“What? Are you going to deny that?” The old general scoffed, his eyes steely. “I told you not to try to sway me.”
“You should know what I was trying to tell you, general,” Nan Xun said earnestly. He hadn’t uttered any lies. “It’s not up to you and me to decide whether Northern Qi is at fault here. It’s a matter between our two nations. Northern Qi has always been honest. If we were the one who cast the first stone, I wouldn’t have sought you out. Your emperor, on the other hand, is a different story. I’m sure you know that as well.”
The old general had been doubting the third prince’s words since he arrived at the border. People from Northern Qi in the area had often mentioned how Eastern Wu didn’t honored their promise. It couldn’t have been a simple rumor for so many people to believe it.
The old general coughed in the chilling wind. He was old. No matter how healthy he was, he wasn’t how he’d been when he was young. Nan Xun looked at him for a while before sighing. “Are you loyal to Eastern Wu, or its fool of an emperor? If it’s the emperor you serve, this conversation can end here. However, I hear that the general is a man of integrity. I don’t believe you are someone who’ll be blinded by power. Am I wrong to assume that, general?”
Nan Xun bluntly voiced his thoughts. He didn’t want to waste too much time. They risked getting into trouble if the conversation dragged on and the soldiers realized their general was missing.
The general frowned in deep thought, which gave Nan Xun hope that he’d said something right. He added, “You know better than anyone what kind of a man your emperor is. Are you willing to keep helping a tyrant exploit the regular folk? Do you want other countries to end up like Western Que? Overtime, you’ll be nothing but a weapon for Eastern Wu. It’s going to serve you better to join us. Northern Qi values talents. And our beliefs align with yours. It’s better - ”
“You’re just trying to get me to surrender,” the general sneered. “Do you think I’ll let you? The emperor isn’t a good leader, but I was born and raised in Eastern Wu. It’s my duty to guard this country. Do you expect me to raise my weapon at my own people?”
Nan Xun huffed. He didn’t expect the general to be so stubborn. His response was cut short by noises coming from afar. The old general knew it was his men. He opened his mouth to call out for them to capture Nan Xun, but suddenly a sword was at his throat, the cold metal touching his skin.
“The general should know that I wouldn’t have spent the time talking to you if I wanted your life,” said Nan Xun. “Since you’ve decided to serve an immoral master, I’m not going to keep up with this talk. We’ll meet again on battlefields. Of course, I hope you’ll think about what I said today. Farewell.”
He sheathed his sword and disappeared into the woods with his shadow guards.
A few Eastern Wu soldiers had finally found the general. The leader of the group asked worriedly, “General, are you alright?”
The general nodded but didn’t tell them the truth of what had happened. He claimed to be getting some fresh air.
Ji Bo was waiting outside when Nan Xun and the guards returned to the camp. He walked up to them and sighed in relief once he made sure Nan Xun wasn’t hurt. He dismissed the other soldiers and followed after Nan Xun.
Nan Xun was in a dark mood. He’d wanted to recruit the general, but the man refused to see reason. He felt as if there was a weight over his chest he couldn’t get rid of.
Ji Bo laughed when he heard Nan Xun described what had happened. “Your Highness should consider if the general would be worth recruiting if he readily agreed to your offer. It’s a good thing that he turned you down.”
“So you knew the general wasn’t going to say yes?” the second in command approached them and asked. “Then why did we seek him out?”
Ji Bo turned to Nan Xun with a smile. After some contemplation, Nan Xun said, “This is a test. We’ve exposed the emperor’s true nature and made the general question his decision. Then it’ll be easier to do what we’re gonna do.”
“That’s right.” Ji Bo was pleased. The admirable thing about Nan Xun was that he never let anger cloud his judgement.
“But he’s only a general. There are countless talented people in Northern Qi. We don’t need him. It’ll be bad if he surrenders but harbors ulterior motives.” The second in command was still worried, his forehead creased. Clearly he’d been agonizing over this issue.
Nan Xun shook his head. “No, he won’t submit to us so easily. Once he does, he’ll devote all of himself to us. He’s a principled man who’s gained a lot of respect from other people. He considers it beneath him to lie to us.”
Ji Bo agreed. The old general had made a name for himself at a young age. He was well known for having incorruptible integrity. People like him would never resort to deception. He wasn’t going to surrender to Northern Qi if he didn’t want to. They’d show the general the truth with their actions.
Jun Huang was worried about Nan Xun. No one was safe on battlefields. She’d been on edge every day, worried that he’d get hurt. Finally, she reached her limit. She sent for the House of Heavenly Fiends and told them to keep her updated about Nan Xun.
Nan Jihan frowned when he heard, disapproving of Jun Huang’s action. Her eyesight had been coming and going. She should take care of herself and not let herself worry too much. She could disregard her health for Nan Xun, but he wouldn’t let her. He’d promised Nan Xun to keep her safe, and he’d sworn to himself to do that as well.
Their conversations always ended in arguments. Jun Huang’s cold attitude bothered him, but he couldn’t do anything to change that. He’d thought about letting her do whatever she wanted, but he couldn’t just not care about her.
He sighed and gave up on convincing her. He asked Oleg Cragfiend to stay in the palace and check over Jun Huang every day. This time, Jun Huang conceded.
Nan Xun knew Jun Huang was worried, but he didn’t try to stop her from asking about him since she wouldn’t be able to stop caring. It worried him that Jun Huang hadn't mentioned anything about her health, but there was nothing he could do. This was too critical a moment for him to just leave. He could only keep a few experts around him as a way to reassure Jun Huang.
Qi Yun had been keeping an eye on the war. It pained him to hear that Jun Huang had been exchanging letters with Nan Xun still. During her absence, she’d never once written him a letter. He knew she was being treated in Southern Mu, but why couldn’t she write to him when she regularly wrote to Nan Xun?
Jealousy and envy made his eyes sting. He forced himself to calm down and discussed with the courtiers about the current situation. He ordered to increase the amount of forces and supplies sent to the border. He’d do anything to lessen Jun Huang’s worry so that she could get cured soon. He wished she’d remember what he’d done when she returned and commended him for a job well done.
After seeking out the general, the two nations had clashed a few more times. Nan Xun didn’t want to lead the charge, but Ji Bo insisted he must. They had to leave a good impression on the general. Nan Xun had no choice but to command his army at the frontline.
The general acted as if he had been completely unfazed. He spared no effort every time he launched an attack. Northern Qi, on the other hand, lost their aggression and opted for a more defensive approach.
Other people assumed something had happened to Northern Qi. Some even told the general to launch a frontal attack, thinking they stood a good chance of winning. However, the old general knew better. He snorted every time someone told him Northern Qi was losing.
Nan Xun’s message was clear, but it wasn’t easy to just give up on what he believed in.
Nan Xun knew the general was wavering. Northern Qi continued to engage Eastern Wu in smaller battles every once in a while. He’d ordered his men to be restrained and not to kill unnecessarily.
Some asked what Nan Xun meant by that. He simply said Eastern Wu would run out of supplies soon, while Northern Qi still had an abundance. Eastern Wu would open their city gates to them sooner or later.
That convinced the soldiers. Their morale became even higher.
Nan Xun heard that the old general was going to personally lead the army in the next attack. After some deliberation, he decided to challenge the general to a duel. His men were concerned, but they couldn’t change Nan Xun’s mind. They turned to Ji Bo for help. However, the strategist agreed with Nan Xun this time and considered the plan viable.
It was the first time Nan Xun and the general met on the battlefield. Nan Xun held up a long spear as he rode a tall horse, the red cloak over his shoulders rolled in the air, his eyes sharp enough to deter others while his stoic face softened by a slight smile. He saw the white-haired general wielding a scimitar from afar.
“Is the general willing to duel with me?” Nan Xun asked with a smile.
The general was no coward. He would not be deterred. Without a word, he rode toward Nan Xun.
Nan Xun narrowed his eyes and sent the horse galloping. They met at the middle of the two armies. The scimitar and the spear clashed, sending sparks into the air. The soldiers watching shielded their eyes reflexively.