(Chapter 15 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 15: The Light at Midnight
It was quiet as he ate dinner. He had a tray brought to the library; the dining room always seemed too large, too empty when he ate by himself. There were times when his two guests joined him, however, he learned not to expect anything with their reverse sleeping schedule. Eeteuk had learned within a day of Kangin and Kyuhyun's arrival of their reverse training schedule. He had let them go their own way, needing to be awake during the day and refusing to sacrifice even an hour of sleep to sate his curiousity over their training regime.
It had been weeks since Kangin and Kyuhyun had arrived at the Castle of Light. Eeteuk didn't know what they did during training and he was learning to not care. With a book open on his lap, he stared sightlessly at the flower pot on the table beside the armchair where he sat, nibbling on a cookie.
The prince had not been kidding when he said Eeteuk would hardly know he was there. The most he would see of the prince was at dinner when the younger man was waking up to start his day. Consequently, that meant if he was hardly seeing the prince, seeing the Dark Mage was equally as difficult. Eeteuk stuck to a routine, became predictable just so Kangin could seek him out at any time of the day and would always find him. It irked that the Dark Mage had been in his kingdom - his castle, even! - for weeks and Eeteuk never spent more than an hour with him.
He almost choked on his cookie when the door swung open suddenly.
Coughing to clear his throat, Eeteuk glared as Kangin and Kyuhyun entered. "You really haven't learned your manners in all these years," Eeteuk scowled,
Kyuhyun opened his mouth when Kangin interrupted him, "Don't go defensive, he's just kidding."
"We'll see if I'm still kidding when your head is on a silver platter," Eeteuk said as he leaned back in cushioned chair and popping the remainder of the cookie into his mouth, "Why are you two in here? Come to pay your host a visit before you disappear for more training?"
Kangin rolled his eyes as they approached the king where he sat before the fireplace, "We hardly disappear, we're in the ballroom every night."
Eeteuk's gaze brushed over Kyuhyun who had his face turned elsewhere, his skin paler than before, bag beneath his eyes; it was clear the prince was exhausted, worn out.He had half a mind to tell Kangin to give the younger man a rest, but, when he looked at Kangin, the Dark Mage gave a subtle shake of his head as if reading his mind.
Eeteuk sighed heavily, disapproval evident in his one puff of air; "What do you want, Kangin?" He asked simply, "I know it doesn't seem like it, but I'm very busy during the day being king and all... the night is when I have my peace and quiet."
Kangin rolled his eyes, knowing Eeteuk was really scolding him for not conceding to his wishes; "The past three weeks we've been practicing in the ballroom. Kyuhyun's gained exceptional control from our training there. I want to push him just a little bit to help him grow more," Kangin explained,
"Don't tell me you want to practice here... in my sanctuary?" Eeteuk slowly rose from the chair and turned to them fully as he grabbed another cookie. He sighed as he gaze rose to the towers of books in the spacious room, "Well, I suppose it's not like either of you can control fire."
Kyuhyun's gaze widened. His eyes had been on the fire since entering the room, avoiding the king's scruity but, just as the king had said the word 'fire' the mantel had grown cold, the flames extinguished as if never having been lit. He swung his gaze towards the king who innocently picked up another cookie as Kyuhyun swore Kangin murmured 'show-off'.
"Even if I was suggesting we use your library as a training ground, Kyuhyun -"
Eeteuk waved him to silence, "It's been three weeks and you still can't call him by his cover name?" The king hissed,
"No one's listening at the door or windows," Kangin insisted, "Besides, regardless of his identity, mine is very difficult to cover up." When he was sure Eeteuk wouldn't interrupt him, he continued, "He can control his magic indoors, but it's at the level I keep it at. To increase the level, I want to do it where nothing can be destroyed."
Eeteuk stared at Kangin thoughtfully. Then, he guessed, "Outside?"
Kangin nodded, "But I wanted to get your official permission first in case something does happen or you wake up to find your back fields full of fissures and holes."
"Or a new lake," Kyuhyun murmured, garnering a stifled chuckle from the king. He glanced at the king and then looked away when he found the older man watching him.
Kyuhyun wasn't sure why, but he felt thoroughly uncomfortable with the king. It wasn't the fact that he was a king, or that he was older. It was the fact that the king seemed to know more about him than he did himself; that the king seemed to read his mind. The king had known him when he was just a little kid and that worried him for some reason.
"Yes, yes, go practice outside if you wish," Eeteuk said, his tone in mock-exasperation, "Neither of you can hurt the flowers, so I'm not worried."
"Go ahead of me," Kangin suggested to Kyuhyun, "You know the way to the back fields, it's the same as in your castle."
Kyuhyun nodded, "Sure... you should put this flower outside to bloom properly," He said to the king and, then, he turned and quietly left.
Eeteuk watched as the door closed after the prince, "He can't... hurt the flowers right?"
"I'll protect the flowers," Kangin said, effectively not answering the question; "I'm guessing you mean the flowers on the terrace?"
"The ones on the benches... I don't really care about the flower beds," Eeteuk said, "They do give me a peace of mind when I'm out there, the flower beds that is, but it's more the fresh air, the outdoors that do it. The flower beds can always be replaced."
Kangin blinked, "And the flowers on the benches?"
"Do not belong to me," Eeteuk said simply, "Come, I want to make sure those flowers are protected."
"You can't even trust me to protect a bunch of flowers?" Kangin asked quietly, a tone to his words,
"I can, but perhaps these aren't just a bunch of flowers and perhaps I'm using it as an excuse to spend time with you," Eeteuk narrowed his eyes at him,
"I'm spending so much time training him so that he won't need me anymore," Kangin said, "So that I can spend more time with you in the future."
"I know, we go through this all the time," Eeteuk sighed, "It's just... Kangin, we've had 15 years apart and I just... I don't know... I feel like we need to get to know each other all over again."
"I agree," Kangin said as he raised his hand to the king's face, using his thumb to rub between his eyebrows, "You didn't used to have these creases here like you frown and worry too much."
Eeteuk sighed even as he leaned into Kangin's touch, closing his eyes, "I... I'm only 27. Father never told me how hard it was to be king when I was younger."
"He didn't think he needed to mention it to a 12-year-old," Kangin said softly as he lowered his hand, "Eeteuk, I hope you realize that, now that I'm here, you don't need to go on alone, anymore... let your worries be mine, too."
Eeteuk smiled ruefully, "You know I can't let that happen,"
"Come, let's go," Eeteuk said, walking towards the library door, "By the time we get out back, the flowers might already be dead."
"Wait," Kangin reached out and grabbed his hand. He squeezed it comfortingly, waiting until Eeteuk looked back at him. When he did, Kangin said softly, "I missed you."
Eeteuk smiled softly, squeezing back and then, withdrew his hand, "Good. You should," he said haughtily as he continued towards the door, opening it before Kangin had a chance to retaliate.
They walked in silence to the back, the corridors not as private as the enclosed library. When they stepped through the double doors to the terrace, Kangin looked at the king,
"So what's so special about these... flowers?" He trailed off as he looked at the terrace.
Stone benches lined the terrace with the flowerbeds laid out on the outside of them. However, on top of each of the stone benches were two or three litre-sized flowerpots. In each flower pot grew a single flower, its stem and leaves shining like emerald in the moonlights, its petals the colour of purest ivory, open and facing the moon.
"Night flowers? You have night flowers out here?" Kangin asked as they walked across the terrace to where the prince stood, examining a nearby flower,
"You didn't notice?" Eeteuk asked, "You're up all night,"
"Yes, but we're always in the ballroom, I haven't stepped out here since I got back," Kangin explained,
"These are beautiful specimens," Kyuhyun commented, "Stems look strong, no holes in the leaves and the petals aren't dried along the edges."
"You like plants?" Eeteuk inquired politely,
"No, but my brother does," Kyuhyun answered, "I would say these rival his flowers. I should tell him that the next I see him. It'll go straight to his ego since he's the one who tends to the flowers himself."
"That... explains quite a bit," Kangin said quietly,
Eeteuk turned to him, "What?"
"You have no partiality to any of the other flowers except for these night flowers," Kangin said, "And, I'm pretty sure the last time I was here four weeks ago, these flowers were not here. You got these flowers from the princess, didn't you?"
Confused, Eeteuk nodded, "How did you know?"
Kyuhyun stiffened completely. His posture remained the same, but he became a statue, seemingly holding his breath. Kangin acknowledge this as he quickly contemplated his words. He didn't know what Taeyeon had told her brother or if she had said anything at all. Whatever the case, he wasn't sure what to tell Eeteuk, especially with Kyuhyun present.
"The night we left, Taeyeon saw the night flowers in the castle's gardens," Kangin explained, "She probably fell in love with them at that moment."
"Hmm..." Eeteuk hummed, his response noncommittal. He slowly looked at the other benches and pots of night flowers; "Every time she sends me a letter from an estate, she sends one of these flowers as well."
"But, night flowers have a short lifespan," Kyuhyun said, "These have probably flowered a dozen times since you got them."
"Come on, let's start training," Kangin said as he walked up to Kyuhyun, picked up his hand and began tracing a finger on the prince's palm, "I'd like to have some progress before midnight."
Kyuhyun nodded as he stepped onto the grass and continued walking until there were several metres between him and the others. "Is this far enough?" Kyuhyun called out,
"Yup," Kangin replied, "Ready?" He saw the younger man nod in the moonlight, "Okay... get sad."
"That's how you envoke his magic? Tell him to get sad?" Eeteuk crossed his arms and raised a brow at the Dark Mage,
"Hmm... three... two..." As if on cue with Kangin, the skies opened up and they were both immediately soaked as it poured in torrents.
"The flowers!" Eeteuk hissed at the Dark Mage as he extended his fore- and middle-fingers and pointed them towards all of the flower pots.
Kangin watched as the flowers were suddenly protected from the deluge as if an invisible barrier protected them. A quarter of an hour passed before the rain went from a storm to a drizzle and, finally, stopped completely.
"Sorry!" Kyuhyun called out, "Apparently my magic got excited because we're outside."
"Yeah, yeah. Sit down and see how long you can control it," Kangin yelled as he dried himself and the king by drawing the water out,
Kyuhyun sat down in the grass, propped his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands, closing his eyes. His emotions were bursting at the seams. He could feel them pulsing within him like water pushing at a dam, seeking for weakness, a crack in which to seep through and find freedom. He breathed slowly, steadily, keeping his emotions in check, keeping his mind on things other than the night his mother and friend died; kept his mind from thinking about the lesser mage missing from his life for over a month now.
It had been so long since he had last seen the mage. He had been missing him greatly, to the point where sleep eluded him. He easily controlled his magic during the day, but he lay in his bed staring a the canopy's ceiling. His thoughts circled the lesser mage, focused on him. Those hours between dawn when he was supposed to be going to sleep and sunset when he was supposed to be waking up, he had been lying awake, his heart feeling cold.
Kyuhyun bit down hard until his jaw hurt. He was slipping up, losing control of his emotions after weeks of learning to reign them in. He knew Kangin had released more of his magic, tracing a slightly altered protection spell on his palm than all the other times. He had easily memorized the runes Kangin had traced on his palms and he knew the exact moment he had altered a rune, a line, a stroke, a flick of his finger. He could feel the difference, his magic pushing against him, but it was his emotions that put the flame to the spark. His emotions caused his magic to bubble over like boiling water. He was trying desperately to hold a reign on his emotions, knowing they were the reason that his magic was so dangerous at night.
He could sense the moisture in the clouds in the sky. He could sense the droplets of water, not yet ready to fall to the earth, but his emotions powered his magic, calling to the water, pulling them down from their cottony haven to the cold, hard ground. He could sense the moisture in the grass beneath and around him, even in the night flowers on the terrace. He knew, without a moment's hesitation he could pull the water from everything around him, dry out the grass, flowers and all other flora. If he had stronger magic, he could probably dehydrate the Dark Mage and King of Light as well. He felt fortunate that his magic wasn't strong; he worried that his emotions would be.
"Okay, that's enough for right now," Kangin called out,
When Kyuhyun opened his eyes, he found the king leaning heavily on the mage. Kyuhyun stood up quickly, fluidly and crossed the grass quickly, "What happened? Did I -"
"No, no," Kangin interrupted immediately, knowing where the younger man was heading with his questions and wanting to stop him before he fell into a depression. "It wasn't your fault that this one was being an idiot," Kangin said as he lifted the king, his arms beneath his knees and behind his back, holding him against his heart,
Kyuhyun blinked, startled at the sight before him. It had been so long since he had last seen such affection between two people, so open, so blatant, so mutual. He blinked again, "Are you allowed to speak to the king like that?"
"Of course," Kangin answered as Eeteuk stated, "Treason."
For the first time in years, Kyuhyun felt the urge to smile during the night. He held back a smile as he asked, "What happened if it wasn't me?"
"After the first shower - a small mistake, so don't worry - the king decided to take it upon himself to protect the flowers," Kangin explained,
"How?" Kyuhyun inquired, "Magic?"
As if to test his theory, Kyuhyun pointed to the sky and crooked his finger as if calling the rain to him. The rain poured and Kyuhyun watched as the ran deflected away from the night flowers, sliding as if there was an invisible barrier surrounded the delicate flowers. The rain stopped suddenly and Kyuhyun's gaze flew from the flowers to the Dark Mage.
Kangin scowled, "Stop making him use his magic,"
"Stop talking like I'm some weak boy," Eeteuk scoffed,
"Isn't it obvious how weak he is after using his magic for so long? He hasn't trained for fifteen years," Kangin scolded over Eeteuk's protest,
"How long was I out there?" Kyuhyun asked, startled,
"At least two hours," Kangin answered, "This idiot sustained his air magic for the entire duration."
"I'm sure that's a kind of treason," Eeteuk mused,
"Air magic's the more complex of the Light elementals," Kyuhyun said,
"Saying that will just increase his ego. He's already king, don't fill his head with all this praise; his crown won't fit anymore," Kangin said as he turned towards the terrace doors,
"That's definitely treason," Eeteuk said as he patted Kangin's chest, "Let me down,"
"You can hardly stand on your own," Kangin said, locking gazes with the older man, "After ten minutes your knees buckled and after thirty minutes you needed my help to just keep upright. You won't make it ten feet into the castle - no, no... you won't even make it to the doors on your own."
"I can't go into the castle, let alone to my room, with you carrying me the entire way," Eeteuk said, crossing his arms over his chest,
"Of course you can, I used to carry you around all the time," Kangin reminded as he continued towards the terrace doors,
"That's when we were kids," Eeteuk hissed, his hand curling into a fist and continuing to his his chest, "I command you put me down!"
"Very well," Kangin stopped abruptly and set the king's feet on the ground.
Eeteuk tugged at his shirt, swiping at the wrinkles. He reached the door before his knees buckled and he collapsed against the door, grabbing the handles to stay up. Behind him, Kyuhyun had lunged as if he could get there in time to catch the king from falling. Kangin merely shook his head as he walked up to the king and swept him into his arms again,
"It seems I was mistaken - you made it to the door," Kangin said,
"Sarcasm?" Kyuhyun noted, "Did I just hear sarcasm? You really are coming back from the edge."
"I'm still on the edge," Kangin argued as he stepped back into the castle, "In fact, I bought property on the edge. No, no, I own the edge."
"Clearly you do not if you're being sarcastic and being," Kyuhyun physically shuddered, "caring. Just admit defeat, Kangin. I'm the new owner of the edge and you're getting soft."
"I can own the edge again," Kangin said as they walked deeper into the castle,
"You two have the oddest conversations," Eeteuk commented,
Two footmen approached, "Sire, is everything okay?" One asked,
"I warned you," Eeteuk muttered to Kangin before turning his attention to the footmen, "Yes, I'm fine," he murmured to the Dark Mage, "Put me down."
"No," Kangin replied, not even bothering to lower his voice,
"Kangin," Eeteuk murmured and, then, even quieter, "Please... these are my men."
Without replying, Kangin gently put the king on his feet.
"I just wasn't feeling that well while outside," Eeteuk insisted, "But I'm fine -" Eeteuk stumbled as he took a step, his legs losing all strength, "Now..." he trailed off as he let himself be swept up in the Dark Mage's strong arms once more.
"We can assist the king to his chambers," the footmen insisted, stepping closer to the mage,
Eeteuk felt a subtle change in Kangin, even though he hadn't moved an inch. He felt the arms around him tighten but he wasn't hurt. He felt the warm body against his side stiffen like steel. Eeteuk was sure he felt Kangin's magic rumble beneath the surface, a dark threat licking beneath the mage's skin, waiting for a chance to strike out.
Eeteuk wrapped his arms about his own torso, his hand hidden beneath his other arm. His hidden fingers tugged at Kangin's jungchimak, trying to calm him down; "The mage can help me." When the footmen looked as if they would argue, he added, "He mage can cloak me from view - although why he didn't think to do so up until now, I have no idea. I would much prefer no one else know about this incident." Eeteuk paused and added, "No one else will learn of this incident, am I correct?"
The footmen nodded their understanding immediately, scurrying back to their jobs.
Eeteuk waited until the footmen were gone before he turned his head to look at Kangin, "Have you calmed down?"
"What just happened?" Kyuhyun asked, stepping up to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the mage,
"Kangin got mad," Eeteuk explained, his eyes locked with the mage's, unwavering, fighting the urge to blink,
"He got... but Kangin never gets mad," Kyuhyun said, his black and silver eyes taking in the Dark Mage's face whose gaze was locked with the king's. "His emotions came back this much?"
Kyuhyun had felt the wave of power that had suddenly flowed from the mage. He had been startled, never having felt such power from the mage, even during training and Kangin was actually using magic. He never had before a reason to stand so still, hold his breath just waiting for what would happen. If the Dark Mage was having problems controlling his magic, Kyuhyun began to wonder how powerful the mage really was.
"He's just not used to them," Eeteuk explained, his gaze steady. He raised a hand to cup the side of Kangin's face and then he lightly patted the mage's cheek, "They're my footmen. It's their job to protect me."
"That's my job," Kangin's voice was a soft growl,
"They don't have any designs on me," Eeteuk continued, lowering his hand from the mage's face,
"They better not," Kangin's eyes flickered rapidly towards the direction the footmen had walked before looking back at the king,
"And I don't have any designs on them; they're guys, after all," Eeteuk stated,
Kangin's silver gaze became stormy, "I'm a guy."
"I know, but you're not everyone else," Eeteuk said simply,
Kangin blinked and then exhaled slowly. Eeteuk felt the mage's body relax, even though his arms tightened around him more protectively. Eeteuk grinned at him,
"How did you do that?" Kyuhyun gaped as they started walking and Kangin and the king disappeared from his sight,
"The big bad mage is nothing more than an angry puppy," Eeteuk explained as they neared the bottom of the main staircase, "Wait! You have to hide us!"
"You're both hidden already," Kyuhyun stated,
"Then how do you know where we are?" Eeteuk asked,
"I don't, I'm heading to my room," Kyuhyun replied,
"Go practice control in your room. I'll meet you in an hour in the back fields," Kangin said,
"I feel as if my parents just scolded me," Kyuhyun scoffed as he purposefully quickened his pace, shouldered past the mage and headed up the stairs ahead of them.
"Fifteen years later and you're carrying me around again after using my magic," Eeteuk sighed as he was carried up the stairs,
"Well, that's what happens when you stop practicing," Kangin said before quickly adding, "No, no, no, I know why you did it and understand completely. I'm simply stating a fact."
"Taeyeon knows how to use her magic," Eeteuk murmured as they ascended another set of stairs,
"She knows how to control it, keep it under locks so she doesn't have to worry about being emotional," Kangin corrected, "She does not know how to use it, wield it or manipulate it."
"She will one day. One day she'll ask and she'll learn it fast, she's so smart," Eeteuk sighed, absent-mindedly leaning his head against the younger man's shoulder, "She's been sheltered for so long... I've sheltered her for so long that she doesn't know her capabilities... she doesn't know how strong and smart she is."
"She's learning," Kangin insisted, "And, yes, if she asks me to teach her, I will teach her, regardless of what you say, regardless of how you feel and regardless of how I feel about you."
"It'd be a waste of talent, wouldn't it?" Eeteuk asked as Kangin turned to ascend the final set of stairs, "Wait, my room's on the third floor... You don't remember?"
"You still sleep in your old room?" Kangin asked,
"It was easier than moving all my things up a floor," Eeteuk replied,
"And you didn't want to use the monarch chambers," Kangin said quietly,
Eeteuk was silent a moment as Kangin headed directly to his bedroom, the one he had used since he was old enough to move from the nursery. Finally, he repeated, "Not training Taeyeon would be a waste of talent... wouldn't it?"
"And the potential of the greatest mage in history," Kangin reminded, deciding against prodding the king further, "She would be able to do a lot of good with her magic, Eeteuk."
"Kangin... her soul," Eeteuk whispered, even though there was no one in sight of the west wing's third floor,
"Eeteuk, I use magic," Kangin stated,
"But you said you wouldn't leave me. That... didn't that mean that you'll be okay? That you won't need to leave?" Eeteuk asked,
"It's a theory, but, yes, I should be okay," Kangin said as they continued on to the very end of the corridor, the hall already dark due to the late hour,
"How?" Eeteuk asked, "If you can be safe and Sungmin's seemed fine the past seven years... I need to know how to keep my sister safe... how to make sure you stay safe."
"Why, Eeteuk, if I didn't know better, I would think you cared about me," Kangin said in mock-surprise as they reached the end of the hall, the double-doors opening with a single wave of the king's hand. The doors shut firmly after them, a soft click confirming the lock.
Eeteuk sighed heavily as Kangin brought him to the large, four-poster bed and then unceremoniously dropped him on the bed before turning and sitting on the edge. Eeteuk rolled onto his side, bringing his body curved around Kangin's. He pulled his pillow closer as he peered up at the Dark Mage. Quietly, matter-of-factly, Kangin explained the theory of a mage's anchor. When Kangin was done, they remained in silence for several minutes.
"This anchor... does it work? Wait, of course it does... Sungmin, right?" Eeteuk asked in the darkness of his room,
"In theory? Yes, Sungmin," Kangin said, "His anchor is... resilient and I have high hopes for his anchor. Seven years is a long time for a mage to retain his emotions; all of his emotions."
"You can say it, Kangin, I've already figured out his anchor is my sister," Eeteuk said,
"Oh? You won't go into a brotherly rage?" Kangin asked tentatively, angling himself so he faced the other more,
"Not at all... well, not until the mage is in front of me," Eeteuk chuckled softly; "But, honestly, it's good knowing my sister is his anchor. You said that an anchor has to be important to the mage, that the anchor need to be so important that they can ground the mage's soul, protect it from magic. If that's what Taeyeon means to Sungmin, then, that means I wasn't wrong to bless their engagement."
Kangin remained silent. He had suspected that Taeyeon hadn't mentioned Siwon to her brother. He had forgotten about the fact that her engagement was a lie. He was tempted to tell Eeteuk the truth, but, just as the truth of her leaving the Dark Kingdom was not a secret for him to tell, the truth about Taeyeon's engagement was another secret that Kangin was not at liberty to say.
He turned his torso to look down and to the side where Eeteuk peered up at him. He reached out and ran a hand through the young king's hair, "An anchor needs to ground a person, needs to take that person's soul into their keeping, protecting it from being consumed by Light or Dark Magic. In order for that to happen, the anchor must accept all aspects of that person. The anchor's support, loyalty and love must be unwavering, unrelenting and unconditional."
Eeteuk took Kangin's hand from his hair and just held the mage's large, warm hand against his cheek.
"Your sister is naturally loving and protective. The fact that you have sheltered her for so long, has allowed her to accept people wholly until they break her faith in them. Her innocence and naivete is what makes her the perfect anchor for those around her," Kangin explained, "I began to feel stirrings of emotion the more time I spent with your sister. She didn't become my anchor," he added when he felt Eeteuk try to emotionally withdraw from him; "But her presence was able to pull me back just a little from the darkness... just briefly until I could see you again."
"Taeyeon... do you know who her anchor is?" Eeteuk asked,
"I don't know," Kangin answered sincerely, "When we first began to train, I told her about the role of an anchor. I don't know if she took my words to heart and, if she did, who or what she chose as her anchor."
"An object can be an anchor?" Eeteuk prompted,
"Yes. Do you know the about the late Dark Queen?" Kangin inquired,
Eeteuk shook his head.
"The late Dark Queen was so effervescent in her emotions that no one realized she still used her magic quite extensively even after marrying the king. They knew she used magic, that she had been hoping to become a mage one day. What most people think how the Dark King met her was that she had come to the castle to petition to train as a mage," Kangin revealed, "The truth, however, is that they met long before, when the king was still a prince and the late queen was already far into the stages of her training. Indeed, her soul was far gone by the time the king met her."
"How did they meet?" Eeteuk asked as he tugged on Kangin's arm.
The Dark Mage, understanding what Eeteuk was silently requesting, stood and turned. He waited until Eeteuk shifted to the middle of the bed before he laid down beside the young king. Eeteuk was snug against his side. Eeteuk leaned his cheek on Kangin's chest as the Dark Mage wrapped an arm around his back, keeping him secure. Once they were both settled in the darkness, Kangin spoke again.
"The king - who was still a prince, remember - had been away from the castle for years. He had travelled around the Dark Kingdom learning how to run the estates, sort of like practice before having to run the entire kingdom. When he felt that he had learned all he needed to know from the stewards who ran the royal estates, the king returned to the Dark Castle. Almost immediately, his mother began inviting young ladies to visit the castle as consorts, enticing them to become the next queen," Kangin said,
"The king knew he had to marry eventually, but he had spent so much time focusing on his own education, couldn't find any appeal from the consorts who only acted as they felt a queen should act. They only spoke when spoken to, they always sat perfectly correct, drank tea with perfect actions, they only smiled at the king and praised his name," Kangin revealed, "For the king, who had spent years of increasing his knowledge, learning the labours of a estate, such submissive perfection was frivolous and boring."
"Ah, so the late queen - then a mage-in-training - was different from the others and caught the king's attention?" Eeteuk guessed,
"She was different, yes, but she was also... real. She was humble and practical. She was realistic and honest," Kangin answered, "But the first time the king saw her, she was crossing the courtyard dressed in her mage robes."
"How do you know all this?" Eeteuk inquired,
"The king told me, of course. The queen's death was very hard on him, but one of the times that I see him smile is when he talks about her. So, whenever I spoke with the king, I would ask him to tell me stories about him and the queen. It would make him very happy," Kangin explained,
"How come no one else knew that they knew each other when the king was still a prince?" Eeteuk asked,
"Because no one realized the king had been pursuing her for years. He had done it subtly so as not to alert anyone but, at the same time, the queen had been so unresponsive to the king, that she never gave anything away even when they were with other people," Kangin answered, "The king had thought her beautiful from the first time he saw her and, then, he was intrigued because she was a lesser mage. Since she had training every day, it was hard for the king to get to know her better. So, whenever he was able to see her, he would ask her a question. It would seem casual and was never personal, but from those questions, he was able to see glimpses of who the queen was on the inside.
"He found her insightful, intelligent and brutally honest. If I remember correctly the queen had once told the king that while she appreciated the king asking for her opinion on several things, she found his questions annoying and to start asking other people. He said that's when he really began to pursue her," Kangin recalled, "The consorts, while beautiful, kind and friendly, he could never truly trust their motives. He was never intellectually challenged by them and felt that his station always preceded who he was. To the queen, however, she challenged him, questioned him. While she respected his princely status, she found it a nuisance because she was obligated to stop and talk whenever the king approached her. I believe she said that to him, also."
"When one is on top, it means everyone else is below and one is left alone," Eeteuk mused softly, "Finding someone - anyone - who can treat you as if you're standing side-by-side, not elevated on some pedestal... it's a desire, a need, for anyone who holds a title."
"The king had found that person. Despite all of the queen's protests and evasiveness, he pursued her relentlessly for years. Even though they weren't in a relationship and, even though the king's feelings weren't reciprocated, over time, his presence began to push the darkness from her soul," Kangin continued; "She began to feel trace emotions, began to realize that, while she was exasperated every time she saw the king, there were more emotions tied to the encounters; she just never knew they were there. When they finally announced their engagement, it was a surprise to everyone because no one knew their long association. The king's father was already bed-ridden and the king had begun to rule in his father's stead. Because of the timing, that's why people believe the king had only met the queen when she was coming to petition to train as a mage; she was hardly seen due to her extensive training.
"When the king and queen married, people thought she wouldn't use her magic because of the consequences to the soul," Kangin said, "They never realized that she used her magic every day and quite extensively, too. However, she had the king as her anchor and, after being crowned queen, her loyalty to the kingdom further guarded her soul. The king told me that it was the queen's love of the kingdom and the people that she hid her magic use from them. She didn't want them to fear or be afraid. She wanted them to respect her, not revere her. Without realizing it, I believe that the kingdom worked as an anchor for the queen."
"Is that perhaps what Taeyeon is doing?" Eeteuk asked, "She wants to make the kingdom her anchor and, that's why she's travelling the kingdom?"
"Taeyeon is fiercely loyal to the Light Kingdom... but that loyalty is based on her love for you," Kangin answered, "She is doing what she's doing because she wants to become a better person and, also, she wants to help you. If I had to guess who her anchor is, I might consider saying it's you."
"Will that change, do you think? Once they're married?" Eeteuk asked,
Kangin felt the truth on his lips. Before he could say the words and betray the princess, he shifted, tilting the young king's face towards his and giving his lips a better purpose. He broke the kiss, pressing another kiss to his forehead,
"I told Kyuhyun I'd meet him in the back fields. Go to sleep," Kangin said as he gently pulled away from the king and left the bed.
"Hmm... I'm starting to resent that brat," Eeteuk murmured sleepily,
"Yeah, yeah," Kangin pulled the blankets over the young king, "I'll be here when you wake up."
"You better be."
"Taeyeon? Wake up, we'll be entering the castle gates soon."
The soft voice, the gentle shaking slowly pulled her from her reverie. She blinked the sleepiness from her eyes as she found herself staring into her best friend's face. She slowly straightened from the carriage's squabs as she stretched her torso. They had been travelling for days, taking breaks during the day so that the guards to rest out in the open since they travel straight through the night. She wasn't sure the last time when she had actually slept in a bed. Her body was sore from sleeping while sitting and in such restricting quarters for so long. She glanced at the seat across from hers where Sungmin was tugging his robes into place, ensuring he looked fit to stand beside the princess. If her body was sore, his must feel even worse.
"My brother is going to kill me," Taeyeon murmured as she rubbed her eyes with the heel of her palm, "I forgot to write him during the last two estate visits which means it's been almost two weeks since he's last heard from us."
"The last flower you sent him was from the second-last estate. So, at least he knows your general location... some what," Sungmin mused; "Maybe he thinks that you've stayed there a little while longer."
"Without telling him my plans?" Taeyeon questioned,
Sungmin shrugged, "Maybe he thinks we've gone and eloped and are now hiding from him."
Taeyeon threw him a dark look before pushing the curtains aside to peer outside; "It's not night yet... I guess that means there's no hope my brother will be asleep once we go in."
"It's better to face him now, rather than after another night of not knowing where you are," Sungmin advised, "Besides, I'm starving."
Taeyeon sighed as she ran her hands through her long, loose locks; "Fine, you can have my plate, too."
"You're going to eat," Sungmin stated, his tone brooked no argument,
"I'm not going to force myself to eat if I'm not hungry and don't give me that look," Taeyeon snapped; "I ate lunch-"
"The reason we spent a week at the last estate is because you got sick and you wouldn't let me heal you," Sungmin reminded, his eyes narrowing,
"I got sick because of a cold," Taeyeon defended,
"And you would've gotten better faster or you wouldn't have gotten that cold in the first place had you been eating and sleeping properly," Sungmin countered,
"You don't sleep," Sungmin interjected, "And the only reason you were sleeping during this last leg of our journey because you had nothing else to do in this carriage but sleep. That, and you knew I would make you sleep."
"Min..." she began in a warning tone,
"No, if you don't start taking care of yourself, then I'm going to tell your brother so he can take care of you when I'm not here," Sungmin declared firmly. He sighed heavily, rubbing the back of his neck wearily; "I don't even want to go while you're being like this."
"I'm not being like anything. I have problems sleeping at night, that happens to many people," Taeyeon defended, "And I don't eat as much as I used to because I'm not hungry. Seriously, Sungmin, you're turning a molehill into a mountain with this!"
"You're depressed," Sungmin's words cut through her arguments, "Since we left the Dark Kingdom, you've been depressed and it's been affecting you more and more the longer you're away from that damn prince. I'm sorry, Taeyeon, I know this is hard, but you need to make a decision. Either you get over Prince Siwon and move on, or you go back to him and make him listen to you, because moping around all day is making you sick and I'll be damned before I let you waste away just because you can't cope!"
"That's easy for you to say, Sungmin. I'm not as strong as you and -"
"You are the strongest person I know!" Sungmin exclaimed, "You are so loyal to the kingdom that you withstood having your hand being consumed by fire just so another war would be prevented. You are so reliable that, even when you were free to go, you stayed with me in the Dark Kingdom when I was still considered a prisoner. You are so determined that, despite your fears and initial prejudices against those from the Dark Kingdom, you trained with the Dark Mage to control your magic."
"You allowed yourself to fall in love," Sungmin spoke above her, silencing her protest; "Some people won't take that risk... some people would never chance their hearts, but you... you, Taeyeon, made a leap of faith. You fell in love. You accepted that person wholly, every aspect of who they were, the good and the bad; as you do with everyone you meet."
"That doesn't make me feel very strong," Taeyeon murmured as the carriage pulled to a stop.
Sungmin pushed the latch on the door so it couldn't be opened from the outside; "You just toured the kingdom going from estate to estate, talking to the people, reinstating their belief in the monarachy, in your brother. You talked of peace, you planted seeds of reconciliation with our bretheren in the Dark Kingdom. You had planned to do all of that on your own."
He came and sat beside her, taking her hand into both of his as he gazed directly into her eyes; "You are so much stronger than you realize. Everyone around you sees it but you, Taeyeon. Sure, you were sheltered, you were naive, but you're strong. You are." He squeezed her hand comfortingly, "You're stronger than this. You're not meant to be sad, to be depressed. You're meant to be happy and smile and laugh."
A banging on the carriage door interrupted them and, the king's muffled voice came shortly after,
"Sungmin! Get your hands off my sister and open this door!"
Sungmin stifled a laugh.
Taeyeon sighed even as a small smile tugged on her lips, "I have to tell him the truth."
"You do," Sungmin agreed. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead, "I give you just tomorrow to be sad. After that, you either move on or I drag you back to the Dark Kingdom."
"A week?" Taeyeon suggested as Sungmin released her hand and turned towards the door,
"A day," Sungmin repeated,
"Three days," Taeyeon prompted,
Sungmin looked back at her and smiled, "However long it takes... just start eating and sleeping properly!"
Sungmin unlocked the door and it swung open. An arm reached in and pulled him out. Taeyeon came to the carriage door just as Eeteuk pushed Sungmin towards Kangin. Eeteuk turned towards her and helped her out before pulling her into an embrace,
"Where the hell have you been?" Eeteuk demanded as he hugged her tightly,
"Around," she smiled up at her brother once he released her,
"And how did it go?" Eeteuk asked as he turned her towards the castle, draping an arm around her shoulder,
"It went... is that-"
Eeteuk immediately silenced his sister but covering her mouth with his hand, "When I remove my hand, you will not identify our guest by his real name. When I remove my hand, you will act like you've never met him before."
Taeyeon pried his hand from her mouth, "I'm not an idiot. Obviously I wasn't going to announce who he is."
She turned to the young man who stood beside Kangin dressed in mage robes. The young man stared at Taeyeon, seemingly oblivious to the questioning glances that Sungmin was throwing him.
"Taeyeon, this is a friend of Kangin's. He has been a guest here for the past five weeks. This is Kae. Kae, this is my sister, Taeyeon, Princess of Light," Eeteuk introduced in the courtyard before the castle;
The prince who was known as Kae in the Castle of Light, stepped forward, took her hand and bowed over it. Taeyeon nodded as she squeezed his hand before he let go.
"Come, Tae," Eeteuk herded her towards the castle, the three other men following silently; "Tell me what you've been up to for the past month and a half."
"Did you get my flowers?" Taeyeon asked lightly,
"Yes, I tend to them myself," Eeteuk said before he leaned in and murmured, "You have to explain those, too."
After dinner, Taeyeon escaped to the terrace, finding her flowers in bloom. She heard the doors close behind her as she crossed the terrace to the closest of blooms. She sat on the edge of the stone bench, careful not to knock over another pot as she examined the ivory petals of the healthy night flower. In her periphery, she saw a black figure come to her side and a gentle rain began over the flower.
"I'm sorry if I'm cutting into your training time with Kangin," Taeyeon apologized as she looked up at the second Dark Prince,
"It's not a problem," Kyuhyun replied, "Why don't you train with us? Starting tomorrow, Sungmin will be; he wanted to get sleep tonight first."
"Maybe tomorrow, I have some things to take care of first," Taeyeon answered,
"Taeyeon, as much as I did miss your company, you must be exhausted from your journey back," Kyuhyun said, "And, yet, I have a feeling you have a very definite reason for asking me to join you here after we finished dinner."
Taeyeon looked up at him and smiled softly; "I've missed you, too, Kyuhyun." She gracefully rose and walked over to the next stone bench; "How's your training come along?"
"I'm a lot better at controlling my magic at night," Kyuhyun answered, "How about you? Have you been training while travelling with Sungmin?"
Taeyeon shook her head, "I wanted to and I know Sungmin wanted to help me, but he was worried about tapping into my magic and, then, suddenly being unable to contain it after. We didn't want to risk anyone's life."
"I hope you get a chance to train again soon," Kyuhyun stated sincerely; "It's a relief now that I can feel emotions without worry. Well... without too much worry. Midnight is usually the worst time since that's when the moon is at its highest peak."
"I'm glad for you," Taeyeon replied as she gently touched the petals before turning her attention to the second pot on the bench where she sat, "You and I, we've had to do the same thing for a long time. Repressing our emotions, worried that a single burst of emotion - happiness, sadness, anger - would do damage... hurt someone... kill someone."
"How long?" Kyuhyun asked as he came towards her bench and began to water the pots beside her; "How long did you have to suppress your emotions?"
Taeyeon looked up at him and smiled sadly, "I was told that after I was born, I burned the nurse's hands... it was a wonder she didn't drop me. The only way for the nurse to even attend to me was for them to send for my brother. Eeteuk was six and the nurse had to tell him how to clean me and dress me. I was a few minutes old and my brother who was six-years-old had to take care of me until they could get a mage to control my magic. Until I was old enough to learn how to protect myself against my own magic, the mages had to put a seal on my magic."
She stood and walked to the next bench. She sat down, but kept her face averted, hidden from the other's eyes, "Eeteuk never told me this, I only know because of... of vague things I heard when I was younger, but my mother never hugged me until I was much older. My father never came within ten feet of me until, well, around the same time. It wasn't because they were horrible parents or because they didn't love me, but the royal advisors warned them against coming near me, especially when they realized my magic was triggered by emotions. After my parents were... killed... I tried to talk to Eeteuk about them, but, all he ever told me were golden fairytales that I already knew weren't true."
Kyuhyun didn't miss the way she tried to subtly wipe her eyes.
"My parents were killed and the mages had other things to worry about. I had been practically raised in the nursey up until then, supposedly to protect me, to hide my magic, but I know now... I know that it was to keep me away from other people; to protect them," Taeyeon continued. Her hands lowered from the flowers and clasped tightly at her lap; "After their murders, Eeteuk took me out of the nursery and refused to have me out of his sight. After I realized what had happened, that I would never see my parents again, I refused to leave him. The mages were busy with the war, but, even if they weren't, Eeteuk would have taken over my care anyway."
"Your brother controlled your magic from when the war began?" Kyuhyun asked,
"That's what I've been assuming lately. I didn't learn about how uncontrollable my magic truly was until Kangin said so," Taeyeon answered, "Even my revelations about my parents, that didn't come about until recently, until after I learned more about my magic." She paused, and then added quietly, "I apologize for such a long-winded answer... My magic had been sealed from the moment I was born until my parents' murders. After that, Eeteuk controlled my magic; he didn't know enough to be able to seal it completely, but he had been controlling it. That was around when I was told that if I got emotional, my magic would be triggered."
"But you would've been... what? Five? Six?" Kyuhyun prompted,
"Six," Taeyeon confirmed, "I believe they worded it like... that if I got too excited, bad things might happen. That's also when I started learning how to protect myself against my spurts of fire. So... since my parents were killed is how long I've been suppressing my emotions."
"Fifteen years is a long time," Kyuhyun murmured. He moved the pots from the bench onto the terrace floor. He sat next to the princess and tipped her face up with a fingertip beneath her chin; "Why did you want to talk to me, Taeyeon? If it was just to catch up, we could have done this with the others around."
"We can talk tomorrow," Taeyeon replied, shifting her gaze away even as she kept her face as he had directed,
"Well, tomorrow, you'll be awake during the day and I will most certainly be asleep," Kyuhyun revealed; "You wanted to ask me about my brother, don't you? And, I have an inkling your brother has no idea about my brother, so you wanted to talk alone... and, perhaps, you didn't want others to see that you still think about him."
"Can... can we talk tomorrow? Please?" Taeyeon asked, her voice impossibly soft and her honeyed eyes filling with tears;
"When I left with Kangin, it had been raining for a week already," Kyuhyun admitted as he lowered his hand. He took her hand in his and patted it with the other hand; "My brother was reclusive, even from me. My father was worried it had been my magic to run rampant." He offered a ghost of a smile, "That is how my brother has been doing since you left."
"You're not saying that to be nice?" Taeyeon gave a slight, grateful smile,
"He was even talking about visiting some farms and doing manual labour," Kyuhyun said the words with mock-disgust. Then, he squeezed her hand firmly; "I think that he was trying to do anything and everything to keep his mind off of you... and, looking at these night flowers, it makes me wonder if while you were busy with your touring, that you still want to keep a part of your mind on my brother."
Taeyeon shrugged one shoulder, her smile trembling slightly and her lashes dotted with tears; "They made me feel like he was still around. I have trouble sleeping and... the night... the flowers... it's like he's there with me. They make me smile because they’re so bright in the night. I smile and I remember what it was like when he and I were okay… As pathetic as it sounds, they make me hope that I’ll feel that way again someday."
Kyuhyun sighed heavily, raising her hand and kissing it soundly before lowering their hands and squeezing her hand once more; "My brother doesn't deserve you, Taeyeon, but I truly believe that he needs you. So, if you can, I hope you can give him another chance."
Taeyeon slouched then, her free arm propped on her knee, her hand clapping over her eyes as if catching her tears; "It doesn't matter if I can... it's if he can... if he wants..."
"I... I don't look like it, Taeyeon, but I've lost some of my emotions over the years," Kyuhyun said, his tone panicked; "I don't know if I can handle tears." Even as he spoke, he shifted and pulled her closer so he could throw one arm around her back, holding her close and against his chest; "Do you... should I call your brother? No, no, he doesn’t know... Sungmin? I can call Sungmin?"
"He hates me, Kyuhyun," Taeyeon stammered, her voice pitching and breaking, the tears slipping through her fingers and splashing onto the terrace's marble floor; "He wants nothing to do with me... he hates me... he... he..."
"He might have been angry, but not-"
"He told me to fall in love with someone else," Taeyeon's voice was like a whispered scream; "The last he said was to fall in love with someone else. He doesn't want me... he doesn't..."
"Okay... okay," Kyuhyun slowly slipped his hand from her grasp so he could wrap his other arm around her also, hugging her securely; "No more talking... we don't have to talk about him anymore." Kyuhyun felt heat spreading along every part of him that was touching Taeyeon; "Um... Taeyeon..."
"Is everything okay?"
"Yes, Taeyeon's just tired and was rubbing her eyes," Kyuhyun insisted as he slipped from her side and stood so he partially blocked her from view of Kangin and Sungmin who had just exited from the castle.
Sungmin raised a brow as he strode forward, but Kyuhyun didn't budge. Sungmin wrapped a hand around the other's wrist and raised the younger man's arm, "Are you sure?" He challenged quietly, revealing the reddened skin along Kyuhyun's bare arm as if he had been lightly burned.
"I'm fine," Taeyeon insisted as she slowly rose, smiling brightly, too brightly; "Min, aren't my flowers beautiful? Eeteuk's been taking such good care of the buds while I've been gone."
"They've gone through dozens of cycles," Kangin confirmed, his gaze sweeping the blooms, pausing briefly on the princess, "But not even a wilted petal is left as evidence."
"They're alive, Minx," Sungmin agreed as he stepped around Kyuhyun and patted the side of her head; "All that matters is that they're alive."
Taeyeon gazed into his steel-blue eyes and nodded, recalling his words from the carriage. She and Sungmin bid the Dark users good night. Then, Sungmin escorted the princess back into the castle.
She was exhausted.
She needed sleep.
She needed to make a choice.