Jun Huang followed Oleg Cragfiend and the other medics to the infirmary - a simple tent lined with crude beds. Soldiers whose clothes were stained with blood lay there, panting in pain. Jun Huang’s throat tightened. She was close to tears.
It wasn’t necessarily out of sympathy. She’d simply never stared death in the eyes and felt it weigh on her like a physical weight. She didn’t know how to deal with it. Oleg Cragfiend patted her shoulder in understanding and told her not to think too much.
Jun Huang spent day and night in the tent. Her silver dress had been tainted by blood, but she didn’t seem to care. Things were most difficult at night. Every now and then there would be soldiers whose conditions worsened suddenly. Their scream was a terrible thing. They needed immediate treatment. Sometimes, when things got particularly bad, she wouldn’t even have the time to drink water.
As a woman, Jun Huang did receive some favorable treatment from the soldiers. Those who were used to making lewd jokes usually fell silent when Jun Huang was around, which she appreciated.
There was a soldier who was particularly attentive to Jun Huang. Some time ago, he hurt his arm. Jun Huang had been the only one available, so she was the one who patched him up. Since then, the soldier often offered her help and retrieved water for her.
Today, Jun Huang and Oleg Cragfiend had saved someone who almost died. She felt lightheaded and weak in the knees. She sat down on the ground, rubbing at her forehead.
“Are you tired?” a man asked. “You should return to your tent and rest.”
Jun Huang looked up to see the young soldier she’d treated before and gave him a weak smile. “I’m fine. I’ll return after a bit.”
“Why don’t I walk you back? It’s late. It’s not safe for you to go on your own.” The soldier blushed as he spoke. Junn Huang was too tired to notice. She nodded carelessly and waited until she felt a little better.
The soldier ran up to Jun Huang when she was going to get to her feet. Worried that he’d dirty her clothes, he wiped his hands clean before helping her up, a bashful smile tugging his lips.
Jun Huang gave him a polite smile. She assumed the young soldier had simply seen too little women in the army; hence, the shyness.
After they’d walked some distance, the soldier came to a stop. Jun Huang gave him a questioning look. “What is it?” she asked quietly. “If you have something to take care of, you may go. The camp isn’t far from here.”
“That… that’s not it. I have things to tell you.” The soldier’s face was flushed red. Even under the dim light of the candles, Jun Huang could see his expression clearly. She frowned. She had an inkling about what the soldier was going to say, but she wasn’t sure. She waited silently for him to speak up.
Eventually, the soldier seemed to have made up his mind. With bright, focused eyes, he took a deep breath and said, “It’s impressive how devoted you are to bettering the world. You’re a heroine who isn’t any lesser than any men. After knowing you for a few days, I came to see you as a celestial descending to the earth from heaven. You leave such a deep impression. I… I may not be that smart or talented, but I want to keep you safe and drive all darkness away… I… adore you. Will you be with me?”
His voice became so faint it almost got lost in the wind, but Jun Huang heard everything clearly against the silent backdrop. She wasn’t exactly surprised. With a frown, she opened her mouth to explain, but then Nan Xun had come to find her. He pulled Jun Huang close with a dark look on his face.
The young soldier looked at them in shock, too stunned to say anything. Jun Huang sighed. “I’m with Nan Xun. Thank you for your appreciation, but I can’t accept it. I hope you understand. You’ll find the right woman one day.”
The soldier didn’t know about their relationship before. He could see how dark Nan Xun’s expression was and how lovingly Jun Huang was looking at Nan Xun. He felt ashamed, but even more overpowering was the sense of loss.
Nan Xun was his general. He could never compare. He lingered a little while before walking away.
“He’s gone already. Why are you still looking at him?” Nan Xun spoke unhappily. He was jealous that Jun Huang hadn’t turned to him.
Jun Huang turned around and said quietly, “Do you really feel nothing about the loss of your soldiers?”
Nan Xun didn’t immediately react. He sighed. “What good will it do if I get devastated for every death? There will always be casualties in war, especially at the border. I’ve encountered one too many deaths, and I couldn’t not get used to it.”
Jun Huang fell silent. She understood. Nan Xun wasn’t a heartless man. Of course he was affected by the deaths. However, that wasn’t something he could change. The only thing he could do was to make better plans and minimize casualties.
They fell silent. No word was needed at this moment.
The Eastern Wu’s army wasn’t as peaceful. Sir Zhao had taken more than a hundred soldiers with him, most of whom were Northern Qi’s soldiers. There weren’t a lot of them, but enough to stir up trouble.
At the end of the day, they were born and raised in Northern Qi. Although they were loyal to Sir Zhao, they felt no affection for Eastern Wu. They had only been holding back under Sir Zhao’s order.
Today, Sir Zhao’s deathsworns were having a pleasant conversation, but then they heard a piercing scream. Before they could react, a woman with torn and tattered dress ran out of a tent.
Her hair was a mess and her face was covered in tears, but it was obvious that she was of Northern Qi’s blood. Sir Zhao’s deathsworns were mostly Northern Qi’s natives. They couldn’t not do anything when they saw a woman of their kind humiliated and assaulted. They went up to protect the woman.
“What do you think you’re doing?” demanded a Eastern Wu’s soldier.
A deathsworn scoffed. “We’re not going to condone such atrocities. We’ll take her from you.”
The Eastern Wu’s soldiers had always looked down on the deathsworns. They weren’t going to tolerate having their fun interrupted. A scuffle broke out. The woman was petrified. She looked around to seek help and noticed a gentle-looking man.
Without thinking, she ran up to the scholarly man, hoping to save herself. “Please help, sir!”
The scholarly man looked at the soldiers engaged in a petty fight, then at the woman kneeling before him. Disgust flashed through his eyes. The woman felt only a brief, sharp pain in her neck before her body started twitching uncontrollably. She took her last breath.
The scholarly man took out a handkerchief to wipe his hands before shifting his gaze to the group. They’d stopped fighting. The deathsworns didn’t expect the woman they had wanted to save to be killed so suddenly, and the Eastern Wu’s soldiers didn’t foresee the loss of their entertainment.
The deathsworns were the first to react. They considered the scholarly man’s action as provocation. Their hands tightened around their swords.
The scholarly man turned a blind eye to their fury and said, “Since you’ve come with Sir Zhao, you should forget about Northern Qi. There are things you shouldn’t do.”
He turned to the soldiers. “There’s no rule against hurting Northern Qi’s women, but do that behind closed doors, not out in the open. You’ll be punished by martial law if there’s a next time.”
After that, the conflict between the two groups escalated. Eventually, it became Ji Bo’s problem.
Ji Bo was getting a headache listening to them argue. He didn’t think the incident was that big a deal, so he dismissed both sides carelessly. He didn’t realize his attitude had angered the Eastern Wu’s soldiers.
He sent for the scholarly man afterwards.
“What do you want?” Ji Bo asked without preamble.
The scholarly man looked at Ji Bo coolly and chuckled. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t try to talk your way out of it. I know you’re sent by the royal clan.” Ji Bo took a dagger to the man’s neck.
The scholarly man was still smiling, unfazed. Ji Bo didn’t have any patience for such empty talk. The blade broke the skin. Blood trickled down from the man’s neck.
Neither of them said anything. They held gaze silently. Noting the man’s taunting look and derisive calm, Ji Bo’s hand moved almost on its own accord. He gritted his teeth and sliced the dagger across his neck.
Before the scholarly man took his last breath, he whispered into Ji Bo’s ear. “You’ll regret this.”
His subsequent nights were plagued with nightmares.
As the scholarly man had said, the burly man soon got wind of the scholarly man’s death. They had both been sent by the royal clan to keep an eye on Ji Bo. They were sworn brothers. They always knew one of them would end up dead. They’d agreed on that as a sign that Ji Bo had gone too far.