“When will the war ends, Nan Xun?” Jun Huang said, breaking the silence.
Nan Xun rested his chin over her head. “Soon.”
Jun Huang didn’t question him. She hoped everything would be resolved soon. Then she would settle down in a quiet place with Nan Xun, leading a peaceful life with him. That was her idea of a happy ending.
They held each other for a long time until Nan Xun let go of Jun Huang and guided her to the bed. He covered her with a blanket.
“How is the plan going?” Jun Huang asked, staring at Nan Xun.
“I had a meeting with the officers. It seems that the snowfall would continue. We’ll take action in a few days. However, we won’t be able to scale down from the cliff in such harsh weather.”
Jun Huang nodded. They had to take the high ground back, but they weren’t going to risk soldiers' lives unnecessarily. Nan Xun massaged her temples and murmured reassurance to her, telling her to rest.
The snow did continue. While Nan Xun and his men were conserving strength, Ji Bo had been making preparations.
“Will this work, Gentleman Ji Bo?” the burly man asked with a hammer in his hand.
Ji Bo walked among the group. At the front, a few soldiers carved a path through the snow. The others walked along the path. Although the snow had been pushed to the side, every once in a while some of them would trip and fall.
As he spoke, the burly man hadn’t forgotten to take care of the scholarly man, worried that his companion would fall. The scholarly man lifted his robe with a hand and put the other hand on the burly man’s shoulder. They trudged through the snow with some difficulty.
“Of course it will,” Ji Bo said faintly and urged the others to hurry.
The burly man scratched his head. “Then why didn’t you take more people with you?”
Ji Bo stopped, his gaze sweeping through everyone. “This plan is on a need-to-know basis.”
“He means there are spies in our ranks,” said the scholarly man. It was a statement rather than a question. His breaths fogged up the air, which made his face seem even paler. His forehead was covered in sweat.
Ji Bo gave them a noncommittal smile. “Don’t tell anyone anything. I picked you to come with me because I trust you.”
He kept walking.
The scholarly man and his more strongly-built friend fell to the end of the group. He scoffed at Ji Bo’s back. Whether he trusts us is another story. What’s more important is that he can then kill everyone who knows about the plan if it’s exposed.
The burly man didn’t know what his friend was thinking. Noting the frown on his face, the burly man suggested that they took a short break. The scholarly man threw him a glance and said, “There’s no need. Let’s keep going.”
The burly man meekly kept pace with him.
They soon reached their destination - a lake that had been frozen over after the snowfall. No one knew how thick the ice was. They stayed some distance away.
Ji Bo knelt down to look at the water under the ice. He nodded to himself and beckoned the soldiers over. They cracked the ice with an ice pick and a hammer. A gust of cold air shot through the cracks.
“Fill the barrels with water and carry them back to the camp,” ordered Ji Bo.
“Won’t the water freeze over on our way back?” asked the burly man.
Ji Bo gave him a look without a word. The scholarly man checked the barrels and huffed. The burly man hurried to his side. Inside each barrel was another barrel. The one outside was filled with oil. The burly man made the connections and slapped his forehead in realization.
“I didn’t ask you here to be spectators,” Ji Bo said, looking up at them.
The burly man nodded and joined the scholarly man in filling the barrels with water. The soldiers would then carry the barrels back.
Ji Bo didn’t stay for long. The burly man and the scholarly man stopped what they were doing.
The scholarly man looked at the high ground. The burly man asked, “What do you think he’s doing?”
The scholarly man masked his doubtful look and shook his head.
Ji Bo ascended the city wall. Once night fell, he ordered the soldiers to carry the water to the top and pour it down. It was even colder at night. The water froze into ice as soon as it touched the air. The ice thickened until the city wall was encased in an impenetrable layer of ice.
Ji Bo smirked in spite of the cutting winds, his eyes dark. The only one who knew about what he’d done was the men he’d taken to the lake.
He put some soldiers on watch and walked away.
Nan Xun left the camp immediately after Jun Huagn fell asleep.
“How is it going?” asked Nan Xun.
“Everything is in position,” said an officer. “It’s snowed a lot. We won’t be spotted with the camouflage.”
Nan Xun nodded and entered the main tent with the officers. There were a good number of people gathered here, and every one of them was an expert who could fight a hundred men on their own. They changed into white battle attire, awaiting Nan Xun’s order.
Nan Xun and the officers approached the high ground with the white snow as their cover. There was no moon tonight. All anyone could see in the dark was the vast, boundless white.
They made their way to the city wall quickly. An officer put a hand on the wall to support himself. After a stab of cold, he realized that his hand was stuck.
The officers’ muttering caught Nan Xun’s attention. He walked up to them and saw that the officer’s hand had turned red from the cold while it remained stuck to the ice.
Nan Xun’s pupils contracted as realization dawned on him. The wall was under a thick layer of ice. There was nothing for them to grab onto. It would be impossible for them to climb the wall.
Still, they had to first free the officer’s hand.
The officer was sweating profusely. His hand burned. Nan Xun took out a dagger, which almost made the officer collapse in panic.
Nan Xun didn’t pay his reaction any attention. He held the dagger to the officer’s hand. The officer thought the general was going to cut his hand, but that wasn’t what Nan Xun was trying to do. He cut a rough shape around the hand with the dagger.
What came next required patience. Nan Xun didn’t want to waste his time. He handed the dagger to another officer. “Cut through the ice following the line to free him.”
He took some of his men to walk the parameter. All the walls were covered in ice. They couldn’t get into the city.
They gave up on their original plan. The officer was finally released from the ice. His hand was so numb it was as if it didn’t belong to him. He asked Nan Xun why he had been stuck.
Nan Xun gave him a cool glance. “Your hand was warm when you touched the ice, which melted the ice particles. Since you didn’t take your hand off in time, the water froze over and substantially lowered the temperature of your hand. As a result, your hand was stuck.”
Everyone nodded in understanding and stayed away from the icy wall. Nan Xun glanced at it resignedly. He had no choice but to regroup and leave.
The next morning, Ji Bo ascended the city wall and asked the scouts if they’d noticed anything. The scouts said no. Curious, Ji Bo walked out of the city with a few men.
It didn’t take long for someone to spot something. “Sir, I’ve sound some tracks.”
Everyone made their way to him. The soldier brushed the snow on the surface to the side, revealing tainted snow with different sets of footprints. More than one person had been here. There were also marks left by a blade on the wall, which further proved that there had been an attempt at breaking into the city.
Ji Bo hadn’t managed to capture Nan Xun, but he was proud to have stopped Nan Xun’s ambush with a simple trick.
“It’s risky to march out now,” a man spoke up.
“How so?” Ji Bo asked with an eyebrow raised. He was in a good mood.
“The weather is too harsh...”
“Well, Nan Xun and his men tried to launch a surprise attack last night. They must still be on their way back. We’ll be able to catch them off guard and defeat them easily. Why shouldn’t we do it?”
The man wanted to say something, but the others all agreed with Ji Bo’s analysis. He shut his mouth. Ji Bo gathered a troop and led them out himself.
They caught up with Nan Xun and his men when they were going to make some food. Nan Xun spotted Ji Bo as well. He and his soldiers mounted their horses in a rush, but maintained their composure and didn’t flee.
Ji Bo scoffed. What an arrogant fool!
Nan Xun and his men hadn’t had the time to rest. They soon lost the upper hand and kept retreating. Ji Bo and his soldiers chased them doggedly.