One of Yuan Shu’s loyalists - the adviser Yan Xiang - had been moving
backwards and forwards between his lord’s various domains in the months leading
up to the inevitable end; he had at one point been feared missing, perhaps
dead, only to reappear with some hired men to assist his lord’s crossing into
Xu Province. When that crossing failed, Yan Xiang left his lord once again and
tried to secure an alternative escape route from a base near the Yang-Yu
provincial border; he reacted anxiously at the news that Liu Xun was being
self-servingly cautious, but the news that his lord was dead and that all of
his efforts had been for nothing left him silent for some time.
“What will we do now, Mister Yan?” one mercenary asked.
“…I… I don’t know,” the thin, weary Yan Xiang admitted. “I’d planned for this moment from the second that he insisted that he would become… what he said that he had become. But now the moment is finally here, I’m strangely numb: I am not sure whether I should now honour my lord’s memory, or think of the populace, or…”
“No offence, but we only want to know if we’ll be paid,” the mercenary said. “If Yuan is dead, then-”
“You’ll be paid,” Yan Xiang promised. “And I’ve decided: the best thing to do now is go into Yu Province, try and gather more forces, and then return to Yang and restore order, perhaps with Yuan Yin or the late lord’s son as an untainted new ruler. That new order will need men like you, so expect to be paid extremely well, better than Cao Cao would pay you.”
The mercenary smiled and said, “Well put, Mister Yan. It isn’t that I was considering turning you over, necessarily, but there are other men that would.”
“I know that very well,” Yan Xiang replied as he examined a tear in the left sleeve of his weathered state robes. “Shall we go northward, then…?”
“Lead the way!” the mercenary said through laughter.
Bofu’s cousin Sun Ben was based in a fenced military camp close to the Lujiang-Jiujiang
prefectural border; Ben’s younger brother, Sun Fu, had joined him once again so
that they could plan their part of removing Liu Xun from Lujiang Prefecture.
“…Is Zhou Yu really serious about grovelling to Liu Xun?” Sun Fu asked of the reflective Sun Ben.
“Completely,” Sun Ben replied. “My only worry is that it will be an obvious ruse: when has Bofu ever grovelled to anyone?”
“…Liu Xun is arrogant, and quite stupid too,” Sun Fu suggested.
“I agree, but he has counsel that may see through it and warn him,” Sun Ben replied.
“…We’re throwing everything at Liu Xun, are we…?” Sun Fu asked.
“I’m not sure,” Sun Ben admitted. “We were forced to abandon a campaign against Huang Zu in order to do this, and that will arouse suspicions that we might be vulnerable, so we have to leave good people in northwest Yuzhang to guard against Huang and Liu Biao.”
“What I don’t get is why Liu Xun attacked Haihun County if he’s on the Han side now: so are we!” Sun Fu said. “He’s abducted Yuan Shu’s heir, Yuan Shu’s coffin and whatever money and people he had left. What’s he up to…?”