Three Kingdoms – Vol III- Extract – Rattan-Armored Soldiers

The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; there and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

« There is a kingdom that can defeat the Riverlanders. » « Where? » asked Meng Huo. « To the southeast, seven hundred li from here, » the chief responded. « The Black Lance kingdom. Their chief, Wutugu, is some twelve spans tall, eats no grain, and survives on live snakes and vicious animals. His body is covered with scales no arrow or blade can pierce. The men in his command have rattan armor made from vines that grow in the ravines and wind around their rocky walls. Natives pick the vines, soak them in oil for half a year, then dry them in the sun. After being thoroughly dried, they are returned to the oil. The vines are dried and soaked this way ten times before being made into armor. The cured rattan keeps the body afloat and dry, as well as safe from arrow and blade; that’s why they’re called « rattan-armored soldiers ».

[…]

The Man warriors swarmed, covering the terrain. The Riverlanders shot their crossbow bolts; but the rattan was impenetrable, and the arrows dropped harmlessly. Neither the strokes of their blades nor the thrusts of their spears could break through it. The Man wielded their sharp knives and steel forks against the Riverlanders, who, unable to defend themselves, eventually withdrew. Wei Yan turned back and rushed to the riverside, where he watched im amazement as the enemy crossed over in full armor: those taken by fatigue simply removed their armor and used it to float across.

[…]

On the sixteenth day Wei Yan led his battle-worn men forth to oppose the rattan-armored Man. Riding an elephant, Wutugu took the lead. He wore a wolf-beard cap decorated with the sun and the moon. Gold and pearls laced his garment, through which his torso’s hard-scaled skin showed. A subtle fire darted from his eyes. Pointing to Wei Yan, he pronounced his malediction. Wei Yan wheeled round and fled again. The Man gave chase in full force. Wei Yan maneuvered around into Winding Serpent Valley as he made for the white flag. Wutugu closed in for the kill; seeing the hills bare, he had assumed he was safe from ambush.

When he reached the middle of the valley, Wutugu saw several dozen wagons with black-painted containers blocking the road. A soldier reported, « This is the Riverlands grain transport route. Your Highness’s arrival has caused them to flee and leave their carts. » Wutugu triumphantly urged his warriors to press the chase to the other end of the valley. There they found no Riverlands troops; but great logs and volleys of rocks crashed down, sealing the exit. Wutugu ordered his men to open the road, He had resumed his advance, when carts of all sizes loaded with burning wood loomed out of nowhere! Wutugu ordered immediate retreat. But from his rear ranks shouts went up: « The exit is blocked by dry tinder, and the carts, filled with powder, are in flames! » Wutugu remained calm because the site was too bare to conceal an ambush.. He ordered his men to escape however they could. Then, lo, from both sides of the valley torches were hurled down, hitting fuses on the ground that ignited iron missiles. The whole valley began dancing wildly with fiery light, and the rattan armor caught fire when touched by the flames. Wutugu and his thirty thousand men perished in Windind Serpent Valley, huddled together in the inferno.

From a hilltop Kongming looked down upon the incinerated men strewn over the valley. Most of them had had their heads and faces pulverized by the falling missiles. An unbearable stench rose from their corpses. Kongming wept and sighed at the carnage. « Whatever service to the shrines of Han this represents, my life-span will be shortened for it », he said. His words deeply touched every officer and man.

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