It took Kanuen and the other townspeople three days to prepare a farewell party for Hou Dong’s men. They had set everything up on the market square and in the surrounding streets so that everybody would be able to find a seat. The houses at the side were decorated in bright colors and the food that had been prepared were specialties of Sou.
Even Hou Dong’s men that hadn’t been in a good mood since Hou Dong brought up retiring from his life as a warrior couldn’t help but feel slightly better. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to continue traveling with him but this was also a good way to make one last memory before they set off again. That was better than nothing, wasn’t it? Anyway, they would come and visit in the future.
Thus everybody sat down that evening, with Hou Dong and Kanuen in the middle where the others could go over and talk to them whenever they wanted to. Hou Dong’s men didn’t hold back at all. Every few minutes, one of them would slide into the seat opposite the two of them, raising a jar of wine and inviting Hou Dong to share a cup or two while joking about some old matters.
Hou Dong smiled and accepted every time. He had often drunk like this with his men so he managed to hold on for quite a while but after half of them had come by, he started getting tipsy. His face when he looked at Kanuen was flushed and he couldn’t help but inch closer, wrapping his arm around Kanuen’s waist.
Ah, if they were always able to live this kind of life, it would be very good. It was a real pity that neither he nor his men were used to the simple life in a town. He might be able to put traveling down for Kanuen but the others who didn’t have a significant other would miss that type of excitement too much.
Not far from them, Kanuen’s brother stared at a certain idiot, also not feeling resigned. "What’s with your people getting my brother-in-law drunk? Look at how he’s behaving right now! Does my brother need to suffer through something like this?!"
Sun Jin glanced over and didn’t feel that it was a problem at all. Wasn’t Hou Dong just a little tipsy? He wasn’t even really drunk yet. Anyway, what did it have to do with him? He hadn’t even gone over and said anything yet. Speaking of which … He should better go soon or their Master would be too drunk to even speak with him anymore. These guys really weren’t thinking of him! All just rushing ahead and making him drink so much. He pursed his lips and then grabbed a flask himself, leaving Piul grumbling to himself while he rushed over and pushed Duan Bao aside. "Master!"
Hou Dong who had just focused on Kanuen turned back and gave a light sigh. Even if he was tipsy, he could still see who was sitting in front of them. And that aggrieved expression of Sun Jin that hadn’t changed at all in the last few days really gave him a headache. It wasn’t that he wanted to make anybody unhappy. It was just that there really was no other way.
He sighed and then pushed his cup over, nodding for Sun Jin to fill it. "Didn’t I say it already? There’s no need to worry about it. We’ll definitely see each other in the future again. You just follow the others. I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun."
Sun Jin furrowed his brows and then glanced at Kanuen. "It would be much better if we could all have fun together."
Kanuen nodded. "That would really be very good. Unfortunately, sometimes things are like this." He looked at Hou Dong and gave a light smile. Actually, he wouldn’t have minded accompanying him and his men on their travels. But he understood that that wasn’t what Hou Dong wanted. And he believed that Hou Dong was right when he said that it wouldn’t be possible.
Anyway, in this kind of situation, it was always best to listen to the person that was knowledgeable about these things. So he wouldn’t rashly make any promises if Hou Dong didn’t feel that it was the right thing to do. He could understand why Sun Jin felt like this but there was nothing he could do. Thus he could only give him an apologetic gaze and then turn back to eat.
Hou Dong rubbed Kanuen’s back to assure him that he had done the right thing. "Kanuen is right. I understand what you want to say but it’s just not a good idea. You also understand that. So please don’t make it difficult for me."
Sun Jin nodded but he still felt that it was a pity. If there was anything he could do to change things, he would definitely do so. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t have luck with that. He also knew that. Thus he could only lift the jar of wine, pour both of them a cup and then nodded at Hou Dong. "Alright, I already know now. Then at least let’s drink together."
Hou Dong nodded and raised his cup, giving Sun Jin a bright smile before he drunk the wine. He laughed and then reached over, patting Sun Jin’s shoulder. "Isn’t this also good? Without a handsome guy like me around, you’ll have much better chances to find a beauty for yourself. Then in a few years, you can come here and settle down in Sou as well. I’m sure there’s enough space for the two of you in this town as well. Isn’t that right?" He turned to Kanuen and got a happy smile and a nod in return.
"Sure. We’d love to welcome you."
Hearing that, Sun Jin’s expression brightened. Sure, it might still be quite some time until then but that was something he could work toward to. In fact, it didn’t sound too bad to live with his spouse in the same town as Hou Dong and Kanuen. Maybe the others would also be able to come here when they found a significant other for themselves? Or maybe they could all settle down here when they were too old to go and travel as warriors. It would be an option.
Imagining this kind of future, Sun Jin finally cheered up. He raised his own cup, gave a hum and then downed the content, hurriedly refilling both their cups for another round.
Hou Dong laughed again and accompanied him until Sun Jin was pushed away by one of the other men two cups later.
In this manner, the evening progressed. The townspeople started to play some instruments later on to show Hou Dong and his men the traditional music of their country and even though nobody was really sober anymore, Hou Dong’s men still joined in when some of the younger people asked them to dance.
The last sunlight faded and they brought out some braziers and torches, plunging the market square and streets in a gentle light.
Hou Dong leaned closer to Kanuen, his eyes overflowing with gentleness. "You know, seeing them like this, I feel even more how much I’ll miss them but it’s alright. It’s alright as long as you are here. I don’t want to miss you even a single day in my life."
Kanuen laughed and brushed Hou Dong’s hair back. "It’s a wonder you’re still able to say it. I thought you were already dead drunk by now."
Hou Dong also laughed. "Don’t look down on me! I have a healthy body and this wasn’t the first time we’ve done something like this. To get me drunk, we’d still need to have another few rounds."
Kanuen smiled and then waved at somebody to bring over a flask of wine. He took Hou Dong’s cup and filled it, before giving it back and picking up his own. "If that is so, then drink a round with me."
Hou Dong raised his brows at that. "With you?"
"Mn." Kanuen nodded and then raised his cup, looking at his lover expectantly. "You’ve been drinking with everybody nonstop. It couldn’t be that you’ve forgotten about me, could it?"
Hou Dong inched closer, his flushed face revealed in the light from the braziers. "How could that be? There’s no way I would ever forget about you." He looked at the cups in their hands and then nodded. "Alright, if you want to, let’s have a drink." He raised his cup and then drank.
Kanuen watched him and then shook his head, before raising his own cup and drinking as well. Ah, this wasn’t bad. He’d like to make many more memories like this. "Thank you."
Hou Dong put down the cup and raised his brows. "What for?"
"For deciding on me. You could have also gone with them. In fact, if before they leave tomorrow, you change your mind, then I would understand. I can’t tie you down. If this is the life you need to live, it would be wrong for me to try."
Hou Dong nodded, thankful for Kanuen’s understanding. "If this was something I couldn’t miss out on, then I wouldn’t do so. But between the things you can do and can’t do, there are also some differences.
"I’ve already lived this life for several years. I’ve loved … almost every moment of it but it has to be something of the past now. As for you … That’s for the future. Whatever happens, it’s not something I’d want to miss.
It wasn’t an easy decision but I can feel that it’s the right one. That’s what my heart tells me. The others understand that as well. So let’s not talk about it any longer. I’m just happy that we’re together. Anyway, let’s make happy memories from now on. I’m sure in a few years, I will have even more things to tell about the time with you than I have to tell about my time with my men. You’re all equally important to me."
Kanuen nodded and then once again reached out, taking the flask and filling both of their cups. "Then let’s start doing that now."
Hou Dong chuckled and picked up his cup, continuing to drink with his lover. "If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you’re trying to get me drunk to do something naughty."
Kanuen laughed as well. "If I wanted to, would I really need to get you drunk?"
Hou Dong looked at him, not quite knowing what to respond. Indeed, if Kanuen was interested then all he would need to do would be to say the word. There was no way he’d say no afterward.
Thus, the two of them continued the evening in that manner, finally switching from wine to water to make sure that Hou Dong wouldn’t be completely drunk.
Still, when his men were half-lying on the tables later on and needed to be supported back into the building to rest until they would set off the next morning, Hou Dong also wasn’t completely in control of his senses anymore. Kanuen had to wrap his arms around his waist and pull Hou Dong’s arm over his shoulder to help him back home.
Hou Dong leaned against him happily, raising his head to the sky. "Don’t you think it’s … beautiful?" His voice wasn’t quite clear and Kanuen couldn’t help but chuckle.
Hou Dong turned away from the night sky and looked at him, peering deep into his eyes. "You are for sure. You’re … the most beautiful person … I’ve ever … ever seen in my life."
"Look at this! You’re actually even more of a sweet-talker when you’re drunk." Kanuen smiled but still craned his neck and gave him a kiss. "You said that very well. Let’s get you home now."
Hou Dong nodded and reached over, his fingers sliding through Kanuen’s hair. "It’s also a really beautiful night. Let’s get married in a night like this, alright?"
Kanuen glanced at him and nodded. "Alright. Let’s make it a night when you’re sober though. I still want my husband to remember the night we got married the next morning. What do you think about it?"
Hou Dong seemed to seriously ponder the question before he finally nodded. "That’s good to me. So when will we do it?"
Kanuen looked at him, trying to decide if this was a question he was being asked because Hou Dong was drunk or because he was had been wondering about this in the past. Well, it had been quite a while since they got to know each other. He also wasn’t against marrying him but he had wanted to wait for Hou Dong to bring it up. Now, it seemed that it might be difficult to wait until he did if he was supposed to do it while sober. Most likely, his lover didn’t dare to ask about it with everything that had been going on and only found the strength to do so tonight because of the mood.
Kanuen glanced at the sky as well and then smiled. "If you still remember tomorrow, then from now on, look at the sky each night and when you see a shooting star, let’s marry the night three days later. What do you think?"
Hou Dong looked at him deeply as if he was trying to see if he was earnest or maybe trying to commit it to memory. Then, he nodded seriously. "Alright. Let’s do it three days after I see a shooting star. You can’t back out now, alright?"
Kanuen reached up and rubbed his cheek. "What are you even saying? I was the one who proposed to do it this way. Since that’s the case, I’ll naturally keep my promise. Now, it’s really time to go home. You need to sleep to sober up."
Hou Dong nodded and swayed home with Kanuen’s help, finally falling into bed and sleeping until the sun went up the next morning.
When Hou Dong opened his eyes, he groaned and rolled to the side, pressing his eyes shut and covering his face with his hands. Ah, he shouldn’t have drunk so much. He continued to lie there for a moment before he finally lowered his hands and cracked his eyes open to at least wish Kanuen a good morning. The other side of the bed was empty though.
Hou Dong stared ahead and then pushed himself up into a sitting position, wincing at the pain that shot through his head. He pressed his eyes shut, took a deep breath and then looked through the room. He still couldn’t see his lover. Had he slept that long?
He glanced at the window but it was only starting to get bright outside. Considering everything that had happened the previous evening, it could even be said that he had woken up unexpectedly early.
Hou Dong sighed and pushed his legs over the edge of the bed, sitting there for a moment and trying to convince himself that he wouldn’t fall down if he stood up now. Well, even if he did, Kanuen wasn’t there to see so it wouldn’t be too embarrassing. Had he really bragged to him yesterday that he was able to drink a lot? That really was like slapping his own face!
He groaned again and pondered whether he had said anything else that he should be regretting. If he wasn’t wrong … They should’ve talked about his men leaving tomorrow again and how he felt about it. Afterward … Afterward, they had …
He jumped to his feet and nearly tumbled down but he had no time to care about it. He grabbed his outer robe and stumbled out of the room while still trying to put it on. He rushed down the stairs and hurried into the kitchen, just when he had managed to close his belt. Unfortunately, Kanuen wasn’t there. The only person that was over there, sitting at the table was his brother.
Piul looked up and raised his brows. "Did something happen?"
Hou Dong awkwardly cleared his throat and brushed through his hair with his fingers, trying to make himself look more presentable. He gave another awkward laugh afterward and sat down opposite him. "I think I drank too much last night. What about your brother?"
Piul glanced toward the staircase. "Wasn’t he there anymore? Then he probably went to the temple. He often does so in the morning."
Hou Dong nodded and looked away. He really didn’t know if he remembered correctly but if he did …
Piul looked up at him and then motioned at the plate of food in front of him. "Do you want something? Kanuen might need a while until he comes back. You’d better not go and disturb him."
Hou Dong hesitated but still nodded. He actually wanted to rush out and ask Kanuen immediately about last night but then that would also be embarrassing.
Piul got up and also made him a plate of food while Hou Dong continued to ponder. The beautiful night sky, a pair of black eyes that seemed to sparkle even more than the stars … Even though he had always admired Kanuen’s beauty, he didn’t think that he would be able to come up with that kind of thing even in his dreams. And the words he remembered … they were oddly specific. There was no way he could just imagine that.
Hou Dong gave Piul a smile when he brought the plate back and took it from him. "Thanks."
Piul shook his head and sat down again. "Don’t mention it. You’re part of the family now."
Hou Dong glanced at him and gave a smile. "I’m glad you see it like that. The people of Sou are very friendly."
Piul nodded. "Sure we are. So … I guess the others will be leaving today?" He looked as if the didn’t care too much but Hou Dong couldn’t help but smile.
"Why? Is there somebody you’re going to miss especially?"
Piul glanced at him and furrowed his brows. "Do you want me to take back that you’re part of the family?"
Hou Dong shook his head. "No, I’m just looking out for my brother-in-law. Even though a certain someone is an idiot, he’s still a good guy. If you like him, then just be a bit nice to him when he comes the next time and he might just stay here."
Piul pursed his lips. "Who’s your brother-in-law? You haven’t even married my brother yet!"
Hou Dong couldn’t help but nod. "Fair enough." He started to eat, silently pondering his conversation last night. "I guess we’ll only get married after I’m a little more familiar with Sou. I’ve been thinking that it would be nice if I learned your language. I mean most of your people can speak mine but I don’t want to be the odd one out. They shouldn’t have to cater to me all the time. After all, I’m the one going to become part of this town, not the other way around."
Piul nodded and motioned with his hand. "See? This is what I like about you. You’re really thinking on my brother’s behalf."
Hou Dong didn’t say anything to that. If he could, then naturally he would look out for Kanuen. Still, he also knew that this would take quite a bit of time. A language wasn’t learned in one day. And there were all those cultural aspects as well. Naturally, he didn’t doubt that Kanuen would tell him everything he wanted to know but … He also couldn’t only rely on him.
And other than that … Why shooting star? Was there some special meaning to that? Or maybe a special time? After all, he couldn’t imagine that Kanuen would leave something like that just up to luck, would he? Or maybe he didn’t regard it as luck but as fate?
Piul couldn’t help but notice Hou Dong’s thoughtful expression. "What? Are you pondering how you’re supposed to do it?"
Hou Dong sighed. "Not quite. Well, that as well but I’ve actually been wondering about … you know, the wedding. Is there some special date or something that would be suitable?"
"Why? You can’t wait any longer?"
Hou Dong shook his head. "No, that’s not it. I just … I can see that the customs of Sou are very important to your brother. Since we’ve decided to live here, I also don’t want to wrong him in regard to that."
Piul looked at Hou Dong, silently pondering. He also felt that this guy was pretty good. He really thought about these things. "There’s not really a special date for that kind of thing. You just marry when you feel like it."
"Just like that?"
Piul shrugged his shoulders. "Well, with our belief, isn’t that a given? Iana wouldn’t have let you meet and fall in love with each other if that wasn’t how it is supposed to be. So if you feel like marrying, then that must also be what Iana wants. At least that’s what almost everyone believes."
Hou Dong looked at this brother-in-law of his and raised his brows. "I always feel that although it’s like this for most people, you’re different. It sure makes me wonder. With your brother being your town’s priest, shouldn’t you be especially convinced of all this? Your parents accept it."
Piul leaned back, pushing the plate with the food away from him and sighed. "Maybe it’s that. Maybe I’m rejecting it especially because our parents are like that. You see, it’s also difficult for Kanuen. He grew up hearing Iana’s voice. He never thought that it was different for anybody else. When he found out, his role changed from one day to the other. That couldn’t have been easy to accept.
"He never talked about it but I feel that I could see it when we were younger. Especially since it wasn’t like it was just the other townspeople. Our parents as well. He went from being a normal child to being that special person. It makes me wonder if this kind of thing is good. If it was possible, I’d want Kanuen to be just like a normal person. Wouldn’t that be better?"
Hou Dong’s gaze softened. He almost wanted to tell him that right now, his brother really was a normal person. But he didn’t do so in the end. This was Kanuen’s own matter. Whether he wanted to tell somebody or not, it wasn’t his place to decide. "I guess it was hard in the beginning. But I feel that he’s gotten quite used to it."
Piul nodded. "He certainly did. I also don’t think he minds as much … I just can’t help but resent Iana a bit for this. It’s them who stole Kanuen’s childhood."
Hou Dong nodded but he didn’t know what else to say. He hadn’t been here at that time, he didn’t know how much of an impact it really had had on Kanuen. He could only say that he felt that Kanuen had been happy with his role as a priest before. Because if he hadn’t been, then instead of being worried when he lost his ability to communicate with his god, he would’ve been happy instead that he could return to being a normal person. So even if Kanuen hadn’t been happy in the beginning when he found out that this ability was special, Hou Dong felt that his lover still liked being a priest by now. Maybe he had gotten used to this kind of life and didn’t think about it any longer or maybe he had found something that made it worth to have this ability. He didn’t know but he was sure that Kanuen was alright with it.
Piul leaned forward again, propping up his elbows on the table and resting his chin on his hands. "Let’s not talk about that any longer. It’s depressing."
Hou Dong nodded and then glanced at Piul again, wondering if maybe he should just ask him. Anyway, he had nothing to lose, had he? It was still better to know than to just wait and be nervous all the time. "Yesterday, your brother mentioned something about shooting stars." He watched Piul’s face but there didn’t seem to be any surprise or something else hinting at a deeper meaning behind this.
Piul also just raised his brows. "Shooting stars? What about them?"
Hou Dong didn’t feel like saying the actual reason he was interested in that so he just shrugged his shoulders. "I was just wondering if there was some … Well, some special time for watching them?"
Piul looked at him and blinked his eyes. "Isn’t that the same everywhere? We do have the same sky, don’t we?"
Hou Dong’s lips twitched. "It’s the same sky alright but that doesn’t mean that you see the same patch of sky from everywhere. Anyway, I saw that there were stars in your temple as well so I thought they might have a special meaning in Sou?"
Piul shook his head. "Not more than anything else does. It’s said that Iana’s will is in everything around us and can be observed from it. Nature was shaped after their will and the same can be said for the stars. As for shooting stars … You can see them at random. Well, and there’s one night every few years where the whole sky will be full of them."
Hou Dong perked up at that. "Really? That sounds romantic. When would that happen the next time?"
Piul raised a brow. "Why? You want to take my brother out that night?"
Hou Dong laughed. "Well, I might have managed to convince him that I’m worth his time but there are still other men around. With how excellent your brother is, won’t they try to take him away? So I still have to make sure that he stays with me." He winked at Piul, only for him to roll his eyes at him. Hou Dong didn’t mind. "What about it? Is it still a long time until then?"
Piul pondered and then shook his head. "No, I think it should happen this year again."
"And when this year?"
"In half a year maybe? Or maybe it’s just five months. Anyway, not that long anymore. I can tell you before that."
Hou Dong nodded happily. "That would be nice." Anyway, he would still look up at the sky every night from now on just in case there might be a lone shooting star falling down.
Ah, thinking about it, Kanuen was a little sly, wasn’t the? Is there was really a shower of shooting stars half a year later, then at the very latest, they would get married then. But with a bit of luck, it might happen sooner. So he put things into the hands of fate but he couldn’t help but make sure on his own as well. It was … a little flattering.
Hou Dong and Piul ate in silence until the front door opened and Kanuen stepped back inside.
"You’re up already?"
Hou Dong nodded and got up, walking over to pull Kanuen into his arms. "I am. I hope I didn’t make too much trouble yesterday?"
Kanuen scrutinized his lover’s face as of trying to find something in there. In the end, he just kissed his cheek and walked past him. "Nothing of the like."
Hou Dong pressed down the corners of his lips and sat down next to him, putting an arm around his waist. He couldn’t help but want to tease him a little. Ah, really, who had given his lover the idea to tell him something like that while he was drunk? What if he hadn’t remembered? In that case, he should also let him suffer for a while. In the end, wouldn’t that also let him be able to prepare things secretly? Maybe that would add a layer of romance.
Kanuen didn’t say anything but he was indeed a little disappointed. He had already known yesterday that it was unlikely for Hou Dong to remember considering how drunk he was but there had been a sliver of hope. Having something they could look forward to … It would be nice. Well, now he could only wait for Hou Dong to bring it up again.
The two of them didn’t say anything about the matter from last night and just ate breakfast together before they headed out again, meeting up with Hou Dong’s men on the market square.
Most of the men looked as if their heads were hurting from yesterday’s feast. Kanuen laughed when he saw them like this. After spending several weeks with them, he felt that he knew them quite well. There hadn’t been a time like this before so this truly was a new side.
Hearing the bright laughter, Hou Dong’s men looked up with tightly furrowed brows, their faces not pleased at all. But seeing that the people who came to disturb them were actually their Master and his lover, their gazes softened. They couldn’t help but complain though.
"Aiya, can’t you see we’re already suffering? Do you have to laugh so loudly?"
Kanuen only chuckled and then looked up at Hou Dong who also had a teasing expression.
"Who told you to drink so much? You lot all came to toast me and now you’re the ones who are looking this hungover? What am I going to say?"
Duan Bao looked at their Master with a solemn expression. "Yeah, how come you’re still fine? Are you sure this isn’t some kind of spell Kanuen put on you? Maybe the priests of Sou can do something like this? If that’s the case, then you ought to help us as well. We’re all a big family, aren’t we?"
Kanuen chuckled. "You sure are. If I was able to do anything, then I would have done it already. I’m afraid you’ll have to live with this."
Hou Dong’s men grumbled while they continued to fasten their bags on their horses’ saddles, throwing looks in the direction of Hou Dong and Kanuen. After yesterday’s feast, they felt slightly better about leaving since they had seen that their Master would settle in this town well. They couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret though. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be changed.
Finally, the last item was secured and the men gathered in one big group around Hou Dong and Kanuen.
Shen Ling, who was supposed to lead them from now on, stood in the front and looked at Hou Dong with a complicated expression. "I’ll take care of them well."
"Mn. Bring all of them back here when you come to visit sometime."
"I will. Then you …" He glanced at Kanuen and gave a sigh. "Ah, what am I saying? Naturally, your life will be better than ours. Make the best out of it. When we come back here, we don’t want to hear even a single word of regret. Rub your happiness right in our faces!"
"That’s a given." Hou Dong pulled Kanuen close and then took one last look at all of his men. He deep breath and then motioned down the street. "Alright, it’s not getting any earlier. You guys get onto your horses and see that you make it out of here. There are still lots of adventures you can have."
Shen Ling nodded and then turned around, getting onto his horse. The others took another look at Hou Dong and Kanuen and then followed him in getting into their saddles.
The last one to stand in front of them was Sun Jin. He looked at them intently as if he wanted to make sure that he had committed their faces to memory. He clenched his hands tightly and raised his chin. "Next time … next time we come to visit, I’ll bring a beauty along!"
"Mn. Just make sure they’re not too beautiful or my brother-in-law might get jealous." Hou Dong laughed, reached out and patted Sun Jin’s shoulder. "Alright, get on the horse now. Listen to your brother Ling."
"I will." Sun Jin nodded, looked at Kanuen and nodded again before he got onto his horse as well.
Shen Ling sighed and then waved at the men. "Let’s go then."
All of them gave the two people standing on the market square a look and then they left Sou.
Hou Dong and Kanuen stood there, watching the group trail down the street and couldn’t help but sigh.
"What do you think they’ll do?"
Hou Dong laughed. "Knowing them, they’ll retrace our way back to Kai and see what happened to those merchants. Afterward, they’ll go on some adventures. I guess we won’t see them for a year or two, maybe even three."
"You’ll miss them."
"Mn, I will." Hou Dong didn’t hide it. He had lived with them for so many years, if he didn’t miss them, he’d need to have a heart of stone. "Now, I have a family though." He looked at Kanuen and kissed his temple. "Let’s go and do something fun."
"Alright. Let me take you outside. There are some places I haven’t shown you yet."
Kanuen took his lover’s hand and led him out of the town in the other direction, starting on this new phase of their life.