Cao Cao laughed and said, “Your point is valid, Elder Cheng. He threatens to ‘go above my authority’ if I do not heed him, but I don’t think that he’d dare write directly to His Majesty and draw more attention to himself. No, our main concern is not Sun Ce of Fuchun: it is Liu Bei…”
Liu Bei was the descendant of a disinherited prince of the realm who
began life as a weaver of straw mats and shoes: financial aid from a relative
elevated him to a private school student, and the Yellow Turban Rebellion gave
him his first opportunity to be noticed by the Han court. Bei - along with his
equally famous allies Zhang Fei and Guan Yu - quelled several small Yellow
Turban uprisings in the northern frontier region of Yòu Province, for which Bei
was made a county magistrate; he surrendered the title involuntarily at a later
date and led a private militia against rebellions for Xu Province Governor Tao
Several relocations, promotions, resignations and misfortunes followed, but fate returned Bei and his small army to Xu Province when Cao Cao invaded it for personal reasons; a local magnate, Mi Zhu, pushed for Bei to inherit the province from the ailing Tao Qian, but he quickly lost it when disaffected officials - who included the future Administrator of Guangling, Chen Deng - colluded with the renegade warlord Lü Bu and expelled Bei from his office while he was on campaign against the Sun clan’s then-master Yuan Shu. The usurped governor then endured a year-long siege and finally yielded to Lü Bu, who assigned Bei to a western defensive position in order to guard - and act as an expendable buffer - against whomever the inconstant Bu was currently fighting. Lü Bu finally decided to ally with Yuan Shu, who had declared himself as the First Emperor of the Zhong Dynasty: Liu Bei was routed by the untrusting Bu and chased into Yan Province, which was now home to the temporary imperial capital Xuchang. Cao Cao - who was now Emperor Xian’s guardian - allied with his old enemy Liu Bei and marched into Xu Province, this time as a protector; a long, costly siege finally ended with the death of Lü Bu, but it also ended the brief peace between Cao Cao and Xu’s former governor Liu Bei.
Cao Cao assigned one of his own followers, Che Zhou, as the governor of Xu Province in the wake of defeating Lü Bu, rather than reinstating Liu Bei: this very public act left Bei resentful, and as soon as an opportunity arose - and that opportunity came in the form of a commission to block Yuan Shu’s passage to Ji Province - Bei left Cao’s service and returned to his base in western Xu Province. Liu Bei’s time in Xuchang had introduced him to a small clique of officials that hated Cao Cao and intended to stage a coup with the aid of a secret document; Bei readily joined the plot and intended to aid it with a military campaign in Xu Province that would, it was hoped, inspire the procrastinating Yuan Shao to finally act. Cao Cao rightly suspected that Liu Bei’s next move was imminent, and so Xu Gong’s protestations would go unanswered while proven threats were dealt with.
Another week passed: the reports of Huang Shè’s latest defeat reached Wu
County City and provoked minor celebration in Zhu Zhi’s court.
“Huang Zu’s forces have been routed again!” Zhu Zhi said. “This latest victory, though relatively minor, shows that we’re gaining new talent all of the time.”
“Yes, Mister Zhu,” Xu Gong said. “Xu Sheng sounds like a man of great talent, and I am honoured to share lineage with him, no matter how distant.”