Things went without a hitch when the time to return to the capital city En finally came. The people that had originally been living in the capital city were settled once again and minister Agur and the other officials started to deal with any thefts that had occurred in this time, making sure to get as many of the people that had tried to take advantage of the crisis to make sure that it wouldn’t come to public unrest after the demon had already been crushed just like the king had ordered.
On the other hand, Jusha Lale picked a few people to make sure that the citizens of the surrounding cities were compensated for the help they had rendered to others in these trying times. Between this issue, the million questions regarding how to deal with the corrupted objects in the palace, and making sure that a second demon wouldn’t be summoned because of the current, still volatile state of things, he became incredibly busy once again.
By the time most of it had been settled, half a year had already gone by. Summer had turned into autumn and finally, the early days of winter had arrived. The weather outside had turned cold and a faint layer of frost coated the ground, sparkling in the rays of the early sun.
Jusha Lale looked out of the window, seemingly lost in thought. He had moved into another set of chambers after returning to the palace back then. It couldn’t be helped. After the illusion had been broken and the demon defeated, there was still the decay that had already happened. While the priests had done their best to ensure that the palace was livable again, the traces just could not be erased.
As the one who had been the reason for his uncle summoning the demon, Jusha Lale just could not feel comfortable at this place anymore. When he had originally returned and looked at that place, the sense of dread that assaulted him made it impossible to stay there. Thus, he used the decay as an excuse to switch to another set of rooms.
Susha Unhuor who had stayed through the preparation and didn’t even leave when they had relocated back to En backed him up on the matter so none of the ministers and generals asked any uncomfortable questions and just took this request at face value. It helped further that Susha Unhuor requested to stay close by ‘just in case’ and finally moved into the set of rooms next to Jusha Lale’s.
Yes, even though the zhireng had originally said that he wasn’t sure what to do going forward and had indicated that he might start to go on his travels again, he had actually stayed in En since the day they came back here and tried to help out wherever he could. In this half a year, he had not only helped to deal with the decay but also made sure to check the capital city and the surrounding ones for traces of any additional demons but there hadn’t been anything.
It seemed that after this shock, nobody had tried to take further advantage of the circumstances. The people were still safe and they would likely be for the foreseeable future. Which … brought them to the current situation: There was no reason for Susha Unhuor to stay any longer.
The zhireng had come over to Jusha Lale’s chambers as early as an hour ago. Originally, he had wanted to bid him farewell. Because if he didn’t do so now … he was afraid he would never get around to leaving this place.
In this half a year, he had grown a little too comfortable with the state things were in. Spending each day with Jusha Lale, having him consult him on how to deal with the aftermath of the demon’s summoning, helping him make sure that everyone was safe … This gave him a purpose in life that he had missed for a long time.
But he knew that things couldn’t go on like this forever. There had only been this one demon. There was only a finite number of things that needed to be done to ensure there were no lasting effects, What was he to do now that all those things had been done and the problem had been solved? He couldn’t say. It was just … he actually felt a bit reluctant to go. And the worst thing was that Jusha Lale also seemed reluctant to let him go. Seeing that didn’t make things any easier for him.
Susha Unhuor lightly bit his lip and shook his head, glancing at the young dan again who was still standing in front of the door. “Have you thought it through? In any case, things have been solved. I don’t think you need me any longer.”
Jusha Lale rubbed his fingers against each other, still trying to think of something. He knew he should just say yes. Maybe ask him to wait a day or two more so he could hold a banquet to bid him farewell and thank him for everything he had done whether it was for him personally, for the city of En, or for the people of Alo.
But even though Jusha Lale knew that he should do this, he just couldn’t bring himself to do so. Thinking back, every conversation they had had, all the talks late at night, the moments when he opened his heart to Susha Unhuor … He had hardly felt so at peace at any other moment in his life. And he just couldn’t imagine to suddenly be without this man again. He knew he would be able to take it but he just didn’t want to.
He finally turned around and returned to the table. Sitting down across him, he gave Susha Unhuor a long look. “Do you really want to leave?”
Susha Unhuor opened his mouth but couldn’t really get any words past them. In the end, he looked away and could only rephrase it. “I should.”
Jusha Lale continued to look at him before finally lowering his gaze. “You should. I guess there are many things for you to do out there. As a zhireng, there will always be something to do, won’t there? So it would be selfish of me to ask you to stay here.”
Susha Unhuor glanced at him, his heart unwittingly jumping. “If I wasn’t a zhireng, would you ask me to stay?”
Jusha Lale raised his gaze and their eyes met. Neither of them managed to look away again.
Jusha Lale wasn’t sure if he could actually say it out loud but the longer he looked at him, the more he thought of maybe never seeing this man again, he finally couldn’t help but give a faint smile. “And if I said that that would be that case, then would zhireng Susha be willing to stay?”
Susha Unhuor gave a hum. “It’s quite sly of you to have me decide that, isn’t it?”
“What I would do if you weren’t a zhireng, I am able to answer that. But the fact remains that you are one of them. It would indeed be selfish to ask something of you that might prevent you from doing the task you were given by the gods. I might be king but especially as the king, can I do that?
“But if you said that maybe you were not willing to return to being a zhireng anyway, then maybe I would not feel so bad about it. Maybe I would feel that I am not taking something away from the common people. If you were to decide differently though, then I would not want to drag you down with my words.”
Susha Unhuor slowly exhaled. In other words, Jusha Lale wanted him to stay but he did not dare to say so because he knew that if he asked him, he would be the one to decide whether staying with him was more important than to actually go out and fight against demons.
It seemed that this kind of decision … it was one that he might come to regret. And depending on what he answered, the two of them would never be able to see each other again. He did not doubt that Jusha Lale would understand his decision even if it was one against him but that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be hurt. And after subjecting him to that, he couldn’t just return here.
Susha Unhuor didn’t know what to do. Naturally, he would not want to hurt this person. He also did not want to do something that would mean they might never talk to each other again. It would be great if no matter what his decision was, they could get along well in the future. That maybe even if he decided to continue just being a zhireng traveling the worlds, whenever he returned to Alo and En, he would be a welcome guest in the palace and could spend some time with Jusha Lale.
He looked over at the door from where a bit of cold air was leaking inside.
Jusha Lale followed his gaze and then glanced back. “It’s going to be even colder soon, there will likely be snow and the roads will be difficult to traverse. Maybe it would be better to wait until the winter is over before you leave.”
Susha Unhuor also turned back and smiled faintly. “I’m just afraid if I don’t leave today as I said before and instead spend a cold winter with you, I will want to leave even less.”
“You know that you don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.” Jusha Lale’s gaze seemed deep, able to draw somebody in.
Susha Unhuor could only look at him, his heart actually calling out. He had not always had it easy while growing up. When he was born, he had still been a normal child. The blessing of the gods would only manifest itself later on when the person showed that they were worthy.
Until that day, he had been a normal child. There were only some things where he may be a little different. While the others were chasing the girls around the town, he hadn’t cared much. And even if there was somebody that he liked, it usually hadn’t been one of the girls. But he hadn’t thought too much. In fact, he had often just seen them as a very good friend and had needed quite some time to figure out his feelings. But before anything could come out of it, he had been blessed by the gods and his life had changed drastically.
He had needed to learn about what it meant to be a zhireng and about the demons that could be summoned into this world. He had to find out what kind of life lay ahead of him. The friendships he had had before were all lost. And when he had finally gained his weapon and was unable to go back into the world of the common people, he realized that he was even more different from them than he had thought before.
If he got to know somebody, it was not like he wouldn’t feel close to them. But things he saw others do in return … they held no meaning to him. And for the longest time, he failed to understand himself or others, wondering if it was because he had become a zhireng or if there was more to it. Only when he met Jusha Lale and they talked out what they experienced before and he realized just how similar their experiences had been, did he come to understand that it had never been about being a zhireng. There was so much more to it.
No matter how he looked at it, even though he had started to slowly realize these things a few years ago, Jusha Lale had definitely been the one who finally made him come to terms with things. So, yes, this person definitely had a special spot in his heart. To just leave … it really was hard. Probably one of the hardest decisions he had ever had to make.
“I … I will take a few more days to think about it, alright?”
Jusha Lale nodded. “That is the most that I can ask of you. Thank you.”
Susha Unhuor nodded and then got up. Taking another long look at Jusha Lale, he finally walked out of the room. He didn’t return to his own chambers and instead went outside. Stepping outside of the palace and overlooking the city of En, there was a strange feeling in his chest.
This place … he had come to know it quite well in the last few months. When he saw the shape of the temple to the right, he knew exactly which rooms were in there. He could even remember some of the faces of the priests and their names when thinking of it. He could imagine how they would be sweeping the floor outside, or lighting the candles in the main hall, helping the people that came to them for advice.
And looking at the city, it was very much the same. He had come to know the people that were selling their goods on the market, the ministers and generals that were living in the houses close to the palace, even the simple folks at the edge of the city that were trying to make do with what they had.
Just half a year and this place was already incredibly familiar. Just like Jusha Lale was familiar to him.
He raised his face to the sky, closed his eyes, and sighed. Did he really need to think about it? He did not want to leave. He had finally found a home, a person worth sharing his life with. He did not want to give that up, no matter what kind of blessing the gods had given him. He could imagine going out and fighting demons but he could not imagine doing so continuously. No, he wanted a home and he wanted to be able to come to that home and spend time with this person that had grown so important to him.
Susha Unhuor stood there for a moment and finally opened his eyes again, watching the clouds drift by. He told Jusha Lale that the zhireng usually did not live long. At his age, he had already done quite well. Who knew how much time would be left? Ten years maybe? Twenty if he was very careful.
Could he really stand to waste a single one of them? Maybe even a single day? His guesses sure were nice but he might as well die next year if he got into circumstances that weren’t easy to navigate. There was always such a possibility.
No, he was not willing to risk it.
Susha Unhuor turned on his heels and ran back into the palace, opening the door to Jusha Lale’s chambers. “I thought it through.”
Jusha Lale had still been sitting at the table, lost in his own thoughts, hoping that Susha Unhuor would decide to stay while he couldn’t help but feel guilty for wishing to monopolize him like that. He looked up, his whole expression one of puzzlement. “You …” This man hadn’t even left for an hour. He could hardly imagine how he had suddenly thought it through. But looking at him, there was a certain determination in Susha Unhuor’s features. Yes, no matter how strange it was, he had really thought it through and made his decision.
Jusha Lale gulped and straightened up, his fingers twisting in his lap. “Well, what did you decide on?” There was the faintest tremble in his voice, the only hint as to how worried he really was.
Susha Unhuor’s gaze softened when he noticed this. Clearly, Jusha Lale had been just as torn over this as he was. The two of them … really were quite similar in many regards. Clearly, a life together would be filled with bliss.
The thought suddenly crossed his mind and if there had been any doubt left, Susha Unhuor completely made his peace with the decision at this moment. His lips curved up into a faint smile and the tension left his body, making him seem relaxed as if he really had just returned home.
“I will stay. Let’s get married as soon as we can arrange it. I will stay here and I will accompany you for as long as I can. If a zhireng is needed somewhere, then I will go and still exterminate the demons but I will return to you for as long as I can. Will that be enough?”
Jusha Lale’s strained expression finally relaxed and his lips curved up in a splendid smile. “More than enough.” And this was indeed the truth. He had thought that maybe he would be able to convince Susha Unhuor to stay here for some time longer but he wouldn’t have thought that it could even be forever. And he especially hadn’t thought that this man would just casually propose to him. Thinking of it, he actually chuckled. “Staying with me … I can understand. Are you sure that you want to marry me though?”
Susha Unhuor chuckled as well and then came over, reaching out and taking his hand when he stood in front of him. “I guess my proposal might have seemed a little lackluster for you to doubt it this much. I am being serious with it though.
“The two of us … I think we mesh well. I don’t know yet if this is the grand kind of love that people speak about in tales but I know that I’ve come to enjoy spending time with you and that I would like to do so even more in the future. Maybe it is not passionate enough for what most people want but it is more than enough for me. You give me a feeling of warmth, of having a home. That is something that I have longed for. So if you do not mind to continue being like this with me, then I would like to be your husband, yes.”
Jusha Lale looked at him and finally nodded. “To be honest, I would indeed like to.” He didn’t know if there was much else to say. In his heart, he thought of Susha Unhuor in a similar manner. Maybe their love was different from others’ but it wasn’t any less true. With some more time, he did not doubt that the life they could have together would be beautiful.
He thought for a moment and then got up, reaching out and cupping Susha Unhuor’s cheek with his hand. Looking into his eyes, he finally leaned closer and kissed his lips.
Susha Unhuor held still. Even if he were more interested in getting closer physically, he’d feel the need to hold back when the other person was Jusha Lale. They had talked so much that he knew very well that the young dan still had some trouble with the things that had happened before. He did have to say though, this kiss was quite sweet. That was something he would not mind having more of.
Jusha Lale pulled back in the end and also took down his hand. “Then, I will have matters prepared. How fast do you want this wedding?”
Susha Unhuor laughed, reaching out to pull him into a hug. “Are you afraid that your fiance will run away? You do not need to be. It can be as soon as tomorrow if you want to but it can also be at the end of the winter if you’d like. I’ll leave it up to you. Just tell me when you have decided.”
Jusha Lale smiled and then patted his chest. “Alright, then I will go and see what I will do about it. I’m sure that I can work something out.” He took another look at him and then stepped out of his arms, going to prepare for the wedding.
Susha Unhuor shook his head with a smile and then went back to his own room. Looking at the weapon that was leaning in the corner, he was in a bit of a daze. Almost his whole life had been given to the cause of being a zhireng. Now, while he didn’t intend to completely turn his back to his calling, it would not be the main part of his life anymore. No, he would be almost like a normal person. Most of his time would be spent with his partner and whatever task it was that he could find for himself in the capital city.
Come to think of it, he really couldn’t imagine himself just sitting there quietly, waiting for Jusha Lale to finish his own work for the day. No, he had to find something that he could use his days for. He didn’t know anything about governing a kingdom so he could not help Jusha Lale much. Maybe he would be able to do so in the future but that was still far away. It would be better to find something else, something that he might already know a bit about.
Unfortunately, the only thing he really knew were demons. And save for exterminating them, what was the use of that? He furrowed his brows and then sat down on the bed, rubbing his face. He did not regret promising Jusha Lale that he would stay. He definitely intended to do so. But it was also true that his life would go in a completely different direction from now on. He couldn’t just ignore that.
Ah, what to do? Just what else was he capable of? After all, it wasn’t like he could just continue to hunt demons all the time unless he dared people to actually summon them. In any case, most people would only do it accidentally and …
Susha Unhuor stared blankly for a moment and then turned to glance at the weapon in the corner again. Right. Most people summoned demons accidentally. It was not easy to do so deliberately either because a ritual was necessary for that that hardly anyone knew how to do.
The accidental summons was easier. Strong feelings or some vile actions were enough to make it happen. And sometimes, the ones who did this were actually good people who were just led astray by strong emotions. Some didn’t even want to have the demon there but didn’t know what to do about it once it appeared. So their hidden fear and their hope that it would go away but it never would.
This was one of the problems why demons sometimes managed to cause so much chaos. If these people were honest and would just report it and ask for help, then a lot of hurt could probably be prevented.
Susha Unhuor narrowed his eyes. Maybe he had actually found something that he could do. If people knew more, maybe they would not have this kind of problem. But for that, somebody would need to make an effort to teach them.
The zhireng usually didn’t have time for that because they were busy running around and taking care of the actual mess that was out there but if he stayed in the capital city, if he managed to hold on long enough to just retire instead of going out and continuing to hunt demons until the day he died, then maybe he could make a change. Even if he just managed to teach a few people everything that they needed to know, they could be sent to spread this knowledge. That might actually be enough. It might be able to bring about a change that could reduce the number of demons that were summoned into their world in the future.
Yes, he should probably give this a try. There were no guarantees but it was better than nothing. He would have a task and maybe, he could even do something that would still be true to being a zhireng.
Susha Unhuor got up, wanting to go out and try to get a hold of either Jusha Lale or maybe minister Agur to talk it through. Just when he opened the door, he came face-to-face with Jusha Lale. He raised his brows and tilted his head. “You’re back already? That’s good. I just wanted to come and speak to you.”
Jusha Lale also raised his brows. “Why? You wouldn’t have reconsidered, would you?” His brows slightly furrowed when he said so. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do this. Look, I already found a wedding suit for you.” He raised the box that he had been carrying and then handed it to Susha Unhuor. “Give it a try. I borrowed it so we might need to fit it to your body but that shouldn’t take long.”
Susha Unhuor stared at him in a daze, surprised that things would actually go this fast. “You … Do you really intend to marry me tomorrow already?” He had originally just made a joke about that. While he wouldn’t mind getting married in just a day, he didn’t believe that a ceremony could be prepared that fast. Especially not if it was that of the dan.
Jusha Lale laughed though. “Well, I figured that I should do it fast before you can really come to regret your choice. In any case, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” He stepped into the room, waving for Susha Unhuor to come and also take a look at the wedding suit.
The two of them went over to the table and Susha Unhuor put down the box. “In fact, you don’t need to worry anymore. I wanted to say that I thought of something I can do now that I’ll stay in the capital. But I guess if you want to hold the wedding that soon, we should probably take care of that first. I’ll tell you about my plan after we’ve taken care of everything regarding the wedding. We can even work on it together. But before that, let’s just focus on us.” In any case, for the past half a year they had been working on handling that matter with the rūn and the whole aftermath. Taking a few days just for themselves had to be allowed.
Jusha Lale nodded and there was still a beautiful smile on his lips and his eyes were sparkling when he did so. Obviously, he was pleased that Susha Unhuor had actually come up with something so they could stay together. It showed that this really meant that in the future, they would continue being a couple. This was not just a rash decision. This was something that he had truly agreed to stand behind. That was good to know. “In that case, you should really try on the robe now.”
Susha Unhuor nodded and opened the box. The robe inside was a traditional wedding robe of Alo: beige with a wide lapel and belt, long sleeves, and intricate beadwork on the chest and upper arms.
Looking at it, Susha Unhuor couldn’t help but smile to himself. To be honest, he had almost given up the thought of ever wearing something like this. It just seemed impossible. But now, he was holding one in his hands, and soon enough, he would wear it for the wedding ceremony with the person he loved. “Alright, let’s give it a try then.”
He went to the next room and put the wedding robe down, taking off the one he had been wearing for the day. Before he could turn to pick up the wedding robe again, Jusha Lale was already standing behind him with it in hand and slowly helping him inside. Susha Unhuor glanced at him but didn’t say anything and just let him do as he pleased.
In a few minutes, the robe had been put on completely. To his surprise, it actually fit him quite well. He raised his brows and looked at Jusha Lale questioningly. “Where did you get this?” He knew that he was a bit too muscular to fit the beauty standard of Alo. Usually, a robe like this would not be ready-made for his size.
Jusha Lale chuckled and rubbed his chest. “Is it really such a surprise? I asked general Zhayai whether he would lend us this. He didn’t mind so …”
Susha Unhuor nodded slowly. He had already met the general several times in the past half a year so he wasn’t that surprised anymore after he heard Jusha Lale mention him. That man was pretty much built like him. In fact, while he was slightly shorter, he was a bit more muscular as well so it actually worked out quite nicely. “What about your own robe?”
Jusha Lale smiled and then hooked a finger at him, motioning for him to follow him to the next room. Susha Unhuor wanted to take off his robe first but Jusha Lale grabbed his hand and shook his head.
“You can leave it on for the moment.”
Susha Unhuor shrugged his shoulders and then followed him to the room next door. There was actually a wooden box just like the one in his room standing on the table and Jusha Lale went over to open it immediately. Without hesitating, he pulled Susha Unhuor to the next chamber and then had him help to put it on. When he finished, he turned around with a smile.
“What do you say?”
Susha Unhuor looked at him and reached out, gently tracing the beadwork with his fingertips. “You look very much like the person that I want to marry.”
Jusha Lale leaned forward and lightly cupped his cheeks. “In that case, how about going to the temple now?”
Susha Unhuor raised his brows in surprise. “Now? Wouldn’t you need to prepare something more? I mean … you are the king after all.” He really couldn’t imagine that it would be so easy for the dan of Alo to get married. He didn’t know what the customs for that were but he just couldn’t imagine it.
Jusha Lale gave a hum but didn’t seem too bothered. “Usually, you would be right. But actually, I was thinking of having a quick wedding just for ourselves. We can still have an official ceremony for everyone else later on. I just feel … more at ease doing it this way.” He looked at him, his gaze becoming a little uncertain. “Would you mind?”
Susha Unhuor smiled at that and leaned down, pulling him into a hug. “I’m a bit miffed that you were trying to trick me into this instead of asking me outright. As for the idea itself … I absolutely do not mind. In fact, I think this is really nice. I’d rather have a small ceremony as well. There doesn’t need to be anyone else. Just the two of us and a priest will be enough.”
Jusha Lale heaved a sigh of relief. “In that case, let’s go and do it. There is no reason to wait any longer.” He kissed Susha Unhuor’s cheek and the two of them made their way over to the temple, actually hiding from the guards so they wouldn’t be seen.
To think that they were getting married … it probably wouldn’t have been how anyone ever imagined it.