(Chapter 13 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 13: Away from Darkness
"You're quiet this evening."
Taeyeon looked up from her meal, staring across the width of the table to Sungmin. Adjacent to them both - her left and his right - was an empty seat where the king should have sat, however, he didn't appear for dinner as he previously stated.
"It's just... odd," Taeyeon shrugged, "We were only gone a week and already it's odd being home. I suppose I adjusted to life... away."
"It has been different this past week, hasn't it?" Sungmin mused. His gaze drifted to her torso before returning to her face, "You're in a dress again. I noticed earlier, but didn't comment since I didn't know what you've told your brother. Your robes, are you storing them forever?"
"Not really," Taeyeon admitted, "I... Oh, this is quite annoying."
She pushed her chair up and stood, a server rushing over to pull the chair back so she could move easier. She reached for her bowl of soup when the server picked it up instead. Taeyeon moved to Eeteuk's seat and sat down, the server moving her dishes and cutlery to her new seat.
"Apparently I'm so used to sitting beside you during meals that even a table's width apart is trying on me," Taeyeon laughed softly before thanking the server as he retreated; "Ah... that will be something I'll miss once you leave."
"Sitting beside me at meals? Why? It's not like I'll share my food with you," Sungmin chuckled before eating more of his soup.
"You're so annoying sometimes," Taeyeon sighed in mock-exasperation, "I mean having you around. Especially after this past week we became even closer." She paused to have a spoonful of soup; "Oh, Min, you have to write me every day."
"That's a lot of writing," Sungmin mused teasingly as he reached for his glass, "I don't know if I'm up to the challenge." When Taeyeon threw him a narrowed glance, he chuckled again, "I suppose I should write you everyday considering our engaged status."
"Sungmin," she said quietly, then stated louder, "I'll ring if I need anything."
Within seconds, the servants who had been in the room melting into the walls just waiting to serve them during dinner left the dining room. After the door closed after the last one, Taeyeon put down her spoon and glared at the lesser mage,
"Sungmin, did you not tell Eeteuk the truth about us!?" Taeyeon hissed,
Sungmin raised a brow, "Of course, not. How could I when I didn't know what you wanted to do about it. When I realized you didn't tell him, I didn't know if that meant that I could."
"Of course, you can!" Taeyeon exclaimed as she picked up her spoon again, "Sungmin, this is your future, your happiness that we're talking about."
"Indeed, however, after I leave, it'll be you who will have to deal with the consequences," Sungmin reminded lightly, pointing his spoon at the princess, "I won't be around to dissuade suitors; they'll be swarming you like flies the moment it's learned we're no longer engaged."
"Oh, Min, I have to learn to live on my own, to be independent," Taeyeon stated, "I'm 21-years-old and I've hardly seen the world outside of this castle. It's sad that I've seen more of the Dark Kingdom than my own. I don't even know what the other estates look like outside the walls."
"My dear Minx, you are growing so fast," Sungmin sighed with mock-drama when the princess fell silent to eat more soup; "And after seven years, I don't think I can bear the thought of you becoming an adult without me watching."
Taeyeon glanced up at Sungmin and threw him a smile, "It's for the best you don't. That way, when you see me again I will be mature and independent and strong. It'll be such a surprise to you that you'll say 'Wow! Is this really the Taeyeon who I know and love so much?'. Or something like that."
Sungmin laughed heartily, "Really? Those exact words?"
"Verbatim," Taeyeon grinned. She exhaled slowly, her expression sobering somewhat, "I truly want to be an ambassador, to be my brother's right hand in running the kingdom. Mother... She never had that role, but she was always at Father's side, I've been told. Whether it was at a meeting with advisors or touring the lands, Mother was always with him. I want to help Eeteuk, so I'll tour the lands while he's busy here."
"Going around the lands all on your own... that doesn't sound too safe," Sungmin sighed heavily as he leaned back in his chair, "No, any way I think about it, it's best I stay around for a little bit longer."
Taeyeon blinked, startled, "What?" Then she laughed lightly, "Stop joking around, Min. You almost made me believe you."
"I'm serious," Sungmin said, his steel-blue eyes staring at her unwaveringly; "It's the last duty your brother asked of me before I run away to the other kingdom. I travel all the estates with you and then I'm off to the Dark Kingdom."
"All of the estates?" Taeyeon gaped,
"We'll spend 2 or 3 days at each estate before returning here. You'll get a feel for each estate and be able to report to Eeteuk. Then, when you go to the estates for longer periods, the staff will know you already and you won't be going there without any knowledge of the area," Sungmin explained, "It shouldn't take us more than a month; six weeks at the most."
Taeyeon emulated him by leaning back in her chair. She folded her arms about her abdomen; "The plan makes sense... Really? You'll do this for me?"
"Of course," Sungmin answered immediately; "That's what friends do for one another and, we are best friends, right?"
Taeyeon smirked, "I suppose. But what will the citizens think?" She laughed lightly, "We tour the estates - for real, this time - and then we break the engagement. Oh, Min, you really want to leave with a bang, don't you?"
Sungmin held out his hand and, when she put hers in his, he closed his fingers around her small hand; "We can keep up this story, if you wish it. No one will find out since I'll be in the Dark Kingdom."
Taeyeon stared at him ruefully, "Are you sure?"
Sungmin nodded, "That way, until you're absolutely ready to marry, you won't be bothered. Even when I'm not at your side, suitors won't be bothering you."
One corner of her mouth lifted in a half-smile, "Do you really think it'll stop them when you're gone?"
"Even if I'm not there, so long as we're still engaged, no one would dare come near you since our engagement has your brother's blessing," Sungmin answered, squeezing her hand; "It'll be for the best, I think, that we allow the world to keep thinking we're engaged. Even if people begin to suspect things while I'm in the Dark Kingdom, there's no way people from here will ever hear of it."
Taeyeon nodded slightly, "Then, yes, I'd prefer that." She sighed heavily, leaning her head against the back of the chair, "Min, am I being selfish again? Am I being weak in accepting this?"
"It's only for a short time longer," Sungmin said, "And then you're on your own. It's okay."
"What about Prince Kyuhyun?" Taeyeon asked quietly, squeezing his hand firmly,
"I will send a letter with Kangin to him. I will write him every day so it feels like I'm there with him," Sungmin insisted lightly, "He lived for 22 years without me, and he can live for six weeks more without me."
"But for the past 22 years he didn't know you," Taeyeon reminded, "Truly, will he be okay with you staying away longer? He won't get mad at me?"
Sungmin leaned over, bringing her hand to his lips, "He won't get mad at you. And..." Sungmin leaned back in his chair and hesitated. He hadn't told Taeyeon about Kyuhyun's problems with his emotions and his magic. It wasn't for him to tell, regardless of how much he trusted her. He chuckled softly, "It must be a plague on second children borne to royal families. Kyuhyun needs to grow up a little, too."
"Really? He didn't seem like it," Taeyeon mused, "Albeit, his liveliness and flippancy could be taken as immaturity, but I found it... hmm... refreshing."
Sungmin merely smiled, deciding not to confirm or correct her. Sungmin released her hand, crossing his arms once more, "So, it's decided? I'll stay for at least another month and travel with you for your first tour of the estates?"
Taeyeon nodded, "I can't help but feel selfishly happy that I get more time with you."
"And I cannot help but feel I should start getting my affairs in order, especially if we'll be leaving and, once we return I'll be off to the Dark Kingdom right after. I need to write that letter before Kangin leaves," Sungmin said as he stood,
"You won't eat more?" Taeyeon inquired,
Sungmin shook his head, "I'm not too hungry, but you keep eating." He stood at her shoulder, "Unless you want me to keep you company?"
Taeyeon shook her head, "I'm fine on my own. When do you propose we leave?"
"Selfishly, I want to leave as soon as possible, but it's up to you," Sungmin stated, "If you want to spend more time with Eeteuk before we leave, we can do that."
Once again, Taeyeon shook her head, "We'll leave the morning after next to give time for packing. The reason I'm doing this is because he's too busy to do it himself. Besides, if he wanted to spend more time with me, well, he should've come to dinner."
Sungmin laughed openly before leaning down and pressing a kiss to the crown of her head; "Ah, Minx, the people will be surprised when they first meet you."
"Is that a good thing or a bad!?" She questioned as he began walking towards the door,
"For me? Good. For them? That remains to be seen," Sungmin replied, amusement evident in his tone, "Shall I send in the servants?"
"No, I can serve myself," she answered as his footsteps moved farther away,
Once the door closed, Taeyeon sighed heavily, leaning her head against the back of the chair and closing her eyes. She wanted to help her brother to improve herself, to help improve the kingdom. She hadn't been lying to her brother about the reasons why she wanted to be an ambassador, she just hadn't told him all the reasons: she needed to stay busy to keep her mind off of Prince Siwon.
Suddenly losing the remainder of her appetite, Taeyeon stood from her seat and left the dining room.
She wished there was a way to keep her mind preoccupied at night.
"Kangin! You're still here?" Taeyeon gaped as she walked into the dining room for breakfast the following morning.
"You didn't really think I would leave without saying goodbye to you, did you Princess?" Kangin inquired as he stood when she entered and bowed as she drew closer.
"Well, when I didn't see you at all last night, I just assumed you had left once the sun went down," Taeyeon admitted as she took her seat to the left of her brother's, Kangin at her right and Sungmin across from her as always. When she sat down, so did the men.
"I'll be leaving after breakfast," Kangin explained, "The king convinced me to rest overnight before travelling again."
"Well, I'm glad for it since it means I get to say goodbye this time," Taeyeon beamed at him,
"It's not goodbye, Princess," Kangin stated, "It's more of a 'until next time' situation. This won't be the last we meet."
"Oh, I hope so," Taeyeon insisted,
"Sungmin was just informing me that he won't be following me... home, just yet," Kangin explained, aware of the servants nearby,
"I know I may seem selfish asking this of him," Taeyeon admitted ruefully,
"Nonsense," Kangin argued, "You're about to take on quite a bit of responsibility. Indeed, it goes beyond what is expected of you as princess or, anyone who is borne to royalty and is not the monarch. It only makes sense that you have a little help, at least during your first outing." He offered a small smile, "I know your parents would be proud." He glanced at Eeteuk who he knew had been staring at him the entire time; "If you'll excuse me Sire, Princess, it is time I leave."
Taeyeon stood and then, rose on the tips of her toes and brushed a kiss to the Dark Mage's cheek, "Thank you for everything, Kangin," she lowered to her natural height and smiled as her amber eyes were veiled with tears; "Until next time?"
"Until next time," Kangin agreed,
Taeyeon raised her hand to his cheek before he could turn away, "You should smile more often, Kangin..." She lowered her voice, "Does this mean your anchor is working?"
"How long have you known?" Kangin asked quietly,
Taeyeon smiled softly as her hand fell away from his cheek, "Some things you said... some things I wondered. I didn't really know until just now when you smiled." Her gaze searched his as amusement seemed to briefly past through the mage's eyes; "Will I ever hear the story of what happened?"
"One day," Kangin insisted. He turned to catch the eye of the lesser mage, "Sungmin, I'll see you in a few weeks." He patted his hip, just to hear the slight crinkle of paper within the silk pocket, "Everything will be fine until you return."
Sungmin nodded solemnly, "Thank you, Kangin."
"Mage, a word before you leave. I'll have a groom prepare your horse in the meantime," Eeteuk stated as he slowly rose, a footman running forward to pull back the chair for the king.
"Of course, Sire," Kangin agreed. With one last glance at Taeyeon and Sungmin, the Dark Mage followed the King of Light out of the dining room.
Eeteuk led Kangin towards a front parlour, a footman closing the door after them to ensure their privacy. Once the door was pulled shut, Kangin leaned his back against it. Folding his arms about his torso, he regarded the older man as Eeteuk turned to face him, a metre separating them.
"Hmm?" Kangin prompted,
Eeteuk closed the distance between them and leaned his forehead against the other's shoulder, closing his eyes, "This is insanity, I've been without you for 15 years."
"I'll be back in a few days," Kangin insisted as he slipped his arms around the young king, "Now that I know I won't be barred from the castle, how can I stay away?"
"Just the thought of a few days without you, now, seem too long," Eeteuk murmured, "What's wrong with me?"
"You want to make up for lost time," Kangin answered quietly, "And I feel the same, at least... I'm beginning to. Eeteuk, once Sungmin returns, however, I cannot visit so frequently since I'll be training him."
"I know and, I wouldn't ask it of you," Eeteuk replied, "Travelling to and fro takes too long. I just wish things had been different.”
“When Sungmin is settled into the Dark Kingdom, I can leave there permanently,” Kangin insisted,
Eeteuk lifted his head to look at him, “You can?”
“I was expecting to leave anyway once I finished working with the second prince of the Dark Kingdom,” Kangin explained,
“Leave where?” Eeteuk inquired, his light brown eyes searching the other’s when, slowly, understanding lit his gaze, “Like how the other mages would go away?”
Kangin nodded in silent reply.
“But, does that mean you won’t stay here either?” Eeteuk asked tentatively, unaccustomed to being reliant on someone else.
Kangin’s expression was unreadable, “Would you want me to stay here after I leave the other kingdom?”
Eeteuk stared back, contemplating his answer. There was so much still to talk about between them and they had only a few hours the previous evening. There was fifteen years of stories to tell one another. There was fifteen years of growth and change to tell one another.
It was almost ridiculous, Eeteuk knew, how quickly he had succumbed to his emotions for the mage. For fifteen years he had held strong, he had live without him. He had grown and learned without him. He had become a man, a king, without him. And, yet, in the span of an evening, of one conversation, he couldn’t bear the thought of not having the mage gone again. He wanted to hold on, to never let him go again.
He knew he was being dependent. Indeed, the strength and independence he had attained with fifteen years of being king, had seemed to slip away at the sight of the mage. Even though he was older than Kangin, he wanted nothing more than to lean on the other’s strength, huddle against his larger, stronger body. He wanted to be held by him, protected by him. He felt as if he didn’t have to be so strong with the younger man around. He didn’t have to play king. He could simply be Eeteuk again.
“Yes,” Eeteuk answered finally, “I want you to stay with me.”
“Eeteuk, you are the king. I cannot stay here forever,” Kangin said quietly, “You are expected to marry and produce heirs to the throne.”
“I need to do no such thing,” Eeteuk scoffed, pulling away from the other man. He stepped back a foot from the mage, crossing his arms over his chest, “Taeyeon is more than capable of marrying and having babies. Regardless if she’s marrying a mage, she’s still a princess and I can name her first son as my successor.”
A corner of Kangin’s mouth quirked in a half smirk, “You have it all planned out, do you?”
“Kangin, I’m not losing you again. I’m not letting you go now that I have you again,” Eeteuk stated seriously, “I’ve already made the biggest mistake of my life fifteen years ago… I refuse to make an even bigger mistake now that I’m older and supposedly wiser.”
Kangin hesitated. What if his anchor wasn’t strong enough and his descent into the Dark completed? If that happened, it would be safer that he was far from people, Eeteuk especially. Worse yet, what if his theory about anchors was wrong? What if there was nothing that could stop Light and Dark from consuming the soul? Sungmin was proving otherwise after seven years of training, but he had been training for longer than that. Perhaps it was too late to reclaim his soul? Seventeen years was a long time without a complete soul.
“Give me the chance to make up for my mistake,” Eeteuk said quietly, his pale brown eyes boring into the mage’s.
Kangin sighed heavily as he leaned over and brushed his lips against the king’s forehead, “We’ll deal with this when the time comes, okay?”
“Things have progressed rapidly since yesterday evening, Eeteuk. I don’t want us to rush into anything, especially when everything is essentially new for us,” Kangin explained, “I’ll be back within a week, okay?”
Eeteuk nodded, “You sure you’re okay to travel? You got enough sleep last evening?”
“Yes, the guestroom provided was certainly more luxurious than I have ever asked for,” Kangin said as he opened the door, stepping back to allow the king to precede him out of the parlour,
“Hmm… I wonder what the advisors will think when they find out you’re visiting the castle again,” Eeteuk mused as he led the way out of the front entrance, footman holding the door open for the king.
“They’ll probably do all they can to convince you to lock the doors against me,” Kangin shrugged as a groom walked forward with his horse,
“They won’t succeed this time, I promise,” Eeteuk said sternly,
“I believe you,” Kangin replied simply as he easily hoisted himself onto his horse, “When do they intend to head out for the first estate?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Eeteuk answered, “They’ll spend a few days at each estate before returning and, then, she’ll be heading off again.”
“You’re going to send half an army to guard her, aren’t you?” Kangin inquired as he took the reins from the groom, trace amusement in his silvery eyes,
“Of course,” Eeteuk scoffed, “As if I’d do any less.”
“So long as you remember to keep half an army to guard you,” Kangin said lightly, even as his eyes held a peculiar light, a specific meaning. He bowed his head, “Your Majesty, until next time.”
Eeteuk gazed at him a moment before giving a curt nod, “Until next time, Mage.”
Eeteuk watched as Kangin turned his horse around and road out of the courtyard. It wasn’t long before the Dark Mage was completely out of his sight.
“It’s been raining non-stop. Is Kyuhyun alright?”
“Hmm? Yes, Father,” Siwon replied.
He sat in a wooden chair beside his father’s bed, room dimly lit by the soft glow coming from the fireplace as darkness loomed outside of all the windows. They remained alone in the room; a habit of his father’s to dismiss any servants from the bedchamber when he or Kyuhyun visited. His father had never been a small man, but now, he looked frail beneath the layers of blankets which covered him. He was propped up against numerous amounts of pillows in a half-sitting position. His dark hair was streaked with silver and his face looked a decade older simply because of how gaunt and sickly it looked.
“Is he? He hasn’t been to visit me since a few mornings ago,” the Dark King replied, his voice deep but gravelly.
“The Dark Mage had to leave for a few days, so Kyuhyun has been asleep,” Siwon explained, leaning back in his chair and crossing one knee over the other, “It’s been quite quiet over the past few days and I cannot seriously complain about that.”
His father chuckled softly before bringing a handkerchief to his pale lips and coughing violently. Before his father could completely hide the white cloth, Siwon was alarmed to see a hint of red. His father had fallen into a melancholy after the death of his mother, however, it was only within the past few years that his health had begun to decline. It was only within the past year that his father had been confined to his bed.
“Kangin has left? But he has never left. At least, not so far that Kyuhyun is asleep for more than a night,” the king stated,
“He was expected to return yesterday evening, but, perhaps he sought to rest prior to journeying back home,” Siwon offered,
“And where has he gone to?” The king questioned, “To the other side of the kingdom?”
“More like to the other kingdom,” Siwon answered casually,
The king’s gaze sharpened, “The Light Kingdom? Whatever for?”
“To escort the princess and her mage home,” Siwon answered, his face devoid of emotion,
“Gone already? I never even got to meet the princess,” The king mused, “Had I known she’d be leaving so soon, I would have ventured outside of this bedchamber for a meeting with her.” He eyed his eldest son peculiarly, “Why wasn’t I informed of their pending departure?”
“The decision occurred quite rapidly,” Siwon said, “The advisors came at noon two days ago and the princess was gone by nightfall.”
“The advisors drove her away?” The king questioned, straightening against his pillows, “And you let them?”
“I didn’t let them do anything of the sort,” Siwon scoffed, “The princess had already decided to return home all on her own. She found the advisors’ visit conveniently timed as she was leaving anyway. It was no bother to her to leave.”
“That still doesn’t explain why I wasn’t informed,” The king stated, his voice firm; “It takes no more than a few minutes to send word to your own father!”
“My apologies, Father,” Siwon insisted, “I was out in the gardens all day.”
“You’re always in the gardens, but that never stopped you before,” the king said, suspicion evident in the way he watched his son, “What are you hiding, Siwon?”
“Nothing, Father,” Siwon replied simply.
It was easy to hide his emotions and reactions from his father; he had felt nothing since he woke up yesterday morning. Whatever inclinations he was beginning to have for emotions and feelings, had slipped away back into their void. It was a saddening thought that he ruthlessly ignored.
“Indeed? You mean you didn’t develop a tendre for the princess while she was here?” The king inquired casually even as his dark eyes were sharp and observant,
“Oh, do stop lying to my face, Siwon,” his father sighed as he leaned back against his copious amount of feather pillows, crossing his arms over his chest and thick brows narrowed ever so slightly, “I know it, the servants know it, so do stop trying to play your father a fool. I’m sick, not stupid.”
“The servants know?” Siwon straightened in his chair, brows raised in surprise,
“Of course they do, how else do you think I knew?” His father scoffed, “The head butler tells me all kinds of things of you taking walks with the princess and spending time after dinner with her. And, it would explain the constant deluge if your brother has been sleeping. If she takes after her mother, you'd be blind not to notice her beauty."
"Father!" Siwon exclaimed,
His father waved away his words before bringing his handkerchief to his lips and coughing again. Once his coughs had ceased, he said, "I'm not saying your mother wasn't beautiful, I'm just saying so was the Queen of Light."
"You saw the Queen of Light, then? I'm assuming when I was very young since I do not remember," Siwon asked, folding his arms loosely about his torso,
"Very often the royal families met," his father admitted, "of course, that was when there was peace amongst the kingdoms... the people."
Siwon remained silent as his father's gaze slowly drifted away. He knew one of his father's greatest regrets was being unable to prevent the war after the murders of the King and Queen of Light. For months, his father travelled, trying to convince the people to stop fighting. However, they fought amongst themselves, trying to find who had been the assassin. And they wanted revenge for the lives they lost when the Light Kingdom retaliated. Even as the armies defended the kingdom, fighting back the other soldiers, his father had striven to obtain a truce with the young King of Light. It had taken fifteen years too long and his father never forgot that failing.
"When there is true peace again between the kingdoms, I would like to visit the Light Kingdom again. They have the most beautiful of night flowers there. Meadows of them, in fact," the king recalled as he leaned back the pillows, closing his eyes as if suddenly too tired to keep them open; "Their lifespan, of course, is very short, practically wilted by the time the rooster crows. And, if it's true that the people of Light no longer venture out when the sun is gone... well, it is a waste sight indeed."
"It's a waste for the night flowers to bloom so plentiful in the Light Kingdom, when it could be appreciated in the Dark Kingdom," Siwon said,
"No, our people are afraid of the night as well," his father countered; "But, from the stories of old, it is said that the night flowers which bloom in the Light Kingdom do so because they are manifestations of Light Magic even in darkness. Likewise, when there is rain and the clouds hide the sun, it is the manifestation of Dark Magic during the day. Such things are helping keep the balance of Light and Dark Magic in our world."
"Did you ever worry Mother would lose her soul to her magic?" Siwon asked, "Granted, she probably didn't use it a lot, but it is still a fear."
"When I met your mother, she was on her way to being a mage," his father admitted quietly, sleepily; "She had mastered the earth elemental and was beginning to train with water magic. She had lost most of her soul by then, Siwon."
"What!?" Siwon sat up, practically shifted to the edge of his seat as his heart began to pound with anticipation; "You and Mother never mentioned that to us!"
"It took me so long to convince her to marry me because she had none of the warm emotions anymore. Of course, she said it's because I was arrogant and annoying," his father chuckled slightly, softly enough he didn't end up coughing, "Your mother used magic extensively for years before we married and, after it, every day. The sculptures she would create were unique and beautiful... Yes, there were times when I worried for her soul, but after twenty years of magic use... there was no chance she'd lose her soul."
"Twenty years... how is that possible? True, mages go for decades, but they are emotionless after the first decade," Siwon said,
“I suspect, had your mother lived, her soul would have been fine as we grew old together,” his father mused sleepily,
“But… how?” Siwon asked, silently willing his father to stay awake just a little longer.
“Anchor…” His father murmured before he grew silent, his head slowly lolling to the side.
Siwon watched his father for a moment. His parents had found a way for a person’s soul to withstand the constant and overuse of magic. Surely the mages would have known, wouldn’t they? If not, then perhaps there was a way to protect his brother’s soul as he stubbornly continued to practice magic. Possibly, then, there was a chance for his own soul to be reclaimed.
He hadn’t used magic as extensively as Kyuhyun ever did and certainly not even close to the amount Kangin used each day. However, the expense of magic it took to erect the gardens after his mother’s death, took a great toll on him. He had wanted desperately to revive the back lawns, to cover up the death and destruction the fire had left behind. His exterior remained the same as his interior was hollowed out.
His father had been right, of course. He had developed feelings for the princess and, indeed, on more than one occasion, admitted to himself in love with her. Despite the turmoil things ended in, he couldn’t help but remember the way he felt warmer emotions again.
It took me so long to convince her to marry me because she had none of the warm emotions anymore.
Despite the short amount of time, he had used so much Dark Magic that he had lost the ability to feel and express happiness and joy. Even affection he felt trace amounts when his brother was around. With the princess, however, it was like his body suddenly remembered how to feel happiness, how to smile. It felt as if his heart had begun to pump with renewed life, his body regenerated with warmth. He had felt love again in its truest essence and, now, it was always associated with pain.
Pushing those thoughts away, he stood from his chair and headed for the door. Throwing one last look at his father over his shoulder, he left, informing the footman his father was asleep and to continue to do hourly checks on the monarch. He wanted his father protected. He wanted his father alive to witness true peace.
It was barely past dawn when Taeyeon was stepping out into the front courtyard, her maid just a few steps behind her. The sky was still dark, just a few streaks of palest blue and gold streaking across the horizon. She stood back as two carriages were being prepared for the first outing. The first carriage would be for her use. The second carriage would hold the trunks and her maid. Indeed, her maid was grateful the princess was such a light traveler, meaning the second carriage would have more than enough space for the maid to relax and sleep for the journey.
“Two carriages… one carriage would have been more than enough,” Taeyeon scoffed as her brother came and stood at her side,
“Nonsense. I’m not going to allow you to travel like any other person. You’re a princess, Tae, the princess and, it’s only right that I set you up in the lap of luxury during your travels,” Eeteuk stated,
“I’m just saying, there’s more than enough space for luggage, my maid and myself in one carriage,” Taeyeon said,
Eeteuk shrugged, “Regardless of our wishes, we do have appearances to uphold. What would the people think if my beloved sister were travelling around like a baroness?”
“You’re really pompous sometimes,” Taeyeon accused lightly, “If I had it my way, I’d be on horseback, riding alongside Sungmin.”
“Sungmin’s the one who suggested the carriages,” Eeteuk revealed, glancing at his sister from the corner of his eye;
“What?” Taeyeon gasped,
“You almost fell off your horse the last time you were tired and stubborn,” the mage reminded, hearing the tail-end of their conversation as he approached from the stables; “The journey to the nearest estate is an even longer distance than from here to… the other place,” he glanced at the maid who stood behind the princess,
“Very well,” Taeyeon sighed before turning to her maid and giving her leave to go into the carriage already. “I hope you won’t be too bored alone in the carriage.”
“Not at all, Your Highness, I have a book or two to keep myself occupied,” the maid insisted before she dipped low to the siblings and proceeded to the second carriage.
Taeyeon turned towards her brother, “I suppose this is goodbye, Teuk,” she said with a sad smile,
“At least you’re actually saying goodbye this time,” Eeteuk muttered,
“Sire, I’ll leave you two to your goodbyes,” Sungmin stated, bowing low to the king, throwing him a grin before turning and heading towards the first carriage and standing by its door.
“Take care, Tae,” Eeteuk said, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I lost you for real,” he said as he embraced her tightly, “And not because you’re just my sister and I have to care, but because you make me care… because you’ve been my closest companion and only friend all those years during the war. I told you once I trusted you because I knew you’d never betray me since we were siblings, but, I’ve realized that I trust you because you’re you. I really cannot lose you, Tae.”
Taeyeon hugged her brother back, squeezing him tightly as she fought back tears, “How can I not be safe when I have an entourage of 20 guards and Sungmin with me?” She sighed heavily as she stepped out of his arms, “I’ll write every time I reach a new estate and, before you know it, I’ll be back here again.”
“Only to leave again,” Eeteuk commented dryly. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he reached into his pocket and pulled a small bottle of clear fluid and handed it to her, “The oil you asked for. There are more bottles I had your maid pack for you as well.”
Taeyeon opened the stopper and a familiar, cloying scent wafted into her nose, “Vanilla.”
“I always knew you were around because of the scent of vanilla,” Eeteuk explained,
“I washed my hair with vanilla-scented water… you knew?” Taeyeon blinked,
Eeteuk chuckled softly, “Of course, I did. It surrounded you for years and you thought I wouldn’t notice?” He eyed his sister, “Did you expect me not to notice your clothes, either?”
“You have no ground to stand on concerning how I dress,” Taeyeon defended as she pocketed the bottle of oil.
The princess was dressed in a silk jungchimak of brilliant emerald with short sleeves and gold embroidery along all the edges. Her paji were the same pristine-white pair that she had taken from storage and her feet encased in soft, black leather. She had the robes made in the exact same style creating four pairs with the jungchimak varying in shades of deepest green.
Eeteuk sighed, “I suppose I should have known when you summoned a seamstress to the castle after years of not having new dresses made.”
“I mean how you hid the fact that you have magic,” Taeyeon accused, amber gaze narrowing at her brother.
She had avoided all talk about her brother’s deception, merely relishing in being home again and trying to make up for her disappearance. She decided, however, that since she was leaving, she might as well bring up the topic.
“It’s not like I ever used my magic anyway,” Eeteuk shrugged, “And I have my reasons for not telling you about my magic.”
“Such as?” Taeyeon questioned,
“In all essence, I gave up my magic when the war began. I didn’t want to lose my soul to it,” Eeteuk answered, “And, so, I decided to be an example to you and show you that you could live without using magic. Of course, you used that as your argument, so, perhaps it would have been better if I showed you living with magic but not using it."
"And all that time the sleep spell was from you, not the drink you were giving me," Taeyeon accused,
"It helped you sleep and that's all that mattered," Eeteuk defended, "Now, off you go if you want to reach the first estate before midnight."
"We'll talk about this another time," Taeyeon warned, as she hugged him one last time,
"Just put it in one of your letters to me," Eeteuk suggested as he offered his arm and led her to the first carriage; "That way, when you do come back, I don't have to hear you yelling at me."
"Humph," She scoffed as she pulled away from him, "Just answer me this before I go."
"Hmm?" Eeteuk prompted as Sungmin helped Taeyeon into the carriage,
"Why does it seem like Kangin knows more about you than I do?" Taeyeon questioned as she sat on the forward-facing side
"It's just because Kangin knew me when we were younger," Eeteuk insisted,
"I don't mean to offend, as your friend or your subject, but you need to learn to lie better," Sungmin commented lightly as he sat on the backward-facing side.
"You two will be the death of me," Eeteuk muttered, folding his arms about his torso, "Okay, off with the both of you."
"You'll be okay all alone?" Taeyeon grinned,
"Yes, yes. I've done it for a week; a few more weeks won't hurt," Eeteuk insisted, "You both be safe."
Eeteuk closed the carriage door and stepped back. The carriage rolled towards the courtyard's gate and 20 guards surrounded both of the carriages. Eeteuk watched as the large entourage left the courtyard.
And, once again, he was alone.
He woke up exhausted. He felt as if he had slept for a hundred years and his body no longer remembered what it was like to be awake and active. His body felt like lead as he rolled onto his stomach, burying his face into his pillow. He heard and felt the crinkle of paper beneath his face and rolled to his side, picking up the envelope that had been on his pillow.
“My apologies for taking so long,” Kangin said. He stood near the foot of the bed, a shoulder propped against the post and arms crossed over his chest; “The princess and king insisted I rest before returning back to the Dark Kingdom. Then, when I returned yesterday night, I thought it was best you sleep until the morning.”
“Yes… yes, that makes sense,” Kyuhyun murmured, “What day is it?”
“You were put to sleep three evenings ago,” Kangin answered,
“Really? That’s… what is this?” Kyuhyun asked as he began opening the envelope revealing a single sheet of paper,
“It’s from Sungmin,” Kangin explained. He held up a hand when the prince opened his mouth; “Let me explain before you begin overreacting. The king has requested one last favour of Sungmin prior to him leaving the Light Kingdom. Sungmin accepted and will be here as soon as he is finished. Read the letter.”
Kyuhyun scowled at the older man before opening up the letter.
I will remain in the Light Kingdom for a little while longer. The king has requested something of me and I have accepted it as both his friend and his subject. If this raises any doubts in you, just know that I will be there as soon as I have completed this last task. Kangin can ascertain my sincerity in this.
In all honesty, I believe this time apart will help the both of us. We came together so quickly, that I believe we were caught up in the rush of emotions. This momentary separation will help us to clearly reflect upon our feelings. I am not saying that my feelings for you have changed. If anything, they have grown. But I need this time to understand my emotions and you need this time to depend upon yourself.
You have relied on Kangin for so long and, had the king not requested this task of me, you would have turned to relying on me. I am not saying you cannot rely on me, or that I do not want you to. The opposite, in fact, is true. However, you need to learn how to stand on your own two feet. You need to learn how to live for yourself again after having lived to keep your brother whole.
Take this time to grow and to be selfish. Take this time to rediscover who you are. And, when I return in six weeks, I hope who you become will still care for me.
“Insolent mage,” Kyuhyun muttered as he tossed the letter onto his pillow and managed to pull himself out of bed,
“So, it wasn’t a good letter?” Kangin asked, amusement in his tone,
“It was three paragraphs long and most of it stating how good this time apart will be,” Kyuhyun scoffed as he walked towards his bathroom,
“And will the separation be good?” Kangin inquired,
“He means well, I just don’t know if he’ll prove to be right. He has an awful amount of faith in me,” Kyuhyun muttered as he began splashing cold water onto his face; “For all we know I could be consumed by the Dark tomorrow.”
“You’re always such a fount of optimism,” Kangin commented, sarcasm wrapping his words,
Kyuhyun straightened and glared at the mage, “And you’re usually as expressive as a door. Where are these emotions coming from? What has happened to you during the past two days I’ve been asleep?”
“I have regained my anchor,” Kangin answered simply as he walked to the bathroom door,
Kyuhyun sighed as he grabbed a towel and began drying his face, “Well, aren’t you fortunate.”
Kangin eyed him peculiarly, “Your anchor… it hasn’t been working, has it? Not lately anyway.”
Kyuhyun contemplated not telling the mage anything. Despite being friends, he didn’t have to tell him everything. However, in this, in regards to magic and anchors, it was the one thing Kangin would truly be able to help him with. He sighed heavily as he turned and leaned his hips against the counter, the towel held loosely in his hands.
“I think when two people have only each other the anchor works. However, as both people begin to be drawn away, that is when it fails,” Kyuhyun said quietly, “Before, my anchor had been my father and brother. When Father grew ill, my attention focused solely on Siwon during training because if I thought of my father, I would get sad and unable to concentrate. I did not think grief a good thing for one’s anchor. However, lately, my brother doesn’t need me as much as he used to. He had emotions not of my doing which means I no longer have to pretend simply to keep him whole.”
“You shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place,” Kangin interjected,
“It’s of no consequence. It’s true, he didn’t ask it of me, but I wanted to,” Kyuhyun replied, “Anyway, with Siwon going off on his own, my anchor seems to not be working anymore. That isn’t to say I love him less, it just means the bond that held us together has changed, matured. He is no longer the most important thing to me.” He glanced at the Dark Mage, “It is a sad thing when a brother cannot be one’s anchor.”
“It is the nature of the love. You know your brother dislikes your magic use and his support has always been wavering. That creates instability in the bond and, thus, causes it to be weakened,” Kangin explained, “That’s why when mages are taught to find an anchor, it is stressed that it must be strong enough to withstand anything. I am not insulting or meaning to offend your brother, nor am I judging him, but had he supported you in this endeavour, then perhaps he would still remain as your anchor.”
The Dark Mage leaned a shoulder against the doorframe, “It is difficult for someone to be an anchor, because the mage’s soul relies on that person. Of course, it helps if you told your brother his role in your training, but I doubt that would help circumstances.”
“Does it work?” Kyuhyun asked as he hung the towel again, “Can anchors really protect a person’s soul? All the mages of old failed and eventually went into isolation and killed themselves.”
“I would be a sore example seeing as I have been without my anchor for fifteen years,” Kangin admitted before adding, “However, Sungmin is proof enough. He has been training for seven years and his emotions are completely intact.”
“That’s true, but his eyes…” Kyuhyun recalled,
“They’re changing colours, that’s true,” Kangin conceded, “However, that’s merely physical manifestation of magic use. The eyes will change regardless of completeness of one’s soul. The eyes merely note how much one’s soul is merged with magic.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Kyuhyun argued,
“There is a difference between one’s soul being merged with magic and one’s soul being taken over by magic,” Kangin explained, “And, considering Sungmin’s emotions are completely intact, I would venture a guess that his soul is merging with his magic rather than being consumed by it.”
“Who is his anchor?” Kyuhyun questioned,
“If I tell you, will you promise to control your emotions?” Kangin challenged,
Kyuhyun sighed knowing the answer immediately, “I should’ve known it was Taeyeon.”
“Don’t be jealous,” Kangin warned, “She’s known him far longer than you have.”
“I know, I know and, in truth, I’m not that jealous. Well, perhaps a little, but not enough for my magic to be triggered,” Kyuhyun admitted, “Taeyeon is strong enough to be Sungmin’s anchor. How can I aspire to be his anchor when I’m not stable myself?”
“Being stable has nothing to do with it. Taeyeon is not the traditional princess with self-confidence galore and a healthy dose of arrogance that usually goes with the package,” Kangin commented, “She makes for a strong anchor because of her ability and capacity to love.”
“If she was able to care about my brother, then that says a lot about her,” Kyuhyun joked before sighing softly, sobering then; “I knew she was formidable the moment she allowed her hand to burn just to protect this supposed peace between the kingdoms. You should have seen her hand, then, Kangin… it was bright red and burned to the bone in some places. The fact that she had remained conscious during the entire ordeal was amazing all on its own. If her love is even a fraction of that of her devotion and sense of duty to her kingdom…”
“The princess – do you know what or who is her anchor?” Kyuhyun inquired,
“Who knows? It could be her brother; they’re all they have left of one another. They’ve been orphaned for fifteen years now,” Kangin commented; “It could be Sungmin. They’re very close and, if she can be his anchor, I’m sure he can reciprocate the role. At one point, I would’ve considered your brother as an anchor for the princess, also, however… well, if he was, he proved not to be a strong one. He doesn’t support her magic any more than he supports yours. Not to mention they’re at odds again… There’s too much friction between them right now for him to be a strong enough anchor.”
“They’re still fighting?” Kyuhyun asked as he headed out of the bathroom, Kangin moving aside to give him passage,
“Yes, and she even tried to talk to him before we left,” Kangin revealed, “Your brother doesn’t listen well to reason.”
“No, you need to beat it into him,” Kyuhyun muttered as he walked towards his closet, “I might just be the one to do it if he continues to prove stubborn.”
“Not until I’m done with you,” Kangin stated,
“Done, what? Training?” Kyuhyun questioned,
“Somewhat. You need to learn to moderate your emotions and you need to suppress the darkness during the night,” Kangin said, “And I only have a few days to teach you.”
“What?” Kyuhyun paused in the doorway to his closet, “A few days? But, Sungmin will be gone for six weeks!”
“Indeed, but you need to learn how to live without me or him, first,” Kangin stated, crossing his arms over his chest,
“I need to… did you read his letter?” Kyuhyun accused,
“No, but if he said the same thing, then it must be true,” Kangin stated dryly. His expression softened, “Kyuhyun, I’ve been helping you for eight years. Yes, you learned how to control your magic and you even know how to wield it someone. But, we should have been catering to your emotions too. Your magic control means nothing if your emotions are still volatile enough to tip the scales.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Kyuhyun questioned, “You think I like being on a short fuse allthe time with every emotion?”
“That’s why we’re going to work on controlling your emotions,” Kangin stated, “And we begin today.”
"You're annoying," Kyuhyun muttered as he disappeared into his closet,
"I'm right," Kangin corrected as he walked over and leaned against one of the posts by the foot of the bed.
"I never said you weren't right, I just said you were annoying," Kyuhyun called out,
"As long as we're in agreement that I'm right," Kangin said,
"Would it be archaic to order your head chopped off?" Kyuhyun questioned exasperatedly.
Kangin laughed in response.
And it felt good.
( Chapter 14: Dark Days)