Chapter 39

Viceroy Wen Listens to a Song and Employs Ma Sui

Li Yugeng's Blunt Words Anger Wang Ze

A scholar's study is an oven in the summer heat
And so a few bamboo plants are a real cooling treat.

After sleeping until noon with nothing else to do
Hear people clap as sorcery's demise comes into view.

Now, Viceroy Wen had been unable to sleep and so he left his bed and went for a walk just before three in the morning. He was prowling around the silent camp when he heard the faint sound of a song. He looked up to see that it was coming from a young soldier, a drummer of the watch detail striking the board with his bamboo rod and singing a ditty that went like this:

"We hate you sorcerers who are so very coarse and bold
No respect for Court or regulations do you hold.

Since you began this drama in the walls of Beizhou town
So many common folks' and soldiers' lives have been cut down.

You act as if you were the only person in the land
But now you've brought a hundred thousand men to make a stand.

To put on swords and armour far away from home and farm
To fill our days with every sort of danger and of harm.

We soldiers of the watch patrol just drum away the hours
Wandering the whole night through in gale and in showers.

Shouting slogans and commands while marking time as well
We bear so many sufferings too pitiful to tell!

In future waits the King of Hell for us with open arms
We who were born and raised like you in cities and on farms.

And on the day when victory is finally to be won
They reckon that the greater part was by the General done.

His officers in lesser part receive their credit too.
But what is there for soldiers when the fighting's finally through?

Just their swords and shields all piled up in in tangled stacks
Then off they go with just what they can carry on their backs.

Pressganged into service are the private soldiers all
Your name is picked and so you're simply summoned at the call.

Be you as wise or bright as men like Zhang Liang or Han Xin
There still is no escaping from conscription to be seen!

Viceroys Wen and Cao just laugh at death upon the field
Two famous conquerors who now such awesome powers wield.

Who have they now conquered, then?
And with how many men?

Our eyes agleam with city wall in hand
Then out comes terror from that magic band!

When will peace be had?
How sad, how sad!

I'm just a private soldier and just three things make me glad

To see men do their duties and advance with loyalty
And then to hold onto their ground and fight decisively.

How sad, how sad
When will peace be had?

If our leader built an altar and then worshipped like Xiao He
We'd give our loyal hearts and souls to serve the Emperor!"

Viceroy Wen listened and understood. He then brought the soldier to his tent and summoned his confidants.

"Out in the stillness of the night I heard the drummer of the watch approaching, and I have something to say," he announced. He then called the young man before him.

"A little while ago you spoke of Zhang Liang's wisdom and Han Xin's talent. That was you out there singing, wasn't it?"

The soldier dropped to his knees and kowtowed. "My mouth was wild and impudent!" he pleaded. "I didn't know that your excellency was listening. I deserve to die!"

"Don't worry about it!" said the Viceroy. "The very reason why we have no overall plan for taking the city lies in the sort of men we are using. Soldier, what three things do you value most? If you can tell us all it'll be worth my building an altar and worshipping you, hard as it might be!"

"Not to brag, sir," said the soldier, "but I can cut off Wang Ze's head and deliver it to you!"

Viceroy Wen lifted his hands in surprise. "What sort of plan have you got?" he asked. "How can it be so easy?"

"Although I haven't told you until now, Commander, I grew up in the same village as Wang Ze and we were classmates from the first day of school. We were as tight as brothers!"

Now, this soldier was a native of Beizhou and his dealings with Wang Ze were of the closest sort. He had followed a distant uncle to work as a peddler in Kaifeng, but they lost all their money and the uncle died, leaving the boy down and out in the capital, with only the army to turn to.

"What's your name?" asked Viceroy Wen

"It's Ma Sui, sir!" replied the trooper.

Wen was delighted to hear that. "I suppose this fellow too must be a fulfillment of the Many Eyed Spirit's prophesy!" he thought, smiling. "Now tell me something about this plan of yours, young man!" he said.

Ma Sui walked right up to Viceroy Wen's side and whispered in his ear. "However I go and whatever I do," he vowed, "I shall have Wang's head!"

"The day that you return in success I shall earnestly recommend you for official service, with so many opportunities to advance! Now don't go leaking any of this to people!"

Ma Sui saluted and quickly left the tent, returning to watch duty with his heart at ease.

At daybreak the next day Viceroy Wen appeared before his command tent. The commanding officers paid their respects and saluted before lining up on both sides. After he had discussed the routine military matters of the day the Viceroy told his aides to summon the soldier of the third watch from the night before. Before long Ma Sui was escorted forth by aides left and right and delived up to kowtow before the command tent.

"Are you indeed the same man who sang that bitter song while drumming the third watch early this morning?" asked Viceroy Wen.

"Please, excellency!" pleaded the soldier, trembling. "It was only a little distraction to keep from falling asleep and missing the stroke of the hour, and not a bitter song!"

The Viceroy was greatly angered. "You sing about being taken from your village, wandering in storms and getting punished but never credited for anything? If that isn't bitterness, what is? Why, this kid just dreamt up those wild slanders about army life to break our mens' morale and insult our service! It's fitting to behead him!" he thundered.

He then called for the executioner to report to the site and to stand by for further orders.

"Please, sir!" pleaded the soldier. "Pardon my crime and I'll go and bring down Wang Ze!"

The Viceroy ordered the man brought up to him. "What kind of wild talk is that?" he barked. "What can you of all people do to cause Wang Ze's downfall?"

"Wang Ze and I were once really close friends. Now that the rebels have lost battle after battle and are holed up in Beizhou, starving and in peril, I'm sure I'll be able to sweet-talk him into surrendering."

"I'm going to write a letter now," said Viceroy Wen, "and you are going to deliver it to Wang Ze. If he surrenders I'll give you the credit and the reward due you. But death awaits you if it goes otherwise!"

Wen Yanbo wrote the letter, sealed it and handed it over to Ma Sui who hurried away from the tent and over to the foot of the Beizhou city wall.

"You, up there!" he shouted, standing at the edge of the moat. "I've got a very secret matter to report to Wang Ze so please open the gate and let me enter!"

The soldiers on the wall reported his arrival to the gatekeepers who opened the entrance and rowed a small boat across to ferry Ma Sui to the inner bank. There he had to be searched carefully for weapons. When they saw that he bore a document from Viceroy Wen they all assumed that it was yet another ultimatum, and so they brought him under guard to see Wang Ze.

"It's been awhile!" said Wang as he recognized Ma Sui as his old hometown chum. "And to think, all this time you've been in Wen Yanbo's army. How did you of all people ever get picked to come see me today?"

"King!" said Ma Sui. "I had no idea of coming to see your majesty, but my lack of brains got me into real danger in the army. It all started last night when I was ordered to patrol and drum the third watch. I was afraid of falling asleep on duty and so I sang a little ditty. Viceroy Wen accused me of subverting the men's morale and fomenting revolt and he wanted to behead me, but fortunately I had the presence of mind to tell him that I knew of a way to bring you down, oh king, and he believed me. He then wrote this letter in his own hand and ordered me to deliver it. Fool that I am I told him I understood and then came right here to follow you as my king. I know the real weaknesses and strengths of the government forces in detail. Please, your majesty, take me under your wing as a soldier and save me from a dog's fate!"

He then passed Wang Ze the the letter from Viceroy Wen. Upon seeing that it was mostly full of exaggerations he ripped it to shreds and instructed Ma Sui to change clothes. Wang then sat with him in an ajoining room.

"Your majesty!" said Ma Sui. "You're the chief of thirty-six districts, yet you suffer a fool like me and consider me worthy of riding with your cavalry? How can you dare to be so kind and trusting?"

"You and I are from the same hometown, and sworn brothers at that," said Wang Ze. "It's different between us than with others."

Ma Sui finally felt free to sit down. Wang Ze called for wine, and drank with his old childhood friend while listening to his report on the actual strength of Viceroy Wen's army.

"Wen Yanbo's army has got just fifty thousand troops although he boasts of a hundred thousand," said Ma. In the past days he fought a few battles and lost more than ten thousand, and so he has assembled some old men and weak conscripts along with the walking wounded over at Fujiatuan under command of Ming Hao, no more than thirty thousand as of now. And yesterday I heard that they've got only enough horse feed to last about ten days. If you can do your best to hold the city for just a few more days Viceroy Wen's army will leave without any more fighting."

Wang Ze was totally delighted to hear what Ma Sui had to say. They then drank straight through until late night.

"I still remember when we were growing up together in the village, how we would all practice writing those spontaneous poems to each other in the village schoolroom," blurbered Wang Ze sentimentally. "As I loved training at arms I never really joined the literary clique. But now on meeting a friend from the past I feel I can dash off a poem to express my secret thoughts!"

"I've been simpleminded and uninformed since childhood, replied Ma. "I always followed in your steps, your majesty, but I could never keep up with you until, somehow, today. Please, great king, go first and I'll just do my best to imitate you!"

Wang Ze called out for the tools of the writer's craft, and with a good drunk on wrote four lines:

Trade a soldier's uniform for feudal prince's gown
Convince six thousand men that you're the hero of the town.

Not till the enemy is broken on that winning day
Dare I show weakness in attack or hold my flags at bay!

"Your majesty's composition was so marvelous and deeply moving!" said Ma Sui. "I'm not sure I can dare to match it!"

"And I heartily encourage you to give it your best, by all means!" replied Wang as if mocking a village schoolteacher's styled speech. "There's nothing like a spot of scholarship to help pass the time!"

Ma Sui then penned the following four lines modelled on the preceeding rhyme:

It's often said true friendship is so rarely to be found
How lucky to have met the most outstanding man around!

I'll be your loyal helper in the ranks behind your back
Ordering our sea of flags and banners to attack!

"How beautiful the idea," laughed Wang Ze heartily, "unlike the body of the poem!"

The two men drank themselves senseless and went their seperate ways.

The next day Ma Sui came around in appreciation, to learn that Wang Ze had granted him a title as Lord Commander of the Palace Guard, and from then on he lived in the royal palace along with Zhang Qi, often discussing the issues of the day with him. Now, all along Ma Sui really had intended to kill Wang Ze but he had not yet had a chance to do the deed. Then suddenly one night he was drinking with Zhang Qi and the discussion rolled around to forgotten friendships and loves.

"I've heard that all of the king's inner circle are versed in Dao," said Ma Sui, quite off the topic. "What miracles can you perform, brother Zhang?"

Zhang Qi then told him all about the origins and marveloususes of that little gourd vial of water and fire of his. Knowing that Zhang was drunk, Ma Sui decided to beg him for a look at it. Zhang Qi lifted the front of his gown, exposing the undergarment next to his sweaty flesh with a silk chord around it, and tied to that chord was a small gourd medicine vial. He held the tiny container up for Ma Sui to see but would not let go of it.

Having looked it over Ma just went on plying Zhang Qi with drink deep into the night until the general fell asleep right there in the same room. Finally at about midnight Ma intentionally tried to shake him awake, but Zhang Qi just remained in the hot embrace of his drunken sleep. Ma Sui only wanted to remove that instrument of Dao from its chord but upon seeing it tied very tightly he feared startling Zhang awake. So he simply took out a tiny leather sack of fouled blood and garlic that he'd secreted on his body, lifted that gourd ever so lightly and poured several drops of the stinking liquid into its mouth before putting everything back as before. On arising the next morning Zhang Qi remembered nothing at all. Truly, a happy affair turns into a sad one as a man with a purpose confronts a man with none, and that's all there is to it.

Getting back to our story, many hours after having seen Ma Sui off on his mission there were still no signs of any activity and so Viceroy Wen ordered his four generals to move out with their respective armies and attack the city. Sun Fu assaulted the West Gate, Dong Zhong struck at the East Gate, Liu Chunsheng the South and Liu Yanwei at the North. One by one they entered the city and fought furiously, with the beating of drums and frenzied shouts of men at war.

Wang Ze quickly summoned his men for a discussion of the crisis. Quezi had drunk himself unconscious and couldn't be roused, but the others all climbed up on the wall outside of the chamber for a look around. They sent for Holy Auntie and saw to it that Hu Yong'r was informed as well. Wang Ze then turned to Ma Sui.

"You said that Viceroy Wen was short of men!" he blurted. "How is it that he's attacking the city yet again?"

"He's got only a few days' horsefeed left," replied Ma confidently, "so he's combining all his forces in one attack while he still can!Considering that your majesty has already lost an entire division you should certainly not send out troops to engage them. If you go ahead regardless they're sure to be smashed, leading to more security problems and forcing us into total retreat."

Ma Sui's intention was to goad one of the sorcerers at Wang's side into sticking his neck out and stepping forward, as they were all eager to glorify themselves. Wang Ze ignored his advice.

"Which one of you dares charge into the enemy?" he asked.

Now, Zhang Qi had his magic flask of water and fire to rely on and was the most confident of the group so he stepped boldiy forward.

"Sun Fu will fall to me!" he promised. "I know I can foil his tricks so allow me to take my men and engage him at the West Gate!" And off he galloped into battle.

"One more of you must try!" snapped Wang Ze, looking at the frightened Wu Wahng who had not wanted to go but could now do nothing but accept orders and swiftly go off to war. Wang Ze mounted the wall atop the West Gate and observed the battle perched upon a swing suspended beneath a wooden scaffold.

As it happened, government vanguard leader Sun Fu was just marshalling his minions in the attack on the city when what should he see through the open gate but a proud rebel army charging right at him! He hurriedly withdrew his troops and stood off just outside the city, spears and horses at the ready, just awaiting another round of slaughter. Now, Zhang Qi carried no weapons but galloped forth with only that little vial in his hands, chanting the spirit fire charm and pointing its mouth at the government forces as he closed in on them, finally shouting "Live!" Nothing came forth from the magic flask and as he got closer and closer he chanted the holy charm once more and ever so deperately pleaded "Live!....come alive, now!" He shook the little gourd a few times as he rode and seeing it empty he looked inside, and only then did he smell the fouled blood and garlic and finally realise that the magic had been broken. He turned his horse round and fled with Sun Fu in hot pursuit.

Now, although Wang Ze and Hu Yong'r were husband and wife he had learnt only two charms from her: one for halting and forbidding people and one for disappearing and concealing. If the halting charm were to be used even a thousand-man army galloping at top speed would be halted in its steps, immobilized until released from the spell some time later. When Wang Ze saw Zhang Qi defeated and being chased by an army he wanted to use the halting charm against the pursuers. Ma Sui was standing by his side, looking at the many swords and axes lying about.

"If not now, when?" he thought. He considered picking up one of the swords but was afraid of being spotted by the others. And so he clenched his fists tightly and when the moment came he struck fast, hard and repeatedly. Before Wang Ze could finish mumbling that charm he was savagely pummelled right in the mouth by Ma Sui, who knocked out his two front teeth and split his lip, sending him falling to the ground. But as Ma was snatching up one of the discarded knives to finish him off, a trusted rebel general standing there by the name of Shi Qing quickly pulled a knife out of his belt and stabbed Ma in the arm. Everyone then seized Ma Sui and saved Wang Ze. Furious, he ordered all to extract his revenge.

"Armed with only my hands I couldn't very well cut off your sorcerer rebel head and save the masses from your further harm!" Ma Sui cried out. "May you be killed by demons ten thousand times over for my one death!"

They then led Ma Sui off to the executioner's block, and here is a poem:

See how the fire and water in the flask had turned to naught
And how the toothless sorcerer with rage was over wrought.

If you would laugh at such a swordsman as Xing Qing of Wei
Recall how even Qin Shihuang could only run away!

When Zhang Qi reached the drawbridge his troops surged forward fleeing for their lives in panic and the span collapsed under the weight of their stampede. Then Sun Fu's troops caught with them, and Zhang Qi fled along the edge of the moat until his horse became mired in a muddy spot. Its front legs buckled and he was hit by on of Sun Fu's pursuing men who picked him right off of his horse and into the water with a spear in his back. Poor Zhang Qi, who had once earned his living selling meat and was so unsatisfied with the duties of everyday life, had on this day had become a ghost in the water. Sun Fu ordered some soldiers to recover the body with grappling hooks and then cut off his head for presentation as tribute in the main command tent. As for Wu Wahng he had found the bridge destroyed and withdrew his troops, never even getting out of the city wall.

Now, the news got all round that Ma Sui had split Wang Ze's lip. When Holy Auntie and Hu Yong'r saw the king's appearance and heard of Zhang Qi's death and beheading it was enough to make them hate Ma Sui deeply. They quickly summoned bearers to transport Wang Ze to his usurper's royal palace and called a physician to treat his injuries. Now, by the time Zuo Chu awakwened from his drunken sleep and heard what had happened peace and quiet had already returned. Hu Yong'r buried the full force of her anger into Quezi, accusing him of drunken negligence.

"It isn't my lip that's split!" he guffawed. "Why shouldn't I have got drunk?"

"This is no laughing matter!" scolded Hu Yong'r. "The way their attacks are intensifying we've got to come up with a long term plan to kill one or two of their top generals, and only then will they withdraw."

"He must have someone that can counteract our secret formulas!" concluded Holy Auntie. "Rather than do nothing and wait we'd better try the Wulong charm for killing generals. This magic code is extremely difficult to break, and here's what the "Book of Heaven's Blessings" has to say about it: 'this is a most awful charm, absolutely never to be lightly employed, and its use will certainly cause an unforseable disaster in the future.' And even that doesn't really tell it all."

Now, this magic had been wrought back at the old Six Icons of Buddha Altar in the woods during those seven thousand seven hundred and forty-nine days of alchemical prayer and holy metallurgy, when they forged a ghost-headed blade known as the "Divine Sword" that could obey a whistle and leap about on its own. It lay in a stone box beneath shallow water, and as long as it was submerged it would not activate due to the interaction of the qi of water and metal. When in danger, however, one should write three times in cinnabar the magic command charm for the general's execution, along with the full name of the condemmed, and then burn it together with an all black male puppy. Recite the charm for beheading the general three times and then face westward to breath in the qi of metal, and whatever the circumstances of the condemmed person at the moment the sword will find and savagely behead him and all the dogs around as well. And then it will once again descend into the shallows. If one should burn an army unit's register as well, even if there were a hundred thousand men in it their heads would all roll. This is why it is considered the most fearsome and awful sort of trick.

When Holy Auntie, Zuo Chu and Bonze Dan had originally forged those charms in the flames of alchemy they considered this to be the most terrible one of all and they wrought only a single sword, which they stored in a pool at the summit of Mt Tianzhu. (Probably refers to that in Anhui, where Han Wudi reconsecrated the Western Han dynasty, NPS) Holy Auntie wished to go and retrieve it to behead the Viceroys Wen and Cao and their illustrious generals.

Zuo Chu and Hu Yong'r were delighted. "It's got to be like that!" they exclaimed. "There's no other way out!"

Holy Auntie then flew off to recover the sword. Zuo Chu and Wu Wahng went together to patrol the wall and secure the city's defenses while Hu Yong'r enjoyed herself in the fake royal palace.

Wang Ze was miserable in his agony; unable to chew, he could not take any food. Now, there was a certain musician and impersonator that he was very fond of, by the name of Li Yugeng. He could play the pipa so very well and sing fine songs as well as perform hilarious comedy. Wang Ze called for him to come and dispell his gloom. However, when Li Yugeng appeared before him that day he neither played the pipa nor sang but just sat in silence.

"Li Yugeng!" shouted Wang. "Why the silence? Is there something troubling you?"

"If you are troubled, your majesty, how can I, your subject, not be troubled as well?" replied Li. "Majesty, you and I both have our private lives. Your majesty has been relying entirely on a few people who have established sorcery and carry out strange and terrible magic. Now Teacher of the Realm Bonze Dan is gone, Prime Minister Zhang Ying and General Pu Ji have fled, Ren Qian has been captured, Zhang Qi is dead and Holy Auntie has flown off looking for more trouble. And here we are in a city under seige, with more and more troops building up daily outside our walls just building strength to attack us. In two days' time, perhaps as early as tomorrow we'll all be caught up by them. We have some very real worries ahead of us."

"What exactly do you mean to say?" asked Wang Ze.

"You must surrender as early as possible and turn this disaster into a blessing!"

"You insolent punk!" screamed Wang Ze. "How dare you show such disrespect and talk back to me with your brazen slanders, demeaning my throne!" He then called for his guards to seize Li Yugeng, which they did at once. "Bind his hands and feet and tie him to the tail of a battle rocket!" shouted Wang. "Fire him out over the city wall so that he gets pounded and ground into mincemeat and gravy!"

The king's men tied Li Yugeng to the tail vane of a huge rocket and launched it, and in one loud "whoosh" of the rocket's exhaust he disappeared over the wall. Really:

When wine and knowledge meet a thousand cups will never do
But to keep a secret just one word is not too few.

For what Li Yugeng's destiny will finally bring about, read through the closing chapter and you'll certainly find out.

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