During the nights, the group of soldiers would rest and set up camp near the wall of the mountain to avoid the bottomless cliff. Each time, they'd take turns to stay on guard, the fire's burning embers reflecting on their stone-cold faces.
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Once morning came, they'd quickly burn out the fire and resumed their journey up north.
At this point in time, as the final trace of sunlight disappeared over the horizon, light snow started falling from the skies, covering the tents. Snowflakes danced in the moonlight, followed by the gentle, whispering wind brushing against the camps set up tents.
Even with spending countless days in the ice-cold snow and low temperatures, Rin still found herself trembling from head to toe.
A few flakes of snow drifting down like flower petals on a light breeze, settled on her cheeks. Rin stared at the snowflakes, wondering absently if an early winter snowstorm would delay their journey.
Rin covered her mouth with her white palm and coughed.
A man's dark, smooth voice suddenly called, "Bai Lan,"
Rin shifted her gaze from the sky to the sound of the commanding voice. A tall man dressed in black, heavy armor, stood by the entrance of a tent, his arm holding the flap up.
The man's long, jet-black hair draped behind him with two locks resting on his shoulders, loose strands fluttering through the crisp air.
His nose was tall and straight, and his thin lips were currently curved downward with a deep frown. The icy aura around him gave the handsome man a more dangerous, alluring charm.
"Come inside, it's too cold outside."
Rin's eyes were smiling as she stared at the tall man and gently nodded her head before walking toward him.
An Sun's brows furrowed deeper. His head lowered slightly as his gaze landed her white complexion and noticed the lips that were usually rosy were now a faded pink.
An Sun frowned slightly, "You need to wear thicker clothing. Your body is too vulnerable to the cold weather."
They still had a long way to go until they reached the An Clan's main camp. The boy's frail, girlish body wouldn't last another day in the harsh temperatures.
The more An Sun thought of this, the more the scowl on his face deepened.
Rin's brows twitched slightly. Again, he called her body weak.
She looked up at him and smiled helplessly. "I assure you, Lord An, my body is not as weak as you see it. Even so, I thank you for your concerns."
The man arched a brow as if he didn't fully believe her but eventually said nothing and sighed.
Rin smiled with a nod and entered the tent. At almost the exact moment the tent's flaps fell behind them, the subtle scent of steamed rice filled her nostrils.
During their trip, the group had a small variety of meals; all they could eat was dehydrated meat and bland, watery bean porridge.
At that moment, the fragrance of rice was heavenly. Rin's gaze fell upon the fragrant pot of steamed hard-grain rice on the table in the center of the tent.
Rin raised her eyebrows slightly and shot a glance in An Sun's direction. The man met her eyes and curled his lips up into a smirk, followed by a light chuckle.
"I thought it'd be nice to treat ourselves this time."
Rin sounded a pleased hum and walked toward the table where Manchu began pouring drinks into their cups. Upon sitting at the table, Rin noticed that the contents in her cup were tea.
"Oh? No wine tonight?" Rin asks, eyebrows slightly raised as she brought the cup of tea to her mouth, calmly sipping.
Manchu did not suppress the mirth on his face and laughed out heartily, "During our travels, the pleasures of wine will be on hold."
An Sun slumped down on a mat and brought the tea to his cold, chiseled face. He calmly rotated the contents in his cup and said nothing.
Though the man seemed calm and serious on the outside, Rin could detect the slightest brooding within his deep, gray eyes.
It was clear he wasn't pleased with the drinking arrangements.
Rin found An Sun's sulking amusing and simply cradled the warm tea in her palms, her fingers slowly defrosting from the cold. When she set her cup down, she looked over at the welcoming bowl of steaming rice in front of her. Taking her chopsticks, she began eating.
Upon eating, Rin's lips unconsciously curled up. Though it has been just plain white rice, the flavor was pure and delicious!
Rin didn't realize her eyes had turned bright and sparkly, catching the attention of the man sitting beside her.
An Sun looked at her porcelain-like face brimming with happiness. The burning embers from the braziers inside the tent lit up her pale face and brightly colored eyes.
His lips curled up as he watched her more and more before reverting his gaze.
Manchu suddenly spoke up, "The extra cargo we've brought has been stalling our pace lately. But we should arrive at the main camp in two days. Until then, Sun, how do you intend to explain the incident at the Jilin province? Your father ordered you to behead their governor. If you show up empty, won't he think you're rebelling?"
An Sun made a sound of acknowledgment. He ate as he replied casually without sparing Manchu a glance. "It's fine, I know how to handle it."
Manchu was silent. As if thinking of something, his brows furrowed.
Manchu hesitated a moment, and said: "What will you do about An Ruo?"
An Sun didn't respond and continued to eat with an unreadable expression. After a while, he set his bowl down on the table with a sharp sound, his expression vague.
"An Ruo won't risk making any moves under the old man's eyes. He's too smart for that. However, I don't doubt he won't try anything. If he does…"
An Sun was silent for a moment. He smirked coldly, and his beautiful face held a trace of mockery, "Then I'll have no choice but to fight against him, against my father's word."
Manchu's face showed a hint of surprise. "Sun, you mean…"
Both men's faces froze and shifted their gazes on the small figure holding a hand to their mouth. Rin's eyes fluttered open, and she noticed the men's eyes on her. She looked at their bewildered expressions and cleared her throat.
"My apologies, please continue…" Rin suddenly inhaled sharply before letting out another sneeze.
An Sun sighed. He stood up from his mat and walked toward the corner of the tent. When Rin opened her eyes again, she suddenly felt something heavy wrap around her shoulders.
Rin was startled. She looked up and saw the patient look in the man's face as he bent over to drape a blanket over her. A warming feeling bloomed in her heart, her almond-shaped eyes wide as she stared at the tall commander.
Rin coughed and clumsily lowered her head, "Thank you. I suppose my body is sensitive to the cold like you said."
An Sun's brows drew together, as he didn't bother to hide his scowl, "That's why I told to wear more clothing. This body of yours is already fragile enough, you shouldn't worsen it with indigent care."
Although his voice sounded the same and his tone seemed as cold as usual, Rin could detect the shred of concern in it.
Rin softened her gaze and nodded her head. "Yes, I will do so from now on."
An Sun stared at her deeply with a grim expression and huffed before sitting back down on his mat. Manchu observed the two's interactions and snickered.
"Careful Sun, if you treat the little strategist like an adolescent child any longer, the troops might start naming you his mother."
An Sun swept his dead eyes toward the man and twitched his brows.
"What nonsense are you spewing?" An Sun scowled. "I wouldn't need to take care of him if he knew how to do it himself. You would think with a smart mind and delicate features, he'd know how to take care of his well-being."
Manchu hummed thoughtfully in agreement. "Hmm, that's right. When we first met the little strategist, his health was also rather poor. He's rather hopeless without us."
An Sun silently nodded in agreement.
Rin's hands holding her chopsticks stiffened. Her mouth twitched involuntarily.
The way they were talking…it was as if she wasn't even here!
She sighed heavily and continued to eat her rice quietly, the blanket wrapped around her small, frail frame.
An Sun raised his cup and took a sip of his tea, a faint crease in his brows. He swirled the cup's contents - his cool, handsome face exuding a lazy appearance.
"Even though I won't stay idle if my brother attacks, I still hold no interest in becoming the clan's head."
Manchu smiled bitterly and said, "Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to matter to him one way or another."
An Sun lowered his eyes, hiding the lethal glance that flashed briefly in his eyes. The hand holding his cup tightened as he stared emotionlessly at a burning brazier.
Though the changes in An Sun's expression weren't apparent, Rin had been observing the man the entire time, and she perceived the darkness in his eyes brewing.
Rin recalled their previous conversation in the hot springs and the corner of her lips tugged downwards. An Sun asked whether she chose to stay with the Bai family out of obligation.
This question was most likely how he felt being raised as an adopted member in the An Clan.
His father was suppressing him, and his brother wanted him dead.
Thinking this, her chest felt heavy for some reason and her chewing motions lagged.
Despite An Sun's eyes being lowered, he had been watching Rin's movements from the corner of his vision. He watched as the boy looked at him thoughtfully, then returned his gaze to express a clouded pout - his white cheeks puffed out from the rice in his mouth.
The corner of An Sun's lips slowly rose. He tilted his head and gazed over at Manchu.
"Back to the discussion at hand…"
While the two conversed with another, Rin ate her rice absentmindedly. When Rin was blankly chewing on a piece of reserved meat, she suddenly felt a light pat on her thigh.
Rin's body stilled. Her eyes glanced over to the side and saw An Sun continuing to speak to Manchu, however, his hand hidden beneath the table stretched out to pat her on her folded leg in a reassuring gesture.
After a while, his hand withdrew and returned to his side. It was brief but made the place he touched feel warm.
Rin was stunned.
She reverted her gaze quickly and felt her movements become slower. Feeling a slight chill, Rin drew the blanket closer to her body.
There was a slight fragrance coming from the blanket – it was a warm musk, with the slightest scent of wine. It made Rin's nose twitch slightly, but it was still somewhat calming.
A sudden thought appeared in the back of her mind. Rin peeks her eyes to the side and noticed the blanket from An Sun's mat was missing.
This was An Sun's blanket.
At that moment, while An Sun and Manchu chatted among themselves, the boy sat with his head lowered to conceal the faint gentle smile blooming on his lips.
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Over the next two days, An Sun's army continued moving forward along the mountainous path. All the soldiers were on high alert, none thinking to let their guard down.