Cao Cao said, “I happened to notice the GREen plums on the trees today, and suddenly my thoughts went back to a year ago when we were thrashing Zhang Xiu. We were marching through a parched county,
and everyone was suffering from thirst. Suddenly I lifted my whip, and pointing at something in the distance I said,
‘Look at those fruitful plum trees in the forest ahead.’ The soldiers heard it, and it made their mouths water. Seeing the plums kindles my appreciation. I owe something to the plums, and we will repay it today. I ordered the servants to heat some wine very hot and sent to invite you to share it.”
Liu Bei was quite composed by this time and no longer suspected any sinister design. He went with his host to a small spring pavilion in a plum garden, where the wine cups were already laid out and GREen plums filled the dishes. They sat down to a confidential talk and free enjoyment of their wine.
As they drank, the weather gradually changed, clouds gathering and threatening rain. The servants pointed out a mass of cloud that looked like a dragon hung in the sky. Both host and guest leaned over the balcony looking at it.
“Do you understand the evolution of dragons？” asked Cao Cao of the guest.
“Not in detail.”
“A dragon can assume any size, can rise in glory or hide from sight. Bulky, it generates clouds and evolves mist； attenuated, it can scarcely hide a mustard stalk or conceal a shadow. Mounting, it can soar to the empyrean； subsiding, it lurks in the uttermost depths of the ocean.
This is the midspring season, and the dragon chooses this moment for its transformations like a person realizing his own desires and overrunning the world. The dragon among animals compares with the hero among people. You, General, have traveled all lakes and rivers. You must know who are the heroes of the present day, and I wish you would say who they are.”
“I am just a common dullard. How can I know such things？”
“Do not be so modest,” said Cao Cao.
“Thanks to your kindly protection I have a post at court. But as to heroes I really do not know who they are.”
“You may not have looked upon their faces, but you must have heard their names.”
“Yuan Shu of the South of River Huai,
with his strong army and abundant resources： Is he one？” asked Liu Bei.
His host laughed,
“A rotting skeleton in a graveyard. I shall put him out of the way shortly.”