While Jusha Lale might have said that he wasn’t angry, Susha Unhuor was not so sure about that. Going over and sitting down opposite him, he felt quite awkward. He couldn’t help but feel that maybe he should explain himself some more but he also didn’t know what to say. Staying quiet didn’t feel right though. It made things even more awkward. Back when they had been traveling, there had at least been something around them that he could focus on but now, it was just the two of them and he had just asked the other person’s aunt about his life, making him feel guilty.
He hemmed and hawed for a while but this time, Shunche had to get the person from somewhere else in the city. Who knew how long it would be until he returned with that servant girl? He couldn’t wait until then.
His gaze roved through the room and he finally cleared his throat. If he couldn’t stay quiet but also couldn’t talk about the elephant in the room, he should at least talk about something else. “So … are you worried about what she said?”
Jusha Lale slightly raised his brows. “Which part?”
“That if something were to happen to you, there would not be a successor to the throne. I mean you’re still young so you might not have paid too much thought to that? With what is happening right now, maybe you should have.”
Jusha Lale gave a faint hum, his expression pensive.
Susha Unhuor waited but it didn’t seem as if the dan really wanted to say anything about it. The warrior turned to the window, looking outside, hoping that the servant girl would soon be brought over. Otherwise, things would once again turn awkward. Had he really offended him deeply? But he also didn’t feel that Jusha Lale was somebody who just paid lip service. If he was angry, he likely would have admitted to that before.
Just then, the king finally spoke up. “It isn’t that I did not think about it. It is rather that I did not find anyone to marry.”
This time, Susha Unhuor turned back with some surprise written in his features. “Is that so? I thought it wouldn’t be difficult for a king. I mean you could just choose anyone, couldn’t you?” Also … it couldn’t be denied that Jusha Lale was beautiful. If he asked, there would be few people willing to reject him even if he wasn’t of high status but a commoner instead.
Jusha Lale smiled at that suggestion, not knowing what else was going through Susha Unhuor’s head. “If I just pointed at someone and told them to marry me, you would probably be right. But what way of getting married is that?” He sighed and looked at the window, blinking against the light outside. There was a faint shimmer of nostalgia in his gaze. “I do remember my mother and I do remember how close she was to my father. And even after her death, he would often talk about her. In fact, I think what he finally died of was a broken heart because he could not stomach life without her.
“I have always hoped that I would find the same thing. But … the longer I am king and the longer I try to look for somebody, the more I realize that maybe I am different. I’ve never met any woman that would elicit the wish in me to get closer to her.”
Susha Unhuor awkwardly straightened up. This was definitely not the kind of conversation he wanted to start with the king. But he was the one who had brought it up in the first place. How could he now say that he minded it? “Maybe … women just are the wrong thing to look at.” He awkwardly wanted to drop the subject after saying so but Jusha Lale’s expression became even more thoughtful as if he was really considering it.
“To be honest, I thought about that. I do think that maybe the thought is a little more bearable. But I still can’t deny that it isn’t much better with men. A look from afar is one thing but to actually get close …” He seemed a little lost when he said so as if he couldn’t quite understand it himself.
This time, Susha Unhuor’s attention finally snapped back to the young king. “You mean to say … that whether it is men or women you …” He stopped, looking at him in silence. He had understood that right, hadn’t he? Somehow, his heart couldn’t help but speed up a little when he realized this. This was precisely the thing he had told him the day they met in the temple. It was precisely the kind of feeling he had when he thought about settling down. He could very well imagine having that kind of life but he just couldn’t imagine what kind of person he would like to have at his side when he did so.
Jusha Lale raised his gaze to him as if he was only now coming out of his thoughts. He hurriedly shook his head. “I’m sorry. Why am I even telling you this? It will not help you find the demon, will it?”
“No, it will not.” And yet, he really would’ve liked to hear more about that. Before he could make up his mind whether he should ask about it or not, steps sounded outside and the two of them had to fall silent. It seemed that Shunche had brought the maid over.
A moment later, the guard’s voice sounded from the room next door. “Wait here for a moment. I will go and get the zhireng.”
There was the quiet answer of a female voice and then, Shunche came over, motioning for Susha Unhuor to go over while his gaze brushed over Jusha Lale as if to make sure that he had not been attacked while he had left him alone.
Susha Unhuor ignored his disrespect, got up, and then left the room but not without giving Jusha Lale a lasting look. To think that there was something they were so similar in … it still astonished him to think about it. Unfortunately, he would have to wait before he could ask about it again.
He went over to the other room and once again knocked and introduced himself before going inside. Even if she was just a servant girl, he still felt that he should go about this the same way he had done with Madam Shaun.
The servant girl was obviously nervous, completely different from Madam Shaun who had still been composed despite recently losing her husband.
Susha Unhuor sat down opposite her but didn’t speak up immediately. He looked around the room, giving her a bit of time to get used to the new situation. Most likely, someone like her would be worried if she was suddenly told to go somewhere and meet with a zhireng. She might fear repercussions for what she said.
After a moment, he nodded as if he had taken in his surroundings, and then turned to her. “I hope I am not keeping you from any tasks. It is probably difficult right now for everyone with suddenly having to relocate here and then with your master dead … You are probably very busy.”
The girl hurriedly shook her head. “It’s not a problem.”
“Well, that’s good then.” He was sure that she was lying but he didn’t need to worry about that. It was only important that she said the truth later on when they were talking about what exactly her master had been keeping secret. “Well, the reason I wanted to talk to you is that I need some more information to go and vanquish that demon. From what we know right now, there seems to be some special reason why that thing chose to attack your master of all people. We are not quite sure yet what this reason is though but we do think that it might have something to do with his family.”
The girl still looked at him worriedly. “I wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Susha Unhuor had feared that she would react like this. He didn’t simply give up though. “Well, it is likely that you wouldn’t know exactly what is going on. But maybe you could tell me some other things that will help us with finding out what the reason was. For one, I wonder if you have noticed that he was a little different on the day when he died or maybe the time leading up to that?”
The girl hurriedly shook her head, not saying anything.
Susha Unhuor didn’t know how to continue. He hadn’t come up with a plan in case something like this happened. He could only try to patiently make clear to her that she wouldn’t be in trouble no matter what she said. “Are you sure about this? You don’t need to know anything specific. I just want to know what your general impression of him was at that time.”
“I really don’t know anything. He was like always.”
Susha Unhuor nodded and fell quiet for a moment but then spoke up again. “You know, no matter what you say here, I will not tell anyone else. So if there is something that you are unsure about or that you worry your Madam might not be happy with you sharing, then you can be sure that I will not tell her anything. This whole exchange is solely between us. It is just to make sure that I can go and avenge your master.”
Unfortunately, the girl still shook her head despite his reassurance. “No, there really isn’t anything. He was just like always.”
Susha Unhuor sighed. In that case, there wasn’t much she could do, was there? “Then, was there anything else that you noticed about him? Not his behavior but … I don’t know, somebody he met with? Or something that he hadn’t done before?”
The girl once again shook her head. “No, nothing.”
Susha Unhuor slowly nodded. “So it was like that. Well, that is a pity. It really would’ve helped us if we knew.”
She looked at him but still shook her head, slightly furrowing her brows in worry. “I am sorry. I really don’t know anything.”
“Of course. I’m not suspecting you or anything. It really is just a pity.” It was indeed. Because now, he had no idea where to go from here. He could probably talk to the other servants but if even she hadn’t noticed anything despite working directly at his side, how would others that spent less time with him know? It was almost impossible.
He thought for a moment longer and then just tried to make sure of the things he had already heard. “Say, then if his behavior didn’t change, how would you describe him in general? Unfortunately, I never had the luck to meet your master. But I heard that he was with the military. He must’ve been pretty imposing, right?”
The girl pondered for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I think you could say it like this. But that was more of a first impression one would get from seeing him. When interacting with him, he was actually a very gentle person. He would almost never scold the servants unless we did something very wrong. And he was always very considerate of his wife.”
Susha Unhuor gave a hum. It seemed that no matter whom he asked, everybody was sure that this Shaun Reng was a perfect person without any faults. Definitely greater than everybody around him, with no flaws to be seen.
That definitely couldn’t be the case. That type of person … he would’ve long died from being taken advantage of. And anyway, being that type of person was very rare. He didn’t believe that somebody that was so close to the king of Alo and came from a family good enough to have their daughter marry the late king would actually be this flawless.
No, there had to be something somewhere. And the more people said that he was a good person, the more Susha Unhuor felt that whatever it was had to be something terrible, something that he had done a lot to hide from each and every person around him.
Yes, most likely, this man had been pretending quite a bit. He had done it so much that when he actually summoned the demon to have it do his bidding, nothing in his behavior changed. He wouldn’t get nervous, he wouldn’t worry, because he had perfect his pretension long ago. That was why nobody was able to perceive anything different about his behavior.
It really was a pity that there seemingly wasn’t anybody who had been able to get a glimpse at what that secret actually was. Even if it was just a hint, vanquishing this demon would already be much easier if it became known. After all, different demons were summoned for different wishes. And different demons would also be fought in different ways. Without such information … he would have to go in blindly and could only try his best. He would really like to avoid that.
Susha Unhuor couldn’t help but think back to his talk with Agur Suhi and felt that maybe this friend of the king’s uncle would still be his best bet. While he had refused to say anything before, he felt that he might have some more knowledge than he had admitted to. After all, a friend had less to lose than the person’s actual family or servants. Also, between Shaun Reng’s wife, and his best friend, his best friend actually knew him longer. The likelihood of him knowing something would be much higher as well. The only question was what to do to make him spill the beans. Because obviously, this man was more than just a little reluctant to do so.
He sighed to himself. Well, finding out how to make him say the truth would be much easier if he actually knew what this was about. After all, if he knew the reason why he didn’t want to talk, he would be able to find a way to work against that belief. But without any clue whatsoever … No, he was in a bad situation. It could very well be that he would not be able to figure it out before he had to go and contend against the demon.
Realizing this, Susha Unhuor bid farewell to the servant girl and walked back to the room next door. Seeing Jusha Lale sit there at the table, he gave him a long look, some thoughts swirling in his mind.
The young king slightly raised his brows. He waited for Shunche to go over and lead the girl back out of the building before he spoke up. “It did not seem as if she told you anything of value either.”
Susha Unhuor came out of his thoughts and went back over to the table, sitting down next to him. “I’m afraid you might be right. Are there any other people that would be worth talking to?”
“The other men of the military. Although I doubt that they would have any further information. My uncle was always … very focused on the thing he was doing at a specific moment. When at the military, he focused on his task there. When at home, he would never discuss his job and only take care of his family. And being with friends, I heard that while he might talk about his job or family for a short time, he was most dedicated to listening to them and giving advice or just having fun with them. That was why he was so well-liked everywhere.”
Susha Unhuor nodded slowly, feeling that this echoed exactly what everyone else had told him today. “An all-around great person.”
“Which is why him being the victim of the demon is something that took me by surprise. It is not a secret that the first victim of the demon will either be the target or the one who summoned it. As king and as someone who wasn’t accepted easily in that role, I should have expected that there might be some people with ulterior motives. My uncle though … I never would have thought of him.”
He lowered his gaze, a trace of confusion in there. “There were some people …” He stopped and shook his head. “I guess this situation allows me to see who is on my side and who isn’t. Some did not believe what the high priest and I said about my uncle wanting to rescue me. There have been some rumors that since it is impossible for such a good person to summon a demon, he might be the target instead. I guess this was done deliberately.”
Susha Unhuor nodded slightly. This kind of thing was actually plausible but he trusted in Jusha Lale’s deduction that it might have been done deliberately. He paused for a moment before he leaned slightly closer to Jusha Lale. “Can we go somewhere to have a conversation without any disturbances?”
Jusha Lale raised his brows and then turned to Shunche with a questioning look.
Shunche straightened up, feeling accused. “I had General Zhayai choose this building. It shouldn’t have any problems. As long as we don’t ask to see anyone, nobody will come to disturb you. You can also stay here until the demon has been taken care of. Not even the general knows that you are here. He believes only the zhireng will come here.”
Jusha Lale nodded slowly. “Very well. In that case, it seems we don’t need to worry.” He turned back to Susha Unhuor but then stopped himself just before he said something and turned back to Shunche. “Shunche, you’ve also worked hard these days. Why don’t you go and take a rest? Also, you can send somebody to go and get Chomong. It should be safe to have him come here as well now.”
Shunche looked hurt when he realized that he still wasn’t allowed to stay around but he still nodded. “I will.” He took a last look at his king and the warrior and then backed out of the room, conscientiously closing the door behind him.
Susha Unhuor watched him with a pensive expression.
Jusha Lale kept quiet for a moment before he turned to the zhireng. “What’s the matter? You wouldn’t think that one of my guards did this, would you?”
Susha Unhuor pulled himself out of his thoughts and then turned to the king again. “Let’s not talk about this for the moment. Give me your honest thoughts: How likely do you think it is that your uncle was the target instead of you?”
Jusha Lale was still confused but answered honestly. “I would say that it is fairly unlikely that this was the case. Originally, I might have believed that. But at that time, the only two people in the hall were me and the high priest. All the other people were outside, waiting for us to finish the ritual and then take part in the ceremony themselves.
“So why would my uncle have gone there? Sure, maybe he was fleeing from the demon and lost his head for a moment. But there were a million other places he could’ve gone. It makes no sense. Rather than that, I would say that at this moment, the demon was controlling him to go to the temple and finish whatever task it was that my uncle wanted to be accomplished.”
Susha Unhuor tapped the table. “What you say makes sense. The one summoning them will often be manipulated by the demons to actually take part in the task. It is a way to make sure that even if they accomplish what they want, they will have a much guiltier conscience than they would if somebody else did it. After all, they can still tell themselves that they summoning the demon didn’t mean anything. That the other person’s misfortune wasn’t a direct consequence of their summoning. The human mind is quite capricious in that regard.”
“I heard of that as well. So … I think it would’ve been much more likely for him to summon the demon and then lose control. Truth be told … deep down, I have some trouble believing it. I think I just don’t want to imagine that somebody who was so close to me would do something like that. My relationship with my uncle … while it wasn’t very close, he was still there for me. Especially after both of my parents had died. For a certain time, I relied on him the most.”
At that, Susha Unhuor actually perked up. The dan was talking in past tense. That meant that something had changed. Somehow, after having a pretty good relationship, they had drifted apart. There could be a clue in that. “Then what changed? What was the reason that your relationship wasn’t like that anymore later?”
Jusha Lale shook his head and then got up to open the cabinet at the side, rifling through the contents as if searching for something. “I would not be able to tell you. To be honest, it was my uncle who pulled back. I was a little lost at that. He … he actually gave me quite a bit of strength at that time. It might not be so obvious now, but a few years ago, the whole situation really had me scared.” He stopped what he was doing and just stared ahead into space as if thinking back.
Susha Unhuor didn’t want to disturb him but also didn’t dare to probe further. While he felt that it was alright to ask anything about his uncle, the king’s life itself … that was a bit of a different matter. To his surprise, Jusha Lale still picked back up where he had left off.
“I really wasn’t that old. To have lost my mother was one thing but to also lose my father … it left me reeling. I had been prepared to become king but I’d always thought of it as the sort of … thing that would happen one day. Not any day now but one day in the far future. I actually think I imagined myself to be what you thought a dan would be like.” He pushed the door of the cabinet shut again and went back to the table, sitting down next to Susha Unhuor again. “I thought that when I was middle-aged and had learned whatever I could from my father, that by then, maybe he would give the reins to me and have me accede to the throne so he would be able to focus on something else. I didn’t think that even before I reached twenty years of age, I would have to bother with something like this. I was not prepared for that.
“Having to deal with this new situation and with his loss, it really wasn’t anything I ever expected to deal with. It was hard. Maybe I would’ve been able to stomach it if it had only been one of those things but with things like this …” He shook his head. “My uncle’s care helped me a lot in that time.
“I felt that with a bit of time, I could become almost as close to him as I was with my father before. It reminded me that even though my parents were gone, I still had a family. There were my uncle and aunt, my maternal and paternal grandparents, so I was not alone.
“But then suddenly, one day, he just pulled back. He did not come over as regularly anymore. I thought he might be busy but even when he came, he would always have an excuse to return back home soon. I’m not quite sure what triggered the change. It came unexpectedly for me.”
Susha Unhuor also had no idea what it might be. “There was nothing that happened before that you think might have been the cause?”
“I wish it was easy to say. But no, I can’t see any reason. It was … completely random. And, well, it’s not like I could ask him. If I had to guess, maybe he heard something that shouldn’t have been said. There were some people that felt that I was not the right one to sit on the throne after all. I could imagine that some of them were fearing that he was trying to control me, make me into his marionette.
“If my uncle heard something like that, then maybe to help me, he actually pulled back. Considering how close we were at that time, it would make sense. I think that he did love me. Compared to his own wife and children, I probably already came in second place. We were family after all. At least that was what I believed.”
Susha Unhuor gave a hum. “I think it would fit with everything others have said about him. If family was important to him, then you naturally were as well. So maybe there is some kind of other explanation for this.”
“Then as a zhireng, what kind of reason do you see?”
“That is the problem. Currently, I can’t see any. I think that friend of his, this Agur Suhi, does have some kind of hunch at least though. But he doesn’t want to say it. I don’t know why but … there’s something there. I’m sure of that much at least.”
“Then do you think he would speak if I was to ask him?”
“That would entirely depend on what reason he actually suspects. Maybe you asking him would make things even more difficult. We can’t say for sure at the moment.”
The two of them fell quiet for a moment. Susha Unhuor was wondering if maybe he should finally bring up the question he had had since before going to question that maid but at that moment, the dan already spoke up again.
“If you are unable to find out, will you still go and vanquish the demon?”
The zhireng gave a faint smile in return. “It is my duty, isn’t it?”
Jusha Lale lowered his gaze. “As a zhireng, it is. But then again, even before I came to the Sundang temple, I knew that you had already retired several years ago. I was not sure you would agree. And so far, I was under the impression that you wanted to have a look first.”
Susha Unhuor turned to look at the window, giving a deep sigh. “Believe me, I would’ve preferred to stay in the temple and just go about my life there. Being a zhireng … it is not something that I enjoy. But what can I do? If nobody else was willing …” He shook his head. “Did you really ask all of them?” He turned back to look at Jusha Lale, slightly raising his brows. This was the second thing he was slightly dubious about. The zhireng were rare but not rare to that degree. There should’ve been more than the two he had mentioned. Had none of these been available?
Jusha Lale’s expression was a little bland. “I did. That’s why it took me so long to go to where you were. It is just that not all of them are willing to do something like this.”
“From what I heard, it was hardly their fault. What we do … it is hard. Dying or being injured is common. Not being able to pick up our weapon anymore and go to fight is something that we have to live with. You might say it is inevitable. Either that or maybe you’ll become too old one day.” He smiled faintly, actually feeling that him saying this was a little amusing. Most zhireng died young. At his age, with more than thirty years, he had already lived quite a long time.
Jusha Lale’s expression was still just the same as before. “Those friends of yours certainly were not at fault. It pains me to hear that they were in this kind of situation. I definitely don’t blame them for anything. It is just that some of the others were … not quite as willing to help. And not quite what I would have expected of the zhireng.”
There was something in his gaze that gave Susha Unhuor pause. “What did they do? Normally, without a valid reason, a zhireng should not refuse to help. Asking you to go to somebody else first might still be valid but other than that, I can’t see a reason why they should do something like this.”
Jusha Lale gave a breezy smile. “It seems that not everybody is as honorable as you then. Well, never mind. You are already here. And since you’ve promised, I think that you will do it. The two of us should probably go and rest for a bit now. If you need me to have anything else prepared for you, just tell me.” He rose to his feet and then stepped out of the room, leaving a confused Susha Unhuor behind.
This dan … somehow, he couldn’t help but feel that he had just poked a hornet’s nest. Just what had the other zhireng done that he was behaving like this? He rubbed his neck. He couldn’t think of anything so in the end, he got up and went over to the bed, lying down to sleep.
Anyway, he would indeed need his full strength to confront the demon. And maybe after a few hours of sleep, his mind would be clearer and let him see what he could do to find out more about the situation with Shaun Reng.