This is based on the historical event known as the Battle of Heavenly Pillar. It is a Zhangtastic broment that I wrote five years ago and, despite having better things to do, am editing.
Commander Zhang Liao swooped into the map tent with all of his trademark flair, tent flaps fluttering in his wake. Predictably, he got nothing in return.
Because the only other man in the room was Zhang He. Considering Zhang Liao was his commanding officer, one might think that he'd at least acknowledge his presence – but noo, whatever philosophy book the man from Ji had was clearly more important. Junyi's chair was tilted back – he had his boots on the map table for heaven's sake!
"Heaven forbid a subordinate tear his eyes from a completely irrelevant book for two seconds to salute his commanding officer when he walks into the command tent!"
Wenyuan received a grunt and a nod - or maybe it was directed towards the book. Probably. This clearly wasn't working, and so Wenyuan sauntered over to the table. He leaned his hands on the table-top, looking across the table at this lower-ranking officer and started to stare.
He stared with the force of a thousand men.
Very few mortals had the physical ability to not pay attention to Wenyuan. It was both irritating and admirable.
Zhang He was in here waiting for the return of a scout who was checking out the mountain's terrain. Wenyuan had been checking on the troops (well, checking on the people who he had assigned to check on the troops) – especially the mood after they all learned about General Yu Jin's . . . miscalculation regarding the bandit Mei Chen's apparent surrender. Hopefully there'd be good news about what was going on up the mountain – they'd already wasted precious time getting to its base, and they were afraid that Mei Chen had been able to join with the other bandit, Chen Lan, at the top.
If the scout hadn't arrived, he'd kick out the other Zhang for putting his feet on the table and mull over the current state of his troops to see what he could do about it.
It seemed like the news had not arrived. Wenyuan's disappointment was allayed by the fact that he'd get to chase out Junyi. Since Junyi hadn't been responding to him, that obviously meant Wenyuan would have to resort to physical methods. Obviously.
He leaned over the table, eyes on his sub-commander's head, right hand creeping along the map to grab a figurine. He picked up a little wooden carving of a foot soldier, flag on its back with "Zhang" on it. Wenyuan closed one eye (and maybe even stuck out his tongue a bit), bent his right arm at a 90 degree angle, waved it around a few times in practice, and . . .
Smack. His little soldier attacked his sub-commander on the side of his head with a hilariously hollow sound before bouncing off and landed on the ground.
"Aiyah!" was followed by something unintelligible and certainly too vulgar for Wenyuan's delicate ears.
Junyi had cringed and grabbed the side of his head, but kept on reading.
Commander Zhang Liao had finally received acknowledgement from his subordinate, but said subordinate had not found it necessary to turn his head from his book in order to curse his superior.
Wenyuan's objective changed. If he could not get his officer to look at him by throwing small, carved pieces of unpolished wood at him, he could at least chase him out with them.
He looked down at the map, hunting for a particularly large piece. It was then that he noticed that the pieces on the map were rearranged.
He stared at it, noting the slight position changes, the additions made via both figures and writing on the map, and the fact that he had, to his own amusement, thrown himself off of the map.
"Junyi." All pretenses of formality were gone.
Poor Wenyuan would never get to see Junyi finally turning to look at him, because he was focused on the map. Junyi noticed that the other man was looking at the changes, and found that reason enough to put down the book. He stood up, arms behind his back, hands grabbing his elbows, and he walked around the table to stand to the right of the General.
"Yes, sir?" Junyi slid his eyes to look at where Wenyuan was looking.
"The map has changed," Wenyuan declared.
"Yes, it has," Junyi confirmed with a curt, official nod. He removed one hand from behind his back to point at the spot on the map that read "commander" in ink, right next to a figurine that had "Zhang 2" carved on its flag.
Junyi turned his head to look up at Wenyuan with a face that would have been blank, had Wenyuan not been especially talented at reading faces. To the untrained eye, Junyi's face was completely straight, serious, and solemn - almost like it was sinking. To a master of human expression, his eyebrows were ever-so-slightly high; his eyelids were ever-so-slightly lower than they should have been. Most importantly, the corners of his mouth were ever-so-slightly raised that even Wenyuan barely noticed. This face was the face of a jackass.
"As you can see, sir," Junyi continued, "your unit is no longer located at the base of Qian mountain. You threw it at me."
Wenyuan nodded thoughtfully, right hand grabbing his chin to stroke his goatee in contemplation. "This could pose a problem to the campaign." Of course he had thrown himself and not Junyi. Of course.
The sub-commander nodded in solemn agreement, but he was unable to stop his mouth from twitching into a grin. He walked around the right of the table to retrieve the fallen unit as Wenyuan continued to look at the map.
Mei Cheng and Chen Lan's pieces - little fat blobs carved with stupid-looking, simple faces - were now right next to each other on Qian Mountain. Written next to them, in Junyi's signature scrawl, was "joined, fortifying on Heavenly Pillar peak." A line pointed to a particularly sharp-looking peak on the mountain. Next to this peak was a line, leading to a note: "20 li high. One path. Narrow, estimates one man at a time."
"Really?" Wenyuan asked the map, like that would change the results of the reconnaissance.
By this time, Junyi had returned with the piece representing half of their unit. He placed it back to the south of the mountain - behind the little infantry soldier with "Yu" carved on its flag.
Yu Jin was back in his starting position now - in front of them - and Wenyuan nodded to himself. This was not so bad, now that Mei Cheng was also on the mountain. This was good because Yu Jin had supplies, and Zhang Liao needed them.
Wenyuan turned to Junyi, picked up the figurine that had gotten the most action today – his own - and moved it straight up the mountain, in front of Mei Cheng and Chen Lan.
Junyi raised his eyebrows for about a second before lowering them again. It was marginally more respectful than rolling his eyes.
Wenyuan positively grinned with glee as he picked up the "Zhang 2" soldier, and pushed it up right next to "Zhang". It was a given, but he did it anyway for the reaction: Junyi's mouth pressed into a tight line and his eyes narrowed as he watched Wenyuan's hand.
"It won't be so bad," Wenyuan chided with his huge, wide, white-toothed grin, an instant charmer that endeared all strangers to him. But Junyi was no stranger, and knew that smile was mockery. Through a series of unfortunate events, Wenyuan had come to known that the otherwise brave general Zhang He was . . . slightly unenthusiastic when it came to heights.
"Of course it won't be so bad to a man who's too much of a fool to fear anything," Junyi's tone was deadpan – except for a twinge of exasperated irritation.
"Coward," Wenyuan jibed, smile bright. When he could make Junyi's tone anything besides calm, he counted it as a victory.
Another man walked into the tent as if on cue. His face was tired; angry at its owner, until it broke out into a small smile upon the first word he heard.
Junyi tugged his what looked like accidentally sheared off bangs with one fist, again trying hard to avoid rolling his eyes. Yes, he was against heights in principle, but it wouldn't stop him. "Not me," he hissed into his hand as it dragged down his face, pulling his head down with it. He might have been hiding a slight smile, but the world would never know.
He looked back up at Wenyuan, face absolutely sober. This was actually a serious matter of concern. "I'll have a little moment, and then I'll be fine. I'm talking about the troops. We don't have all that many, and the path is very, very dangerous. It'll be incredibly difficult to get through to the bandits when the pass is that narrow. How are you going to get them to pull this off?"
In all truth, Junyi knew that Wenyuan was going to somehow get the troops to do it. Wenyuan was famous for his complete disregard towards military tradition, and for his irresistible charisma. This had become clear when he climbed a mountain straight into his enemy's house, without guards, and charmed his way to a victory without any bloodshed. He met the guy's wife, the kids . . . had a chat, got him to surrender. That was unheard of, and that's why Wenyuan was one of Cao Cao's most valued commanders.
Yu Wenze, victim of a fake surrender for the first time in his life, turned to the two bickering Zhangs with an amused smile on his face. He gave them both a salute, right fist in his left palm, and received two salutes in return.
"Lord Zhang, Lord Zhang," he greeted with weary, uncharacteristic humor.
General Yu was one of Cao Cao's most capable – and famous – leaders. Despite this little mishap, saying that he was a very successful commander would be an understatement. He'd been essential in the victory over the Yuans and had been with Cao Cao nearly from the beginning. Strict and formal, Wenze sat down at the map table, like any normal commander would do. This forced the other two to follow suit in a semblance of dignity. Wenyuan sat at the head, Junyi to his right, and Wenze to his left.
"You arrived just in time, Lord Yu," Zhang Liao greeted with relief. "We're running thin," he admitted. There would be no point in hiding that fact, whether Yu Jin had known it already or not, from the other commander. The fact of the matter was that they were running low on supplies and through joining up with them, Yu Jin had relieved them. "Now we can go ahead full-speed!" Zhang Liao's natural instinct towards enthusiasm started to show through.
"While this does buy us time, it doesn't buy us all the time in the world," Zhang He cautioned. He was well-known for his innate understanding of logistics, although this time his words were stating the obvious. "Lord Yu has brought the supplies of his unit and no more. We have to remember that if such supplies are to be distributed among two armies, now, they will only last half as long."
Wenyuan was ever-so-slightly deflated, but it was hard to tell. "Yes, but – we'll be going so fast it won't matter."
"Fast? One man at a time through a crevasse?" Yu Jin tried to give Zhang Liao a reality check, but it wasn't happening as planned. It was something about Zhang Liao that admittedly irritated Wenze; the man sometimes seemed to have no caution; no sense. He was going to run himself off of a cliff one day.
"Yes. I think we should advance."
Junyi closed his eyes for a time that was too long to be a blink, before making eye contact with Wenze.
Wenyuan did not like this silence. He didn't like it when Wenze broke it again, either, though:
"We don't even really have that many troops. This is extremely dangerous."
"Yes, it is! We keep saying that the path is so narrow it's only suited to one-on-one combat. That's to our advantage – we're fighting simpering bandits. Our troops have courage and valor!"
This wasn't a matter of convincing Junyi that climbing the mountain was a good idea; not even really Wenze, either – he had a feeling that Wenze was just testing Wenyuan to make sure he'd be enthusiastic enough to rile up the troops to do something especially stupid.