Jia Xu hurriedly told someone to inform Liu Mang that there was an important matter that Liu Mang needed to deal with personally. Da Qiao understood that work was more important than women and no longer bothered Liu Mang. She quickly left the study room with her face looking red, her feelings stirred from the kiss. That was how Liu Mang managed to escape. Once Da Qiao had left, Lady Zou came out of hiding. Her expression looked worse than Da Qiao’s and her makeup had fallen off.
After some time, Liu Mang finally managed to straighten out his clothes. His private part was once again hidden.
“Milady.” Liu Mang cupped his fist at Lady Zou after he straightened out his clothes. He felt a bit guilty as it was his fault that she ended up in such a sorry state.
“You still call me Milady?” Lady Zou snapped. She came to Liu Mang looking for a future, never expecting things to turn out this way. Regardless of how hygienic Liu Mang was, he would still have a body smell. This smell is the reason why Lady Zou felt so uncomfortable. She never expected the scoundrel to be like this. However, she has somewhat managed to achieve her objective. Although the two did not have sex, their relationship with each other have become dubious.
“Zou…” Liu Mang did not know how to address her. In the end, Lady Zou told him, “I am Zou Rong. You can call me Rong Er.” Zou Rong introduced herself. She had heard Liu Mang address his own wives as Ling Er, Fang Er and Yu Er. She too wanted to be addressed in that familiar manner which is why she gave herself a nickname.
“Rong… Rong Er.” Liu Mang embarrassedly spoke out her name. Lady Zou was a beautiful person and like other men, Liu Mang was also attracted by her beauty. However, her beauty was also hazardous. Besides his three wives, there was also the Xiliang Cavalry to worry about. Lady Zou was one of their previous masters. The Xiliang Cavalry submitted to him so easily as he never showed any desire for Lady Zou. If he were to accept Lady Zou now, there wouldn’t be any difference between him and Cao Cao. Even though he liked beauty, he was not someone who liked taking in someone else’s wife.
“N.” Lady Zou shyly nodded in response. Ever since young, she was called Lady Zou, Milday, or aunty. So, she became shy like a little girl when Liu Mang called her familiarly.
Liu Mang sighed as he looked at Lady Zou’s soiled appearance. He then shook his head. He was unable to push Lady Zou away after all that has happened. That was just not his style. However, he did not know what to do about the tiger at home. Before this, Da Qiao had been gentle because Liu Mang was loyal and did not cheat on them. However, she would explode once she found out about this. With no way out, Liu Mang gritted his teeth and said that he would take responsibility for what happened before leaving. Liu Mang left to the hall for the important matter the messenger told him about. Although the messenger could have been sent by Jia Xu to ‘save’ him, this was unlikely as the messenger had the rank of a sergeant. On top of that, there were a few of them coming by as well. These were not only sent by Jia Xu but also Xu Shu and Liu Ye. Even Zhou Cang and Guan Hai remained on standby to escort Liu Mang. In other words, something had really happened.
Liu Mang was led to the main hall. Everyone was already there except for Zhang Liao, Xu Sheng and a few others who had already departed for Lin River. The ones that were present were the three strategists and the other generals. Although the three strategists had disagreements in the past, they now shared the same grave expression. It was certain that the incident this time was huge.
“His Majesty has arrived!” A sergeant informed loudly the moment Liu Mang entered the hall.
“Milord!” Everyone greeted as they cupped their fists.
“What happened?” Liu Mang sat in his seat as he asked his three inept advisors.
“Milord. Something serious has happened!” The first to speak was Xu Shu as he was the highest ranking person aside from Liu Mang. His expression was as bad as the time he wanted to surrender Shouchun for Lu Lingqi.
“Speak.” Liu Mang took a deep breath to prepare himself for the bad news. As expected, the news was too astonishing. His men had been unable to buy any provisions at all. Provisions had been something very important to both his and the Lu Bu’s Army. Unlike other Lords who only needed to feed their own troops, Liu Mang also needed to feed the millions of citizen in Yangzhou.
Liu Mang had truly been played by Sun Ce. Not only did he receive millions of citizens but he also had to remove a mountain for Sun Ce. Sun Ce would surely be grateful towards Liu Mang. Liu Bei, Sun Ce and Cao Cao all wanted to see Liu Mang dead, preferably killed by his own citizens. This way, they could quickly and easily remove one opponent.
Liu Bei, Zhang Xiu and Sun Ce wanted to annex the Lu Bu’s Army and wipe out Liu Mang from the world. They had almost succeeded if it was not because of Cao Cao. The reason Cao Cao helped could be to repay a debt and obtain the ballista or maybe to make Liu Mang owe him a debt. Cao Cao also needed more time to truly unite the North. He wanted a Central Plains that is not yet united so that they would be easier to conquer.
Liu Mang won the battle with Liu Bei and Zhang Xiu suffering severe losses. Now, Liu Mang needed to wait for the nest bumper harvest but he already had no more provisions. He had money left behind by Yuan Shu to go and buy provisions but he never expected that he would be unable to buy provisions even though he had money.
“Speak! How is it that we could not buy anything?” Liu Mang asked as he massaged their aching head. Liu Mang did not believe that Lu Bu had that many enemies. After all, these people wouldn’t get anything even if the Lu Bu’s Army was wiped out.
“Milord. Out men were beaten and chased away by Sun Ce’s men before they could even arrive!” Xu Shu reported. Not only were these people beaten up but the money had also been taken.
“Sun Ce!” Liu Mang slammed his hands on the table. Fortunately, he had made preparations. Although Sun Ce did not participate in this war openly, it was obvious that all of these had been orchestrated by Sun Ce. He never expected the money to be stolen but it does not matter as much. What was taken would eventually be spat back out. Liu Mang would be able to take it back by attacking Lin River.
Liu Mang wanted to see Sun Ce’s expression when Sun Ce finds out that his territory at Huainan had been taken. He also wanted Sun Ce to invade after losing his head in anger.
“There is also Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang.” Xu Shu explained to Liu Mang. These two men were brothers but they were now enemies because of inheritance rights. Although Yuan Shao had been defeated at Hebei, he could have still turned things around. Unfortunately, he fell sick and his children would not cooperate. The younger brother blamed the elder brother for not listening to Yuan Shao’s dying will while the elder brother blamed the younger brother for poisoning and locking up Yuan Shao. With the two of them at each other’s throat, Cao Cao would be able to win easily. The message brought back by the other envoy had truly made Liu Mang feel awkward.
When the envoy reached Yuan Shang territory, Yuan Shang offered to give a hundred thousand provisions provided that they were to attack Yuan Tan. On the other hand, Yuan Tan also made a similar offer except that Yuan Tan also offered gold on top of the provisions. Liu Mang felt like crying. These two were great offers but it was not possible to accept it as he would not be able to reach Yuan Tan’s Qingzhou on foot. His navy was also not yet complete. Both of these placed were separated by Xuzhou. Would Cao Cao allow him to pass? Attacking Yuan Shang would be even more of an impossibility unless they could fly over.
On the contrary, the conditions Yuan Xi had sent an envoy with a more reasonable proposal. Yuan Xi was Yuan Shao’s second son. He was younger than Yuan Tan but older than Yuan Shang. He was Yuan Shao’s most capable son. Everything was neatly organized in his managed territory. His management was better than Gongsun Zan and he did not have any wild ambitions. He did not have any bad relationship with his two brothers so he was not affected at all by the war between these two siblings. Liu Mang believed that if Yuan Xi had been named heir by Yuan Shao, Cao Cao would have been in big trouble. It was questionable whether Yuan Shao’s most beloved son, Yuan Shang, had even given him a good end, much less Yuan Shao’s will.
What Yuan Tan wanted was for Liu Mang to attack Cao Cao. In comparison, Yuan Xi had better foresight than his two brothers. If they could defeat Cao Cao, the whole of China could be theirs instead of just Hebei. At that time, both Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang would have a chance of becoming a powerful ruler. On the other hand, Cao Cao would wipe them both out if he remained. Unfortunately, his two brothers could only think of Hebei.
“Attack Cao Cao?” Liu Mang frowned. Yuan Xi’s offer was truly attractive. He would give them two hundred thousand provisions, twenty thousand horses and countless wealth. What the Central Plains currently lacked the most were horses. Even Sun Ce only managed to gather five thousand for his Yuzhou Cavalry. This showed the importance of cavalries on the Central Plains. On top of that, Cao Cao’s territory was close enough to be attacked.
“Milord. It is best not to take Yuan Xi’s offer!” Xu Shu was the first to oppose.
“Hm? Why do you say so?” Liu Mang asked. Although Cao Cao’s Army was big, their main forces were at Hebei. Not many of them were left at the Central Plains. There was even less troops stationed at Xuzhou, the place Lu Bu was chased away from. The Lu Bu’s Army would also increase in strength when attacking Cao Cao. After all, it was for vengeance and could raise morale. Why would attacking Cao Cao be a bad idea.
“Milord. Even if Cao Cao is known as a traitor, Milord owes him a favour!” Xu Shu explained. Even though Cao Cao had bad reputation, Liu Mang owed him many favours such as the title of King of Shu, South General, and also for the provisions given.
“King of Shu? South General?” Liu Mang harrumphed. “This is merely Cao Cao’s attempts at sowing dissension!” Liu Mang had contributed a lot for Lu Bu to escape Cao Cao. As Cao Cao was afraid that Lu Bu would obtain Liu Mang, he wanted to sow dissension. He wanted the short tempered Lu Bu to be mistrustful and then kill Liu Mang.
However, Cao Cao miscalculated as Lu Bu would not suspect his own son-in-law. Lu Bu only had one daughter. Whoever married his daughter would inherit his foundation. He even encouraged Liu Mang to receive the title so that Liu Mang could obtain many benefits.
“But who knows about this?” Xu Shu shook his head. Even if this was Cao Cao’s stratagem, nobody would know that it was a stratagem. All they knew was that Cao Cao was the one that helped Liu Mang return to the imperial family and become the King of Shu. The reputation of a person in ancient times is made by rumours and repeated rumours would become a fact.
“A hundred thousand provisions? Although it was provided in our hour of need, part of it was because of me! Without my message letter, would Cao Cao have won the Battle of Guandu? Bullshit! All Cao Cao wanted is the ballista! It is just a relationship of benefits! Cao Cao is not a good person. What favour could I owe him?” Liu Mang replied in disdain. Although Liu Mang respected Cao Cao’s ruthlessness, he felt disdain to the favour Cao Cao had given him.
Xu Shu listened to Liu Mang’s complains and shook his head. “But nobody else knows that as well!” Liu Mang had given Cao Cao advice in his letter so that Cao Cao would have won. However, nobody would know about it as his letter was a private letter. The letter had been sent in secret and was unknown to the public. In other words, nobody knew that Liu Mang had helped Cao Cao. On the other hand, Cao Cao giving the provisions was a huge event as he needed to send many carriages. To the others that see this, Liu Mang owed Cao Cao for the help.
“Shit! Is there no other way?”
“There is none! Milord. If you were to attack Cao Cao, your reputation will be destroyed! Instead of becoming the King that brought the traitor to justice, you would be the King that forgets gratitude! Besides that, Xuzhou is empty. To take it would be taking advantage of another person’s difficulties. Not only must you not attack Cao Cao. You must openly reject this offer to keep your reputation!” Xu Shu’s advice was justified. During those days, those that forget favours and gratitude were looked at with disdain.
“Men! Go and execute Yuan Xi’s envoy!” Liu Mang knew that he was in a disadvantageous position but he still had to give up Yuan Xi’s offer just so he could tell others that he is not someone who forgets about gratitude. Meanwhile, Yuan Xi’s envoy at Shouchun still did not know that he had already been marked for death. Just as Liu Mang gave the order, Jia Xu suddenly stopped him.
“Milord. Although we cannot attack Xuzhou, it does not mean that we need to kill Yuan Xi’s envoy.” Jia Xu smiled as he said to Liu Mang. If they were to kill the envoy, they would offend Yuan Xi. Jia Xu was not like Liu Mang who knew that the three Yuan brothers would not be able to defeat Cao Cao. He did not know to the extent where two of the brothers faced their deaths calmly. When Yuan Shang and Yuan Xi went to Gongsun Kang to seek refuge, Yuan Shang wanted to invite Gongsun Kang to a banquet to which Yuan Xi retorted that instead of attending a banquet, their heads were going to be sent to Cao Cao.
There were even records from the early Han dynasty and also from Yuan Shao about death approaching after defeat.
When Yuan Xi lost Ye, his defeat was certain. His generals, Zhang Nan and Jiao Tong ordered all the ministers to surrender to Cao Cao. Only Han Heng refused saying that Yuan Shao and Yuan Xi treated him well and that he could not surrender to Cao Cao although the death of the Yuan Family is inevitable.
There were no good end for the Yuan Family. Liu Mang did not care about offending the dead.
“Jia Wenhe! Do you have a better idea?” Liu Mang asked with a hint of disappointment.