Jun Huang nodded. She knew Nan Xun’s urgency was also for her sake. She coughed. “I’d like to write a letter to reassure him that I’m alright.”
“But you - ”
“I’m fine.” Jun Huang knew what he wanted to say. She touched her eyes without thinking, a bitter smile tugging her lips. Nan Jihan swallowed his words. He ordered the maid to retrieve the writing instrument and helped Jun Huang to the desk. He guided her hands to the brush and the sheet of paper.
Although Jun Huang couldn’t see, her handwriting was still graceful. She told Nan Xun to take care of himself and think before he acted.
Nan Xun had reached the border when he received Jun Huang’s letter. He stood atop the fort, looking at the city they’d lost from a distance. He clenched his fists, narrowing his eyes in deep thought.
“This subordinate is to blame,” the officer in charge said, kneeling on the floor. “My carelessness cost us the city.”
Nan Xun looked down at him, his expression frigid. The others froze, thinking that Nan Xun would have the officer pay with his life.
After a long stretch of silence, Nan Xun finally said, “If you know you are to blame, pick yourself up and fight! The next time Eastern Wu invades, we’re going to not only send them fleeing, but also to reclaim what we’ve lost.”
His voice wasn’t particularly loud, but his eyes were cold and his voice piercing, making everyone’s blood boil. They were soldiers with great courage and will. They came to the border armored and wielding spears to defend their homeland. They were one, and they fought as a united front.
“Please give me another chance, general. This subordinate will not disappoint you.” The officer cupped his hands and declared with great conviction. The other soldiers echoed his words. Nan Xun’s expression didn’t change, but it was clear he was pleased by their devotion to their country.
Nan Xun’s second in command returned with a letter addressed to Nan Xun. Nan Xun smiled at the familiar handwriting. The others widened their eyes at their commander. They had never seen the stoic general smile so gently. For a moment, no one dared make a sound.
The second in command cleared his throat. Nan Xun only realized then how quiet they’d become. He schooled his expression into one of indifference and left with his second in command. Behind him, the soldiers erupted into surprised exclaims, but he was in too good a mood to care. He returned to the camp.
“When does the general think Eastern Wu will strike again?” The second in command asked, trying not to stare at Nan Xun’s smile.
Nan Xun took a seat and tapped the table with his finger in pace with his heartbeats, the sound calming rather than aggravating.
“Tomorrow morning,” Nan Xun said with great confidence.
The second in command frowned. “Why are you so certain, general?”
“We’ve fought Eastern Wu before. They were able to gain an upper-hand this time only because I wasn’t around. They must have heard about my arrival already. They’ll think they stand a better chance of winning if they launch an attack as soon as possible before we can get prepared.”
The second in command was still a little lost. He wasn’t a particularly clever man, and he wasn’t good at keeping his doubts to himself. “General, did you and His Majesty deliberately let Eastern Wu take the city?”
Nan Xun arched an eyebrow. “Why would you say that?”
“We did lose people at the later stage of the battle, but to my knowledge, most of the civilians out of the city had been evacuated beforehand, and many of the dead were prisoners waiting for execution. They’re sent their as part of a plan, I just don’t know what the plan was.”
The second in command laid out his observations.
Nan Xun chuckled and said casually, “We have to give Eastern Wu something to lure them in. Since the ancient times, people have deliberately let go of smaller fish in order to get the big one. We’re just following our ancestors’ example.”
Someone called out for the second in command before he could say anything. He walked away. Nan Xun looked at the young man’s back, his smile dropping.
He hadn’t been informed of the plot beforehand and had believed the city was truly lost. He only noticed the signs when he arrived at the border. Then Ji Bo’s letter arrived, describing his plan in detail. Nan Xun didn’t know how he should feel. Ji Bo was indeed both brave and clever. On the surface, Eastern Wu had slaughtered many of Northern Qi’s civilians unprovoked, which gave them justification to destroy Eastern Wu.
Ji Bo had deftly put Northern Qi on the moral high ground, enabling them to enjoy both the glory and the gain.
As Nan Xun predicted, Eastern Wu struck again the next morning. Seemingly intimidated by Nan Xun’s spotless track record, they deployed as many as fifty thousand people this time.
Nan Xun frowned as he looked over his soldiers. He never enjoyed watching the march from high above.
“General, Eastern Wu has crossed the border,” his second in command said. Nan Xun looked over at the distance and noted the dust filling the air, signifying an army’s arrival. Nan Xun smiled coldly and got off the city wall, mounting his horse and riding to the front of the troop. He gathered his officers and shouted, “These barbarians have killed our people and destroyed our city. We’re not going to let them live today. Kill!”
“Kill!” His soldiers were in high morale as they followed Nan Xun to the battlefield. From afar, soldiers wearing the color of their respective nation met in the middle and clashed. Weapons clinked and pained cries rang out, shaking both heaven and earth.
Nan Xun wielded his spear with great precision and ferocity like the hero he was, his face covered in his enemies’ blood.
Northern Qi was driven. Eastern Wu didn’t expect such aggression and backed away again and again. Nan Xun’s eagle eyes locked on Eastern Wu’s general, which instilled the fear of death in him and prompted him to retreat. Nan Xun scoffed. He wasn’t going to give the man the chance.
Nan Xun leapt and stepped on his horse to propel himself, driving his spear through the general’s heavy armor. The general widened his eyes in disbelief. His horse started and fled, throwing him off his back.
The Eastern Wu soldiers were stunned and intimidated. They abandoned Northern Qi’s city and retreated back to their territory. Nan Xun sounded the horn to call back his soldiers as well. He didn’t intend to chase after their enemies. After all, they didn’t know if Eastern Wu had set up ambushes.
Eastern Wu’s failure soon got out. Jun Huang was happy for Nan Xun, but also disappointed that she hadn’t been there to witness it.
Nan Xun led the army back to their camp. The soldiers were ready to celebrate. Nan Xun didn’t stop them. He had wine brought to the camp and shared a few drinks with his soldiers. They laughed and cheered in delight.
The celebration was interrupted by Ji Bo’s arrival.
Nan Xun rose to his feet and asked, “Why is the gentleman here?”
Ji Bo’s gaze swept over the soldiers’ wine bowls. He cupped his hands. “His Majesty has heard about your victory. Worried that Your Highness may need help, he ordered me to come assist you as a strategist.”
Nan Xun introduced Ji Bo to everyone. They were shocked when they heard who he was. Everyone knew of the great strategist. Him being sent here showed how much Qi Yun cared about the war.
Nan Xun noted Ji Bo’s urge to speak up. “Is there something you’d like to say?”
Ji Bo nodded and said coolly, “You’ve been victorious, but what if Eastern Wu strikes back? You’ve started drinking already. How are you going to fight then?”
Nan Xun’s expression clouded. His second in command piped up, “Don’t worry, Gentleman Ji Bo. We won’t really get drunk, and Eastern Wu wouldn’t be eager to strike again after the defeat. They don’t have a death wish.”
“What if they do?” Ji Bo asked insistently. The soldiers fell silent. They awkwardly held onto their wine bowls, debating what they should do.
“You’ve done well today,” Nan Xun downed his bowl and said. “Go rest. We’ll march out again after recuperating.”
The soldiers sighed in relief and finished their wine. They couldn’t have fled faster, afraid of being scolded by Ji Bo.
Ji Bo was a scholar. Although he had a great strategic mind, he was useless in a fight. However, he possessed a similar presence as Jun Huang, which intimidated and demanded obedience.
As the second in command said, Eastern Wu was too wary to make a move. This was exactly the right time for Northern Qi to strike. Nan Xun sought out Ji Bo to discuss his plan.
“That’s doable,” Ji Bo said. “As I’ve said, Eastern Wu made the first move. We’re justified to strike back.”
Nan Xun agreed.
As a strategist, Ji Bo was more thorough. He added, “However, we still need a detailed plan, or we may be caught off guard.”
Nan Xun smiled. “I’ll leave that in your capable hands.”