Kastan bit back a soft curse at the arrival of Nisa in his home.She was General Baiza’s only daughter and Kastan worked at treating her with kindness.She was like a sister to him and had grown used to visiting the manor at will.General Baiza had once entertained dreams of marrying her into Sun-filled Manor, but Kastan had worked hard to disabuse the man of that thought.
Now that the General was gone, Kastan felt obligated to look out for Nisa and make sure she found a good match.It was the least he could do for her.
“She’s important to you,” Jihan said, drawing his attention.“Is she a General?”
“No, she’s the daughter of a decorated General,” Kastan explained.“Her father’s command is changing to a different general.Their family is titled, so Lady Baiza has taken on her father’s estate.She remains an active part of the valley.Her family established and supports Rashan’s academy in town.”
“You should meet her then.Do you want me to come with you?” Jihan asked.
Kastan frowned; annoyed that he had to deal with Nisa when he should be heading into the dining hall to spend time with Jihan and Rashan.He had come to love their family time in the dining hall in the morning.
“No need,” Kastan said, brushing his lips on Jihan’s cheek.“I’ll meet her and come join you and Rashan in the dining hall.”
Jihan nodded and left him with Temu with a small wave.
“Are you sure His Grace shouldn’t meet Lady Baiza?” Temu asked.“She might continue her visits.It will be good if there is no friction between them.”
“I plan to find Lady Baiza a husband,” Kastan said, watching Jihan enter the kitchen instead of heading into the house.“She’s been visiting the manor too long.It’s time for her to have a home of her own, this way she will have no time to worry about my manor.”
“Do you think it will be that easy?” Temu asked, with a soft chuckle.
“It has to be, I’m never giving Jihan a reason to leave this valley.Which reminds me, Jihan is going to start building a trade station outside the gates.Temu, I’m asking you to guard him.”
“Why do we need a trade station?” Temu asked, curious.
“Jihan will answer that question in time,” Kastan said.“I was going to ask Naveed, but you’ve been dealing with the keepers and the intruders.Temu, I want to ask you to take care of Jihan out there.His work might get him in trouble like with Ferino.I wish I could be with him every waking moment, but that is not possible.I’ll rely on you.”
“As Safan watches over Rashan, are you asking me to take on His Grace?”
Kastan turned to see Jihan leave the kitchen and enter the dining hall, followed by Firuz and Yasmin.They were carrying trays of food.Kastan started for the front of the manor eager to finish with Lady Baiza so that he could join his family.
“Yes, Temu, I’m asking you to take on protecting Jihan,” Kastan said.
“I promise to take care of him,” Temu said, stopping and bringing his right hand to his chest.He bowed his head in a solemn promise, and Kastan placed his hand on Temu’s right shoulder.
“I know you will,” Kastan said, feeling a little relieved.
Minutes later, he entered the manor’s formal greeting room to find Nisa Baiza perched on a chair sipping tea.She placed her cup on the stool beside her chair and stood up when she saw him.Her curtsy was flawless, as flawless as the stunning white dress she wore.Nisa was a beautiful woman.
“Greetings, Your Grace,” Nisa said.“I’m sorry to visit you so early.I arrived from the capital late in the evening and thought I should report to you first.”
Kastan walked down two short steps and crossed the room to the large chair set in the most prominent point of the room.Nisa waited until he sat before she followed suit.
“You didn’t need to rush,” Kastan said, keeping his tone light. He adjusted his dark robes over his knee.“You should have rested from your journey, and come to the Duke’s office later in the day.”
“I was worried I would miss you,” Nisa said.“I didn’t want to intrude on your consort if I came to the manor later and you were gone.”
Kastan gave an inward sigh.Nisa ignored his hints that she should visit him in his office, instead of the manor.This was not the first time he had tried to remind her.
“What brings you to my doorstep this early?” Kastan asked, bordering on exasperation.
“I came home to find that all arrangements have been made for my father’s memorial ceremony.I wanted to thank Your Grace for taking care of the arrangements,” Nisa said.“I don’t know how to show my gratitude.”
Kastan had only authorized the Welfare Office to take charge of preparations, under Naveed’s supervision.He was glad the arrangements were done.
“General Baiza was valiant and I relied on him more than I dare admit,” Kastan said, still upset by General Baiza’s death.West Nation’s war had robbed him of a good man.“He was one of a kind.It is only natural that we send him off with great honor.The funeral ceremony was hasty, but I wanted to make sure the memorial was done right.We arranged the ceremony and waited for you to return home.Let General Naveed know the date you choose now that you are back.”
Nisa got up from her chair and gave him an elegant curtsy.
“Nisa thanks Duke Silver for his kindness.”
“If that’s all—,” Kastan started to get up too, but she rose from her curtsy.
“I hoped to visit Little Prince,” Nisa said, cutting in.“I haven’t seen His Little Highness since before the war.Please—”
“It’s too early for visitors, Nisa.You may see him later.He will be at the academy in the afternoon,” Kastan said.“Thank you for stopping by.”
Nisa stared at him for a moment, and then swallowed hard, stepping back.
“Thank you for your time, Your Grace,” Nisa said.“I’ll remember to tell General Naveed of the date.I’ll leave you to your morning.”
Kastan nodded and watched Nisa walk out of the formal living room.When he heard the front doors close, Kastan narrowed his gaze.
“Find me a list of all the legitimate heirs of noble houses in the valley,” Kastan said, moving to the large windows to watch Nisa ride out of his compound.“The faster we can settle Nisa the better.”
“Right away, Your Grace,” Temu said, with a hidden smile.
A month passed by, and Jihan was knee deep in the hard work of dragging Silver Shore Valley into a sustainable marketplace.He faced fierce resistance at every step, starting with finding labor for the farms, which turned near impossible.The locals who came to work at the farms had sabotaged the farms’ tools, and refused to keep to time schedules.They delayed his work schedule giving Jihan no choice but to ask them to leave.Kastan offered to help but Jihan insisted it was better that he deal with their opposition alone.
In the end, the local’s hostility forced Jihan to ask Garren for a workforce.He would make the farms work on his own for now.
The Hidden Keepers would not let outsiders stay in the valley, so he and Garren decided to build temporary quarters at the new trade station. The temporary quarters accommodated the workers building the trade station and the ones working in the farm.The farm workers came into the valley in the morning and left at dusk.
In terms of building trust with the valley, Jihan still felt like an outsider.He had yet to see the butcher, Ferino, who had taken to hiding from Jihan whenever he went into town.The rest of the shops owned by the manor had closed, the business owners had closed shop.Temu told him that they were afraid Jihan would seek them out about rent.
Jihan decided to let the shops go for now, and concentrate on making the farms work.He had brought in milk cows, and fast growing vegetable seeds.His intent was to take the milk and the vegetables to the trade station and sell them to wholesale traders.
It was a start to increasing income to run the manor’s expenses, but it would take him a while before the farms turned a profit.He just needed to keep at it.Meanwhile, he was exploring other ways to find income for the manor.He had his eye on the fabric workshop he had discovered within the walls of the manor, and the furniture workshop.
An excited shout interrupted his thoughts, drawing Jihan’s attention to the game of polo on the field.Jihan enjoyed watching and playing polo.He had been hoping to participate but Lady Nisa Baiza had interrupted his plan.
They were at Rashan’s academy on a student event day.Rashan had asked him and Kastan to attend the academy’s activities, and help award prizes to the top students.Jihan had not wanted to disappoint Rashan.So, he had put off all his daily activities to attend the event.
The event had started in the morning.Jihan arrived first at the academy accompanied by Temu and Firuz.Kastan would join them in the afternoon, as he had a meeting with the magistrate’s council.
The first part of the event was the ongoing polo event.When Jihan had first arrived, the students were hoping to pair with their family and friends for the match game.Two pairs playing against each other.The pair with the highest score at the end of the play period would win.Jihan had been had been looking forward to playing with Rashan.
He had not factored in that Lady Nisa Baiza would be at the academy.Nisa was an instructor at Rashan’s academy.Jihan hadn’t known that she was good friends with Rashan.The two were close.Their relationship born of time spent together.
Women were frightening creatures, Jihan decided.Specific women, he adjusted when he thought about his sister, Andiya.She was a good woman.
Well, he should just say that Nisa Baiza was a frightening creature.
Renai Countess, Lady Baiza to the valley, and the woman Jihan was sure wanted to take his place at Sun-filled Manor left him feeling sick to the stomach.She was kind to him when they talked, but her gaze told a different story.
Her gaze gave her away, especially when she looked at Kastan.She was full of longing and a deep unrequited love.There was envy in her gaze when she looked at Jihan, and contempt lingered in the dark depths of her gaze.It was hard for Nisa to look at him without a sneer.The contempt was clear to him when Kastan was not around.She hid it well when Kastan was close.
Jihan thought about her reception when he arrived for the event.
The academy instructors had all greeted him with excitement, but she had simply inclined her head in his direction and walked off.
When Rashan started to ask Jihan to play with him, Nisa had changed the rules of the game.She had asked the students to choose their favorite instructor instead of family or friend, outsiders she had called them.Nisa and Rashan had partnered first.Jihan mulled over satisfied smile Nisa sent his direction at the little win.
This was not the first time she had given him those triumphant smiles.They happened when Nisa managed to win Kastan or Rashan’s attention.It was annoying.He was learning to ignore those little looks because they were designed to upset him.
Besides, he could not blame Nisa for wanting Kastan.He could understand Nisa’s feelings.
Kastan was a formidable prince.There were days Jihan marveled over his own luck.When he woke first and found Kastan deep asleep beside him, he spent minutes watching Kastan sleep.Sometimes, he traced his fingers over the length of Kastan’s nose, or memorized the feel of Kastan’s stubble on his skin.His heart skipping when Kastan shifted closer to him, seeking warmth, giving him trust.It felt like he was living a dream having Kastan beside him.
So many moments, Jihan locked them inside his heart to study later when he was alone.
Jihan smiled. It was a powerful thing to have Kastan to himself.
Yes, he could understand Nisa’s jealousy.He could even understand Nisa’s obsession with Kastan.He understood, because his man was impressive.
So, he was not taking Nisa’s little games to heart. Well, he was trying not to.
Jihan waved his fan in lazy motion with a sigh and watched Rashan and Nisa score their fifth time.He placed his fan on the table and clapped when their round ended and they were declared winners of the game.
Rashan threw his arms up in joy, laughing with excitement.Their opponent was tough to beat and had four points, so their win was satisfying.Rashan rode his horse to the score podium and received his gift.
It was in a small wooden box.
Jihan watched Rashan open the box and inspect his gift.
Nisa approached Rashan with an expectant smile.Rashan only gave her a respectful bow, before he turned his horse and rode to the tent where Jihan sat.
“I think he is coming to you,” Firuz said, and Jihan got up from his chair.He adjusted his robes and went around the table, coming out of the large open tent.Firuz followed closed behind, smiling hard.“He looks excited.”
“I can see it,” Jihan said, aware of the many parents in the tents around the field watching him.
They were all curious about him, and his relationship with Rashan.Jihan shrugged off their gazes and concentrated on Rashan.Rashan stopped his horse a few feet away and jumped off.He was covered in sweat, the back of his dark purple polo uniform wet.
Jihan reached out and brushed tendrils of hair framing Rashan’s face.He got a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to wipe drops of sweat from Rashan’s forehead.
“Congratulations, Rashan,” Jihan said, truly proud.He was falling in love with the little boy.“You played so well.I’m proud of you.”
“This is for you,” Rashan said, opening the box to reveal a red jade hairpin.“It matches your token.Do you like it?”
Jihan took the box from Rashan, and studied the hairpin.His heart so full of happiness, he could barely contain it.Rashan continued to sink into his heart. He crouched before Rashan, and lifted the hairpin out of the box.He handed it to Rashan.
“I love it.Why don’t you put it on for me?” Jihan asked.“I want to wear your prize.”
Rashan grinned and got to work putting the red jade hairpin in to the tight knot of hair Jihan had tied this morning.When he was done, Rashan smoothed his palm over Jihan’s forehead and stepped back with a wide grin.
“It looks good, Uncle Jihan,” Rashan said, with a nod.
“Thank you, Rashan,” Jihan said, brushing his thumb over Rashan’s right cheek.“Are you competing again?”
“Yes, but it will be a solo weapons match,” Rashan said.“I’ll be sparring with a long sword.Will you watch?”
“Yes,” Jihan promised, though he was worried Rashan would get hurt.“I look forward to it.”
Rashan grinned and gave him a hug.
“I have to go meet my friends now,” Rashan said.“Please don’t leave.I really want you to see me compete.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Jihan said, patting Rashan’s back.“We’ll ride home together today.”
“Then, I’ll go back now,” Rashan said, moving to take his horse’s reins.He waved and headed to the opposite side of the field to join his friends.
Jihan rose from his crouch and reached up to touch the red jade hairpin.He couldn’t help the smile, even as he turned to head back to the tent.
“You’re shining,” Firuz teased him.“Is it because you won that little contest?”
“She might have played with him, but I got the prize,” Jihan said with a small chuckle.“I love Rashan.”
“It’s very obvious,” Firuz said, squeezing Jihan’s shoulder when he sat down.
“Can’t help it,” Jihan confessed.
“What are you going to do about Nisa?” Firuz asked, and Jihan followed Firuz’s gaze to the faculty tent on his right.
Nisa was watching him with a dark expression on her face as she gripped her sword.Jihan shuddered, wondering if she wanted to kill him.Her anger was too clear now.Rashan’s little display had rubbed her the wrong way.
“I’m glad you’re with me,” Jihan said to Firuz.“I’m afraid if I was alone she would have already cut me in half.”
“Well, it’s a good thing your husband is here,” Firuz said, as a commotion filled the field.
Jihan dragged his gaze away from Nisa to see Kastan entering the field in the company of Master Bero.A wave of excitement filled the atmosphere.Kastan’s arrival was greeted with enthusiasm.The students rushed to the sidelines to catch a glimpse of him.
Jihan started to get up when Kastan reached their tent.Kastan waved him down, coming to stand next to Jihan’s chair.Jihan wished he still held his fan when Kastan brushed his lips on his forehead.The show of affection would only infuriate Nisa.
“Master Bero says I’m late,” Kastan said in greeting.“I missed watching Rashan compete in a polo game and win.He gave you his prize.”
“Master Bero misses nothing,” Jihan said, when Kastan moved to take the chair next to him.“How was your meeting with the magistrate?”
“Trying,” Kastan said, accepting a goblet of water from Naveed.
“Is he still receiving complaints against me?” Jihan asked, aware that the workers he had kicked out of the farms were filing complaints at the magistrate’s office.
They hoped he would stop bringing in outsiders and hire them again.
“We can talk about that later,” Kastan said, dismissing Jihan’s question.“How is Rashan?Is he doing well?”
“Exceptional,” Jihan said, looking to the faculty tent in search of Nisa.
He shouldn’t have bothered.
“Your Grace, welcome to the academy,” Nisa said, entering their tent.
She had removed the clothes she used for the game, and was in a blue dress that showed off her figure.Her hair left to fall down her back, with a blue circlet tied around her forehead.She curtsied for Kastan, and moved to Kastan’s right side.
“May I sit with you?” Nisa asked.“I’m afraid all the other tents are full.”
Jihan fought the urge to roll his eyes and picked up his fan.The faculty tent did not look full at all, which was where Nisa should stay.
When Kastan remained silent, Nisa continued.
“To be honest, Master Bero is anxious that you have a good time today.It is so rare for you to attend our academy’s events.He asked me to keep you company and make sure you lack for nothing,” Nisa said.
“Firuz,” Jihan said, when Kastan still kept his silence.“Why don’t you find Lady Baiza a chair?We don’t want to worry Master Bero, when he takes care of our Rashan so well.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Firuz said, and hurried out of the tent.
Kastan took Jihan’s right hand, making Jihan look at him in surprise.He had not expected the show of unity, but it was enough to settle Jihan’s aching heart.
“I tried to hurry the magistrate through our meeting,” Kastan said.“I know this is your first time here at the academy, so I wanted to join you.It will be good for Rashan to have us both here.I have disappointed him on all other student events this year.”
“Did no one come to cheer him on?” Jihan asked, understanding Rashan’s request for him to stay the whole day.
“Safan usually represents me in these events if I can’t make it,” Kastan said.“The days I was at West Nation, or when I have a meeting with His Imperial Majesty in the Capital.There are duties I can’t ignore, no matter the reason.Those times, I disappoint him.”
Jihan wondered how Rashan coped.
“I feel relieved now that you’re with us,” Kastan said.“You’ll be here for him in my stead.It makes me happy to think Rashan now has two parents.”
Jihan smiled and squeezed Kastan’s hand.
Firuz returned with a chair for Nisa, and placed it on Kastan’s right side.Naveed directed him to place it a few feet away from Kastan.
Jihan turned to find Nisa watching him behind Kastan.
“Please, be comfortable, Lady Baiza,” Jihan said, nodding to the empty chair.
Nisa scowled at him, but she still sat with her back straight, her attention straight ahead.
Jihan hid a smile and returned his attention to the activities on the open field.
Nisa watched Kastan move closer to his consort and whisper into Jihan’s ear.Jihan laughed and the elated sound frayed her nerves.
She closed her eyes and her fingers bunched her skirts.The anger boiling beneath the surface threatened to swallow her whole.
She should have been the one to sit next to Kastan.The one he whispered to, the one whose hand he held so tight and not the no-name man currently enjoying the status of Prince Consort and Duke of Silver Shore.
She still could not believe this marriage had happened.
It annoyed her that she could not seem to find a crack in their union.
Jihan was too assured in his position.He showed no jealousy no matter what she did. He was like a stone, showing no reaction even when she moved too close to Kastan.There was no reaction from him.
Kastan deferred to Jihan on all matters to do with their home life, Rashan and their marriage.
Nisa had tried to invite Kastan to her house several times.He always told her he would ask Jihan first.
‘I’ll ask Jihan to plan a day and we can visit,’ Kastan would say.‘Jihan plans our visits, I’ll ask him to make arrangements.’
It was Jihan this or Jihan that with Kastan.
Nisa wondered what the merchant had given to the Imperial Prince to win such loyalty.
She couldn’t remember a more frustrating month.All her attempts to pull Kastan’s attention had failed, so now it seemed as though she was going to need to seek out a mightier sword.She had delayed her father’s memorial, as she tried to know Jihan Kamran.Now that she understood he was a hardy weed, she was going to play a harder game.
Jihan reached out and smoothed his palm over Kastan’s hair, arranging straying strands.He said something amusing, prompting Kastan’s full laugh.The sound was so surprising it drew a few gazes from the tents around them.
Dark jealousy filled Nisa, because she couldn’t remember ever getting Kastan to laugh with such abandon.Fear accompanied the jealousy and she concentrated on formulating a plan.
She needed to get Jihan away from Kastan fast enough before it was too late.
It wouldn’t do to have a Kastan who couldn’t forget the handsome merchant.
Kastan enjoyed spending the day with Jihan and Rashan.Rashan won his long sword match, and received an award for his prowess in martial arts.He failed his tests in the sciences, and Jihan hugged him to cheer him up, promising to help him with his studies.When the last event ended, Kastan gave a short speech at Master Bero’s urging, encouraging the students, calling them the future of the valley.
The ceremony ended, and Kastan led his family out of the academy.He ignored Nisa’s many attempts to get his attention, instead opting to work at surprising Jihan and Rashan.He felt the need to celebrate Rashan’s wins and a day spent in Jihan’s company.Instead of horses, they used one of the ducal carriages from Sun-filled Manor.
“Where are we headed?” Jihan asked, when he looked out the carriage window and realized they were not heading home.
“I have a surprise for you both,” Kastan said, taking Jihan’s hand and grinning at Rashan.“I wanted to treat you both and end the day on a high note.”
Jihan’s gaze widened with pleasure, and Rashan smiled, glowing with the day’s excitement.
Kastan marveled over the happiness he felt in his heart.If all he did had these two looking at him this way, with such trust, then he would be content.
Their destination was a lighted floating boat on the lake.Yasmin and Fara were on board having brought a feast to fit a king with them.Safan helped them arrange everything, and Temu had three men operating the boat.
Jihan stood staring at the lighted boat in awe, the silver water in the lake glittering in the moonlight.
“When did you plan this?” Jihan asked, when Kastan took his hand arm and led him aboard.
“While we waited for Rashan to compete,” Kastan said.“I wanted to cheer him up if he happened to lose the match, but he won.So we’re celebrating.”
“You’re the best Pa a boy could have,” Jihan praised him.
Jihan leaned up and brushed his lips on Kastan’s chin, before he hurried after Rashan who was leaning on the rail looking down at the water. Kastan touched the spot Jihan had kissed, hoping for more.
The boat set off and Kastan joined his family on the rail to watch the lake water.
Much later, after a hearty meal and a cheerful toast to Rashan’s wins, Jihan sat on a comfortable bench at the front of the boat.Rashan lay stretched out beside him, with his head on Jihan’s lap, deep asleep.
Kastan watched Jihan play with strands of Rashan’s hair.Jihan’s gaze was thoughtful as he watched the moonlight dance on the water.Once again, he wished he knew what Jihan was thinking.
“How annoyed are you about Nisa?” Kastan asked, remembering Jihan’s little game with a chair in the corner of their tent.He tried to let Jihan deal with Nisa, hoping she understood that Jihan was his consort without exception.“I know she’s been doing her best to make you jealous.I heard what she did with Rashan on the field today.”
“Does everyone report every incident to you?” Jihan asked, keeping his tone low.
“They try to,” Kastan said with a small chuckle.
Jihan nodded and returned to watching the moonlight on the silver water.He looked relaxed, no tension on his shoulders.
“Did you ever like her?” Jihan asked, his gaze not moving from the horizon.
“I thought of her as a little sister,” Kastan said.“Her father hoped I would think of her as more, and encouraged her to spend time at the manor.I kept her around because I respected General Baiza, but I have no interest in her.”
“She likes you,” Jihan said, looking at him.“She wishes you chose her as your consort.”
“You are my consort,” Kastan said.“I chose you, and would again, Jihan.”
Jihan’s lips curved into a small smile, but he didn’t say more.
Kastan moved closer to where Jihan sat.It took some maneuvering, but he managed to squeeze in next to Jihan.He made sure Jihan was resting against his chest, and Jihan made sure Rashan stayed comfortable in his sleep.
“You married Jian,” Jihan said, his tone thoughtful.“You must have loved Rashan’s mother.You would know what if feels like to love.”
Kastan’s gaze shifted to Rashan, and he frowned wondering how to give Jihan the answer he needed.He opted for truth.
“I was twenty when I married Jian.She was eighteen years old.We were young and following the wishes of our families.None of us could walk away,” Kastan said.“My first marriage was obligated.All I can say is that I understood Jian’s motivations, and respected her for doing her best with me.”
“She gave you Rashan,” Jihan said.
“Yes, she did,” Kastan said, unable to say that he had understood what love was with Jian. He had not.“Jihan, I married Jian in the same state of mind Andiya would have married me had the Emperor refused to change his edict.I married her for the empire’s stability.”
“What about me?” Jihan asked, his tone quiet.
“I chose to marry you,” Kastan said.“Do you believe me?”
Jihan kept his silence, though he nodded his head.
“What if you want other children?” Jihan asked, after a moment of silence.
“Then we’ll find a way to have them together,” Kastan said, pressing a kiss on Jihan’s left temple.
“Nisa can give you children—,” Jihan started
“Do not discuss Nisa giving me anything,” Kastan cut off Jihan.“I don’t want anything from her.You’re my consort.I only care what you want and wish to give me.”
Jihan sighed and leaned his head back.
“Don’t be angry with me,” Jihan said, his tone low.“I’m just—,”
He broke off, his hand stroking over Rashan’s hair.
“I’m only thinking about Rashan.He should have someone to play with and not have to grow up alone,” Jihan said.
“Is this your way of telling me we should find a surrogate?” Kastan asked.“I had hoped to be selfish and spend time with you and Rashan for a few more years.Can’t we talk about it after your heart has settled in this valley?” Kastan asked, his tone pleading.“Right now, I need you to lean back and relax.Enjoy our family, Jihan.I really love us together like this.”
Jihan chuckled and Kastan wrapped a comforting arm around Jihan’s shoulders holding him tight.
“Alright, if that’s how you feel,” Jihan said, finally relaxing against Kastan.“Let’s do that, Kas.”
Heavy rainfall greeted them the next week.
Jihan halted the final stages of construction at the trade station as the rain made it impossible to continue.He gave the workers three days off, and left Garren and Set in charge.He left the construction site with Temu riding to the farms.
The first farm was named Sarus Farm.Jihan wanted to make it a dairy and poultry farm.Sarus could withstand the heavy rains.
The second farm was named Antac Farm.Jihan worried about Antac Farm because of the nurseries and the incomplete silos.He spent the rest of the day helping the workers manage water drainage, and work to protect the nurseries.
When he got home, it was to meet Kastan at the manor’s front door.
Removing his wet cloak, Jihan frowned taking in Kastan’s leather cloak, gloves and the large hat he wore to cover his head.
“Where are you going in the rain?” Jihan asked, accepting a kiss from Kastan.
“There are flash floods in the east of the valley,” Kastan said.“We have a village in trouble. I’m worried people might lose their lives.This is not the first time this has happened.I need to see what we can do to handle the problem for good.”
Jihan sighed and was going to complain a bit about Kastan going out in the rain, but then Rashan came rushing in, laughing at the soggy sound his shoes were making.Jihan shook his head.
“Rashan, say goodbye to your Pa, then it’s a hot bath for you.You’re going to get sick if you keep those clothes on,” Jihan said, watching Kastan hug his son.
“Pa, are you going to the East Villages?” Rashan asked.“Are there floods again?”
“Yes,” Kastan said, using his palm to wipe water off Rashan’s face.“Your Papa is right, why don’t you go take a hot bath.Yasmin already has the water boiling.We don’t want you getting sick.”
“Okay, be careful of the floods, Pa,” Rashan said, then ran in the direction of the large bath downstairs.
Jihan turned to Kastan with a small smile.
“Just because you keep calling me his Papa, doesn’t mean he’ll start,” Jihan said.“Stop pushing him.”
“I have to try,” Kastan said, touching Jihan’s damp clothes.“You should change too.Rashan needs you healthy.I’m leaving the manor in your care.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” Jihan said, leaning up to brush his lips on Kastan’s jaw.
Kastan left soon after, leaving Jihan standing at the front door.The rain continued, the skies pouring as though in mourning.Jihan sent out a prayer of protection for Kastan.Firuz then took him by the shoulders and matched him into the house to go change.
That night, Jihan insisted on having his evening meal in Rashan’s room. He made sure the fireplace in Rashan’s room was lighted and helped Rashan with his sciences homework.When Rashan was ready for bed, he tucked him in, and left Safan to guard him.
Jihan entered the master’s chamber stopping to stare at the bed he shared with Kastan.It felt surreal to be the only one sleeping there.He had grown used to having Kastan beside him.
“I’ve heard an old wives tale,” Firuz said, coming up behind him.“Married couples have a hard time sleeping alone.They get used to having someone in bed beside them.I’m sure you will be missing Kastan tonight.If you want, I can sleep next to you.”
“Stop teasing me,” Jihan scowled.“I don’t miss Kastan in my bed.I can sleep quite fine on my own.”
“If you’re sure,” Firuz said, going to check the windows, and make sure they were locked tight.
Jihan scowled and got ready for bed.When he slid under the covers, he found that he had chosen the right side of the bed, instead of the middle.He shifted to the middle, and arranged the covers around him.When he started to lay down again, he reached for the right pillow, shifting until he was back where he started.
Jihan sighed, turning to look at Kastan’s side of the bed.His body had even trained itself to accommodate Kastan.Running his palm over Kastan’s pillow, he wondered if Kastan had a warm place to sleep tonight.
“Should I stay?” Firuz asked.
Jihan closed his eyes and burrowed under his covers.
“Yes, please,” he said, grateful when Firuz perched on Kastan’s side of the bed.
It wasn’t the same, but at least he would not be alone.
Kastan didn’t come home that night, or the next day.
Jihan was too busy handling the damage at the farm to think about Kastan’s delay.When he got home from the farm, it was to find Safan carrying an unconscious Rashan into the manor.The sight of Rashan so out of it panicked Jihan.
“What happened?” Jihan asked, rushing after them, up the stairs.“Is Rashan alright?”
“He wasn’t feeling well at the academy, and fell asleep during Master Bero’s lecture.When I tried to wake him up, he wouldn’t open his eyes.I carried him here,” Safan said.
“Why didn’t you say he was feeling unwell this morning?” Jihan asked, as he watched Safan place Rashan on his bed.
“It wasn’t unusual,” Safan said, reaching for Rashan’s boots.“I thought he would shake it off.”
They both got to work removing Rashan’s shoes and his outer coat.Jihan pressed his palm over Rashan’s forehead and hissed at the heat there.
“We need to cool him down,” Fara said, when Jihan looked up and found Fara placing a bowl of cool water on the bedside table.
Jihan helped her undo Rashan’s tunic, and took the cool cloth from Fara, placing it with gentle care on Rashan’s forehead.Firuz brought more blankets for Rashan, and Safan helped Jihan change Rashan into a sleeping shirt and slacks.
When they had Rashan comfortable, Jihan pulled a chair closer to the bed.He took Rashan’s hand, worried by how hot Rashan felt.
Jihan stayed with Rashan, changing the cold rug on his forehead, and adjusting the covers when Rashan got restless.Jihan only left Rashan’s room long enough to change out of his day clothes.Adjusting his green gown over his inner shirt and slacks, he left the master’s chamber and ran into Safan.
“Your Grace, you should rest too,” Safan urged.
“Don’t worry about me.Rashan is shivering with cold, but he is hot to the touch.He has all the heavy blankets on his bed, and still he shivers,” Jihan said.“Safan, I’m sure the manor has a doctor.Call him in, and let’s find a way to heat up Rashan’s room.The weather is not helping.”
“I’ll get the doctor,” Safan said.“Temu just came in.I’ll ask him to help me with the coal furnace.”
Jihan nodded and entered Rashan’s room to find Firuz helping Rashan sit up.Jihan rushed forward, relieved to see Rashan awake.
“He’s still too hot,” Firuz said, when Jihan pressed his palm on Rashan’s forehead.
“Help Yasmin make the ginger and lemon tea that Andiya taught you,” Jihan said.“We should get something warm inside him.I doubt he can get any food in him.”
Firuz nodded, and hurried out of Rashan’s room.
“It’s so cold, my head hurts, and my throat is scratchy,” Rashan complained, reaching for Jihan.
Jihan got on the bed and pulled Rashan into his arms. Rashan moaned in discomfort, burrowing his face into Jihan’s neck.
“Uncle Jihan, when is Pa coming back?”
Jihan closed his eyes, and took in a deep breath unsure what to say.Kastan had no set date of return.Jihan wished he had a date to give Rashan.When he was young and got sick, he had always wanted Andiya with him when he felt the worst.
Rashan’s person had to be Kastan.Of course, it was Kastan.He hated that Kastan couldn’t be here right now.
“He’ll be home soon, Shan,” Jihan said, shifting to ease his leg.
Rashan clutched his gown in panic and moved closer.
“Don’t leave me alone,” Rashan begged.“Please stay with me like Pa does when I’m sick.”
“I’ll stay with you,” Jihan promised, pressing a kiss on the top of Rashan’s head to calm him.
Jihan pulled the blankets over Rashan, and rocked him when he felt Rashan still shivering under the heavy blankets.
He wished Kastan were home.Kastan always made any situation feel manageable.
Jihan wondered when he had started to rely on Kastan’s strength.He didn’t fully know the exact moment.Jihan felt tears sting the back of his eyes because he suddenly missed Kastan terribly, and it scared him.
Kastan got home three days later, weary from endless hours of hard work.His soldiers had worked without rest.They had needed to relocate the families affected by the flash floods and build shelter for them.He had left Naveed with plans underway to redirect excess water in to existing canals that directed water into the East Village Dam.
He would need to send troops of men for the rest of the month until they had the water under control.For now though, he had needed to see Jihan and Rashan, so he hurried back home.
Kastan removed his heavy cloak and dropped it on a table in the front hall.The house was oddly quiet.It was early morning, Rashan and Jihan should have been in the dining hall, and it was never quiet when they were in there.He slowed down at the peaceful silence.
Yasmin met him at the stone garden.
“Welcome back, Your Grace,” she said, wiping her hands on her skirts.She looked harried.“I’m so glad you are back.Please, come talk to His Grace.He won’t listen to anyone, not even his shadow guard.”
“What happened to Jihan?” Kastan asked, forgetting that he was tired, fear taking over at the thought of anything happening to Jihan.
“Little Prince got sick from being in the rain,” Yasmin said.“His Grace has been taking care of him for three nights straight without rest.He won’t leave Little Prince’s room.We’re all worried he’ll get ill in the process because he’s not taking care of himself.”
Kastan squeezed Yasmin’s shoulder.
“Prepare a bath for me in the master’s chamber, and some food.I’ll get Jihan from Shan’s room,” Kastan said.“I’ll make sure he rests.”
Yasmin breathed out relief and hurried into the dining hall, while Kastan made his way to the stairs. He entered Rashan’s rooms to find Temu and Safan sitting in Rashan’s study space.They stood when they saw him, giving him nods of welcome.
Kastan walked deeper into Rashan’s room, to find Firuz arranging ledger books at a table in the corner.Jihan must have moved his workspace into Rashan’s room.Fara was folding clean clothes on the chaise.They both turned to greet him, but their quiet murmurs of greeting were telling.
Kastan’s focus remained on the bed where he could see Jihan sleeping on Rashan’s bed. His consort was still in his sleeping clothes.His green gown swept the floor tangled with the sheets. Rashan was sitting up, reading a book, which he discarded the moment he saw Kastan.
“Pa,” Rashan said in a whisper, careful not to shake Jihan awake.
Kastan smiled in greeting, always glad to see Rashan’s excitement when he walked into a room.
Rashan started to get up, but then Jihan shifted and he stopped, staying still. A little frown creased his forehead as Rashan studied Jihan’s face.When Jihan kept sleeping, he sighed in relief and looked up with a wide smile, bringing his index finger to his lips.Kastan’s heart squeezed.Rashan was worried about Jihan too.
Kastan crouched down, watching Rashan gently shift hair from Jihan’s face.His little fingers caressed silky strands with care.
Jihan’s breathing stayed even.He was deep asleep.Comfortable in Rashan’s space, most important, Kastan thought was that Rashan was at ease with Jihan.He could not get enough of seeing them together like this.
Meeting Rashan’s gaze, he returned Rashan’s smile and nodded. Straightening up to his full height, he leaned close to Rashan to whisper in his ear.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
Rashan lifted both his hands in fists to show that he felt strong.
“That’s good news.Then, I’ll clean up, and be back to get your Papa.Do we have a deal?” Kastan asked.
Rashan nodded and settled back against the pillows.
Kastan paused before he left, taking in the picture Rashan and Jihan made.They were the two most important people in his life, his family.A soft snore escaped Jihan and Kastan grinned, meeting Rashan’s gaze.He winked and hurried out of Rashan’s room to get a bath.
Kastan hurried through clean up and eating a fast meal brought by Yasmin.He was back to get Jihan in less than an hour.Temu followed behind him.
“How is he doing with the trade station?Is it hard for him?”
“The trade station is almost complete,” Temu reported, as Kastan carried Jihan to their rooms, heading straight for their bed.
Temu watched as Kastan made sure Jihan was comfortable.
“His Grace has pushed his people until they are at the last stages of construction. The station is set up as a market and also a collection place,” Temu said. “It will be an interesting place for our people.His Grace has Set and Garren already making plans on management of the station.They work faster than us.”
“How are the farms?” Kastan asked, knowing that the farms were Jihan’s latest obsession.
He was hoping they work, if only to pay back the work Jihan had put in.
“Sarus Farm is going really well,” Temu said.“It’s working without problems.Sarus Farm is coming to life with the help of Jihan’s workforce.It’s almost unbelievable.It pains me that no one from within Silver Shore Valley is working there.”
“What about Antac Farm?” Kastan asked.
“Not so stable,” Temu shook his head.“The rain was too heavy and damaged quite a number of crops.His Grace was trying to save them when Little Prince fell ill.He left the work up to the farm manager and me while he stayed home.We saved most of the nurseries, but not all.We had to start new seeds again, but the farm manager says not to worry.I’m caught between awe and envy when I look at what they have done with the farms.”
“The farms needed time investment,” Kastan said.“We are too good at war and terrible at dealing with management.Jihan is good with those things.Temu, I will be happy if you would support him without bias.”
“I’ll support His Grace as you ask,” Temu said, helping Kastan with pulling the covers over Jihan.“Which brings me to my dilemma.I need authority to move farming tools from the manor stores to the Antac Farm.”
“You have it,” Kastan said, giving it without question.
“Thank you, Your Grace.I’ll leave you two to rest,” Temu said, and hurried out of the Master’s Chambers.
Kastan listened as the door closed, before he slid into bed beside Jihan.He adjusted his pillow so that he was facing Jihan.He had missed Jihan terribly.He had gotten so used to having Jihan beside him in bed, that he couldn’t sleep well without him.He wondered what his consort would say to such a confession.A small smile played on his lips and he found himself dozing off to sleep to the lull of Jihan’s even breathing.
Jihan woke up in comfort.He opened his eyes expecting to see Rashan, but instead, he saw Kastan. It felt like a dream for a moment, and he stayed still afraid if he sat up the mirage would fade away.
He shifted to his right side, and reached out to touch the scar on Kastan’s right eyebrow with his left hand.His fingers touched warm skin and his heart lurched with excitement.He shifted closer to Kastan, and because he could not restrain himself, pressed his lips on Kastan’s forehead.
Kastan opened his eyes and Jihan wrapped his arms around him.He gasped when Kastan held him and pulled him into a tight embrace.
“You’re home,” Jihan murmured, burying his face into Kastan’s shoulder, breathing in his clean scent. It felt so good he wanted to cry.