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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.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Reluctant Consort - 27. Chapter 27

Rushi makes a final move

Jihan’s heart pounded with anxiety as they approached the main Imperial Palace gates. Palace guards stood alert, holding the line in front of the closed massive gates. Bringing his horse to a stop, Jihan’s gaze searched the square in front of the tall walls, wondering where Rashan was waiting. The square was filled with visitors to see the palace, moving carts, and officials arriving at the palace.

The Duke’s Coach was nowhere in sight.

Was he late?

Panic bloomed for the moment it took to notice Fara. When he did see her, relief flooded him. Fara stood at the entrance of a small inn opposite the palace gates. Guiding his horse to the inn, Jihan dismounted, Firuz and Faiza following close behind.

“Shan?” Jihan asked, when he reached Fara.

“In a private room at the back of the inn,” Fara said.

She took Jihan’s arm and led him into the inn without ceremony.

“We got notice of entry a half hour ago,” she continued. “The court is soon to be in session. They will discuss a few matters to manage government, and then Prince Rashan is expected to make his appearance.”

Jihan allowed Fara to lead the way through the inn until they were in a dim corridor. She opened the first door to the right and ushered him in.

Rashan rushed him on sight, wrapping tight arms around Jihan’s waist.

“Papa,” Rashan said in greeting, burying his face into Jihan’s chest. “I thought you wouldn’t make it.”

“I’m here,” Jihan said, wrapping an arm around Rashan, and sinking fingers into soft dark hair. “I’m sorry I’m late. The ride here took longer than I thought.”

“Did you get help?” Rashan asked.

“I hope so,” Jihan said, meeting Safan’s gaze over Rashan’s head. “We won’t know until we’re inside.”

“Is it better for us to leave?” Safan asked.

Jihan combed his fingers through Rashan’s hair down, his thoughts on Zure Niven. Their conversation had left him hopeful, but that hope was only useful if Zure chose to stand with them.

If Rashan left for Silver Shore now, they would not know if Zure would stand for them. If he stayed, Rashan’s life would be on the line.

“Where is Lord Temu?” Jihan asked, noting he was not in the room.

“Arming our soldiers and negotiating with palace guard on how many we can bring inside,” Safan answered.

Jihan nodded and glanced down to find Rashan watching him. He bunched Rashan’s hair in a gentle hold and then released it, bringing his hand to caress Rashan’s soft cheek. In the end, this boy would be the Commander of Armies after Kastan.

Kastan was no coward. He would not allow his son be one. Rashan was a strong boy. Jihan could see it in the dark eyes that studied him.

“We stand for the people of Silver Shore Valley. They have done nothing wrong. So, we should face this summons,” Jihan said, holding Rashan’s dark gaze. “Right, Rashan?”

Rashan nodded.

“I was going to have you leave if I couldn’t get Zure Niven’s express agreement to side with you. He did not give me an absolute answer, but there was promise,” Jihan said. “You and I, we need to face your Emperor Uncle. No running, for your Pa’s sake and the valley.”

“We should be brave,” Rashan said, his dark eyes filled with determination, even as his arms tightened around Jihan and his voice shook.

“Yes,” Jihan said, nodding.

“Will you stand with me?” Rashan asked.

Jihan smiled, already lost to this young one. He caressed Shan’s cheek.

“Always, Shan,” Jihan said, knowing it to be true.

“Then I won’t be scared,” Rashan said with a quick boyish grin.

Jihan’s heart squeezed and he pinched Rashan’s cheek, a light squeeze that earned him a giggle.

“No need to be scared,” Jihan said in approval, working to make his voice sound strong.

A quick glance at Firuz was enough to let him know that he didn’t fool his Shadow Guard.

“Your Grace,” General Faiza said, drawing Jihan’s attention.

“Yes, General,” Jihan said.

“Your robes are neat and valuable, but they are wrong for the palace and the moment,” Faiza said, pointing to Rashan. “The black tiger seal is an important symbol. It signifies who you are, your house.”

Jihan took a closer look at Rashan’s clothes. His son was in lapis blue, the silver embroidery on his robe’s hem filled with tiger shapes. The clip in Rashan’s hair had a pin with a snarling tiger. There was no doubt the boy belonged in Silver Shore Valley.

Jihan glanced down at the fine black robes Hana had given him at The Green with regret.

“I didn’t bring—,” Jihan started.

“Your Grace,” Fara said, cutting in.

Jihan looked up to find her holding a neat pile of black inner garments, he frowned and she pointed to the long couch in the corner. Deep blue robes made of silk brocade laid on the cushions.

“Master Rabo has been busy since you left for Vasia,” Fara said. “His Grace asked him to make robes similar to the ones you used at Kamran Estate. His Grace said he noticed you don’t enjoy the ones Master Rabo made for you. So, everything I brought with me is cut in the same manner as your Kamran robes. They are embroidered as per your station and adequate to enter the palace. I brought fresh clothes for Master Firuz too.”

Jihan chuckled at Fara’s thorough explanation. He hadn’t known Kastan could be so busy with such small strange details like his wardrobe. He let go of Rashan.

“In that case, we should change,” Jihan said, moving to the screen Fara indicated in the corner. He went around it, with Firuz following him to help fold his clothes.

Faiza and Safan started a conversation on the number of soldiers allowed into the palace with them, and what Fara would be left doing.

Jihan stripped as fast as his shaking hands would allow, his heart raced with anxiety. No matter how many deep breaths he took, he couldn’t seem to relax.

“Do you not trust Niven?” Firuz asked, his voice a whisper.

Jihan wore the dark inner trousers Firuz handed him, bringing them up to his hips. He secured them and reached for the black inner shirt. He shrugged it on and met Firuz’s questioning gaze.

“I don’t think there is a choice to trust or not to,” Jihan answered, matching Firuz’s volume. "We're in it now, even if we have to fight Rushi physically. I'm not letting her keep him."

"Then we'll fight," Firuz said. "Don't be nervous."

The black inner shirt was structured in a wraparound. He tied the ribbons to secure it, the collars overlapping in a neat fold across his chest. Firuz then held out an open cross-collar white garment with fine gold embroidery on the hems.

Jihan pulled it on and tied the ribbons to secure it around his waist. The sleeves fit on his wrists, and that made him happy. The garment was long to his ankle, but it had side slits that reached to his hip. Jihan nodded with satisfaction.

Firuz held up the expensive deep blue outer garment, and Jihan held out his arms, wearing the right sleeve and then his left. Firuz helped pull the silk brocade over his shoulders, while Jihan arranged the crossed collar. The robe fit to perfection, close fitting to his torso and falling in elegant skirts to his ankles. Jihan started to panic that he had gained another impossible robe but then he noted the slits on the sides and smiled. They came up all the way to his hip making it easy to run.

“Looks like Master Rabo made an effort this time,” Firuz teased, taking the leather belt with silver engravings mounted on its surface. “Congratulations, Your Grace, you can finally run in your formal robes.”

Jihan chuckled and traced the expert silver work on the belt, the tiger heads impressive, while Firuz secured the belt at his back.

“I gave my red jade token to Ma,” Jihan said, adjusting the collar of the outer robe, and the fitting sleeves at his wrist.

“You don’t need the red jade. Your clothes are enough proof of who you are,” Firuz said, stepping back to take in Jihan. “You look like a Duke from head to toe.”

“This morning I was a farmer. I do wear many hats in a day,” Jihan said, with a grin, bending to change into the fine leather boots that had come with the clothes. “You change too and then we’ll go to the palace. I hope all our planning works. I miss home. I’ve been looking forward to a day spent drinking wine in the garden with Kas.”

“That day will come,” Firuz said, pulling off his own clothes and Jihan left him to change.

*~*~*~*~

Temu stared up the imposing steps that led to the Imperial Palace’s main entrance. He adjusted his sword belt and checked to make sure the knives sheathed in his vambraces were secure. Adjusting the dark cape on his shoulders, he turned to the opening gates and his breath caught at the sight of Jihan and Rashan walking in.

Duke Silver had once said that imperial matters were best handled by appearances. Looking at Duke Silver’s Consort, Temu could now say he was right. Both looked magnificent in their formal robes, the black tiger motif embroidered on the fabric’s hems, collars and on their black boots too. There was no doubt they belonged to Duke Silver.

Jihan held Rashan’s right hand tight, his long hair pulled back from his face with a clip and let to fall down his back. Jihan smiled when he reached Temu.

“Lord Temu, I hope we’re not late,” Jihan said. “It took me too long to find my way to the imperial palace.”

“Your Grace is never late,” Temu said, with a formal nod. “The palace has allowed ten of our officers to escort you into the palace. Master Safan and General Faiza count as part of the ten officers. This order came from a messenger from the Emperor’s office. However, I need to say that the atmosphere so far feels eerie. We should have a palace guard escort to the Imperial Court, but I’ve not seen one.”

Jihan took in a deep breath and glanced at his Shadow Guard, nodding. Firuz took a step closer to Jihan.

“If there is a fight,” Jihan said, meeting Temu’s gaze, “we must win.”

“Understood,” Temu, Faiza and Safan all agreed.

“Rashan is always the priority,” Jihan stated. “Protect him first.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Temu said, even though his mandate was always to protect Jihan.

Temu was starting to realize that Jihan and Kastan were perfect for each other. They thought the same when it came to their son and that was quite special. He was happy for Duke Silver, and because he was, he knew that Kastan would not forgive him if anything happened to his consort.

“Ferino?” Jihan asked, keeping his voice low, his gaze searching the quiet gardens leading up to the numerous stairs.

“He is under the care of three of our trusted officers,” Temu said. “They managed to get into position. Your idea to use the Kamran wine delivery carts entering the palace was brilliant. They got in with no trouble.”

“That’s a small relief,” Jihan said. “Now, if we can get to the imperial court without incident.”

“We should go,” Temu prompted.

Jihan nodded, touching Rashan’s cheek with his free hand.

Rashan looked at Jihan with trust in his eyes.

“Ready?” Jihan asked Rashan.

“Yes, Papa.”

“Don’t let go of my hand, unless I tell you to go with Master Safan,” Jihan said.

Rashan nodded and tightened his hold on Jihan.

Temu gave the seven officers coming with them a nod and they took up positions around Jihan and Rashan. Safan moved behind Rashan, Firuz taking up the position behind Jihan.

Faiza pulled out his two swords, holding them both with a small laugh. Temu glanced at a grinning Faiza and shivered at the anticipation in Faiza’s eyes.

Temu and Faiza led the way up the many steps to the palace entrance.

Halfway up the steps, five palace guards appeared at the top. Temu and Faiza kept up their pace, even when the guards pulled out their swords and ran down the steps intent on attacking them.

Temu cut two down, while Faiza took on three, swinging his right sword to clean the blood off when the guards fell.

“They are not even hiding it,” Faiza said, as they reached the top of the stairs to find ten more palace guards approaching them with their weapons at the ready.

Faiza rolled his shoulders as though he were going through a warmup.

“Why are you attacking?” Temu asked, the closest palace guard. “We’re only escorting Prince Rashan to the Imperial Court. We don’t want any trouble.”

“We’ll escort the little prince,” the palace guard said. “The rest of you are intruding.”

“Intruding,” Faiza scoffed and engaged the palace guard in a fight. His sword was swift, in three moves, the guard was on the ground with his hand pressed to his abdomen unable to stand. “Who do you think you are to feel you’re good enough to escort our prince? Sorry to disappoint you, but we’ll continue to intrude into this palace. No one else gets to escort Silver Shore Marquis but his personal guard.”

Temu grinned at that comment and fought off the oncoming palace guards. There was no need for conversation. Any palace guard who approached them was eager to get to Rashan and kill his escort. Naturally, Temu and his fellow brothers could only teach them that no one should dare covet what belonged to Duke Silver.

*~*~*~*~

Rashan held Jihan’s hand tight when one of their soldiers fell, blood covered his back he was too injured, unable to continue.

Jihan kept them walking because the only way to end this fight was to enter the Imperial Court.

“Don’t hesitate,” Firuz said, his sword at the ready, though he had barely done anything with it.

Temu’s soldiers were well trained, and they fought off the palace guards with ease.

Jihan attributed it to experience.

Temu’s soldiers fought battles while the palace guards only trained for war. Still, the sound of clashing swords and the moans of pain when a sword cut true were hard to ignore.

Jihan tried not to stop, keeping a steady walk following Temu and Faiza’s guide. Worry eating at him.

Rashan stumbled, and Jihan steadied him, taking his arm and pulling him closer, as they kept up a steady walk.

“Papa, why are they attacking us?” Rashan asked, when they had to stop for Temu and General Faiza to clear a path ahead. The rogue palace guards had increased. The officers at their rear doing what they could to push back those who came after them.

“They are responding to orders,” Jihan said, wrapping an arm around Rashan’s shoulders. “Someone wants you to appear at the Imperial Court alone.”

“Why?” Rashan asked, his voice shaking.

“We’ll find out,” Jihan said, turning Rashan’s face away when he saw a palace guard sink his blade into another of their officers, breaking the loose circle of protection.

The palace guard pulled out his sword from the fallen officer and ran straight for Jihan and Rashan. Jihan wrapped his arms around Rashan, turning around so that he was his body to protect Rashan. Firuz intercepted the attack with a blade thrown at the palace guard’s neck, sending him back to fall over their injured officer.

Firuz grabbed Jihan’s right arm then.

“This fight is delaying us,” Firuz said. “Prince Rashan’s failure to attend court is also a bad outcome.”

“This must be their plan,” Jihan said, turning to see Temu and Faiza still fighting an onslaught of palace guards.

“What do we do?” Safan asked, breaking away from the protective circle to join them.

“Master Safan, can you keep up with me?” Firuz asked.

“Yes,” Safan said.

“Carry the little prince,” Firuz said, letting go of Jihan’s arm. He unsheathed his sword, and the dagger hidden up his left sleeve slipped into his left hand.

Safan crouched, to let Rashan climb on his back. Jihan urged Rashan to wrap his arms around Safan’s neck. Safan stood, adjusting Rashan’s weight on his back.

“Jihan, I’ll lead the way,” Firuz said. “Master Safan, you follow His Grace’s footsteps. Do not stop, no matter how close you think the guards are. I won't let them touch you. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Safan said, with a quick nod.

Jihan met Firuz’s gaze before his Shadow Guard fell into a running walk, joining Faiza and Temu in their intense fight. It took Firuz two swings of his sword to punch a path through the army of palace guards.

Jihan followed close behind Firuz, turning back once to make sure Safan was keeping up with them, relieved when he saw Safan a step away.

Temu and Faiza took Firuz’s cue, taking up the rear to fight off any palace guards who followed them. Firuz fought the oncoming guards with tireless form. His sword lightning fast, bringing down palace guards who came running at them. It felt like running a gauntlet. Firuz keenly aware that he had three people to protect, as he fought, never once did he slow down.

Jihan stayed a step behind Firuz, making sure Safan did the same. He breathed in relief when they entered a very wide corridor leading to intricate double doors. The sign above the double doors read, ‘govern with an open heart and strong mind’. This was the entrance to the Imperial Court.

The double doors were closed and five ghost warriors stood guard, blocking their way.

Firuz stopped then, holding out his sword at rest, as there were no more palace guards coming at them from ahead.

Jihan placed his right hand on Firuz’s left shoulder and turned to make sure Safan and Rashan were behind him, that they were unharmed. Temu and General Faiza were a few steps back, holding off the remaining palace guards with the rest of their officers.

“This fight will be harder,” Firuz said, rolling his shoulders. “They look like they are elite warriors from the Burning Feather.”

Jihan squeezed Firuz’s left shoulder to warn him. Then, he stepped forward, and the ghost warriors matched his step, coming forward from the door a step. Jihan narrowed his gaze and took three steps to the right. They mirrored his movement and he took in a deep breath.

“Master Safan,” Jihan said, his tone resigned.

“Yes, Your Grace,” Safan said.

“You take a few steps forward,” Jihan said, wanting to test their limits.

“Jihan,” Firuz started to protest.

“Trust me,” Jihan said.

Firuz sighed, and Safan took Jihan’s advice walking forward. There was no movement from the ghost warriors. He took three more steps ahead, and none of them moved.

“Master Safan, you can put Shan down,” Jihan said, meeting Firuz’s gaze. It seemed as though Jihan was the obstacle in this moment. “They won’t hurt the little prince. Will you, ghost warriors?”

The ghost warrior closest to them agreed with a nod.

“Rashan, go in first,” Jihan ordered.

“No,” Rashan protested, when Safan put him down. Rashan started running to Jihan, only to have Safan grab his right arm tight and stop him. “No, we should go in together, Papa. You promised to stand with me.”

“Trust me, Shan. This is me standing with you,” Jihan said, his tone softening when he met Rashan’s frightened gaze. “You need to be brave, little warrior prince. Face the Emperor first and I’ll be right there with you.”

The ghost warriors scoffed, but Jihan ignored them, smiling at Rashan.

“I know you can do it. Don’t be scared,” Jihan said, keeping his voice warm, steady. “Stand tall, and greet the Emperor with a strong proud voice. Let him know your Pa would never hurt the Empire. Can you do it?”

Silence filled the corridor and Jihan tried not to show his panic. He prayed that the gods would give Rashan the courage he needed. This was the only way to keep him safe right now. No one would try to harm Rashan inside the court. They would only try to vote to confine him, and Jihan hoped Zure would step up to block that move.

“Shan?” Jihan prompted.

Rashan took in a deep shaky breath, his hands curled into tight fists.

“Yes, I can do it, if you promise not to take too long.”

“I promise,” Jihan said, taking a step back. The ghost warriors followed him, so he took another three and they moved away from the doors, clearing Rashan’s path. “Safan, go.”

Safan gave Jihan a low bow of respect and took Rashan’s hand. He led Rashan to the closed doors. The ghost warriors allowed them to pass unhindered. Safan pushed the massive doors open, gave Jihan one last glance before he led Rashan into the hallowed audience hall that was the Imperial Court.

Jihan listened to the murmurs of surprise from the attending court officials before the door closed and there was only silence in the corridor.

“Take this,” Firuz said, holding out his sword to Jihan.

The ghost warriors moved in answer to Firuz’s instruction. They spread out in a circle around Jihan and Firuz, pulling out their swords in readiness. Jihan bit his lip hard because Temu and Faiza were now in a full fight with palace guards. They could not break away to help.

“The five of them plan to attack at once,” Firuz said, when Jihan took the sword. “I can’t meet all their attacks and they know it. Jihan, move the sword as I’ve taught you and I’ll be able to fend them off. We go twice, and then don’t forget when to drop it.”

“I did that once,” Jihan said, holding the handle of Firuz’s sword, fighting back anxiety.

He didn’t like holding swords, but Firuz had forced him to learn how to defend himself in such scenarios. It had been a while since he had needed this skill. It looked like he needed to thank Rushi for allowing him to practice this deadly dance.

“Focus,” Firuz ordered taking five steps away from Jihan. He held two daggers, holding them away from his body as he took a fighting stance.

Jihan looked back to see Temu and Faiza still fighting off palace guards. Rushi had truly prepared for everything.

“Here they come, forget the generals and focus, An,” Firuz ordered and Jihan closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath.

*~*~~*~*~

this is not a cliffhanger....
hahaha.
Sui.
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.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Sui what a setting you give to us for your confrontation scene. I like your detail to court clothes and other garments. So much detail. Love it.😘

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This is truly an amazing story I can't help but look forward to what you have in store for us next and all the characters I have come to love but the is the ever grown dread to have this story come to an end. I am a lover of your fine work.💦💟❣️❣️❣️💌❣️💜🤎

Edited by kelsob
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another crual cliffhanger adept 🙈

that's not fair to give us 3 chapters and to end with that kind of cliffhanger ! 😤

 

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Just been reading this last chapter again.  Please tell me that Kas is going to come riding in like the proverbial knight in shining armour and save the day.

Don't mind me. Just my romantic heart!

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Somehow I missed this, and the only good thing I can think of, after agreeing with the comments above, is I have another chapter to read right away!

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I hope that Rashan immediately calls out as loud and angry as he can that the Emperor's guards have attacked him and his Papa and tried to delay his entry into the court then demand a reason for such treachery.  Get the Emperor off balanced by striking first.  

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