(Chapter Three of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Three: The Last Dark Spell
“Now you’re just begging for a war,”
Siwon glared from across the room.
“Imprisoning a Princess of Light – the Princess – and now you almost kill the Mage of the Light,” Kangin shook his head, “A lesser Mage telling by his hair and the power I sense in him… but of course, that could be because he’s unconscious. Really, Siwon, eight years of peace and now you decide to start up trouble.”
“I’m in no mood for your teasing for the very things you just listed,” Siwon drawled.
They were in his study again. He stood before his desk, hips set back against the edge and arms crossed over his chest. A settee had been pulled closer and the Mage of Light had been laid there. He had summoned Kangin immediately and hadn’t moved since. He glanced to one end of the study, opposite to where the glass doors were. On that end was a hearth, the stone was carved intricately like vines crawling up stone pillars. Sitting in a chair before the hearth was Kyuhyun. His brother, who had been the one to transport the mage to the study, hadn’t moved and hadn’t made a sound since sitting down.
What concerned him more than the fact the damn mage was right and he was risking a lot with the princess and mage in the castle, was Kyuhyun’s show of magic. Kyuhyun usually controlled himself rather well, even when emotional. What had gotten his brother so riled up that he had let off so much magic? Worse yet, he had seen the Dark swirl around his brother like fingers of smoke ready to wrap and grab.
Belatedly, he realized the mage was talking to him, “What?”
“I said what happened that caused this injury?” Kangin repeated. After assuring himself that the other mage had broken nothing, he turned his head sideways to access the back of his skull. He knelt on the ground, his hand hovering over the bump he had felt growing there.
Siwon sighed, looking away. He would not betray his brother, “I –”
“Only know how to water plants with your magic,” Kyuhyun spoke then, his voice hoarse as if he hadn’t used it in years. His tone was flat, snarky but without the light, teasing edge he usually had. Remaining still in his chair, he continued, eyes on the flames in the fireplace, “I did it.”
“Oh?” Kangin prompted. His tone was mildly surprise and thoroughly curious,
“I let my emotions get ahead of me,” Kyuhyun said simply, apparently flippant,
“It has to be a lot of emotion for that to happen,” Kangin stated as he stopped for a moment, doing intermittent healing. “Compared to Siwon, you’re just boiling over with emotions all the time. To lose control would take more. What happened?”
Kyuhyun remained silent.
“Kyuhyun,” was all Siwon said. It was a simple statement, almost as if there was a silent question attached.
“You were going to let her leave. You were going to actually let her leave,” Kyuhyun stated simply,
Siwon stared over at him, realized Kyuhyun’s hands were now gripping the cushioned armrests with a hold so tight his knuckles were white; “Kyu –”
“You were willing to risk so much to keep her here and, yet, some mage comes along, asks for her and you’re willing to just hand her over!” Kyuhyun’s voice had slowly escalated in volume until he was yelling, his words bouncing off the hard wooden surfaces and books of the study,
“Yes, I did want to keep her here – still do – but at a risk to your life? I think not, Kyuhyun,” Siwon scoffed, an angry tone to his words, appalled that his brother hadn’t thought of that.
“You didn’t have to agree –”
“YOU TOLD ME TO DO SOMETHING!” Siwon exclaimed, suddenly straightening, thick brows narrowed.
Even Kangin blinked up at him, startled at the sudden outburst, the sudden display of powerful emotion from the first prince.
“THEN USE YOUR DAMN MAGIC!” Kyuhyun yelled back, jumping to his feet and turning to look at him. He gripped the back of the chair then, his fingers digging into the cushioning, “I wanted you to use your damn magic… not save me.”
“I will always save you, Kyuhyun,” Siwon promised, his dark eyes glinting darkly,
Kyuhyun stared at him a moment, then blinked rapidly and turned away, pacing before the hearth, “Yes, well… if you just used your magic, none of this would have happened. You could have subdued him with your magic.”
“Subdue him? I appreciate the confidence, but he’s a mage,” Siwon raised a brow, his emotions seemingly dissipating once more,
“He was preoccupied. Besides, he didn’t think you had any ability, just like he thought with me. You saw his shock when he realized I can use Dark Magic,” Kyuhyun stated, turning to look at his brother once again, “We don’t have to let them go if you just don’t give in so easily.”
Siwon watched him a moment and merely gave a short, curt nod.
Kangin straightened, dusting off his white paji as he did so. He glanced down at the younger mage and then up at the brothers. Kyuhyun had turned back to the hearth, staring into its fiery depths. Siwon, who had been intently watching his brother, seemed to sense the mage’s stare and slowly turned his gaze to the older man.
“The swelling is gone, but I dare not try to eliminate the pain. I don’t want to expose one of the Light to so much Dark Magic all at once,” Kangin explained as he crossed his bare arms over his black jungchimak, its silver embroidery shining with the firelight. “He’ll wake up with a horrible headache, but he should be able to heal it himself, of course, I could bring him back to my home –”
“No,” Kyuhyun’s reply came swiftly, a hard edge to his voice. Still giving the others his back, he continued, “I was the one he threatened to kill… he will remain here and answer to me.”
“Very well,” Kangin replied stiffly, “I’ll take my leave then.”
Siwon pushed away from the desk and gestured to the door, “I’ll see you out,” he stated to the mage,
Kangin glanced at Kyuhyun curiously before nodding and following the first prince out of the study. Regardless of their long-standing friendship, his insolence to the prince could only go so far.
Kyuhyun stood still, silent until he heard the study door close with a sharp click. Slowly, he turned and crossed to the settee where the Mage of Light lay. Kyuhyun stared down at the chest covered in black silk and the bare, slightly muscled arms. He had barely any time to inspect the mage’s face and he did so then. He knelt by the settee on one knee. He reached over, his fingers lightly brushing over where the bump had been. Slowly, he turned the mage’s head so he faced the ceiling again instead of to the side. He brushed back the dark strands of hair from the mage’s face.
“I hadn’t meant to hurt you,” Kyuhyun said softly, his fingers lightly pushing back the strands of hair, each lock like more black silk between his fingers, “I don’t know what it is… I may be the emotional one between my brother and me but I’m not fanciful… I’m not like this and yet…”
The mage began to stir, his face immediately twisting in pain, a sharp, indrawn breath accompanying it. Kyuhyun slipped a hand beneath the mage’s head, causing the other man to suppress barely a cry of pain.
“I know it hurts,” Kyuhyun murmured, “Let me take away the pain… let me finish healing you.”
The mage’s eyes slowly opened, blinking several times, his gaze still clouded over. Kyuhyun wasn’t even sure if the mage could see him properly.
“I’ll take away the pain,” Kyuhyun promised as he leaned forward, focusing magic in the palm of his hand. “I’ll take away the pain…”
The mage’s eyes closed, his expression relaxed and Kyuhyun knew his magic was working. He leaned down, his lips brushing the mage’s, “It would probably pain you even more if you remember me doing this to you… so I take one more kiss and with it, the memory.”
His lips pressed more firmly against the mage’s. The lips were soft, warm and the kiss caused his lips to clench powerfully in a way he had forgotten about. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled away, taking away his hand with him. Distantly, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He straightened, pulling his gaze away from the mage’s sleeping face.
“Lucky bastard… I wish someone could take away my memories,” Kyuhyun said quietly. Then, he made his way to the door just as it opened and his brother entered.
“You haven’t acted like this for quite some time,” Siwon commented as he paused just inside the door and Kyuhyun moved to walk right past him. Siwon put out a hand, pressing against Kyuhyun’s chest as they were anti-parallel to one another,
“Leave me alone,” Kyuhyun practically growled, keeping his narrowed gaze straight ahead, “And Kangin?”
“Probably slipping around the castle to the servant’s stairs as we speak,” Siwon said simply, “I don’t even understand why he bothers. If he wants to be discreet, might as well climb up the castle from beneath your window.”
“It’s easier to veil himself in darkness in the servant’s stairs rather than a well-lit corridor,” Kyuhyun replied simply, the sharp edge to his tone quickly dissipating until it seemed never to have been there at all,
“More like you two like to continue pretending as if no one knows he frequents your bedroom,” Siwon drawled, all emotion gone from his voice.
Kyuhyun absorbed the comment and, felt the need to look back over his shoulder at the other mage, “Where will you put him?”
“Me? He’s your prisoner,” Siwon folded his arms over his chest,
“Fine… where do you have the princess being kept? Put him in the same vicinity,” Kyuhyun stated,
“Third floor, east wing,” Siwon answered,
“High enough she cannot escape and a wing opposite of our own… There are guest rooms on that floor,” Kyuhyun stated and then laughed lightly, “Of course, I should have known. After all, she’s beautiful, right?”
“Say nothing of her and I won’t tell anyone about how you looked at that mage when you realized he was hurt,” Siwon countered swiftly, sharply,
Kyuhyun knew better than to deny anything. Above all others, Siwon knew him best, could read him best. He gave a curt nod, “I’ll leave you now. I have a strong need to go to my room and sleep.”
“Best not keep Kangin waiting,” Siwon replied simply,
“Naturally,” Kyuhyun took a step and then paused, “Siwon…”
“Thank you… for choosing me over the princess,” Kyuhyun said quietly,
“Of course,” Siwon replied, his voice softening, warm, “I’ll never choose otherwise.”
Kyuhyun didn’t reply. Instead, he continued out of the study and firmly closed the doors behind him. Siwon stared at the unconscious mage lying on the settee in the middle of his study.
He sighed heavily, “Do I dare put you even in the same hallway as the princess?”
He shook his head as he turned back to the door and opened it, calling for some footmen. Two footmen appeared. Siwon gave them their instructions and they quickly went about it, fetching the mage and hauling him, carefully, up to the third floor and to the east wing. As Siwon watched them carry him away, he leaned a shoulder against the doorway and silently mused to himself,
“Who are you to her where by you come into the Dark Kingdom to get her? Then again, who is she to me where by even my brother questions who is worth more to me?”
Siwon retreated into his study and closed the doors behind him. He needed to be alone.
When Siwon came down to breakfast the next morning, he was surprised to find the Princess of Light seated at his table seated to the left of the head of the table. Knowing his father wouldn’t be joining them for breakfast, as usual, he took the place of honour, shooting her a sharp nod as he sat down,
“I do not appreciate being ordered about,” Taeyeon snapped.
Dressed in her mage clothes, they looked perfectly pressed. The only difference in her appearance was that her long hair was no longer pulled back, rather it flowed around her in soft waves down her back. Arms crossed beneath her bust, she stared straight ahead rather than to her right at the prince.
“I’m sure you don’t, that’s why you were given meals in your room yesterday,” Siwon replied as a servant stepped forward to place a plate of food before him.
“So, why the change?” She questioned, her nails digging into her arms to stop from attacking the prince. He was too handsome and his voice too flat. She wanted to spark emotion in that voice, force him to react as much as she was every time she encountered the annoying man.
Siwon turned his face towards hers and raised a single, thick brow, “I haven’t the slightest clue.”
Taeyeon swung her gaze to his, finally, “The least you could do is think about what you’re doing before enacting orders!”
The second brow rose to join its twin high on the prince’s forehead, “I didn’t order you here,”
“Then who?” She replied, unbelieving,
“While I suppose I seem all-powerful, I do insist that I am not,” Siwon replied, “However, seeing as you know close to nothing about the Dark Kingdom and its monarchy, perhaps I shall inform you that I’m not the only prince in this castle. It was most likely my younger brother who ordered your presence at this table. Though why he deigned to do so, I once again state, that I haven’t the slightest clue.”
“Then I’ll just return to my room –”
Siwon’s hand shot out and grabbed Taeyeon’s arm as she stood up, stopping her. “You’re already here and there’s already food out for you. You might as well eat rather than act like some insolent child.”
“A child! I assure you that I am not as you believe me to be! Spy, assassin, impostor and, now, a child – I am –”
“Lower your voice before a dozen footmen come running over to protect me,” Siwon said steadily, locking gazes with her, “Sit down so they don’t think you’re threatening or insulting me.”
Taeyeon slowly sank back down into her chair, “Will you let go of my arm now?”
Siwon suddenly looked at his hand as if forgetting he had been holding her. He retracted his hand and began his breakfast, “I think none of those things about you,” he stated calmly,
Taeyeon sat straighter in her seat. He believed her? He truly believed her? She wasn’t sure why, but that one statement made her happy, made something in the vicinity of her chest flutter like butterfly wings. “R-Really?” She asked, hoping her anticipation wasn’t evident in her voice,
“Last night someone from your kingdom came to this kingdom and snuck onto the castle grounds,” Siwon replied, “He identified you.”
Once again she was left wondering why that statement made her react, why it felt as if a rock was pressing against her chest. Why did she expect so much from this prince? She had met him just the other morning and yet, she reacted to him so peculiarly. She turned her head away so he couldn’t read her expression. She didn’t want him to know what she was feeling, not even to guess at the thoughts confusedly running through her mind.
Siwon saw her turn her face away. He raised his gaze from his food and stared at her. Her profile was exquisite. Her hair fell around her face like a shining, ebony frame. Her small, pert nose, round, rosy lips and her dainty, slightly-rounded chin. He realized then that her chin shook slightly and perfect, white teeth bit into her full, bottom lip. She was upset about something. Was it because he had not believed her until someone else confirmed her claims? No, of course not. She had been upset when he didn’t believe her, but now that it was confirmed, she should be happy. And, yet, she wasn’t.
He didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt a strong urge to make her happy, or, at the very least, take away the taint of sadness that seemed to be hovering just below the surface of her façade. He tried to remember the last time he wanted to make anyone happy who wasn’t his brother or father. He tried to remember the last time that his own happiness depended upon another’s. He tried to remember the last time he was truly happy. He failed at them all.
“I suspect you’d like to speak with this person? I’m assuming you know them or, at the very least, they know you,” Siwon offered, just the slightest hint of hesitation in his voice,
“Everyone knows me in the Light Kingdom,” Taeyeon replied, hating how hollow her voice sounded. Why couldn’t she stop feeling so disappointed?
“Well, then perhaps I should tell you who they are… seeing as you go around dressed as a mage, do you know any real mages?” Siwon inquired,
Taeyeon’s gaze whipped towards his own, her amber eyes wide, “There’s only one mage in my kingdom… are you telling me Sungmin’s here?”
“We don’t know his name, but he’s a lesser mage of the Light,” Siwon answered, forcing his eyes to narrow, her reaction was too familiar, as if the mage meant more to her than he would have liked.
Taeyeon’s hand flew to her mouth to hold in a gasp physically, “He came… oh my when I didn’t show up he must have known something was wrong…” Her hand suddenly flew out and grasped Siwon’s forearm, “Please, can I see him?”
Siwon’s eyes widened fractionally. Her face, which he quickly realized was always so open and expressive, was now looking at him expectantly, hopefully. In that moment several things happened that made him realize he could never let her leave. First, his heart had clenched so powerfully and then began to beat at such a rapid tattoo that he thought he was having a heart attack. Second, he would have given her everything in the world if he could when she looked at him like that. Third, he wished the mage had never come to the castle, let alone the Dark Kingdom. Last, he was going to do as she asked just at the chance to see her smile.
“Come with me to my study and I’ll get someone to fetch him,” Siwon said simply, knowing full well that he was holding his breath in anticipation for her answer,
“Okay,” she answered quickly,
Siwon stood from his chair but before she could drop her hand from his forearm, he grabbed her hand, bent his arm and then replaced her hand on his arm. Formally, he escorted her out of the family dining room swiftly despite her stiff posture. He gave his instructions to a footman as he led her to the study. Once they were in the study, Taeyeon stopped him from closing the door,
“I… em… propriety,” she explained,
He raised a brow, “If you want any privacy at all – and I assume you do considering who you are and where you are – propriety is the last thing you should be worried about. Besides, nothing here will find its way back to your… home.”
Taeyeon chewed on her bottom lip before nodding.
Siwon closed the door and then led her to one of the chairs before his desk. Before he could round his desk, however, she called out to him,
“Wait, sorry… can you not sit at your desk? You’re very… formidable when you sit there especially when you’re so stoic and solemn,” Taeyeon admitted and then added, “And every time I’m before a desk like this I feel like when my brother scolds me.”
Siwon turned back towards her, he silently confirmed that his feelings towards the princess were far from brotherly. He leaned his hips back against the edge of the desk when she stopped him again,
“No, no, I’m sorry that’s still as intimidating, standing over me,” Taeyeon shook her head,
“Princess, I believe you forget that you are a visitor in my kingdom,” Siwon drawled,
Taeyeon’s amber eyes flashed with something – irritation? – before being replaced with guilt, “I’m sorry, you’re right it’s just… is it really so hard to just sit in this chair and talk to me like an equal instead of like you’re getting ready to dictate or reprimand me?”
Siwon stared at her before chuckling slightly. The sound caught her off guard and she found herself fighting to stay in her chair as she anticipated more, wanted to hear more of that laugh. It was so warm, so rich, like sweet vanilla milk on a winter’s night. So distracted was she that it wasn’t until he sat down that she realized he had done as she requested.
“If we’re to hide your identity, would it be so bold as to ask for your permission to –”
“Oh, just call me Taeyeon already,” she waved away his words, “Has anyone ever told you that you’re very formal? In speech and well… everything that I’ve seen of you.”
“You’ve been with me for a short period of time over the past twenty-four hours,” Siwon raised a brow,
“Yes, and it’s told me almost next to nothing except for that you’re serious. Always,” Taeyeon replied,
“Well, Princess, if I’m to call you by your given name then you must call me Siwon,” he insisted,
She shook her head as she leaned back in the chair, waving another hand, “Your identity isn’t a secret and I’m sure if I called you just Siwon half of the staff would come to cut me down at my insolence. You’ll just have to settle for Prince Siwon, although I do appreciate your attempt to being less serious.”
Before Siwon could reply and convince her he just wanted to hear her call him simply ‘Siwon’, there was a knock at the door. He called for them to come in. The door opened and a footman appeared with Sungmin standing behind him. After the footman gestured for Sungmin to enter, the door closed behind him.
Taeyeon slowly rose from her chair, her gaze glued to the mage, “You really did come…”
“Did you think I’d do otherwise?” He asked, not even registering that the first prince was present. He slowly made his way across the study, his pace, his expression as if in a trance.
Sungmin felt his heart seize the moment he saw her. He took in her heart-shaped face, her shining, amber eyes and the way her hair fanned about her beautifully. He knew Taeyeon was beautiful, had known it the first moment he saw her. But in that moment, after endless hours of worrying about her, he thought she was now indescribable. His feelings for her seemed to only double if that was at all possible.
When Sungmin was just a few feet away, Taeyeon ran to him, launched herself at him, her arms slipping around his waist as she buried her face into his chest, “Min, I’m so sorry… making you worry and… everything.”
Sungmin hugged her tightly as if loosening his embrace just a fraction meant losing her; “No, it’s my fault… I shouldn’t have asked you to meet me at night and… I’m sorry it took me so long to get here. I’m so sorry, Taeyeon.” He let go of her, holding onto her shoulders as he looked down at her, taking in the mage robes she wore, “When we get back to the Light Kingdom I’m going to help your brother lock you up in the castle.”
Taeyeon’s heart, which had soared at seeing Sungmin, suddenly stopped in mid-flight and just seemed to hover, waiting to plummet; “When we get back…” Slowly, tentatively, she looked over her shoulder at the prince.
She couldn’t rationally think why she did it. She didn’t know why she wanted to see Siwon’s face in that moment. She didn’t know why she was so expectant of what he would say. She didn’t know why, but all she suddenly wanted was for the prince to argue and tell Sungmin she couldn’t leave. She felt guilty for wanting such a thing, but she realized then that she couldn’t ignore what she wanted so much.
“I’m afraid you cannot leave,” Siwon said simply as he rose to his full height. He took a step towards his desk, turned and leaned his hips back against the edge. Dressed in his usual black slacks and black button-up, he looked every inch of a prince despite missing the formal accoutrements.
“What do you mean we can’t leave!?” Sungmin demanded then, pushing past Taeyeon to approach the prince, “I confirmed her identity, there’s no other reason for you to keep us here! Refusing our freedom could lead to a war!”
“I am not keeping you here,” Siwon insisted, “My brother is.”
“Prince Kyuhyun?” Sungmin asked quietly.
He turned away then. He didn’t move away or pace, he simply turned away from both Siwon and Taeyeon. He had awoken that morning with a memory of pain. He remembered the room he was now standing in, but the colours had been dimmer. He remembered a voice and a gentle, warm touch. But he couldn’t remember any more details. Whoever it was, had taken away the pain that had sliced through him like a lightning bolt. What didn’t make sense was that the memory of that voice and touch caused the same reaction in him when he heard the second prince’s name.
He pictured the prince in his mind. The first time he saw him, his features cloaked in shadows until moonlight highlighted his face. He remembered how struck he was by the prince, how he had to forcibly remind himself his reason for being on the castle grounds. Then, he remembered that flush of energy that had came off the prince, pushing him backwards. He remembered the swirling darkness that had visibly clung to the prince. Keeping that in mind, he turned towards the first prince.
Siwon raised a brow, arms crossed, “Do you not recall threatening to kill him?”
“Sungmin!” Taeyeon gasped.
Siwon had to repress and urge to gloat or, at least, grin. He did not too readily forget that he had threatened Kyuhyun’s life, regardless what his brother may feel. He did not appreciate the affectionate moment he had just witnessed between the mage and the princess. He felt some satisfaction in turning the princess against the mage, even over something superficial.
“I don’t know how things are run in the Light Kingdom, but threatening royalty here is punishable by death,” Siwon stated, “However, my brother decided to lighten the sentence since he did inadvertently injure you.”
We don’t have to let them go…
He had suspicions as he observed his brother, but when he heard Kyuhyun say those words, his thoughts were confirmed. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t let go so easily.
“You were injured?” Taeyeon gaped, her gaze suddenly sweeping over Sungmin trying to find some tell-tale sign of said injury,
“I’m fine,” he insisted, waving away her concern, “So what happens now? Where is he?”
“So you can have a second round at him?” Siwon challenged,
“No, so I can demand he let us go!” Sungmin grounded out,
“Even if you had any right to demand such a thing after threatening his life…” Siwon said casually, the dark glint in his eyes suggesting he was feeling anything but casual; “I wouldn’t expect to see Prince Kyuhyun until at least another hour.”
“So what happens now? Do I return to my room a prisoner?” Taeyeon inquired,
“No, you haven’t done anything wrong,” Siwon replied, “Unfortunately you, Mage, I cannot so easily wipe your slate clean.”
“I understand,” Sungmin tilted his head in a slight head-bow. He paused and turned back to Taeyeon, “What’s wrong?”
“You were stilted when you stood up, your face cringed when you ran, you trembled when I hugged you and you kept wrapping your arms around your ribs – what’s wrong?” Sungmin reiterated as he stepped closer to her, “Damn it, you’re injured!”
Siwon straightened then, “I thought you just had a fever, I didn’t know you were injured.”
Silently, the first prince swore at himself. He should have known something was wrong. Her stiff, slow movements had been because movement meant pain. Instead, he had interpreted it as further proof that she was wary of him, suspicious and angry.
“Some of it was healed yesterday,” Taeyeon explained, “But most couldn’t be healed.”
“Please, Taeyeon, allow the royal doctors to see to your injuries,” Siwon offered,
Taeyeon stared at him with a wide-eyed wonder expression, “Prince Siwon –”
“I’ll attend to her,” Sungmin interjected as he took her hands into his own,
“Propriety –” Siwon began,
“I’m her fiancé, propriety will allow this small thing if it means healing her,” Sungmin snapped. He inhaled slowly, deeply, “My apologies, Your Highness, I’m just angry at myself and the situation.”
Siwon stared at the mage for a moment, his peripheral gaze immediately taking in their hands as his mind repeated the other man’s proclamation of their relationship. He felt his heart twist painfully and he suddenly felt stifled, wanting air, freedom and flowers.
“Of course,” Siwon relented, turning away from them and heading over to the glass doors, “If either of you require my presence, just talk to one of the servants – they’ll find me in the gardens.”
Sungmin began to guide Taeyeon out of the study when she stopped and looked back at the prince who had now opened the doors allowing the pale morning light to blanket him,
“While I’m here, can I see the gardens?” Taeyeon inquired,
“Of course,” he replied looking sightlessly at his beloved gardens,
“Thank you,” was her reply.
When all he heard was the study door opening and then closing, he stepped out into the promising morning.
“You could have seen them now,” he mused softly as he headed towards the nearest entrance into the garden’s maze, “With me.”
Taeyeon stood by the foot of her bed as she took off the royal blue jungchimak. Dressed in just the white paji and undershirt, she pulled back her hair and tied it up in a simple bun. She pulled the hem of her tank-top out from her paji and scrunched it up to beneath her breasts and knotted it securely in place exposing her abdomen. It went against all rules of society, all propriety that he was in her room and here she was baring half her torso to him. But she didn’t care and she didn’t mind. She was quite comfortable in Sungmin’s presence regardless of her level of dress.
“If you weren’t already injured, I’d kill you myself, Minx,” Sungmin sighed heavily as he came up behind her.
Her pale skin was purple and blue in big patches all around her abdomen. On the walk to her room, Taeyeon had explained all that had happened since she left the Castle of Light up until Sungmin had walked into Prince Siwon’s study. Considering she was in the river for hours, he assumed the injures were made from crashing into boulders, banks and who knows what else in the cold water. He silently thanked the mage who had taken care of her fever and some injuries the day before.
His hands hovered close to her skin. Closing his eyes, he summoned Light Magic and focused it at the palms of his hands. He slowly opened his eyes and watched as her skin slowly cleared. Once her back and sides were healed, Taeyeon turned to face him, her arms hanging loosely at her sides. Closing his eyes again, he healed her abdomen and then slowly raised his hands until they hovered just beneath her bust.
“A few broken ribs,” Sungmin murmured, “I sense resistance, difficult healing.”
“It doesn’t tickle… that’s for sure,” Taeyeon grounded out.
Sungmin’s eyes opened and locked with hers, “Taeyeon –”
“You’re healing broken bones, of course it’ll hurt,” Taeyeon gritted her teeth as tears poured down the sides of her face, “Just concentrate on healing them.”
“I… I don’t know if I can fully heal them,” Sungmin admitted, “I can’t even take away your pain.”
“It’s okay,” Taeyeon insisted, “Just do the best you can and my body can take over after that.”
Sungmin sighed before nodding. Closing his eyes, he began concentrating on healing her ribs as much as possible. He felt warmth radiating between his hands and her torso. The dark bruises that had marred her skin disappeared, but he knew that while her bones were in place, they were not completely healed yet.
Taeyeon let out a cry as she felt her bones shifting, felt as if her body was being torn apart even though the opposite was happening. Pain was like lightning, like fire, burning through her until she could no longer control her cries. She felt arms wrap around her shoulders, felt her body trapped in a familiar embrace, warmth but still the pain persisted. She felt the material at her cheek become wet and realized she had been crying.
When she was able to push the pain out of her mind enough that the tears stopped, she straightened and looked up at Sungmin’s face, “You’re tired… I’m so selfish sometimes –”
“It’s fine. An hour or so of rest will be enough for recovery. If I could do more –”
“You’ve done more than enough and I never would ask this of you… I know how much a toll healing has on your body,” Taeyeon insisted as she stepped out of his embrace and released the knot keeping her undershirt up. Tucking in her shirt and picking up her jungchimak, she took his arm and began leading him to the door, “Come, I’ll walk you to your room,”
“I’m not a child, Taeyeon,” Sungmin rolled his eyes even as he allowed her to lead him away, he would never let her know how fatigued he really was feeling.
Once in the hallway, he indicated which room was his – just a few doors down – and she propelled him in the direction. He opened the door and turned to look at her, “What will you do now?”
“Seeing as you’re the prisoner and I am not… I’m going to the gardens. I’ve been in that room for almost a full day and have almost forgotten what outside looks like,” she smiled softly, “Will you be okay?”
“You act as if I’m the injured one,” he rolled his eyes again, he raised her hand to his lips, brushing a kiss to her knuckles, “Take care while I’m asleep. Don’t get into any more trouble, Minx.”
“You’re the one going around threatening royalty,” she murmured teasingly.
She gave him a brilliant smile before turning away and slipping her royal blue jungchimak on. He watched her leave until he could no longer see her. Then, he turned into his room, closed the door and collapsed against its solid wood. Yes, he would never let her know how weak he really was. He sank to the ground, finding comfort in its hard, surface despite the carpet covering it. He closed his eyes and allowed darkness to overcome him. He didn’t even have the strength to get into bed.
The moment she was out of his sight, Taeyeon leaned against the wall, sagging as the pain slid back into her mind. She had been struggling against it, to keep it from her thoughts. The moment she knew Sungmin no longer saw her; the pain took over and seemed to be amplified. It did not hurt as much when she moved now, but it was horribly sore and the burning of her ribs beneath her breasts was still very much evident.
Taeyeon tried to straighten quickly, but the pain shot through her abdomen and she cringed horribly. She smiled through the pain anyway, knowing she must look foolish. Standing at the top of the stairs just a few feet away was a properly dressed butler in black and white,
“Yes?” She hated how much her voice wavered with pain,
“Can I be of assistance?” He was an older man of greying hair and wrinkled face, and his dark eyes, which marked him of the Dark and would usually have made her wary, were full of warmth and genuine concern,
“Ah, yes, I was going to the gardens. Prince Siwon gave me permission to see them and after a day of being indoors I find myself desperately needing the feel of the sun on my skin,” she offered her brightest smile,
The butler hurried forward and offered his arm the moment she gave permission for his assistance. He had seen the way she had been leaning most reliably against the wall and the pain was still not completely wiped from her face. She was a mage from her clothing and her eyes showed she was of the Light. Everyone had heard the rumours of how she had attacked royal guards and had been arrested and brought before the first prince. She had been deemed a prisoner but given a guest room. Then, this morning her status had been elevated from prisoner to guest. All the servants knew – news travelled fast in the castle – but no one knew why one of the Light was in the Dark Kingdom, let alone now a guest at the Dark Castle.
However, he was a good butler, certainly, great even, and she was a guest. He would offer her all the courtesy of any other guest despite what filled her soul.
Slowly, he led her down to the ground floor and then out the back doors to the stone terrace looking out to the expansive gardens. Taeyeon gasped at the sight. Beautiful beds of flowers lined the terrace, almost like an embrace, a boundary before large bushes grew with intervals of entrances set into their green façades.
“A maze?” She asked,
“More or less, Miss,” the butler answered, “Like any other garden, it showcases different flowers and there are small sitting areas to rest and enjoy the scenery. It looks like a maze, but it is still a garden.”
“It’s ingenious,” she insisted, “A garden in the form of a maze? It allows oneself to be completely enveloped in the environment, not simply just surrounded by it. It gives the garden more depth, more purpose – allowing it to be a complete escape, touching all the senses. Nothing else will disturb one’s sight, nothing else will mix with one’s smell – it’s nature at its most beautiful, most safe.”
The butler stared at her a moment, absorbing her words. She spoke without intent, without ulterior motives. She spoke with feeling, with vibrancy. Did she realize that she had spoken so accurately of the purpose of the garden maze? No, how could she? She understood the gardener without possibly knowing who the gardener was. She flattered, praised a gardener without knowing their identity, but understanding their mind, their soul – she of a different origin of soul – and, yet…
“Oh, if I go in will I get lost?” She interrupted the butler’s thoughts,
“All paths lead to an exit. Whether there are many twists or turns, there will always be an exit at the end,” the butler informed, “It’s all a matter of finding a path and just sticking to it until the very end.”
“Knowing me I’ll probably get lost anyway,” she laughed lightly, “Will you send out a search party if I am not seen by nightfall?”
“I assure you, Miss, I will send out a search party long before then!” He scoffed. This stranger, this mage, this person of the Light, he found to quite like her. She was genuine, free of the artifice that usually cloaked the young ladies who graced the castle. He hoped he would not be the only one.
“Is there any particular path you suggest?” Taeyeon inquired as she slowly moved towards the maze, “One, perhaps, that is particularly beautiful or particularly calming or particularly dear to your heart?”
“I do not know if I can answer any of those questions without risking my employ, but I would suggest the path to the farthest right. You might find the sights there enlightening,” the butler replied with a peculiar light in his eyes and humour in his voice.
Taeyeon nodded and headed to the designated entrance. As she stepped into the maze and was surrounded by greenery, she felt herself suddenly calmed. She looked around and realized that the smell wafting around her was sweet lavender. It was no wonder she suddenly was calmed. Gingerly, she wrapped her arms beneath her bust and slowly walked down the stone path, remembering the butler’s words about paths and exits.
She realized then that she had trusted the butler’s suggestion. She didn’t know when it happened, but at some point he went from being a butler in the Dark Castle to simply being a butler. It was as if she were speaking to one of the butlers back home. She spoke to him with ease and not once did she stop and think ‘Wait, this is one of the Dark. Can I trust him?’. Her usual instincts did not flare up. Rather, she spoke of her thoughts freely and accepted his opinions easily. Here she was walking into a maze and not once did she suspect he lied to her of getting lost in the maze. Peculiar that and even more peculiar that she accepted it all so easily.
She recalled the conversation she had had with Sungmin over Light and Dark. They were both encompassing powers and it was only chance that drove those of the Dark to be corrupted first. Yet, thus far, those she had encountered did not seem to have fallen souls. The mage, Kangin, had been quite kind and he knew her brother. He knew Eeteuk enough to know his abhorrence to eating duck! Of course, there was the prince. She disliked him almost immediately and she still didn’t particularly look upon him kindly, but there were moments, the smallest of seconds, when she saw something akin to likeable in his character. Like when he had chuckled earlier. That sound wafted through her memory and settled in pleasantly in her thoughts as she continued down the path.
She came across the first sitting area the butler had mentioned. It was a circle lined with beds of beautiful flowers of purples and blues, tones, she reflected, that must add to the calming effect of the lavender. There was a stone bench in the middle were she thought to rest, although she knew sitting would probably cause her ribs more pain before peace. Then, she realized the area was not empty. How did she realize so belatedly? How did she not see him sooner when, now that she acknowledged his presence, he seemed to invade all of her senses?
He was like a dark shadow standing before one of the flower beds, tall and intimidating. His back was to her and, thanks to the soft leather encasing her feet, knew he couldn’t possibly know she was there. She was able to observe his broad shoulders and the way the dark material of his shirt stretched taught against his back as he moved. She was able to follow the soft lines of his hair that was slicked back, the ends just touching his collar. She should leave, she should turn and go and yet, she was entranced, watching his hand hovering before him, palm down and the way water seemed to form in the air just below his hand before trickling down onto the flowers below.
He sensed her almost immediately. He was too prone to scents of flowers, of the garden maze. He could smell a flower and identify it with his eyes closed. He could take a scent and break it down into its components accurately more often than not. When she was close enough, there was a disruption in the scents that had been enveloping him since he entered that particular sitting area. Beautiful scents of lavender, hyacinth and bluebells had suddenly been dulled by a different smell. Fresh, light, indescribable. It was like the smell of dew in the morning or grass after a rainstorm, but more, so much more.
When she didn’t move, didn’t say a word, he reacted first.
“Do sit down, Princess. Let me not disrupt you with my presence,” he said as he closed his fist and slowly turned to face her,
“I was just surprised to see you here. I know you said you were going to the gardens earlier but I was just surprised to see you here and watering the plants,” she explained as she tentatively walked towards the stone bench, slowly lowering herself onto it,
He watched her carefully, saw now the stiffness in her movement as an anticipation to pain. Saw the flash of pain in her amber eyes and the slight twitches in her facial muscles as she physically fought to express her pain. Had the mage healed her? If so, he did not do a good enough job. He’ll have to ask Kangin to heal her once he was free. Gauging from his internal clock, the Dark Mage was probably leaving Kyuhyun’s room around that time.
“I like to spend most of my time here,” Siwon admitted, “That is, whenever I’m not doing work regarding the kingdom in my father’s stead.”
“I can see why, it’s so… perfect,” Taeyeon explained.
Siwon looked at her as she closed her eyes and tilted her face to the sky,
“I was telling a butler earlier about how brilliant an idea this garden is,” Taeyeon went on, “Of how it could completely encompass one’s entire being, all senses. It’s like a complete, total getaway from everything else. It’s a perfect escape from the world beyond these green walls. I’ve only been walking in here for a few minutes and already I feel a detachment from the rest of the world. Is that why you spend your time here? To get away from the castle, the others? I’m sure it’s a lovely break from state affairs.”
Siwon stared at her, aware that his lips were parted in a slight gape. She understood. Better than anyone else, before he even could explain it, she understood. Being a princess, she understood the strictures of her station, understood he had the same limitations. More than that, however, she understood his garden, why it was built the way it was and why it was so precious, such a necessity. She got him and that shook his soul like nothing else. That scared him like nothing else.
“It is,” he said finally, turning his back and walking to the final bed of flowers he had yet to water.
As always, he found a peace while tending to his flowers. However, more than half his mind was aware of the lady at his back. She looked as beautiful as ever in her mage robes and her flowing hair. Her amber eyes had widened with surprise when he had turned to look at her. They sparkled like embers in a fireplace, like little jewels that only added to the beauty of her face.
He had been attracted to her appearance first. However, since breakfast, he had begun to witness flashes of who she was – her character and personality. Her emotions poured out from her expressions and voice. When she spoke just now about the garden maze, a small smile had lifted her lips, her face beaming with emotion even as her eyes remained closed. She exuded feelings and they made her radiant, effervescent. Her emotions, the way she carried them, expressed them, made her far more beautiful than just her physical features. He found himself drawn to her more and more like a moth to a flame.
“Why do you water the plants?” Taeyeon inquired, “Do you not have gardeners to do this for you? Unless, of course, this is one more way you are more removed from your usual place in life, helping complete the illusion of escape?”
He smiled even if she didn’t see. Yes, she understood him. “But it is still an illusion, is it not?”
“Far better than having nothing at all,” she replied, “And at least it is a pleasant escape. Completely different from what I would expect from you.”
“And what would you expect from me?” He inquired lightly as he finished watering and turned back to face her,
She tilted her head as she regarded him. Did she know her eyes darkened with an almost hazel depth when she contemplated? He had noticed it several times the other morning when he first met her and again when they were seated for breakfast. He found he could easily drown in her eyes, get lost at trying to decipher each tone, each shift of colour.
“Well, as I stated earlier this morning, you’re always so serious and solemn. Well, I suppose not always since you did chuckle earlier, but I would expect you to have something equally serious as an escape perhaps writing and reading. Or, perhaps even something more reclusive such as meditation in a dark room,” she stated matter-of-factly, even as her eyes shined with amusement,
“Shall I return to my study and drench myself in total darkness then?” Siwon questioned, raising a single brow in the process,
“Oh, not at all. I said I would expect different from you, but now that I’ve seen these gardens and seen you watering them, well, I expect something just like this from you,” Taeyeon answered, “It’s so different, such a contrast to how you act in the castle, it provides more distance, does it not, from your usual self? That’s why it’s such a great escape, no?”
“Why is it that within a few hours of my presence you are able to know my actions and their reasoning so well, Princess?” Siwon asked softly, seriously, his lids lowering slightly as he watched her sharply, “Why is it that with all others, even my brother, I have to explain such things?”
She tilted her head up to look at him and it was then that he realized he had been slowly approaching her until his legs almost touched her knees and he was towering over her. Her emotions, as always, played over her face. He saw the initial caution, the hint of fear, flash through her eyes before they softened, the colour lightening from a hazel to a jewelled honey. Her facial muscles dispelled their tension as she looked up at him, her eyes slowly sweeping over his face as if searching for something.
“Because we all need an escape,” she answered simply, softly, “And sometimes we cannot get it.”
Taeyeon gazed up at the prince and was startled to see such intensity in his dark eyes, in the lines of his face. Most times there was no emotion for her to read there. Either he controlled his emotions very well or had little to express. But in that moment, she saw an intensity, barely concealed emotions, just below the surface of his expression. His eyes were dark, almost brooding, and the flickers of emotions she saw there seemed raw, powerful. To see such emotions unleashed, to witness this intimidating man, this handsome prince, give in to his emotions…
She barely repressed the shiver that raced up her spine at the thought and fought to break the spell of his eyes, turning her face away. Strong fingers wrapped about her chin, slowly turning her face back towards him and up to his face,
“What is your escape, Princess?” He asked quietly,
Her eyes widened then, startled at having her words, her theory used against her. But no, he wasn’t the enemy, was he? He was simply asking her a question. He deserved an answered, didn’t he? She read him so well, or so he claimed, so wouldn’t it be fair to allow him the small concession of answering his question? And, yet, it was no small thing to answer the question. To answer it would be offering a great part of her vulnerability, of herself.
“Magic. That is your escape,” he didn’t ask, he stated it with a quiet confidence.
She simply stared at him. She had never said it aloud. Never said the words to her brother. He believed her need to wield Light Magic just another childish rebellion and, in a sense, it was. Even Sungmin, who she trusted implicitly, knew wielding Magic was freedom for her, but he didn’t know the intensity of her need, didn’t understand the depth of her need. And, yet, this Dark Prince, who had known her all of a day, pinpointed her greatest need within a single conversation.
She greatly suspected that he understood her as much as he claimed she understood him. The thought surprised her. The thought scared her. The thought calmed her.
“That’s a dangerous escape,” he said quietly as he released her chin and began to walk towards the entranceway between the maze path and the sitting area, “Care to join me? I make an excellent guide through the gardens.”
Taeyeon nodded as she gingerly stood and made her way to his side, slipping her hand around the arm he offered,
“The mage did not heal your injuries?” Siwon inquired as he guided her farther down the path and deeper into the heart of the gardens,
“There’s only so much Sungmin can do with his magic since he is a lesser mage, and there’s only so much I can ask of him. It takes quite a toll on him to use magic in such a complicated way as healing,” Taeyeon explained. She paused and then asked, “So you, too, believe magic is dangerous?”
“I know it is,” Siwon corrected, “Don’t get me wrong, in small portions, in moderation, magic has done good for both kingdoms. However, too much magic is, well, dangerous.”
“I suppose –”
“Have you never notice how others must regard your fiancé?” Siwon inquired, noting the bitter taste of the word on his tongue, “He is a mage.”
“I… I suppose there is a slight separation in their attitude, but that is respect for his status –”
“It is fear,” Siwon corrected again, “It is fear for the magic he wields. No doubt once he becomes a full mage he’ll be even more feared. No one will ever say or do anything so blatant as to ignore him, to give him a cut direct, but they will distance themselves. The same goes for Kangin. He is a Dark Mage, has been a full mage for over fifteen years.”
“But he cannot be so much older than 25,” Taeyeon gaped,
“He isn’t,” Siwon agreed, “But he has been practicing magic for far longer and was quite disciplined in his training. He gained full control and use of his magic when he was very young, before the war. As such, he is much feared in this kingdom. It is hypocrisy at its greatest because the people go to him for help, for requests of healing, of use of his magic and in the same breath will fear him, will warn their children against him. As such, he does not live in the castle; indeed, his home is on the outskirts of the lands, close to where both our kingdoms meet.”
Siwon paused before a break in the bushes, revealing another sitting area. He led her within and she gasped. The cylindrical sanctum was crawling with thorny stems and little red buds. The beds surrounding the sitting area were every shade of red rose from the palest of pinks to the deepest of scarlet. The area completely fought back the scent of lavender that had surrounded them as they walked. No, this was filled with just roses, the scent engulfing them with slight ebbs and flow as gentle breezes embraced them.
“There are more roses throughout the garden, but this is the only place that is strictly theirs,” Siwon explained as he stood at the entryway, hands clasped behind his back.
Taeyeon slowly walked the perimeter, her gaze starting at the beds at her feet before slowly crawling up the leafy, thorny walls, “There are no white roses or yellow ones. I’ve even seen blue ones before.”
“Blue ones are a man-made trick, flowering the blooms in blue-coloured water. I do not grow them here. Yellow roses and white ones can be found elsewhere. However, here, is strictly for those with red in them,” Siwon explained, “When one thinks of roses, they immediately think of red. It is that initial thought, perception, that has been captured here.”
“Like idealism at its greatest,” She offered,
“Yes, something like that,” Siwon replied, the hint of a chuckle in his voice,
“My, my, Prince Siwon, you are secretly quite the optimist despite your serious disposition, are you not?” Taeyeon said teasingly, “You act to the world as if a cloud is constantly hanging over you, but yet you surround yourself with colour, have such a place of roses made…”
She whirled around then to look at him, her eyes wide and sparkling,
“You do not grow blue roses here… what a peculiar way of wording such a thing instead of stating you instructed such a way or you commanded it to be so… instead you personalized the statement,” she tilted her head and regarded him again, “You do not just water the plants, Prince Siwon, you are also the gardener.”
“Since I do not sense a question there, then I need not answer,” he shrugged,
“This entire garden is your own work?” Her lips parted in awe,
He stared at her silently. For so long, in fact, she wasn’t sure he would ever answer her. Finally, however, he gave a single, sharp nod.
“Oh, how long it must have taken you to create and foster such –” Her words were swallowed by a gasp, her hands flying to cover her mouth, “When you said earlier that magic is a dangerous escape… you speak from experience, don’t you?”
He gave her a smile, but it was rueful, almost mocking, “This was my last dark spell.”
“You control water so easily that you do not even use a spell?” She shook her head, “To think your magic created this garden and you continue to tend to it… It’s truly…” She shook her head again, “I can’t even describe it.”
“Shall we continue on?” He inquired, offering his arm.
She made her way to his side, sliding her hand around his arm once more. They continued on at a slow pace. Occasionally, Taeyeon looked up at Siwon from the corner of her eye. He looked straight ahead. Suddenly, his face that rarely showed emotion was brooding. She stopped, causing him to stop. She looked up at him,
“This is a beautiful garden and yet you regret it, don’t you?” She asked,
“It was a decision I made after much consideration,” Siwon answered,
“That’s not an answer,” Taeyeon said. She tilted her head to the side, regarding him in her way, “This is related to the dangers of magic, isn’t it? But you no longer wield such massive amounts of magic,”
“That doesn’t mean this spell did not have its toll already,” he shrugged,
Her amber gaze swept over him, searching his face, “For one who seeks refuge in a world of colour… does this mean you had just as many emotions, Prince Siwon? Have I misjudged you again in believing you to be only serious and stoic?”
“I suppose you’ll never know, will you?” He replied, continuing to walk, prompting her to do the same. She understood him too well, too much already. Could he really afford to let her slip farther and farther beyond his guard? Could he really risk letting her know more and more of his mind, of his soul, of his…
“Even to control a small part of my magic will suffice,” Taeyeon admitted, “The training itself would be my escape, something so far removed from normality that I could be free… the actual control of my magic will help prevent… well… what happened yesterday. I set those trees on fire because I was scared.”
“You must be blessed with a lot of magic to have it unleashed so easily by emotions,” Siwon commented and then added, “Or perhaps you just have a lot of emotions.”
Taeyeon laughed lightly, “Perhaps even both.”
Siwon felt the ends of his lips twitch but it ended there. Her laugh was soft, freeing like petals floating on a soft, spring breeze. Her laughter had the same effect lavender once had on him, calming, soothing, settling peace in his soul. He shook his head and continued on. He had to ignore these thoughts. Maybe he was going crazy after all. First he was comparing her to a rose and now to lavender?
“Prince Siwon… will you kiss me?”
That was something he could not ignore.
(Chapter 4: The Dark Mage's Letter)