(Chapter 21 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 21: Of Light and Dark
“You’ll call me when the interrogations begin?” Taeyeon asked as her brother helped her out onto the back terrace later that morning;
“Of course,” Eeteuk replied as he led her to one of the stone benches, briefly ignoring the other person who had been out on the terrace before them. “They should all report to the castle by this afternoon and, those who don’t will be interrogated tomorrow and, I will let you know of that, too.” He stood by her side as she sat down on the bench, carefully rearranging the skirts of the scarlet robes she still wore.
“Thank you for bringing me out here,” Taeyeon smiled up at him,
Eeteuk regarded her with a tilt of his head, “I’d rather keep you in your bed for another week,” he admitted, patting her head affectionately as if she were six-years-old again, “You look so fragile that a strong wind may blow you away.”
“Then, you’ll just have to use your Air Magic to bring me back,” Taeyeon grinned,
Eeteuk snorted, “Indeed… Very well then. Siwon,” he called out to the other occupant of the terrace. When the prince finally acknowledged them, looking over his shoulder, Eeteuk said, “Escort the princess inside when she’s ready.” Before the younger man could even reply, Eeteuk turned and left, the double-doors closing firmly behind him.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” Taeyeon accused lightly.
Siwon glanced at her. The princess sat with her back straight on the stone bench, her hands folded neatly on her lap and her face tilted to the sun, her eyes calmly closed. She did not wear a wig to give her hair the appearance of length and fullness, rather, her short wavy locks were pulled back from her face with jeweled combs, appearing like a make-shift crown. In her formal clothes, she looked every inch the princess with the quiet dignity she, at times, displayed. Indeed, his heart seemed to physically ache just looking at her.
“I was with you for four days straight with barely any rest!” Siwon defended, feeling his face heat up at the admission of his constant watch while she had been ill,
“Yes, but when I finally awoke, you never once visited me. Indeed, this morning is the first time I’ve seen you since the night I was attacked,” Taeyeon countered. She paused and, then, tentatively continued, “I thought perhaps you were upset with me for having locked my closet door to protect you rather than calling for your help.” She hesitated before, quietly musing, “I know some male egos work can be affected like that.”
“I wondered what had happened in that closet, thinking you didn’t know the advisor was in there until he attacked, but, front the amount of blood you had already lost by the time I got in there, I began to think otherwise,” Siwon revealed; “From all that I know of you, although it may not be everything nor even a lot, I do know how fiercely protective you are and, I eventually surmised that you had figured out you weren’t alone in the closet and, so, had locked the door to either trap the advisor there or stall for time.
“But, no. I’ve finally learned that nothing will ever stop you from protecting people. I don’t like it any better and I was certainly annoyed for some time, but, no, I’m not still upset about that,” Siwon said and, after a deep, steadying breath, added, “No, I’m upset that I didn’t realize something was wrong sooner… that it had taken me so long to get you out of there.”
He looked away, his hands clasped behind his back, “Every time I look at you, I cannot help but think of what may have happened if I didn’t get to you in time. I think about how close you were to dying for so long, indeed, your brother and Kangin are still healing your mind together. I’m afraid that if I look at your or look for you that I’ll somehow wake up and this is all just a dream and you aren’t really here and you didn’t… survive.”
“At first, I locked the door because I didn’t want him to escape. I knew he would see you in my room and would go after you first before trying to leave my room undetected,” Taeyeon spoke up, finally opening her eyes and turning her head to look at his handsome profile; “I wanted to protect you, and, so, I locked my door in the hopes that when you came looking for me in the closet, you would be alert enough to call for the guards rather than the advisor sneaking up behind you. In all honesty, I never intended to use my magic, knowing the danger to myself and how upset everyone would be if they knew I had tried to use it again while my magic was still practically non-existent. Then, the advisor mentioned that Eeteuk would be his next target and I lost control. I had to stop him right then and there.”
“I understand your need to protect those around you, but I beg of you, the next time I am around, please let me help you,” Siwon said, “If you want to protect people, fine, just let us work together instead of one of us being left completely vulnerable.”
“Okay,” Taeyeon couldn’t help the small smile that came to her lips. At least the prince was eluding that they would continue their friendship at the very least. “Siwon, please sit down. You know how much I dislike people towering over me.”
“I’m hardly towering over you, I’m standing at least five feet away,” Siwon snorted in a very un-prince-like manner.
“Siwon, sit down,” Taeyeon repeated, this time some irritation in her tone,
“This isn’t proper. There are proprieties to observe,” Siwon muttered even as he sat on the other end of the bench where she sat,
“There is a potted plant between us. Besides, we’ve been much closer in the past,” Taeyeon reminded,
Siwon wasn’t sure why, but his neck and face felt warm and he was sure he was blushing. He didn’t understand it considering he never blushed around the princess before even when, as she had mentioned, they had been in more intimate settings. Perhaps it was the way he seemed to be exposing himself more. Perhaps it was the fact that he had finally openly acknowledged his love for her, albeit to his brother instead of the other party. Or, perhaps she looked so very beautiful in all of her finery. Regardless of the reason, he suddenly felt shy around the princess.
To hide his reddened face, he bowed his head, turning his attention to the potted night flower between them. The bloom had already dried and died, but, by night, a new bloom would have begun to grow. Easily using his magic, he cupped his hand and filled it with water, gently sprinkling the soil with it.
“Why are there so many night flowers here, Taeyeon? They aren’t part of the terrace’s original floral design,” Siwon inquired politely,
“I got them when I was touring the kingdom with Sungmin,” Taeyeon answered, shifting slightly to eye the plant between them. “They’re so beautiful at night but I’m still waiting for the night when they bloom together. There’s always at least one that isn’t in bloom.” Taeyeon tilted her face to the sun again, closing her eyes once more, “It was so odd, having to be responsible, having all these people listen to me and having to convince them to believe in not just me, but my brother as well.
“At first, I felt guilty having Sungmin with me because I was taking away his time to be with Kyuhyun. But, then, I was selfishly grateful he had come with me… I do not think I would have been strong enough to do that tour alone, at least, not the first time,” I thought I was ready to take such a big step on my own, but I was arrogant in that thinking. I needed someone to support and encourage me. I needed someone to remind me I wasn’t wrong to be on that tour and that I was able to do this job.
“And somehow, despite having Sungmin at my side and helping my brother in the only way I could, I wasn’t happy,” Taeyeon revealed, relishing in the warmth the sun beamed upon her pale, up-turned face; “Then, one night as Sungmin and I were travelling between estates, we passed a vast meadow of night flowers. It was the only time we travelled at night, but it was worth it just to see it. As far as the eye can see, dark fields filled with moon-kissed flowers. I have never seen anything so beautiful than those little flowers lighting up the darkness.”
“I… I could give you a meadow of night flowers, Taeyeon,” Siwon stated, his usual calm confidence gone and what was left sounded almost like a plea to his ears. “If that is what you so wish to see… if that is what would make you happy, I can make you a meadow just as you saw that night. No, I can make one better because it will be for you and you alone.”
Taeyeon finally turned her head to look at him, her eyes like burning embers locking with his of obsidian; “But, the night flowers don’t make me happy, Siwon.”
“Then, what?” Siwon asked, his tone softly fierce,
She tilted her head ever so slightly as she reached across and cupped the side of his face with her hand. Her hand slowly slipped away, her fingertips tracing along his jawline, “You do.”
Siwon was sure his heart had stopped the moment her palm was pressed warmly against his cheek. When her fingers began to feel like butterfly wings trailing down his face, his eyes closed, his hand suddenly covering hers just before her hand could sever all contact. Her fingertips pressed against just to the corner of his lips, he held them there.
“Wait… a moment longer,” Siwon said quietly.
Taeyeon tried to pull her hand away, but Siwon held on tight. Instead, he followed the tug of her hand until he was leaning towards her, his forehead pressed against hers and the tip of his nose brushing hers. However, Taeyeon was startled when she felt him suddenly shift and, then, he was on his knees before her, her hand still clasped in his.
“Taeyeon,” Siwon said her name in awe as if she were a dream that still hadn’t come true; “Even if you say no, my heart is yours,” he bowed his head over her hand, his lips moving against her knuckles; “But, please, give your heart to me one more time.”
“I can’t,” Taeyeon choked on her words, her eyes burning with unshed tears as she stared at the top of the prince’s head. Taeyeon leaned into him, her other hand slipping around the nape of his neck, holding him closer as she bowed over his head, “Siwon… I gave you my heart when we were still in the Dark Kingdom,” she reminded gently, her voice breaking as her tears splashed onto his head, “I was never able to get it back.”
Siwon raised his head, his dark eyes unrelenting and, yet, suspiciously bright as he stared at her directly. “Taeyeon, I love you. I should have said to so long ago, but I never could… I was always too scared.”
Taeyeon cradled his face between her hands, “I have never stopped loving you, Siwon.”
The Dark Prince gazed up at her, his eyes appearing to be searching for something in hers. Then, he straightened himself on his knees before her, clasping her one hand, he brought it up to his lips.
“You have known a part of me no one else knows. You understand me in a way no one else can. You are the anchor to my soul and the keeper of my heart. I fell in love with you the first week we met and I continue to love you, more and more as each day and night passes,” Siwon declared softly, sincerely, as he clasped her hand firmly, slowly lowering it to hold her palm against his heart.
With her free hand, Taeyeon wiped away the tears trailing down her cheeks, “I love you.”
“And, I love you,” Siwon reciprocated. And, then, he asked, “Will you marry me, Taeyeon?”
“Sungmin,” the Second Dark Prince sighed as he laid on his stomach on the bed, his head by the foot as he watched the lesser mage pace.
It was the most restless he had ever seen of the older man, Sungmin walking the same oval path over and over again, his hands clasped behind his back, his gaze to the floor. Ever since the interrogation finished, he and Sungmin had retreated to his room, tired after training all night. However, as Kyuhyun began to drift to sleep, the mage did not, continuing to toss and turn until, finally, the younger man literally kicked him out of the bed. Since then, Sungmin began to pace and, Kyuhyun was unable to sleep because, as the mage walked, little fires blossomed in his footsteps. So, as Sungmin walked, a small cloud of water followed, effectively dousing the flames.
“Just go to sleep,” Sungmin replied distractedly,
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes. If for one moment he thought he could sleep, he would have already done so. However, the prince knew that if he slept, the mage was likely to set the room on fire. “If you’re so upset, then just sneak into the dungeon and kill the bastard already!”
Sungmin halted immediately, finally looking at Kyuhyun for the first time since they retreated to the room, “What?”
“Don’t treat me like an idiot, Sungmin. You and I both know you’re like this because you were secretly hoping Eeteuk would strike the advisor dead on the spot, especially when he admitted to assassinating the late king and queen,” Kyuhyun stated; “So, if it’s bothering you so much, just go down there and kill him yourself.”
“Taeyeon didn’t want her brother to kill him. She wanted to protect her brother from the dark reality of murder,” Sungmin reminded, eyeing the mage particularly,
“Yes, well, now you can protect your king’s soul, too, but doing the deed for him. Then, I can finally go to sleep,” Kyuhyun retorted,
“You’re not worried about my soul?” Sungmin asked quietly, “Or do you believe I have lost enough of my soul that it will not be affected by this?”
Kyuhyun’s eyes narrowed, “Your soul is completely intact, so stop twisting my words.”
“Well, what am I supposed to believe when you say things like that?” Sungmin questioned,
“I just mean if you want to do something, then do something, just stop festering,” Kyuhyun replied, “You can either do something, or not, but either way you need to stop this because it’ll just keep bothering you. And, because Eeteuk will choose not to kill, you won’t either out of duty to your king and loyalty to Eeteuk.”
“They’re the same person,”
“They mean differently to you,” Kyuhyun rolled onto his back, staring up at the bed’s canopy, “So, you might as well just rein it in.”
Sungmin regarded the prince for a moment, then, asked, “And if I decided to go against friend and king? If I decided to disregard the effect on my soul and sanity?”
“I would have to convince you otherwise,” Kyuhyun answered almost sleepily, his eyes slowly closing,
“And if you couldn’t? What then?”
“Well, then I’ll just have to go along with you and, then, help get your soul back afterwards,” Kyuhyun replied, “As for your sanity, well, at least I’m whole.”
“I’m being serious, Kyuhyun.”
“And, so am I. If I cannot stop you from the path you choose, then I will just have to join you and protect you myself,” Kyuhyun stated, “Then, at the end of the road, I’ll help fix the damage done from the journey.”
“You would help me commit murder?”
Kyuhyun finally opened his eyes, staring at Sungmin upside-down; “I will support you in anything you decide to do. I trust you enough, believe in you enough to know that if you decide something, there is a reason.”
“You would follow me so blindly?”
“Yes. In doing so, I would be following my heart.”
“I cannot believe you trust me this much,” Sungmin said softly in awe,
“This began with me trying to distract you and it turns into you questioning my trust in you,” Kyuhyun muttered irritably as he suddenly threw his forearm over his eyes.
Kyuhyun suddenly wished that he had ignored the other man and went back to sleep after he had forced Sungmin from the bed. They were all riding on a high of emotions after the interrogation and, in such situations, Kyuhyun was always easily irritated. He had been so close to kill the advisor himself in the study. Indeed, when he first wanted to attack the advisor, Kyuhyun didn’t even know how his brother had stopped him. He remembered their exchange of words, but his emotions had been shaking within him like an earthquake and, in the past, it was difficult for him to have reign over himself after his emotions were unleashed.
Each word that the advisor said against the Dark Kingdom was like mud being thrown. The kingdom aside, just the thought that his father was being degraded had unleashed a storm of angry emotions within him. Then, the thought that his best friend had died in a war that had been purposefully set in motion had unlocked the door to his darker emotions.
When the advisor had called those of the Dark evil, it wasn’t on his behalf that he had gotten upset. No, rather, the face that came to his mind was his beloved mother. He remembered his mother as one who protected both her magically blessed sons from the scrutiny of others. He remembered his mother as one who was queen, wife and mother and never lacked in any of those spheres. He remembered a warm smile, a gentle touch, a loving voice and a safe embrace. His mother had been the complete opposite of evil and to accuse her of such a sin was what completely set his dark emotions free.
Surprisingly, despite how wholly engaged his emotions were, not a trickle of magic escaped his control. And, he knew, it was all because of the mage in his room.
When he first became attracted to the mage, he had surprised himself. When Sungmin revealed he reciprocated the interest, he couldn’t believe he had found someone who liked him in spite of all the barriers that surrounded them. He couldn’t believe he had found someone who wanted to be with him and, slowly, he began to believe that he had finally found his perfect anchor.
As they became closer, Kyuhyun slowly found it easier to pretend happiness and, it wasn’t long before he realized it was easier to pretend because he actually was happy. To feel such easy contentedness, to feel no burden from such a bright emotion, was a relief. Even when he got upset in those early days with the mage, his emotions were never so out-of-control because he knew what happiness was like once more.
However, despite how much closer they became, how much they now knew about each other, there was something still missing within Kyuhyun. He knew that he had cared deeply for the mage, but there had to be more. Then, when he watched Sungmin feed the princess, it all fell into place. The last of his soul had returned with the complete acceptance of his anchor.
“Kyuhyun, come back to me.”
Slowly, Kyuhyun was pulled from his reverie, startled to find that his hand were now pressed against the mattress beside either side of his head. Sungmin hovered above him upside-down, the mage’s hands manacling his wrists down.
“Where did you go?”
“Into my past.”
“And did you learn something?”
“A strong anchor does not rely on the anchor alone. The magic user needs to believe in that anchor, accept them wholly,” Kyuhyun explained, “A bond between two people – whether or not it relates to magic and the soul – is reliant upon those people. They both have to make it work. They both have to trust. The anchor must take the magic user’s soul into their keeping.”
“And the user must trust the anchor completely,” Sungmin finished; “Is that what happened the other day, Kyuhyun? You began to trust me entirely and your soul was whole once more?”
“I think I always did trust you, I was just scared to admit it… scared to put a part of me in another’s hands… but, that’s the role of an anchor, isn’t it? You keep a part of my soul but it isn’t forced. It’s given,” Kyuhyun said, “Watching you care for Taeyeon, changed something within me… made me think of how you’ve always cared for me. And I thought how did I not trust him completely? And, when I finally did acknowledge that I trust you, it was like the protection around my soul was complete, drawing in the final pieces that I had lost.”
“I felt it… after your soul was whole again, I realized I could feel that it was incomplete,” Sungmin admitted.
Kyuhyun nodded, “And… and it was like… I had loved you all that time, but I didn’t know it.”
“Is such a thing possible?” Sungmin smiled down at him,
Kyuhyun nodded again, this time more insistent, “My father once told me that’s what happened between him and my mother. Over the course of a few years, he became her anchor and, when her soul was made whole, she realized she had loved him for years.”
“It took your father years?”
“My mother was more far-gone than Kangin ever was and, unlike him, my mother never had an anchor in her life like how Kangin had Eeteuk before the war,” Kyuhyun explained.
“So, you must love me quite a bit, hmm?”
“Indeed. And you?”
“Of course. I’ve told you since day one.”
“You have not.”
“Close to it, then,” Sungmin smirked, his steel-blue eyes lit with amusement and affection.”
“And you, Sungmin? Will you follow me blindly?” Kyuhyun asked tentatively,
“Almost blindly. If we’re both following the other in such a way, we’ll never get anywhere,” Sungmin grinned before leaning down and brushing his lips against the prince’s nose; “You know I’ll go to where you are.”
“I think my time training with Kangin is nearing its end,” Kyuhyun admitted, his tone suddenly solemn; “And, I should return to my home. I’ve never been away from my father for so long and, now that Siwon’s been here for a few weeks…”
“Have you already spoken with your brother? Have you decided upon a date?” Sungmin asked,
“The end of the week. I want a few more nights to train with Kangin to ensure my control has solidified before returning home,” Kyuhyun answered, “And Siwon wants to settle things with Taeyeon.”
“Do you want to continue training when you return to the Dark Kingdom?”
“At first, training was a means to have reign over my magic so I wouldn’t have to worry about my emotions. It was also a distraction, but I found training… fun and, indeed, my mother was a very skilled mage. I feel like, I should see how far this can go, what’s my limit? If I do that, I think I’ll feel closer to my mother,” Kyuhyun admitted, “So, yes, I will continue to train, even on my own.”
“Kyuhyun, when will you learn?” Sungmin sighed heavily with mock drama; “You can train with me.”
“You’re really coming with me?” Kyuhyun asked, eyes widening ever so slightly,
“I was going to return to you before Eeteuk asked me to escort Taeyeon around the kingdom. I thought you knew that, when the time came for you to leave, I would go with you?” Sungmin blinked down at him,
“But… really?” Kyuhyun suddenly pulled his wrists from the other’s slackened grasp and sat up, turning to face Sungmin; “You’ll really come back with me?”
“I think I can finally sleep,” Sungmin hid his grin as he crawled onto the bed and slipped beneath the blanket,
“What? No! Sungmin, answer me! Royal command!” Kyuhyun exclaimed, scrambling to the mage’s side, trying to pull the covers from him, but, suddenly he found himself on his back, Sungmin propped on an elbow and hovering above him.
“Where you go, I go, Kyuhyun,” Sungmin repeated seriously, and, then, added with a grin, “But, I will take occasional trips back here. Eeteuk would be lost without me.”
“You have to tell Taeyeon,” Kyuhyun warned,
Sungmin grimaced, “Can’t you tell her? If I do, she could either get very mad and try to kill me, or, get very mad and try to kidnap me.”
“Think of it this way, she has no magic right now, so, it’ll probably be the latter,” Kyuhyun smirked at him,
Sungmin sighed as he allowed his torso to fall back onto the bed beside the prince. He turned his head on his pillow to look at the younger man beside him, “Well, Kyuhyun? Are you prepared to remain with me?”
Kyuhyun stared, “Yes.”
“You sure? I can’t remember if I’ve said this before, but I’m a very possessive person,” Sungmin stated with a smile on his face although his eyes were serious. He reached across, taking the younger man’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, “I don’t take royal commands easily.”
“That’s fine. I’m not that fond of mages anyway,” Kyuhyun smirked as he abruptly turned, giving the other his back,
“You don’t have to be fond of mages. You just have to love me,” Sungmin murmured, slipping an arm around the prince’s waist, pulling Kyuhyun’s back flush against his front. “Just love me.”
Kyuhyun closed his eyes, sleep tempting him as he lay in the other’s warm embrace; “Love you.”
Closing the door behind him, the King of Light leaned back against the door, arms folded loosely about his torso. His gaze fell upon the sleeping mage, sitting in a chair by the study’s fireplace. He hadn’t seen the mage since the interrogation. After it had finished, he had retreated to the library with his sister, the need to regroup and recover after the emotional meeting in the study.
Having just left his sister on the back terrace, Eeteuk retreated to his study to set it right, but, upon entering, his desk was where it was supposed to be, the side of it was fixed as if it hadn’t crashed against the wall and the usual chairs before his desk had been replaced, the chair beside his own gone.
Watching the mage sleep, he recalled that the other had been helping Sungmin and Kyuhyun train all night after helping heal another layer of Taeyeon’s mind the day before. Indeed, the mage hadn’t had a wink of sleep until then. He owed his sister’s life to the mage. He could heal simple wounds and, despite his extensive knowledge for healing the mind, he never would have been able to help his sister every time she was so greatly injured. Indeed, the Dark Mage had taken on every one of the attempts on his sister’s life. He would be forever grateful to Kangin for saving his sister.
“Are you going to stand by the door all day or come over here?”
Startled, Eeteuk pushed away from the door, walking closer to the mage, “You’re awake?”
“From almost the moment you came in,” Kangin admitted as his eyes opened to half-mast, “Even though you don’t use it often, I can still sense your magic.”
“And it interrupts your sleep?”
“Only because I don’t allow myself to sleep so deeply. It’s the nature of the mage to always keep an awareness of his surroundings. It’s the only way to survive as a mage. We’re both revered and fears,” Kangin explained sleepily, “My magic isn’t so perfect that I can give exact locations, but Taeyeon and Siwon are somewhere behind the castle and Kyuhyun and Sungmin are somewhere above us.”
“You never get a good sleep?” Eeteuk asked, concern filling his light brown eyes as he gracefully sat in the chair opposite Kangin’s before the fireplace,
“I allow it sometimes. It depends upon the conditions,” Kangin replied, allowing his eyes to close once more,
“What are the conditions?”
“It’s only one, really. You have to be there. If you’re around while I sleep, I don’t even have to think about letting down my guard. My body does it all on its own,” the mage admitted,
“Then, you should sleep beside me more often,” Eeteuk said simply,
“It’ll be easier once Kyuhyun returns to the Dark Kingdom. He’s vastly improved in his magic control. I don’t have any major concerns with him being without my protection during the night and, besides, even though Sungmin would benefit from training with me, I know he’s more likely to go with the prince,” Kangin revealed,
“I thought as much. Training with you wasn’t the only reason he wanted to return to the Dark Kingdom,” the king mused, allowing a small fire to spark within the empty hearth; “When you first brought them back, he asked me then if he could leave to train. I will miss him dearly, but I cannot stop Sungmin from choosing his own path. It took him much courage to seek me out and request he be allowed to train as a mage. If he believes he will benefit from leaving, even if you are here, then I support him.”
“I never thought on it before, but it is odd how he developed a friendship with both you and Taeyeon. It cannot be due to similar ages, because I’m sure there are servants who are of similar age to both of you, not to mention the numerous suitors the vie for Taeyeon’s hand,” Kangin commented,
“Sungmin seven years ago is the same Sungmin you see today,” Eeteuk explained; “He is friendly, protective and loyal. Above all things, he is honest. He protected Taeyeon without coddling her as I tend to do. He may ask my pardon or permission to be bold, but I think even without me granting either, he will still tell me his mind. Sungmin will ask if we are talking as mage and king or as Eeteuk and Sungmin, but the only difference between the two is the formality. Regardless of either, he will always be honest.
“All my life, I have had to learn how to read people, how to understand them. I have had to choose wisely who I trust and who I distrust. I have had to decide who to keep near and who to never show my back,” Eeteuk continued, watching as the mage seemed to be asleep, yet he knew Kangin heard every word; “But, it was more than his honesty. What drew me to Sungmin, and, indeed, I believe this to be true for Taeyeon, is his joy in life.
“I sometimes wonder if he is this way because he lost his parents in the war, or if he has always been thus. Sungmin is the kind of person who, even if he has to work hard throughout life, he will enjoy every minute of it. He may be doing something or being completely lax and, yet, he will always find meaning in everything. He will find a way to never waste a single moment in life.”
Eeteuk could still recall when he had been informed of a request for an audience from some nobody. He had no job, no reference and no home to speak of. All Eeteuk was given was a name. Eeteuk had given the message that he would meet with that nobody the following day as he was in a meeting with the advisors, but that nobody refused to return. The advisors told him to refuse that nobody entry, but Eeteuk had gone into the hallway to give his decision to the butler who delivered the message. Standing in the hall had been his sister and he had beckoned her over.
“It shouldn’t take too long,” she had said with a slight shrug of her shoulders and, that was all it took for Eeteuk to go to the castle gates himself to meet with that nobody.
When Eeteuk met that nobody, he met a boy younger than himself, dressed plainly and bowing humbly. He had asked the younger boy why he couldn’t come back tomorrow and the boy had replied,
“I may not have the courage tomorrow.”
Intrigued, Eeteuk talked to the boy then as he pleaded his case to train as a mage. Before that short interview was over, that nobody became Sungmin.
“He’s not afraid to live his life and, to two people who have had their lives somewhat dictated because of our family, he was like a flame and us, two moths,” Eeteuk finished, slowly pulling himself from his past memories of that first meeting.
“And, now, he will be going to live in the Dark Kingdom,” Kangin said,
“Indeed, but you’ll be here and I’m finding you a much more useful mage,” Eeteuk grinned despite that the mage’s eyes were still closed; “For example, my desk looks brand new even though it met with an unfortunate accident with the wall.”
“Accident,” Kangin snorted in disbelief,
“A mage who can utilize wood is much better than one who can just light candles,” Eeteuk stated, ignoring the other’s interruption;
“Speaking of expanded elementals… since when have you been able to use expanded air elementals?” Kangin inquired, a single eye opening to watch the king,
“You mean the lightning?” Eeteuk asked innocently,
“It was definitely a warning, aiming for the chair where the advisor once sat,” Kangin mused,
“Well, it certainly wasn’t purposeful,” Eeteuk admitted, “I can use both elementals of Light Magic, but I have never been able to use lightning let alone control it…” The king grew silent, his gaze suddenly on the blazing fire.
“Eeteuk?” The mage softly prompted,
“I don’t recall ever being as angry as I was this morning,” Eeteuk said quietly; “Before me was the person who had tried to kill my sister at least three times. You know, I wasn’t even angry that he had tried to kill me over the years. I’m king… I’ve come to accept that there will be people who will wish to bring me down, even those who will wish to kill me. I was upset that I didn’t realize, that I didn’t notice all these years. No… I was angry because he tried to kill someone who never ever hurt anyone, someone who was never in my position of power.
“When Taeyeon revealed he had been the one to murder my parents, I wasn’t surprised at that point. He had tried to kill the both of us, so why wouldn’t he have tried to kill before? Then, to talk of my mother’s murder so lightly… as if it had been trivial, an afterthought,” Eeteuk’s hands fisted in his lap, the flames almost spilling forth from the fireplace; “How did I never see how twisted he was? To never once believe he was wrong, that he was evil… to kill and continue to try to kill… to disregard life as nothing and, then, believe others were beneath him…”
“Eeteuk, I’m losing you,” Kangin said, his voice as soft as before,
The king blinked and, then, broke his gaze from the fire to look at the mage, “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, just… be aware of when you’re getting upset,” Kangin reminded lightly; “You might accidentally cook me.”
“I have excellent control,” Eeteuk defended,
Kangin opened both eyes this time, raising a brow, “Excluding this morning you mean?”
Eeteuk stared at him for a silent moment, and, then, added quietly, “I’d never hurt you. I know I did in the past, but now…”
“I said accidentally,”
“Even though, I’m extremely careful when I’m with you, even more so than usual in regards to my magic,” Eeteuk insisted; “I’m more careful with you than I am with anyone else… even more than when I’m with my sister.”
Kangin’s silver eyes widened. He knew Eeteuk made a point of never having to choose between him and Taeyeon. He knew it troubled the young king whenever Kangin took on the pains of the princess and, yet, he couldn’t wish those pains upon his sister. Despite his love for Eeteuk, he would never try to take away from the other’s sister. He would never try to be more important to the king. So, he was more than surprised at Eeteuk’s admission.
“Don’t misunderstand, I love Taeyeon with all my heart, but it is far from what I feel for you. Being around my sister or anyone else doesn’t cause the same reaction in me,” Eeteuk admitted; “When I’m with you… it’s like I’ve been cold all my life and without you I’ll never feel warm again. It hurts to be away from you for too long because it’s like a part of me is missing. It hurts to be around you because it feels like my heart is going to burst from so much happiness.”
“So, you see, I have to be most vigilant around you because my emotions are never as engaged as they are with you. Indeed, whenever you’re involved, it seems I never have my usual control in any aspect of my life,” Eeteuk explained simply. He gazed directly into the Dark Mage’s silver eyes, “So, you see, Kangin, I could never accidentally hurt you with my magic… Because I know how much I love you.”
Slowly, Kangin stood from his cushioned chair and paced towards Eeteuk, stopping just as his legs touched the older man’s knees. Leaning down, he propped his hands on the armrests, his face just centimetres from the other’s. His mercurial gaze unwavering on those of light brown, Kangin’s stern and serious expression slowly, ever so slowly softened.
“You’re the love of my life, Eeteuk,” the Dark Mage stated simply, softly; “I should have done more over the past fifteen years to reunite with you, to be with you again because, even back then at such a young age, I knew what place you had in my heart. Although I do regret the time we lost together, perhaps I should not because we both had some growing to do and, perhaps it was best that we grew while we were apart. But, such is the way of life and, now we are together again.
“You need to be absolutely sure about us, Eeteuk,” Kangin said, “I know we have talked about such things, but we need to be more direct about this. You need to be sure that you can give up your heir, that you’ll be okay with not having children if you’re with me. If you’re not sure, then I will return to the Dark Kingdom and you will always have my friendship. But, know that if you choose me, I will not let you send me off again. I will never leave. If I stay, it will be for forever, Eeteuk.”
“I have already told you that Taeyeon’s firstborn son is welcome to succeed me. Children?” Eeteuk tilted his head slightly, “I have thought of this ever since we met again two months ago. I came to the conclusion that children would definitely fill my heart, but, without you, there would be no heart to fill. You see, I have spent the past fifteen years raising my own sister. I have spent the past fifteen years running a kingdom, giving myself up to serve the crown. I am ready to be selfish and live for myself, even just a little bit.”
Eeteuk reached up, cupping the side of the mage’s face with his hand, “If I had to choose between my future children and you, well, there’s no decision to even be made. You are the love of my life, Kangin. So, you need to be absolutely sure about us, because I will not let you go again. I will never let go. If I have you, it will be for forever, Kangin.”
The Dark Mage smirked slightly at having his own words thrown back at him.
“Then, forever it is,” Kangin murmured before closing the short distance between them, his lips touching the king’s.
“Kangin,” Eeteuk murmured against the other’s lips, “I don’t know if I locked the door.”
“I don’t think people will accept you as my consort.”
“I don’t like the word ‘consort’. Kyuhyun refers to them as concubines.”
“Well, you’re certainly not my concubine and, Kangin, you’re still kissing me.”
“I thought you were kissing me.”
“The door’s still unlocked.”
“So, what am I if not your consort?” Kangin asked, breaking off the kiss by a few centimetres,
“Mine,” the king said simply, leaning up and kissing the mage.
“They’ll be leaving tomorrow… did they tell you?”
Days had already passed since the interrogations. Although they revealed that the advisor had acted on his own and, indeed the advisor had admitted such a scenario, several advisors did admit to suspecting such treachery. They were dismissed from the Royal Council immediately and it was decided that the advisor would be sent to live in exile outside of the kingdom. During the meeting also, Taeyeon was officially declared as the king’s proxy. Eeteuk had told the remaining advisors that his sister would be present for most if not all meetings and she would take an active role in all decisions.
“If you choose not to follow the Princess of Light as you follow me, then you do not belong on the council,” he had said and, in a last-second decision, revealed, “Not only shall she be my second in command, it is her firstborn son who shall rise to be my successor.”
Eeteuk had given the remaining advisors a week to make their decision to leave or stay in the council. While he appreciated their guidance all those years, he had already vowed never to let the council sway him against his sister. If they couldn’t accept her, then he wouldn’t accept them. He knew he was taking a big risk, especially since his sister had much to learn about running the kingdom, but he would teach her and he knew she wouldn’t let him down.
Now, he was with his sister, past the back fields and beyond the protective castle walls, lying in the middle of the flowering valley. Beside him, Taeyeon sat, idly picking blades of grass and dropping them onto her lap.
“Yes, Kyuhyun told me,”
Eeteuk, who lay on his back, looked up at his sister in confusion, “Kyuhyun? Not Sungmin or even Siwon? Not to say you two aren’t friends, but I was sure either of the other two would have told you first.”
“Well, Sungmin’s been hiding me, so I think he charged Kyuhyun with telling me so he didn’t have to. As for Siwon, well… he’s avoiding me, too,” Taeyeon admitted.
“We can guess why Sungmin’s hiding, but what about the prince?” Eeteuk inquired, “You two didn’t fight recently, did you? When you returned from the terrace that one day, you both seemed amicable still.”
Taeyeon knew exactly what day her brother was referring to. She plucked a blade of grass, idly wrapping it around her finger as she admitted, “He asked me a question and I said no, so things are a little awkward right now.”
“Why would things be awkward just because you said…” Eeteuk propped himself on both elbows, “Don’t tell me that he asked you the question.”
Taeyeon covered her face with both hands, a muffled “Yes” being heard.
“And you said no?” Eeteuk asked slowly as if wanting to be sure and allowing for no miscommunication between them.
“I said no,” she confirmed,
“Good girl,” Eeteuk grinned as he laid back down again, throwing a forearm over his eyes to further block out the bright sun, “Don’t get married. Just stay with me. You don’t need suitors or husbands. You just need your big brother.”
Taeyeon laughed softly as she gently nudged his side with her foot, “If I never get married, then I can never have children and you’ll never have an heir. That means you and Kangin can’t be together.”
“Alas, that’s true. Can’t you just wait until I’m almost dead to get married and have children?” Eeteuk asked with mock drama. When all his sister did was laugh again, tossing grass at him playfully, Eeteuk looked at her seriously, “Why did you say no? You said you love him.”
Taeyeon grew silent, recalling when Prince Siwon was kneeling before her and asked her to marry him. She had smiled down at him with tears in her eyes as she shook her head – no. He had stared up at her, startled, so sure that she would have said yes, she could tell. As she wiped her tears, she explained to him as she now explained to her brother.
“I’m not ready to get married and, I think, neither is Siwon. We have only begun to get to know one another and, yes, we do love each other and, yes, those are both things Mother and Father didn’t have when they got married, but we’re not ready and… I don’t know, I want us to know more about one another before we make such a commitment,” Taeyeon shrugged her slender shoulders,
“You’re right, that is certainly more than what Mother and Father had and they did grow to love each other,” Eeteuk mused,
“But, what of other arranged marriages and political marriages where love doesn’t occur?” Taeyeon shook her head, “No, Teuk, I want what you and Kangin have. Even though you two have been apart these fifteen years, you still know each other. One of the reasons I trusted Kangin in the Dark Kingdom was because he proved that he knew you. Not just the you that everyone sees and pretends to know, he knows the you that only I know. He knew you didn’t like to eat duck.”
Eeteuk chuckled softly, “Indeed I do not.”
“I want someone to know me like that and,” she suddenly held up her hand knowing her brother would interject, “Sungmin doesn’t count because I don’t plan on marrying him. When I get married, I want all of the kingdom to know that it’s not because of politics or some kind of contract. I want them to believe and know that it’s a love match. The advisor himself said he was surprised to find Mother in Father’s chambers. That’s because many people didn’t know they truly loved each other. I don’t want those doubts about my own marriage.”
“But, Tae, those people won’t be in your marriage. Your marriage will be between you and your husband. You shouldn’t factor in public opinion,” Eeteuk reminded gently,
“I know that and, indeed, on any other occasion I wouldn’t. But, when I marry Siwon and, yes, I do know I will marry him eventually, it will be seen as a move to unite both kingdoms even though that isn’t even a factor,” Taeyeon explained, “I want the people of both kingdoms to know that our marriage is not some political strategy, or that it’s not some way for one kingdom to overtake the other. I want them to know that our marriage is that: ours. I want them to know we love each other.”
“So, then, tell me, dear sister, how this factors in to the princes and Sungmin leaving tomorrow?” Eeteuk inquired, “Am I to lose you once more or is the prince to become a permanent guest?”
Taeyeon shook her head, “No to both. I have my responsibilities here and Siwon has his responsibilities in his kingdom. We will write to each other as much as we can and visit with one another when we can, but, for the most part, come tomorrow, we will be parting.”
“And you’re okay with that?” Eeteuk pushed himself up so he was sitting now, “You don’t have to help me run the kingdom if you’d prefer to go with them. Kangin will be remaining here, so, he can stop me from chasing after you.”
“It’s tempting and, I assure you, I’ve contemplated such scenarios already, but, no. I sought out this path for a reason: I want true peace for our kingdom. Indeed, for both kingdoms,” Taeyeon declared, her voice soft but sure; “After living my life so selfishly, I think it’s time that I do something. Besides, after meeting some of the people and having them meet me, well, I cannot simply just disappear again, can I?” She shook her head gently, “No, if I were to step back and leave, I’d be running away again. I need to finish what I started and, besides, I want to help you.”
Eeteuk stared at his sister for a long moment before he reached out and gently ruffled her hair as if she were a little girl still, “How you have grown, Tae. Not too long ago you didn’t have a care in the world and were finding new ways to push the boundaries of my rules for you. Now, you have taken on the worries of the kingdom and refuse to mishandle your responsibilities.” His light brown eyes suspiciously bright, he smiled, “Where is the little sister I have watched over all these years?”
Taeyeon, having been disgruntled at her brother messing up her hair, suddenly looked up at her brother, startled at his speech. She smiled softly at her brother, fighting the sudden burn of unshed tears, “I’m still here, big brother. I’ll still annoy you when I can.”
Eeteuk sighed heavily as he laid back down in the grass, “He doesn’t deserve you, Taeyeon.”
“You thought that about Sungmin, too, but we were fake-betrothed for years,” Taeyeon teased lightly,
“Yes, because I feared that if I went against you, you’d go off and elope with that damn mage,” Eeteuk muttered, “Now that I know you’re not ready to marry, I can grumble about that damn prince all I want.”
“Is this how it’s always going to be? You two frolicking outside the castle without a guard in sight?”
Eeteuk didn’t even look at the newcomer. Instead, he closed his eyes as he corrected, “We’re hardly frolicking. We haven’t moved from this spot for the better part of an hour.”
“And we can clearly see the guards making their rounds on the castle walls’ battlements,” Taeyeon chimed in,
“Is this how you two will always be? I’d like to know now before I permanently move here,” Kangin huffed as he crossed his arms over his chest,
“Only sometimes,” Eeteuk vowed solemnly,
“And when we’re feeling whimsical,” Taeyeon grinned up at the Dark Mage,
Kangin sighed heavily, “You two will be the death of me, I think.”
Eeteuk snorted in disbelief.
“What about your house in the Dark Kingdom?” Taeyeon asked then,
“I’ll keep it, but close it up since I’ll be living here. I’ll be bringing my belongings here, however,” Kangin explained, “I have to give my goodbyes to the king, so I’ll be escorting the princes back to their castle tomorrow.” Scowling, he grumbled, “I don’t like leaving the two of you here without a mage.”
Eeteuk opened his eyes and stared up at the mage, “We have survived without a mage before, I’ll have you know.”
“And Sungmin is to assist in escorting the assassin out of the kingdom tomorrow as they cross the border,” Taeyeon added,
“That’s not going to happen,” Kangin announced, “When he was brought his food for lunch, it seems the advisor believed death more welcoming than living in the Dark Kingdom… he managed to hang himself in his cell.”
“He doesn’t deserve your tears, Taeyeon,” Eeteuk stated firmly,
“I know,” she swiped at the offending tears angrily, “But it wasn’t too long ago that I thought the same as him of those of the Dark… and how many of our people believe the same?”
“Then, with your experience, you can teach them the truth,” Kangin reminded gently,
“Remember, both kingdoms lived in true peace for hundreds of years, Taeyeon. It can be so again,” Eeteuk vowed.
Taeyeon gazed at the valley around them. Recalling how, just two months ago, she had sat there watching Sungmin practicing his magic. They had talked about Light and Dark. Things had certainly changed so much since then. And, even more would be changing tomorrow.
“Taeyeon?” Eeteuk prompted,
She smiled as she tilted her face up to the bright sun, “Yes, it will be so again.”
The next evening, they were all in the front courtyard, a carriage prepared for the travellers. A large trunk was strapped to the back of the carriage and, the usual team of two horses had an additional three horses; four in pairs and a lead horse in the front.
“I don’t recall allowing you to take one of my horses with you,” Eeteuk said as he watched the driver securing the reins on each horse.
“He’s been my horse for seven years,” Sungmin countered,
“He was on loan. He was yours for as long as you remained a part of my court,” Eeteuk insisted, his tone filled with hauteur; “You’re leaving me, so leave the horse.”
The driver paused in his ministrations, by chance he was standing beside Sungmin’s horse. He looked at the king in silent askance.
“He’s kidding,” Sungmin insisted, “My horse goes with me.”
“I’m not kidding. There are plenty of horses where you’re going,” Eeteuk replied and the driver tentatively began to release the harnesses from Sungmin’s horse,
“Eeteuk! Tell him you’re kidding!” Sungmin exclaimed, a hand on the other’s shoulder, shaking it exasperatedly,
Two guards immediately ran up, their swords withdrawn, one sword before the mage’s neck and the other behind.
“Hands off the king,” one guard stated,
“You guys know I’d never really hurt the king! For how many years now have I helped you guys protect him!?” Sungmin questioned even as he did release Eeteuk’s shoulder to stand with his arms akimbo.
“That was before you broke the princess’ heart,” one guard said,
“There are reports that she spent last night crying in the library and cursing your name,” the other guard added,
Sungmin’s eyes narrowed as Eeteuk watched on with amusement in his eyes, clearly trying to hide his laughter.
“You’re lucky to be leaving the castle alive,” the guard insisted,
“We should throw you in the dungeon,” the other guard added,
“Leave him alone,” Taeyeon called out, exiting the castle with her hand on the First Dark Prince’s arm, the Second Dark Prince on her other side and Kangin walking behind them.
“Although he did break my heart, he’s still my best friend,” she insisted,
Sungmin threw a scowl at the princess as the guards lowered their swords and moved away.
Kyuhyun turned to Taeyeon then, effectively pulling her from his brother’s side and hugging her tightly, “Come visit soon, yes? I’ll be too busy training to stop any rain he makes.”
Taeyeon laughed up at the prince, “I have a lot to work on with my brother. Perhaps after then.”
“Only perhaps?” Kyuhyun sighed with mock drama as he gave her one last little squeeze before holding her at arm’s length; “Ah, you’re still busy making him work for it huh?” He whispered conspiratorially. Grinning, he winked, “I’ll make sure he goes crazy missing you.”
Taeyeon eyed him suspiciously, “You’re not going to push consorts his way, are you?”
“I considered it,” the young prince admitted and, then, added, “But they annoy me to no end, so, no. I’ll have Father bug him about you.”
Taeyeon laughed again, “Alright. Just as long as there aren’t any consorts.”
“Promise,” Kyuhyun winked as he walked ahead to say his goodbye to the king. He bowed low at the waist, “Thank you for taking me in these past few weeks.” He straightened, “And for telling me stories of my parents.”
“You’re a good kid,” Eeteuk smiled at the prince, even going so far as to ruffle his hair; “I don’t think I ever told you this, but there’s something about the way you move when you use your magic, I’m distinctly reminded of the way your mother did.”
Kyuhyun swallowed hard, a lump suddenly forming in his throat. He nodded abruptly, managing a muffled ‘thank you’ before entering the carriage, his hand wiping suspiciously at his face as he did so.
“I’ll give you two some privacy to say goodbye,” Kangin said as he stood abreast with the princess. He smiled down at her, the gesture still unfamiliar to him, “I’ll be back in a few days, Princess.”
“Be careful, Kangin,” she said, abruptly wrapping her arms around him and hugging him fiercely,
After a moment of surprise, Kangin hugged her back, “You, too. And protect your brother. Magic or no magic, we both know who’s the stronger of you two.”
Taeyeon grinned as Kangin walked off to stand beside the king and the lesser mage. Slowly, the princess turned her attention to the First Dark Prince, “Well, Siwon?”
He raised a thick brow, “Well, Taeyeon?”
“You finally stopped avoiding me?”
“Only because Kyuhyun pushed me at you after dinner,” Siwon muttered,
Taeyeon laughed softly before adding, “I told you why I said no.”
“A no is still a no,” Siwon muttered, crossing his arms and looking decided petulant.
Folding her arms loosely about her torso, Taeyeon looked away, hiding a smile, “Does this mean you won’t write to me? Sungmin promised to write once a week.”
“I’ll write thrice a week!” Siwon exclaimed. When he saw her smile, he scowled, “You… You better take care while I’m gone.”
“I will,” Taeyeon insisted, openly smiling at him now,
“And… and you shouldn’t push yourself too hard,” Siwon added, glancing at her smiling face and, then, looking away again, his face feeling suspiciously hot,
“I won’t,” she promised,
“And… and only train when Kangin’s with you… and only after your mind is completely healed,” Siwon said,
“We don’t even know if I still have any magic – wait! You’re okay with me training?” Taeyeon gaped. When the prince refused to look at her, she reached out, cupping the side of his face and gently turning his head to look at her; “Are you really okay with it, Siwon?” She asked quietly, “I love you regardless.”
“Yes, I am,” Siwon finally looked at her directly, “Your magic is a part of you just as it is a part of me. Because you are my anchor, I was able to find you that night… and… and I am able to feel everything again. Also… it was your magic that protected you when…” He swallowed hard, “When you were almost… How can I continue to resent something when it saved you?”
Taeyeon lowered her hand from his face to wipe away her tears, not caring who saw. “You have to take care, too, Siwon.”
Siwon nodded as he took a step back, suddenly aware that everyone in the courtyard was watching them, “And... don’t write Sungmin more than you write me.”
Taeyeon laughed aloud even as she finished wiping away her tears. She smiled brightly up at the prince, asking quietly, “Won’t you say it once before you go, Siwon?”
“Everyone’s watching,” the prince muttered even as he picked up her hand. Bring it to his lips, he whispered, “I love you with all that I am.”
Taeyeon was blushing brightly when Siwon turned to leave. She slowly followed him towards the others when he abruptly turned to look at her, pointing a finger directly at her nose,
“The next time I ask you something, you should say yes,” He growled softly. Before she could even react, he turned to the king and bowed. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
“And you show your appreciation by trying to steal my sister?” Eeteuk asked so only those closest to them could hear,
Siwon straightened immediately. During his entire stay, the king had never confronted him about his pursuit of the princess. He stared, startled, “I… I…”
“She was perfectly happy with her mage,” Eeteuk continued on, struggling hard to keep his expression stern,
“Please don’t encourage him,” Kyuhyun appeared in the carriage’s doorway, gesturing towards the lesser mage. “He’s incorrigible as it is.”
Siwon, however, seemed spurred on by the king’s words as he stated firmly, “I will make her happier.”
Eeteuk stared directly at the prince for a pregnant pause. Then, he leaned in and whispered so only the prince could hear him, “Too bad she said no.” He straightened, his eyes lit with mischief.
Siwon, unable to reply, his face reddening, entered the carriage without another word, shoving his brother back inside in the process.
“I’ll be back soon,” Kangin promised as he glanced at the king.
“Last time you said that, it took you a week to come back,” Eeteuk reminded,
Kangin smiled softly at the king and Eeteuk was sure his heart had literally stopped. It had been fifteen years since he had seen such a look on the Dark Mage’s face, so warm, so openly loving. Although all he did was smile, Eeteuk knew the words the mage kept silent. Eeteuk nodded once in silent reply. Then, together, they both glanced at the younger two who were still saying goodbye.
As Siwon had entered the carriage, Sungmin had taken both of Taeyeon’s hand and pulled her aside so the others couldn’t hear. As he stared down at her with open affection, Taeyeon’s amber eyes filled with tears.
“Now, now, none of that,” Sungmin chided lightly as he reached up and wiped away her tears, “The guards are sure to come running back to kill me for those tears.”
Taeyeon chuckled even as more tears trickled down the sides of her face. She bit her lip as she looked up at the mage, “I can’t believe you’re really leaving… that I won’t see you every day… that I won’t talk to you every…” Her words trailed off on a sob,
“Shh, it’s okay,” Sungmin murmured as he easily took her into his arms, holding her protectively, “It’s not like you’ll never see me again. You’ll visit me and Kyuhyun’s bound to drive me crazy once in a while, so I’ll definitely visit you.”
Taeyeon’s arms slipped around his waist, hugging him tightly, unable to reply as she held back her cries.
“You’ll do great as your brother’s proxy,” Sungmin insisted; “My only regret is that I won’t be here to watch you become great.”
“I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t have been able to… I wouldn’t have been able to greet the people,” Taeyeon stammered, struggling past her stifled sobs, “Had you not been there. I made the decision to leave on my own… but I still wasn’t ready, I was just trying to distract myself. But you… you made me believe in myself again.”
Sungmin pulled back just enough to look at the princess, his hand cradling the side of her head, his fingers speared through her hair; “You made me love. You made me believe in love for myself, made me try for it. And, through all these years together, you have kept my soul safe.” He leaned in, pressing a kiss to her forehead, “You’re my best friend, Taeyeon. I love you.”
“You’re my best friend, too, Sungmin. I love you,” she smiled up at him through her tears; “Soul mates?”
“Forever,” he promised before leaning down again, kissing her briefly on the lips.
Taeyeon immediately pushed him back, scowling, “Min!” She hissed as her face reddened,
Sungmin laughed, “Goodbye, Minx.” Turning back to the carriage, the mage continued to grin even as the king glowered at him, “You should let me keep my horse, Eeteuk.”
“After you kissed my sister? I should let your horse trample you,” Eeteuk threatened,
“Ah-ha! See, it’s my horse!” Sungmin called to the driver, “The king just admitted it!”
“You did what!?” Siwon and Kyuhyun popped their heads into the doorway, both glaring at the lesser mage,
“Perhaps I should just ride my horse,” Sungmin muttered,
“In you go,” Kangin practically threw the younger man into the carriage before putting a foot up, “If these goodbyes go any longer, it’ll be daylight by the time we leave.” He looked over his shoulder, “Sire, Princess,” he nodded at them both before climbing in and closing the door firmly behind him.
Eeteuk glanced at his sister, raising his arm to her. She walked over and stepped right beneath his arm, allowing him to hug her close. Together, they watched as the carriage rolled out of the courtyard and disappearing into the darkness beyond the castle gates. Then, together, the King of Light and his sister, the Princess of Light, both turned and entered the castle.
“We’re almost there, Teuk!” Taeyeon exclaimed, letting the carriage curtain fall back into place.
“Kangin had the right idea when he decided to ride alongside the carriage on his horse,” Eeteuk muttered as he opened one eye to look at her.
A few months had passed since their friends had departed from the Light Kingdom. Despite having promised to visit each other, everyone had been too busy to leave their respective kingdoms. Taeyeon spent most of her time learning from her brother and had taken another tour around the kingdom, this time with her brother and Kangin.
In the other kingdom, Sungmin wrote to Taeyeon about his continued training with the younger prince. He also wrote that although Kyuhyun annoyed him more and more each day, he could say the same about their love. Sungmin had always been open about his emotions, so Taeyeon was never surprised at how easily he wrote about them, too.
Siwon wrote to Taeyeon about his continued work with his father and how the Dark King seemed to be getting better with each day that passed, almost as if the happiness of his sons had revitalized him. Also, at the end of each letter, Siwon asked Taeyeon to marry him. Whenever she wrote back, she would always write no.
“Aren’t you excited to see them again?” Taeyeon asked as she sat turned towards her brother.
“Yes, yes, but I’m not too keen to see the Dark King again,” Eeteuk admitted as he straightened in his seat; “I haven’t seen him since before the war began… it’s never easy to admit when one was wrong.”
The royal siblings and Kangin had been travelling for a long time, heading towards the Dark Castle. They had been travelling since the early morning and, as it neared the noon hour, they were closing in on their destination. Since it was an official visit between monarchs, both siblings were attired more formally than their casual wear at the castle. Eeteuk wore his red hongryongpo with its gold dragon decorations, yet kept his head bare of any hats or headdresses. Not wanting to be overly formal, Taeyeon wore a gold-coloured chima, the skirts fuller as she had deigned to wear the sok chima beneath. Although she didn’t wear red as was her right for her station, her emerald-coloured chogori had gold, embroidered phoenixes and gold trim on the sleeves.
It wasn’t long before the carriage slowed to a stop. The door opened and Kangin appeared, dressed in his mage robes as always, but now he wore a white jungchimak over black paji.
“We’re here,” Kangin announced redundantly. He hid a smile as he looked at the king, “Why do you look nervous?”
“The Dark King has known me since I was born… I feel as if I’m going to be scolded the moment I see him,” Eeteuk muttered as he stepped down from the carriage, the mage moving aside to give him room. He sighed heavily as he glanced at the mage, “Seven years… I caused a seven-year war.”
“You were mourning and his pride was hurt. You both made mistakes. What matters is that the war is over and both kingdoms are working towards true peace,” Kangin encouraged,
Eeteuk looked at the mage before reaching into the carriage to help his sister down, “I like you with all your emotions. But, sometimes, I miss the silent brooding you.”
Kangin openly laughed as he took Taeyeon’s other hand and she carefully stepped down, her chima and underskirts a great hindrance.
“I should have just worn my jungchimak,” Taeyeon muttered as she shook out her chima once she was on the ground; “Or even just one of my usual dresses.”
“Taeyeon, we’re going to meet with the king,” Eeteuk admonished lightly,
“Yes, well, you’re a king and you never make a fuss over what I wear,”
“The first time I saw you in your mage robes I almost died,” Eeteuk grumbled.
“You’re here!” The three of them turned together to watch the Lesser Mage of Light and the Second Dark Prince rounding the castle as if they had just come from the back fields. Sungmin, the one who had called out, waved happily.
Taeyeon immediately burst into a sprint. When she was closer, she launched herself at the lesser mage. Sungmin caught her instantly, his arms wrapping around her waist as he lifted her and twirled her about.
Her feet dangling off the ground, she hugged his shoulders tightly, “Min! I’ve missed you so much!”
“Ah, my dear Minx,” he buried his face against her shoulder momentarily, “At first, I didn’t even recognize the beautiful lady who ran to me. Has it really been five months since I last saw you?”
As he slowly lowered her to the ground, Taeyeon hugged him even tighter, hitting her fist to his chest, “You said you would visit me.”
“Every time I tried to Kyuhyun would tie me up and threaten to throw me in the dungeon,” Sungmin said seriously even as his steel-blue eyes shone with amusement. “And, you? You ran off to the Dark Kingdom once, you couldn’t do so again these past few months?”
Taeyeon pulled back so she could look at him directly; “I was busy. If it wasn’t working with Teuk, I was training with Kangin. And, we just finished a tour of the kingdom.”
“I guess I can forgive you then,” Sungmin smiled down at her,
“Prince being ignored here,” Kyuhyun said dryly beside them, “And it seems you tried to kill me in the process.”
The pair was startled to find that they were surrounded by a ring of fire. Kyuhyun traced a simple pattern in the air and, immediately the fire was doused by water, small waves sloshing about their feet. Taeyeon smiled as she faced the Second Dark Prince, immediately stepping into his open arms.
“What? No mage robes, Princess?” Kyuhyun gasped with mock-drama as, after he hugged her, he held her at arm’s length, taking in her formal attire, “Sungmin said that you’ve regained your magic and were training again. And, considering the fire you caused…”
Taeyeon nodded, “It took my brother and Kangin another two weeks after you all left to finish healing my mind. Even then, it was another month before Kangin could even begin to sense some traces of magic from me. It still hasn’t come back completely even though it’s been five months. It was when we were touring the kingdom that it came back enough that I could use it without my strength depleting, so it’s only been the past few weeks that I’ve been training again.”
Kyuhyun’s eyes lit up, his dark eyes more evidently slashed with silver than before; “Are you going to train with us while on your visit?”
“If you’re planning to put your magic against hers, you’ve still got a long way to go,” Sungmin called over his shoulder from where he stood with Kangin and Eeteuk.
“Prince Kyuhyun,” Kangin spoke up, “If you want to practice your magic against someone, why not me?”
Kyuhyun visibly paled, even going so far as to step partially behind Taeyeon as if she were his shield, “I didn’t ask you for a reason.”
“Why? Have you been slacking in your training?” Kangin questioned, crossing his arms over his broad chest,
“No, but the princess is nicer,” Kyuhyun defended, “You always find new ways to hurt me during training.”
Kangin rolled his eyes, “You wouldn’t get hurt if you use your magic properly. You won’t even come and greet your former teacher? You’d rather yell from several feet away?”
The young prince crossed his arms defiantly, “Either our informalities or your old age has made you forget that I’m still a prince, Kangin. You should come over here to greet me.”
The Dark Mage raised a single brow, “Oh?”
Sungmin took Taeyeon’s hand and pulled her away from the prince, “Much safer by my side if Kangin decides to retaliate,” he rationalized.
“The king,” Eeteuk murmured, standing on her other side as Kangin strode over to properly greet Kyuhyun.
The looked up as the double doors fully opened, revealing that the Dark King was not alone. He stepped out into the bright sunshine standing tall and proud in red and black robes. Beside him strode the First Dark Prince clad in black, looking quite casual as he stood beside his father. As they stepped into the front courtyard, several consorts followed behind them. The king and prince stopped at the bottom of the stone steps which led up to the doors, the consorts stood to the side, shoulder-to-shoulder. Taeyeon recognized them immediately having dined with them previously. She even saw the consort who Siwon had invited to lunch to make her jealous. Taeyeon felt some satisfaction at seeing their startled expressions, taking in her attire, the designs clearly stating she was royalty.
After giving the young prince a bear-like hug, Kangin returned to Eeteuk’s side, silently giving him strength at facing the other king. Kyuhyun stood to the side, but stepped closer to the others.
Taeyeon shot him a narrowed look, “You promised no consorts.”
“They’re not consorts for him, they’re consorts for me,” Kyuhyun insisted quietly, eyeing the flames that suddenly engulfed the princess’ left hand; “I haven’t told Father yet about… since he knows about you, he’s holding out hope that I might pick a bride from the consorts.”
“Kyuhyun was starting to really suffer, so I finally saved him and let him escape to train with me. It’s only been the last half hour that they’ve been with Siwon,” Sungmin insisted, even taking her flaming hand in his, gently massaging the stiff muscles after she had dispelled fire.
“Please don’t set one of those women on fire,” Eeteuk muttered, “The king’s already going to scold me. You don’t want him to scold you, too.”
“I…” Taeyeon paused, her gaze going to the First Dark Prince’s. She immediately bit down on her lower lip to stop from crying out. However, she felt the hot sting of tears and couldn’t help the smile that tugged on her lips. She took a step forward and immediately bowed low in reverence to the Dark King.
Siwon was sure his heart would never get used to seeing the princess, his heart stopping every time his eyes fell upon her. Had it truly been five months since he last saw her? Every time he got a new letter from her, he couldn’t help the happiness that seemed to burst in the vicinity of his heart. All day, knowing that they would be arriving, he had been distracted, not even paying attention when his father spoke to him. As he had exited the castle at his father’s side, he had seen her immediately and had to consciously stop his jaw from dropping. He thought her beautiful regardless how she looked, but in her formal wear, every inch the princess, she looked magnificent. He had to stop himself from proposing again right then and there.
He watched, enthralled, as she slowly stood straight and raised her gaze to his once more, her eyes shining like embers. With that one look, he could no longer stop himself. He closed the distance between them immediately and yanked her against him, his arms engulfing her in an embrace.
“I was a fool to not visit you sooner,” Siwon said quietly, fiercely, “I should have run away when my father wasn’t looking.”
Taeyeon smiled as she pulled back just enough to look up at him. She raised a hand to cup the side of his face, her gaze sweeping over his face, taking in every detail as if burning it into her memory; “So many times I was tempted to sneak away during the night and go to you, I missed you so much.”
Siwon raised his own hand to cradle the side of her head, his fingers spearing into the locks she had kept short, “Tell me you have come to say yes to me.”
The princess laughed aloud then, shaking her head as a silent no.
Sungmin cleared his throat then, drawing their attention, reminding them they were not alone and, in fact, were in the middle of a busy courtyard.
“You couldn’t give us another minute?” Siwon scowled at the lesser mage,
Sungmin rolled his eyes, “As much as we would all love to watch you two reunite,” he said sarcastically; “Proprieties, I believe, are that they greet your father.”
“You get three times the more letters than me, you could at least let me have another minute,” Siwon muttered,
Taeyeon, stepping away from Siwon at Sungmin’s words, stated matter-of-factly, “He writes me more.”
“I’ve been busy,” Siwon defended, “And I saw the way you two were holding hands when we came outside.”
“You should have seen them greet each other,” Kyuhyun chimed in mischievously; “It was like something out of a love story. Fire and everything.”
Before Taeyeon had time to placate the older prince, she saw her brother step forward. Reminding herself immediately of their official purpose for the visit, she moved to her brother’s side, her gaze tentative as she looked at the Dark King.
Eeteuk had stared unwaveringly at the Dark King ever since they entered the courtyard. He looked exactly as Eeteuk remembered, just more tired, more creases in his face and more silver streaked in his hair. How had he been able to declare war against someone who had watched him grow when he was a child? The Dark King had been his father’s friend and, yet, Eeteuk had allowed war to wage against him because of rumours, doubt and misery. His first few decisions as king had been made full of emotion rather than the cool rationale his father had always displayed.
In that moment, finally facing the Dark King after almost sixteen years, Eeteuk was sorely tempted to bow down and beg for forgiveness. However, Kangin was at his side. As if reading his thoughts, the Dark Mage whispered, “Never forget that you, too, are a king.”
As if strengthened by Kangin’s words and unfailing love, Eeteuk took several steps to the distance halfway between them. Taeyeon followed suit, her brother having encouraged her countless times over the past few months to never doubt her place at his side. Regarldess of her brother’s words, however, Taeyeon still knew propriety and, although she was never far from Eeteuk’s side, she only came to half-a-step away from where he stood rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
The Dark King slowly strode forward, stopping until he was a few feet away from the royal siblings. His dark gaze swept over both of them, his face expressionless.
Feeling the tension flow from her brother in waves, Taeyeon subtly reached and squeezed one of her brother’s hands, both of which were clasped at his back. He squeezed her hand back in silent thanks.
After what seemed like a silent eternity, the Dark King stepped even closer, suddenly placing a hand on both of their shoulders, “There’s no doubt in my mind whose children you are. You both look like your parents,” the Dark King stated solemnly, his face finally showing a warm expression; “The two of you have grown so much over the years. I know they would be proud of you two.”
Taeyeon covered her mouth with a hand as if to physically hold back a cry as her eyes filled with tears. She bowed her head immediately.
“Thank you,” Eeteuk said sincerely, taking his sister’s hand in his own, feeling his own tears sting his eyes.
The Dark King nodded as if understanding the emotions running through them. He stepped aside and swept his arm towards the castle that was so much like their own,
“King Eeteuk of the Light Kingdom and Taeyeon, Princess of Light. I welcome you both to the Dark Kingdom.”