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The Reluctant Consort - 32. Extra 2 - An Emperor and a Queen visit Silver Shore Valley

An Emperor and a Queen visit Silver Shore Valley

Kyra arrived at Silver Shore Valley on a cool afternoon a month after the great manor construction ended. She did not come alone and brought her son Byul with her. He was eight years old and quite an adventurer. He kept his two attendants on their feet as he ran around the manor in mad exploration.

“I’m so sorry, but your days of peace are temporarily over,” Kyra said to Jihan and Kastan. “Byul is a ball of energy. I don’t have the heart to curb his enthusiasm for life.”

“He’s welcome here,” Kastan said. “I’m sure he’ll run into Safan and Rashan soon. They’ll head out to the fields where he can run to his heart’s content.”

“That’s good,” Kyra said with a nod. She got up from the armchair to join Jihan on the long couch. Taking his hand, she squeezed his fingers, her eyes filled with concern. “I’m here because all I’ve heard are stories of you on your death bed and my former sister in-law wanting to murder you. I even decided not to go to the Capital but visit Silver Shore Valley instead. Jihan, how are you doing? Are you doing all right? You tell me if something is wrong and I’ll complain to my brother for you.”

“Kyra, I’m doing very well these days,” Jihan said, leaning into her. His gaze returned to Kastan who watched them with a small smile. “Your big brother is also very good to me and spoils me. I’m healthy. Shan is fine, and Kastan is happy. All is well. How can I let you complain?”

Kyra chuckled and turned to look at Kastan.

“Kas, your husband only has good things to say about you,” Kyra said.

“You make us both happy by visiting,” Kastan said in answer. “How long can you stay?”

“A week and a half,” Kyra said squeezing Jihan’s hand in apology. “Then, I have to return to Tanad Kingdom. Nade worried I might stay too long again.”

“I understand,” Kastan said. “It’s great timing as we received a message from Kiyan yesterday. He’s bringing his two sons to visit us. We are expecting him in two days. He might stay a fortnight, depending on the situation at the Imperial Court.”

“Then, our visits will align,” Kyra said with a pleased smile. “We’ll all be in one place at the same time. It’s been too long. We should celebrate.”

“I agree,” Kaveh said, entering the large family room.

Kyra let go of Jihan’s hand and stood, her eyes wide with surprise.

“Pa,” she said, running to him as a little girl runs to her father.

Jihan smiled, getting up to stand by Kastan’s right side, as they watched Kaveh hold his daughter. Kyra cried, and Kaveh rubbed her back with the patience of a father, murmuring soothing words in her ear. When Kyra’s tears ended, he helped her wipe her cheeks and pinched them with a laugh.

“How old are you and you’re crying like a baby,” Kaveh teased her.

“I always want my Pa holding me when I cry,” Kyra replied.

“Jihan is the youngest here and he doesn’t need me holding him when he cries,” Kaveh said.

“He has Kas to hold him,” Kyra said, making Jihan chuckle and look at Kastan.

“That’s a very accurate answer. I wonder what Byul will think of this,” Kaveh said, taking Kyra’s hand and leading her to the long couch. They sat next to each other, Kyra holding on to her father’s hand. “I’m glad you brought him along. It has been too long since I saw my grandson.”

“I wanted to show him off to Jihan,” Kyra said, winking at Jihan. “He will get to spend time with Rashan. It’s even better news that Byul will be able to meet Yan and Yija.”

“Yan and Yija hope to stay at Silver Shore Valley,” Kaveh said, giving Jihan a wary glance. “It all depends on Kiyan straightening matters with Jihan of course. Otherwise, they will stay at my sanctuary in the Silver Lake Island, and then return to the Imperial Court.”

Kyra frowned and looked to Jihan.

“What matters?” Kyra asked.

Jihan sighed and Kastan took his left hand, holding it tight.

“Kiyan gave Jihan a task,” Kastan said, his tone solemn. “He needs Silver Shore Valley to support the Imperial Palace. The valley has been financially ill. We have had a busy time working to generate more income. We are now back on track. Jihan is still worried that it might take a little more than the six months Kiyan gave him to support the Imperial Palace. Our time is almost up, and with the Emperor visiting, he’s a little stressed.”

“I see,” Kyra said, and then smiled at Jihan. “Don’t worry, as long as you intend to fulfill his wishes, the situation should resolve itself soon. This is how our Emperor Brother operates. Kastan has faced ridiculous ultimatums too. This valley, for example, was the first ultimatum he ever got from Kiyan. To create a stronghold for the army that would give them a home and a place to grow the numbers. It took Kastan years to get it standing.”

Kaveh nodded.

“Kyra was to make a strong alliance with Tanad Kingdom,” Kaveh said, looking at Jihan. “She was not happy, but she ended up in Tanad and married King Nade Tan. There were many letters lamenting her new life, but she ended up falling in love and got Byul. My daughter gained a happy medium. In short, Jihan, you’ll also find your balance with Kiyan.”

Jihan nodded and squeezed Kastan’s hand.

“Well, we’ll see what the outcome of Kiyan’s visit will be,” Jihan said. “For now, allow me to leave you. I’ll arrange Kyra and Byul’s chambers, and ask Yasmin to serve food and drink. Kyra you must be hungry.”

“Famished,” Kyra said.

Jihan kissed Kastan’s cheek and left the living room with a little nod. A few minutes after he left, a tiger cub came running into the family room, skidding on the polished wood floors. Kyra gave an exclamation of recognition, getting up to greet the little tiger. She ended up sitting on the fine carpet in the middle of the room, letting the black and white tiger pounce on her.

“I can’t believe Neith is here,” Kyra said, lifting the little cub. “Why don’t you ever choose to stay with me?”

“She probably will one day,” Kaveh said, smiling as he watched Kyra and the tiger cub.

Kyra kissed the tiger cub and let it stand on its own again, watching it play with her fine pale yellow dress. She handed over the yellow tassel on her belt to the tiger cub and laughed when it went crazy playing with the tassel.

“Kastan, your home is so beautiful and feels very warm,” Kyra said, folding her legs and facing her brother. “I’ve been here a few minutes and I can already tell I won’t want to leave.”

“It’s all thanks to Jihan,” Kastan said, sitting back, relaxed.

He looked happier too, but Kyra would never comment on it. She remembered how tense her brother seemed before, always thinking about the army’s obligations and worrying about Rashan. What a relief to see him sit so calm and smiling easily without a scowl in sight.

Kyra glanced at Kaveh, and they shared a smile. Their father saw it too. Kyra grinned and settled in as Kastan and Kaveh started telling her stories about the happenings at Silver Shore Valley and around the empire.

When Jihan returned, it was to invite them to the dining room for tea and snacks, while they waited for the evening meal. Byul and Rashan joined them. Kyra was so happy to see Rashan had gained a Shadow Guard that she spent a few minutes putting the shy Aoi on the spot with a hundred questions.

Jihan saved Aoi by asking Kyra about Tanad Kingdom, and the tide changed as Kyra launched into her own adventures in Tanad Kingdom. Aoi gave Jihan a grateful glance and he hid a smile.

Late in the evening, Jihan and Firuz took Kyra and Byul to the auxiliary house and the fine rooms they would be using for the duration of their stay. Firuz made sure Kyra’s Shadow Guard was settled, while Jihan went in for a bath. Firuz followed him upstairs after his bath, and Jihan entered the master’s chamber, letting Firuz go to his own room.

Kastan waited for him.

He was lying on a long couch in their private sitting area, reading a military tactics book written by old generals. He placed the book on the small stool next to the couch and beckoned Jihan closer. He shifted making room for Jihan on the wide comfortable couch.

Jihan joined him, lying next to his husband, letting out a contented sigh when Kastan pulled him into his arms. He buried his face into Kastan’s chest, and closed his eyes as he felt Kastan undo the clip holding his hair in place. Soon, the pressure was gone, and his hair was free. He could not stop the happy moan when Kastan massaged his head.

“Long day?” Kastan asked. “I thought Soraya was supposed to ease your workload.”

“She does, there was just too much to get done today,” Jihan murmured, breathing in Kastan’s clean scent.

Kastan was dressed in a dark shirt and sleeping pants, his dark robe spread out behind him on the long couch. Jihan smoothed his palm over the collar, with a small smile.

Soraya was their new steward. She had worked very hard helping to unpack Kyra and Byul’s trunks and turning their chambers comfortable enough to please a Queen, a Crown Prince and the attendants they brought with them.

Soraya was the one who had reminded Jihan that they needed to worry about setting up Kiyan’s chambers in the morning.

Thinking about Kiyan’s visit had Jihan wishing the man would find a reason not to visit Silver Shore Valley.

“I’ve been losing sleep over how well we can accommodate an Emperor in our manor,” Jihan said. “I’m so happy we decided to fix the unused wing. You know he won’t come alone. I’m sure he’ll have his trusted guards with him. They can use the entire third floor of the manor. The chambers we made there are large enough to house them.”

Kastan cupped Jihan’s face and forced him to look up and meet Kastan’s dark eyes.

“Stop worrying,” Kastan said, pressing a kiss on Jihan’s forehead. “I’m worried your brain does not stop thinking even when you close your eyes to sleep. An, please save me from worrying about you and try to rest.”

Jihan blinked then chuckled at Kastan’s comment.

“It’s your fault that your brother is an Emperor, and your sister is Queen of Tanad. We can literally have a war of nations in our dining room if one of them is offended by the lack of sweet sauce for the grilled chicken,” Jihan said.

“The things you think about,” Kastan said, amused.

“Say it isn’t true,” Jihan challenged.

“It is,” Kastan said. “So, we’ll just make sure to tell them that our Sun-filled Manor is neutral ground. Lack of sweet sauce on our table shall not be a reason for starting a war.”

Jihan laughed then, and Kastan watched him, smiling.

“Will you stop worrying now?” Kastan asked, when Jihan met his gaze again.

“I’ll stop for now,” Jihan said, in agreement. “I’ll pick it up tomorrow after your Emperor Brother arrives.”

“Then, I shall turn him away at the gates,” Kastan decided.

Jihan gaped, and kissed Kastan.

“Don’t,” he said, against Kastan’s lips. “Imagine what he will think of us?”

“I’ll tell him that I’m defending my consort’s state of mind,” Kastan said, wrapping an arm around Jihan’s back to keep him close. “I love it when our home is at peace and he’s only going to bring me trouble.”

Jihan kissed Kastan again.

“I’m half afraid you’ll do this,” Jihan said, against Kastan’s lips. “So, what if I promise to find you when I’m getting very concerned? You can remind me to calm down.”

“Then, Kiyan can come in to discover whether we have sweet sauce on our table or not,” Kastan said, making Jihan chuckle. “Do we have sweet sauce for our table?”

“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to discover too, my dear Duke Silver,” Jihan said.

“Fair enough,” Kastan agreed and deepened their kiss, rolling Jihan under him.

Soon, Duke Silver and his Consort were thinking of more pleasurable activities and the neutral state of Sun-filled Manor was put on hold.

*~*~*~*

Kiyan woke up early the day before he was to travel to Silver Shore Valley. He had matters to handle before he could leave the Imperial Court. Early morning, Rael opened his office door to admit Lord Zure Niven.

“Your Imperial Majesty,” Zure Niven said, pausing just inside the office. “I’m here to report on the cases concerning Silver Shore Valley.”

“Rael, stay,” Kiyan said, when Rael started to leave. “Today is the final sentencing for those two. I want to have first-hand information to give to Kastan and Jihan. I will attend these final hearings, Rael.”

“Then, I will make preparations to leave the palace,” Rael said.

“Thank you, Rael,” Kiyan said.

Rael left the office, and Kiyan invited Zure Niven to have a seat in the chair opposite him.

The emperor’s desk was laden with reports, proposals and requests from the changing court. Kiyan needed to get through them today as tomorrow there would be a new batch.

“What news do you bring, Nivenad?” Kiyan asked.

“We have concluded Lord Revi’s case and the officer, Ferino,” Zure said, handing two official scrolls to Kiyan.

“Lord Revi’s case is quite complex,” Zure said. “He might be under arrest but his network of people in important offices here and in the Iron Lands creates a lot of work. From clerks in the Minister of Trade’s office to maids and footmen in the Iron Lands Governor’s Manor, there is a lot to clean up. His master merchant also took liberties with Lord Revi’s power.”

Kiyan unrolled the scroll with Lord Revi’s name to find a very long list of names. If they were all associated with Revi, Nivenad was right. Removing these remnants would take time.

“Nivenad, I grant you authority to remove these remnants,” Kiyan said. “I’ll grant you access to any resources you need. Don’t get tired.”

Zure chuckled and sat back in his chair.

“It’s a lot of work, so I’ll insist on asking for help. It has come to my attention that there is a Lord Ishan Gura living near the Silver Kingdom border with the Iron Lands. He is a great scholar in need of direction. I want to pull him into the new imperial court. Add new blood in as we try to reform what Lord Revi has damaged. Lord Gura is untouched by the corruption of this court. He’ll work with me without prejudice.”

“You have my permission to seek him out,” Kiyan said, understanding he needed new talents in his court. “I would like to meet him when I return from Silver Shore Valley.”

“I’ll make the arrangements,” Zure said with a pleased nod and pointed to the second scroll.

“Ferino’s case has been quite intriguing,” Zure said. “The reasons why his troop died to start with are unclear. He was the only survivor, which is suspect. The Imperial Military Office was thorough in their investigation. I have no complaints about their findings. We all agree that he was not a good man. He would have continued to live a quiet life as the valley’s butcher if he did not meet Nisa.”

Kiyan sat back, tapping his finger on the scroll with Ferino’s name.

“He ties Nisa to Lord Revi,” Zure said. “Ferino also ties Nisa to the Empress. Nisa helped him meet the Burning Feather ghost warriors and plan the attack that would have ended Prince Jihan. He helped Nisa drain Silver Shore Valley of money and would have continued had the merchant prince not discovered the truth.”

Kiyan frowned.

“Are you they sure the valley is now clean? No one is left with ties to Nisa and Ferino?” Kiyan asked.

“I don’t think Prince Jihan would allow it to continue,” Zure said. “Duke Silver was also thorough when it came to purging Nisa’s estate.”

“Then,” Kiyan said, pushing his chair back. “We should get ready to visit the magistrate’s compound. I’ll receive the verdicts and take them with me to Sun-filled Manor. Kastan will only feel at ease if there is no more danger to his family.”

“I agree,” Zure Niven said getting up. “I’ll go with you, Your Imperial Majesty.”

Kiyan and Zure Niven rode horses out of the palace in the company of Rael and Isani. The elite guard preferring to keep their presence hidden. Twenty minutes later and they arrived at the magistrate’s compound.

The military court was already in session. Ferino’s sentencing was first. Zure Niven found a discrete entrance and led Kiyan into the main court without fuss.

General Niku led the prosecution of the case. She had kept everyone on their toes, pushing for a fast end to Ferino’s case. She was meticulous in the proceedings. The funds the capital sent to take care of bereaved families came from taxes, money hard earned by the people. It was important to prove that Kastan had no knowledge of Ferino and Nisa’s transgressions when it came to the welfare office.

Kiyan understood General Niku’s intentions in laying out the matters between Ferino and Nisa to leave no doubt of where the blame stood. She had succeeded, and the capital was alive with discussion on what Ferino’s future would entail. It was unfortunate that Nisa had died by falling off a bridge. Her punishment was too swift for the trouble she had caused.

Silence filled the packed courtroom when Kiyan entered.

General Niku met him at the entrance, saluting him before she led him to the front row where she had arranged a seat for him and Zure Niven.

Kiyan glanced at Ferino.

Two officers guarded him. He had his head down, refusing to look up at the three military magistrates serving his trial. The Imperial Military Council had chosen the three magistrates with no interference from Kiyan or Zure Niven.

Ferino faced a just trial.

Niku returned to her seat, and Kiyan nodded to the head magistrate to continue his statement.

“The court recognizes His Imperial Majesty’s presence,” the Magistrate said. “We thank you for taking the time to attend this sentencing.”

Kiyan raised his right hand in acknowledgement his gaze returning to Ferino who had looked up to stare at him. There was a hint of shame on his face, but it was too late.

This moment was too late and he now had to face the consequences of his actions.

“We have spent days in this court listening to evidence provided by General Niku and her officers on Ferino’s wrong doings. We have also accepted evidence from Ferino’s defense advocate,” the Magistrate said. “We acknowledge that Ferino was initially coerced by the noble woman, Nisa Baiza, into submitting fake names to the Welfare Office. It is also true that he continued to do so for three years without seeking help, or making an effort to stop Nisa’s harmful conduct. This complacent behavior makes him culpable of the crime of embezzlement of imperial funds. For this charge, Ferino Wonju is hereby sentenced to ten years of hard labor in the Imperial Prison.”

“The court proceeds to the charge of attempted assassination,” the second magistrate said. “The victims of this crime are His Highness, Prince Jihan, and His Imperial Highness, Prince Rashan. They were faced with life threatening circumstances on the way home from Vasia Town. The evidence provided proves that Ferino Wonju directed the horde of ghost warriors who attacked them. It is clear that the ghost warriors intended to inflict mortal harm. Over twenty officers in Silver Shore Valley’s army died as a result of this attack.”

“Ferino’s defense has submitted evidence claiming extenuating circumstances. That is, that his family was held hostage by the noble woman, Nisa Baiza, and that the then Empress, Rushi, had ordered the attack. The truth remains none of the evidence provided absolves Ferino Wonju from his ultimate choice to let the ghost warriors attack both Prince Jihan and Prince Rashan. As evidence provided by the former ghost warrior Tayo shows, Ferino went as far as watching the attack happen and then reported his task complete after he watched Prince Jihan fall off a cliff and presumed him dead. He had a clear chance to stop the attack and deliberately missed the opportunity to approach His Imperial Highness, Prince Kastan to report the circumstances. We have also received a statement from Ferino’s wife, Yeorim Wonju, claiming that Ferino received a monetary reward for his efforts. It is further noted that Ferino shows no signs of remorse.”

Kiyan’s fingers flexed into tight fists, waiting on baited breathe along with the people in attendance for the verdict.

The main judge took over from the secondary magistrate.

“Ferino Wonju, do you understand that what you did, sending hundreds of ghost warriors after His Highness with the intent of murdering him, is wrong?” the Magistrate asked.

“I had no choice,” Ferino said, shaking his head. “I truly did not see another way in that moment. It was him or my family.”

“Would you do it again?” the question came.

Ferino hesitated, and then lowered his head.

“I probably would. I don’t think Duke Silver would care enough to help a butcher like me. So, I’d make the choice to survive on my own terms.”

“And those terms include murdering an innocent soul?” the magistrate asked.

“It was his bad luck,” Ferino said with finality.

The magistrate sighed and nodded.

“Then, consider this sentencing a response to your survival terms. Ferino Wonju, you are guilty of the attempted murder of His Highness, Prince Jihan, where harm was indeed caused in the attack by hundreds of ghost warriors. You are found guilty of the attempted murder of His Highness, Prince Rashan. This court hereby finds that death is the only appropriate penalty for your survival terms. You will be held in custody until midday when you shall face the executioner’s blade. May your soul find peace.”

Kiyan let out a sigh at the ending of the magistrate’s sentencing and watched as the officers took Ferino out of the courtroom.

General Niku sat in her chair, her expression one of relief at the end of the months-long fight she had put up in this court.

She would finally have good news for her Commander, Kiyan thought.

It was humbling and encouraging at the same time to see the justice institutions in his Empire working. He wished there was a way to eliminate the growth of people like Ferino.

People used by nobles to perpetrate bad actions. People who thought they had no other choice but to commit terrible, heinous crimes.

Kiyan let out a sigh.

In the end, who was he to judge? He was human too, with many faults, doing his best to guard a vast empire. If even the gods in the ancient imperial tower had not found a way to heal the blight in human nature, how could he claim to try?

“Your Grace, it’s time for Lord Revi’s sentencing,” Zure Niven said. “Fortan and Meen Kau’s trials have already ended. They are both headed to the deep camps of the Quadrum to serve under the Shadow Guard Masters. They’ll never return to the capital.”

Kiyan got up with a nod, and walked to General Niku. She stood up when she saw him and he smiled at her, holding out his hand.

“Thank you for giving my family closure,” Kiyan said, as he shook her hand. “My brother and his Consort will be grateful to you.”

“It was my duty, Your Imperial Majesty,” Niku said.

“I’m sure Kastan will be proud of you,” Kiyan said, patting her shoulder. “General Niku, I hope to see you at Silver Shore Valley. I’ll toast a drink in your honor.”

“Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty,” Niku said.

Kiyan left her to conclude Ferino’s case and headed to the opposite side of the compound to listen to Lord Revi’s fate.

The magistrate in charge of Lord Revi’s case was not long winded. He thanked Revi’s defense advocate for providing evidence, and turned to Lord Bowden who had taken the prosecution lead.

“Lord Bowden, you have presented a case worthy of breaking a kingdom. It has indeed broken the Iron Lands,” the Magistrate said. “I feel that it’s my unfortunate luck that I’ve had to listen to every criminal thing Lord Revi has done in the name of profit and increasing power. For the lives lost in the mercenary assaults in the Iron Lands, the families oppressed by Lord Revi’s tyranny, I hereby sentence him to death. Lord Revi shall meet the executioner’s blade at midday. It is my hope that the souls he tortured and ultimately murdered find peace in my judgment.”

Lord Bowden thanked the magistrate, ignoring Lord Revi’s angry cries at the injustice of his trial.

Kiyan ignored Lord Revi when he called to him. He instead went to thank Bowden for seeking out the long list of wronged merchants and citizens that Lord Revi had accumulated for years.

“Your Imperial Majesty, I have a matter to bring up,” Zure Niven said, when they were alone.

“Let me hear it,” Kiyan said.

“I wanted to accompany you today because I hope that Your Imperial Majesty can complete a task,” Zure said, handing him a list of names he had gotten from Lord Bowden. “These are small merchants who needed Lord Revi to survive. With his network crippled, they are floundering. They need guidance. I know Your Imperial Majesty is traveling to Silver Shore Valley. Perhaps you can give this list to the Imperial Consort, Prince Jihan. He might have a way to help them survive the coming hard times.”

Kiyan smiled and took the list.

“I’ll do my best to persuade him to help,” Kiyan said.

“We need him on our side, Your Imperial Majesty,” Zure Niven said, his tone solemn. “Win him over with sweet words, and don’t threaten him.”

Kiyan smiled and nodded in agreement.

Yes, it was time to find a way to make friends with Jihan Kamran Miran. After all, he was about to leave both his sons under the merchant’s care.

What did one say to befriend a merchant?

*~*~*~*

Silver Shore Valley was awash with excitement. The streets swept clean, the Hidden Keepers in their finest uniform robes. The magistrate had ordered his officers to wear neat uniforms too. The members of the council urged all able-bodied persons to greet their distinguished guests on the main road. The people responded with enthusiasm, lining the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of their important guests.

For the first time in over a decade, Emperor Kiyan Miran was visiting the valley. Shouts of excitement filled the valley’s streets when the gates opened to admit the Imperial Convoy.

Rael and Isani led at the front of the convoy. Kiyan came up behind them, riding on a black warhorse, the harness on his horse decorated with gold studs. His dark travel robes embroidered with gold dragon shapes. His sons rode in the imperial coach behind him. The Imperial Princes, Yan and Yija, were hidden in the ornate carriage.

Kiyan waved to those who greeted him, slowing his horse down to greet the braver soldiers when they called out his name.

“Your Majesty,” they said, and Kiyan would slow down, hold out his hand to those closest to him. His handshake was strong and decisive. The soldiers he greeted grinned with pleasure.

Kiyan found Silver Shore Valley’s people genuine, bereft of the ambition filled in the Imperial City. Their smiles were clean and when they greeted him, it was with obvious excitement. They called him their Commander’s Big Brother. It had been a long time since he was simply Kastan’s big brother.

Rael led the way to Sun-filled Manor, as he had been here not too long ago. The black gates opened and Rael paused when General Moran stopped before them, bringing his right hand to his chest in a formal bow.

“General Moran welcomes His Imperial Majesty to Sun-filled Manor. I will be in charge of guarding these gates when you’re in residence. Please be assured that your family will be safe,” General Moran said.

He pulled out a green token that he handed to Isani.

“Proceed to the green gate,” Moran said. “You may leave your support officers with us and we shall accommodate them.”

Isani called out to the head of the troop in the back and gave the orders. Rael started the convoy again and Kiyan thanked General Moran with a nod. They went up a winding path. Kiyan took the time to take in the military structures along the way. There was a weapons storage, army quarters, large dining hall and kitchens, a uniform distribution station. They reached the green gate and it slid open without fuss.

Kiyan was surprised to be received by General Condi, the head of the General’s Council in person.

“Condi greets His Imperial Majesty,” the decorated General said. “I’ll be in charge of this area for the duration of your stay. Please be at ease.”

“Thank you,” Kiyan said, understanding that Kastan had rearranged his manor into a strong defense fort for his Emperor.

“We will accommodate your elite guard in this zone,” General Condi said, and handed Rael a black jade token.

Rael gave the order this time and then started the convoy onward to the next gate. The cobbled road was once again winding up a hill. They passed a furniture workshop, more officer’s quarters, stables and an entrance into training grounds. Kiyan slowed his horse when they passed a new large building labeled Silver shore Fabric Workshop. The occupants of the workshop stood outside waving at him with muted excitement. Kiyan waved back and it seemed to explode their excitement as they waved even harder. He wondered what the workshop was about, and made a note to ask Kastan later.

They passed the Duke’s Office and came to a stop outside the large red gates leading into the manor. The gates slid open and Rael and Isani rode ahead. Kiyan loved the vibrant gardens along the path to the front of the manor.

Vibrant and wild just like the occupants of this manor, he thought with a smile. The large manor looming ahead was beautiful in the morning sunlight. The windows enough to make Kiyan understand why it was called Sun-filled Manor.

Kiyan’s attention was drawn to the people standing at the front steps of the manor waiting for him. Kastan, Jihan and Rashan stood in a handsome trio. Beside them were Kyra, and her son, Byul. The most exciting person was Kaveh Miran standing next to Kastan, a black and white tiger sitting on the step next to Kaveh.

It was his entire family present at Sun-filled Manor.

How long had it been since he saw Kaveh Miran?

Kiyan could not even remember.

Kiyan brought his horse to a stop and dismounted. He removed his riding gloves and smiled at Kastan. Then, because he was still Kaveh Miran’s son, Kiyan hurried to his father and was not disappointed when his father pulled him into a tight hug.

“Pa,” Kiyan said in greeting.

“It’s good to see you again, son,” Kaveh said, his tone soothing and so welcome it filled Kiyan with strength. “You’ve had a long journey. Welcome home.”

Kiyan nodded and was a little stronger when Kaveh let go of him. He turned to Kastan who greeted him with a warrior’s handshake. Rashan gave him a shy smile as he shook his hand. Then, Kiyan was facing the merchant he had come to see.

Jihan took his hand, a little frown dancing on his forehead that Kiyan imagined was worry.

“Jihan,” Kiyan said, keeping his tone light. “I’m happy to see you are well.”

“Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty,” Jihan said, letting of his hand.

Kiyan frowned, because he knew that Jihan used Kyra’s name freely. Now that they were in such an informal setting, he found he wanted to let go of the pressures of his station. It wouldn’t do if Jihan kept calling him so formally.

“I’m a guest in your home, Jihan. Please, call me Kiyan,” he said, his tone hopeful.

“Yes,” Kyra said, hurrying to give Kiyan a tight hug. “I agree with that very much.”

Kiyan held his sister and when their hug ended, he smiled at Byul, who watched him with curious eyes before he held out his hand for a quick greeting.

Kiyan chuckled when Byul let go of his hand to hide behind his mother’s skirts.

What a cute boy he was.

“What do you say, Jihan?” he asked. “Will you call me by name in this family of ours?”

Kiyan returned his attention to find Jihan looking to Kastan, then Kaveh. Jihan only agreed when Kaveh gave him an assuring nod.

“Then, Kiyan,” Jihan said, his voice hesitant. “Welcome to our Sun-filled Manor.”

*~*~*~*

“Yan, Yija, show your respects. This is your family,” Kiyan said when they were in the manor, settled in the family room.

Jihan sat next to Kastan on a short couch. This was the first time he was meeting the two imperial princes of the empire. The two boys stood in the middle of the room, next to their father, and bowed their heads to Kaveh Miran first, then to Kastan, Jihan and Kyra.

“Rashan and Byul are your brothers,” Kiyan said, pointing to the two boys sitting on a long couch together. “I wanted to bring my sons to meet you. They have been curious about Silver Shore Valley and hoped to spend a few days here.”

“They are welcome here,” Kaveh said, on behalf of them all. “Even though, they’ll sleep here today and tomorrow I’ll take them to the Silver Lake Island for a few days.”

“Can I come along?” Kiyan asked, urging his sons to take a seat near Rashan and Byul.

Jihan watched Rashan, who in turn watched Yan and Yija with curiosity. Rashan was freer with Byul next to him, treating the younger boy as he would a brother.

As for Yan and Yija, Jihan frowned. They seemed wrapped in a cold cloud that Jihan assumed had to do with Rushi’s death. He would need to ask Kastan what Kiyan had told the two princes. Healing them would take time.

“No, I’m only taking my grandchildren,” Kaveh said in answer to Kiyan making the Emperor gape. “You stay here at Sun-filled Manor.”

“Pushed off just like that,” Kiyan sighed and moved to sit next to his sister.

Jihan wondered how they had all ended up with names starting with ‘K’. Kastan’s mother must have thought it would be interesting to name them all like Kaveh. Kiyan, Kastan and Kyra, what a tongue twister if one tried to call the names over and over. He smiled and drew Kastan’s attention.

“What?” Kastan asked, whispering in his ear.

“Nothing,” Jihan said, leaning into him. “It’s just interesting having so many people in our manor. Shan has been wanting his friends to visit. We fixed the manor so he won’t lose face. It’s a good thing for him to spend time with his cousins too. He’ll be happy.”

“I agree,” Kastan said, squeezing Jihan’s hand, his gaze on Rashan who was talking to Byul about what he was doing at the academy the day before.

Yan and Yija looked interested, even though they acted as though they weren’t, Kastan was very sure Rashan would pull them in soon. It would be good for the next generation of leaders to become good friends, not just family.

*~*~*~*~*

Later in the day, Jihan left with Firuz to visit the rice farm. There was a large harvest and Jihan needed to check on the quantity and agree with the manager on what to do with it. What to sell, what to give to the Welfare Office, and what to bring to the manor. Kyra insisted on going with him, so Kastan and Kiyan were left alone.

Kaveh took the children to explore the training grounds with Aoi.

“It feels peaceful here,” Kiyan said, as they walked along the finished bridge over the cliff connecting the manor to Bottom Cliff Estate lands. “It’s quiet and different from the noise and buzz of the capital.”

“It is,” Kastan agreed, stopping by the railing where Jihan had fallen over months ago.

His heart still stuttered at the memory. It was good to see the sturdy rails built along the bridge, and the wide platform six feet under the rails to prevent dangerous falls. He had noticed Jihan had not been able to come on the bridge, even after Temu had assured him it was safe now. That was something he and Jihan would have to work on. He would not have his consort afraid in his own home.

“This is the place you talked about,” Kiyan guessed, coming to stand next to him. “The spot Nisa fell over.”

“Yes,” Kastan said, shaking his head. “I can’t stop thinking about it some nights. It makes me want to keep my family closer.”

“Can’t blame you,” Kiyan said, with a sigh. “You’ll be glad to know that Ferino and Revi both met their end. I appeared at their sentencing in person. We got justice for your consort served.”

“It was also justice for the souls in the Iron Lands,” Kastan said, shaking his head. “The mercenary attack there was not kind. A lot of innocents lost their lives. I might have fought for them, but I was late. Grandmaster Lehin’s family has a clearer account of the atrocities they suffered. Jihan might have gotten his justice, but it is them that have truly seen their terrorizer punished.”

“Yes,” Kiyan nodded with a sigh, as they continued walking along the bridge. “This past year we have certainly seen turmoil in the Empire. From war at West Nation border to this latest trouble in the palace and here at your Silver Shore Valley, it almost seems unreal.”

“How are Yan and Yija dealing with their mother’s death?” Kastan asked.

“There is disbelief, shock,” Kiyan said, clasping his hands behind his back. “Certainly grief, they won’t get to see their mother again. I feel responsible for it, and—

“You’re not responsible,” Kastan said, cutting in. “Rushi made her choice. Had she continued, our very house would no longer exist, Kiyan.”

“Without me, she would not have had to make the choices she made,” Kiyan said, shaking his head. “I should have tried harder with her. Made her realize why our power is divided the way it is. Clearly show her how secure Yan and Yija are. I should have done more, for our sons.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Kiyan,” Kastan said, stopping and taking Kiyan’s left arm to stop him.

Kiyan turned to face him.

Kastan dropped his hand away from Kiyan. He waved it over the bridge and gave a sigh.

“A mad woman made her way over this bridge and almost took my world apart within minutes. The day Nisa held Jihan and Rashan hostage on this bridge, the world tilted upside down. One moment, all was well, the next, I was running from the manor having no idea Nisa held Rashan hostage only knowing there was trouble. I could not have known that Jihan would do his best to save our son, going as far as throwing himself over this bridge to do so. In a single moment, my worst fears came to life. Jihan saved Rashan. His Shadow Guard sat on a couch afterwards prepared to die and I knew he was lost to me. The pain and fear that filled me up, the loss of him,” Kastan shook his head. “I don’t think I can ever articulate it. Neith saved Jihan that day, but she actually saved Rashan and me. You see, I didn’t think I would recover. I’m grateful for the family she returned to me. I’m so grateful for each day after that I don’t have time to spare for Nisa who made that day happen.”

“As it should be,” Kiyan agreed. “Your situation is different—”

“No,” Kastan said. “It’s not, Kiyan. Rushi might have acted thinking she was protecting her sons, but in the end, she betrayed you, Yan and Yija. She should have wanted to protect the family you made together. Your sons are important to you now. Don’t waste your time thinking about Rushi and her devious plans. Yes, Yan and Yija have lost a mother, you a wife. Grieve her presence, but focus on guiding them to the future. Don’t blame yourself, Kiyan. None of it was your fault.”

Kiyan studied Kastan for a long time. They stood on the bridge in silence. Kastan letting his brother work through his thoughts.

“You’ve known too much loss, Kastan,” Kiyan said after a time. “You must have learned how to handle grief when you lost Jian. Rashan grew up without her and he is quite stable thanks to you. I’m glad you found Jihan to complete your family.”

“What I did with Rashan, you can too,” Kastan said. “Yan and Yija have always had a wonderful father.”

“Do you think I’ll find a Jihan down the line?” Kiyan asked.

“Probably,” Kastan said. “We’ll leave it to fate.”

“True,” Kiyan said, then shrugged. “What’s at the end of this bridge?”

“A place called the Field of White,” Kastan said, continuing their walk along the bridge. “I’ll show you.”

“Kas, have I told you your valley is very handsome?” Kiyan asked. “I’m envious.”

“We’re a part of your Empire, Kiyan,” Kastan said. “Besides, all who live here fight for your empire’s peace, doesn’t that mean we belong to you?”

Kiyan chuckled.

“It sure does,” Kiyan said. “Then, allow me to visit here often.”

“I can’t imagine what Jihan will say to that. He’s half-worried you’ll take him away from here. As long as you don’t make my consort worried, I’ll agree,” Kastan replied, making Kiyan laugh.

*~*~*~*~*

That evening of Kiyan’s arrival, Sun-filled Manor hosted its first party since Jihan and Kastan married. It was a celebration to welcome the Emperor, Queen Kyra and their sons to the valley. Guests dressed up in their finest and anticipated invitations from the manor. The party was held in the formal greeting hall. The large space rearranged and decorated by an army of workers to accommodate the large number of guests arriving. A large table stood at the dais, where the honored guests would sit.

Jihan touched the silver ivy and oak leaves circlet on his forehead, arranging it so that it felt comfortable. The tangled leaves framed a black jade stone that felt cool on his skin. Firuz had woven the ends of the circlet into his long hair.

“Your Grace looks very handsome this evening,” Soraya said, making Jihan drop his hand away from the circlet. “I don’t think I’ve had the privilege of seeing you in your formal robes.”

Jihan smiled and smoothed his hand down the fine red robes he wore this evening. He and Master Rabo were finally on the same page. The man had taken to making very handsome robes for Jihan, there was no reason to complain. Rabo did the embroidery on the robes he wore today in person. Jihan had plans to make Rabo’s work sought after in the empire.

“You look lovely yourself,” Jihan said, taking in the blue dress Soraya wore. It fit her to perfection. She had taken extra care with her appearance. Her hair combed into a shining brown mass down her back.

Soraya smiled and adjusted the scroll she held.

“I’ve arranged the chairs at the main table as Lord Naveed suggested,” Soraya said. “The musicians also have instructions to keep playing unless you ask for them to stop. This way the room will be lively. Madam Yasmin has enough people to help serve our guests. I have a few young boys waiting around the manor in case we need more help. Miss Fara is also helping me to keep His Imperial Majesty’s chambers ready. We are doing the best we can to work with the four attendants they brought with them. Isani and Rael are also quite helpful.”

“You make it all sound quite easy,” Jihan said, smiling at Soraya. “Thank you for managing this party and making it all seamless.”

“It’s my job, Your Grace,” Soraya said. “Now, I just need your approval on supplies expected from the trade station. Master Set told me to make sure you read through them and gave approval.”

Jihan took the scroll she held and read the list of toiletries, food ingredients and daily deliveries expected for the next two weeks. He pulled out his stamp from his pocket and moved to a side table in the hallway to sign off.

“Thank you, Your Grace,” Soraya said, taking the scroll. “Please enjoy the evening without worry.”

“Make sure to join the party later, Soraya,” Jihan said, as she turned to hurry away to the kitchen. “Don’t just work all night.”

“I will, Your Grace,” she called back.

“She doesn’t seem like she will listen,” Jihan said to Firuz.

Firuz chuckled and pushed off the wall where he stood.

“You hired a good little worker. Raven is a good influence on his younger sister,” Firuz said. “Besides, it looks like she enjoys her work. If she has complaints, she will find you.”

Jihan sighed and nodded.

“I hope so,” he said. “Well, let’s find Temu to make sure the stables are being managed in time.”

“Soraya will have made sure he knows to check it out,” Firuz said.

“True,” Jihan said, as they headed to the open front doors. He greeted the three young soldiers receiving their guests at the door with a nod when they brought their hands to their chests in a salute.

Jihan caught a glimpse of Rashan and Byul running in the garden paths holding wooden swords. Aoi watched over them.

“Tell me,” Jihan said, stopping on the front step outside. “Do you think Rashan is taking your training well?”

“He is a great student,” Firuz said. “I think it will take us a few months before I teach him anything substantial. He needs to gain endurance first. It’s frustrating him, but he will thank me later.”

“Which is why you have him running around the training grounds,” Jihan noted.

“He’ll be helping Yasmin haul rice sacks soon,” Firuz said. “We could even visit the farms and have him run up the farm paths.”

Jihan hid a smile at Firuz’s satisfied tone. It was fun watching Firuz train Rashan.

“I’m glad it’s working out,” Jihan said, just as Temu hurried to his side. He looked handsome in deep blue robes embroidered with silver threads on the hems.

“Your Grace,” Temu said, bringing his right hand to his chest.

“Lord Temu, relax,” Jihan said, placing an assuring hand on Temu’s left arm. “I’m here to check on you and make sure all is running smoothly. The Emperor’s attendants are with us now. We need to anticipate any issues before they happen.”

Temu nodded and moved to stand next to Jihan.

“We’re keeping the Emperor’s horses separate from the rest of our Sun-filled Manor. His attendants are very particular with their care,” Temu said. “We’ve done the best to accommodate their needs.”

“Forward a list of what they need to Soraya if we don’t have it,” Jihan said. “Fulfill their requests as long as they are reasonable.”

“As for tonight’s guests we are managing them with the help of the stable in the green zone,” Temu said.

“Okay,” Jihan nodded. “Will you dance tonight, Lord Temu?”

“Will you accept my request to dance with you?” Temu asked.

Jihan smiled.

“Definitely,” Jihan said. “I’ll look forward to your request.”

“Temu,” Kastan said, behind Jihan.

“Your Grace,” Temu said, stepping away from Jihan with a boyish grin. He hurried away in the direction of the stables.

Firuz chuckled and Jihan turned to look at Kastan.

“I didn’t know I have a wolf guarding my prized sheep,” Kastan said, making Firuz burst out into a laugh. “Why are you laughing when you did nothing to stop him?”

“It’s a harmless dance,” Firuz said.

“Who are you calling a prized sheep?” Jihan demanded.

“It’s a saying, An,” Kastan said, moving closer to brush a kiss on Jihan’s right cheek. “Temu wants a dance with my consort. I’m just complaining.”

Jihan chuckled, and reached up to touch the crown on Kastan’s head. His fingers sinking into free dark hair, falling in wavy curls to Kastan’s shoulders. He truly loved seeing Kastan like wearing his gold crown. It made him look even more princely.

“He might dance with me once, but I’ll always stand by your side, Duke Silver,” Jihan soothed his princely warrior.

Kastan smiled and kissed his forehead.

“It’s time,” Kastan said, holding out his right hand. “We should enter the hall and start the party.”

“Okay,” Jihan said, taking Kastan’s hand.

Jihan turned their clasped hands over and stared at Kastan’s bare hand for a moment. Come to think of it, he had never given Kastan a token of his love. Kastan only wore their wedding ring.

Jihan frowned, his gaze on the engagement ring he wore from Kastan.

“What?” Kastan asked, peering at him.

Jihan smiled and smoothed the collar of the deep blue robes Kastan wore with his free hand. They were handsome robes and decorated with gold on the hems.

“I’m excited to have our first party in the manor,” Jihan said. “I just hope everyone enjoys themselves.”

“They will,” Kastan said with confidence, escorting Jihan into the manor.

*~*~*~*~*

The generals brought their families. The members of the valley’s council arrived with smiles and excitement, each pausing by the main table for an introduction to the Emperor. Grandmaster Lehin made a splash as he presented Kiyan with an intricate decorative sword in thanks for allowing his family’s entry into Silver Shore Valley.

Jihan was so grateful for Soraya, he had no words to express his gratitude. She had managed all their guests’ needs perfectly. She coordinated with Yasmin, Temu and Naveed to make sure they missed nothing. All Jihan needed to worry about was what Kiyan wanted to say to him. The Emperor made several remarks about wanting to talk to him. It made Jihan nervous.

“You’re lost in thought again,” Kastan said, taking Jihan’s hand under the table.

Jihan shrugged and reached for his goblet of water. No peach wine for him this evening, lest he get drunk and make a mistake.

Music played by three women and four men filled the hall with a lively mood. There were five couples dancing on the dance floor in the middle of the room where a carpet was laid out for this purpose. Yasmin had found extra ladies to help serve drinks and food. They moved around the packed hall refilling goblets and replenishing trays of food.

Generals mingled with the exception of Moran and Condi who insisted they were on duty. They had made a quick appearance and left. General Condi’s wife and two daughters were left to enjoy the party. Jihan made a mental note to remind Soraya to make an appointment with General Condi’s wife. He was working to get to know the Generals and their families.

His gaze widened when he saw Rael lead Niku to the dance floor. He smiled when Rael kissed the back of her hand and she blushed, her cheeks tinged pink. They made a cute couple. Niku stood short and petite next to the tall and forbidding Rael. Duke Silver’s General and the Emperor’s dark guard. Jihan grinned deciding to have more parties from now on if he got to see love matches emerge.

Beside them, a second not so surprising couple joined the dance, Yasmin and Safan. Theirs was a bond Jihan had watched grow. Yasmin had taken care of Safan through his recuperation period. She pushed him to work harder on getting better. Jihan hoped there would be a wedding for them soon.

Jihan squeezed Kastan’s hand at the thought.

“Does Safan have a house of his own?” Jihan asked.

“Yes,” Kastan said, picking up his goblet. He drank a healthy sip of his peach wine. “His mother stays there. Safan found a nice widow to help her. We all stop by to visit her often. Why?”

“I was hoping he has a home,” Jihan nodded to Yasmin and Safan. “It will be good if they have a place of their own if they get married.”

Kastan placed his goblet on the table, smiling as he watched Safan and Yasmin dance.

“It is very good Safan has a place to call his,” Kastan said in agreement. “I’ll be happy to see my friend find his joy.”

Kastan watched them for a moment, and then pushed his chair back. He stood and held out his hand to Jihan.

“Will you dance with me?” Kastan asked, drawing attention to them.

Jihan stood and adjusting the gold belt around his waist, he took Kastan’s hand.

“I’d love to dance with you,” Jihan said.

As always, all eyes followed Kastan as he led Jihan to the dance floor. Kastan walked tall, his shoulders straight, and his grip on Jihan’s hand sure, comforting. Duke Silver in his domain was the most handsome man Jihan had ever seen.

Kastan led him to the middle of the dance floor. Kastan stopped, giving him a formal bow, and kiss on his left cheek. Jihan smiled when the room burst into applause. Jihan shook his head at the show Kastan was making and accepted Kastan’s bow with a matching one.

Kastan pulled him into his arms and they started the next dance. The musicians turned enthusiastic and soon the dance floor started filling with more couples. Kiyan asked Kyra for a dance while Kaveh danced with General Condi’s wife.

Jihan rested his head on Kastan’s chest glad that everyone seemed to be having fun.

*~*~*~*

The next morning, Kiyan woke from a deep sleep. The best sleep he had had in ages. The party the night before had tired him out with fun and laughter. He couldn’t remember the last time he danced without a care in the world. When he had finally fallen on his bed to sleep, he slept with no dreams.

Kiyan sat up on the comfortable bed to stare out the expanse of windows a few feet away. They showed off a view of the lush valley and the silver lake in the distance. He got out of bed and went to stand by the windows. The valley was quite beautiful. The gardens below were in bloom, flowers alive and colorful. A young boy worked in the garden cutting flowers for the basket he carried.

Muted murmurs reached him, daily life gradually starting beyond his chambers. The door opened and he turned to see Isani.

“Morning, Your Imperial Majesty. Did you sleep well?” Isani asked.

“Very well, Isani,” Kiyan said. “I don’t remember the last time I slept so hard.”

“I’m glad,” Isani said. “Prince Yan and Prince Yija are already awake. They are in the auxiliary house with Prince Rashan and Prince Byul.”

“The next generation is together,” Kiyan said with a grin.

“Queen Kyra is talking to Emperor Kaveh in the auxiliary house too,” Isani continued. “His Imperial Highness is in the dining hall with Prince Jihan. His Highness asks where you would prefer your morning meal.”

“Who is taking care of the young princes?” Kiyan asked, hoping Yan and Yija were adjusting without problems.

“Queen Kyra’s attendants are serving their meals under her supervision,” Isani said.

“That’s good,” Kiyan said. “I’ll have my meal with Kastan and Jihan then.”

“I’ll arrange it,” Isani started to leave.

“Isani,” Kiyan said. “Yan and Yija will be heading to my father’s island later today. Will you go with them? It will be good if they have a familiar face.”

“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty,” Isani said, giving him a short bow. She hurried away.

She sent in attendants to help Kiyan get ready for the day. Kiyan bathed and dressed quickly and left his chambers on the third floor of Sun-filled Manor eager for the day’s adventures.

*~*~*~*~*

Sun-filled Manor felt warm, Kiyan thought as he sat at the dining table. It had a different atmosphere from the one found at the palace. The men and women working to ensure the manor was neat and running smoothly were friendly. Their smiles ready, their words happy, Kiyan admired their easy way with life and the laughter that filled the manor.

It was definitely a different world from his palace. No wonder Kastan tried never to stay at the imperial palace too long. Kiyan’s gaze shifted to Jihan who sat at a small table near the fireplace. He was listening to a young woman named Soraya. She was the manor’s steward. Sitting with them was Jihan’s Shadow Guard and a Hidden Keeper. Jihan listened more than he spoke. He laughed at something Soraya said and Kiyan’s eyes widened when he caught Kastan smile.

Kastan sat at the head of the table on the formal dining table. He ate his porridge with leisure, occasionally answering Temu and Naveed’s questions as they reported the state of the manor this morning. Jihan laughed again and Kiyan watched in fascination as his brother smiled and glanced at Jihan before he returned his attention to Naveed.

Sipping his hot tea, Kiyan remembered that the last relationship he saw similar to Kastan and Jihan belonged to their parents. Kaveh and Shana were deep in love. They mirrored each other, Kaveh smiling when Shana laughed, supported each other’s opinions and decisions. Most importantly, they had made it possible for the Empire of Akasha to come to be. Their children had become the legacy of their marriage.

Kiyan sat back, his gaze returning to Jihan. He was envious that Kastan had found a companion matched for him. Someone who could help him and support him, his younger brother was lucky.

Soraya and the Hidden Keeper left Jihan with a bow in Kastan and Kiyan’s direction. The lady serving their meals, Kastan called her Yasmin, hurried to take the chair Soraya had used. Jihan took the paper she handed him and read it with sincere concentration.

Rashan chose that moment to run into the dining room. He slowed down when he saw Kiyan, but he did not stop his progress to Jihan’s side. His Shadow Guard followed him at a slower pace.

It was interesting that Bast had thought Rashan would need a Shadow Guard. Then again, judging from the life threatening events the boy had face at almost twelve the decision made a lot of sense.

Rashan stopped where Jihan sat and wrapped his arms around Jihan in a hug.

“How did you sleep, little prince?” Jihan asked, his voice warm as he rubbed Rashan’s back.

“Very good,” Rashan said, pulling back to touch Jihan’s hair, adjusting the red jade pin holding the thick braid in place on top of his head.

“Have you eaten?” Jihan asked, reaching for the bowl of oatmeal porridge on his table, as though to give his own food to Rashan.

“Yes,” Rashan said. “I ate with Byul, Yan and Yija. I wanted to ask if I get to show my cousins the academy today.”

“If that’s what you want to do,” Jihan answered, adjusting the collar of Rashan’s robes, and reaching up to brush strands of Rashan’s hair down his back. “Have you talked to Master Safan about it?”

“He said to ask you and Pa,” Rashan said, leaning on Jihan.

Their interaction easy, their affection for each other so clear, it took Kiyan’s breath away. He had never seen Rushi treat his children with such familiarity, ever. It was always duty and honor with her.

Kiyan glanced at Kastan and found him watching Kiyan.

“Yan and Yija,” Kastan said. “I know they are bound for the Silver Lake Island. Maybe they can stop by the academy with Byul and Shan?”

Kiyan nodded his agreement.

Kastan glanced at Jihan and gave him a subtle nod.

Jihan smiled, and caressed Rashan’s cheek.

“You and Byul can show the Princes around the academy, with Master Safan,” Jihan told Rashan. “Aoi, you watch out for all of them. Shan will be too excited.”

“I will, Your Grace,” Aoi said, giving Jihan a nod of understanding.

“Can I take them with me to my training in the afternoon?” Rashan asked.

“No,” Jihan said. “Yan and Yija will be heading to the Silver Lake with your Grandpa.”

“What?” Rashan sulked and bunched Jihan’s right sleeve, tugging on the fabric. “Can I go too? Please, I want to stay with Grandpa too.”

“You have school,” Jihan reminded Rashan. “Your training master will be waiting for you this afternoon.”

“But—,” Rashan started to complain then stopped, his gaze on Jihan. “Um, let’s make a deal.”

“Alright, Little Prince, what are your terms?” Jihan asked.

“I’ll get my training master’s permission to take time off from school. If he agrees, will you let me go with Grandpa?”

Jihan bit back a smile.

“Will you promise to behave for your Grandpa?” Jihan asked.

“Yes,” Rashan said.

“Then,” Jihan said, making a show of thinking. In fact, he was looking at Kastan who gave him another nod of approval. “Clear your training with your master and then you can go, as long as your master agrees.”

“Okay,” Rashan said, kissing Jihan’s cheek, he started to run out of the dining hall but then stopped. He walked to Kastan’s side. “Pa, I’m going to the academy this morning, and hoping to visit the Silver Lake with Grandpa later.”

“I hope you get to visit with your Grandpa too,” Kastan said, resting his hand on Rashan’s right shoulder. “When you get permission from your master, I’ll rely on you to take care of the younger Princes when you get to the Silver Lake. Will you look out for them?”

“Yes, Pa,” Rashan said.

“Good boy,” Kastan said. “Say hello to your uncle, then you can go.”

Rashan nodded and walked around Kastan’s chair to stop next to Kiyan.

“Emperor Uncle, Rashan bids you a good morning.”

Kiyan smiled at the formal greeting.

“A good morning to you, Rashan,” Kiyan said.

“I’m heading out this morning to show Prince Yan and Prince Yija the academy where I study,” Rashan said.

“I’m sure they will be in very good company,” Kiyan said, eager to make friends with this little prince.

“Then, I’ll leave first,” Rashan said, gave him a quick nod then ran out of the dining room before Kiyan could say anything in response. It was clearly running away from his Emperor Uncle.

Kiyan sighed in disappointment and sipped his tea.

Kastan finished with Naveed and Temu. They excused themselves from the dining table, gave Jihan short nods, then left the dining room.

Kastan turned his attention to Kiyan.

“Your sighs scare the people,” Kastan said, sitting back. “They feel the empire must be in trouble beyond fixing when you sigh.”

Kiyan chuckled.

“I was just thinking that your son might not like me very much,” Kiyan said, shaking his head. “I’m wondering how to make friends with him.”

“Give him some time to get used to dealing with you,” Kastan said.

“Jihan has made good friends with him,” Kiyan said. “I’m almost jealous.”

Kastan glanced at Jihan, who was now writing out a list for Yasmin, and smiled.

“He is the heart of our Sun-filled Manor,” Kastan said.

Kiyan could only agree.

*~*~*~*~*1

Kaveh took Rashan, Byul, Yan and Yija to the academy and later they would head to the Silver Lake Island, leaving Kiyan and Kyra to visit at Sun-filled Manor. Kyra opted to spend the day with her brother who was inspecting villages in the east side of the valley.

So, Jihan ended up with Kiyan. They rode to the trade station as Jihan was concerned about the final construction work in the inn.

Kiyan stopped his horse when they reached the trade station.

The station was bustling with activity. The shops open with travelers coming in and stopping carriages to explore. Large carts brought in goods to the larger stores, and took away goods heading to Silver Shore Valley or on the way to the Iron Lands.

“Can we walk from here?” Kiyan asked Jihan.

Jihan dismounted his horse, his Shadow Guard taking the reins of his horse. Rael took Kiyan’s reins and they started a slow walk along the road going through the trade station. Jihan clenched his hands as they walked, glancing at the quiet Emperor once in a while, unsure what to say.

He had worried when Kiyan insisted on accompanying him to the trade station.

“I will still look the same no matter how many times you look at me,” Kiyan said, stopping to meet Jihan’s gaze, startling him. “Jihan Miran, why are you so nervous around me?”

“I’m not nervous,” Jihan said, shaking his hands out and clasping them behind his back.

He was never going to admit that Kiyan made him nervous. Kiyan represented his worst failure at a negotiation.

Jihan winced and turned away from Kiyan.

“Your Imperial—”

“No, you promised to call me by my name,” Kiyan said.

Jihan glanced at him with another wince. Yes, he had promised, but that was harder out here.

“I was wondering what you wanted to say to me,” Jihan said, giving up on mentioning Kiyan’s name.

“You and I started in a very negative perspective,” Kiyan said. “Your wedding came about because I wanted to control you and your family’s network. I had to find a way to bring you to my side. Put you in my family and give you no choice but to help my Imperial House.”

“That’s true, but I’ll have you know that I’m happy with Kastan,” Jihan said. “Kastan is my husband. I made the choice to live with him happily the rest of my days.”

“He’s a lucky man,” Kiyan said. “A lot of things have happened since the day you and I met in my office before you married Kastan. Most of them have led you down a very dangerous path. A path forged by Rushi, and that is something I should apologize for, she had no right to treat you the way she did. Jihan, I hope you will allow me to mend fences with you.”

“I—,” Jihan stopped, turning to stare at Kiyan. “You’re not to blame for Rushi’s choices.”

Kiyan chuckled. “You and Kastan truly think the same way. He told me the same thing the day I arrived.”

“It’s true though,” Jihan said, with a small pleased smile. “I would never blame you for what she did. I did resent you for making me turn Silver Shore Valley into a moneymaking machine, especially when I discovered how damaged it was, financially.”

Kiyan’s right brow rose up.

“You said ‘did’, is that to say the resentment has faded?” Kiyan asked.

Jihan released his hands and looked around the trade station. It had grown in the past few months. The shops were filled with merchants. Travelers stopped by more often. The inn was taking time to finish, but that was because Jihan had focused more on finishing the fabric workshop. Master Rabo was able to recruit twenty more apprentices, in time they might do double the students. The valley was actively purchasing from the trade station, and selling their wares to the merchants. Jihan had made sure there was an open market available for that purpose.

“I like awakening the valley,” Jihan said, smiling at Kiyan. “I’m happy to see the people no longer stagnating, but having a purpose. Money flowing in the valley allows them to grow.”

“That’s good news,” Kiyan said, with an approving nod. “What of Silver Shore Valley’s responsibilities to my Imperial Palace?”

Jihan breathed in.

“This is what you want to ask about,” Jihan said. “You want outsiders not to have the power over your palace, like Lord Revi almost did.”

“You understand my intentions,” Kiyan said.

“Then, it should be a full negotiation,” Jihan said, inviting Kiyan to continue walking with him. “Do you agree?”

“Do I have a choice?” Kiyan asked, matching his pace.

“We don’t,” Jihan said, “both of us. Military affairs ran by the Duke’s office remain the Emperor’s most important matters. I will never interfere with them. Military funding should come from the imperial government. I will work to make this trade station, and the inn attached to it, the workshops at Sun-filled Manor profitable, so that they pay a percentage to maintain your palace. This percentage will be dependent on how much each brings in.”

“Who will determine this percentage? How do we know how much income these businesses bring?” Kiyan asked.

“You may assign a palace court official to our Sun-filled Manor,” Jihan said.

“Kastan is the biggest court official there is,” Kiyan said, making Jihan smile. “His military officers should create an oversight committee. Do you agree to this?”

“I don’t disagree, as long as they promise not to interfere in what needs to be done to make sales,” Jihan said.

“Always the merchant,” Kiyan said.

“Speaking of which, I wonder what you’ve decided to do with the herb workshop in the palace,” Jihan said.

“I’ve closed it,” Kiyan said, shaking his head. “There were poison plots in spices. It’s difficult to know who was clean in that workshop.”

Jihan bit his bottom lip, his gaze on the cobbled path they were using. It was sad about the spice workshop ending up closed. It was a wonderful enterprise.

“What?” Kiyan asked, making Jihan look up to find Kiyan watching him.

“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head.

“Come on, Jihan, you’re dying to tell me what I should do with the herb workshop. Spit it out, stop tiptoeing around me,” Kiyan said.

Jihan stopped, staring at Kiyan.

“Do you mean that?” Jihan asked, he turned and pointed to the mean looking Rael walking behind them. “You’re not going to have him arrest me and stick me in a dungeon.”

“I doubt your Shadow Guard would quietly watch Rael do that,” Kiyan said.

“Hmm,” Jihan said, nodding in agreement. “Okay, you’ve got a point. Don’t close the workshop. Gut it and retain apprentices who are fresh and eager to learn. Find an expert in the cooking arts and have them run the workshop. Sell the packaged herbs they produce. It will be income to the palace that you don’t have to worry about.”

Kiyan smiled at Jihan.

“Great idea,” Kiyan said. “Do it.”

“What? No,” Jihan said, shaking his head, holding out his hands as though to stop Kiyan from talking more. “I’m not living in your palace. No offense intended but that place makes me want to cry for years. Why is everyone so cold there?”

“Are you insulting my Imperial Palace?” Kiyan asked.

Jihan bit his lip hard. He stepped back and was glad to see Firuz not too far away. He had no idea what was the right answer to Kiyan’s question.

“Relax,” Kiyan said on a chuckle. “You’re not the only one who hates the palace. Kastan married Jian to get out of it.”

“Did he?” Jihan asked, in surprise. He had not known that, but it was interesting to know. “I don’t blame him. It was a good choice.”

Kiyan stopped, studying Jihan.

“You can recommend people to the workshop,” Kiyan said. “Jihan, there are still a lot of things to ask of you. You can’t keep looking at me as if I’m putting the weight of the world on you. I want us to be friends.”

“Can we be friends?” Jihan said. “You’re the Emperor. The decisions you make for Kastan make me afraid that we can’t sustain our current family relationship. How do we add on friendship?”

“Let’s make it a great experiment,” Kiyan said, his tone challenging. “I have no idea how we can achieve friendship between us, but we can try to discover it, Jihan. It’s the only way to safeguard the future of our sons. For your information, I don’t enjoy forcing Kastan to do things he does not want to do. I love it very much when he does them of his own choice. I am his big brother and want to see him happy.”

Jihan took in a deep breath, studying Kiyan. Perhaps being friends to an Emperor would not be too hard. He frowned, and then shook his head. No, it would never be easy, he decided, but he could try. Kiyan looked too pitiful. Loneliness was probably his best friend.

“Um,” Jihan started, and then stopped looking around the busy trade station. “We can give it a try. You have to promise not to put me in the dungeon if I annoy you. Kastan and Rashan will miss me and Firuz will have to come with me and I don’t like for him to be uncomfortable.”

Kiyan chuckled.

“How lucky it is to be loved by you,” Kiyan said, continuing their walk along the cobbled path. Jihan followed him. “Now that we’re somewhat friends, I have a question to ask.”

“Go ahead,” Jihan said.

“How much do you know about the Iron Lands?” Kiyan asked. “Do you know any merchants there?”

“A few, why?” Jihan asked, his tone wary.

“I have a list of little merchants who were dependent on Revi’s network. Now that he is no longer there, they’re facing a crisis,” Kiyan said. “Zure Niven asked me to make friends with you and ask you how we can help them.”

Jihan chuckled.

“He’s very cunning that one,” Jihan said. “Sending in such a big hammer to make his point, does he know that Kamran is not a charity organization? We’re also merchants who have to make profit.”

“There must be a way to help,” Kiyan said.

“Probably,” Jihan said, with a shrug. “I’ll reach out to the people I know in the Iron Lands and see what we can do. We only pull in those who are willing to work the way we do. It’s the only way to keep our network stable.”

“Zure Niven was right. Our people in the Iron Lands will be doing okay soon. It’s very good to have a merchant as a friend,” Kiyan said, flashing him a smile.

“I’ve not promised to help them,” Jihan pointed out.

“But you will, if you can,” Kiyan said with an expectant smile.

“You’re not good for my health,” Jihan decided.

“I’m very good for your health. In fact, you should think of me as your good luck charm,” Kiyan said.

“Why?”

“I helped you and Kastan get married,” Kiyan said, making Jihan laugh.

“I suppose you did,” Jihan said, with a nod. He took in a deep breath. “My good luck charm, would you like to have a cup of tea at the inn? Our inn is trying to make the tea as delicious as possible so that we can get more clients. Will you help me taste it?”

“I would love a cup of tea,” Kiyan said, with a short nod. “Before that, can we visit the stalls? I would like to see what they are selling.”

Jihan nodded and led the way to the section of the trade station lined with bustling stalls.

Soon, Kiyan strolled along the small path with a carefree stride, looking like he was just one of the trade station’s visitors. Dressed down in plain blue robes, no one noticed the Emperor. The merchants all assumed he was Jihan’s important friend, seeing as Jihan was escorting him through their stalls and taking the time to introduce them.

Kiyan stopped at stalls that interested him, purchasing mangoes he thought looked delicious. He bought four kites for the young princes. He got Kastan fine leather gloves to wear while he was riding. Jihan got a new abacus. Kiyan then bought Firuz, Isani and Rael fine leather boots from a stall that intrigued him.

Jihan handed their purchases to Firuz when they got to the inn, and started to get a private room for them.

“No need for a private room,” Kiyan said, walking into the dining hall at the inn. “Let’s sit in here. It’s been a very long time since I could sit in the open like this.”

“Alright,” Jihan led him to a table for three with a privacy screen. Firuz took the table behind Jihan’s chair. While Rael took the one behind Kiyan’s table.

Kiyan watched the busy street while Jihan ordered their tea and a few snacks from the server who approached them. Jihan picked up the teapot and poured tea into his cup. He drank the first sip and waited a beat before he poured tea into Kiyan’s cup.

Kiyan glanced at him as he took the cup and brought it to his lips for a taste.

Jihan grinned when Kiyan smiled at him and sat back, relaxed.

“I might have to visit Silver Shore Valley more often,” Kiyan said, after his second sip of tea. “This place makes me want to relax and enjoy life.”

“I hope you don’t make it a habit,” Kastan answered, making Jihan look up to find his husband pulling out the chair next to him.

Jihan grinned, accepting a kiss on his cheek from Kastan.

“I thought you were with Kyra?” Jihan asked, reaching for the extra cup on their tray to pour tea for Kastan.

“We finished early, and she wanted to spend time by the Silver Lake beach. I left her to it,” Kastan said. “Naveed is with her. He’ll make sure she gets home okay. Did you have a good day?”

“It was good,” Jihan said, handing Kastan a cup of tea. “Kiyan and I have decided to be friends.”

“This friend is sitting right here,” Kiyan said, making Jihan smile.

“It’s an experiment really,” Jihan said. “I’m not convinced we can be friends.”

“I’ll be here for you as you try,” Kastan said, glancing at his brother. “I’ll fight him off if he threatens to put you in the dungeon.”

Kiyan picked up his teacup and downed it all.

“You two should consider everyone around you as you show off your love this shamelessly,” Kiyan said, placing the teacup on the table.

“He’s just jealous,” Kastan said in a mock whisper to Jihan, making Jihan laugh and Kiyan reach for the teapot to pour himself tea.

“I am,” Kiyan agreed. “Kastan, how are the villages? Have you solved the flooding areas?”

“Almost,” Kastan said. “Some people are very stubborn and want to keep their homes even when they know what the heavy rains will do…”

An afternoon passed in this way, Jihan made a friend that was also an Emperor, and poured tea for two brothers as they talked in companionship.

This was a sign of peace, he decided.

*~*~*~*~*

three more to go, these little shorts are fun to make, hehehe,
Love,
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.
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I thought Aoi was a girl but this chapter you wrote him and I that Shan was close to his cousins Kiyans children but this chapter it was like they were just meeting 

But I loved 🥰 this chapter was great to read about this characters again thanks 

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I do love this short that shows the love of the royal family, as well as the peace and community of Silver Shore Valley. Beautifully written.

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