After they had put some distance between them and the city, Susha Unhuor turned to look at Shunche. “Is there a place where we can stay in the other city?”
Shunche still gave him a dissatisfied look and turned to look at his king instead to get his opinion. Susha Unhuor snorted but turned back to the front, letting Jusha Lale deal with that.
The dan slightly raised his brows and turned to Shunche. “So, is there?”
“I haven’t arranged anything yet, dan. Should I go ahead and find accommodations for you?”
Jusha Lale turned to glance at the zhireng behind him. “Well, what exactly will we need?”
“I’m not completely sure. If my plan works and he tells me the truth, then you can stay in that city and wait for me to go and exterminate the demon myself without having to accompany me to see the high priest beforehand. If it doesn’t though …”
Jusha Lale nodded. “Well, in any case, you don’t want me to come with you to fight. Even if we go to speak with the high priest, I would likely have to return to the city.” He turned to Shunche. “In that case, please do so. Just make it a place where we can rest. No special requirements. We can’t expect much on short notice.”
Shunche bowed lightly. “Don’t worry, dan. I will certainly make it possible.” He nodded at Chomong and then rode off. He would definitely make sure that his king had a place to rest.
Meanwhile, Jusha Lale got back to the question he had asked originally but that still hadn’t been answered. “So, we’re outside now, we will have the necessary accommodations when we arrive, and there is nobody around to hear what you say. Can you finally tell me your plan now?”
Susha Unhuor smiled lightly. “Are you worried I wouldn’t?”
Jusha Lale raised his brows. “Well, you have refused to take me with you because you were worried about my safety. Who knows if you wouldn’t keep more things from me for the same reason? In any case, I would rather know. That way, I can help you the best. So please, do not keep anything from me.”
Susha Unhuor smiled and shook his head. “Why would I? I will need your help with this.” He looked past Jusha Lale’s head, down the road in front of them, and toward the city where Agur Suhi was currently living. “I think the problem is that Agur Suhi cannot see how dire the circumstances are. We will have to make that clear to him for him to offer any information.”
Jusha Lale raised his brows, not at all convinced. “We had the whole capital city evacuated. I do not think that he doesn’t realize how dire the situation is. Everybody knows already.”
Susha Unhuor shook his head. “No, people don’t. Because they — and Agur Suhi as well — still believe that you’re looking for a zhireng able to kill the demon. Now, one has finally made his way here but you aren’t there yet. So they will assume that you’re still looking for somebody else who can help. If I don’t manage to do it, they think that somebody else will come. What they don’t know is that I am their last chance. So we will have to make that clear to him.”
Jusha Lale’s expression turned thoughtful. Yes, maybe this was indeed the truth. He had thought too simply before. If he really wanted to convince Minister Agur, then he would have to make it more obvious. “Do you want me to go to him? But will he really say it in front of me if my uncle really planned to have me killed by a demon?”
“No, he likely won’t. Which is why I just want you to write a letter. Tell him that you are on your way back since I am the last of the zhireng you asked and that there is nobody else left. Write that you hope that I will have arrived and maybe solved the situation already. Ask him to assistant in any way he can in case it hasn’t happened yet. A few heartfelt words should be enough if your relationship is close.”
Jusha Lale still furrowed his brows slightly. “I think the idea is not bad but … this might not be enough. Depending on how bad whatever my uncle planned was, he might not be willing to say it. Even if you are our last chance, he might think you are able to do it. Or he might think that you do not need that information.”
Susha Unhuor slightly frowned. Unfortunately, that was also true. It could indeed be that this man would not be able to realize the severity in a short amount of time. And they did not have more time to convince him. “I do not see any other way to go about this.”
Jusha Lale kept quiet for a while. The city in front of them came closer and they even see the guards at the gate already when he finally spoke up. “Well, I might. Just leave that to me. I will take care of this. If there is any chance that you are right in that he really needs to be convinced of how high the stakes are first, then he will come to you and inform you on his own after a bit.”
Susha Unhuor couldn’t help but worry. “What do you intend to do?” Usually, he would just leave this to Jusha Lale. But the dan had suggested before to follow him to the capital city to be bait for the demon. Since he was even willing to lay down his life who knew what he had come up with this time?
Jusha Lale shook his head though. “Just leave that to me.” He didn’t wait for an answer and instead motioned to the city ahead. “Let’s hurry up. The sooner we do this, the sooner we will know if it works.”
Susha Unhuor was still a little worried but finally nodded and urged the horse onward. Soon enough, they reached the city gates where Shunche was already waiting for them to return. Apparently, he hadn’t had any problem organizing their lodgings.
Jusha Lale was quite satisfied. He pulled the hood of his cloak further down to make sure he wouldn’t be recognized and then just waited for Susha Unhuor to handle the rest.
Shunche led them to the house where they would stay. Before Jusha Lale could say anything, Susha Unhuor got off the horse and pulled him down as well. Shunche leaped from his horse as well, rushing over as if he was afraid something might happen to his dan.
Jusha Lale hurriedly raised a hand to stop him. “It’s alright. Nothing happened to me.” He turned to Susha Unhuor, giving him a dissatisfied look. “The next time, I would appreciate to at least get a warning.”
Susha Unhuor smiled wryly at him and then lowered his head. “I’m sorry. I got a little ahead of myself.”
“Never mind. Now, let’s solve this matter.” He walked into the building but didn’t bother to go up to the room. Instead, he turned back to Susha Unhuor. “I will go and talk to him directly. Shunche will come with me. Meanwhile, you should wait here with Chomong for a while and then ride toward the gate. If my plan works, then Minister Agur will rush over and stop you before you can leave, giving you the information you need. If not … then we will meet at the pavilion that is located on the hill between this city and the capital. Chomong knows which place I mean. I will make sure that you arrive.”
Susha Unhuor nodded. “Alright. Let’s do it that way then.”
Jusha Lale nodded as well and turned around. He hesitated for a moment though before turning back to Susha Unhuor. “I think it should work out. I can’t guarantee but I reckon that it is likely.”
Susha Unhuor’s gaze softened. He seldom had people worry about his safety. They usually just assumed that it was the zhireng’s job to eliminate demons so they should just get to it. Who would go the extra mile to ensure he was as safe as possible while vanquishing that evil? Jusha Lale was probably the first.
He couldn’t find the right words for a moment but finally, he reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. “No matter what the result is, the dan has already done quite a lot. If it doesn’t work out, that is not on you but on Minister Agur. You should not fault yourself.”
Jusha Lale nodded but there was determination in his eyes. He had to do his best to ensure a success. “I will be off then.”
Susha Unhuor took back his hand and the dan turned away, going back outside and getting on the horse. Shunche gave the zhireng another dark look before he followed him while Chomong stayed back.
Shunche couldn’t help but glance at his king when they had put some distance between them and the house. “Dan …”
Jusha Lale didn’t let him say whatever it was that he wanted. He knew it would likely be something negative about Susha Unhuor. He didn’t trust him. “When I am talking with Minister Agur, wait outside and step a little further away. It might be that the Minister is willing to already give me the information but he might worry needlessly if you are there.”
Shunche hesitated slightly but still nodded. “Yes, dan.” If that was his king’s command, what could he do? He feared for him though. If Agur Suhi and Shaun Reng had really planned something together …
Amidst Shunche’s worries, the two of them reached the house. Jusha Lale did not hesitate. He got off the horse, waited for Shunche to find a place for the animals, and then stepped inside already.
Shunche led him up to a room on the second story. At the dan’s sign, he knocked on the door.
A man’s voice sounded from inside. “Come on in.”
Shunche opened the door, lowered his head, and then stepped to the side, waiting for Jusha Lale to enter before he closed the door behind him and left as he had been ordered to.
Jusha Lale waited for the sound of the door and then pulled down the hood, exposing his face.
Agur Suhi looked up and then jumped to his feet, hurriedly lowering his head. “Dan.”
Jusha Lale just waved. “You don’t have to be like this with me. Just sit down.” He went over to the table and sat down opposite him, giving him a faint smile. From now on, everything depended on how well he could act. He couldn’t slip up. “I just arrived. It was a long journey.”
Agur Suhi gave him a long look, a bit of worry in his expression. “You do seem as if you didn’t rest well. You should do so now that you’re here.”
Jusha Lale sighed and grabbed for the teacups on the table, wanting to pour himself some water.
Agur Suhi hurriedly reached out. “Ah, let me do this for you.”
Jusha Lale pulled back his hands and gave him a nod of appreciation. “Thank you. I’m afraid I won’t get much more than this short break here.”
Agur Suhi poured him a cup and then leaned back, the worry on his face deepening. “Why that? Didn’t you find a zhireng? He came to see me before and asked some questions.”
Jusha Lale took a sip of the tea and nodded slowly. “Yes, I did find one. Although I do have to admit that it was rather difficult. I went to see so many of them but he was the only one that was actually willing to come. Too many of them are injured, many of the well-known ones even dead. It really isn’t an easy task to exterminate the demons.” He sighed deeply, and then shook his head, putting down the cup.
“Let me be honest with you, I’m not sure if this one will be able to solve the issue either. When I arrived in this city, I immediately went to see him to find out if there was something he would need my help with to prepare for his task. As it turns out, he seems to be lacking some information even though he asked several people both in this city and the next one. He said that the odds of actually defeating the demon are rather slim.”
Agur Suhi furrowed his brows. He had already thought as much. “But as a zhireng, does he not have the blessing of the gods? It should be possible.”
Jusha Lale nodded. “That is what I hope for a well. It is just … with things being like this, I cannot feel at ease. It would be a different thing if I had just gone to one of them and he agreed immediately. But if I want to find another zhireng, I’ll have to leave the country and look in one of the other kingdoms. Who how much more time will that take? I’m afraid we don’t have it.”
Agur Suhi lowered his head, obviously distraught. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about that, is there?”
Jusha Lale played with the cup in front of him, his expression thoughtful. “Yes, I thought so. But … considering that the lives of all these people are at stake, I also cannot just watch. I will do whatever is necessary to make him succeed.” He finally reached over the table, putting his hand over Agur Suhi’s. “I … I know this is sudden. But there is a request that I have to make.”
Agur Suhi looked up, surprise flashing through his eyes. “That … Whatever I can do for the dan, I will immediately see to it.”
Jusha Lale smiled. “I knew I can count on you. Anyway, I’m young. I have neither wife nor child. If something were to happen to me, there’s no successor to the throne. I …” He lowered his head, lightly wetting his lips. “I can only choose among the people that I know. Minister Agur, you are a good man. And I believe that in such times, that is one of the most important qualities to have. So if I do not make it back, I want you to take over caring for my people. That is the last thing I can do for them.”
Agur Suhi stared at him with his eyes wide open. “Dan …”
Jusha Lale sighed. He reached out with his other hand as well, clasping Agur Suhi’s between his. “I know that this is much to ask. Especially on such short notice. But what else can I do? Please, promise me that you will do this. At the very least, for a while. If you really do not feel up to this, you can choose somebody else afterward. But just for the time being.”
Hearing the dan repeat his words, Agur Suhi was even more agitated. “But dan! Where are you going that you would consider such a thing? You’re merely twenty-four years old. There’s no reason for you to think of … such things.”
Jusha Lale took back his hands and straightened up. “I have thought it through. There is not enough information to enable the zhireng to defeat the demon. I do not have the blessing of the gods in the same way he has so I cannot help much. In this case, the only thing I can do is going with him to be the demon’s bait.
“It might not necessarily work but it will heighten our chances by a large margin. I … I cannot deny that I am a little afraid of death. But as the king, it is my duty to do everything for my people. If the chances are the highest like this, then I will do it.”
Agur Suhi looked at him without knowing what to say. He tried to speak up a few times but no words wanted to come out. Finally, he hurriedly shook his head and then cleared his throat. “Dan, no! I know you want the best for the people but that can never be you having to pay with your life. Your people need you. Now more than ever. If you were gone … the chaos that would ensue would be even worse than when the demon appeared.”
Jusha Lale gave him a faint smile. “Thank you for thinking so highly of me. I know I wasn’t always regarded like this. So hearing you say this before I have to go really makes me feel better. I guess that despite the fact that I only had a few years as king, I must’ve done something right.
“Anyway, I have already decided. The demon might cause everyone to lose their lives. Even if they can escape with it intact, they will lose their homes. As the king, how can I let that happen?
“Don’t worry. I will write an edict so that nobody will doubt your words when you say that you are the one I asked to take over. This will ensure that there will not be too much chaos. You can take over, make sure that everybody can return home if the demon is defeated, or settle somewhere else if it isn’t. After that, I will leave it up to you how you decide. Maybe you would rather have somebody else be the king. It will be in your hands by then.”
Jusha Lale sighed and looked out of the window, glimpsing the sky that was still bright and clear. “It is as it is. Anyway, I have told you what I wanted to say. Thank you for everything you’ve done in these years. Thank you for what you are about to have to do.
“I will write the document and then I will leave. According to the zhireng, no time can be lost. The journey was already a long one. If I wait any longer, the demon will only grow stronger.” He got up and called out to Shunche, asking for him to bring in paper and a brush.
Agur Suhi was too agitated to form any coherent thought. He only knew that he couldn’t let this happen. Their dan … he was too important to just let him go. He could not be put into this kind of danger.
By the time Agur Suhi had thought it through himself, the edict had already been written.
“Very well. It is done. Keep it with you at all times. Who knows when the message of my death will come in? You have to be prepared at that time.”
He gave him a long look and then got up only for Agur Suhi to leap his feet as well and hurriedly grab his arm.
“Dan! I plead with you, do not do this. I’m sure that there is another way. We will find one.”
“I have looked for the zhireng everywhere. There is none left in the borders of my kingdom. And what else can be done? We know that even a whole army would not be able to kill a demon. Just them. So what else can I do then to help out that zhireng with this task? Sometimes, life is just like that.”
Agur Suhi watched as the young king turned around and then left the room. He did not know what he should do. He knew that he couldn’t let this happen. He had to save the king. But … the only way to do that would be to supply that zhireng with information. And he really did not want to say what he had thought of in front of anyone. He just couldn’t bring himself to do so.
He closed his eyes, muttering to himself. In the end, he could only sigh. “Reng, my old friend, I’m afraid that I cannot keep this secret any longer. Believe me, I wanted to take this to my grave just like you did. But now, your nephew’s life is in danger. I think that you also would not have wanted to see this happen. In this case … I can only betray your trust and speak about it after all.”
At that time, Jusha Lale was on his way out of the city, to wait with Shunche not far from the gate. After this, Susha Unhuor was supposed to meet him out there no matter whether Agur Suhi had actually confessed or not. Anyway, they didn’t really have much of a choice there.
With Shunche leading the way, it was not a problem to pass by the guards without having to give his identity. Soon enough, they reached the small hill with the pavilion on top. Jusha Lale got off the horse and handed the reins to Shunche before he went up the hill, standing below the roof of the pavilion. He turned to the city that they had just left and looked towards the gate, watching the path leading towards them closely.
Even though Susha Unhuor also said that it would be best if he accompanied him to the capital city to speak with the high priest, he still wasn’t quite sure if the zhireng would keep his word. He didn’t doubt that he would actually go and fight the demon but he could imagine that he would try to take another path to get to the capital city and actually leave him here.
He could not accept that. Even though Susha Unhuor might not like it, this was not just his fight. Even if he couldn’t pick up a weapon and physically harm the demon banish it to where it had come from, he could at least do a small part in helping with getting information and accompanying him on the way.
Doing this would actually make him feel less guilty for involving another person in what was likely his own family’s fault. Truly, did he even deserve to be king? If not for him, this never would have happened. Anyway, it couldn’t be changed anymore. He could only change what he would do going forward. He had made up his mind. Now, he only needed to wait for Susha Unhuor to come here.
The person in question was currently riding down the main road of the city at the slowest speed possible. It wasn’t far to the gate so if Agur Suhi did not make up his mind soon, he would miss him. Then, it would’ve been futile.
Susha Unhuor glanced up to the sky and couldn’t help but wonder if what they were doing was actually right. Yes, Agur Suhi might have an idea of what was going on but it wasn’t for sure. If they couldn’t get anything out of him … And anyway, exposing to him that the king had returned might also be troublesome. After all, what was if he had always been in on this? What if the plan to make the king give up on his throne had actually been something Shaun Reng and Agur Suhi had come up with together? Why hadn’t they taken that possibility into consideration?
He cursed under his breath but it was already too late now. If this was indeed the case, they could only deal with it when it happened. Now, was not the right moment for that.
There were only about two hundred meters left until the gate of the city. Just then, a voice sounded from behind.
“Zhireng Susha! Wait!” There was the sound of hooves clopping and then, Agur Suhi caught up with him. The man was actually a little out of breath, probably more because of being scared he wouldn’t make it in time than because of any exertion.
Susha Unhuor raised his brows and looked at him as if he had no idea what was going on. “Minister Agur, is something the matter?”
Agur Suhi glanced around nervously before clearing his throat. “That … I guess you could say that. I would like to have a word with you if possible. Would you have a moment?”
Susha Unhuor naturally did have the time to do so but he gave him a complicated look instead of agreeing immediately. “I’m on my way to the capital city. I think it is about time to confront the demon.”
Agur Suhi’s expression turned subtle. “I … I heard. Actually …” He glanced around again and then leaned closer, lowering his voice. “That person came to see me about it. I … I’m afraid I did not realize previously how dire the situation really was. You asked me if I had an idea of what might have been the reason for Shaun Reng’s involvement in this. I said that I did not know but … I might have an idea after all. Could we go somebody to talk without the possibility of somebody overhearing us?”
Susha Unhuor looked around, taking note of the people that were going down the street. Considering that everyone from the capital city had been relocated to the surrounding towns and cities, it was hard to say who was from the capital city and might have a special interest in finding out what was going on and who had been from this city originally. “Do you really believe that this information could help me against the demon?”
Agur Suhi gave a faint smile. “If you believe that the information of why Shaun Reng would have an interest in summoning a demon would help you, then the answer is yes. If that alone is not enough, then I guess you could ride on. Personally, I would prefer it if I did not have to say it.”
Susha Unhuor slightly narrowed his eyes. It seemed that while he had gotten some things right, he had also gotten some things wrong. If it was just that Shaun Reng had wanted to assassinate the king and take the throne for himself or his children, there would be no reason to be like this. Thus, there had to be another, equally or maybe even more so worrisome reason.
After a moment, he faintly nodded. “Very well, let’s go somewhere where we will not be overheard.” He turned to Chomong who was waiting not far away and wanted to call out.
Before he could do so, Agur Suhi reached over and grabbed his arm. “Please, could we not involve the Dan’s guard? I’m afraid … this is something that should better not be overheard by anyone else.”
Susha Unhuor slightly raised his brows. “You mean to say that it would be best if this was between just the two of us? Not even the Dan himself should be aware?”
Agur Suhi’s expression became even more complicated. “You need this information to vanquish the demon. If you are unable to do it … what good would it do for the king to know about this? I think it would just bring him more trouble instead of helping him. Thus … I really would prefer if only you knew about it.”
Susha Unhuor didn’t know what to think about it but finally nodded. Anyway, if he knew, it was more than enough. “Very well. I guess in that case, we will not be able to rely on him though. Is there a place that you know of that we could go to?”
Agur Suhi thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, follow me.” He rode into one of the side streets, then got off the horse and left it there, walking through several streets and alleys before coming to a stop at the entrance of a courtyard.
Susha Unhuor glanced around and noticed that this place seemed to be completely enclosed by the buildings around it. There were no windows or doors leading here and the walls around were overgrown with greens as if it was just an abandoned space that nobody even remembered. “This place is …”
Agur Suhi gave a faint sigh. “When Shaun Reng and I were younger, we went to explore the capital’s surroundings. Once, we stumbled upon this place. It isn’t easy to find actually unless you are looking for it. Also, not many people pass by here. We can talk here without having to fear that someone will notice.”
Susha Unhuor nodded faintly. “Very well. In that case, let’s get straight to the point. What is it that you know?”