“We can’t achieve our goal overnight,” said Jun Huang. “Don’t push yourself too hard. We only just arrived. They aren’t going to say anything even if you rest for the day. Why are you doing this to yourself?”
She reprimanded Nan Xun because she cared. She went up to massage his shoulders and rub the tension out of his muscles.
Nan Xun looked up at her, his eyes were beautiful under the candlelight. Jun Huang reached out to touch his brows. He took her wrist and pulled her into his arms, resting his chin on her shoulder, his expression concerned.
“He who stands among the trees can’t see the woods,” he muttered. “I’ve been telling you to rest as well, but you’re as stubborn as I am. It scares me to see the toll the journey has taken on you. I don’t think I deserve being scolded by you, but at the same time I hope you’ll be scolding me until the end of our lives.”
Jun Huang snorted softly, her lips curved into a loving smile and her eyes crinkling.
Hearing a sigh, she pulled back and straightened up, looking at Nan Xun’s stoic face. “What’s the matter?”
Nan Xun was silent for a moment. “I suspect that Ji Bo may be with the Eastern Wu’s army. If that’s the case, we have a difficult fight ahead of us. Ji Bo’s clever. We have to recognize that even though we’re not on the same side. I’m not sure things will go our way.”
Jun Huang didn’t respond. She’d been thinking about that same thing. It defied logic that Eastern Wu should launch an attack when their imperial court was still in chaos. Ji Bo must be responsible, somehow. He knew Northern Qi and Nan Xun well. Whatever plan they came up with wouldn’t surprise Ji Bo. The thought had been weighing her down. She wasn’t sure if they would succeed, either.
If Ji Bo had simply instigated an open conflict between Eastern Wu and Northern Qi after his escape, that wouldn’t be that big a problem. If he’d become Eastern Wu’s strategist, however, they would have to be wary.
After a long stretch of silence, Jun Huang reassured gently, “Don’t worry too much. There’s no changing what has happened. We just have to keep our guard up. Ji Bo’s but a man no matter how smart he is. He may know all the theories, but he’s not a fighter. You, on the other hand, are the war god of Northern Qi. We’ll win.”
Nan Xun gave her a small smile, his concerns subsided somewhat.
It was getting late. They had dinner and retired to their bed, holding each other as they slept. They had a good night’s rest until the day broke.
Meanwhile, Ji Bo was in the Eastern Wu’s camp, joined by the officers.
“What do you want to talk to us about, advisor? It’s late. What did you interrupt our sleep for?” A bearded, burly man scoffed. He was the general of Eastern Wu. His reputation was no match for Nan Xun’s, but he was known for his long winning streak.
Ji Bo’s face fell and his hand tightened around his tea cup. He shot the general a cool glance.
The general had never been subjected to such contempt from a man as physically weak as Ji Bo. He hit the table hard. The air was thick with tension.
Ji Bo took a deep breath and drank some tea, barely managing to put on a calm face. He almost splashed tea at the general. “Apologies for disrupting your rest. News came that Nan Xun had arrived at the border. Things aren’t going to go as smoothly from now on.”
“What do you propose we do?” a scholarly-looking man asked. His fair face made him look breakable, but he was known as a ruthless fiend who killed people without batting an eye.
The burly man had wanted to exert dominance over Ji Bo, but the scholarly man stopped him with a pointed look. He didn’t have to say anything for the burly man to get his message.
They were good friends. The scholarly man was cruel, but clever. The burly man didn’t want to shut his mouth like his friend had suggested, but he wasn’t going to damage their friendship for an outsider.
“I’ve been with Nan Xun and his men for a long time. I know the way he thinks. They’re at a disadvantage at the moment. Their first step is very likely to be reclaiming the high ground.”
Ji Bo made his speculation based on his understanding of Nan Xun.
The scholarly man was quiet. Every officer in attendance was thinking about his words. It was natural for any generals to reclaim territory they’d lost. However, the high ground gave them great territorial advantage. Nan Xun would have to be a fool to make a move now.
“What do you mean?”
“I know it’s difficult for them to attack us, but I believe Nan Xun won’t stop until he drives us away,” Ji Bo said seriously. “As for the how, I think they’ll drop from above.”
He led the others to the sand table and pointed at a cliff near the high ground.
The burly man laughed, “You’re a strategist who’s never fought in battles yourself. I don’t blame you for not knowing anything about warfare. Don’t you think you’ve overestimated them?”
“How so?” Ji Bo asked calmly. The burly man scoffed derisively.
“Nan Xun has to be an arrogant fool to do that,” explained the scholarly man when he noted Ji Bo’s anger. “Let’s disregard first how they’re going to scale down from the cliff. The act of climbing up the cliff is a difficult enough task in itself. Moreover, we’ve set up watchtowers in the area. If they are to drop down from the cliff, we’ll be able to shoot them down with bows and arrows. They’ll be painting a target on their backs.”
The others quieted down when they saw Ji Bo’s darkening expression. The scholarly man said with a smile, “We’ll keep our guard up, though. Don’t worry.”
The officers shut their mouths despite their dissatisfaction. Ji Bo knew they were resisting his authority. He looked at them without a word.
The scholarly man realized that the discussion wouldn’t yield them anything useful. He spoke up, “It’s getting late. You should rest, Gentleman Ji Bo. It’ll be bad if you fall ill. Please excuse us.”
He walked out of the tent. The others exchanged a look and followed him, paying no attention to Ji Bo.
Ji Bo gritted his teeth and watched them go. In a fit of anger, he threw his teacup to the ground. The tent fell silent after the clink.
It took some time for him to calm down. He inhaled deeply and summoned his personal shadowguard. “What’s going on in the imperial city?”
“The royal clan hasn’t settled on a successor for the throne,” the shadowguard said honestly. He knew Ji Bo was in a bad mood, so he made his report brief and to the point. “Members of the royal clan are getting out of line. If not for the patriarch, the brothers would have started killing each other. In order to increase his chance of becoming the emperor, one of the scions sought the patriarch out and asked to come to the border to gain experience.”
Ji Bo frowned. “And the patriarch agreed?”
The shadowguard nodded without a word. Ji Bo cursed under his breath and swept the teapot and the rest of the teacups off the table. They shattered.
Ji Bo didn’t consider the scion to be that much of a problem. The border was barren. Those in the royal clan led a luxurious life with no understanding of the suffering in the world. The scion would flee as soon as he saw the place.
To Ji Bo’s surprise, the scion wasn’t deterred when he arrived. In fact, his curiosity was piqued. The day after his arrival, he greeted Ji Bo politely and left with a group of officers.
Ji Bo didn’t have the time to care about him. He was worried about a surprise attack from Nan Xun.
Northern Qi’s army marched out. Ji Bo shot to his feet when he heard, but a young man came up to him before he could do anything.
“Gentleman Ji Bo.” The young man smiled pleasantly. There was a youthful confidence to him.
Ji Bo frowned. He didn’t immediately recognized the young man since he was armored, but the young man soon took out a token and cleared his throat. “The patriarch is considerate. Knowing that you’re a strategist who may not have seen deaths with your own eyes, and that I am willing to serve my nation, he put me in charge of the battle today. If you come with, you don’t have to do anything. If you don’t want to do as the patriarch suggested, you may stay in the camp. I won’t blame you.”
That caught Ji Bo off guard. He stared at the scion with a blank look. The scion interpreted that as fear. He lifted his chin and huffed.
The battlehorn had been sounded. Ji Bo had no choice but to nod in agreement. “If so, this gentleman will follow you and learn from the experience.”
Delighted by the compliment, the scion laughed heartily and walked away. Ji Bo silently followed after him.