“And at the same time, he’d be to blame for the whole country suffering,”
Lü Fan suggested. “In his case, it is ‘that one commits as great an evil as an
evil man by doing nothing to stop him’. Dong Zhuo might have been stopped in
two years, and the peace restored in three. Instead, it has been fifteen years
since the Yellow Turban Rebellion, and they still ravage Yu Province; it has
been fourteen years since the Liang Province Rebellion, and now the Qiang
tribes rule the region unopposed and kill each other over it; it has been ten
years since Dong Zhuo murdered Shaodi and seized the capital, and the wounds
are still open… because it has been eight years since the greedy, childish Yuan
brothers began their all-consuming feud, which ended only because of the death
of one of them.”
“And a gross miscalculation of their own power in the case of the one that died,” Gongjin said. “I imagine that Yuan Shao will also overestimate his strength…”
“But will a Yuan’s greed kill another Sun…?” Bofu murmured.
The inactivity of the Eastern Pass Coalition drove two of its
lower-ranking volunteers close to madness: Sun Jian was one, and Yuan Shao’s
best friend Cao Cao was the other. Both men decided that they would defy orders
and act: Cao’s efforts ended with a humiliating defeat, but while Sun Jian’s
began in much the same way, they ended with a crushing direct attack on Dong
Zhuo’s forces as the tyrant looted and burned Luoyang and began a westward
retreat to the former Han capital Chang’an.
To the disgust of all, Dong Zhuo escaped, partly because Sun Jian’s men were under-resourced and exhausted but mainly because Yuan Shao did nothing once again: Yuan Shu took credit for his vassals’ successes and openly challenged his brother with a letter that denounced Shao’s illegitimate birth and apparent incompetence. Yuan Shao’s reaction was to order an attack on Sun Jian as he retreated from the gutted capital, which provoked a military retaliation from Yuan Shu: the Yuan feud had begun, and there was more fighting in the first few months than the coalition had seen in the years since it challenged Dong Zhuo.
The other leading coalition members were forced to take sides, despite their influence, because the Yuan clan outranked them all: the majority of the lesser members could go home or follow the warlord of their choice, but for Sun Jian - who just wanted to return to his hometown of Fuchun and never see a Yuan clansman again - a horrible truth awaited. Yuan Shu had, by the nature of the pledge that Sun Jian had made, seized full control of Jian’s army and, somehow, Sun Jian himself: the hero and his clan now ‘belonged’ to Yuan Shu and had to follow his every selfish command. The first of those commands - which should have been to pursue Dong Zhuo and rescue the abducted imperial court - was to attack Yuan Shao’s perceived ally Liu Biao, who was the Governor of Jing Province. Sun Jian was inwardly heartbroken as he returned to a place that he had once liberated from the Yellow Turbans, since his job was now to siege the same cities that he had once freed from sieges and attack the same people that he had so recently defended.
“…By your last statement, Bofu, I presume you mean ‘Will adding your sword to the cause fought by Yuan Shao lead to your own demise’,” Gongjin said. “It does not have to be the case: after all, you’re an independent warlord now, appointed by the court as ‘Marquis of Wu’ and ‘Rebellion-supressing General’, with a region the size of Yuan’s own four provinces under your control, even if you lack the population or resources to match. But why would we join Yuan anyway? What mandate for attacking the imperial capital does the man have…?”