(Chapter One of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter One: Princess of Light
Eight years after the war
The sun was bright and shining that spring day. The vast grounds behind the castle were a lush green, little spring flowers beginning to sprout, their petals like little, coloured lights in the grass. The sky was a bright blue as the sun shone from a cloudless sky. It was warm without being stifling as the spring wind was like a brief, warm hug before moving on.
The castle itself stood big and tall, its pale, grey stones like a beacon in the lands, light reflecting off the impressive structure. Like a large rectangle, the castle was a massive square in the centre, two long wings flinging to its sides like large arms blocking view of the beautiful fields behind it and the wonders of the world before it. Surrounding the castle was a tall, stone wall, protecting all within, and guards visible from their positions atop as they monitored all those below.
Beyond the back fields, past the protecting wall was a small valley, accessibly but a slight slope down from the walls. At the bottom of the valley stood a young man in loose-fitting, black paji, his feet encased in fitted, soft leather. He wore a white, fitted, sleeveless shirt tucked into his paji, showing a lean but strong frame as he seemed to be pushing and pulling nothing at all.
Eyes closed, his dark hair falling forward over his face as he tilted his head down, the left side of his head shaved close to the skull. Suddenly, his right foot came forward as his entire body shifting its weight as he moved his hands, which were open and side-by-side from the left-side of his torso to in front of him. The grass then parted as if driven apart by an invisible force, the effect going as far as a few metres before him. When he straightened his stance, he sighed heavily, bringing the back of his hand to wipe the perspiration from his forehead and then drying his hand on a pant leg.
He turned to look at his companion who sat on the soft slope of the hill that led back to the castle, “I don’t feel like I’m getting any better,” he admitted as he walked the short distance to her side and slowly sat down beside her.
His companion was a few years younger than him. Clad in a simple dress of sage green, she had her knees pulled up, her arms wrapped around her legs, her black flats peeking from beneath the hem of her dress. Her dark hair was pulled back to the nape of her neck and simply tied, much like the rest of her appearance: simple.
“I’m sure that it extended at least another inch,” she offered, tone solemn as her eyes danced mischievously.
“Minx,” he murmured as he pushed back his hair from his face, the shaven part of his skull denoting his station.
“Sungmin, you’re lucky that you can even practice your magic,” she reminded then, “What I would give to be able to practice mine.”
“I would gladly train you if your brother allowed it,” Sungmin shrugged as he leaned back against the slope, propped up on his elbows,
“One day I will have freedom and then I can do as I please,” she declared in mock-hauteur, “And then you can train me.”
He looked at her a moment, seeing her eyes shine. He suppressed a sigh as he stated softly, “Taeyeon, your brother is king. He’ll always rule over you one way or another. Also, because he’s king, even if there were a way you were free from his rule, I am most certainly never free from it.”
“You’re the Mage of the Light. I’m sure you could just scare him or something,” she stated even though she knew he would never use his magic as such. Besides, they had this very conversation several times over the years of their friendship.
“I’m a lesser mage,” He reminded, rubbing the shaved part of his hair for emphasis, “I’ve still got a long way to go before your brother can even consider depending on me for my magic.”
“Mage or lesser mage, you’re still the only one in the kingdom,” she scoffed,
“That’s because the few people who are blessed with the magic are afraid to use it. The last mages the kingdom had… well,” he tilted his head back and closed his eyes, seemingly relishing the warm sun and gentle wind.
“Sometimes, I wish my brother were his old self,” Taeyeon stated quietly, leaning her chin forward to rest on her knees, “Before he was king and when he was just my brother.” She paused a moment before adding, “He was always so happy and free. There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t see his smile or hear his laugh. Now… I can’t remember the last time I thought him just a bit happy.”
“He’s been king for fifteen years… that’s a long time to be unhappy,” Sungmin said simply.
Taeyeon said nothing, staring ahead at nothing. She still remembered the day she was told her parents were gone and would never come back. She had been six and didn’t understand what her nanny or the advisors were telling her. She didn’t understand why her brother was so silent, refusing to leave her side or let go of her hand. She didn’t understand why everyone was crying and angry. She didn’t understand until the morning she was dressed in a black dress and stood before two large, golden boxes called coffins and was told her parents were in there. She didn’t understand for a long time that she would never see her parents again.
“Min,” she began tentatively, using the diminutive of his name instinctively,
“Mmm?” He replied, now lying completely on the slope, his arms crossed over his chest as his eyes remained closed,
“Have you ever been to the Dark Kingdom? The castle, I mean,” she inquired,
“A long time ago. I was just a boy and it was before the war,” he answered, his tone suggesting he was close to falling asleep, practicing for hours, always inducing sleep in the young man.
“What was it like? Do you remember?”
“Hardly anything. Nothing notable or spectacular. It was just a castle like yours. Well, not exactly, but nothing amazing,” he replied,
“I heard that it was made of black stone and thick, thorny vines grew all over its walls,” Taeyeon said,
Sungmin chuckled, “No, nothing so fantastical. It was just a normal castle.” He opened his eyes and turned his head enough to look at her, “My, you do have some strange ideas about the Dark Kingdom.”
“But… it’s what I’ve heard,” she defended, “Besides, they’re all bad people; I don’t think it’s so farfetched to think some dark things about them.”
“Regardless of the darkness in their souls, I don’t think you should insult the castle,” Sungmin mused, “After all, it was people of the Dark who built your castle.”
Taeyeon’s eyes widened in surprise, “What? No one’s ever told me that!”
“You’ll find it in any history book,” Sungmin insisted, “Legend has it that when the kingdoms were finally settling down and selecting the places for their courts, as a gift to the King of the Light, the Dark King gifted him with this castle. Apparently he used his own magic to do it.”
“But… but isn’t that dangerous? I mean, it means we’re living in a place made from their magic! From the Dark! It could –”
“You’re overreacting again,” Sungmin chided gently, “This happened hundreds of years ago when both kingdoms were intertwined and, simply put, friends. I’m sure there are a few things in the Dark Kingdom with Light origins.” He sat up then, “Despite what’s happened in recent decades, there was a time when the Dark Kingdom wasn’t… well, so bad.”
“What happened? Why did they…” Taeyeon trailed off until she was able to lamely add, “go bad?”
Sungmin watched her a moment, knowing what she originally wanted to ask. Finally, he answered simply with a slight shrug of his shoulders, “Perhaps the darkness within grew to be too strong. In all honesty, despite all that’s happened, I do not hate the Dark Kingdom. If anything, I feel sad for them.”
“Sad? But they killed my parents!” Taeyeon exclaimed angrily,
“Because the darkness grew too strong. They cannot help what is in their souls, what they are born to be. It could have easily been the Light Kingdom who murdered their monarchy, their souls just gave in before ours could,” Sungmin shrugged, “It’s the reason why we avoid the night as much as possible: they may be borne to the darkness, but we are easily susceptible to it when the sun is down. It’s also why no one uses their magic if they’re blessed with Light – they don’t want to become manic.”
“I suppose…” Taeyeon murmured, slowly soothing her earlier anger,
“It’s the whole concept of balance,” Sungmin continued, knowing he couldn’t allow her to continue on in life in ignorance of the kingdoms’ history; “The Light and Dark balance one another. Those of the Light are susceptible to evil and taint when it is night and are prone to mania from too much Light. Those of the Dark are horribly weakened when the moon disappears from the sky and are in danger of evil and depression from too much Dark.”
“I’m starting to wonder if I want to practice my magic at all,” Taeyeon admitted,
“It’s all about balance and I didn’t say all this to stop you from practicing, I just want you to understand balance and that it could’ve easily been our kingdom to descend first,” Sungmin said,
“But it wasn’t, it was theirs and it was my parents who were murdered,” Taeyeon muttered angrily, turning her gaze away;
“You’re not the only orphan,” Sungmin murmured as he slowly laid back down.
“Sometimes I wish –”
Taeyeon and Sungmin looked back up the hill as a young guard came running towards them, pulling a long sword out and point it at Sungmin’s nose. Sungmin rolled his eyes as he slowly sat up, the sword’s point following his nose.
“What are you doing!?” Taeyeon cried,
“Princess, you shouldn’t be alone! Who knows what he could do!” The young guard stated, puffing out his chest and narrowing his eyes at the lesser mage.
“Put down your sword!” Taeyeon exclaimed as she suddenly stood, clutching a black jacket to her chest.
“But, Princess –”
“That’s right, I am the princess!” Taeyeon narrowed her eyes in the iciest, most royal-like look she had in her weaponry.
“I – OW!” The guard dropped his sword to the grass, suddenly blowing on his hands.
Taeyeon glanced at the sword, the grass steaming. She looked back at Sungmin who merely grinned at her, his eyes like those of a fox lit in amusement. He held out his hand and she reluctantly handed over the black jacket. He shook it out and then spun it behind him to put it on. The jacket was a jungchimak, flowing long past his knees with slits cut to mid-thigh up the sides and the back. However, unlike the traditional jungchimak of the past, it was sleeveless. The black silk with its golden embroidered edges fitted his torso before flowing freer past his waist. In traditional paji and jungchimak, it was clear he was a mage of the kingdom. His shaved head a nod towards the level of his magic control.
“Y-Y-You’re a mage!?” The young guard gasped, hesitant to pick up his sword.
Sungmin, securing his jungchimak, bent and picked up the sword easily, flipping it and offering the hilt to the guard, “You should never use metal against a Mage of the Light,” he said simply. He turned back to Taeyeon, “I believe this is our cue to return you back to the castle grounds.” He offered his arm and she placed her hand in the crook of his elbow,
“They probably saw us from the walls,” Taeyeon muttered bitterly as Sungmin helped her up the slope, “Uptight –”
“Princesses don’t swear,” Sungmin interjected knowingly,
“You’d swear, too, if you were a princess and couldn’t practice magic,” Taeyeon glared as they began to walk around the perimeter of the wall towards the gate at the front of the grounds.
They talked quietly to one another, the young guard following them from three metres behind. At the gate, Sungmin bid Taeyeon goodbye, insisting he had something to do. She turned into the grounds snubbing the guard as she did so.
It was a beautiful day, he thought. He dismissed his advisors from his study and then slowly, leisurely made his way to the back of the castle and escaped into the gardens there. The gardens were small, limited to a stone patio before giving way to the natural beauty of the back fields. He stepped out into the sunshine, walked to the edge of the patio and simply stood. With hands clasped behind him, he tilted his face to the sun and closed his eyes.
He heard a quick succession of footsteps coming from inside the palace, the doors still open from when the footmen had pulled them apart so he could pass. The determined, light steps told him immediately who it was. Soon, he felt the brush of a vanilla aroma and knew his sister had joined him on the patio.
“How was your meeting?” She asked as she stood with him, shoulder-to-shoulder. Well, not literally, since he was taller, but beside him all the same.
“Like all the others. People say things, the advisors… well, advise and I simply sit there and wait for all of them to stop talking,” He sighed, “They want me to enforce stricter boundaries around the lands.”
“Why don’t you?” Taeyeon asked,
“I cannot hold my soldiers accountable all the time. We’re in a truce with the Dark Kingdom. One misstep by a soldier could break that and send us into another war. The truce is flimsy at best and I don’t want to test it,” He explained, his face still tipped to the sun, absorbing the warmth, “Of course, I cannot show such weakness before the council, so I merely reminded them of the war and left it at that. Regardless of the hotheads and stubborn people in council and as advisors, they still remember the war.”
“And you tell me things you do not tell the others?” Taeyeon stared at him in surprise.
He always answered her questions and she had never questioned it, believing him to be telling her things understood by all. Her eyes swept over him. Dressed in black slacks and a simple, white button-up, he looked so casual, so relaxed, but she knew he was neither things despite leaving behind the usual formal accoutrements of his station. She eyed his dark brown hair shining in the sun and tried to remember the last time he had worn a crown, their father’s, on his head.
The king slowly opened his eyes and turned his face to look down at his younger sister’s face, “Of course, you would never betray me,” he said it simply, confidently.
For all her misgivings and grudges towards her brother, Taeyeon was infused with a warm pride of having her brother – the king’s – confidences when no one else did. It was a shame she had to argue with her brother, “Teuk…”
He stared at her a moment before slowly raising one eyebrow, knowing her tone led to nothing good.
“I could help you more than just being your secret keeper,” Taeyeon stated, “I know your responsibilities weigh you down, but if we utilized my magic –”
“No!” His voice rang out loud and crisp.
She took a step back as if she had been slapped, “But, Eeteuk –”
“You talk about wielding magic, of controlling the Light but you do not even understand all that entails!” Eeteuk’s words slashed through the air as he looked away, his gaze unseeing across the fields; “Light Magic, Dark Magic – in the end they are both powers that no one should control or even attempt to. They cause the users to become mad, reckless and dangerous. They consume the user until they’re just a shell of what they once were.”
Silence engulfed them then, the soft breeze embracing them, filling in the void of noise. When Taeyeon was close to deciding whether or not to walk away, her brother continued.
“Power corrupts, Taeyeon,” he stated, his voice so soft she had to strain to hear him clearly, “I’ll not have you attempting to control one piece of your soul only to lose the rest of it.”
“You don’t understand what it’s like,” she said quietly, not wanting to upset her brother, but needing him to understand at the same time; “You’re right, it is like a part of my soul is off on its own. Yes, it is one piece, but that still means my soul isn’t complete. It still feels like I’m not whole and to be… to be willingly not acknowledging it is like denying a part of myself. Sometimes it is like a physical ache knowing that a part of myself is trapped.”
“I do understand,” he replied, his voice still soft, his gaze still in the distance.
“But… you don’t have magic –”
“If you had any idea of the things, the people, the friendships I’ve had to give up…” Eeteuk sighed heavily, softly, “I understand what it’s like to not be whole.”
“I… I don’t like fighting with you,” Taeyeon murmured,
“This wasn’t a fight and there’s nothing to argue about. You are not allowed to practice magic,” Eeteuk stated, his tone suddenly firm.
Taeyeon glared at him as he finally returned it with one of his own. In that moment she couldn’t differentiate between king and brother. Eyes narrowed, “Eeteuk…” she grounded out, using his full name only whenever she was upset with him.
“Watch your temper,” Eeteuk said simply, his expression melting into nothing, his eyes unreadable, “You can be mad at me, but don’t take it out on the flowers.”
Taeyeon suddenly blinked and looked around them at the blooms, “I… There’s no fire.”
“And I’d like to keep it that way,” Eeteuk said simply,
“See – if I practiced, I could control it and –”
“Our parents were murdered because someone’s soul had been consumed by their Dark Magic,” Eeteuk reminded, his tone flat.
“I’m not practicing Dark Magic –”
“And you think that makes a difference?” Eeteuk scoffed, irritation starting to colour his tone and expression,
“You let Sungmin –”
“He is a lesser mage and has been training for years,” Eeteuk argued,
“Then I can train –”
“HE IS NOT MY SISTER!” Eeteuk exclaimed then, his words bouncing off the hard surfaces of the patio and castle walls. His hands, which had been clasped behind his back were now clenched at his sides. His eyes were narrowed and their jeweled glint just dared Taeyeon to challenge him further, push him closer to the edge of control and into chaos.
“You are my sister, you are the only family I have left,” Eeteuk stated slowly, enunciating each word with conviction, anger and something akin to danger; “I will die first before I allow you anywhere near that kind of risk. I will not lose you, Taeyeon, to anyone, anything and most certainly not to your Light Magic.”
He glared at her, the silence filling the chasm between them. Taeyeon couldn’t look away as much as she wanted to. She and her brother had fought often enough over the years, but she had never seen him so angry. She wasn’t sure what to do. She wanted to run away but some stupid part of her pride wouldn’t let her.
Someone clearing their throat broke the spell.
Eeteuk turned his face back towards the fields, his hands going behind his back, but Taeyeon could see his nails digging into his palms and his whitened knuckles. Taeyeon slowly turned towards the back doors to a footman who had hesitantly interrupted them. He hovered near the archway and Taeyeon suddenly remembered that the doors were still open. The entire castle probably heard her and Eeteuk’s argument. Well, Eeteuk’s side of it anyway.
“Yes?” She slowly stepped towards the footman,
He bent at the waist in a bow, “Princess, a letter,” he held out a white envelope with both hands.
She took it. Seeing the familiar script on the front, she nodded at the footman in a silent dismissal. She looked over her shoulder back at Eeteuk, but he hadn’t budged and inch, a silent statue. “Teuk…” She began tentatively,
“You have never needed the formalities the rest of the world has. Do not insult me now to start instilling them simply because of what has just taken place,” He stated knowing she was trying to ask permission to leave his presence.
“Then… I’ll leave you to your own devices,” she returned slowly, saddened at his flat and hollow tone. When he said no more, she left.
When her footsteps dissipated into silence, Eeteuk sighed heavily, his head dropping into a bow, eyes still closed. He was calmed when the breeze blew around him, embracing him in warm comfort.
After dinner, Taeyeon stole away to her room as quickly as she could without arousing anyone’s suspicions. Once there she closed the door to her room and locked it. She walked swiftly to her bed and pulled her dress up and over her head, tossing it onto the mattress. From beneath it she pulled out white paji and a royal blue jungchimak. After reading the message from earlier that day, she had gone about discreetly asking the servants about the time when there were mages in the kingdom. From there, one of the maids had shown her were all the old clothing had been. She had taken them, insisting she wanted to use the silk material for a surprise for her brother. That more or less ensured their silence.
She grabbed an undershirt and put it on before slipping on the paji. They were practically fitted, almost forming to her thighs and calves. Securing them, she began to slip on and tie soft leather shoes, which formed to her feet like gloves to a hand. Finally, she took up the jungchimak. It was a little snug around her bust, but loose everywhere else, flowing down to just below her knees. Unlike Sungmin’s, hers only had slits up the sides to mid-thigh and it had wide sleeves that almost completely covered her hands when her arms were straight. She took her hair out of its ponytail and twisted it into a high bun, securing it with her tie.
Then, she waited until midnight.
When it was half an hour until midnight, she stood from her bed to leave. Grabbing a black cloak from the back of a chair, she stopped on her way to the door before a full-length mirror in the corner of her room. Her eyes swept over her reflection. The cotton paji were pristine, the lines of her legs almost visible when she flexed her knees. The royal blue jungchimak was a stark clash to the white – bold, strong, the silk shimmering when the light hit it at different angles. She was ready; she looked like a mage of the kingdom.
Before leaving her room, she pulled on the cloak and secured it in front to completely hide her clothing. The staff might do their bidding, but if word got back to her brother, she’d rather he not know what she was wearing because he’d know her destination immediately.
When she slipped into the hallway, she quickly strode down the hallway, glad for the carpet running in the middle of the wooden floor. She was also glad that her brother occupied a different wing – all the better to escape without his notice. She passed maids, footmen, and guards and strode with purpose, knowing they wouldn’t deter her if she looked determined. She had made it to the stables before she was intercepted.
“Princess, is there something you needed?” A guard approached her in the stables.
Taeyeon, who had already sent someone to saddle her horse, turned to the guard as if there was nothing wrong with her being in the stables late at night waiting for a horse. “No, not at all,” she said pleasantly as if they were in the castle talking of weather, “Is there something you need?”
The guard blinked, caught off guard by such a question, “N-No, Princess. It’s just that… it’s night already and it looks like you’re about to leave… Princess, you know the night is dangerous for us.”
“I do, but I won’t be going far,” she insisted, her tone casual and light, “I’m just going outside the gates to meet Sungmin.”
“The lesser mage?” The guard clarified as he eyed a young man who brought forth the princess’s horse, saddled and ready for riding.
“Indeed, could you help me up?” She smiled at him brightly,
The guard, completely blind-sighted by the princess’s smile, he automatically stepped forward and lifted her to the saddle, not even noticing it wasn’t a side-saddle. He began to follow the horse out of the stables, his hand on the reins, “Princess, I don’t think leaving the grounds at night is wise.”
“Really? But I’m just meeting Sungmin,” she reminded gently as if she wasn’t irritated the guard was still with her,
“But it’s night… you know it’s dangerous for those of the Light,” he stated, not wanting to insult the princess,
“But I’ll be with Sungmin. As a mage – lesser or no – I’ll be perfectly safe. Of course, unless you don’t trust my brother’s choice of mage?” Taeyeon asked innocently, “My brother did allow Sungmin to become a mage.’
“Yes, Princess, I know that and in no way am I underestimating His Majesty’s decisions or intellect,” the guard insisted desperately,
Taeyeon felt a little guilty, so she conceded, “How about this, you can walk me to the gate and I’ll continue on. I’ll send a signal once I’ve met with Sungmin – then you’ll know I’m in safe hands.”
“I… I don’t know, Princess,” the guard said sceptically,
“He can’t get me from the gates, then everyone will know,” Taeyeon stated and then, “I ask you, sir, have you ever been in love?”
The guard blinked, “I… er… of course, I love my wife very much,” he stammered, once again caught off guard by her question,
“Then you understand how much it means to me to go meet Sungmin,” she said softly, quietly.
The guard silently ruminated over her words. When he spoke again, they were at the gates. He instructed the guards to open the gates for her. Before releasing her reins, he looked up at the princess, “I do know what it means to be in love, Princess. So, I’ll let you go, but you send me that signal the moment you’re safe.”
Taeyeon beamed, “I think your wife is a very lucky woman.”
In the pale light of the moon, she could see the guard flushing. He released her reins and Taeyeon started off at a trot. She paced herself until she reached the first bend in the road. She waited until she was completely out of sight from the front gates. She waited a few heartbeats before stepping back into view. She waved, saw the guard wave in return and then she was off.
Instead of staying on the road, she cut into the forest. She was to meet Sungmin at the edge of the field where they had been earlier. She could have just rounded the castle wall’s perimeter, but more guards would have seen her. Besides, Sungmin would never teach her to control her magic within sight of the castle – that would have been some form of treason against her brother, especially after their conversation. Knowing the mage, he was probably going to bring her back to his house to practice far from prying eyes.
As she rode slowly through the woods, careful manoeuvring over the uneven ground and many roots and fallen logs, she mentally pictured the land in her mind. Once she was sure she had her bearings in her mind, she headed off towards the meeting place, the moon the only light for her. The trees began to thin and knew she was nearing the meeting place. Suddenly, the horse paused and began to look around. She urged it on but when a rather loud ‘snap’ rang through the silent forest, the horse bolted.
Taeyeon felt herself being jolted, grasping the reigns tightly and silently scolding herself for not grabbing some kind of gloves as the leather chafed against her palms. She tensed her thighs, trying to regain some control of the horse, but it continued to run. Suddenly, the trees fell away and the horse was pounding at the ground, trying to stop itself from going further. It wasn’t until she was flying through the air that Taeyeon saw the cliff. She held onto the reins for dear life as she was flipped over and smashed into the side of the cliff.
“Go! Go!” She urged at the horse, trying to get it to pull her back up.
She refused to look down, her heart beating wildly. She didn’t want to know how far she had to fall, didn’t want to watch as the ground came flying up to meet her. The horse was slowly inching her back up. Rock and roots scraped against her hand as she desperately held on, her hand and forearm burning from the cuts and lacerations.
“HELP!” She cried then, her eyes blurring and burning from tears. She called over and over again, forcing the images of her death from her mind as the horse struggled to pull her back up.
Suddenly, her body jerked as if the leather was giving way. She looked at it in confusion and, with growing horror, saw little flames ignite onto the leather reins, originating from her hand. Before she could fully comprehend what was going on, before she could begin to contain her emotions, the reins were on fire. The leather began to burn through and as she cried even louder, it broke apart. She squeezed her eyes tightly, too scared to even scream as wind rushed past her and she anticipated for when her body would meet the ground.
Instead, she was surrounded by unbearable cold.
The next morning, Sungmin was off his horse in a flash, the animal barely stopping at the stables before he was off towards the castle doors. The tails of his jungchimak were billowing around him as he strode quickly into the castle, demanding to see the king immediately. He paced as he waited for permission. When a butler led him towards the king’s study, he almost forgot to bow.
Eeteuk took one look at the lesser mage’s face before dismissing the butler. Once the door clicked to a close, Eeteuk gestured for Sungmin to approached, “Is there a –”
“Your sister, is she here this morning?” Sungmin questioned, stopping before the king’s desk, palms resting on the wood,
“She wasn’t at breakfast, but she could just be sleeping in today. Or ignoring me, we did have an argument the other day,” Eeteuk replied, “Why?”
“She was supposed to meet me last night but she didn’t show up… no, no, that’s not right,” Sungmin began to pace before the king’s desk, “She didn’t even write me a reply, so perhaps she wasn’t going to… but this morning I thought that what if she wasn’t going to meet me? Then, she’d at least send a note and –”
“What the hell were you doing meeting my sister at night!?” Eeteuk exclaimed, jumping to his feet, his palms slamming down on the desk,
“Get mad at me later, we need to figure out if she’s actually here!” Sungmin argued,
Eeteuk strode to the door, opening the door and calling for a butler.
“No bell-pull?” Sungmin asked, finding an outlet in sarcasm,
Eeteuk glared from the door, “This is faster,” he turned as a butler appeared, “Get Princess Taeyeon here. Now.”
The last word was said calmly, but almost deadly so. The butler ran off, the coattails of his butler’s uniform fluttering behind him. Eeteuk turned back into the room, the door slamming behind him as he prowled back to his desk.
“Okay, now you need to tell me why the hell you were meeting my sister,” Eeteuk practically growled, “And don’t you dare deflect my question because regardless of your relationships with my sister and myself – and I assure you, ours is tenuous at the moment – I am still the king!”
“She wanted to practice magic –”
“I forbade her –”
“Hence the meeting in secret at night –”
“You deliberately went against my orders!?” Eeteuk’s words echoed in the study of dark fabrics and darker woods; “I allowed you to become a mage when no one else was but that does not give you freedom to do as you wish especially when my sister is concerned!”
“There are few people who can use Light and those who can are weak at best. Your sister’s magic could very well rival my own –”
“I don’t care if my sister was the greatest Light wielder in history!” Eeteuk roared, “I WILL NOT LOSE HER TO THE LIGHT!” His hands fisted atop the desk as he leaned forward, eyes narrowed dangerously, “Do you hear me, Sungmin? She is not to practice magic,” he enunciated each word slowly and with deathly precision, “She. Can. Not.”
Sungmin, hands fisted at his sides, nodded curtly, “Your Majesty,” he practically grounded out. Regardless of his reservations, in the end he knew his place and knew that Eeteuk was right – he was king. In truth, his offer to teach Taeyeon was borne from seeing her so upset about her restricted freedom. He had simply wanted to make her smile.
A knock came to the door and Eeteuk practically growled for the intruder to enter.
“Sire, the princess isn’t in her rooms, no one… no one’s quite sure where –”
“She’s probably just walking the fields again, I’m sure the mage will get her for me. You may go,” Eeteuk dismissed him swiftly.
The moment the door closed, Eeteuk locked gazes with Sungmin.
“You will find her, Sungmin, and I will stall for time,” Eeteuk said quietly, knowing that anyone could have their ear pressed to the door of the study, “We cannot allow anyone to know my sister is missing.”
“But the more people who know could help –”
“It could also send my kingdom into war again,” Eeteuk paced away then to a nearby window, hands clasped behind his back, “Do not misunderstand me, I love my sister, I would give her the world if I could. I have given all of me to this kingdom and cannot see it torn apart by war again.”
“But Taeyeon –”
“Would want me to do this. If I could, I’d go looking for her myself,” Eeteuk hissed, angry at his inability to help his sister more. “I will do what I can from here, but it must be you to go find her. You and you alone.”
Eeteuk walked up to Sungmin and pulled out a necklace he had tucked into his shirt. Pulling it off over his head, he held it out to the lesser mage. Sungmin found himself looking at a small, golden ring. Its thin band expanded into a wide circle to accommodate an engraved crest; a royal one.
“Eeteuk – this is the royal crest,” Sungmin looked up at him,
The king held up his own hand, showing a matching ring with a wider band on his finger, “It belongs to the monarchs of the kingdom. That was my mother’s. It will help you should you need my name or influence. Also, it will help Taeyeon once you find her. Give it to her and it will mark her as Princess of the Light.”
Sungmin slipped the necklace on and tucked the ring to hide in the collar of his black, silk jungchimak. He stood a moment and just stared at the king, “Eeteuk, I’m sorry –”
He shook his head, “If she was going to practice I’d rather it be with you than on her own… she probably would have done so after our fight the other day.”
He sighed heavily as he walked around his desk and sat down. Elbows on the table, he combed his fingers through his hair in a sign of frustration. He understood appearances and abided them, however, in that moment he didn’t care, regardless of how weak and helpless he looked.
“I’ll find her, Eeteuk. It’s been only eight hours since then. She can’t have gone far,” Sungmin said quietly, “I’ll use all the magic in my arsenal to find her. I don’t know if the bond is strong enough, but our relationship may be enough for my magic to seek hers.”
“Magic…” Eeteuk raised his head and suddenly pulled out a sheet of paper and grabbed a pen.
He scribbled a few words before folding it and, like kings of old, grabbed a candle from his desk. He hesitated and looked at Sungmin. As if understanding immediately, a little flame appeared on the wick. Eeteuk waited a few minutes and then dribbled hot, red wax over the seal of the folded paper. Blowing out the candle and putting it aside, he took off his ring and pressed the crest firmly in the cooling wax. When the crest was formed and solidified in the wax, Eeteuk held it out to the lesser mage.
“If you ever find yourself in the Dark Kingdom, there may be one person who can help you there, give this to him,” Eeteuk explained as Sungmin took it, “I… I don’t know if it’ll do anything, but it might and it may ensure the safety of you and Taeyeon.” He locked gazes with the lesser mage, “Sungmin, I want you to write me every three days. However you can, send a letter to me. If you anticipate being unable to write me a letter, then state it, but keep it short and unremarkable. Don’t allow anyone to understand the meanings of your letters.”
Sungmin nodded, “Understood. I will find her, Eeteuk, I promise you.”
“Please do not promise me with false hopes,” Eeteuk said quietly, “I have lost in the past and understand I can lose again.”
Sungmin nodded and turned to leave. He was at the door when he paused and looked back, “Eeteuk.”
Sungmin held up the letter, “Who do I give this to? You never said.”
“The Dark Mage.”
Everything hurt. She was cold, everything hurt and she was being jostled like a leaf in a hurricane. Yet all she thought about was that it was day. She slowly opened her eyes to the bright sun. Slowly, she took in her surroundings. She was on some kind of path with trees surrounding it and, how was she on a horse? Well, it wasn’t as if she were sitting on it, she was draped over the saddle like a sack of rice. Slowly, she tried to move, but her body complained and she laid still again, her fingers weakly grasping the edge of the saddle. She realized then that she had some kind of blanket laid overtop her. The fabric was soft and obsidian black even when the light shone off it.
It was then that she noticed there was a man walking along the horse and, although they seemed to be walking steadily, not veering from a straight line, the man was watching her quietly.
She blinked, “What…”
“I found you by the river,” he said simply. He looked away then, back towards the direction they were going.
“I…” Was that really her voice? It was hoarse and weak, at least an octave lower than her usual voice.
“You’re lucky I found you,” He continued again as if they were having the most normal of conversations in the most normal of situations, “Who knows what someone else might’ve done.”
“What do you mean?” She managed,
He shot her a narrowed look that possibly, to Taeyeon, seemed to be a kind of scold, “I know you’re of the Light.”
Her eyes widened. The only reason she had to worry about being of the Light would be… “Where am I?” She asked, hating that her voice sounded small and scared.
He smiled then amusedly, as if he knew something she did not; “Welcome to the Dark Kingdom.”
(Chapter Two: The Dark Princes)