(Chapter Four of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Four: The Dark Mage's Letter
When he awoke, he opened his eyes to the mattress pressed against his cheek. He opened his eyes to the window close to his bed with the curtains pulled back allowing for full sunlight to flood into the room. Slowly, he pushed himself up and then sat down. He looked around just in time to see the Dark Mage getting up from the edge of the bed. Dressed in white paji and a black, sleeveless jungchimak, he looked formidable with his muscled physique and shaved head.
“Ah, what a sight I’m not used to seeing in the mornings,” Kyuhyun grinned,
Kangin rolled his eyes, “Get dressed, it’s ridiculous for a prince to be abed at this hour still. Breakfast is probably cold and you might as well just hold out until lunch.”
“If I’m late to rise you only have yourself to blame,” Kyuhyun shrugged as he slipped off the bed, clad in just simple pyjama bottoms and padded over to the bathroom connected to his bedroom,
“Myself? My life does not have to revolve around you, Kyuhyun,” Kangin snapped, “I have a life outside of yours!”
Kyuhyun froze, standing before the sink, the water already running for his use; “This all began because of our friendship… I wonder sometimes if it has continued out of duty for your prince rather than anything else.”
Kangin, who had followed him to the bathroom, approached him, grabbing his chin and roughly forcing the younger man to look at him, “Don’t insult me by saying such bullshit, Kyuhyun. I’m here aren’t I? Every night I’m here. Every morning I’m here. But don’t you dare presume that you’re the only thing in my life.”
Kyuhyun dark eyes, slashed with silver, swept over the mage’s hardened face before nodding as best he could with an iron grip on his chin; “I know that… I was kidding earlier about blaming you…”
Kangin sighed and sharply turned away. He made two steps before a hand grabbed his forearm. He stopped. Waited.
“But I was serious about what I said afterwards. If you want to stop this, I’m okay with that… We can end this now and I’d be fine with that,” Kyuhyun insisted, softly.
Kangin sighed quietly. It was times like these when the prince’s voice was so quiet, so soft, so vulnerable that he remembered why their peculiar relationship began. The second prince was vulnerable and it sometimes hurt what little heart Kangin had left when he witnessed that vulnerability. He saw his younger self in those moments. His urge to protect the second prince blossomed somewhere in the vicinity of his chest.
“I don’t want to end things,” Kangin replied, “You need me, Kyuhyun and, for as long as you need me, I’ll be here for you. Then, and only then, will this end.”
Kyuhyun’s grip slackened and Kangin walked away. He stood there staring at the mirror before him as he heard the distant sound of his bedroom door opening and then closing. Leaning his palms against the counter, he sighed heavily, staring sightlessly at the running water.
Kangin’s words should comfort him, soothe him. Instead, they felt restraining, smothering. How could he feel such a way when just a moment before he was the one who didn’t want Kangin to leave him. He hadn’t said it blatantly, but they both knew that he had been begging Kangin to allow them to continue as they were.
He cupped his hands beneath the running water and splashed his face with the cold liquid. After a few douses, he grabbed a towel and patted his face dry. Lowering the towel, he looked at his reflection in the mirror.
Kangin had been there for him when no one else could be. Kangin supported him, cared for him and protected him. Kangin had been his crutch, but he knew that when Kangin left him, he’d have nothing left to keep him up. He was scared when that time came and knew it would happen sooner rather than later. He knew Kangin was just waiting for him to get stronger – emotionally and mentally – before he ended things and left. He had gotten used to Kangin being there that he worried of the time when he wouldn’t be there any longer. He relied so heavily on the mage that he wondered if he could really be left alone and sane.
As he pushed thoughts of the mage away from his mind, other thoughts spilled in, threatening to cause his head to burst. There was another mage at the castle. This mage was different, had caught his attention almost immediately. This mage made him lose control, made him unstable. This mage confused him like nothing else could. This mage was never far from his thoughts since the previous evening.
He changed quickly into black pants and an indigo shirt so dark it was almost black. He brushed his hair back from his face and left his room immediately. He walked swiftly, with purpose, all servants seeing his determined, almost dark expression, and immediately jumped out of his way. If the usually friendly, if snarky, prince was not smiling, none dared to challenge him. He reached the door to the room where he knew the mage was ‘imprisoned’ – he had asked a footman before blowing past him like a hurricane – and raised a hand to knock. He lowered his fist before it came in contact with the wood.
Why should he knock? He was a prince, was he not? This was his castle – technically – was it not? Ergo, he should not have to knock. Indeed, the occupant within was his prisoner. That gave him visitation rights by default. He was allowed to just storm into that room whenever he had such a whim without giving a thought for common courtesy and knocking. Damn it, he did not need to heed such niceties with someone who threatened his life the night before! He was going to burst into that room and then…
Kyuhyun cursed quietly to himself as he whirled away from the door and paced to the opposite side of the hallway, leaning back against the wall and glaring at the offending door. Or rather, at the offending prisoner on the other side of the door. He knew what he wanted to do after going into that room: he wanted to kiss the damn mage again.
What was it that instantly attracted him to that mage? Was he suffering from the same delusions his brother had been when the princess had been presented to him? Worse, were these true delusions? Kyuhyun shook his head, no, true delusions would make him paranoid, make voices talk in his head. These were not delusions and, if they were not delusions, then they must be real.
That meant he was very much – really – attracted to the mage.
Damn it, again.
Maybe it was the moonlight, or the firelight. Maybe the night was just playing tricks on his mind?
He strode across the hallway with all intents to burst in. At the last moment, he knocked, his nose kissing the door due to his late decision. He sighed heavily, took a step away from the door and waited. He heard no sound. He took that step closer to the door again and knocked, pressing a keen ear to the door. Silence.
Could that foolish mage have escaped? No, he wouldn’t leave the princess… Kyuhyun glanced down the hallway to where he knew the princess’ room was and decided he was jumping to conclusions. If the mage had escape – and, therefore, with the princess – his brother surely would have raised the hue and cry for her recapture, wouldn’t he? He looked doubtfully down the hallway again, he couldn’t be too sure with Siwon, especially since his moods, when they rarely appeared, were unpredictable at best.
He tried the doorknob and found it unlocked. Damn it, what if the mage had escaped with the princess and his brother was too much of an unfeeling fool to do anything – the door would not open. He tried again and it opened a few inches. He tried to look into the small opening it allowed and realized there was something on the ground making it difficult to open the door. He blinked and squinted harder and realized he was staring at leather-encased feet and the ends of black paji. Immediately, he knew who was there, but why was he on the ground!?
Kyuhyun didn’t want to push the door at the risk of injuring the mage further. His eyes roamed over the door, taking in its polished, grainy surface. Wood. Perfect. Holding the doorknob firmly, he touched his middle- and index- fingers to the middle of the door. Concentrating, eyes narrowed, he began to trace invisible patterns with his fingers. He ended his motions with a downward slice of his two fingers. A perfectly straight cut appeared in the door, halving it. He practically threw the side he held to the ground as he bent to pick up the mage.
“Damn it, you’re heavy,” Kyuhyun muttered as he struggled to stand straight, “Or maybe I’m just not that strong… no, no, let’s account it to you being heavy.”
Kyuhyun knew why the mage was heavy, too. Indeed, could feel why. The mage may have been slightly smaller compared to him, but his body was encased in ropes of muscle. He could feel firm muscles of thigh and calf around his arm hooked beneath the mage’s knees. The mage’s arms, bare as before, weren’t even tense, the muscles relaxed and, yet, they were still visible, still defined in their dormant state. As Kyuhyun brought him to the bed, he knew that in a physical fight, he would never win against the mage.
Once he had the mage on the bed, his eyes swept over him, trying to find some sign of injury. Why had the mage been collapsed upon the floor? If he had felt himself strong enough to get out of bed, then he should’ve been strong enough to get back in. He had a feeling the mage was smart enough to know if he was strong enough to whisk away an elusive princess or not.
Propping a knee on the bed, Kyuhyun leaned forward, slipping a hand beneath the mage’s head, carefully trying to feel for the bump. He had healed it, but what if he hadn’t been as thorough as he thought? What if the mage had been strong enough to get out of bed, was hit with dizziness and collapsed? A part of him was screaming at him for caring so much. Really, he was never like this unless the other person was his brother or his father.
“What are you doing?”
Kyuhyun was startled, his gaze moving to the mage’s eyes which were very much wide open now, “Checking on the bump on your head,”
“I have a bump on my head?” Sungmin questioned,
“Well, not anymore,” Kyuhyun replied, “But last night –”
“So it was you last night,” Sungmin stated,
Kyuhyun blinked, he had only himself to blame for that slip-up. However, he had choices. He could confess to everything or he could – “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Yes, being flippant and brazening it out was always the best route to take.
Sungmin rolled his eyes at the prince, “Last night someone healed me, took away my pain. It was you.”
“Of course it was not,” Kyuhyun insisted,
“I remember,” Sungmin stated,
Kyuhyun blinked. Well, so much for being brazen… “Oh,” was all he managed to say,
“I knew it!” Sungmin exclaimed with triumph,
“You bluffed!?” Kyuhyun gaped down at him,
“It was the only way to get you to admit you were lying,” Sungmin shook his head impatiently. It was then that he remembered the hand beneath his head and he belatedly realized that the prince was hovering over him, their faces just inches apart.
At the same time, Kyuhyun remembered how close they really were. He couldn’t think of any way of moving away without making the situation worse than it already was. So, he did as he pleased and didn’t move a single centimetre. In fact, the alluring pink that was suffusing the mage’s cheeks was quite intriguing. He wondered how deep that colour could turn and how long it would take him to find out. So, instead of moving away and, instead of staying still as he had previously planned, he moved a fraction of a centimetre closer to the mage, hovering above him. Oh, how red the mage’s cheeks got!
“What are you doing!?” Sungmin questioned,
“Checking for your bump,” Kyuhyun stated seriously even as his dark eyes laughed at the mage,
“You just said I don’t have one anymore!” Sungmin accused, his steel-blue eyes glinting,
“Well, that was only concluded after I assured myself it was gone,” Kyuhyun insisted,
“Then you cannot still be checking for my bump,” Sungmin argued. He would have shoved the prince away but he was still weak from healing Taeyeon earlier. That and he wondered what the punishment would be for pushing a prince. “Considering I’m your prisoner, one would think that you’d like to keep a sound distance from me.”
“Considering you’re my prisoner, I can do pretty much anything I please with you,” Kyuhyun replied flippantly,
“Within reason!” Sungmin grounded out, his fingers curling into fists as his nails dug into his palms,
“You seem more scared than angry,” Kyuhyun observed, his black eyes locked mercilessly with the mage’s, “What is it that I could possibly do to you that would scare you, Mage?”
“Considering you’re in my room, in my bed and hovering over my body… well, one can only assume certain things from such a scenario,” Sungmin stated with ill-concealed irritation,
“Ah, but I was checking for your bump. You just happened to have woken up in the middle of it,” Kyuhyun replied and added, “And let us not forget none of this is yours, Mage. You are in my castle.”
“Well, now that you’re done checking, you can move away from me,” Sungmin countered,
“Oh, but I do like where I am right now and am vastly enjoying myself,” Kyuhyun said as if they were talking about the weather,
“What!?” Sungmin gaped up at him,
“As you stated, we are in the same room, the same bed and my body is scandalously close to yours. Also, the colour of your cheeks is hinting at what that head of yours is assuming,” Kyuhyun explained, a small smirk tugging at one end of his mouth, “I have no reason to change anything, really.”
“All of this just to amuse yourself!?” Sungmin questioned, eyes narrowing even more, if possible,
“Yes,” Kyuhyun answered before adding, “And because I want you.”
Sungmin blinked several times. He opened and closed his mouth several times before he managed a very weak – oh, he hated himself for how weak, “What?” Damn, it came out like a squeak!
“Well, we’ve already acknowledged I’m in a bed with you, why else would I be if not because I want you?” Kyuhyun asked in the most damnably sensible tone Sungmin had ever heard – damn that brat!
“I… I’m engaged,” Sungmin stated quietly, the words falling from his lips before he could pull out from the prince’s dark gaze, “I have a fiancée,”
Kyuhyun gave him a hard stare, “Really?” When the mage said nothing, Kyuhyun’s dark eyes lit with realization, “But of course… your journey here was not for the princess alone. She’s your fiancée, isn’t she?”
Before Sungmin could aptly reply, Kyuhyun carefully slipped his hand from beneath the mage’s skull and pushed off the bed. Shoving a fist into his pocket, he walked towards the half-door as he stared down at the hand which had been holding the older man’s head. He could still feel the warmth of him, the soft tendrils against his skin. He paused in the doorway, his gaze drifting to the discarded half of the door,
“I’ll just have to steal you away, then,” Kyuhyun said simply,
“What are you going to do? Keep me here until you have me!?” Sungmin questioned, gingerly pushing himself into a sitting position, “You can’t –”
“I can do whatever I want,” Kyuhyun replied, looking over his shoulder, his dark gaze sweeping over the mage, “And yes, I will keep you here until I’ve stolen you away.”
“You would risk a war –”
“I will risk everything to have you,” Kyuhyun’s gaze narrowed. Then he looked ahead and left.
Sungmin heard the distant yell of the prince commanding someone to fix the door. He stared at the half-a-door where the prince had stood. He had been startled to find the prince above him and, yet, he had felt an instant fire blossom in his stomach and spread throughout his body. Their conversation had been so inane and yet, so natural, so comfortable that neither of them had noticed the position they were in.
And because I want you…
The words had shaken him to the core and, yet, warmed him like no fire – magic or natural – ever did. The words tugged at something in his heart and he had the insane, sudden urge to reply in kind. When he had revealed his relationship status to the prince, he had used it as a shield, a guard to keep him safe from the prince. Keep his heart safe? No, never – he would never allow the prince near his heart.
I’m engaged… I have a fiancée…
To his own ears they sounded like a mantra, like a reminder. They had been said hesitantly as if it was a new thought, as if he had forgotten. But he had, hadn’t he? For most of the time he was with the second prince, he had forgotten and it was not something he easily forgot.
Then he reflected on the prince’s final look before he left. It had looked so fierce and, regardless of magic and age, he had felt intimidated, almost scared of the younger man. At the same time, flames had licked all over his body, tingling his nerves. He tried to remember a time when someone had looked at him so intently, so intensely and failed. No one had ever looked at him with such raw need and, he was sure, he had never looked at anyone as such.
I will risk everything to have you…
Sungmin flopped back down onto the bed and stared up at the canopy. He didn’t doubt the second prince would do just that. There was ill-concealed emotion in the prince and they were directed at him. He was scared and, yet, wanted to see exactly what the prince would do. After recalling the prince’s final look, he didn’t think about the princess.
“Prince Siwon… will you kiss me?”
He stopped abruptly; she stopped in a more graceful manner. He slowly turned towards her and stared down at her in shock. Had he heard correctly? Looking down at her amber eyes and he knew immediately he had heard correctly. And, gauging from the calm expression and light in her eyes, she was most definitely serious. The question was, would he oblige her? It was something he had wanted do since she came into his study in Kangin’s arms. It was something he wanted to do more and more the longer he was in her presence.
So, instead of doing something he wanted to do since yesterday morning, he asked in a confused voice, “Why?”
“I have found myself in a situation whereby I am free of the strictures of my station and my brother. For the first time in my life I am most definitely, completely free. As such, I find the sudden need to take advantage of such a freedom,” Taeyeon answered simply, casually, as if theirs was a commonplace topic for conversation.
“So, you decide to do the one thing that is far from your usual life such as kiss a prince of the Dark Kingdom?” Siwon questioned, his thick brows which had been raised now slowly lowering into a glare,
She shook her head as she raised her free hand to push back a lock of his that had fallen free from the pack and now graced his forehead, “On the contrary, I decide to do something that I want to but would have otherwise been forbidden.”
“The proverbial forbidden fruit, then?” Siwon asked, his gaze still narrowed,
She laughed lightly and it floated around him like a warm breeze, “Do you never do anything for the simple happiness of it?”
“My garden –”
“Is an escape. There is a difference between peace and happiness,” Taeyeon interjected, her hand remaining where it was, her fingertips grazing his temple, his cheek like butterfly wings,
“It would make you happy if I kissed you?” Siwon questioned, sceptical and suspicious of the princess,
“I think it would and I’m able to see if it would,” Taeyeon answered simply, the hint of a smile playing about her light pink lips, her hand now gently cupping the side of the prince’s face,
“But the question still remains,” Siwon said, his voice low and warm, “Will I kiss you?”
“I think you will not,” Taeyeon said after staring into his obsidian eyes for a pregnant pause, “You are too much a gentleman to do such a thing as kiss me. And perhaps I am too much a lady and will shy away at the last possible moment.” Her warm gaze swept over his face before she finally did offer a small smile, “After all, although this is a beautiful escape, it is still only that: an escape.”
“But for now, we are in this escape,” Siwon stated, grabbing her hand as it fell away from his face. He lightly placed it over her other hand on his arm. Then raised his hand to her face, the side of his forefinger beneath her chin and gently swept his thumb back and forth just beneath her bottom lip.
For a moment, all Taeyeon could think about was had she really just asked the first prince to kiss her? So many other questions accompanied this, such as why did she do it, why was she not running away in embarrassment but they were nothing compared to her persistent, disbelieving question of did she really just ask the prince to kiss her? It was too late to take back the words and the moment they left her lips, she realized she couldn’t regret them. For the first time in her life she had done and said exactly what she wanted when she wanted and knew that there was a possibility, regardless of how small, that she was free to get as she wished.
This prince, who was a curious mix of dark mystery and colourful possibility, had intrigued her. She first met him as a prince that was dark, intimidating. Then, all morning, she met him as a prince that craved for a freedom as she did. She met a side of the prince that was beautiful, jewel-toned and she forgot he was of the dark. She was able to see glimpses of the prince beyond his striking, handsome appearance. Then, walking with him in this garden that was his creation, his escape had been simply… well, simple. Simple peace, simple peace – simple. The words had spilt from her lips before she realized the desire to feel his lips against her own. Once said, however, she realized she really did want the prince to kiss her, very much so.
As the silence stretched between them, Taeyeon felt herself drowning in his dark gaze, felt her cheeks warm – with a blush, she was sure. And always, always, she was aware of that thumb slowly stroking just below her lips. She was also aware of the arm beneath her hands, the tall, strong body so close to her own. Briefly, she believed that even if he never kissed her, she would cherish that moment, that memory together.
Siwon leaned his face closer and Taeyeon felt her eyes slowly slide close. She felt his breath like a warm puff against her skin. Then, she felt his lips strong and warm against her forehead. Her heart, which had been beating at a rapid tattoo, seemed to still for just a moment before racing again. She let out a slow breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. Then, she felt those wonder lips move against her forehead and realized he was speaking quietly to her,
“As much as I wish to kiss you, Princess, I cannot do so while you are engaged to another,” Siwon said quietly,
Taeyeon’s eyes flew open and she found herself staring at the prince’s black-clad chest. Had she truly forgotten about Sungmin? Wonderful, loving Sungmin who had been there for her for years since he first came to the castle to ask permission to be a mage. The one whom all the world knew her to be engaged to? She had forgotten about him and, regardless of how far from reality she went, she could not escape that one fine detail. Neither could Siwon.
“If I were to end the engagement?” Taeyeon inquired, her voice quiet, barely above a whisper,
She felt him smile against her forehead and she desperately wished she could have seen such a rare sight, but to move enough to see his smile meant breaking the contact of his lips on her skin. She couldn’t quite bring herself to do it. His hand moved from her chin to run along her jaw until it cupped the back of her neck, his long, strong fingers tangling in her thick hair.
“You would break an engagement of – how long?”
“Three years –”
“You would break an engagement of three years just for one kiss?” Siwon asked his tone half amused, half serious,
“Even if I would, you would think me fickle and you wouldn’t let me anyway,” Taeyeon mused, “Such is the way of a gentleman.”
“A gentleman wouldn’t be with you alone. I should have left the moment I saw you walking the gardens –”
“And left me to get lost in this maze of yours?” Taeyeon scoffed, laughter in her voice,
“A gentleman wouldn’t be so close to you. I should always keep an appropriate distance from you even while walking –”
“Supposing I tripped and you caught me before I fell. Or I was doubled over in pain and you helped me stand tall,” Taeyeon offered, more amusement in her voice now as she continually interrupted the prince and he continually kept talking as if she hadn’t.
“A gentleman wouldn’t be kissing your forehead – a sure sign of affection – and not remove his lips from there for several minutes,” Siwon finished as he slowly, slowly, pulled away, straightened, breaking contact with her skin.
She looked up at him again, “Do you, Prince Siwon, have affection for me?”
“I don’t know. I hardly know you at all,” Siwon replied as he began walking again, prompting her to walk as well,
“And I do not know you at all, either,” Taeyeon mused as she let one hand drop from his arm, keeping the other safely tucked near the crook of his elbow, “I suppose that’s not a good basis for breaking an engagement, hmm?”
“Not at all, but I offer my friendship instead of a kiss,” Siwon stated,
“You mean instead of a real kiss,” Taeyeon corrected matter-of-factly, “And I accept your friendship.”
They walked in silence for a length, turned a corner and Siwon showed her another sitting area, this one filled with buttercups, marigolds and sunflowers. Taeyeon stepped into the sitting area and slowly sat down on the stone bench, one arm wrapped around her abdomen just below her bust. He saw a slight twitch in her eyes, a sign of suppressed pain. She sat there, her gaze sweeping the natural gold around her before closing her eyes and tilting it to the sun that shone in at an angle.
“After so long inside, the sun feels wonderful,” Taeyeon said,
“My apologies, I hadn’t thought of such considerations for one of the Light, especially since you use your magic,” Siwon replied, his tone flat and even again,
“Hmm, that reminds me… Ever since I’ve been in contact with those of the Dark Kingdom, they’ve all been on a day schedule like my people,” Taeyeon noted,
Siwon felt another smile tugging at his lips, “Are there tales twisting in your kingdom?”
“That’s the second time I’ve heard that since the mage, Kangin, found me in the river,” Taeyeon stated. She opened her eyes and looked over at the prince, “I acknowledge that I am vastly ignorant of the Dark Kingdom and Dark Magic. So, please, instead of allowing me to continue in ignorance, tell me what I do not know.”
“Those of the Light gain their strength and power from the Sun. At night you are weakened, more susceptible to temptation, to evil. So, those of the Light sleep when the sun is gone from the sky to protect themselves,” Siwon stated,
“I know that –”
“A difference in Light and Dark is their strengths, their weaknesses,” Siwon continued, “Those of the Dark gain their strength and power from the Moon. During the day, we are weakened while at night we are strong. However, since our souls are of the Dark, during the night we are more susceptible to evil.”
“We all have strengths and weaknesses. Those of the Light can become overloaded during the day, bursts of magic occurring even when a person has very little or no magic,” Taeyeon replied, “Summer is a horrible time for fires in our lands.”
Siwon nodded, “But because of the war, those of the Light are far more wary of us than of their own weaknesses. You are awake during the day and sleep during the night. Also because of the war, we are wary of ourselves, of our own people. We still do not know who killed –”
“My parents,” Taeyeon interjected, dropping her gaze although her face was still angled towards him,
“Yes… we do not know who did it but that means any of us could fall, any of us could be the next soul to be consumed by the Dark,” Siwon explained, “So, we live on a day schedule to protect ourselves from, well, ourselves.”
“Even if it weakens you?” Taeyeon asked, looking up at him despite her shining eyes,
“We’d rather be weak than risk our souls,” Siwon answered simply as he moved towards her and offered a handkerchief from his pocket, “I trust you’ll never tell your army that should they ever decide to attack.”
Taeyeon accepted the cloth and unashamedly wiped away her unshed tears, “I fear I have been horribly wrong all these years.”
“For someone who has probably thought the worst of me and my kind, you would trust me so quickly? So easily?” Siwon asked curiously as she handed back his handkerchief and he pocketed it,
She stared up at him, sunlight washing around him, giving him an ethereal, halo outline, “In truth, Sungmin talked to me before about Light and Dark.”
Siwon merely nodded as he helped her up and led the way out of the sitting area.
They walked in silence again for quite some time. Taeyeon was slowly digesting all she had learned from the prince about his people. He had referred to the people of the Dark as his. He would be a great king one day, indeed. Siwon was still remembering the odd moment in the maze when they had stood so close together that he was sure all the warmth around him was radiating from her small body.
He had been close to kissing her lips. When he hadn’t, he had been close to telling her to break the engagement so he could. He had been close to breaking her and the mage apart, been close to having her kiss. However, he fought for his soul every day. He fought during the night and he sure as hell would not give into temptation during the light of day when he had no excuse.
It wasn’t until the leafy walls fell away from them that Taeyeon realized the prince was leading her out of the garden maze. Instead of continuing to the back terrace, he stopped and turned towards her. She did the same, looking up at him in silent questioning.
“I don’t know what my brother plans to do with the mage, but he will not be harmed, I promise you,” Siwon stated,
“Why?” Taeyeon asked simply, “Sungmin threatened your brother. I’m not betraying him, but if someone threatened my brother… I would understand, indeed, your hostility towards Sungmin this morning was quite understandable.”
“Because you asked for a kiss and I could not give it to you,” Siwon answered with a slight shrug of his broad shoulders, “I will give this to you instead. A promise of your fiancé’s safety.”
“But not freedom,” Taeyeon stated,
“There is only so much I can offer you, Princess,” he replied quietly, “He still threatened my brother. Would you so easily release someone who threatened yours?”
Taeyeon sighed, “You know I wouldn’t… but thank you for your promise.” She hesitated and then added, “And your friendship.”
“I do not know you now, Princess, but I have no doubt that by the time your mage is released, I will have gotten to know you quite well,” Siwon stated,
“And when that time comes, I can surely answer whether or not I have affection for you,” Siwon continued, “And, surely, you will know the same of me.”
“What are you suggesting, Prince Siwon?” She asked simply, her amber gaze sweeping over his emotionless face before resting on his black eyes that shone with a dark fire, dark intensity,
“That is when I will ask you if you will break your engagement and when I will give you your kiss,” Siwon answered, his voice like black velvet, wrapping around her like a blanket. He picked up her hand from his arm and raised it to his lips, “Do you need help back to the castle?”
She shook her head in a negative response. He gazed into her eyes for a moment, seeing the determination to try for independence. Then, he turned and headed back towards the garden maze.
“Prince Siwon,” Taeyeon called out,
He paused and turned enough to look at her properly over his shoulder,
“If I have read you so correctly this morning as you’ve said, then what I am assuming should be correct also,” Taeyeon stated, “This is your escape during the day, but surely you have an escape for the night time when you cannot sleep. Will you show me your night garden one evening?”
“If there is one, perhaps I will,” Siwon replied, his dark eyes shining as if smiling as the rest of his face was expressionless, “I must retain some of my secrets from your amber gaze, Taeyeon. Your eyes are far too beautiful and see far too much.”
She stared as he turned again and continued back into the maze. She stared at his retreating, black-clad self until he turned a corner and was gone from her sight. Her mind jumped on the compliments he gave her easily, sincerely. Then, her heart seized as her mind slowed and took a step back before he spoke of her eyes. He had called her by her given name.
When the time came, would she be able to refuse him?
When lunchtime came around, Taeyeon paced before the prince’s study contemplating whether or not to knock on the door. She had been invited – ordered, really – to have breakfast this morning by, apparently, the second prince. Did that invitation extend to all the following meals? After all, wasn’t she no longer a prisoner in the castle? Didn’t that mean she was afforded the same courtesies as a normal guest would? What if she was wrong, however? And, so, she paced before the door, stopping every once in awhile to raise a fist, hesitate, lower said fist and continue her pacing. The ninth time she did her almost-knock, she turned and raised her fist to see the door open and the first prince standing there looking down at her with what must be amusement in his dark eyes.
“I… How long have you been standing there?” She questioned,
“Long enough to deduce it must be serious indeed if you’re pacing in such a manner,” Siwon replied, “Is there something you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Am I allowed to eat lunch?” She asked simply,
Both of Siwon’s thick eyebrows rose before the ends of his lips twitched as if hesitating to smile, “Well, that’s certainly a question for serious thought.”
“I’m not joking,” Taeyeon narrowed her gaze at him, “Your brother ordered me to breakfast which, I should remind you, he never showed up to and I don’t know if that permits me to continue having meals while I stay here.”
Siwon offered her his arm and led her to the dining room, “Even if it did not extend to other meals, I would graciously offer you to have the remainder of your meals with us. I thought I made it clear that you are not a prisoner.”
“Yes, well, one can never be too sure,” Taeyeon muttered, “Where is your brother? I haven’t seen him all day and I’ve at least covered half of the castle’s grounds,”
“Have you? And haven’t gotten lost?”
“The layout is similar – if not the same – as the castle,” Taeyeon warily eyed a passing maid, “Just… the other one.”
Siwon nodded his understanding, realizing they had to safeguard her identity from all others, “Makes sense. The… erm, other castle… was a gift from a Dark King centuries ago. Perhaps he wasn’t so creative?”
Taeyeon laughed, drawing the attention of all in the vicinity.
“Anyway, my brother doesn’t usually make an appearance until late morning. It really depends,” Siwon explained as they entered the dining room and naturally walked to his end of the table, a footman running to pull out the chair for Taeyeon.
Sitting in the same seat from breakfast – adjacent to the prince’s left – she looked at Siwon, “Depends on what? His mood? The weather? What side of the coin faces up after being tossed?”
Siwon chuckled as he settled into his own seat, “You must have been bored this morning if your imagination is flying like that.”
“After the gardens I just wandered around the castle,” Taeyeon shrugged,
“And your injuries?” Siwon inquired as plates of food were placed before them,
“Still… sore, but I didn’t want to be so idle,” Taeyeon explained. Her hesitance suggested it was more painful than sore, but Siwon decided not to probe the subject. “And you haven’t answered,”
“Haven’t answered what?”
Taeyeon and Siwon looked up to see the second prince striding into the dining room. Giving a small bow to Taeyeon which, thankfully, could have been mistaken as a bow to his brother, Kyuhyun sat down in the seat adjacent to Siwon’s right. As a plate of food was rushed to his spot, he beamed a smile at the princess. Taeyeon gaped for a moment. She was so accustomed to Siwon’s lack of smiles, indeed, lack of any emotion, that seeing such a bright smile from the second prince was startling.
“You should introduce yourself before anything,” Siwon admonished lightly, “Actually, even before you throw about orders.”
“Of course, how could I have forgotten?” Kyuhyun asked as he stood from his chair, “Perhaps it’s because my brother talks of you so often that I simply feel as if we’ve already been introduced?” He offered another smile as his eyes darted a glance at his older brother.
Siwon stared hard at his brother but said nothing. Taeyeon stifled a laugh as Kyuhyun walked around the table, behind Siwon and to Taeyeon’s side. Without permission, he picked up Taeyeon’s hands and pulled her to her feet, “I am Prince Kyuhyun, the second prince of the Dark Kingdom.”
“T-Taeyeon. Just Taeyeon,” she grounded out as she suppressed a cringe,
“Was my introduction not polished enough?” Kyuhyun blinked, looking at his brother with a complete sense of loss,
“No, you’re just presumptuous as always,” Siwon nudged his brother aside, none-too-gently, as he took Taeyeon’s hand, placed his other at the middle of her back and helped her back into her seat, “Are you okay?”
“Yes, yes, just… sore,” Taeyeon insisted as she offered both brothers a weak smile,
“I have a feeling you would say the same thing after being trampled by a stampede of horses,” Siwon stated dryly as he sat back down. He threw his brother a dark stare,
“I didn’t realize you’re injured,” Kyuhyun replied sincerely as he knelt by her side, “Please allow me to make it up to you. I can heal them for you.”
Taeyeon shook her head, “They’re in a… well… that is…” Her cheeks infused themselves with bright pink,
“The mage,” Siwon offered. He never realized how difficult it would be for him to suggest a thing, but he had offered her friendship and he would honour it, regardless of his feelings.
“He can only do so much,” Taeyeon explained, “It’s okay, really. I’ll just heal on my own.”
Kyuhyun stared at her a moment, his dark eyes unreadable. Finally, he nodded, straightened and returned to his seat. “So, what were you two talking about?”
“Why you’ve only appeared now and… and yet you ordered me to breakfast,” Taeyeon answered, a slight challenge glinting in her amber eyes,
Kyuhyun laughed easily, “Stop looking at me as if what I’m about to say will start a war. Most mornings after I wake up I spend time with my father.”
“Oh… that’s… wonderful,” Taeyeon murmured, shooting a guilty look at Siwon,
Siwon gave a slight shake of his head as if to assist in dispelling her worries, “Did Father actually wake up today?”
“For a few minutes,” Kyuhyun answered as he picked up his spoon, “I’m pretty sure during that time he declared me his successor.”
Taeyeon’s jaw dropped in shock, eliciting another laugh from the second prince.
“He’s lying,” Siwon stated as he continued eating his food. Between bites, he added, “Kyuhyun states this at least five times a month and, regardless of how it may seem, the last thing Kyuhyun wants is the crown.”
Kyuhyun sighed with mock-drama, “He’s right, I’m afraid. You see, to be king means having to be responsible, to become stuffy and forget to have fun.” He cast his brother an amused look, “The world can only take one prince as such and, since he already is, well, it’s easier for me to remain just the way I am.”
“Once again he is lying,” Siwon insisted as he picked up a glass of water, shooting a warm gaze at his brother, “He’s so irresponsible that I had to make up for it.”
Taeyeon remained quiet as the brothers bantered back and forth. She had seen a different side of the prince in the gardens. It was a warm side, a proud side. He claimed to be so cool because of his past use of Dark Magic and, yet, she saw another side of him again. He was practically radiant when he interacted with his brother. His face remained expressionless, but his eyes sparkled with a warm fire, a different quality than what she had seen in the gardens, and there was just a hint of amusement on his lips. Already she knew smiles were rare from the first prince, but she wondered if they came easier when he was near his brother.
“Sungmin!” Taeyeon cried as she jumped to her feet, her eyes glued to the mage who had just walked into the dining room. She cringed horribly immediately.
“Taeyeon!” Sungmin made a slight lunge forward instinctively even though he was too far away to even attempt to soothe her with his hand.
Siwon, however, was not too far away. He was at her side before she could even hide her expression. His hand at the middle of her back, “You really should know better from before.”
“I was just – wait, are you okay?” Taeyeon looked up at Sungmin, carefully sitting down as the pain slowly dissipated,
“I’m fine,” Sungmin insisted as he slowly approached the table, eyeing the second prince.
Kyuhyun, who hadn’t turned to look at the mage, was watching his brother intently. After the princess sat back down and Siwon seated himself again, he caught Kyuhyun’s gaze, startled. Kyuhyun slowly raised a brow at his brother, quickly glancing at Taeyeon before looking at him again. Siwon, as if knowing his meaning, gave him a slight shake of his head.
“Apparently, I’ve been ordered to lunch,” Sungmin stated, his gaze resting on the second prince,
“Well, I would hate for you to starve,” Kyuhyun said flippantly as he held up a cup filled with green tea in mock salute before taking a slow sip of the warm liquid, staring at the mage over the rim of his cup. He placed the half-full cup back on the table, “Prisoner or not, there is no reason why I cannot be… friendly.”
“Friendly?” Sungmin narrowed his steel-blue eyes at the second prince, his hand gripping the back of an empty chair,
Kyuhyun stared hard at the mage, his dark eyes dancing with amusement and another intensity Sungmin couldn’t quite label, didn’t want to label.
“Yes,” Kyuhyun said slowly, “Friendly.”
“Sungmin,” Taeyeon hissed from across the table, effectively snapping his attention away from the prince, “I don’t think you have the right to being rude when you…” she glanced around at the footmen who were stationed at the doors, and lowered her voice accordingly, “Threatened the prince.”
“I had to if I was ever going to find you,” Sungmin retorted,
“And you couldn’t just ask instead of throwing magic at other people?” Taeyeon questioned,
“Yes, couldn’t you just ask?” Kyuhyun repeated mockingly,
Sungmin threw him a scathing look before looking back at the princess, “I come to get you and this is the thanks I get?”
“I am not ungrateful,” Taeyeon retorted, her eyes growing wide before narrowing.
Her gaze wavered but she was relentless. However, Sungmin saw, as did the first prince. It was enough.
“I apologize,” Sungmin said quietly, his head bowing slightly, but he kept his gaze locked with Taeyeon’s.
Taeyeon’s lips parted on a silent gasp. She and Sungmin had dropped formalities between them years before when their engagement was announced. It had been so long that she had forgotten what it felt like to have him being formal with her. It felt cold, it felt as if a chasm had opened up between them, beginning as a small crack and slowly, slowly opening wide. Her lips trembled and that’s all it took.
Sungmin was at her other side, not trusting to have the first prince at his back; “Taeyeon…”
She shook her head, waving him away, “Don’t mind me, it’s just… been a long day,” she insisted, bowing her head as she threw a glance at Siwon from beneath her lashes.
“I have work to do,” Siwon stated as a means to excuse himself as he stood abruptly, a footman rushing forward to pull back his chair, “Mage, sit and eat. Kyuhyun… be nice.”
“You should be saying that to him,” Kyuhyun scoffed, gesturing to Sungmin with his spoon. He threw a smile at his brother, “Is this work in the study or work in the gardens?” He looked at the princess, “I believe it’s my duty to inform you that my dear brother is a gardener. That way, should you glance out a window and see him watering plants you do not fear for his sanity.”
“I already know,” Taeyeon replied as she looked at the first prince, “Perhaps you’ll show me around the gardens sometime?”
Siwon raised a single brow, curious as to why she worded it as if they hadn’t been touring the gardens that morning, as if she didn’t already know some of the secrets of his most precious of treasures. It would be so easy to agree, to be gallant and polite. It would be so pleasant to agree, to spend more time with her, to talk with her. Slowly, his gaze moved from the princess to lock with the mage’s. The mage stared at him with undisguised curiosity.
“Perhaps your fiancé could,” Siwon suggested as he looked back at Taeyeon,
Her eyes lit with challenge, “But he wouldn’t know the garden as well as you and he’d be unbearably bored.”
Siwon stared at the princess for a heartbeat, perhaps three heartbeats before he gave a slight nod, “Very well… when you have the desire to tour the gardens, I’ll be at your service.”
Siwon turned to leave when Sungmin called out, “Your Highness!”
Siwon paused and looked back at the mage over his shoulder, “Yes?”
“I need to speak with the Dark Mage,” Sungmin explained, “I… I have a message for him.”
“I can summon him, but depending on where he is will determine how long it will take for him to get here,” Siwon glanced at his brother, “Do you know where he is?”
“He left hours ago,” Kyuhyun shrugged, his shuttered expression belying his flippant tone; their conversation repeated in his mind; “He could be anywhere by now.”
“When the Dark Mage arrives I’ll have you notified,” Siwon said,
“After lunch am I to return to my room?” Sungmin inquired, his gaze on the first prince, knowing he wouldn’t get any help from the second; not wanting any help from the second prince.
“You are not my prisoner,” Siwon shrugged his broad shoulders and left the room without a backwards glance.
“You are not bound to your room,” Kyuhyun said after the doors closed behind his brother, “But you are not to leave the castle grounds.”
When Sungmin said nothing, merely stared at the prince, Taeyeon nudged him with her elbow. He bowed his head, “Thank you, Your Highness.”
As Sungmin slowly sat down in the seat beside Taeyeon, servants brought forth food for the mage. All the while, the second prince continued his meal in subdued silence. In the few moments since she had met the second prince, he seemed anything but quiet. She glanced at Sungmin who had also seemed to withdraw into himself. With Siwon gone – she slightly suspected the prince had run away from the awkward situation before it became awkward – she knew it was up to her to smooth things over. It was her duty since it was on her behalf that Sungmin had threatened the prince. It was her duty because she was a princess.
Plastering a smile on her face, she looked across the table, “Prince Kyuhyun, what do you do when you’re visiting with your father?”
Immediately, the second prince’s face transformed, infused with a warmth that wasn’t like his careless amusement like before, but rather the affection he had when looking at his brother. The awkwardness seemingly forgotten, the prince began to answer her question.
It wasn’t until after dinner that the Dark Mage came to the castle. The footman informed Siwon just as he was standing from the table.
“It appears the elusive mage has arrived,” Siwon announced as the others rose to their feet.
“Took him long enough,” Kyuhyun rolled his eyes,
“Well, it’s hard to get word to him when he’s off wandering who knows where,” Siwon insisted as he began to offer his arm to Taeyeon.
Taeyeon had begun to raise her hand to his arm when she paused and looked up at the prince. It happened for a fraction of a heartbeat, but they understood one another. He lowered his arm and she turned to Sungmin who hadn’t seemed to notice what had transpired. Rather, he was turning his gaze away from across the table. As she placed her hand in the crook of Sungmin’s elbow, Taeyeon furtively glanced at the second prince, but he had turned to talk to his brother. Had she missed something?
The princes led the way to Siwon’s study. Upon entering, they found the Dark Mage seemingly perusing the many books on the floor-to-ceiling shelves of the study. He slowly turned to them, his eyes latching onto the lesser mage. Siwon walked immediately to his chair behind the desk and Sungmin guided Taeyeon to one of the chairs before the desk. Kyuhyun, rather than sitting in the final chair by the desk, walked over to the nearest window, leaning a hip on the sill and gazed sightlessly into the night sky.
“Apparently there is a message for me?” Kangin looked at Siwon,
“Not from me,” He replied, gesturing for Sungmin,
The lesser mage stepped forward, pulling out a sealed envelope for the Dark Mage. Kangin took it, his brows rising high on his forehead as he caught sight of the wax seal. He broke the seal and unfolded the letter, his gaze sweeping quickly over the words on the letter.
“Confirmation of the Princess’ identity,” Kangin stated as he looked at Taeyeon and swept her a bow,
Sungmin nodded as he pulled another item from his pocket. This time, it was the small, gold ring that contained the royal crest, a smaller match to the one Eeteuk wore, “Your brother told me to give this to you.”
Taeyeon took the ring into her hands, the necklace looping through it, sliding through her fingers; “This was my mother’s.”
“He said it would give you his name and influence if you need it, that it would mark you as Princess of the Light,” Sungmin explained,
“I suggest you don’t make your identity known quite yet,” Kangin instructed, “We still don’t know how people would react if it’s found out you’re here.”
Taeyeon nodded as she slipped the chain over her head, tucking the ring into the high collar of her royal blue jungchimak. When she looked up, she found herself staring directly at Siwon. He watched her with a quiet intensity and Taeyeon wasn’t sure if she was more afraid or intrigued. All she knew was that she didn’t want to look away.
Siwon stared at her for another second, before slowly turning his attention back to the Dark Mage. When the lesser mage had pulled out a ring, he had felt pain in the vicinity of his heart. When it was revealed it was simply a seal ring, the pain subsided. When he realized she wore no rings at all, he grew even more curious of the princess than before.
“We’ve already confirmed her identity earlier this morning,” Siwon informed,
Kangin blinked, “Then why are they still here? This could cause any amount of trouble.”
“Because the mage threatened Prince Kyuhyun’s life. My brother has taken him prisoner,” Siwon explained,
“A prisoner who roams about and eats in the dining room like a guest?” Kangin glanced towards the younger prince,
“He remains here until I say so,” Kyuhyun shrugged, not bothering to look away from the window,
“Well, while you have your little tantrum,” Kangin looked back towards the lesser mage, “I might as well continue your training.”
“My training?” Sungmin blinked, “What do you mean?”
“Ever since the war ended, there aren’t any practicing mages, correct? Which means you’re training on your own,” Kangin stated, “You’ll progress faster with your magic if I train you. That is, if you wish it.”
Kyuhyun whirled around then from the window, “Kangin –”
“Not your concern,” Kangin interrupted, holding up a hand to silence the younger man, prince or no prince; “If you want me to train you, I will.”
Sungmin nodded, “Please.”
“Very well, we’ll begin tomorrow morning after breakfast,” Kangin instructed. He remained still as the second prince swiftly left the study, the door slamming behind him. “Don’t mind him, just another tantrum of his.”
“Did… Did the King ask you to train me?” Sungmin inquired,
“No, but it’s implied,” Kangin insisted. He glanced at the princess, “And you know your brother well enough to not ask me to train you.”
Taeyeon sighed, “I don’t expect anything from my brother after disappearing on him.”
“Which reminds me, would I be able to send a message to my king?” Sungmin asked,
Siwon glanced at the Dark Mage, “It’d be difficult to ensure security of the message…”
“It’d be succinct and nondescript,” Sungmin insisted, “No one would understand it but him.”
“I can bring it across the border later this evening,” Kangin offered, “If you put the royal crest on it, I can give it to a guard of your kingdom… A guard who is loyal to your king wouldn’t dare break a seal –”
“We can’t use the seal,” Sungmin interjected, “No one must know that Taeyeon is gone from the Light Kingdom’s lands. Some story the king will put out is probably that she’s off visiting one of the estates,”
“And your disappearance? Being the only mage would make it remarkable if you are missing also,” Kangin stated,
“The people will probably assume I’ve gone to join her,” Sungmin explained, “But no one can know we’ve left the Light Kingdom, it’ll cause all the problems we all want to avoid.”
“The flowers are alright,” Taeyeon stated.
Three pairs of eyes stared at her,
“What?” Sungmin asked,
“The flowers are alright,” Taeyeon repeated, “That’s all you have to write. He’ll know you’re with me and that we’re okay
“He would understand that?” Sungmin raised a brow at her,
She narrowed her eyes exasperatedly at him, “Yes, he would. Eeteuk was always worried I’d burn things when I got angry. Whenever we argued outside, he told me not to take my anger out on the flowers. So, if you tell him the flowers are alright it means you’ve met up with me and that nothing’s caused me to let my magic loose.”
Sungmin grinned, causing Taeyeon to roll her eyes. He looked back at the Dark Mage, “Would that be safe to write?”
“It should be. I’ll post it from the closest bordering town in the Light Kingdom,” Kangin replied, “If I do it while it’s still dark out, no one will know who posted it except for the king.”
“What if someone sees you?” Taeyeon inquired,
“No one will see me if I don’t wish it,” Kangin stated,
“Don’t brag,” Taeyeon warned as she slowly stood up,
“Do your ribs still hurt?” Sungmin asked,
“A little, the pain’s subsided a bit,” Taeyeon insisted,
“Mage, talk to me a bit so I know where to start tomorrow,” Kangin invited as he began to cross the study towards the fireplace,
As Sungmin joined the older man, Taeyeon turned her gaze to the first prince who was, once again, watching her intently.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Taeyeon asked quietly, “You were slowly healing me every time your hand was at my back.”
Siwon shrugged his broad shoulders, “If your mage couldn’t do it, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t.”
“But using your magic…” Taeyeon murmured,
Siwon stared at her quietly for a moment before whispering, “Some things are worth it.”
Taeyeon’s amber eyes widened. Her lips parted to say something, anything when the mages returned from their short journey to the fireplace.
“We’ll start after breakfast then,” Kangin confirmed,
Sungmin nodded as he offered his arm to Taeyeon, “I’ll help you to your room?”
Taeyeon struggled to pull her gaze away from the prince. Finally, she looked at Sungmin who watched her with quiet concern; “Yes… Thank you.” Placing her hand on his arm, she quietly let Sungmin lead her out of the study.
Once they were alone, Siwon looked at the mage, “I always knew you knew the King of Light… but now I wonder how well you knew him.”
“What do you mean?” Kangin asked,
“You more or less declared yourself their protector,” Siwon said, “At least, that’s what it seemed like when Kyuhyun was still here.”
“Perhaps,” Kangin shrugged,
“I never really got to know you until after the war,” Siwon stated, “Before that, I have very few memories of even just seeing you.”
“I spent a lot of time training,” Kangin replied,
“In the Light Kingdom?” Siwon prompted,
“In both kingdoms,” Kangin corrected,
“I’m probably the only one who saw the significance of you burning that letter,” Siwon stated, “Most likely not even the Lesser Mage realized it and he was standing right beside you. You never did say what was written in the letter.”
“If I tell you, Siwon, it will be because I wish it so, not because you are fishing for information or because you command it,” Kangin stated sternly, “I am loyal to you, Siwon. You are my prince and my friend, but that doesn’t give you free reign of my past.”
Siwon held up his hands in a gesture of giving up, “It’s hard to be your friend when you don’t talk, Kangin.”
“I could say the same about you,” Kangin retorted as he turned to leave,
“Are you going to Kyuhyun, now?” Siwon asked,
“Of course, he’s in the middle of a tantrum,” Kangin stated as he continued to the door. He paused and countered, “Seriously, Siwon, she’s not for you.”
“I never said –”
“You didn’t have to,” Kangin left, closing the door behind him.
He left the castle and cloaked himself in darkness, heading towards the servants’ stairs. As he crept silently, invisibly, the contents of the letter repeated in his mind. The letter had been as short and nondescript as any other letter that demanded the highest of level of security and obscurity. It held three simple words and the only reason he had understood them was because of the seal that had held the letter closed.
You owe me.
No, perhaps the seal wasn’t the only reason he understood the letter so perfectly. Perhaps, he understood the writer so perfectly that even without a crest, he would have known whom it had come from. Perhaps, he had been waiting for such a message and it had finally come.
Like a shadow, Kangin slipped into the bedroom of the second prince.
(Chapter 5 - Dark Jealousy)