Liu Xun was forced to gesture to his newly-arrived guards in order to
stop them from taking hold of Zhang Xun.
“If, by aiding you militarily, I guarantee the life of Lord Yuan’s son, then the debt is repaid,” Zhang Xun suggested. “I will do nothing that threatens Lord Yuan’s family or provokes needless hostility between you and Sun Bofu… but in all other things, I will support your army.”
“…Very good,” Liu Xun said. “You may retire to your quarters to collect your family and belongings, whereupon you shall go to the barracks. You will be a consultant for now.”
Zhang Xun clasped his hands together and said, “As you wish, Administrator Liu.”
“Aiee… what a difficult man,” Liu Xun muttered as he watched Zhang Xun and his guards depart. “I hope that Yang Hong is more immediately receptive.”
“You hankerer, traitor and wretch!” Yang Hong screamed at Liu Xun within minutes of his arrival at the private study. “After all that Lord Yuan did for you, you kidnap his family, his coffin and his loyal subjects! You’ll die a thousand deaths!”
“…I’m sensing that you will not be as flexible as Zhang Xun,” Liu Xun retorted. “I despair, Mister Yang: you are an adviser by profession, and yet you are even more stubborn in clinging to the will of a treasonous corpse! What has Yuan Shu - a man that was rude, condescending and aggressive to even his staunchest loyalists and most prestigious allies - done to deserve such loyalty from smart men…?”
Yang Hong flicked his sleeve and said, “Liar! Traitor! Thief and fiend! Stealer of coffins, keeper of land and kidnapper of your dead lord’s army and children!”
“…Still, at least you do not call him ‘His Majesty’ anymore, which is a start,” Liu Xun sighed.
“Only because it was his will in his last days!” Yang Hong protested.
“The Han’s mandate has been
exhausted! Yuan Shao or Cao Cao will be the instrument of the Han’s end now,
and if not them, their progeny! And they are each of them only half the man
that Lord Yuan was!”
“I admit that Yuan Shu was a hero once, but I’ve had my eyes opened,” Liu Xun countered. “The bumbling Yuan Shao is an unfit chieftain, and the devious, licentious Cao Cao is a madman that will probably have to be replaced as Excellency of Works - preferably by a member of the Liu clan - when his usefulness has ended; but in his last days, Yuan Shu was both mad and unfit for purpose! And now he is dead, so please… see sense…?”
“Your ‘sense’ consists of seizing Lujiang, befriending the ‘defiler of aunts’ in exchange for recognised authority - which will, no doubt, involve harming Lord Yuan’s family - and luring your lord’s lonely vassals to you with promises of wealth, no doubt with a view to building a kingdom of your own and supplanting Cao Cao as the operator of the imperial puppet in Xuchang,” Yang Hong heckled. “Look for another man to help your wicked plan: I would sooner die than betray my lord’s last wish that I protect his children.”