“My men cannot hold for much longer, so yes, we’d be fools to stay
here,” Huang Zu replied. “We must sacrifice more men to provide distractions
for our retreat, which upsets me, but what choice do I have…?”
“I’ll do what I can to hold them at bay,” Su Fei promised.
“You’ll do no such thing,” Huang Zu replied. “I need both of you alive, you and Liu Pan: place others in that suicidal role… perhaps this finally a use for your friend Gan Ning.”
“…Perhaps,” Su Fei sighed.
“We’ll flee via the west gate while others are making noise at the eastern and southern gates and a decoy flees through the northern gates,” Huang Zu continued. “We can commandeer fishing boats to go back to Northern Xiakou if needs be.”
“It shall be as you say,” Liu Pan replied.
Bofu received word of Hua Xin’s intentions at around the same time that
Huang Zu was staging his retreat; Bofu stamped his foot and screamed, “Another one that wants to label me as
‘another Xiang Yu’! I am not another Xiang Yu!”
“And Hua Xin is not another Xu Gong,” Lü Fan suggested. “Hua Xin’s regained a lot of popular support in recent times: he must therefore be treated differently to Xu Gong, or we will lose Yuzhang Prefecture.”
“…So what must I do…?” Bofu asked. “I have an old man that wants to pick a fight that’s creeping up behind me, and another old man that’s running away in front of me that I want to catch. What do I do…?”
“Let Huang Zu flee,” Gongjin replied. “As for Hua Xin… I suggest that we send Zhou Tai and Yu Fan to Yuzhang to appeal for calm and peace.”
“A good idea,” Lü Fan said.
“Why…?” Bofu asked as he turned to look at Cheng Pu.
“Because Zhou Tai’s reputation is very good in Yuzhang, and because Yu Fan was a subordinate of Wang Lang that can help Hua Xin to see that he is mistaking one situation for another,” Cheng Pu replied.
“…Alright, I get it, we want to preserve Hua Xin,” Bofu said. “But can I
really let Huang Zu go now…?”
Jiang Qin’s pursuing, but I’ve given him orders to withdraw if the lay of the land is at all treacherous,” Lü Fan explained. “We’ve captured Huang Zu’s family, thousands of Huang Zu’s boats and ships, killed or captured tens of thousands of Huang Zu’s men, and completely broken his hold on the region to the west of Po County Lake; he’s got to go and hide in his capital now and request reinforcements from Liu Biao that Biao daren’t send if he wants to leave his back exposed to Cao Cao.”
“…Write to Yu Fan, and have him speak to Hua Xin as you suggest,” Bofu replied sombrely. “I’ll go to talk with Hua Xin personally once Yu Zhongxiang’s talked him around, and then I’ll rendezvous with everyone at Chaisang.”
“It shall all be done,” Lü Fan said.
Jiang Qin and his men pursued Huang Zu’s small defence force
relentlessly: Huang’s vassal Su Fei had quietly assigned his friend Gan Ning as
a part of the rear guard, hoping that the young prodigy would gain some merit
for it. Gan Ning’s unit was adept at scare tactics and feints, and Gan himself
was a gifted archer, even on horseback: the small gang employed all of those
talents to keep the pursuers at bay.
“These men that Huang Zu has guarding the rear are quite good!” Jiang Qin realised. “SHOW CARE, EVERYONE!”