Two men in plain robes and simple black caps left the grand audience
hall of their lord and moved to the treasury offices nearby; their short walk
through the streets of the southern city of Chaisang was deliberately slow
despite the general mood being one of great urgency. One of the men turned to
the other upon reaching the building and said, “After you.”
“No, after you,” the other man replied mechanically.
“Not much interested in etiquette today, Gongjin…?” the first man asked dryly.
The second man - Zhou Yu of Lujiang, whose courtesy name was ‘Gongjin’ - smiled slightly and said, “Have we not both had enough of ‘etiquette’ today, Ziheng…?”
The first man - Lü Fan of Xi, whose courtesy name was ‘Ziheng’ - sighed and replied, “I won’t disagree. But please, go ahead anyway, and I will have tea brought for us.”
Zhou Yu nodded silently and passed his friend and colleague, who then turned to a junior official and said, “Have a servant bring us tea, please.”
Zhou Yu and Lü Fan were sat together in the meeting room of the treasury office within minutes, with Lü as host and Zhou as guest. Lü Fan sipped his tea from a dish and stared at Zhou Yu, who had opted to sit with an empty dish and stare at it blankly: the two were uncharacteristically silent for several minutes before Lü said, “You’re absolutely committed to this plan of yours, then.”
“What other choice have I…?” Zhou Yu retorted as his eyes turned from the dish to his friend. “In some ways, Ziheng, nothing has changed: Jing is a problem just as it always has been, and ever since those first heady days when Bofu, you and I were first able to lead the people of Jiangdong into battle against Liu Biao and Huang Zu in an effort to avenge the death of Bofu’s father, I-!”
“But that’s not what ‘has not changed’, is it…?” Lü Fan asked.
“…No,” Zhou Yu sighed. “No, it isn’t.”
“Bofu” was the courtesy name of Sun Ce, whose birth age was similar to Zhou Yu and Lü Fan and whose charisma, strength and courage had taken the grieving Sun clan forward and elevated them from leaders of a vassal militia to rulers of a quarter of Han Dynasty China.
“What do you hope to achieve…?” Lü Fan asked.
“…Is that not obvious…?” Zhou Yu chortled. “I thought that you and I agreed on everything of this nature, Ziheng! I thought-!”
Zhou Yu suddenly paused.
“…Are you alright…?” Lü Fan prompted.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Zhou Yu insisted. “I was just thinking and became distracted, that’s all.”
“…Alright,” Lü Fan said cautiously. “To answer your question, Gongjin, I do, of course, agree with you on the ‘Liu’ matter and always did: the sudden improvement of the man’s fortunes - and in no other way more than his acquisition of an army of tens of thousands that includes bandits and Yuan Shu’s former- …What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Zhou Yu insisted, despite the fact that he was smiling inexplicably; he gestured slightly and said, “Please, go on.”