Chapter 46 / Red Cliffs Part 4: The Plan
Zhuo Yu is hanging out with Lu Su today, understandably feeling pretty pumped about his victory getting Cai Mao done in. But Zhuo Yu starts to wonder, hmm, do you think Zhuge Liang figured out what I did? I bet he didn't. I hope he didn't. Lu Su, you mind running over to see Zhuge Liang to validate how smart I am?
Just that minute, Lu Su gets a text from Zhuge Liang. "Hey, would you mind telling Zhuo Yu that I want to congratulate him on that sweet ruse he pulled on Cao Cao? Except don't let him know that I know it's a ruse, because he'll try to kill me again, okay bye."
Lu Su reads this and asks, "Well what the hell am I supposed to actually tell him then?"
And from behind him, Zhuo Yu asks, "Actually tell who?"
So Lu Su spills the beans, and as predicted, Zhuo Yu goes, "Uuuggh I'm going to have to kill that man."
The next day, Zhuo Yu invites Zhuge Liang over for tea, and he says, hey, we need to think about launching an attack soon—an assessment that Zhuge Liang agrees with. But the problem, Zhuo Yu says, is that they're too low on arrows, and he'd like Zhuge Liang to get some more made up. They need no less than a hundred thousand.
Zhuge Liang tells him, hey no problem, I'll get you those arrows. What sort of timeframe are we looking at here? Zhuo Yu, knowing that Zhuge Liang is going to be hard-pressed to deliver that many arrows in so short a time, says he needs them in ten days.
Zhuge Liang says, I'll do it in three or you can have my head.
Zhuo Yu is understandably very excited about this deal. Talking with Lu Su afterwards, he boasts, there ain't no way any factory could make that many goddamn arrows in three days. And even if Zhuge Liang has some scheme to boost production, I ain't sending him the stuff to make arrows anyway. He is well and truly fucked.
Lu Su goes to see Zhuge Liang, who asks Lu Su, hey, you blabbed, didn't you? Because obviously this is Zhuo Yu trying to kill me again. Lu Su reminds him, you're the idiot who only gave yourself three days. But Zhuge Liang waves this off, saying, well, since it's your fault I'm in this mess, I need a small favor. Get me twenty boats, and pile them with bundles of straw wrapped in cloth. Then I might forgive you.
Lu Su brings him the boats; but on days one and two, Zhuge Liang doesn't do shit.
In the very early morning hours of day three, he takes the boats out for a sail. It's foggy like you wouldn't believe; terrible conditions for sailing, actually, but we'll overlook that part.
Zhuge Liang sails the ships up to Cao Cao's naval base and has his crews raise a huge ruckus on deck. Cao Cao's forces, thinking they're being ambushed in the middle of the night and unwilling to plunge into the fog, order their archers and crossbows to just rain arrows down on the boats and hope for the best. However, the skeleton crews are taking shelter below deck; meanwhile, the arrows get caught nicely by the bundle of straw.
After a bit of this, Zhuge Liang has his sailors shout "Thanks to Prime Minister Cao Cao for the arrows!" and rides off. Zhuo Yu's jaw hits the floor when he sees Zhuge Liang sailing back with all the arrows he needs.
Now, at this point, we haven't actually settled on a strategy to defeat Cao Cao. Zhuo Yu has an idea, but it has flaws. So he figures, well, if I have this genius asshole here anyway, I may as well see if he agrees with my plan. Zhuge Liang also has an idea of his own, and he proposes writing their ideas on the palms of their hands and sharing them at the same time.
They do this, and it turns out they both wrote the same thing: Fire.
You know, Zhuge Liang is starting to seem like a one-trick pony at this point. Ah well.
Anyway, the plan is decided, and this is on the STRICTEST need-to-know basis. Because this is their one shot for survival, and Cao Cao can't know it. To that end, Cao Cao actually takes this moment to send in some spies. These are relatives of Cai Mao supposedly seeking vengeance for his execution, so it's a decent cover story.
But Zhuo Yu puts them in Gan Ning's unit, and then whispers to him, yeah, those guys are totally spies. Because if you're truly going to defect, you don't leave your family in your previous ruler's hands; they just get killed that way.
Gan Ning walks away, and Lu Su comes in to see Zhuo Yu next. He says, hey, I think those defectors are totally spies. But Zhuo Yu berates him for this, being like, god, your problem is you just can't trust anybody, they're fine.
Poor Lu Su. He's kind of the butt monkey in this arc. He later finds out from Zhuge Liang that Zhuo Yu was being deceptive. Makes you wonder why Lu Su keeps hanging out with that guy though.
You may remember I introduced Huang Gai at the beginning of the arc; he's the one who's been a general for the Sun family since Sun Jian fought the Yellow Turbans. Huang Gai shows up here, popping in to Zhuo Yu's tent after hours. He tells Zhuo Yu, hey, I had a brilliant idea. We should attack them with fire!
Hearing this, Zhuo Yu frantically scrambles to get him to sit down and shut up.
After ensuring they're not being overheard, Zhuo Yu tells him, yes, we're working on that. But we'll need a man on the inside to pull it off.
Huang Gai says, sure, I'll do it.
But Zhuo Yu goes, nonono, are you kidding? You've been loyally serving on our side since the beginning of the book. Cao Cao would never buy you defecting to him.
...Although... if you're willing to do whatever it takes...
So the next day, Zhuo Yu calls a military meeting. He tells everyone, hey, pick up rations for your men on the way out, because we're buckling down and defending, it could be a while.
Huang Gai yells out, hey! If we go on defense, we'll lose sooner or later. We need to attack, or we may as well just surrender right now! In fact, why are we even listening to this asshole, he's young and he has no experience!
And Zhuo Yu is DONE. He accuses Huang Gai of questioning orders and damaging morale, and orders his execution. But all the other officers plead for his life, so Zhuo Yu reduces the punishment to a hundred lashes. And even then, he stops the flogging at fifty after more pleading on Huang Gui's behalf. Huang Gai, for his part, takes the lashing without complaint.
So now the spies can report two things back to Cao Cao: One, Zhuo Yu is going on the defensive. Two, Huang Gai is dissatisfied and has a reason to be very disgruntled toward his commander.
And thus, thanks to Huang Gai's willingness to accept this harsh abuse, the plan begins to take shape.
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