I should like to know
how,” interrupted Liu Bei.
“They were at war, and Gongsun Zan got the
worst of it, so he acted on the defensive, building a
high wall about his army and on that erecting a high
tower, which he called the Yijing Tower. Therein he
placed all his grain, one hundred thousand carts
total, and took up his own quarters. His fighting
troops passed in and out without ceasing, some
going out to give battle, others returning to rest. One
of them was surrounded and sent to ask Gongsun
Zan to rescue him. Gongsun Zan said, ‘If I rescue
him, hereafter every one will want to be helped and
will not exert himself.’ So Gongsun Zan did not go.
This disgusted his soldiers, and many deserted to
the enemy so that his army diminished. He sent
letters to the capital to crave help, but the messenger
was captured. He sent to Zhang Yan to arrange with
him for a two−pronged joint attack, and those letters
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with the plans also fell into Yuan Shao’s hands; and
the plans were adopted by Yuan Shao, who gave the
signals agreed upon. Thus Gongsun Zan fell into an
ambush, lost heavily, and retreated into the city.
There he was besieged, and a subterranean
passage was pierced into the tower where he
lodged. The tower was set on fire, and Gongsun Zan
could not escape. So he slew his wife and little ones
and hanged himself. The flames destroyed the
bodies of the whole family.
“Yuan Shao has added the remnants of the
vanquished army to his own and so become yet
stronger. His brother Yuan Shu in the South of River
Huai, however, has become so arrogant and cruel
that the people have turned against him. Then Yuan
Shu had sent to say he would yield the title of
Emperor, which he had assumed, in favor of Yuan
Shao. Yuan Shao demanded the Imperial Hereditary
Seal also, and Yuan Shu promised to bring it in
person. Now Yuan Shu has abandoned River Huai
and is about to move to the North of Yellow River. If
he succeeded, the two brothers will control adjoining
regions and be dangerous.”
Three Kingdoms Romance
It was a sad story, and Liu Bei remembered with
sorrow that, in the days of success and prosperity,
the dead chieftain, Gongsun Zan, had pushed his
interest and shown him much kindness. Moreover he
was anxious to know the fate of Zhao Yun. In his
heart he thought, “What better chance am I likely to
get of setting myself free?”
So Liu Bei rose and said to Cao Cao, “If Yuan
Shu goes over to join his brother, he will surely pass
through Xuzhou. I beg you to give me an army with
which to smite him on the way. That will finish Yuan
“Memorialize the Emperor tomorrow, and I will
give you an army,” said Cao Cao.
So next day Liu Bei went to an audience, and
Cao Cao gave him command of fifty thousand horse
and foot, and sent Generals Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao
with him.
At parting with Liu Bei, the Emperor shed tears.
As soon as Liu Bei reached his lodging, he set
about preparations for immediate departure, taking
his seal as General and preparing his weapons.
Dong Cheng went three miles away from the city to
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bid him farewell.
“You must not mind my going; this journey will
assuredly help on the scheme,” said Liu Bei.
“Keep your mind fixed on that,” said Dong Cheng,
“and never forget what His Majesty requires of us.”
They parted. Presently his brothers asked him
why he was in such a hurry to get away.
Liu Bei replied, “I have been a bird in a cage, a
fish in a net. This is like the fish regaining the open
sea and the bird soaring into the blue sky. I suffered
much from the confinement.”
Then he ordered Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao to march
the troops faster.
Now Guo Jia and Cheng Yu had been absent
inspecting stores and supplies when Liu Bei left. As
soon as they heard of his expedition, they went in to
see their master, asking him why he had let Liu Bei
go in command of an army.
“He is going to cut off Yuan Shu,” replied Cao
“Formerly, when he was Imperial Protector of
Yuzhou, we recommended that he should be put to
death, but you would not hear of it. Now you have
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given him an army. You have allowed the dragon to
reach the sea, the tiger to return to the mountains.
What control will you have in future?”
So spoke Cheng Yu; and Guo Jia followed in the
same strain, saying, “Even if you would not put him
to death, you need not have let him go. As the
proverb says, ‘Relax opposition for one day and
age−long harm ensues.’ You must admit the truth of
Cao Cao recognized that these were prudent
counsels, so he sent Xu Chu with five hundred
horsemen and imperative orders to bring Liu Bei
back again.
Liu Bei was marching as rapidly as possible when
he noticed a cloud of dust in the rear and remarked
to his brothers, “Surely they are pursuing us.”
He halted and made a stockade, and ordered his
brothers to be in readiness, one on each flank.
Presently the messenger arrived and found himself
in the midst of an army ready for battle. Xu Chu
dismounted and entered the camp to speak with Liu
Bei. “Sir, on what business have you come?” asked
Liu Bei.
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“The Prime Minister has sent me to request you
to return as he has further matters to discuss with
“When a general has once taken the field, even
the royal command is of no effect. I bade farewell to
the Emperor, I received the Prime Minister’s
commands, and there can be nothing further to talk
about. You may return forthwith and take that as my
Xu Chu was undecided what action to take. He
thought, “The Prime Minister cherishes a friendship
with Liu Bei, and I have no orders to kill. I can only
return with this reply and ask further instructions.”
So Xu Chu left. When he related what had
occurred, Cao Cao still hesitated to take any action.
“This refusal to return means enmity,” said Cheng
Yu and Guo Jia.
“Still, two of my people are with him,” said Cao
Cao. “He will not dare do anything unfriendly, I think.
Beside, I sent him and I cannot go back on my own
So Liu Bei was not pursued.
Three Kingdoms Romance
He took his arms, he fed his steed,
And fared forth willingly,
Intent to accomplish his King’s behest
Deep graven on his memory.
At least he had broken out of his cage,
He heard not the tiger’s roar,
He had shaken the shackles from his feet,
As a dragon on high could soar.
As soon as Ma Teng heard that Liu Bei had set
forth, he reported that pressing business called him
and marched back to his own region, Xiliang.
When Liu Bei reached Xuzhou, the Imperial
Protector Deputy, Che Zhou, came to meet him.
When the official banquet was over, Sun Qian and
Mi Zhu paid their visit to Che Zhou. Then Liu Bei
proceeded to his residence to greet his family.
Scouts were sent out to see what Yuan Shu was
doing. They came back with the intelligence: “Yuan
Shu’s arrogance had driven away his generals, Lei
Bo and Chen Lan, who had returned to their
mountain fastness in Mount Song. His forces thus
reduced, he wrote resigning the imperial style he had
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assumed in favor of his brother Yuan Shao, who at
once commanded his presence. Thereupon he
packed up the palace fittings he had made, got the
remnants of his army in order, and marched west.”
When Yuan Shu neared Xuzhou, Liu Bei led out
his force of fifty thousand soldiers and four
generals—Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhu Ling, and Lu
Zhao. Yuan Shu sent out Ji Ling to force a way
through. But Zhang Fei opposed him and attacked
without a parley. In the tenth bout Zhang Fei cut
down Ji Ling. The defeated troops fled in all
Then Yuan Shu came up with his own army. Liu
Bei placed Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao in command of the
left wing, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei the right wing, and
himself in the center, and so met Yuan Shu.
As soon as the enemy came near, Liu Bei began
to abuse him, crying, “O rebellious one, and wicked, I
have a command to destroy you. Yield, then, with
good grace and so escape your punishment!” “Base
weaver of mats and mean maker of straw sandals!
How dare you make light of me?” replied Yuan Shu,
and he gave the signal for an attack.
Three Kingdoms Romance
Liu Bei retired, and his generals from the flanks
closed in. They smote the army of Yuan Shu till
corpses littered the plain and blood flowed in
streams. At the same time Yuan Shu’s former
generals, Lei Bo and Chen Lan from Mount Song,
attacked the baggage train and completed the
destruction. Yuan Shu tried to retreat to Shouchun,
but Lei Bo and Chen Lan barred the road.
Yuan Shu sought refuge in Jiangling, with one
thousand troops left of all his army. And these were
the weakly ones able neither to fight nor flee. It was
then the height of summer, and their food was nearly
exhausted. The whole provision consisted of thirty
carts of wheat. This was made over to the soldiers,
and the members of his household went hungry.
Many died of actual starvation. Yuan Shu could not
swallow the coarse food that the soldiers lived on.
One day he bade his cook bring him some honeyed
water to quench his thirst.
“There is no water, save that tainted with blood,”
replied the cook. “Where can I get honeyed water?”
This was the last straw. Yuan Shu sat up on his
couch and rolled out on the floor with a loud cry.
Three Kingdoms Romance
Blood gushed from his mouth and thus he died. It
was the sixth month of the fourth year of Rebuilt
Tranquillity (AD 199).
The last days of Han approached and weapons
clashed in every quarter,
The misguided Yuan Shu, lost to all sense of
Forgetful of his forefathers, who had filled the
state’s highest offices,
Madly aspired to become himself Emperor,
Resting his outrageous claim on the possession
of the Seal,
And arrogantly boasting that thus he fulfilled the
design of Heaven.
Alas! Sick unto death he vainly begged for a little
honeyed water;
He died, alone.
Yuan Shu being dead, his nephew, Yuan Yin,
taking his coffin and his wife and children, sought
shelter in Lujiang. There the Magistrate, Xu Liu, slew
all the survivors. Among the possessions Xu Liu
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found the Imperial Hereditary Seal, which he at once
took to the capital and presented to Cao Cao, for
which service he was made Governor of Gaoling.
Since then the Imperial Hereditary Seal belonged to
Cao Cao.
When Liu Bei heard that Yuan Shu was dead, he
prepared a report to the Throne, and sent it to Cao
Cao. He sent the two generals deputed by Cao Cao,
Zhu Ling and Lu Zhao, back to the capital, keeping
the army to defend Xuzhou. He also personally went
through the countryside commanding the people to
resume their ordinary avocations.
Cao Cao was angry when his two officers
returned without their man and was going to put
them to death. Xun Yu reasoned with him.
“The power was in Liu Bei’s hands, and so these
two had no alternative,” said Xun Yu.
So they were pardoned.
“You should instruct Che Zhou, the Imperial
Protector Deputy, to try to destroy him,” said Xun Yu.
Accordingly he sent secret orders to Che Zhou,
who took Chen Deng into his confidence and asked
his advice.
Three Kingdoms Romance
Chen Deng said, “That is easy. Liu Bei is outside
the city, and an ambush in the city gate to attack him
on his return from the country will be final; I will
attack the escort with arrows from the city walls.”
Che Zhou agreed to try this.
Then Chen Deng went to his father to tell him.
Chen Gui bade him go and warn the intended victim.
Chen Deng at once rode away to do so. Before long
he met Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, to whom he told his
Now Liu Bei was following some distance behind.
As soon as Zhang Fei heard of the plot, he wanted to
attack the ambush, but Guan Yu proposed another
Said he, “Attacking the ambush will be a failure,
since we are without the walls. And I think we can
compass the death of Che Zhou. In the night we will
pretend to be some of Cao Cao’s soldiers and entice
him out to meet us. We will slay him.”
Zhang Fei approved of the plan. Now the soldiers
still had some of Cao Cao’s army banners and wore
similar armor. About the third watch they came to the
city wall and hailed the gate. Those on guard asked
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who they were. The men replied that they were
Zhang Liao’s troops sent from the capital. This was
told Che Zhou who sent hastily for Chen Deng to ask
his advice.
“If I do not receive them, they will suspect my
loyalty,” said Che Zhou. “Yet if I go out, I may be
victim of a ruse.”
So he went up on the wall and said, “It is too dark
to distinguish friends from foes. You must wait till
“If Liu Bei know our presence, he will attack,”
shouted back the soldiers.
And they begged him to let them in. Still Che
Zhou hesitated. They shouted louder than ever to
open the gate.
Presently Che Zhou girded on his armor, placed
himself at the head of one thousand cavalry and
went out. He galloped over the bridge, shouting,
“Where is Zhang Liao?”
Then lights blazed around, and he recognized
Guan Yu with his sword drawn.
“Wretch!” cried Guan Yu. “You would plot to slay
my brother, would you?”
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Che Zhou was too frightened to make good
defense, and he turned to reenter the gate. But as he
reached the drawbridge, Chen Deng shot out flights
of arrows, wherefore Che Zhou turned aside and
galloped along under the wall. But Guan Yu came
quickly in pursuit. His sword was raised aloft, and as
it came down, Che Zhou fell to the earth. Guan Yu
cut off his head and returned, shouting, “I have slain
the traitor. You others need not fear if you only
They threw aside their spears and gave in. As
soon as the excitement had calmed, Guan Yu took
the head to show Liu Bei and told him the story of
the plot.
“But what will Cao Cao think of this?” said Liu Bei.
“And he may come.”
“If he does, we can meet him,” said Guan Yu. But
Liu Bei was grieved beyond measure. When he
entered the city, the elders of the people knelt in the
road to welcome him. When he reached his
residence, he found that Zhang Fei had already
exterminated the family of Che Zhou.
Liu Bei said, “We have slain one of Cao Cao’s
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best officers, and how will he stand that?”
“Never mind!” cried Chen Deng. “I have a plan.”
Just from grave danger extricated,
A looming war must be placated.
The plan proposed by Chen Deng will be
disclosed next.
Three Kingdoms Romance

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