“How can you be blamed? You’ve given me days of companionship and peace. It’s good enough for me.” Jun Huang continued with a decisiveness that was rare for most women, “It’s only right for you to return to the army. We don’t know who is pulling the strings, which is exactly why we must stay calm and cautious. The most important thing now is to keep the army under control.”
Nan Xun’s heart grew heavier. Jun Huang had always been understanding, but her calm acceptance still surprised him. He didn’t know if he should be glad or sad. Nevertheless, words weren’t going to mean much now. he would make time for her after things were settled.
Ji Bo wasn’t surprised that Nan Xun was returning to the army. When Nan Xun sought him out, they had a serious discussion about what would happen next.
Early the next morning, Nan Xun led everyone back to the camp. The officers cheered and celebrated his arrival like he was a ray of light shining through a dark day. Nan Xun stood tall as he gave them a pep talk.
Returning to his tent, he saw Jun Huang, dressed in regular soldier armor, sitting at a table reading books. She looked a little ridiculous, but he couldn’t find it in himself to feel amused.
Hearing footsteps approaching, Jun Huang glanced at him and went back to reading. Nan Xun didn’t mind. He held her from behind and rested his chin on her head, breathing in the faint fragrance coming from her hair. “Originally I was going to leave you in the village, but I worried that there might be dangers. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do to bring you here. I hope you won’t blame me.”
Jun Huang chuckled without a word, but Nan Xun had learned to read her nonverbal expressions. He looked at her delicate profile, idly considering teasing her, but before he could reach out, Ji Bo’s voice came from outside the tent. Nan Xun put his hand down and cleared his throat before calling Ji Bo to come in.
Ji Bo cupped his hands. He didn’t mind Jun Huang’s presence as he asked, “What does Your Highness plan to do?”
“Catch them off guard with a swift attack and be done with it.” Nan Xun’s answer was brief and to the point. Ji Bo thought for a moment and nodded in approval. He didn’t ask any questions since Nan Xun didn’t seem eager to explain.
He excused himself, leaving Nan Xun and Jun Huang in the tent. Jun Huang put down her book and asked quietly, “Do you plan to launch an attack tonight?”
Surprise flashed through Nan Xun’s eyes. He went up to Jun Huang. “How do you know?”
“You’re going to catch them off guard, so you’re launching an attack before they can get prepared. They’re going to hear about your return soon, which will make them wary and prompt them to plan accordingly. You also said you wanted to eliminate them with one swift attack. That won’t be possible if they are prepared. Therefore, it’s best that you move out tonight.” Jun Huang arched a challenging eyebrow at him. “Am I right?”
Nan Xun’s usual stoic look softened. “My wife is indeed smart and talented. No one in the world knows me better than you do.”
Jun Huang started when she heard Nan Xun call her his wife, but she quickly recovered. Her smile dropped and she said worriedly, “It’s best that you make a move tonight, but… it’s still going to be dangerous. I know you aren’t going to take me with you. I’ll be worried, however. Please remember not to be hasty. Look out for ambush and protect yourself.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll return safe and victorious,” Nan Xun promised, wrapping his fingers around Jun Huang’s arm.
Jun Huang looked down at his hand and smiled at him. After a pause, she said in a low voice, “Godspeed.”
She walked out of the tent. Nan Xun quietly watched her go. Only she could draw his eyes even in a set of armors he’d gotten familiar with for years.
Only after she was out of his sight did his smile drop. His eyes turned icy - it was a side of him he hadn’t showed and didn’t want to show Jun Huang.
Nan Xun summoned his shadow guard. “Have someone follow her to keep her safe. If anything happens, you’ll be held accountable.”
The shadow guard made a sound of assent and vanished. Nan Xun went off to prepare for the attack.
Night fell. Nan Xun led a troop to Eastern Wu’s territory. He scoffed and took a bow from his personal guard. He shot at the soldier on the watchtower before he could react. The arrow split through the air, and he was dead. Nan Xun motioned at the soldiers behind him to split up and surround the camp from both sides. Unfortunately, they were soon discovered.
Nan Xun didn’t plan to stay for a large scale battle. He and his men killed Eastern Wu’s vanguards and vanished into the night before their main force could charge out.
The surprise attack caught Eastern Wu off guard, successfully putting their enemies on edge. Nan Xun led the troops back to the camp. When he jumped off the horse, he spotted Jun Huang waiting for him. It warmed his heart. He wanted nothing but to pull her into his arms now, but he knew he had to control himself and not bring any troubles to Jun Huang.
Once he’d handed the horse to a soldier, he took Jun Huang into his tent. Jun Huang hurriedly checked him for wounds. Nan Xun caught her hands and shook his head. “I‘m not hurt. Don’t worry.”
Jun Huang sighed in relief. Noting his grave expression, she asked with a frown, “What’s wrong?”
“Our ambush tonight is successful. That tells us one thing: there’s a mole in our ranks. I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s the only explanation. If Eastern Wu truly has the ability to predict our moves, why was there no resistance this time? I’ve intentionally keep my men in the dark about the ambush, and look what happened.”
“The men I’ve assigned to keep an eye on Eastern Wu also stopped sending us intels. Something must have happened to them. They may be dead.”
Nan Xun’s face tightened. They’d been plotting against Eastern Wu, but now it suddenly dawned on them that they weren’t the chess players, but one of the pawns. The mastermind behind everything was still an unknown entity to them.
It was imperative for them to find the mole. If they didn’t, none of their plans would work, and Northern Qi might continue to lose.
Jun Huang thought quietly. Suddenly, she looked up and said seriously, “If so, I’d like to go to Eastern Wu to investigate.”
Nan Xun started and shook his head without hesitation. “No, you’re not going. There are a lot of people who can do that in the army. You haven’t fully recovered yet. How am I going to let you take the risk? I know you want to help me, but you have to consider what you can do. You’re talented and clever, but you’re a woman who hasn’t received systematic training. It doesn’t make sense for you to take on the task.”
Jun Huang looked back at Nan Xun calmly. Nan Xun quieted down. He’d forgotten how stubborn Jun Huang could be. She wouldn’t change her mind just because other people said so. If he went on, he’d be hurting their relationship for nothing.
Nan Xun thought back to their previous arguments. He didn’t know what he should do.
“I understand your concerns, but I’ve thought it through. I’ve been to Eastern Wu before, and I can always ask for the House of Heavenly Fiends for help.” Jun Huang added, “Brute force isn’t the important thing for this task. A strategic mind and an unwavering level head are. If you think about it logically, am I not the best candidate for the mission?”
Nan Xun sighed. He knew Jun Huang was trying to persuade him, but what she said was true. Given the circumstances, she was his best option. However, he didn’t want her to take the risk.
Jun Huang patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of myself and return as soon as I find out the truth. It won’t take long.”
Nan Xun couldn’t come up with a counter argument. He sighed in resignation and nodded in the end. He wanted to spend some time with her before her departure, but Jun Huang pulled away as soon as he reached out for her.
“I didn’t want to run into our hidden foe, so it’s best I leave tonight. I’ll be able to sneak through Eastern Wu’s camp, which will save me the trouble of a detour.”
“I know there’s nothing I can say to change your mind, but are you really going to go on your own? We don’t know what’s going to happen. I fear you may run into something unexpected.”
Nan Xun didn’t care how panicked he sounded. Nothing scared him more than knowing Jun Huang was in danger.