"Why do we need to sit so far away from them?" Aiguo gazed at the two quietly conversing, a scowl on his face.
An Sun calmly sipped his soup and glanced up.
"They need time to bond."
At that moment, Aiguo's face suddenly scrunched up into one of disgust. The corners of An Sun's mouth twitched.
"Grandfather and granddaughter bonding." He emphasized.
Aiguo's eyes went wide with shock, and he looked over at Rin, then Bai Han.
"So that's her family…" He quietly murmured to himself.
Pressing his lips together, Aiguo looked back down at his bowl of soup and quietly stirred. Very quickly, his doom and gloom was noticed by An Sun, who simply stared at the boy in silence.
Suddenly brightening back up, Aiguo glanced up at An Sun. He took in the man's features and narrowed his eyes.
"Who are you to Rin?"
An Sun raised one sharp brow. Something about the kid's tone sounded off. When he opened his mouth to respond, An Sun suddenly went silent.
What was he supposed to say?
He kidnapped, forcefully took her in as his strategist, and only went to search for her after forging a brotherly bond because he thought she was a man?
Cold sweat poured down An Sun's back. For once, he felt silence was the best response.
In the end, a dry cough came out of him as he said, "We're friends."
It wasn't a lie.
Aiguo looked at him with doubtful eyes. In the next few seconds, he slumped in his chair and huffed.
"Well don't get any ideas. In the future, when I get older, Rin is going to be my wife! She already promised me!"
Caught off guard by this sudden statement, An Sun's eyes went wide, the corner of his mouth twitched uncontrollably.
He didn't know how to react.
However, slightly amused by the boy's smug expression, a corner of his lips hooked up in a smirk. m
"Oh yeah?" An Sun raised his cup to his lips to drown out his next words. "Good luck with that, kid."
"What did you say?" Aiguo's eyes narrowed.
An Sun casually waved his hand and continued to drink his water, a smile hidden behind his cup as he glanced over at the girl on the other side of the room.
Occurring at the same time, Rin quietly sipped her soup, a blanket draped over her body. After returning to the inn and reuniting with her grandfather, Bai Han was quick to notice the swollenness of her ankle.
In a state of alarm, he rushed her inside, ordered the inn workers to make a bowl of soup, bring a blanket and something to treat her ankle.
Right now, the two sat across from one another in silence. While drinking her soup, Rin glimpsed up and met with her grandfather's burning silver eyes.
"The soup tastes good." She said lightly.
Bai Han let out a mocking snort. "You should try their rice."
Rin smiled and glanced back down at her bowl. "Do you remember the soup Uncle Guo would make during the winter?"
Bai Han nodded and his eyes filled with an immediate smile. "He always cooked better than me, huh?"
Rin chuckled. "He cooked better than most of us."
The two smiled at one another and laughed. When their laughter quiets down, they fell silent again. Rin's hands cupped around her bowl, the warmth penetrating through her skin and warming her up.
"I should have never let you go…" Bai Han suddenly said, his voice low.
Rin raised her head to stare into Bai Han's soft, remorseful gaze.
"If I had just tried harder to make you stay, then you wouldn't have…" A tremor had developed in Bai Han's voice.
He suppressed his turbulent emotions and took in a deep breath, shoving all of his terrifying guesses to the bottom of his heart.
Rin sensed the turmoil of emotions in her grandfather. She noticed he had lowered his head and closed his eyes. His lips were pressed tightly together.
Her heart had already been aching for her grandfather ever since the day she had left. Now that she was seeing his frail condition in front of her, her heart ached even more.
"Grandfather, look at me," Rin called out gently. She reached across the table and grasped his hand into hers. "It's not your fault. I decided to leave. Even if you tried stopping me from leaving, I still would have gone. You can't beat yourself up over something you couldn't change."
Bai Han's head shrunk even lower. Rin didn't continue speaking and simply stared. She tightened her hold on her grandfather's hand.
"You can't protect me forever." She murmured softly.
At that moment, Bai Han drew in a deep breath and raised his head awash in affliction, his bloodshot eyes looking straight at Rin. He gripped her hand on top of his and squeezed.
"As your grandfather, it's my job to protect you. No matter when or where, I will use every bone in my body to protect you."
Rin returned with an expression of surprise and her body froze up for two seconds. She lowered her head, hiding the pain-filled look that flashed briefly in her eyes.
Neither of them broke the silence. Instead, they took comfort in holding the others hand.
As the setting sun descended a rosy glow across the village, the four settled to stay one more night before returning.
In his room, An Sun silently lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Suddenly, a knock sounding on his door caused him to lift himself from the bed.
Upon opening the door, An Sun was stunned. Standing before his door with their head raised to look at him was Rin. She blinked her emerald eyes innocently as the corners of her lips suddenly raised upon seeing him.
"May I come in?"
An Sun looked down at her without any visible emotions in his expression, although he appeared slightly stiff.
Did she realize how bad this would look if her grandfather suddenly showed up around the corner?
After a few seconds, An Sun cleared his throat and said, "Come in."
Nodding her head, Rin entered his room without a hint of awkwardness. An Sun's body stiffened even further when she passed by him, but instantly relaxed when he saw her calm composure.
What was he so nervous about?
The image of a vicious old man appeared in his mind.
Sighing inwardly to himself, An Sun shut the door and turned to the girl suddenly entering his room. At that moment, Rin was sitting comfortably on his bed to rest her leg, not at all aware of the conflicting emotions going on through the young man's head.
She looked up at An Sun, her eyes still curved into crescents.
"Lord An, can I let you in on a secret?"
When An Sun heard her words, his eyes widened slightly. He leaned himself against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest.
"What is it?"
Staring at the man's nonchalant demeanor, Rin chuckled.
"The truth is, I came to this village because I was looking for you."
An Sun's gray eyes filled with a hint of surprise and doubt. "Your reason?"
Rin looked at him for a moment. Her expression quiet as if she were carefully studying his expression.
After a period of silence, she finally spoke. "I plan to build an army to travel to the Eastern Empire and overthrow the emperor."
An Sun's cool face became increasingly grim.
She wanted to overthrow the emperor of the Eastern Empire? Even to him, who often acted rashly, this seemed a little far fetched.
An Sun could now understand why she had sought his help. If they were to join their tactics together along with the power of the Bai army by their side, they could stand a chance at overthrowing any empire in their sights.
Without any particular expression on his face, An Sun said, "Do you mind if I ask the reason for this?"
The smile on Rin's lips grew slightly lighter. "Unfortunately, that's not easy to explain. All I can hope is that you trust me."
The depths of An Sun's eyes darkened. He was still staring at her, trying to decipher the emotions on her face.
"Does your grandfather know about this?"
Rin's body froze from his words. She shifted her gaze away, hands clenched into fists on her lap. The corners of her mouth curved up into a self-deprecating smile.
"There are certain things even he must not know." She said with a sigh.
Neither said a word as they looked at one another with deep gazes.
Rin was the one to softly speak up first. "Lord An, are we still friends?"
An Sun's handsome features were cast in a stiff expression, and his lips were pressed together. He continued staring at her with a shadowed gaze.
Finally, his eyes lowered and he released a light sigh. "At the end of the day, you are still the person I took as my own. Someone who saved not just me, but my men as well. As long as your meanings remain true, then there is no need to question our friendship."
Slightly stunned by his words, Rin covered her mouth to hide a giggle. "I was afraid after everything I've done and said just now, you'd hate me or think of it as an obligation. I'm truly relieved."
Rin's eyes suddenly lit up as she thought of something, "Ah, that reminds me, have you already informed the An Clan of your death?"
Heeding her words, An Sun froze in shock, his eyes growing wide with surprise.
"How did you…" He paused. He chuckled lowly. "You never fail to guess what I'm thinking, do you?"
Rin couldn't help but grin. "Great minds think alike don't they?"
An Sun's normally frozen face had changed to something gentler. There was a pleasant smile on his face. He laughed to himself and shook his head.
He knew she was intelligent, but to understand his every move was something else. If anything, saying she was an intelligent girl was putting it lightly.
She knew what he was thinking about. He didn't need to talk in a roundabout way because she understood his every word.
Speaking with her was always entertaining.
Right now, he was really enjoying this.
As time quickly passed, Rin looked out of the window to see the skies slowly darkening. It was already so late.
"It's getting late. I should return to my room." She got up from the bed.
An Sun nodded and escorted her to the door. Outside in the hall, Rin turned and bobbed her head in farewell.
"Goodnight, Lord An."
An Sun stared at her for a moment, his gaze deep.
"Huh?" Rin blinked her wide emerald eyes.
"Call me An Sun." He replied in a calm voice.
Rin stared with wide almond-shaped eyes.
Was An Sun asking her to call him by his name?
She stared at An Sun's handsome face while blinking her eyes rapidly. An Sun's eyes were like black holes in the darkness, as bottomless and impenetrable as a deep lake.
To be honest, Rin was a little surprised by his sudden request. The two stare at one another in silence. After a brief moment, a smile suddenly bloomed on her face.
"In that case, goodnight…An Sun."
A satisfied smile surfaced on An Sun's face after hearing Rin's answer.
"Goodnight, Bai Rin." His tone was filled with a gentle warmth.
Rin nodded before walking down the hall to her room. An Sun stared at her departing back a while longer before he returned to his room.
He took a deep sigh and leaned back against the door.
[Goodnight, An Sun.]
The corners of his mouth curved up into a self-mocking smile.
He really was too happy right now.
Inside her room, Rin sitting quietly in her chair, suddenly stood up and walked over to the window. At that moment, a flicker of determination flashed before her eyes.
"I'm sorry, grandfather."
But a protector can't protect someone who does not wish to be protected…
Inside the inn, Bai Han and Rin sat in the dining room, steaming bowls of soup in front of them. On the other side of the room, An Sun and Aiguo sat a few tables away.