Liu Bei’s followers had just seized Xu Province’s capital, Xiapi, and killed Cao Cao’s selected governor Che Zhou; the act was arousing suspicion that the normally cautious Liu Bei expected some sort of support, most likely political, and the probable source of that support was the General of Chariots and Cavalry, Dong Cheng, who was long known to hate Cao Cao.
“Sun Ce has been repeatedly denounced by Xu Gong, as we know, but we
have also received similar words of condemnation from mid-ranking officials in
Yuzhang in the last few days,” Guo Jia said. “Sun Ce is deemed to be a minor
hegemon, a reincarnation of Xiang Yu… or, as Xu Gong put it once, a ‘Little Conqueror’
that has lofty plans for turning Jiangdong - and, it seems, the rest of Yang
Province, Guangling, and Jiangxia as well - into ‘a reborn State of Chu’ that
he can rule as he pleases.”
“I have my old friend Benchu threatening me, the Qiang causing chaos in the northwest, more Yellow Turbans in Runan, Liu Bei taking over Xiapi… and now I am expected to worry about Sun Ce!” Cao Cao complained. “What do I do, gentlemen? Do I ignore the petitions, trust this young tiger and keep my eyes turned northward, or do I add him to my list of issues that must be dealt with at once…?”
“Now is the time to appoint an Inspector of Yang Province, in order to stamp your authority on the region and make Sun Ce understand that he is master of what the Han gives him to rule and nothing more,” Xun Yu said. “We must appoint a man that will placate the men that once followed Yuan Shu; men like Chen Lan, who now terrorises the region as one of the leaders of the Qian Hill Bandits. We must choose a man that has dealt with Sun Ce before if we can, someone that can anticipate his every move and keep us well informed.”
“…I know that I will probably regret this, but I have no man that fits that description and also has my full confidence,” Cao Cao sighed.
“Liu Xun is
an arrogant hankerer that must be kept at court; Zhang Xun is like a loyal dog
that barks about the well-being of his dead master’s children and has no will
of his own; Liu Yè, I admit, is a smart man, but he’s wrongly blamed for Liu
Xun’s bad decisions and will, by his own confession, have little sway with most
of Liu Xun’s defected soldiers. That leaves one man, but… but what do I unleash
by sending him…?”
“You must take the risk,” Xun Yòu insisted. “We have too many other problems to worry about.”
Cao Cao turned to the fifth adviser, who had remained silent throughout: it was Yuan Huan, a former adviser to Yuan Shu that had defected in the wake of Shu’s decision to declare as an emperor and risen up the ranks upon reaching Xuchang.
“The man that you refer to is a former colleague, and I must admit that he is competent,” Yuan Huan said. “Our options are, as you say, limited: he at least knows the region well.”
“…Fine,” Cao Cao grumbled. “Heaven mocks me once again: send Yan Xiang.”
Guo Jia laughed and said, “If nothing else, it will be amusing.”