Shang knows such things aren't unheard of, though they're usually discouraged within the camp itself. It's hard enough for so many men to live in such close quarters without that particular tangle. He's heard the stories, some told by his own father, of men who kill each other out of jealousy or slit their own throats to escape the sorrow of rejection. Even seasoned warriors can be drawn in by a beautiful face; lose themselves in pale limbs and sheets of ink black hair.
"Keep your hands on your sword and your eyes on the task ahead," his father said, serious in his concern. But Shang only laughed it off. He has neither the time nor the interest to invest in an affair, and the new recruits flooding into his camp are hardly tempting besides.
The son of Fa Zhou is an immediate disappointment. Few soldiers of Zhou's status and rank are as well known as he, but Ping seems destined to destroy that reputation. He's soft and foolish and too eager to please, and Shang would ignore him entirely if he wasn't so persistently in the way. Soon enough, the scales tip too far, and he sends Ping away in disgrace. Shang's father expects him to deliver an army, to refine these men until they're hard and sharp as blades. Dead weight will only drag them down.
The next morning, Shang wakes to the sound of iron weights clinking together. The tents are a dusky peach in the light of dawn, the sun still below the distant hills. At first he can't quite see who it is that's climbing the pole in the middle of their camp, a black silhouette against an indigo sky.
Word spreads, and soon half the men stand outside their tents, watching their unknown comrade drag himself upward, inching toward the arrow that's sat unmolested for so long. Finally the sun breaks over the hills, spilling into the valley. The soldier on the pole pulls himself into its reach, and a gasp escapes Shang's throat. Even from this distance, he can see the set of Ping's jaw, the rivers of sweat running down his temple and the muscles standing out from his neck.
Shang never invites Ping to rejoin them, and Ping never mentions that he was asked to leave. This unspoken understanding is the first of many, each bringing them closer together, closing the gap between infantry and captain. Ping sees what no one else cares to, hears what Shang can't bear to say aloud. His smile is cool and soothing. His briefest touch unwinds the tension that coils in Shang's back.
Every day, the memory of his father's warning dims. Every night, Shang lies awake and wonders.