Bofu prepared for his next attack on Jiangxia by training his forces on
the Po County Lake in secret and stockpiling supplies in Chaisang; they then
advanced by land and river, blockading the waterways and building several camps
along the roads to southern Xiakou. Huang Zu was horrified when he learned that
the Jiangdong forces had returned so quickly and that they were so well
prepared: his composure failed him, and his remaining allies - the adviser Kuai
Yue, Pan Jun, and Generals Zhang Shuo, Chen Jiu and Su Fei - struggled in their
efforts to stabilise him.
“Is that all the respite I get…? Two months???” Huang Zu exclaimed. “I have barely started mourning my dead sons, and Liu Pan has left us, and…!”
Kuai Yue shook his head and said, “It is as I have already said: I am not surprised, Lord Huang, but I am not prepared either.”
“And as I have already said, I haven’t had time to rebuild my fleet!” Huang Zu complained. “The most that I can do is defend myself! But for how long???”
“My lord,” Su Fei began, “the-”
“No Gan Ning! No Gan Ning!” Huang Zu shrieked. “Don’t you dare mention Gan Ning!”
“…Lord Huang, you’ve mentioned him three times more than I intended to,” Su Fei replied. “I was going to say that the reinforcements from Xiangyang are here and that we’ve completed the construction of two hundred boats and recruited four thousand new men. All in all, we can commit eight thousand men and three hundred vessels if we have to.”
“It will have to do,” Huang Zu said. “Just don’t let that river rat get to Xiakou!”
While Bofu casually surrounded Huang Zu, his general in Lujiang Prefecture, Li Shu, had marched eastward from his base in Wan County to Inspector Yan Xiang’s temporary capital - the walled city of Liyang - in the south of Jiujiang Prefecture, where he was trying to recruit soldiers.
Yan Xiang was taken completely by surprise, and he did not have the resources to
repel an army of 5,000 men.
“Somebody notify His Excellency!” Yan Xiang shouted at one of his aides. “Get somebody out of the camp and away from here! Get them to Xuchang and warn His Excellency!”
“What will you do…?” the aide asked.
“I died here once before and didn’t realise it,” Yan Xiang replied. “This time I’ll be sure. Now go, man, and get word to the capital!”
Li Shu’s army was not being especially careful, so Yan Xiang’s aides were able to smuggle a messenger out of the besieged city; a desperate civilian mob opened the gates to the city a few days later, and Inspector Yan Xiang was captured within an hour of that.
“Well, well,” Yan Xiang chuckled as Li Shu paced back and forth in front of him. “I get a general, do I…? Have we met…?”
“You were always arrogant,” Li Shu said. “But you’re brave too, which truly surprises me. It won’t save you though.”
“I know,” Yan Xiang replied. “Come to think of it, I’ve probably died twice before. A man only has so much luck.”
“…Your head will go to my lord,” Li Shu said.
“Ah, but who will your lord’s head go to…?” Yan Xiang retorted. “I’m the Han court’s appointed Inspector, General: your acts will not go unpunished.”
“It isn’t your problem, Yan Xiang, so why worry…?” Li Shu said. “Guards: take him away.”
Yan Xiang smiled as he was escorted from Li Shu’s command tent: his face still carried part of that smile when his severed head was returned to Li Shu a few minutes later.