“Reports tell us that Liu Xun has regrouped near his
Mount Xisai base,” Cheng Pu said once the officers were gathered in the command
room of the lead ship. “We cannot allow him to reorganise and try another
attack. We must chase him and be rid of him.”
“He’ll flee,” Gongjin suggested. “He’ll go north now, to Xuchang.”
Everybody expected Cheng Pu to heckle Gongjin, as he had done so often in the past: instead, the older man smiled and said, “You’re probably right.”
And Gongjin was correct: as soon as Liu Xun realised that Huang Zu’s forces had been routed on the river as well as on land, he abandoned his base and fled northward to Yu Province with Liu Yè and Zhang Xun. Sun Fu was then tasked with restoring Huancheng City while General Li Shu managed the stabilisation of the region generally, and the majority returned to Jiangdong proper. Huang Zu learned of the losses and shuddered; he knew that Bofu would now advance on Jiangxia once again, and that he would probably emerge as the victor.
The Han Dynasty’s Excellency of Works, Cao Cao, retired to his private
study and studied a series of reports from his agents in Yang Province; what he
read caused him to frown thoughtfully and sigh. His sickly aide, Guo Jia, noted
his mood and asked, “What concerns you specifically…?”
“…Sun Ce becomes ever more of a formidable force,” Cao Cao replied. “Such a man must be dealt with correctly.”
“You want to destroy him…?” Guo Jia asked.
“Not if I don’t have to,” Cao Cao insisted. “I have genuine respect for his father, for he and I were the only ones that challenged Dong Zhuo at Luoyang. If there were more Sun Jians, the nation would have been at peace a long time ago… what I must learn is whether Sun Ce is his father’s son or something else.”
“And what you’re reading leaves you divided,” Guo Jia prompted.
“Naturally,” Cao Cao said. “On the one hand, he rightly betrayed Yuan Shu; on the other, he annexes all of Jiangdong - and part of Guangling - to form some sort of personal kingdom, chases away loyal, honest Han officials like Liu Yao and Wang Lang, and fraternises with criminals like Zu Lang. His earlier actions - such as driving poor old Lu Kang to despair and death, or harassing Liu Yao - are forgivable because he did those things as Yuan Shu’s vassal. Everything that he does now is of his own free will, and is less forgivable.”