(Chapter Seven of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Seven: Light's Temptation
The first thought that ran through his head was that she had finally just called him by his name. She had said it often enough, but when it was preceded by his title, it seemed less personal. Also, the way she said it sent a shiver down his spine. She said it like a kiss, soft and gentle. She said it like a caress, warm and intimate.
The second thought that occurred to him was how beautiful she looked. She was dressed in another one of his mother’s gowns that the late queen had worn as a young lady. The silk hugged her torso and hinted at the softly curved lower limbs. The lace was a stark contrast to the darker, brilliant green and added just enough adornment to make the dress less plain. The lace, which trimmed the upper edge of the dress and made up the sleeves that just wrapped around her upper arms, seemed to reveal and hide parts of her at the same time. Her shoulders were bare, yet her neckline was covered with the soft lace. It enticed the admirer to want to see beneath the lace.
The final thought darkened all previous thoughts. It turned him cold, sending a shudder throughout his body. He felt his heart turn over and harden. Surely he hadn’t heard her correctly? How could she say such a thing after the kiss they had just shared?
“What did you say?” He questioned, not meaning his words to come out like a low growl.
“I said goodbye. I need to leave, Siwon,” she said simply, softly, that sad, smile still on her pink lips.
“Why?” He demanded, standing up from the armchair,
“I’m not a prisoner, indeed, I could have left days ago,” Taeyeon shrugged slightly, causing the lace around her upper arms to shift ever so slightly, “I stayed because of Sungmin, however, he will benefit from remaining here and obtaining real training from a full mage. I will return to my own kingdom without him and, then, when his training is done or he is released from your brother’s keeping, he will follow.”
“I know you can leave, I mean, why now? You could have decided to leave after Kangin had offered to train him. Why now?” Siwon demanded, fists clenched at his sides and thick brows narrowed angrily.
When Taeyeon simply looked away, Siwon closed the distance between them, grabbing her upper arms, “Is it because of what you heard me say? Taeyeon, those were just words. I was just saying them to get my brother to stop teasing me.”
“You don’t have to lie for my benefit –”
“I’m not,” Siwon insisted, “What I said before to Kyuhyun were lies!”
“Siwon, please –”
“If you don’t believe me then ask my brother,” He stated firmly, “He even knew I was lying the moment I said the words.”
“Why would you lie in the first place? All you would have to do is tell him to stop teasing you,” Taeyeon argued, still avoiding his dark gaze,
“Because I care about you more than I should… more than I like to admit,” Siwon confessed, his voice low but strong, “Because saying those words was an attempt to make them real, to fight this… this attraction I have towards you.” He shook her slightly to pull her attention, the lace beneath his hands rivaling in softness with her bare skin, “Because the fact that I care about you at all scares me.”
Taeyeon turned her gaze to his, her amber eyes trying to read something – anything – from his face.
“I told you that I would risk my own soul to help you, Taeyeon,” Siwon said quietly, his hands rising from her arms to her face, cradling it again firmly yet gently, “Why would I say such a thing, do such a thing, if you didn’t matter to me? If you held no consequence to me?”
Taeyeon felt herself drowning in his gaze. When once she may have thought his gaze cold or stern, now they seemed like warm obsidian, drawing her in further and further until it was too difficult to look away. His words beat around her heart until they found a crack in her defenses and seeped in, burrowing deep into every core. He spoke so sincerely that she ached to believe him. Yet, she had believed him before and gotten hurt. Even if she believed him again, that still opened her for more hurt. She wasn’t sure if she could handle such vulnerability after a life of sheltered care.
“The consort…” Taeyeon murmured, finding it difficult to finish talking.
Seeing the consort sitting with Siwon had shook her like nothing else. The jealous that had been borne within her startled her, fascinated her. She had never felt it before, but had known immediately what it was, what it meant. She had wanted to do everything in her power to remove the consort from Siwon’s side, to have him for herself and her alone.
She had been close – too close – to announcing her royal status just to have the consort bow at her feet and concede Siwon’s hand to her. She had stopped because she knew the dangers of her presence in the Dark Kingdom being known. But she had still been tempted. She still feared that what truly stopped her had been her sudden awareness that her magic was starting to take affect.
“She means nothing to me,” Siwon insisted, “None of them do. How could they when they don’t know me? All they see is a prince and a crown. All they see is a future of being a queen. They don’t know who I truly am. They don’t even know that the gardens are all my own work. I told you before that you know me better than all others.”
“Because I was jealous,” Siwon confessed, “I had seen you and that mage outside of the gardens yesterday. I had seen the way you two were together and I wanted you to see that I also had other prospects, that there were others who were eager to be at my side.”
“At the gardens…” Taeyeon murmured as she pulled away from his hold and paced towards a nearby window.
The ongoing storm had begun shortly after she and Sungmin had exited the gardens. Had what the prince had seen been the reason for the storm? Perhaps it wasn’t a natural storm like she had naively believed? What had happened by the gardens? She scarcely remembered, her thoughts had been so wildly focused on Siwon and his hurtful words.
She stood by the window and closed her eyes and tried to remember. They had stood outside one of the entrances into the maze. She remembered holding Sungmin’s hand because she needed some kind of comfort from him, the kind that could only be achieved through physical closeness. Then, she remembered raising her other hand to hold the side of his face, a gesture of affection that was instinctive to her. Sungmin had surprised her then by turning his head to kiss her hand.
She opened her eyes, staring into the black, storming sky. Is that what had Siwon seen? How much had he seen? If, she was correct and the storm was his doing, then what he had seen was enough to cause him to unleash such chaotic water magic. She sighed heavily, he had every right to say all those words about her. She had asked him to kiss her, had been inappropriately close to him and then he had seen her be just as close with Sungmin.
To someone who didn’t know the real situation, who didn’t know that Sungmin was just a very close friend, she would seem fickle, perhaps even two-faced. No, he was right to say those words about her, regardless if he meant them or not. Any anger or hurt that was left redirected itself away from Siwon and towards herself.
“I must seem so despicable,” she whispered to herself. She turned to face Siwon, startled to find he was standing right behind her. She tipped her face up to look at him directly, “The sooner I leave, the sooner this storm will end.”
“It won’t,” Siwon replied as he stared down at her,
“This storm was started because of me, wasn’t it? Because of what you saw?” Taeyeon prompted.
Siwon simply stared at her for a moment. Finally, he gave her a single, sharp nod.
“Then if I go I won’t be around to upset you anymore,” Taeyeon insisted,
“If you go, Taeyeon, I will be inconsolable,” he admitted quietly, firmly, his dark eyes simply gazing at her, the hint of sadness in their depths.
“But why? Don’t you feel like I’ve been playing with you?” Taeyeon questioned, “Don’t you feel like I’ve been going between two different men? You should hate me, Siwon!”
“And, yet, I don’t,” Siwon replied,
She stared up at him and managed a weak, “Why?”
“Because I’ve gotten to know a bit about you,” Siwon answered, “I know that you feel the pressures and restraints of your station and crave to be free of them, even for just a moment. At the same time, you would risk all to do your duty and protect your kingdom, even going so far as to set fire to your own hand. This tells me that you know what you want but also have a strong sense of duty.
“I know you have been naïve about my kingdom, but you accept your shortcomings and are inquisitive enough to ask what it is you don’t know or what you have been mistaken about. This tells me that you may have grown up being sheltered. However, you’re not afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses. Rather, you try to improve yourself, to learn and grown in order to become a better person.
“Someone who does all those things, is all these things, does not seem, to me, to be the type of person I should hate,” Siwon stated simply.
Through Siwon’s words, Taeyeon’s vision had become blurry with thick, hot tears. She hadn’t dared to look away, so entranced by his steady gaze and sincere words. She hadn’t even wiped a single tear away, so enthralled by the moment that she was practically paralyzed by wonder.
A chance for love…
“I’m not so great of a person,” Taeyeon murmured, “It was naïveté that led my hand to be burned. It was pure spite that led to my ignorance of your kingdom and your people. Indeed, I’m not a strong person at all because all I wanted to do earlier was run away. Ever since I heard you say those things, all I’ve wanted to do is run away rather than face you, rather than talk to you.”
“Why do you think so lowly of yourself?” Siwon asked gently as he raised his hands to her face, brushing away her tears with his thumbs,
“I don’t, I simply see myself as I truly am,” Taeyeon replied. She tried to look away, but his hands held her in place,
“Or perhaps you simply have not lived enough to be better or, stronger, as you say,” Siwon offered,
“I’m only a few years younger than you,” Taeyeon stated,
“Yes, but you grew up sheltered, didn’t you? A princess in your kingdom, I would assume you would be guarded like the kingdom’s greatest treasure,” Siwon guessed,
Taeyeon dropped her gaze, “I do not blame my brother. What else was he to do after our parents’ murder?”
“Taeyeon, if you truly believe you’re not as great as I see you to be, then stay here longer,” Siwon suggested, “Instead of leaving, running away, stay here for as long as your mage does.”
“Siwon… about Sungmin,” Taeyeon tentatively looked up at him again,
Siwon shook his head, “Never mind about my jealousies. I have no right to you while he is your fiancé. It was cruel of me to punish you when you didn’t deserve it.”
“But, Siwon –”
“If a person is caught between two people, some might believe them to be weak-willed or fickle. However, because that person is you, I believe that your heart is too big, that you have too much love for just one person,” Siwon said quietly, ignoring the pain in his heart,
“That’s not true, if I truly loved Sungmin it wouldn’t be like this,” Taeyeon stated,
“It’s okay,” Siwon insisted as he wiped the last of her tears away, “I know it’s possible for someone to have two loves.”
Taeyeon’s eyes widened at his words and she was acutely aware of a sudden, sharp pain in her heart. So startled was she that she allowed Siwon to walk her back to her bed and sit her down.
“Are we friends again?” Siwon asked,
Taeyeon looked up at him and nodded, “Yes… Yes, of course.”
“I’m glad,” Siwon gave her a small smile that immediately transformed his handsome face. He leaned down to press a kiss to her head, “You should rest. You still feel quite hot.”
Taeyeon watched as the prince then strode out of her room, the door closing quietly but firmly behind him. She moved further onto the mattress and lay down, pulling the sheets and blankets overtop of herself once again. As she stared up at the canopy, she silently scolded herself for being a fool.
Why hadn’t she told him the truth about her engagement? It simply would have been easy to explain that Sungmin and she were only pretending to be engaged. It would have made their situation simpler and, perhaps, he would have kissed her again.
She touched her fingers to her lips, still able to feel the strength and warmth of his lips against hers. That had been her second kiss in her entire life, but it had differed greatly from the kiss Sungmin had bestowed upon her. Indeed, she felt the kiss she shared with Sungmin a sad comparison to what had happened between herself and Siwon prior to their conversation.
She should have told him the truth, especially since it was apparently the conversation to reveal all kinds of inner thoughts and feelings. So, why hadn’t she?
She sighed heavily as she rolled over onto her stomach and buried her face into her pillow, “Because I’m a damn coward,” she muttered out loud.
She lay there for an indefinite amount of time, waiting for the exhaustion that had been plaguing her since she woke up to take over again. As she did so, she turned her head so she could gaze out the window where she and Siwon had been standing. Before she finally succumbed to sleep, she realized that the storm had already subsided, the clouds having parted and the moon and stars were already shining in the velvety, black sky.
It was a bright morning when a messenger was admitted into the study. He strode forward and handed over a folded piece of nondescript paper. At his dismissal, he bowed to the king, turned and left immediately.
Eeteuk opened the piece of paper and read the short lines written there in a familiar script.
The flowers were almost singed but that’s because the sun was too bright. The flowers are alright now.
Eeteuk placed the paper down on his desk and stared at the words. He had understood the first letter completely: Sungmin had found Taeyeon and they were alright. This one was a little too broad for immediate interpretation.
“The first part is about Taeyeon,” Eeteuk muttered to himself, “The sun… no, this is all about Taeyeon. So, she got emotional again but is okay now.”
He sighed heavily, raking his fingers through his thick locks. He wished he knew all that was happening. Sungmin had found Taeyeon already, but why hadn’t they returned. Further more if they couldn’t return, then why? And, even if they couldn’t return how was it that they were able to send him messages? Surely it was only Taeyeon who would word such a message for him?
He should have raised the hue and cry the moment he had known Taeyeon was gone. He should have damned his duties to hell and sent the kingdom aflame in the search for their lost princess. She was more than just his beloved, precious sister. She was his family, all of his family. She was his only confidante, the one person he told all. Since the war, he rarely trusted anyone and those of his court he did trust, he did so warily. It was a lonely thought, but it was the truth.
She was the only one who would not betray him, not because he was king or because he was her brother, but because she was who she was and she loved him. Now that Sungmin was with her, he didn’t have to send out a search party, but he regretted every moment not doing so from the very beginning. He had ensured her safety for years, he shouldn’t have balked now regardless of the consequences to the kingdom. The fact he didn’t know what was happening to her now heaped more guilt and pain onto his conscience.
He knew they had gotten to the Dark Kingdom. How deep into the Dark Lands, he wasn’t sure, but they had managed to find the Dark Mage. From their messages alone, he wouldn’t have been able to deduce that fact. Indeed, he probably would have believed his letter was still in Sungmin’s pocket if it weren’t for another nondescript letter that had been sent to him.
This particular letter accompanied the first. It had been written by a different hand, its strokes thick and bold and so familiar that Eeteuk had almost dropped the letter from shock. The letter had been just as succinct and mysterious as his own letter to the Dark Mage. It, also, only contained three words:
I promise you.
He pulled out the letter from the breast pocket of the black silk vest he wore. He opened the letter and reread the three short words over and over again. It had been fifteen years since he had last seen that writing. It had been fifteen years since he had heard at all from the sender.
Eeteuk wondered how he looked now. Was he taller? Thinner? Thicker? His hair was fully shaved now, he was sure. He had heard whispers about the Dark Mage over the years, so he must have become a full mage over those fifteen years. If not, he would have been known as the Dark Lesser Mage, just as Sungmin was known as the Lesser Mage of the Light.
Eeteuk wondered how he was now. Did he still have that secret smile, as if all of life amused him and made him happy? Did he still chuckle softly to himself as if he had to hold back all the joy that was within him? Then, Eeteuk realized that if he was a full mage, then his answer to those questions would be no. He knew the consequences of being a full mage would have on one’s soul.
It was a sad revelation. Thinking, no, knowing that someone who was so friendly, had such a sunny disposition was now void of all warm emotions was depressing. Since that someone was the Dark Mage and he had known him fifteen years ago, was devastating. Had he changed greatly then? Was he so different that Eeteuk no longer knew the man as he had known the boy?
Eeteuk folded the Dark Mage’s letter and replaced it in his left breast pocket. After fifteen years, he still could not forget about the Dark Mage. After fifteen years, he still could not stop thinking about the boy who gave him his first kiss. After fifteen years, he still could not forgive the friend who had betrayed him which led to the murder of his parents.
He prayed that with the kingdoms in a truce, his sister would remain safe with the Dark Mage.
“I swear, Minx, I could happily kill you sometimes,” Sungmin sighed.
It was the morning after Taeyeon had spoken with Siwon. Sungmin had come into her room to speak with her. Now, he sat at the foot of the bed, his back against one of the posts and his legs stretched out before him along the end of the mattress. Outside the sun was shining brightly; not even a cloud was present, hinting at the storms that had doused the lands just the previous evening.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say when someone is,” she sneezed loudly, “Sick.” She pulled out another tissue from a box and blew into it,
“Yes, but you wouldn’t be sick if you didn’t go running into the rain. And then fell asleep in the field,” Sungmin scolded lightly,
“I was just… so tired of everything,” Taeyeon sighed as she sat back against her pillow that she had propped up against the headboard so she could sit comfortably. “I’m not a mentally strong person, Min.”
Sungmin laughed, “You are, you just don’t think you are. You’ve grown up sheltered, hardly ever leaving the castle grounds. You barely know the streets outside of the castle. You have never had the need to deal with any hardships, disappointments. That doesn’t mean you’re not strong, it just means you haven’t been pushed to be strong. Now that you are,” he shrugged, the laughter gone from his face, “It scares you because it’s something new, something different. That doesn’t make you weak, Taeyeon. It makes you human.”
“I wish I could know if you’re right,” Taeyeon muttered as she grabbed another pillow and hugged it, balancing her chin over top its edge,
“Then test yourself. Don’t run away,” Sungmin suggested,
“That’s what Siwon said,” Taeyeon said quietly, tentatively looking at the mage,
Sungmin raised a brow, “Siwon? When did you speak with the prince?”
“Last night? But after Kangin brought you in he said no one was supposed to disturb you,” Sungmin stated, “Well… he is the prince and this does explain the suddenly sunny weather.”
Taeyeon merely nodded.
“What did you two talk about?” Sungmin asked and added belatedly, “If you don’t mind me asking.”
Taeyeon blinked, “You never have to worry about asking me questions, Sungmin. You’re my best friend.”
Sungmin smiled and then scowled, “Do I want to know what you two talked about? If he talked to you then he was in your bedroom, alone. Do I have to duel the damn prince?”
Taeyeon blinked some more and then laughed out loud until she fell into a small coughing fit. Sungmin scrambled to her side, rubbing her back as she coughed over and over, the exertions causing her entire body to spasm. When she had stopped coughing, Sungmin settled on her left against the headboard rather than returning to his previous spot.
“Why didn’t Kangin just take away your fever?” Sungmin inquired, “He did it before.”
“I told him the previous time that I didn’t want him using his magic on such a small thing,” Taeyeon explained, “My body can get better on its own. It’s only weakening it by relying so heavily on magic.”
“Ah, wise words from a supposedly weak person,” Sungmin said lightly, “But you still haven’t convinced me not to duel the first prince.”
“No, you do not have to duel the prince,” Taeyeon said with amusement, her amber eyes dancing with silent laughter, “If anything, Prince Kyuhyun should be coming to challenge me to a duel.”
Sungmin’s eyes widened and then he made a face as if he had just tasted something bad, “Maybe I don’t want to know what happened last night.”
Taeyeon flattened the pillow she was hugging onto her lap. She placed her hands atop the pillow, the right thumb rubbing small circles in the left palm; “I just talked to him like you told me to.”
“And more, apparently,” Sungmin rolled his eyes, “So you two are okay? What am I saying, of course you are, it’s so sunny outside. I don’t even know what you two are.”
“We’re friends,” Taeyeon shrugged, “That’s what he’s asked to be and that’s what I’ve allowed him to be.”
“But you like him as more than a friend,” Sungmin reminded,
“Yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that,” Taeyeon replied,
“You didn’t tell the prince we’re not really engaged, did you?” Sungmin questioned,
Taeyeon raised her own brows at him, “Tell him the truth? We never said we were telling people the truth.” She paused, “You told Prince Kyuhyun, didn’t you?”
“I have no reason to not tell him,” Sungmin stated, “Actually, neither do you.”
“Sungmin, we started the engagement for a reason!” Taeyeon exclaimed before she turned her head to sneeze into a tissue,
“Yes, but the reason for that isn’t here. I don’t see hordes of suitors coming after you here,” Sungmin noted simply, “You have one potential suitor and he has my complete blessing to court you.”
“He doesn’t need your blessing and who says I want him to be my suitor?” Taeyeon questioned stubbornly,
Sungmin rolled his eyes, “Taeyeon, this is another form of running away.”
“You think I don’t know that?” She asked, “You think I’m not completely aware of the fact that I’m acting a coward in not telling Siwon the truth? It scares me how he affects me, even from the first time I met him. It scares me how much he means to me in such a short amount of time. It scares me how much he knows me after a few days. It scares me how much some words he said – albeit, he was just lying – hurt me so much. It scares me how easily he could hurt me, Sungmin. So, I’m sorry for being a coward, but anything and everything that relates to the prince scares me.”
She turned slightly towards him and leaned her forehead against his shoulder, “I always knew I was sheltered. I never realized how much until I was out here on my own… I never understood what vulnerability felt like until I left my castle. When I first came here, I felt physically vulnerable; first with the Dark Mage and then with the royal guards. Now… now, I feel emotionally vulnerable: All. The. Time.
“Being physically vulnerable is less scary. You can get hurt but you’re still okay on the inside. Being emotionally vulnerable, however, is just… it’s devastating sometimes,” Taeyeon confessed quietly, her own words making her more exposed; “Being vulnerable on the inside… it… because other things get hurt; more important things.”
“Like your heart?” Sungmin suggested, “And maybe even your soul?”
A knock at the door saved Taeyeon from answering – perhaps even confirming – Sungmin.
“Sorry to disturb you, but I was wondering if you were up for… leaving your room,” Prince Kyuhyun’s words trailed off as he entered the room, his gaze falling upon the pair, “Well, then… Don’t you two just look cozy.”
“You just barge into ladies rooms in the morning without their consent?” Sungmin raised a brow at the prince who didn’t move closer into the room or retreat back into the hallway. He mere stood just a foot into the room.
“I barge into all rooms without consent. I’m not used to ladies staying in the castle,” Kyuhyun defended,
Taeyeon, who was still dressed in the same gown as the day before, stared back between the second prince and Sungmin, “Prince Kyuhyun, please take a seat,” she gestured to one of the armchairs by the fireplace.
“Oh, I would hate to disrupt such an intimate time,” Kyuhyun said sarcastically, his gaze still locked with the mage’s. Then, as if realizing who he was talking to, he shook his head and look at the princess, “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to be so –”
“Rude?” Sungmin quipped,
“Yes, you did,” Taeyeon said, “At least, not to me, I hope. It’s alright, Prince Kyuhyun. Please, take a seat, you’re not disrupting anything.”
Kyuhyun closed the door behind him and grabbed one of the armchairs and brought it to the right side of the bed. He sat in it and folded his arms about his torso, “You scold me for barging into people’s bedrooms while here you are sitting with the princess in her bed.”
“Princess Taeyeon and myself are very close,” Sungmin shrugged,
Kyuhyun’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, “Yes, I gathered as much.”
“What were you saying when you came in?” Taeyeon asked abruptly, trying to stop the two from getting in some kind of covert argument.
“Kangin requested a meeting with you. I was heading to this wing and offered to give you the message,” Kyuhyun explained, his expression lightening when he turned his gaze to hers, “That is, if you feel okay to leave your room.”
“I feel okay to leave the room,” Taeyeon insisted just before she sneezed again, “I just need to change first.”
Kyuhyun nodded as he stood from the chair, “I’ll wait for you in the corridor if you’ll permit me to escort you to the study?”
“Yes, of course,” Taeyeon replied as Sungmin helped her off the other side of the bed.
Kyuhyun headed to the door and opened it. He paused and looked back at the mage, “I believe the princess requires privacy in order to change.”
“Do you?” Sungmin asked Taeyeon seriously, “You don’t need me to zip any zippers?”
“Hmm… not this time,” Taeyeon grinned, her eyes dancing with amusement.
“Ah, I have been banished to the hallway. Very well, Princess,” Sungmin formally bowed over her hand before joining Kyuhyun and exiting the bedroom.
Once the door closed firmly behind them, Kyuhyun turned on Sungmin, “You said you two were friends.”
Sungmin, whose back was almost against the door, stared unwaveringly back at the prince, “We are.”
“That scene in there certainly didn’t look like just friends,” Kyuhyun scowled, his dark gaze burning with blatant jealousy,
“I said we were very close,” Sungmin shrugged,
“How close? So close she lets you sit in bed with her? So close she would let you stay in the room as she changed clothes?” Kyuhyun demanded, his voice a low growl,
“Yes to all those things. However, for the latter, I turn my back while she’s changing,” Sungmin corrected, “It’s just more private to speak in her bedroom than anywhere else, especially if we want to keep certain facts unknown to the rest of the castle.”
“You two were teasing me in there, weren’t you?” Kyuhyun questioned darkly,
“You mean the byplay just now? Yes,” Sungmin answered,
“You told her about us?” Kyuhyun raised a brow,
Sungmin raised his own brow, “There is no us. I simply told her that I told you the truth about the engagement.”
“That’s all you told her?” Kyuhyun asked,
“That and that you want to sleep with me,” Sungmin stated bluntly,
“You said that to her? She’s a lady,” Kyuhyun scolded,
“She knows everything about me. I’m hardly going to start hiding things from her now,” Sungmin shrugged,
“So after I do have you, you’ll tell her all about that, too?” Kyuhyun asked, lowering his voice even more, making it warm and seductive, his dark gaze drawing the mage in.
Sungmin had to dig his nails into his palm to steady himself, to stop himself from leaning closer to the prince, into the warmth he radiated. Somehow, he managed to remain calm, managed not to jump the prince right then and there. Somehow, he managed to quirk a smirk and suggested teasingly, “Perhaps. After all, she did tell me about her and your brother and what happened last night.”
That statement sobered Kyuhyun immediately. The dark temptation from his eyes and tone were gone when he questioned, “Last night? What happened last night?”
The door opened behind Sungmin before he could even contemplate whether or not to answer the prince. He stepped out of Taeyeon’s way as she stepped into the hallway and looked at the two men suspiciously, “Is something the matter?”
“Nothing at all,” Sungmin said innocently as he offered her his arm,
“Prince – I mean… Taeyeon, that dress looks very beautiful on you,” Kyuhyun complimented as they made their way down the hallway, “I’m sure if my beloved mother were still alive she would be jealous.”
“Thank you, I do appreciate your brother loaning them to me. It’s quite fortunate they didn’t have to be tailored to fit,” Taeyeon smiled at the prince,
Kyuhyun blinked, “Yes, they have.”
Taeyeon faltered, almost falling if Sungmin hadn’t steadied her immediately; “They have?”
“My mother wore those when she was a young lady being courted by my father. Bless her soul, but even at that age she was almost as tall as I am and,” Kyuhyun cleared his throat and looked straight ahead, “Well-endowed. Not… not that you’re not just that… that she was… more.”
Taeyeon laughed lightly at the pink creeping on the prince’s cheeks, “But if she was so… different from me, how do the gowns fit? I wasn’t measured for them; they were simply there a few days ago.”
“Siwon probably had them tailored prior to you receiving them,” Kyuhyun suggested,
“But… they fit perfectly,” Taeyeon stated, glancing down at the gown she wore that morning.
Made of white cotton, it had a wide V-neck, the corners of the base almost touching her shoulders. The sleeves were fitted to her upper arms, stopping just above her elbows. Like the dress from the other day, it fitted to her upper body, flaring from the waist down to her knees. The sleeves and skirt were trimmed with thick, dark green ribbon. Her hair was pulled back and held by a tie at the nape of her neck and she was wearing the dark green ballet-like slippers. As always, she was dressed simply yet elegant.
“My brother is both artistic and meticulous when he chooses to be,” Kyuhyun divulged, “I’m not sure if you know about the garden maze –”
“You told me he maintains the plants sometimes, but he told me he created the maze and I’ve seen him maintain it himself,” Taeyeon interrupted,
“Interesting…” Kyuhyun murmured before he continued, “Well, the maze, while being very large, is a perfect square. Each path is exactly the same width as all the other paths, down to the last centimeter. The walls are all exactly even. In fact, if you were to divide the maze into quarters, you would realize that the pattern of paths in one quarter matched those in the others, simply rotated differently. Also, there is an open area in the very centre of the maze and forms a perfect circle.”
“So much work on detail,” Sungmin said appreciatively,
Kyuhyun nodded in agreement, “He probably took one look at you, Taeyeon, and was able to – more or less – accurately guess at your measurements.”
“Quite accurately,” Taeyeon replied as they reached the top of the main staircase, “What does Kangin want to see me for?”
Kyuhyun shrugged, “He didn’t say. I guess we’ll know soon enough.”
“I want to train you,” Kangin stated after Taeyeon, Sungmin and Kyuhyun had settled in the library.
After Taeyeon had insisted it okay the others be present, she sat in one of the chairs before the desk where Siwon sat. Sungmin stood behind her chair as Kangin sat in the other chair before the desk. Kyuhyun, as was his habit, wandered off to a nearby window, seemingly distracted by the view, but all knew he was acutely attentive to the conversation at hand.
Taeyeon blinked, “What?”
“If you wish it and if you’ll allow me, I want to train you,” Kangin explained, “What happened yesterday could have been avoided if you had been properly trained to control your magic.”
“But… But Eeteuk doesn’t want me learning how to use my magic,” Taeyeon stammered, gripping the armrests tightly. This was what she had been wanting for years and, yet, she still didn’t want to upset her brother.
“I’m not teaching how to use your magic, I’m just teaching you how to be able to control it, especially if you’re too happy or… the extreme opposite,” Kangin replied, “From the moment I met you, I knew you were not only blessed with a lot of Light Magic, but a great abundance of it. If fully unleashed, I do not think I’d be wrong in stating you would easily beat Sungmin and Prince Kyuhyun’s magic in terms of amount and potency.”
Taeyeon turned her gaze sharply over her shoulder, “Did you know about this?”
Sungmin waited a heartbeat before replying, “Yes and no. I knew how dangerous your magic could be, but I attributed it to the volatility of your emotions rather than that of your magic.”
“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Taeyeon questioned,
“Would you like to discuss this now, or perhaps later when it is just the two of us?” Sungmin asked quietly,
Taeyeon stared at him a moment, her amber gaze narrowed before giving a sharp nod and turning back to look at Kangin, “So you would teach me to, what, contain it if it threatened to go loose?”
“Something like that,” Kangin answered, “Because you have so much magic, even just having any moderate emotions sets off your magic. Just now when I told you about training you, you were surprised enough to send magic trickling from you. Not enough to do any elemental magic, but enough, I warrant, that if someone you didn’t like tried to go near you, they would find unable to do so; a kind of barrier.”
Taeyeon blinked and looked back up at Sungmin, “The suitors?”
“Perhaps, but you were adamant whenever one of them got too enthusiastic around you,” Sungmin shrugged, “There’s a possibility they were turned away by your words just as much as your magic.”
“Have you received any training at all?” Kangin inquired, “The burn on your hand seems like it was a first.”
“I received some training once it was realized my magic could be unleashed with my emotions. I was taught how to ensure I didn’t get burned by fire magic and now I do not even realize I’m doing it. What happened a few days ago, I had to consciously force myself to stop protecting myself against fire magic,” Taeyeon answered,
“If you learn how to control your magic, eventually you won’t have to be wary of your own emotions,” Kangin stated simply,
“This is preposterous. In order to learn about magic, she’ll have to use her magic!” Siwon exclaimed, standing from his chair,
Kangin slowly turned his silver gaze to the prince. He stared at the prince a moment, tilting his head ever so slightly to the side as if deciding something. Eventually, he simply replied, “It’s a risk, yes, but it may be far preferable than having to constantly restrain one’s emotions.”
“It’s why Kangin started training me,” Kyuhyun stated quietly from the window. Even with his back to them, he could still feel their gazes upon him, “It is a risk, I agree with you, Siwon, but it is also a solution. If you are truly considering this, Princess, it may be one of the best decisions you have ever made.”
“Kyuhyun, a word, if you don’t mind,” Siwon said curtly, striding over to the fireplace. He waited as Kyuhyun slowly joined him there, far enough from the others that they could speak privately. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m giving my opinion,” Kyuhyun shrugged,
“You know the dangers of using magic! How dare you try to convince Taeyeon to even think about using her magic!” Siwon hissed quietly, his eyes narrowed darkly,
“So, you’re on a first-name basis, now? Well, I’m not trying to convince her of anything. I’m merely telling her what I truly believe. If she’s to make a decision, she should be informed about it from someone who’s made the same decision,” Kyuhyun defended, his own gaze narrowed angrily at his brother,
“She shouldn’t even be given this decision to make! If her magic is as potent as Kangin says it is, then she could lose a large part of herself after this so-called training is done,” Siwon argued,
“You don’t get to make her decisions for her, Siwon. Regardless of how you may feel about her, it is her life and her decisions. Just like you couldn’t make my decision for me, you can’t make hers for her,” Kyuhyun countered,
“I regret everyday that I was unable to convince you otherwise!” Siwon growled,
Kyuhyun’s expression wavered for a moment, a flash of hurt in his dark eyes so fast that Siwon wasn’t even sure it had been there. Kyuhyun’s eyes narrowed further, “You have no idea what it is like. You have no idea what it is like to live, day by day, scared of your own emotions. You have no idea what it is like to have to restrain your own emotions – the good and bad – out of fear of what your magic might do. You have no idea what it is like to literally fear your own emotions because at any moment they could empower your own magic to overtake you.”
Siwon’s expression relaxed and he took a step away from his brother, the look of anger in his eyes replaced by concern. Kyuhyun looked away, hating how his vision blurred and how his eyes stung with unshed tears. He took several deep, slow breaths to steady himself, knowing if he didn’t centre his control immediately, his magic would be unleashed like the night Sungmin had come to the castle.
“Kyuhyun –” Siwon reached out to his brother,
“You don’t know what it was like for me after…” Kyuhyun trailed off, stepping away from his brother’s outstretched hand, “Don’t… Just, don’t, Siwon. I thought you at least understood what I was going through, why I asked Kangin to train me.”
“He doesn’t just train you, anymore, Kyuhyun. I’ve seen you two training, you’re learning how to use it,” Siwon countered,
“It’s all for distraction, Siwon. It’s always been for distraction,” He replied quietly, defensively, bitterly.
Kyuhyun kept his gaze averted and his brother guessed he was still struggling against his tears. Because of that and his brother’s earlier, painful rejection, Siwon kept his distance from Kyuhyun.
“I don’t want to lose you to Dark Magic,” Siwon said eventually, softly.
“I was going to lose myself to it anyway, whether I become so emotional I lose control of it or whether I use it through training. At least, this way, I have some reign over how I lose my soul,” Kyuhyun replied, his voice barely above a whisper.
Before Siwon could say anything, Kyuhyun quickly and quietly left the study.
“I apologize for my brother. He suddenly realized he hadn’t visited our father yet this morning,” Siwon easily lied as he returned to his desk and sat down.
“I was just explaining to the princess what training would mean for her and how it would differ from the training I give to Sungmin and Prince Kyuhyun,” Kangin informed, “That is, should she choose to learn.”
Taeyeon twisted in her seat so she could look at Sungmin directly, “What do you think I should do, Sungmin?”
Sungmin raised a brow, “I’m just a mage, Princess. I don’t have a say in the matter.”
Taeyeon covered one of Sungmin’s hands, which had been on the back of her chair, with her own, “I want you to have a say in the matter. Please, Min.”
Sungmin sighed even as he conceded, “Using magic will always have its risks. In moderation, it’s fine, but to constantly be exposed to magic is risky. You especially would be exposing yourself to a great deal of magic since you have no control over the intensity.”
“But you were going to train me yourself,” Taeyeon reminded,
“Yes, but that’s… different,” Sungmin replied,
Taeyeon raised a brow, suddenly suspicious, “How?”
Sungmin contemplated what to tell her. Eventually, he answered honestly, “Your brother kept control of your magic whenever you were in or near the castle.”
“What!?” Taeyeon gasped as she jumped to her feet, “Can he do that!?” She looked back and forth between Sungmin and Kangin,
“With the correct spell, he’d be able to help contain your magic,” Sungmin replied,
“He knows the correct spell and it’s easier since you’re both Light users,” Kangin confirmed,
“Wait… are you telling me that Eeteuk actually has Light Magic and is able to use it?” Taeyeon demanded, her amber gaze glaring at the two mages,
Kangin blinked, “You didn’t know? But you knew the robes you wore were his old ones.”
“I thought he wore them out of some childish delusion he’d get magic, not that he actually has it!” Taeyeon defended, crossing her arms over her chest, “All this time… all these years he told me he didn’t have any Light Magic whatsoever. All these years he’s been lying to me? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“I thought you knew,” Sungmin insisted, “I could sense the magic in him and he informed me that he contained your magic to help you control it. All he ever said to keep secret was that he was helping you control your magic. After all these years, the topic of whether or not your brother has magic never came up between us.”
“Of course, you were always kept in the nursery,” Kangin realized, “And he probably stopped training after the war.”
“So you did spend time at my castle,” Taeyeon said as she sat back down, “That’s how you know so much about my brother and why you didn’t know me – wait! Training? Eeteuk used to train?”
Kangin sighed heavily, “I guess he’s too far to get mad at me, but yes. Part of my training was done with the mages in the Light Kingdom and your brother was training also.”
“If Eeteuk trained, then it’s only fair that I do so, too,” Taeyeon held up her hand to silence anyone who dared interrupt her; “If I train, it is to control my magic, not use it. I understand the risks by doing so, I’ve been told and warned about it over and over again by several different people this week alone. However, I also feel that learning to control my magic will greatly benefit me and alleviate any fears I have about my own emotions.”
She turned her amber gaze on the Dark Mage, “I would like some time to think over your offer.”
“Of course, Princess,” Kangin bowed his head respectfully. “I’ll be on my way then. How are you faring?”
“My fever’s gone down,” Taeyeon offered with a small smile,
“That’s good to hear,” Kangin bowed towards Siwon and then left the study.
“I’ll escort you back to your room,” Sungmin offered,
“Oh, but it’s so nice outside. I want to sit and feel the sun for just a bit,” Taeyeon stated. She lowered her voice, “Besides, you want to go search out Prince Kyuhyun.”
Sungmin raised a brow at her words before stating simply, “Your health comes first.”
“If the princess wishes it, I can escort her to the terrace,” Siwon said as he stood from his chair, “The first hint of a breeze and I will bring her back indoors.”
“While you two are making decisions for me, I’m going to escort myself outside,” Taeyeon announced stubbornly as she stood from the chair.
She was halfway to the door when Sungmin grabbed her arm, “Taeyeon…”
“I’ll be fine. Go find Prince Kyuhyun,” She insisted quietly,
“You just want to be alone with him,” Sungmin muttered, “Don’t go jumping any princes.”
“You just make sure you don’t do that, too,” she grinned up at him,
Sungmin sighed before turning to Siwon who stood silently behind his desk, “Your Highness, would you please escort the princess outside?”
“Of course,” Siwon replied as he came around his desk and strode to them,
Sungmin followed them out of the study and then paused before he separated from them. He gave Taeyeon a meaningful stare before bowing to them, masking his bow to Taeyeon as one to the prince. Then, he left in quiet search of the second prince.
Once out on the terrace, Taeyeon suggested they enter the maze. Siwon led Taeyeon to the flower garden in which they first ran into one another in the maze. He chose that particular part of the maze because of its calming atmosphere, hoping the scent of lavender would help her to rest later on when she returned to the castle. She sat down and tilted her face up to the sun, closing her eyes immediately. Her hands in her lap, she instinctively began to massage her left palm with her right thumb, helping soothe the soreness that was more or less constant in her left hand.
The flowers in the sanctum had been trampled by the powerful rain, petals of purple and blue strewn about the flower beds. Siwon knew that all the other gardens in the maze would be like this, if not worse. The garden they were in was one of the first ones that had been cleaned up already that morning. Siwon had gotten some of the servants to go about to clear the maze's paths and gardens, strictly instructing them not to disturb the flowers regardless of the ruin. No, they were his duty, his to acknowledge the chaos and damage he had caused, his to rectify and heal. Already the flowers around them were beginning to rise from the soil beds like phoenixes from the ashes.
“What did you want to say to me?” Taeyeon asked lightly, not a change in her posture or demeanour,
“You’ve wanted to interrupt the discussion in your study several times, yet you did not except for that one time,” Taeyeon said simply,
“You didn’t ask for my opinion,” Siwon drawled,
"Because if I did, it would show that I had partiality towards you. And, if you answered, you would show you had partiality towards me. Your outburst shows your thoughts on the matter, but if you said something in direct relation to me it would mean something different to them," Taeyeon countered as she turned her face to him and opened her eyes, her amber gaze steady,
"So you want my opinion?" Siwon questioned,
"My opinion is that it would be stupid to risk even a part of your soul to your magic. My opinion is that it would be stupid to willingly expose yourself to so much magic. My opinion is that it would be stupid to allow yourself the temptation to use magic after learning to control it," Siwon stated, each word slowly, steady and precisely said, his voice like a dark growl, a warning.
"Well, then... it's good to know what you think of me," Taeyeon murmured to herself as she dropped her gaze.
She swallowed past the lump forming in her throat. She had asked his opinion, after all. She couldn't blame him for how she felt afterwards, the pain stabbing at her heart. Being vulnerable was terrifying and he only proved to her why and just how terrifying.
She slowly stood, clearing her throat as it tickled with a cough, "I have had enough sun. I'm going to return to my room. You don't have to escort me," Taeyeon stated as she raised her gaze to his, steady and serene; every inch of a princess.
Siwon stared at her a moment before nodded, "Of course,"
When she placed her hand on his arm, he turned fully towards her, capturing her chin between thumb and forefinger, "What did you say?"
"Well, if you didn't hear, then I'll repeat it: it's good to know what you think of me," Taeyeon repeated firmly, eyes narrowed at him,
"You think that's what I think of you? I called those things stupid, not you," Siwon retorted,
"It's the same thing!" Taeyeon exclaimed, "Because I want to do the training! I want to learn how to control my magic!"
"I would rather see you marry that mage than practice magic!" Siwon stated quietly, his voice low and vibrating with ill-concealed frustration,
"Why must all of our conversations go back to Sungmin?" Taeyeon demanded as she pulled away from the prince's hold, "Why can't we have one single conversation where you don't bring him up? Why can't it just be you and me for a just a moment!?"
"Because he's your fiancé!" Siwon exclaimed bitterly, practically spitting the words, "Because regardless of what I want he will always be there between us! And you may be more than happy to forget the fact that he is your fiancé, but I'm not!"
"I never forget that he is my fiancé!" She grounded out angrily,
"Oh really? Because it seems to me that every time we're together, you conveniently forget about him and start asking me to kiss you or you kiss me," Siwon countered,
"You said you understood that people could be caught between two people! That someone can have two loves!" Taeyeon reminded, his words piercing deeply in her heart,
"Yes, I understand it can happen, but it doesn't mean I have to like it when I'm one of those people!" Siwon argued, hands gesturing in the air further trying to convey his frustrations and anger, "You think I like how he met you first? That he knew you first? That he loved you first? Well, I don't, Taeyeon! I hate it! I hate it so much that I nearly destroyed my gardens! I hate it so much that I ended up hurting you in the process!"
"You think I like how things are between us?" Taeyeon demanded bitterly, "You think I like the situation we're in? I know he's my fiancé and he doesn't deserve to have his fiancée cheating on him! He has never done anything wrong! He has never hurt me, never said nor did anything cruel to me! He is too good a man and I don't deserve him!" She breathed heavily after her exclamations. Finally, she added quietly, as she turned her back to him, wanting to hide the tears that had formed in her eyes, "Regardless of what's happened between us, you're too good a man as well and I don't deserve you either, Siwon."
"I tried, Taeyeon," Siwon said angrily as he closed the distance between them, his chest just inches from her back; "I tried to be your friend, just your friend. I tried to be understanding and kind, but I can't when you look at him, when you touch him, when you speak with such blatant love and trust for him."
He wrapped his arm around her from behind, grabbing her jaw with his left hand as his right hand cupped her shoulder and slowly slid down her arm; "You're not the weak one, Taeyeon... I am," he pressed a kiss to her temple, her hair soft against his cheek, "Tell me to stop, Taeyeon. Tell me to stop right now. Say his name, remind me you have a fiancé," he murmured, trailing kisses from her temple to her jaw, slowly moving her head to the side to expose more of her neck to his lips.
He moved around her, his lips tracing her jaw, "Stop me, Taeyeon. Please, I'm not strong enough to stop now." His lips hovered over hers as he stared down into her pale amber eyes, "Stop me," he whispered, her scent dispelling the flowers' as it filled his nostrils and revived his lungs. "Stop me," he pleaded, obsidian orbs drawing her in again, deeper and deeper still.
Taeyeon gazed up at him, completely aware of him. One of his arms wrapped around her waist, holding her up as she was bent slightly backwards over it. He hovered over her, his torso a hair's breadth from touching her own. His other hand held her chin, his thumb swiping back and forth in a slow, seductive caress on her lower lip.
She felt physically and emotionally vulnerable. She also felt her heart racing a mile a minute, her lungs struggling for air, as every time she inhaled, it was his breath she took in. She felt small and feminine in his arms and wanted to snuggle closer to him, relishing in his warmth and strength. She should push him away, stop him now. She should run from him and not look back. She knew he was dangerous the first time she saw him. She should do as he asked and stop him. But this was Siwon and she was never able to do what she ought when he was involved.
So, she raised shaking hands between their bodies, higher to his face, cradling his strong jaw just as he would do with hers. Gaze locked with his, amber and obsidian, light and dark, burning fire and water's depths, she did exactly opposite of what he asked and closed the distance between their mouths. She pulled back almost immediately, her entire body trembling at just his proximity, the feel of him around her, the memory of his kiss and the heat it brought her. Already that heat began in her stomach and stretched out like flames of fire to her limbs, wrapping around her like a cocoon of burning desire.
"You were wrong about one thing," she breathed, "I don't love him."
He kissed her.
(Chapter 8 - Light's Respite)