Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Darren Duan, Social Media, Video Producer, Podcast

Throughout all of history, it has stood true that an empire long divided must unite, and one united must divide. As such, kingdoms shift, borders align, and promises are broken. The great men in times long past have shaped history to their will, and at their word, kingdoms will follow, rise, and fall. This is the tale of the Three Kingdoms, and of these men, who would attempt to etch their names into the stones of time.


// And like that, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms begins. This passage is my version of a part of the story, and I’ve rewritten it based on how my dad told it to me. If you like the story, check out the book. In this section, Cao Cao prepares to kill Dong Zhuo with a sword boiled in poison. (As if a sword wasn’t already enough.)

-Darren Duan


In the darkness, the glittering of the hilt stood out from the rest of the drapery. 

“So you will do it then?” 

“Indeed, I swear it. Dong Zhuo will be dead by morning.”

“Then go, Cao Cao, and take the sword with you.” 

Cao Cao nodded and took the sword from the table. It seemed to glow in his hands as a thin strip of sunlight fell upon its intricately carved handle. He swept it into the folds of his cloak and retreated from the room. The door locked behind him. 

He was used to seeing the attendants in Dong Zhuo’s household. The one with the long face and deadpan eyes, the one with strangely long eyebrows. The attendants knew him well too. Cao Cao was a good friend of Dong Zhuo’s, and he often came over to visit him, drinking wine over drawn-out conversations. 

He fingered the sword in his robe, turning the cold metal and warming it with his fingertips. It remained cold. His footsteps quickened, and, turning a corner, he saw the attendant who waited at the door to his friend’s bedchamber. A quick greeting, and Cao Cao pushed the door slowly inward. 

“Cao Cao? Is that you?”

“Yes, I see you are still in bed?”

The chamber was dark, and Cao Cao could hardly make out a thing. The light from outside shone in, revealing to him the faint outline of the bed. Dong Zhuo was curled up under the covers, turned away from the entrance. The cool steel seemed freezing against his skin. Cao Cao motioned to the attendant, and the door was closed.

“Well, come in, have a seat by my bedside; I will be up soon.” Dong Zhuo gestured vaguely to a wooden chair, still turned with his back to him. Cao Cao neared, lighting a candle in a nearby lamp, and sat in the chair. 

“No wine today?”

“Well, none in my room, I’m afraid. We will have to move to a different room.” He yawned. 

Cao Cao was silent. From within his robe, he drew out the sword and stared at it. The flickering flame by Dong Zhuo’s bedside reflected on the blade, and the hypnotic swaying of the light dizzied him. He felt cold, and his hands shook, from what he could not tell. Was it fear? Anger? 

He swallowed. Cao Cao’s numb fingers grasped the handle as he lifted it above Dong Zhuo’s body, the defenseless figure breathing evenly and peacefully. Suddenly, Dong Zhuo slowly opened his eyes, glancing at the mirror hanging near the wall by his feet. The flame illuminated the wall, and the glass showed a dark figure hovering over him. Was that- the glittering of a sword?

“Cao Cao? What are you doing standing over me like that?”

A beat. The figure in the glass stepped back. 

“Ah, my dear friend! I have procured this wonderfully carved sword that I wished to surprise you with as a gift! Please, wake yourself and accept it.” Cao Cao spoke in a slightly shaky voice.

“Indeed? Why, let me see.” Dong Zhuo rose, moving his covers to one side. He sat sleepily and looked at the kneeling figure of his friend. In his hands was a beautiful sword, red with the firelight. Delighted, Dong Zhuo reached for the sword, and Cao Cao reluctantly gave it to him. As the sword was admired and spun about, Cao Cao kept his head lowered, his face cast in shadow.

A knocking at the door startled him. 

“Come in. What is it?” Dong Zhuo asked, standing with his sword. 

It was Lü Bu, who had come to deliver a horse for the guest. On his entrance, Cao Cao shakily got up, and, clapping Lü Bu on the back with a quick thanks, he hurried out of the room. His footsteps rang unevenly through the halls until they disappeared. 

“What did he come here for? His face was quite pale when he left.” Lü Bu asked.

“Why, he wished to surprise me with this sword. He was quite awkward about it, not mentioning the gift until he sat down.” 

Dong Zhuo handed the weapon to a dumbfounded Lü Bu, who exclaimed, “Why, surely he came to kill you then?”

Dong Zhuo frowned, the smile on his face replaced with chilling anger. “Cao Cao? Would he dare-” He narrowed his eyes. It would not be the first time a friend had tried to kill him, and he had to be certain. A leader cannot afford to have traitors in his midst. Soon the whole house was abuzz with shouts of  “Bring Cao Cao back to the palace at once!” 

However, Cao Cao was gone. Taking the chance, he staggered out of the chambers, the sunlight blinding him upon leaving. Stumbling forward, he hopped on the prepared horse and dashed as quickly as he could from the province. It would not have been prudent for him to stay. 


Now go read the real thing.