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A Stranger's Embroilment.

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Turns out he couldn't rest as much as he wanted to. It was something like 7am when a maid knocked at his door to wake him up with breakfast on a platter and a message from Basen, telling him to meet with his father before 8am - as he would be having meetings upon meetings until late in the night, as Thursdays were usually busy days.

When he finished his meal and got fully dressed, a young looking butler showed up to lead him to the count's office. His chatter did nothing to appease Choi Han's nerves as the sun timidly shone through the numerous windows.

The doors to the count's office were pretty normal looking, all things considered: simple, dark brown double doors with delicate gravures representing a turtle. He had seen it several times more in this place, so Choi Han assumed the people living here either loved the animal or it was the symbol of their family. Probably the latter, even if it was nice to think if it could be the former.

The butler knocked on the door and opened the door soon after, gesturing for Choi Han to enter. The room was on the medium side, with a large oak desk and several bookshelves along the walls. The count, an older man with brown hair streaked with gray, was sitting behind it, gaze focused on Choi Han like a hawk's on its prey. Basen's older brother, Cale, was standing to his side, papers in hand as if he had been helping his father.

"You're the young man Basen helped yesterday." The count said. It was stated matter de-facto, as if it was a regular occurrence for the man to deal with his youngest son's impromptu guests.

"I can't thank him enough." Choi Han said, bowing slightly. "And you as well, for allowing me to stay the night."

"Well, it cannot be said that the Henituse are bad hosts." Cale chuckled, earning himself a fond gaze from his father.

"My son said you had some business with me." Again, a direct statement, as if asking was unnecessary.

"The village I lived in had been attacked by an armed group and, while I buried them as best as I could, I would like to request for them to be properly buried and for a funeral to be held for them. Those were brave people and deserve to have a proper rest in the afterlife."

"You're a good child." The count smiled sadly, shoulders sagging down lightly as if those deaths were heaving him down. "What did you say the village's name was?" Finally a question, as the man pulled up a blank sheet of paper and a small map of the territory.

"Harris Village, sir." Choi Han said.

There was an immediate reaction as the name left his lips, the count freezing mid-action and Cale losing the small smile he had on his face. A touchy subject, perhaps?

"Cale. Leave." The count said without looking at his son, his gaze fixated on Choi Han who sweated slightly at the steel in the man's eyes. Cale obeyed without saying anything, the door closing behind him silently as if he was nothing but a ghost.

"Did I say something wrong?" Choi Han asked, feeling like he made a mistake.

"... no." Was the answer, the count passing a hand on his face, sporting a rather tired expression, now. "Cale's mother died on her way to Harris Village, a long time ago and he is still emotional about it. I prefer he doesn't get upset by staying."

Choi Han only nodded, not quite understanding but empathizing with the young man.

"Everyone died." Choi Han added, not quite knowing what else to say. "I killed the bandits that did it but didn't bother burying them. They were all wearing the same kind of clothes, though. Black with stars as a symbol."

"Stars...?" The count muttered, looking down at his papers and Choi Han couldn't see his expression clearly.

"Yes. I can't describe it better. I... I wasn't in the right state of mind when I killed them and then... well... I didn't really want to look at what was left of the bodies."

This earned him a piercing gaze as the count looked him up and down properly. The silence stretched uncomfortably between them and Choi Han was beginning to think he probably should have left out the fact he minced the bandits into unrecognisable parts.

"Right..." The count sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Young man, if I could ask something of you in return: could you go to the Capital and inform the Seneschal about it? There have been a few incidents in the kingdom about black robbed bandits and it could be useful for them to learn about Harris Village's fate."

"If you're sure about it." Choi Han replied, a bit hesitant. He didn't know if someone in the Capital would really care much about a small village so close to the Forest of Darkness.

"Call it gut instinct, young man. You can rest in Rain city for a few days, to regain your strengths and in the meantime, I will write a letter of recommendation, so you can go straight to the Seneschal's office."

A knock behind them and the door opening cut their conversation short, as an old looking butler passed his head in the opening.

"The director of the weaver guild is here for her appointment."

"Thank you Fedor. Choi Han, thank you for warning me. Your village will be in good hands."

"Thank you sir. Really." Choi Han bowed, slightly feeling like he was ushered outside more than anything, but the count was indeed a busy man, as he could see a line of people starting to form outside.

Choi Han was shown the door, given a pouch of money and recommended a good inn before he was all but shoved outside politely. He understood why, of course. As a stranger and someone who was graciously given the opportunity to talk to the count without prior engagement, he had no other reasons to stay inside of the estate, even if he would have liked to thank Basen once again.

Truly, he didn't know what had taken the boy to help him, especially given the state he had been in when they met but Choi Han would be eternally grateful for him. Rare were the people willing to blindly trust someone they found in an alley, and rarer those who would bring them to their house. For the boy that showed him the kindness of a saint, Choi Han was deeply indebted.

If the occasion ever presented itself, he would do anything for him.

Still, he couldn't ignore the count's [demand] after the kind gesture he demonstrated by allowing a funeral to be performed for the inhabitants of Harris Village. With the thought that, after he regained his strength, he would be set for the Capital, Choi Han felt slightly better with himself. Having a goal, something to focus on and look forward to was infinitely better than wallowing in self-pity with nothing to tether him to the real world.

____________________

A knock at the door shook him from the trance he got into while sharpening his sword. He frowned slightly, not expecting anyone to come see him. Setting the stone and sword aside, Choi Han got up from the bed, quickly fixing his clothes so he looked more presentable.

Opening the door, he was confused to see the youngest son of the count.

“Young sir Basen?” He asked, confusion written over his face. ‘What are you doing here?’ he doesn’t say but thinks pretty loudly.

“Hello Choi Han. Mind if I take a few moments of your time?” The young boy smiled at him, slightly leaning forward in a way that could only mean he wanted to enter the room. Not one to refuse anything from his benefactor, Choi Han stepped aside to let the boy in, getting slightly more confused when the noble asked for his knight to go downstairs and wait for him there.

"I asked father if I could be the one giving you the letter or recommendation." Basen said, pulling out an envelope from his coat pocket. "How is your ankle?"

"Pretty much healed." Choi Han answered, taking the envelope and glancing at the turtle on the sealed wax. "A few days' rest did wonders."

"Good. That's good to hear." Basen sighed before shifting on his feet, as if hesitating to say something.

"If… I could do anything for you to repay my debt.." Choi Han said to break the uncomfortable atmosphere, receiving a complicated gaze from the young noble.

"Anything…?" Basen said, nibbling at his lower lip before he looked at the door as if someone was going to enter abruptly.

"I owe you so much, for helping me, feeding me, giving me the opportunity to let my friends rest properly. Ask and I will do it."

Basen looked at him once more with steel in his gaze before he took a deep breath and muttered something about third-party.

"I want to make sure you won't regret it. Will you do anything if I asked you to?"

"Absolutely." Choi Han was firm in his resolve, not backing away from his words.

"Then… I want you to kidnap my older brother."

….

Huh?!