“You want to try and track down White Tiger’s old allies in their
elevated strongholds…?” Xu Gong asked. “That will be no easy feat, and White
Tiger certainly won’t stick his head out of the undergrowth for you again.”
Zhu Zhi’s adopted son Zhu Ran scowled and said, “Are you still his ally, I wonder…?”
Xu Gong flicked his sleeve as a sign of the highest contempt.
“You…!” Zhu Ran cried; he lunged at Xu Gong, but Zhu Zhi grabbed his arm and forced him to sit down again.
“What a lack of temper!” Xu Gong said nervously. “I-!”
“You’re being far too confrontational, Xu Gong,” Zhu Zhi suggested. “My son asked you the question because your tone appeared to be mocking our efforts to end the threat of the Shanyue… which you really shouldn’t be doing.”
“I… apologise, Administrator,” Xu Gong replied. “My nerves are frayed, especially after hearing of the battles around Lujiang. With trust being a rare commodity these days, and seeing what happens to those that lose it…”
“Liu Xun had no trust, and lost only what was wrongfully taken from others,” Zhu Zhi said. “Lujiang is now garrisoned by General Li Shu, who serves Lord Sun, who in turn serves the Han; Liu Xun has fled to Cao Cao, who really should make an example of him. As for what we were originally discussing… I should like to ask Xu Zhao to put aside his eccentric beliefs about charity and stop giving asylum to White Tiger, who is almost certainly coordinating the problems that we still have.”
“He won’t agree,” Xu Gong replied. “Xu Zhao is very stubborn and determined: I should know, since I failed to have him hand over Sheng Xian to me, and then rejoiced when he then went on to ensure my own safety when relations between your lord and me were not so good.”
“…Still, Xu Gong, you refer to Lord Sun as ‘our lord’ as though he not also yours!” Zhu Ran growled.
“And still, Mister Zhu, I insist that he is not,” Xu Gong retorted. “I
am a subject of the Han directly, as made clear when I received the right to
hold the Administrator’s seal of office from the imperial court.”
“From Chang’an, from the ‘regents’!” Zhu Ran heckled. “You-!”
“Let it be,” Zhu Zhi ordered. “Xu Gong, your help is requested, on behalf of the Han, and it would be better if we all helped each other, yes…?”
Xu Gong clasped his hands together, bowed and said, “Of course.”
When the court session in Wu Prefecture’s capital ended, two men went back to their homes with the intention of writing letters to acquaintances: one was Zhu Ran, who was keen to find out what his childhood friend Sun Quan thought of the current situation, while the other was Xu Gong, who wrote another letter to the office of the Excellency of Works, Cao Cao, in the imperial capital Xuchang.
Bofu’s 17-year-old younger brother Sun Quan - who was the Magistrate of Yangxian County in the western part of Wu Prefecture - received the letter from his friend Zhu Ran several days later, whereupon he invited his aide Pan Zhang to his private study so that they could discuss it.