Cao Cao paid no heed, urging his horse forward.
But he suddenly drew his sword and rode back after Lu Boshe.
“Who is that coming along？” called Cao Cao.
Lu Boshe turned and looked back, and Cao Cao at the same instant cut Lu Boshe down.
Chen Gong was frightened.
“We were wrong enough before,” cried Chen Gong. “What now is this？”
“When he got home and saw his family killed, think you he would bear it patiently？ If he had raised an alarm and followed us, we should have been killed.”
“To kill deliberately is very wrong,” said Chen Gong.
[e] Karl, a reader： “True, true…… [Cao Cao] has to do what he can to preserve the life of his saviour [Chen Gong], and continue the grand task, which is much more important than the lives of a few friends of his father. More lives will be lost in affairs of the state. Cao Cao is realistic, logical. Throughout the story, he just demonstrates the most appropriate path, for the grander purposes.” ……
[e] Matteo, a reader： “I think that Cao Cao is the Machiavelli’s Prince…… We cannot say he was cruel or evil…… He is, and Luo Guanzhong said the same in the first chapter of the book, the man for this moment of war and revolt…… that’s all.” ……
“Rather we let down the world than the world let us down！” was the reply.*
Chen Gong only thought. they rode on some distance by moonlight and presently knocked up an inn for shelter. Having first fed their horses, Cao Cao was soon asleep, but Chen Gong lay thinking.
“I took him for a true man and left all to follow him,
but he is as cruel as a wolf. If I spare him,
he will do more harm later,” thought Chen Gong.
And Chen Gong rose intending to kill his companion.
Cao Cao told him and said, “Had it not been for this man here with me,
I should have been already hacked to pieces.”
Lu Boshe bowed low to Chen Gong, saying, “You are the salvation of the Cao family. But be at ease and rest, I will find you a bed in my humble cottage.”
Lu Boshe then rose and went into the inner chamber where he stayed a long time. When he came out, he said, “There is no good wine in the house. I am going over to the village to get some for you.”
And he hastily mounted his donkey and rode away. the two travelers sat a long time. Suddenly they heard at the back of the house the sound of sharpening a knife.
Cao Cao said to Chen Gong, “He is not my real uncle. I am beginning to doubt the meaning of his going off. Let us listen.”
So they silently stepped out into a straw hut at the back.
Presently someone said, “Bind before killing, eh？”
“As I thought,” said Cao Cao. “Now unless we strike first, we shall be taken！”
Suddenly Cao Cao and Chen Gong dashed in, sword in hand, and slew the whole household male and female, in all eight persons.
After this they searched the house. In the kitchen they found a pig bound ready to kill.
“You were too suspicious,” said Chen Gong, “and we have slain honest folks！”
Cao Cao and Chen Gong at once mounted and rode away. Soon they met their host Lu Boshe coming home, and over the saddle in front of him they saw two vessels of wine. In his hands he carried fruits and vegetables.
“Why are you going, Sirs？” Lu Boshe called to them.
“Wanted people dare not linger,” said Cao Cao.
“But I have bidden them kill a pig！
Why do you refuse my poor hospitality？
I pray you ride back with me.”
the Magistrate ordered Cao Cao to the prison till the morrow when
he could send Cao Cao to the capital and claim the reward. He gave the soldiers wine and food as a reward.
About midnight the Magistrate sent a trusty servant to bring the prisoner into his private rooms for interrogation.
“they say the Prime Minister treated you well. Why did you try to harm him？” said Magistrate.
“How can swallows and sparrows understand the flight of the crane and the wild goose？ I am your prisoner and to be sent to the capital for a reward. Why so many questions？”
the Magistrate sent away the attendants and turning to the prisoner said, “Do not despise me. I am no mere hireling； only I have not yet found the lord to serve.”
Said Cao Cao, “My ancestors enjoyed the bounty of Han, and should I differ from a bird or a beast if I did not desire to repay them with gratitude？ I have bowed the knee to Dong Zhuo that thereby I might find an opportunity against him, and so remove this evil from the state. I have failed for this time. Such is the will of Heaven.”
“And where are you going？”
“Home to my county. thence I shall issue a summons calling all the bold people to come with forces to kill the tyrant. This is my desire.”
thereupon the Magistrate himself loosened the bonds of the prisoner, led him to the upper seat, and bowed, saying, “I am called Chen Gong. My aged mother and family are in the east county of Dongjun. I am deeply affected by your loyalty and uprightness, and I will abandon my office and follow you！”
Cao Cao was delighted with this turn of affairs. Chen Gong at once collected some money for the expenses of their journey and gave Cao Cao a different dress. Then each took a sword and rode away toward Qiao.
Three days later at eventide they reached Chenggao. Cao Cao pointed with his whip to a hamlet deep in the woods and said, “There lives my uncle, Lu Boshe, a sworn-brother of my father. Suppose we go and ask news of my family and seek shelter for the night？”
“Excellent！” said his companion Chen Gong, and they rode over, dismounted at the farm gate and entered.
Lu Boshe GREeted them and said to Cao Cao,
“I hear the government has sent stringent
orders on all sides to arrest you.
Your father has gone into hiding to
Chenliu. How has this all come about？”
then they went out to look at the horse. Cao Cao was profuse
in his thanks and said he would like to try the horse. So Dong Zhuo bade the guards bring saddle and bridle. Cao Cao led the creature outside, leapt into the saddle, laid on his whip vigorously, and galloped away eastward.
Lu Bu said, “Just as I was coming up, it seemed to me as if that fellow was going to stab you, only a sudden panic seized him and he presented the weapon instead.”
“I suspected him too！” said Dong Zhuo.
Just then Li Ru came in and they told him.
“Cao Cao has no family here in the capital but lodges quite alone and not far away,” said Li Ru. “Send for him. If he comes forthwith, the sword was meant as a gift. But if he makes any excuses, he had bad intentions. And you can arrest him.”
they sent four prison warders to call Cao Cao.
they were absent a long time and then came back, saying, “Cao Cao had not returned to his lodging but rode in hot haste out of the eastern gate. To the gate commander’s questions he replied that he was on a special message for the Prime Minister. He went off at full speed.”
“His conscience pricked him and so he fled. there is no doubt that he meant assassination！” said Li Ru.
“And I trusted him so well！” said Dong Zhuo in a rage.
“there must be a conspiracy afoot. When we catch him, we shall know all about it,” said Li Ru.
Letters and pictures of the fugitive Cao Cao were sent everywhere with orders to catch him. A large reward in money was offered and a patent of nobility, while those who sheltered him would be held to share his guilt.
Cao Cao traveled in hot haste toward Qiao, his home county. On the road at Zhongmou, he was recognized by the guards at the gate and made prisoner. They took him to the Magistrate. Cao Cao declared he was a merchant, named Huang Fu. The Magistrate scanned his face most closely and remained in deep thought.
Presently the Magistrate said,
“When I was at the capital seeking a post,
I knew you as Cao Cao. Why do you
try to conceal your identity？”
“What good fortune for the world that this is so！” said Wang Yun.
With this Wang Yun himself poured out a goblet for Cao Cao
who drained it and swore an oath. After this the treasured
sword was brought out and given to Cao Cao who hid it under
his dress. He finished his wine, took leave of the guests, and left the hall. Before long the others dispersed.
the next day Cao Cao, with this short sword girded on, came to the palace of the Prime Minister.
“Where is the Prime Minister？” asked he.
“In the small guest room,” replied the attendants.
So Cao Cao went in and found his host seated on a couch. Lu Bu was at his side.
“Why so late, Cao Cao？” said Dong Zhuo.
“My horse is out of condition and slow,” replied Cao Cao.
Dong Zhuo turned to his henchman Lu Bu.
“Some good horses have come in from the west. You go and pick out a good one as a present for him.”
And Lu Bu left.
“This traitor is doomed！” thought Cao Cao. He ought to have struck then, but Cao Cao knew Dong Zhuo was very powerful, and he was afraid to act. He wanted to make sure of his blow.
Now Dong Zhuo’s corpulence was such that he could not remain long sitting, so he rolled over couch and lay face inwards.
“Now is the time,” thought the assassin, and he gripped the good sword firmly.
But just as Cao Cao was going to strike, Dong Zhuo happened to
look up and in a mirror he saw the reflection of Cao Cao behind him with a sword in the hand.
“What are you doing, Cao Cao？” said Dong Zhuo turning suddenly. And at that moment Lu Bu came along leading a horse.
Cao Cao in a flurry dropped on his knees and said, “I have a precious sword here which I wish to present to Your Benevolence.”
Dong Zhuo took it.
It was a fine blade, over a foot in length,
inlaid with the seven precious signs and very keen——a fine sword in very truth.
Dong Zhuo handed the weapon to Lu Bu while
Cao Cao took off the sheath which he also gave to Lu Bu.