In historical records
In late 196, Yuan Shu sent Ji Ling to lead 30,000 troops to attack a rival warlord Liu Bei. When Liu Bei requested aid from another warlord Lü Bu, Lü's subordinates said, "General, you've been wanting to kill Liu Bei. Now you can make use of Yuan Shu to help you kill him." Lü Bu replied, "No. If Yuan Shu eliminates Liu Bei, he'll be able to build a network with the warlords in the north and I'll end up being encircled by them." He then sent 1,000 foot soldiers and 200 riders to help Liu Bei. Ji Ling withdrew his forces and did not dare to make any move when he heard of Lü Bu's approach.
Lü Bu set up a camp one li southwest of Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu) and invited Ji Ling to his camp. Ji Ling also hosted a feast in his camp and invited Lü Bu to attend. Lü Bu went there and brought Liu Bei along with him. He told Ji Ling, "Xuande (Liu Bei) is my younger brother. I heard that he was trapped by you gentlemen, so I came here to help him. I don't enjoy getting into conflicts, but I enjoy helping others resolve conflicts." He then had a ji erected at the gate of the camp, and said, "Gentlemen, watch me fire an arrow at the lower part of the curved blade on the ji. If I hit it in one shot, all of you must withdraw your forces and leave. If I don't, you can remain here and prepare for battle." He then raised his bow and fired an arrow at the ji, hitting exactly the lower part of the curved blade. Everyone present at the scene was shocked. They said, "General, you possess godlike skill!" The following day, they threw another party and then withdrew their forces.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Ji Ling has a greater role in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He is first introduced in Chapter 14 during a battle between the forces of Yuan Shu and Liu Bei. He is from Shandong and he wields a war trident weighing 50 jin. He duels with Guan Yu and both sides end with a draw. He is also mentioned in the subsequent chapters. The incident involving Lü Bu's resolving of the conflict between Ji Ling and Liu Bei is further dramatised in Chapter 16. In Chapter 21, Ji Ling is slain by Zhang Fei while escorting his lord through Xu Province.
- ([孝獻皇帝建安元年] ... 術遣將紀靈等步騎三萬攻劉備，備求救於布。 ...) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 62.
- (術遣將紀靈等步騎三萬攻劉備，備求救於布。諸將謂布曰：「將軍常欲殺劉備，今可假手於術。」布曰：「不然。術若破備，則北連泰山諸將，吾為在術圍中，不得不救也。」便率步騎千餘馳往赴之。靈等聞布至，皆斂兵而止。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 62.
- (術便嚴步兵千、騎二百，馳往赴備。) Sanguozhi vol. 7.
- (術遣將紀靈等步騎三萬以攻備，備求救於布。諸將謂布曰：「將軍常欲殺劉備，今可假手於術。」布曰：「不然。術若破備，則北連太山，吾為在術圍中，不得不救也。」便率步騎千餘，馳往赴之。靈等聞布至，皆斂兵而止。) Houhanshu vol. 75.
- (布屯沛城西南，遣鈴下請靈等，靈等亦請布，布往就之，與備共飲食。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 62.
- (布於沛西南一里安屯，遣鈴下請靈等，靈等亦請布共飲食。布謂靈等曰：「玄德，布弟也。弟為諸君所困，故來救之。布性不喜合鬬，但喜解鬬耳。」布令門候於營門中舉一隻戟，布言：「諸君觀布射戟小支，一發中者諸君當解去，不中可留決鬬。」布舉弓射戟，正中小支。諸將皆驚，言「將軍天威也」！明日復歡會，然後各罷。) Sanguozhi vol. 7.
- (布屯沛城外，遣人招備，并請靈等與共饗飲。布謂靈曰：「玄德，布弟也，為諸君所困，故來救之。布性不喜合鬬，但喜解鬬耳。」乃令軍候植戟於營門，布彎弓顧曰：「諸君觀布射小戟支，中者當各解兵，不中可留決鬬。」布即一發，正中戟支。靈等皆驚，言「將軍天威也」。明日復歡會，然後各罷。) Houhanshu vol. 75.
- Sanguo Yanyi ch. 14, 16, 21.