And so Yan Xiang began the journey from Xuchang to Shouchun, where he
was expected to take up the post of Inspector of Yang Province: the former
adviser to Yuan Shu would have the full support of the Han government, though
that would not be in the form of any sort of standing army. It would not take
long for word of Yan’s appointment to reach Jiangdong - not least because it
would be announced to Bofu’s court by an imperial messenger - and it would
cause as much anger as Cao Cao had guessed.
But the Excellency of Works was a desperate man that was resorting to desperate measures: within days, he was supressing an imminent coup within the capital and vehemently denying the authenticity of a secret imperial decree - dubbed the ‘Girdle Edict’ in reference to how it was supposedly smuggled out of the palace - that denounced Cao as a traitor and a tyrant and called upon the warlords to unite and destroy him. Word of that edict - and the potentially more damaging fact that he had ordered the death of Imperial Consort Dong, the pregnant daughter of the conspirator Dong Cheng and a favourite of Emperor Xian - would take time to circulate, but the challenge to Cao Cao’s court in Xuchang would be a divisive and agenda-changing issue that threatened to bring about more chaos than anything that had come before.
Bofu’s fleet began a swift withdrawal from the Shaxian region after
having left troops to contain Huang Zu. Bofu - who had returned to Shaxian
after placating Hua Xin - turned to Gongjin and asked, “Why am I going back to
“Matters of state,” Gongjin replied. “Firstly, we must discuss the potential consequences of our own actions: Xuchang is bound to have found out that Xu Gong is dead by now, and our continued attacks on Jing Province might be sending out erroneous messages that tally well with the slander.”
“…And secondly…?” Bofu prompted.
“Secondly,” Gongjin said, “we must reassure Cao Cao of our goodwill… though that might be difficult if he’s done what I understand him to have done.”
“…To us…?” Bofu asked apprehensively.
“In a sense, yes,” Gongjin replied. “He’s… … …Bofu, Wu Jing has sent word that he’s appointed a new Inspector of Yang Province.”
“Not Liu Xun,” Bofu groaned.
“No,” Gongjin said. “…In a way, better, but in another way, worse… he’s appointed Yan Xiang.”
Bofu laughed ironically and said, “Please tell me that you’re playing some sort of prank. I didn’t even know he was alive; that’s a shock enough! But Cao Cao’s…?”
“I know, I wondered if there’s been some sort of mistake, or that it is another Yan Xiang,” Gongjin replied. “But it’s him. Somehow, he survived everything and now he works for Cao Cao.”