While Susha Unhuor made his way to the palace, Jusha Lale rode down the road, flanked by Shunche and Chomong. He finally stopped at the crossroad where it split off to the next nearest cities. He looked down the path, sighing lightly. Well, soon enough, things might go back to normal.
He spurred on his horse again but his gaze remained thoughtful. He believed that Susha Unhuor would win. He couldn’t quite say why after even the man himself had suggested that he might not be able to do so but he just trusted in his abilities. Maybe it was just the kind of presence he had. It was calm and reassuring and made him feel like there was nothing this man could not tackle.
He knew that wasn’t the truth, after all, he had seen what became of some of the other zhireng despite the fact that they weren’t any better or worse than Susha Unhuor. Still, he couldn’t find the slightest hint of doubt in his heart.
Jusha Lale did not think about it any further. Maybe he would after some time had passed if he didn’t hear from Susha Unhuor but for the time being, he would not worry. No, instead, there was something else he should be thinking about: Susha Unhuor hadn’t wanted to tell him what he had found out from Agur Suhi. In other words, it definitely was something that had to do with him but it probably wasn’t what he had expected all along.
Maybe it would be best to not pry any further but since this had all started because of him, he didn’t feel that he had the luxury to just stay ignorant. Should Susha Unhuor not managed to do this after all … Well, he did not want to think about it but he knew that in that case, he would have to find another way to deal with this. Knowing what exactly had caused his uncle to summon the demon might be beneficial at that point in time.
Finally, the city gates came up in front of them. Jusha Lale pulled the hood down into his face once again so he wouldn’t be recognized by the guards. While he didn’t necessarily need to keep him being here a secret any longer, it couldn’t hurt to keep all his options open either just in case. Not to mention that he still couldn’t give his people a satisfactory answer. After Susha Unhuor returned, it would be a different matter.
With the help of Chomong and Shunche, he once again managed to get into the city undetected. He continued to ride down the road but not toward the place that had been prepared for him to stay in beforehand. The two guards exchanged a glance, looking very much like they wanted to ask him questions but Jusha Lale stayed quiet for the time being.
Finally, Shunche couldn’t help himself and spoke up. “Dan, should we organize another place for you to stay?” He didn’t dare to ask why they hadn’t returned to the original one. After all, how could he just pry into his king’s thoughts like this? But at the very least, he wanted to make sure that his dan had everything that he needed.
Jusha Lale shook his head. “That won’t be necessary.” In any case, he just wanted to go and have a conversation and he didn’t expect any bigger fallout. Even if whatever Agur Suhi had to say was shocking, those things were on his uncle, not on him. He might as well return to his previous lodgings afterward.
“I want to go and speak with Minister Agur for a moment. The two of you can come with me and then wait outside. After that, we will return.” He didn’t know what this was about so he wasn’t comfortable letting anybody else hear it just in case. After all, this whole matter was able to shatter the peace of the kingdom. Even though things hadn’t been easy and even though people might not have accepted him originally, he was still the king of Alo. He would never let his people suffer for his selfish wishes.
Shunche nodded and the two guards followed Jusha Lale over to Agur Suhi’s house. They knocked on the door and told the servant that they were there to see the minister, finally following him inside.
Shunche and Chomong stopped at the other side of the corridor to make sure that nobody would go and disturb their king and the minister. Meanwhile, Jusha Lale went forward and waited for the servant to knock and announce him before he stepped inside.
Agur Suhi looked up when he heard that somebody had come to see him without giving their name and then felt a sense of relief wash over him when he saw Jusha Lale. Even though Susha Unhuor had promised him that the king would not need to be involved in this matter after he had told him the truth, he had still been unable not to worry. Now that he finally saw him with his own eyes and was able to make sure he was not injured, he could finally calm down.
He waited until the servant was gone and the door closed behind him before he got up and spoke to him with a smile. “Dan, you’re back. I’m glad that you did not decide to go to the capital city with the zhireng. It really would’ve been too dangerous for you.”
Jusha Lale gave him a long look and did not answer, his brows only slowly furrowing. “I did not go. But … I did bring the zhireng to the capital city. Minister Agur, why did you never tell me?” He put as much hurt as he could into his gaze, making Agur Suhi almost recoil.
“He …” He furrowed his brows and his breath couldn’t help but quicken. “He told you?”
Jusha Lale took a shaky breath. It seemed that he had been exactly right if this was the way the minister finally reacted after being confronted. He lowered his gaze, shielding his expression from Agur Suhi. “How could he not? In any case, if he was unable to defeat the demon, then I would once again be the one in the most danger.”
No matter what the reason was, this would be the case. Now, the only question was how to get Agur Suhi to tell him what had been going on. He hadn’t completely thought it through. He just … just wanted to know. He did not want to stay ignorant while his people suffered. He wanted to know what exactly had caused this. Maybe going forward, he could make different decisions based on that. He surely hoped so.
He knew that lying to get his way was not a good way to deal with this but as the king, he would not always have the luxury of doing the right thing. But in any case, sometimes there really was such a situation where the means were justified if only they served the right goal. Also, the only person this really could have inconvenienced was already dead. He couldn’t say that this was too bad of a situation.
Jusha Lale went over to the table and sat down, sighing deeply. “Minister Agur, I do not blame you. Neither for not telling me originally nor for asking the zhireng to keep quiet about it. In any case, I can understand where you were coming from. This kind of thing … How can it be easily talked about? But we are in a difficult situation. It is important that we are open right now. Only in this way can we make sure that things will be better going forward.
“So I ask you to tell me the truth. The whole truth because I’m sure that even though you told him, you will have left out a few details. That is the only thing that I want. Since I already know the gist of it, I don’t think this should be asking too much.”
Agur Suhi wilted and fell down opposite the dan, his expression defeated. He had wanted to preserve his best friend’s memory as that of a good man just like everyone had known him. He had especially wanted to do so in front of his friend’s nephew. But now, it was already too late. The king knew. Now, it really was just a matter of how much exactly he would know. And since he was able to come here and confront him about it, it had to mean that he was able to face the harsh truth.
Agur Suhi didn’t quite dare to look at the dan but he could not help but glance at his face, trying to gauge his expression. To be honest, it did not look good. Jusha Lale did indeed look hurt. Hurt and a little lost.
Well, without knowing what this was about, this was the best expression that Jusha Lale could make. He felt that it should fit no matter the exact situation. If his uncle had indeed been the one who summoned the demon which seemed to be the case, then naturally, he should feel hurt. And no matter what his reason was, he should be sad that Agur Suhi would not say the truth even if that might endanger his life. So he felt that this was his best bet.
As it turned out, he had been exactly right. Seeing him like this, Agur Suhi lowered his head again, feeling guilty beyond measure. Yes, since it was already out in the open, he could not just pretend that this hadn’t happened. He took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled, furrowing his brows. “How much exactly did the zhireng tell you?”
Jusha Lale shook his head. “I don’t know how much exactly you told him. He merely gave me the general rundown. I don’t know any of the details. If you can, just start from the beginning.”
Agur Suhi nodded, not noticing that Jusha Lale hadn’t even once mentioned the matter by name since he came in. “Well, zhireng Susha probably mentioned that I said that I only knew since a while after your father had died.”
Jusha Lale nodded faintly even though this was something that he naturally also hadn’t heard of. It did make sense though considering what they had spoken about before: His uncle had become quite closed-off around that time. Most likely, Agur Suhi had noticed something and spoken to him which finally made him retreat.
Seeing that Jusha Lale indeed seemed to know about this, Agur Suhi continued to explain. “While this was when I truly found out, looking back now, I can see that it was probably an ongoing issue. I also think that he knew how wrong it was. It was just that with time … after your father’s death, he had a harder time with it.”
Jusha Lale’s brows slightly furrowed. So far, he still had no idea what this could be about. If only he would finally speak some clearer words, that would definitely make things easier for him.
Although … with how defeated Agur Suhi currently looked, he couldn’t help but worry that whatever had truly transpired was even worse than the worst things he could imagine. And he really didn’t know what exactly it was that he should expect. Obviously, it wasn’t that his uncle had just wanted his throne. Otherwise, neither Minister Agur nor zhireng Susha would have needed to behave like this. It had to be something else.
“I guess that if you think back yourself, you might also notice that there was something strange in the way he treated you.”
Jusha Lale’s expression became dull for a moment. Something strange in the way that he had treated him? This should be the first real hint that he had received. But unfortunately, he still couldn’t get anything from that.
The only thing that this made clear was that it couldn’t have anything to do with the throne even if he had misunderstood previously. After all, his uncle should have plotted against his father as well if he really wanted the throne. If it was only about his behavior toward him, that couldn’t be the case.
Well, that at least ensured that he was on the right track. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure. Before my father’s death, we were never close. You also know that. I guess I never really paid much attention to how he behaved.” He slightly drew his brows together, seeming a little lost in thought.
In this case, it truly helped. Agur Suhi didn’t think much of it. In any case, what Jusha Lale said wasn’t wrong. “I can’t say I’m surprised at that. Back then, I also did not stop to think about it. Without this knowledge, it would seem that he was just as usual, that he did not treat you any differently. But I do think that he was usually looking at you the most on those occasions.”
This time, Jusha Lale had a hard time keeping his expression in check. His heart sped up and a bad premonition spread with each thump. Looking at him … this couldn’t be what he thought it was, could it? No, he did not want to believe that.
Agur Suhi wasn’t looking at him anymore and instead just incessantly shook his head as if he as well still couldn’t believe it. “You were usually around your family, so naturally, nobody paid any attention. And even if you weren’t, you were still his nephew. Also, you were always a bright child. What is so strange about having you be the center of attention?
“I guess there were just way too many reasons not to question his behavior. Even now, I wouldn’t do so but with everything I’ve come to know since then, it’s really hard not to wonder if there was more to it. In any case, I feel that it became much more pronounced when you get older.” He sighed and rubbed his face, still shaking his head. “I actually feel like it is a blessing that this was the case. If it had started any sooner, I think I really would not be able to ever think of Reng again without feeling disgust. To think that he was my best friend … I guess I would not dare to tell anyone.”
Jusha Lale’s hands trembled and he hurriedly folded them in his lap, hiding them beneath his sleeves. If it had only been a premonition just now, then at this moment, he felt that there was no way he could get wrong what Agur Suhi was saying. His uncle … apparently, he had been looking at him quite differently. And not in a good way.
He looked away, almost unable to keep a straight face. He couldn’t believe it. This was the person that had helped him hold on and center himself after his father’s death. A person that he had considered close family even if he had always seemed a little standoffish with him up until that point. To think that when he rendered him his help, he had secretly been looking at him, having who knew what kind of thoughts … He felt sick to his stomach just thinking about it.
Jusha Lale closed his eyes and took a shaky breath, trying to control himself. He could not let Agur Suhi find out anything or he would refuse to tell him the rest, pretending that it was something else. Which was a matter of course. Who would want to slander their friends like this? Naturally, if he could keep quiet about it, he would do so. No, he had no trouble understanding why he had behaved like this.
Jusha Lale finally managed to calm himself down somewhat, even though he still sounded a little breathless. “Even if you say it, I have a hard time seeing it. I guess I never paid much attention to what he was doing. He always seemed so … well, a bit distant.”
Agur Suhi nodded. “Yes, that was always the impression I got from him as well. I couldn’t quite understand it, to be honest. Seeing how he was with his sister growing up and how he got along with his parents and everyone else, I wasn’t quite sure why he was like this. Especially since I also didn’t feel like he had a problem with your father. But it was as if … things just fizzled out with your family over time. It was strange but since it was a gradual thing, I didn’t think much about it.”
Jusha Lale raised his gaze to Agur Suhi’s face and couldn’t help but try to make sure. “When do you think it started?” Most likely, it would be best if he didn’t know. But on the other hand, he couldn’t help but want to know. After all, this was about his own life, about the person who had helped him. He did not want to stay ignorant.
Agur Suhi looked even more uncomfortable when he asked that but since they were already talking about it, he also didn’t dare to keep anything back. “I think it was a few years before your father died. When you were about twelve or thirteen maybe.”
Jusha Lale nodded as if he was completely calm but when Agur Suhi looked up at him, he couldn’t help but notice how pale he had gone. Well, he couldn’t blame him. This kind of thing … it was hard to swallow. He had probably already felt like this after he had heard from zhireng Susha what this was about in general. Now getting a few more details … it definitely wouldn’t make things better. Not with the details being like this, at least.
“If it helps you at all, I think that the reason he kept away from you was that he realized it was wrong. So him growing more distant with you and your family was also a sign that he wasn’t such a bad person. He didn’t want to hurt you.”
Jusha Lale gulped but forced himself to nod. He knew that Agur Suhi was also saying this because he had been his uncle’s best friend. Naturally, he wanted to tell himself that he wasn’t a bad person. But it was harder to see it like this if you were the person this concerned. He never would have thought that things were like this. But he couldn’t ignore it.
“Do you think it was just me or … do you think that maybe these feelings were transferred from my mother?” Truth be told, this was the only explanation that he could find. It was not a secret that he had taken very much after his mother in terms of his looks. If there had been some repressed feelings for her, it would make sense for his uncle to finally have similar thoughts about him who wasn’t somebody else’s already.
It would not make things much better if this was true but at least it would be an explanation that did not require him to think that his uncle had actually somehow started to feel attracted to him while he was at such an age. It was a little better. Because no matter how he looked at it, at thirteen or maybe fourteen years old, he had still been a child. After all, hadn’t he still been considered a child when his father died when he was sixteen? At an age where he was even younger, how could his uncle have seen him as an adult? There was no way that was the case.
Agur Suhi shook his head though. “No. I might not know much for sure but I definitely don’t think that that was the case. Your mother and your uncle always had a close relationship. They were like friends. Or it’s probably better to say that they had a very normal relationship as siblings.
“He was also happy when she met your father. I remember how proud he was when he told me that it’s just expected that his older sister would be able to make even a man like the king fall for her. He laughed at that, he wasn’t distressed all. That is not what a man would feel when the woman he loves marries another man.”
Jusha Lale furrowed his brows. So much for that. Well, he was a little happy that his mother hadn’t been part of this but it meant that there was no explanation for his uncle’s feelings for him. He really had a hard time understanding it.
Jusha Lale kept quiet for quite some time. Agur Suhi didn’t speak up either. He knew that it wasn’t easy to come to terms with this. Even if the zhireng had told him some of what he knew beforehand, it still wouldn’t be easy to hear all of this addressed again by somebody who really knew.
After a while, Jusha Lale closed his eyes, sighing gently. “I guess even if I can’t understand it, it has to be the truth. You might be right that at least he never tried to act on it.”
Agur Suhi nodded. “It’s no wonder that you have a hard time understanding it. To be honest, if it was just these things and I hadn’t seen him with that prostitute, I never would’ve believed it either, even if somebody told me. Heck, even if he told me himself, I wouldn’t have believed it. Seeing that scene …” He shook his head. “I guess there’s no way to pretend that he didn’t hold those feelings.”
Jusha Lale stared at him, his eyes widening. A … prostitute? And something that had made Agur Suhi believe that his uncle held forbidden feelings for him? In other words … while his uncle had never acted on these feelings with him personally, he had acted on them with somebody else as a substitute?
Jusha Lale turned his head away, staring out the window. He had tried to find something good in all this. The fact that his uncle would pull back, that he wouldn’t harm him, that he wouldn’t give in to desire when the object of his desire was so close …
He had thought that if he held onto these small things, then he could somehow forgive him, then he could somehow pretend that while his uncle had been wrong, he had known it and he had acted in the right way. But it seemed that this was wrong as well. His uncle hadn’t actually been that much of a good man.
“Minister Agur, tell me if I’m wrong but … my uncle only held back because you asked him to. He only distanced himself originally because my father was still alive. When he was dead, he came close to me and he only pulled back again when you found out about all of this. If it hadn’t been for you, then maybe my uncle wouldn’t have been satisfied with using somebody else in my stead anymore. Isn’t that right?” He stared at Agur Suhi, not even daring to blink. He wanted an answer to this question. He definitely could not go on if he did not hear it.
Agur Suhi paled when Jusha Lale suddenly put it like this. “That … no. No, Reng wasn’t that kind of person. He never would have …” He shook his head but there was something in his eyes that told Jusha Lale that at this moment he had the same fear.
“You don’t know it. You are unsure yourself. I know that you want to protect me. This is why you didn’t tell me. This is why it needed another person to tell me what my uncle had done before I could find out. But in the end, you can’t say for sure if he really was the person he pretended to be.”
Agur Suhi wanted to deny it but after opening his mouth, no sound wanted to come out. Yes, he really couldn’t say it. A few years ago, he might’ve been able to. But now?
It was the truth. If Jusha Lale put the timeline like this, then it really seemed that Shaun Reng had just been waiting for the right moment. And after he was found out, after it seemed that as long as his best friend lived, he would never have a chance to obtain his nephew, he had actually summoned a demon and finally been killed by his desire.
Agur Suhi lowered his head and furrowed his brows, unable to say what he had wanted to say. Finally, he could only shake his head again. “I’m sorry. I thought I knew him but maybe … maybe I didn’t after all. And maybe I was thinking too well of him based on the many years of friendship between us to see the true picture beneath all of this.
“I’m really sorry. I wanted to protect you but I might have done the opposite. If not because your uncle was killed first, then you would have been the one who suffered.”
And how he would have. After all, this demon had not been summoned because his uncle wanted him gone. He would’ve lived but at what price? He didn’t know if for Jusha Lale, this kind of serious person, death wouldn’t have been preferable.