We only see one captain dying. Gan Xing sacrifices himself in a fire attack. The battle at the Red Cliffs was won by fire attacks. We realize we had seen the man die in fire before, but had not realized: His anger & desire were married in contemplating & experiencing the fireball. The naval fire attack is preceded by soldiers destroying their last letters. Sacrifice binds them together, unknown to their families.
Zhou is the only hero who creates fire, which he even uses against cavalry. The others defend themselves from fire; they use their enemies’ fire against them, destroying siege engines. We only now realize what courage is required for science, although Zhuge had already shown all this. But war is not metallurgy: War is conquering men by their fears. This goes beyond science. Heroic wisdom is acting as if immune to fire.
We see Zhuge teaching soldiers to use the repeating crossbow. We see the soldiers use them against spear-wielding cavalry. Science is using straw against wood we remember; it works; you can use real men as strawmen. But the heroes have all distinguished themselves by taking their enemies’ weapons & using them against them. It seems man’s pride leads him into war; science provides the weapons of war, but cannot stop war. Justice requires killing, usually in revenge.
Zhou is forced to face the fact that Xiaoqiao may die in the war. He finally learns that she is pregnant with his son. We remember they both attended the birth of a horse, which was only successful because of Zhuge’s knowledge of animals. He said he’d never seen horses give birth, but he knew about cows, & they were probably the same. Notwithstanding, Xiaoqiao makes Zhou promise the calf will not become a warhorse. They give it to Zhuge.
The use of deception again & again suggests that knowledge is the weapon. Lies & the truth have to be used; the truth is that they always will have to be used. Science will never conquer war. Zhou can earn & keep his men’s respect, indeed awe, without war. But his reputation as ruler earns enemies. He must protect his family.
We are now prepared to ask what we know about Zhou’s soul. He tells his wife one cup of her tea is worth more to him than all his beauty. She is the spitting image of artlessness, so modest about her craft that it never shows, yet her reputation stirs the world. She tells him his music tells her he needs to fight this war, when he tells her Zhuge’s music tells him he needs friends. She says time had passed since last he danced with the sword.