“…What will you do with Yan Xiang and Liu Xun…?” Guo Jia asked.
Cao Cao smirked and said, “You are being clever again, Fengxiao! I know that I would seem to be somewhat hypocritical if I forgave those two and condemned Sun Ce, but the world is not simple, is it…? Those two come to me separately as men that have gambled and lost, men that now want to be forgiven and allowed to serve the Han government; I shall make use of them both in different ways. Sun Ce is unapologetic, aggressive and free-spirited, which might not be compatible with what I’m trying to do… namely, reunifying the empire.”
“Can he not be a vassal king…?” Guo Jia asked semi-seriously.
“He’ll be a vassal, plain and simple,” Cao Cao chuckled. “We’re none of us meant to be kings, Fengxiao. If the Son of Heaven desired such an elevation, then so be it, but I doubt that Sun Ce would be given such an honour! No, he’s being an upstart; on the other hand, he might be useful if he’d agree to be a friend…”
“…Which, I suspect, involves a marriage alliance between his clan and yours,” Guo Jia prompted.
“My youngest brother has a daughter that is yet to be betrothed to anyone, and I know that Ce has three brothers of about the right age to be a match,” Cao Cao replied. “I know that Sun Ce’s only recently married and his beautiful young wife - one of the famous Qiao sisters, whose beauty has long piqued my curiosity - is only recently with child, but I imagine that one of Sun Ce’s high-ranking relations has daughters, though… now that I think of it, his cousin Sun Ben has a daughter, actually.”
“Are you hoping to marry one of these young ‘tiger daughters’ yourself, Lord Cao…?” Guo Jia teased.
“No, no!” Cao Cao chuckled. “I’m thinking more about my sons, specifically my ‘Yellow-beard’, Zhang: he’s a lot like Sun Ce, and so he’ll be a match for the fiery Sun women. After an alliance like that - Cao and Sun, bloodlines intertwined - we can be sure that Sun Ce will behave a little better, and perhaps be more like his famous father.”
“Your plan to make Yan Xiang ‘Inspector of Yang Province’ might undo any
good work,” Guo Jia suggested.
“Reports indicate that Sun Ce has given a new home to Liu Yao’s son, Yuan Shu’s son and daughter, and some of Liu Xun’s kin that disapproved of his seizing Lujiang,” Cao Cao retorted. “If Yan Xiang were a vassal of Liu Biao, I would worry; Sun Ce will not act against Yan Xiang, not when he sees that he is back in the region to restore order for the Han. I’m not sending Liu Xun back, of course: he needs to be kept on a tight leash, and I want his adviser Liu Yè to join me.”
“I shall not disagree with that last point,” Guo Jia said. “Liu Yè would be a magnificent addition to our growing pool of talent, as Liu Fu was.”
“…So all that remains is to put this proposal to Sun Ce once he’s finished playing ‘pirates’ with Huang Zu,” Cao Cao continued. “I hope, for his sake, that he agrees.”
Jing Governor Liu Biao was startled when he finally learned of the extent of Huang Zu and Liu Xun’s defeat: he summoned most of his senior advisers, administrators and politicians to his northern capital Xiangyang and said, “Men are here that I normally leave to run the various parts of my domain, but now is not the time: Sun Ce is preparing to attack Jiangxia again. It won’t be straight away, but we will most likely hear of his sailing from Qu’e in a matter of weeks. Gentlemen, I am perturbed: what must I do…?”