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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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The Reluctant Consort - 15. Chapter 15

Do My Weaknesses Make Me Unattractive?

Two mornings after Kastan’s return, Jihan set up his work desk in the dining hall. The weather was still rainy, the temperatures cool. Kastan worried Rashan might get sick again, so he had insisted that Rashan stay home.

Jihan figured working in the dining hall would encourage Rashan to stay indoors.

It was barely working.

“I want to go outside,” Rashan said, keeping up a whine that had continued for most of the morning.

Jihan added up the farm expenses, and entered the figures into his new ledger. The costs were higher than he liked, but it was manageable. Pushing away the ledger, he reached for the list of workers in the fabric and leather factories in the second level of the manor.

“Why can’t I go out?” Rashan asked, for the fiftieth time that morning.

The encouragement was obviously not working.

This was the first day Rashan was up from his bed. The weather was still cold, the rain falling at odd times of the day. Jihan didn’t want to see Rashan get wet and get sick again, so he understood Kastan’s insistence that Rashan study at home today. If Rashan needed to practice, he could use the open space on the third floor.

Getting Rashan to accept it was proving harder than any negotiation Jihan had done.

Jihan looked up from the list he was reading to find Rashan playing with a dagger. His first instinct was to tell Rashan to put the dagger down. Then he remembered watching Rashan dueling with a long sword, and he closed his eyes.

Why couldn’t Rashan have liked playing with wooden sticks?

Shaking his head, Jihan sat back and opened his eyes in time to see Rashan throw the dagger on the dining table. The dagger’s sharp blade dug into the polished wood, the handle shaking with the force of the throw and Jihan got to his feet.

“Why would you do that on a dining table used to eat?” Jihan asked, fighting back annoyance.

“I was practicing,” Rashan said. “You won’t let me go outside to throw it on the trees. Why won’t you let me go outside?”

“I don’t want you to get sick again,” Jihan said. “Now, take that dagger out of our dining table, and apologize to Yasmin for ruining her hard work.”

“I don’t want to,” Rashan said, on the verge of stomping his foot in protest.

Yasmin chose that moment to walk in, bringing in drink made of horrid herbs the healer had left for Jihan. Jihan grimaced at the sight of it. He had tried to escape drinking it several times only to have Kastan trick him into it. The healer worried Jihan would get sick from taking care of Rashan.

“I don’t want to drink medicine so bitter it would kill pepper,” Jihan said, pointing at the bowl of medicine that Yasmin had brought over. “But we both don’t have a choice, do we? Come closer and let’s do your sciences reading.”

“I don’t want to,” Rashan said. “You can’t make me.”

“You know what,” Jihan started, and then closed his mouth to stop himself.

Rashan was right. He was an independent entity, from his schedules, his life plan and even the people working under Rashan.

Jihan had no say in what Rashan did on a daily basis, but there was no way he was going to acknowledge that truth.

Jihan took in a deep breath and moved back to his chair. It was a good thing that he was not above bribery.

“What, Uncle Jihan?” Rashan asked, his challenging tone enough to make Jihan grit his teeth.

He met Rashan’s angry gaze and tried not to show weakness. Rashan glared at him for a full minute, in which Jihan worried he would lose the battle.

This was not a good day.

His gaze fell on the list he was reading, and an idea struck.

“I have to visit the fabric workshop on the second level,” Jihan said, with a small smile.

“Pa said you should stay in today in case you get sick after not sleeping for days taking care of me,” Rashan said, his tone taunting. “Why do you get to go out?”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Jihan said, lifting his hands up almost in surrender. “You can come along, and Firuz…”

Jihan turned to his Shadow Guard, almost desperate; he smiled when he saw Firuz shake his head in resignation.

“Firuz can help you throw that dagger better. He has secret techniques he can share.”

“Really?” Rashan asked, walking over to the dining table to pull out his dagger. He studied the hole he had made on the table, and rubbed it with his thumb. “The hole is not so bad.”

“You have to promise not to practice your dagger throwing skills on the furniture in the future,” Jihan said, pointing a finger at Rashan. “It’s already so old, if you hit a weak point, the dining table might cave in.”

“Uncle Jihan, you worry too much,” Rashan grinned and his gaze shifted to Firuz with excitement. “When are we going outside?”

Jihan grabbed up the list of workers from the table and shook his head.

“You still haven’t made your promise,” Jihan reminded Rashan, folding his arms against his chest.

“I promise not to throw daggers and to apologize to Yasmin,” Rashan said, putting his dagger away. “When do we go out?”

“How about now, seems like a good time,” Jihan said.

Rashan gave an excited shout.

Jihan hid a smile, and started heading out of the dining hall, shaking his head.

Rashan ran after him, keeping pace and asking Firuz a dozen questions a minute.

Jihan opted to walk to the second level. They left the manor’s red gate, and made a hard right turn. They walked up a cobbled road, walking by the Duke’s Office. The doors to the office were open, but Jihan knew Kastan was not there.

Kastan had left the manor saying he needed to visit the training fields in town and then he had a matter to handle with the Hidden Keepers.

Jihan wondered what had the Hidden Keepers so worried.

Finding the fabric workshop was easy. Finding the keys to the locked doors took longer.

Jihan perched on a bench outside the workshop, watching Firuz throw a dagger on the ground, while Rashan watched intently. They were lucky the weather was holding, even though it wasn’t as warm as Jihan would have liked.

Jihan got comfortable on the bench. Taking his fan, he opened it and waved it to chase away little flies in the air. He smiled when Rashan tried his turn at Firuz’s dagger, and it fell flat. Firuz had his own tricks.

Rashan got absorbed in trying to sink Firuz’s dagger into the ground.

After watching Rashan throw a few tries, Jihan got up from the bench and paced to the end of the building, leaning over the railing to see the back of the building. He frowned when he caught a glimpse of a shadow running to the back of the building.

Jihan closed his fan. Firuz was at his side in seconds. Jihan pointed his fan to the back, and Firuz jumped over the railing on light feet. He disappeared behind the building for a moment.

Jihan strolled back to the bench and sat just as he heard a man start complaining about Firuz’s harsh treatment.

Firuz dragged a man who looked old enough to be Jihan’s father up the short steps to where Jihan sat. Firuz pushed him to his knees, and kept his tight grip on the man’s collar.

“What do we have here?” Jihan asked in a lazy tone. He closed his fan, placing it under the man’s chin and using it to lift the man’s face. “Firuz, did you find someone hiding behind the building? I wonder who it could be.”

Rashan hurried up the steps, peering at the man, as he sat next to Jihan on the bench.

“Master Rabo,” Rashan said, his eyes wide with surprise. “Why would you hide from us?”

Rabo winced, and tried to look away but Jihan wouldn’t let him.

“Rashan, do you know this man?” Jihan asked, his right brow lifted, as he met unwilling dark eyes.

“Yes,” Rashan said, studying the knife Firuz had given him. “He takes care of this workshop. His name is Rabo. He sends my robes to the manor when they are ready.”

“Really,” Jihan said, studying Rabo. “Master Rabo, why are you hiding?”


“You are meeting His Grace, Duke of Silver Shore,” Rashan said, cutting in. “Master Rabo must address him as His grace. It is what’s proper.”

Rabo cursed under his breath and sat back on his haunches. He looked at Jihan with a grimace.

“Master Rabo, I’m not the death reaper coming to collect your soul,” Jihan said, upset by Rabo’s reaction to him. “Don’t look at me like the world is ending. I just want to talk to you.”

Rabo gave him a skeptical glance, and Jihan nodded so that Firuz would let the man go.

Firuz let go of the man’s collar and stepped back. He didn’t move away though, giving Rabo no way to escape.

Jihan sat back on the bench, his fan dropping away from Rabo’s chin.

“I don’t know why you’re so unwilling to meet me that you would hide,” Jihan said, making a show of studying his fan. “Did you run when you saw me?”

Jihan looked at Rabo from the periphery, and saw another silent curse.

“Why would you run when you saw me?” Jihan asked, curious.

When Rabo kept his silence, Jihan cleared his throat.

“Should I ask my Shadow Guard to help you answer?” Jihan asked, winking at Firuz.

Firuz took a step closer to Rabo making the man shudder.

“I’ll answer His Grace’s questions,” Rabo said, giving Firuz a wary glance over his shoulder. “As long as His Grace promises not to unleash his Shadow Guard on me, I am not Ferino. I don’t know how to fight.”

Jihan nodded.

“That sounds fair. Firuz, why don’t you keep showing Rashan how to throw that dagger he’s playing with. Rashan, be good and learn well.”

Firuz helped Rabo to his feet, and then nodded for Rashan to follow him.

Rabo rubbed his knees and then looked at Jihan with suspicion in his eyes.

“How may I help His Grace this morning?” Rabo asked.

“What makes you think I need your help?” Jihan asked, placing his fan in his cloak’s pocket.

Jihan folded his arms against his chest and took in the quiet cobbled street. The building across the fabric workshop looked like a warehouse of sorts. The doors were closed, although Jihan felt like the workers had hidden away like Rabo.

Had they seen him coming?

“Master Rabo,” Jihan said, a frown creasing his forehead.

“Yes, Your Grace,” Rabo answered.

“Does everyone hide when they see me coming to their place of work?” Jihan asked, meeting Rabo’s gaze.

Rabo cursed under his breath and tried his best to ignore Jihan’s gaze. Rabo was afraid of him, afraid of Firuz, so eventually he met Jihan’s gaze and nodded.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace. I didn’t mean to close the fabric workshop and hide from you. I was just—”

“Afraid that I’ll set Firuz on you,” Jihan said with a scoff.

What an interesting moment, Jihan thought.

The valley’s people viewed him as a villain, the man with a Shadow Guard who attacked the good people. He was a specter and it didn’t sit well with him.

Communities were so hard to join. The people got too used to little traditions, same faces and activities. Change turned hard, and the promise of change frightening. He could not blame them for viewing him as an outsider. He had known it would be this hard when he started.

Still, that didn’t stop him from feeling hurt and frustrated.

After all, he was doing all of these for them…for the valley and Kastan.

Jihan sighed and nodded to the closed workshop doors.

“Master Rabo, your views of me aside,” Jihan said, deciding to shift the sting on his pride to examine later. “The workshops in the manor remain under my care. I should know how they work as His Grace’s Consort. Do you agree?”

“Your Grace is right,” Rabo said, his gaze lowered.

“I would really like a tour of this fabric workshop,” Jihan said.

“Please, you’re welcome to come in and look around,” Rabo said.

Jihan nodded and got up. He met Firuz’s inquiring gaze with a shrug, as he followed Rabo into the fabric workshop.


In the bright hall at the Imperial Tower, Neith watched Jihan tour the fabric workshop on a large round white jade mirror. The mirror was mounted on a wall across her chaise. She sat back arranging the green silk of her dress. Her gaze narrowed as she noted how tense Jihan looked, a frown creasing her forehead.

“Frowns on you are like an alarm,” Ha said, as he came around to where she sat carrying a box of scrolls from the court ministers.

“Are you willing to read these?” Ha asked. “You promised Bast that you would.”

“If you keep nagging me, I’ll leave them there,” Neith answered. “Where is Bast again?”

“Bast has gone to Levan,” Ha said, letting a wistful sigh escape. “I can’t believe it is time for a new batch of Shadow Guards to make their vows and go out to find their charges. Time moves too fast.”

“Always an emotional time for Bast,” Neith said, nodding her head. “The Quadrum is lucky to have his protection. I’m sure the new Shadow Guards will turn out well.”

Ha took a step closer to the white jade mirror, his frown making an appearance when he saw Jihan bending over white silk.

“Imperial Prince Consort intrigues you,” Ha noted. “You watch him often. Why?”

“He surprises me,” Neith said, her affection of the man hard to hide. “Silver Shore Valley is not easy. He is facing it without breaking. His efforts will change the empire’s power balance. Little things he does seem useless but are quite powerful.”

“Like what?” Ha asked, knowing Neith would have watched Jihan long enough to know.

“For one, the trade station he is building will attract Lord Revi’s attention. The Iron Lands are so close. I’m anticipating Lord Revi causing trouble there,” Neith said.

“How is that upsetting power?” Ha asked, smiling when Jihan knelt on the dusty workshop floor to study the weaving machines.

His companion, the master fabric weaver gaped in horror. Rabo tried to get Jihan to get up, but Jihan continued his inspection of the machines.

“He is always forgetting he’s a royal now.”

“That’s why I love watching him,” Neith said, amused when Jihan got up, and wiped his hands on his cream overcoat. “There is never a dull moment with him.”

“He’s struggling to find his place at Silver Shore Valley,” Ha said. “Kastan hides the many complaints he has received over his Consort’s meddling.”

“Give him time,” Neith said, grinning as she watched Jihan caress a spool of grey silk fabric with reverence.

Jihan glanced at the weaver with respect and complimented him for the fine work. The older man lowered his head in surprise. Rabo had not expected praise from Jihan.

Neith was sure the older man was questioning his own judgment of Jihan.

“I agree with the god of war’s choice to keep the complaints to himself. It is to support his husband,” Neith decided. “Jihan will make peace with his place. Which reminds me—”

Neith waved her hand and the scene in the mirror changed.

“Lord Revi’s power is growing. He is using money to weaken the palace. The Iron Lands are mostly under his control. He is like a growing blight.”

“Any business in the Iron Lands is controlled by his people,” Ha said, his tone full of displeasure. “Yesterday, he met with one of the Empress’s old ghost warriors. The Burning Feather is still alive. She is courting Lord Revi’s support.”

“The palace is too dependent on him,” Neith said, her tone thoughtful. “Kamran should have already taken hold in the Iron Lands, but Jihan has been too cautious. Not his fault, facing an Emperor was frightening enough. Now he is occupied with Silver Shore.”

Neith grimaced as she watched Lord Revi collect taxes from a poor village. He listened to no excuse from the poor farmers, taking everything they had and leaving them with nothing.

“It’s too hard watching this,” Ha said. “Why can’t we ever interfere?”

“Because,” Neith said. “Interference will make the roots of the tree rot. You know this, Ha. We can only support and guide.”

“Fine, then tell me how we can support and guide,” Ha said. “I only know how to grace Imperial Prince Kastan with the strength of a thousand armies. You’re gifted with sight and Bast protects. What can we do to change the empire’s future?”

“Lord Revi will want to control Imperial Consort’s trade station on behalf of the Empress,” Neith said, her gaze thoughtful. “Imperial Prince Consort is going to need outside support. Let’s ask Bast to talk to Blood Nation’s old prince. Blood Nation is bound to Silver Shore thanks to Princess Jian. They should help their Duke.”

Ha clapped in excitement, turning to look at the white jade mirror, he pointed at Lord Revi.

“I knew we could find a way.”

“It’s a delicate maneuver. We’ll need to move with precision,” Neith warned. “Nothing happens without Imperial Prince Consort’s knowledge. His decisions drive the power balance change. Any mistake and he is dead, or out of Silver Shore Valley.”

“I’ll follow what you say,” Ha said, with a grin. “I can make the trip to Blood Nation and visit the old palace with Bast. See what they will say about meeting a certain handsome merchant at Silver Shore.”

“Remember, Imperial Prince Consort sets the terms of trade,” Neith emphasized.

“Yes, Mistress,” Ha said, giving her a playful curtsey before he left in a cloud of white smoke.

Neith shook her head and waved her hand, returning to watching Jihan.

“How many people work in this workshop?” Jihan was asking Rabo.

“Ten men and five women, Your Grace,” Rabo answered.

“Where are they?” Jihan asked, leaning on a large roll of embroidered silk. He crossed his arms against his chest and pinned Rabo with an intent gaze.

“Um, in the bath house,” Rabo said.

Jihan narrowed his gaze.

“Are you telling me if I go to the bath house I’ll find all your workers?”

“Yes,” Rabo said with a quick nod.

“They are bathing in the bath house,” Jihan said, disbelief clear in his voice. “If I go there, I’m bound to find fifteen fabric workshop workers naked in the baths. Is that what you’re saying?”

“It is,” Rabo said, with another nod.

“It’s mid-morning and you insist they are bathing. Did they break a sweat weaving?” Jihan asked. “I never thought weaving was so intensive.”

Neith chuckled.

“They weren’t weaving. They-they were chasing a rabbit,” Rabo said.

“Chasing a rabbit?” Jihan asked, the ridicule in his tone hard to miss. “One?”

“Y-yes,” Rabo said, wincing.

“Was the one rabbit to share among all your workers? Are they starved?” Jihan asked. “Is there not enough food in the common dining hall? Why do they need to chase one rabbit, break a sweat and go bathe on a day they should be working?”

“Your Grace,” Rabo said, almost in surrender. “I—”

“You don’t need to lie to me, Master Rabo,” Jihan said, cutting him off, clearly irritated. “They must be hiding away from me. I’ll leave and let you all get back to work. I hope I find a working workshop the next time we meet.”

Neith winced at the hurt she saw in Jihan’s eyes when he turned away from Master Rabo. He needed the fabric workshop to increase revenues. He needed those workers to trust him if he was going to achieve his goals.

She was starting to love the resourceful Imperial Prince Consort. He worked so hard. He also felt every moment so much, it could cripple him, which was probably why he was holding back with the god of war.

She sighed.

Jihan needed to learn how to trust his husband. It was sad that no one had ever taught him how.

Jihan left the fabric workshop. He was deep in thought, oblivious of the curious looks he was getting from Rashan. When they got back home to the manor, Jihan urged Rashan back to his studies, even letting Firuz stay with Rashan so that he could keep learning Firuz’s knife tricks.

Jihan left his heavy cloak on a chair in the dining hall, and stepped out to the open space at the back of the manor. He was handsome in his cream robe, with fine gold designs on his lapels and sleeves. They shimmered in the weak sunlight with every step. Jihan kicked a stone with his boots and perched on a bench closest to the cliff. He leaned back, resting his elbows on the table as he stared up at the sky. The strands of his dark hair sweeping the table top in the light breeze.

Jihan kept his gaze to the skies and he leaned back even farther, a small smile flitting over his lips.

Neith realized he was waiting for the Kamran Eyrie eagle, Yoru.

Yoru circled the skies above the manor.

Neith closed her eyes and when she opened them, she saw the world through Yoru’s eyes.

You’ve waited for your charge, little one,’ she greeted. ‘You must be tired.’

Neith,’ Yoru said. ‘You honor me with a visit.’

I want to have a look at your charge, little one,’ Neith said. ‘Let me borrow your eyes for a while.

As you wish,’ Yoru said, looking down to see Jihan extend his left arm.

Yoru swept down with a breathtaking flourish and landed with perfect grace on Jihan’s arm. Neith felt her heart flutter at the exhilarating experience, her heartbeat speeding when Yoru looked into amused brown eyes.

“Yoru, you’re especially majestic today,” Jihan said, having noted the impressive landing.

Neith chuckled, and Yoru spread his wings out before he folded them with pride. He was a stunning eagle.

Jihan grinned and Neith fell in love with the handsome prince consort.

“Andiya must be spoiling you,” Jihan continued. “You two are having fun at Kamran Estate without me.”

Not too much. We miss you,’ Yoru said, meaning it.

Neith studied the pathway Yoru used to talk to Jihan. It was a new connection. Yoru must have learned how to connect to a familiar from the ancestors living at Silver Shore Valley. Neith could see his earlier connection to Jihan. It had hurt Jihan’s head each time. The new connection was smoother, neat with no frayed edges.

You look terrible,’ Yoru said. ‘Aren’t you eating enough?’

Neith loved the warmth of Yoru’s immense affection for Jihan.

“I’m eating well enough,” Jihan said. “You and Firuz would have a lot to discuss. He keeps talking Yasmin into cooking all my favorites. If I eat them daily, they will stop being favorites.”

Neith chuckled, and Yoru shook his head.

Lady Andiya has sent a letter,’ Yoru said. ‘She also needs your help with a business matter in Vasia Town. The details are in the letter.

Jihan took the small wooden tube tied on Yoru’s leg.

“I’ll send her a reply. Do you want to visit the Silver Shore Eyrie?” Jihan asked.

For a while,’ Yoru said, and Neith took her time studying Jihan.

He was worried, Neith realized, noting the tension lines on the corner of Jihan’s eyes and his mouth. It was an internal worry. Business matters rarely scared him. He loved dealing with those kinds of problems. His current worries were tied to his heart.

I’ll stop by before the sun fades in the horizon,’ Yoru told Jihan.

Thank you, little one,’ Neith said to Yoru, ‘for letting me see him and for being his good friend.

I’m the one that’s grateful,’ Yoru said, as he spread his wings out and flew away.

Neith was back on her chaise watching Jihan in the white jade mirror. Deciding that she didn’t want to watch any longer, she got up and touched her dress with a frown. She had to meet the god of war about his valley. She would need to ride a horse, which meant a change of clothes.


Kastan’s horse jumped over a large fallen tree, racing through the forests outside the gates of the valley, Naveed behind him, followed by a troop of soldiers. He brought his horse to a stop when they reached the edge of the forest. A clearing ahead led to deep caves.

The Hidden Keepers had reported people living in the caves.

Kastan clutched his horse’s reins and shifted on his saddle, his horse moving with him, before it settled into a stop. His gaze stayed on the cave entrance. It was a relatively warm day, a departure from the last few days of rain.

Kastan adjusted his left sleeve under his leather vambrace, pausing when his wedding ring shone in the light on his right hand. He rubbed the gold surface with his thumb, a small smile gracing his lips.

He had left Jihan sulking at home this morning.

The manor’s healer worried Jihan would pick up Rashan’s infection. The healer had left a prescription for Jihan. Knowing Jihan and his penchant for getting in the mud and the ponds at the farms, he had coerced him into staying at the manor. He had used Rashan, shamelessly. Tasking Jihan with the impossible job of making sure Rashan didn’t get sick again.

Kastan smiled at the memory of Jihan’s incredible pout.

“Your Grace,” Naveed said, drawing his attention.

Kastan looked at the cave entrance in time to see children running out, holding hands and laughing. They looked happy and well-tended. The Hidden Keepers were right. There were families living in the caves.

“What do we do?” Naveed asked, moving his horse closer to Kastan. “A troop of soldiers descending on such happy children will scar them.”

“I agree,” Kastan said, thoughtful, “take two men into the cave. I’ll wait.”

“Are you sure?” Naveed asked. “I don’t want to leave you—”

“I’ll be fine,” Kastan said, amused by Naveed’s care.

Naveed gave him a worried glance, and Kastan dismounted his horse.

“Go, General Naveed, I can fend for myself. It’s not like you’re leaving me alone,” Kastan nodded to the ten soldiers on horses around them. “I’m curious about those families living in the caves. I want to know why they have chosen to stay here. We’ll come to the rescue if you stay longer than ten minutes.”

Naveed nodded and dismounted his horse too. He called on two of the soldiers, leaving the rest with Kastan. Kastan watched Naveed reach the children, his interaction gentle as he greeted them, and asked them to call their guardians.

Kastan urged the soldiers around him to do a quick sweep of the area in case of an ambush.

He was leaning on a tree waiting for Naveed to emerge from the cave, when he heard the sound of a horse galloping. The rider was upon them in minutes. The soldiers moved into formation around Kastan’s position. Kastan kept leaning on the tree sure that the rider would be in for a bigger surprise at finding a troop of soldiers so close to the clearing.

Kastan looked up at the dark horse that emerged from the forest path, the rider slowing the horse to a stop. Kastan watched the rider clutch the reins of the horse as it reared up, keeping total control.

A skilled rider, he thought.

When the horse settled, Kastan took in the rider’s slight figure wrapped in a dark cloak.

It was a woman.

Kastan did not attempt to stop his soldiers from attacking at any sign of trouble. A woman could be as deadly as any man could.

“How lucky to have ran into the god of war,” the woman said, her voice sounding very familiar.

Kastan pushed back his cloak over his shoulder so that he had access to his sword. His gaze remained on the woman still mounted on her horse.

“How may I help you, my lady?” Kastan asked.

“Chivalrous as ever,” she said, reaching up to push the hood of her cloak down.

The soldiers around Kastan gave a collective gasp. Kastan understood their surprise.

Neith was a beautiful woman and she took some getting used to.

It was all the hair, Kastan decided. So long and thick, it was so much he wondered how she managed it.

Strange how he loved Jihan’s hair, but found Neith’s a distraction.

“I’ll dismount my horse now,” Neith announced, her gaze remaining on Kastan. “I would hope your men will not stab me to my death.”

Kastan bit back a laugh at the idea of Neith dying at the end of one of his soldiers’ swords. She had trained him. She could still drop him to the ground with a few sweeps of her sword. She was no weakling.

“I request time with His Imperial Highness, Prince Kastan,” Neith said, her tone suddenly formal.

“Fall back,” Kastan ordered his men deciding to give Naveed backup early. “Troop leader, support General Naveed at the caves.”

“Yes, Commander,” the answer came, and the soldiers hurried to the clearing and the cave entrance after Naveed.

Neith dismounted her horse, pausing long enough to murmur her thanks to the horse before she turned to face Kastan. She removed her riding gloves, her gaze taking him in from his head to his leather boots.

“You look happy and content,” Neith said with a pleased nod.

“I have no complaints,” Kastan said, clearing his throat.

He folded his arms against his chest and turned to watch the caves.

“What brings the god of war here?” Neith asked.

“I’m surprised you don’t know,” Kastan said.

“Your life is a big blur,” Neith answered. “I can only guess as to where you are, not why.”

“Interesting,” Kastan said with a small smile. “Does that frustrate you, Neith?”

“Plenty,” she answered with a grimace.

“There are families in the caves,” Kastan said, deciding to put her out of her misery. “I would prefer to know who they are and why they are staying here. It will reduce surprises. The Hidden Keepers want to know how we should handle their presence here.”

“Hmm,” Neith said, a frown appearing on her forehead. “Families mean refugees. Have you heard of the increasing number of displaced families from the Iron Lands?”

“The Imperial Palace and its court should handle those issues,” Kastan said. “My officers cannot interfere or it will be an act of rebellion.”

“So, you won’t give your brother an opinion,” Neith said.

“He is the Emperor,” Kastan answered with a shrug. “It’s his burden to handle the plight of his people.”

“True,” Neith said, with a nod. She turned to him, crossing her arms against her chest. “The Iron Lands aside, shall we discuss Silver Shore Valley.”

“What of it?” Kastan asked a brow raised in question.

“Why have you not made any attempts to help your consort solidify his position by your side?” Neith demanded. “You two are married. The valley’s people should know to respect your consort and help him build prosperity.”

“They do,” Kastan said, surprised by Neith’s accusing gaze.

“They are holding him at arm’s length,” Neith said. “It is frustrating him. I don’t want to see that beautiful creature discouraged. Do your part, god of war, otherwise why did you marry him?”

“Neith!” Kastan said in shock, her anger hard to understand.

Jihan was doing fine. He was working the farms, getting to know Yasmin, and building a trade station. He was bonding with Rashan, and even Temu was referring to him more often.

Kastan frowned when Neith gave him a hard look.

“What?” Kastan asked.

“Warriors are always so clueless,” Neith said with a sigh. “I’ve heard your men do a ceremony to induct their wives into the brotherhood when they get married. How is it that the Commander of these men has not done this ceremony for his consort?”

Kastan’s brows rose up in realization and then he turned away from Neith and cleared his throat.

“I was giving Jihan time to adjust to life at Sun-filled Manor. It’s a lot to take in, and—”

“Without that ceremony, you’ve left him at a great disadvantage,” Neith said. “Your people listen to you, Commander. You must present Jihan to them and tell them he matters to you.”

“But there was a wedding,” Kastan said, a frown creasing his forehead.

“Silver Shore Valley has long ran autonomously,” Neith said. “You knelt before the heavens and the earth in front of the Emperor at the Imperial Palace in the Capital. The valley’s people were not there to see it. They don’t think he has a place among them.”

Kastan turned to look at Neith, guilt flooding him. Why had he not thought of this before? He had been too busy getting excited about having Jihan in his life. He had not stopped to think of Jihan’s place in the valley among his soldiers and their families.

“Okay,” Kastan said, nodding. “We can have a marriage dance at the manor—”

“Not the manor, it must be in the Silver Meadow near the lake,” Neith said. “Among the valley’s people, a dance in red and gold with light from the moon and fire, on a field of flowers. It will be a memorable sight, one enough to soften the people’s hearts.”

“When is the best time for this dance?” Kastan asked, understanding that Neith had come looking for him to tell him what he needed to do.

“Your consort will need to leave the valley to handle a matter in Vasia,” Neith said. “He’ll ask to leave in three days. Delay him and plan the dance so he may leave on the new moon night.”

“The new moon is in five days,” Kastan said.

It was a short time to plan a dance fit for a duke and his consort.

“Yes, well, you are the valley’s master,” Neith said. “There is nothing you can’t do.”

“Did you come here to tell me that I’m neglecting my consort’s affairs?” Kastan asked.

“They are very important matters,” Neith said. “Also, to remind you that Lord Revi is fast becoming the Empire’s nemesis. If he joins hands with the Empress, Miran will have to draw family blood.”

“She is misguided when it comes to winning power,” Kastan said, rubbing his left arm. He could not remember a time when his family had needed to cut down someone in the family.

“You should visit your father for guidance,” Neith said. “The burden of a sword against an Empress will fall on your shoulders. You cannot expect the Emperor to take that role. He has loved that woman, and she has given him two sons.”

Kastan cursed under his breath.

“How long do I have?” Kastan asked, distaste at the task at hand heavy.

Neith closed her eyes, her head tilted as though to listen to the music made by the leaves on the tree branches. When she did open her eyes, Kastan stared into golden orbs. They shimmered in the sunlight, the dark iris of her eye a stark contrast.

“Lady Andiya will visit Sun-filled Manor,” Neith said, her voice making Kastan shiver at the weight of its power. “Her child will be born in your halls and a fortnight after she leaves, Rushi will take your treasure from you. Your choices on that night will decide the fate of this empire. I hope your will is strong enough to overcome that crucible.”

Kastan held Neith’s gaze, wondering what treasure Rushi would try to take from him. He had so many now, Rashan and Jihan, Silver Shore and its entire people. His heart could not bear the thought of any of them suffering after they had given so much to the rest of the empire.

“You will know the moment by the depths of your heart,” Neith said in closing.

She turned away and when she looked at him again, her eyes were no longer golden.

He felt honored to have received an insight straight from Neith. She only gave them to the Emperor. For her to have given him one, she had to be worried, that or his Silver Shore Valley would play an important role in the balance of power.

“One more thing, if you love your consort, show him,” Neith said, anger clear in her eyes. “He’s only ever given love and doesn’t know what it’s like to receive it. It’s no wonder he holds himself so tight. Remember that, majestic god of war. I’ll leave you to your day now.”

Kastan watched her walk back to her horse, and mount it as though she lived a top its back. Her hood came up over her head and she took the reins of her horse.

“Duke Silver, will you watch me ride away without an invitation to the marriage dance?” Neith asked, her tone playful.

“Is there any place on this empire that you cannot visit at will?” Kastan asked, smiling at her.

“I’m a lady at heart,” Neith said. “I appreciate an offer for a dance.”

“Then by all means, come to the dance, our goddess Neith,” Kastan said. “I cannot promise to dance with you. My hand is promised to a jealous consort.”

“I’ll make Ha dance with me,” Neith said, with a grin. “I look forward to it, Duke Silver.”

Kastan lowered his head in an elegant bow and watched her ride away, crossing the clearing and heading deeper into the forest ahead.

Naveed returned to his side minutes later, followed by an older man using a walking stick. The clothes the old man wore were of fine silk, even though it was a bit worn. Kastan shifted his cloak to hide his sword and walked out of the trees to meet them.

“Your Grace, the families in the caves are refugees from the Iron Lands,” Naveed said when he reached them. “They are hoping to find a place in Silver Shore Valley. This is Grandmaster Lehin.”

“Grandmaster Lehin,” Kastan said, turning his full attention to the old man who could be his grandfather.

“Your Grace,” Grandmaster Lehin said, bowing his head as much as he could. “I apologize for my family intruding on your domain. We are left with no choice and find ourselves at your mercy.”

“What can I do for you?” Kastan asked.

Grandmaster Lehin reached into the pocket of his heavy cloak and pulled out an old book. He handed Naveed his walking stick, then held out the old book to Kastan in a formal bow.

“My family specializes in forging metal. We were prosperous in the Iron Lands, and owned a large workshop. Lord Revi’s men plotted against us and took everything we had forcing us out of our home. I now offer you this family manual and seek asylum for my family.”

Kastan raised a brow at Naveed, and then took the book from Lehin. It was a manual on different ways of forging metal and crafting tools and weapons. It was invaluable information.

Kastan closed the manual and looked at Lehin.

“We shall work for you, Your Grace,” Grandmaster Lehin said. “Please give us a chance. I heard you took in the Hidden Keepers for their ability to protect Silver Shore Valley. My family will offer you the finest tools and weapons forged in this empire.”

Kastan rolled the manual, and clasped his hands behind his back.

Grandmaster Lehin’s family was full of weapons masters. They were an asset. It was always good to have forgers who knew what to do with metal.

Lord Revi’s men were foolish taking over a forgery without the forgery master. They were not smart enough to know that the forge was successful because of the skill behind it.

“Grandmaster Lehin, I will consider your request. Silver Shore Valley is not easily entered,” Kastan said. “The Hidden Keepers will let you know our decision when we reach it. Meanwhile, you are free to seek help from the soldiers at the gate. Our officers will deliver relief food and medicine daily. They will also be available to help you, if you are faced with trouble.”

“Your Grace is kind and wise,” Grandmaster Lehin said, bowing his head lower. “I look forward to your decision.”

Kastan and Naveed waited for Grandmaster Lehin to return to the caves before they left the clearing.

“Will you let them into the valley?” Naveed asked.

“We always need innovative forgers,” Kastan said. “I’ll ask Jihan what he thinks of a forge in the valley.”

Naveed sighed.

“The Iron Lands are deteriorating. I can’t believe people are turning into refugees.”

“Lord Revi is a skilled statesman,” Kastan said. “There is no easy way to remove him from his position. He always has ironclad reason for his actions. He would need to lose a considerable chunk of his power to remove him.”

Naveed scoffed.

“That’s what they say about tyrants.”

Kastan shrugged, his thoughts occupied with Jihan and the marriage dance suggested by Neith.

“Naveed, would it be alright to plan a marriage dance for Jihan now?” Kastan asked, wondering if it was too soon.

Jihan was already swamped with work.

“We have all been wondering how to ask,” Naveed said, sounding very relieved. “I’m so glad you brought up this topic. Temu, Safan and I think that you’ve stayed too long. We’re worried the people will keep treating His Grace like an outsider. I’m relieved you’re thinking of the marriage dance.”

“Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” Kastan asked, looking at his best friend.

“Because,” Naveed shrugged. “We thought you both needed time to settle your hearts after getting an arranged marriage.”

Kastan scowled at Naveed.

“You should have mentioned something.”

They had reached the valley’s entrance. Kastan turned to head home.

“Your Grace, you had intended to visit the trade station today. Do you still want to meet Set and Garren for a meeting?”

“That can wait,” Kastan said. “I need to get to the manor and see Jihan. We’ll ask Yasmin to start preparations for the marriage dance. We should have it in three days.”

“Three days,” Naveed almost shouted. “Have you gone mad?”

Kastan chuckled and raced his horse to Sun-filled Manor.

Rashan met him at the front door.

Kastan dumped his cloak on an armchair in the hallway taking Rashan’s right hand.

“Pa, you have to help me,” Rashan said, looking distressed. He led Kastan to the sitting area on his left. “I was mean to Uncle Jihan this morning. He even decided to take me on a walk with him because of it, but when he came back, he looked upset. He is sitting outside now. He won’t let anyone stay with him, even his Shadow Guard. What do I do to make it better?”

“Why were you mean to Uncle Jihan?”

Rashan shuddered, clutching Kastan’s hand.

“I don’t know, it just happened, I wanted to go outside and he wouldn’t let me.”

“Did you apologize to him?” Kastan asked, looking into young dark eyes.

He rubbed his thumb over Rashan’s forehead, trying to take away the little frown forming there.

Rashan lowered his gaze when he answered.

“No,” Rashan said, biting his bottom lip. “I don’t know what to say to make it better. I don’t want him to hate me, Pa.”

“I’m very sure he will never hate you,” Kastan said, smoothing Rashan’s hair back and leaning forward to press a kiss on Rashan’s forehead. “I have a plan that might help.”

Rashan looked up, his gaze brightening with excitement.

“What plan? Can I help?”

Kastan grinned and got up from the chair

“We need Yasmin,” Kastan said. “She promised to learn how to make lemon tarts. Jihan’s favorite.”

“Should we ask her to make some?” Rashan asked.

“We should,” Kastan said, picking up Rashan for an instant and swinging him up. Rashan laughed and Kastan returned him to his feet. “Shan, your Papa is a good man. He cares about you. Give him a chance to love you, hmm?”

“I will,” Rashan promised.

They ended up in the kitchen where they found Yasmin busy making their evening meal.

“Your Grace, welcome home,” Yasmin said, covering a steaming pot. “I’m glad you’re home. Maybe you can convince Prince Jihan to get in out of the cold. I know he had a bad day today, but he could still get sick staying out by the cliffs with no cloak.”

Kastan frowned.

“Bad day?” he asked.

Yasmin sighed and wiped her hands on her apron.

“The fabric workshop workers hid from him today. He wasn’t happy about it,” Yasmin said.

Kastan sighed and squeezed Rashan’s hand.

“Shan, why don’t you help Yasmin prepare some lemon tarts for Jihan. I will go get him,” Kastan said.

He patted Rashan’s shoulder and left the kitchen to find Jihan.



I read your last letter. Your heart sounds unsettled to me. Your feelings for Duke Silver remain intact, but your task at Silver Shore Valley makes your heart waver. You worry he might only need you as long as you can help him. The valley’s people treat you differently in the same way we treat strangers different at Kamran. In time, you will earn their trust, after all, you are a merchant, my dear brother. As for love, give Duke Silver a chance, An.

Kamran continues. Gura Wine is doing very well. The rest of our business is getting back to normal. We need your negotiation skills in Vasia. Tagon has brought a new player from Tanad Kingdom, someone who can take Silver Shore salt to Tanad at reasonable prices. At the same time, Ambra has a contact in Tanad who wants to meet you. Garren believes you are the best at negotiation. Let us know when you’re able to reach Vasia.

Try to enjoy life, An. Rashan is a lovely boy. His adventures remind me a bit of you when you were that age. They make me hope for a boy. Ishan says he wants a girl. He thinks she will be like me, which terrifies me.

Give Firuz a kiss on his cheek from me. I can picture the frown he will make perfectly. I think of him always and pray for his safety, as he is the most valuable talisman next to you. I love you, dear An. Take good care of yourself. I miss you very much.


Jihan traced his sister’s name on the paper.

Reading her letters left him homesick, extremely. He wanted to be home with her. He worried over her baby. He wanted to see her give birth and marvel over how perfect the baby looked. He wondered if she was eating well. He hoped their parents would not visit Kamran Estate to give her trouble.

It pained him that he could not be there to defend her. His index finger stilled when he noticed a teardrop on the parchment. When a second followed, he brought his hand up to his cheeks, surprised to find he was crying.

He wiped the tears away but they wouldn’t stop falling, chasing down his cheeks as if he was filling a river. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried. Had he ever cried? He couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t he remember? Heavens, he was tired. His chest tightened and a sob ripped out of him.

He was at once glad that he had chosen to sit outside in the backyard. It was a warm afternoon, and the waterfall was at full speed. His back was to the manor. He hoped no one would pay attention to him out here.

“Jihan?” Firuz asked, wrapping an arm around him. “What’s wrong? Is Andiya okay?”

Firuz reached for the letter, and Jihan tried his best to breathe in so that he could speak. The arm around his shoulder moved away and he braced his elbows on the table. Burying his head in his hands, he let out a sob the tightness in his chest making it hard to speak.

“Sh-she’s fine,” Jihan managed. “I’m-I’m-Why is it so hard? W-why does no one like me here? Why did I decide to come here? I can’t believe I got married and left Andiya alone. What’s wrong with me, Firuz?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Kastan soothed, rubbing his back in gentle motions.

Jihan sat up, shocked to see Kastan back so soon.

Kastan had been coming home late, why would he decide to come home so early today?

“I’m not crying,” Jihan said, embarrassed.

Jihan started to turn away, but Kastan cupped his cheek and forced him to meet his gaze.

“Don’t hide your tears from me,” Kastan murmured.

He kissed Jihan’s cheek and shifted closer.

Jihan closed his eyes, mortified when tears trailed down his cheeks.

Kastan pulled Jihan to his side, pressing Jihan’s forehead into his shoulder.

“I’ll stay with you until you feel better.”

Jihan breathed in Kastan’s scent and let out a soft breath when the tears came faster. He thought about the fabric workshop manager running away from him. He was so tired. He wanted to go home to Andiya. He missed her so much. He missed having people who knew him and liked him. Silver Shore Valley was proving harder than he had imagined.

“Who upset you?” Kastan asked, still rubbing Jihan’s back, soothing him. “Your husband will avenge you.”

Jihan clung to Kastan’s cloak and bit back a watery laugh, his tears faltering.

“What happens if I say I upset myself?” Jihan asked, reaching into his pocket to get a handkerchief. He leaned his forehead on Kastan’s shoulder, as he worked on wiping his tears away and the mess at his nose.

“Then, I’ll help you vanquish the thoughts that made you this upset,” Kastan said, still rubbing Jihan’s back in soothing motions.

Jihan shook his head. He started to pull back but Kastan wouldn’t let him go.

“I know you’re missing home,” Kastan said, having noticed the letter from Andiya. Firuz had left it on the table as he gave them space. “I can’t be Andiya, but I am your lover. Let me share your tears. I’ll hold you like this when you miss your sister and your beloved home. Or when you feel things are too hard.”

“I’m crying like a weakling,” Jihan murmured against Kastan’s shoulder. “That can’t be attractive.”

“I’m happy when you let me see you like this,” Kastan said, holding him tight.


“You’re no weakling,” Kastan said. “Let’s sit out here until you feel better. Later, we can have Firuz bring your favorite tea. Yasmin has also learned how to make the lemon tarts you love. She always has some baking now. We should have a few…”

Kastan picked up Andiya’s letter but did not read it. He placed it in the letterbox Jihan had brought with him from the house. Closing the box, Kastan got comfortable on the bench, holding Jihan, stroking Jihan’s hair and rocking him, as he held him. It was so soothing, Jihan felt as though the hurts of the day were fading.

It felt good to lean on Kastan’s solid frame.


You're halfway to the end. Thank you for reading Jihan and Kastan's story. Have a Coffee or Tea or a Delicious Drink, let's keep going.
The Character List will help you track everyone, if you have a burning question, ask, I'll answer.
All my Love,
Suilan Lee, 2019-2021
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lol Kastan might be the god of war but he needed Neith to remind him that he is also a husband  😂

Hmm, i don’t remember : is it Neith’s first appearance ? amazing character ! love it  ❤️

excellent chapter  👍 worth the waiting 😆

edit : oh ! i completly forgot she was one of the Ancients 🙈 thx to Buz for the remind 🙂 

Edited by Danilo Syrtis
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Posted (edited)

Being the new in an old established place is frightening. I'm sure all will be right in three days.

Edited by CLJobe
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I loved this chapter.  Jihan has done as much as he can do with his interactions with the people of Silver Valley.  Kastan must make sure that those in the Valley know that Jihan has his heart and trust.

The Empress is going to continue to cause issues.  Not sure anyone is really going to be happy with how that plays out.  The future is never set; even the smallest pebble can change what is coming.

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Outstanding chapter! The pressures of running the Manor, cleaning up the finances of not only the Manor, but all of the businesses and people as well, Rashan’s temper tantrum all combined to bring Jihan to tears when he read Andiya’s letter. Rashan, Firuz and Yasmin were all feeling guilty and Sympathetic while seeking to make Jihan feel better. The difficulties between the leader of the Iron Lands, the Empress and Jihan will test Kastan. Nieth giving advice on how to make Jihan feel more welcome in the Silver Shore Valley and getting the people to understand him has made Kastan realize how much he loves him and how he has left him to fend for himself when he found him crying on the porch. I sincerely hope that Kastan, Jihan, Rashan, Andiya and her baby will all survive the treachery of the Empress. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

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On 7/19/2020 at 5:45 PM, FanLit said:

Unlike Nieth, I think “the burden of a sword against an empress” should fall on the emperor because he loved her and because she has given him two sons-these are not her considerations when she plots treason against her own husband-not even her father’s sacrifice stays her hand in betrayal;  That should not be a task asked of another family member,  whichever faction that dispatched her father should also handle her;  The only exception to this would be if Kastan had to physically defend himself or his family against Rushi.
For all the frustrations this chapter brought Jihan, it was a nice break from the other drama and served to bring he and his husband closer.

I’m open to the interpretation on this one,.

Does the burden fall to Kastan literally to relieve the emperor, and father of Rushi’s children, or is it more figuratively as Kastan may be burdened to arrange the act of removing that cancer. Either way, Kastan is then destined for more challenges with possibly another border war, with the kingdom of Rushi’s birth. The strained relations between their kingdoms were cause for her political marriage to the Emperor; now the rightful call for death of the Empress Rushi, following the recent execution of Lord Villes, the Empress’s father will bring the ere of Rusho’s brother and other powers to be in her native lands.

This is even more complicated by the all to present maneuvers of the money purse and muscle of Lord Revi; was which was the very impetus for Jihan’s servitude to the empire by royal marriage.

Oh what a wicked web we weave...

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12 minutes ago, Philippe said:

I’m open to the interpretation on this one,.

Does the burden fall to Kastan literally to relieve the emperor, and father of Rushi’s children, or is it more figuratively as Kastan may be burdened to arrange the act of removing that cancer. Either way, Kastan is then destined for more challenges with possibly another border war, with the kingdom of Rushi’s birth. The strained relations between their kingdoms were cause for her political marriage to the Emperor; now the rightful call for death of the Empress Rushi, following the recent execution of Lord Villes, the Empress’s father will bring the ere of Rusho’s brother and other powers to be in her native lands.

This is even more complicated by the all to present maneuvers of the money purse and muscle of Lord Revi; was which was the very impetus for Jihan’s servitude to the empire by royal marriage.

Oh what a wicked web we weave...

My opinion was originally to support Kastan not having to be the one to personally deal with or execute his sister in law, in spite of being his brother the emperor’s “muscle”....yet Rushi is literally plotting his murder and isn’t above manipulating and/or harming his immediate family (Rashan and Jihan) to do so;  From that perspective, Kastan will have to be the one to kill Rushi, as he will defend his son and husband by any means and would want to personally do so, so consider this an about face of my previous opinion, lol. 


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58 minutes ago, tigg615 said:

Are we going to get a new chapter?


I must admit that I too have been hanging out for the next chapter. I tried really hard not to say something. I went back to see how long it normally is between chapters and so far it has not been any longer than any other 'in-between period'. But for some reason, this time seems especially long. That isn't helped by the fact that one looks multiple times a day so it probably seems longer than it actually has been. Of course, the in-between period has been shorter, but like I said - this one has not been any longer than some.

But, yeah. Another chapter soon would be way awesome. 

Thanks :2thumbs:

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There is so much to consider in this chapter.  The Ancients are worried about Jihan, Kastan and the welfare of the Empire. Nieth's observations in the mirror as well as her discussion with Ha indicate a delicate touch is quickly needed to prevent dire consequences for the Empire.  Her visit with Kastan has given him information he needs to make critical decisions, especially where Jihan is concerned.  I do hope that the Emperor is able to take care, permanently, of the betrayals for Lord Revi and the Empress.  I wish Ha and Best good luck with their visit to the Blood Nation.  I suspect that Kastan's and Jihan's greatest treasure will be Rashan. I hope that Bast arranges for one of the new Shadow Guards to protect Rashan.

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On 9/21/2020 at 10:37 PM, Buz said:

That isn't helped by the fact that one looks multiple times a day so it probably seems longer than it actually has been. Of course, the in-between period has been shorter, but like I said - this one has not been any longer than some.

I have read everything Lilansui has posted on this site, most things at least twice. Lilansui is an awesome author, and waiting for the next chapter is ALWAYS hard. We have moved on from this storybut it's still a favorite to reread. 

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