Skep's Place


Chapter 2: Magic-Nullifying Pig Innards

Liu Bei and co. team up with more local leaders to fight more Yellow Turbans. This time, they're stymied by the sorcery of one of the leaders, who conjures a phantom army in the sky to chase everybody away.

Except they're not that stymied, because the general of the local forces is like "nah, look, the way to dissolve the illusion—and hear me out on this—is we gotta mix together, like, all the entrails and excrement and disgusting bits of a couple animals and throw them at the apparition."

So this works; the sorcery is undone, and Zhang Fei gets another dueling kill, and victory is had.

...Now that I think about it, like, geeze, why would you ever become a sorcerer? You spend your life learning and mastering rituals and incantations, and when you finally get to have your moment, somebody else is like "have some pig guts lol" and ruins all your effort. And this is back in the days when people didn't even feel bad about killing pigs; I mean at least nowadays your enemies would have PETA up on them being like "yeah, look, if you want to go slaughter that army of people that's fine, but you're not hurting this pig to do it."

In the end the leaders of the rebellion are put down, but the Red Hats Yellow Turbans are kind of a nationwide problem.

The army Liu Bei has joined up with goes to reclaim a city that's been captured by the rebels. Here, they're aided by our third protagonist: Sun Jian.

You may have noticed that I have now named three protagonists, and the book is called "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Just something to consider.

Sun Jian has the ferocity of a tiger, and claims to be descended from Sun Tzu, the guy who wrote "The Art of War". Instead of popping in and out of the story for two seconds like Cao Cao, we actually see Sun Jian in action. His army is the first to breech a city gate, and he charges right into battle, drops a few mooks, and spears a general.

Liu Bei gets an officer kill in this battle, too, but he takes the guy out with an arrow, so it's less cool. Sun Jian is cool.

Because he already has government connections, Sun Jian's valor earns him a government position, while the commoner Liu Bei still gets nothing, despite his contributions. Eventually, he chats up a courtier in the capital who realizes, whoa, hang on, this guy should be in charge of something.

So the courtier raises a stink with the emperor, and calls out the Ten Eunuchs, because they're not promoting good people. The eunuchs respond by saying "uuhhh look the paperwork probably just got lost, we'll go through and give seats to people who helped fight against the rebellion. Cool?"

Except they only do this to take the heat off of them, and once it's died down they totally plan to pull these people back out of office and put in their own guys. You know, the ones who are going to bribe them.

So Liu Bei gets to be a county deputy for a bit, but before too long, an imperial inspector comes along who has about the same attitude as the matchmaker in Mulan.

It's obvious to everybody that the inspector is expecting a bribe to write a good review, but Liu Bei's like, I don't have bribe money because I haven't been extorting the peasants. So there's no doubt in anyone's mind that he's gonna get ousted from this job.

It's at this point that we see the first act of Zhang Fei doing something that I like to call "pulling a Zhang Fei"; i.e., making everything much more goddamn worse than it already was for no good reason. In this case, Zhang Fei arrests the inspector, ties him to a post, and publicly flogs him.

OBVIOUSLY that's a bad move for your politcal career, and the three brothers become wanted men and go lay low for a bit. But eventually, more Yellow Turbans rise up in rebellion and the brothers help put those down, and for their efforts they're forgiven and given another posting somewhere else.

There's a quick aside over to Sun Jian as he clears out some rebels, after which he's put in charge of a province in the southeast. Keep that in mind.

We're going to leave them for the time being because it's time for PALACE INTRIGUE.

Because uh, the emperor dies right around this time. He has two young sons who aren't old enough to be emperor yet, but who would make suitable heirs when they come of age: Bian and Xie.

Each of the kids are from different concubines (which always seems like a good idea until a succession crisis breaks out. But I guess if you're the one being succeeded then it's not really your problem, is it).

The emperor's favorite son was Xie, who also has the backing of his grandmother, Queen Mother Dong. Bian, however, was the son of Empress He, who obviously wants her own kid on the throne. On top of that, the Regent in charge following the emperor's death was He Jin, the empress's brother. Since he's the pseudo-emperor until whichever heir comes of age, he kind of has the power to put who he wants on the throne. This is bad for the Ten Eunuchs, who don't need somebody muscling in on their power. So they figure, uh, things would probably be better for us if we got rid of He Jin.

He Jin catches word of this, and he begins to consider the possibility of killing the Ten. Cao Cao is here, and he is on board. He flat-out says, your only choice is to kill the Ten Eunuchs; it's going to be bad for you if you don't.

But He Jin isn't a thousand percent sure he can get away with this, so he doesn't really do anything. Fortunately for him, on his behalf, another guy marches five thousand troops into the capital and forcefully installs Bian on the throne as emperor. This guy is Yuan Shao; He'll be a big name for a little bit yet. He's friends with Cao Cao, and the Yuan family is kind of a big deal. Almost as big a deal as the Lius.

At this point, Yuan Shao figures, you know, I have the troops here anyway. Maybe we should go kill those eunuchs for good measure.

Desperate to get out of this, the Ten drop themselves to nine, killing the eunuch who He Jin knew for sure was in on the plot to kill him. The remaining eunuchs plead to Empress He, saying that the plot to kill He Jin was entirely that guy's fault, and the rest of them knew nothing about it. Empress He convinces her brother to lay off.

This happens a couple more times, where He Jin realizes that the Eunuchs need to be stopped, but they're so good at the game they keep bestowing gifts and titles onto people who turn around and use Empress He to talk He Jin down. But this can only buy them time, and eventually He Jin's like, no, we definitely need to do this. He just doesn't quite know the best way.

Yuan Shao is like, hey, call in a bunch of provincial leaders to march armies in here and wipe them out. Nobody will be able to stop them.

But Cao Cao says, wait, why the hell bother? You're the regent, you have the authority to just eliminate them yourself, freaking, just do that.

But He Jin decides to go with Yuan Shao's stupid plan so here we are. This is probably the decision that ultimately leads to the destruction of the Han dynasty.

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