“We can also welcome Magistrate Sun Quan from Yangxian County, and
Mister Sun Jing from his base at Kuaiji Prefecture,” Gu Yong concluded.
“Good to see you, Uncle,” Bofu hailed.
“I am glad to be here, lord and nephew,” Sun Jing replied.
“And Quan, of course, is always a heart-warming sight,” Bofu said as he looked at Sun Quan and smiled.
“I am glad to be back again so soon, Brother,” Sun Quan replied.
“…Everyone knows the latest news,” Bofu said. “Any ideas…?”
“Cao Cao is His Majesty’s guardian,” Zhang Zhao replied. “When Yuan was ‘too busy’ to save the Son of Heaven from the bandits, Cao Cao did so. And yet we are now told that Cao is the villain!”
Cheng Pu snorted angrily.
“And by whom…?” Zhang Zhao asked theatrically. “…By Dong Cheng, Liu Bei, and Yuan Shao! Dong Cheng is a former ally of Dong Zhuo that used an army of criminals to prise His Majesty from the Regents’ grip and then betrayed them; Liu Bei is a habitual thief that has twice tried to steal Xu Province from dead men and failed; and Yuan Shao has the dubious honours of firstly being Commander-in-Chief of a silent human wall while Dong Zhuo pillaged towns and murdered sovereigns, secondly a shameless land-grabber that attacked the lord’s esteemed father when his crimes were exposed by another, and, thirdly, being the brother of that aforementioned ‘other’ - a demented heretic that treated heroes as possessions and dared to emulate Wang Mang!”
“…A rousing condemnation,” Gongjin chuckled. “You excel yourself again, Zibu.”
“Am I wrong…?” Zhang Zhao asked.
“We cannot be entirely sure, but you’re probably very right,” Gongjin replied.
“Since Cao Cao rescued the Son of Heaven, he has built a temporary capital, reorganised the Imperial army, destroyed the Yellow Turbans, pacified the Xiongnu, removed the stain of Lü Bu’s presence from the world and started the expensive process of restoring the sacked ruins of Luoyang to their former glory,” Zhang Zhao said.
“I find it difficult to believe that such a man is now
murdering innocent pregnant consorts and making the Son of Heaven so frightened
for his life that he resorts to soliciting aid from his former captors and
giving them secret edicts.”
“So what do you make of Cao appointing Yan Xiang as the new provincial inspector…?” Bofu asked pointedly.
All eyes turned to Zhang Zhao, who laughed awkwardly and replied, “It is an odd move, but it can be explained!”
“Go on then,” the veteran Han Dang chuckled. “Explain.”
Zhang Zhao looked to his colleagues for support.
“I might do an equally competent job, and therefore save Mister Zhang his voice, which appears to be faltering,” Lü Fan said. “Cao Cao looked at our dominance in Jiangdong and thought little of it; nobody cares about the south. But now Li Shu guards Lujiang, and we have parts of Guangling and Jiujiang as well: they’re all to the north of the Great River, and that makes Cao worry. Most of the inhabitants of Lujiang and Jiujiang liked Yuan Shu, because he typically governed with a firm but generous hand; they only turned on him when he made his audacious claim to the throne.”
“And…?” Sun Yi prompted. “Didn’t Yan Xiang serve Yuan Shu loyally…? He used to heckle Father and Bofu as well, and he was a toady that stayed with Shu after that ‘claim’ you mentioned.”
“He was a toady to an extent, but he had his limits,” Lü Fan replied. “Yan Xiang remonstrated when Yuan Shu raised the subject of thrones, so I understand: yes, Yan aided Yuan thereafter, as a vassal should, since the bond between lord and vassal is like that of a father and son and should only be violated when the lord has truly lost all of their humanity.”