Kaen grinned at his half-brother. The younger man had invaded Kaen's rooms earlier, suffering from an acute case of nerves. "Min bror, one does not let L'u-cif-er Be'eth Maran do anything. She acts on her own."
Zhazar looked up, his face a mask of desperation. "You're Head of House, Kaen. Can't you send them all away? Tell them it was a mistake?"
"And insult five of Byshen's premiere Houses. I think not, Zhazar."
"Then tell them I'm too young to be married," Zhazar flopped back on the bed. "Tell them anything. Just make them go away."
"Don't do that," Kaen murmured absently. "You'll wrinkle your skkya." He frowned as he tied the braided silk cord of his loose trousers at his waist. Was Zhazar too young? The boy was seventeen, the usual age for shthor, but in his eagerness to rid himself of the duties of Head of House was he pushing Zhazar too hard?
"Stop worrying, minn bror."
Kaen looked in the mirror and met his brother's reflected gaze. The young man's eyes were more tawny than gold and his coloring and build were his mother's, but there was no mistaking the resemblance between the half-brothers.
Zhazar slid off the bed, coming to Kaen's side to smooth a wrinkle from the man's sleeveless overjacket. "I'm not really too young. I want to find someone. It's just now that they're here...." His words trailed off. Kaen waited. "I mean," Zhazar started again. "Well, what if none of them like me? What if the one they're interested in is the Heir, not Zhazar? " He seemed very young and vulnerable in that moment.
Kaen turned Zhazar to face him, forcing the boy to look at him. "They will like you Zhazar. And maybe you will love one of them. But if you don't, it's all right. You needn't choose this week. Or this month. Or even a year from now. Find someone you can love and respect. Find elska if you can."
The young man shook his head. "I don't want elska." Seeing his older brother's arrested expression, he said, "Elska would...." He tried again to find the words. "I don't want anyone to know me that way. It would hurt too much if something were to happen, if she were to die before me, or I her. I will be happy if I can find affection." Zhazar looked up at Kaen. "Is that why you haven't married, Kaen? You're waiting for elska?"
Kaen stepped back, his face shuttered. "No," he said. His tone was brusque. "I'm not looking for elska."
Zhazar opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Kaen said, "It's growing late. We need to go and meet our guests."
Zhazar drew a deep breath and released it. "All right. Let's see these girls Mother thinks are good matches. I hope she at least picked one who's good to look at."
Kaen smothered a laugh at Zhazar's martyred expression and followed him out of the rooms. He had spent nearly as much time pouring over the candidates' files as Maran had. While none of the girls were to his particular taste, all being far too young for one thing, they were all quite attractive.