Skep's Place


Chapter 1: Peach Brothers

"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide."

This is the opening line of the book and a reminder that America is likely going to fall apart in the next couple years.

So to get where the story opens, we have to talk about what was going on with the Han dynasty. One of the recent emperors had basically gotten rid of a bunch of good people in favor of a group of eunuchs who served as advisers and attendants. If it helps, you can think of the Ten Eunuchs as like the GOP, who only use the political system to make money and keep themselves in power, and who also don't have any balls.

Not only is the government corrupt, but around this time there's also a series of natural disasters and famine and pestilence and stuff. Basically, it kind of sucks being a common peasant. So they rally around a local healer who promises to Make China Great Again.

This is the Yellow Turban Rebellion, or the Yellow Scarves Rebellion, depending on translation. I think people mostly just wrapped yellow cloth around their head and there wasn't a good English word for it, and "Yellow Headband Rebellion" sounded dumb.

Anyway, the people who joined the rebellion were going to storm the capital building imperial palace, but the messenger who was supposed to meet with the guy on the inside to plan it accidentally told the plan to palace officials instead. Bit of a rookie mistake, but these things happen, you'll get them next time.

This means that the imperial officials are tipped off about the coup, so it doesn't happen. However, the Yellow Turban Rebellion is gaining traction, and soon hundreds of thousands of commoners are rising up all across China. It's bad, and the Han empire doesn't have enough armies to handle all the chaos they are causing. Because of this, the provincial governors have to raise their own armies to deal with the threat.

Enter our hero: Liu Bei. The book describes him as having freakishly long arms and eyes so wide on his face he can see his freakishly long ears.

The imperial line is also of the Liu family, and Liu Bei claims to be a distant cousin of the emperor. However, Liu Bei lives in the country, where he's eking out a living weaving sandals and straw mats with his mother.

He sees the recruitment notice go up in town, looking for men to fight the Yellow Turbans, and he sighs. He wants to help restore order, but what is he to do?

Luckily, two other men hear him sighing, and they are both thinking the exact same thing. One of these is Zhang Fei, a menacing-looking man with a wild, wiry beard. The other is Guan Yu, who is very tall and has a very long, lovely beard and splendid eyebrows.

Zhang Fei and Guan Yu introduce themselves as a butcher and a murderer on the run, respectively. Liu Bei says, yeah, these are definitely the kind of guys I could run an army with. In fact, let's make an oath of brotherhood to reinforce our goal. So in a peach garden the next day, they swear themselves brothers, and pledge that they will die together on the same day.

(spoiler alert... this doesn't actually happen and it ruins everything)

Their oath cemented, three brothers scrounge up 500 men from... somewhere. The book is kind of like "yeah there were these horse traders that were blocked by the rebellion and had to turn back so they gave the three a bunch of resources". Point being, they got some guys.

That said, their first conflict is against a force of fifty thousand. Which seems like suicide, but you'll quickly learn that numbers don't actually mean a whole lot here.

One of the Yellow Turban leaders rushes forward to fight, and Zhang Fei challenges him, and stabs him right off the bat. Then a second leader charges Zhang Fei for revenge, but Guan Yu intercepts and slices him up. That pretty much decides the battle, and all of the Yellow Turban troops go running. It will be a recurring theme throughout the story that battles are decided by a duel right at the beginning; that's why keeping track of troop numbers is next to pointless. A lot of this is likely fantasized to make these figures seem even more heroic, but that also comes with some additional silliness, which we'll get to later.

The next day, the brothers go to relieve another city that's been besieged by rebel forces. Tackling them head-on doesn't work, so Liu Bei lures them into a trap and has Guan Yu and Zhang Fei lead some men to surround them. So we establish pretty quickly that Liu Bei has some semblance of strategy, and the warriors under him are great fighters.

There's some more running around and fighting Yellow Turbans after that, during which we briefly meet our second protagonist, Cao Cao. I'm not going to say he's evil, but in nearly every artistic iteration I've seen of him, he has a pointy black goatee. I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Cao Cao is an imperial commander. He shows up briefly to trounce some fleeing rebels, then zooms right off to trounce some more.

After that brief interlude, Liu Bei comes across a Han force that is being chased down by a larger Yellow Turban force, and he intervenes and fends off the rebels. At this point, we meet Dong Zhuo, who is not a protagonist, but who will play a huge role in a little bit here.

Dong Zhuo is the commander of the Han forces that were just being chased around. If you want to know what kind of guy he is, he refuses to so much as thank the three brothers for their assistance because they're commoners, even though they just saved his ass.

Anyway, since Zhang Fei will be the one who is always getting the group into trouble, he decides he's going to turn back and kill Dong Zhuo for the insult.

And that's the end of Chapter 1.

For the record, every chapter ends on some form of cliffhanger, even though the chapter titles are the style where it tells you what's going to happen in the chapter coming up. This means that sometimes you look at the chapter title and already know how the cliffhanger resolves. There's also plenty of cases where the cliffhanger turns out to actually be a non-cliffhanger two sentences into the chapter. My point is that if some of these chapters end on an odd note, that's probably why.

Anyway, I'll tell you now that Zhang Fei doesn't kill Dong Zhuo here, but you also probably guessed that because I just told you Dong Zhuo is going to be a big player pretty soon.

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