Synopsis: Sun Shang Xiang is to marry Liu Bei to secure a Southern alliance against Cao Cao, and Lu Xun is charged with making the marriage happen. Zhou Yu, however, bitter over Liu Bei's conquest of Jing, schemes to wreck the marriage in any way possible and to kill Liu Bei. Lu Xun, forced to choose between duty to country and personal honor, finds that it is difficult for one to reconcile ambition and integrity.
This story is a rather strange hybrid. It combines the personalities of the characters as portrayed in Koei's Dynasty Warriors series with a storyline inspired by Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Certain historical inaccuracies are deliberate: Sun Jian and Sun Ce, of course, should not be alive, and Lu Xun at this point in time is not yet a top-ranked officer or strategist. Other story developments also will not reflect the history or the novel. I take artistic license here and there only because it opens up richer possibilities for character development - and this is a very character-driven story. I hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: The characters belong not to me but to KOEI's DW series, which in turn takes credit from Luo Guanzhong's novel.
Note: Readers who are familiar with this story may have realized that earlier chapters have changed. I'm systematically replacing the original versions of chapters written in 2003 with edited versions that reflect my current standard of writing. A few of the changes are factual (no more Japanese honorifics, for example), but most of the changes are intended to streamline the dialogue, provide more momentum to the story and remove a few instances of overly-silly humor. If you are interested in reading the older versions, just contact me and I'll be very happy to send you the original files.
I: Unkept Promises
"Well, tell me. What did they say?"
Lu Su fidgeted under the unwavering gaze of his superior, Zhou Yu. Normally a calm and gracious man, the latter today glared at Lu Su with haggard eyes – driven to madness by the thing that he had struggled with ever since coming into contact with the Shu.
"They promised to return the province of Jing once they succeed in conquering Sichuan," Lu Su stammered, holding up a snow-white handkerchief tainted with neatly inked black characters. "This is the contract of honor, signed by both Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang."
Zhou Yu leapt up from his chair, stalked to where Lu Su stood, and snatched the handkerchief from his assistant. His black eyes scanned the document, up and down, left and right, turning each character over in his mind to check for any hidden meanings. Then, with a curse, he crumpled the contract up and chucked it vehemently on the floor.
"We'll do this, then we'll return Jing province," he said, beginning to pace. "We'll do that, then we'll return Jing province." He stopped and threw his arms up. "How many times do they have to renege on their promises, the stupid Shu, before they actually consent to repaying the debt they owe us? We've been arm-wrestling with them ever since Chibi – we gave Jing to them as a deposit, and they agreed to return it if Cao Cao was defeated. Well then, Cao Cao's suffered loss after loss, and they haven't shown any inclination to return it. Then they propose another deal stating that they'd honor their words once they've attained some more territory from Wei. Following that Zhuge Liang conquered five cities – Qui, Ling, An, Chang, and Wuling – in three weeks, and they still couldn't bring themselves to hand our land over. Then they tell us that we'd get Jing back once its governor, Liu Qi, died. Liu Qi's funeral was a month ago, which was exactly why I sent you, Lu Su, to remind them of their parade of promises. And now – again– you've been conned by that hateful Zhuge Liang!"
Lu Su wrung his hands in mortification.
"But Liu Bei is a man of honor - I don't think he'd break his oath this time – chased by Cao Cao, having only a small piece of territory to call his – he's under a lot of pressure, sir! Sichuan is much larger than Jing, and I'm sure once he's gotten his hands on that, he'd be content to fill out his part of the contract."
"That's the only problem with you," said Zhou Yu, anguished, returning to his desk and throwing himself into his chair. "You're too damn nice, Lu Su, and too gullible. You take everyone at face value. Well let me tell you: Liu Bei might be a man of honor, but only in your eyes. Even if he tries to conquer Sichuan, what if he doesn't succeed at first? What if he doesn't succeed in a year – five years – ten years? Then they'll just keep Jing for those next five, ten years! How are we ever to get it back?"
Lu Su wanted the ground to swallow him whole. Being a terribly sensitive person, this entire round of abuse had convinced him that all the friction between Shu and Wu on the subject of Jing was his fault.
Zhou Yu saw the humiliation on his assistant's face and waved a hand vaguely, as if to absolve him from his mistakes. "Actually," he resumed, in an oddly broken voice, "the fault is really mine. It's my job to know everyone I work with, and I knew it wouldn't have been best to send someone as soft and generous as you. I should have picked someone less credulous…"
"And more aggressive?"
The high, singular voice made both Zhou Yu and Lu Su jump. Prince Sun Quan stood at the door of the study, a strangely sullen expression on his face.
Zhou Yu jumped up from his chair and saluted. Lu Su bowed respectfully, thankful that Sun Quan had shown up at the last moment and deflected his superior's withering attention from him.
"Is there anything that I can do for you, your highness?"
"Not really," muttered Sun Quan, edging into the room. "I've just dropped by to inform you two about something."
"About what?" asked Zhou Yu and Lu Su in the same breath.
Sun Quan opened his mouth, poised to speak, but froze and let out a long breath. When he did finally speak, it was as if after a long struggle:
"Father has finalized my sister's engagement."
The room was silent with shock.
"No – no way," Zhou Yu stammered. "That suddenly? Did he modify or edit the terms at all?"
"Didn't change anything. He just approved it a few moments ago. I think he's now appointing an envoy to relay the contract – and if that carries through, Shang Xiang will be married within a few weeks."
Zhou Yu slowly sought the back of his chair for support.
"That isn't possible. Something must be different - "
"I repeat, Pa didn't change anything. It's still the terms that were set before Chibi – a full year ago, in fact, and terribly out of date."
"Sun Shang Xiang…marrying Liu Bei." Zhou Yu took deep breaths. "I don't believe it. We're forcing the princess to stoop down to a man of his stature, even after what he's done to us?"
Sun Quan's face blackened with anger. "You're right it makes no damn sense – but it's politics, I guess, and as Pa says, feelings are irrelevant -"
"But I do hope you've at least tried to talk your father out of it - "
"What do you think I could have done?" roared Sun Quan, swelling with rage. "I begged, I implored, I pleaded, I even cried in front of the entire Cabinet assembled, but Pa's word was final. And now he's sent me down this way to tell Shang Xiang of his decision, but I've stopped in here for a few minutes because I wanted to tell you first, and because I don't think I have the guts to be the bearer of this sort of news for my baby sister. I love her too much, Yu, and you know I can't stand seeing her cry – much less being carted off to some western wasteland to be the wife of a mat weaver!"
Zhou Yu took this tirade without flinching. He loved Sun Shang Xiang as a sister too, and the pain at this news had numbed him.
"When are the negotiations with Shu going to take place?" he asked quietly, trying to remain professional. "Is there any reason to believe that Shu would accept this offer?"
"Negotiations begin tomorrow," muttered Sun Quan, forcefully stuffing a loose lock of hair behind his ear. "That is, if an envoy has been appointed yet for this mission. And it better be an ineloquent one, for I would like more than anything else for this miserable parade to fall through."
In the same moment, both he and Zhou Yu turned their eyes to Lu Su, who, in turn, shrank against the wall.
"We won't be sending you though, sure as rain," reassured Zhou Yu. "You're so eloquent that people don't give into your demands anymore, you go along with their demands." Then, to Sun Quan: "And who do you think Sun Jian would appoint as envoy?"
"I dunno," replied Sun Quan, gazing up at the ceiling.
Then his eyes widened in horror.
"I do remember him talking to – but no, it can't be – "
"Me," rang a third voice, young and bright – and a boy, clad in red brocade silk lined with ermine, skirted Sun Quan and walked to Zhou Yu's desk, his golden boots clicking smartly. He had short brown hair, unlike Sun Quan's dark red or Zhou Yu's jet, and was so short in comparison to the other two that even with his hat he could not top the bare head of either.
Sun Quan squeezed his eyes shut; Zhou Yu's mouth dropped in horrified shock.
"Yes, me," answered Lu Xun nonchalantly, eyeing the comical expressions around him with faint amusement. "What then?" he coaxed. "So used to me being an evil strategist that you simply can't picture me as a cordial, charismatic diplomat?"
"Why did Pa choose you to be the matchmaker?" said Sun Quan. "This court doesn't have a shortage of career diplomats!"
"It really defeats me," replied Lu Xun, shrugging. "But the job's now mine, at any rate, and I have to do the best I can. Aren't you supposed to be informing Shang Xiang?"
"Don't want to," muttered Sun Quan, "I want to waste as much time as possible before I have to do it."
"When do you leave, Boyan?" asked Zhou Yu.
"First thing tomorrow morning. Liu Bei's in Caisang, you know, only thirty miles downstream from us. I'll float there, get everything worked out and hopefully paddle back in time for dinner."
Everyone in the room - even Lu Su – narrowed his eyes. Everyone in the court of Sun Jian had a special place in their hearts for their vivacious, fiery-haired princess, and it seemed from the tone of nonchalance with which Lu Xun spoke that he didn't really care what befell Sun Shang Xiang.
"Well, General Lu Xun, what is your opinion of this alliance?" asked Sun Quan, in a voice of admirably forced calm. "You seem to sound as if you weren't much objected to it."
"No, I'm not," replied Lu Xun coolly, an eyebrow raised. Had it not been for the peculiar timbre of his voice – a clear brassiness that radiated naïveté and forthrightness – his listeners would have taken him to be impertinent. "Hasn't a Sun-Liu alliance been at the top of our list of priorities all last year? If you wish to counter Cao Cao, who still happens to be our biggest threat, this alliance is the best – actually, the only way - to come about it."
An indignant exclamation issued from Zhou Yu.
"If Liu Bei regards us as an ally, he sure isn't acting like it! After all the aid we gave him when he was on the run from the Monster of the North, towing thousands of frightened peasants, having only a few hundred soldiers in escort - "
"Ah," said Lu Xun. "Jing province."
"If it's causing you that much of a headache – "
"You mean all of us a headache," Sun Quan added venomously.
" - then I think you ought to simply put an end to this feud and let Liu Bei have it."
No one could ever have expected Lu Xun – so proper, careful, and in every sense patriotic – to speak like this to his prince and his superior officer. Each of them rounded on him furiously - even Lu Su, who seldom entered scuffles.
"Boyan, how could you – "
"They've trampled on us and thrown away their own promises!"
"Are you mad? To let them acquire such an important district without any payment on their part!"
"That remark can be construed as treason, if looked at the right way," Sun Quan growled.
Lu Xun bristled slightly under this onslaught, but kept his composure.
"Have all of you forgotten? They did render us a service – Zhuge Liang worked day and night with you the weeks before Chibi, Gonjin, to come up with our strategy to defeat Cao Cao!"
"Yes, but – "
"If Liu Bei didn't lend his men and his generals as well, we would have been run over all the same by Wei! If you ever want to keep the alliance you've made, so we could stand a chance against Wei, this is your chance to strengthen it. Give them Jing, and if in the future Wei ever decides to attack us, they will assist us in our defense! Sun Shang Xiang might not even have to marry Liu Bei anymore!"
Lu Xun glared at all of them, flushing with passionate righteousness.
"That's not going to happen," said Sun Quan sourly. "Sun Jian thinks highly of Liu Bei. He would never think of leaving Shang Xiang to become an old maid, and both he and she agree that nothing short of a ruler would do as her husband. Cao Cao is out of the question. That leaves Liu Bei as the only choice."
"Then," said Lu Xun, "if our lord is so intent upon marrying Sun Shang Xiang to Liu Bei, he can have his way, but then demand Jing back as the marriage price –"
"Which I don't think Liu Bei would consent to," snapped Zhou Yu. "As long as that dratted Zhuge Liang stays fanning at his side, that is."
Silence reigned uncomfortably as strategist, prince, diplomat and protégé glared uneasily at each other.
"Well, I do have to make my trip tomorrow," Lu Xun said at length. "And if my Lord wishes it so, I shall try my very best to negotiate the treaty. For now, we can argue, wheedle, compromise – but we can't stop everything."
He turned to Sun Quan, who was now no longer angry or dejected, but simply resigned.
"So – are you going to tell your sister, or are you not?"
"I suppose I can't avoid telling her," replied Quan, more miserable than ever, "so I'll just tell her. If you jump out of your skin later on, though, don't tell me you weren't warned."
With these words, he billowed out of the room in a swell of red and green satin. Lu Xun stared after him in confusion.
"What does he mean, that we'll jump out of our skin later?"
"He means that Shang Xiang's going to scream," said Zhou Yu.