The War

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The palace's gates opened and a single horse strutted in. It wasn't what I expected. I expected a parade, a celebration marching in, not a quiet welcome for the crown prince. I ran to the gates to see if I missed the entire company. Perhaps more men tailed behind him that I couldn't see. I was immediately met with disappointment. Prince Wang Jian was alone.

"Where's my brother, where's lord Chanshin?"

His eyes softened. "You're always so worried, if you keep like that, you'll age before your time."

I stared at him helplessly, this is hardly the time for light-hearted comments. I knew this was his way of easing me to calmness, but I simply cannot afford to let my uneasiness go until I get my answer.

He loosened a breath. "Yuanji is at the Yi manor along with Chanshin. Jungjie is there as well, and so are your parents."

I let out a breath of relief.

"Do you feel any better now?" He inquired.

"Thank you. Thank you for freeing my brother from the Sui's." I murmured.

"I did it for you." He said and dismounted down from his horse.

I had not expected any form of affection from the prince, having considered our farewell from a few days ago, a melancholic sent off when the prince pulled me into his chest and swallowed me in his embrace. "You have got to be the most expensive bride a man could have ever invested."

"Huh?" My chin lifted, searching for what he meant. The prince studied his unrelenting gaze, this time he didn't sway, he didn't avoid any awkward eye contact that might have stayed a little too long. He held my stare.

"My p-prince?" I stumbled for my words.

"I asked for your hand in marriage, He Lian."

My mouth dropped eager to hear more.

"They agreed to it." He smiled.

"My p-prince...I'm so happy." I stammered. After what he did for me, to go out there and help rescue the eldest brother, I would marry him even without any settlement for my family. "I would marry you no matter."

"Afraid it's not that easy for us. On normal days, I probably would have just kidnapped you and made you my bride. But you are noble, there are certain protocols nobles and royals must abide. It just so happened your one woman I don't think I could live without." He held me closer. "You had no idea how you barged into the palace unannounced and made me fall in love."

I let out a muffled laugh. "They said you fell in love at first sight."

"Remind me to choke Chanshin when he gets back, no one dares embarrass a prince like that." I could tell even without a glance; the prince was red as a tomato.

"My prince, when do you think I could see my family?"

"This is a difficult time right now. Your brothers are preparing for war and it's not safe for you to leave the palace. This is your home now, He Lian. I am to be your husband, I can protect you more if you're with me. Come..." Jian released me from his embrace and held my hand instead. I found comfort in the way his strong hand held mine. It made me feel safe, loved, and at home. Strange and fast as it was, I never felt this way and I enjoyed it. I liked the feeling being held by my future husband. This time, by the man I love.

"Let's talk more once we're inside." He continued.

I found out later that evening, once Jian settled in and got cleaned that my hand in marriage cost the prince the lives of seventy thousand men. I told Jian I'm hardly worth the life of any of those men, but Jian told me not to let it corrupt my mind. Those men will gladly go to war for the cause of the southern kingdom. They will follow whatever their crown prince tells them.

"B-but..."

"Hush, my princess. Let's not talk about it anymore. I rushed home to be with you and this is the last conversation I want to have."

I nodded. "My apologies if I troubled you too much, my prince."

"I could understand your worry." He said and kissed my forehead. Jian pushed up from the bed, this had been his first time in my chamber as he made the tension in the room stiff. The sexual tension between us was strong and each touch he made, made my skin prickle with needle-like ache. Every nerve in the body was aware of him.

I could hardly focus, and I wondered whether Jian felt the same way?

Within the next week, thirty thousand men deployed north, then another twenty thousand a week later, the remaining twenty followed afterward. His men were to be led by Jungjie and lord Chua Chanshin in the battlefield. The war had finally commenced, after months of twilight.

I found out eldest brother Yuanji accompanied lord Chua Chanshin in his battles, while the new head of the Changi clan took charge of his men. Elder brother Jungjie took the greatest number of men with him. He attacked and claimed the bigger and heavier armed camps of the Sui kingdom while leaving the rest for the Changi clan.

By the fourth month, the alliance between the southern kingdom, the north, and the Changi clan remained strong. They managed taking over the stronghold of the Sui clan. They held hostages and kept the high-ranking officials - mostly nobles - from the Sui kingdom for hostages.

Elder brother Jungjie was not a newcomer, he'd proven himself capable in the field. And with the eldest brother Yuanji's brain, they were well ahead of schedule and always a step ahead of the Sui army. The alliance took over forty percent of the land in a very short time.

While my brothers and thousands of men are busy slaughtering each other, I remained in the palace with Jian. It had been four months passed since our betrothal. Jian had made good with his words, seventy thousand men and continuous supply of ration to keep the men fed, and arms to replenish their weapons.

Jian stayed in the palace. There was no need for him in the battle-field with lord Chua Chanshin taking care of his affair.

"Jian." I murmured as I walked inside his private office. He'd been staying here more and more as the stressful months of war passed.

Lives lost, money flying out the window...I wouldn't doubt my betroth was overstretched. I doubt the palace could even spare a lavish wedding for their crown prince at this point.

His eyes lifted from the mountain of paperwork his nose was buried on. "He Lian."

"Come out of your office for once. I worry about you."

"Worry not, my princess. This is nothing new to me."

I walked around the table and settled on his lap. Jian placed his hand on my thigh and kissed my neck.

I knew how my company could put him at ease. "You shouldn't bury your nose in too much work, you'll make yourself sick."

"Oh yeah? I dare disagree, I think I know what it is." He crooned. "I think someone is desperate for attention."

"Oh please," my eyes rolled, my head on his shoulder. "If I want your attention, I think I know how to get it."

He licked his dry lips wet. "Oh, do you now?"

"Yes, I do. It's not that hard." I shifted my hips on his leg, placing my hand coordinately on his leg and that was enough to prove what I meant.

"Perhaps, we should talk about the wedding." He groaned, his voice strained to try to control his suddenly awakened urges. "Before I wind up taking you right here, right now."

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