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As the late commander had directed, no one wailed his death. His body was placed in the coffer as he had wished, and three hundred of his near comrades were appointed to watch it.
Secret orders were given to Wei Yen to command the rear-guard, and then, one by one, the camps were broken up and the army began its homeward march.
Ssúma I watched the skies. One night a large red star with bright rays passed from the north-east to the south-west and dropped over the camps of Shu. It dipped thrice and rose again. Ssúma heard also a low rumbling in the distance. He was pleased and excited, and said to those about him, “Kʻung-ming is dead.”
At once he ordered pursuit with a strong force. But just as he passed the camp gates doubts filled his mind and he gave up the plan.
“K‘ung-ming is a master of mysteries, and it may be that this is but a ruse to get us to take the field. We may fall victims to his guile.”
So he halted. But he sent Hsiahou Pa with a few scouts to reconnoitre the enemy's camps.
One night as Wei Yen lay asleep in his tent he dreamed a dream. In his vision two horns grew out of his head. When he awoke he was much perplexed to explain his dream. A certain Expeditionary Ssă-ma, Chao Chih, came to see him, and Wei Yen said, "You are versed in mysteries. I have dreamed that two horns grew upon my head, and would trouble you to expound the dream and tell me its portent."
His visitor thought a moment and replied, "It is an avspicious dream. There are horns on the head of the chilin and the dragon. It augurs transformation into an ascending creature.”
Wei Yen, much pleased, thanked the interpreter of his dream and promised him gifts when the dream proved true.
Chao Chih left and presently met Fei I, who asked whence he came.
“From the camp of our friend Wei Yen. He dreamed that he grew horns upon his head, and I have given him an auspicious interpretation. But really it is inauspicious. However, I did not wish to annoy him.
“How do you know it is inauspicious ?”
"The word for horn is composed of two parts, 'knife' above and 'use' below, and so means that there is a knife upon his head. It is a terrible omen."
"Keep it secret," said Fei.
Then Fei I went to the camp of Wei Yen, and when they were alone, he said, "The minister died last night in the third watch. He left certain final orders, and among them, that you are to command the rear-guard to keep Ssúma at bay
while the army retreats. No mourning is to be worn. Here is your authority, so you can march forthwith.
“Who is acting in place of the late minister ?” asked Wei.
“The chief command has been delegated to Yang I, but the secret plans of campaign have been entrusted to Chiang Wei. This authority issues from him."
Wei replied, “Though the minister is dead, I am yet alive. Yang is only a civil officer and unequal to this post. He ought to conduct the coffin home while I lead the army against Ssúma I. I shall achieve success, and it is wrong to abandon a whole plan of campaign because of the death of one man, even if that be the Prime Minister.'
"His orders were to retire, and these orders are to be obeyed."
"If the late minister had listened to me we should now have been at Ch‘angan. I am the senior general and of high rank. I am not going to act as rear-guard for any civil official."
“It may be as you say, General, but you must not do anything to make us ridiculous. Let me go back to Yang I and explain, and I may be able to persuade him to pass on to you the supreme military authority he holds."
Wei Yen agreed, and the visitor went back to the main camp and told Yang I what had passed.
Yang replied, “When near death_the minister confided to me that Wei would turn traitor. I sent him the authority to test him, and now he has discovered himself as the minister foretold. So I will direct Chiang Wei to command the rear
The coffer containing the remains of Kʻung-ming was sent on in advance, and Chiang Wei took up his post to cover the retreat. Meanwhile Wei Yen sat in his tent waiting for the return of Fei I and was perplexed at the delay. When the suspense became unbearable he sent Ma Tai to find out the reason. Ma returned and told him that Chiang Wei was covering the retreat and that most of the army had already gone.
Wei Yen was furious. "How dare he play with me, the pedantic blockhead ?” cried he. “But he shall die for this. Will you help me?" said he, turning to Ma Tai.
Ma replied, “I have long hated him; certainly I am ready to attack him.”
So Wei Yen broke camp and marched southward.
By the time Hsiahou Pa had reached the Shu camps they were all empty, and he hastened back with this news.
“Then he is really dead; let us pursue,” said Ssúma I, much irritated at being misled.
"Be cautious," said Hsiahou. "Send an inferior leader first.'
"No; I must go myself this time.'
So Ssuma and his two lieutenants hastened to the Wuchang Plain. With shouts and waving flags, they rushed into the camps, only to find them quite deserted. Telling his lieutenants to bring up the remaining force with all speed, Ssúma hastened in the wake of the retreating army. Coming to some hills, he saw them in the distance and pressed on still harder. Then suddenly a bomb exploded, a great shout broke the stillness, and the retiring army turned about and came toward him, ready for battle. In their midst fluttered a great banner bearing the words, “Prime Minister of Han, Marquis of Wuhsiang, Chuko Liang."
Ssúma I stopped, pale with fear. Then out from the army came some score of captains of rank, and they were escorting a small carriage, in which sat K‘ung-ming as he had always appeared, in his hand the feather fan.
“Then he is still alive!” gasped Ssŭma. “And I have rashly placed myself in his power.”
As he pulled round his horse to flee, Chiang Wei shouted, “Do not try to run away, O rebel; you have fallen into one of the minister's traps and had better stay."
The soldiers, seized with panic, fled, throwing off all their gear. They trampled each other down, and many perished. Their leader galloped fifty li without pulling rein. When at last two of his captains came up with him, and had stopped his flying steed by catching at the bridle, Ssúma clapped his hand to his head, crying, "Have I still a head?”
"Do not fear, General, the soldiers of Shu are now far away," they replied.
But he still panted with fear, and only after some time did he recognise that his two companions were Hsiahou Pa and Hsiahou Hui.
The three found their way by by-roads to their own camp, whence scouts were sent out in all directions. In few days the natives brought news that the Shu army had really gone, and they said further that as soon as the retiring army had entered the valley they had raised a wailing for the dead and hoisted white flags. They also said that Kʻung-ming was really dead, and Chiang Wei's rear-guard consisted of only one company. The figure in the carriage was only a wooden image of the minister.
“While he lived I could guess what he would do; dead, I was helpless," said Ssŭma.
The people had a saying that a dead Chuko was enough to scare off a live Ssŭma.
In the depth of night a brilliant star
And even now the western men,
It was nearly lost to-day.” Now indeed Ssúma knew that his great rival was no more, so he retook the pursuit. But he never came up with the Shu army. As he took the homeward road he said to his officers, "We can now sleep in comfort.”
As they marched back they saw the camps of their enemies, and were amazed at their skilful arrangement.
"Truly a wonderful genius?” sighed Ssŭma.
The armies of Wei returned to Ch‘angan; leaving officers to guard the various strategical points. Ssúma himself went on to the capital.
Yang I and Chiang Wei retired slowly and in good order till they neared the Tsanko road, when they donned mourning garb and began to wail for their dead. The soldiers threw themselves on the ground and wailed in sorrow. Some even wailed themselves to death.
But as the leading companies entered upon the Tsanko road they saw a great blaze in front, and, with a great shout, a cohort came out barring the way. The leaders were taken aback and sent to inform the general.
The regiments of Wei are nowhere near,
Then who are these soldiers that now appear? The next chapter will tell who they were.
THE PLAN OF THE SILKEN BAG;
THE BRONZE STATUE WITH THE DEW BOWL. Yang I sent forward a man to find out what force this was that stood in his way, and the scout returned to say they were soldiers of Shu led by Wei Yen. Wei had burned the wooden roads and now barred the way.
Then said Yang, “Just before his death the late minister foretold that this man would one day turn traitor, and here it has come to pass. I did not expect to meet it thus, but now our road of retreat is cut, and what is to be done?”
Then replied Fei I, "He certainly has slandered us to the Emperor and said that we were rebelling, and therefore he has destroyed the wooden roads in order to prevent our progress. First, therefore, we must memorialise the truth about him and then plan his destruction."
Chiang Wei said, "I know a by-way hereabout that will lead us round to the rear of these covered roads. True it is precipitous and dangerous, but it will take us to our destination. It is called the Ch'ashan Path."
So they prepared a memorial and turned off in order to follow the narrow mountain road.
Meanwhile the King of Shu was troubled; he lost his appetite and was sleepless. Then he dreamed that the hill that protected his capital was riven and fell. This dream troubled him till morning, when he called in his officers of all ranks to ask them to interpret his vision.
When he had related his dream, Ch'iao Chou stood forth and said, "I saw a large red star fall yesternight; surely it forebodes a misfortune to the king or to his First Minister. Your Majesty's dream corresponds to what I saw."
The king's anxiety increased. Presently Li Fu returned and was summoned into the king's presence. He bowed his head and wept, saying, "The Prime Minister is dead."
He repeated Chuko's last messages and told all that he knew. The king was overcome with great sorrow, and wailed, crying, "Heaven smites me!” and he fell over and lay upon his couch. They led him within to the inner chambers, and when his Consort heard the sad tidings she also wailed without ceasing. And all the officers were distressed and wept, and the common people showed their grief.