Skep's Place


Chapter 34: Backup Poetry

But not now. Right now Liu Bei's gonna get a new horse.

He's helping Liu Biao put down an insurrection and one of the enemy generals has a horse he likes the look of, so Zhao Yun kills the guy riding it and brings Liu Bei the horse. Then Liu Bei's says, actually, I should give the horse to Liu Biao as thanks for him being a good host to me.

So that's what he does. But then one of Liu Biao's advisors—who has a cousin who really knows horses—tells Liu Biao, hey, the markings on the face of this horse indicate that it's pretty dang unlucky. Horses like this get their riders killed. Speaking of which, where did Liu Bei say he got this horse from again?

Liu Biao says, oh, yikes. Hey uh, Liu Bei, you use horses a lot more than me, you should take the horse back.

However, a guy who overheard that discussion warns Liu Bei about the unlucky horse. But Liu Bei's like, psssh, horses can't be unlucky. So he keeps it.

This right here is foreshadowing, although really not in the way you expect.

Anyway, around this time Liu Biao is considering his own succession plan, and the math on this one isn't checking out. His elder son is fine enough—and tradition and law say he has to instill the elder—but he really likes his younger son. To complicate matters further, the younger is the son of Lady Cai, and her brother Cai Mao is the general of the whole army... which means bad things (such as a coup, as a random example) would likely happen if the elder was named heir.

Liu Bei decides to chime in and says, well, look at Yuan Shao. He named his youngest as heir, and now none of them exist anymore. So, I dunno, make the elder your heir, but in the meantime, start firing the Cai family. Except do it over a period of time so they don't notice. It'll probably work out.

Lady Cai overhears this and isn't happy.

Then some other night Liu Biao has Liu Bei over for drinks. Liu Bei starts lamenting that he's getting chunky and that he isn't doing anything with his life.

Liu Biao's tells him, hey, didn't Cao Cao say that you and him were the only true heroes of the land? Don't ask me how I know he said that. But what it means is, in his eyes, you're equal to him.

Liu Bei replies, ugh, well, if that's true then I should have a real base of power for my own so I can stop serving under all these insignificant people.

Real ballsy thing to tell your boss. Liu Bei plays it off, saying, ah, nah, I was just drunk, you say stupid things when you're drunk, you're actually great.

But Lady Cai heard that slip too.

She tries to turn Liu Biao against Liu Bei, saying it's obvious he wants to take this province from you, you're better off just killing him. But Liu Biao hesitates, so Lady Cai goes to her brother Cai Mao instead. He's a more practical kind of person, figuring that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, so he decides just gonna go gank Liu Bei tonight.

Luckily, the guy who warned Liu Bei about the horse comes back and alerts him to Cai Mao's plot, so Liu Bei runs back off to the county out near the border that Liu Biao had given him to govern. Cai Mao shows up and Liu Bei is gone, so he resorts to Plan B: he writes an angsty poem on the wall, then shows Liu Biao, saying "Liu Bei's going to rebel against you, see this poem he wrote?"

And Liu Biao gets mad! But then he also remembers, wait, I've never seen Liu Bei write poetry. Maybe he didn't write this.

Since that attempt failed, this time Cai Mao decides, maybe we'll invite everybody to a feast and kill him there. That's worked for everybody who's tried it in this book so far! (Skep: It hasn't.)

He pitches the party idea to Liu Biao (conveniently leaving out the murder bit), who says, it's a good idea and all, but I have a cough, I can't host the feast.

Cai Mao goes, whoa, let's pump the brakes on that one. You have a cough? And you were just making succession plans? Are you going to die in the next couple chapters? But Liu Biao says that of course he isn't, don't be silly, just because it's happened every other time the author has focused on these things doesn't mean it'll happen THIS time.

Anyway he suggests Liu Bei give the speech at the party instead, which is playing right into Cai Mao's plans. Liu Bei is kind of worried this is a trick, and Zhang Fei tells him not to go because parties suck anyway, but Guan Yu is like, eh, Liu Biao probably didn't take what you said too seriously, he has no reason to assassinate you, it's fine.

So Liu Bei decides to go and the party happens. But once again his inside man (who apparently hears everything) shows up, saying "uhhh you need to go." Liu Bei gets on his unlucky horse and races out the west gate, because that's the only one where Cai Mao didn't station any guys. Because there's a river right there. Don't know why a city gate opens right onto a river. Not really the point.

I don't even think there's a bridge. Or if there is, then Liu Bei is an idiot, because he plunges his horse right into the river since Cai Mao's guys are closing in and he has nowhere better to go.

Fortunately for him, the horse doesn't want to drown either, and it practically grows wings as it vaults across the whole river in just a few jumps. So Liu Bei gets away on his lucky unlucky horse.

Oh also Liu Bei had a kid this chapter. His name is Liu Shan, and if you think this event alters Liu Bei's priorities or creates internal conflict between his duty to his emperor and his duty to his son, you would be sorely mistaken. In fact, this kid's mostly going to metaphorically disappear for the next eighteen years, having zero bearing on the plot except once, where he actually disappears.

You know what, we'll get to it.

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