(Chapter 19 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 19: Finding the Light
“I had a feeling you were up to something.”
She stiffened immediately, not even daring to take a single breath as she slowly opened her eyes and gazed at the empty, cold hearth before her. The princess sat on the floor in her bedroom, her legs crossed as she faced the large fireplace. So lost in her own concentration, she hadn’t heard the door opening and certainly not the footsteps which brought the intruder just feet away from her.
Sighing heavily, she let her chin drop so her gaze was on the floor, “People need to learn how to wait for an invitation into my room.”
“Oh, I waited,” Kangin insisted as he came to stand by the fireplace so that he was facing her, “But when you didn’t answer my knock or the guard’s call for you, I thought it in my best interest to barge in. We were worried something had happened.”
“Nothing, I’m fine. So, unless there’s something pressing, I would truly appreciate some alone time,” Taeyeon replied.
For the week following the attempt on her life she had felt even more protected than ever before. She knew she was always protected by guards, but, now it was more blatant, including the added protection of her brother and friends. As much as she appreciated their concern and enjoyed their company, there were times when she craved solitude. Twenty-one years was a long time to get used to being alone. Even when Sungmin had come to the castle, she hadn’t seen him nearly as much as she had when they were in the Dark Kingdom.
“Taeyeon, I will gladly leave you be if that is what you wish. However, something has been bothering me the past day or two and that’s more often than not, you’re in your room,” Kangin stated, “Now, I do not claim to know you that well and I understand how tired you must be after everything that’s been going on this past week, but you haven’t requested to go out into the sun at all yesterday nor the day before.”
“Too much of a good thing can be bad,” Taeyeon shrugged as she kept her gaze to the ground,
Kangin sighed heavily, exasperatedly, “I forgot how annoying emotions can be… The problem with emotions is that they nag at a person until things are resolved. So, please, for my peace of mind, please tell me you weren’t doing what I think you were doing just now.”
“A princess cannot spend time sitting in her bedroom every once in a while?” Taeyeon asked lightly as she began to idly trace invisible doodles onto the wooden floor.
“Can you look at me, please?” Kangin inquired politely,
Taeyeon considered her options, but it didn’t take her long to acknowledge that she had no choice in the matter. Even if she had the strength to get up and run off, Kangin would easily catch up to her. Besides, wasn’t her new goal to become a stronger and better person? That meant she couldn’t run away. So, slowly, Taeyeon looked up at him.
“Damn it, Taeyeon,” Kangin hissed as he sprinted to her bathroom and returned with a small face cloth. He knelt before her and rubbed it below her nose, the cloth coming away stained red. “If your nose starts bleeding, it means you’ve gone too far.”
“If my ears started bleeding, then I would be going too far,” Taeyeon countered lightly,
Kangin threw her a dark look, “Not amused. You’ve only begun to be able to walk a few days ago and I can still barely sense your magic. This is not the time to train!”
“I was just trying to speed up the process,” Taeyeon explained as Kangin walked away to wash the cloth, “I thought that if I actively tried to use my magic, then perhaps it would return faster… being an invalid is tiring and I hate burdening everyone and…” She sighed heavily as she took the cloth from the Dark Mage and wiped at her face herself, “I hate the danger my magic puts people in, but if I need it to live, then so be it… I’ll train to control it, but I can’t train until my health is back and for that to happen, my magic needs to come back in full.”
“I know that. Your brother knows that,” Kangin stated, “But I’ve only just stopped healing you a few days ago and your brother finished healing your mind just the other day. It’s still too soon.”
“So, I’m to wait for everything to come back to me?” Taeyeon questioned, “Passive? Again? Now that I know what it means to do something, be someone, I can’t go back to the idleness of my pampered life, Kangin.”
Kangin sighed heavily as he took the cloth back to the bathroom to rinse and dry, “I understand all of that, but if you push yourself too soon you could end up hurting yourself again.”
“I do seem that unreliable, don’t I?” Taeyeon asked as she crawled towards her bed, too weak to stand up on her own, she climbed up the side of her bed and sat on the edge of the mattress. “In the short time we have known each other, how many times have I gotten hurt or sick? Even so, I’m not as weak as I appear, Kangin.”
“Every time you have gotten hurt or sick does not attest to unreliability,” Kangin said, rushing to her side when he saw her climbing up the side of her bed; “The reasons you have gotten hurt are understandable, indeed, in some cases, noble. But, with your newfound quest to act, you’ve gained impulsiveness which causes these problems. You are not unreliable Taeyeon, but the complete opposite. But, you’re still learning how to solve a problem without having to go to extreme measures.”
“I need to do something, Kangin. All week you’ve been carrying me around and I’ve been lying around waiting to get healthier. I need to do something,” Taeyeon pleaded, staring up at him with glassy, ember eyes.
Kangin understood then her resolve and why she was rushing. It was more than just her idleness annoying her. The princess, who had begun to do things on her own, could not sit still while, once again, others were catering to her. All week, everything was being done for her and it was as if she were helpless once more. She needed action. She needed to stand on her own once more.
“This isn’t just because Siwon is here, is it?” Kangin inquired just in case,
Taeyeon looked away then, her eyes narrowed, “In part, yes, I won’t deny that. I want to show him a strong side. I want to show him what I have within me, what I am to be… what I can be. I want to show him someone worth loving, not the wilting violet I was in the Dark Kingdom.
“But, it’s more than that,” she looked at the Dark Mage once more, “For twenty-one years I have been treated as if made of glass. I was protected, put on a shelf away from anything and anyone. I was taught how to act, how to dress. I was taught a princess should be like this, a princess should do that. Did you know that it wasn’t until my twenty-first birthday that I finally got the courage to tell my brother that I no longer needed a maid to help me dress?”
She shook her head as she ran her fingers through her now shortened locks, “I need to know what I’m capable of, Kangin. I need to know the limits of my potential. People say I keep underestimating myself, yourself included, but it’s not that I underestimate myself. It’s that I don’t know me. I don’t know what it is I can do or what I can learn to do. I’ve never been challenged, never struggled.
“I made my first step when I asked Eeteuk to let me help him. Then, I toured the estates to introduce myself to the people, finally! But, I need to follow up. I can’t just stop there and think that’s enough,” Taeyeon explained. “I’m rushing because I’m scared… I’m scared that if I stop for even just a moment, then I won’t be able to start again.”
“Challenging yourself doesn’t mean you always have to do it alone, Taeyeon,” Kangin said as he sat down next to her,
“I don’t want to burden –”
“You won’t. You need to learn, though. You can’t keep guessing how to do things,” Kangin interjected. “If you want to start testing your magic, then let me be there with you.”
Taeyeon turned to look at him, “Really?”
“But, start out small next time!” Kangin pointed a finger at her face, “You were trying to start a fire in the fireplace, weren’t you?”
“Just a tiny fire,” Taeyeon insisted,
“A candle, Taeyeon,” Kangin countered, “You’ll start with a candle and nothing more. However, I won’t keep secrets from your brother, if we’re to do this, then he needs to know and –”
Kangin’s words were silenced then as she abruptly wrapped her arms around him, hugging him as tightly as her weak arms could. She pulled back to smile widely at him,
“Thank you, Kangin.”
Kangin sighed heavily, realizing for not the first time that whenever she smiled the smile she shared with her brother, he could deny her nothing.
“You’re welcome, Taeyeon.”
“What is it like to be in love?”
The Second Dark Prince almost fell off the bench when he registered his brother’s words. It was just after dinner and they had both retreated to the back terrace. After being each other’s only companion for their entire lives, something essential was missing when they had been apart while Kyuhyun had been in the Light Kingdom. The past week was a balm for them that they never realized they needed until they had been separated. Now, they sat on a stone bench, a potted plant the only thing between them.
Kyuhyun looked at his brother incredulously, “W-What are you talking about?”
“I already told you that I knew about your interest in the mage, but, now, I see how much it has grown and there are times when he looks at you and I know it’s reciprocated,” Siwon explained as he gazed up at the night sky.
“I thought you, of all people, would know what being in love is like, Siwon,” Kyuhyun stated,
“But, what does it feel like to have love acknowledged?” Siwon asked, “What does it feel like when everything is explicit and there’s no holding back?”
“Free,” Kyuhyun answered as he turned his gaze to the sky, also; “It feels free, like there’s nothing that can stop me, nothing can hold me down. It feels as if I can do anything because of love and I’m free of the fear of failure because, even if I can’t do everything, at least at the end of the day, there’s still me and him. When all else fails, love won’t.”
Siwon had turned to look at his brother as the other spoke. It had been years since he last saw his brother look so completely relaxed, so completely carefree. It was also the first time in a long time that his brother’s eyes were void of any silver. He felt relieved to see hints that his brother’s soul may be protected and he felt happy that his brother appeared content. However, he couldn’t help the small burst of jealousy as his brother spoke. When was the last time he had ever felt so wholly in peace and happy? Had he ever felt like that? Surely, before the war, he had been happy, but he had also been too young and naïve to understand the depths of life.
“I love her,” Siwon admitted quietly,
“I know,” Kyuhyun replied,
“She used to love me,”
“I have no doubt of that,”
“Do you have any doubts that she may love me again?”
Kyuhyun stared at his brother then. All his life, his brother had always seemed a step above him. Someone akin to a hero, someone he wanted to be like, aimed to emulate. He respected his brother sincerely, loved him eternally. He had spent years hiding the precarious state of his soul just to help keep his brother afloat. Never before had he witnessed such vulnerability in his brother. He wasn’t so naïve as to believe his brother was perfect, but vulnerable? Not in a million years.
“I’ve already decided to reconcile with your brother, but I’m not going to give in until I have his heart securely in my keeping. I can’t do the same thing I did when we were in the Dark Kingdom, I can’t throw my heart at him and hope he’ll keep it safe… I need someone who will work as much as I will to make a relationship work… if not, what happened two months ago will be repeated… I will fight until there is no hope for us.”
“That’s up for you to decide,” Kyuhyun answered, the princess’ words echoing in his memory; “You hurt her more than once, Siwon.”
“She lied –”
“Did she ever question you? Question who you are? Question what kind of person you are?”
“No…” Siwon sighed as he looked up at the sky again, the moon appearing from behind the clouds; “But, I guess you know I did that to her.”
“Not to mention that little fiasco with the consort,” Kyuhyun reminded,
“I have my work cut out for me,” Siwon admitted, “But, I won’t stop until I’ve made her fall in love with me again. I know I’ve made mistakes where she’s concerned, but what matters is that I’ve learned from them, right? That I’m willing to try again… willing to put more effort and give it my all, right?”
Kyuhyun remained silent for a moment. Ever since his brother had erected the garden maze, he rarely saw emotion from him. There were flashes of affection, a slight tug on his brother’s lips, but his eyes would remain as cold as they were dark. Now, however, his brother’s eyes gained a depth of warmth, of fire he thought long doused. If the princess was the cause, then his support of her was not a wrong choice.
“Right,” he finally answered; “And, perhaps not everything is lost, hmm?”
Siwon blinked, confused, “What?”
“Take a look at what has blossomed as we spoke,” Kyuhyun gestured to the potted plant between them,
Siwon looked at the flower whose petals shone from the silvery moonlight and its leaves seemed to stretch up towards the stars as if wanting to touch them. The night flower seemed to glow in its beauty and his eyes widened with wonder. How long had they sat there and not once did he notice there was a flower there? He had become so attune to flora through the years that he could walk past a flowering bush or blossoming tree and, without fail, find that one bloom that was late or the one bud overshadowed by the others. And, yet, speaking with his brother, his thoughts focused on the princess, he had failed to even see the night flower beside him.
“I will do everything I can to prevent that flower from wilting ever again,” Siwon promised,
Kyuhyun laughed, “I do wish you wouldn’t use flower analogies with me.”
“Oh? Father seems to enjoy them,” Siwon replied, the smallest hint of a smile on his lips,
“How is he doing? He seemed in stronger spirits when I left,” Kyuhyun inquired,
“Better, I think. Mother’s death was a big blow to him… I sometimes wonder if he’s just waiting for us to be settled and stable before he goes and joins Mother,” Siwon pondered as his gaze caressed the flower, taking in its beauty, trying to find calm in it the way he used to find calm in his maze.
“Perhaps… I like to think that when we’re not paying attention he’s doing all sorts of things, just hiding how well he is,” Kyuhyun chuckled softly before growing serious once more; “But, a year is a long time to hide such a thing… If he is just waiting to join Mother, can you blame him? If half my heart was missing…” He shook his head, “How shattering.”
Kyuhyun stood up abruptly, stretching his arms towards the sky, “I’m going ahead to the far fields to train. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Kyuhyun,” he called before his brother could get too far,
“Hmm?” Kyuhyun paused, looking back over his shoulder,
“Does it not bother you? The way they act together? How physically close they can be?” Siwon asked,
Kyuhyun let out a breath as he turned to face his brother completely; he knew exactly who his brother was referring to, “It can be frustrating, but it’s best to focus on the fact that what they have is platonic and nothing more.”
“Oh? That’s all it takes to keep you from getting jealous?” Siwon raised a thick eyebrow,
Kyuhyun snorted, “Of course not… but half of the time they’re physically close it’s because he wants to make me jealous.”
“And her reason?”
“I don’t know, but what I can surmise is that she trusts him completely. She knows he won’t cross the line, he won’t ever violate her. She never has to doubt his intentions. She’s wholly comfortable with him because of that trust,” Kyuhyun answered. He shrugged as he turned away once more, “But, who knows? Maybe, one day, she’ll trust you enough to tell you her reasons.”
“They’ve kissed at least twice,” Siwon revealed suddenly, needing some kind of closure on the issue, needing to know he wasn’t being a fool for following her. He needed to know that he had been wrong in the past and that she hadn’t betrayed him.
Kyuhyun sighed exasperatedly, “I don’t know the reason, but I have no doubt it’s that damned mage’s fault.”
With that, Siwon watched as his brother walked towards the far fields to train.
“If I didn’t have a council meeting and if it didn’t take an hour to get there, I would stay here and yell at you for at least two more hours,” Eeteuk stated as he walked to the study door and opened it. He called a footman to take his bag to the carriage waiting in front of the castle. Then, he turned back to the room, closing the door once more,
“You want to train? Train with what? You barely have any magic! For all you know – either of you,” Eeteuk allowed his gaze to briefly leave his sister who sat in a chair by the desk to the Dark Mage who stood beside her, “If you use your magic now while it’s almost completely depleted it might completely wipe it out and,” his pale eyes, suspiciously wet, glared at his sister once more, “You could die this time.”
“Eeteuk,” Taeyeon pleaded, not daring to stand up because she knew she would fall and showing weakness as she tried to convince her brother to let her train would be counter-productive.
“No, Taeyeon,” Eeteuk snapped, slashing his hand through the air as if cutting the conversation there. He turned his glare back to Kangin, pointing a finger, “And you should know better than to encourage this!”
Eeteuk left then, slamming the door behind him.
Kangin tossed a candle to Taeyeon as he strode out of the library, “I’ll be back in a moment.”
Kangin caught up to Eeteuk at the foot of the main staircase. He stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, turning the king to look back at him, “Eeteuk,”
“We’ll talk when I return,” Eeteuk tried to turn away, but Kangin’s hand remained on his shoulder,
“Eeteuk,” he said gruffly,
Finally, Eeteuk pried the other’s hand from his shoulder, “I said we will talk when I return,” he stated firmly,
Kangin stared at him and Eeteuk looked every inch a king in that moment. Also, in that moment, Kangin felt his heart constrict painfully. Was this all just a fairytale? An illusion? Could he truly be with Eeteuk, the King of Light, forever? Or, were they just fooling themselves in believing that Eeteuk could pass on his duty to the succession to his sister? Eeteuk was king, did he not deserve a queen rather than a mage? And, that’s what he was, he was just a mage. Eeteuk needed someone who could support him, whom the people could respect not the mage everyone feared.
Something of his thoughts must have shown because, suddenly, Eeteuk’s eyes widened and he took a step to Kangin as the latter took a step back.
Kangin bowed low at his waist, “As you wish, Your Majesty.”
“Kangin,” Eeteuk said quietly, but the younger man remained bowed. Knowing he had to leave, he repeated, “We’ll talk when I return,” and left.
Kangin watched him walk away, head held high, shoulders back and straight. Stifling a sigh, he retreated to the study, suddenly running towards Taeyeon. Flicking out a handkerchief he had learned to keep with him since he found the princess yesterday, he wiped at her nose before she slapped his hand away and accepted the handkerchief.
“Did I not tell you to only practice when I’m with you?” Kangin growled,
“I got bored waiting,” Taeyeon muttered as she held the cloth to her nose. It had been just as Kangin came in that she felt her nose begin to bleed.
“I was gone for a minute!” He exclaimed,
“I’m sorry, I –” Taeyeon paused, blinking up at him, “Kang… Kangin… you’re crying.”
The Dark Mage blinked, reaching up to touch his eyes. Startled, his fingertips came away wet and he blinked more as his vision continued to blur and his eyes felt hot from tears. When was the last time he had cried? When was the last time he had felt such emotion that he responded physically? Yes, he was with Eeteuk every night, but he still hadn’t said the three important words to him, hadn’t felt the emotions to say them although, he knew deep inside locked away he loved the other very much.
“Is everything okay? Did you and Teuk fight?” Taeyeon asked as she tried to find an unsoiled square of the handkerchief for the mage to use,
Kangin pushed the cloth away, gesturing for her to use it; “No… no, not at all, actually.” Embarrassed, he paced away, wiping at his tears with the back of his hand.
“If you need to, I keep secrets really well,” Taeyeon insisted softly as she watched him stand with his back to her, his hands on his hips.
“Taeyeon, you know what’s between your brother and me,” Kangin began,
“Did you ever question it? Ever reject it? Think it’s weird?”
“Why when you two love each other?” Taeyeon asked simply,
Kangin looked over his shoulder at her in disbelief. She truly believed what she said. He looked away again, shaking his head gently. If only the rest of the kingdom – no, the rest of the world were like her. If only others thought in such simple and innocent terms. He sighed heavily. The world was not so pure, however, and he knew their love would be considered wrong and unnatural.
“Taeyeon, can I ask you a question? I need you to be absolutely honest with me,” Kangin said,
“Of course,” Taeyeon replied, her words partially muffled by the handkerchief she still had pressed to her nostril,
“Did you ever consider the fact that if your brother and I were together romantically, then the responsibility of the succession would fall to you? Your son would become the monarch,” Kangin stated,
Taeyeon swiped below her nose once before lowering the handkerchief altogether. She titled her head in thought, “I didn’t actively think about that or come to that conclusion, but it makes sense. I’m sure it would have come to mind eventually once everything settled down.”
“Are you okay with that?” He asked seriously; “It’s a big responsibility to carry on the royal line and an even bigger responsibility to raise the next monarch.”
“Yes,” she answered swiftly.
Kangin turned around then to face her, “Taeyeon, this is serious, it’s not something to take lightly –”
“I know and I’m not,” The princess replied firmly; “Having a family is a very big responsibility and, the thought of it is… nerve-wracking, but I wouldn’t want to start a family for at least another two years or so; I’m only twenty-one. Also, when the time comes, I know that raising children will be a new experience for my husband and me and there will be trials – I anticipate that. But, the one thing I know is that the child will be raised with love, surrounded by love.
“I know my parents followed that same philosophy. When I learned how dangerous my magic was, I thought perhaps my parents kept me in the nursery because I was dangerous, but, after talking with my brother, I think I had it right the first time. My parents wanted to protect me as much as possible for as long as possible. They wanted to keep me away from the scrutiny of those who knew of my magic and protect me from even myself. Eeteuk continued it by trying to be brother, parent and king to me. He’s had to do it since he was twelve. His example will be my strength.
“As for raising the next monarch… is that an intimidating prospect? Certainly. I will have to teach him the pride of the kingdom and humility of the people. I will have to teach him to have a firm hand and an empathetic soul. I know he will learn to rule from Eeteuk and I will teach my other children how to stand by their brother’s side,” Taeyeon blushed lightly at the mention of more children; “That is my dream at least.”
“You’re right, you did not take this lightly. Why do I feel as if you’ve thought about this before?” Kangin inquired,
“I have,” Taeyeon admitted as she leaned back in her seat, bending her knees so that her feet were flat on the seat with her; “Before I ever imagined venturing outside the castle walls on my own, I dreamed of my future like any other girl. I used to wonder how Eeteuk managed me from the age of twelve and how would I do once I had my own family. Then, as I began to grow and began to actively make myself change, I began to wonder if I could raise my children to be better than me. Don’t get me wrong, Eeteuk did the best he could, but he was still a child himself when he was trying to be my parent.”
“Very well… will you remain here or would you like to go to your room?” Kangin inquired,
“If you’ll help me to the library, I’ll remain there until lunch,” Taeyeon replied, “But, please, just sleep. One of the footmen or my guard can help me to the dining room.”
Kangin regarded her tiredly. He had spent last night helping Kyuhyun and Sungmin further their training and after breakfast, he and Taeyeon had requested a quick meeting with the king. However, despite how fatigued he was, he couldn’t make light of his duty to the princess.
“I will leave you in the library, but I will sleep here in the study so should I be needed, I’ll be nearby,” he decided as he supervised her slow and shaky standing. Once she was on her feet, her hands griping the arm rests for support, Kangin crossed to her side and held out an arm to help her.
“Do you think there is real danger to me? Even during the day?” Taeyeon inquired seriously as he slowly led her out of the study and down the hall towards the library.
“Honestly? I don’t believe there is danger to you while the sun is up, however, I will not take the smallest risk if it could mean your life,” Kangin answered. “Guard, follow us,” he called out once they were in the hall,
As they walked, Kangin quickly reiterated his plan for the guard. Helping Taeyeon towards one of the bay-window seats in the library, he took his leave of her, retreating to the hall with the guard.
“You know the procedure. No one is to be with the princess unless it is her brother, the Lesser Mage, any of the guests or the housekeeper and, she must allow entrance to them before visiting with them,” Kangin stated firmly, “I will take my rest in the study because she has commanded me to rest, but I refuse to be far from her. Her brother will be gone most of the day since he has a council meeting in one of the neighbouring towns.”
“If the assassin wishes to strike during the day, today would be ideal since the king will be gone and you will be resting,” the guard said quietly.
The guard had learned for the few months the mage had stayed at the castle that he was one of the most loyal to the king. Despite not knowing if the mage was of the Light or Dark since his eyes were completely mercurial, he knew the other to be a full mage due to his shaved head. If such a man was loyal to the king, then it would benefit the king’s guardsmen to befriend him and defer to him when the time called. When it was learned there had been an attack on the princess, the guard realized that the mage was always either with the princess or the king.
“Not to mention that the Lesser Mage will also be taking his rest until, at least, after the lunch hour,” Kangin agreed as his eyes shifted to the left and right of them, taking note of anyone who may be nearby; “Does this door have a key? I could seal it with magic, but then I would be the only one who could enter and exit.”
“I believe the housekeeper has the key,” the guard replied, “Shall I get her?”
“I’ll get her and explain the plan. I’ll send her to you and you will keep the key. If there is a change of guard, I want to be awakened first,” Kangin instructed,
“Of course,” the guard bowed his head a few inches in respect.
With one last look at the library door, Kangin quickly set off in search of the house keeper.
“Princess, one of the guests is here to visit with you,” the guard stood partially within the doorway, calling into the library as he kept his eyes sharp on the guest who waited patiently in the hallway.
“Let them in,” Taeyeon called out as she sat on the bay-window seat, her temple resting against the cool glass and her arms loose about her torso. She closed her eyes as she heard noise by the door, the quiet thud of the door and the soft footsteps which brought her guest closer.
“How are you feeling today?” Siwon’s voice was soft and as warm as the sun against her skin.
Taeyeon opened her eyes and found the prince standing beside her, concern evident in his dark eyes, “Please sit down, Prince, you know I hate it when people tower over me in such a way.”
He sat right on the bench, angled so that he was facing her.
Taeyeon raised a brow, “I didn’t mean sit here.”
“I either sit here or I stand. Those are your only choices,” Siwon stated firmly,
“Very well,” Taeyeon sighed, “And, to answer your question, I’m feeling fine this morning.”
“And have you gotten worse since present company arrived?” He asked tentatively,
Taeyeon couldn’t help the small smile that came to her as she replied, “No, it has not.”
For the briefest of moments, Siwon couldn’t breathe let alone think. How long had it been since she had smiled at him? It was not her brightest or biggest of smiles, but, to him it still shone like the sun and brought calmness to his heart. He wasn’t sure what insanity led to him sitting so boldly at her side because now he fought the urge to pull her into his arms or, even just reaching out and holding her hand. Over the past week, every time he caught sight of her massaging her left hand, he recalled when he used to do that for her and his heart would constrict painfully at the thought that he may never again.
“Can we start over, do you think?” He asked quietly, his heart racing out of fear of rejection; “I do not mean to forget all that has happened between us, but… but what we had when you were in the Dark Kingdom – and we did have something – it was real for however short we had it… it came about fast and a surprise to us both. I believe that if we take things slower, get to know each other properly, that we can have it again and even more.”
“Prince…” she began warily,
“We both made mistakes before and… and I insulted you horribly, but give me the chance to try again. Give me the chance to show you what we can have,” Siwon stated, his eyes locked with hers.
Taeyeon looked at him solemnly, tilting her head ever so slightly to the side as she regarded him; “I gave you my heart once before, Prince, why should I do so again?”
“Because I’ve learned from my mistakes. I know I’ve done you wrong, but this is new to me and you,” Siwon replied, “I wasn’t the only one to mess up before, Taeyeon, but if we move past this, we can make what we had even better. No relationship is perfect, but we need to learn from every trial that comes our way. Give me another chance.”
“When I was leaving your castle you told me to fall in love with my mage. You told me to love someone else,” Taeyeon reminded, her eyes shining with the remembered hurt. Looking away, she unconsciously began to massage her left hand; “You didn’t just break my heart with your words… you threw my love back at me as if it were an afterthought, insignificant… something easily tossed into the trash.”
Taeyeon bit down hard on her lower lip then, needing to stifle the flood of words and emotions now coursing through her. She had decided to reconcile with Siwon and give him another chance. However, now that she was actually talking to him again and they were finally talking about what had happened between them, it was painful reliving those feelings, remembering those moments. She breathed slowly, trying to centre herself and regain the calm she had lost. Steeling herself, she carried on, knowing that Siwon was right. They needed to get past what had happened if they could ever hope for a second chance. However, in order to get past it, they had to talk about it.
“How do I know that if I trust you with my heart again that you won’t do the same thing again?” Taeyeon asked, looking back at him. No longer able to fight back the tears, her ember eyes shone brightly.
“Taeyeon,” Siwon raised a hand to wipe away a stray tear, but she moved away from his hand,
“How?” She asked in a desperate plea. Then, in a much softer voice, she repeated, “How…?”
“You won’t know,” Siwon replied quietly, dropping his hand away from her; “There’s no way I’d be able to convince you unless you give me a chance… there’s no way to prove anything to you until you trust me.”
“And that’s the crux of the mater, isn’t it?” Taeyeon smiled at him sadly, “I can’t give you another chance unless I can trust you and there’s no way you can earn my trust unless I give you another chance.”
“Then let us be friends first,” Siwon offered, “Let me earn your trust again as your friend. Let us get to know each other better.”
“And how do you expect we do that, Prince? Shall I tell you my favourite colour? Favourite food? Favourite season? Will we become friends by asking each other such questions? Will you earn my trust thusly?” She inquired, slight amusement teasing about her lips even as tears still veiled her eyes,
“Yes, but a good place to start is you calling me by my name again,” Siwon answered seriously.
“Very well, Siwon,” she said quietly, “But know this… you hurt me and I learned how to survive after, learned to be without you. But, if we do this again and we do become more than friends, if you hurt me once more, you’ll end up destroying me. Do you understand, Siwon? I barely survived the last time… I won’t a second.”
“I understand,” he replied sincerely, “And you’ll never have to worry about a second time. I promise you that.”
Silence fell between them as he stared at her directly, steadily and expectantly.
Finally, Taeyeon looked out the window, but Siwon caught a glimpse of another small smile on her lips, “Green, chocolate and autumn.”
“It seems we have a few things in common,” Siwon moved away so he could lean against the other side of the bay window, regarding her profile; “Green, chocolate and spring.”
Kangin woke up suddenly, sputtering air as he doubled over the side of the settee where he had fallen asleep in the study, however, nothing was coming out of his mouth as he felt fire rip down his throat and seemed to burn a hole in his stomach. Shoving the pain from his mind, he scrambled towards the door, stumbling several times as the pain seemed to intensify with each step. He threw open the door, practically collapsed against the side of it as one hand was pressed to his stomach as if trying to physically reign over the pain.
“Where’s the princess!?” Kangin roared, several footmen jumping in surprise,
“The dining room, sir,” a nearby maid directed,
With all the strength he had, Kangin burst into speed, dashing towards the dining room. He wasn’t sure how long it took him, feeling as if the pain had crippled his movement too much. Practically falling into the dining room, he barely was able to crow out, “Stop eating!”
Taeyeon stood up, shocked, suddenly leaning on the table with both palms when she felt her knees begin to buckle with weakness. “Kangin? What’s wrong?”
Siwon, who had been eating lunch with the princess, suddenly ran around the table to Kangin’s side, kneeling beside the mage, helping him to his feet, “What is it?”
“Poison,” Kangin’s voice was raspy now and he was leaning heavily against the Dark Prince, Siwon half-dragging him to the table.
“What?” Taeyeon exclaimed as she pulled out a chair for the mage before needing to sit back down again,
Kangin tried to stamp his feet, but they were already numb and the tingling was beginning to climb up his calves, “Poison… your food,” he rasped as he suddenly held himself still in the hopes it would slow the poison down. He raised a hand and pressed his palm over his heart, closing his eyes.
The only fortunate thing was that the princess had stopped eating. His worry, however, was how far the poison would spread. The numbness would begin in the smaller vessels, slowly filling in from his limbs and climbing towards his organs. Using all his knowledge of magic, he tried desperately to calm himself, calm his mind and, with his magic, slow the poison’s process.
“Call the cook here immediately!” Taeyeon commanded and there was a flurry of activity as a footman and two serving girls scurried to do her bidding; the princess rarely gave out commands.
“What can we do?” Siwon asked, standing by his friend’s chair,
“Find… what poison… find… antidote,” Kangin murmured, still trying to magically slow the poison, leaning back in the chair with his eyes closed.
“Maybe some water to dilute it?” Taeyeon held out her glass to Siwon to take for Kangin,
Siwon held up for the mage to drink, but he shook his head.
“Not me… Taeyeon,” Kangin said,
Taeyeon blinked, looking at the prince in confusion, “Me? But, I feel fine.”
“Protect,” Kangin murmured and then, he grew silent and still.
“He must have a protection spell on you,” Siwon said quietly, “If something happens to you, it happens to him instead. So, if you were poisoned, although it’s in your body, he’s feeling the effects of it.”
Taeyeon’s hand flew to her mouth as if holding in her gasp, “The assassination attempt… that’s why I never woke up!” Eyes quickly filling up with tears, Taeyeon looked at the Dark Mage again, “Kangin… why?”
“You summoned, Princess?” The cook, a rather rotund matron, appeared then with the footman and serving girls who had called her,
“There was poison in the food,” Taeyeon stated,
“That’s impossible, I try each dish before it leaves the kitchens,” the cook insisted,
“Has anyone else taken their lunch?” Taeyeon inquired,
“I’m not sure, I keep to the kitchens,” the cook replied,
“Some of the maids and footmen. The others usually take their meal after the royal family and the guests are done,” one of the serving girls explained,
“No one else has felt sick? Collapsed?” Taeyeon prompted,
“Not a one,” the serving girl insisted,
“That means the poison was added at some point between the kitchens and the table,” Siwon said,
“There were two other girls who brought in the first course, we were the ones to bring in the current course,” a serving girl stated,
Taeyeon caught the slightest narrowing of the Dark Prince’s eyes, “Don’t,” she said the moment he glanced at her. When he raised a thick brow at her, she repeated, “Don’t. These girls have been working here for over a year.”
“You never know,” Siwon hissed quietly, but the staff had heard the princess,
“In this one thing, I do know,” Taeyeon insisted firmly,
“The one who… did it… no longer… in castle,” Kangin spoke then, his voice barely above a whisper, “No… malicious intent… here.” He opened his eyes slowly, “The poison is in the tea.”
One of the serving girls gasped, “I… I put down the pot on my way here. It was only just a moment, just barely a minute,” she insisted as she began to tear,
“I had stumbled with my tray and she came to help me,” the other server explained, putting an arm around the other girl in comfort,
“It wasn’t your fault,” Taeyeon said immediately, “How were you to know that someone would try to poison the tea?”
“If I may, Princess?” The cook stepped forward. With a nod from the princess, the cook stepped up and took the pot. Lifting the lid, she bowed her head over the opening and sniffed. She dipped a finger into the liquid and ran it over her lips,
“What are you doing!?” Taeyeon exclaimed,
“It’s just a drop,” the cook insisted, “Wolfsbane, I’m almost completely positive.” The cook wiped at her lips vigorously with her apron, “If I got such a reaction from a small drop, then that means the amount in this pot is quite a lot.” She paused before adding, “There… there’s no cure for it. The mage will just need to be monitored until his body is purged of the poison.”
“Please have this tea disposed of and thank you for all your help,” Taeyeon said, dipping her head an inch in thanks.
Once the three of them were alone once more, Taeyeon reached forward, her hand on the mage’s arm, “Kangin, does that mean I need to purge the poison? It might take hours to days for that to happen.”
Kangin was silent a moment, concentrating on keeping the numbness from spreading higher than mid-thigh. He was tired, the poison had further depleted his strength. He swayed in the chair then, his head feeling light and his heart seeming to stutter.
“Two days… at most… I will… hold out… until then,” Kangin said quietly, not caring that Siwon was helping him stay sitting up straight.
“Kangin, is there anything we can do until then?” Taeyeon asked,
“Sungmin…” Kangin murmured.
“I’ll go get Sungmin and then we’ll move Kangin,” Siwon stated.
He didn’t wait before running off.
“My brother might actually kill me for this,” Taeyeon sat in the high-back, cushioned seat next to the four-poster bed.
Night had settled and Kangin was lying in the guest bed he hadn’t used for weeks. His strength was completely depleted, Siwon and Sungmin having carried him there hours earlier. Now, he lay beneath the coverlet, his face pale as a sheet.
“Hardly… hurts,” Kangin managed even as his forehead was coated with sweat.
“Don’t lie… now that you have emotions, you lie worse than me,” Taeyeon said as she lowered another handkerchief from her nose. Just moments ago, Kangin had woken to find the princess trying to light another candle with magic.
“Your brother actually might,” Sungmin agreed as he sat down on the ground, turning his back to lean against the bed.
Since the lunch hour, Sungmin had been woken from his sleep and had been helping Kangin fight the pain and effects of the poison. Now, he leaned heavily against the side of the bed, wiping his forehead with his forearm,
“But, I think he’ll refrain as it seems there’s someone else trying to kill you,” Sungmin said. He paused before tilting his head back to look up at the princess whose chair was beside him, “And I might strangle you for that stunt you just pulled.”
“What stunt?” Siwon asked. He and Kyuhyun had just entered the bedroom after eating dinner.
Kyuhyun, however, was faster to notice before Sungmin could answer, “You’re trying to use your magic.” He gestured to the cloth in her hand as he came to the head of the bed on the other side of Kangin; “The vessels in the nose are so small and sensitive that they are the easiest to burst with increased blood pressure. If you’re straining your brain and mind, you’ll get a nose bleed, then, the vessels in your eyes and, lastly, your ears will bleed.”
“What!?” Siwon exclaimed,
“And, considering Kangin had a few handkerchiefs in his pocket, I’m guessing this isn’t the first time,” Sungmin snapped weakly.
“I’m sorry I can’t help,” Kyuhyun said, then, noting how quietly the Lesser Mage spoke as if it took too much strength to speak louder, “I’m likely to draw the water from his body instead of helping sustain him.”
“Okay…” Kangin murmured, “And Taeyeon… brat.”
“Fine, I’ll stop doing it until you’re with me,” Taeyeon insisted. She glanced at Siwon who stood directly across her on the other side of the bed, “My brother didn’t return, yet?”
“Not while we were down there,” Siwon answered, unable to stop the blossoming warmth in his chest at the way she looked at him directly, spoke to him so naturally and depended upon him to answer her question. He felt needed by her for that brief moment and it felt good.
“I’m so tired…” Sungmin said, leaning to the side until his head was against Taeyeon’s knee. Closing his eyes, he added, “If it goes on for another day, even I’ll be useless.” Sungmin was quiet for a moment, before continuing, “We have to find the assassin. There have been attempts before on the king’s life… never on Taeyeon’s and, certainly, never so soon after one another. They must be getting desperate.”
Despite the mage’s head leaning against her knee, Siwon felt some satisfaction that she turned her alarmed look to him as if trying to seek comfort. He wished he had gone to her side instead of the other side of the bed.
“Why… now?” Kangin murmured. The mage had been quiet and still for a few minutes and the others had been sure he had fallen asleep.
Taeyeon slouched back in her cushioned chair, dropping her gaze to Sungmin who was now looking up at her, “What did I do, Min?” She asked quietly, reaching out to brush strands of hair from his eyes,
“All you’ve done is tour the estates and all of your talks were about uniting the kingdom and working towards true peace,” Sungmin said,
“Magic,” Kyuhyun spoke then, “This is the first time you’ve actively used your magic and, now you’re even training with it.”
“That makes sense,” Siwon said, “So, now we just have to narrow it down to who knows you’re doing magic training. This includes those in the Dark Kingdom.”
“Maybe not,” Kyuhyun replied, “There, she was believed to be a mage. If it was someone in the Dark Kingdom, they’d have to know Taeyeon is the Princess of Light. Who in this castle knows you’re training?”
“Entire… castle,” Kangin spoke up; “Servants… talk.”
“This is true… even though we never told Father, he knew about you guys staying at the castle… among other things,” Kyuhyun said; “So, now we have to worry about the entire staff?” He shook his head, “It must be someone who’s completely against magic use.”
“You are not to blame because of all of this,” Sungmin’s words were quiet, yet fierce. Attention turned towards the two as Sungmin pulled himself up, sat on the armrest and pulled her against him, embracing her tightly, “Do you hear me, Taeyeon? You’re not at fault.”
“But, if I hadn’t –”
“No,” Siwon interrupted, “Do you think every time someone tries to kill your brother that it’s his fault he’s king? Do you think it’s your parents’ fault that they were killed?”
Taeyeon suddenly raised her head from Sungmin’s shoulder, staring past him at the Dark Prince, “How dare you –”
“This is the same thing, Taeyeon,” Siwon stated, gaze locked with hers, “When an assassin strikes it is not the victim’s fault. When people hold such lofty titles, powers and position as my family does and as your family does, there will always be those who wish to knock them down from the pedestal; those who wish to usurp it all for themselves. Your parents did not deserve to die. Your brother has done nothing wrong even though he became king at such a young age. You did nothing wrong.”
“If you’re comforted by his words and not mine, I will be very hurt,” Sungmin whispered for only the princess to hear; “We basically said the same thing.”
Taeyeon nodded towards Siwon, accepting his words.
Sungmin shifted on the armrest so he was facing the others again, his arm draped about her shoulders, “We need to find the assassin before they try again. It’s been a week since the last time, who’s to say when the third attempt will be.”
“Too… weak… seek,” Kangin murmured,
“What does that mean?” Kyuhyun asked,
“He’s too weak to seek out the assassin,” Sungmin explained, “Kangin has mastered many magic techniques beyond the elementals, but he’s too weak at this time to use his magic to search the castle for the assassin. I’ve only learned some healing spells, so I’m no help there either.”
“At lunch he said they were no longer in the castle,” Siwon said, “But that was hours ago, they could have snuck back in by now.”
“A guard is always with me,” Taeyeon reminded when Sungmin turned concerned eyes towards her, “And it’s only certain guards who are allowed near me.”
“What’s happened!?” The door burst open and Eeteuk strode in, slamming the door behind him. He strode immediately to his sister’s side, shoving Sungmin away, “Off my sister!” He immediately hugged his sister fiercely, “What happened, Tae?” He pulled back enough to stare down at her, brushing back her short locks from her face, “Are you okay?”
“I am but… but Kangin,” she looked at him, “Teuk, I’m so, so, so sorry.”
Eeteuk immediately brushed away her tears, “You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“But, Kangin –”
“Did this to himself,” Eeteuk stated firmly, “Indeed, he’s been doing the same thing to me for over fifteen years now.” Eeteuk brushed a kiss to her forehead, “I know the guilt you feel,” he murmured against her skin, “But we cannot change the past and Kangin will never stop being who he is, doing what he is compelled to do.” He looked down at her, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Taeyeon nodded, still looking at her brother with sad, ember eyes.
“We’ll find who did this, Tae,” he insisted before turning his attention to the mage. “What must I do to help you Kangin?”
“I’ve been using my magic to help block the pain and slow down the poison,” Sungmin explained as he slowly picked himself up from the ground only to stumble and fall against Taeyeon’s chair, sitting on the armrest once more.
“Teuk, don’t,” Taeyeon held up a hand to stop her brother when he saw where the mage was once more, “He’s been helping Kangin since lunch time. He’s really weak right now.”
Eeteuk glared at the Lesser Mage, “Hands off my sister, Sungmin. The moment the engagement was off, all liberties were gone, too.” Looking back at Kangin, he began to roll up the cuffs of his shirt, “You all rest… I’ll continue on with Kangin through the night.”
“It’ll take too much of your strength,” Sungmin shook his head, “We can’t have both mages down and the king. There’ll be too much vulnerability. It would make it easier for the assassin to come after you, too, Eeteuk.”
“Just… slow… poison,” Kangin said, his eyes barely opening to look up at the king, “Pain… not much.”
“Leave us,” Eeteuk said then, his voice soft yet stern. “Taeyeon, I’ve already asked for another guard to be with you at all times.”
“And, you?” Taeyeon asked,
“I will also have two guards with me at all times,” Eeteuk assured,
“Ah, what to do, Minx? I’m too weak to walk on my own, how am I to help you to your room?” Sungmin asked lightly,
“I’ll help the princess to her room,” Siwon stated immediately, unable to help the glare coming to his face,
“I could help you to your room,” Kyuhyun said, turning his gaze to the Lesser Mage, “But I could accidentally push you down the stairs.”
“You need to get better fast, Kangin,” Eeteuk sighed as he sat on the edge of the bed, “You’re leaving me with the children and their petty fights are trying on one’s patience.”
Once the four had left, Eeteuk leaned over the Dark Mage, using a corner over the coverlet to dry his forehead, “I cannot help but be selfish and want it all, Kangin. I want you safe and sound and, yet, I cannot bear the thought of what would have happened to Taeyeon if the poison had affected her.” He sighed heavily, “Please, take this away from me and stop trying to protect us all… I constantly feel as if I have to choose between you two, who should suffer and who should not. Please… just stop all of this.”
“After… find… assassin,” Kangin breathed,
“Okay… now, I will stop the poison’s progress until it is out of Taeyeon’s system,” Eeteuk said, “I’m sorry I cannot take away your pain.”
“That’s how far they’ve spread? Then, they will not spread any further,” Eeteuk stood from the bed.
He tugged at the bed sheets, pulling Kangin closer to the edge as he sat in the chair his sister had sat. He raised his hands before him, slowly yet confidently tracing patterns in the air. When he was done one pattern, the lines he had made would glow in the air before dissipating and he would begin another pattern. Under his breath, he chanted. Then, putting a hand on Kangin’s thigh, the other on the shoulder, he closed his eyes. A golden light lit beneath his palms before seeming to absorb into the other’s body.
Eeteuk did not use his magic often over the past fifteen years and he would never be so bold as to claim he knew all about elemental magic. However, his focus on the other uses of his magic had come in handy lately and, for that, he was thankful he hadn’t completely stopped learning about magic.
“I will protect you.”
“I… need to change before I sleep,” Taeyeon said once her bedroom door closed behind them, the two guards in the hallway trained well enough to not react even a tiny bit when Siwon entered with her. She took a step away from him and held up her hand to stop him, “I can change on my own in my closet.”
“You could fall while you’re in there,” Siwon argued,
“Then, you’ll hear me fall and you can come in and help me up,” Taeyeon countered, slowly making her way to the spacious, walk-in closet.
“I’ll stay with you during the night,” Siwon stated,
Taeyeon threw him a slanted look, “We only started getting to know each other – better this time – and you think I’ll let you stay with me over night?”
“I will sit in a chair by your bed,” Siwon rolled his eyes, “But I’m not leaving you alone. Every time I leave you alone something bad happens.”
“You were with me when I was poisoned,” Taeyeon reminded only to have Siwon narrow his thick brows at her, his dark eyes glaring. “Too early to joke about it?”
“Very,” Siwon replied, his voice a whispered growl.
Taeyeon opened her closet door, the interior already well lit as she closed the door firmly behind her. She leaned against the closed door, staring at the closet’s interior before her, thousands of clothes for her choosing and just as many pairs of shoes to match. As she stood there, her pale gaze slowly swept over every lit crevice she could see. She had been prepared to enter a dark room and light the interior herself. The maids never lit the closet ahead of time. This meant that someone else must have lit the closet.
Subtly, with her hand behind her back, Taeyeon flipped the lock into place, the soft click a bittersweet comfort.
I’m sorry, Siwon…
If she proved to be correct and that someone was in her closet, awaiting for an unsuspecting her, then she couldn’t let them escape. She wanted to protect everyone but, with Siwon in her bedroom, he would become the next natural target. And, if the assassin became successful with her and escaped, how long before they went after Eeteuk?
She felt sorry, however, because of the short amount of time she had with Siwon.
“Who’s there?” She asked quietly so as not to alert Siwon. She didn’t want him to run in and get hurt, too.
All she knew next was someone rushing towards her, a sudden burst of pain and darkness swimming around the edges of her consciousness.
As she looked upon a face she had seen before, she managed a softly gasped, “Why?”
“Because you betrayed your kingdom, too.”