To the south, in Mogu province, the elderly governor died without issue. To prevent the state from being seized by opportunists, his first wife Lady Taozi took control of the province and instructed her trusted advisers to quell any rebellion that might arise. She routinely proved herself to be a wise and capable leader, however the district officials were in constant rebellion against her. One such official, the barbarian King Ku Pa, arranged to have Lady Taozi deposed by kidnapping her and forcing her into a marriage with him. He was once a King of numerous lands to the south, but Lady Taozi’s deceased husband had waged a successful campaign against the combined rebellion forces and drove the kings from the land. A handful who surrendered had been offered imperial titles in exchange for their service, and so Ku Pa took a Chinese name and seethed with inner resentment.
His lust for revenge drove him to conspire with other disaffected officials, and a plot was put into motion. When the Lady Taozi held her weekly council Ku Pa had his men hide behind the walls of the chamber . During the session, over one hundred warriors emerged and held her hostage while the councillors fled.
“You brutes, what do you want with me?” She cried but the attackers only laughed. “You should be happy today my Lady, for you are to be married tomorrow!” They bound her and brought her out to the courtyard where a palanquin was waiting. Racing from the capital, they began transporting her to Ku Pa’s castle in the west.
En route however they were met by two stalwart blood brothers, two generals whose stately mien betrayed great wisdom and strength of character. Their loyalty and devotion to the Lady Taozi was legendary, and they blocked the path of over one hundred rebels without breaking a sweat.
The older brother was Ma Liao, clothed in a wargown of red velvet and crushed lapis trim, his mustachioed face was grim in the setting sun. He was a cousin of Ma Chao the splendid. He rode the famous charger, the warhorse Western Light (Yao Xi) who was said to be able to jump 50 li in a single bound. The younger brother was Lu Yiji, the fabled archer and nephew of the infamous Lu Bu. He wore a gown of green brocade that tumbled down from his stately shoulders like a waterfall of tinkling jade. Low born, the brothers had sworn an oath to eachother as children that they would find fame and fortune in this land. That opportunity has presented itself when, as they worked as carpenters on the broken roof of the palace, they overheard a plot to assassinate Lady Taozi. They took the information to her and the rebels were beheaded. The two men were rewarded for their loyalty with positions in her palace guard, quickly rising through the ranks due to their martial prowess.
“Who goes there? Move aside, we are on official business for Lord Ku Pa!” One of the men cried but the brothers did not falter. “It is I, Ma Laio! Return the Lady Taozi to us, and there will be no bloodshed!” He threw his spear into the ground before him in challenge.
“Bloodshed? What foolishness is this? Two men alone cannot take on one hundred elite troops. Guards, forward!” The palanquin was dropped and the kidnappers rushed the two generals. “It is Lu Yiji time, brother. I will make short work of them!” Ma Liao nodded and took up his spear. “Let’s go!” The clash was brutal and a poet of later times captured the moment thus:
Brothers bound by honour and blood
A flash of red and green in the sun
Quicker than a falcon’s flight
Was the horse Yao Xi at a run
The brothers spared only two of the fighters, and presented the Lady Taozi with ninety-eight fresh heads. Bowing at her feet, the brothers rose and filled the palanquin with them. “Go now, and bring the Lord Ku Pa his ninety-eight brides! Do not tarry for it is your Lord’s wedding day.” Said Lu Yiji, and with that they made the two survivors bear the heads of their dead kin back to their master.
When they returned to the city, the Lady Taozi had Lu Yiji married to her younger sister, the Lady Chuju, and she took Ma Liao has her own consort.