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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 - 3. Chapter 3

Kastan Visits the Eagle’s Claw

After two days in a palace preparing for war, Kastan was glad to be on his way back to Silver Shore with Rashan.

Kiyan and Kyra were over the moon, having showered attention on Rashan at every moment. It was nice to see, but Kastan worried their attention only made Rashan stand out.

Kiyan’s wife, the Empress Rushi, was a hard woman.

Her temperament was not easy and it upset her to see the amiable relationship Kastan had with his siblings. While Kyra was a queen in her own kingdom now, Kastan was an Imperial Prince of the realm with considerable power.

Rushi wished that power could be transferred to someone she can control.

Kastan sighed and scratched his jaw.

“Rashan was happy to see his aunt and uncle,” Safan said, drawing his attention. “Two days at the palace was enough to tire him out. He won’t want to visit again until you return from the west border.”

Kastan rested his chin on his left hand, staring out the open windows to the busy street below. They were in a private room on the second floor of a quiet teahouse on the main street.

They had left the imperial palace two hours ago. The teahouse owner was Safan’s friend and had promised to give them more information about the merchant known as Kamran. Kastan needed someone he could trust in the role of supplier. He had hoped one of the merchants at Silver Shore would gain the rights to supply his armies. It worried him that someone he did not know had won the bid.

“Rashan was happy when he was playing with his cousins,” Kastan said, his thoughts lingering on his son. “Do you think I’m harsh for keeping him away from the palace?”

“No,” Safan said. “Forgive me for saying this but the palace ruins young minds. There is so much ambition in the palace. There are too many people willing to mold a young mind into a certain way of thought. It is better for Rashan to remain at Silver Shore, Your Grace. He gets to live, and experiment and chase chickens in their coops. It will ground him and allow him to forge his own opinions.”

“That’s my hope,” Kastan said, relieved.

There were days he was very unsure about his ability as a father. He was thankful for Safan’s insight.

“Your Grace is doing the right thing,” Safan said, looking at the door when a soft knock came.

The door opened a second later and Safan smiled when he saw the teahouse owner.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” the teahouse owner said.

“You’re on time,” Safan said. “His Grace, Duke Silver.”

The teahouse owner placed his right hand on his chest and gave Kastan a low nod in greeting. He then turned to Safan, unable to hold Duke Silver’s gaze, and held out a tightly rolled piece of parchment.

“First, I will confess to you that it is very difficult to get information on the Kamran merchants. They have tight control over their operations. Their boss pays well, so they have built a very loyal group. I could only get you information on where you are likely to meet their leadership. An inn in Vasia Town called The Eagle’s Claw.”

“I’ve heard of the Eagle’s Claw,” Safan said. “Anyone who is traveling without entering the Imperial City Akan stops in Vasia. The Eagle’s Claw takes in most of these travelers.”

“That’s right,” the teahouse owner said. “They say if you want to talk to Kamran, you find a man named Garren at the Eagle’s Claw.”

“Interesting,” Safan murmured.

He opened the scroll the teahouse owner had given them. After a few minutes of reading, he glanced at Kastan.

“Lord Duyi Kamran keeps a home here in the imperial city. He throws large parties and invites court officials often. The list is impressive.”

“He would need to know a few well-placed officials to join the bid to supply a war,” Kastan said, returning his attention to the teahouse owner. “You said, first, what is second?”

“Um, Lord Duyi might be popular and well-known, but the Kamran business is ran by his son. He is rarely in Akan and keeps a low profile. The only information I could get on him is that he might be at The Eagle’s Claw tonight. Lord Duyi asked him to visit his manor today to receive the imperial order to supply Duke Silver’s armies.”

Safan got up handing the scroll to Kastan, and then turned to the teahouse owner. He reached into his tunic pockets and found ten gold taels, which he handed to the teahouse owner.

The teahouse owner gave Kastan a smile and murmured his thanks.

“I’ll get Rashan,” Safan told Kastan, as he led the teahouse owner out of the private room.

Kastan put the scroll into his pocket to read and analyze later. He got up from the table and moved to the windows that showed off the main street, and the teahouse entrance. Rashan was downstairs exploring. The boy was in a state of excitement over this whole trip. It was a crime to try to control him.

Kastan could only entrust Rashan’s safety to the three highly trained guards who followed him everywhere he went.

They did not make it obvious, as that would pull attention on Rashan.

A scholar in pale green and white robes caught Kastan’s attention at the teahouse entrance below. The scholar was coming out of the teahouse in a lazy stroll, his hands clasped behind his back as he walked down the steps.

The scholar looked back for a moment and Kastan took in his profile. He was handsome, a bit too attractive for Kastan’s tastes, but he wore it well.

Kastan’s admiration paused when a taller man followed the scholar, barely a step away. His dark robes were refined, but there was no hiding what he was from Kastan.

He had spent too much time with Kyra’s Shadow Guard.

A scholar who needed a Shadow Guard, how curious and rare, Kastan’s interest peaked. He watched them walk down the steps, wondering who the scholar was. He was sure if he asked around there would be someone who knew.

Scholars were a tight knit community and they would know when one of them was walking around with a Shadow Guard like Queen Kyra of Tanad Kingdom.

Kastan smiled, but then his smile froze when he caught sight of Rashan racing down the steps after a man. Rashan shot into the street without looking before Kastan could shout a warning.

Fear clenched Kastan’s gut when he saw a speeding carriage racing straight for Rashan.

The window was at an inconvenient part of the teahouse. Kastan could only run out of the private room at top speed. Racing as fast as he could and hoping he would make it in time.

He did not make it in time.

Kastan got outside in time to see the three men who were in charge of Rashan crossing the street. One of them entered the market going after the man Rashan was chasing. The other two joined Safan on the opposite side of the road where Rashan stood, safe and sound.

Relief flooded him, feeling almost painful, at the sight of his son unharmed. Crouched before his son, was the handsome scholar, his clothes covered in dust, hair in a wild tangle down his back.

He was talking to Rashan, adjusting his clothes and straightening Rashan’s hair.

Kastan started to cross the street, and almost panicked again when Safan chose to grab the scholar’s right wrist.

It happened too fast, and Kastan had to run to stop Safan from making a gory mistake.

“Jihan must have a very strong personality for a scholar,” Kastan said, minutes later when the crisis ended.

He watched the scholar named Jihan climb into his carriage with a frown. Once again, he wondered why a scholar would need a Shadow Guard. The mystery nagged at him, begging him to dig deeper.

“It’s amazing how he managed to keep his Shadow Guard in check, even as you caused him pain,” Kastan murmured. “One small whimper from him and you wouldn’t have a hand, Safan.”

Safan shivered and crouched by Rashan with a scowl.

“Why would you run out into the street without looking? Are you trying to kill yourself? What were you thinking?” Safan asked, gripping Rashan’s arms, visibly restraining himself from shaking Rashan. “Now state your reasons one by one before I lose my head and make you chop firewood for the next month.”

Rashan held Safan’s gaze, not daring to look away.

“I was in the main dining room talking to the boys who go to Akan School. They said they were going on break because the imperial city will be under lock down for the war. We were joking around in the back of the dining room when a man grabbed my moneybag. I ran after him. I was too angry that he would dare grab it.”

“You could have been killed,” Safan said, fear in his voice, although Rashan did not hear it, Kastan did.

“Jihan saved me,” Rashan said, smiling, his gaze looking to see if he could still see Jihan’s carriage.

He couldn’t, it was gone, disappeared into the traffic that was the imperial city.

“What if he wasn’t there?” Kastan asked, meeting Rashan’s gaze. “What then?”

Rashan’s gaze went wide, and his fingers tightened into fists.

“I’m sorry for running out onto the street,” Rashan said.

“Your life matters more than a moneybag,” Safan said, shaking his head. He too adjusted Rashan’s leather belt and smoothed Rashan’s hair, before he stood. “Besides, anyone who dares steal from you is asking for trouble.”

The guard who had ran into the market came back, dragging a man who complained and shouted with every step. The thief looked roughed up, cuts on his face showed he had put up quite a struggle.

Rashan’s guard dropped the squealing man on the ground before Rashan and held out Rashan’s moneybag to him.

“Your moneybag, Prince Rashan,” the guard said. “I’m sorry it was stolen on our watch.”

“What do you say?” Kastan asked Rashan, when his son took the moneybag and looked up at him.

“Thank you for getting it back,” Rashan said.

Kastan took Rashan’s hand and pulled him back as Safan took over interrogation of the man on the ground. There was anger in Safan’s gaze as he looked at the culprit, so Kastan turned Rashan away from Safan.

“Let’s go to the carriage,” Kastan said, leading Rashan away.

“Were you scared?” Kastan asked his son.

They were in the safety of their carriage.

Kastan helped Rashan change into a clean pale yellow tunic with gold embroidery. He had checked every inch of Rashan to make sure there were no injuries from his misadventure. He was relieved to see that Rashan got away from the incident with no damage, just dust and tangled hair.

Rashan had stayed silent through the process.

“Were you afraid when you saw the dagger on Master Safan’s wrist?” Kastan pushed, needing to know what Rashan was thinking.


Rashan’s answer was straightforward and he even dared to smile.

Kastan lifted a brow in question, as Rashan tied the belt that matched his tunic, his smile widening when he looked at Kastan. He looked like a boy who had accomplished great mischief.

Kastan could only shake his head.

“Why?” Kastan asked, putting away Rashan’s dirty tunic in a bag.

“Master Jihan,” Rashan said, his voice full of admiration for the scholar. “His eyes were kind. He never once looked away from me, even as he got up when Master Safan grabbed his arm. I felt like everything was okay.”

“Is that so?” Kastan said, he had not noticed it, too focused on getting Safan out of his situation without damage.

“I didn’t get a chance to thank Master Jihan,” Rashan mourned. “I think he got hurt by the rocks on the side of the road.”

Kastan had noticed the rip in Jihan’s trousers and a hint of dirt and red, before Jihan covered it with his robes. Kastan had not given it a second thought, but now that Rashan mentioned it.

He felt bad for letting Jihan leave without a proper thank you.

“Pa, do you think we’ll meet him again?” Rashan asked.

“Do you want to meet him again?” Kastan asked, glancing at his son.

“I’d like to thank him properly,” Rashan said. “He saved my life today.”

Kastan studied Rashan.

Rashan stared at the floor of the carriage and chewed on his bottom lip before he spoke again.

“I’m sorry I ran out onto the street,” Rashan said.

Kastan held his lecture.

Safan had more than made up for it with his tirade by the roadside.

Kastan sighed.

“As long as you know that you did wrong and won’t do it again,” Kastan said after a while.

Rashan nodded and relaxed in his seat, leaning back to get comfortable.

“What will happen to the man Master Safan captured?” Rashan asked.

Kastan slid the window on the carriage open, noting that Safan was still crouched by the thief. The man who was now kneeling was talking with wild gestures. Rashan’s guards made a tight circle around Safan.

“He’ll send him to the magistrate,” Kastan said, knowing that Safan would not forgive the thief. He would not kill him, but Safan would make the thief wish he had.

“Why would he steal from me?” Rashan asked.

Kastan closed the carriage window to look at his son.

Silver Shore gave Rashan quite a safety net. His son had not encountered anyone who would dare steal from him.

“The world is not always going to be as forgiving as Silver Shore, Rashan,” Kastan said, leaning forward to look his son in the eyes. “People work very hard to make a living, and sometimes that doesn’t work out, so they result to stealing and other bad vices to make ends meet. It doesn’t matter to them if you’re a prince, or a regular man. They just want to get by to the next day, so they do these things.”

“Then what should we do?” Rashan asked, a frown appearing on his forehead. “Can’t we make it better so that they don’t have to steal?”

Kastan smiled and took Rashan’s right hand in his, cupping the small hands.

“The world is too complicated for that. There is no easy solution,” Kastan said. “A father stealing for his children to eat is desperate; a man stealing to keep for himself is selfish. You just have to make a decision depending on the type of thief you meet.”

“Why can’t Emperor Uncle make it so that no one has to steal in Akasha?” Rashan asked.

“Because he is only a man, Rashan,” Kastan said, squeezing his son’s hand.

“But he is Emperor of Akasha,” Rashan reasoned.

“According to you, I’m the god of war, but I still have to fight wars,” Kastan teased, and winked at Rashan. “Why don’t you think on this a while, and then when you think you have a solution, you come and tell me?”

“Okay,” Rashan nodded.

Kastan started to let go of Rashan’s hand, but his son held on.

“I’ll think on it if you promise me one thing,” Rashan said.


“You will find Jihan,” Rashan said, with a wide grin. “I really want to meet him again.

Kastan nodded, although finding Jihan might have to wait until the war ended.

“We’ll try our best to find him,” Kastan promised, knowing that he too wanted to solve the mystery that was Jihan.


Late in the evening, Kastan watched the carriage carrying Rashan drive away flanked by an elite guard heading to Silver Shore. They were in Vasia. Kastan needed to learn more about the Kamran business.

“We’ll catch up with Rashan as soon as we have completed our meeting,” Safan said, to reassure him.

“That would be good,” Kastan said, turning to look up at the Eagle’s Claw.

The inn was alive with activity, the doors chock full of people coming in and out. The owner of the Eagle’s Claw was running a very lucrative business here.

Kastan walked up the stairs to the main entrance, moving around a group of women who seemed to be arriving from a long journey. A young man received them at the entrance, promising to carry in their luggage if they had any.

“Welcome, Sir,” a smiling attendant approached Kastan. “How can we help you this evening?”

“We are stopping by for a drink or two,” Safan said, in answer. “My Master and I have heard that your inn is famous for peach wine. We want to have a taste and see for ourselves.”

“We do have the best peach wine in Vasia,” the attendant agreed. “Please, this way, let me take you in to a quiet spot where you can enjoy your wine.”

Kastan glanced at Safan, as they followed the attendant down a lighted corridor. The inn boasted an open courtyard where an ongoing play was running on a center stage. Tables surrounding the center stage filled with patrons enjoying the cool evening.

The sound of music and laughter filled the air.

Kastan enjoyed such scenes; far removed from the screams of battle. He made a note to return here with Rashan to watch a play and enjoy the atmosphere.

They climbed up a set of stairs and went into an interesting dining hall. There were large round tables filled with large parties, and smaller ones for two or three, or even one. By the windows were private set-ups, each table protected by colorful foldable screens, perfect for private meetings, or conversations.

“Private or out in the open,” the attendant asked them, as she led them between the wide aisles. “There are private rooms upstairs as well.”

“A table for two by the window,” Safan said, winking at Kastan, making him shake his head.

The attendant nodded and led them to a nice table set by windows that opened out into the courtyard.

“In case you want to watch the play,” the attendant said. “It’s a good one tonight; it’s about Duke Silver’s undying love for Blood Nation’s Princess Jian. They say he has never gotten over her.”

Safan bit back a laugh and turned away from the smiling attendant, biting his lip hard.

“A jar of peach wine?” the attendant asked Kastan.

“Yes, that will be all,” Kastan answered, and the attendant hurried off. “I’m afraid to listen into this play. I’m probably a sobbing mess in it, unable to get over my undying love.”

Safan broke out into a full on laugh, and opened the window so that they could watch the play anyway. Their attendant brought their jar of peach wine and two cups. She left after pouring them each a cup and Safan paid for the jar of wine.

“How do we meet this Garren?” Kastan asked, sipping his wine, surprised to find it was high quality product.

He picked up the jar and read the name on the sticker on the bottle. It said ‘Gura’. A name that tickled his memory banks, but he could not place it.

“The teahouse owner said to order a jar of peach wine, and Garren will find us,” Safan said, watching the play with rapt attention. “You were right. How do they make these things up?”

“What?” Kastan asked, placing the jar on the table, and sipping from his cup.

“The play, Your Grace,” Safan said, nodding to the actor who was playing a very bulky Prince Kastan. “They said you locked down Silver Shore to preserve Her Highness’s spirit within.”

“I’m going to hit you,” Kastan said, placing his cup down and looking around the dining room.

Safan chuckled and rested his chin on his palm, continuing to watch the play. No doubt, so that he could describe every detail to Temu and Naveed. Heavens, Fara and Yasmin would absorb it like a sponge. Kastan shuddered at the image. He was glad that he would be away at war for the next few weeks.

Sipping his wine, he pushed back the folding screen back and gave the dining room a cursory look. His cup froze midair when he saw a man who looked a lot like Jihan walking down the main aisle in the dining room.

This Jihan though was different from the one at the road earlier. Dressed in all black, his hair in a ponytail, the thick braid tied on top of his head, dark leather bracers on his arms. Jihan wore a distant expression, no sign of the smiling scholar from earlier. He carried a black conical hat and walked with purpose. His Shadow Guard followed him, as they headed out of the inn to the corridor.

Kastan got up and hurried after them startling Safan in to motion. Outside, Kastan had to run to catch up with Jihan at the front entrance. Jihan’s Shadow Guard turned around first, and Kastan stopped at an arm’s length distance when the Shadow Guard came to a stop.

“Jihan,” Kastan said, holding the Shadow Guard’s gaze.

His gaze then moved to the Shadow Guard’s arms, which remained loose on the sides, ready for an attack.

“Don’t you remember me? You saved my son earlier today in Akan. I just want to thank you.”

Jihan moved around his Shadow Guard, coming to stand in front of Kastan. His gaze widened as he took in Kastan, a frown dancing on his forehead.

“Why are you here?” Jihan asked, looking behind Kastan to Safan.

“We are on our way home,” Kastan said, with a small smile. “The Eagle’s Claw is home to all travelers. We’re just resting before we continue our journey. I’m glad to have met you here. It must be fate.”

Jihan shook his head, looking at Safan once again, before he stepped back into his Shadow Guard’s personal space.

Seeking safety, Kastan guessed.

He wondered why Jihan would need to feel safe from him.

“I doubt fate has anything to do with it,” Jihan said, his tone wary. “You don’t need to thank me. Anyone would have saved your son from oncoming danger.”

Kastan kept his smile.

“You’re wrong,” Kastan said. “Most people watch and deal with the aftermath. You saved my son’s life. I owe you a favor.”

“No need,” Jihan shook his head. “It was nothing.”

“My son’s life is everything,” Kastan corrected. “I owe you, Jihan. Don’t try to shake it off. Rashan would like to see you again. Will you visit us?”

Jihan bit his bottom lip. He took in a deep breath and let it out slow. He was handsome in the light from the lanterns hanging above them. Kastan found he wanted to reach out and pull on the thick braid in a tight knot on Jihan’s head. He wanted to see what Jihan looked like with all his hair down.

Would he lose that pensive look? Would he seem more vulnerable? Or just...

Kastan grinned at the image of a naked Jihan on his bed, wrapped in nothing but his long hair.

“I’m also on a journey,” Jihan said, his tone wary. He took another step back, which annoyed Kastan. “I don’t know when I’ll be back to Vasia. If fate allows it, we shall meet again. I’ll give you my answer then.”

“Fair enough,” Kastan said, with a nod. “I’ll hold you to that promise.”

Jihan brought his right hand to his chest. He gave Kastan a low nod, then turned and almost ran to a dark horse waiting at the bottom of the stairs. His Shadow Guard moved at a slower pace. Kastan realized that the Shadow Guard was waiting to see if they would follow Jihan who had already ridden away.

“Strange scholar,” Safan noted. “Now that I see him dressed like that, I don’t think he’s a scholar, Your Grace.”

“My thoughts as well,” Kastan said, intrigued. “He’s held so tight, he makes me want to unravel him.”

Safan chuckled and took in a deep breath.

“Oh, the poets in the courtyard would be excited to discover your undying love for Princess Jian might be toppled over by a strange scholar.”

Kastan punched Safan on his left arm and returned to the inn and their table without looking back. They enjoyed the peach wine, but Garren did not make an appearance, not even after a discrete request of their attendant.

Kastan finished the last of the wine, and placed his cup on the table.

“Can we trust them?” Safan asked his tone serious, now ignoring the actors in the courtyard. “They should at the least agree to meet you.”

“No,” Kastan shook his head, tapping his finger on the table. “This is right. I would worry if I had been able to meet this Garren easily. I can wait until they have to meet me officially. It’s hard to meet a team that can keep secrets so well. If possible, I want to cultivate their trust. Let’s wait.”

Kastan thought about his meeting with Jihan at the front entrance.

Jihan’s unease annoyed him.

Why the little step back to his Shadow Guard?

Kastan frowned.

His finger stilled on the table, and he sat up.

“What?” Safan asked.

“Jihan's farewell gesture,” Kastan said, meeting Safan’s inquiring gaze.

Safan’s gaze widened too.

“He pressed his right hand to his chest, and bowed his head in respect. He knows who you are,” Safan said in shock.

“So, it seems,” Kastan said, with a wide smile.

“Why are you happy?” Safan asked.

“Because…” Kastan got up from the table. “I love a great mystery, and Jihan is a delicious one. I’m going to discover everything about him. We should go now; it will take us a while to catch up to Rashan.”


Jihan chose to ride home to Kamran Estate from Vasia, needing the speed of a good horse. His thoughts lingered over his strange encounter with Duke Silver at the Eagle’s Claw. He had not meant to meet the Commander of Armies that way. He had hoped to be able to keep his cover a little longer. He certainly had not meant to tangle with Prince Kastan so early on in the game.

His meeting with Set had confirmed that the boy Jihan saved was Prince Rashan Miran, son of Imperial Prince Kastan, Duke Silver.

Jihan’s head ached at the thought.

Shaking his head, he analyzed every word he said to Prince Kastan. He was sure he had not made any mistake, except for the last part, and the little escape into Firuz when Kastan stared at him a tad too hard.

That gesture at the end, he shook his head disappointed with himself. He should have acted as if Prince Kastan was just another man. Now Prince Kastan would wonder how he knew about him.

Rashan had only introduced the Imperial Prince as Pa. Safan certainly had kept his silence on introductions. They would all wonder how Jihan had known that he was talking to Prince Kastan.

Jihan cursed under his breath and wondered how he was going to explain that mistake later.

Well, he decided not to worry about that problem now.

Right now, he had a more pressing matter: his older sister Andiya’s safety.

She could not stay at the Kamran Estate if he was supplying the army. There would be too many people wanting to capture her and use her as a bargaining chip. War was not kind to women, and Andiya was his sister. He would do anything for her, and most merchants knew this badly kept secret.

Jihan sighed and urged his horse into a faster pace. It took him and Firuz all night to reach home. Jihan smiled at dawn when he caught sight of the green tiles of the roofs at Kamran Estate. It looked like an oasis in the desert storm.

Renewed with energy, he pushed his horse a little harder, his heart thundering with anticipation.

The estate sat on ten acres of land surrounded by bamboo forest. There was a perimeter wall wrapped around the property with one main gate used by all who wished to enter the estate. The surrounding lands left wild and open.

Save for the eight-acre land directly opposite the Kamran Estate. It belonged to Lord Ishan Gura: a noble scholar turned farmer in order to keep his family from going bankrupt.

Ishan was Jihan’s best friend. They had grown up together running wild in the bamboo forest and the surrounding wild lands. When Jihan turned ten, he took on responsibilities at Kamran Estate while his father moved to the imperial city.

Jihan had no choice but to figure out how to make Kamran Estate prosper without his father’s help. It was lucky he liked business.

When Ishan and Jihan turned sixteen, Ishan's father ran off with another woman to Tanad Kingdom. Ishan discovered that his father had run their estate into debt, and they were facing poverty. He approached Jihan for help. The first years of the struggle to survive were hard on both of them.

Jihan advised Ishan to plant peach trees on six acres of his land. When they were ready, Jihan then bought Ishan’s peaches turned them into wine and sold them across the empire. He named the wine Gura to encourage Ishan who now worried for his family’s ruined reputation.

As Jihan rode past Ishan’s closed gates, he made a mental note to remember Ishan’s harvest through the coming hectic weeks.

Reaching Kamran Estate gates, Jihan removed his conical hat and received shouts of excitement from the guards at the gates.

“Welcome home, Master Jihan,” they each called from the top of the wall, as the gates slid up to admit him and Firuz home. “Firuz, welcome home, it’s good to see you.”

Jihan waved at them and urged his horse through the gates, answering all the greetings that came his way.

Jihan rode into a busy courtyard and brought his horse to a stop. One of the guards from the security house at the main gates rushed to take his reins. Jihan gave them up and jumped off his horse, tired. Firuz was already dismounted, and rolling his shoulders to ease tension from their hard ride.

“Welcome home, Master Jihan,” the man holding his horse said.

“Thank you, Yin,” Jihan said, patting his tired horse. “Get him rubbed down and well-fed. I pushed him hard this night.”

“You got it, Master Jihan,” Yin said, already leading Jihan’s horse away.

Stretching his arms above his head to ease his shoulders, Jihan smiled at the scent of home.

It was early morning, but the large dining and kitchen in the common courtyard was already busy and filled with people: men and women who worked for his family, others who stopped by to sell their wares or collect payments.

Jihan turned on one spot, taking in the open warehouse opposite the dining hall. The warehouse was busy with people collecting or disbursing items for sale. Next was the stable where the horses slept and the groomsmen took care of incoming horses. The heavy main gates sliding closed under the care of the security guards. His gaze shifted to the opposite side of the main gates and he stared at the gates that opened into his family’s private residence. These were kept open all day, only closing at around eight in the evening.

A woman in a simple blue working dress appeared at those gates now. She wore a matching kerchief tied around her hair to keep it from getting into her face. It’s thick length flowing down her back. She stopped when she saw him, her smile wide.

Jihan returned her smile and she broke into a run heading straight for him. He opened his arms to catch his older sister as she launched herself into his arms. He closed his eyes when she wrapped him in the scent of flowers and home. Her hair felt so soft under his fingers. He held her tight and buried his face into her hair.

“I almost can’t believe it,” she said, still holding him. “Two months away, An, I thought Tagon had stolen you from us for good.”

“He’s married now, Andiya,” Jihan reminded her, still sad over his ex-lover’s choices.

It hurt that they had not included him, but that was a lesson he needed to learn on his own. Marriage was not in his cards, Jihan had long decided. He was happy to live the rest of his life taking care of Andiya and their home.

“Well, as long as you’re home,” Andiya said, squeezing him tight.

She held him for a moment longer, and then stepped back. She cupped his face with both hands, took a good look, and then kissed him on his forehead, laughing with joy.

The courtyard broke into excited chatter and Jihan realized it had gone quiet during their reunion.

“We should celebrate,” Andiya said, her excitement contagious. “My brother is home after two months. Vion, An deserves the largest fish you have in your farm and no less.”

“You’ve got it, My Lady,” Vion said, already heading out to the farming lands of the estate. “Master Jihan, welcome home. We missed you terribly.”

The estate farmed fish in the lower lands where they could get water from the rivers going into the ocean. Vion was in charge of the farms running that project.

Andiya clutched Jihan’s right arm and peeked at Firuz.

“Ru Ru,” Andiya said, using her pet name for his Shadow Guard. She had started it when they were both too young. She had yet to outgrow using it. “I know you prefer a good chicken thigh. I’ll ask Deora to find the fattest chicken in the coop.”

“I can do it for you,” Firuz answered, his tone gentle, as it often was when he was talking to Andiya.

Jihan hid a smile when he glanced at Firuz and saw the blush on Firuz’s cheeks.

“Nonsense, Ru Ru,” Andiya said, leading Jihan to the gates of their home. “You need to rest. It can’t have been easy looking after my brother. He finds trouble even when it’s not looking for him. I’ll have hot water and fresh clothes ready for both of you. You’re home now. It’s my turn to look after you.”

Jihan had long learned it was better to succumb to Andiya than to argue with her.

Her stubborn streak was hard to break. He wanted to indulge her before he pushed her into moving for the duration of the war.

Heavens, he wished they could all run from this war.

If he had a way, he would pack up everyone he cared for and they would leave. However, he had no escape and the army supply token burned a hole in his pocket. The black tiger enough to make his heart shake with fear.

He murmured a prayer to the heavens for strength and wisdom. He would need both.


So, Jihan and Kastan meet again...
Kastan: Jihan, let's lose the shadow guard.
Jihan: (hides behind Firuz)
Kastan: ...
P/S: the earlier version of this chapter had renamed Firuz to Fan. Sorry for that, I was in the middle of editing. Ru Ru will have to forgive my mistake with his name. Hahaha, cheers,
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

On 12/10/2019 at 11:36 AM, drpaladin said:

but why can't Johan's sister be more easily protected at home rather than elsewhere? There seems to be more than adequate security.

Jihan is to answer your question next chapter :) He really will, hahaha.

On 12/10/2019 at 11:33 PM, lara said:

Am lOOking forward to the next chapter 

I'll get it posted.  Promise. :) 

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Outstanding chapter! Kastan and Jihan have met for the second time and Kastan announced that he owed Jihan a favor for saving his son’s life. He also invited Jihan to come meet Rashan at their home. Hopefully the next meeting between them won’t end at the point of a sword. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

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Everything I've read so far makes the Prologue more and more interesting.

I feel sorry For RuRu if he likes Andiya and she is with Ishan, as per the prologue.

At least Jihan has a favour up his sleeve still, for use in the situation in the prologue?

Jihan and Kastan have not met since Eagle Claw, cause I would have assumed that they were going to get together? The prologue doesn't reflect this however.

I am even more curiouser to find out what the Royal Edict was and how they fooled Kastan?

Loving this story so very VERY much!


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Okay, what is the deal with the sister?  Is there something else going on; why is everyone so worried about her being grabbed and taken?  It seems like the area where they live is well protected.

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Interesting how many similarities there are between Jihan and Kastan: odd person out amongst their families, creators of idyllic, secure refuges away from Imperial life, trustworthy and inspiring trust in their closest friends and allies, strategic, brilliant in their endeavors, and each with a critical vulnerability: Rashan and Andiya.

I went back to the Prologue, and so much has clearly occurred to arrive at that fateful future meeting between Kastan and Jihan. Each chapter seems to fill in more of the picture you drew in the Prologue. By the end, I suspect that that Prologue will feel like a hologram -- visible from all angles, each with a piece of the picture. I also suspect that it will stand out as one of your masterpieces, @lilansui.

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Rashan's naivete is endearing. Despite being a prince, he is not full of himself or his station: He easily mixes with the boys at the inn, and he wishes to find a solution so that men don't have to steal to support their families.  He also has a strong sense of right/responsibility and wants to provide Jihan with more formal thanks for saving his life. (I like this kid.)

That Jihan retrospectively analyzes his second meeting with Kastan--and recognizes his error--is a tribute to his chess-player's mind and need to avoid future errors/mitigate any errors already made.  His ability to think this way appears an excellent survival trait in an uncertain and dangerous world.

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Rashan is a sweet young boy and the product of the love that surrounds him from his father, friends, staff and the community he has been raised in since birth.  Duke Silver is interested in finding out more about the intriguing Jihan and the supplier for his army.  It should be interesting to see his reaction when he realizes they are the same person. This chapter added greater dimension to Jihan and the Duke.  Both leaders in their field, it will be interesting to find out how well they will get along.  

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