Jusha Lale had a few choice words to say about what he had just heard but he didn’t start with that immediately. Anyway, even if he felt insulted, there was a more pressing matter. Everything else could be discussed afterward.
Thus, when Susha Unhuor stepped into the room, he looked up with a calm expression. The two of them kept quiet though until Shunche had asked a servant to escort Agur Suhi out of the building and let him return to his temporary home in the next city. Only when they were sure that the minister would not be able to overhear anything did Jusha Lale speak up.
"Did you uncover anything?"
Susha Unhuor shook his head though. He went over and sat down at the table next to him, lowering his voice to make sure that Agur Suhi in the room. "Nothing definitive. But I do think that it has something to do with your family."
Jusha Lale slightly raised his brows and turned to face him. "Does zhireng Susha really think that I am not my father’s son?"
Susha Unhuor raised his brows as well before taking a glance at Shunche. The guard was looking at him just as indignantly as he had before, making him guess what was going through his mind. "Why is everybody thinking that I’m insinuating that you aren’t your father’s son?
"I never questioned that. I don’t think anyone would be so bold as to lie to the king like that. Rather than that, what if your mother and uncle aren’t actually related? What if she was adopted or maybe he was? Wouldn’t that be a possibility? I mean, did they look alike?" Since he had seen neither of them he couldn’t say for sure but he had the faint guess that it might not be the case.
Jusha Lale reached up and touched his cheek. "My looks were inherited from my mother. Do you really think that there is any kind of resemblance between me and my uncle? We really did not look alike."
"That’s what I thought. But in that case, maybe …" Susha Unhuor shrugged his shoulders. It was probably easy for Jusha Lale to guess what he meant.
The dan indeed had no problem to guess his thoughts. He smiled faintly in response and leaned closer to him and lowered his voice further. "There is only one problem with your conjecture, zhireng Susha: Both my mother and uncle look a lot like my maternal grandparents. They were definitely related."
"An affair maybe?"
Jusha Lale’s smile turned from the faint teasing to a genuinely amused one. "Now you are starting to make things up. Seeing all of them side by side, it was always obvious that they were one family with nobody else being a part of it. They just didn’t take after their parents the same way. Just like I take more after my mother than my father. Although I do have some resemblance with my paternal grandmother as far as I’ve been told."
Susha Unhuor gave a hum. Well, so much for the only explanation he had been able to come up with so far. "Well, I guess I was wrong then. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything else that was worthwhile in what Minister Agur said. I still think that in some way, this has to be related to your family. I can’t explain it. It is more of a gut feeling."
Jusha Lale glanced at him and then nodded. "I believe you."
Susha Unhuor raised his brows and tilted his head, the doubt obvious in his eyes. "Why?" Even if he wasn’t trying to insinuate that Jusha Lale wasn’t the previous dan’s son, this would still mean that there was a secret hidden in his family. Shouldn’t he argue against that as much as he could?
Jusha Lale’s expression became thoughtful in return. "I do not know too much about the zhireng but one of the few points that I am aware of is that they are chosen by the gods. That is where their power comes from, it is what enables them to fight the demons and vanquish the darkness. They are human but their abilities transcend those of a regular human being. They are more than us in a way while not differing in others.
"I don’t know what exactly your abilities are but I think that your gut feeling in regard to this might be true. After all, what you are trying to find is the root of this evil. Maybe the power you have received from the gods is able to guide you toward the truth behind everything. It wouldn’t be impossible."
Susha Unhuor gave a hum. "That’s a very nice way to put it." In fact, it made him wonder if maybe there was some truth to that. The abilities of the zhireng … he was afraid even they themselves did not always know what those were.
While the zhireng were chosen by the gods at birth and grew up with those added powers, uncovering them completely was difficult. Who could say if they really knew everything about themselves? Who could say if something they were able to do was because of the gods’ blessing or not? Especially with the zhireng’s numbers being low and many of them dying early despite that blessing, it was hard to say.
Jusha Lale did not say anything further on that topic. The abilities of the zhireng were not for him to judge. And right now, it wasn’t important either. He just had to support Susha Unhuor as well as possible. Speaking of which … "Do you want to go and speak to my uncle’s wife next? Is there anything you need to know?"
Susha Unhuor nodded at the first question but immediately shook his head at the second one. "As his wife, she should be the person most likely to know anything after his best friend. A lot of people tend to involve their partners in major decisions and from my experience, many men like to brag to their wives even about things that haven’t happened yet. If your uncle really intended to dispose of you and then crown himself king, he might have mentioned at least some vague things to her."
"I see." Jusha Lale still had a hard time believing that his uncle would do something like this but he knew that, objectively, Susha Unhuor was right.
"Anyway, I doubt that as their nephew, you would know anything about the specific situation between them. In this case, it is better to go in blind than with a false impression."
"Very well. Let’s go over then."
Jusha Lale got up and Shunche led the two of them to the empty room on the other side of the corridor. The dan and his guard stayed behind while Susha Unhuor turned around and then went to the room next door where Shaun Reng’s wife was waiting.
This time, he knocked on the door and then explained who he was before stepping inside. He even left the door open behind him. There was a difference between going to interrogate a man and asking a woman a few questions after all. He did have to pay attention to some more conventions for the latter. Some kind of unsavory rumors making the round would only make the situation worse. No, he really didn’t need to add to everyone’s troubles.
Madam Shaun did not seem worried at all. She inclined her head and motioned at the chair opposite her. "Please take a seat. General Zhayai already told me that you would come to have a talk with me. I don’t know how exactly I am supposed to help you though. I really don’t know much about the things that have happened. My husband always took care of his work without wanting to burden me or the children." She sighed when thinking of her husband.
"I can imagine that this must be difficult for you." Susha Unhuor gave her a sympathetic look while observing her at the same time. It indeed seemed as if she had had a rough time. Her face was pale and there were dark shadows under eyes. It was still obvious that she was a good-looking woman even though she couldn’t rival her nephew’s looks.
Susha Unhuor slightly froze when he thought of that. That comparison … It really shouldn’t be made. It wasn’t wrong but this was just such a weird direction to think in. He hurriedly pushed the thought aside, not willing to think about it even a moment longer. Instead, he focused on Madam Shaun again and smiled faintly.
She still seemed to be thinking about her husband. "Well, I really can’t say that it has been easy these days. My husband was busier than usual because of whatever was going on in the palace. I didn’t ask about it though so I am afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything new about that. That day …" She stopped herself and sighed, her expression turning sorrowful. "That day, I didn’t accompany him and instead stayed at home. You know I don’t do so well with crowds so I never really liked these festivities. My husband never had a problem with that. He just let me stay at home and offer my own sacrifices to the goddess. Because of that … Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I only heard afterward."
Susha Unhuor gulped, not quite sure how to react. This was the part of being a zhireng that he disliked the most: to meet the ones that had been left behind. Those people that had summoned demons and were now haunted by them, he did not care about them too much. Those who played with fire had to expect to be burned. But the unsuspecting ones at their side, they were the ones that deserved compassion and empathy.
Madam Shaun was precisely that type of person. She likely didn’t know anything and she hadn’t even been there when it happened. She had only found out later that her whole life had been changed from one moment to the next. And if she were to understand that the young dan had only made up a lie about being saved by his uncle, her whole world would likely come crashing down.
The zhireng took a deep breath. "My condolences, Madam Shaun. I have seen many people over the years that had the misfortune of being sucked into the danger following a demon’s summoning. I know that this will be rough for you but maybe it helps you to know that not many are able to do what your husband did and put their own life on the line to save others."
Madam Shaun did indeed smile a little when she heard that. "Thank you, zhireng Susha. I know … I know my husband made the right decision. Lale …" She gulped, trying to keep her eyes from tearing up. "Lale is our king. If something had happened to him, the consequences would be even worse. I am sure that Reng knew that. He was … such a good person, thinking of everyone else before he thought of himself. He was always like that, it is why I married him." She finally couldn’t hold the tears back. Some of them spilled over and she hastily took out a handkerchief, dabbing at the corners of her eyes. "I am sorry. Compared to my husband, I am really useless. I can’t help you at all. I don’t know anything about that day save for what Lale came to tell me."
Susha Unhuor’s brows slightly raised. The king himself had gone to inform his aunt? He hadn’t expected that. But, well, it did make sense. They were one family after all. And if Jusha Lale himself told her that her husband had saved him, she would be more likely to believe that instead of whatever she came to hear later on. If somebody said that her husband had summoned the demon, she would just assume they were vilifying a man that could not defend himself anymore. She would be sad for her husband but would not come to doubt him herself. This was really … magnanimous considering what this Shaun Reng had likely done.
Susha Unhuor felt some admiration for him. No matter what others had said, Jusha Lale was obviously suited to be the king. Even in such a personal matter, he was able to keep the bigger picture in mind and make a decision that would likely mean he might never get justice for himself. How many people would be able to do that? He was afraid that among the people that had likely questioned whether Jusha Lale was the right one to accede the throne, there might not be a single one.
If he didn’t have to, he would not let Jusha Lale’s good intentions go to waste. Thus, he didn’t try to ask Madam Shaun any more questions about what she had heard and instead deflected. "Don’t worry about it. As I said, I have already gotten some information about the situation of what happened that day in the palace. In fact, there are other things I would like to ask you."
"Oh, then please go ahead!" Madam Shaun motioned for him not to hold back. She had worried that she wouldn’t be able to help at all but now, it seemed that there was at least a small chance to be useful. She would definitely tell the zhireng everything she could think of. She didn’t want her husband’s sacrifice to be for naught.
"Thank you for your help. I was wondering if you could tell me some personal things about your husband." He paused for a moment, not quite sure how to continue. He didn’t want her to know what had really transpired but he needed to know more about Shaun Reng and his life to figure things out. How to strike a balance …
He pondered for a moment longer and could finally only go about it in a roundabout way. "I don’t know if you are aware of this but a demon is summoned to fulfill a specific task, usually something immoral like killing a person. Basically, the demons are used to achieve a goal that the summoner isn’t willing to risk working toward themselves.
"Because of this, there is usually a reason as to why a demon attacks a specific person. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet what that task is in this case. We reckon that it might be to kill your nephew. That was likely what your husband thought as well. He probably went there with the fear that the demon might attack the king that day and wanted to stop it. Thus, he hindered the demon in achieving its goal and was killed in the process.
"But that is only one guess. There is also the possibility that not the dan but your husband was the actual goal of this summoning. It might be less likely but I can’t overlook anything at this stage. So I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about him just so I can get a better picture of what is going on and hopefully find out that this isn’t the case."
Madam Shaun slightly furrowed her brows. "I don’t even know where to begin."
Since he suspected that this had something to do with Jusha Lale’s family, Susha Unhuor tried to nudge her in that direction. "Well, considering that the demon appeared in the palace, it is still more likely that the demon is after dan Jusha. I know your husband saved him but how was his relationship with him in general?"
"Oh, I think it was a good one. To be honest, my husband probably wasn’t too close to him. But when they saw each other, they always got along very well. Lale is a very polite person. That sometimes makes him seem a little distant toward other people so it’s difficult to get close to him. Even with his own family, he was a bit like this. Not his father and mother but everyone else. But I guess in his situation that isn’t very strange."
"You mean because he became the king so young?"
Madam Shaun nodded. "That, yes. And also, his mother died very young. Maybe it is since then that he finds it a bit difficult to open up to others. I don’t remember him being like this when he was a child. But now … I mean even until now, he still hasn’t found a wife."
Susha Unhuor slightly raised his brows. Who would’ve thought that his aunt would actually gossip about the king like this? Well, this was something to take note of though. If he didn’t have a wife, he likely didn’t have a child either. So if something happened to Jusha Lale, and there was nobody from his father’s family line anymore, then his uncle or maybe his cousins’ chance would be much bigger when inheriting the throne.
That supported the original idea back onto the table that Jusha Lale’s uncle was the culprit behind everything. Not that he could tell that to Madam Shaun. He could only try to secretly fish for some more information. "Ah, but he will likely have somebody that he intends to marry, doesn’t he?"
The gaze of Madam Shaun indicated that that was not the case. "Seriously, I would really like to help him with that. But … other than being my nephew, Lale is also the king. How can I get involved in that? I had hoped his paternal grandparents would do something but they haven’t and he hasn’t indicated anything so far. I’m really worried. Especially with what happened with my husband. If something were to happen to Lale … What is going to become of the kingdom then? His father’s death hit Alo hard enough. If Lale were to also …" She shook her head and sighed.
Susha Unhuor nodded. Even if Madam Shaun wasn’t too involved in what happened at the palace, she did seem to have a general understanding of Jusha Lale’s importance. In that case, it was unlikely she knew anything if her husband had had plans to dispose of his nephew. "That is a very good question. Now, what about the king’s mother? You said she died very early? What was the reason for that if I may ask?"
In the next room, Jusha Lale’s expression was a little displeased. This was the kind of question that the zhireng could’ve asked him if he wanted to. There really was no reason to go and ask his aunt. But what could he do now? Since he was in another room and couldn’t appear without putting the whole interrogation at risk, he could only continue to listen in no matter how much he disliked what he heard.
Meanwhile, Madam Shaun started to explain. "Well, this is really tragic. Back then, the poor girl got sick. She originally probably had some trouble during the time she was pregnant with Lale. After he was born, she would always fall ill easily. Then, when he was still just a boy, she silently passed away. The king was devastated. He loved her so much. And naturally, the boy didn’t take it well either."
"I see." Susha Unhuor really didn’t know what to make of this. That was so … normal. It was a really good explanation. He didn’t think that there was anything wrong with it. This kind of thing could very well happen. "Do you have children of your own?"
"Oh, yes, two girls and one boy."
"Ah, I see."
"What about you? As a zhireng, it must be difficult to settle down with a wife."
Susha Unhuor awkwardly smiled. "It’s indeed a little difficult." Although that had less to do with being a zhireng. He was sure that he would be able to find somebody who would be willing to follow him on his journeys or settle down with him somewhere. Anyway, he wasn’t against it. It was just … to actually find a person was much more difficult. By now, he had actually given up hope that he would ever find someone. Maybe this was just not the life that was destined for him.
"That day … was your husband any different?" He got back to the subject at hand to make sure that she wouldn’t continue to ask him about his love life.
Madam Shaun shook her head. "No, I think he was like always."
"Really? He should have known that there was likely a demon in the palace at that time. Didn’t that influence him in the least?"
Once again, Madam Shaun shook her head. "No, at the very least, I didn’t notice anything like that. But maybe he was just trying not to worry me and the children."
Susha Unhuor nodded slowly. This was actually quite interesting. Even if her husband tried to keep something hidden from his family, something would normally slip through. It might not be much but when asked about it and thinking back, people would usually be able to see it even if they hadn’t at the moment it happened.
But if Madam Shaun said with such conviction that he had acted as usual, then there had to be something more afoot. Most likely, this man had been pretending in regard to something for quite a while. At least that would explain why there was no change in his behavior that would be obvious to her. The pretension had already become his normal behavior so she didn’t become suspicious.
Thinking of that, Susha Unhuor gave Madam Shaun another smile. "Thank you, you’ve already helped me a lot. Say, would it be possible to speak with some of his servants? If your husband really knew something but was trying to keep it from you and your children so you wouldn’t worry about him, then maybe he let something slip when you weren’t around and one of the servants noticed."
Madam Shaun nodded. "But of course. It is just … I don’t quite know where everyone is. General Zhayai told me to wait here for you so that we could talk without anybody noticing. So I think they will still be back at home. Maybe you can ask somebody to bring them over?"
Susha Unhuor nodded and then got up. "Thank you, I will do that. You’ve really helped me a great deal. I will try my best to avenge your husband."
Madam Shaun teared up a little and nodded. "Please do that. I know that nobody but a zhireng can do that now. I really hope nobody else will be harmed before you manage to do it. I don’t want my husband to have given him his life without reason."
"I promise you I will do my best. With the demons, one can never make promises lightly so that is the only thing I will say: I will definitely give my best." He inclined his head again and then left.
Entering the room next door, the gaze he was given by Jusha Lale was a little less friendly. Susha Unhuor gulped and motioned for Shunche to get a servant and have Madam Shaun escorted back home. As soon as he was sure that she was gone, he turned to Jusha Lale. "I will ask whatever is needed to be asked to finish this."
"I’m not angry that you asked, merely a little … miffed that you would not use the time on our journey to ask such questions. You could have known quite a bit more if you had just done that. Why wait until now? Is there enough time to waste?"
Susha Unhuor gave a sigh. "You telling me these things and her telling me these things are two different situations altogether. You might be able to give me the same information that was contained in her words but nothing more than that. As for her, there’s something more valuable she is able to supply me with, and that are the things that she doesn’t say.
"Anyway, I need to talk to the servants now. It would be best if it is somebody who had a lot of contact with your uncle but could maybe not be counted as a confidant. Somebody like that might be willing to talk a bit more and might have seen things even if they weren’t told."
Jusha Lale put his own feelings aside and focused on the question. He wasn’t quite sure about how to answer it though and turned to look at Shunche instead. "Which servants had the most contact with him?"
"There would be the old housekeeper. He has more or less grown up with the dan’s uncle."
Susha Unhuor shook his head. "No, that’s too close. If he knew something, he might feel guilty and won’t divulge anything. Isn’t there somebody directly involved with him but less close personally? Maybe a maid that was tending to him that he wouldn’t necessarily talk to but that is able to hear something just by being close by?"
Shunche nodded but looked at Jusha Lale. "There is one. Shall I go and have her brought over?"
Jusha Lale nodded. "Do that. Just bring her to the room where my aunt was just waiting."
Shunche bowed and then left to fetch the girl. Meanwhile, Jusha Lale waved for Susha Unhuor to sit down. Anyway, he wasn’t really angry. There was no need to let the atmosphere get tense.