Skep's Place


Chapter 25: A Brand New Dress

Guan Yu holes up in Xiapi and won't come out for battle.... until somebody insults his beard, I guess. Long story short, he gets surrounded by Cao Cao's troops outside the city and is stranded on a hilltop.

Zhang Liao comes up and says "Surrender."

Guan Yu says, "You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept."

Nah, this is how it actually goes down:

"Are you here to fight me?"
"Ah. Then you're here to win me over."
"Actually, no."
"Then why have you come?"
"I've come to win you over."

Guan Yu tells him, look, I'm beholden to my older brother. I can't join Cao Cao, so I'm going to go all Custer on this hilltop. But Zhang Liao gives him three reasons why death here is actually not the honorable action Guan Yu thinks it is: One, he made an oath to Liu Bei, and he would be betraying that oath by dying. Two, Liu Bei's wives are still in Xiapi, and Liu Bei had entrusted their protection to Guan Yu, so he would be failing his brother again. Three, because Guan Yu is both a good warrior and a well-studied man, dying now would be a disservice to the Han.

Guan Yu figures, fine, you got me there. But I recognize my value as an employee, so I need HR to recognize a few conditions, or I walk. Specifically, downhill very quickly at your dudes. One, I want it made abundantly clear that I work for H.A.N. LTD, not Cao Co. Two, I'm bringing Liu Bei's wives with me, and nobody is going to so much as look at them. Three, if I hear anything at all about my brother's whereabouts, I'm gone, and I won't be giving two weeks' notice.

That last point is the stickiest for Cao Cao, but he figures that Liu Bei is probably dead anyway; and even if he isn't, Guan Yu's loyalty can surely be bought over time. So he agrees.

And Guan Yu says fine, but also I need to go check with the ladies to make sure it's fine with them, too. Which, Lady Gan and Lady Mi are like, hey, the alternative is we're dead, so yeah, let's go mooch off of Cao Cao for a while.

So they start their return to the capital. On the way, they spend a night at an inn. I've never seen a Motel 6 big enough to hold 50,000 soldiers, but whatever.

Cao Cao figures, haha, here's a devilish idea to create a rift between the brothers. Figuring maybe a little hanky-panky might go down, he assigns Guan Yu and the Liu Ladies to the same room. But Guan Yu never even enters the room. He spends the entire night sitting on his suitcase right outside the door, and doesn't yawn or nod off even once.

At the capital, Cao Cao treats Guan Yu ROYALLY. Feasts every couple days, for a start. He gives Guan Yu silk and gold, which he passes on to the Ladies Liu. Same with the women; Cao Cao gives him ten or so, but he won't take them, so they become maids for the Ladies instead.

One day Cao Cao notices that Guan Yu's battle dress is quite worn, and has a very nice replacement made for him. But Guan Yu puts the new one on underneath the old one because Liu Bei gave him the old one, and he cannot bear to part with it.

But Cao Cao isn't the WORST gift-giver. Guan Yu does in particular like the little silk bag he is gifted to protect his very fine beard over the winter months.

More noteworthy though, Cao Cao gives him Lu Bu's old horse—Red Hare, the fastest in the land. For once, Guan Yu is genuinely grateful for this gift, and Cao comments on it, being like, why this one in particular? And Guan Yu replies, it's absolutely perfect! Once I learn of my brother's location, I'll be able to reach him in a single day now!

Yeah, Cao Cao just isn't having any luck

Guan Yu isn't a completely ungracious guest though. He promises to perform a "great service" to repay Cao Cao's generosity. Of course, one of Cao's advisors tells him, "Hey, if you never give him anything important to do, he can't perform his service, so he'll never leave. Something to think about." Which makes about as much sense as buying your dream car and then never driving it because that way it'll never get into an accident, but whatever.

Around this time, Liu Bei persuades Yuan Shao to finally advance on the capital. You know, now that Cao Cao is free from any distractions.

Cao Cao readies an army, and Guan Yu requests to lead the vanguard. Cao Cao says no, it's not time to deploy Guan Yu yet, and assigns Xiahou Dun to the van instead. But Xiahou Dun's like, actually, you should give it to Guan Yu, I don't want to lead the vanguard anymore.

Cao Cao asks, why? You're the best commander we have.

Xiahou Dun says "I'd rather be put on guard detail. I think I'm better suited just keeping an eye on things here."


Anyway Yuan Shao puts his best general Yan Liang in charge of the advance. The guy easily takes out two of Cao Cao's officers, and chases away a third.

...This is sounding a little familiar. Maybe we bring in Guan Yu like we did for Hua Xiong?

Cao Cao actually likes this idea because he suspects Liu Bei is probably hiding with Yuan Shao, so if Guan Yu kills his best general, Yuan Shao might punish Liu Bei for it. Listen, just because Cao Cao doesn't need to come up with convoluted schemes to get Liu Bei killed doesn't mean he can't come up with convoluted schemes to get Liu Bei killed.

But uh, yeah, Guan Yu kills Yan Liang before the latter even has time to bring his weapon up.

(Some versions of the story say that Liu Bei actually guessed that Guan Yu might be with Cao Cao and had Yuan Shao order everybody to let him pass, so Yan Liang never even realized he was being attacked. Which is less dramatic but more hilarious, so I like it.)

Anyway Guan Yu brings Yan Liang's head back to Cao Cao, who's like, wow, that's incredible! But Guan Yu says, well, Zhang Fei could have done that against an army ten times the size. And Yuan Shao's army is already stupidly huge. So Cao Cao's like, man, we'd all better remember not to engage with Zhang Fei if we ever see him.

Which is foreshadowing an event that occurs so far later on that I'd never caught the foreshadowing before. So I'm feeling pretty smart right now.

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