"Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."
- Sun Tzu
"Sima Yi is like the Starscream of feudal China."
Xiao Qiao knelt before the emperor of Wei with a small saucer in her hands. Court ministers watched her from all sides as she presented her leader with his favorite afternoon delicacy. Her hands shivered ever so slightly, adding to her meek and humble appearance.
"Tea, your highness."
Cao Cao looked at her with a discouraged frown, then sighed and shook his head.
"No, no. That's all wrong."
He leaned forward from his throne so he could reach her narrow shoulders. He spoke instructively as he used his arms to correct her form.
"You shouldn't carry yourself like a rag doll when you're in the throne room. Bow your head like this. Holds your hands out like this. No, put your weight on the other knee. That's better. Now try again."
He was trying to teach Sima Yi's wife an important lesson in nobility, but his anger was only a display he put on for formality's sake. He could never bring himself to actually scold the sweet girl. She had performed a great service for his kingdom, and she was always trying her best to be helpful in his presence, but the lull of peace time seemed to draw out her weaknesses. She undoubtedly made for a better fighter than a handmaid.
One she was properly in place, Xiao Qiao presented the tray a second time with slightly more confidence in her voice.
"Tea, your highness."
Cao Cao nodded and offered her a friendly smile.
"Good. You're a fast learner, Xiao Qiao."
He lifted the saucer from her hands. She raised her head to cheerfully return his praise.
"Thank you, my lord."
One sip was all it took to change history forever.
The entire court froze in a collective gasp. The cup dropped from Cao Cao's mouth and shattered into porcelain dust across the stone floor. The king rolled over in his throne, clutching his chest as the poison coursed through his veins. He glimpsed toward his servant to see her happy expression remained unchanged, effectively turning her graceful smile into an insulting sneer. Rage burned in his eyes as he sputtered.
"Xiao Qiao, what treachery is this?"
The girl stood in silence, but Cao Cao got his answer soon enough. His eyes widened with disbelief when his master tactician stepped into the room as if on cue, staring down at him with the same expression as Xiao Qiao.
"Sima Yi, you put her up to this?"
Sima Yi chuckled lightly as he shook his head. He pulled Xiao Qiao into his arms, gently fondling her hair and kissing her neck.
"I wish I could have that honor, but I'm only responsible for telling her when to strike. I would be lying if I said Xiao Qiao wasn't the one who came up with this clever little charade all on her own."
Cao Cao understood everything. Sima Yi's suggestions for dealing with the Qiao sisters had all been part of a scheme that conspired against him, and now it was too late to do anything about it. He coughed and struggled on all fours as he shouted in response.
"You insane fool, Sima Yi! Can't you see she can't be controlled? Your damned camp whore will be the end of us all!"
Sima Yi left his companion's side only so he could stand in front of her and defend her virtue.
"That's quite enough out of you. I won't have the worthless king of a dead nation insulting my beautiful wife."
His voice became calmer as he continued.
"But if it's any consolation, Xiao Qiao will remain loyal to me. The reason she detests you as much as she adores me is because you only ever wanted her as property; a simple canary you would have kept in a cage and flaunted in front of the other lords of the Three Kingdoms. I, on the other hand, appreciate her for all of her potential and saved her from that fate. I may even dare to say she's the only thing greater than myself."
Cao Cao's final protest erupted from his mouth in the form of a grotesque gurgling sound and a mouthful of blood. Then the king of Wei was dead.
Xiao Qiao approached Sima Yi's side, wrapping her arms lovingly around his elbow. She glimpsed toward Cao Cao's body before curiously tilting her head.
"Is Wei really finished, Master Sima Yi?"
Sima Yi step over Cao Cao and set himself down on the throne. Once he adjusted to his new position, he replied to Xiao Qiao in an assured tone.
"Indeed it is, my dear. Wu died at the Peach Blossom Massacre, and now Wei has died along with this old buffoon. All that's left is to make Shu meet its end at the hands of the newly formed Jin empire."
The sound of a dozen swords being drawn from a dozen sheaths echoed through the royal chambers to contradict his words. Cao Cao's personal guard and some of the nearby ministers had overcome their shock, and now they were preparing to make a last stand in the name of their fallen ruler.
Xiao Qiao shot a scornful glare toward the crowd and pulled her signature bladed fans from her sleeves. Her reputation in battle, combined with the facts she had obviously expected them to draw their weapons and they had nothing left to fight for, was enough to make them stand down. Only seconds after she placed herself in a fighting stance, the court members were lowering their blades and kneeling toward the throne.
Sima Yi calmly waved his hand toward his bodyguard.
"Let them be, Xiao Qiao. They've already surrendered. They deserve to see your merciful side."
She placed her fans back in their hidden scabbards and walked toward her husband's side. The prime minister of Cao Cao's court then approached the throne, cowering more out of fear for his life than respect toward his new leader.
"Sim-... Your highness, how can we serve you?"
Sima Yi gave his first orders without a moment of hesitation. He had already taken weeks to plot out every glorious moment of this day.
"Place Cao Pi and his wife under arrest when they return to the palace grounds. Tell the troops to raise the flags of the Sima clan. Anyone with objections can have their complaints heard on the headman's block. Lady Xiao Qiao will fill my former position as the emperor's chief general for the next few weeks, just until a new candidate is able to prove himself from the ranks."
The prime minister's eyes cautiously wandered toward Xiao Qiao when he bowed in acknowledgment.
"It shall be done, my lord, but... with all due respect, your highness, I'm not sure the men will react kindly to being led by a woman..."
Xiao Qiao nodded in agreement before she hung her head and spoke in a timid voice.
"I know. They probably won't take me seriously if I try to order them around as Xiao Qiao the serving girl."
Her demeanor changed when one of her hands protectively rested over her waist. The bulge on her belly was small enough to be hidden under her dress, but it would grow to a blatant size soon enough. Her words took on a tone of proud authority when she raised her head again.
"But maybe they'll listen to me if I give them orders as Xiao Qiao, vessel of Sima Shi, the first son of Emperor Sima Yi and future commander of the Jin army."
The prime minister followed the path of Xiao Qiao's hand, then blinked in astonishment at her words. He turned slightly toward Sima Yi.
"His majesty has been preparing for this."
Xiao Qiao confirmed his suspicions with a cheerful nod.
"My husband is a pretty smart guy. He never makes his move until he's put all his pieces in the right place."
She couldn't help but giggle softly at her own innuendo.
The prime minister tipped his head to each of his leaders.
"My lord, my lady, your commands shall be followed."
He hurried out of the throne room to convey the new orders to the men. When more servants came to remove the body of the former king, the court remained in relative peace.
And that is the true origin of the Jin Dynasty.