Now I proceed to summarize chapter 4 of The Ravages of Time.
PLOT. A mourning ceremony is held for the deceased Xu Lin in the lower/inner deck of a large ship stationed near the river bank. Inside, Zhao Huo looks on the dead bodies in silence, before being encouraged to get over the sadness and begin getting used to deaths in battle… then Xu Lin shows up, alive and well. He gives his explanations for the body double scheme, speculates about the links between the Handicapped Warriors and the Sima clan, and muses about adopting Zhao Huo as his own son. The conversation is only interrupted when Ma Fang, a subordinate, sees the supposed one-eyed boss (accompanied by the one who killed both Xu Lin’s double and Zhao Xian) from a distance, pointing at the ship. The guards on the deck also notice, but are unable to enter the mourning area due to strict protocols. Zhao Huo reveals himself in the meantime as Liaoyuan Huo, the real head of the Handicapped Warriors. While the troops are distracted and disorganized by the scene outside (the decoy boss ablaze, the arrow-firing), Liaoyuan Huo proceeds to kill Xu Lin for real, along with 15 of his elite bodyguards. Dong Zhuo receives Xu Lin’s head three days later, while Lü Bu swears vengeance by unleashing his might on the Guandong alliance.
SCHEME. Xu Lin’s plan involves using a body double to lure assassins into a false sense of accomplishment, while he secretly figures out the mastermind behind the attempt. He abductively infers the involvement of the Sima clan, given its refusal to supply Dong Zhuo’s army despite it not having private militias unlike the other merchant clans in Henei who have already submitted. The full plan of the Handicapped Warriors is revealed to involve Liaoyuan Huo infiltrating the Zhao residence (famous for its many daughters) as ‘Zhao Huo’ a year in advance, aided by the desire of Zhao Xian to have a son of his own. Xu Lin’s plan is exposed when the body double cried for help at the last moment, and the distinct accent is heard by Liaoyuan Huo. In response, the Handicapped Warriors fake a failed success scenario (perhaps Liaoyuan Huo was able to secretly communicate though coded gestures with Guo Ang during their mock battle), and show up during the mourning (when there are procedures in place to guard the bodies inside the ship) in order to catch the troops’ attention and mess up the lines of communication. Xiao Meng in turn fires a rope-attached arrow to facilitate Liaoyuan Huo’s escape after the mission is accomplished. Sima Yi’s gambit proves to have borne fruit upon the arrival of the Guandong alliance forces, since those who collaborated with Dong Zhuo were looted as a punitive measure.
PROP. At the start there is a scene of spectacular drudgery (men tied to the mourning ship, as if being made to pull it slowly or to serve as a living anchor), perhaps to show off the ‘cruel’ customs of Dong Zhuo’s forces, or at least as a gesture of reverence to a respected adviser. A comparison between Liaoyuan Huo and Lü Bu is also being set up. The fights are still flashy, but the other gimmick involves the dummy boss on the outside being set on fire (perhaps as a reference to the meaning of ‘Liaoyuan Huo’ – and also as an indirect allusion to the monster in Sima Yi’s dream), not to mention the way Xiao Meng fires the arrow. In-chapter time skips are utilized (the three-day interval between the assassination and the reception, the implied gap between the death of the body double and the mourning) to quicken the pace as the perspective shifts to other locales and situations. There is also the short but symbolic scene in Dong Zhuo’s residence – a moth plays with fire that consumes it, and the fire grows as a result of the moth getting burned. The last part of the chapter features a sneak-peek of some members of the Guandong alliance while narrating the immediate aftermath of Xu Lin’s assassination, plus the introduction of three new figures.
THEME. Some interesting topics include: the fated dimension of one’s survival or demise (as pithily expressed by Xu Lin); the ambiguity and ambivalence of dying in the line of duty (on the one hand an instance of painful abandonment with possible repercussions for the surviving kin depending on the mission status, on the other hand a case of martyrdom or at the very least a mitigating scapegoat measure that protects those who remain); the difficulties of mourning and retaining one’s sensitivity in times of conflict; the paramount importance of quality/efficiency when it comes to killing (and concomitantly, the situational importance of the numbers game and force concentration in warfare).
PLUS. This chapter feels more loaded than the previous two. After all, the first significant twist (and a taste of what’s to come in the later chapters of Ravages) occurs here. There’s also this one apparent typographical discrepancy on the scanlator’s part in that a certain ‘Zhang Qing’ appears here while in chapter 2, ‘Zhang Qin’ is mentioned. But hey, for all I know there could be two distinct people – or I can (let readers) check the Chinese raws…