While Ts’ao Ts’ao and Yuan Shao battled for control of the north, Liu Pei and his small band of followers fled south to the prosperous city of Chingchou ruled by his cousin Liu Biao. Liu Biao was powerful but indecisive.
During this time, Chen Wu led a rebellion in Xin Ye, which was a subsidiary city of Chingchou. Liu Pei and his brothers successfully defeated the rebels, with his general Chao Yun successfully capturing Chen Wu and his famous Black Stallion. Chao Yun presented the horse to Liu Pei, who liked the strong horse.
One day, Liu Pei and Liu Biao went for a stroll in the park, Liu Biao admired the Black Stallion whereupon Liu Pei presented it to him as a gift. One day, a soothsayer saw the horse. Its eye was too deep, and he told Liu Biao, “The horse has a bad character, which is why its previous rider Chen Wu perished. You should not ride it.”
Upon hearing this, Liu Biao returned the horse to Liu Pei, but he also began to distrust him, thinking that he hath given him the horse to unseat him and perhaps one day gain control of Chingchou himself. Nevertheless, he made Liu Pei protector of Xin Ye to distance him. Liu Biao was a foolish man. He could not properly see friend from foe.
Now, Liu Biao had two wives, but his eldest wife hath died long time ago. His second wife Lady Chua pestered him to name her young son heir and bypass the elder son. One day, Liu Biao discussed the issue with Liu Pei, who advised him to stick with the eldest son, as is the norm.
When Lady Chua’s elder brother Chua Mao heard this, he wanted to kill Liu Pei but was afraid of his brothers, Kuan Yu and Chang Fei, and his fierce general Chao Yun, so he invited Liu Pei alone to the banquet. His men then decided to ambush the unsuspecting Liu Pei. Liu Pei, however, was tipped off by a loyal noble, and barely escaped with his Black Stallion.
During this brief exodus, Liu Pei came in touch with a wise man Ssuma Taisho, who advised him to seek out wise men to serve him. Liu Pei quickly offered the post of Advisor to Ssuma Taisho, who declined. Instead, he told him to seek out two of the wisest men in the country.
“If you can get either the Sleeping Dragon Chuko Liang ‘Kung Ming’ or the Fledgling Pheonix Pang Tong, then this empire will surely fall into your hands.” Liu Pei returned to Xin Ye with these words of wisdom.
When he returned to Xin Ye, Liu Pe met a man called Chen Hu, who spoke wisely to him. Chen Hu saw the Black Stallion and said that it was a creature that bought bad luck. Liu Pei, however, replied that the Black Stallion hath saved his life during Chua Mao’s plot and asked Chen Hu for advice.
“My Lord, you should give this horse to one of your generals. When he falls in battle, you can take the horse back, the bad luck will have gone.”
Seeing that Chen Hu was a man without scruples, Liu Pei ordered to dismiss him, but then Chen Hu revealed that he was only testing Liu Pei. After that, Chen Hu became Liu Pei’s advisor.
After crushing Yuan Shao in the north, Ts’ao Ts’ao led his great army against tiny Xin Ye in hope of vanquishing Liu Pei once and for all. However, Chen Hu devised the Octagonal Locket formation for Liu Pei’s army and repulsed Ts’ao Ts’ao’s great army.
Chen Hu became popular with Liu Pei’s generals. He liked nothing better than to wrestle with Chang Fei in the mud.
As Chen Hu’s fame spread, Ts’ao Ts’ao became interested in recruiting him as his own man, and so his advisor Chia Kuo devised a scheme. He told Ts’ao Ts’ao that Chen Hu was really Xu Zhu, a wise man who had become a vagabound after killing a villain. Xu Zhu escaped by feigning madness and eventually changing his name and look.
But Chia Kuo knew that Xu Zhu’s mother was living in the north. They captured her and ordered her to write a letter telling Xu Zhu to come and serve Ts’ao Ts’ao, knowing that Xu Zhu was a filial son. Xu Zhu’s mother refused to write the letter despite repeated threats, so they kept her in the palace. While she resided in Ts’ao Ts’ao’s palace, Chia Kuo offered her many favors and in gratitude, she wrote him a thank you letter.
Cunning Chia Kuo forged her handwriting and tricked Xu Zhu into believing that Ts’ao Ts’ao would slay her if Xu Zhu did not come to serve him. Eventually, Xu Zhu revealed the truth to Liu Pei and said that he hath to leave and go serve Ts’ao Ts’ao for the sake of his mother.
However, before he left, he told Liu Pei the location of Chuko Liang “Kung Ming”, the wisest man in China. Chuko Liang was known as the Sleeping Dragon. Liu Pei loved Xu Zhu so much and couldn’t imagine anyone greater than him.
“If you serve Ts’ao Ts’ao, who is this Chuko Liang to compare to you, Master Xu Zhu?”, Liu Pei said amidst tears.
“I am like a firefly to Kung Ming’s moonlight” was Xu Zhu’s reply. Upon saying this, Xu Zhu left for Wei. Upon learning Chia Kuo’s trickery, Xu Zhu’s mother committed suicide. Xu Zhu remained with Ts’ao Ts’ao but did so reluctantly. He never gave Ts’ao Ts’ao any useful advice as his heart remained with the Imperial Uncle Liu Pei.
In the meantime, Liu Pei, determined to forge a great kingdom for himself, decided to follow Xu Zhu’s advice and seek out Chuko Liang. Don’t miss this great mission in our next episode Book XVII Liu Pei Visits Kung Ming Thrice