48. How Three Heroes Died for The Sake of Two Peaches
AT the beginning of his reign Duke Ching of Tsi liked to surround himself with heroes. Three of these were particularly brave. The first was called Kung Sun-tieh, the second was called Tien Kai-wang and the third Was called Ku Yi-tse. All three were greatly honoured by the Duke. These honours, however, turned their heads; they were noisy at court and did not behave towards the prince as a prince’s servants should.
At that time Yän Tse was chancellor in Tsi. The Duke consulted him about what should be done. The chancellor requested that a banquet be given and all officials invited to attend.
On the table, as the greatest delicacy, stood a dish with four magnificent peaches.
In accordance with his chancellor’s advice the duke rose and announced: ‘Here some exquisite fruit, but there is not enough for all of you. Only those most worthy shall eat of it. I myself am the ruler of the country and the head of the princes of the empire. I have succeeded in keeping my possessions and power—that is my claim. That is why I am entitled to one of the peaches. Yän Tse is my chancellor; he arranges our relations with foreign countries and sees that our citizens live in peace. He has made our empire strong upon this earth. That is the chancellor’s claim and that is Why he is entitled to the second peach. There are now only two peaches left but I do not know which of you are most worthy. You shall each rise to your feet and get out your claims. He who has not accomplished great deeds, let him remain silent!
Kung Sun-tieh slapped his sword with his hand and rose to his feet. He said: am the Duke’s field-marshal. In the south I conquered the kingdom of Lu, in the west I defeated the Kingdom of Chin, in the north I captured the army of Yen. All the princes of the east come to this court to acknowledge the primacy of Tsi. That is my claim. I do not know if this entitles me to a peach.’ The Duke said: ‘Your merit is great! You are to a peach.’
Then Tien Kai-wang arose, smote the table and said: ‘l have fought a good hundred battles in the Duke’s army, I have killed the enemy’s general, I have raptured the enemy’s flag. I have extended the boundaries of my ruler’s land so that it has grown by a thousand miles. How about my claim?’
The Duke said: ‘Your claim is good! You are entitled to this peach.’
Then Ku Yi-tse arose; his eyes Were staring and he cried with a loud voice: ‘Once when the Duke sailed across the Yellow River the wind and the waves Sprang up. A river dragon seized one of the horses of the carriage in its teeth and dragged it away with him, the ferry rocked like a sieve and was about to capsize. Then I seized my sword and hurled myself into the water. I fought with the dragon among the foaming waves. My strength enabled me kill the dragon; my eyes started from their sockets with the effort. Thus surfaced again—the dragon’s head in one hand and the rescued horse in the other. Thus I saved the Duke from drowning. Whenever our country was at war with its neighbours there was no service that I refused. I would lead the vanguard, I would step forward for single combat, I never turned my back on the enemy.
Once the Duke’s carriage got stuck in the mud and the enemy pressed hard from all sides. I drew the carriage Out and put the enemy mercenaries to flight. Since I entered the Duke’s services I have repeatedly saved his life. True, my merits are not as great as those of the Duke and the chancellor, but they are greater than those of the two others. Those two each received their peach but there is none for me. This means that great merit is no longer rewarded and the Duke regards me with disfavour. How can I ever show my face at court again?’
With these words he drew’ his sword and stabbed him- self to death.
Kung Sun-tieh rose to his feet, bowed twice and said with a sigh: ‘Our claims do not match up to that of Ku Yi-tse, yet we were awarded the peaches. We have been rewarded beyond our merits. That is a disgrace. It is better therefore to die than to go On living.’
He took up his sword and swung it, and his own head rolled in the sand.
Tien Kai-Wang looked up and uttered a sound of distaste. He blew out his white breath like a rainbow and his hair stood on end with anger. Then he drew his sword and said: ‘We three always served the Duke with valour. We Were united like flesh and blood. Those two are now dead, and so it is my duty not to remain alive alone.’ With these words he thrust his sword into his throat and died.
But the Duke sighed for a long time and commanded that a magnificent funeral be arranged for them.
A gallant hero will put his honour above his life. The chancellor knew that and therefore deliberately contrived so to incite them with the two peaches that the three heroes should meet their death.