| Chapter 27 |
The Man of Beautiful Beard Rides On A Solitary Journey;
Now of all the officers in Cao Cao's army, the two friendly toward Guan Yu were Zhang Liao and Xu Huang. The others treated Guan Yu with respect, except Cai Yang who was decidedly inimical. So this Cai Yang was ready to pursue and capture Guan Yu as soon as he heard of his departure. But Cao Cao accepted Guan Yu's going as natural.
"He does not forget his old leader, and he was perfectly open in all his actions. He is a gentleman, and you would do well to follow his example," said Cao Cao.
So Cao Cao bade the would-be pursuer be gone and say no more about pursuit.
"You were exceedingly good to Guan Yu," said Cheng Yu, "but he went off very rudely. He certainly left a screed behind with his reasons, but he affronted you, and that is no light matter. Now to let him join Yuan Shao is to add wings to a tiger. You had better catch him and put him to death so as to guard against future evil."
Cao Cao replied, "But he had my promise, and can I break my word? Each has his master. Do not pursue."
But Cao Cao said to Zhang Liao, "He has rejected all I gave him, so bribes were powerless with him in whatever shape. I have the greatest respect for such as him. He has not yet gone far, and I will try to strengthen his attachment to me and make one appeal to sentiment. Ride after him and beg him to stop till I can come up and bid farewell and offer him a sum of money for his expenses and a fighting robe, that he may remember me kindly in after days."
So Zhang Liao rode out quite alone. Cao Cao followed him leisurely with an escort of a score or so.
Now the steed that Guan Yu rode was Red Hare, and it was very fast. No one could have come up with him but that there was the ladies' carriage to escort, and so Red Hare had to be held in and go slow. Suddenly Guan Yu heard a shout behind him, a voice crying, "Go slowly, Guan Yu!"
He turned and made out the person to be Zhang Liao. Ordering the pushers of the carriage to press on along the high road, he reined in his steed, held the green-dragon saber ready for a stroke, and waited for Zhang Liao to come up.
"Of course you have come to take me back, Zhang Liao?" said Guan Yu.
"No; the Prime Minister, seeing that you are going a long journey, wishes to see you on your way and told me to hasten forward and beg you to wait till he can come up. That is the only thing."
"Seeing that he is coming along with mailed men, I shall fight to the very last," said Guan Yu.
And he took up his position on a bridge where he waited the approach of the party, who advanced quickly. Four of Cao Cao's generals, Xu Chu, Xu Huang, Yu Jin, and Li Dian, followed close. Seeing Guan Yu was ready to fight, Cao Cao ordered his escort to open out in two lines, and then it was seen they carried no arms. This relieved his mind, for it proved to Guan Yu they meant no attack.
"Why do you go in such haste, Guan Yu?" asked Cao Cao.
Guan Yu inclined his head but did not dismount, saying, "I informed you in writing that since my lord was in the North of Yellow River, I had to leave at once. I went to your palace again and again but was refused admittance. So I wrote a letter of farewell, sealed up the treasure, resigned my lordship seal, and left everything for you. I hope you recall the promise you once made me."
Cao Cao replied, "My desire is to keep my troth with all people. I cannot go back on my word. However, you may find the journey expensive, and therefore I have here prepared a sum of money to help you."
Then from horseback Cao Cao held out a packet of gold.
Guan Yu said, "I have sufficient left from your former bounty. Keep that for presents to your soldiers."
"Why should you refuse this? It is but an insignificant return for great services."
"My services have been all trifling, not worth mentioning."
"Really, Guan Yu, you are the most high-principled of humans. I am very sorry my luck is too poor to retain you at my side. Pray accept just this robe to show you I am not quite ungrateful," said Cao Cao.
And one of his generals, dismounting, held up a silken coat in both hands. Guan Yu even still fearful of what might happen, would not dismount, but he reached down his sword and took the robe on its point. Then he threw it over his shoulders and turned to thank the giver.
"I thank you, Sir Prime Minister, for the robe and trust we shall meet again."
So saying, Guan Yu went down from the bridge and bore away to the north.
"He is a very rude man," said Xu Chu, who was of the escort. "Why do you not take him prisoner?"
Cao Cao replied, "He was absolutely alone facing scores of us. He was justified in being suspicious. But my word has gone forth, and he is not to be pursued."
Cao Cao and his escort returned, the Prime Minister very sad when he thought of the man who had gone.
Guan Yu went down from the bridge and started in the wake of the carriage carrying the two ladies, which should have gone about ten miles while this interview had been going on. He could see no signs of it and rode hither and thither looking on all sides.
Presently he heard someone shouting from a hill, calling him by name to halt. He saw a youth wearing a yellow turban and dressed in a silk robe. He held a spear in his hand and was mounted on a horse from the neck of which dangled a bloody head. Behind him were a hundred or so men on foot, and they advanced quickly.
"Who are you?" asked Guan Yu.
The young man dropped his spear, dismounted, and made a low bow. Guan Yu feared this was some ruse, so he only checked his horse and gripped his sword the more firmly, saying, "Sir, I desire you to tell me your name!"
"My name is Liao Hua. I belong to a Xiangyang family. Since these troubled times began I have been an outlaw among the rivers and lakes, and I and my comrades have lived by plunder. We are about five hundred in all. By chance my friend Du Yuan came across two ladies in a carriage just now; and, quite wrongly, he took them prisoners and brought them to the hold in the hills. I questioned the servants and so found out who they were and who was escorting them. So I wished them to be set free to pursue their journey. Du Yuan opposed this and spoke so ill-mannerly that I killed him. And here is his head. I pray you pardon me."
"Where are the two ladies?"
"They are among the hills," replied Liao Hua.
"Bring them down here, at once," said Guan Yu.
In a short time a party of the brigands pushed the carriage down the hill, and the ladies sat there before him.
Then Guan Yu dismounted, laid aside his sword, and stood respectfully before them with his arms crossed.
"Sisters, have you been alarmed?" asked he.
They replied, "We should have suffered at the hands of Du Yuan had it not been for Liao Hua."
"How did Liao Hua come to save the ladies?" asked Guan Yu of those who stood by.
They said, "Du Yuan carried off the ladies and proposed that he and Liao Hua should have one each as wife. But Liao Hua had found out they were of gentle birth and worthy, and was for treating them with respect. When Du Yuan disagreed, Liao Hua slew him."
Hearing this Guan Yu bowed to Liao Hua and thanked him. Liao Hua then wanted to join himself and his troop to Guan Yu, but Guan Yu, seeing he was a Yellow Scarf, would have nothing to do with him. So Guan Yu simply thanked him for his kindness to the ladies. Liao Hua offered some presents, but these were also declined.
So Liao Hua took his leave and presently disappeared in a valley among the hills. Guan Yu told his sisters the story of his interview with Cao Cao and the gift of a robe, and then he urged the carriage on its way. Towards dark they came to a farm where they would rest. The farmer, an old graybeard, came out to welcome the party and asked who they were. Guan Yu described himself as the brother of Liu Bei, and said his name.
"Surely you are no other than the slayer of Yan Liang and Wen Chou," said the venerable host.
"That is so," replied Guan Yu.
"Come in," said the old man, joyfully.
"My two sisters-in-law are in the carriage," said Guan Yu. "Will you let your women folks go out to receive them?"
As Guan Yu remained standing there, the host asked him to be seated, but he would not sit while the women were present and remained standing in a respectful attitude till the old man's wife had returned and ushered the ladies into the inner apartments. Then the old man set to the entertainment of his guest in the guest hall. Guan Yu asked his name.
He replied, "I am called Hu Hua. In the days of the Emperor Huan, I was an officer of the court, but I resigned and retired into private life. I have a son, Hu Ban, with Governor Wang Zhi of Yingyang. If you should be going that way, General, I should like to send him a letter by you."
Guan Yu said he would take the letter. Next day, after an early meal, the ladies got into their carriage, the host handed his letter to Guan Yu, and the little party once more took the road. They went toward Luoyang.
Presently they approached a pass known as the Dongling Pass, guarded by Commander Kong Xiu and five hundred soldiers. When the soldiers saw a carriage being pushed toward the pass, they ran to tell their commander, who came out to accost the travelers.
Guan Yu dismounted and returned the officer's salute, and Kong Xiu said, "Whither are you going?"
"I have left the Prime Minister to go into the North of Yellow River to find my brother."
"But Yuan Shao is my master's rival. You have authority from him to go thither?"
"I left hurriedly and could not get it."
"If you have no authority, you must wait while I send to request orders."
"To remain while you send and receive an answer will delay me greatly," said Guan Yu.
"I must stand by my instructions. That is the only thing to do," said Kong Xiu.
"Then you refuse to let me pass?"
"If you want to go through, leave the family as a gage."
At this Guan Yu got very angry and made to cut at the commander on the spot, but Kong Xiu withdrew into the gate and beat the drums for an attack. Thereupon the soldiers armed themselves, mounted, and came down to oppose the passage, crying, "Dare you go through, eh?"
The carriage was sent off to a safe distance, and then Guan Yu rode at full speed directly at the commander of the guard, who set his spear and came to meet him. The two steeds met and the men engaged, but at the first stroke of the green-dragon saber the commander of the gate fell to the earth dead. His troops fled.
"Soldiers, do not flee!" cried Guan Yu. "I killed him because I could do no otherwise. I have nothing against you, but I would ask you to tell the Prime Minister how this thing came to pass, that Kong Xiu wished to kill me, and so I slew him in self defense."
The soldiers bowed before him, and Guan Yu, with the carriage, passed through the gates and continued their way to Luoyang. But one of the guards of the pass went quickly in advance and informed the Governor of Luoyang, Han Qu, of the slaughter of Kong Xiu. Wherefore Han Qu assembled his officers to take counsel.
Meng Tan, one of his generals, said, "This Guan Yu must be a fugitive, or he would have a safe conduct. Our only course is to stop him, or we shall incur blame."
"The man is fierce and brave. Remember the fate of Yan Liang and Wen Chou. It seems vain to oppose him by force, and so we must think out some trap for him," said Han Qu.
"I have a ruse ready," said Meng Tan. "I will close the gate with thorny blockades, and I will go to fight with him. I will engage and then flee, and you can shoot him from an ambush along the road. If we can get him and his party and send them prisoners to the capital, we ought to be well rewarded."
This course was determined upon, and soon they heard that Guan Yu was approaching. Han Qu strung his bow and filled his quiver with arrows and with one thousand soldiers took up position along the pass.
Then as the party approached, Han Qu said, "Who is the traveler who comes?"
Guan Yu bowed low and said, "He is a certain Guan Yu, Lord of Hanshou, and he wishes to go through the pass."
"Have you a letter from the Prime Minister?"
"In the hurry of departure I did not get any."
"My special orders from him are to hold this pass and make examination of all spies that may go to and fro. Any person without an authority must be a fugitive."
Then Guan Yu began to be angry, saying, "I have killed Kong Xiu at Dongling Pass. Do you also seek death?"
"Who will capture him for me?" cried Han Qu, and Meng Tan offered himself. He rode out, whirling his double swords, and made straight for Guan Yu.
Guan Yu sent back the carriage out of danger and then rode toward Meng Tan. They engaged, but very soon Meng Tan turned his steed and fled. Guan Yu pursued. Meng Tan, intent only on leading his enemy toward the ambush, took no account of the speed of Red Hare. Very soon Meng Tan was caught up, and a stroke of the mighty sword cut him in two pieces. Then Guan Yu stopped and turned back. The archers in the gate shot their hardest; and though it was a long way off, one of them lodged an arrow in his left arm. He pulled it out with his teeth, but the blood streamed down as he rode toward Governor Han Qu. The men scattered. Guan Yu rode straight at his next victim. He raised his sword and made an oblique cut which sliced off the head and shoulder of Han Qu.
Then Guan Yu drove off the soldiers and returned to escort the carriage. He bound up his wound, and, fearing lest anyone might take advantage of his weakness, he made no long halts on the road but hurried toward River Si Pass.
The warden of this pass was Bian Xi of Bingzhou, a warrior whose weapon was a comet-hammer. He had been a Yellow Scarf and had gone over to Cao Cao, who had given him this post. As soon as he heard of the coming of the redoubtable Guan Yu, he cudgeled his brains for a ruse to use against him. He decided upon an ambush. In the State Guardian Temple at the pass he placed two hundred ax-men and swordsmen. He reckoned on enticing Guan Yu to the temple for refreshment, and when he let fall a cup as signal, the hidden ruffians would rush out.
All being thus arranged and ready, he went out to welcome Guan Yu in friendly guise, and Guan Yu dismounted at his coming. Bian Xi began very amiably.
"Your name, General, makes the very earth tremble, and everyone looks up to you. This return to the Imperial Uncle proves you to be noble and true."
Guan Yu in reply told him the story of the men he had slain in the last two passes.
Bian Xi replied, "You slew them; that is well. When I see the Prime Minister, I will explain to him the inner reasons for these acts."
Guan Yu thought he had found a friend and so mounted and rode through the pass. When he came to the temple, a number of priests came out to meet him with clanging bells.
This temple, named State Guardian Temple, had a courtyard in which the Emperor Ming had burned incense in the past. In the temple were thirty priests, and among these there happened to be one Pu Jing who came from the same village as Guan Yu. His religious name was Transverse Peace. Hearing who the visitor was, Transverse Peace came forward to speak with him.
"General," said Transverse Peace, "it is many a long year since you left Pudong."
"Yes," said Guan Yu, "nearly twenty years."
"Do you recognize this poor priest?"
"I left the village many years ago; I do not recognize you."
"My house and yours were only separated by a rivulet," said the priest.
Now Bian Xi, seeing Transverse Peace holding forth about village matters, thought Transverse Peace would blab about the ambush, so Bian Xi bade him be silent.
"I want to invite the General to a feast. You priest fellows seem to have a lot to say," said Bian Xi.
"Not too much," said Guan Yu. "Naturally when fellow villagers meet, they talk of old times."
Bian Xi invited the visitor into the guest room to take tea, but Guan Yu said, "The two ladies are out there in the carriage. They ought to have some first."
So the priest bade them take some tea to the ladies, and then he led Guan Yu within, at the same time lifting the priest knife which he wore at his side and looking meaningfully at Guan Yu. The latter understood and told his people to bring along his weapon and keep close at his side.
When Bian Xi invited Guan Yu to go into the Hall of the Laws for some refreshment, Guan Yu turned to him, saying, "Is this invitation with good intention or evil?"
Bian Xi was so taken aback that he could make no reply, and then Guan Yu saw that many armed men were concealed behind the arras.
Then Guan Yu shouted loudly at Bian Xi, saying, "What means this? I thought you an honorable man. How dare you?"
The traitor saw that his plot had failed and called to the assassins to come out and fall to, but Guan Yu had a short sword in his hand and slashed at anyone who came near. So they scattered. Their commander ran down the hall and tried to escape among the side buildings, but Guan Yu threw aside the short sword, took up the green-dragon saber and went after Bian Xi. The latter was trying to get into position to throw his comet-hammer, but Guan Yu cut the cord and the weapon was useless. Guan Yu followed Bian Xi in and out and soon caught up with him. Then with one blow Guan Yu cut him in halves.
The fight over, Guan Yu sought the two ladies, who were surrounded by soldiers. These fled at sight of the terrible warrior. Seeking out the priest, his fellow countryman, he thanked him for the timely warning which had saved him from death.
"I cannot remain here after this," said Transverse Peace. "I shall pack up my few garments and my alms bowl and take to the road, vague in my wanderings as the clouds in the sky. But we shall meet again and till then take care of yourself."
Then Guan Yu took leave and retook the road to Yingyang. The Governor of this city was named Wang Zhi, and he was related to Han Qu by their children's marriage. Hearing of the death of his relative, Wang Zhi set about a scheme to kill Guan Yu secretly. He sent soldiers to guard the city gates and, when he heard that Guan Yu approached, he went himself and received Guan Yu with a smiling countenance and bade Guan Yu welcome. Guan Yu told him the object of his journey.
"You, General, have been able to get some exercise on the road, but the ladies in their carriage must be cramped and fatigued. I pray you come into the city, and all of you remain the night in the official travelers' quarters. Tomorrow you can set forth again."
The offer was tempting, and his host seemed in earnest, so the two ladies went into the city, where they found everything very comfortably prepared for them. And, though Guan Yu declined the Governor's invitations to a banquet, refreshments for the travelers were sent to their lodgings. Guan Yu was fatigued from the trials of the journey, and as soon as the evening meal was over, he bade the ladies retire to rest while he sat down in the main room, quite alone, for he bade all to get repose while they could. His horse was given a good feed for once. He sat with his armor loosened in order to be more at ease.
Now Governor Wang Zhi had a general named Hu Ban to whom he had entrusted the arrangements for the destruction of his guest.
Said Wang Zhi, "This Guan Yu is a traitor to the Prime Minister and a fugitive. On the road he has murdered several Commanders of Passes and is guilty of serious crimes. But he is too strong and valiant for any ordinary soldier to overcome. So this evening you will lead a whole company of a thousand troops to surround his lodging, each one armed with a torch, and we will burn him. They will start the fire about midnight. Everyone of the party will perish. I will come with a force to stand by and assist if necessary."
These orders received, Hu Ban passed them on to the soldiers, who began secretly to prepare dry wood and other combustibles which they piled up at the gate of the rest house. Hu Ban thought within himself that he would like to know what manner of man was this Guan Yu, whose fame had spread so far, so he determined to get a peep at the guest. He went to the rest house and inquired where Guan Yu was.
"The General is the man in the main hall reading," was the reply.
Hu Ban noiselessly made his way to the outside of the room and peeped in. He saw the famous warrior stroking his beard with his left hand while he read by the light of a lamp placed on a low table. An involuntary exclamation of wonder escaped at the majesty of the figure.
"Really a god!" Hu Ban sighed.
"Who is there?" suddenly asked the reader at the sound.
Hu Ban entered and said, "I am Hu Ban, a general of the Governor."
"Surely you are the son of Hu Hua, who lives outside Xuchang," said Guan Yu.
"I am he," replied Hu Ban.
Then Guan Yu called up his followers and bade them look among the baggage for the letter, which they brought. Guan Yu handed it to the General.
Hu Ban read it and then breathed long, saying, "I very nearly caused the death of a good man."
Then he betrayed the whole plot, saying, "This Wang Zhi is a wicked man, who wanted to kill you. At this moment you are surrounded, and at the third watch they will set fire to this place. Now I will go and open the city gates while you hastily prepare for flight."
Guan Yu was greatly surprised, but he quickly buckled up his armor, got his steed ready, roused the two ladies, and put them into their carriage. Then they left the rest house; and as they passed out, they saw the soldiers all about them, each with a torch. The party hastened to the outskirts of the city and found the gate already open, and they lost no time in getting clear of the city. Hu Ban returned to give orders to fire the rest house.
The fugitives pressed on. But before long they saw lights coming up behind them, and Wang Zhi called out to them to stop.
Guan Yu reined in his horse and began to abuse him, crying, "Worthless fellow! What had you against me that you wished to burn me to death?"
Wang Zhi whipped up his steed and set his spear, but Guan Yu cut him through with the short sword he wore at his side and scattered his followers.
Then the carriage pushed on. Guan Yu's heart was filled with gratitude to Hu Ban.
When the party drew near Huazhou, someone told Liu Yue, who rode out to welcome him. Liu Yue had been once rescued by Guan Yu, who slew Yan Liang and Wen Chou and lifted the siege of the city.
Guan Yu did not dismount but bowed from horseback, saying, "Have you been quite well since we parted?"
"Whither are you going, Sir?" replied Liu Yue.
"I have left the Prime Minister and am on my way to find my brother."
"Liu Bei is with Yuan Shao, who is at enmity with the Prime Minister. How can you be allowed to go to him?" asked Liu Yue.
"That matter was settled long ago."
"The Yellow River Ferry is an important point and is guarded by a commander of Xiahou Dun. He will not let you cross."
"But suppose then you provide boats for me?"
"Though there are boats, I dare not give them to you."
"Well, formerly I slew Yan Liang and Wen Chou and saved you a grave danger. Now you refuse me a ferry boat!"
"I am afraid Xiahou Dun will know of it and make it a fault against me."
Guan Yu perceived that no help was to be expected from this man, so he pushed on and presently reached the ferry. There the Commander of the Guard, Qin Qi, came out to question him.
"I am one Guan Yu, Lord of Hanshou."
"Whither are you bound?"
"I go to the North of Yellow River to seek my brother, Liu Bei, and I respectfully ask you to grant me a passage over the river."
"Where is the authority of the Prime Minister?"
"I am not on a mission from the Prime Minister, so why should I have such an authority?"
"I have orders from my chief to guard the ferry, and you will not cross. Even if you grew wings, you should not fly over."
Guan Yu's choler arose.
"Do you know that I have been the death of all those who have hitherto tried to stop me?" said he.
"You have only slain a few officers of no rank or reputation; but you dare not kill me!"
"Where would you stand beside Yan Liang and Wen Chou?" asked Guan Yu.
Qin Qi grew angry, and he loosed his rein. Sword in hand, he came at a gallop. The two met, but in the first encounter Qin Qi's head was swept off by the terrible green-dragon saber.
"He who opposed me is dead! You others need not be afraid," cried Guan Yu. "Be quick and prepare me a boat."
The boat was soon at the landing, and the two women stepped on board, followed by Guan Yu. They crossed and were then in the country of Yuan Shao. In the course of his journey to this point, Guan Yu had forced five passes and slain six generals.
"I did not willingly slay a single one of them," mused Guan Yu as he rode along. "There was no help for it. Nevertheless when Cao Cao hears of it, he will regard me as ungrateful for his bounty."
Before long he saw a rider on the road who soon hailed him and proved to be Sun Qian.
"I have never heard a word from you since we lost sight of each other at Runan. How have you fared?" said Guan Yu.
"After your departure Liu Pi and Gong Du retook the city. I was sent by them to Yuan Shao to try to make peace with him and succeeded, so that Yuan Shao invited Liu Bei to go to him and share in the deliberations for a concerted attack on Cao Cao. But to my disgust the leaders of Yuan Shao's army showed great jealousy of each other so that Tian Feng got into gaol, Ju Shou was degraded, and others quarreled. Then Yuan Shao vacillated and hesitated, so that your brother and I consulted how we might get away from them all. Now the Uncle is at Runan with Liu Pi and, thinking you could not know that and might suffer some harm if you unwillingly went to Yuan Shao, I have come to warn you. It is good fortune to find you like this. Now we can hasten to Runan, and you will meet your brother."
Guan Yu took Sun Qian to make his bow to the ladies, who asked after his adventures, and Sun Qian said, "Uncle Liu Bei were nearly executed due to Yuan Shao's sudden bursts of anger after the deaths of Yan Liang and Wen Chou. Now, however, he is out of his way and safe at Runan, and you will meet him soon."
The ladies covered their faces and wept at the recital of his dangers. Then the party no longer traveled north but took the road toward Runan. Not long after a great cloud of dust was noticed behind them, and that presently made out a hundred of horsemen. These were led by Xiahou Dun, who shouted out to Guan Yu to stop.
How finally Guan Yu escaped death will appear in the succeeding chapter.
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