“Hua Xin?” Cheng Pu exclaimed. “Has that soft-headed fool forgotten that
he’s not got any support and yielded to us for that very reason…?”
“Times change,” Lü Fan replied. “Hua Xin’s a Han loyalist, and as the situation in the north continues to evolve, and as we continue to quarrel with enemies within and without, men like Hua embody the ideals of a peaceful Han Empire. Liu Ji painted a disparaging picture of Hua, as did Taishi Ci, but desperation can make a decent man appear to be something else entirely.”
“So he’s alright then, is that what you’re telling me…?” Bofu asked desperately. “He’s alright, but he doesn’t like me.”
“He’s frightened of our possible intentions,” Lü Fan replied.
“So was Lu Kang,” Bofu noted. “I mean, he was a hero, wasn’t he, that brought peace to places he governed… and I killed him.”
“He was needlessly defiant and too concerned with doing his job, and suffered an unfortunate price for it,” Cheng Pu said. “In that respect, he was like your father. If Hua Xin can be reasoned with, and he is a good man that we can work with, then fine; if not, then we must accept it to be his choice and act accordingly. We cannot jeopardise our great design for the sake of appeasing one neurotic man.”
“…We’ll leave him until I’ve defeated Huang Zu,” Bofu decided.
“If someone might have let me finish, I might have said that very thing,” Lü Fan said. “The plan is simple enough: we push Huang Zu deep into his territory and start to annex southern Jiangxia into Yuzhang, just as Zu tried to annex lands east of Po County Lake into Jiangxia. We then placate Hua Xin, and then we return to Xiakou to defeat Huang Zu definitively.”
“Why not just push into Jiangxia and smash Huang Zu outright in one go…?” Xu Kun asked. “Why go, win, leave, wait and go back when we can go once and be done with it…?”
Gongjin finally arrived at the meeting: he began his contribution by saying, “To do that would leave us exposed to any possible action by Chen Deng, the Shanyue, or Cao Cao himself, should there be a sudden ‘change of heart’.”
“Agreed,” Cheng Pu said. “We must take no risks.”
“And I am travelling to Xuchang to join the court, so the truth of the
situation will be much clearer,” Zhang Hong said. “I expect to find Cao to be
agreeable, but we’ll know soon enough if he is not.”
“…I’ve dragged you all here to discuss things that are already in motion, haven’t I…?” Bofu realised.
“Dong Xi, Zhou Tai, Jiang Qin, Taishi Ci, Chen Wu and Ling Cao are readying the army and navy, Zu Lang has moved his people into Po County, Hè Qi and Han Dang are providing support, and as soon as we’re done here I intend to join them,” Cheng Pu replied. “We have but two worries: being noticed, and being too slow.”
“Then we sail on the first clear morning,” Bofu declared.
Two days passed where the weather - the direction of the wind in
particular - was not considered to be favourable for setting sail; Bofu spent
the days with his family and at the hunting grounds near the city as he tried to
deal with his frustration at having to wait. But on the third day, Bofu’s court
was startled by the arrival of a hysterical messenger from Zhu Zhi’s court in
Wu Prefecture, and many expected an unwanted campaign against the Shanyue to be
“I’ll put White Tiger’s head on a spike!” Bofu cried as he stormed into the court and glared at the handful of nervous officials that had been invited to the reduced session. “Time and again, I’m prevented from-!”
“It isn’t the Shanyue!” Gongjin interrupted.