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the father of my consort to make away with the man, but the difficulty is that all the courtiers are his creatures and there is none whom I can trust save yourself. I desire you to convey this secret letter to Fu Wan. I know your loyalty and am sure you will prove no betrayer."
"I am the recipient of much graciousness for which not even death would prove my gratitude. Thy servant prays that he may be allowed to undertake this."
The letter was given to Mu Shun, who hid it in his hair, made his way out of the precincts and handed it to its owner. Fu Wan recognised the handwriting of his daughter and read it. Turning to the messenger he said, “You know the fellow's creatures are many, and one must act with extreme caution against him. Unless we have the aid of Sun Ch‘üan and Liu Pei's armies, Ts'ao Ts'ao will certainly attain his ends. In this matter we must gain the support of every loyal and faithful one in the court so that within and without there may be a simultaneous attack."
“Then, O father of the Empress, write a letter in reply asking for a secret edict, so that we may send to Wu and Shu to join in the attack."
So Fu Wan composed a reply, which he gave to Mu Shun to take into the palace. This time also the letter was concealed in his hair and was safely taken in.
But there was a traitor, and Ts'ao heard of the letters. So he waited at the palace gate for Mu Shun to come out.
"Where are you going ?” asked Ts'ao Ts'ao, when Mu appeared.
“The Empress is indisposed and has bidden me call a physician.”
"Where is the summons for the physician ?” “There is no summons.”
Ts'ao Ts'ao bade his men search Mu Shun, but they did not find the letter.
So he was allowed to go. But just then a gust of wind blew off his hat, and it struck Ts'ao that that had not been examined. So Mu Shun was called back. Nothing was found in the hat, but when it was given back Mu Shun put it on with both hands. There was something suspicious about the movement and Ts'ao bade the searchers examine his hair.
Therein the letter was found. Ts'ao Ts'ao read it; it said that Sun and Liu were to be induced to help. The unhappy Mu was taken away into a secret place and interrogated, but he would confess nothing.
That night three companies of soldiers surrounded the dwelling of Fu Wan, who was arrested with all his family. Searching the house they found the first letter in the handwriting of the Empress. Fu Wan and his family were then consigned to a gaol.
At dawn, a party of the Foresters, under Ch‘i Lü, bearing ensigns of authority, entered the palace with orders to take away the seal of the Empress. On the way they met the Emperor, who asked the reason for a company of armed men being in the palace.
“I have orders from Duke Wei to get the Empress's seal,” said Ch'i Lü.
As soon as the Empress knew of this she recognised her danger and hid herself in the hollow walls of her private apartments behind one of the ceremonial halls. She had not been long in hiding when one Hua Hsin, a president of a Board, with a company of men appeared and asked where she was. The palace people said they did not know. The red doors of the hall were burst open and Hua looked in, but he saw no lady there. It occurred to him where she might be hidden, and he ordered his men to break open the wall. With his own hands he laid hold of the lady's hair and dragged her forth.
"Spare my life!" pleaded she.
"You may say what you have to say to the Duke," cried he surlily.
She pulled down her hair and kicked off her shoes, but a couple of soldiers pushed her along in front of them outside.
It may be said here that this Hua had some reputation for learning He and two others, Ping Yüan and Kuan Ning, all good friends, made a little coterie which was known as "The Dragon.” Hua Hsin was the "head"; his two friends the “belly" and the "tail” respectively. One day Hua and Kuan were hoeing in their garden, when they turned up an ingot of silver. Kuan went on with his labours without giving a second glance at the find, but Hua picked it up. After regarding it a moment he threw it away again.
Another day Kuan and Hua were reading together when there arose a great shouting outside the window of the study. A lady from the palace was passing. Kuan took no notice, but kept his eyes on his book; Hua rose and went to the window. For this, Kuan Ning despised his companion and the two parted for good. Sometime after, Kuan Ning fled into Liaotung, where he led the life of hermit. He wore a white cap and lived in the upper part of a house, never touching the ground with his feet, He would have nothing to do with Ts'ao Tsʻao and would not enter his service.
But the unstable and inconstant Hua Hsin led a totally different life. For a time he was with Sun Ch'uan; then he went over to Ts'ao Ts'ao and served him. And here he is found actually laying hands upon the Empress. His conduct in this particular is the subject of a poem :
'Twas a dastardly thing that Hua Hsin did, When he broke down the wall where the Empress hid
And dragged her forth by the hair.
He lent his aid to a foul, foul crime
Have been, and shall be, his share.
East of the Liao, so stories tell't
The hermit's simple life was best. As Hua Hsin hurried the unhappy woman out of the hall the Emperor saw her. He went over and clasped her to his bosom, weeping. Hua Hsin tried to force her onward, saying he had orders from Duke Wei.
“My doom is sealed," wept the Empress.
“And I know not when my turn will come,” sighed the Emperor.
The soldiers hustled the Empress onward, leaving His Majesty beating his breast in despair.
"Can it be that such things happen in the world ?" cried the Emperor to Ch'i Lü, who stood by.
And he swooned. Ch'i Lü made the courtiers pick him up, and they bore him into the palace.
Meanwhile, the unhappy Empress had been taken before Ts'ao Ts'ao.
“I have dealt well with you and yours," said he angrily, "and you requited me by plotting my murder. It is the death of one of us, I see.”
He ordered the executioners to beat her till she died. After this, he went into the palace, seized her two sons and had them poisoned. In the evening of the same day the whole household of Mu Shun were put to death publicly. Such terrible deeds spread terror everywhere. They happened in the late autumn of the year 211 A.D.
As Ts'ao stands first in cruelty,
Had not been torn apart by fate. The Emperor grieved bitterly over the loss of his consort, and in his despair refused all food. Ts'ao Ts'ao did not wish him to die of starvation and loneliness, so he proposed his own daughter as consort.
"Be not sad," said he, “thy servant is no rebel. My daughter is already in your palace as a secondary lady. She is wise and dutiful, fit to be your consort and occupy the first rank."
The Emperor Hsien dared not refuse, and therefore at the new year, in the time of the festivities, her name was inscribed on the dynastic rolls as Empress. And no one of the courtiers dared protest.
Wherefore Ts'ao Ts'ao became even more powerful. But it pleased him not to have rivals in the land, so he again thought of subduing Liu Pei and Sun Ch'üan. Chia Hsü proposed that Hsiahou Tun and Ts'ao Jên, who had served on the frontiers, should be called to give their advice. They were sent for, and Tsʻao Jên was the first to arrive. As a relative he felt he had the right to see the great minister without delay and went direct to the palace.
But it happened that Ts'ao Ts'ao had been drinking heavily, and his faithful henchman, Hsü Ch‘u, would not admit the new arrival.
“I am of the family,” said Ts'ao Jên, angry at the hindrance. “Dare you stop me?"
“General, you may be a relative, but here you are but an officer from the frontier. I am of little account, but a duty lies on me here in the palace. Our lord is overcome with wine and asleep, and I dare not allow you to enter.”
The refusal came to Ts'ao Ts'ao's knowledge, and he commended the loyalty of his servant.
Soon after, Hsiahou Tun came and was called to the council, and gave his opinion that the two rivals should be left until Chang Lu of Hanchung had been subdued. The army that could overcome him would be in condition to attack Shu, and it would be conquered without difficulty. The advice coincided with Ts'ao Ts'ao's own idea, and so he prepared an expedition for the west.
By a dastard crime he showed his power over a feeble king;
This done, at once he hastened to destroy his neighbour. What happened will be told in later chapters.
Ts'Ao Ts'Ao CONQUERS HANCHUNG;
expedition against Hanchung went out in three divisions, with Hsiahou Yüan as leader of the van, Ts'ao Ts'ao in command of the centre and Tsʻao Jên bringing up the rear.
Hsiahou Tun was in charge of the commissariat. The spies soon carried the news into Hanchung, and Chang Lu called in his brother Wei to consult how to meet the attack.
Said Wei, “The strategical point to hold is Yangpʻing Pass, and there should be half a score of stockades there with the forest to support them. You, my brother, should make your dépôt of supplies at Hanning.
Thereupon two captains, Yang Ang and Yang Jên, were sent with Chang Wei to the Pass, and they built the stockades. Soon the vanguard of the enemy arrived and camped at a point fifteen li away. The soldiers were fatigued after the long march, and all lay down to rest without placing proper guards. Suddenly the camp was attacked in the rear by the two Yangs from different points. Hsiahou Yüan and Chang Ho mounted quickly and tried to beat off the attackers, but the enemy poured in all round, and Ts'ao's men suffered great loss. They returned to the main body to tell of their defeat, and their chief abused them for their want of care.
“Old soldiers like you should have known better and taken precautions against a raid of the camp when the enemy knew your men were exhausted by a long march."
He even desired to put them to death as a warning, but their fellow-officers interceded and he spared them. Soon Ts'ao himself marched in the van. Then he saw the dangerous and evil nature of the place, with its thick growth of trees, and as he knew nothing of the roads and was fearful of an ambush he returned to his camp.
Calling up his two henchmen, Hsü Ch‘u and Hsü Huang, he said, “Had I known the dangerous nature of the place I would never have come.'
Hsü Ch'u replied, "The soldiers are here now, my lord, and you cannot recoil before the hardships."
Next day Tsʻao Tséao with only his two guards rode out to reconnoitre the enemy's camp. As they rode over the hills Ts'ao Ts'ao pointed out the position with his whip and said, “It will be very difficult to reduce a place as strong as this.”