Sun Hè and Song Qian led their bodyguard forces after Bofu, Gongjin and
Sun Yi, who led the charge; Lü Fan turned to Taishi Ci and asked, “What do you
plan to do…?”
“Why are you not just ordering Taishi to advance, Mister Lü?” Xu Kun said.
“He needs no orders,” Lü Fan replied.
Taishi Ci smiled and said, “I’m best placed as reinforcements this time, I think. That’s why General Xu Kun and I were not asked to join the charge.”
“So there’s some plan amid all this…?” Xu Kun exclaimed.
Lü Fan nodded silently.
Bofu’s charge was blunted by Zhang Yun, whose forces overtook Chen Jiu’s and surged forward; the men from northern Jing were no less competent as river fighters, and they suddenly had a numerical advantage.
“PRESS FORWARD!” Chen Jiu bellowed. “AID ZHANG YUN!”
The Jing men leapt from boat to boat and engaged Bofu’s small militia: men fell in all directions as the Jiangdong men defended their isolated position, but their skills would not be enough. It was then that Taishi Ci advanced: he led his elite men toward Zhang Yun and turned the battle around. Within minutes of that, Zhou Tai sailed a line of boats along the southern bank of the river and split Chen Jiu’s and Zhang Yun’s forces; Sun Ben, Cheng Pu and Sun Fu had the medium-sized vessels close in on the battle and provide archer support to Bofu, who now had an advantage over Zhang Yun. The chaos worsened when Huang Zu - who had noted Lü Meng’s northern approach - advanced out of Xiakou with Zhang Shuo, personally ordered archers to fire volleys from the riverbank and sent Su Fei’s naval militia to intercept Lü Meng.
It was a battle that might have gone either way: the outcome of the main river battle was decided by Taishi Ci, Bofu, Gongjin, Sun Yi and Zhou Tai, who charged wildly and struck fear into the Jing sailors, while Lü Meng’s refusal to withdraw gave him an unexpected victory over the unprepared Su Fei.
retreated to Xiakou, and the expectation was that the Jiangdong forces would
now surround and siege the walled port city: none was more surprised than Huang
Zu when it was announced that the enemy had withdrawn completely.
“…He… he came all this way to…?” Huang Zu exclaimed as he paced back and forth across his grand meeting hall. “…We must do this again…?”
“He can’t have planned a retreat,” Chen Jiu said. “He stocked Chaisang far too well, and his men were prepared for a siege. Something’s happened.”
“Such as…?” Zhang Shuo asked.
“…Take your pick,” Kuai Yue replied. “Cao Cao has diverted his forces to Guandu; Yuan Shao is courting rebel factions in Yu Province; Zhang Xiu has made peace with Cao Cao, and now acts as a buffer between our lord and Yuan Shao…”
“None of that would concern Sun Ce,” Huang Zu suggested.
“Not directly,” Kuai Yue retorted. “But there are rumours of a disagreement between Han officials in Lujiang and Sun Ce’s garrison in Wan County, and that might have led to conflict. Messengers and travellers can get through from the east now, so we’re bound to find out quite soon.”
“If only I had the strength to pursue,” Huang Zu lamented. “I hate the Suns, and I will never be able to rest until they are all as dead as my family…!”