Agur Suhi took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. He still didn’t know if he was doing the right thing or if it wouldn’t be better to keep silent. But in the end, there was no real way to know. He could only go with what he believed to be the best path forward and hope that he wasn’t wrong.
Anyway, Shaun Reng was already dead. While he did not want to betray his friend and mar his image after his death, this could not impact his life anymore. On the other hand, whether it was the king or this zhireng Susha, the matter was different with them. If the truth wasn’t revealed, either of them might lose their life. He couldn’t let that happen.
While he might not care too much about Susha Unhuor, this man didn’t deserve to die either, and he naturally wouldn’t want for anything to happen to Jusha Lale. He was their king, the hope of Alo, and he had also seen him grow from a child into an adult. To say that he didn’t feel like he should take care of him a bit would be a lie.
“You asked me if I believe that Reng would have ever summoned a demon. In general, I would say no. What I said about him before still holds true: He was a good man. He was committed to his family, his friends, his work. There was nothing about him that isn’t praiseworthy.”
Susha Unhuor nodded. “And yet, you believe that he is the one who summoned this demon.”
Agur Suhi smiled faintly and shook his head. “No. No, I don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. But if you are asking me whether there was a reason for him to summon a demon, then I am afraid that he might have had one. Correct me if I am wrong but demons are summoned if there is a strong desire that cannot be fulfilled without some external help. And often, this desire is immoral, evil. It is something that no human, no good person, would ever be willing to lend you a helping hand to achieve.”
Susha Unhuor nodded. “That is precisely right. The worse the wish is, the more likely it is that a demon can be summoned. But a good person usually wouldn’t have that type of wish. Since you feel that your friend was an upright person, why would you believe that he had such a desire?”
Agur Suhi sighed. “If it was some years ago, I would not have believed this either. But unfortunately, I found out about some things that I would rather not have gotten to know.” He clasped his hand behind his back and then strolled deeper into the courtyard, standing still in the middle and looking up at the small patch of sky above them. “Reng and I grew up together. We were born just one week apart from each other and always were close. There was nothing that we could talk about. Everything that we ever experienced was always done together. No matter what happened, we always had each other’s back. I thought that I knew everything about him just like he knew everything about me.
“When I met my wife, he was the first one I told. On the day our children were born, we were the first ones to congratulate each other. There was nothing ever done that we did not know about. Save for one thing.” He turned around, his expression unprecedentedly serious.
Susha Unhuor slowly walked over, stopping beside him, his arms crossed in front of his chest. “What happened?”
“It was a while after the late king’s death. Originally, Reng had a very good relationship with this brother-in-law of his. He had always gotten along well with his sister as well and there was never a problem with his nephew either.”
Susha Unhuor slightly furrowed his brows. That sounded as if that was something of the past. Could it be that Shaun Reng’s thoughts had changed? Did the king’s death make him think of that family differently? Maybe that was what fueled his desire? To see that maybe there was a chance to actually get the throne? Was it that when it wasn’t in reach, he would never even think about something but when tempted once, he would also lose his mind over it? Considering what Jusha Lale had told him about how people had doubted his ability to lead the country, it would be possible. There would have been a chance for Shaun Reng to take over.
Agur Suhi said nothing of like though. Instead, he gave yet another sigh. “Everybody was worried at that time. The king’s son was very young, he had barely turned sixteen years old. That … is not an age at which one should be burdened by something like a kingdom’s well-being. Not only did he lose his father, but he was also suddenly the king of a country. There were some people that said that maybe it would be better for somebody else to take over.
“I can’t deny that at that time, I actually told Reng that maybe it would be good if he supported his nephew for some time from behind the scenes. Not to take his role from him but to make some decisions while his nephew was still too young. Yes, I did not believe in the dan. Now, after seeing how well he has done in the past eight years, I’m ashamed to admit this. I should have trusted him.”
Susha Unhuor’s expression became even more confused. “You’re saying that you suggested it but it doesn’t sound as if he accepted the suggestion. He was of a different opinion?”
This didn’t make sense. If he wanted to become king, then why not take the chance eight years ago when everybody had been clamoring for the king to be somebody else anyway? It would’ve been so easy. He could have said that he was just trying to guide the king and then slowly take over from behind the scenes, maybe even make his nephew give up on that role himself by showing him that he would not be able to do it.
It would’ve been too easy. If he really wanted it, then he had had the perfect opportunity to achieve that desire on his own. But he hadn’t done it. So why now? It made no sense at all.
Agur Suhi turned toward him and then smiled faintly. “I can imagine what is going through your head. Back then, everybody else thought the same. They couldn’t understand. Was he really a man who had no ambition for himself? Did he not want to be king? But Reng really was such a person. He was content with being in the position he had. He never attempted to take the throne from the young dan.
“In fact, Reng and the dan grew closer at that time. He often went there to visit him, to make sure that he wouldn’t feel lonely, or be burdened too much by his new role. He took me with him several times and I witnessed not only once just how serious he was with not interfering with what his nephew did.
“When the young dan would ask him a question, Reng would only smile and then reflect it back. He’d ask him what his opinion was, why he wanted to decide like that and then, when he had that answer, he would probe further to find out what he thought was keeping him from doing so. Then, he would ask him what he thought the solutions could be and redirected him to ask the right people for help to make it work the way he wanted it to.
“Reng never told him what to do. He didn’t even suggest solutions himself. He always let him find the path on his own. In a sense, he guided him through the process but he never sneakily tried to take the power from him. Reng really was such a person.”
Susha Unhuor showed a complicated expression. If all of this was true, — and he did believe that it was since they were past the point of having to pretend — then he really couldn’t understand how things had finally ended up like this. “He does sound like a good person.”
“He was a good person. That is why I’m telling you this. I … I know it is probably pointless. After I’m done, you will think he was horrible. You will want to condemn him. But I don’t want him to be remembered as such by even a single person. He was my best friend after all. So at the very least, I went to tell you about his good sides.
“If you go to ask anyone else, they would all verify what I just told you. When people approached him, he once denounced the possibility of him acting as a regent instead of the young dan in front of everyone. Those are facts that you can find out from anyone. So it is not just me who thinks so, not just me who has this kind of perspective on him. He was a good man.”
“But still, he had one desire that changes everything.” Susha Unhuor smiled faintly when he said so, trying to steer Agur Suhi in the right direction to finally tell him what was going on. While just a few hours would not change the strength of the demon, he still did not want to wait too long. After all, Jusha Lale was still waiting outside. He did not want him to wait until it was dark. At that time, it would be more dangerous out there. If there was just one guard at his side at that time, it wouldn’t be right.
This time, Agur Suhi seemed prepared to go along with it. He nodded, the smile on his lips fading away and his gaze becoming despondent. “Yes, there was one desire that is able to change people’s perspective of him completely.”
Once again, he looked up to the sky, slightly squinting at the small spot of bright blue that was slowly turning darker. “When I say that we shared everything, then that is not a lie. Whether it was our work or our private lives, they were completely entwined.
“Usually, we would both stay in the capital city, supporting the dan from there.
But there was one time when we needed to leave and travel to one of the regions at the edge of the kingdom. A disaster had struck there not too long ago and the dan deemed it best for us to go and take care of it personally to make sure that the people got what they needed and that nobody could take advantage. So naturally, we went.
“We were away for far too long. The region was difficult to reach because the paths leading there had been affected by the flood, bridges were destroyed and buildings at the roadside had collapsed. We helped to fix whatever we could on the way but we still had to go to the heart of the region struck by the disaster.
“When we finally reached there, the work was only just starting. We spent several months on it to make sure that the biggest issues had been dealt with and everything was on its way to returning to normal or at least to a point where the people living there were able to deal with the remaining issues on their own. Only then did we pack up and went home.”
He sighed when he thought back to that time, his expression a little wistful. “Back then, we had been away from home for so long, separated from our wives and children, only with this friend at our side. We were burdened by the responsibility on our shoulders and worked tirelessly every day to make sure that things would return to normal for the people there.
“All of that had been … hard work. Not just physically but also mentally. Seeing the suffering of the people is never easy. Having to see that and often not being able to help … it certainly wasn’t easy on us. By the time we were on our way home, we were both exhausted. We were looking for a chance to just relax, to … decompress before we reached the capital city again. Well, we had been gone and alone for a long time. As a man that has traveled a great deal, zhireng Susha can certainly share that sentiment.”
Susha Unhuor gave a noncommittal smile at that. While he understood how it was to be sexually frustrated, he had long stopped to act on that in the manner Minister Agur was probably suggesting. This did make him wonder how this was supposed to be related to the summoning of the demon. What could’ve happened when those two were ‘relaxing’ that actually made Shaun Reng form a desire so strong that he would do something like this? There was still no clue to be had so he could only wait for Agur Suhi to resume his tale.
“That night, instead of going to one of the guesthouses, we went to frequent a brothel. They served us food and quite a lot of liquor, and there were some lovely ladies to accompany us.” There was a smile on his lips when he thought back to that, insinuating just how much the two of them had had to enjoy themselves that night.
Susha Unhuor still stood to the side cluelessly, not quite sure when they would finally get to the part where Shaun Reng finally committed some kind of sin. Obviously, the man in front of him did not believe that lying with another woman when his wife was probably worried sick about him back in the capital city was that kind of thing. Otherwise, his expression would look different.
Well, this was not for him to judge no matter what his own thoughts were. Thus, he kept quiet and just prompted the minister to continue. “What happened then?”
The question pulled Agur Suhi out of his thoughts. He resumed a more serious expression and then turned away awkwardly. “That night, we both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, venting all the frustration from the previous months, and finally letting go of all worries. We intended to hurry back home right the next morning after the sun went up but we really needed that night.
“Well, it got quite late and I got quite drunk. At that time, Reng had already retired to his own room quite some time ago while I stupidly insisted on carrying on drinking with those women. It got to the point where — and I am slightly ashamed to admit this — I was swaying while I walked and my sense of direction had flown out of the window long ago. I definitely overestimated how much I could take.
“With the circumstances being like this, I had some trouble to find back to my room. I swayed over the corridor, trying to find the right door and freshen up a bit before those girls were supposed to come and accompany me.”
Susha Unhuor slightly narrowed his eyes. Judging from the story so far, he should have seen something, and whatever that had been was the answer to why Agur Suhi believed that maybe Shaun Reng would have been able to summon a demon. Finally, the question he had had all along was about to be answered. Just thinking about it, his heart was beating faster.
Agur Suhi fell quiet though and then sighed again, closing his eyes. There was a hint of pain in his expression and he shook his head. “Believe me, I wish I could forget what I saw that day. But unfortunately, it is one of those moments that is deeply edged into my memory. No matter what I try, I just can’t forget about it.
“I walked up to the door, fumbling around to open it. You can probably imagine what happened: Yes, it was not my room, and yes, it was Reng’s instead. I don’t know if the alcohol had gotten to him as well or if he was too busy to pay attention to his surroundings but he didn’t the sounds coming from the door.
“After some trouble, I finally managed to push it open. I stumbled on the spot, almost falling over but managed to cling to the door frame. At that moment, I finally heard the sounds. Drunk as I was, I looked up, wondering if maybe the girls had already come over and were getting ready for me. Naturally, that was not the case. Instead, I found Reng on the bed with a prostitute.”
Susha Unhuor nodded impatiently. He understood that Agur Suhi wanted to tell him everything but he had already spoken for so long and still not gotten to the main point. How could he not become anxious? The longer this man spoke, the bigger the chance he might change his decision at the last moment.
Luckily, Agur Suhi did not intend to do so. He raised a hand and held his forehead, his expression turning even worse but he continued to speak. “Believe me when I say that this alone would not make me lose my composure. Had it been just this, I might even have asked to join in. After all, there was nothing we ever kept to each other. It was probably just because I was so drunk that I needed a moment to make sense of what was happening and didn’t call out immediately that I finally saw everything play out.
“Contrary to me, Reng hadn’t drunk as much. He was obviously still sober in terms of the alcohol that he had consumed. But he was drunk on whatever fantasy that was running through his head.” Agur Suhi lowered his hand and shook his head again, looking uncomfortable now that he thought back to that moment. There was disappointment in his gaze, incomprehension.
“He had flipped the woman around and was kneeling behind her, holding her by the waist while he took her from behind, not slowing down for a single moment. Drunk as I was, I couldn’t help but smile to myself and try to get a better look at her. In any case, if he enjoyed himself so much, she had to be good, right?” He faintly glanced at Susha Unhuor who only looked back at him, not indicating any reaction.
Agur Suhi took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and finally continued. “Well, there was not much to see. He had untied her hair, making it fall down over her shoulders and cover her face. I could only see that she seemed slim and quite young, with hardly any curves to speak of. That was not quite the type of woman I preferred so I figured I should go back and find somebody more fitting for me.
“Just when I turned around and reached for the door, he spoke up, his voice hoarse and full of longing. The name that came out between his groans …” He shook his head and then his shoulders, gulping as if he was unable to repeat it and needed to get rid of a stale taste.
Susha Unhuor stared at him, waiting for him to continue but Agur Suhi rubbed his forehead and walked to the side of the courtyard. Susha Unhuor hurriedly followed him only to see him sit down on what turned out to be a dilapidated stone bench that was half-hidden under the greens growing on the walls.
Agur Suhi leaned forward, propping up his elbow on his leg, and covering his mouth. He stared off into space before he finally looked up at the zhireng next to him. “I was unable to look at him for the next few days. And I became even more worried the closer we came to the capital city.”
Agur Suhi fell quiet while Susha Unhuor still stared at him, his expression confused. He didn’t understand. Which name? Just what had happened? Why didn’t the minister explain what had actually happened?
He opened his mouth but just when he wanted to speak out, it finally dawned on him: a name he had said while enjoying himself with a prostitute, clearly substituting her identity in his mind for the person he was calling out for with his voice tinged with desire, his friend’s feelings of horror about this nightly encounter and the fear of returning to the capital city because most likely, that person was there.
Susha Unhuor closed his mouth again, pressing his lips tightly together. His face drained of all color and he clenched his hands into fists. The breath he finally took was shaky and his voice was rough when he finally spoke up after all. “You … Are you saying that the person he …” He stopped, unable to even say it.
The longer he thought about it, the worse he felt. Especially so when he remembered Jusha Lale’s gaze when he had told him about what that other zhireng had done. This person who was actually able to lay down his dignity for his people, who had actually trusted his uncle so much and felt that it was a pity he stopped spending time with him as much later on … This person had actually been thought of like that?
Susha Unhuor gulped and turned away, trying to get his emotions back under control. He couldn’t lose his mind over this. He had to stay calm or he would not be able to defeat the demon.
Agur Suhi glanced at him, his own expression defeated. “I told you: No matter what I tell you before, you will think about him differently after you know the truth of this matter. I do not want to vilify him needlessly. Reng … He was a good person, I will maintain that. He had just one fault and that was that he desired the wrong person. Never mind that he is the dan, he is his nephew, his sister’s child …” He shook his head. “You tell me if this is a grave enough sin. One grave enough to summon a demon through.”
Susha Unhuor raised a hand and covered his mouth, feeling sick to his stomach. The demon. Obviously, Shaun Reng had summoned it. But a demon was summoned to achieve a wish. So in other words, Shaun Reng hadn’t given up. Sometime between this journey that Agur Suhi had just talked about and the moment when Jusha Lale appeared at the temple of Sundang, his uncle had decided that he was willing to sacrifice anything to give in to that desire, to finally gain Jusha Lale.
“The dan has no idea about this, does he?”
Agur Suhi shook his head. “Nobody does. In fact, it was only Shaun Reng and me. I never told a second soul, not even my wife. I felt that I owed my friend this much, no matter how wrong I felt he was. I wasn’t about to just let him go on like this though. Shortly before we reached the capital city, I made it abundantly clear that I would not stand for it if he got too close to the dan. I made sure he would not approach him any longer, would not be alone with him anymore, and could not find any chance to act on that desire.”
Susha Unhuor gulped again and lowered his hand. “Thus, he slowly distanced himself afterward, making the dan wonder what exactly it was about while keeping his dirty secret. And you never wondered what might become of this? You didn’t stop to think what would happen if you weren’t there one day to keep him back? What if he hadn’t been willing to keep his distance anymore? What if he went to see him in secret? What if he went and did something to him that could not be reversed?!”
Susha Unhuor’s voice grew louder and his hands shook. Had this man not thought for a single moment how this could end? “Your approach put the dan at risk! Being a good friend is one thing but allowing this to happen …”
Agur Suhi shook his head. “Reng wasn’t like that. He might have had that desire but he never would have acted on it. He wasn’t like that.” He furrowed his brows, clearly unwilling to believe it.
Susha Unhuor only gave a humorless laugh. Wouldn’t have acted on it … “I wonder where the demon came from then.” But alas, there was no use in arguing over this. It had already happened. Jusha Lale could only count himself lucky that his uncle had died before he could do anything to him.
Agur Suhi didn’t answer. He looked away, clearly not daring to look into the zhireng’s eyes. “It’s been years since then.”
Susha Unhuor merely scoffed. Yes, it had been years. But so what? Obviously, Shaun Reng’s desire had only grown stronger. And was Jusha Lale suddenly not in danger just because more time had passed? No, instead, because he hadn’t interacted as much with his uncle anymore, he had been more unlikely to clue in on what was happening which also made him unable to put up his guard against this person. In other words, this Agur Suhi had made things more difficult for him.
But anyway, Shaun Reng was dead now. Even though he didn’t agree with how things had been handled, this was not the most important matter. At least not for now. “Well, never mind, I still have to thank you for telling me now. With this, I know what to do to stop the demon.”
Agur Suhi looked up again, his expression worried. “Then the dan … he won’t need to come with you to be a decoy, will he?”
Jusha Lale gave him a long look while he actually felt like laughing inside. Now, he was afraid for Jusha Lale’s life? He probably deserved to be scared. But, well, this wasn’t helping. He might be angry but that didn’t change anything. The past was the past. And this was not the right moment to deal with it.
He pushed his anger aside and shook his head. “Don’t worry. Eliminating the demon is my duty. I want to save as many people as possible. Including the dan. That plan was only considered because I was lacking the most vital information to make sure that I would be able to vanquish this creature.
“Since I now have that information, there is no need for such a plan. I can go and kill the demon myself without needing any extra steps. So, thank you. Even though I still don’t agree with you not telling him back then and giving him a warning, your decision to finally speak up about it today will likely save his life.”
Agur Suhi nodded faintly. “I’m just glad that nothing has happened to him and that he will be safe.”
Susha Unhuor turned to leave.
Before he could step out of the courtyard, Agur Suhi held him back though. “Zhireng Susha, you will not tell the dan about what I informed you of, will you?”
Susha Unhuor narrowed his eyes. Well, while he did believe that Jusha Lale should’ve known about it, that was at the time when his uncle had still been alive. Now that he was dead, the danger was over. What would he accomplish if he told him? He would only make him fret needlessly and feel bitter. “I guess it will not be necessary anymore.”
Agur Suhi heaved a sigh of relief, obviously happy that his friend’s image would not be destroyed in his nephew’s mind.
Susha Unhuor lightly shook his head and then left. Now, it was time to go to the capital city. He would still talk with the high priest just to get a second opinion on this but after that, he could go and take care of the demon.
Well, it was time that this being born of that sinful thought was eliminated.