Chapter 2

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Darshan remained silent as he followed Hamish into the castle. Although he'd learnt the local language during the trip from his home on the other side of the continent to the Tirglasian capital of Mullhind, he wasn't entirely confident in himself to utter much coherently at the moment.

His father had also seen to it that he was briefed during the trip, but it had been in simple things, common customs alongside their current political and economic standings and the like. They'd even touched on a few cultural differences to help him avoid any major gaffes.

No one seemed to have had the wherewithal to prepare him for the introduction of the hulking man currently leading him through the castle corridors.

Confident his actions would be less obvious than his previous appraisal of the courtyard, he took another sweeping glance at Hamish. Tall, he'd wager a full foot more than himself, if not slightly more. Quite a bit of flesh on that frame, too. Muscle rather than fat, if those broad, brown shoulders and thick arms were any judge as to the state of the rest.

Even the man's hair didn't shirk at being big and bold. The whole glorious fiery, orange-red mass of coils had been gathered at the back of the man's head and, rather than hang down, it stuck out like a flag caught in a zephyr. Darshan could quite clearly picture sinking his fingers into those curls whilst—

No, he softly cautioned himself before his thoughts could meander into predictable places. You can't go doing that to yourself again. Nevertheless, his gaze indulgently slunk down the man's back, settling on Hamish's behind. He subtly unbuttoned the collar of his outfit. Behave. The gods might've had a sense of humour, sending him to the pit of the world then populating it with men like this, but he wasn't some savage with no self-control. You're here for a reason. He bit his lip and stifled a sigh. Sadly, that reason wasn't to sleep with the locals.

Not that such a minor detail had stopped him before. If this was anywhere other than Tirglas, he likely would've already propositioned the man. Perhaps even had a chance to feel what was under all that clothing.

"And here we are," Hamish announced, jolting Darshan out of his little fantasies.

Darshan scrutinised their surroundings. Nothing about the corridor suggested there was any difference to the rest of the castle they had walked through. It was all the same bare slabs of stone. Even the door Hamish gestured to sat part way down the corridor instead of at the end, which it would've done had Darshan ventured into the guest wing back home. How ever did the people get around without becoming altogether lost?

Hamish faced him as he opened the door to what Darshan could only assume to be the guest accommodations. "I doubt it's quite what you're used to, your imperial highness, but it'll be better than a ship's cabin."

Offering up a small smile, Darshan casually leant on the doorframe in a vain attempt at pretending his legs hadn't just weakened at the mere sound of the man's smooth brogue. At least he had gained a little more control over himself. Having his mind go blank on all bar one subject had been mildly mortifying, especially over a simple greeting. Get a grip. This man was likely married, with children. What an utter waste. Still, his father had made his stance on Darshan's dalliances with already-spoken-for men quite plain.

"It might be a wee while before you get your land legs back." One side of Hamish's beard twitched as the corner of his lips lifted with amusement. "I'd take it carefully for the rest of the day if I were you."

Before now, Darshan hadn't seen many thick beards. Not that men around Minamist didn't grow full beards if they so chose, but they were typically on much older men. Yet here... all the men seemed to sport one, be they working on the docks or guarding the castle. It somewhat served to make him feel a little underdressed, with his carefully-groomed moustache and goatee. None of his tutors had mentioned anything pertaining to an expected look.

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