"You think you're Xiao He?"
Editor(s): jelly, namio
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At this time, it was already late autumn, and on the road back to Shuxian, a torrential rain began to fall. A mere three days after he had left, Zhou Yu felt regret. The road was nothing but mud, and the weather was turning cold. After the wheels of the carts sank into the mud, the entire group of people would have to push the cart along for it to go. Zhou Yu thought to himself that if he had known earlier, then he wouldn’t have declined Sun Ce’s offer of sending his troops along to escort them back. But, if Sun Ce did leave his post without permission, he would have to endure a disciplinary beating from Sun Jian. Since the day that he had met Sun Ce, Zhou Yu had brought him an endless amount of troubles, so if he could decrease that amount by a little, then that was good.
Zhou Yu’s build was large, and he had a lot of strength as well, but as he followed the traveling merchants, pushing the carts along under such a downpour, he was completely drenched. On the journey, he devoured ginger soup that could ward off the cold, only afraid that he would fall ill before he even got home.
This journey took a whole half a month, and the weather was at times good and at times bad. Originally, he had arranged to bring the caravan back to Shu County before he would head at top speed towards Shouchun, where Yuan Shu was, to await the arrival of Sun Ce. But if he fell ill as soon as he got home, perhaps he would have to spend many months recuperating… as soon as Zhou Yu thought of that, his head ached.
Thankfully, though there were many troubles on the road and countless dangers, they managed to return home safely in the end. When they arrived in Shuxian, they caused a stir throughout the entirety of the small town.
Zhou Yu, wholly exhausted, returned home, where his mother was currently waiting.
“You’ve returned?” Madame Zhou asked.
“I’ve returned,” Zhou Yu said. “All the carts have been brought back, and none of the people are missing either.”
Outside, there was a constant stream of people coming to their door to thank them. Madam Zhou had clearly been worried before, but now that her son had returned home, she was finally relieved of that weight. She went back to her rooms to change into a set of formal robes before walking out into the yard.
“Old Madam Zhou!”
“Young Master Zhou.”
“The Zhou family has shown us great kindness…”
But Madame Zhou indicated that they shouldn’t speak just yet, before she knelt down and kowtowed to the villagers.
With this gesture, the entire courtyard was filled with an uproar. Zhou Yu hurried to support his old mother, following her in kowtowing three times to their fellow villagers.
“My son has lived in Shu County all his life,” Madame Zhou said earnestly. “He was taken care of by all of our old neighbors and fellow villagers, and even more so, the silk store is at the scale it is today exactly because of everyone here. For us to be able to contribute in such a way is only part of our duties, how can we bear these thanks?”
“After my deceased husband bid farewell to the world, we have relied on all of you, our neighbors and fellow villagers. As of today, it should be me, in place of my deceased husband and my naive child, thanking everyone for their usual support and kindness,” Madam Zhou said, smiling. “Dear villagers, please return, and do not bring up any life-saving debts anymore. If anything arises on a day-to-day basis, then please, do let us know how we can be of use.”
Everyone then went through another few rounds of thanking and politely declining, before finally leaving their presents and taking their leave.
That night, Madam Zhou watched Zhou Yu’s face closely under the lamplight, stroking his head incessantly as she sighed, “The Sun family sent an envoy who delivered the news to me, which is the only reason why mom could sleep a little better these past few days.”
Zhou Yu described his journey to Luoyang to his mother. His mother then thought of something, and she explained, “The Qiao family also sent someone, asking after your wellbeing and whether or not you had returned from Luoyang. Seems like Prefect Qiao was also very worried.”
Zhou Yu nodded, and for a time, the mother and son had no words to exchange. A long while later, Madame Zhou rose, watching the raindrops out beyond the corridor, and she said, “This time, we really have no way to repay the kindness that the Sun family has shown us. Bofu has always been a good child, and he’s come to visit us ever since he was small. Your dad liked him greatly, and General Sun has always looked after us very well…”
“... Bofu won’t say anything along the lines of debts,” Zhou Yu said, sipping a mouthful of warm tea. “Mother, I promised him, and it’s about time I head to Shouchun.”
“That is how it should be,” Madame Zhou replied. “In these two years, mother has always been worried about you, but hearing these words now, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I’m not afraid that there will be no one to take care of you out there, but I was afraid that you would care too much about the family and waste your years, leading a life without any achievements, whiling it away just like that.”
“Mother.” Zhou Yu’s eyes instantly reddened.
Madame Zhou smiled slightly, sitting down again as she said, “When your father was alive, he and General Sun were old friends. Now, his son is grown, and my son is also grown. Though my son may not show more promise than General Sun’s son, he still understands what he should do, and he has his own ambitions in mind. In these few years, mother has seen how you are at home. Although you say that you are running the business and taking care of family matters because someone has to take care of them, mother knows that those things are not what you actually want to do, isn’t that right?”
“But I can’t help but worry about you,” Zhou Yu said. “I do not even know if the Changsha Prefect will reside for long in Shouchun.”
Madame Zhou said, “You go as you wish, even to the ends of the earth. If you aren’t able to rest assured about mother, then when the time comes, mother will sell off the store, and with a roll of bedding, I’ll follow alongside you. Your father was a good man, and my son will also be able to build up a good undertaking as well. Haven’t you heard what they say? In this world, as long as you are a man, there will always be two people who believe without a shred of doubt that he is an incredible person. The first is his mother, and the second is his wife.”
Zhou Yu was so tickled by that that he began to chuckle. He then said, “Alright, then tomorrow I will set off, but while I’m at home…”
“No need to worry,” Madame Zhou said. “You just need to be a good person and take care of matters diligently. Mother will be happy staying at home and hearing about them, though I will always look forward to seeing you. When mother eventually arrives in Shouchun, it would be nice to hear people praising you, isn’t it like that?”
Zhou Yu’s eyes were reddened, and he nodded his head, watching his mother.
Madame Zhou stroked Zhou Yu’s head and gave him a hug.
Originally, Zhou Yu wanted to set off the very next day to Shouchun, but the cold had set into his bones. It was only because of his will that he had held out, and the medicine that had kept it suppressed. He finally got a moment to catch a breath when he got home, only for him to grow feverish that very night, and he fell very ill.
The next day, Madame Zhou couldn’t wake him, and when she felt his forehead, it was boiling hot. She knew that this was not to be taken lightly, and she hurried to send for renowned doctors to treat him. The estate bustled with activity for several days. When Lu Su heard that Zhou Yu had returned home, he had personally come to visit, only to head up Mt. Gu to invite the mute monk down. Those that wrote prescriptions did so, and those that practiced acupuncture did so, and only after using all of their energy did they manage to reduce the severity of Zhou Yu’s condition.
But even as he was so ill he was barely aware of what was happening around him, and Zhou Yu was still thinking of how he had promised to meet Sun Ce one month later. He was afraid that he would miss the day, and he tried several times to get up and go, but only after Lu Su gave him a solid punch did he lie down obediently.
“At the heart of it, you do like Sun Bofu?” Lu Su asked, sitting at Zhou Yu’s bedside, chopping up a piece of ginseng.
With attitude but no energy, Zhou Yu shot him an angry glare. His throat hurt with a fiery pain, and his nose was still stuffy, so he didn’t have the energy to taunt him back.
“What official position has the Sun family promised you?” Lu Su asked.
Zhou Yu didn’t respond.
“How much food?”
Zhou Yu didn’t make a sound.
“Marquis over how many households?” Lu Su continued.
“You think you’re Xiao He?” Lu Su asked. “Being convinced to leave with just a bit of sweet talking?”
Zhou Yu responded, “Can you be a little more quiet? Be careful not to cut your hand.”
Lu Su chuckled to himself, before saying, “If the Sun family is the type to go ahead and declare themselves king, do you think you’re the kind who can see through them and use them for your goals? Li Si, Han Fei, and Huo Qubing -- Bai Qi, Han Xin, Lu Buwei --”
Zhou Yu: “...”
He replied weakly, “Lu Zijing, your tongue seems to be a little poisonous these days.”
Lu Su didn’t speak, moving instead directly to cutting the ginseng. Zhou Yu stared at the canopy of his bed, his mind wandering. A moment later, Lu Su continued, “If they aren’t the type to go ahead and declare themselves king, then what are you going for this time?”
Zhou Yu responded, “Sun Bofu is not that kind of person.”
Lu Su smiled at that and said, “I’ll bestow upon you a saying: be wary and protect yourself.”
“Thanks,” Zhou Yu responded. “Though your words are not pleasant to hear, I know that you’re saying them for my good.”
Primly and properly, Lu Su poured the ginger slices into the teapot, beginning to brew a ginger stew. As night fell, he climbed onto the bed, falling asleep in the same bed as Zhou Yu. Early in the next morning, Zhou Yu drank the ginger soup and gathered up his travel expenses. His face was still pale from his illness that had yet to heal, but he was afraid of waking his mother, so he had decided to take his leave of the fog-shrouded valleys of Shu County alone.
“I’m leaving, take care of yourself,” Zhou Yu said.
“Be careful on the road,” Lu Su said. “If anything happens, send someone with a message.”
From this day on, Lu Su moved into Zhou Yu’s house. After Madame Zhou rose in the morning, it was Lu Su who went to greet her in the morning, which was how Madame Zhou knew that her own son had already left on his journey despite his illness. She bore an expression of exasperation.
“He hadn’t recovered yet,” Lu Su said, “but I couldn’t persuade him to stay.”
Madame Zhou replied, “Let him go ba. He has the same temperament as his father, such an explosively fiery temper, oh well, oh well.”
Lu Su began to smile.
At the same time, Zhou Yu was traveling north this time to head to Shouchun, but this time, his emotions were completely different from the last time he set out. He was wrapped in a thick fur cloak, wore a wolf-pelt hat, and the foggy breath that he huffed out dissipated in the clear morning air of the white early winter day. The air of the wilderness was clean beyond compare.
The cloth bundle that he had brought along carried a heavy four hundred liang of gold, and in just a few days he would arrive in Shouchun. It had been over a month since the various marquises had risen against Dong Zhuo, and when the alliance had entered Luoyang, they had parted in discord over dividing up the spoils, each returning to their own territories. Zhou Yu brought the letter of recommendation that Lu Su had written into the city, and as soon as he entered, he felt that this place was majestic and open, not comparable at all to what his impression of it had been when he was a child.
Shouchun was located to the north of Shu County, and it was considered one of the largest cities in Yangzhou. Ever since the King of Huainan Liu An had been assigned this region, it was rumored that Shouchun had received the benefits of the dragon pulse on Bagong Mountain to the north, so the winters were warm, the summers cool, and the waters of the spring cold and clear. The citizens gathered here, and in less than a hundred years, this place had become a major trading hub, and a land that abounded in plenty.
It was early winter, and the residents both within and outside of the city had finished their harvesting and planting for the year. They settled into their homes and trades, and the flames of war on the Central Plains seemed to be very distant from this place. This place had the same auspicious atmosphere as the area around Wabu Lake.
Zhou Yu led his horse along by the reins, passing through the prosperous, busy market. He first asked after Sun Jian’s troops as he went, but the citizens all responded that they didn’t know, so Zhou Yu used Lu Su’s letter to head towards the government office in the region. When the official saw the letter of recommendation, Zhou Yu explained why he had come. That same afternoon, he received a summons and headed towards the Shouchun government office.
The Shouchun government office was where Yuan Shu was staying to ward off the chill of winter. After he returned from fighting Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shu had turned this estate into the General of the Rear’s estate. As soon as Zhou Yu entered the estate, soldiers came up to lead him into the main courtyard, before handing him over to an office clerk who was in charge of registering arrivals. Within the courtyard, there were rockeries set up in a classical style, and in the background was the sound of water burbling endlessly. Green pines that had been transplanted from Mt. Bagong filled the front courtyard, and when he looked at the trunks of those trees, he saw that every one of them was over a hundred years old.
The clerk said, “The General of the Rear is currently discussing matters with the Prefect of Wu County and Xu Gong, Lord Xu. Zhou-gongzi, please wait for a moment.”
Zhou Yu nodded, and a servant brought in snacks, letting Zhou Yu take tea in the entrance hall. He looked over the decorations around him, and they were all tables and chairs that were the cost of several small cities. Even the short table in the gatehouse was carved from wood of a pomegranate tree, and the jade vases and ivory sculptures placed on the shelves were probably plundered from Luoyang.
Zhou Yu’s family was rich as well, but he had never thought about enjoying goods this luxurious. While he was alive, Zhou Yi had warned him, time and again, that even if a family’s wealth was vast, that was nothing compared to having a wellspring of knowledge. But because he saw more and more of such luxuries on a regular basis, Zhou Yu couldn’t help but take it to heart.
When the sky was darkening, the lamps were lit through the estate, and someone finally came for Zhou Yu. He wasn’t angry, however, and he merely sat there quietly. If it had been Sun Ce instead, perhaps now he would have risen and left. But what status did Yuan Shu hold? Putting his own lack of an official post aside, even if it had been his father, who had once been the prefect of Luoyang, who’d come, he would also only be able to wait.
Before he had left, his mother had reminded him, more than once, to think about what kind of a person his father had been back in the day, how he dealt with matters, and how he acted as an official.
After Zhou Yu had set off, he had thought of Zhou Yi often for small matters. If his father had brought him on this journey, what he would have done, what he would have said. With this, he sat in the lobby, waiting extremely patiently for an entire afternoon.
It wasn’t until they lit the lamps in the lobby that a servant in charge came to summon him, saying, “The general is requesting the presence of Zhou-gongzi.”
Zhou Yu knew that he had finally cleared out the space to see him. Back then, when he was living in Shu County, he had often heard of Yuan Shu’s reputation as a seeker of talent, and if he were to try and gain an official’s position, his chances of getting one were only half at best. But finding a place to stay and temporarily reside was not an issue.
“Aiyo, nephew Zhou!”
Before Zhou Yu had even arrived, he heard the rich voice of a middle-aged man carry over from the main hall, and he knew that must be Yuan Shu. He immediately schooled his expression, and shining with happiness, he entered. His robes were dirty with the dust of the road as he properly greeted Yuan Shu with a kowtow and said, “Young nephew greets uncle Yuan.”
“Rise, quickly, please, rise --” Yuan Shu personally came forward to lift him to his feet. To one side, there was another middle-aged man who laughed loudly, and he said, “Sure enough, I’m seeing you again.”
When Zhou Yu calmed and looked over, he saw that that was actually his old acquaintance, Qiao Mao.
Qiao Mao and Zhou Yu both sighed upon seeing each other. Qiao Mao’s beard and hair were grizzled, trembling faintly, and for a long while, he couldn’t speak a single word. Finally, he said to Yuan Shu, “In the midst of the sea of flames that was Luoyang, Nephew Zhou gave the single steed we had for this old man to ride so I could escape. After returning to Yangzhou, this old man clinging onto life constantly regretted that…”
“Alright, alright!” Yuan Shu said smiling, waving a large hand. “He’s come back now, so there’s no need to say anymore! Come, Zhou Yu, this is Xu Gong, Uncle Xu. Back in the day he was on good terms with your father as well.”
Yuan Shu then introduced Zhou Yu to another middle-aged man in the hall. Zhou Yu knew that this was the Prefect of Wu County, Xu Gong, and greeted him in the proper manner. Xu Gong nodded his head, and Yuan Shu grabbed Zhou Yu’s hand, showing him to his seat in a friendly manner.
Zhou Yu’s forebearers had been officials, and his grand-uncle, Zhou Jing, had held the important role of the Grand Commandant. If he was to recount carefully, his family did indeed have a connection to the Yuan family. Yuan Shu first brought up the friendship with Zhou Yu’s grand-uncle, and then, in accordance with customs, he then discussed various matters that Zhou Yu’s father had dealt with while he was living. Yuan Shu said, “The matter of your father, I was originally going to visit in person to give my condolences, but for a time I was unable to take my leave…”
Zhou Yu hurried to say, “Back then, when the General of the Rear’s envoy arrived, my mother was greatly moved. The first thing she wanted me to do when I arrived in Shouchun was to come here and greet Uncle Yuan.”
Yuan Shu laughed loudly and said “good, good” several times before continuing, “Just now, I heard old Qiao mention it as well: you’re young, talented and handsome, you have the courage to sacrifice yourself to save others, and you could also escape from Luoyang back then. Young man! I admire you!”
Xu Gong and Qiao Mao both began to laugh. Zhou Yu hurried to decline that praise, but just as he was about to bring up Sun Ce, he saw that Qiao Mao’s gaze was hesitant. He immediately understood, so he didn’t bring up his coming here to see Sun Jian.
“Zhou Yu,” Yuan Shu said, delighted. “What plans do you have for the coming days?”
Zhou Yu, who was sitting at one of the side tables for visitors, lifted his eyes to look at Yuan Shu.
Yuan Shu's features were well-formed, and his build burly. He kept his beard elegant and long, and a white jade gangmao hung at his waist. He wore a set of long robes, and his demeanor did indeed have others sighing in admiration.
"I have no plans as of yet," Zhou Yu responded earnestly. "As of today, the emperor has been displaced from his throne, and Dong Zhuo has not been able to be punished by law. Though the world watches with anticipation for Uncle Yuan to take up this heavy duty, young nephew has come to Shouchun, only hoping to assist uncle in whatever way is possible, with my utmost effort."
Yuan Shu sighed and continued, "Rare that you would be so willing; you do not bring shame to your deceased father's name. But there are many conflicts, and even my Yuan family is powerless in the face of those. Oh well! Let us not speak of such things today. Now that you are here, I am very happy, and being able to see you is like being with your father in the past. In these next few days, stay in uncle's residence. Come! Bring in the wine!"
Zhou Yu put down the heavy burden in his heart, understanding that Yuan Shu had accepted him. After all, though amongst the various marquises his reputation was middling, if one was a scholar, any person who appreciated talent and gathered them would be highly regarded. This was especially true for) such large families as the Yuan family.
That night, Yuan Shu ordered the servants to lay out a banquet, and along with Xu Gong and Qiao Mao, they enjoyed the wine and made merry. Zhou Yu didn't dare to speak out of turn, so he merely smiled and kept them company. It wasn't until the end of the banquet that Qiao Mao grabbed Zhou Yu's arm and gave him some advice, before saying that in the coming few days, he would go find Zhou Yu for a more detailed chat. Yuan Shu still held his wine cup, tottering out on unsteady legs, requesting them to drink a few more cups with him.
Zhou Yu hurried forth to steady him. But, as soon as Xu Gong and Qiao Mao left, Yuan Shu recovered his usual demeanor - clearly, he had not been drunk at all.
"Zhou Yu, you come with me," Yuan Shu ordered.
Zhou Yu understood that with this, Yuan Shu was treating him as one of his own people, so he followed along behind him into the study. Yuan Shu first asked in detail about the situation in Zhou Yu's family, so Zhou Yu undid his bundle and handed over the gift that Lu Su had given him to be used in Shouchun. Formally, he placed it in front of Yuan Shu, saying, "This is a little something that mother directed young nephew to give to uncle."
"Wu." Yuan Shu glanced inside that box and found that there was a Night-Luminous Pearl inside. He ordered the servants to put it away.
Zhou Yu then stood silently by Yuan Shu's side, not saying any more. Yuan Shu then asked, "How is your study of the Confucian classics?"
Zhou Yu responded, "My father's legacy cannot go to waste, so I review them regularly."
Yuan Shu asked selfishly, “You’re well-versed in the legal teachings as well?"
“Yes,” Zhou Yu said respectfully.
Yuan Shu said, “Then uncle will test you with a question.”
Zhou Yu ground some ink for Yuan Shu, and with a wave of his brush, Yuan Shu came up with a test question. As he expected, it was the union of “understanding classics” and “understanding laws” that came up when an official was being recommended. After Zhou Yu received that question, he understood that Yuan Shu was testing him so that he could assign him an official post. With that, he took the scroll and went to one side, lifting his brush and beginning to write. At first, when his brush landed, his motions were a little choppy, but as time went on, he wrote faster and faster, and he finished with an exhale. In the recommendation system, the test was split into the two subjects of “understanding classics” and “understanding laws”. Confucianism and Legalism were used together, but the problem that Yuan Shu had given him included both, so Zhou Yu had no other choice than to treat it seriously.
Yuan Shu narrowed his eyes, a cup of tea placed by his hand. Most of the time, he was observing Zhou Yu’s expressions.
“You sit up straight, and you are tall. The line of your back is also very pretty,” Yuan Shu suddenly said, before he laughed loudly.
Zhou Yu felt very awkward, and he hurried to say, “Uncle has praised me too much.”
“When you were small, you were probably constantly disciplined by your father huh!” Yuan Shu said, still laughing.
Zhou Yu also chuckled. “Yes, when I was small and learning to write characters and compose essays, my back often received the slap of his paddle.”
“Wu,” Yuan Shu said. “Not bad, a handsome talented youth, you have both talent and good looks.”
Zhou Yu smiled humbly, and the study quieted once more. Not long after, Zhou Yu turned in his testing scroll, offering it up with two hands to Yuan Shu. Composing an essay was not something that could stump him, and Yuan Shu only looked at the beginning before calling in someone and ordering, “Bring this essay to Yang Hong for him to read over.”
Yang Hong was a zhangshi under Yuan Shu’s command, and Zhou Yu knew that more or less, he would have to wait for Yang Hong to assign him a post. Yuan Shu then said, “Keep me company as we stroll about the garden ba.”
Zhou Yu swiftly rose.
Lamp light shone brilliantly through the dark night, and Yuan Shu, hands clasped behind his back, walked in front of him. In a respectful fashion, Zhou Yu followed behind him. Yuan Shu thought for a bit, before saying, “Since the Marquis of Mei has fled to Chang’an in the west, how do you see the situation in Luoyang developing?”
Zhou Yu thought deeply for a moment, before saying, “Though Luoyang is the capital, after it was set on fire, it is in reality no longer important. Instead, Nanyang has become more important, because historically it has been a land that is always fought over by strategists…”
“You’ve spoken truly,” Yuan Shu said. “I’ve sent Sun Wentai to Nanyang, and as of today, he is holding his troops there, awaiting orders. Luoyang has already turned to rubble, and for a long while, it will not be able to be restored.”
“If uncle is interested in gaining Luoyang, then he can order General Sun to press ahead to Yangren County, before splitting his troops and sending a group to conquer the Hangu Pass,” Zhou Yu said. “With that, aside from Ma Teng in Liangzhou, if any of the various marquises want to mobilize troops to fight Dong Zhou, they will all have to pass through the region of the Hangu Pass.”
Yuan Shu sighed and said, “That Sun Wentai doesn’t listen to orders, it’s not as easy as you put it.”
“Are the Sun family’s troops currently stationed in Luoyang?” Zhou Yu asked.
“Wu.” Yuan Shu seemed to be mulling over something.
Zhou Yu continued, “After Dong Zhuo kidnapped the emperor and fled west, in reality, Luoyang is already of very little value. Xuzhou and Jingzhou, these places will be regions of strategic importance. With how this young nephew sees it, it’d be better to order General Sun to temporarily fall back to Nanyang County.”
“Liu Biao will not easily let go of Jingzhou,” Yuan Shu said. “That old fox, in the Alliance to Defeat Dong, refused to go out and do battle. Do you think that if I were to issue a writ of amnesty, would he surrender?”
Zhou Yu shook his head and said, “Sooner or later, Jingzhou will have to be fought over, but it’s better for that to be later than earlier. Liu Biao is of the royal clan, and he is insistent on defending his claim to the throne. At the heart of it, he won’t stand on anyone’s side. If we attack at this time, we would only be losing the support of the people.”
Yuan Shu smiled at that, before he stroked his beard. Zhou Yu knew that with his assessment of the battle situation, he had clearly not been able to meet Yuan Shu’s expectations, and he couldn’t help sighing internally.
“It is what it is,” Yuan Shu said warmly to Zhou Yu, clearly unwilling to say any more on the matter. “You go rest first, tomorrow, I will send someone to call for you.”
With that, Zhou Yu and Yuan Shu bowed and bid each other farewell.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.