Skep's Place


Chapter 42: End Zone Celebration

Zhao Yun finally returns to his lord's side and reunites Liu Bei with little Liu Shan.

Liu Bei immediately chucks the infant aside; the book uses the phrase "flung him to the ground". And he starts berating the baby because he could have gotten Zhao Yun killed.

Granted, this scene has gotten a little more ridiculous in my head over time because the mental image has evolved to Liu Bei spiking Liu Shan like a football.

But like, that's child abuse, for one; and for two, when he grows up, how do you think he's going to feel hearing that story? You think that's just going to be a fun laughabout? No! You don't respect a father who spiked you into the ground like a football! And probably gave you brain damage! That's the kind of thing that causes resentment! That's the kind of thing that would make you subconsciously collapse the empire your father had built from nothing! ...say. What a weird, surely irrelevant example.

Also, Zhang Fei finally does the only really cool thing he's going to do in this novel. After he meets up with Zhao Yun and begrudgingly decides not to kill him since he didn't actually turn traitor, Zhang Fei moves to defend the bridge over the river. He doesn't have the troops to do this, by the way; he's got like maybe 40 horsemen, tops. And they're off dragging branches in the woods to kick up dirt so it looks like there's a lot more of them (one of Zhang Fei's few moments of cleverness).

So Zhang Fei is standing on the bridge by himself when Cao Cao's entire army rocks up. And Zhang Fei goes, "Hey, I'm Zhang Fei! Who wants to fight me to the death? I'm taking all comers!" And everyone in Cao Cao's army is like, shit, it's Zhang Fei! We've heard about this guy! I don't want to fight him!

Well, nobody's really very willing to be the first one up. Then Zhang Fei bellows a ferocious roar, and all of Cao Cao's soldiers decide at the same time that they've got other places to be right now, so they're just gonna go.

I don't know why you wouldn't just bring up your archer units if you were in that big a rush; I guess they were just too scared to think about it.

So Zhang Fei has his moment. Of course, Liu Bei criticizes him for destroying the bridge afterwards, because if he'd left the bridge standing unguarded, Cao Cao's army would think it was a Zhuge Liang trick (they actually do think this at first; Zhuge Liang will get a LOT of credit for tricks he didn't even set up). But destroying the bridge indicates that they're afraid of Cao Cao advancing, implying that they don't have a counter attack in place.

Oh well. It seems like Liu Bei is just having a really hard day, guys, just being very snappy at everybody.

Then Guan Yu shows up with Liu Qi's troops to hold off Cao Cao, and Zhuge Liang shows up with boats (from... somewhere?) to get everybody to safety. So everything is fine for the moment; but the threat of Cao Cao is still looming over them, because he is not backing down.

Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang start planning their next move, and Zhuge Liang says, okay, our best bet now is to see if we can ally ourselves with Sun Quan and use them to help drive out Cao Cao. They'll see Cao Cao as a threat too, after all. But Liu Bei figures, hang on, we've got literally nothing to our name. You think they're just going to send somebody up here to negotiate an alliance?

Then the doorbell rings.

At the door just happens to be one of Sun Quan's advisors, Lu Su. He's sniffing around up here scoping out the situation, trying to get a feel for what Cao Cao's army is like... perhaps, you know, maybe persuade Liu Bei to rally all of Liu Biao's governors to help Sun Quan in the event they do need to defend against Cao Cao, that sort of thing.

Liu Bei's tells Lu Su, yeah, you're going to need to talk to Zhuge Liang, because he's smarter than me, and also he told me not to talk to you.

Well in addition to being clever at strategy, Zhuge Liang can also scheme in conversation. Lu Su is fishing for info about Cao Cao, and Zhuge Liang tells him, oh, yeah, I've got all the intel on his army that I would need to fight him off, I just don't have enough troops to do anything about it.

That makes Lu Su think, well hmm, WE have troops.

So instead of Liu Bei seeking an alliance from Sun Quan, it becomes Sun Quan seeking an alliance from Liu Bei; which is crazy, because again, Liu Bei doesn't have diddly.

But yeah, Lu Su says, hey Zhuge Liang, you should maybe come back with me to our place and see if we can't work something out. Plus your brother Zhuge Jin works for us, so it doesn't even have to be weird or anything. And Zhuge Liang agrees, meaning he's going to the Southland.

SO NOW, all the pieces are settling into place for what is quite possibly the most well-known battle from this era. They have made movies about this single battle. Some historians speculate that it still holds the record for the largest naval battle in terms of number of combatants. And the next eight-ish chapters are devoted to its preparation. If this book has anything resembling an honest-to-goodness heist story, this is going to be it.

We're coming up to the Battle of Red Cliffs.

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