They followed the Yellow River. If they had used cavalries, they would take three days but following the river would only take half the time.
The day passed quickly as the sun sets. Time would not wait for one man.
“Military Advisor!” Zhao Yun went to Shouchun’s governor’s building around midnight. He would always come here at this hour. He saw Xu Shu there, quiet and motionless.
Zhao Yun noted that Xu Shu was still wearing the same clothes since evening. In other words, the man had never left the hall and had not gone to bed.
“Military Advisor!” Zhao Yun called out again. This time, Xu Shu heard him and turned his head.
“Zilong. You are here.” Xu Shu’s voice was hoarse. Zhao Yun was stunned the moment Xu Shu turned around. Xu Shu now looked aged despite being at the prime of his life. His eyes were bloodshot and the corners of his mouth was dry. Even his hair had started to turn white.
“Military Advisor! You…” Zhao Yun did not know what to say.
“Come. Sit!” Unlike Zhao Yun, Xu Shu seemed unaffected. Although he looked haggard, his free and easy nature remained. Xu Shu invited Zhao Yun to sit and even poured tea for him although the tea was already cold.
“Zilong. Are you willing to part with Shouchun?” Xu Shu was seemingly out of form.
“Shouchun?” Zhao Yun did not know how to reply. He had only been in Shouchun for a few months. If it was not because of what happened at Hefei, he would simply be like a guest at Shouchun. However, in the past few days, he had been defending Shouchun.
“I would have to part with Shouchun.” Xu Shu said again and then explained his feelings of desolation. “Milord handed to me five regions in Yangzhou. I swore to Milord that no harm would come to Yangzhou as long as I am around. But now, Gushi and Hefei have fallen. Anfeng surrendered. All that is left is Lujiang and Shouchun. Lujiang is only a river stronghold. Shouchun is the key point in Yangzhou. However, I, Xu Shu, is incapable of protecting this place.” Xu Shu lost his bearings as though he was drunk although all he had was tea.
“Miltary Advisor. We will not lose Shouchun!” Zhao Yun replied with determination. “As long as I, Zhao Yun, am here, I will not let the Liu Bei’s Army even take a step into the city!”
“Ah, Zilong. It is useless!” Xu Shu smiled bitterly and shook his head. “If Shouchun was lost, the life of Milady would not be guaranteed!” Pang Tong had meant to exchange Shouchun with Lu Lingqi’s life.
As a subject, Xu Shu could not ignore the life of his Lord’s wife. It was the same with Zhao Yun’s actions in the original history. There were things that a loyal subject could not ignore. This meant that Lu Lingqi needed to live and Liu Mang’s escape path needed to be secured regardless of whether Shouchun still stood. They would need to return to Lujiang and make a comeback. If Lu Lingqi dies at Shouchun, they would have no way out. They would not be able to go to Lu Bu as their connection to the Lu Bu’s Army would be severed. Liu Mang would also become someone who has no gratitude, as everything in Yangzhou could develop because of Lu Bu’s support. Regardless of what Liu Mang did, if Lu Lingqi dies, he would need to bear the blame. As Xu Shu could not allow this to happen, he had to fight back on his own.
Xu Shu already said that Shouchun would only fall after his death. However, he would need to give Shouchun in exchange for Lu Lingqi.
“Zilong. I will leave everything to you once Shouchun falls. You must safely bring Milord’s wife to him!” Xu Shu said as he looked at Zhao Yun. It was as though he was speaking of his will.
“Military Advisor!” Zhao Yun finally understood what was said and quickly cupped his fist. “I know martial arts but I cannot plan strategies like you! I am not qualified for the task, please withdraw your orders!”
Xu Shu did not give Zhao Yun a reply and simply looked at the sky as it slowly turned brighter1. “Go, Zilong. It is about time we greet Milady.”
Outside Shouchun, Pang Tong quietly looked at the city.
“Shiyuan. Do you also have trouble sleeping?” A voice rang out while Pang Tong was deep in thought. Pang Tong turned around to see Liu Bei. He immediately cupped his fist and greeted. “Milord.”
Liu Bei was unable to sleep as he anxiously waited for Shouchun to become his. “Shiyuan. It is truly a blessing for me to have you. You are definitely the one that contributed the most if I manage to seize Shouchun and the Central Plains!” Liu Bei praised generously. Without Pang Tong, he would have been developing Yuzhou and miss a lot of opportunities. He would then be chased away again by Cao Cao. With Pang Tong around, he had a direction to go to. He was going to capture Yangzhou and scheme against Zhang Xiu. His army would then grow in power. He would have infantries and cavalries. Yangzhou was his first step in competing for the world.
“Thank you, Milord!” Pang Tong’s expression was indifferent. He was unable to sleep not because he was about to win Shouchun but because he was worried. Once he captures Shouchun, he would forever lose a friend. Pang Tong quietly shook his head thinking of Xu Shu.
As the sky turned bright, both sides made their preparations.
Liu Bei’s Army gathered in the morning. It was almost the promised time. The Liu Bei’s Army waited below the city for Xu Shu to open the gates.
“Shiyuan. Do you think this Xu Shu would go back on his word? What do we do if he intends to protect Shouchun to his death?” Liu Bei was still worried.
Pang Tong first looked at the walls of the city without replying. After that, he confidently said, “Don’t worry Milord. We will take Shouchun today!”
“Why do you say so?” Liu Bei could not understand why Pang Tong believed this to be so after looking at the walls.
“Milord. Do you notice anything missing from the walls?” Pang Tong asked as he pointed towards the walls.
Liu Bei looked up at the walls and saw the soldiers and flags still stationed there. After a while he noticed what was missing. “It is missing their general!”
“That’s right Milord.” Pang Tong replied. Every day, at that hour, Zhao Yun and Xu Shu would already be on the walls. Their presence appeased the men and they could also give commands. However, the two of them were missing. If Xu Shu decided to fight to the death, he would be on the walls, boosting morale. The absence of Xu Shu and Zhao Yun showed that they no longer had the will to fight.
“Don’t worry. Shouchun would soon be…” Before Pang Tong could finish, a scout on a horse quickly rushed over. The scout quickly got down and knelt in front of Liu Bei.
“Report! There is a heavy cavalry rushing over from Hefei!” The scout gasped for breath as he reported. He had rushed back to give this urgent report.
“A heavy cavalry?” Liu Bei was shocked. The Xiliang Cavalry was with them and the Wolf Cavalry had already been defeated. Who else could it be?
“From Hefei, it must be the Wolf Cavalry.” Pang Tong asserted. The only one that could come from Hefei was the Wolf Cavalry. They were also the only other cavalry on the Central Plains.
“Does Lu Bu want to send the Wolf Cavalry to its end?” Zhang Xiu gave a sinister sneer. The Wolf Cavalry had been defeated when they were whole. How could they win with only half their remaining numbers?
Pang Tong also did not understand this situation. Although the Xiliang Cavalry had lost a lot of men to Liu Mang, they still had almost ten thousand soldiers. Pang Tong shook his head, believing that it is not the right time to be thinking about this. The Wolf Cavalry could not be allowed to reach Shouchun as their Lu Lingqi was a fake. They would not be able to take Shouchun then. Pang Tong wanted to request for Zhang Xiu to go and intercept the Wolf Cavalry. However, Zhang Xiu spoke up before Pang Tong could even say a word. “Lord Xuande. Leave the Wolf Cavalry to me!” Pang Tong’s stratagem for capturing Shouchun did not need him. So, he might as well attack the Wolf Cavalry. Besides that, killing off the remaining Wolf Cavalry soldiers could serve as vengeance for the troops he lost to Liu Mang and it could also help him restore his reputation.
“In that case, I leave this you, brother!” Liu Bei’s now had good relationship with Zhang Xiu and even called him brother. If someone was willing to dispatch on their own, he would be pleased. If he had to tell them to go personally, he would end up owing them a favour.
“General Zhang Xiu, be careful. You need to drive away the Wolf Cavalry!” Pang Tong suddenly had a bad premonition and quickly gave a precaution.
“Military Advisor Pang, don’t worry!” Zhang Xiu nodded. He had seen Pang Tong’s abilities and held the man in respect. However, listening to his advices was a completely different matter.
1. The day truly passed by quickly. Its faster than Harvest Moon.
“Faster! Faster!” Liu Mang’s Army was moving as quickly as possible. He did not even have time to organize the Xiliang Cavalry. The Xiliang Cavalry were formidable on horses but if they were then put on a ship, they become like sheep. Meanwhile, Liu Mang’s main army set out to Shouchun. There were too many important things at Shouchun. He could not lose it. If he loses Shouchun, he would lose Yangzhou and all of his hard work such as his invention and the sweet potatoes would belong to others.