“I will send Liu Fu,” Cao Cao replied. “This time, I am confident: send Liu Fu.”
Huang Zu’s reorganised and reinforced army and navy were providing a
formidable challenge for Bofu’s reduced retinue: Dong Xi, Hè Qi, Han Dang,
Jiang Qin, Chen Wu and Ling Cao had all been allocated to other regions, partly
because they were needed to quell uprisings but mainly because the general
expectation had been that the resistance in Jiangxia would be feeble.
“I’ve underestimated Huang Zu, and after I said that I wouldn’t,” Bofu grumbled.
“We all did,” Lü Fan replied. “We won’t break him quickly.”
“…No,” Bofu murmured.
“Worried that your ‘other front’ might land you in trouble…?” Gongjin asked.
“…What ‘other front’…?” Cheng Pu prompted.
“I, uh… I ordered Li Shu to attack Yan Xiang,” Bofu admitted. “Yan was moving to Liyang! How could I ignore that?”
“…So Cao will probably want to retaliate,” Cheng Pu said. “That’s not helpful.”
“We won’t be here that long…!” Bofu chuckled.
But Huang Zu’s defences held up, and plans for a swift campaign turned
to thoughts of a siege or retreat; at the same time, the Administrator of
Guangling Prefecture, Chen Deng, received a letter from Cao Cao and retreated
to his study to ponder it further. His brother, Chen Ying, asked, “What bothers
“His Excellency asks that I do something quite absurd,” Chen Deng replied. “He asks - and by ‘asks’, I mean ‘orders’ - that I launch an immediate, ‘pre-emptive’ attack on Sun-controlled southern Guangling and, if possible, the eastern part of Wu Prefecture, for the purpose of ‘territorial reclamation’.”
Chen Ying laughed and said, “It’s a joke, surely!”
“…This is a proper order,” Chen Deng replied. “I’ve a mind to ask
Father’s advice. He was able to outthink Lü Bu and the whole of Yuan Shu’s
counsel. But this says ‘immediately’, and Father’s in Pei County on the other
side of the province…”
“What will you do…?” Chen Ying asked.
“I have to obey!” Chen Deng replied. “As insane as it is, I must obey: I must attack a neighbouring province without provocation, for despite His Excellency’s use of the words ‘pre-emptive’ and ‘reclamation’, there is no immediate cause for such a provocative act that I can see. And then I must face the wrath of the son of the ‘Tiger of Jiangdong’. I will be honest, Brother, and say that I do not disagree with the order, just the timing and circumstances. If I was doing this with an army of fifty-thousand, I would be happy… but what can I do with what I actually have…? And what if Liu Bei returns, or Zang Ba rebels again, or Yuan Shao sends an army down from Qing…?”
“…So who can you turn to…?” Chen Ying asked.
“Sad to say,” Chen Deng replied, “there is only one person that I can turn to…”
A week passed.