Gan Ning was able to wound one of Jiang Qin’s riders, but his own men
were proving to be difficult targets due to their constantly-shifting
movements. It then started to rain, and the impending marshlands were
treacherous enough when they were dry, so Jiang Qin ordered his men to halt.
“Are we not going to go any further…?” a captain asked.
“No,” Jiang Qin replied sternly. “I won’t risk losing a single one of you men to one of Huang Zu’s ambushes.”
“But it’s to avenge the lord’s father!” the captain exclaimed. “We’d gladly give our lives to-!”
“To what…? To die needlessly and probably lose sight of him anyway…?” Jiang Qin insisted. “There will be other times.”
Gan Ning had a scout report Jiang Qin’s retreat to Huang Zu, who exhaled loudly and said, “Perhaps this is a trial, after which- …Wait… Messenger, did you say that you were sent by…! …Su Fei…!”
Su Fei guessed the reason for his lord’s change of tone: he laughed nervously and said, “My lord, Gan has-”
“You put a faithless murderer in the rear guard???” Huang Zu shrieked. “What if he had been bought, fool??? I said that Gan Ning will never serve me! Do not use him again!”
Liu Pan looked at Su Fei, who sighed and said, “He has served you well today.”
“I don’t care!” Huang Zu retorted. “Today he ‘serves me well’, but tomorrow he’ll take my head to Sun Ce! Don’t make me tell you again!”
Su Fei left his lord and rode to the rear guard to notify Gan Ning that his services would not be required for the rest of the journey.
“…I must be frank and say that we are running out of options,” Liu Pan said. “Mister Huang, we may need men like Gan Ning, and if he has a price - just as many others do in your employ - then find it and offer something that no man can match.”
Huang Zu grunted angrily and rode on; Liu Pan and the rest of his entourage followed, including Gan Ning, who was certain that he could gain some trust. Huang Zu’s force eventually reached a military garrison and commandeered the few boats that were there: they crossed the Yangtze River and took shelter in the fortress city of Northern Xiakou, where they would remain until Jiangxia’s capital was better fortified and the demoralised Liu Biao had a better idea.