Although (due to various factors) I am not yet prepared to continue the chapter summaries from chapter 7 onward, I have decided to do a little warm-up exercise by skipping ahead and summarizing the two side story chapters in the 33rd volume of The Ravages of Time.
Enjoy, as I proceed to work on chapter 1 of the Ravages side stories.
PLOT. Liu Da is reminiscing about his past (and the origin of the Handicapped Warriors, with him as the inaugural one-eyed leader). The time and place of Liu Da’s act of remembrance is less clear – because unstated – than the past circumstances narrated in the chapter, although it is possible that Liu Da started to revisit the past around the time when Sun Quan left Shan Wuling to rejoin the revitalized Sun clan.
SCHEME. In order to stabilize morale, Peng Tuo instructs his aides to prioritize the most depressed when it comes to rations distribution. For his part, Liu Da takes advantage of the screams of the other patients as he proceeds to assassinate Peng Tuo and silence Peng Tuo’s subordinates. Moreover, instead of turning over Peng Tuo’s head to the government, Liu Da instead goes to a merchant clan to offer his services (as an assassin for hire and clan muscle), with the reasoning that the clan gets to save money by investing in Liu Da rather than paying war taxes, whereas he cannot compete in the bribery game for government positions and would stand a better chance if sponsored by a trusted wealthy backer.
PROP. The entire chapter consists of a flashback of sorts, showing the situation when Liu Da was still a poor peasant who joined the Yellow Turbans in their uprising against the Han. Having been injured during the last offensive, Liu Da rests in the Yellow Turban front line camp at Xihua and engages in a conversation with the caretakers and attendants, who offer (perhaps in jest) to give additional injuries to those wishing to skip the next skirmish. Liu Da is unable to sleep well during the night due to the desperate screams of the other patients. The following day, Peng Tuo, a Yellow Turban circuit commander, visits Xihua to deliver the rations and to console the depressed. Liu Da uses this as an opportunity to kill Peng Tuo and present his head to the Sima clan, before swearing his loyalty to the clan while a young Sima Yi passes by. As for the other devices used in the chapter: the revelation of the origin of Liu Da’s blind left eye (that he was born with it already rather than the initial impression that he lost his eye during a previous battle) is deliberately delayed until after the assassination of Peng Tuo, where Liu Da’s cynical and opportunistic character is clearly displayed; monologues are scattered throughout the pages, providing readers some background information as well as a glimpse of what Liu Da was thinking at the time; the chapter is more dialogue-driven than action-driven, and focuses more on unnamed people and minor personalities rather than the bigwigs.
THEME. Some interesting topics include: the unreliability of miracles (or rather, the unpredictability of the ways of fate governing the efficacy of charms and the arrival of blessings); popular unrest and the prevalence of bribery as signs of a deteriorating administration; the mundane and simple motives (such as comfort and security and prosperity) motivating people to do extraordinary and desperate things; the financial costs of warfare and the role of merchants in keeping things in order; the importance of careful discernment and deliberation when making choices; the different roles of distinct organs, the diverse modes of disability/incapability, and the unequal chances of survival/success associated with being-handicapped.
PLUS. I’m still disappointed that Ravages doesn’t give enough attention to the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the events preceding the open unrest.