Long Xuan arrived ten days later than Luo Wei at the Zhou army’s barracks situated 50 li from Black Frost City. With the two hundred thousand conscripts Emperor Xing Wu ordered to be gathered from all around the country, a total of five hundred thousand Greater Zhou troops assembled outside Black Frost City.
Once Long Xuan arrived at the barracks, he was directly welcomed into the tent set aside for the commander of the main force.
“It’s been hard on Your Highness to come all this way,” Luo Qi exchanged pleasantries with Long Xuan.
“It was fine.” Long Xuan nonchalantly glanced at Luo Wei. Seeing Luo Wei’s decent complexion, he did not continue to look and said to Luo Qi, “Originally we could have arrived three days earlier, but it rained the whole way here. The road turned to mud, and the army could not move fast.”
The two Luo brothers in the commander’s tent both saw muddy water on Long Xuan’s body. Long Xuan was not like Luo Wei; he could not use his status as a prince to arrive with great fanfare. Otherwise, he would have no way to regain Sima Zhuxie’s trust. Long Xuan could only get by in the barracks of the cavalry the whole way here, acting as a low-ranked cavalryman. He hadn’t suffered lightly on the way here.
Long Xuan lowered his head to look at himself. He carelessly used his hands to brush off the pieces of mud that clung to his chest, and said, “I long ago heard that spring had arrived, and Black Frost City’s roads had scented bushes and trees. Now I’ve finally seen it.”
Luo Wei said, “Then did you know that the Tian Shui fountainhead area is all marsh?”
Long Xuan sat down and drank some hot water Luo Qi poured him. “I’ve heard, but never seen it personally.”
Luo Wei asked, “Then how can we have Mo Huan Sang retreat to the Tian Shui fountainhead? Do we really take him for a fool?”
“It turned out that Yun Qi didn’t know that that place was a swamp,” Long Xuan remarked simply.
Luo Wei coldly replied, “I’m not a general with troops under my command, and also not a businessman. Should I spend all my days at home staring at maps?”
“Xiao Wei,” Luo Qi heard Luo Wei’s tone as he spoke to Long Xuan, truly disrespectful. He hurriedly interjected to stop Luo Wei. Even if their Luo family protected the Crown Prince, they could not be so disrespectful to a prince.
“It’s okay.” Contrary to what one might expect, Long Xuan had a good temper when faced with Luo Wei. “Aren’t there places where troops can be stationed?”
Luo Qi questioned, “There are open spaces suited for battle. But how will Your Highness make Mo Huan Sang enter Tian Shui’s fountainhead?”
Long Xuan answered, “He raised troops in revolt for Sima Zhuxie. I think in the same way, he would also enter Tian Shui fountainhead for Sima Zhuxie right?”
“You want to capture Sima Zhuxie?” Luo Wei never needed to think too hard to know Long Xuan’s thoughts. He immediately reasoned, “You’ll nab Sima Zhuxie to threaten Mo Huan Sang?”
“You’ll got to Sima Qingsha’s army, and I will also go to Sima Zhuxie’s.” Long Xuan looked at Luo Wei as he spoke, “As long as I’m at Zhuxie’s side, I think I’ll have an opportunity to take him out of Mo Huan Sang’s army.”
“Is that possible?” Luo Zi now looked as if he were listening to an Arabian Nights story.
Luo Wei asked, “And if you can’t take Sima Zhuxie out?”
“Victory or defeat will be determined with this one move. It doesn’t matter how I do it, I will succeed in this matter. You don’t need to worry,” Long Xuan replied.
Luo Qi said from the side, “Why would this Mo Huan Sang be willing to throw his life in for Sima Zhuxie?”
“Sima Zhuxie’s wife is from Black Frost’s Mo clan right,” Luo Wei answered. He had really not thought about this before.
Long Xuan just responded, “As long as we know he is willing it’s fine. As for why, that’s other people’s problem. We don’t need to know.”
Luo Wei nodded, he agreed with that.
Luo Qi looked at these two people and suddenly felt at a loss for words. It seemed he’d asked an unnecessary question.
Long Xuan had drunk the whole cup of hot water and sat for a while in the commander’s tent. His whole body warmed up. He said to Luo Wei, “The time is right, let’s discuss entering their armies once more. When separate three ways, if we still want to communicate it won’t be so easy.”
Luo Wei walked to Luo Qi’s commander’s desk. Among a pile of plans and charts, he pulled out the map of Northern Yan that Luo Qi had drawn himself.
“What about Wei Lan?” Long Xuan also walked over to the desk. His gaze swept over the map and revealed a bit of admiration, but his mouth asked Luo Wei another question.
“Why are you asking about Wei Lan?” Luo Wei immediately raised his vigilance.
“You don’t practice martial arts,” Long Xuan clarified. “When you reach Sima Qingsha, he cannot be a single step away from you. Luo Wei, this matter you can hide from anyone else. But Wei Lan is the person who will protect your life. Any matter, big or small, you have to let him know about.”
“Your Highness’s words make sense,” Luo Qi agreed. “Xiao Wei, let Wei Lan come.”
Luo Wei looked at Long Xuan suspiciously. Would this person truly have good intentions; would he truly think on behalf of Luo Wei’s life and death?
“If Sima Qingsha doesn’t leave Hefang City,” Long Xuan continued, “what use is it for me to lead Mo Huan Sang over? Luo Wei, you’re the same as me, you don’t have a way out of this.”
“I know.” Luo Wei convinced himself in his heart to believe this man just this once. “Big brother, have someone bring Lan in.”
After Wei Lan entered the commander’s tent, other than paying his respects, giving his regards, and glancing once at Long Xuan, he did not raise his head to look at Long Xuan again. He only quietly stood at Luo Wei’s side, focusing on listening to the discussion between the three other people in the tent. He marked every word down in his mind.
After nightfall, a disturbance rang out from the direction of the barrack’s rationing area.
“What happened?” Luo Qi originally already prepared to leave the tent and investigate, and he almost ended up with an armful of a hurried Ning Fei when he knocked against him coming into the tent.
“The rainwater dashed dozens of war chariots’ worth of rations.” Ning Fei had just come from the rationing area, and his whole body was soaked.
“If you’re afraid of something it’ll happen,” Luo Qi said, vexed. He had feared that the successive days of rainfall would wet the rations, so he had had the rations placed on higher ground. He did not expect that other places in the barracks would only be flooded, while the rations on high ground unexpectedly got dashed by water.
Ning Fei wiped at the mud water on his face. “Right now we can’t determine if it’s rain water. It seemed to me that below the ground there, water was rising up. General Mo already ordered them to move the rations.”
“Your Highness,” Luo Qi said to Long Xuan, “General Mo will go to take a look at the rations.”
Long Xuan just dipped his head in acknowledgement.
Luo Qi and Ning Fei hurriedly rushed out of the tent.
“This place’s climate isn’t good.” Long Xuan threw the pen he was using to point at the map on the table. He turned to Luo Wei, “It would be best for us to quickly battle and quickly conclude. If this battle drags into a year, when winter comes, we still won’t be able to return to the capital. Then we’ll have to prepare to freeze to death with the army here.”
“If it’s cold then wear more,” Luo Wei replied. “Once the battle begins, who knows when it will end? One year? I’d say that time is only enough for us to lead Mo Huan Sang to Tian Shui fountainhead.”
“You have so little faith in your big brother’s abilities?” Long Xuan heard Luo Wei speak, and felt puzzled. “In your view, Mo Huan Sang far surpasses your older brother?”
“It’s not that. It’s just that this person’s reputation can’t only be the result of talking big. Your Highness, I actually wonder about your idea to attack Sima Zhuxie. Why not just see if there’s an opportunity to get rid of Mo Huan Sang?”
“You want me to kill Mo Huan Sang in the middle of the Black Frost army?”
“To capture the brigand, first catch their king. If Mo Huan Sang is gone, can this blind man Sima Zhuxie command the Black Frost Cavalry?”
Long Xuan laughed out a single “ha,” “Luo Wei, if I kill Mo Huan Sang, Sima Zhuxie has no ability to oversee the Black Frost Cavalry, but how will I retreat intact? Do you want me to also die among the Black Frost army?”
“How could I have such an idea?” Luo Wei also laughed. “I’m only saying if there’s an opportunity, Your Highness can play it by ear. No need to force it. Anyway, would Your Highness not have ways to kill people? You need not draw blood to kill.”
The rain fell heavier outside the tent, pattering on the top of the tent with speedy dripping sounds. It was as if countless people ceaselessly beat on their drums. Wei Lan looked towards the two people in front of him. Their smiling faces were cheerful, but their eyes were cold. Wei Lan began to feel that Luo Wei and Long Xuan were in their own world, and outsiders could not interfere.
Luo Wei seemed to perceive something. He still looked at Long Xuan, but held onto Wei Lan’s hand.
Seeing this scene, Long Xuan did not change his smile, but his gaze became frostier.