“However, the fact that he was being so obvious about it makes it suspicious,” said Jun Huang.
Nan Xun frowned and continued, “That can be true. However, the man is smart. It may be his way of misleading people.”
Jun Huang didn’t respond. Nan Xun massaged her temples and added, “I read the letter Qi Yun sent you. One of the operation bases used to be the Minister of Rite’s manor, but it was then gifted to the Minister of Personnel.”
Jun Huang’s eyes widened in shock. Nan Xun continued, “I don’t know what their relationship is, but the manor has changed hands. Very few know about it. I happened to see the Minister of Personnel exit from the manor and found out about the transfer of ownership from his family.”
“Moreover,the Minister of Personnel was promoted by Ji Bo.” Nan Xun gave her the most convincing proof. Jun Huang was still digesting the new information Nan Xun gave her. He made some very good points.
“Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong about the Minister of Rites as well,” said Nan Xun. “If he’s completely innocent, he wouldn’t have been doing the Minister of Personnel’s bidding.”
It was clear who the mole was. However, further investigation was needed to figure out what the ministers had done. Jun Huang took out a sheet of paper and wrote down their conclusions. Nan Xun had his men deliver it to the imperial city.
Qi Yun was shocked when he received the letter. Enraged, he had the Minister of Personnel arrested, but spared the Minister of Rites.
As Jun Huang had written in the letter, the Minister of Rites was a coward. Even if he’d done something treacherous, it couldn’t have that big an impact. If both ministers were put in jail at the same time, people would panic. It was better that he dealt with the Minister of Personnel first.
The minister didn’t know he’d been exposed. He started to panic once he was thrown into the prison.
“I demand to talk to the prince!” he shot to his feet and exclaimed. The warden scoffed and turned a blind eye to him.
Qi Yun didn’t come, but the evidence against him did. The minister paled when he saw the documents and almost fainted.
Qi Yun took care of the rest without asking for Jun Huang’s help. He followed the trail left by the Minister of Personnel and identified a few more spies Ji Bo had planted. They belonged to different factions, but they were all people in power. Qi Yun made quick work of putting them in jail.
The imperial court was a lot more stable after that. Qi Yun had also established his authority and won people’s approval.
Knowing what Qi Yun had accomplished alleviated Jun Huang’s concern. At least the spies had been dealt with. They just had to wait for Ji Bo to make his move. The next few days went past uneventfully.
The day before Nan Xun and his soldiers were going to arrive at the border, Eastern Wu launched a few surprise assaults. Northern Qi’s troops at the border had relaxed their guard since their general-in-chief was coming, which allowed Eastern Wu to catch them off guard. They were forced to retreat, and a few cities were thus claimed by Eastern Wu.
Nan Xun heard the news upon his arrival. He didn’t say anything, but anyone who knew him could tell from his stoic face that he was furious.
Once everyone had made their report, Nan Xun looked up at the officers and dismissed everyone except for the officer in charge. “It’s your fault that Northern Qi lost the cities. What do you have to say?”
The officer paled. He wasn’t sure how he should defend himself. He lowered his head.
Nan Xun scoffed. “If you’ve kept your guard up, Eastern Wu wouldn’t have won. You are to blame for the blow on our morale. Don’t try to talk your way out of it.”
“You’re careless, and our enemies exploited that.”
“There’s no use scolding him now,” said Jun Huang. She approached them and saw the officer’s face flushed red at Nan Xun’s reprimanding. He looked pitiful. “Why don’t we think about how we should take the cities back?”
The officer had seen Jun Huang before. He knew about her relationship with Nan Xun. He sighed in relief and asked with a smile, “I hear that you were ill. Are you feeling better now?”
“I’m fine,” Jun Huang said with a smile.
Nan Xun shot the officer a glare and pulled a chair for Jun Huang. “Tell the others to come in,” he said to the officer. “We’ll come up with a plan.”
The officer nodded earnestly and ran outside, which got a chuckle out of Jun Huang. Nan Xun turned to her with remorse in his eyes.
“Losing the cities isn’t ideal, but it happened too suddenly for us to do anything,” Jun Huang said reassuringly. “We just have to take the cities back.”
Nan Xun breathed out slowly, letting go of his negative thoughts. He smoothed a hand down Jun Huang’s back.
They stopped talking when the officer returned with the other officers. They glanced at Jun Huang curiously, surprised to see a woman in the camp. However, Nan Xun’s frigid gaze deterred them from making any comments.
Nan Xun led them to the map and crossed out the cities that’d been lost with a writing brush. His unspoken message was clear.
The officers were silent. They didn’t dare speak up lest they anger Nan Xun.
Nan Xun hadn’t expected them to say anything. He pointed out directly, “These are our priorities. You’ll make amends for your mistakes.”
They tried to formulate a plan. Jun Huang quietly listened to their discussion. She didn’t know much about battle strategies. Bored, she picked up a book and started reading.
She glanced at Nan Xun. He calmly led the discussion with a finger pointing at the map on the wall. The sun streamed in from outside the tent and cast him in a warm glow. Jun Huang’s heart skipped a beat.
As if sensing her gaze, Nan Xun turned to meet her eyes. Warmed, he straightened up and beckoned Jun Huang over.
Jun Huang obliged, putting on a faint smile. Nan Xun’s eyes turned soft, and gone was his imposing presence. It was out of character for him, but the officers knew his tenderness was reserved for Jun Huang alone.
“We’ve lost the high ground to Eastern Wu, which poses the biggest challenge,” Nan Xun continued after helping Jun Huang sit down next to him. “Our priority is to take it back.”
It was easier said than done. The officers could feel Nan Xun’s stare like a physical weight. They knew the high ground was easy to defend but extremely difficult to attack. No wonder Nan Xun would be furious at them for losing it.
“It’s not that difficult to take it back,” Jun Huang said after some hesitation.
All eyes were on her. If she was nervous at all, she didn’t let it show.
“The high ground is easy to defend, but people who don’t know the terrain may not be able to make the most of the territorial advantage,” she explained. “If I remember right, there’s a cliff not far from the area. When the wind is on our side, we’ll sneak in.”
“However, it’ll be a dangerous mission. We need brave warriors who can think on their feet.”
The officers exchanged a look. They realized that Jun Huang was proposing a strategy the ancient people had employed. It was appropriate for their situation.
Nan Xun nodded in approval and added, “It’s a good idea, but we can’t control the wind. If we don’t come up with a detailed enough plan, things may go wrong.”
“We should keep tabs on the wind,” continued Nan Xun. “When the wind blows in the right direction, we’ll set their camp on fire. They won’t be expecting that. Then we’ll have a few elites sneak in and attack them from both sides.”
The officers had known Nan Xun and his reputation. They were even more impressed when they heard his plan. It made them feel inferior.
They discussed the plan and filled in the details. Although the plan was risky, it was doable. The meeting didn’t end until the sky went dark.
One of the officers went outside and realized that it was getting late. Nan Xun and Jun Huang had traveled a long distance and needed rest. The officers excused themselves and gave them their privacy.
Even someone as strong as Nan Xun would get tired. He rubbed at his forehead, his temples throbbing. When Jun Huang returned after asking for some food, she noted Nan Xun’s exhaustion. She sighed.