“You’ve said so before, Father,” Xu Lang said, “but-!”
“Never has it been so urgent, son,” Xu Gong interrupted. “Who’s left, mm…? Wang Lang, Liu Yao, Zu Lang, Taishi Ci, Liu Xun, Yuan Shu, White Tiger, Haixi Chen… they’re either dead, put to flight or serving him now. My influence has gone, my support collapsed, all because I was fool enough to work with the Suns! Liu Biao is the last obstacle, and once Sun Ce seizes Jing Province - and for all of Cao’s dismissive words, he surely knows that to be Ce’s true intent - there can be only one fate for Xu Gong… death, death to the third degree, which means everyone close to me - including you - dies as well!”
“We cannot be sure that he’d do that, Father, not if you just accepted his rule, which seems benevolent,” Xu Lang protested. “It is by your current actions that-”
“You’re young, and idealistic: I’m older, and know men’s minds,” Xu Gong retorted. “Sun Ce is no better than his former master Yuan Shu: the servant has learned from the master, and now he is intent on turning Jing and Yang Provinces into a kingdom. He’ll use men while he has to, but I assure you that Zu Lang, Taishi Ci and I will pay for our earlier ‘crimes’ as soon as he is enthroned.”
“…I cannot sway you,” Xu Lang said.
“What I do, I do because I must,” Xu Gong replied. “I will send this to His Majesty - and another letter to that fool Cao Cao, just to let him know what I have done - and then, perhaps, when my words are read to the Imperial court as a whole, we will see an end to this madness.”
Xu Gong’s letters would not go to Xuchang straight away, as he had to minimise the risk of them being intercepted; they would begin their journey as Sun Ce began his next campaign against the lord of Jiangxia Prefecture, Huang Zu.
More weeks passed, wherein Bofu’s wife Daqiao gave birth to two healthy
girls just as the next military confrontation with Huang Zu loomed: he invited
his closest relatives and friends to celebrate the occasion with a banquet, but
the mood was not as jovial as it should have been.
“You’re painfully silent, Boyang,” Bofu said to his cousin Sun Ben.
“…I was wondering which of Cao’s kin it is that your daughters will be betrothed to, Cousin,” Sun Ben replied.
Bofu’s mother, Lady Wu, stared at her volatile son and hoped that she could diffuse the situation if it became violent; she then looked to her former love rival - Sun Jian’s consort, Lady Chen - and nodded purposefully.
“…You’re not being fair,” Bofu retorted after a short silence.
“Please let’s not argue!” Wu Jing cried. “Nephew, I have worked alongside Boyang many a time, and-!”
“It really doesn’t matter how many times ‘who has worked with who’, Uncle,” Bofu interrupted. “Boyang is being unfair. I have not answered Cao Cao’s letter yet, so what reason do you have, Cousin, for ruining this banquet with icy challenges…?”
Sun Ben noticed that most of the guests - who included Sun Quan, Sun Yi, Sun Kuang, Wu Jing, Xu Kun, Gongjin, Lü Fan and Ben’s own brother Fu - were in agreement with Bofu; he smiled awkwardly, bowed and said, “I am being unfair, Bofu, as you say. If there has been no presumption, there has been no offence.”