“I cannot justify attempting to seize southern Guangling at this
moment,” Chen Deng insisted. “Xue Zhou is not completely defeated, and Sun Ce
is very, very dangerous. Neither Governor Che nor Excellency Cao has issued the
appropriate orders and I would prefer to do such a thing only when I am told
“But Sun Ce is a traitor, and inaction makes us look weak!” one official heckled. “What’s stopping him from deciding he wants the rest of Guangling if we don’t act…?”
“Sense,” Chen Deng replied. “I am not helpless, gentlemen, and Sun Ce knows that. Let him have southern Guangling for now: I’m sure that the court has a plan for the future.”
Chen Deng was considered a hero by many, so his stance, while unpopular, was accepted; the Guangling administration would do nothing until an opportunity and an order told them otherwise.
Huang Shè and Han Xi’s fleet carpeted the waters of the Yangtze River as
it moved eastward: the fishermen and other civilian users of the waterways were
quick to abandon their positions and seek cover inland. Most if not all of the
Jing men were adept at the fine art of river combat: men had to be able to
live, eat, sleep and even fight on the unwieldy vessels, which varied in size
from small boats or rafts with sails to large battleships with thousands of
crewmen. The training was intense and necessary, as one wrong step or moment of
giddiness could result in a fall into the cold, treacherous waters and almost
certain death in combat conditions; southern Jing men were some of the finest
river-warriors, able to engage in archery or close-quarters combat with single
and two-handed weapons like spears, swords and pikes, and all taking place on
floating, wobbling water vehicles that they might have to leap between as they
advanced or retreated.
Bofu’s navy was almost as well trained, and his fleet was quickly growing in size as his allies gathered around him for what was looking to be a very important battle for supremacy in the region. The prodigious martial artist Dong Xi and two former pirates - the unyielding Zhou Tai and the humble Jiang Qin - had now added their forces to Bofu’s: they would soon be joined by Bofu’s cousin Xu Kun, the irrepressible Ling Cao, the unbelievably impulsive and reckless Lü Meng and the veteran Han Dang, who had travelled from Wu Prefecture in the east to join his old colleagues Cheng Pu and Huang Gai.