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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Massinissa the Wise

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It wasn't supposed to be a pun at all. :p I read an article for class where the writer said that "the problem of Alaric which had started in 401 bleed into 402", in the sense that it continued. Don't know why but I liked the sentence, so I reused it.
I know it's a way to say things, but its literal meaning just fits into the story as well.
 
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191-192: Against the White Wave Bandits

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191-192: AGAINST THE WHITE WAVE BANDITS
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Dong Zhuo was dead. The conspirators had succeeded. But in doing so, they had been forced to give the Chancellery to Dong Zhuo’s nephew, Dong Huang. Still, all of them got powerful positions in the new administration. Jiang Xian now served as the personal assistant of the new Chancellor, playing an important role at court. Feng Fang had managed to land himself the position of Commander-in-chief, something that had done nothing to help bring Lü Bu to their side, as he had held the position under Dong Zhuo. The patient and calculating Shisun Rui found himself as Excellency of the Masses, basically in charge of information and imperial documents in the capital. As for the conspirators’ leader, Yang Biao, he was now the Excellency of Work and co-regent of the Emperor. All things considered, they had come out of this with a lot of power, enough to keep Dong Huang in check if needed. Dong Huang understood that fact perfectly, and so he immediately began to plot to get rid of them all.
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But first they had to deal with a pressing problem. Dong Zhuo had declared a campaign against the White Wave Bandits a year ago which was now on their laps. Now, the actual campaign of Dong Zhuo had been nulled by the fact that all his generals had left for Bing or Liang, with the exception of Duan Wei, who had pledged himself to the new regime. However, Dong Zhuo had also used the Emperor to declare and official Imperial Campaign against the bandits, and since the Emperor had not declared an end to it, the war was still technically going. Already some of the troops assembled to help the conspiracy were now marching against the bandits. Yang Biao thus believed that there was no point in ending this campaign, especially since Dong Zhuo had done all the hard work for them. Both Dong Huang and Feng Fang were suspicious when Yang Biao decided to take command of the troops himself. While he had only good intentions in doing so, as he was the best general of all the conspirators, his two allies began to wonder if he didn’t want to use the war to his boost his political prestige. Dong Huang was afraid of the repercussions this could have while Feng Fang wished he was the one leading the troops.
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Yang Biao arrived in the main army camp afew weeks later, where Administrator Wang Hong awaited him. Wang Hong had assembled troops to help the plot and now expected to be appointed to some high ranked position for his help. Yang Biao played this diplomatically, appointing Wang Hong as General of the Left, with the task of following him in destroying the White Wave Bandits. Wang Hong wasn’t pleased, but Yang Biao did point out that his niece Diaochan was married to Jiang Xian, who was now one of the most powerful men of the Han. Surely this could be to his advantage. He added a few thanks to Wang Hong for “saving the Dynasty”, just to satisfy the old man’s ego. This worked, as the riled up administrator quickly calmed thanks to the flatteries.
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Joining them on the campaign was Duan Wei, who had been the supply officer under Lü Bu’s leadership. When he arrived, he bowed to both Wang Hong and Yang Biao, showing the deference and decorum expected of a lower officer to his superiors. This pleased Yang Biao, who began to believe that Duan Wei might actually be a good man who had made the wrong choice of serving a tyrant. After all, how could such a humble and respectful man have been of the same breed as Dong Zhuo? He welcomed the General of the Vanguard and invited him to their side.

Wang Hong was a lot less sympathetic, scoffing at the newcomer. “Get that lowly supply officer out of my sight!” Wang Hong demanded. “Why would I want a scum so worthless that even Dong Zhuo didn’t want him on the frontline?” Duan Wei was annoyed by this. Being in charge of logistic and supply had been an arduous task, especially when he had to deal with Lü Bu or Guo Si forcing him to stretch supply as much as possible. And now he had finally managed to rise to the rank of General of the Vanguard and he was still treated like shit? For a moment he actually wondered if he shouldn’t have just followed Guo Si or Lü Bu instead of staying behind. Thankfully, Yang Biao was quick to intercede, calming Wang Hong while making it clear that General Duan would accompany them.
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As he marched toward the White Wave Bandits’ territories, Yang Biao received more and more concerning news from the capital. Feng Fang had always been the less “righteous” of the four conspirators, although he had done his best to put his envy aside to focus on overthrowing Dong Zhuo. Now that it was done, Feng Fang went back to being a paranoid and angry snake, to the annoyance of his allies. He angrily berated the other conspirators, waving his military tally as if it was proof of his superiority over them. He envied the power everyone else had, proving extremely petty to any official who received an ounce of official responsability.

This meant that Dong Huang was the target of many of his rants and insults. On many occasions, Feng Fang berated Dong Huang in private, and even tried to convince Jiang Xian and Shisun Rui that Dong Huang really ought to be eliminated. Neither agreed with this idea, as they felt they owed Dong Huang too much to just betray him like that. So he instead turned to the officials at court, often interrupting public sessions to point something out, usually to put Dong Huang in a bad spot and ingratiate himself to the officials and attendants.

While in public, Dong Huang avoided conflict with Feng Fang and took his insults in silence, in private he vented his anger on everything (and everyone) he could get his hand on. He was quick to spread wealth so these angry abuses would be forgotten or ignored, but it was still an issue within the palace. At one point, he had such an outburst while in the imperial bedchamber that a vase he threw almost hit the young Emperor’s head. Realizing what he had done, he quickly excused himself to his monarch, groveling to the floor. Now, he knew full well that the Emperor had no power, but he also understood how the Emperor was important to the former conspirators. So he had to play the game of a loyal subject, which also annoyed him to no end.
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Jiang Xian tried to play peacemaker between the Chancellor and the Commander-in-chief, inviting them both to his home for a small tea party. Dong Huang at first hesitated, not wanting to be in debt of the conspirators any more than needed. His grandmother of all people forced him to go, as she guilt tripped him by saying “Do you plan to abandon your friends now that you have betrayed your family? Have you not dishonored your ancestors enough? Shame on you, Dong Huang!” While he did plan to betray them, he still felt that he at least owed them to go.

Feng Fang was a lot more paranoid of the whole affair. Why would Jiang Xian of all people try to help Dong Huang? Hadn’t he opposed putting Dong Huang in charge? Fearing that it was a trap, he used the oldest trick in the book: he claimed illness. Shisun Rui had to go see him and try to resonate with him, but Feng Fang refused once more. It was only when Shisun Rui reminded him that they were oath brothers that he finally relented. No matter how shady he was, he had sworn an oath, and now his oath brother was requesting his presence. So against his better judgement, Feng Fang attended the meeting.

Jiang Xian and Diaochan tried their best to entertain their two guests and put them at ease, but Feng Fang was too suspicious of everything to drink the tea, which only annoyed Dong Huang even more. Jiang Xian was able to calm them, and for a moment he even convinced them to start working together again. Both even apologised for their actions, which led Jiang Xian to proclaim to Shisun Rui “For the first time I have hope that the divide plaguing the imperial court can be mended. Heaven blessed us once again.”
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His hopes were crushed as Feng Fang returned to his old attitude within a week of the meeting. This led Dong Huang to have more outbursts in private, which made life at court difficult for everyone. Shisun Rui and Jiang Xian, unable to handle Feng Fang, began to secretly send letters to Yang Biao telling him to return. Meanwhile, the co-regent was also receiving letters from Feng Fang demanding to be given command of the armies. It was his job after all! But Yang Biao was hesitant to do either. The White Wave Bandits had turned to small ambushes since they had been weakened by Dong Zhuo the year prior. This forced the troops to fight long sieges and stay alert for raids or attacks at all time. He had finally set up a decent administration of the whole army and had no desire to give it up just to return deal with Feng Fang. He also feared that giving command to Feng Fang would only cause problems and jealousy, both in the army and in Luoyang.

It was only in late June that he complied with both demands, deciding that it was better to have Feng Fang out of the capital than in it. He left his military tally to Wang Hong, as he was the oldest officer present. Ying Biao also warned him that he would have to cede the tally to Feng Fang when he arrived. He then left for Luoyang, where he was welcomed with happy cries of relief by the officials. Feng Fang made sure to suck up to Ying Biao as much as possible. He followed him around, saying all the right things. He hated every moment of it, but this was enough to make Ying Biao believe that he was still determined to serve the Han and their cause. He left for the war as fast as he could, ready to become the new hero of the Dynasty.

The arrival of Ying Biao and the departure of Feng Fang had changed the dynamic in the capital, especially for Dong Huang. On the one hand, he was rid of this annoyance who threatened his authority in public. Unlike Feng Fang, Ying Biao was willing to work with him and made sure that the imperial administration was working. On the other hand, Ying Biao had far more power and influence inside Luoyang than Feng Fang ever had. In many ways, he had exchanged an annoying subordinate for a competent but cooperative equal.

Even worst, Ying Biao began to fully support Shisun Rui’s effort to eliminate all corrupt officials from the capital and have them replaced by righteous men. This effort had been accidentally slowed by the actions of Feng Fang, which distracted everyone’s attention. But now the Excellency of the Masses was fully focused on the task. But while the former conspirators saw this as cleaning Luoyang of villainous influence, Dong Huang saw it differently. All he saw was the men loyal to his uncle, who he hoped were now loyal to him, be replaced by people who owed their job to Ying Biao, Shisun Rui and Jiang Xian.
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Feng Fang was fast to reach the army camps, fearing that he might get ambushed by White Wave Bandits or… someone else. His intuition was right, as Dong Huang had made sure that his carriage was sabotaged. Feng Fang was able to jump out of it before it collided with trees, which would have probably left him in a bad shape. He was able to identify that it was indeed Dong Huang who had ordered the accident, but the agent responsible killed himself so that he couldn’t be used against his master, leaving Feng Fang with no way of exposing the Chancellor publicly.

Things were already complicated when Feng Fang arrived on the frontline. Wang Hong had used an abused his authority since Yang Biao’s departure, but with little success to show for his “efforts”. He was bored with the long sieges that were slowly progressing and spend his anger on his staff. Meanwhile, Duan Wei was proving that he had learned from his mistakes the previous year, building a strong and protected supply line that held against all attacks by the smaller bandit forces. Wang Hong was frustrated that the “supply officer” was the only one seeing any action. But because he was the commanding officer, Wang Hong was able to write back to the capital saying that all the successes of defending the supply line were thanks to his leadership. Yang Biao didn’t believe a word of these letters, however, especially since Wang Hong also continued to write letters complaining that there was nothing to do.

Then Feng Fang arrived, entered the command tent and literally grabbed the military tally out of Wang Hong’s hands and told everyone that HE WAS IN CHARGE NOW! Not a great start. Feng Fang was quick to annoy his fellow officers by ordering bold assaults on the walls of the cities, or sending parties against possible bandit hideouts, which only spread their forces. Wang Hong quickly began to complain about his new Commander-in-chief, criticizing him in public and often saying to his face that he would not obey his orders. It was so bad that the two men even fought with their firsts in September, with the soldiers having to separate them.

Feng Fang had the advantage of Duan Wei’s support in this debate. He had been quick to identify the ambitious officer and to cultivate his loyalty. Duan Wei wasn’t an idiot, and he was just as annoyed by Feng Fang’s attitude as everyone. But he also saw this as a lesser ever to Wang Hong. With Duan Wei’s support and everyone agreeing that this dispute couldn’t continue like that, Feng Fang used pulled his trump card. As the Commander-in-chief, he dismissed Wang Hong and sent him back to his Commandery. Humiliated and angry, Wang Hong left, but not before setting the supply depot on fire out of spite.
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News from the front did nothing to reassure the cabal ruling the Dynasty, but their worries were alleviated by the arrival of an army to the capital in late 191. The warlord Liu Bei had answered the imperial call to come help defeat the White Wave Bandits. He was personally welcomed by Shisun Rui, who had them hosted in one of the best mansions of the capital. Liu Bei refused at first, saying that he didn’t deserve such treatment and that he only wanted to serve the Son of Heaven. But Shisun Rui pointed out that he was an esteemed guest of the Han, and so should be treated as such. His brothers also tried to convince him, although it was more due to their worries. Liu Bei still suffered from the loss of his hand earlier that year. He finally relented and was ghosted like one of the great men of the realm, to his annoyance. His brother Zhang Fei certainly enjoyed the alcohol, though.
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Liu Bei was welcomed by Jiang Xian, who welcomed such a rightful man and was happy to send an herald to announce his arrival. When he entered the palace, Liu Bei found himself in the presence of the Emperor. He could only kowtow in front of his liege. When the child emperor told him to rise up, he thanked him profusely. Yang Biao, who was curious about this small warlord, asked him about his lineage. When Liu Bei revealed that he was the descendant of Emperor Jing of Han (157-141 BC), people were ecstatic. An imperial descendant, and one descending from one of the greatest emperors of the Dynasty, had come to help the Han in its time of need. What a good omen! The former conspirators were especially happy to see this humble and loyal cousin of the Emperor. And who knew? Maybe after the war he could be convinced to stay in Luoyang and help reunify the empire?

Everyone was happy at Liu Bei’s presence, with the exception of Dong Huang, who saw him as a dangerous threat to his already shaky power. So while he endured the whole thing at court, he sent agents to Liu Bei during the night. They were able to convince him to leave the capital for the frontline as soon as possible. Staying here would only make him grow lazy and useless like most officials, after all. Wasn’t he here to serve the Han? So the very next day, Liu Bei left for the front, line against the pleas of Shisun Rui who wished for him to remain longer.
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Liu Bei made the wise decision of avoiding the military camp of Feng Fang and his army, instead acting independently and searching for the bandit chief Han Xian. Everyone in the capital had advised him to stay clear of Feng Fang, as no one wanted Feng Fang to turn away Liu Bei. So Liu Bei began searching for Han Xian, or to be precise, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei did, as their First Brother was still suffering from his loss hand. They finally got his location in late January 192, when Duan Wei sent them the reports from his scouts. Now, Duan Wei would have loved to deal with Han Xian himself, but he was also under Feng Fang. He calculated that it was better to send the info to Liu Bei, who would surely give him some of the credit, which h he feared Feng Fang would not do. Liu Bei was extremely thankful, and once the war was over he would indeed praise Duan Wei for his help, calling him “a loyal and honorable defender of the Dynasty”.

Han Xian was furious when he saw Liu Bei and his army appear in early February. He had hoped that the death of Dong Zhuo would turn the tide in his favor, but things had only continued to go south. Zhang Yan and his Black Mountain Bandits had used this as an opportunity to abandon him, and his forced had been destroyed by this the force of an administrator who didn’t even fight with the main imperial army. Now he was forced to fight a guerilla war in hope that the Han would get tired and leave. But with Zhang Fei and Guan Yu leading troops on his hideout, Han Xian had no choice but to fight. He challenged any opposing general that wanted to fight him, hoping this would boost his men’s moral. This proved a terrible decision. Zhang Fei was all too happy to finally hit something, and so quickly rode toward Han Xian to accept the duel. “Han Xian!” he screamed. “Prepare to die!” Sure enough, Han Xian lost his life in the duel, and the following day Guan Yu routed the demoralised White Wave Bandits after a short battle. While they found themselves a new leader, this would mark the end of any hope of survival for the White Wave Bandits.
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The rest of the war was seven long months of arduous sieges and occasional attacks on bandit hideouts, which were at time hindered by Feng Fang’s paranoid and aggressive attitude toward his own subordinates. Yet they still triumph, taking full control of the region. The Emperor was able to declare victory over the rebels and everyone cheered the first success of the Han since the defeat of the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Feng Fang and Wang Hong both wanted to be acknowledged as the true hero of the war, but few people came to them with praises. Feng Fang was especially criticised for some of his handling of the army. Meanwhile, Liu Bei chose to return to his domain. He had seen the court politics and refused to join the den of snakes. He would find another way to help the Han.

In the end, though, it was two officers serving the Han that came out of the campaign as heroes. First was Duan Wei, the once general of Dong Zhuo, now serving the Han court as loyally as he could. His humble attitude had convinced many that he had truly reformed and now served the righteous cause of the Dynasty. Yang Biao certainly believed so, which is why he made sure to praise him as often as possible when he came back to court. The fact that Duan Wei’s leadership was contrasted by Wang Hong’s arrogance and Feng Fang’s paranoia only made him look better in the eyes of the court. When he returned to Luoyang following the campaign, Duan Wei demanded to resign his command, which was refused. This was a clear sign that the imperial administration wanted him around, since such a master of logistic was indispensable in this era. Two years ago he had been considered too irrelevant to join Lü Bu or Guo Si, yet now he stood as one of the most respected generals of the capital.
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But Duan Wei wasn’t the only one to come out of this war with fame and respect. Administrator Niu Fu, who had been a little known official outside Hongmong Commandery, had now risen up to be one of the great defenders of the Dynasty. Unlike Duan Wei, Niu Fu was not ambitious, his only goal in life being to serve the Emperor and the Han as loyally as possible. Courageous and humble, he had joined the Imperial Campaign against the White Wave Bandits on his own, which meant that he was already on the frontline when Dong Zhuo died and his generals dispersed. It was thanks to his efforts that Han Xian was unable to regroup and rebuild his forces during the transition of power. When the Imperial Army had finally showed up, Niu Fu happily submitted himself to its commander, which left everyone with a good impression of the man. For his service, Ying Biao and his allies in the capital invited him to join the imperial administration as an advisor. Refusing at first, he was finally convinced after a meeting with Jiang Xian, who told him how much his presence would help the cause of the Emperor.
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The territories recovered from the war became the source of many debates inside the court. Chancellor Dong Huang wanted them to go to Duan Wei. This was a good move on his part, as Duan Wei was popular and many supported his idea. He hoped that this would secure the loyalty of his uncle’s former general. But Ying Biao had other ideas, instead dividing them between himself and Shisun Rui. While this meant that they would have to resign some of their lower ministries, it also meant that they would have bases of power to use if the Chancellor got any ideas. Dong Huang, while opposed to it, stayed silent and didn’t speak up when the decision was made, too afraid to see people lash out at him for protesting.

Feng Fang was offended that he received nothing, but could do little about it. Jiang Xian was also confused and went to ask Ying Biao about it. After all, there were four counties. Couldn’t they be divided among the four of them? But Ying Biao told him that he needed someone in the capital at all time. While still unsure, Jiang Xian accepted the answer. Beside, with the war over, they needed to focus on rebuilding the Han. It was all that mattered, after all.
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Massinissa the Wise

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Good chapter! Jiang Xian seems not to have gained much but hey, at least he's alive and has both hands! ;) I gotta admire Liu Bei though, he had absolutely no reason to join the Emperor in his (undoubtedly righteous) crusade, but still did.
His grandmother of all people forced him to go, as she guilt tripped him by saying “Do you plan to abandon your friends now that you have betrayed your family? Have you not dishonored your ancestors enough? Shame on you, Dong Huang!” While he did plan to betray them, he still felt that he at least owed them to go.
Thank you for the reference to her!
 
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191-192: Moping Up the Small Fries

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191-192: MOPING UP THE SMALL FRIES
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Dong Zhuo was dead, killed by treacherous officials and an ungrateful nephew. Lü Bu was in shock when he learned what had happened inside the Imperial Capital. He quickly summoned his generals and told them the news. Everyone had a somber expression, either marked by surprise or by anger. Xu Rong arrogantly declared that they should march on the capital and kill Dong Huang. After all, avenging Dong Zhuo was the right thing to do. They at least owed him that much. But the other officers, while just as courageous, were unsure if this was the right idea, especially as they didn’t know what stance Guo Si and his army would take. What if he supported Dong Huang? Lü Bu put an end to the debate when he declared that he would return to Bing province with his troops. The old tyrant was dead, which meant he had no more use. It was better to focus on his own future. One low ranked officer had the guts to call Lü Bu’s decision unfilial, for which he was swiftly put to death. There would be no dissent to his authority. The other generals were quick to fall in line, especially with the respected Li Jue siding with Lü Bu on the issue.
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Lü Bu’s takeover of Bing Province was controversial, to say the least. He had not been appointed to the position of Inspector of Bing Province, after all. In fact, he had just abandoned his duties to go take control of a province that was rightfully under Imperial administration. But then again, it wasn’t like they could stop him, now could they? Many officials in province were frustrated by Lü Bu’s arrival. Some of them had backed up the plot against Dong Zhuo, hoping this would bring an end to his domination. Yet now they were stuck with his adoptive son and his generals in charge? Few were really happy with this development.

One exception to this was the Administrator of Yunzhong Commandery, Xuan Su. Xuan Su had once helped Lü Bu in one of a plot, which had helped start his military career. So he was ecstatic when Lü Bu entered Bing with plans of taking it over, rushing to meet him and greet him as his lord. Such a powerful general was sure to rise higher than mere provincial inspector, which would also help the career of anyone siding with him. Lü Bu had actually completely forgotten who Xuan Su was when the administrator fell to his knees and welcomed him as “the rightful and righteous master of Bing”. Still, it felt good to be appreciated. He appointed Xuan Su as his Chief Sensor, to rout out corruption and opposition to his rule, as well as to work propaganda to legitimize his takeover.
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Xuan Su was quick to work on the later order with the help of other high ranking officials Lü Bu appointed on a wimp. Li Jue, the old general who was appointed Commandant of Bing Province, played an especially big role in rooting the rhetoric of this propaganda in Lü Bu’s appointments under Dong Zhuo. After all, hadn’t Lü Bu been named General of Northern Pacification by the Emperor himself? So really, all he was doing was fulfilling his duties, making sure that Bing Province was out of rebel hands and a safe base of operation to strike against the White Wave Bandits. Lü Bu had thus saved Bing Province from falling in the hands of enemies of the Dynasty. Yes, that was clearly what had happened. Lü Bu himself somewhat undermined this rhetoric by his actions though, quickly acting as if orders from the capital were “optional” and abusing his power, to Li Jue’s annoyance.
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It was also under that rhetoric that Xian Su would convince his new lord that it was time to “pacify” all these small Xiongnu chieftains that held small territories on the northern border. How could he allow these barbarians to hold territories that should rightfully be under Han control? Of course, Xuan Su had other motives than just help his new lord expand. At best, these campaigns against the Xiongnus would see their territories given to him. At worst, it would at least secure his borders. It was really a win-win situation for him. Lü Bu quickly took up the advice of his new Chief Censor and began plans to attack one of the chieftains. He did so mostly out of a desire to wage war, but also because he wanted to outshine Xuan Su’s accomplishment. Surely after his campaigns people would forget how Xuan Su helped quell one chieftain in 190.

Lü Bu assembled his armies in late March and wasted no time to advance toward the city of Jiuyuan, which was held by a Xiongnu chieftain who had used the instability of the last years to take it from the Han. Lü Bu of course appointed his Commandant Li Jue to accompany him as well as General Xu Rong, who had served him loyally and honorably during the whole campaign against the White Wave Bandits. Xuan Su wanted to join the campaign in orde to build relationships with his new lord and gain some influence, but Lü Bu refused. He wanted to outshine Xuan Su, not share the glory with him! Instead he appointed him to an even better position from the Xuan Su’s point of view: he left him in charge of Bing Province in his absence. Needless to say, Xuan Su welcomed this development and accepted the position. Li Jue protested, as he feared that Xuan Su would become a rival for power, but Lü Bu still left Xuan Su in charge, believing it would only hinder the administrator.
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To Lü Bu’s annoyance, the campaign for Jiuyuan saw little to now fighting. The local chieftain fortified and prepared to a long siege, depriving Lü Bu of a battlefield to show his skills. This annoyed him greatly. Li Jue tried to use this to convince Lü Bu to return to his seat of power and leave him in charge of the war. This was both to become the supreme authority in the camp and to remove Xuan Su from power.

Xu Rong was opposed to this however. He felt like it was as if Lü Bu abandoned his own men by going back to his provincial capital of Jinyang. Xu Rong insisted that the Inspector of Bing Province had to remain so that his bravery and charisma could motivate and enlighten the troops. But by late May Lü Bu had enough of this bloodless campaign and packed his bags. Xu Rong tried to appeal to Li Jue, not aware that he was the one who suggested that Lü Bu. Li Jue said that he sadly couldn’t do much and left it there. Xuan Su was annoyed to see his lord come back so soon, but quickly handed him power. At least he got a consolation prize, as Lü Bu gave him control of Jiuyuan after it surrendered in August 191.
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For the next four months, Li Jue and Xuan Su had something of a contest for power and influence, mostly fighting it out to know who would be Lü Bu’s number two. This was all done behind closed doors and away of Lü Bu’s ears. In this battle for influence, Xuan Su had the advantage of being a local of Bing, while Li Jue originated from Liang like the majority of Dong Zhuo’s generals. However, Li Jue was older and thus had more experience. He was also far closer to the troops and Lü Bu due to their work together over the least two years. Li Jue quickly secured the goodwill of the troops and began to plan another campaign with Lü Bu. He knew this would be just the right thing to distract Lü Bu, which also meant shutting Xuan Su out as he would once again not be allowed to participate to this new campaign. Xuan Su had to admit defeat and bide his time.

In December, Lü Bu made his way up north to the last remaining of these small chieftains, a child ruling over Shaling. Once again, he left Xuan Su in charge while leaving alongside Li Jue and Xu Rong.This time, the enemies decided that trying to hold out in their castle would work. The Xiongnus in Jiuyuan had tried this tactics and had been conquered. So instead they dispatched their army forward to attack small villages in Bing Provinces, trying to get the initiative. All it did was leave them open for an attack by Lü Bu in January 192. The Inspector of Bing Province rode down a hill and charged alone into the enemy army, slaughtering soldiers left and right. This one man army shocked the Xiongnus and actually made they hesitate. Li Jue, who had been left in command, and he was quick to launch the troops after Lü Bu. Already shaken by Lü Bu single assault, the arrival of an army trice as big as theirs was enough to launch the Xiongnus in a rout. Xu Rong personally led the charge after the retreating Xiongnus, slaughtering most of them. While only 200 Xiongnus came out alive out of the thousand that came in, Lü Bu only lost seven soldiers in the whole operation.
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Meanwhile, Xuan Su received news of the victory with mixed reactions. He had no doubts that Lü Bu would once again give him the new conquered territories so he could defend the northern frontier. This was more or less becoming his job. However, this also meant that Li Jue was the one growing closer to their lord. If things continued like that he might find himself on the outs with him. He needed to do something to get in the inner circle of Lü Bu, something to gain his definitive trust. Or if that was impossible, something to expand his own domain, just to make sure he would be able to resist Lü Bu should he turn against him. He found a way to hit two birds with one stone in the form of Guo Hong.

Guo Hong was the administrator of Wuyuan Commandery, which stood to the western border of Xuan Su’s Yunzhong Commandery. Unlike Xuan Su, who had rushed to go serve Lü Bu, Guo Hong had not been a fan of the takeover. In fact, he had been a supporter of the plot against Dong Zhuo, and so was appalled when his generals just rolled in and took over the province. This meant that he was the perfect target for Xuan Su’s plan. He sent a letter to Guo Hong, inviting him to Lü Bu’s capital to discuss the possibility of overthrowing the general. Guo Hong, who wanted Lü Bu removed and the Han back in charge, quickly made his way to Jinyang to discuss what Xuan Su had to offer. With Lü Bu absent on campaign, surrely now was the time to act. The second he arrived, Guo Hong was seized, declared a traitor and an enemy of the Dynasty and executed, with Xuan Su taking over his commandery.
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Meanwhile, the army of Lü Bu had found itself into another long siege, although this time L¸u Bu chose to stay. He was embolden by the victory on the battlefield against the Xiongnus and so was ready to stay with the troops, who idolized him for his bold charge alone in an enemy army. Xu Rong and Li Jue also received their share of respect from the soldiers, but Lü Bu was still the center of attention, just like he wanted it to be. The siege of Shaling also saw some attempts by the defender to get out of their predicament, but they were always pushed back by the besiegers. Still, Lü Bu was getting impatient. In June 192, after months of waiting, he suddenly decided that the city had to fall and ordered a full frontal assault on the walls. This took Li Jue by surprise, and he tried to advise Lü Bu that waiting was a better strategy, but he would hear none of it. Lü Bu, accompanied by an excited Xu Rong, stood on the walls by the end of the day, the Xiongnus having been massacred or forced into abandoning Shaling.

When he returned to Jinyang, Lü Bu was welcomed with Xuan Su, who explained to him what had happened in his absence and how he stopped Guo Hong from taking over Bing Province. Lü Bu didn’t really bother with this, since Guo Hong had supported Dong Zhuo’s overthrow. As a reward for his service, Xuan Su was given Shanling as part of his territories. This annoyed Li Jue, but the older general could do little. Within a month of their return to the provincial capital, Li Jue would fall ill and die at the age of 54. Everyone agreed that this was a natural death, although one can only wonder if Xuan Su hadn’t ensured the result by paying the physician. Lü Bu appointed Xu Rong as his new Commandant, but the real winner of Li Jue’s death was Xuan Su. He was finally in the inner circle of Lü Bu, had tripled his territories since the general took over Bing a year and a half ago and now had lost his political rival. Things were going well for Xuan Su.
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Massinissa the Wise

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That was just one big win for Xuan Su. The combination of pretending to be a fanatic supporter and acting independently seems to work perfectly with an egomaniac who justifies the means to get the end he wants.
 
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191-192: Liang VS the Liang Rebels New

Zamarak500

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191-192: LIANG VS THE LIANG REBELS
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Guo Si was on a roll. The Black Mountain Bandits were fleeing the battlefields and he could claim victory after victory. If things continued like this, he might come out of this campaign as a bigger hero than Lü Bu himself. These were the thoughts going through his head when news came that Dong Zhuo had been killed and that the Imperial Capital was under new management. This sent him into a rage. He had spent his life serving Dong Zhuo. They were supposed to conquer and unify China! Now that dream was cut short. Guo Si entertained the idea of going for the capital and avenge Dong Zhuo. Surely he could sell this action under the pretence of removing the cabal of conspirators. With good enough planning, he might even present himself as some kind of liberator of the Han, just like the new masters of Luoyang claimed to be.

He laughed when the new Chancellor Dong Huang and his cronies demanded that the generals present themselves to the capital. Oh, he would come back, at the head of an army. However, he was quickly dissuaded by his two main advisors, the general Hu Zhen and the strategist Yao Shuren. Hu Zhen was a prudent man, so he pointed out that they were all alone now. Their only supply came from Duan Wei, and they had yet to hear if he was still loyal to Dong Zhuo. For all they knew they were going to march against the conspirators without any supply to back them up. Yao Shuren also mentioned the other factor they shouldn’t forget: Lü Bu. They had all been allies and comrades under Dong Zhuo, but with the tyrant dead, who knew if that still held? They might just fight it out with Luoyang only for Lü Bu to come down on the weakened winner.

Guo Si, although frustrated that he was powerless to do anything, agreed with their assessment. They chose to move to Liang Province, which had been Dong Zhuo’s seat of power for most of his career. They hoped to get there before Lü Bu so to inherit Dong Zhuo’s support. Yao Shuren had rightly guessed that Lü Bu would instead go for his home of Bing Province, which would give them free reign to take over Liang and most of Dong Zhuo’s supporters. Thus unlike Lü Bu, who had to deal with enemies within his fold, Guo Si and his officers found themselves surrounded by loyal allies and followers.
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On their way to Liang, Guo Si and his troops were joined by Dong Zhuo’s former mistress, the young servant Yuyi. Yuyi had been with Dong Zhuo only hours before he was killed. She panicked when she heard of his death, quickly realizing that things had shifted for the worst. Recognizing that she had no place in the capital anymore, and that it might in fact be dangerous for her to stay, Yuyi left the capital in the night. She hoped to join Dong Zhuo’s generals, where she believed she would be far better treated by them than by the enemies of Dong Zhuo in the capital. In the end, she found her way to Guo Si’s army as it was moving toward Liang Province. A smart woman, Yuyi was able to talk her way into not only staying, but convincing the generals that she could be an important asset. After all, she was the closest Dong Zhuo had to a wife. Surely her support would be useful in some way. This rhetoric seemed to work especially well on Yao Shuren, who saw her as the perfect ally to help his own ambitions. By the time they reached Liang, both had realized how useful the other could be. So why not tie the knot and get married?
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The officials of Liang were quick to recognize Guo Si as their lord and pledge their troops to him. However, it was clear that the amount of troops left in the province was nothing compared to what it had been under Dong Zhuo. Probably a result of Dong Zhuo taking the best men with him when he took the capital. It was also around that time that he learned that Lü Bu had established himself in Bing Province in similar ways. At the advices of Hu Zhen and Li Jue, the two began to exchange missives. With Dong Huang forced to recognize them, they could act freely against him. An “alliance” was thus agreed, with Hu Zhen even travelling to Bing Province to discuss the whole affair with Lü Bu. But upon arrival Hu Zhen was utterly disappointed. At the time, Lü Bu was more focused on campaigning against the small Xiongnus chieftains on his northern border and was absent. Hu Zhen instead met with Xuan Su, who had been left in charge. Xuan Su made a lot of empty promises, but in the end did not commit to anything serious as Lü Bu’s attention (and Xuan Su’s ambition) was north, not south. When he returned, Hu Zhen would be doubly disappointed, finding that Guo Si was also waging a war instead of preparing to fight Dong Huang.
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Indeed, within two months of Dong Zhuo’s death, both of his main generals had already abandoned the idea of avenging him and instead focused on expanding their respective dominions. While Lü Bu had chosen to go after northern barbarians, Guo Si’s attention went on his eastern border, where the last rebels of the Liang Rebellion still ruled their own little fiefdoms. He especially hated the idea of having this barbarian Ma Teng on his western border. Unlike Han Sui, who was of Han nobility, Ma Teng was a local Qiang who rose through the ranks thanks to his talent. Guo Si feared that he might convince the local Qiang and Di barbarians of the province to revolt. Better to strike first. This would allow him to not only eliminate a threat, but also to expand his power. So on March 26, 191, only two days after Lü Bu started his first war north, Guo Si declared his intention to bring down the rebel Ma Teng.
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Meanwhile, Han Sui had only recently signed his peace with Cheliji Khagan. Since his victory over the horde he had been expecting Guo Si to do something, and so wasn’t surprised when the man started a war against Ma Teng. Chenggong Ying was the first to come ask his lord what they were going to do about this invasion. Would they stay there and watch, or help Ma Teng and push back Guo Si? He simply answered “I have sworn to protect Liang and its people. How can I sit idly when Guo Si is threatening everything I fought for?” Han Sui was quick to mobilize his armies, his troops readied by the time an official envoy from Ma Teng came to ask for help. The envoy was a man named Song Jian, a magistrate of Han origin serving under Ma Teng and his most powerful follower. This showed how much the warlord wanted this aid. Han Sui made it clear that Ma Teng had nothing to worry about and escorted Song Jian back to Ma Teng, bringing his army with him. With their forces combined, the two rebel leaders once against pledged in front of their men that they would always stand together against the enemies of Liang. “Never shall we let the villain Guo Si, the central government or any other man under Heaven threaten the righteous people of Liang!” they proclaimed.
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Guo Si wanted to go for a direct attack against Ma Teng. His scouts had told him that Han Sui was going to join force with Ma Teng, so he hoped that he could strike at his enemy before he could be reinforced. But once again Yao Shuren stepped forward to dissuade him. He was helped by his new wife Yuyi, who had a surprising understanding of politics and military affairs. Yuyi pointed out that Ma Teng would surely have already joined up with Han Sui, so it was useless to work the troops through a gruesome walk through the mountains just to get destroyed by Han Sui and Ma Teng on the other side. Yao Shuren also believed that Ma Teng would expect them to come from the east and would have prepared in accordance. Instead, he suggested that they marched north and then B-line south through Han Sui’s territories before entering Longxi Commandery. It was a detour, yes, but a detour that could be worth it.
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Guo Si was receptive to the idea. First going north would allow them to pick up Hu Zhen, who was on his return trip from Bing Province. However, he had one big problem with this plan. This left his seat of Tianshui undefended if Ma Teng marched against him while he went north. This was indeed an issue that Yao Shuren had expected to come up. The three of them all had a good idea of what needed to be done, although Yuyi was the one who said it first. All they needed was to leave a garrison led by a loyal and competent officer that could hold long enough for them to take Ma Teng’s territories. But the choice of the right commander was a difficult one. In the end, they chose Jin Xuan, the administrator of Hanyang Commandery. Jin Xuan was a kind and loyal man who had a great talent for military affair, but not for much else. Guo Si hoped that a good commander would be enough to hold the enemies if needed, even if Yao Shuren was worried that he wasn’t a good enough administrator for the job. When summoned, Jin Xuan accepted the order and swore an oath to defend Tianshui, leaving Guo Si to march north with his mind at ease.
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Yuyi insisted that she went with Yao Shuren up north. Jin Xuan refused to have her leave, as by then it was clear that she was pregnant. She easily tricked the general by convincing him that she needed to go pick up herbs with her entire retinue outside of Tianshui, which Jin Xuan somehow found to be believable. She then raced to the army of Guo Si, which had just linked up with Hu Zhen. Yao Shuren was surprised to see his wife pregnant so soon after their marriage. Seing his surprise, Yuyi made it clear to her husband and everyone else in the camp that the child wasn’t his. She insisted that the child father’s was none other than Dong Zhuo. This was somewhat humiliating to Yao Shuren, who began to isolate himself and focus on the war, spending less and less time with the troops that laughed at him behind his back. Many soldier started calling him the man cuckolded by a corpse.

At first, Guo Si was annoyed by this servant girl humiliating his main strategist. Hu Zhen was certainly suspicious of her intent when she revealed that she was pregnant with Dong Zhuo’s child. However, Yuyi was able to ingratiate herself with Guo Si by playing to his ambitions. The son of Dong Zhuo, even a bastard one, would prove a powerful tool in Guo Si’s hands. After all, this would give an alternative to Dong Huang and Lü Bu, who both claimed the heritage of Dong Zhuo’s legacy. Guo Si was easily convinced, even if Hu Zhen advised him to stay alert when it came to the girl. But she then “suggested” that if she was, let’s say, adopted by Guo Si, than he would be the grandfather of Dong Zhuo’s child. This idea sounded too good for Guo Si to pass out on it, and in June 191 he officially adopted Yuyi as his daughter, allowing her to call herself Guo Yuyi from that point on.
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She was also able to mend the recent rift between with her husband by the fact that he was now Guo Si’s son-in-law, his closest general, and quite possibly, his heir. Should anything arrive to Guo Si on campaign, this would surely mean that Liang would fall on Yao Shuren’s laps. Since Guo Si had no sons, this new familial link would certainly make him the expected successor. Yao Shuren was quick to pick up on this new reality. Hu Zhen, although his elder, was notably more respectful than before, showing him deference usually reserved to relatives of a lord. Yao Shuren could only smile and thank Heaven for giving him such a good fit as his wife. Truly the two went well together. Two months later, in late August 191, Yuyi would give birth to a bastard son, Guo Bian, Dong Zhuo’s biological son and Guo Si’s grandson by adoption.
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Guo Si’s worries were proven right when Ma Teng and Han Sui went directly for his provincial capital. Now, Ma Teng didn’t want this siege to last so long that they could get exposed to an attack by Guo Si. As far as they knew, Jin Xuan was holding up just fine inside the walls of Tianshui. Thankfully, Han Sui had anticipated this problem, and so had brought with him his siege expert, Mo Jie. Mo Jie happily joined the campaign as he missed siege warfare, his last siege dating back to the Liang Rebellion. In many ways, this was bringing back some good memories of that time. He quickly drew plans and ordered ladders built. He spent a week writing at least four strategies, all logistically excellent. The problem in applying them came to terrible communication, which is why Jin Xuan was able to push back their first effort to take the walls. This annoyed some of the soldiers of Ma Teng’s army, who turned their frustration against the siege expert and demanded that he be punished for his failure. But Han Sui reiterated his trust into Mo Jie, although he did so to avoid Mo Jie defending himself. It was better to do the talking for him.

With the first months passing with minimal successes, Han Sui and Ma Teng decided that it might be a good idea to open talks with Jin Xuan. After all, maybe the general would be willing to surrender peacefully? But Jin Xian had no desire to betray Guo Si, although he was kind enough to let them in to discuss. They sent Song Jian to go convince Jin Xuan to surrender. It was a total failure, but they did get something out of this. When he entered the city, Song Jian noticed that Jin Xuan’s supply was extremely low. He had badly managed what he had, and soon enough famine might become a problem inside the walls. So Han Sui and his allies worked out a plan. They offered to sell supply to Jin Xuan, out of “friendship”. You know, as a gesture of good will. Mo Jie would even lead the supply into Tianshui personally. Jin Xuan agreed, believing that this was a kind gesture on his enemies’ part. A band of soldiers led by Mo Jie entered the city with the supply, took control of the gate and allowed the rest of the army to enter. Jin Xuan was captured and held as an honorable, but compulsory, “guest”.
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But as they celebrated the capture of Tianshui, Chenggong Ying showed up to ruin their good mood. While they were besieging the provincial capital, Guo Si had come down from the north with his army. Wang Bi and Chenggong Ying had tried to stop him, but they barely had enough men to garrison the region, let alone push back an invading army. Chenggong Ying was certain that by now Guo Si had probably already entered Longxi Commandery. Feeling threatened from their rear, the two warlords marched their armies back home through the mountain passes. Mo Jie was left in the rear, managing the supply to make sure that it wasn’t cut off by their enemies.
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Yao Shuren was the first to be warned of the returning rebels, having wisely left scouts in the hills of Liang. He was quick to tell Guo Si, who immediately asked his generals to weight their options. They had at least 500 troops less than the combined rebel army, if not less. Obviously, they couldn’t just leave and abandon their position. It would make them look weak. Hu Zhen suggested a surprise attack on the enemy, but Yao Shuren opposed. He believed that this would put them at risk. Instead he favored holding up and using the terrain to their advantages, taking the right position for battle. Yuyi was quick to convince her new father that this was the right idea.

He began to take position around the city of Zhaoyang, where the armies of Ma Teng and Han Sui would meet him. This started the First Battle of Zhaoyang in late August 191, days after the birth of Guo Bian. Yao Shuren and Guo Si had realized that they lacked the troops for a frontal assault, so they placed their bet on defence. But they had failed to consider that Ma Teng would know the terrain far better than they did. Ma Teng and Song Jian led a force in a pass using Mo Jie’s maps and took Yao Shuren by surprise. It quickly became clear that he would not be able to hold out and sent a messenger to Guo Si. But his lord was already involved in heavy fighting and couldn’t come relieve him. Hu Zhen tried to do so, but found himself bugged down by Chenggong Ying’s forces. Seeing no way to win, Yao Shuren ordered his troops to retreat, managing to produce an organize retreat on their part. Hu Zhen and Guo Si soon followed, although in a far less orderly manner.
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Guo Si and his generals were forced to retreat to their own territories, ironically using the same path Han Sui and Ma Teng had used to get to their territories. In fact, they almost met up with Mo Jie’s supply line, missing it only by an hour. They returned to find that Tianshui had been taken by their enemies, with Jin Xuan still under guard within the city. Guo Si was enraged at this and ordered a brutal assault against the enemy garrison, against the advice of Hu Zhen. The rebel garrison was slaughtered to the last man on Yao Shuren’s order, who believed that there was no point in allowing their enemies to leave. It was also a good way for them to vent their anger after the recent defeat. Jin Xuan, now released, fell on his knees and thanked his lord for freeing him. Guo Si only looked at the general with contempt and sent him back to his commandery, with no plans of ever calling him back.

Hu Zhen and Yao Shuren were able to temper Guo Si by convincing him that he just needed time to rebuild his army. Guo Si agreed, although he wasn’t happy to see his two generals working together. He tried to throw a wrench in the relationship between them by starting to listen more and more to Yao Shuren. This backfired for many reasons. One, he did so on the advice of his daughter Guo Yuyi, who only wanted her husband (and by proxy herself) to gain more power. Then there was the fact that Hu Zhen was suspicious of all this political manoeuvering and refused to be dragged in. He instead simply started to act as if Yao Shuren was his superior, which only helped the young strategist amass influence in the province.

By early December 191, Guo Si had enough and ordered another march against Ma Teng. Yao Shuren believed that they had to wait longer to restore their strength, but his lord wanted a quick victory. Ma Teng and Han Sui awaited him, having prepared themselves by setting up traps along the passes, which took out at least two or three hundred soldiers on their own. The Second Battle of Zhaoyang took place in late-December, this time with reversed positions. With an indecisive battle on the first day, Guo Si challenged Ma Teng to a duel on the following morning. As he was about to accept, Ma Teng was interrupted by Song Jian, who volunteered to go in his place. The rebel warlord allowed it, and soon Song Jian and Guo Si fought on horseback in front of the two armies, each lined up for the battle to come. Drums were sounded and soldiers were shouting. After a dozen of minutes, Guo Si was able to strike Song Jian of his horse, which allowed Guo Si to trample him to death. Feeling confident following his victory, Guo Si would soon after order an all-out attack against Ma Teng and Han Sui, but would be pushed out once again, losing the Second Battle of Zhaoyang as the year was brought to an end.
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As the year 192 started out, it seemed like the war was going in favor of the rebel warlords. Twice Guo Si had fought them, and twice they had been victorious. They had even been able to take Guo Si’s capital of Tianshui for a while thanks to the efforts of Mo Jie. And they now had their enemies on the run. Things were going great! But the entropy of victory struck the allies, as a dispute proved the beginning of the end for their success. Ma Teng wanted to go after Guo Si, chase the routed army and finish their enemies. Maybe they even had a shot at taking back the whole of Liang Province. But Han Sui was far more prudent, and suggested that they instead fortify and rebuild their forces. But Ma Teng wouldn’t hear any of it, mostly due to the death of Song Jian. He wanted to avenge his subordinate, and he wasn’t going to let prudence get in the way.

Ma Teng left Han Sui behind and led his army after Guo Si’s. To lead the pursuit’s vanguard, Ma Teng tapped his young son Ma Chao. Ma Chao was a tall, strong and extremely talented warrior, possibly the best fighter under his father’s command. But he was also arrogant and brash, which led him to charge head first into battle, believing he would inevitably come out on top. He had been too young to participate in the early stages of the war, which was why he insisted to be allowed to lead the force against Guo Si. He wanted his part of the glory, and everyone knew it. Everyone in the army knew Ma Chao wanted to lead the pursuit, including the spies left by Yao Shuren. They quickly reported to the strategist, who convinced Guo Si that they ought to “welcome” Ma Chao properly. Guo Si could only grin at the idea.

Ma Chao made haste to meet the enemy force, which left him to be separated from his father’s army. The arrogant young man soon found himself into a trap laid by Guo Si (or more accurately, by Yao Shuren and Yuyi). Ma Chao challenged Guo Si, but the general was smart enough not to risk his life when he had the advantage. By the time Ma Teng showed up, he had to rush in to save his son, who refused to retreat the battlefield. In doing so, Yao Shuren was able to use this rush to strike at the heart of Ma Teng’s force, inflicting a large amount of casualties with minimal effort. Ma Teng and Ma Chao, defeated, were forced to retreat back to their territories.
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But Guo Si had no desire to let them leave like that and ordered Yao Shuren to catch up to them. In accomplishing this duty, Yao Shuren would pull the move that would become his trademark tactic: reaching the retreating’s army destination before it. Hiring local Qiang guides, he was able to manoeuver the army using faster routes, although more dangerous ones. Some soldiers complained, but he had them executed. Protesters and deserters deserved only death, after all. These faster routes allowed him to arrive at their destination before the enemy force, which was demoralised and slow. Ma Teng was shocked to see Yao Shuren awaiting him. The ensuing battle was an easy one, and while Ma Teng and his son were able to escape back to their seat, his army was destroyed, making it a non-entity for the rest of the war.

Han Sui realized what had happened when Ma Teng returned with his tail between his legs. The warlord now had three choices. He could abandon his ally and return to his own domain, preparing himself for the day Guo Si would eventually come after him too. He could bunker down with Ma Teng and prepare for a long siege with his troops. Or he could try to go face Guo Si. He chose the third option in the hope that this would give Ma Teng enough time to assemble a new army. Chenggong Ying also advised his lord to go that route, as bunkering down for a siege would not only doom Ma Teng but also Han Sui, thus dooming the cause of Liang autonomy. Wang Bi also said something, which sounded aggressive and thus was interpreted as a desire to fight. Mo Jie also had an opinion, but no one ever knew what it was even after he said it three times.

And so Han Sui went to fight Guo Si and was easily defeated. Without Ma Teng’s support, he lacked the troops to oppose the invading force, even if he had generals that rival those serving the Governor of Liang. Wang Bi tried to make his way through the troops to kill Guo Si, but he found himself bugged down by Hu Zhen and his men which forced him to back out. Chenggong Han Sui, seeing how things were going, attempted an organised retreat, but it quickly turned into a panicked rout. Yao Shuren was also quick to block their way back, forcing Han Sui and his officers to return home instead of linking up with Ma Teng. This left the Qiang warlord isolated and vulnerable, and for the next six months, his cities and strongholds were besieged and captured by the forces of Guo Si. By October 192, only the main fortress of Ma Teng still held, hinting at the impending doom of the warlord.
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_______

Ma Teng could only look out the window, unable to believe what was happening. He could see the troops encircling the fortress, the banners of the Han brandished over their heads as if they were proud servants of the central government. What a joke. Guo Si was clearly in it for himself. Still, he was the one who was about to defeat him.

“Has Heaven really abandoned the Ma Clan?” he grumbled to himself.

What had happened? A year ago they had Guo Si fleeing like a coward. They were on the verge of achieving what they had failed to do all these years ago and finally free Liang. But look at them now. Han Sui had been forced to retreat to his home and he was stuck in his fortress, awaiting his inevitable defeat. Victory had escaped his grasp, but when? When he pursued Guo Si? When he went to save his son? When the enemy army suddenly appeared on the other side of the pass?

“Father, do not abandon hope!” Ma Chao declared, trying to cheer his father.

He gave a look at his son. His strong and heroic son. Ma Teng couldn’t be more proud of him. It saddened him to no end that he wouldn’t be able to live a long life, that his time here was to end as soon as the walls were breached or the gates open. And they were all going to be put to death. They were rebels, after all. There was simply no way they would be allowed to live once Guo Si took over.

“Father!” the young man said as he fell to his knees. “Please allow me to lead a charge outside! We can die with honor by killing Guo Si!”

“No.”
Ma Teng retorted.

His voice was strong and decisive, not letting any room for discussion.

“Our last stand will me here, Chao. We do not need to haste the inevitable.”

“But father! I…”


Ma Chao was interrupted as a piece of the stone wall literally opened, revealing a man in a military uniform. It was clear that it was too large for him, as he kept trying to tuck his pants up as he entered the room. Ma Teng could only look in shock at the man, completely confused How did he enter the room?

“Guo Si’s agent!” Ma Chao said, raising his sword and pointing it at the man. “Die, scum!”

The man seemed panicked as Ma Chao and the guard advanced toward him. He raised his hands, waving at them. Ma Teng noticed that the stranger looked familiar, especially in the way he was searching his words. Finally, as Ma Chao approached with his sword, he exclaimed.

“请我在这里拯救您,以便您可以随风而飞!不要伤害我的人!”

Everyone looked at each other, having no clue what the man had just said. It was as if he was talking in another language.

“W-What did he say?” Ma Chao asked.

“I-I don’t know…” Ma Teng admitted, utterly confused.

“跟随我哦,上帝和将军”

“Is it some kind of code?”
Ma Chao tried to guest. “It sounds aggressive.”

“Wait, no… I know this man…”


And then it hit him. Of course he looked familiar! Strange man, always searching his words, impossible to understand correctly… It was Han Sui’s siege’s expert Mo Jie! Still, Ma Teng had no clue what he was trying to say.

“Son, lower your sword. He is a friend.”

_______

After ten minutes of trying, Mo Jie was finally able to explain that he was the one who built this fortress a decade ago, and so knew secret passages to get in and out. He came to save Ma Teng and his family and bring him to Han Sui so they could continue to protect the people of Liang. After a bit of uncertainty, the Ma Clan gladly followed their savior north, escaping Guo Si’s siege and joining Mo Jie in Han Sui’s court. The remaining rebel warlord welcomed his ally with open arms, appointing him as his military lieutenant and giving his son an office in his army. So while Ma Teng had lost his territories, he wasn’t out of the game yet, and was even made Han Sui’s lieutenant in all military affairs. As for Mo Jie, he found himself quite popular with the Ma Clan. Ma Teng in particular held Mo Jie in great esteem for saving them. As a way to pay him back, he announced that his daughter would marry Mo Jie once she was of age (she was 10 while Mo Jie was 32). This was a bit of a surprise, especially for Mo Jie, who had not be warned beforehand. But Ma Teng was insistent, and in the end the betrothal went forward, tying Mo Jie to the Ma Clan.
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With Ma Teng out, the fortress quickly fell to Guo Si, who was infuriated when he discovered that his enemy had managed to flee. Thankfully Yuyi was able to calm him down and cheer him up. After all, he had crushed the rebel forces. He was a hero of the dynasty. His prestige surely surpassed Dong Huang’s or even Lü Bu’s. But of course, she was quick to remind him that none of it would have been possible without Yao Shuren’s help. Guo Si was quick to agree. To reward his son-in-law and to secure his enduring loyalty, he appointed him as the new administrator in charge of Ma Teng’s former territories. Yao Shuren gladly accepted the appointment, as he now had a powerbase of his own, a first step for any ambitious young man who dreamed of so much more.
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Midnite Duke

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How did I get a dip point? 10yo girl friend, I better be a good boy! Unify Mo and Ma! Few letters are good. Clan Green Dragon Rules! Did country Puke Green win or lose?
 

Dunaden

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Poor Mo Jie, his inability to communicate is hurting his rise, but his master still values him and he continues to prove himself in other ways, and he has now secured a bride and family connections.

Yao Shuren has risen further, now with land of his own and a worthy bride, Guo Yuyi, the adoptive daughter of his liege. And he has become the stepfather to the bastard son of the late Dong Zhou, who could become a useful pawn.
 
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Midnite Duke

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Mo Jie here, let us correct the misconception that I speak nonsense. I just do not make friends, nor do I care. I have no tolerance for fools and idiots. You will not find me in the tavern partaking in nonsense with the guys. I am brutally honest (dear, the blue dress does not make you look any fatter than the green one). If you do not want the truth, don't ask me. I am extremely good at my job, so leave me alone, do your job and quit gossiping at the water cooler. I am a great supply officer and siege specialist. If you act dumb, I will save a rock and use your head on the catapult. This is my take on double digit learning and zilch diplomacy. Plenty of snark and little tact, but I will remember every important date for my future wife. Friends, who needs them? Everyone, please be safe and have a good weekend (not that I care).
 

Zamarak500

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How did I get a dip point? 10yo girl friend, I better be a good boy! Unify Mo and Ma! Few letters are good. Clan Green Dragon Rules! Did country Puke Green win or lose?
I have no clue how he got the dip point. Possibly by trying so much to get understood? Hope it won't stop me from making jokes about Mo Jie never being understood.

As for "Puke Green", they were the allies in the war, so while they lost they didn't lose any territories.
 
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190-192: The War for Ji Province New

Zamarak500

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190-192: THE WAR FOR JI PROVINCE
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Yuan Shao was a member of the high nobility, one of the great aristocrats of the Dynasty. His great-grandfather Yuan Ai had been of great service to the Han, and he himself served in the capital alongside his half-brother Yuan Shu. But when the eunuchs killed his respected master He Jin, he ordered all the slimy eunuchs killed at once. An honorable action for sure, but one that allowed the villain Dong Zhuo to claim control of Luoyang. While Dong Zhuo tried to coax him to his side, Yuan Shao wasn’t fooled by the monster. He was too noble for that. Yet he spend a lot of time hesitating. Should he stay with Dong Zhuo or flee the tyrant? Dong Zhuo forced his hand when he suggested that Emperor Shao be deposed and replaced by his brother, something he would eventually do. Now certain that he had to leave, Yuan Shao fled the capital for Ji Province. In an attempt to keep him in his good graces, Dong Zhuo appointed Yuan Shao Administrator of Bohai Commandery. Surely this would convince Yuan Shao to join his side, right?
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But Yuan Shao was now convinced that Dong Zhuo was the enemy. The fat tyrant had to be destroyed. Yuan Shao, who had only fled the capital out of survival, now hoped to position himself as the one who would defeat Dong Zhuo, unifying the lords of the realm behind him in a great war against Dong Zhuo, a… coalition. Yes, that sounded just about right. There was just one issue: Han Fu. Han Fu controlled Ji Province as its lawful governor, even if some of the province was occupied by the Black Mountain Bandits of Zhang Yan. Having such a powerful neighbour would make his bid to form (and lead) a coalition look like a joke. Even worst, he was dependent on Han Fu’s supply to equip and feed his troops. How could he wage war against the tyrant with someone holding such power over his actions? No, he needed to take Han Fu’s territories for himself.
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To do so, he concocted a magnificent plan that would allow him to easily take control of the province with little to no fight. All he had to do was lie his way to a bloodless victory. He sent a messenger to Colonel Gongsun Zan, who served in You Province and who was getting on the wrong side of his lord. While Yuan Shao was a respected military commander, he still held this aristocratic attitude that was interpreted as disdain by the men. Meanwhile, Gongsun Zan was an officer forged on the battlefield who had the respect of his soldiers. They saw him as one of them.

This was in fact the exact reason why he was having issue with his lord. So when the envoys sent by Yuan Shao arrived, Gongsun Zan was all too happy to listen to what they had to offer. Yuan Shao offered to split Ji Province between themselves, which would give Yuan Shao the power he needed for his coalition and allow Gongsun Zan to free himself from his difficult situation. Of course, Yuan Shao had no plan to split anything whatsoever. He knew that Han Fu was a coward. The second Gongsun Zan invaded, Yuan Shao would “ask” Han Fu to give him the province so he could protect it. And just like that he would own Ji Province without a fight.
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Now, Gongsun Zan was no idiot and suspected that Yuan Shao might be trying to use him. But at the end of the day, the reward was too good for him to pass on the offer. He agreed to march his men south and entered Ji Province, to the surprise and horror of Han Fu. Some troops were raised up at the town of Qiu, but orders from Han Fu forced them to retreat out of the region and link up with the rest of the army south of the province. The troops of Qiu proved to have the worst timing possible, falling right on top of Gongsun Zan and his army when they exited their town. Gongsun Zan was quick to capitalise on this lucky encounter and ordered an attack, killing a hundred men before the Qiu forces were able to retreat. The colonel was quick to order a pursuit, thus starting the war in February 190.
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When Han Fu heard of this, he panicked. Yuan Shao also had armies amassed on his border, but he was willing to put this all behind them and help protect Ji Province. That is, if he was given control of it. A coward and humble man, Han Fu had no issue complying with the demand. He went as far as to write the missive for Yuan Shao before he was interrupted by his trusted Commandant Tan Weiping. Tan Weiping was an old man in his sixties, yet remained one of the sharpest minds in the province. He was also the father of Tan Zilong, who served as a general under Yuan Shao’s brother Yuan Shu. And from the letters he had received from his son, giving control of Ji Province to a member of the Yuan Clan was a terrible idea. Tall and imposing even at his age, he was a physical presence that Han Fu couldn’t ignore. Tan Weiping immediately demanded that the letter to Yuan Shao be destroyed. Why bow to him? They had the manpower and the resources to fight Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan. They had what it took to win this war. All Han Fu had to do was give him control of the troops and sit back for the show. Han Fu, both intimidated and convinced by his Commandant, agreed to follow Tan Weiping’s plan.
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When Yuan Shao learned that Han Fu was in fact not going to surrender, he hesitated. He now had a war on his hand that he never planned to fight in the first place. And what about Gongsun Zan? It would be a lot harder to betray the colonel with his army right next to them. So he stoped, unsure if he should talk peace with Han Fu or continue the war. Tan Weiping used this hesitation to rally as many troops as he could, a move that Gongsun Zan also noticed. He sent repeated missives to Yuan Shao asking him where he was and why his troops had yet to link up with his. This insistence would prove the tipping point, and in the end Yuan Shao decided that he would fight this war. Worst case scenario, He would still own half of Ji Province, which was better than none. So he linked up with Gongsun Zan, who had cornered the Qiu army that he pursued for two months. In early April, Yuan Shao arrived and the two warlords destroyed the Qiu troops at Lecheng.
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But now Yuan Shao needed to use a skill that he did not share with the great men of history: decisive leadership. They had defeated the troops from Qiu, but Tan Weiping was surely still assembling his main force south. Gongsun Zan wanted to take the initiative and march against Han Fu. If they captured Han Fu before Tan Weiping attacked them then the war would end in an instant. They had to advance instead of standing around. But Yuan Shao’s advisors told him that it was a bad idea. No only had they no idea if Tan Weiping would lay an ambush for them, but allowing Gongsun Zan to march south was a dangerous strategy. If Gongsun Zan managed to win the war, he would be able to force the division of Ji Province, or maybe even to take it all for himself. So they stayed in place as Yuan Shao hesitated. Gongsun Zan suggested that he march alone if Yuan Shao wanted to stay, but this backfired on him, convincing Yuan Shao that his avisors were right. “You are here because I invited you, yet you wish to abandon me?” he angrily asked Gongsun Zan.

Tan Weiping had no idea why his enemies had yet to make a move, but he was not going to waste this opportunity. He assembled the soldiers of Ji and then began advancing toward Yuan Shao’s position, who had taken the city of Hejian as his headquarters. Even with news of Tan Weiping’s army approaching, Yuan Shao hesitated to act, instead opting to do nothing. This infuriated Gongsun Zan, especially as he was treated as a subordinate instead of an ally. So tensions were high and morale was low due to all that waiting. It didn’t help that there were disputes over supply, disputes that Yuan Shao refused to address.

When Tan Weiping and his army appeared at the horizon, morale took a hit as it became clear that Tan Weiping had the numerical advantage. Thankfully, the two allies had a great strategy to counter this. Gongsun Zan had made sure that it was flawless. And it was exactly because of his efforts that it failed. Yuan Shao, fearing that it would make Gongsun Zan more popular than him, changed his mind on a whim and instead led a heroic charge against Tan Weiping. This ruined the whole formation and allowed Tan Weiping to take the advantage, decisively routing the two generals.
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Han Fu couldn’t be happier when he received news of Tan Weiping’s victory. He had almost surrendered the province to Yuan Shao a few months ago. Had he not listened to his Commandant, he might not have been in control of anything right now. Yet here they were, with Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan on the run. What a great general he had in Tan Weiping! He could only look at the armies advancing north with a smile. There was just one slight issue: he wasn’t the only one smiling.

Yufuluo Khagan, the ruler of the Xiongnu’s horde, was also looking at this war. He noticed how the troops of Ji Province were all fighting Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan. Up north. Leaving Han Fu and his southern territories vulnerable. Yufuluo Khagan couldn’t resist such an easy target and launched an invasion of Ji Province in late August 190, almost two months after the Battle of Hejian. Han Fu quickly sent panicked missives to Tan Weiping asking for help. The Commandant quickly agree that the biggest threat was the Xiongnus and marched back south, leaving a skeleton crew over the defences north to keep Yuan Shao occupied. Tan Weiping advanced as fast as he could, which left the tired soldiers open to an attack by the Xiongnus when they arrived, forcing Tan Weiping to retreat.
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Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan noticed that Tan Weiping had left command. Their scouts told them that the garrisons left behind by the Commandant could be easily overrun. Officers came forward asking to be allowed the right to lead the vanguard. Tan Weiping was occupied south with the Xiongnus! This was their chance for victory! But this time Yuan Shao had a change of heart and decided that no, it was better to stay and wait. Really, they should all just watch it play out. What was the harm? This strange choice of tactic was due to Yuan Shao’s newfound willingness to listen to Gongsun Zan, who was advising him to stay put so they could instead replenish their ranks. Yuan Shao’s generals pleaded him to use this opportunity, but he shut them down. It was their fault they had lost the opportunity to move against Tan Weiping in the first place! If it wasn’t for them, the Battle of Hejian would have been a victory! So now he would listen to Gongsun Zan… until he changed his mind again, that is.

For his part, Tan Weiping was getting anxious about fighting this two front war. He feared that the warlords would indeed use this attack from the Xiongnus to restart their offensive. Seeing as they had not done so, Tan Weiping decided to use this reprieve on their part to knock them out of the war. After ensuring that he left good defences in the cities to stop the barbarian horsemen, the Commandant walked back north to go face the two warlords, finally meeting them in late January 191. This time, Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan were willing to work together. They would not flinch, they would not give an inch. Then they started losing, leading Yuan Shao to change his mind and deciding that it was better to leave Gongsun Zan to hang so that he could be the one in a position of strength after the battle, the undisputed leader of this alliance. He ordered a retreat, which allowed Tan Weiping to cut off Gongsun Zan from his “ally”. But instead of focusing on Gongsun Zan, the old Commandant allowed him to retreat and went after Yuan Shao.
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Now separated, both warlords decided to return to their respective home to replenish their troops. But Tan Weiping wasn’t going to allow Yuan Shao this luxury. He pursued his enemy into Bohai Commandery, defeating him and forcing him to flee further inside in powerbase after a series of small encounters. Soon Yuan Shao found himself under siege by the damn old man and began to hesitate. At first he was all too willing to continue the fight to the bitter end, as some of his advisors were telling him to do. But then, as the weeks went on, he began to agree with those that put survival at the top of their priorities. In June 191, after 17 months of war, he finally sent an envoy to Tan Weiping to admit his defeat. He would abandon his campaign and pay a massive amount of coins to Han Fu as reparation. Happy with this development, Tan Weiping agreed to the terms and went home to face the Xiongnus, convinced that the northern treat was dealt with. Yuan Shao, humiliated and weakened, would die a few years later of disease, having accomplished little since taking over Bohai Commandery.
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But Gongsun Zan still had troops, and unlike Yuan Shao had had the time to replenish it. So when he learned of Yuan Shao’s surrender he was both surprised and disappointed. Most importantly though, it left him with a difficult choice. He could abandon the war effort and stay home, crossing any dream of ever controlling Ji Province. Or he could continue the war without Yuan Shao, this time with the goal of taking it all for himself. In a time like this, he summoned his generals to his command tent and asked for their opinion. The first to step up was his cousin Gongsun Yue, one of the most loyal men in his service.

“Cousin Yue. Please enlighten me with your advices.” Gongsun Zan asked him.

“My Lord, if Yuan Shao has surrendered, then that is his problem. But we should not bind ourselves with the decisions of an unreliable man.”

“So you believe that I should continue forward?”

“Ji Province is within your grasp!”
Gongsun Yue said, grasping his hand into a fist for emphasis. “Han Fu and his troops are occupied with the barbarians! We have an army ready to march! Heaven has gifted us with an opportunity. Who are we not to take it?”

Most officers agreed, and Gongsun Zan could only nod at his cousin’s reasoning. The situation was indeed opportune, but only if they used it well. He then turned his head to one of his youngest officers, but probably the most righteous. While only 23, Zhao Yun had proved to be honorable, hardworking and zealous in his service of Gongsun Zan. And more importantly, he was both an excellent officer and a fantastic fighter.
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“Zhao Yun, what do you think I should do?” He asked the younger man.

The young man hesitated, but finally spoke his mind.

“Yuan Shao was not a man of honor, yet we helped him out of ambition. But while our actions were not noble, Han Fu cannot be absolved of his blame for continuously failing to protect Ji Province and its people. The peasants have been attacked by invaders and barbarians for a year now. If he cannot protect the people, than he has lost the right to rule them.”

“Well said.”
Gongsun Zan agreed. “Then we shall save them from their incompetent lord.”

And so Gongsun Zan was back on the warpath, only two weeks after Yuan Shao had surrendered. But this time he couldn’t count on the troops of his ally to boost his ranks. If numbers had been a problem with Yuan Shao, it was going to be a deadly flaw without him. To remedy to this, Gongsun Zan sent his cousin Gongsun Yue north to go hire mercenaries among the barbarian tribes. Not wanting to hire Xiongnus due to the current situation, Gongsun Yue instead went all the way up north to the Xianbei, a tribe that led a large confederation on its way to dominate all of the Northern Plains and the Gobi Desert itself. Many were all too willing to come help these Han Chineses in their wars for coins and loots.

When Tan Weiping learned that Gongsun Zan had crossed back into Ji Province, he was mightily annoyed. Hadn’t he dealt with these people already? Even worst, it took months before he actually got news of Gongsun Zan’s renewed attacks, with Gongsun having captured a few cities already. But he had his hands tied with the Xiongnus, who had once against caused great casualties in his ranks. Han Fu insisted that Tan Weiping stay and protect his provincial capital, which had recently been the subject of a failed siege by Yufuluo Khagan. But Tan Weiping was convinced that he needed to put an end to Gongsun Zan like he had done with Yuan Shao. Only then would he have the freedom to properly wage war against the invading horsemen.

So he marched north once more, although he left a considerable chunk of his troops back with Han Fu, who was afraid of what the Xiongnus might do in the absence of his Commandant. When he arrived in April 192, Gongsun Zan had already taken many territories on the northern border of Ji Province, acquiring many of them diplomatically. As it turned out, many local officials were all too willing to switch allegiance from the cowardly Han Fu to the warlike Gongsun Zan. But it didn’t matter. Tan Weiping would crush them just as he had done before.

But he found himself at equal strength with Gongsun Zan thanks to the horsemen mercenaries Gongsun Yue had hired and the troops he had himself left with Han Fu. The sight of horsemen struck fear in his troops due to the defeats against the Xiongnus. When Gongsun Yue led them into a charge, Tan Weiping’s flank immediately collapsed and allowed Gongsun Yan and Zhao Yun the freedom on their end to push. The troops of Ji Province were defeated and forced to retreat. Tan Weiping wanted to reorganize and strike back, but a messenger from Han Fu told him to return at once as the provincial capital was once again threatened by Yufuluo Khagan.
20201110231249_1.jpg


Gongsun Zan was able to easily defeat what force Tan Weiping had left behind. He continued to gain cities and fortresses, slowly gaining control of Ji Province. But this slowness was becoming a problem. The slower they were, the more time Tan Weiping had to reorganize his troops and face them. Even worst, the Xiongnus might take Ji Province from them if they weren’t fast enough. While their current tactic was working, it wasn’t working at the speed they needed. So Zhao Yun suggested a plan. He offered to lead a small force to the provincial capital and take it over, capturing Han Fu in the process. Gongsun Zan expressed obvious concerns at this plans, fearing that it would cost him his best general. But Zhao Yun insisted, saying “How can I pass a chance to serve my lord and save the people from more war?”

Gongsun Zan agreed to the plan and Zhao Yun made his way south. When he presented himself to the walls in October 192, he was able to make his way in thanks to sympathetic guards who believed that Gongsun Zan might be the man to save Ji Province from the barbarians. These guards quickly found fellow minded soldiers who all respected Gongsun Zan’s military prowess and Zhao Yun’s honorable reputation. Soon they marched on the governor’s mansion to take over the capital. Han Fu was actually in the middle of a meal when Zhao Yun entered with his men.

But instead of killing him or ordering his capture, Zhao Yun asked him to willingly give up the province to Gongsun Zan. Clearly Han Fu wasn’t up to the task, so it was better to let a more qualified man lead the province. This time, Han Fu was quick to give away his governor’s seal, especially since Zhao Yun swore that Han Fu would be spared. The seal was sent to Gongsun Zan, who was hailed by his troops as the new Governor of Ji Province. Tan Weiping only received the news when it was too late. Not seeing any point in fighting it, he swore his allegiance to Gongsun Zan. And just like that, Gongsun Zan was one of the most powerful warlords of the Dynasty.
20201110231530_1.jpg

__________
PS: Alright, so @Dunaden next chapter we'll finally see Pan Zheng. I know it was a long wait compared to the others, but 15 chapters in we'll finally have the full cast.
 

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Massinissa the Wise

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Yuan Shao offered to split Ji Province between themselves, which would give Yuan Shao the power he needed for his coalition and allow Gongsun Zan to free himself from his difficult situation. Of course, Yuan Shao had no plan to split anything whatsoever.
I get a déjà vu from this, I don't know why ;)
 
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PS: Alright, so @Dunaden next chapter we'll finally see Pan Zheng. I know it was a long wait compared to the others, but 15 chapters in we'll finally have the full cast.
Very excited to see what's in store for our hero.

So who is the important character for the story going forward, the more obvious Governor Gongsun Zan 'the Victorious' of Ji, or is it his gifted young advisor Zhao Yun? Han Fu is right out.
 
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I get a déjà vu from this, I don't know why ;)
What can I say? :p The Han Dynasty is full of backstabbing bastards.

So who is the important character for the story going forward, the more obvious Governor Gongsun Zan 'the Victorious' of Ji, or is it his gifted young advisor Zhao Yun? Han Fu is right out.
Honestly, both have what it takes to be called "important character", although I was talking of Gongsun Zan when I spoke that time, since he's the one in charge.
 
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Liu Bei has entered!

That is a lot of intrigue in the capital. Sheesh.

Ji and Liang are hotbeds of unrest and war...

And my character, Xuan Su, is doing very well...
 
190-192: What About Yi? New

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190-192: WHAT ABOUT YI?
20201117210838_1.jpg


Liu Yan was a respected scion of the Han and a descendant of Emperor Jing (157-141 B.C.), just like Liu Bei. His branch of the Liu Clan had remained powerful over the centuries, and Liu Yan had proven himself a good commander and an able statesman. His rise through the ranks had thus been a given. His career in the capital went as far as being appointed the Minister of Ceremonies, but this was nowhere near enough power and independence for him. No, he wanted more. And more importantly, he wanted to put as much distance as possible between himself and the deadly court of Luoyang. At first, he wished to be appointed Governor of Jiaozhi Province for that exact reason: it was the furthest he could be from the capital. But someone advised him that Yi Province was a far more auspicious choice, so he followed the advice. Appointed Governor of Yi province in 188, he quickly left the capital for his new territories.
20201111225504_1.jpg


When he arrived, Liu Yan had to deal with remnants of the Yellow Turbans operating in the province. He dispatched them quickly, but this was to prove the first of much violent opposition to his rule. But Liu Yan already had a lot on his plate. First, he had to severe any influence the central government might have on his province. To do so, he went to the sect leader Zhang Lu. Zhang Lu was the leader of a Taoist sect known as the Way of the Celestial Masters. They had been active in Yi Province for a while now and had quite the influence. Because of this, Liu Yan decided to get rid of two problems in a single stroke. He ordered Zhang Lu to take his followers and attack Hanzong Commandery. The sect leader agreed and quickly overran the local administrator, setting up his own small theocratic state there. Now Liu Yan had a buffer state between Luoyang and himself, a buffer state under his influence.
20201111225554_1.jpg


Now free to act, Liu Yan moved against the main threat to his control of the province: the local families. Under the Han, many rich families emigrated from the north, their descendant growing more and more powerful with time. The great families now had their own armies and wealth that could be used against their governor. This couldn’t be allowed. So he invited many of the family heads to his home and had them executed. But not every troublemaker fell into the trap. A magistrate named Jia Long, horrified at the way Liu Yan was treating the local elite, decided to rise up in revolt in January 190, joined by a few other local officials. The Yizhou Insurrection, has it was called, would prove the second case of local opposition to his rule.
20201111225539_1.jpg


Meanwhile, the old Fan Min was looking at this with hesitation. When Liu Yan had arrived in the province, Fan Min had been the first to come forward and welcome him as his new governor. For this, Liu Yan had relied on him as his Commandant, putting him in charge of the troops and the military affairs in Yi. But he was also one of those local nobles, one that sympathized with the rebels. After all, Liu Yan had killed ten of them. So while he wrote strategies and battle plans for his lord, he was still hesitant, unsure which path to take. He was getting old too, so he didn’t want to waste his last years fighting a war alongside the wrong people.
20201111225609_1.jpg


He wisely chose to ask his courtiers for advice. He first asked Pan Wei, the son of an old friend of his. But Pan Wei wasn’t exactly helpful. He was lazy, doing little of his time other than eat and drink like a pig. Anyone less patient than Fan Min would have stopped tolerating Pan Wei a long time ago. But Pan Wei was the son of his old friend, and so he allowed his gluttony and his laziness. Besides, the man was supportive of all his actions, always trusting that the old administrator knew best. When Fan Min asked him for advice, Pan Wei expressed the belief that he wasn’t worthy or wise enough to advise him, and that he knew Fan Min would make the right decision. This was not what the old man had been hoping for…
20201111225628_1.jpg


So instead he turned to Pan Wei’s young son, Pan Zheng. The young scholar had proven a bright mind since he arrived, although a bit self-centered and antisocial. It wasn’t that Pan Zheng was shy or had a speech disability, far from it. Each time the young man spoke, Fan Min found him eloquent and well spoken. The problem was that he was brutally honest and uninterested in things that didn’t immediately concern him. This led Pan Zheng to spend most of his time stubbornly hidden in his room, studying the old texts of the various schools of thought in peace. This made it easy enough to find him.

Just as expected, he found Pan Zheng was studying in his room, this time architectural plans and ancient texts of the Zhou Dynasty. Fan Min came forward and asked the young man if he had any suggestion on what he should do. Should he stay idle or should he go to the help of his lord? At first, Pan Zheng had no interest in giving his opinion whatsoever. No matter how much Fan Min asked, the young man would simply say that it wasn’t his duties. When Pan Wei heard that his son was stubbornly refusing to be of any help, he chastised him in private and ordered him to do as Fan Min asked. He was their lord. They needed to serve him as gratefully as possible. Forced by his father, Pan Zheng finally came to his lord and told him: “Loyalty is one of the most revered virtues of the world. Men are judged by their loyalty. To be loyal is to be honorable. Yet the lord you say you are loyal to is asking for support, and you sit idle? A true man of honor and virtue would do what is necessary to serve his lord, even when not asked. So fighting for your lord will all you have is the clearest way to show your loyalty.”
20201111225641_1.jpg


Convinced, Fan Min not only went to fight with Liu Yan, but he also raised his own personal troops to help. Reinforced by these new soldiers, Liu Yan was easily able to defeat Jia Long. Fan Min arrived just in time to come reinforce Liu Yan at the battle of Deyang, which broke the rebel offensive. Jia Long tried to regroup, but in July Fan Min marched against him once more at Chengling, destroying his army in a stunning victory. Fan Min made sure that his troops led the vanguard so to prove his loyalty by taking the brunt of the enemy’s force. By the first months of 191, Fan Min and Liu Yan had supressed the Yizhou Insurrection and captured Jia Long. Fan Min came out of this war a hero and a trusted ally of Liu Yan.
20201117211007_1.jpg


As soon as he had defeated Jia Long, Liu Yan decided to turn his troops against Administrator Ren Qi of Jianwei Commandery. Ren Qi had been the main backer of Jia Long during the Yizhou Rebellion. While he had helped during the rebellion, he had also made sure that he wasn’t hurt by the war. In fact, he still remained in control of his territories. This could not be allowed. Liu Yan was quick to raise an army and launch a war against the rebellious Administrator. Of course, Fan Min was called as soon as Liu Yan took the decision to go to war again. His Commandant had proved to be useful and loyal, and so trustworthy enough to be given command of the troops. In fact, Liu Yan began to present Fan Min as the perfect example of what he expected out of a local nobleman. He wanted them loyal and obedient, not traitorous and autonomous like Ren Qi.
20201117211014_1.jpg


While he joined Liu Yan in his campaign against the rebellious Ren Qi, Fan Min left his domain in the hands of a trusted advisor named Fang Lingxin. The man was an excellent administrator and all equipped to deal with day to day business in the domain, so he was the perfect choice. He did lack communication skills to a point that it was problematic, though. This began to prove a problem soon after Fan Min left. He especially had a hard time getting his future son-in-law Pan Zheng to participate in any meaningful way to the administration. He wanted to use this opportunity to help the career of his family, which meant helping him get ahead. But Pan Zheng wanted nothing of this and insisted that he be left alone to his texts. The two stubbornly held their grounds, each wanting to have their way. The stalemate finally broke when Pan Wei came and ordered his son to help Fang Lingxin, to Pan Zheng’s annoyance.
20201117211030_1.jpg


The war with Ren Qi, which Liu Yan had hoped would be a quick affair, was actually far more difficult than anticipated. The rebel had also spread his troops to attack multiple cities, forcing Liu Yan to move between them to protect his territories, which slowed him down considerably. In early 192, one of these forces reached the territories of Fan Min, still under the command of Fang Lingxin. When the rebel troops appeared at the horizon, Fang Lingxin found himself unable to organize an efficient counter attack and was forced on a defensive position. He once again tried to turn to Pan Zheng, demanding that he lead the defence of the city. But the young man still wanted to be left alone. Pan Wei had enough and grabbed his son and told him to get on and go lead the troops. He explained how this was an important task that needed to be done. To this Pan Zheng replied: “Well, why don’t you do it, father?” Pan Wei was infuriated by his son’s reply. But he also knew his son well. In exchange of taking command, Pan Zheng was promised new scrolls paid by his father.

Now properly motivated, Pan Zheng took command of the garrison, doing a decent enough job at defending against the rebels until Fan Min and Liu Yan arrived to relieve the siege. Following the victory, Liu Yan was welcomed as an honor guest inside by Fan Ming and Fang Lingxin. Liu Yan was curious about the man who had led the defence of the city and asked to meet him. Pan Zheng was thus summoned, meeting Liu Yan for the first time. The Governor of Yi Province asked the young man if he knew his classics well, having been told that Pan Zheng was quite the scholar. To his surprise, Pan Zheng recited Confucius’s teachings out loud. Liu Yan left impressed with the young man, which would prove useful for his future.

In November 192, Ren Qi was finally defeated and brought to heel. Yi Province was finally at peace thanks to the efforts of Liu Yan and Fan Min. The old Commandant returned home just in time for Pan Zheng’s wedding, although his deteriorating age stopped him from attending. A few years back, Pan Wei and Fang Lingxin had arranged a marriage between their children. With Fang Xia finally of age (as in twelve years old), the marriage was planned and organized, with Pan Wei paying for the majority of it. Pan Zheng didn’t care much for his marriage, but did so because his father asked him to and because it was expected of him. He was the last hope of the Pan Clan to produce next generations, after all. So he did what he had to and went through with the marriage. As long as he could get back to his studies after that...
20201117211331_1.jpg


______________________
PS: Okay! Finally everyone is introduced! Sorry if the chapter took longer than usual. I'm really occupied these days but I'm trying to at least keep ot weekly.
These are probably the next three chapters (although it's subject to change, as always):

  1. A chapter focused on Yuan Shu and his generals, especially Sun Jian
  2. A chapter on Kong Rong and Hu Zan and their evolving relationship after Kong Rong took over
  3. A chapter on how Xiao Ru and his one-sided feud with Zhuge Gui have been doing
 

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Very nice. Pan Zheng does very well at what ever he tries, whether giving advice or defending a city, provided you can actually get him to take an interest, either by threats or bribery. And now he has caught the eye of the Governor of Yi.
 
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Very nice. Pan Zheng does very well at what ever he tries, whether giving advice or defending a city, provided you can actually get him to take an interest, either by threats or bribery. And now he has caught the eye of the Governor of Yi.
He had a decent start. Honestly, pretty much everyone had a good first showing except for Xiao Ru (and maybe Mo Jie).
 

Midnite Duke

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Mo Jie is not complaining. He has a young bride to be. He is quite good at his proper job. He only has problems when people take him from comfort zone and expect him to play nicely. So either don't talk to him or to paraphrase Big & Rich (you may google them) save a stone, ride a catapult (I do not care if your head is attached to your body. Either way makes a good bio terror weapon.) So no talking but please be safe. Mo Jie
 
191-193: Hu Zan and Kong Rong New

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191-193: HU ZAN AND KONG RONG
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It was September 191. Kong had finally negotiated a peace with Liu Dai and Liu Bei, ending their attempts to conquer Qing Province. Now it was his duty to protect Qing Province just as Zang Hong had done before. He had always hoped that he would become Inspector of the province one day, but he hadn’t expected the position to fall on his laps. Few opposed his ascension, as his experience, talent and most importantly his ancestry rallied the nobility behind him. He was a descendant of Confucius, after all. This alone put it in front of anyone else who might fancy the position for themselves. His first order of business was to give a funeral to Zang Hong, which was done once all officials of the province had arrived to pay respect to their former lord. They even assembled to the old home of Zang Hong instead of Kong Rong’s new provincial capital of Beihai.
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When the former Inspector of Qing Province had been given a proper farewell, Kong Rong sent a letter to Luoyang informing the Imperial Court that Zang Hong had died and that he was now in charge of Qing Province. He then awaited official confirmation from the capital. Of course, there was no way Kong Rong would surrender his newfound authority. All he wanted was legitimacy from the Han to rule the province as its rightful Inspector.

Jiang Xian, the Minister Herald of the Han Dynasty, found himself in an awkward position. By the time Kong Rong’s messenger arrived just, the Court was hosting Liu Bei and his brothers, showering them with praises and compliments. Weren’t they at war a few months ago? Unwilling to go behind their guest’s back, Jiang Xian came to Liu Bei and told him that Kong Rong demanded recognition as Inspector of Qing Province. Zhang Fei angrily shouted “Bah! I’ll go kill the messenger myself!” out of anger, but Liu Bei was quick to stop his brother from doing anything rash. While they had been enemies once, he completely trusted Kong Rong to be a wise and just inspector. Happy that this wouldn’t cause an issue, he quickly went to Yang Biao to tell him Kong Rong’s request, after which he went to Dong Huang. Dong Huang, while mightily annoyed that Jiang Xian went to Yang Biao first, he still agreed with the rest of the administration that there was no reason to oppose Kong Rong’s ascension. Besides, they were too occupied with their war against the White Wave Bandits. The Chancellor had the child emperor approve the appointment, something Kong Rong would only be informed in 192.
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As the messenger left Qing for the capital, Kong Rong began to reward some of his supporters. Hu Zan was among those that expected the best rewards. He had been among the most loyal followers of Kong Rong, always taking his side in debates. He even had the luck of serving as his assistant on campaign, a huge honor for sure, but also an opportunity to show his talent and advance his career. How often had he given advices to Kong Rong while on campaign? How often had he proved valuable to his lord? Clearly Kong Rong would reward him accordingly. In this, Hu Zan was a bit arrogant, seeing himself as above the other generals serving Kong Rong.

His marriage the previous year had done nothing to rein in his ego. When the offer to marry Feng Fang’s daughter Feng Ai came to him, Hu Zan jumped at the opportunity and said yes. By the time she arrived, Dong Zhuo had been killed and Feng Fang was the Commander-in-Chief of the Han military. He was the son-in-law of such illustrious man! Even better, the girl had become pregnant soon after the marriage. On November 1st, 191, the thirteen years old Feng Ai gave birth to a son, Hu Da. It was an extremely difficult pregnancy for the teenage girl, especially as she was suffering from Camp Fever. Hu Zan believed that she had contracted the disease because she had followed him during the campaign. Feeling extremely guilty, he spent most of his time by his wife’s side, trying to give her comfort.
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Still, other than the terrible situation his wife was in, everything was going Hu Zan! He had the powerful father-in-law in the capital, the respect of his lord and an heir to his legacy. And Kong Rong did respect him. He saw Hu Zan as a young man with great potential, who could one day serve some of the greatest offices in the imperial administration. But Kong Rong also saw how young Hu Zan was. He was only nineteen, for Heaven’s sake! He needed to learn the trade by first filling small offices and making his way up. As much as Kong Rong knew Hu Zan was competent, he didn’t want to immediately trust him at the head of the commandery. So on November 9th, when Kong Rong gave reward to his followers, he appointed Hu Zan Magistrate of Chunyu and it’s county. The county was neighbouring Kong Rong’s provincial capital of Beihai. All and all, this was a pretty good first posting. But while Hu Zan happily accepted his new home, he couldn’t stop himself from being disappointed. He had expected more. He wanted more.
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Only two days later, Kong Rong took his troops and marched for war. The new Inspector of Qing Province had looked around and realized that it was the perfect time to expand. Liu Dai was still recovering from the recent war, so a second attack was unlikely. Liu Bei was fighting the White Wave Bandits, so he was too far away to attack again. Tao Qian had just died, so his son Tao Shang would focus on securing his power. This left Kong Rong free to attack the only neighbour he wasn’t afraid of: Sima Ju, Chief of the Eastern Yellow Turbans. They had been weakened since the main rebellion had failed, but they still held on. Kong Rong knew that no one would oppose him for attacking these rebels. It was a perfect opportunity to retake territories that were rightfully Qing. As he handed out rewards to his followers, he also told some of them to stay around for the campaign.
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To his annoyance, Hu Zan was not among them. He was instead sent to Chunyu with his family. Kong Rong did not try to slight the young general when he refused to bring him on campaign. He thought that Hu Zan would prefer to spend this time with his sick wife and his newborn son. Surely he would prefer to defend his family than go fight the rebels. He was young after all. He could focus on his family now and then build his career in a few years. Hu Zan did not see it this way. He saw it as Kong Rong pushing him aside for some unknown reason. He rode on horseback to reach Kong Rong’s army and begged him to let him come, but Kong Rong refused. He told him that rewards would come to Hu Zan... eventually. Kong Rong also reminded him to respect his elders and accept his decision. Hu Zan was barely an adult and had to wait for his time. But the ambitious young man had no desire to wait for the old generation to die off.

Kong Rong advanced against Sima Ju and his Yellow Turbans, eventually meeting his troops in late December 191. While the rebel tried his best to organize his troops, it was clear that the battle would turn in Kong Rong’s favor. The troops of Qing were better equipped and veterans of the recent war with Liu Dai and Liu Bei. Meanwhile, the Yellow Turbans had become more brigands than soldiers, if they could have ever been considered soldiers. The battle was an easy victory for Kong Rong, a victory spoiled by the news he received from home. Hu Zan had not taken Kong Rong’s refusal lying down. Believing that the inspector was needlessly hindering his career, the young man began to cause all sorts of problems at home, notably assembling his own small army and demanding that he be allowed to join Kong Rong, or else. Kong Rog could only sigh at these reports. It seemed that Hu Zan hadn’t been ready to take over a county. He first needed to learn humility before he was allowed some power. Kong Rong sent an envoy to Hu Zan, demanding that he surrender control of Chunyu. Hu Zan decided to take this as an ultimatum and refused, raising the banner of rebellion in January 192.

Kong Rong was bugged down with the Eastern Yellow Turbans, which meant that Hu Zan was free to act until his now former lord had returned from campaign. This was a window of opportunity that he could not waste. Hu Zan readied his troops and marched toward Beihai with plans to take it as fast as possible. If he could take control of the provincial capital, he might be able to rally others to his cause. Ready to go, he soon stopped his march when he learned that his wife’s condition was only getting worst. He was forced to march back to Chunyu, returning home only three weeks after he left. He arrived to learn that his wife had died a few days before, the Camp Fever and the weak health due to the difficult pregnancy being the main culprits. Saddened to have lost his wife after little more than a year, he was forced to stop any plan to organize the funerals and sent news to her father Feng Fang, who was leading troops against the White Wave Bandits at the time.
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He left as soon as he could, but the funerals and the mourning still slowed his campaign considerably. Hu Zan soon realized that his wife had left him a gift before departing this world. As he made his way to Beihai, he began to feel sicker and sicker as days passed. By the time they reached the provincial capital, Hu Zan was afflicted by Camp Fever, although his case was not as bad as his wife’s. When he asked the defenders of Beihai to open the gates, he was barely able to stand on his feet and his face was as white as a ghost. The defenders laughed at this sickly man demanding entrance, and his men had to help him get back to his tent. His soldiers were beginning to wonder if Hu Zan hadn’t been abandoned by Heaven for his rebellion against Kong Rong. First his wife had died and then he was sick with the same disease. It looked like punishments to many. Desertion quickly became a problem as people decided to leave what they suspected to be a lost cause. Soon there were only around a thousand soldiers left.
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Hu Zan would survive and fully recover by July. When he was finally able to take full assessment of the situation, he realised how bad his situation was at the moment. The desertions had obviously been a problem he would need to address, but it was not like he could magically replenish his ranks. Even worst, Beihai had yet to fall, with little progress made toward taking the provincial capital. It had been half a year since he had gone into revolt and he had yet to achieve anyhing. Then came the worst news possible. His men captured an envoy trying to enter Beihai, carrying a seal of authority from Kong Rong and a letter for the garrison. Hu Zan found to his horror that Kong Rong had finished his war with the Eastern Yellow Turbans and was on his way back. The envoy was supposed to bring the news to the defenders with orders to hold on until Kong Rong arrived. Hu Zan had little time to waste. He needed to take Beihai now, or it would be too late to have the rest of the province rally to his cause. So he ingeniously used the seal of authority given to the envoy for his plan. He presented to seal to the defender, claiming that he had come on Kong Rong’s orders. Now fearing that they had blocked for six months a man under Kong Rong’s orders, the defenders opened the gates to let Hu Zan enter. The rest was easy, and by the end of the night Beihai was his.

With the capture of Beihai, he sent missives to the administrators and magistrates of Qing Province, demanding their loyalty against Kong Rong’s abuses so they could truly prosper. He waited for them to rally to his banner. And then he waited more… But none of them wanted to support a twenty years old against the prestigious descendant of Confucius who had returned victorious from his campaign. Then maybe the peasantry would support him? But this was also a dead end, as Kong Rong was beloved for being just and kind to the people, protecting them from abuses. This meant that he had no choice but to fight it out. Hu Zan didn’t want to be trapped in Beihai, but he also didn’t want to abandon it either. So Hu Zan placed his troops outside the city, a rare poor decision on his part. When Kong Rong arrived with his army thrice as big in September, he was able to force Hu Zan against the walls of the city. When Hu Zan realized that he had made a terrible decision, he found the gates of Beihai closed to him, the local garrison having turned to Kong Rong.

Hu Zan was finally routed by the assault led by Kong Rong’s new protégé, Tan Zhihan. Tan Zhihan was in many ways what Hu Zan wanted to be, or what he could have been had he remained loyal. A strong and tall man of genius intellect, Tan Zhihan could probably be considered perfect by many. He was just, brave, hardworking… His qualities went on. The closest thing he had to a negative personality trait was that he was a bit paranoid. But who wasn’t these days. Tan Zhihan had been a magistrate under Zang Hong, but quickly rallied around Kong Rong when he arrived in the province. He was among the generals allowed to follow the new Inspector in his campaign against the Yellow Turbans, where he proved to be an indispensable asset. And with the betrayal of Hu Zan, Kong Rong began to rely even more on the younger general. Following the victory at Beihai, Tan Zhihan would be appointed Administrator of Jihan Commandery for his successes. By the end of the year, Kong Rong would show his full trust in Tan Zhihan by appointing him Commandant of Qing Province.
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After the defeat at Beihai, Hu Zan tried to regroup his troops and reassemble at Chunyu. But Tan Zhihan,. Who had been put in command of the campaign, was right on his heel. Even worst, Hu Zan fell ill again, which forced him to rely on his less than stellar officers. The Battle of Chunyu, which took place in early December 192, saw Tan Zhihan lose only 9 men while Hu Zan lost 134. What he had left of an army entered Chunyu to prepare for a siege. But after a month the rebels began to grow desperate as they realized they would never win the war. By late February 193, Hu Zan decided that he had to leave, no matter his health. He could not allow his life to end here. So he took his soon and with a dozen of his most loyal men left Chunyu in the middle of the night. The rebels he left behind quickly surrendered to Tan Zhihan, who returned to Kong Rong to celebrate their victory. As for Hu Zan, he marched south, hoping to find a new home there.
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