Lü Fan paused; Sun Quan was glaring at him, and he could not be sure
whether the intensity was due to interest in his words or a desire to one day
have revenge for Lü Fan having exposed and reported his thefts from the
“…‘Lord and vassal’, ‘bond’; right,” Sun Yi prompted. “And…?”
“He’ll get to it, Yi!” Bofu replied.
“Yi, you’re so much like Lord Sun,” Lü Fan said. “I’ll get to the point: Cao Cao wants Yuan Shu’s supporters in Lujiang to join him. Yuan Shu’s followers are torn between serving Lord Sun, following the ‘unambitious’ Yuan Yao - who now lives here in Jiangdong as a nobleman - and remaining in Lujiang, quietly hoping that someone might offer them a livelihood. Some have formed the Qian Hill Bandits, but most want normality. Yan Xiang is, they hope, the best of old and new; to Cao, Yan’s return to Jiujiang is a chance to grow his army and match the quarter-of-a-million men that Yuan Shao’s supporters boast of.”
“…Have we had any defections…?” Wu Jing asked.
“A few, a very small number, hundreds at the most, almost entirely peasant farmers and low-level soldiers,” the politician Quan Rou said. “Most have stayed with Li Shu.”
“But the intention is to siphon away our support in Lujiang and Jiujiang, and I can’t let that happen,” Bofu said. “Cao’s about to be attacked by Yuan Shao and Liu Bei, perhaps Liu Biao as well; if he took Yu and northern Yang and lost them again, I’d have to go and pacify northern Yang again! What if Liu Biao seized the region…? Hasn’t Cao Cao been looking at Liu Bei while he fights him…? Cao shouldn’t be taking what he can’t keep!”
“And his actions are a direct violation of our implied closeness,” Qin Song suggested. “He proposes marriage alliances on the one hand, and then he sends a loyal vassal of an old enemy of your clan to steal people from you on the other.”
“That too,” Bofu replied. “I see what Lü Ziheng and others are saying, but Cao knows what Yuan Shu and his cronies did to us. Was there no other man…?”
“Show caution!” Zhang Zhao pleaded. “My brother reports nothing untoward! And Cao Cao is the Excellency of Works!”
“Yeah, and Dong Zhuo was the Chancellor of State,” Han Dang heckled.
“We kicked his arse all the same, ‘cause the rotten beggar had it coming!”
“The ‘Two Zhangs’ are not veterans of the Yuan years as we are,” Cheng Pu said. “Huang Gongfu, Han Yigong, Zhu Junli and I were there at the beginning, with Lord Sun’s father, and we remember Yan Xiang: he is a repulsive dog that mocked Lord Sun Jian and Lord Sun Ce with equal relish. If such a man is now the provincial inspector, then that tells me only one thing: Cao Cao isn’t preparing for a future peace with Lord Sun Ce, he’s preparing for a future war.”
“It is probably just a precaution,” Zhang Zhao suggested. “He doesn’t know Lord Sun as we all do.”
“There’s word from Wu Prefecture that other correspondence between Xu Gong and the capital has been found,” Qin Song said. “Xu Gong was writing to Cao Cao before he tried to petition the Son of Heaven, and he appears to have been an unofficial spy that Cao Cao never really turned away. We only have one half of the correspondence, but one can guess a few things from the half that we have.”
“Be restrained, Lord Sun!” Zhang Zhao cried.
“No,” Bofu chortled. “He’s planning on taking something from me…? Fine: then I’ll take something from him!”
“It’s probably an error of communications!” Zhang Zhao said.