“…We’ll lose most of your new recruits, that much is certain,” Liu Yè
replied. “We must conserve our resources for the loyal men that have always
“Yes, yes!” Liu Xun said. “I’ll do all that you say!”
“General Zhang, I must ask for your total support,” Liu Yè said.
“You’ll have it,” Zhang Xun promised. “I do not intend to defect to Sun Bofu’s forces, as much as I would perhaps like to… the bond between lord and vassal must always transcend one’s own wishes. Lord Liu is a representative of Lord Yuan Shu’s legacy, and the young lord relies on-”
“Forgive my interrupting you, but the moment is upon us,” Liu Yè said. “General Zhang, we will need to smash through the northern blockade and somehow get to the Great River. From there, we can sail westward, hopefully to a secure Huancheng; if, as I suspect, Sun Ce has seized the place while we’ve been here on this fool’s errand, we’ll send an envoy to Jing - I’ll go myself, if needs be - to request assistance from Liu Biao.”
“He and I, we’re distant kin, Liu Biao and I, just as you and I are, Ziyang,” Liu Xun rambled. “Yes, he’s bound to help if… if… oh, can I have lost Huancheng…?”
“Who better to lose it to, Lord Liu, than the man that won it for you all those years ago…?” Liu Yè chortled. “Now, let us get ready for what is ahead of us.”
Liu Xun’s forces began a hasty retreat along the path that they had
taken: many men quietly broke away from the march as the desperate situation
became clear, and many more were of a mind to desert when the rear of the force
was struck by a gang of riders that were led by the former bandit king Zu Lang.
“Another mouldy branch off the royal tree comes here to thrash our hairy arses, but all you’ll get is being snapped in two!” Zu Lang heckled as he personally led the attacks on Liu Xun’s rear guard.
When Zu Lang’s attack
was reported to Liu Xun, he grimaced and said, “I won’t be made a corpse in a
place like this, and not by trash like Zu
Lang! Somebody chase him away!”
“I’ll go,” Zhang Xun suggested.
“We can’t afford to lose you,” Liu Yè said. “I’ll send some of the newer men.”
“They’ll defect and join our pursuers!” Liu Xun cried.
“So be it if they do,” Liu Yè retorted. “We cannot afford to have anything but unreliable men at the front.”
“…Fine!” Liu Xun whined. “Whatever it takes!”
Within a short time, Zu Lang withdrew; the problem that now faced the dwindling army of invaders was a force led by Sun Ben and Sun Fu. The Jiangdong army had completely blockaded the road to the Yangtze River, leaving Liu’s forces with no choice but to fight.
“…How dare those fools challenge me again, Ziyang!” Liu Xun exclaimed. “Even with all of the desertions, I still outnumber them!”
“Please, Lord Liu, no more baseless arrogance!” Liu Yè complained. “Where are Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, Dong Xi, Chen Wu, Zhou Yu, or Taishi Ci…?”
“Ayah… I forgot that Sun Ce had Taishi Ci,” Liu Xun murmured.