The major episodes of Three Kingdoms are as follows.
- Chapters 1.-9. The Rise and Fall of Dong Zhuo
- Chapters 10.-19. A Winnowing of the Warlords and the Rise of Cao Cao
In the power void left following the death of Dong Zhuo, numerous local governors and warlords vie to take over the empire.
Some want to take over the throne directly and become emperor. Other's want to simply control the present Emperor Xian.
Most prominent among these contenders are: Cao Cao, Sun Ce, Lü Bu, Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao, Liu Biao,
and several former generals of Dong Zhuo, including Li Jue and Guo Si.
Xuande does not figure prominently into the equation early on because he does not have any political ambition.
When offered political posts, he continually refuses to accept them.
With the death of Lü Bu, Cao Cao is firmly entrenched as the most powerful warlord, in terms of military might and control
of the Emperor. The warlords with a realistic possibility of threatening the hegemony are far fewer and weaker.
- Chapters 20.-28. The Tentative Emnity of the Two Heroes of the Realm
The number of vying warlords thins. Yuan Shu
drops out of the running. Yuan Shao is shown to be a weakling, with no foresight.
Liu Biao is not to be taken seriously. Sun Ce is far away, south of the river.
Cao Cao usurps most of the Imperial authority.
Xuande, though without a strong political or military base, joins a secret alliance to remove Cao Cao from power.
Defeated by Cao Cao's superior forces,
Xuande and his brothers and all their followers flee for their lives and are disbanded.
Xuande finds refuge with Yuan Shao.
Lord Guan finds sanctuary with Cao Cao who hopes to turn him to his side.
Zhang Fei wanders the countryside until he finds a town that he basically takes over.
The brothers are reunited in Chapter 28 and Zhao Zilong joins their ranks.
With four or five thousand men, they have a kernel to re-establish themselves.
- Chapters 29.-33. The Fall of Yuan Shao and his Sons
- Chapters 34.-??. The Fall of Liu Biao
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