“Get back! Hosun’ke! Get back!”
One of the house guard—Masunme, if Kan didn’t miss his guess—had come along the alley from behind the beast. He held his sword in one hand and small, round shield in the other.
The monster turned its head back to look at the guard.
Masunme stood his ground. “Sir!” he shouted, “you must leave here at once! It is not safe!”
The sharpness of the order shook Kan out of his stunned state. He backed several steps away—slowly at first—as the tahn-chen swung its head to gaze first at one man and then the other. Its brow furrowed, an almost human expression, as if confusion was giving way to frustration or anger.
“Kan...” It rumbled the name once more. Its muzzle worked roughly, inarticulately dropping into a growl.
Shouts reverberated through the late afternoon air. More household guards appeared. Armed with swords, spears, and nets, they swiftly surrounded the beast. Masunme repeated, “Sir: go back to the palace! Now!”
Kan swallowed but did not wait to see how the confrontation resolved. Within ten minutes he was past the jade columns, through the towering mahogany doors, down the ancestors’ hall, and passing into the royal reception room. He brought himself up short as he saw his father—Lord Pohl, the niahn’si of Haulu Province—glance up sharply from his maps and papers. The towering man looked out from beneath black, bushy eyebrows with a falcon’s eye. While not in the same league as the beasts who worked on the Komasaru Plains in the royal fields, he stood twice as tall as the tallest man. The mark of royalty, the height and muscle and power, practically radiated from his countenance.
Kan quickly composed himself and slowed his gait to a more gentlemanly stride. His long robes swished around his ankles and sandaled feet. He swept a hand through his short, black hair, straightening it. He approached his lord, stopping ten paces away to lower his eyes. With a graceful bow, he descended to one knee and waited for permission to rise.