In colour. Long awaited, my interpretations of the most famous five generals of Shu, more closely following historical events than romantic.
"I didn't get it at first. Guan Yu's best and only skill is taking offence at nothing, Zhao Yun is a glorified errand-boy, Ma Chao's most famous achievement is getting his family killed in a failed rebellion, Zhang Fei...well, he's just scum, and Huang Zhong openly despises Zhuge Liang's crafty ways. Why then is the Sleeping Dragon promoting these men, these slow, slippery and unreliable men, above all others when around him are living legends? And then it occurs to me...Zhuge Liang isn't promoting them because Liu Bei trusts them, for reasons only the heaven must know...Zhuge Liang is sending them away because Liu Bei trusts them. He wants himself and only himself to serve as Liu Bei's eyes and ears on the warfront. Everyone must go for him to have his new lord all to himself." ~ Sima Yi
(Left to Right)
Ma Chao- The Lightning Dragon
Ma Chao has been raised in the western lands of Liang where a harsh land breeds a harsh man. Though in truth, the Ma family are not native and his father, Ma Teng, was a simple major in the Han armies before he killed his commanding officers along with the leaders of the rebellion while negotiating, seizing control of the realm and crowning himself King of Liang. When Cao Cao flattens Ma Teng during Emperor Xian's flight from Chang'an, dragging the petty king to the capital in chains, Ma Chao is left is left in his uncle's care. After Chibi, when Cao Cao's power is diminished for all to see, Ma Chao leads a rebellion, killing the men and women Cao Cao appointed to oversee Liang. For his dissent, his father is executed and in the ill-fated rebellion, his brothers and sister are killed, his uncle and generals turn on him and he flees south, hated and cursed by his own people. Serving as a mercenary for some time in Yi, he finds favour with Liu Bei and joins him in his eternal expedition to slay Cao Cao. Feckless, arrogant, without a head for even basic strategy and far too quick to take offence for imagined slights, he is not popular among his fellows yet few can fight with the ferocity of a boy who had his family, people and kingdom snatched from him. Yet there are those who suspect his rebellion was more crafty than first it seemed. Some who believe Ma Chao knew full well what fate would befall his father and siblings, wishing to eliminate his rivals to the throne by whatever means necessary. 'No' says Liu Bei 'No man on this earth could be that unfilial'.
Zhang Fei- The Poison Dragon
Zhang Fei, a skilled and efficient mercenary from parts unknown, believed to have been the disowned scion of a noble household, serves Liu Bei ably. Despite his naivety, Liu Bei knows that his path will not be a clean one. That is why Zhang Fei is kept beside him. The Poison Dragon will do what his lord cannot bring himself to do, the bad things an aspiring hero must do from time to time; espionage, deception, pillage, torture and worse. There beats no human heart in Zhang Fei's chest. Despite his carefree attitude, calm demeanour and fine skills in battle, he is a sociopath who acknowledges no law in this time of chaos and lives by a code of might makes right where the weak are meat for the strong. Many wonder why a man who speaks so often of honour, virtue and benevolence such as Liu Bei can keep such a man alive. But they miss the essential purpose of such a man. It is exactly because he has no conscience that Zhang Fei is allowed to serve Liu Bei. For every action of his, however horrifying, benefits Liu Bei somehow. Zhang Fei always makes sure of that. And so the Poison Dragon thrives. Yet he not unintelligent. Despite his quick and bloody temper and disregard for live, allied or enemy, in terms of low cunning, Zhang Fei is unrivalled.
Guan Yu- The Blue Dragon
A bounty-hunter and bodyguard to Liu Bei who rises to become his foremost general, Guan Yu is far from useless. His peerlessly-honed glaive is the stuff of legend and he is famed for his long and elegant beard. He has all the unmistakable marks of a warrior which indeed he is. In battle he stands as a giant and against a horde, he bears down like a tidal wave. Yet for all his skill and strength with the blade, he lacks understanding of the finer points of war. As a warrior, one is hard-pressed to find a match, but as a commander and a strategist, he falls tragically flat. Guan Yu is, unfortunately, monumentally arrogant and has no qualms about fighting a fight he cannot win for the sake of a personal slight yet refuses to acknowledge fault in himself and behaves violently caustic towards any who do. Alas, Liu Bei's praise has gone to his head and Zhuge Liang fuels such a fire, placing him higher than any man in Shu and sending him to the most hazardous war-zone where he makes no secret of his open contempt for his allies and subordinates, wishing death upon all those he believes mock him either with their weakness (If they fail in battle) or treachery (If they succeed). It seems that, despite his epithet of 'God of War', he is far more detrimental to his own armies than those of his enemy.
Zhao Yun- The White Dragon
Once a Yellow Turban then an outrider for Gongsun Zan and then finally a scout commander for Liu Bei, Zhao Yun has led a full and complicated life for one so young, yet one without any real achievement. He is, by all other measures, a fine man. Loyal, good-natured, attentive to his duties yet possessed of sufficient insight to know when a cause is worth fighting for, he is something of an everyday-man and stays close to his soldiers, trying to ensure as far as possible that they make it through a battle alive. His reflexes are swift and his resolve is strong and he has many good deeds to his name. But in this time, with men and women proving themselves as legends by the day, Zhao Yun feels overwhelmed and makes it clear that he's not out to get himself a big name and tales to it but simply wishes to make the world a better place. His tolerance is deep and his mind broad and he takes time to see what its like in Wei and Wu at certain points in his life and it is from his mouth that Shu starts to hear the words 'We need to stop fighting'. Unfortunately, this puts him in ill graces with Liu Bei who wishes nothing but death upon Cao Cao and sees the Sun family as increasingly untrustworthy. Zhuge Liang meanwhile has other plans for him. Valuing his skill but wishing to purge him of his inconvenient humours, he has many legends and songs written of his amazing prowess and deeds in battle, few actually true. When Zhao Yun takes offence to robbing those who actually achieved such things of their credit, Zhuge Liang waves it off, subtly giving away his true intentions; keeping Zhao Yun in his debt.
Huang Zhong- The Mountain Dragon
Among the Five Dragon Generals, the oldest stands the strongest, wisest and truest (Though all but the youngest will deny it violently). Huang Zhong started life as a travelling warrior-monk, skilled in all forms of combat and possessed of a deep and profound respect for the ways of both war and peace and the balance of life. No surer shot in China, it was he who fired the arrows that pierced the flesh of the mighty Sun Jian. A general of Lord Liu Biao of Jing, having studied with the man since they were boys, Huang Zhong shows that his fighting may never be behind him. Fighting with both fervour and valour, honouring every friend lost and foe slain after a battle, Huang Zhong fast becomes popular with his fellow man. After Liu Biao's murder, while happy that the people of Jing are content under Cao Cao's rule, he will never forgive him for acquiring Jing through duplicity. A straightforward and honour-bound man, Huang Zhong has little love for the proud and crafty Zhuge Liang and makes no attempt to hide it. It is for this reason that Zhuge Liang promotes him while subtly aiming to discredit him as he comes into conflict with Zhang Fei, Ma Chao and Guan Yu. Yet Huang Zhong proves that he is no traitor and fights to his last breath for Liu Bei as the war grows ever darker.