Skep's Place


Chapter 43 / Red Cliffs Part 1: The Meeting

"When you meet Sun Quan," says Lu Su, "whatever you do, don't mention how big and well-commanded Cao Cao's army is."

"I hear what you're saying," replies Zhuge Liang.

They reach the Southlands. While Zhuge Liang sleeps off some jet lag, Sun Quan pulls his advisors together to talk about a letter he just got. It's from Cao Cao, inviting Quan to join him in hunting down Liu Bei and splitting Jing. Most of his advisors are totally on board with this idea; submitting to Cao Cao makes the most sense for their survival. However, Sun Quan is not so sure, especially after Lu Su reminds him that, under Cao Cao, these guys will probably be fine, but Sun Quan might very well not be, especially when you figure what happened to Liu Zong two chapters ago.

But before Zhuge Liang can meet with Sun Quan, he has to meet these advisors first and win them over. Which is going to be difficult, because remember, none of these guys want to fight Cao Cao.

So the first guy is like, hey, I've heard that you compare yourself to some pretty big-name strategists of the olden days. But uh, seems to be like Liu Bei isn't any better off than when he found you. In fact, he's mostly been running. Maybe you're not so great? To which Zhuge Liang responds, man, Cao Cao's army is frickin' enormous. We barely have any troops, and the deck was stacked so heavily against us. AND YET we've still been dealing Cao Cao crushing defeats in our engagements. So really, I'm probably even BETTER than those guys I compare myself to, because THOSE guys had the luxury of resources.

And that shuts up that guy.

But another advisor goes, hang on, those are big words for somebody who just got chased away by Cao Cao. I know your army pales in comparison to his, and you're only coming to us because you're scared and running low on options. To this, Zhuge Liang retorts, nah, Cao Cao ain't shit, I'm not scared of his army. If I was, I might be thinking about submitting to him like you guys are.

That guy leaves to go put ice on that sick burn.

The next advisor is like, all right, but you're talking like Cao Cao is the bad guy. However, the mandate of heaven has been rightly passed down from emperor to emperor, and Cao Cao has the emperor's confidence and has nearly succeeded in restoring the realm already. But Zhuge Liang is like, ACTUALLY, Cao Cao is a traitorous usurper. Our fathers served the Han dynasty, not Cao Cao. Personal integrity is founded on both loyalty to our emperor and our respect for our fathers, and it sounds like you have neither.

As that guy runs off sobbing, the NEXT guy who steps up to try is like, listen, Cao Cao is the descendent of the guy who was the prime minister to the Han's founder. Meanwhile, Liu Bei CLAIMS to be a descendent of the founder, but there's no proof. So Zhuge Liang shrugs and says, hey, the prime minister to the emperor is still the emperor's subject, so Cao Cao's ancestry ain't worth a damn. Anyway, the current emperor has already had Liu Bei's dubious lineage verified, so neener neener.

So that guy crosses his arms and says "harrumph". Meanwhile, the next guy has had about enough of this and starts resorting to straw man arguments, being like, guh, Zhuge Liang's judgement is flawed, I bet he never even read the classic teachings. So Zhuge Liang has to rattle off a bunch of names of famous sages and advisors to kings who had simple upbringings like him, and he adds, isn't it better to actually help the empire than it is to busy yourself in writing like you?

That guy leaves to go become an alcoholic. Yet another advisor steps up to try his luck, saying, gee, you make it sound like you're not a man of learning at all. If you're wrong about your beliefs, the scholars of the future are going to ridicule you. To that, Zhuge Liang says, please. Most scholars only memorize shit and call themselves smart, but don't actually have an original thought of their own. The truly scholastic will vindicate me, and that's where it counts.

Anyway, around this time they get interrupted by somebody barging in, saying that sitting around and debating shit ain't gonna deal with Cao Cao. This is Huang Gai; he's actually been a general as far back as Chapter 2 if I'm remembering correctly, serving Sun Jian against the Yellow Turbans. He just wasn't very relevant until this story arc.

So Huang Gai stops Zhuge Liang from savagely massacring Sun Quan's advisors in debate, and he escorts him and Lu Su to go see Sun Quan himself. Lu Su reminds Zhuge Liang, hey, DON'T mention how big Cao Cao's army is and his good his commanders are. But Zhuge Liang tells him, sheesh, I got this, don't worry.

He comes to Sun Quan, who asks about Cao Cao's army. Zhuge Liang says "yeah, they've got so many dudes. At least a million. Actually I told your guys it was a million so they wouldn't be so freaked out, but it's probably closer to a million and a half. And he's got a thousand great commanders, too."

Lu Su facepalms over in the corner.

Sun Quan asks how anybody could stand up to such an insurmountable force. Zhuge Liang tells him, hey, if you have to give up and submit, then do it. Liu Bei is going to fight either way because he's actually a hero.

Sun Quan gets pissy at this and storms off.

Lu Su is incredulous. He yells at Zhuge Liang, saying, you did the one thing I told you not to do! And then you pissed him off! Why the actual hell would you do that?!

Zhuge Liang replies coolly, Sun Quan is too emotional, I can't work with somebody like that. I do actually have a plan. If he wants to know what it is, he's gotta be focused and have his head in the game.

So Lu Su goes backstage and informs Sun Quan that there is, actually, a plan, and Sun Quan lightens up and comes back out. Zhuge Liang tells him, okay, yeah, Cao Cao's army is gigantic. BUT. His northern troops aren't used to conditions here in the south; they're all getting malaria and shit. Also, none of his troops are experienced in naval warfare like you are. On top of that, the troops he just got from Jing province two seconds ago aren't loyal to him yet.

So there's a lot of cracks in this seemingly unstoppable force to exploit, and Sun Quan starts seeing some hope. His advisors still don't see it yet though, and they're advocating submission.

Sun Quan is still very torn about what to do, so he talks to his aunt; and she responds, hey, when you inherited this position. Weren't you instructed to consult Zhuo Yu on all external affairs? Isn't this one of those?

So next chapter, we're calling Zhuo Yu in to go head-to-head with Zhuge Liang.

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