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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 - 22. Chapter 22

Kastan gives Jihan Sweet Words

“You didn’t have to yell at him so much,” Jihan complained, watching his sister coordinate with the woman Set had placed to manage the unfinished inn and the sleeping quarters in the administration house.

The manager’s name was Seol and she placed Firuz in the room across the master’s chamber Jihan would use with Kastan. Rashan was taking his bath in the room next to the master’s chamber. He had one of Safan’s assistants helping him. Andiya had brought Deora and the healer Jihan found her.

They were helping Seol.

Andiya finished giving her instructions to Seol, and Jihan stopped Seol from leaving.

“Please make sure General Temu gets his wounds tended,” Jihan said to Seol. “Send a healer to him, and make sure he gets a hot meal and a bath.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Seol said, leaving the room with fast steps.

Jihan turned his attention to Firuz who sat on the bed, the healer Andiya brought tending to his arm. Jihan sighed when he saw his Shadow Guard giving the woman a hard time.

“I can do this myself,” Firuz was saying, his tone dripping with irritation, slapping the woman’s hand away when she reached for his left arm.

The healer looked afraid each time Firuz glared at her.

“You’re scaring her,” Jihan said, making Firuz look up.

The healer sighed in relief, when Firuz smiled as Jihan perched on the side of his bed.

“I’ll help you, even though I know you’re a strong man who can handle this yourself,” Jihan teased.

Firuz scoffed, though he gave a small nod as Jihan took over.

Andiya sat on the edge of an armchair next to the bed.

“An, you’re lucky all I’ve done today is scream at your husband,” she said, arranging her shawl around her stomach. “You have no idea what it was like getting that note from Garren. I thought you were…”

She broke off, and shook her head, clutching her shawl tight.

Jihan understood her fear, remembering the hoard of ghost warriors coming at them in that forest today had him shivering. He couldn’t remember ever having to tend to Firuz’s wounds. This rare moment was enough to tell him he had been in real danger today. It was rare for him to meet opponents that could harm Firuz.

Jihan wiped the cut on Firuz’s arm until it was clean. He winced through the process sure that Firuz was hiding his pain. His Shadow Guard’s expressions stayed blank through it. He reached for the healing herbs the healer held out in a bowl, and applied them on the wound with care.

Jihan was careful, as he made sure every inch of the damaged skin was covered with healing herbs. He placed the bowl on the stool next to him and took the clean white bandage from the healer. He tied it with care, making sure to protect the wound and when he was done, he smoothed Firuz’s sleeve down over the covered wound.

“This incident is not as easy as it looks,” Jihan murmured, placing the dirty clothes on the tray the healer held.

The healer left the room to go bring the brewed medicine she had left simmering, making sure to close the door behind her.

Jihan helped Firuz pull the covers over his legs, and sat on the edge of the bed, facing Andiya.

“When I was in Vasia Town, Lord Revi’s master merchant approached me. He wanted a claim in this trade station. I refused,” Jihan said, thoughtful. “He must have been the one who made a play for this trade station.”

Andiya cleared her throat, a frown appearing on her forehead.

“His attempts to take on this place must mean he knew you would be attacked on the way home,” Andiya said. “Without you, they felt they could take control…Duke Silver would be too occupied finding you, and making sure his son is safe to care for this place. His priority is always the integrity of Silver Shore Valley.”

Jihan stared at his sister. She was right, very right.

“The question remains,” Firuz said into the following silence. “Who dares attack a Prince Consort with such deadly intent?”

Jihan bit his bottom lip thinking of the Empress Rushi.

Her box full of poisoned spices a memory he could not forget. He frowned. She was daring, but an outright attempt on his life left her wide open. She would have used a proxy.

Someone invested in seeing him dead.

Silver Shore Valley had yet to warm up to him…would the culprit be from there, he wondered.

The healer entered the room carrying a tray with a steaming bowl. She brought it to Jihan, who took the bowl and held it out to Firuz.

“This is ginger and a mix of herbs to help you sleep,” Jihan said, as Firuz drank the concoction. “You should rest tonight, Firuz. We’re safe for the moment. Promise you’ll close your eyes.”

“If you don’t, I’ll come in here to babysit you,” Andiya threatened.

“Andiya,” Jihan and Firuz both said, ready to protest, making her laugh.

“I still haven’t started on you yet,” Jihan scowled at her. “You put yourself in danger today. You came riding from Kamran, when you could hardly travel to Vasia. I should yell at Deora and Ishan for letting this happen. How could they let you leave so easily?”

“One, I’m pregnant, not an invalid,” Andiya said, glaring at Jihan. “Two, Ishan is upset with me for leaving. I used all my wiles on him to get him to agree for me to leave. I’m not sorry for any of it because my coming here helped the Little Prince.”

Jihan shuddered, unable to argue with her points.

Andiya’s assessment on his luck today was too precise. Calamities had rained down from the sky. He still could not believe Rashan had been in such danger today. It made him feel crazed with anger.

“I’ll sleep,” Firuz said, drawing Jihan’s gaze. “I know it’s useless to tell you not to worry. So, I’ll drink my medicine and sleep so that you both rest too.”

“I’ll stay here with Firuz for a while,” Andiya said, sitting back in her chair, watching the healer pick up Firuz’s dirty clothes. “Jihan, you need to clean up and medicine on your wounds. Your husband insisted on helping you. So, why don’t you go ahead?”

“Okay,” Jihan said, biting back a yawn.

His shoulders ached with fatigue. He started to get up, and was unable to hide his wince at the stinging pain on his knees.

Firuz started to move, but Jihan glared at him.

“Stay. I’ll go now so that you can rest,” Jihan said, holding his hand out to stop Firuz. “Andiya don’t stay up too long. I don’t even need to worry because Set will come to hustle you to bed in a few minutes.”

Andiya grinned at him, and Jihan leaned over to kiss her cheek. She wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug, and he stayed in her comfort for a moment. He had really missed her. Having her here made his ordeal seem surreal, like a nightmare he had thought up.

Tears stung the back of his eyes and he pulled away, lowering his gaze to hide his eyes.

“Thank you for coming, Andiya,” he murmured, and then hurried to the door.

Jihan paused to talk to the healer standing by the laden table arranging herbs.

“Check on Firuz’s arm and make sure no infection sets in,” Jihan said. “Firuz hides his pain and won’t say when it’s unbearable. Seol will make sure the kitchen sends the ginger medicine every four hours. Make sure he drinks it on time. You must make sure he drinks it all.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” the Healer said with a small nod.

“He’s not as scary as he wants you to think. I’ll rely on you tonight,” Jihan said, smiling at the woman before he glanced at Firuz one last time. “I’m going so that you can sleep, Firuz. Don’t cheat and truly get your sleep.”

“Stay by your husband’s side, and I’ll manage a full night,” Firuz said.

“I won’t leave his side,” Jihan promised, waving at Firuz and Andiya before he turned to leave.

Closing Firuz’s door, Jihan was not surprised when he found Kastan standing in the corridor waiting for him.

Looking up at his handsome prince, Jihan’s heart squeezed tight still elated that Kastan had come for him today. His heart had flooded with relief from hearing Kastan’s voice at the cliff earlier. He doubted he would ever forget that single moment in his life.

Suddenly tired, Jihan took a step forward and sighed when Kastan swept him up in his arms. Wrapping an arm around Kastan’s shoulders, he smiled at Kastan’s set jaw and the way he held him a bit too tight.

“You’ve taken care of your Shadow Guard, and Rashan. My turn now,” Kastan said when he noticed Jihan’s amusement.

Jihan nodded as Kastan turned to the master’s chamber.

Kastan slid the door open with his shoulder and carried Jihan to a long couch in the large room. He placed him on the cushions with care, and then knelt on the wood floor beside Jihan.

Taking Jihan’s right hand, he turned his palms up and a hiss escaped his lips at the red scrapes.

Kastan reached for his left hand too and checked his palm, cursing when he found more scrapes. They were marks of triumph for Jihan, but the pain he saw cross Kastan’s gaze had him pulling his hands back.

“They’re not so painful,” Jihan assured him. “I got them when I fell. I was clumsy today.”

Kastan shook his head, taking back Jihan’s hands with gentle care, studying his palms.

A knock came on the door and Naveed led in several attendants: they carried in two large buckets of water, one steaming and the other cold. An attendant poured hot water into a large ceramic basin she placed on the table, and made sure it was the right temperature by cooling it. They placed clean towels and fresh clothes on a separate stool.

Naveed placed a small bowl filled with medicine cream next to the basin, then ushered the attendants out and turned to Kastan.

“Set’s network is tracking the money that paid the mercenaries. He’ll report when he has news. On our side, General Moran has captured one of the ghost warriors involved in the attack alive,” Naveed said. “He is on his way to the trade station. Vasia and all roads leading out of it remain in lockdown. We have a request for a report from the Imperial Palace.”

“Confirm the attack to the Imperial Palace; keep all information about Jihan’s condition quiet,” Kastan held Jihan’s gaze for a moment, and then continued.

“Actually, put out rumors that my consort is in critical condition with no hope. Let me know when General Moran arrives,” Kastan said.

Naveed nodded, gave Jihan a complicated glance, and then left them alone, closing the door for privacy.

“You want to give them what they want,” Jihan said, as Kastan got up and urged Jihan to his feet.

“We have an attack without a clear motive,” Kastan said, reaching for Jihan’s messy outer robe. “I need to understand why they would try to kill you.”

Jihan nodded.

Kastan helped Jihan out of his dirty clothes, pausing to study the rips on Jihan’s outer robe. Jihan removed his inner shirt, leaving on his inner trousers with mud stains on his knees. He would love a full bath right now, but the station was yet to be complete. He would have to make do with a simple wipe down.

Jihan moved to the table with the basin of water, soap and bathing linen.

Glancing at Kastan who was studying the rips on Jihan’s outer robe, Jihan smiled at Kastan’s frown.

“I made those,” Jihan said, wincing when he sank his hands into the warm water and it stung. “It was hard to run with the long robes Master Rabo likes to make. I never got to explain it to that stubborn man.”

Jihan washed his face, and took up the small cloth on the side. Applying soap made from lavender and sage, he washed his arms, chest and right armpit. He started to lift his left arm and winced when he felt a tightness on his left shoulder. He turned, trying to see why his left shoulder hurt so much. There was a glimpse of scraped skin and dark bruises.

He knew the exact moment Kastan was treated to the display of dark bruises on his back. Kastan dropped the outer robe he held and rushed to Jihan’s side.

The long curse he let out had Jihan trying to see his left shoulder blade better.

“What?” Jihan asked, when he couldn’t see much of what Kastan was mad about.

“I’m going to kill Rushi,” Kastan said, taking the warm washcloth in the basin.

Jihan started to turn, but Kastan made him stand still by placing a gentle hand on his right shoulder

Kastan used the warm washcloth to wipe Jihan’s back, his touch gentle.

Jihan smiled when he felt warm air brush his skin where he must have had an angry bruise. Kastan blew on the wound while he cleaned and dried his wounds.

Kastan reached for the medicine Naveed had brought for him.

Jihan winced when Kastan touched a painful spot too hard, and gripped the table.

“I’m sorry,” Kastan murmured, blowing on the painful spot again. “How did you get so many on your back?”

Jihan tried to think of when he might have gotten bruises on his left side. Running through the events of the day, he started to turn to face Kastan, and gave a sharp cry when Kastan touched his wound too hard.

“Stay still,” Kastan said, blowing on the wound, sending Jihan into a strange state caught between pleasure and pain. Aroused and comforted, how contradicting.

“We jumped off a horse when they found us the second time,” Jihan said to distract himself. “I fell really hard because Firuz was worried about flying arrows. My left shoulder hit the ground hard as I tried to hide behind a—”

Kastan turned Jihan to face him, and took Jihan’s lips in a desperate kiss that stunned Jihan into silence. Need taking over, as Kastan’s kisses managed to make him forget his problems. Jihan closed his eyes and sank into Kastan’s warmth. He wrapped his arms around Kastan’s waist and stepped closer, grateful for Kastan’s solid presence. Kastan ended their kiss and wrapped careful arms around him.

“I should have been there for you,” Kastan said, frustration coloring his voice. “I should have gone with you to Vasia. You should have had more than two generals with you.”

“Don’t say that, Kas,” Jihan said, squeezing Kastan’s waist, burying his face into Kastan’s chest. “We can’t bend our lives to cater to madmen. You’re busy with the army command. I’m busy with the valley’s finances. It’s insane to expect you to follow me everywhere I go.”

“I can make it happen,” Kastan said, letting out a tired sigh.

Jihan gave a soft chuckle and leaned back to meet Kastan’s dark eyes. He reached up to press his right palm on Kastan’s cheek, smiling when Kastan pressed a soft kiss on his palm.

“My Duke Silver, I’m afraid you may try to make that happen, and upset a lot of your subordinates,” Jihan said, oddly pleased by Kastan’s intentions. “So, I’ll save you the effort of annoying your generals by staying in Silver Shore Valley until we catch the culprit.”

“Promise?” Kastan asked, his right brow raised, hope blooming in his eyes as he waited for Jihan’s promise.

Jihan nodded.

“Yes, I promise.”

Kastan’s shoulders relaxed in relief and he took Jihan’s right hand with a small smile.

“What?” Jihan asked.

“Hm?”

“Why the little smile?” Jihan asked.

Kastan shook his head and reached for the washcloth in the basin again.

“Kas,” Jihan prompted, squeezing Kastan’s hand when Kastan would not answer.

Kastan brought the washcloth to Jihan’s chest and concentrated on wiping him down.

“After your sister’s lecture, I worried I’d have to fight you to make you stay put,” Kastan said, crouching before Jihan.

He pulled down Jihan’s inner trousers.

Jihan held on to Kastan’s shoulder, lifting his right leg as Kastan pulled off his trouser leg. He lifted his left leg and winced at the pain on his knees. Kastan’s curse enough to tell him the scrapes on his knees looked angry. It didn’t help that Kastan stared at them once again with a wounded expression on his face.

“Kas,” Jihan started, but Kastan shook his head and got to work.

Kastan washed away the dirt on Jihan’s thighs, the smears of blood on his knees. He was very careful when he applied medicine on Jihan’s scraped knees, blowing on the wounds as though to alleviate the sting of pain.

Getting up, Kastan took a fresh washcloth, and sunk it into the basin of warm water. Meeting Jihan’s gaze, he wiped Jihan’s cock, and his testicles, his touch enough to get Jihan hard. A soft heightened breath escaped his lips when Kastan stroked him sending tingles of pleasure racing through him, sweet, delicious thrills that chased away his stinging aches.

Kastan cupped the back of his neck with his free hand and tilted his head up, capturing his lips in a needy passionate kiss. His strokes quickened on Jihan’s cock, rubbing his thumb over the sensitive, weeping crown. Urgent moans escaped, as Jihan’s hips bucked uncontrollably into Kastan’s fist, as pressure within his shaft mounted.

Jihan clung to Kastan’s tunic, his knees going weak with the urgent need to come. Kastan pumped his cock faster, drawing needy moans out of Jihan, moans Kastan took into his mouth as he deepened their kiss. Driving him into a wild race for pleasure. When he came, his seed erupted out of him, leaving him gasping for breath, shuddering as he clung to Kastan.

Kastan kissed him again, his kiss gentling, sweet, between his racing breaths.

Jihan stared at Kastan in the candlelight, his heart beating too fast. Kastan kissed him again and Jihan reached for Kastan’s belt.

“No,” Kastan murmured, against his mouth, kissing him again. “I can wait until later.”

“Kas,” Jihan started to protest only to be kissed hard again until he was breathless.

When Kastan ended their kiss, Jihan bit his bottom lip and met dark eyes.

“I love you,” Jihan murmured, they were the only words he could say as he held Kastan’s steady dark gaze, the only words that mattered after a day he’d almost lost his life. “I love you, Kas.”

Kastan’s smile this time was pleased. Jihan closed his eyes when Kastan kissed him again, the taste of their kiss numbing the fact that Kastan had not returned the words to him.

Kastan finished cleaning Jihan after. When he was done, he dropped the dirty washcloths in the empty bucket on the floor.

Kastan took the clean clothes Naveed had brought in. He helped Jihan wear a new white inner shirt. He knelt down, helped Jihan wear a new pair of inner trousers, drawing them up slow, pausing to press a chaste kiss on Jihan’s lower stomach before he tied the drawstrings.

Jihan studied Kastan’s face as he wore the simple blue silk tunic Kastan held over his head. Pushing his arms with care through the sleeves and frowning when Kastan righted the tunic over his inner clothes. He wondered what it was going to take for Kastan to give him back words of love.

Maybe he was being a needy sponge…and he needed to learn how to live without the words.

Kastan undid the tight clip holding Jihan’s hair hostage and took it off.

Jihan chuckled when the heavy mass tumbled down his back and Kastan ran his fingers through it with delight.

“You don’t change, Duke Silver,” he said, as he moved to sit on a low stool by the fireplace, the fire already burning away.

It felt good, comforting, to be clean and warm. It chased away most of the day’s scares, save for the sting on his heart.

“I’ve always loved your hair,” Kastan said, coming over with a newly damp cloth. He used the damp cloth to wipe Jihan’s hair, trying to clean off dust. “This will have to do until you can wash up at home.”

“Mm,” Jihan said, when Kastan moved away to start his own clean up.

Jihan watched Kastan remove his robes, the firelight dancing on powerful muscles. He stared mesmerized by the gleam of light on broad shoulders, the flat ridges of his stomach, heavy cock and round hard buttocks. Kastan caught him looking and winked at him, making Jihan smile. He returned his gaze to the fireplace.

Jihan held out his hands to the fire, leaning his elbows on his knees. His toes sunk into the wool rug on the floor, it felt decadent and freeing.

He suddenly wondered if Rashan was warm.

“Rashan must be tired,” Jihan said. “He’s had a rough time today.”

“Master Safan is staying with him. Their ride to the trade station was very hard. I met them before they reached the trade station. Rashan was hysterical. He cried so hard, worried for you. I couldn’t stay to calm him so I let Master Safan handle it. Then to have this place attacked when he was here. It was lucky Set is capable, and of course, your sister’s timely appearance,” Kastan sighed. “I talked to Safan as you were taking care of Firuz. He said Rashan is sleeping. Safan thinks it’s better to let him sleep for now.”

“You should let him come find us when he wakes up even if it’s deep in the night.”

“I will,” Kastan said.

Jihan glanced at Kastan. His husband, now dressed in a simple black tunic, his damp hair long to his shoulders, looked less tense.

Kastan took a comb from the table and grabbed a clean red cloak from an armchair at the head of the table. He carried them both to Jihan and laid the cloak over Jihan’s shoulders. The red cloak covered him like a warm blanket adding extra comfort.

Kastan then dragged the closest armchair and sat behind Jihan. He spent a few minutes rescuing Jihan’s long hair from under the cloak.

Jihan closed his eyes when Kastan started detangling his hair and combing it. They sat in silence for a moment, and then Kastan spoke.

“I never told Jian, Shan’s Ma, that I loved her,” Kastan started, his tone low, making Jihan sit very still. “I married her out of duty, but as you know marriage pulls two people together. Our fates were tied and we ended up making Rashan. It was natural to want a happy life together. So, all we did was plan and arrange a good life at Sun-filled Manor.”

Jihan clutched the edges of the cloak, and studied the gold embroidered edges, afraid speaking would stop Kastan from continuing.

“She was delicate,” Kastan continued. “A princess in the real sense, my life as a commander, a merchant of war, was not compatible with hers. She worried too hard when I was gone, and the stress made her ill. When she gave birth to Shan, her body could not bear the pain and in the end, she left us.”

Jihan closed his eyes, thinking of Rashan who never got to meet his mother and a husband who thought his way of life too hard for his then wife. It couldn’t have been easy for either of them.

“After Jian’s death, I promised myself never to have someone weak as my partner,” Kastan said, stroking the comb he held through Jihan’s hair. “It was obvious that someone soft could not handle life beside me. It sounds cruel and presumptuous but this was what I felt to be true. Rashan and I learned to live without Jian and I always thought my decision right. Now…after having you in my life, a different truth takes precedence.”

Jihan bunched the red cloak, opening his eyes to stare at the red fabric.

Half scared by what Kastan would say next.

“It’s been so hard not having you with me these past days. I don’t remember how I coped without you at Sun-filled Manor. Then today came, and fear almost consumed me. I was so scared when I arrived at the cliff and you fell off with Firuz. The thought of losing you, having to live without you, almost made me lose my mind with grief,” Kastan said, stilling the motions of the comb he held.

Jihan shifted on the stool to face Kastan, tangling the comb in his hair in the process. Heart pounding in his chest, hope so full it threatened to spill over and flood the room.

“Kas,” Jihan started, his voice shaking.

“Jihan, you’re the love of my life. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to give you these words. I love you too,” Kastan said. “I want to grow old with you. Your sister is right. We need to make sure nothing like this happens to you ever again. I don’t want to learn how to live without you.”

Jihan could only stare at Kastan after that, a silly smile tugging on his lips. Kastan’s words worth more than any gold he would ever receive in his life. All he could think was that Kastan loved him too.

Kastan loved him. The sting that bloomed in his heart earlier disappeared, replaced with warmth, and love.

Kastan leaned down and took Jihan’s lips in a sweet kiss.

“I should get in trouble more often,” Jihan said, when Kastan ended their kiss. The last time he was in trouble, Kastan had proposed to him. “It’s the only time I get sweet words from you.”

He laughed when Kastan pinched his cheek.

“Don’t you dare,” Kastan said, urging him to turn around on his stool. “I promise to give you sweet words often so don’t get in trouble and live a long time with me at Sun-filled Manor.”

Jihan chuckled and shifted to the side.

Kastan continued brushing his hair, and Jihan rested his chin on Kastan’s right knee, content. The motion of the comb going through his hair soothed him into a lull. He felt so comfortable and happy he never wanted to move.

He was half dozing when a knock sounded on the door.

Kastan welcomed their visitor.

It was Naveed, followed by a new man.

Jihan started to move away, but Kastan would not let him get up. He kept brushing his hair, so Jihan settled.

“Your Graces,” Naveed said, stopping by the table with the basin of washing water.

Jihan saw Naveed motion to an attendant standing in the hallway, in the next few minutes, their dirty clothes, basin and buckets of water were taken away. Naveed pulled a chair to the clean table and sat, urging the new man deeper into the room.

“General Moran,” Kastan said, giving Jihan the new man’s name. “My consort and I have had quite a scare today. I don’t want to leave him alone. We’ll have our meeting here.”

“I understand,” General Moran said. “Your Graces, I’m sorry for the late arrival. We had to keep stopping because the ghost warrior kept trying to find ways to break the poison pill.”

“You did well,” Kastan praised, still running a comb through Jihan’s hair.

He surprised Jihan when he started braiding the long strands into a thick rope. Kastan always liked his hair free. It was even more interesting when Kastan tucked the braid under the cloak. Jihan hid a smile at the obvious attempt to hide his hair.

“Most of the ghost warriors we found crushed the poison pill in their teeth. It was important to capture this one and keep her alive. I’m sorry we couldn’t get more,” Moran said, his gaze on Kastan, his tone sincere and matter of fact.

“One is enough,” Jihan said, sitting up so that he could see General Moran’s face in the candle light. “At least we’ll be able to know who the ghost warrior belongs to.”

“Your Grace, she is the first ghost warrior woman I’ve seen,” Moran said.

“Interesting,” Jihan said, his brow rising up in surprise.

The last woman ghost warrior he met was in Kin Town. She tried to kill him at the inn. Kastan saved him that time too. He suddenly wanted to know when Kastan had started loving him.

“General Moran, you saved my Consort with your note to General Naveed,” Kastan said. “I owe you a great debt.”

“It is my duty, Commander,” General Moran brought his right hand to his chest and lowered his head in a short bow. “I’m only sorry I didn’t catch up to His Grace in time to stop the initial attack. Who would dare attack His Grace like this?”

Jihan thought of Meen Kau, Lord Revi’s Master Merchant. Their meeting in the Vasia market left him unsettled. Meen Kau would not want to kill him though. Meen Kau would seek leverage to control him. He thought about his father in the Capital, and then shook his head.

Lord Duyi would not go this low, especially putting Rashan in danger.

There was Rushi. Her threats were real. Jihan doubted she would make a move herself. However, she could have found a scapegoat to deal with him, someone who knew his route from Vasia Town. Someone brave enough to take on Duke Silver.

Jihan leaned back against Kastan. He looked up to find Kastan watching him.

“The ghost warrior will be the fourth or fifth informant in a disappearing chain,” Kastan said, making Jihan nod in agreement. “We must win this game of a mastermind and the accomplices. We need to find him or her for proof. The trail will go cold if we don’t move fast enough.”

“Bring her in,” Naveed said, getting up from the chair at the table.

General Moran stepped out of the room and returned with four officers carrying a squirming sack that they dropped on the floor. General Moran grabbed the top of the sack and pulled it open to reveal dark slick hair held in a tight ponytail.

The woman was lithe, dressed all in black. There was a round piece of wood lodged between her teeth and tied behind her head with red cloth.

Jihan started to get up to get a closer look but Kastan wouldn’t let him. He pushed Jihan to sit on his stool and stroked his right shoulder.

“Let them handle it,” Kastan murmured when Jihan glared at him.

Naveed crouched over the ghost warrior, smiling when she struggled again, then he pressed his hands to her neck making her choke. It was hard to watch, so Jihan turned his gaze back to the fire.

When the struggling stopped, Jihan turned to see why, and stiffened when he saw the ghost warrior was now still.

“I thought—”

“She’s just passed out,” Kastan said, squeezing his right shoulder. “It makes removing her poison capsule easier.”

Jihan couldn’t help the relief that filled him as he leaned back against Kastan. His new trade station was already tainted with so much blood, no need to add more. He watched Naveed reach for a knife from a scabbard at his waist.

“Get me light,” Naveed said, and General Moran grabbed one of the large candlesticks bringing it to the floor.

Naveed removed the wooden stick they had used to keep the ghost warrior’s mouth open. He tilted her face to the light and pushed her mouth open wide. He worked to find the poison pill with his fingers. He dug it out swiftly using his knife when he found it, and the pain must have been too much because it brought the ghost warrior back around.

She gave a strangled scream.

“Give her to Set,” Jihan said, when Naveed and Moran stood her up and she was still struggling, blood coming out of her mouth. “He knows how to break loyalty.”

“Is he around?” Naveed asked, with a frown.

“Set’s always around,” Jihan said, waiting a minute.

He was sure Set was visiting Firuz. Those two were like brothers with each other. Set would have checked on Firuz especially after a day like today. He couldn’t help the smile when Set appeared at the door.

Set gave Kastan a respectful bow, and then turned to Naveed and Moran.

“Follow me,” Set said. “Your Graces will have information by morning.”

“Thank you, Set,” Jihan said, as Moran and Naveed guided their charge out of the room.

Set lingered at the door, his gaze on Jihan.

“Lady Gura and Firuz worry Master Jihan won’t get enough sleep,” Set said, his tone pained.

“He’s going to bed right now,” Kastan said, pushing his chair back and taking the cloak he placed on Jihan’s shoulders away. He dumped it on his chair and held out his hand to Jihan.

“Thank you, Set,” Kastan said.

“You’re welcome, Your Grace,” Set said, and left closing the door quietly.

“Your men are unsettling,” Kastan said, helping Jihan to his feet.

“You have half a-dozen Generals, the Hidden Keepers, Ghost Warriors and armies of soldiers under your command,” Jihan countered. “Who should be more unsettled?”

Kastan chuckled, pulling back the covers on their large bed. He made sure Jihan was comfortable before he walked around the room turning off the candles. Jihan was glad when Kastan slipped into bed beside him.

Careful of Jihan’s left shoulder, Kastan pulled him into his arms and held him.

Burying his face into Kastan’s chest, Jihan took in his clean scent, and was surprised when tears stung the back of his eyes.

Today was close, so close…

He had almost wronged this man because being dead would be too cruel for Kastan and Rashan. Not to mention Andiya who would have broken twice as hard.

His family…

“An,” Kastan murmured, his tone heavy with emotion. “I promise I’ll make this right.”

“Thank you for finding me,” Jihan said, closing his eyes. “Let’s do the rest together.”

Kastan tightened his arms around him in answer.

Jihan fell asleep to the sound of Kastan’s steady breathing.

*~*~*~*

A soft click on the door woke Kastan hours later. The moon was high, the night halfway gone. Moonlight filled the room.

Jihan stayed asleep, curled into him, his fingers clutching Kastan’s tunic as though afraid Kastan would disappear. Candlelight brought his attention back to the door, and he lifted his head to get a good look at their visitor.

Rashan entered their room and Kastan relaxed.

Kastan caught a brief glimpse of Firuz and Safan standing in the hallway. They closed the door after Rashan came in. Jihan remained asleep, so Kastan directed Rashan with a wave of his hand. He urged Rashan to place the candle on the stand on the right side of the bed.

“Pa,” Rashan said, in a whisper. “I wanted to see Papa. I keep dreaming about him being hurt. Is he okay? Did the bad people hurt him?”

“He’s asleep,” Kastan said, matching Rashan’s whisper.

Rashan climbed on the bed, kneeling beside Kastan so that he could get a look at a sleeping Jihan. Kastan shifted on the bed so that he was lying on his back. Jihan moved with him, keeping a tight hold on his tunic making Kastan smile.

“Your Papa has a few scrapes from a fall but he’s fine,” Kastan assured Rashan.

“Are you sure?” Rashan asked, looking at Jihan, his eyes wide, the sheen of tears in their depths. “He wasn’t hurt by a sword, right?”

“I’m very sure he wasn’t hurt by a sword,” Kastan said, using his right hand to caress Rashan’s cheek. “He is just tired after a long day.”

Rashan took in a deep breath and let it out, sitting back on his haunches in relief. The tension on his little shoulders easing. He leaned over Kastan and with gentle fingers, petted Jihan’s dark hair.

Kastan watched him, until Rashan sat back on his haunches and looked at him. For the first time he saw a burning fire in Rashan’s gaze, an aspiration.

“Pa,” Rashan said, his hands resting on his thighs as he faced Kastan. “I want to train with Master Firuz. Please allow it.”

“Shan,” Kastan started, but Rashan moved closer and gripped his right hand.

“Please don’t say no. I really want to learn from him,” Rashan said. “I couldn’t help Papa during the attack. He was more worried for me than himself. He did everything to make sure I was safe. All I could do was be scared. Then when we were attacked here at the trade station. The only thing I could do to help Set was throw a dagger. Master Firuz taught me how to throw it and it worked. I don’t want to be that scared again, so please let me train with Master Firuz.”

“Shan, you’re eleven,” Kastan said.

“Almost twelve,” Rashan corrected, his eyes blazing with fire, they were making Kastan want to hug him with pride. “I need to be stronger. Master Firuz’s techniques made me feel strong today. Besides, he protected Papa where armies could not. I want to be able to do that. I don’t want to run away and leave Papa again.”

“Rashan, you’re still young. You’re our child. What your Papa did when you were in danger was to make sure you were safe. He couldn’t have made it if you were in danger. He made sure you were safe, because only then could he face those ghost warriors.”

“But—”

“Training with a Shadow Guard has its risks,” Kastan said. “I’m not ready to see you in that kind of danger yet.”

Rashan pouted, and moved even closer, leaning on Kastan’s right side. He rested his chin on Kastan’s right shoulder.

“I thought you said I would be Commander of Armies after you,” Rashan said in a small unsure voice. “How can I be a Commander if I’m not strong? How will I be strong without learning from Master Firuz?”

Kastan fell silent.

“If I’m not as strong as you, everyone will say you didn’t teach me anything,” Rashan continued. “Lord Temu and Lord Naveed won’t want to listen to me. General Kigaru and Niku will run away…Silver Shore Marquis will be laughed at and my Uncle Emperor will give up on me.”

Kastan closed his eyes at Rashan’s clear assault.

Jihan shifted on his left and he realized his consort was awake.

“I’ll end up spoiled and lazy like Prince Yan and Prince Yija…you said yourself that they need to learn more instead of staying in the imperial palace. Pa, how will I know to fight off attackers without Master Firuz’s help?”

Jihan remained quiet clearly refusing to help him. His Consort and his son were being impossible.

“Shan—”

“Please let me train with Master Firuz. I promise I won’t do anything dangerous until I’m older. It’s better to start now, then by the time I’m sixteen or even eighteen I’ll be able to fight better. Please Pa, I promise to help you protect Papa,” Rashan pleaded, making Kastan gape.

Jihan tugged on his tunic, pulling on the black fabric as though to nag.

Shaking his head, Kastan met his son’s gaze in the candlelight hoping for half his own father’s wisdom. It was true that Rashan needed to learn confidence. His training with Master Safan was to keep him fit. The tournaments at the academy were mild and designed to teach Rashan honorable ways to fight among nobles. They did not prepare Rashan for an attack, or having the ability to face a bloodthirsty mercenary. That changed a soul, and Kastan wasn’t sure he was ready to see that change in Rashan yet.

Still…

Kastan shifted his head to look at Jihan. Firuz was Jihan’s Shadow Guard. Jihan would know to ask Firuz to protect their son’s innocence for a while longer.

Jihan bunched his tunic and nodded against his arm.

Kastan breathed in and let it out slow, deciding to leave the rest to Jihan. He turned to Rashan and used his most stern whispered voice.

“I’ll have to talk to Master Firuz before you can even pick up a dagger in his presence,” Kastan said. “If you agree to that, you can train with Master Firuz.”

Rashan let out a happy squeal that had Jihan smiling even as he pretended to sleep. Kastan hugged Rashan with one arm, and wondered if it was normal to have his heart so full with happiness.

Rashan settled on Kastan’s right side, his chin resting on Kastan’s shoulder.

“Pa, I’ll grow stronger, I promise,” Rashan said, his tone full of hope. “Can I stay with you tonight? I don’t want to sleep alone.”

Kastan shifted again so that he was comfortable on his back. He held Rashan’s slight body against his right, while Jihan pressed to his left. Despite the tumultuous hours they had lived through, here he was, blessed with the presence of the two people he loved most in the world.

What more could a man want?

“Go to sleep, Shan,” Kastan murmured, closing his eyes, a content man. “We’ll all have a better day tomorrow.”

*~*~*~*

An abundance of family fluff in this one,
Cheers,
Sui.
Character List
Suilan Lee, 2019-2021
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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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Chapter Comments

This just about sums it up nicely...another great chapter!

“She was delicate,” Kastan continued. “A princess in the real sense, my life as a commander, a merchant of war, was not compatible with hers. She worried too hard when I was gone, and the stress made her ill. When she gave birth to Shan, her body could not bear the pain and in the end, she left us.”

Jihan closed his eyes, thinking of Rashan who never got to meet his mother and a husband who thought his way of life too hard for his then wife. It couldn’t have been easy for either of them.

“After Jian’s death, I promised myself never to have someone weak as my partner,” Kastan said, stroking the comb he held through Jihan’s hair. “It was obvious that someone soft could not handle life beside me. It sounds cruel and presumptuous but this was what I felt to be true. Rashan and I learned to live without Jian and I always thought my decision right. Now…after having you in my life, a different truth takes precedence.”

Jihan bunched the red cloak, opening his eyes to stare at the red fabric. Half scared by what Kastan would say next.

“It’s been so hard not having you with me these past days. I don’t remember how I coped without you at Sun-filled Manor. Then today came, and fear almost consumed me. I was so scared when I arrived at the cliff and you fell off with Firuz. The thought of losing you, having to live without you, almost made me lose my mind with grief,” Kastan said, stilling the motions of the comb he held.

Jihan shifted on the stool to face Kastan, tangling the comb in his hair in the process. Heart pounding in his chest, hope so full it threatened to spill over and flood the room.

“Kas,” Jihan started, his voice shaking.

“Jihan, you’re the love of my life. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to give you these words. I love you too,” Kastan said. “I want to grow old with you. Your sister is right. We need to make sure nothing like this happens to you ever again. I don’t want to learn how to live without you.”

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This was the sweet calm before the storm. Now they gotta go home to Sun-filled Manor and open up a jug of whoop ass. They probably keep it next to the peach wine, lol.

I wish Andiya could go with them, but she’s gotta head back to have her baby.

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ANow thats how to start a week!.Thank you so much @Lilan.

These two chapters have given us a sort of 'empathetic link' with the characters..as though we know them in person.

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Seraph28 said:

ANow thats how to start a week!.Thank you so much @Lilan.

These two chapters have given us a sort of 'empathetic link' with the characters..as though we know them in person.

 

 

 

Yes I agree, and with the other comments. I can’t wait for the next chapter

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Such a chapter this was. so much love and growth amongst the new family of Prince Kas and the Kamrans. Kastan was fortunate to find Jihan. The wedding bonfire and presentation solidified Silver Shore Valley but this failed attack solidified Kastan and Jihan and wrapped them with family bonds that should go for ever. 

Now I am not being greedy, I hope not at least. I will wait patiently for the next chapter. Thank you for your writing.❤️

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22 hours ago, Geemeedee said:

This was the sweet calm before the storm. Now they gotta go home to Sun-filled Manor and open up a jug of whoop ass. They probably keep it next to the peach wine, lol.

I wish Andiya could go with them, but she’s gotta head back to have her baby.

You should go back a few chapters. According to the Ancient One, Andiya's baby will be born at Sun Filled Manor.

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