Northern Qi would’ve broken through Eastern Wu’s first line of defense if not for the old general’s sudden arrival. As it was, they could only face the new threat headon. Nan Xun wouldn’t give up until Eastern Wu paid for their atrocities. That was his promise to Jun Huang.
As he’d predicted, the vanguards ignored the old general’s advice and insisted on chasing after the Northern Qi army, falling right into Northern Qi’s trap. No one survived the ambush.
Eastern Wu might appear to have won on paper - exchanging three thousand lives for five thousand of their enemies, but the old general knew he was the one who lost. Nan Xun had a keen understanding of psychology. Both of them were competent leaders. Neither could get careless in their clash.
Nan Xun’s second in command took a swig of his wine and spat at the soil, gritting his teeth as he said, “Didn’t expect someone like the old general to be serving Eastern Wu. What a waste.”
After a few battles, it became evident that the old general was a formidable foe. The war had come to a gridlock. Neither side was able to gain the upperhand. The prolonged war continued to diminish their morale.
The other officers echoed his sentiment. Nan Xun sat on the main seat and remained silent. After a thoughtful moment, Ji Bo spoke up, “You have to be wary of the old general. He’s studied war strategies and is adept at misleading his enemies. Moreover, he knows the territory here well. That’s why he’s able to deter our troops.”
“I’ve heard of the old general and how difficult it is to defeat him,” Nan Xun said. He looked calm, but anyone who knew him well could read the killing intent flashing through his sharp eyes. “Even so, we must defeat him.”
Ji Bo paused and offered, “Don’t worry too much. We aren’t losing, either. Both sides have won our fair share of battles. The question is which of us can persevere. Moreover, our general is a genius in war who can see several moves ahead. Eastern Wu is still struggling to defend itself, but not for long.”
“That’s exactly why they’re irritating,” the second in command complained and took a few more gulps of wine.
Nan Xun dismissed them with a wave of his hand, his brows furrowed in annoyance. The officers nodded and left without a word, leaving Nan Xun and Ji Bo alone. Nan Xun made sure no one was around before beckoning Ji Bo to look at the map behind the screen.
They talked about what they should do next. Ji Bo knew something about Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. He could therefore provide some suggestions. Nan Xun wasn’t a close-minded man. If anyone had better ideas than he did, he’d listen.
“What are you worried about, Your Highness?” Ji Bo asked openly. It was clear from Nan Xun’s face that he was concerned. At first he assumed Nan Xun was worried about Jun Huang, but after the time they spent together, he realized that Nan Xun wouldn’t bring his emotions into his work.
Nan Xun considered how he should put it. “As you said, we’re now competing with Eastern Wu in how long our supplies would last. They’ve just been through a difficult battle, which consumed a lot of their resources. However, I worry that the general public will be displeased if the war continues for too long. After all, they are the ones who suffer the most during wartime.”
Ji Bo fell silent. He understood Nan Xun’s concerns, but what else could they do? It wasn’t easy to defeat Eastern Wu, but people didn’t care if it was easy. They only cared about the results.
Nan Xun sighed and rubbed at his forehead in exhaustion. Ji Bo finally came up with an idea. After some hesitation, he said, “We just have to quicken our pace. We’ve broken into Eastern Wu’s border. We mustn’t back down in face of their resistance. We should spread words that Eastern Wu’s emperor is cruel and untrustworthy. We’ll deal with the general later.”
Nan Xun agreed. Since they couldn’t readily defeat the old general, they’d try to turn people’s opinions around. Once the public were swayed, even the strongest army wouldn’t be able to turn the tide of the war.
Nan Xun had told Jun Huang about their problems in his letter. She didn’t immediately respond and instead told the House of Heavenly Fiends to look into the general. She didn’t believe anyone could be completely without weakness. In her opinion, someone like the old general couldn’t be defeated through brute force. They should identify his emotional vulnerability to gain his cooperation.
As she expected, everyone had their weaknesses and ideals. The house of Heavenly Fiends found out about the general’s resignation. She frowned as she listened to the servants read out the report. She couldn’t see clearly enough to read it herself.
It turned out that the general had been discontent when the emperor invaded Western Que and ruthlessly killed everyone. He resigned not long after. If the third prince hadn’t claimed to want the best for the people and put all the blame on Northern Qi, the general wouldn’t have returned to the border.
Jun Huang scoffed. The third prince of Eastern Wu cared about nothing but the throne. What a shameful trick he’d pulled this time.
She delivered the information to Nan Xun. Although she had only written a few words, Nan Xun figured out what she meant readily. The old general was the key. All their problems would be resolved as long as they convinced the general to stop serving Eastern Wu. The question was how.
Nan Xun stopped leading the troop himself after a few battles. He ordered his men to stay calm no matter what happened, creating the illusion that they were plotting something in order to stop Eastern Wu from making a move.
Ji Bo and Nan Xun talked about how they should sway the old general. Honesty seemed to be the best policy here. The old general had seen all manners of people in his long years as a general. Blandishment would only make him mad. In the end, being genuine always worked better.
Nan Xun decided to sneak into Eastern Wu’s camp. Before that, however, they needed a plan to prepare for anything that might happen.
Ji Bo thought it was too dangerous for Nan Xun to go himself. Too many things could go wrong. As the general, Nan Xun’s safety was their priority.
Nan Xun, however, believed it was a risk he had to take. He must show the old general he meant his offer. He’d make the necessary arrangements. In the end, though, he acquiesced and took a few men with him as backup.
It was chilly at night. Nan Xun roamed through the woods dressed in clothes for stealth, followed by a few shadow guards. Deep within the woods, they spotted the faint light coming from Eastern Wu’s camp. Nan Xun motioned at the guards to wait for him and disappeared into the night.
He quickly made his way to the fringe of the camp, his sharp gaze tracking the patrols. Once they had left, he snuck into the camp and hid in the shadows. He quickly located the old general’s tent.
Before he could move, footsteps came from behind him. He turned and saw a yawning soldier. The man had left his team to find something to eat and chanced upon Nan Xun. Nan Xun knocked him out with his knifehand before the soldier could make a sound.
Nan Xun changed into his clothes and joined the patrols without anyone noticing.
Near the general’s tent, Nan Xun pretended to be ill and asked for a short break. The leader of the group told him to return soon and led the patrols away. Nan Xun moved to the back of the tent and took out a sharp knife to cut it. He rolled inside without making a sound. The general was reading a strategy book under candlelight.
Nan Xun approached him and quickly jabbed at his acupuncture points to disable him. He then took the old general to the forest and removed the restrictions.
Nan Xun watched coolly as the old general lunged at him. Before the general could touch him, two guards leapt out from the shadow and restrained him. Fury made his face red. He looked like he was going to explode.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Nan Xun snapped with a frown. “Let him go.”
The shadow guards didn’t know why Nan Xun would make such an order, but they weren’t going to disobey him. They let the general go without a word and backed away to watch the parameters.
“Who are you?” The general didn’t strike again, but instead narrowed his eyes at Nan Xun.
Nan Xun smiled. “This gentleman is Nan Xun. Pleased to meet you, general.”
The old general stilled. He’d never seen Nan Xun in person before. The man was young and astoundingly graceful and strong. It was rare for someone his age to have reached such heights.
“What do you want?” The old general had known all kinds of people. He wasn’t at all nervous about falling into Nan Xun’s hands. He considered Nan Xun coldly, his presence intimidating.
Nan Xun chuckled. Under the silver moon, he looked as if nothing in the world could put him down. The old general narrowed his eyes. Nan Xun smiled, unfazed by the man’s scrutiny.
Silence stretched until the general was at the end of his patience. After some deliberation, Nan Xun said, “I hear that the general is a man of integrity, but do you really think Eastern Wu deserves your service?”
The old general scoffed. “Ha, you better think before you say anything. It won’t help for you to try to sway me.”
Nan Xun had been informed, so he wasn’t mad at the general’s attitude. He maintained a dignified smile and said, “The third prince told you Northern Qi was the one who broke the peace treaty, didn’t he?”