Hou Dong stared at the leader of the bandits that was kneeling in front of him on the ground and narrowed his eyes. Just to think that this person had dared to try and force Kanuen … He felt like beating him up all over again.
Well, if he did, it wouldn’t change anything. Still, they couldn’t just leave these guys be. Obviously, they weren’t citizens of the Sou kingdom. They had come from another country and had probably already escaped the law. Even if they handed them over to the authorities, they couldn’t be sure that these bandits wouldn’t escape again and then come back to make trouble.
He couldn’t risk that. For one, he wasn’t sure if he and his men would be in this town in the future. If they weren’t, then wouldn’t Kanuen’s family and friends be in danger once again? And even if they were, wouldn’t they want to lead a normal life then? Not as warriors but as normal townspeople? In that case, he wouldn’t want to be on the lookout for any attack that might happen. No, an enemy like this couldn’t be left alive.
Hou Dong tightened his lips and then raised his chin. “You attacked the wrong town. In your next life, better think twice before you choose to become bandits again.” He didn’t give them any time. His sword struck, the blade drawing blood. The bandit fell to the ground, twisting once before he lay there motionlessly.
Hou Dong’s men furrowed their brows but also got rid of the other bandits. They understood his meaning. There was no way they could let these people off.
When the last bandit had fallen, Shen Lei went over to Hou Dong. “What now? Should we go and get Kanuen? Or should we first inform the people that they can come out?”
Hou Dong shook his head. “First, get these guys out of here. Neither Kanuen nor his family should have to see something like this. Let’s hope the people won’t come out on their own until we’re finished.” He sighed and shook his head, grabbing the leader of the bandits by the scruff of his neck and dragging him to the closest street.
He had already committed the map of the town to memory so he had no trouble taking the shortest route. The other men did the same and picked up the people they had fought, following their Master to discard the bodies.
The silence stretched on and the people in the houses were getting impatient. Just what had happened? Had they been saved from those bandits? Or had the people that had tried to help them all been killed in the process?
They were holding each other by the hand and waiting with bated breath. The only one who couldn’t take it any longer was Piul. He cursed and then rushed out of the corner where he had been hiding. He smashed the door open, hurried out and looked down the street in both directions. He furrowed his brows when he couldn’t see anybody and then went northward where Sun Jin had disappeared with the bandits.
He hurried as fast as he could, glancing at the bodies lying to both sides of the street. This man … Despite seeming like an idiot yesterday and like an even bigger idiot this morning, he had managed to take out several men even though they had ganged up on him. It seemed he really was a strong warrior.
Piul’s brows drew further together. Well, even if that idiot was strong, who knew if he would be able to fight off all of them? If he wasn’t wrong, then there had been five men following him and that was after he had fought against another one already. He should be exhausted. Even if he managed to run ahead and thus didn’t have to fight against all five of them at the same time, that would also consume his strength. In that condition, would he really be able to win?
Piul shook his head and sped up. Most likely, nothing had happened to him. Wasn’t it said that nothing ever happened to idiots? An idiot had an idiot’s luck after all. Yes, he would certainly be alright.
He rushed ahead only to find himself on the other side of the town. What now? Where had that idiot gone?
“What are you doing here?”
Piul whirled around and came face to face with the person he had been looking for. “You …” He looked at Sun Jin from head to toe and furrowed his brows. “What are you doing here?”
Sun Jin straightened up and shook his head. “I asked first! And you were supposed to stay in one of the houses. I was supposed to go drive off the bandits so I should be here.”
“You were. So …” Piul looked around but couldn’t see any of them. Don’t tell him this guy had really managed to kill off these five men? He looked back at Sun Jin’s face, having trouble to imagine it. Even though he had seen from the house how Sun Jin killed the first one on the marketplace and then saw how the five had run after him and finally found those bodies, he couldn’t equate this stupid-looking face with a ferocious warrior. He just … looked like a fool. A complete and utter fool.
Sun Jin also glanced around as if he was expecting any of the men to jump out. “So … There only were five, weren’t there?” He scratched his head and pondered. It had really only been five men. There shouldn’t have been any more following him. “My Master and the others should have taken care of the rest. Haven’t you seen them?”
Piul shook his head. “There was nobody there. The whole marketplace seemed to be empty. There was some blood though.”
Sun Jin raised his brows. “Really?”
He was granted another kick to his shin as thanks for that question. “You think I’m making things up? Then go and take a look for yourself!” He scoffed and turned around, striding down the street again. Why had he even worried about this dumb ass? This guy didn’t deserve his concern at all! Anyway, he had only been sent by his Master. So the good person was his Master. This guy was really just a stupid idiot. The bandits would have done the world a favor if they took him down with them. Hmph!
Sun Jin looked at the furious beauty and scratched his head. Had he really said something wrong now? But hadn’t it only been one word? Well, whatever, he should just go and look where his Master and the others were.
Thus two people walked down the street, one quite a bit behind the other. Sun Jin didn’t dare to get any closer to Kanuen’s brother lest he would be kicked again. This little beauty was really too fierce! Whoever married him in the future might not have even one calm day in their life.
Thankfully, he was smart enough to keep that thought to himself.
When they arrived at the marketplace, Hou Dong and the others just returned. Sun Jin perked up and rushed over. “Master! I did well, didn’t I?”
Hou Dong gave a slight smile and nodded. “Mn, we managed to get all of them and nobody was hurt. You did well with warning everyone and drawing them out.”
Sun Jin beamed and turned to Kanuen’s brother with eager eyes, waiting for him to admit that he had been right all along.
Piul didn’t bother about him though. He looked at the man in front of him and gave him a once-over. So this was that idiot’s Master? He didn’t look quite as frivolous. Instead, he seemed like a decent guy. Although … his smile was a little too charming. He wouldn’t be the type that liked to play around, would he?
Hou Dong also took a look at the person in front of him. He shook inwardly when he did though. He had thought that Kanuen had joked when he said that his brother was more beautiful than him but … Well, if he tried to be objective, then this person was indeed more beautiful than him. It really made him wonder just what kind of place the kingdom of Sou really was. It couldn’t be that all the people here would look like this, could it?
Well, that wasn’t the point now. He inwardly shook his head and then smiled at Kanuen’s brother. “You should be Piul. Your brother has told me about you. I’m Hou Dong. Maybe Sun Jin already told you but we found your brother in the desert and he told us about what had happened to your town. Unfortunately, we had some other obligations that we needed to take care of first so we couldn’t come here immediately to help. I hope nobody needed to suffer too much because of that.”
Piul gave a hum. They couldn’t expect these men to let go of everything they did just to go and save people they didn’t know. And taking care of one’s obligations was what a man should do. It was also good that he was so honest to admit to that instead of trying to lie his way through. It seemed the person that had found his brother was indeed quite decent. “It’s nothing much. I guess that quite a bit of time had passed until you found him anyway. Where is my brother now? Is he hurt?”
Hou Dong shook his head. “We left him outside since we didn’t know what exactly the situation would be. I’ll go and get him as soon as we’ve made sure that we’ve really gotten all the bandits and that the people here are safe.” He took in the way Piul’s eyes dimmed for a moment. Well, it wasn’t a wonder. He hadn’t seen his brother for several weeks and had certainly worried about him. He pondered and finally nodded toward Sun Jin. “Well, you could also go and get him together with Sun Jin while we make sure that everyone is alright. I’m sure he’d love to see you again. He was very worried about his family.”
Piul’s eyes sparkled with appreciation. This man was really very good! “If that doesn’t make any trouble … I wouldn’t want to get in your way by being willful.”
Sun Jin looked at the fierce beauty that suddenly seemed rather docile and wondered what he was doing wrong. How come these beautiful people treated his Master that well while he had to hear mean things and get attacked? This wasn’t fair at all!
Hou Dong nodded. “It wouldn’t be a problem. It would be great if you could first get one of the people from the town to come out. They can help us with telling the others to gather in the marketplace so we can check whether any of the bandits are still hiding in the town or if anybody of the townspeople is missing. Would you mind doing that?”
Piul’s eyes glimmered. Really very good! This man had a nice face but his head was also working very well. He had thought of everything to make sure that their people were safe! Ah, his brother really was blessed to be able to be found by such a person. It almost made him envious.
“Wait a moment! I’ll go and knock on some doors!” He rushed to the other side of the street and indeed knocked on two of the houses, calling out to the people inside.
A moment later, a young couple emerged from one of them while a middle-aged man peered out of the other one. Piul told them the plan and the three of them nodded, running off to tell the others.
Hou Dong nodded at Sun Jin who called his horse over and then very carefully lifted the fierce beauty on top. He looked up at Piul, hesitating over what to do next. Get up behind him? Lead the horse by the reins? Get a second horse and tie the reins of his own horse to the saddle of the second one?
Piul’s brows furrowed tightly. “What are you waiting for?!”
Sun Jin flinched and was scared into jumping onto the horse. He rushed to grab the reins, nodded at his Master and then had the animal hurry out of town.
Hou Dong raised his brows. It seemed the temperament of his lover’s brother wasn’t too good. Thankfully, he had been careful when he greeted him. Otherwise, his future life might be hell. He heaved a sigh of relief and then waved at his men to retreat to the edge of the square, letting the people of the town gather in the middle. Looking at them …
Hou Dong’s eyes narrowed. Something wasn’t right. They didn’t show the relief he would have expected now that the bandits were gone. It would have made sense if they weren’t sure whether the people who had killed them off were good people but then again, Kanuen’s family had already spread the news that they had come to save them. And even if they hadn’t: If they were afraid that the people who had come today wouldn’t treat them better than the bandits before, shouldn’t they show fear? He couldn’t see that though. Not in a single one of them. Whether it was the children or old people or any of the women, they didn’t seem to mind too much. Wasn’t that strange?
Hou Dong leaned over to Duan Bao and lowered his voice. “Do you feel that there’s something strange about them?”
Duan Bao glanced over the crowd and nodded. “Now that you say so … They’re quite calm.” He furrowed his brow. “Actually, Kanuen was unusually calm as well. Normally, people would react differently when they almost die and are then faced with the prospect of becoming a slave. They’d try to run away or fight for their freedom but he just seemed to go along with it.”
Hou Dong scratched his neck. “Isn’t that because I have so much charm?”
Duan Bao raised his brows. “Enough to have somebody sacrifice their virginity for sure. But enough to make them willingly give up their freedom? I doubt that. But maybe the people of Sou are different from us in that regard. Kanuen said they didn’t like to fight, didn’t he? So maybe that’s it. They’d rather give up than to confront either the bandits or us.”
Hou Dong nodded but he wasn’t too sure if that was really the case. These people … they didn’t look as if they had given up on themselves either. He couldn’t put his finger on why he thought so but his instinct told him that it was the case and he had learned to trust in his instinct over the years.
The marketplace slowly filled and finally, the young man from the couple Piul had asked to help approached Hou Dong. This time, he looked a little nervous, silently wringing his hands.
Hou Dong gave a smile and cupped his fists, nodding at him. “Thank you for your help. Have you gathered everyone?”
The man nodded. “Mn. We knocked on every door. Everyone’s here.”
“Very well. Thank you.” He turned to the crowd and glanced over the faces in the front. Unfortunately, his future in-laws didn’t seem to be around. Ah, what a pity! He could only hope that they’d be able to see him from the back so that they’d gain a favorable impression of him. He definitely couldn’t ruin his chances at a life with Kanuen at such a moment!
He stepped forward and once again gave a smile. “I’m sure you were already told but we found Kanuen of your town in the desert and he told us what has happened. Today, we came to drive the bandits off that occupied your town. By now, all of them should have been driven off. I’d like you to make sure that none of them are still hiding anywhere and that all of your fellow townspeople are present. If somebody is missing, please say so now. My men and I will help you search for them.”
The people looked around but nobody said a word. Hou Dong couldn’t help but feel awkward. What was it? Was nobody missing or did they not understand what he wanted them to do?
Hou Dong paused. Actually … considering Kanuen’s accent, that might very well be the case. After getting along for several weeks with him he had gotten so used to this accent that he hadn’t even noticed it when he heard Piul and that young man just now use the same accent.
Come to think of it, this was also strange. Why would the people living in a kingdom that was as reclusive as Sou learn another language? And even to the degree that they were able to converse in it freely? Was that just because they were living at the border and people might come here by accident? But then wouldn’t it be enough to have one or two people who spoke their language?
The longer Hou Dong thought about it, the less all of this made sense. Why learn a language they might very well never need? Why not try to fight even if they were so many more people? And it wasn’t like all of them were as slender and beautiful as Kanuen or Piul. Looking at the people on the market square, there were several able-bodied men that would be able to put up a fight.
And even if they didn’t … why had only Kanuen escaped? If he wasn’t even the most beautiful person in town, why had he left? Why not his brother? Why not the young women or the children? Nobody could make him believe that the leader of the bandits would only take an interest in Kanuen. Even if he did at first, he might very well shift his interest to somebody else as soon as the object of his lust wasn’t there anymore to satisfy his desire. And then, it might shift to his brother. Knowing Kanuen, he wouldn’t have let something like that happen. So why only him?
Hou Dong tightened his lips. He wanted to ask but who could he turn to? This might have to do with Kanuen’s family but his brother had just left to get Kanuen and he couldn’t very well walk up to his in-laws and greet them with the words ’Excuse me, but why did your save only one of your sons and not the other? This has been seriously bothering me for the past minutes so please be so kind and shed some light on this mystery.’ If he did, he would lose any chance to be with Kanuen in the future. They would definitely hate him for it.
Hou Dong sighed inwardly and then turned to the man next to him. “Can you make sure that nobody is missing?”
The man nodded and then went over to the others, going around and asking them. Hou Dong listened in and, sure enough, they weren’t using the language they spoke in Hua. This had to be the language they spoke in Sou normally. It sounded … quite melodious. Not too foreign as if it had been related to Hua’s language at one point in time but still different. It was a sound he liked but maybe that was also because Kanuen had stolen his heart. Everything about him seemed great.
The man finally hurried back to his side. “They said everyone is here. None of the bandits are left either.”
Hou Dong nodded. “Alright. Then they can all … go about their lives as usual from now on.”
“Mn.” The man nodded and went back to them.
The people on the market square listened to him, then talked among themselves, some going off, some continuing to stand around as if they didn’t really know what to do.
Hou Dong sighed. Somehow, he had imagined this differently. Shouldn’t these people be happy that they had driven the bandits off? Shouldn’t they thank them and maybe organize some festivity? Wasn’t that what people normally did?
Well, he didn’t need anything elaborate. Just seeing that at least Kanuen’s family didn’t dislike him would be enough. Although he couldn’t deny that he had hoped for more. After all … he might want to spend the rest of his life here. Wouldn’t it be nice if he got along with people well? Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do right now. He could only wait for Sun Jin and Piul to bring Kanuen back and then see what he thought.
Kanuen knew these people so he might have an idea of how to better his relationship with them. Or maybe he didn’t even need to think about it. It might already be enough that the person talking to them was one of their own. Wasn’t that how people normally thought?
Meanwhile, at a hidden in a cave not too far from the town, Sun Jin jumped down from his horse and then wanted to go over to the entrance. Before he could do so, an angry yell sounded behind him. “Heh! Where do you think you’re going?! What about me?”
Sun Jin came to a stop and turned around as slowly as he could as if he was afraid that he might end up with a dagger through his heart or something. “Uh … I think he’s in there?” He pointed at the cave but only got an angry glare in return. Apparently, the fierce beauty wasn’t happy at all that he was trying to abandon him to get Kanuen.
Well, wasn’t it better though? Otherwise, he’d have to get him down from the horse and then lift him back up there again. He really didn’t want to imagine that. If he touched the fierce beauty in the wrong way, he’d probably end up with a handprint on his cheek. Or maybe something worse.
Piul’s eyes darkened further when the person he had just scolded still didn’t hurry back to help him down. “Will you come over here!”
Sun Jin gulped but didn’t do as he was asked. Even though he was very scared of not doing what the fierce beauty said, he was even more scared of getting close when he was behaving like this. Wasn’t that just asking to be slapped?
Before Piul could have another outburst steps sounded from inside the cave. “Piul? Is that you?” Kanuen appeared in the cave’s opening. He gaped at the person sitting on the horse and slowly raised his hand, covering his mouth. His brother … It really was his brother! So he was still safe. Nothing had happened to him.
Kanuen wanted to run over and pull him into his arms but he couldn’t take a single step. His body trembled and finally, he fell to the ground, clasping his face in his hands and sobbing. All this while, he hadn’t dared to think about his family too much but when he did he had always known that there was a certain possibility that his family had gotten killed because he had escaped. Seeing that that wasn’t the case … He couldn’t even put into words how happy it made him.
“Kanuen!” Piul didn’t wait any longer for Sun Jin to make up his mind. He just swung one leg over the back of the horse and then tumbled down, falling toward the ground.
Sun Jin gave a yelp and rushed over, trying to catch the person but he only managed to be struck down himself and serve as a pillow. Sun Jin had tears in his eyes but he didn’t dare to complain. If he wasn’t wrong, the fierce beauty had just stepped on him one more time just to drive a point home. He didn’t want to give him an excuse to do even more than that.
Actually, Piul had done nothing like that. He had merely been in a rush to get up and almost fallen down again because of that. He didn’t pay any heed to Sun Jin’s pained groan though and just continued to rush over to Kanuen, pulling him into his arms. “Kanuen.” He buried his face in the crook of Kanuen’s neck and his arms tightened around his shoulders. “Kanuen, you’re back. I was afraid … you might never return or that they would catch you halfway.”
Kanuen pulled himself out of his stupor and hugged his brother back, shaking his head wildly. “No, no, I’m alright. Don’t worry about me. Let’s … Let’s return home.”
Piul nodded and got up, pulling his brother up with him. “Yes, let’s go back. It’s time you return home.”