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CHAPTER 81. Eager For Vengeance, Zhang Fei Is Assassinated; Athirst Of Retribution, The First Ruler Goes To War.

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

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Zhao Yun was opposed to the attempt to fight
Wu, and spoke against the plan.
“The real rebel was not Sun Quan, but Cao Cao;
and now it is his son who has usurped the Imperial
Throne and called forth the anger of gods and men.
You should first aim at the inside by camping on the
River Wei, from which to attack the rebel. After that
the right−thinking sort on the east of the Passes will
do their utmost to help you. If you leave River Wei
out of consideration in order to fight Wu, your military
force will be engaged, and could you disengage it
quickly in case of necessity? It is worth reflection.”
The First Ruler replied, “Sun Quan slew my
brother. Furthermore, Fu Shiren, Mi Fang, Pan
Zhang, and Ma Zhong are on his side, all of whom I
hate so much that I could eat their flesh with gusto
and devour their relatives, whereby I should have my
vengeance. Why, Noble Sir, do you obstruct me?”
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“Because the enmity against Cao Cao is a public
matter; vengeance for the manner of your brother’s
end is private. The empire should be placed first.”
“What care I for myriads of square miles of
territory as long as my brother is unavenged?”
So Zhao Yun’s remonstrance was disregarded,
and orders went forth to prepare an army against
Wu. The First Ruler also sent into the Five Valleys to
borrow the aid of fifty thousand of tribesmen. He sent
a messenger to Langzhong conferring on Zhang Fei
the rank of General of Chariots and Cavalry and the
title of Lord of Xiliang. Zhang Fei became also
Governor of Langzhong.
When Zhang Fei heard the tidings of Guan Yu’s
death at the hands of Sun Quan, he wept very
bitterly day and night, so that his raiment was soaked
with his tears. His subordinates tried to cheer him
with wine, but he over−drank, and this increased his
ill−humor, which he vented on any offender in his
camp. Some of his people even died under the lash.
Every day he gazed southward, grinding his teeth
with rage and glaring. He wept and groaned without
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Then a messenger was announced. He was
summoned immediately, and Zhang Fei at once tore
open and read his dispatches. When Zhang Fei read
the edict, he accepted his new rank in all humility,
bowing northward toward the imperial mandate.
Then he gave a banquet to the messenger.
He said, “My enmity for the death of my brother is
deep as the sea. Why do not the officers at the court
propose an avenging expedition?”
The messenger replied, “Most of them favor first
the destruction of Wei; Wu is to follow.”
“What sort of talk is this?” cried Zhang Fei angrily.
“When we three swore brotherhood in the Peach
Garden, we pledged ourselves to die together. Now,
alas! my brother has perished by the way, and can
we enjoy wealth or honors without him? I must see
the Son of Heaven and pray to be allowed to lead
the van. I will wear mourning, and in that garb I will
smite Wu and capture the bandit that rules there.
Sun Quan shall be sacrificed to my brother’s manes
in virtue of our oath.”
Zhang Fei accompanied the messenger to Capital
Chengdu. In the meantime the First Ruler had been
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training his armies. Day after day he went to the drill
ground, and he decided upon a day to start, and he
would accompany the expedition. Thereupon a
number of courtiers went to the palace of the Prime
Minister to talk with Zhuge Liang, trying to get this
intention modified.
They said, “It is not in accordance with the
importance due to the Emperor’s position that he
should go in personal command of this army,
particularly as he has but lately assumed his throne.
You, Sir, hold the weighty post of adviser in such a
matter, and why do you not dissuade him?”
“I have done so, most sincerely and repeatedly,
but he will not listen. But now you all come with me
to the drill ground, and we will try once more.”
So they proceeded thither, with Zhuge Liang at
their head, and he said, “Your Majesty has but lately
taken the imperial seat. If the expedition was one to
march northward to destroy the rebels against Han
and in the interest of rectitude, it would be perfectly
correct for the Emperor to lead the army, but an
officer of high rank should more properly be sent
against Wu. Why should Your Majesty expose
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yourself to such fatigues?”
The First Ruler was touched by the depth of his
minister’s concern and the sincerity of his counsel,
and was on the point of yielding when the arrival of
Zhang Fei was announced. Zhang Fei was
immediately summoned and came to the pavilion on
the drill ground, where he threw himself on the
ground and clasped the First Ruler’s feet, weeping
bitterly. The First Ruler joined in the lamentation.
“Your Majesty is now ruler and too quickly forgets
the oath in the Peach Garden; why is our brother’s
death not avenged?”
The First Ruler replied, “Many officers dissuade
me from such a course; I cannot act rashly.”
“What do others know of our oath? If Your
Majesty will not go, then let me sacrifice myself to
avenge our brother. If I cannot, then would I rather
die and see your face no more.”
“Then will I go with you,” said the First Ruler.
“Bring your own troops from Langzhong, and I will
bring my veterans to meet you at Jiangzhou. We will
both attack Wu and wipe out the reproach.”
As Zhang Fei rose to take leave, the First Ruler
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said to him, “I know that your weakness for wine
leads you astray, and you become very cruel in your
cups, and hog your people, and keep the beaten
ones near you. They may be dangerous, and it is
certainly the road to misfortune. Now you must be
more kindly and not give way to passion as before.”
Thus admonished, Zhang Fei said farewell and
Soon after, when the First Ruler was preparing to
march out, the High Minister Qin Mi memorialized,
saying, “That Your Majesty, the Lord of a Myriad
Chariots, should risk his person in what is not the
way of perfect rectitude is not what the ancients
would have done. I pray that this may be reflected
But the First Ruler replied, “Guan Yu and I were
as one body, and the way of perfect rectitude is here.
Have you forgotten?”
But the officer remained at his feet and said, “I
fear disaster if Your Majesty disregards your
servant’s words.” The First Ruler replied angrily,
“Why do you use such bad words when I desire to
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He bade the executioners thrust forth and put to
death the bold speaker. Still Qin Mi’s face showed no
sign of fear.
He only smiled, saying, “I die without regret. It is a
pity that this newly established state should be
overturned ere it be well begun.”
Other officials interceding, the death punishment
was remitted, but the faithful officer was committed
to prison.
“Your fate will be decided when the army of
vengeance return,” said the First Ruler.
Zhuge Liang sent up a memorial in favor of Qin
Mi, saying:
“I, Zhuge Liang, address Your Majesty in my own
name and those of my colleagues; we regard as
most grievous the
recent events—Wu’s perfidy, by which Jingzhou
was lost, the star of a great general was brought
down, and the pillar holding the sky was broken—,
and we shall never forget. But it is to be remembered
that the crime of overturning the Throne of Han rests
on Cao Cao, and the fault of driving away the Liu
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Family lies not on Sun Quan. We venture to think
that the destruction of Wei would involve the
submission of Wu, wherefore we beg consideration
of the valuable words of Qin Mi. Thus the army will
be spared needless exertion and occasion given to
make other plans for the prosperity of the Throne
and the happiness of the people.”
But having listened to the memorial, the First
Ruler threw it to the floor, saying, “I have decided,
and no remonstrance should be raised!”
Then he appointed the Prime Minister to take
care of his son and the two Lands of Rivers. Then
the Generals of the Flying Cavalry—Ma Chao and
Ma Dai—, together with the General Who Defends
the North, Wei Yan, were ordered to guard
Hanzhong against Wei. The Tiger General Zhao Yun
was to be in reserve and to control the supplies;
Huang Quan and Cheng Ji were made Counselors;
Ma Liang and Chen Zhen, Recorders; Huang Zhong,
the van leader, assisted by the Marching Generals
Feng Xi and Zhang Nan; Fu Tong and Zhang Yi,
Marching Commanders of the Center Army; Zhao
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Rong and Liao Chun, the rear guards. The whole
army, including the borrowed foreign troops,
numbered seven hundred fifty thousand, and
high−rank officials amounted several hundred. And
the “tiger” day of the seventh month of the first year
of Manifest Might was selected as the most
propitious day for the start.
As soon as Zhang Fei had got back to his post,
he issued orders that his soldiers should be ready to
march in three days and the whole body was to be in
mourning, white uniforms and whitened arms.
Just after the order appeared, two generals
named Fan Jiang and Zhang Da came to their chief,
saying, “The time allowed is insufficient to make
white flags and armors. Pray give us more time,
“I am hot to avenge my brother,” said Zhang Fei.
“My only regret is that I cannot reach the miserable
wretch’s country tomorrow. Do you dare to disobey
my order?”
Zhang Fei called in the lictors, had the two
officers bound to trees, and ordered each to receive
fifty lashes.
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At the close of the flogging, he said, “Now you will
be ready tomorrow; if you are not, I will put you to
death as an example!”
The two generals returned to their place, spitting
blood and hot with anger, and they said one to
another, “We have been beaten today; what about
tomorrow? This man’s temper is unbearable; and if
things are not ready, we shall suffer death.”
“Suppose we slay him,” suddenly said Zhang Da,
“since if we do not, he will kill us.”
“But how can we get near him?”
“If we are to have a chance to live, he will get
drunk and go to bed; if we are to die, he will remain
They made all their arrangements for the crime.
That day Zhang Fei was greatly disturbed in his mind
and restless. He told some of his subordinates,
saying, “I feel nervous and creepy and shivery and
cannot not rest. What does it mean?”
“This is due to too much brooding over the loss of
your brother,” said they.
Then Zhang Fei bade them bring in wine, and he
drank with his officers. Presently he became quite
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intoxicated and lay down on a couch in his tent.
Meanwhile the two assassins had followed all his
doings, and when they knew he was lying on his
couch intoxicated and incapable, they went into the
tent, each armed with a water−sharp dagger. They
got rid of the attendants by saying they had
confidential matters to talk about and so got into the
inner rooms.
But even then they dared do nothing, for Zhang
Fei slept always with open eyelids, and he lay on his
couch as if still awake. However, huge snores soon
convinced them that their victim really slept, and they
crept to the side of the couch. Then both stabbed
simultaneously deep into the body. Zhang Fei
uttered one cry and lay still. So he died at the hand
of assassins at the age of fifty−five years.
He who whipped the inspector in Anxi,
Who swept vile rebels from the land of Han,
And thereby won great glory for the Lius,
Whose valor shone at Tiger Trap Pass,
Who turned the tide of victory at Long Slope
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Who freed Yan Yan and thus won a friend
That helped him and his brothers conquer Shu,
Whose wisdom defeated Zhang He to get
Is dead, the victim of assassins’ blows.
Not his avenge his brother’s death on Wu,
Langzhong will grieve him all the ages through.
Having done their victim to death, the two
murderers hacked off his head and made off for the
country of Wu without loss of time; and when the
deed was known, they had got too far for capture.
The assassination was reported in a memorial by
a commander of Zhang Fei named Wu Ban, who had
left Jingzhou to see the First Ruler and then had
been sent to serve under Zhang Fei. He wrote a
memorial to the First Ruler and bade the eldest son,
Zhang Bao, prepare a coffin for the remains. After
the ceremony, leaving his younger brother, Zhang
Shao, to hold Langzhong, Zhang Bao went to see
the Emperor.
The day of departure had already come, and the
First Ruler had left the capital. Zhuge Liang and
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many officers had escorted him out of the city for
three miles and taken leave.
Returning to Chengdu, Zhuge Liang felt ill at
ease, and he remarked to his colleagues, “If Fa
Zheng had been alive, he would have been able to
interdict this expedition.”
One night the First Ruler felt nervous and
shuddered from time to time. He could not sleep, so
he went out of his tent and looked up at the stars.
Suddenly he saw a bright meteor fall in the
northwest, and began to wonder what the portent
meant. He sent at once to ask Zhuge Liang to tell
Zhuge Liang sent back the reply: “This means the
loss of a great leader, and there will be bad news in
a few days.”
So the army was halted and did not march. Then
the arrival of a message from Wu Ban of Langzhong
was announced. The First Ruler’s foreboding
increased, and he stamped his foot, saying, “Alas!
My other brother is gone!”
Opening the letter he found it was indeed so. As
he read the news of the assassination, he uttered a
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loud cry and fell in a swoon. He was raised, and
presently they brought him back to life.
Next day they reported a body of horsemen
coming. The First Ruler went out of the camp to look
at them and presently saw a young general, dressed
all in white armor, sweeping forth in quite a terror.
The First Ruler recognized that was Zhang Bao.
As soon as he reached the First Ruler’s presence,
he dismounted and bowed to the earth, weeping,
“My father has been killed by Fan Jiang and Zhang
Da. They have gone over to Wu, taking my father’s
head with them.”
The news was very grievous, and the First Ruler
burst into tears and even refused food.
His officers remonstrated, saying, “Now Your
Majesty has the loss of two brothers to avenge, and
you must not destroy yourself.”
So after a time he began to eat and drink, and he
then offered the leadership of the van to Zhang Bao,
saying, “Are you and Wu Ban willing to lead your
troops to attack Wu and to avenge your father?”
“For my country or for my father, I would shrink
from no sacrifice,” said the young man.
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Just as the force for the young man’s leadership
was being organized, another party of horsemen
approached, also dressed in white armors. This was
a small force under Guan Xing, son of Guan Yu. The
youth also threw himself to the ground and wept.
At sight of him, thoughts stirred in the First Ruler’s
breast, and he burst into tears. Neither reason nor
persuasion could stop them.
“I think of the plain and simple days of long ago
when we pledged ourselves one to the other. Now I
am Emperor. How I should rejoice to share my good
fortune with them! But they have met violent deaths,
and the sight of these two youths wrings my heart to
the very core.”
“Young gentlemen, please retire,” said the officers
to the two youthful generals, “and let our Sacred One
repose his dragon body.”
They went. Said the attendants, “Your Majesty is
no longer young; you are over sixty, remember, and
it is not fitting that you give way to such extreme
“But my brothers—dead,” wailed the First Ruler.
“How can I live without them?” He broke into a fresh
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paroxysm and beat his head on the ground.
“What can be done?” asked the officers one to
another. “He is in such trouble! How can we comfort
Ma Liang said, “Sire, it is bad for the army to
spend whole days in wailing and tears when leading
against the enemy.”
And then Chen Zhen said, “There is a certain
hermit living among the Blue Mountains, near
Chengdu, who is said to be three hundred years old.
He is called Li Yi, and people say he is a seer. Let us
tell His Majesty and let him send for this old man that
he may know what the future may have in store. It
will have more weight than anything we can say.”
They went to the First Ruler and told him; he
agreed to summon the seer and sent Chen Zhen
with the command. Soon the messenger reached the
town near the hills and asked the people where the
prophet dwelt. They led him far into a secluded
valley like a fairy village, very unlike any ordinary
spot. Soon a lad came to receive the visitor.
“You are surely Chen Zhen.”
Chen Zhen was startled that the lad knew him,
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and still more so at the familiar address, and said, “O
superhuman boy, how do you know my name so
“Last evening my master told me that a
messenger with an imperial command would come
today and mentioned your name.”
“Truly he is more than wise;” said Chen Zhen,
“and people have not believed him.”
So the two proceeded to the old man’s abode,
and Chen Zhen declared his errand. The old man
said he was too aged to travel.
“But the Emperor anxiously desires to see you
face to face, if haply you would not mind making the
In the end, and after much persuasion, the old
fellow consented and went. The First Ruler received
him affably, surprised at the contrast between his
hoary head and fresh boyish complexion. The
venerable one had blue eyes, with square and
sparkling pupils. His carriage was erect, and he
stood straight as a pine tree.
“This is no common man,” thought the First Ruler,
and he treated him with distinguished courtesy.
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The seer said, “I am but an old man of the barren
hill country, without learning or wisdom; you shame
me, O Emperor, by calling me, and I know not why.”
“I and my two brothers, both now deceased,
swore a mutual oath some thirty years ago. Both
have gone, both by violent deaths. I would lead a
great army to avenge them and wish to know how
the expedition will end. Hearing that you, Venerable
Sir, are learned in the deeper mysteries, I sent for
you and beg you to tell me.”
“But this is fate; it is not for an old man like me to
But the First Ruler pressed him to say. However,
the aged one got paper and a brush and wrote:
“Soldiers, horses, weapons”—again and again on
many sheets of paper. Having done this, he
suddenly tore them into fragments. Further, he drew
a picture of a tall man lying supine and another
above him digging a grave. And over all he wrote:
After this he bowed and departed, leaving the
First Ruler annoyed.
“This is only a demented man; what he says is
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not worthy of confidence,” said the First Ruler. And
he burned the paper.
Then he ordered an advance at full speed. Zhang
Fei’s son, Zhang Bao, came in, saying, “Wu Ban and
his army have come; I pray that I may be appointed
to lead the van.”
The First Ruler admired his noble intent and gave
him a van−leader’s seal. But just as he was attaching
the seal to his girdle, another youth boldly stepped
forth and said, “Leave that seal to me!”
It was Guan Xing, son of Guan Yu.
“I have already received my commission,” said
Zhang Bao.
“What abilities have you for such a task?” cried
Guan Xing.
“That I have been training as a soldier since my
boyhood. I can shoot and never miss.”
“I should like to see your prowess,” said the First
Ruler, “that I may decide who is the better.”
Zhang Bao ordered some of his people to set up
a flag at a hundred paces, and on the flag he drew a
heart in red. Then he took his bow and shot three
arrows, each of which went through the heart. Those
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present commended the performance.
Then Guan Xing seized his bow, saying, “What is
it to hit such a mark?”
Just as he said this a flock of wild geese flew over
his head.
“I will hit the third of the flying geese,” said he.
He shot; and the third fell.
“Fine!” cried all the assembly as one voice.
But Zhang Bao was enraged. Leaping on his
steed, he seized the long octane−serpent halberd left
him by his father, crying, “Dare you try a real
Guan Xing took up the challenge at once. He
sprang into the saddle, took his great saber, and
galloped out.
“You can use the spear, think you that I cannot
wield a sword?” cried he.
The two impetuous youths were on the point of a
battle when the First Ruler bade them hold.
“Do not behave so badly!” cried he.
Both dropped out of the saddle, threw aside their
weapons, ran to his feet, and begged pardon.
“Young men, from the time I left my native place
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Zhuo and swore brotherhood with your fathers, they
were as my own flesh and blood. You two are also
brothers, and you should help each other in
vengeance rather than quarrel and dispute. You
have lost the sense of rectitude while your fathers’
deaths are still recent, and what will happen in
Both fell at his feet and implored forgiveness.
“Which of you two is the elder?” asked the First
“I am the elder by a year,” said Zhang Bao.
The First Ruler then bade Guan Xing bow to
Zhang Bao as to an elder brother, and there, in front
of all, they broke an arrow as a pledge that each
would always succor the other.
Then the First Ruler issued a mandate appointing
Wu Ban leader of the van, and the two young men
were enrolled as his own escort.
The advance began on land and on water, and
they made a brave show as they moved against the
land of Wu.
In the meantime the two assassins, with the grim
evidence of their deed, duly reached Wu and told
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their story to the Marquis who received them.
Then Sun Quan said to his assembled officers,
“Liu Bei has declared himself Emperor and is leading
against us in person a great host of more than seven
hundred thousand. What shall we do, for the danger
is imminent?”
They all turned pale and looked one at another.
Then Zhuge Jin spoke out.
“I have been in your service these many years
and have never justified the favor you have shown
me. I will risk my life and go to this Liu Bei of Shu
that I may talk to him plainly and prove to him the
advantages of friendship and alliance against Cao
This offer pleased Sun Quan, who then appointed
Zhuge Jin as his messenger to try to induce the First
Ruler to keep the peace.
Messengers pass when states are at wrangle;
May this one succeed and unravel this tangle!
What fortune attended this messenger will be
related in the next chapter.
Three Kingdoms Romance

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