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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 - 31. Extra 1 - The Ghost of Jian, the Duchess of Silver Shore Valley

The Ghost of Jian, Duchess of Silver Shore Valley

Sun-filled Manor’s hidden wing was connected to the locked door along the corridor leading to the front door. Jihan had ignored that locked door. No, that wasn’t right. To be honest, he had not thought about the locked door until now. Kastan worried Jihan wasn’t fit to be running around the valley yet, so he had insisted Jihan stay close to the manor.

Jihan did not like being confined indoors. He missed checking on the farms and the progress of the trade station. Garren and Set assured him all was well, but it was still maddening to have to stay inside the manor when he was feeling strong enough. To occupy himself, Jihan had started an exploration of the manor. Fara was of great help as she helped him get the artisans to restore faded art on screens and paintings. Temu brought the main carpenter from the furniture workshop. The carpenter would restore the many chairs in the manor, and replace others like the very old large dining table.

In the end, Jihan wandered the massive Sun-filled Manor. He had plenty of time to explore and discover the amount of work needed to restore the manor. It was unkind for the manor to keep looking so faded, spending so much time in the manor, made it hard not to notice.

Sitting in the dining hall, Jihan sipped tea as he watched Kaveh Miran cut up roasted chicken for Rashan. Rashan’s Shadow Guard sat on the other side of Rashan, watching with keen interest what Kaveh was doing. Aoi was learning everything she could about Rashan.

Jihan found it interesting, because it reminded him that Firuz had done the same thing with him. Aoi helped with Rashan, and assisted around the manor when needed. She was turning into a great addition, especially now that Safan was recuperating.

“The manor is your domain,” Kaveh said. “You have the authority to renew it, if you choose.”

“Is there a reason why Kastan has let it stay this way?” Jihan asked. “I’m sure he too has noticed its state.”

“He is a busy man,” Kaveh said. “The last person who bothered with this manor was the Duchess Jian. I had hoped you would take care of it now that you are here.”

Jihan’s gaze skated to Rashan. He placed his cup on the table and met Rashan’s smiling gaze. He had no idea what Rashan thought of his mother, he had never pushed, but he was nervous about erasing things that Jian had done for her house…for her son.

“What about you, Shan?” Jihan asked. “What do you think about your Papa replacing furniture in this manor?”

“Will our house look like General Condi’s manor?” Rashan asked.

“What does General Condi’s manor look like?” Jihan asked, realizing he had not had a chance to visit any of the generals. It was remiss of him. He would make the effort after Kastan released him from this strange exile.

“It’s very handsome. The wood floors polished. The furniture beautiful and the fabrics on the windows are always new and colorful. Our Sun-filled Manor always looks faded,” Rashan said with a sigh. “General Condi’s wife says it is because we don’t have a woman in here.”

Jihan scoffed, and Kaveh Miran laughed.

“How brave of General Condi’s wife,” Jihan said. “Dares to look down on our Duke’s Manor, does she still like her life?”

“You haven’t made an effort to make it look nicer than hers,” Kaveh said with a chuckle. “Shan, does that mean you want to make the manor look nice like General Condi’s manor?”

“If Papa can do it, then that would be nice,” Rashan said. “It would give us face. I can also invite my friends to visit more often.”

“Shan,” Jihan said in shock. “You can still invite them to visit even now.”

“But our manor looks so…,” Shan touched the long dining table. “This is very old. Master Safan says if all my friends come in here and we play around, you’ll punish us for breaking the furniture. Please can we make it look nice?”

Jihan’s gaze shifted to Kaveh seated next to Rashan and found his father in-law grinning.

“It seems as though the only thing stopping you from doing anything with this manor is you,” Kaveh said, placing several slices of chicken on Rashan’s plate. “Jihan, I hope you choose to restore the manor. If you want to know Jian’s mind on the matter, you can enter the locked room off the main hall, the one on the way to the stairs. That place is meant to be the office used by Kastan’s Consort.”

Jihan sat watching Kaveh, Rashan and Aoi have their meal thinking about Kaveh’s words.

After the morning meal ended, Yasmin brought him a key saying it would open the locked door. Jihan clutched the key and headed to the locked door.

Firuz took the key from him and inserted it into the lock. He turned the key and the lock groaned as it slid unlocked. Firuz gave Jihan an excited glance as he slid the doors open. They were greeted by a cloud of dust and cobwebs.

“Looks like no one has entered the room for years,” Firuz said, walking to a large desk in the center of the room. There was a boarded up entrance on the other end of the room. Jihan guessed it led to the unfinished part of the house. He was still waiting on the drawings of the manor from the main builder. This set up felt…it needed redoing.

Pressing his sleeve to his nose, Jihan entered the dusty large room.

The desk was laden with books and papers turned yellow with age. Before the desk, six chairs lined up on the wall leading to a guest chair before the table. The walls lined with shelves filled with more books and storage boxes. Behind the desk was a large chair, and beyond that, the back wall with the boarded up archway and windows covered with a large white sheet.

Jihan went to pull down the white sheet, covering his nose with his free hand as dust rose. One by one, he dropped the sheets and smiled as sunlight filled the dusty room. Jihan could already imagine the majesty of this room, polished and clean. It would be the perfect place to work. It had the same view as Rashan’s suite upstairs. He looked through a dusty window to see a continuing wall on the outside.

Dropping the last of the sheets, he stopped when he saw the bassinet he uncovered and a rocking chair arranged at the corner of the room. Jian must have hoped to watch over Rashan here. She had planned for it. Seeing her hope now left him feeling sad.

“Jihan,” Firuz said, drawing his attention to the books he was touching on the desk.

Jihan moved closer to Firuz, taking the leather bound book Firuz held out to him.

He opened the cover and braced himself when he read the first page.

Duchess Jian Niven Miran
Sun-filled Manor

Jihan closed the book. He would have placed it on the desk but Firuz stopped him with a shake of his head. He looked around the room again, really taking it in. The bassinet in the corner of the room, the rocking chair next to it spoke volumes.

Jian had hoped to watch over Rashan here. The desk laden with books and an abacus, all of which Jihan was sure had to with Sun-filled Manor, or Jian’s own personal matters. This room was a memorial.

“We should leave,” Jihan said, placing the book on the table anyway and taking a step away from the desk.

“Should we?” Firuz asked, tracing his finger over the desk. He came away with a decade worth of dust. “If you can’t clean this room up, who else will? You’re now the master of Sun-filled Manor. Rashan hopes for a bright home. It’s up to you to make it happen, Jihan. She would want you to.”

Jihan shook his head, conflicted. He would have started for the door but he paused when he saw Kaveh Miran watching him at the entrance.

Kaveh smiled as he strolled in, looking carefree in his blue robes. The gold of the embroidery on the hems was vibrant and a sharp contrast to the dusty room. He stopped by a shelf to touch an empty vase.

“I’m glad you opened this hatch,” Kaveh said. “This room has stayed closed too long. I miss finding it alive with activity.”

“You spent time here?” Jihan asked, folding his hands against his chest.

“I did,” Kaveh said. “This is meant to be a formal office used by Kastan’s Consort. Believe it or not, Kas’s Consort has duties in the army.”

“Duties like what?” Jihan asked, his gaze returning to the leather bound book on the desk.

“The manor used to have a larger staff,” Kaveh said. “After Jian’s death, Kastan was away too much and didn’t have time to track them all. Without constant order, and funding, Yasmin and Fara became the only two left taking care of this place. We’ve all relied on Yasmin too much. She should get help now.”

“I agree with that,” Jihan said. “Which is why we’ve already found people to help her in the kitchen.”

“You’ll find the list of positions in the records here. You can also adjust them as you need,” Kaveh said, touching a vase on the shelf.

“What other duties are expected of me?” Jihan asked.

Kaveh dropped his hand away from the vase.

“The soldiers have spouses, and families,” Kaveh said. “At times, they might have issues that can only be dealt with by Kastan, or you. Kastan has to handle the Empire's defense. His consort should assist him with domestic matters. Manage issues brought forward by the General’s spouses. The spouses all used to help check on the welfare families. It would have been easy to discover embezzlement then. It was easy to catch discrepancies in the welfare office.”

“I feel that my already busy life is about to get busier,” Jihan said. “I hope I’m allowed to get someone to help me manage.”

Kaveh smiled at Jihan.

“Jihan,” Kaveh said. “Delegating is a fine way to lead. So, find someone who you trust to work with you. He or she can also help you revive the patronage ran by the Duchess. It would have stopped after her death. There’s no reason why you can’t revive it.”

Jihan breathed in and then out, looking around the dusty room, the blocked doorway to the rooms beyond. He worried about digging into Jian’s past. Worried what he would discover she felt for her husband and son. What would it do to Kastan and Rashan?

“Kastan let this room go for ten years,” Kaveh said, as though answering Jihan’s worries. “It was either too hard for him to go through it, or…he has too many things to worry about to focus on what it represents. Either way, it’s now your duty, Prince Consort Jihan.”

Jihan sighed and nodded in agreement.

Kastan and Rashan were his family now. He would take care of them, even if it meant delving into Jian’s personal affairs and discovering her dreams.

It would be hard, but...

Rashan’s Papa would make sure Rashan knew what his Ma thought and dreamt he would be.

“Well, it looks like your morning will be busy,” Kaveh said, clasping his hands behind his back. “I’ll take Neith on a walk. Rashan and Aoi are upstairs. You can have them join you.”

“Thank you, Pa,” Jihan said.

“Anytime, Son,” Kaveh said, leaving the room.

Jihan pressed his right hand to his chest at Kaveh’s parting words. He had never heard them from Duyi. His heart felt lighter hearing them from Kaveh.

Another wonderful aspect he had gained from Kastan, he thought, a parent who cared.

Glancing at Firuz, he smiled and clapped his hands together.

“Ru Ru, I should change out of these nice robes,” Jihan said, touching his cream robes. “Ask Yasmin to send us three people to help clean up in here. I’ll invite Rashan and Aoi to join us on my way downstairs.”

“Okay,” Firuz said, hurrying out.

*~*~*~*

Kastan entered the manor in the evening eager for a bath, a hot meal and time with his family. He paused when he reached the private office that had always had its door locked. The entrance was open, the floors cleaned and work going on in the closed off wing of the manor.

He entered Jian’s old office.

It had been a very long time since he had entered this place. He kept meaning to come in and clean up but his time was always so occupied. Strange, but seeing this door open and the office clean filled him with relief. He stopped by the desk Jian had used and touched the polished wood.

He remembered watching Jian sit here and talk to the women in the valley’s council. She involved herself in the care of the communities in the villages. She had seemed to like it. Kastan had hoped she liked it. At the time, he had been too busy establishing the valley’s defenses to ask her. He had not been a helpful husband. Not the way he was with Jihan now.

Kastan winced and tapped on the desk.

He looked up and found Jihan standing in the short corridor to the unfinished side of the manor. He smiled, relief flooded him every time he saw Jihan. His consort was supposed to be resting, but staying home doing nothing was frustrating for him.

“You’re home,” Jihan said, crossing the room to his side. He leaned up and kissed Kastan’s right cheek, then his lips. “You must be surprised to see this door open. There was dust and cobwebs in here. I thought it would be good if we cleaned up.”

Kastan slid an arm around Jihan’s waist and pulled him into a hug. He closed his eyes when Jihan held him too, wrapping his arms around him. The simple act steadied him as nothing else could in this world. He breathed Jihan in, eager to know what adventure his consort had started today.

“Thank you for getting to this room,” Kastan said, rubbing Jihan’s back. He brushed his lips on top of Jihan’s head. “I’ve been meaning to go through all the records in here, but haven’t had the chance.”

“I know,” Jihan said, shifting back so that he could look into Kastan’s eyes. “There are diaries I have kept in our chamber. Diaries she wrote about you and Shan. I thought it would be good if you read them and let me know if we should give them to Shan.”

Kastan nodded, unsure. Rashan did not get to know his Ma. He had grown up hearing about her. It would be good for him to know what she was like, though he wondered if the knowing would make him sad.

“What’s the right thing to do?” Kastan asked.

Jihan narrowed his gaze, as if in thought, and then smiled at him.

“You are always talking about your Ma, and how you like it when Kyra calls you Kas because it reminds you of her,” Jihan said. “The diaries can be those memories for Shan. She’s gone, but her thoughts are in those diaries she wrote. A piece of her she left behind. Let him have it to keep.”

“You don’t mind?” Kastan asked. “I know you and Shan have gotten close—”

“Kas, I will never mind it,” Jihan said. “Let him get to know his Ma. Maybe, we’ll get to know her with him too.”

Kastan breathed out in relief and kissed Jihan’s forehead.

“You heal us all,” Kastan decided.

Jihan chuckled and let go of Kastan. Kastan immediately felt the loss of Jihan’s touch. The feeling faded away when Jihan took his right hand and led him to the unfinished wing of the manor.

“I’ve discovered a treasure back here,” Jihan said, as they entered the large hall with windows taking up the right side of the wall, showing off the gardens on the right side of the manor. “Look at all this space!”

“This hall was meant to turn into a private sitting area for the family,” Kastan said. “The one we use in the front is meant to turn into my consort’s office. This office here is too intrusive. Naveed and Temu felt that someone could easily go deeper and climb the stairs to Shan’s room or the Master’s chamber. I didn’t want another entrance into the manor, as it will make it difficult to know who is coming in the front door.”

“I see, the small room by the front door can turn into the consort office,” Jihan said. “We can bring down the back wall and extend it into the small sitting area, close it off to make a larger room. Then, here, we can make a private living area for everyone in the house.”

“Yes,” Kastan said, pointing to the farthest wall on the left. “We can open up the room that belongs to Fara. Get her a room on the second floor of this wing. This way, there is also a private access to the staircase through this living area.”

“I love it,” Jihan said with a nod, he squeezed Kastan’s hand. “One more thing, we need a steward. Someone we can trust. I’ve discovered a list of duties that I didn’t know existed. Most of them neglected for a decade. We’ll have to start anew.”

“You want to restart Jian’s Patronage,” Kastan said, turning to Jihan.

“She left an estate for you to use that you’ve ignored,” Jihan said, narrowing his gaze at Kastan. “You have a problem using your consorts' wealth to support this manor. You have left her bridal money untouched.”

“I’ve always provided for the manor,” Kastan said, not ready to argue about money this evening.

Jihan sighed.

“Kas, I, your current Consort, I belong to you body and soul,” Jihan said, making Kastan's heart skip in excitement. “Doesn’t that mean what I own is yours too? We’re a pair. I’m managing the household for both of us. My love, please stop being so stubborn and follow what I say. I promise you will never lose face.”

“An,” Kastan started to protest.

“We’re already married for many moons,” Jihan said in a cajoling tone. “It’s useless to argue with me. Jian’s money, let’s keep it for Rashan as his inheritance. The rest, I’ll handle.”

“But—”

“I have added a list of assets for you to read in the stack of diaries upstairs,” Jihan continued. “Those assets belong to both of us now. You should know what we own and help me protect it.”

“Did you drink a stubborn portion today?” Kastan asked.

“Maybe,” Jihan said, squeezing Kastan’s hand. “Don’t fight me over this, Kas. It’s for the benefit of both of us.”

Jihan led them out of the unfinished hall, out the office and to the main corridor. They stopped and Kastan noticed the stone garden was neat, the gravel stones raked to perfection. Evening light filled the space, making the white gravel stones sparkle. He stepped closer to the garden and looked up to see the glass window above clean and showing off the sky. It had been a long time since he saw the evening this way. He loved that Jihan was awakening the manor.

“When I was cleaning out this office today, I thought that we should stop hesitating with each other,” Jihan said, drawing Kastan’s gaze. “Everything should be open between us. Life is too short.”

Kastan nodded in agreement. A month ago, he’d sat by Jihan’s side afraid of losing him.

“Okay,” Kastan agreed. “Let’s do what you say. Do you want a steward who lives in the manor with us?”

“I think that would be best,” Jihan said, thoughtful. “The office Yasmin uses can be turned into a room for him or her. Jian’s office can—”

“Rename it,” Kastan said, turning to look at the door he had kept closed for a decade. “Name it something bright. It now belongs to you.”

“I’ll think on it,” Jihan promised. “My office can hold the household records and important documents. The one by the door will handle the other duties.”

“How about Yasmin?” Kastan asked.

“She likes managing the kitchen,” Jihan said. “She’s happy.”

“Safan?”

“He is Rashan’s person,” Jihan said. “We should maintain that. Yasmin is helping him recover and soon he’ll be helping Rashan with his studies again and helping him run his combat training. I think it works for them. I don’t want to break that bond for Shan.”

“True,” Kastan nodded. “Then, there is a young woman from the Hidden Keepers who just finished school at the academy. She is twenty-two years old. She is related to Raven of the Hidden Keepers. She applied for work at the Duke’s Office and the Magistrates but there is no position for her. We can try her out for now.”

“Great,” Jihan said, leading Kastan in the direction of the large bath. “She’ll be starting out, same as me. We’ll learn things together. Now, you look tired. I’ll help you soak in hot water, rub your back and then we can have our evening meal. What do you think?”

“Sounds like heaven,” Kastan said, following Jihan with a wide smile.

*~*~*~*

A week later, Jihan watched the builder’s workmen undo the old shelves in Jian’s old office. A man stood on a ladder measuring the archway to the new living area for restoration. Jihan was careful as he walked around the ladder, down the short corridor into the wide incomplete room beyond. Saws and hammers were in double use here and the noise was deafening.

“We should head outside,” Firuz suggested. “Shan and Aoi are reading in the garden.”

“Hm…” Jihan smiled watching the men at work.

He could already imagine his family sitting in here enjoying the evening.

It will just take a few weeks, he thought, as someone started bringing down the wall to Fara’s room.

They had spent time converting the floor above this sitting area into comfortable sleeping chambers. It had been fun to watch the builders create an access near Rashan’s chambers to the connecting floor. Fara had moved into one of those rooms. It gave her a better access to Rashan.

Worried he would lose his hearing, Jihan followed Firuz out of the construction space and they headed out to the back gardens. Once outside, Jihan’s gaze automatically found the bridge, which was almost finished. He had yet to make himself go closer. He should, he knew it was the only way to get over the bad memories. Still…

He dragged his gaze away from the sturdy wooden bridge and saw Aoi and Rashan sitting at one of the tables under a plum tree. Jihan made his way to them, and sighed when Aoi got up and greeted him with her right hand on her chest head lowered in a bow.

“Aoi, I keep telling you to drop these courtesies,” Jihan said. “You’re watching over my son. Let’s not stand in ceremony with each other.”

“Habits trained in the Quadrum are hard to break, Your Grace,” Aoi said, her voice low. “I’m working on it.”

Jihan sat on the bench opposite Rashan. Aoi waited until Firuz settled beside Jihan to sit.

Jihan frowned at the ceremony and hoped she would grow out of it soon. Then again, it couldn’t be easy to assimilate into Duke Silver’s domain. He would give her a few more weeks before he made it his mission to train the bows out of her. Jihan sighed and turned to Rashan.

“Shan, what are you reading?” Jihan asked, having spied the old journal he held.

Kastan had read them and decided Rashan should keep them all. They were mostly about Jian’s daily life at Silver Shore Valley. The last one was about her anticipation to meet Rashan and how happy the occasion made her.

“Ma’s diary,” Rashan said. “She wrote about her first days here at Silver Shore Valley. She thought the cliffs were scary. She says she always wanted to visit the Fields of White at the top of the cliff beyond. She didn’t have the courage to cross the bridge.”

“I can understand her,” Jihan said, smiling. “What do you think of your Ma’s diaries?”

“They are very interesting,” Rashan said. “It’s like reading an adventure story, except this adventure belongs to Ma.”

“It does,” Jihan said, with a nod. “You can also ask your Pa to fill in any blanks you might find. I’m sure your Uncle Zure will fill in any others your Pa can’t.”

“Thank you, Papa,” Rashan said. He got up and picked up the diary he was reading. He walked around to where Jihan sat.

Sliding on the bench until he was next to Jihan, Rashan said, “Will you read for me, Papa? I really like it when you read.”

“Sure,” Jihan said, taking the diary. He wrapped his free arm around Rashan’s shoulders, smiling when Rashan leaned into him. “Where do I start?”

“The visit to the Silver Lake beach,” Rashan said.

Jihan found the spot and cleared his voice.

‘Today, I visited the Silver Lake. The waters look silver to the naked eye, yet fishermen pull fish from its depths. It’s a magnificent trick of the eye. These silver waters shone under the sun and I couldn’t help smiling. How beautiful it looked. It made me think that Silver Shore is truly a fitting a name for this valley. No wonder Lord Safan calls His Grace, Duke Silver…’

Jihan read from Jian’s diary, her son listening with rapt attention. The one thing that became clear as he continued was that Jian never once called Kastan by his given name. It was always His Grace, and when she took liberties, she called him the Duke or Prince Kastan.

It seemed like Kastan was right. Their marriage had been of convenience, with no visible love, just obligation. Jian respected Kastan as her husband and the Commander of Armies. She had given birth to Rashan with a clean heart.

As far as Jihan thought, the boy was the greatest legacy she had left behind.

Thank you, Jian,’ Jihan thought. I’ll take care of them now.’

Jihan brushed a kiss on Rashan’s forehead and continued reading.

*~*~*~*

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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These are shorts, mostly from scenes that didn't fit into the larger story. I edit them and post them. 😁

9 hours ago, Kitnika22 said:

Simple question: how do you pronounce Aoi?

Aa-oo-ee

A for cAr, O as in Orange, and I as in ILLness

It's a Japanese word meaning, blue/green. In  this context, I use it as a name meaning hollyhock flower. 🌸😍 I  hope that helps out, Kitnika.

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If you have the time and/or call to write about Ha and Zure, I would really, really enjoy that. I always enjoy your writing. Thank you so much!

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raven1

Posted (edited)

A very sweet story of Jian's life at the manor.  A marvelous way to help Rashan know his mother and her love for him.  

Edited by raven1
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