Nan Xun got busier, and he received more visitors. Jun Huang was often left on her own. She sometimes passed the time by looking at the clouds in the sky.
When Nan Xun came out to find Jun Huang, she was deep in thought with a hand supporting her head. He put his arms around her from behind, framing her slim body. “I plan to bring the old general back together to his family.”
Jun Huang turned to face him. She knew that Nan Xun wanted the best for the old man despite his calm tone. “And?”
Nan Xun met her eyes and took in every change in her expression. “The general is a great hero of our generation, but he is old. It doesn’t seem right to force him to stay at the war-ravaged border. I’ve decided to send him and his family to a peaceful place to live the rest of their lives. What do you think?”
Jun Huang gave his plan some consideration. “Go ahead. The general’s family is still in Eastern Wu, protected by people I’ve assigned. They’ll be happy to reunite with the general. However, it’s not going to be easy to get them out of Eastern Wu. Do you have a plan?”
“I do,” responded Nan Xun. “Don’t worry.”
Jun Huang nodded without a word. They stayed in the garden until night fell and lamps were lit before returning to their temporary home.
Nan Xun’s shadow guard showed up out of nowhere. Jun Huang was going to leave the room, but Nan Xun caught her arm to stop her. “You don’t have to.”
The shadow guard knew Jun Huang. He wasn’t going to argue after Nan Xun had given his permission. “General, we caught a man sneaking into your tent last night. Mister Ji Bo interrogated him and found out that he was working for Eastern Wu. He was also the man who tried to kill you.”
“Is he from Eastern Wu?” Nan Xun asked.
The shadow guard shook his head. “He isn’t. He confessed to being one of our own and had been seduced by the rewards Eastern Wu promised him. After interrogation, he gave us a few more names. Mister Ji Bo had them arrested. What does the general intend to do with them?”
Nan Xun didn’t expect the problem to be resolved so quickly. He’d been away for some time, and the traitors had been caught. It seemed as if things were coming to an end. However, they all knew things were only getting started.
Nan Xun narrowed his sharp eyes and said coldly, “Tell Mister Ji Bo to tighten the control over the army. Since we’ve identified the traitors, we should use this opportunity to deal with those who harbor malicious intentions as well.”
The old general’s family was soon taken to the border by the House of Heavenly Fiends. The organization had suffered some casualties, but all his family members were safe. He burst into tears when he saw his wife and children, silently pledging to pay Nan Xun back for his help.
The old general claimed to have killed Nan Xun. All of Eastern Wu rejoiced for the good news. He used the opportunity to resign from his duty. The Eastern Wu emperor was unwilling to let him go, but the general insisted.
The emperor had no choice but to let the general leave. He did try to capture the general’s family again as hostage, but this time, Nan Xun was prepared. With his help, the general successfully fled with his family and went into hiding in a remote village. He wanted to live the rest of his life free of violence and bloodshed.
News about Nan Xun’s “death” reached the Northern Qi army as well. Morale plummeted, and many were thinking of abandoning their post.
Nan Xun was their backbone. As long as he lived, they feared nothing. His death made the soldiers panic. They were as good as dead without their commander.
“Is the general really dead?” It wasn’t the first time the second in command asked Ji Bo the question. He couldn’t believe the brave and unbeatable man would be killed so easily. His eyes went red and he gritted his teeth hard enough to make a squeak.
Ji Bo glanced at the second in command and looked back down at the map on the table. He sighed. “We can’t know for sure, but… if the old general said so, it’s a real possibility.”
The second in command paled, feeling a lump in his throat. He was a great fighter who had stayed at the border for so long his face turned red, but now it seemed he was on the verge of tears.
Ji Bo looked at him quietly. “We mustn’t be without a leader. What do you plan to do?”
The second in command looked up at Ji Bo like he was looking at his worst enemy. “What the hell do you mean?”
“Don’t you know what I mean? Are you not willing to take his place? Prince Nan may be dead. If the enemies attack now, we’ll be in big trouble. You should request to become the general-in-chief and get everyone through this turbulent time.”
As soon as Ji Bo finished, the second in command grabbed him by the collar, his arms trembling in anger and his tendons popping up with the sheer force he was using.
“Have you heard yourself? We don’t know if the general is dead yet, and you’re already trying to find a new master? Don’t forget how well the general has treated you! How can you do that to him?!”
He looked like a hurt beast with his bloodshot eyes, ready to tear out his enemies’ throat.
Ji Bo calmly met his gaze and chuckled. He broke the second in command’s hold in his moment of surprise and said, “Prince Nan is fortunate to have a confidante like you.”
The second in command laughed sharply and took a couple steps back, shaking his head. “You’re wrong. You don’t know how much the general has helped me. Everything I have comes from him. He treats me like family. How can I betray him? Besides, the only man who can be Northern Qi’s general is Nan Xun. No one can replace him.”
Ji Bo looked at him with appreciation and patted him on the shoulder. “Prince Nan has told me you are the only one who will never betray him. Anyone can be a traitor, but not you. This gentleman has assumed that Prince Nan’s faith in you was blind. I tested your loyalty so that we may proceed with our plan. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
The second in command visibly brightened when he figured out what Ji Bo meant. He took Ji Bo’s wrist compulsively. “Do you mean the general is still alive?”
Ji Bo looked at the nervous young man, then at their surroundings. Once he made sure no one was around, he explained what he and Nan Xun were planning. The second in command sighed in relief, his features softening.
“But you have to keep this a secret,” Ji Bo said seriously and went on to explain his reasoning. “Although you don’t intend to replace Nan Xun, there are dissenting voices in the troops. They have to be dealt with. Prince Nan has faked his death so that we can root out the potential traitors before they grow enough to harm us.”
Despite being a soldier all his life, the second in command could tell there were a few officers who weren’t entirely loyal. There was no telling how many there were exactly, but this would be an opportunity to identify them.
He nodded and promised, “Of course. However, I hope you’ll tell me everything in future operations. I wish to contribute as well.”
“That won’t be long from now. I need your help tonight.” Ji Bo’s voice was cold enough to chill the bones.
Night fell. North wind swept through the camp, bringing dust into the air. Ji Bo sat in his tent drinking tea with a calm expression. The man sitting across from him put on a servile smile, but his hand was on the sword at his waist as a silent threat.
“Why don’t you let the others join us as well?” Ji Bo put down his tea cup and asked, arching an eyebrow and curving his lips into a mocking smile.
The man broke into laughter. “It’s said that the gentleman is a rare talent. I can tell you are indeed clever. You must know what I’m here for, don’t you?”
“What if I say I don’t know?” Ji Bo met the man’s gaze, his voice steely and proud. He resembled a beast lurking in the dark with the backdrop of a brewing storm outside.
Silence stretched. Another man entered the tent. The two of them bore a resemblance - brothers. The wind he brought in lifted the tail of Ji Bo’s turquoise robe.
His expression was still calm even when the two men raised their swords at him. He smiled, amused, unaffected by their threat.
“We don’t intend to lie to you, and you don’t need any explanation from us. We only have one question: Are you willing to write a letter to Prince Qi Yun and ask him to make us the general-in-chief?” The man stared at Ji Bo, his eyes filled with a great hunger for power.
Ji Bo covered a laugh. “In what way do you think you can match up to General Nan Xun?”