The nights fell early now that autumn had come to the wide plains. The chill in the air promising a harsh winter, but tonight at least there was no rain. A light breeze danced through the treetops, brushing the tips of the long, wild grasses in the meadow behind the Allies camp.
In daylight it had been beautiful with sweet meadow flowers and the smell of wild grass, with the mountains towering high above them. Though not as high as Da Huang Mountain he was sure. The legendary place of magnificent pines, healing hot springs and waterfalls...righteous heroes and ancient tribes.
The birthplace of Lord Kunlun, king of Shangbei.
Tonight was a night for celebration and Shen Wei felt mellow and warm, stretched out amid the grasses with only the stars as their witness. They listened to the wind and the constant chatter of the cicadas, watching the torches in the distance, the smoke and flickering flames of the small fires back in the camp, just noticeable over the ridge.
It would be the first time they could rest in weeks, with no crisis to manage, no battle strategy to master or a dawn raid to command. Their enemy had over stretched themselves and their forces, leaving this area barely protected. It had not been particularly difficult to use the resources of the Allies and the willingness of the men and women sworn to fight, to free those held captive in another of the temporary prisons. The Dixingian Army had risen to the challenge and with Allies, they had triumphed.
Together with Kunlun, he had led a sizable force, siphoning them into smaller groups to move them past the watching forces, on the Western front. Buoyed by past victories, they followed and in three days had destroyed nine of the enemy's outposts. Thirty one enemy prisoners were now held captive and many more had died at the hands of the army and Shen Wei himself.
Behind them, over the ridge and into the camp, the Allies were having a riotous celebration with music and dancing. He could vaguely hear the lyrics and guessed the song was one of the more traditional Yashou dances.
He smiled in the darkness at the light rustle beside him and focuses his attention on the man lying beside him.
Lord Kunlun. A man of legend and glory in his own right.
Long dark hair flowed down a strong back, a lean body born from years of martial training and war sprawled over his own. A face of chiseled beauty, with a full mouth framed by a short neatly trimmed beard. The sweet, fierce joy of it steals his breath. All he cherishes in this life is lying in his arms, docile for now but he has no doubt that in a few minutes more, Kunlun will be thinking of the bed they could be sharing. In a tent away from prying eyes.
His fingers lovingly play with the intricate beads woven into his hair, rejoicing in the warm weight resting against his side and he smiles too in love for words, when those eyes of obsidian stared up at him. Kunlun huffs a laugh and Shen Wei thinks to himself, this is what he will die for.
As the less favored son, he had been sent to war at fifteen. Thrown into a world of hardship and never ending battle, with letters sent through the war effort lines, back to the Imperial Palace. Each missive carefully worded, a report veiled as a letter from a son to his mother.
His twin wrote long letters in reply, twisting his heart as each one was filled with his little brother's pain. War then grievous injury had returned his sensitive brother to the Palace, where he was groomed as the successor to the throne. A role he thought, that suited his Didi. Clever, kind and yet ruthless when he chose a course of action...Ye Zun would be a proud Emperor one day, when their mother passed.
He often thought of her, out here in the plains miles from Dixing. She had married an Emperor, a man who ruled with an iron fist. She sat at his side, guiding his hand and gave him twin sons a year after they married. Beautiful, cunning and wise, his mother was truly the Mother of an Nation.
His father's death had meant a new ruler. His father's half-brother who thought nothing of exiling the Empress and both of her sons to the outer regions. Plague had killed him within five years and his mother, ruthless in her scheming had paved the way for her own succession. She suppressed political revolts and used both of her children to create stability, declaring herself ruler until one of her sons was fit and of age.
Stability was what the nation craved and the court however much they might loathe his mother, needed an Emperor in name, to keep afloat. Ye Zun would soon be Emperor and this had placated the traditionalists, who were well aware that plague had taken the lives of nearly all of the royal family. There was no one else if his mother did not rule and in the middle of a war, they needed that leadership.
It had helped he thought, that his mother's cunning mind had brought them to this point. A warrior with foxfire eyes, did the rest. Victory would not be his mother's glory. It would be Kunlun's.
The war with Southern Haixing had dragged on for seventeen years, displacing thousands of innocent people. The death toll was staggering and victory short lived. Ghost General. That was the name they gave him, after carving a way through the enemy defenses, relentless and fierce.
He would have died three weeks ago, if not for Kunlun. The moment they met, when Kunlun's forces engaged the enemy with greater numbers, the rage of the 'barbarian' tribes overwhelming the front-lines. Kunlun had fired the arrow that had saved his life, ending the enemy General as he stood over Shen Wei.
All he wanted in return was a smile.
A small animal likely a fox darted through the trees, but Shen Wei kept one hand on his saber should it prove a human threat to Kunlun. When nothing else stirred he relaxed back into the grass.
Here there was no time, in this endless moment with only the moon above them. The ink black of the vast world above them, glittering with the light of the stars was well worth the chill in the air.
He watched as Kunlun reached out and plucked one of the grasses, twisted and broken from being used as a makeshift bed. He twirled it as if it was a knife, his smile bright and amused. Shen Wei pulled the cloak back over them both before the chill could reach tender skin.
As he shifted, their bared skin slid together and a shiver of arousal never fully banked stirred in Shen Wei. He felt the slightest sting from the marks Kunlun had left down his hips and thighs, lingering bruises long gone by tomorrow, an impression of teeth on his inner thigh that Shen Wei loved.
The air was cold but he could still smell the scent of sex over the grasses and the green bamboo that clung to Kunlun's skin.
Callused hands picked the loose grasses from Kunlun's long wild hair and he pressed a kiss to one shoulder, partially bared to show off Shen Wei's own marks. Here, in this moment there was no war. Beneath the shade of this old tree, hidden by the grasses and the moon that dipped in and out of the clouds, they were in their own world.
A world of no pain, no loss and only the beat of Kunlun's heart mattered to him here.
Kunlun lay back leaving his side to stare up at the sky, those foxfire depths staring into the darkness as if searching for something. Without his fur-lined jerkin his neck was bare, robes untied as the scent of them hovered in the air. For months, the sight of his collar, the lapels loose and unfolded in way that the courtiers would find indecent, with the way it exposed his elegant collarbones and a hint of his chest...it had driven him to distraction far too many times.
Shen Wei turned onto his side, staring down at the face of the man who had inspired an army, pulled them from the ashes to forge a new future. Kunlun appeared in his world when he stood at his lowest, dreading another battle where more of his men would die. Almost single-handed with vision and a fire burning in his soul that mesmerized Shen Wei, Kunlun had pulled him and the rest of them, from despair's depths to the greatest triumph; a end to the war and the beginning of peace.
"Shěn Wéi." He said to sky, drawing out the syllables, the second tone in his voice sounding more like the mountains, it was to represent. The Shen family before they were rulers had been a mountain people, until Shen Bo brought together a rebellion four hundred years ago. Together written his name meant mountain ghost an irony since he was in love with a man from towering peaks in the North.
"No," Kunlun said to the stars with a raised finger, "I really think Wéi is weak. The Ghost King of the battlefield is so strong!"
It was Kunlun so Shen Wei simply blinked at him. If Kunlun thought his name was weak, then it was. Ye Zun would have been offended, the hint that he was shaming his ancestors too vile not to lash out. His mother would have been equally offended, a name given by his father the former Emperor.
"How about...I add more strokes to the character?"
Baffled, Shen Wei tilted his head to stare at his love. "More strokes?" He asked disbelievingly.
"Ah yes." Kunlun tucked his arms behind is head, his chest stretching with the movement catching Shen Wei's complete attention for a moment, before he looked into amused obsidian eyes. "The world is made up of water and mountains," He said his hand stroking the air for emphasis.
"Those towering endless mountains are like out life journeys. We have to move forward with out burdens on our shoulders," He looked at Shen Wei almost sadly, "With no end in sight."
Shen Wei stared at him breathlessly. Bewitched by those eyes and the kiss-bitten red of his mouth, his words resonating in his chest like the chords of a guqin.
"How about," Kunlun said again, "Shěn..."
Oh how he loved the way that voice wrapped around his name, the syllables conforming to Kunlun's will as his body had minutes ago.
"Wēi". The first tone was followed by his finger rising into the air. "How is it?"
Shen Wei looked at Kunlun's braided hair and said "Shěn...Wēi." Kunlun's voice joined his with a smile and he laughed softly.
"Since it's the name given by Kunlun," He said with a soft laugh of his own, his eyes shining. "Of course I love it."
"From today onward," Whether his family agreed or not, "My name is...Shěn Wēi." Again Kunlun said the first tone with him, a gentle finger pointed at him.
"It's a fitting name for an Emperor." Kunlun said with a smile.
"I don't want to Emperor." He refuted with a laugh.
No. He wanted to leave this war behind him when peace finally came to this land. He could see it now, the end of the war, the disarmament and the shaky first steps of quiet. He imagined leaving the Palace and traveling to the North.
One of his earliest memories was of seeing his mother sitting beside and slightly lower than then Emperor, whose face he could barely recall. He wanted that. To sit at Kunlun's side, his Chieftain's side and join the tribe who had welcomed him into their midst, uncaring he was a Royal Prince.
He yearned for the peace, the quiet of the mountain and the honest hard-working care of the people who looked at Kunlun as their leader. He could learn healing from the Yashou and spend each and every day with Kunlun.
Kunlun rolled over and leaned into him, propped on one elbow. Shen Wei's hands came up immediately to cradle that thin waist and caress his ribs, sighing as Kunlun's thigh intentionally rubbed against his own. "I have something you might want then," He said with that beautiful smile.
"You?" He asked innocently, offering himself, all of him to his mountain Chieftain, parting his legs so Kunlun to slide in-between. Heat was building in his core, want fanning the flames.
Kunlun pulled something from his pocket and held his closed fist above his head. His eyes were dark, gentle and almost nervous...but that could not be. Kunlun was fearless, with words and with actions.
The fist opened slightly and a pendant fell to dangle from one strong finger. "....This comes from my mother's necklace."
It was an orb of fire, brilliant warm jade sculpted into a sphere held by silver and leather. Flames seem to flash in the precious stone, and Shen Wei's hand rose to touch the surface, warm from Kunlun's heat.
"I want you to have it." Kunlun said softly. "Wear it for me?"
A symbol of belonging, something for him to wear and carry a piece of his love for all time. Yes. He wanted to say, forever and always but a tingling sensation came over him, darkness receding.
In panic he clutched Kunlun closer, never wanting to leave. "Kunlun!"
His eyes snapped open to autumn dawn, a soldier awoken by a noise he vaguely recognized. The sun was invisible behind the curtains, throwing the room into shadow, but frantically his hand searched the bed for Kunlun, feeling for his phantom warmth and that intoxicating scent.
He was alone.
The bed was cold and lingering on the pillow was the faint scent of bamboo.
Pain exploded in his chest as it always did, singing along his nerves with the bitter truth that for the moment at least Kunlun was gone his grasp.
Grief held him in a vise grip and he closed his eyes against the unwanted burn of tears.
Blinking to chase away the vestiges of sleep, Shen Wei sat up gazing round the wide bed, seeing the vague outline of his indigo embroidered covers and the wide curtains around the bed frame. The silk was cool to the touch and only his long years of wartime training kept the crushing disappointment from his face.
Beyond the curtain, still bowing was Wu Tian'en, the quiet head of his Imperial household, come to wake him for the morning court session.
"Your Majesty, your appearance is begged in court." Old Wu said formally.
"I will be there in a moment." Shen Wei said directly, his tone brooking no argument. The shadows hid the tears threatening to fall, not that he would allow them, allow the break in his composure.
The grief was raw and heavy in his in his chest, tightening his throat even as he pulled his white silk inner robes aside, to caress the yellow jade pendant nestled between his collarbone. Just above his heart.
Kunlun. Where are you?