"So thankfully you aren’t Yuan Shu."
Editor(s): jelly, namio
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After returning to his room, Zhou Yu was completely exhausted, and this was only the first day of his arrival in Shouchun. The servants had brought his belongings into the room, but Zhou Yu immediately moved to pen a letter to Sun Ce instead. He ripped it up, wrote again, and after writing, tore it up again, before he tossed that entire sheet of paper into the brazier and let it burn. In the end, he only wrote a few short, simple words:
Have already arrived in Shouchun, come quickly to meet.
Feiyu flapped its way out of Yuan Shu’s residence, while Zhou Yu sat at the side of the window. He was staying on the second floor of a building in a side courtyard, and from here, if he pushed open the window, he could see the entirety of Shouchun buried under the snow, tranquil and elegant.
In the early morning of the next day, the zhangshi of the General of the Rear’s estate, Yang Hong, sent someone with a message that after Zhou Yu had breakfast, he was to go see him. Yang Hong was sharp, and a cunning light shone from his eyes. As he discussed matters with the senior officers under his command, he also assigned Zhou Yu an official’s position and issued him a command tally.
Zhou Yu was sent to be a gongcao, and his primary role was to oversee the promotions and transfers of the various officials in the city. With this, he more or less had a preliminary understanding of Yuan Shu’s attitude towards himself. After the events of yesterday night, according to his essay and discussion, Yuan Shu had probably put him in the same category as his father Zhou Yi, as the morally upright, outspoken scholar type. With that, he gave him this job, where it was easiest to offend others, and hardest to be biased towards any side.
Ah well, since things were already like this, then he would wait for Sun Ce here, and take this opportunity to familiarize himself with the system of officials. Zhou Yu took up his role that very day; there were three people in the Office of Records, and they usually didn’t rise until the sun was high in the sky, nor did they have much to do on a day to day basis. When Zhou Yu was organizing the volumes of recommendations for promotions that were gathering dust, he learned that Yuan Shu appointed people wholly based on his own impression of them. This role of the officer of records was merely an official position in name. For the most part, Yang Hong, Yuan Yin, and the rest of them, through speculating on Yuan Shu’s mood, would order the Office of Records to compose articles of accusation and send them forth.
Zhou Yu was also happy to be leisurely, so he settled in here. The estate was overstaffed and moved at a cumbersome pace, but the pay was very high. Yuan Shu, however, was willing to spend the money to support his subordinates living idly here. He had also given Zhou Yu three-hundred and twenty stones of grain, which he had absolutely no use for, which caused Zhou Yu to feel worried. Could the entirety of the taxed rice of Yangzhou support this many people?
Many days later, Feiyu brought back a letter.
The situation in Luoyang has changed, I must stay for a while longer. The days are growing cold, take care of yourself, and as soon as I am able, I will take my leave and come to Shouchun. Bofu.
Zhou Yu’s forehead furrowed slightly; it seemed like Sun Ce wouldn’t be able to make it over here for a while, so he could only temporarily set this matter aside. He then wrote a note on his paycheck and had someone bring it back home. After all, in Yuan Shu’s residence, his own food and lodgings were taken care of. He wasn’t mistreated in any way, so at least for now, he wouldn’t need to touch the grain at all.
A letter had come from his home as well, one that Lu Su had penned for his mother. Everything was well at home, and the letter told him to pay attention to his conduct as he stayed in Shouchun. The letter also mentioned that the situation in Luoyang had changed, and of the allied troops, only Sun Jian’s armies were left; perhaps because his achievements were so great that they threatened his superior’s position.
In these past few days, once in a while, Zhou Yu would glean an inkling of what was happening based on the coming and going of people and things, and the changing of appointments. He also heard people in the estate mention that Sun Jian was having his troops hold their position outside of the city of Luoyang, from beginning to end. Despite Yuan Shu sending orders to recall him several times, Sun Jian had yet to mobilize. On this day, Zhou Yu passed through the back garden to see Yuan Shu fervently discussing something with another middle-aged man; he immediately understood that these words were not meant for him to hear, so he tried to take his leave unobtrusively.
But the other middle-aged man had discovered him, and he asked, “Who’s there?”
Zhou Yu couldn’t hide it any longer, so he could only cross through the corridor and enter the garden, cupping his hands and bowing to the two of them.
“This is the son of Zhou Yi,” Yuan Shu said, with a pleasant expression. “Come, Zhou Yu, come greet your uncle Yuan Shao.”
“Young nephew greets Uncle Yuan,” Zhou Yu said.
Upon learning that this was Zhou Yi’s son, Yuan Shao was no longer suspicious of him. Zhou Yu saw that at Yuan Shao’s side was actually a child not yet ten years old, who was holding his hand, lifting his head to look towards Zhou Yu.
Yuan Shu said, “Come, nephew Zhou, you take this little fellow on a walk around the estate, and when the sky grows dark, bring him to the Eastern Gardens for his meal.”
Zhou Yu nodded. That child gave Zhou Yu a look, before looking back at Yuan Shao. Zhou Yu originally thought that this was Yuan Shao’s grandson, so he reached out and took his hand. That child was pretty smart, and he followed obediently behind Zhou Yu as they crossed the corridor, taking their leave.
Yuan Shao continued to argue with Yuan Shu. “How much use can a single piece of jade be?”
“It’s not a question of if it’s a jade or not!” Yuan Shu was clearly angered as he replied, “The way that bastard’s squirreling it away clearly shows that he’s not treating us as his opponents. If we don’t call him back, is he planning on forcing a coup and declaring himself as the new emperor?”
When Zhou Yu heard these words, he instantly had a feeling that his soul had been shaken.
“Did you hear what they were saying?” that child asked quietly.
“Shh,” Zhou Yu hurried to shush him, before leading him through the corridor. It was only then that he said, “I’m called Zhou Yu, courtesy name Gongjin. What’s your name?”
“This humble one is Cao Pi, my father is Cao Cao, courtesy name Mengde,” that little child replied, cupping his hands together as he greeted him ceremoniously.
Zhou Yu was surprised. “Why have you come to Shouchun?”
Zhou Yu was torn between laughing and crying; now he had not only seen Cao Cao, but also his son. Though Cao Pi was still young in years, his actions and mannerisms had a very similar style to his father’s, and his features were very fine. When he grew up, he would be a stunning beauty.
“My dad mentioned you before,” Cao Pi continued, dignified. “On behalf of my father and my family, allow me to thank Master Gongjin for saving his life…”
“Quickly rise.” Zhou Yu couldn’t resist feeling amused at this. This child had such a prudent head on such young shoulders, and he couldn’t help the admiration he felt. He replied earnestly, “It was a trifling matter, nothing to mention.”
Zhou Yu and Cao Pi walked through the corridors, coming to a secluded area. Zhou Yu thought deeply for a moment, and Cao Pi understood that he had matters weighing on his mind as he observed his expression, so he asked, “Are you worried about the issue with General Polu?”
With this, Zhou Yu was reminded that perhaps Cao Pi knew something about it, so he politely mentioned, “The recent news from General Sun does not seem to be very good.”
“Not only is it not very good,” Cao Pi smiled, shaking his head a little helplessly. “He found the imperial jade seal in Luoyang.”
Zhou Yu was instantly shocked stiff. Cao Pi watched him anticipatorily, hoping to glean something from the emotions flashing through his gaze. But Zhou Yu was already frozen in place as he recalled the exchange between Yuan Shu and Yuan Shao just now. A piece of jade, but not only a piece of jade… Damn it, he should have thought of this a long time ago.
“Yuan Shao wants his older brother to bring Madame Sun to Shouchun,” Cao Pi replied. “You’re acquainted with the Sun family?”
“Y… yes.” Zhou Yu was originally not willing to state it too clearly to Cao Pi, but as he thought about it, he suddenly changed his mind. Why would Cao Pi be at Yuan Shao’s side? More or less, was it because he had been brought here to be a hostage… The two of them exchanged a glance, Cao Pi’s filled with amusement, and Zhou Yu immediately understood - right now, the two of them were allies.
This child’s future was limitless, Zhou Yu thought.
“Has Yuan Shao discovered that you eavesdrop on his conversations?” Zhou Yu asked.
Cao Pi watched the dragonflies in the courtyard and reached a hand out to catch one, saying, “He isn’t on his guard around me at all, he treats me like a child.”
Zhou Yu began to chuckle, and he suddenly felt that his mood had improved greatly.
“Sun Ce and I are childhood friends,” Zhou Yu said. “This matter is not a trivial one, we have to think of a way to deal with it.”
Cao Pi replied, “They’ve already sent people over to escort her, so she won’t be able to escape. I’m still thinking about how to leave Shouchun. My dad said that he’ll send someone to pick me up, so right now, there’s a strong possibility that we won’t be able to leave.”
Zhou Yu said, “Leave it to me. I’ll figure out a way to send you out. What did Yuan Shao and your dad say?”
“He sent my dad to help fight his battle for him,” Cao Pi said helplessly. “Right now he has me anyways.”
Zhou Yu stroked Cao Pi’s head, saying, “You little brat, you’re too cunning.”
From the time he heard Yuan Shu introduce Zhou Yu to Yuan Shao, Cao Pi had clearly taken note. Add on to that incident from several months ago, when Zhou Yu had sent Cao Cao out of Luoyang, Cao Pi had confirmed that Zhou Yu was an ally. Secretly, he revealed all of Yuan Shao’s plans to Zhou Yu, so that the two of them were immediately standing on the same level.
In the span of less time than it took to drink a cup of tea, to come to such a careful and complicated conclusion, Zhou Yu couldn’t help but see this child in an admiring light.
“I must first write a letter,” Zhou Yu said, worries weighing heavily on his mind.
Cao Pi nodded and followed Zhou Yu back to his quarters. While Zhou Yu composed his letter, Cao Pi curiously watched Feiyu. Though his personality was steady, in the end, he still had the heart of a child, and after playing with Feiyu for a while, he asked, “Is this a falcon?”
“Yes,” Zhou Yu said. “There is only this one in the entire world.”
Cao Pi replied, “It’s the Sun family patriarch’s treasure, right? Taming this bird must have been very hard.”
“Correct,” Zhou Yu responded. “I need to have Sun Ce come to Shouchun at lightning speed. Only then can we plan to send you out of the city without letting Yuan Shao know.”
“My father returned unscathed all thanks to you,” Cao Pi said, smiling. “Now you’ve also saved my life once, I really don’t know how I should thank you.”
“Life and death are fated, and whether or not matters succeed is up to the heavens,” Zhou Yu replied. “I am doing no more than following the will of the heavens.”
Zhou Yu released that white falcon, which instantly shot out, vanishing into the sky. A patch of fiery clouds hung on the horizon, as if they were a long extension of the endless fires of war across the skyline itself. Twilight fell, and Zhou Yu closed the window, but he never would have thought that many years later, on an evening much like this one, Feiyu would bring back memories of a time so long ago.
“How about I take you to see a great beauty, Zhou-dage?” Cao Pi asked, as if he was deep in thought, after lifting his brush and penning a few lines.
Zhou Yu: “No need.”
Cao Pi: “She’s really a great beauty.”
Zhou Yu: “No matter how great her beauty, I’ve seen greater.”
Cao Pi: “Even prettier than you.”
Zhou Yu almost choked on his tea, but Cao Pi continued onwards, “A pity that she’s already married, otherwise I would definitely marry her.”
“How old are you?” Zhou Yu responded. “Leave off with that.”
Cao Pi replied, “My dad said that every person possesses a love of beauty.”
Zhou Yu: “...”
That night, Zhou Yu sent Cao Pi to the Eastern Gardens, where the two brothers Yuan Shao and Yuan Shu were drinking and chatting. A young woman sat in the Eastern Gardens, her face half-covered, with a gaggle of serving women surrounding her. When she turned, under the flickering light of the oil lamps, her features were clean and beautiful, to the point of bringing cities and countries to ruin.
When that woman saw Zhou Yu, she hunched over slightly, before addressing Cao Pi. “Where did you go?”
Cao Pi began to smile, and that innocent expression didn’t look one whit like what he had seen earlier. Zhou Yu replied, “Cao-gongzi spent a while reading books in my quarters, but now he is back.”
Cao Pi introduced them. “This individual is Zhou-dage.” Then, to Zhou Yu, “This individual is Zhen-jie.”
When he brought Cao Pi over, Zhou Yu learned from others that this time, Yuan Shao had also brought his son and his daughter-in-law. His daughter-in-law was exactly this beauty in front of him called Zhen Mi.
Zhou Yu didn’t dare to look at her for too long, but Cao Pi smiled happily. “How is she? Zhou-dage.”
Awkwardly, Zhou Yu whispered, “Don’t speak nonsense, or I’ll be the one shouldering the blame in a bit.”
A few days later, Yang Hong sent someone else with a proclamation. This time, it was to gather up all of the official documents in the estate and deal with all of the documents that were related to military reports. Originally, this matter was not one that Zhou Yu should have become involved in, but amongst the documents that were to be drawn up was a letter of indictment, whose subjects were Sun Jian and his son, and they were sent in along with Sun Jian’s records of provisions. Zhou Yu knew that this matter was not trivial. If they had no provisions on the front lines, then the troops could mutiny at any time, so he said to Yang Hong, “Great zhangshi, the way I see it, this matter…”
“If I tell you to write, then you write,” Yang Hong said. “You think Sun Wentai is really so poor that he won’t have anything to eat? It’s nothing more than (a test), you don’t even understand this?”
Zhou Yu put down the brush and said, “A letter indicting him, I cannot write. Since the general is out in the field, there are some commands that he naturally cannot follow, so how can his troops’ provisions be withheld because of this?”
“You won’t write it?” Yang Hong hadn’t thought that a lowly Officer of the Records would also dare to defy him. He looked at Zhou Yu for a while, before saying, “Very good, you won’t write it, remember that you said this yourself.”
All of his colleagues in the hall turned to watch Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu was about to put his brush down and leave, but he still had qualms about Sun Ce’s safety. After thinking it over, he said, “I beg your pardon, my lord, I’ll go write it right now.”
Yang Hong sent him an angry glare, before a subordinate rushed over hastily, murmuring a few words into his ear. At that, Yang Hong rose and left. It was as if a visitor had come, and he had no more time to fly into a temper at Zhou Yu.
Zhou Yu thought for a moment, before he lifted the brush and started to write. He weighed the advantages and disadvantages, and understood that though writing this indictment was an order from Yang Hong, in reality it was going to be handed to Yuan Shu. How Yuan Shu was going to deal with it was something that he had decided on a long time ago, and wouldn’t be changed by a simple letter of indictment. But after thinking it over, Zhou Yu still penned in the disadvantage Sun Jian would be at due to the delay of those needed provisions, in an attempt to change Yuan Shu’s decision.
Zhou Yu finished the letter of indictment and affixed the seal of the Office of Records on it, to show that it had been assessed. He sealed the letter and came out, only hoping that after Yang Hong returned, it would be too late for him to open the letter, and with that, he left the meeting hall. Snow was falling heavily outside this night, and a horse carriage arrived from outside the estate. Zhou Yu jolted at that, and he dimly felt uneasy. He wanted to follow the horse carriage to see what was going on, but Yang Hong came towards him from the other side with orders. “Zhou Gongjin, take that letter of indictment with you and come with me.”
Yang Hong didn’t have time to open the letter. As soon as Zhou Yu looked at him, he knew that his actions previously had offended Yang Hong, and now he wanted to bring both him and the letter to see Yuan Shu, clearly to drive him into a corner. Thankfully, Zhou Yu had taken precautions, and he hadn’t mentioned Sun Jian’s activities at all. If he was to see Yuan Shu, he would also be able to explain it, so he had no fear for what Yang Hong was going to do, following him into the main hall.
The lights in the hall were dim as Yuan Shu and Yuan Shao sat there drinking wine. Yang Hong first bowed, before saying, “Greetings to zhugong, greetings to Lord Yuan.”
Zhou Yu followed suit, saying, “Greetings to zhugong.”
Yang Hong shot Zhou Yu a glance. “The Office of Records has already investigated; Sun Jian is indeed disloyal, and he often says to his subordinates that since the imperial jade seal is already his, then one day in the future, he will undoubtedly be the one with the greatest treasure.”
Though Zhou Yu’s heart thrummed with fear, his expression did not belie even a bit of that as he offered the indictment to Yuan Shu. Yuan Shu let out an angry huff, already bearing the intent to kill in mind, as he replied, “In your opinion, how should this matter be dealt with?”
Yang Hong replied, “Call him back. If he does not return, this matter no longer needs discussion.”
“What if he is willing to gather up his troops and return?” Yuan Shao asked. “You need to think about how to deal with him then.”
“His wife and son are both here,” Yang Hong replied. “Just say that this is to pick up the father and son so that the entire family can reunite for the new year, and he cannot help but come.”
“Since things are what they are,” Yuan Shu ordered, not even sparing a glance at the letter on the table, “then you take care of it ba.”
Zhou Yu said, “Zhugong, this one has some words, but he does not know if he should say them.”
Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao, and Yang Hong all looked towards Zhou Yu.
“If this one may speak directly,” Zhou Yu said, “Sun Jian is a person that does have a lot to explain, but Sun Jian’s men, if they are not issued provisions, will naturally scatter. If the troop situation does change, and the Changsha Army manages to escape blame, that will be even more costly for zhugong than the current state of affairs.
“Since zhugong already has a method of resolving it,” Zhou Yu continued tactfully, “why not continue to send out the provisions and keep his troops there, making it easier in the future for someone else to go and assume command? With this, even if they want to rebel, they won’t be able to find a reason.”
Yuan Shu was clearly unwilling, but Yuan Shao stepped in. “You have a good point. Dealing with this kind of thing requires both kindness and cruelty: offering kindness to the Changsha troops on one hand, while with the other, cowing the Sun family’s father and son. You are correct in your words.”
“Then it will be how you say.” Yuan Shu was a little unwilling, but he had no choice but to accept Zhou Yu’s reasonable proposal. Zhou Yu then took his leave. The matter of the provisions was left to Yang Hong to deal with, it wasn’t something he was to worry over, and if he asked any more, he would be overstepping his bounds. He strode rapidly back to his quarters just as Feiyu returned, bringing Sun Ce’s letter.
Sun Ce’s letter mentioned that he also knew that it was not proper to hide away the imperial jade seal, but he had no way to persuade Sun Jian. He was afraid that Yuan Shu had already started to grow suspicious, so he asked Zhou Yu to help him keep things under control. Zhou Yu smiled, a little helplessly, a little bitterly at that, and he immediately burned the letter, before penning another for Feiyu to bring back.
But Cao Pi, his chin cupped in his hand, watched him from the corridor outside of the front door. He said, “I saw that Sun Jian’s wife and son were brought here.”
“Was the horse carriage their family’s?” Zhou Yu asked, without even lifting his head.
Cao Pi en-ed, before saying, “Is Yuan Shu going to call him back, and then find an opportunity to kill him?”
Zhou Yu lifted his gaze to watch Cao Pi, without uttering a word.
Cao Pi walked in, slumping over Zhou Yu’s shoulders, reading the letter that he wrote. Then he asked, “What are you planning to do?”
Originally, Zhou Yu hadn’t wanted for him to know too much, but he had had a sudden change of heart. He figured that since everyone was on the same boat now, letting him know was not a big problem.
“General Sun Wentai cannot return,” Zhou Yu replied. “Only if he keeps his troops out in the field and gets the provisions will Yuan Shu not dare to touch his family.”
“Wu,” Cao Pi said. “That makes sense. If I were Yuan Shu, I wouldn’t use such a dumb method.”
Zhou Yu replied, “So thankfully you aren’t Yuan Shu, otherwise things would be troublesome.”
Cao Pi began to chuckle. Zhou Yu continued, “Madam Sun and her child have both been put under house arrest?”
Cao Pi replied, “Zhen-jie is keeping her company, and there’s also a little child called Sun Quan who caught a chill as soon as he came. Zhen-jie won’t let me see him, so now I’m really bored.”
Zhou Yu said, “Take me there to take a look.”
Zhou Yu then clearly detailed out the changes in Shouchun, before letting Feiyu fly off. These days, he and Sun Ce rarely saw each other and parted often, so Zhou Yu couldn’t help the anxiety that filled him. Sun Jian stubbornly refused to hand over the jade seal, and Zhou Yu was afraid that it was already too late for this situation to be reversed. The only thing he could do was to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each choice, and tell Sun Jian that no matter what he did, to never set foot in Shouchun. Otherwise, the entire Sun family would fall into the trap, and every single member would be killed, allowing Yuan Shu to completely get rid of them.
moon: sorry about the lateness of this chapter; I was supposed to post it but then went on vacation, and then upon returning forgot all about it until now
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.