Chapter 1: Prologue
Cha Hakyeon was loved by everyone for his heart of gold. He was looked up to by the children, loved by the mother's, trusted by the father's. Never in his life had he done something wrong.
Yet here he knelt, with his usually bright golden feathered wings dull in color and broken, waiting for the words that would seal his fate.
"So what will it be your highness?" The guard at his side asked, voice low and void of any emotions. He held his sword near Hakyeon's neck waiting for the command from their king, "What do you wish to do with him?"
Hakyeon's heart began to beat at an inhuman pace, his wings fluttering due to terror and causing pain to shoot through them. He could hear the ruffling of robes; the almost silent footsteps on carpeted floor that were getting closer to him; the fluttering of his brother's own wings as he held his breath, afraid that any sudden movement from him would cause the blade to dig deeper into his skin.
He felt as his hair was pulled and his head tilted back. He sighed for a second as the distance between the cold blade and his neck increased, but grimaced as the hold on his hair got tighter. He opened his eyes, gold iris' being met with pitch black ones. He felt his body temperature increase, feeling like he was burning inside out, as he kept his eyes locked with those that belonged to the Fire King.
A smirk fell over the Kings lips, eyes flashing a deep red as he spoke, his voice velvety soft yet cold as ice, a drastic difference to his power, "So what will it be my queen?"
Chapter 2: Chapter 1; Chrysanthemum
There were a large number of things that Cha Hakyeon loved. The feeling of the wind caressing his skin as he flew over the trees of his home; the heat of the sun over him; the joyous laughter his younger brother let out when they played together; the sweetness of his mother's cookies and the roughness of his father's voice as he instructed him on how to shoot the arrow so that it hit the target perfectly; were only a few of the those things.
It was when he was nineteen, after years loving the same things and being surrounded by the same scenery that he came to the conclusion that his happiness laid in the hands of his family. But the instant he saw the root of his joy, it was cut.
Hakyeon loved many things, but they were taken away from him.
"The land of Angelos is known for many things, one of them being the mystical touch it has for as its name says it has angels residing within its protective walls," the soft voice of the mother was heard as she told her children the story of their land. Her hands worked fast in braiding her eldest sons hair while the other rested his head on his brother's lap, "Angels are what the royalty is called for it is them who have the traits of the mystical being."
"Mama?" The youngest boy spoke up from where he was laying in his bed, nightgown on and eyes closed as his brother ran his fingers through his hair, "Ywaits?"
"It's how you look silly," the older answered, "they look like birds right Mama?"
The mother chuckled, "Not quite Yeonie. They hold extreme beauty and strength. They are said to be the fairest of all those in the land for they have the heart of an angel."
Her oldest child butted in, a look of confusion plastered on his tiny face, "But why them mama?"
The mother chuckled at her son's curiosity and tried to explain as good as possible, "Long ago the prince to the kingdom's throne found what he thought was a normal bird. The bird was injured, its wing was broken and bleeding and to the young prince, it was clear that it would not live if it was not treated. So the young prince took the bird back to the castle to nurse it back to health, unaware that the bird he was helping was no typical bird but an angel who had taken that form upon being wounded and falling from the heavens. The young prince and his family personally nursed the tiny bird back to health and when the bird has fully healed it turned into an angel. As a show of gratitude, the angel spoke to the Gods about all the great things the royal family had done for him while he had been wounded. The Gods, pleased with their kindness blessed them with gifts.
"The first gift was large, beautiful wings to serve as a reminder of what they had helped the angel heal. Infants with royal blood are born with two large scars on their backs, it is a sign that they will be given their wings at some point in their lives. Another was the kind heart but iron fist so that they could rule their kingdom well. Weapons forged by the Angels themselves was another gift. Lastly, they gave Prosperity for the kingdom and since it was the heir to the throne that had taken the initiative to help the young angel they gave a gift of power like no other, " The mother stood up, having finished braiding her son's hair and tucked both of her children into bed.
The youngest was fast asleep even before she had made her way to the door of the small room, head on his brother's shoulder and soft pants coming out of his tiny mouth.
"Mama?" The older boy asked, eyes wide open, remembering something he had thought had been due to an accident.
The mother grabbed into the lantern, turning to look at him with soft eyes and a small smile on her cherry lips, "Yes, Yeonie?"
"Will I have wings?"
The smile disappeared from her lips upon hearing that question and tears began to fill her eyes. She cleared her throat, hoping that her emotions wouldn't show as she spoke, but her voice still shook as she answered her six-year-old child, "No baby." And with that, she closed the door.
She stared at the mahogany wood, seeming to be analyzing her husband's amazing work but was actually so lost in thought that she didn't notice when the lantern on her hand ran out of oil, the darkness growing and swallowing her, "For your sake, let's pray to the gods that neither of you does."
Hakyeon always knew he was different. Nobody told him, but why else would his parents be living here in the Fallen Woods? The place farthest away from the city? Why would the kids and adults look at him the way they did? Pointing fingers and murmuring about his yellow eyes.
He didn't let that fact destroy him though, he still smiled so wide his cheeks often hurt right after and kindly offered to help when it was possible. That's how he became loved by everyone as the years passed. It seemed like nobody was able to resist the charms that the Cha boys had.
The Cha almost never went to the village as they had all they needed in their little cabin, the woods providing all the food they needed and Mrs. Cha often using her gift of sewing to make clothes for them. When they did wander out of the woods, their small carriage being pulled by their two loyal horses, Mr. and Mrs. Cha always made sure their children were covered by a cloak, away from prying eyes.
The attempt was futile as the eyes always found them, but the kindness that the family radiated made them loved by all the other villagers.
In his seven years of life, Hakyeon remembered he had been at the village six times, twice every year as the family went to restock on lantern oil, tools, and material for new clothes. Hakyeon was never sure how it was that they got the coins they exchanged the goods for, but he never asked. He was usually too enthralled in looking at the village folk move about their day, eyes twinkling as they worked.
His suspicions about being different were confirmed when he was eight. Three weeks after his birthday he caught what his parents were hoping was only a slight fever. They were wrong.
He still remembered the pain and discomfort he felt during those three days he had to spend in bed. He felt as though his entire body was being burned; as though his skin was ripping apart; as if his bones were breaking one by one. There was so much pain and he screamed to the point he lost his voice by the end of the first day.
You could probably imagine the relief he felt when he woke up on the fourth day, body feeling much cooler but far too heavy. He felt like he had a new weight upon him.
He had been confused as to why he felt so heavy and became even more confused and startled when his parents came in and his mother burst into tears. He thought he had done something wrong so he had crawled out of bed in an attempt to go and comfort his sobbing mother. His body had been weak and he had fallen, but his body never came into contact with the wooden floor as he felt himself being surrounded by warmth.
He cried when he saw the large blood covered wings that made themselves at home on his back, each one as long as he was tall and wrapped around him in an attempt to protect him, but the young boy thought he was being trapped. He had curled himself into a tight ball crying and asking for forgiveness for all the little things he had done. He didn't like the wings that were now a part of him.
He prayed for them to be gone.
It took him a week to come into terms with the new addition and another to see the bow and arrows that were laying on his vanity, calling to him with a hum barely above that of a honey bee.
A few days later he was out of bed, getting accustomed to walking again. The feeling of the wooden floor touching his wings felt absolutely foreign but not unwelcomed. The number of times he had bumped into something and broken it made him feel embarrassed and frustrated. No matter how beautiful his wings were they were a hassle.
His parents kept a closer eye on him, his father or mother always seeming to be there when he was out of the cabin. Hakyeon never complained, liking their company and the warmth that radiated from them.
It took him a year to get accustomed to his wings and flying but he soon found himself loving the pastime more than any others he had done before. He fell in love with the feeling of the wind flowing through his gold-colored wings, the winds caress on his skin and the smile that seemed to always make itself at home when he was up above or between trees, playing hide and seek with his younger brother. He fell in love with the sun rays as well, always looking for ways to go outside and enjoy the light of the sun instead of being in the cabin.
And his bow. He didn't know where it came from, how it got into his room or why it seemed to be calling him. He knew he should be afraid of the weapon to an extent that the soft hum it let out whenever he was around called to Hakyeon, telling him to grab ahold of it. He fell into temptation the day after his tenth birthday, grabbing it when his parents weren't looking and took it outside.
It was weird, he'll tell you that. It was weird how he instantly seem to know how to use it despite the fact that he had never touched a bow before and the one he held in his hands was almost as tall as him. Grabbing an arrow from the quiver he had tied to his back, the arrowhead, and feathers made of what could only be gold, He pulled the string of the bow, his shoulders relaxed, hands and position steady. He had caught sight of a deer a few yards away and his mind instantly came to remember that his brothers fifth birthday was only a few days away. What better present then his favorite food?
Hakyeon had held his breath as he aimed at the deer, bowstring stretched to his lips, and fired. The arrow hit its target, the deer falling to the ground with a thump. Hakyeon cheered at the top of his lungs, causing his parents to come running out of the cabin, his brother in his mother's arms. Hakyeon had continued cheering, pointing at the deer not too far away and running towards it, unconsciously placing the bow on his back. When he returned, dragging the large deer with him, his parents had been wide-eyed and speechless. Hakyeon had simply giggled, kissing his brother's forehead and wishing him a happy early birthday.
It took him a few more months after his little show with his bow to be able to learn how to retract his wings. He hadn't known it was possible in the beginning but he had grown tired of always having to sleep on his belly and having to bathe in the river instead of the pleasant bath the family had in the cabin. He had grown even more tired of the mess they often made.
It had been painful, very painful and after having unconsciously succeeded he had fallen into a deep slumber, returning to the land of the living three days later. He cried when he noticed his wings were gone, unsure about how to get them back. He had grown so attached to them, getting used to the feeling of them and the extra weight they placed on him. He was confused as to why he now had a tattoo of wings on his back, the drawing done with gold-colored ink. He was very confused, but then a few days later they were back, ripping from his flesh in a matter of seconds, causing him more pain than the first time they had grown.
He learned to control his wings after a few more tries, being able to retract and take them out once again with ease. His wings were retracted unless he was out flying in the afternoons or practicing his archery, feeling as they would be a hassle if they were always out. His ability to retract his wings meant that he was able to go to the village with his family again, a huge win as he had been lonely whenever they would head out to the village those two times each year.
The downside to this wonderful occurrence was that his parents kept an even closer eye on him, keeping him by their side as they made their way through the village, grabbing everything they needed for the next six months. It was understandable that they did this, Hakyeon was a royal of peasant decent and as a result, he was a threat to the royal family.
When his brother became ill a few days after his eighth birthday, the Cha family was not prepared. Mr. and Mrs. Cha were in full out panic mode, they had thought they had three weeks before their youngest would begin his change. It didn't help that less then a week prior Hakyeon had felt a strange presence while he was checking the perimeter of their home for anything unusual. He had thought it was only his imagination, deciding to fly away instead of checking the area again. They never had intruders and to suddenly seem to have one now of all times was a huge problem. But Hakyeon will continue to believe that the presence he felt was that of an animal and nothing more.
Now, as the youngest Cha laid in bed with a fever that would have killed a regular individual within hours, the rest were unsure of what to do. Hakyeon was the first one to jump into action after a few hours panicking. He had excused himself from his parents' presence, going into his brother's room to keep him company and comfort him. It had been nearly five years since he went through his own change but he knew what his brother would need to feel better. He helped him get his shirt off and get onto his belly, twisting his head to the side so that he would be able to breathe. He rubbed soothing circles on his back, near the two large scars, to sooth down the pain.
Hakyeon spend hours soothing his baby brother into a light slumber, taking turns between drying his sweat and rubbing comforting circles on his back. He had barely any sleep the first night, nodding off for only a few minutes before he suddenly woke up with a start and returned to wiping a sweat off his brother or massaging his back. By the end of the second night, he was barely awake enough to continue his work. By the third day, his parents were dragging him to his room, telling him he needed to rest and that they would take care of the youngest while he slept. Hakyeon explained what they should do, telling him to keep his brother hydrated, clear of sweat and comforted before he was shoved out of the room and into his own, falling face first into his bed without noticing the pain that came right after.
He didn't sleep for more than a few hours. His eyes snapping open near the five-hour mark and he shot out of bed running to his brother's room. The instant he was about to open the door it shot open by itself, almost hitting him in the face. He took a look at his father's slightly panicking expression and ran in, seeing his mother trying to figure out what to do stop his brothers crying as he wept it pain. He took a look at his brothers back, seeing the blood that was oozing out of the scars as they opened and his wings began to come out. He instantly grabbed a hold of the wet rag on the nightstand as he fell to his knees beside the bed, he cleaned the blood as the wings slowly came out of his back, smeared in the sticky red substance.
Hakyeon whispered words of encouragement to his brother as the wings slowly made their way through his flesh, ripping his skin and making him cry in pain. His parents left them alone, unable to figure out how exactly they could help. After hours of constant crying what was left of the wings finally ripped through, some of the red covered feathers falling and soon getting picked by the wind.
Hakyeon was so enthralled in cleaning his brother up and getting him to rest for a while that he didn't notice when the wind took hold of the feathers and moved them around the room, dropping them into a pile on the floor. Once the wind stopped the feathers were gone and in their place stood a large white spear.
Hakyeon laughed as he flew through the trees, bow in hand and arrow already placed on it, ready to be shot as he caught sight of the target. A white spear flew past him, almost hitting one of his golden wings, and hit the target nearly a mile away from where Hakyeon was. The spear went through the target, breaking it and scaring a family of rabbits that was close by. Hakyeon yelped, the arrow flying from his bow and hitting a tree near the shattered target. He turned to look at his fast approaching brother who laughed as he looked at his older brother's face.
"That's not fair!" Hakyeon whined as he hit his bother lightly with his bow, "You almost hit me you, idiotic giant!"
Sanghyuk chuckled as he tried to shield himself from his brother's constant blows, "Hyung, Hyung! You said that it as a no rules battle. I just simply went with it!" he yelled as his brother's hits became more painful, the smile disappearing from his lips, "Hyung!"
"You giant baby!" Hakyeon responded with a final hit, "You always find ways of scaring me nearly half to death!"
Sanghyuk laughed at that, unable to find it in his heart to lie for that statement was quite true. He extended his hand towards the target, seconds later his spear found its way to him, and he wrapped his hand around it. He sighed lightly as he placed the spear on his back, the strap that held it in place tied securely so that it wouldn't fall while flying, "Do you want to head back home. It's almost supper time and it's my birthday after all." Sanghyuk wiggled his eyebrows, a huge grin on his lips.
Hakyeon looked at the sky, noticing that the sun was slowly going down, "Yeah, mother would probably want us back before the sun sets entirely," he turned to Sanghyuk, golden eyes twinkling with mischief as he placed his bow on his back, "Race you home!" he shouted as he began to fly away.
"That's not fair," Sanghyuk shouted as he began to fly as well, pure white wings moving fast in a failed attempt to catch up.
He only received a bubbly laugh in return.
Hakyeon looked around the village for a second, taking in the things that had changed during the six months they hadn't come by. It was the end of July and as per tradition, the Cha were back at the village. Well, only Hakyeon and Sanghyuk were in the village, their parents had stayed behind to rest upon the boy's demands. It took a lot of convincing and Hakyeon bringing his bow with him but the boys had been able to go to the village along with a promise to be back before sunset.
His attention turned back to the village's main store where he could see his brother speaking to the store owner's son, asking him for the many things they needed for the months to come. The village knew of their visits, often looking forward to the day that the Cha would come to pick up their material and as a result would pack the needed things days prior. The Chas visits were almost like a holiday to the villagers. The mothers were usually around, trying to get a glance of the Beautiful Cha boys. The merchants often placed their best merchandise out to be seen and the children were often waiting by to say hi to the Cha siblings.
Hakyeon didn't miss the small blush that his brother's cheeks took when the merchant boy smiled and nodded, going to the back of the store to get the materials, list in his hand to make sure he didn't forget anything. Hakyeon rolled his eyes, his bother was so smitten by the older boy that it made Hakyeon nauseous.
Hakyeon felt a tug at the bottom of his dark cloak and he looked down to see what it was. He smiled at the young boy who was trying his hardest to reach him and hand him the object in his hand. Hakyeon recognized him as the son of the flower shop's owner, Jimin. Hakyeon stepped off the carriage, bending down to the young boy's height, "Hey buddy, what's that in your hand?"
"It's a flower sir," Jimin said with a cheerful voice, eyes turning into moons as he smiled at Hakyeon, "It's for you, sir!"
Hakyeon took it, bringing it close to his nose to smell the sweet scent that the flower gave off, "Thank you so much! It is absolutely beautiful." Hakyeon told the boy as he ruffled his hair fondly.
"I'm happy you liked it, sir. I'm sure the mister will be happy to hear that. This one," he handed him another flower, "this one is from me." the young boy leaned in and placed a kiss on his cheek before running away seconds later, returning to the flower shop not too far away.
Hakyeon's eyes followed the small boy back, a frown forming on his face as he looked at the flowers, white chrysanthemums and light pink rose. What a strange combination as he knew that the pink rose had positive meanings like gentleness and admiration while the white bloom meant nothing but grief.
The villagers shunned the flower, deeming it a funeral bloom that should never be given unless it was in an arrangement for a deceased. He looked back up at the flower shop and caught sight of a man in a black cloak, much like his own but of finer material, outside the shop. The man's face was mainly covered by the cloak's hood but he shifted it a bit, allowing his face to be slightly seen. He smiled at Hakyeon, a cold smile that made shivers run down Hakyeon's back. Hakyeon felt fear forming deep within his chest at the dark aura the other had around him. He unconsciously took a step back, his hand taking hold of his bow at his back. A carriage passed in front of him, making him unable to see the shop and as a result of the man for a few seconds. As the carriage continued on its way Hakyeon looked at the flower shop again but the man was gone.
"Is everything okay?" Hakyeon heard a rough voice ask from behind him.
He jumped from shock and turned to see his brother coming back, a barrel of oil over one shoulder and brown sacks on the other. He had a worried expression on his face as he placed the things on the back of the carriage, "Yes," Hakyeon said eyes unconsciously going back to the flower shop for a second before returning to look at his brother, "You just startled me."
"Where did you get those?" Sanghyuk asked, nodding towards the flowers in his hand. He finished placing the things in the back of the carriage and moved to the front, getting on and taking hold of the reigns.
Hakyeon got back on the carriage as well, allowing his brother to control the horses as he looked at the flowers once again, "They were gifts."
"Really? From who?"
"From Mr. Park's child," upon seeing his brothers confused expression he tried to go into more detail, "You know, the flower shop owner," a look of recognition passed through his brothers face, " and. . ."
Sanghyuk turned to look at his brother instead of the road for a second, "And?'
"I don't know," Hakyeon answered, his eyebrows coming closer together as his frown grew, "A stranger."
"Don't think too hard about it," Sanghyuk told him, patting his shoulder lightly, "We always receive gifts from the villagers when we come."
Hakyeon nodded, hand unconsciously moving to touch the five small throwing knives strapped to his thigh, a gift from the village blacksmith he had received the last visit. He had gotten a set of twelve from the blacksmith, but often only carried five with him. Sanghyuk had received small daggers, plus a larger one that the younger always had strapped to his thigh by a leather holder their mother had spend days crafting.
"Talking about gifts," Sanghyuk continued, pulling the reigns lightly to keep the horses on the right track, "Hongbin-ssi gave us an extra sack of flour and one of apples, the ones you like."
Hakyeon snorted, "The ones I like? Aren't you the one who always begs mother to make you apple tarts? Plus, we both know that you're head over heels for the store owner's son and that he feels the same way towards you. It's no surprise he gave you gifts."
Sanghyuk opened and closed his mouth multiple times as if unable to figure out how to answer. Hakyeon chuckled at how fast he could make his brother speechless when it came to the matters regarding the Lee offspring, "Anyway," Sanghyuk finally said, "We just need to head over to the seamstress to get the things that mother asked of us and then we can head home."
"Alright," Hakyeon stated, his hand coming to rub his stomach lightly, "I'm starving already."
Sanghyuk hummed in agreement.
They made their way to the seamstress, who had her goods on display outside, showing them to the passersby. Sanghyuk stopped the horses, jumping off, "Stay here and guard the carriage," Sanghyuk told Hakyeon, "I'll get the things we need."
Hakyeon nodded and leaned back, looking over the hanboks and fabrics on display. He absolutely loved the beautiful designs many of the materials had and the hanboks overall. He had never actually worn a hanbok before, they were unfit for the life in the woods. His mother made the majority of his clothes of leather made from the skin of the animals they hunted, only a few things actually being done with the cotton fabric they got from the seamstress. The closest thing to a hanbok was what his mother wore and even then it was modified to fit someone who lived in the woods. He turned his attention to the Hwa (boots) and danghye (female shoes) on display on the store beside the one they were currently at. He looked at the Hwa then looked down at his boots, there was a drastic difference between the material and the design.
"We're finished," Sanghyuk said as he jumped in, placing their purchase with the rest, "We can go home now. Oh, and the seamstress saw you staring at her hanboks, she gifted you one." He added and then handed him a package as he ordered the horses to begin moving.
Hakyeon took the package and opened it looking at the Po which was made from rich blue silk. This was by far one of the most expensive hanboks the seamstress had in her shop and she had just given it to him for free. He turned around, smiling widely at the seamstress and yelled out her name. The seamstress turned to him and he bowed deeply in an attempt to show his gratitude. The old women simply smiled and waved goodbye.
They were quiet for nearly an hour, Hakyeon enthralled in inspecting the hanbok and Sanghyuk in making sure the carriage was on the right path. "You know," Sanghyuk began, "I don't understand why you seem to find the hanboks such an amazing thing," they reached the exit of the village and increased their pace lightly, "It's not fit for the style of life we have. Let's not get started on the fact that we would have to cut huge slits on them like we do to nearly all our shirts and cloaks to let our wings out if we ever used them."
Hakyeon shook his head lightly," I don't plan to ever wear one. I just think their pretty and nice to look at," he placed the po back with the rest of the hanbok, tying the fabric it had been wrapped in once again, "Besides, the color will more than likely make me look darker. I thank her though and will cherish it for many years to come."
Sanghyuk smiled at his brother's response but said nothing more. The ride home was two hours and as they slowly made their way back towards the woods they began to feel a strange sensation deep within their hearts. They were unsure of the reason behind the strange feeling, but something told them it had to do with their parents. Sanghyuk ordered the horses to go faster, very aware of the panicked expression his brother had on his face.
The instant the carriage went into the woods Hakyeon was on his feet, unafraid of suddenly falling off the fast moving vehicle, "Find a place to hide the carriage and yourself," Hakyeon said with an authoritative tone as he unclasped the clip that held the cloak over his shoulders. The material got stuck on his quiver but with a small tug it fell from his body and Hakyeon jumped up, his wings instantly coming out and he took off in the direction of the cabin, heart in his throat as fear consumed him.
As the cabin came into sight he felt as if his heart had stopped completely. The cabin was being ransacked, belonging flying out of the windows and door. Hakyeon's golden eyes wandered around, taking sight of the many bodies laying around and then his father near the lake, fighting a few men at once while others raided their home. His only home. Hakyeon landed near a body, instantly noticing the king's emblem in the garments of the fallen. His hand grabbed onto his bow, his slightly shaking fingers taking hold of an arrow from his quiver and he began to shoot as he walked closer to his father who was trying to break free from the many men. He saw an arrow fly pass him and as he turned to see where it had gone he saw it making its home on his father's leg. Anger instantly filled him and his arrows flew with more vigor.
Hakyeon didn't feel any remorse as his arrows found their targets with ease, rendering them unconscious but not dead. The men who had been in the house finally took sight of him and they began to come out, making their way to him. Hakyeon shot arrow after arrow trying to keep as many men away from his father and himself. He felt a sudden jolt of pain on his shoulder and he cried out, eyes darting down to see what it was. An arrow, black in color with bright red hen feathers and black cock feather, cut into his skin; rendering his arm nearly useless. Hakyeon cursed as he grabbed ahold of it, knowing very well that removing the arrow now would be an idiotic move. He broke off the shaft before raising his bow again, ready to shoot while ignoring the pain.
A flash of white flew past him and hit the soldier closest to him. Hakyeon turned his head, tilting it up seconds later, and saw his brother hovering a few feet over the ground, hand still extended as he had just thrown his spear. Bright golden eyes met nearly white ones for a second before they moved away upon feeling a hard grip on his injured solder. Hakyeon yelped in pain, turning his body and hitting the soldier with the upper part of his bow.
"Help father!" Sanghyuk demanded as he landed a few feet away from where Hakyeon was, hand extended and spear flying towards him before being thrown again, "I'll try to find mother!"
Hakyeon didn't answer, taking steps towards his father as Sanghyuk stepped forward, towards the cabin. Hakyeon turned his back to him and his attention to his father. Three arrows flew from his bow at the same time, each hitting their targets and bringing them to the ground. Hakyeon was so close to his father, only one man in their way, with his final arrow Hakyeon knocked out the last man. His shoulder was throbbing but he paid it no attention.
He was embraced in a warm hug, his senses instantly being filled with the musky scent that could only be described as his father's natural odor, "Father, what happened?" he asked, "Where is mother?"
"You have to run," was the only reply as his father broke the hug and placed his hands on his shoulder, keeping him at arm's length, "Take your brother and leave."
"Father," Hakyeon began, tears forming in his eyes, "What is going on? Why are the king's men here?"
His father only smiled as he brought him into a hug again twisting his body so that he was now where his son had been. Hakyeon embraced his father, looking over his shoulder and seeing a soldier with his bow pulled, arrow ready and suddenly flying towards them. Hakyeon's eyes widened and his wings came to wrap around his father, but it was too late, his father's weight suddenly becoming much bigger and Hakyeon fell to his knees, bringing his father along with him. His hand grabbed ahold of one of his throwing knives, throwing it with force at the soldier, watching him fall only seconds later.
"No, no," He whispered as tears rolled down his cheeks, tormented eyes meeting his fathers tired and sorrow filled ones, "Father, please. This can't be," Hakyeon place his hand on his father's chest, feeling the tip of the arrowhead as blood began to seep from the wound, "Hold on. You'll be okay, we'll get you to a doctor. You'll be okay, please be okay."
"Hakyeon-ah," his father began, hand finding his son's and holding it tightly, "We- we tried. . . so hard to keep you an-and your brother safe. Leave," he coughed lightly, blood slowly running down his chin as he continued speaking, "Hide... .st-stay away from the capital... .fr-from this kingdom. Keep your brother safe." The life left his eyes after that, his body going limp within Hakyeon's hold.
"Father? Father no, please don't leave us," Hakyeon wailed as he brought his father into a hug, unable to come into terms with his father's sudden death, "You still have so much to teach me. We still have so much to talk about." Hakyeon sobbed into his father's shoulder, "We'll take you to a doctor. You'll be okay, please be okay."
"Hyung!" Sanghyuk yelled as he came out of the cabin, tears in his eyes and bloody hands grasping his side, "Hyung! Mother is gone! She's dead. Hyung?" He stopped talking, looking at his brother as he covered himself and another with his wings, his body wrecking with heartbreaking sobs, "Hyung, where is father?" He asked as he moved towards his brother. He already knew the answer, it didn't take a genius to figure it out but he couldn't seem to process the situation, he fell to his knees beside his brother, hands falling to his sides and wings slowly retracting into his body.
Hakyeon didn't say anything, was unable to bring himself to speak as he unwrapped his wings, allowing his brother to see their father, their almighty father who suddenly seemed so small in his arms. His wings retracted as he looked at Sanghyuk, shaking his head lightly, proving his thoughts correct. Sanghyuk began to cry, taking his father away from his brother and holding him tightly, screaming from sorrow.
Hakyeon got up, unable to see his brother this broken. He whipped the tears from his eyes, his body turning in circles as he looked over their surroundings. This had been his home for as long as he could remember. He spent nineteen years in this forest. Making Memories. Having fun, learning about all the things that he loved and made him who he was. He always remembered this forest as a place filled with life, bright and with laughter.
This was not his forest. His forest was not filled with dead bodies and splattered with blood. His forest was not filled with broken sobs and the stench of iron.
His forest was not filled with grief.
Hey, its mama panda
I hope you enjoyed this update, leave me a comment, subscribe or kudos.
Love you all greatly,
Mama panda (sillyvamp)
Chapter 3: Chapter 2; Departure Pt. 1
Hakyeon put his pain aside, taking matters into his own hands for Sanghyuk was now under his care. He had to take care of his fourteen-year-old brother for his parents who had kept them hidden during their whole lives and as a result, he was unsure if they even had any other relatives. Pulling his arrows out of bodies they had perforated, placing the good ones back into the quiver and the broken ones into a pile to be brought into the cabin, Hakyeon couldn't help but shed a few more tears of pain and sorrow.
The men who he had shot were not dead, simply unconscious. It would be a few hours before they would actually die, but the damage was still there. He had hurt these men with his own hands, had shot them with his golden arrows and hadn't felt any regret at all as he did so. He felt as if his heart was weighing him down making it difficult to breathe. He choked on a sob upon seeing the many dead men that littered the ground but he burst into tears upon taking the sight of the dead man within the cabin, held onto the wall by the white blood stained spear that belongs to his brother. Sobs wreaked his body as his eyes stayed glued to the dead soldier.
His brother's innocence had been stolen. His soul was tainted. Hakyeon continuously hit the blood covered floor with his fist. This was unfair. Why was being who they were so bad? Why was it that the King wanted them dead? During all of his life, the Cha family had been nothing but kind, but the king seemed to only want them gone.
It wasn't their fault they had been born with wings. It wasn't their fault that the gods had gifted their family with royal blood. They had just wanted to live a normal life where they didn't have to hide. 'Why could we not just live normally?' he thought with a broken heart, 'We just wanted a normal life.'
Hakyeon was surrounded by warmth and he turned his body slightly, hiding his face within his brother's shoulders and embracing him. He was aware that the strength he was using was excessive but he was too apologetic towards Sanghyuk, "Sanghyuk-ah. . ." he managed to say between sobs while the rest of his apology was lost within his brothers white cotton shirt.
"I know," Sanghyuk answered, rubbing his brothers back soothingly. He brought him in closer, allowing him to fall onto his lap and he held him there. He ignored the pain that his injured side brought to him choosing to try and sooth his older brother's pain instead, "It is okay hyung. It was not your fault. I chose to kill them. You had nothing to do with it. Do not beat yourself up over something that I chose to do."
"But Sanghyuk," Hakyeon tried to say, voice rough and shoulders sagging as if a large weight had fallen on them.
"Do not try to explain it hyung. It is not your fault. It was what had to be done."
Hakyeon snorted lightly, finding the fact that it was his baby brother who was comforting him slightly amusing. He let go of his tight hold on him and instead placed his hands on his brother's cheeks. Sanghyuk was so young, yet he acted like he was the older one the majority of the time. He was so overprotective of Hakyeon that it was downright embarrassing. His shoulders were wide and body muscled as a side effect to the manual labor he often did yet he still held some baby fat in his cheeks.
Hakyeon smiled through his tears and with a heavy sigh he placed a light kiss on his brother's forehead, "Thank you Sanghyuk, you are a great brother. I am truly blessed to have you."
From far away they heard the pained neighing of several horses. They looked at each other, eyes widening in a slightly comical manner. They both got up, Sanghyuk's hand extending and his spear finding its way to him. Hakyeon tried his hardest to ignore the sound that the body that had been stuck to the wall made as it fell to the floor. Sanghyuk shook the spear, trying to get as much blood off as possible before strapping it onto his back once again, "That was from the direction closest to the Capital. Where the traps have been set. We must hurry, we only have half an hour before whoever got their horse stuck on the traps gets here. I left the carriage ten minutes from here towards the east."
"Pack a satchel of clothes and your valuables," Hakyeon ordered, already heading towards their father's lifeless form while unstrapping his arrow quiver from his back. His voice was no longer drowning with emotions and instead was cold and slightly robotic. The only trace that he had been crying was the sight his bloodshot eyes, "I'll bring him in and then burn this place down."
"You cannot be serious," Sanghyuk argued hands coming up to point around him, "This is all we know."
"The more reason to burn it down," Hakyeon placed his father's body on his back with difficulty, huffing lightly at the weight. He staid still, trying to mentally prepare himself to move.
Sanghyuk took off his spear from its sheath on his back and placed it besides the cabin. He walked towards the still motionless Hakyeon and took his father from him, placing him on his back with ease and walking to the cabin. Hakyeon looked at him with a slightly opened mouth and when Sanghyuk turned around he was still in the same place as before, "Put your quiver back on, pick up your broken arrows and hurry up hyung. We do not have time to stand around. Pack your things." With those words, he disappeared into the cabin.
Hakyeon gulped before grabbing his quiver and strapping it onto his back again, grabbing the small pile of broken arrows. He went into the cabin and let the broken arrows he held in his hand fall onto the littered floor. He ignored the mess of bodies and went into his room, grabbing his satchel from beneath his bed and shoving as many clothes as it was possible within. He went through his other belonging, little in number and worth yet still important to him, to find the things that were the most meaningful. Deciding on a necklace with a wooden wing pendant that had been given to him by his father on his tenth birthday and a silver ring.
He rummaged underneath his bed once again and came upon his throwing knives, the gift from Mr. Min, the blacksmith of the village. With a heavy sigh, he set the case into his satchel as well and the thought came to mind that he was missing one from the sheath in his left thigh. The memory of the soldier came to mind and Hakyeon cringed slightly when he thought of the knife that had found its target to be the soldier's throat.
"You ready to go?" Sanghyuk asked from behind him and as Hakyeon turned he was able to see his brother fixing his satchel on his shoulder, spear already on his back, "I emptied the lantern oil we had all over the house and placed father on his bed next to mother. Do you," he bit his lip lightly and cleared his throat in an attempt to prepare himself for what he would say next, "Do you want to say goodbye to them?" he managed to finally say, voice small and insecure.
"Yes," Hakyeon answered him, placing his satchel on his shoulder but being unable to look his brother in the eye. He could already feel his throat closing in on him so he cleared his throat in an attempt to sound normal, "Let me just get my knife from outside."
"I already grabbed it for you," Sanghyuk informed him, hand coming up and extending towards his brother. The knife was within the elder's grasp yet Hakyeon found himself hesitating when it came to actually take it. "It will not bite my dear brother," Sanghyuk stated with an amused tone, "It is only a knife."
Hakyeon took it, placing it on his thigh with the others and walked out of the room, cheeks slightly red from embarrassment, "I know that." He heard his brother laugh lightly before he fell silent once again, following him into their parents' bedroom. All playfulness left them upon seeing their parents in the state that they were. Mrs. Cha had a knife stuck to her chest and the tip of the arrow Mr. Cha had in his chest could be seen from where they stood.
With a heavy sigh, Hakyeon walked towards the bed and caressed his mother's cold cheek. He didn't say anything, was unable to bring words out of his mouth as he stared at their parents. He turned to Sanghyuk, eyes speaking for him making the younger nod lightly before leaving the room.
"Why," Hakyeon began with a small voice, shaky fingers coming up to fix some of his mother's stray hair, "why did I convince you to stay home?" He knelt down, grabbing ahold of his mothers hand and holding it tightly between his own, "You should have come with us. If you had come with us you would still be alive." Hakyeon choked on a sob, "I'm- It's all my fault. I killed you and father."
"Hyung," Sanghyuk spoke from where he stood by the door, hands full of white roses. Hakyeon looked up, eyes falling on the beautiful blooms their mother took pride in. Hakyeon saw the small drops of blood that fell to the floor and instantly came to the conclusion that the younger had probably cut them with his bare hands, "I have the flowers and the men are not far from here. As much as it pains me we have to go."
"Yes," Hakyeon nodded, "Yes, let's get going." He took the flowers from Sanghyuk placing them on his mother's chest and bringing her hands together, making it seem as if she was holding the white blooms. With a final fake smile towards his parents, the two brothers left the room.
As they stepped out Sanghyuk handed Hakyeon a lighted lantern. Hakyeon took it and looked at the flame with clouded eyes. He held his breath as he threw it towards the open door. It landed beside a few dead soldiers and the frame broke.
Upon finding its prison broken, the flames grew in size swallowing up everything it touched. It was only a matter of minutes before the small cabin was swallowed entirely, the smoke marking where it was.
Hakyeon's wings came out and after allowing a few tears of sorrow to fall both he and his bother flew away.
Away from their only home.
The dark eyes of the general looked at the burning flames with an exasperated sigh. His men had been defeated by two teenage boys. Not only that but the boys had escaped. He looked at his wounded soldiers and brought his hand up, signaling the soldiers he had brought with him, "Kill them all. Anyone who saw the peasants faces must not be allowed to live."
"Yes sir," was the response from his troops as swords were unshielded and scream filled the forest again.
"The king orders the assassination of what he thinks are Royal peasants," The general huffs as he turns his back to the massacre, "Yet HE orders the protection." He mounted his maroon stallion, "What type of game are they playing?"
"Sir," one of his soldiers came up to him. sword stained with blood and face smeared with the substance, "The soldiers are dead."
"Throw the bodies into the fire. Clean the blood off the grass and ensure that nobody sets foot here again." The general took a deep breath eyes scanning his surroundings and stopping when a light catches his eyes, "Soldier."
The soldier, who was heading to give the orders turned back, "Yes sir?"
"That right there," The general pointed in the direction of the light, "Bring that to me."
The soldier moved in the direction the general was pointed and grabbed the object that was there. He returned to the man's side and presented the object with both hands.
The general took it, inspecting it as his eyes widened slightly, "Well I'll be damned. The King was right." He placed the object into his hanbok sleeve for safekeeping and then grabbed the reigns of his horse, "The more reason to follow his orders."
"Unclasp the horses from the carriage," Hakyeon ordered as he ransacked through the back of the said vehicle for the riding seats they kept at the back in case of emergencies. His hands were shaking as they pushed sacks of food out of the way. When he finally found them he took one and moved to Sanghyuk who had just finished unclasping the horses. Giving the saddle to his brother he grabbed the other one and made fast work of saddling his horse.
Upon finishing he went through the sacks of food, emptying one that had been filled with flour and filling it with nonperishable food. Dry meat and dry fruit along with some hard bread went in. Sanghyuk joined him, filling his own sack with food for the unknown journey. When two sacks were filled to the brim they tied them closed and strapped them to the saddle. Hakyeon took a sack of wheat as well, for his horse.
After unstrapping his quiver and bow, Hakyeon placed them on the saddle as well as his satchel and then grabbed onto his cloak. He turned to his brother, ready to ask him if he was ready but the words were stuck to his throat. Sanghyuk looked at the sack of apple with a slightly longing look, "Take it," Hakyeon stated, "Changmin likes them as well after all."
Sanghyuk did nothing but nod as he grabbed the sack.
"Eunmi-ah," Hakyeon murmured as he caressed the Dun stallion's mane, "my darling girl. You must be strong." His forehead touched her own and his eyes closed, "Lead us to safety." with those last words he let her go and got on her back, a difficult task with only one functioning arm.
"Where to?" Sanghyuk asked, his white stallion ready to move where directed.
Hakyeon brought the hood of his cloak up and took a hold of Eunmi's reigns. He looked up at the trees that surrounded them, "We ride South. Away from the capital."
Sanghyuk nodded, bringing Changmin to a strutting pace. Hakyeon was soon following, "Mother told us stories of a kingdom down South."
"The more reason to head in that direction," was the last thing Hakyeon said before they were running.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3; Departure pt. 2
Sanghyuk was on the verge of falling. Changmin could only do so much for his owner before he fell from his back. His white mane was already stained with his master's blood as the wounded human swung from side to side, eyes slowly closing. The horse wished it could slow down, but his sister Eunmi had no plans of slowing down anytime soon and unless he was given some type of sign from his master he could not slow down either.
Sanghyuk was tired. He had already lost too much blood and there was no telling how bad his wound was. He wanted to speak up, tell his brother that they should stop and seek medical attention, but he was far too tired to form words. He caressed his stallions mane and the horse was quick to pick up the message.
Changmin slowed down, neighing to get the attention of the older Cha. Hakyeon was quick to turn with Eunmi, retracing their steps and stopping at Changmin's side. Hakyeon pulled his brother's shirt up and assessed the wound. He looked towards the distance behind them and sighed, "We cannot stop. There is still too much ground to cover," Hakyeon began. Should they stop and face the possibility of being caught or keep going and possibly have Sanghyuk die from blood loss?
"H-Hy-ung," Sanghyuk managed to stutter out but was unable to say much more.
"Shush, do not force yourself to speak," Hakyeon soothed as he looked around them. Every second that passed was a huge loss for them. "Can you last a bit longer? We need to get out of the main road and back into the forest."
Sanghyuk nodded weakly and allowed his brother to take the reigns from his hands, pulling them into the forest. There was silence around them and darkness surrounded them. Hakyeon tried to soothe Eunmi as he leads her into the denser part, close to the main road if they needed to run and dense enough to hide them.
Eunmi was slightly disoriented, the forest is darker than the main road but still followed her Master's commands. She trusted her human. They stopped and Hakyeon mounted off before pulling Sanghyuk off of Changmin.
Sanghyuk groaned as he was pulled down, unable to hold the sound as a sharp pain bloomed from deep within him. He allowed his brother to drag him forward before slowly setting him on the ground. Sanghyuk breathed deeply, hissing lightly and leaned back, his back touching what could only be the trunk of a tree. His hand was moved to hold onto his side.
"Wait here okay?" Hakyeon spoke as he held his brothers face with both hands, trying to see his face as best as possible through the darkness that surrounded them. His eyes soon became accustomed to the darkness and he was able to see the outline of his brother's features, "I went through mothers herbs and salves. I brought some with me. We will dress the wound and then we will rest." He pulled back, only to be stopped by a firm yet weak grasp on his arm. He turned back to his brother, confused, "What is it?"
"H-hyung," Sanghyuk stuttered, "yo-you-ey-eyes."
"What? What of them? Is something wrong with them?" Hakyeon asked, hands coming up to touch his face.
"Gl-glo-glowing." Sanghyuk choked on what he thought was bile but he was quite mistaken. Blood rushed from his mouth, the metallic liquid getting stuck in his throat and making him gag.
"No, Sanghyuk." Tears formed in the elder's eyes and he wiped the blood with his shirt sleeve, "Do not pay my eye's attention. Do not speak. I will clean your wound. Try to stay awake. Do not close your eyes." Hakyeon got up and went over to his satchel, untying it and then looking through it. He opened multiple small flasks, trying to pinpoint what he needed based on smell. After a few seconds, he came out with cotton strips to dress the wound and a few containers.
"Yarrow," Hakyeon mumbled to himself as he walked around, putting the herbs into his mouth as he attempted to make a paste. Anything that looked like a flower he plucked and brought to his nose. Upon finding the rich smell that the yarrow flower gave up he was quick to rip the young leaves off and then to shreds and place it in his mouth as well. with the little water that they had on their Horses, he returned to his brother and tapped his cheek lightly.
"Stay with me," Hakyeon tried to say over a large amount of paste he had in his mouth. Sanghyuk's eyes open slightly and upon seeing that his brother was still alive Hakyeon was quick to begin patching him up. Hakyeon ripped the shirt open and assessed what he was working with. Cleaning the wound as well as possible with the water, Hakyeon took some time to clear his mind and truly look at the wound without all of the blood from before. The bleeding was less consistent then it had been before, but the gash was deep and would more than likely need stitches.
Hakyeon spits the moist paste into his palm, "This will hurt," he warned his brother before placing the paste on the wound. Sanghyuk hissed, screaming caught deep in his throat and turning into a loud groan of pain. Hakyeon grabbed the cloth that was by his side and wrapped his brother's side as tightly as possible but not to the extent it was too constricting. "You are alright brother. It's only a scratch. Rest, we will try to find a village healer tomorrow."
Sanghyuk nodded lightly as Hakyeon covered him with the cloak that was still around his shoulders soon taking his own off and wrapped it around the younger, not minding the cool air one bit. Patting his knee lightly Hakyeon got up, taking his bow and arrows with him as he left the small campground.
He needed to make a fire, that was the main priority. Then he needed to find a water supply. But more than anything he needed to stay on guard and not step too far from where Sanghyuk was. Hakyeon patted Eunmi's neck lightly, "Take care of him while I'm gone. You too Changmin." Both horses simply neighed as Hakyeon stepped farther away.
Hakyeon looked around grabbing any piece of wood he could find. when his hands were full he returned to the camp to set them down. This continued for some time, Hakyeon working as fast and as silently as possible. Once he had enough wood he began to work on actually making the fire. It took him ten minutes, but by the sixth attempt, he was able to create a small flame that grew upon being presented with more fuel. When he was sure that the fire would not die out while he was away he got up again and searched around him, arrow ready in case anything came at him.
He heard it before he saw it. The rush of water. He mentally cheered as he finally laid eyes on the small river and he all but ran towards it. The water looked clean so without much thought, Hakyeon fell to his knees inches from it and cupped his hands bringing them into the water and then to his parched mouth that still held the taste of the herbal paste he had made for his brother. He cleaned his face off the blood and dirt that seemed to have made itself home on his skin and when he was clean he took a second to actually see his reflection on the water. What he saw startled him.
Bright golden eyes stared back at him. It was at that moment that his bothers words made total sense. His eyes were glowing. It now made sense that he was able to actually see in the dark, but was it that he could do that? This was the first time it had ever happen, he would know. He was blinder than an old man in the dark.
"How?" Hakyeon mumbled as his hand came up to touch his face, making sure that his reflection was truly him and not someone else.
A branch somewhere near him snapped causing Hakyeon to snap out of his trance and grab ahold of his bow, arrow ready as he turned his body. He aimed in the direction the noise had come from but there was nothing. Sighing lightly he got up and moved back towards the camp. There was no chance he would be sleeping tonight.
Sanghyuk groaned as his eyes fluttered open, taking in the trees around him and the dying fire as the sun lazily crawled its way to the sky. He gave a Small prayer towards Apollo for allowing him to be grazed with the sun's presence this day as well. A snap close to where he was resting caused his eyes to open and his hand flew forward, spear flying to him
Sanghyuk held his breath, unable to move as freely as he wanted due to the sharp pain any type of move brought him. He looked around, trying to find his brother but found no trace of him. His heartbeat nearly out of control as he waited for whatever had made that noise to make its way towards him. A shadow made passed through his peripheral vision and his hand flew up, releasing the spear.
His aim was off. Gods off would be an understatement. In any other circumstances, it would have been bad for his aim to be that pitiful but Sanghyuk found himself sighing in pure relief.
"Woah, brother," Hakyeon stated as he grabbed ahold of the spear and walked the rest of the distance between him and Sanghyuk, "I am no enemy."
"Hyung," Sanghyuk muttered, "Where were you? You were not here, I got worried."
Hakyeon set the spear beside Hyuk and held two already cleaned and skewered fish, "I went out to hunt. Fish was the best option. We have a lot of ground to make up for and we have to pass through the nearest village to see a doctor."
Sanghyuk took that moment to look at his torn shirt and dressed abdomen. He fixed his body slightly against the tree trunk as Hakyeon put the fish to cook, "How long was I unconscious."
"Not long," Hakyeon answered him with all honesty, "I changed your dressings a couple times, fed and watered the horses, Found myself some nice herbs that I wasn't carrying."
Sanghyuk studied his brother, eyes moving to the dark circles that were forming on his brother's face, "You did not rest?"
Hakyeon looked around them, eyes scanning the woods for any possible enemies before setting on Sanghyuk as well, "Too risky for both of us to rest out in the open."
Sanghyuk opened his mouth, ready to argue but quickly though again. His hand came up to hold his side unconsciously as he spoke, "Did you at least take care of your wound? I do not mean pulling out the arrow, that would be idiotic, but accessing the damage?"
Hakyeon's hands stilled as he turned the fish, "Of course I did."
"You are a terrible liar." Sanghyuk gritted out, "For the Gods' sake. Take some care of yourself hyung."
"You are more important. I'm fine. The arrowhead is sticking out of my back, the healer will have no difficulty in getting the rest of it out and then patching me up." Hakyeon looked at his skeptical brother, "I am honest Sanghyuk. I am okay. The fish will be ready soon." Hakyeon changed the topic, "Move around and see if you are well enough to continue riding."
"I am." was all Sanghyuk said as he got up, using his spear as support. He didn't turn to Hakyeon after that, the conversation between them was over and moved towards Changmin. He ran his hand through his mane before leaning his forehead against that of his white stallion, "Thank you for your hard work, my dear friend."
Changmin neighed and moved closer to his owner, enjoying the warmth that radiated from his human companion. Sanghyuk took an apple from the sack Changmin was carrying and presented the stallion the bright red fruit. Changmin was fast to take it into his mouth, savoring the juicy treat. His human's mate always picked the ripest apples. That's why he liked the man. Whenever his human would take him to the city at night, his owner's mate would always give him yummy treats. The horse's eyes moved to Eunmi's human if only he knew what Sanghyuk was doing at night.
"The fish finished cooking, " Hakyeon stated in a monotone voice. He picked the smaller of the two and got to work on devouring it. They had to move fast. He held the other fish to Sanghyuk who took it and then mounted onto Changmin, ready to go at any second. Hakyeon eyed him for a second before he strapped the forgotten cloak around himself. He stomped the dying fire a few times to ensure it would not cause any harm to the forest and mounted onto Eunmi. He shoved the rest of the fish into his mouth and threw the branch he had used as a skewer. Without a word he leads Eunmi out of the forest, Changmin soon following.
The General moved through the palace with his head held high. In one hand he held his sword while in the other he held onto a smaller object. He passed through the buildings within the palace, trying to get to one in particular. He passed the quarters that belonged to the second prince, the guards bowing deeply upon seeing him. He nodded ever so slightly in response and went on his way only to stop on his tracks when the man he was looking for walked towards him. The general bowed as deeply as he could, showing his deepest respects towards the man in front of him.
"General Choi," The man spoke, the soft voice sending slight chills through the older man's body. he held a fan over his face, hiding all but his eyes. "What brings you here so early in the morning?"
"Your Highness," The General said, "I have brought you news in the matter of the Ro-"
"Ah," The man stopped him, "So it is in regards to that that you come here." The young man looked around him and then at his servants who were behind him. Without a word he began to walk towards the Second Prince's quarters, "He will wish to know about this matter as well."
The guards bowed deeply towards the two men and allowed them to the entrance to the quarters. The servants who were waiting for the second prince bowed towards the men and allowed them to pass through the open doors, closing them behind the General. The second prince, upon seeing who it was that had come in, instantly got up. He smiled ever so lightly towards the men before straightening up his attire.
They all sat down, looking at each other for a few seconds before the second prince spoke up, "What brings you both here so early in the day?"
The general untied his hat, laying it down beside him along with his sword. His hands remained closed and rested on his knees after that, "The orders that were given by his highness were placed into action only yesterday."
The Second Prince and His Majesty's eyes went wide. The older of the two spoke up, "And what were the results?"
"You were right your majesty," The General reached into his sleeve, presenting the princes with his findings, "This was found on the field."
The second prince gasped in shock while the other's brow raised ever so slightly.
In the open palm of the General was a feather. A bright gold feather like no other.
The Cha siblings smelled the village before they saw it. They could smell the sweetness of fresh bread along with the bitterness of sweaty bodies pressed together on a hot summer day. Upon being hit by the many smells both boys fastened their hands on their horse's reigns and with a powerful move of their hand the horses gained speed.
Sanghyuk couldn't have been happier when the village finally came into view. His side had begun to torment him and he could feel the dampness of the dressings on his skin. He pulled Changmin's reigns, decreasing his speed from a sprint to a walk and followed his brother into the village.
"We need to look for a healer," Hakyeon commented, eyes already scanning the small huts for any possible signs as to where the village healer lived.
The village people turned to look at them as they moved through the streets, murmuring to one another as their eyes scanned the two strangers. It wasn't uncommon for travelers to pass through their village, but the Cha brothers gave off a different feeling that for some reason made the villages people weary yet awed.
Hakyeon dismounted his stallion upon seeing that his brother was no longer able to control Changmin well. He took Changmin's reigns from his brother's hand and lead both horses deeper into the village. He ignored the stares and instead took to asking the first person close enough for help, "My apologies," he began. His voice was rough and monotone, a drastic contrast to how it usually was, "but where may I find the Village healer?"
The elderly women, upon hearing Hakyeon's voice was startled from her work of looking at what Hakyeon thought was a combination of dried herbs and spices. She looked up at the young man, but there was very little she could see with the cloak covering his body. "Well," She answered, shooting a look at the barely conscious Sanghyuk, "it depends on who is asking."
"We are travelers," Hakyeon was quick to lie, "who were robbed of our gold and wounded. We seek the help of a healer to treat our wounds."
She eyed the goods they had strapped to the horse saddles and the weapons that were intact. She kept her eyes on the white spear for a few seconds, "Robbed, huh?" She grabbed onto the packed goods she had placed on the stand and began to walk forward, "You boys are in luck. You found the healer's wife. Follow me."
Hakyeon was quick to follow the small woman, muttering his thanks. The walked for what would only be five minutes, but to Sanghyuk, who was losing his grasp of reality it felt like hours. A sigh of relief left his lips as they stopped in front of a small house. He looked skeptical for a second, thinking that they had been tricked by an old hag until his tired eyes noticed the dried herbs that took nearly all the space on the surface of a table outside the house.
"Leave your horses here," The elderly woman ordered as she shed her shoes and walked into the house.
Hakyeon tied the horse's reigns on one of the houses support poles in front of the home. Upon making sure that the horses were secure he grabbed onto Sanghyuk's arm and pulled him down. Sanghyuk groaned upon being moved but Hakyeon only wrapped this brothers arm around his shoulder, supporting him from the waist and pulled him forward. He didn't even try to pull off their leather boots off, only muttered an apology before entering.
The older Cha was met with an elderly man who was already in what could only be described as surgery attire while the elderly woman moved around the small house, pulling herbs and other things from labeled containers.
"Lay him on the bed," The elderly man ordered as he took some scissors from his wife's hand.
Hakyeon laid his brother down slowly, unclasping the cloak from around his neck as an excuse to kneel and whisper into his brother's ear, "Keep your eyes closed." When he felt Sanghyuk nod he straightens up and moved away to give the healer space to work.
"I am healer Lee," the elderly man stated as he cut the bloody dressings.
"I am Ehn and that is my brother Hyuk," Hakyeon quickly stated. He mentally cursed himself for stating such names. Sanghyuk's he understood as it has the nickname their parents often called him, but his? What in the Heavens is an Ehn? Is it something you eat? Some word in another universe that he somehow heard in his nineteen years that got stuck in his brain?
"Strange names you young lads have," healer Lee commented as he assessed the wound, humming to himself right after.
"We come from a different Kingdom," Hakyeon tried to clarify his lie with more lies. He sat down on the chair the elderly woman provided him, thanking her before continuing, "Many days away from here. Up north."
"And in that Kingdom children are given such peculiar names?"
"They are peculiar to you," Hakyeon defended, "Yet they are as normal as breathing to us."
"That it seems." With a cloth healer, Lee cleaned the wound, trained eyes knowing where exactly to touch to ensure that Sanghyuk would not suffer through too much pain.
The house was silent after, the healer and his wife concentrating on patching up Sanghyuk while Hakyeon looked at them intensely. After nearly twenty minutes Sanghyuk was patched up and unconscious, his skin was still pale but Healer Lee assured he would regain his color after some rest. With that word he exited the house, stating he had some patients to visit.
"And you?" The healer's wife asked as she cleaned the tools that had been used.
Hakyeon looked up from his brother and turned towards her, "I'm sorry?"
"Do you have no wounds?" she clarified.
"Oh," Hakyeon moved his cloak, showing his wounded arm to the elderly woman.
Mrs. Lee tsked, "Strip." She ordered. Hakyeon looked at her questioningly and made no move to follow the orders, "Your cloak and upper garments. Let me see what I am dealing with."
Hakyeon stood up and unclasped his cloak. He covered his brother's shirtless form with it and then stripped off his shirt, hissing slightly at the pain the movements caused his shoulder. He kept his eyes closed, unwilling to let them see what he knew set him apart. Mrs. Lee walked to him and with questioning eyes and inspected his blood smeared shoulder.
She tsked before grabbing onto some tweezers, "And you walked around with this wound as if nothing was wrong."
"It is of less importance compared to the wound by brother carries."
"You could have died from blood loss," Mrs. Lee commented, "Tighten your jaw. This will hurt." With that warning, she grabbed ahold of the arrowhead poking from his back and pulled.
Hakyeon hissed as he felt the trickle of blood cascading down his arm, "Some higher power wants to keep me alive it seems." He growled through the pain.
"Wants to keep both of you a life." Mrs. Lee grabbed onto some damp cloth and cleaned the blood, her eyes being drawn to the wings tattooed on Hakyeon's back. "Interesting marks you two boys have."
"A part of the coming of age ceremony in our kingdom. After we prove ourselves worthy this is the mark that is given to us as a reminder that we are no longer children."
"Why the different color?" She asked as she began to stitch up the holes the arrow had caused, "Your brother carries a white mark while you carry a golden one."
"The ink changes every five moon cycles."
"Your kingdom seems troublesome, allowing children to go through the pain of marking their bodies."
Hakyeon simply chuckled, 'If only you knew.'
No more words were exchanged between the two as Mrs. Lee finished up stitching and then dressing his shoulder, but when done the elderly lady spoke again, "He needs to rest and by the darkness accumulating under your eyes so do you. He should wake up within two to three days. You may both rest here and do not worry, your horses will be taken care of as well."
Hakyeon felt around for his shirt and when he found it he quickly put it back on along with his cloak, eyes opening when he knew they were hidden by the hood, "Thank you for your hospitality but I am afraid that I have no gold to pay you with."
"Gold is not needed from you boys," The elderly lady stated as she walked out of the house, "You two seem to have had a rough time."
When the door was closed behind her Hakyeon fell back onto the chair he had been sitting on before, exhaustion taking over his body. He needed to rest and his brother was out cold. They will stay here until Sanghyuk awoke but will leave right after.
With those thoughts Hakyeon allowed his head to lean back and rest against the house's wall, sleep soon wrapping itself around him.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4; Hidding
New friends are made in the most unexpected places.
Hakyeon remembered the day his parents passed away as if it had been yesterday, the image of his father's grief-filled eyes burning into his own golden ones burned into his brain. He remembered the sorrow that had filled him as he and his brother watched their only home burn to the grown, their parent's lifeless body within the falling cabin.
But even though the memory of that fateful day was so fresh within his memory over twenty moon cycles had already passed. 900 days. 21,610 hours. 1,296,635 minutes. 77,798,120 seconds. And every single moment was spent in hiding, holding his breath and hoping that the king's men would not find them.
Hakyeon's heart hurt when he remembered everything he had left behind in the Land of Angelos, in the Fallen woods that had been his home ever since he could remember. Everything that had made him who he was had been destroyed within the red flames.
He couldn't even fantom what his younger brother must have felt all of these years for it was him who had left his most priced object, a being more precious than all of the gold and jewels in the face of the earth. While Hakyeon had left behind dreams and memories, material possessions that could be easily replaced Sanghyuk had left all that and more. He had left his loved one.
It was idiotic to an extent. Hakyeon had thought of his brothers crush towards the Lee offspring as nothing more than that, childish puppy love that could be easily forgotten. He had been proven wrong, however.
During their escape from the land of Angelos, they had been filled with grief for their loss, unable to speak without feeling a knot forming within their throats. As the days passed their pain numbed them down, made it bearable to continue their endless journey to another kingdom far away from the one that had stolen their parents from them.
When they entered the outskirts of a kingdom by the name Joseon, Hakyeon was more than surprised. He had always thought that the stories their mother told him were nothing more than fantasies with no actual truth. But he was wrong as the kingdom they were faced with was all but imaginary.
Those of Joseon looked at them like they were something else from out of this world. Their eyes and attire set them apart. Golden eyes and white eyes were not seen and at first, they were thought as demons and nearly killed, but upon seeing how kind and warm-hearted the Cha were they were instantly loved.
It was funny how one instant they were the most feared within the large kingdom and the next they were the most loved. It was Angelos all over again with gifts and admiration. The children loved them and the maidens swooned over them.
Hakyeon got accustomed to the new environment, hunting and selling the game to make an income, dressing in the cheep hanboks that the commoners wore. Sanghyuk did the same, wore the clothes of the people, taking care of selling the game and trying to fit in. But there was only so much he could do. Sanghyuk didn't smile like he had done before, even when Hakyeon tried to make him happier.
Hakyeon sighed as he brushed Eunmi's mane, the horse neighing in content. "How long do we need to hide?" Hakyeon muttered, cloak tight around his body. His only protection from the cold was the thin sleeping robes and the winter air had no mercy. "Though this kingdom is beautiful, it hurts to be unable to feel the breeze like before."
It had been over two years since they had actually allowed their wings to show (the one month of the year where they retracted them long enough to let them shed their feathers did not count.) In those two years, both Hakyeon's and Sanghyuk's eyes had dulled in color. Sanghyuk no longer had white eyes, the color turning a murky grey that was seen on those who were blind. And Hakyeon's eyes no longer held the shine of the sun as they had turned a dark honey tint that was beautiful yet melancholic.
"My dear Eunmi," Hakyeon whispered as he held his stallion close, "I fear I am going mad."
"Well, if you speak to horses I believe you are right," A rough voice spoke up.
Startled, Hakyeon turned to look at the intruder who had broken his internal monologue, "And who might you be?" Hakyeon asked as he took in the male in front of him. Silk Hanbok and thick traveling cloak, definitely not a commoner. Unconsciously his hand found their way to the hilt of one of his throwing knives, ready for any threat.
"Oh," The man began as he looked around the village, "I am a nobody looking around."
"A nobody?" Hakyeon found himself chuckling, "Looking around?" Hakyeon looked around himself, "there is not much to look at. The market place doesn't open until sunrise and it is a bit of a distance away."
"That it is very true." the man chuckled. "Yet it is not the market goods that I was looking for or at. But the stunning scenery was what caught my eye."
Hakyeon snorted as he took his eyes away from the man, hand falling away from his knives and instead began to braid Eunmi's mane. "The market place and village is anything but stunning scenery."
"The village is not the scenery I was staring at. It was you."
Hakyeon's hand stilled mid braid, turning to look at the man with slightly wide eyes.
"Hyung," a rough voice said. Hakyeon turned to the door of their small house, seeing his brother leaning against the door railing. Sanghyuk held his spear in hand. It had confused the two before, how Sanghyuk's spear had changed overnight. It was no longer a menacing weapon but what seemed to be a walking stick and that definitely helped them.
Sanghyuk stared in front of him instead of towards his brother, his eyes not focusing on anything, in particular, instead looked void of any emotion, "Hyung are you out here? You were not in the room."
Hakyeon's eyes shined upon seeing his brother. Leaving Eunmi's side and going towards the door and took his brother's hand in his own, "I am here. Return to bed, it is still too early for you to be awake."
"Likewise. Why are you up? It is not sunrise yet is it?" Sanghyuk looked around him as if by looking around he would see if the sun had risen. His eyes stopped where the man was still standing and his eyebrows furrowed.
"No," Hakyeon turned to the man from before, "have a good day sir." The man nodded, bowing towards the two boys.
"Is there someone here?" Sanghyuk asked, confusion laced in his words as he was lead back into the house.
"No Hyuk. There is no one." Hakyeon stated as he closed the door behind him.
They waited for a few seconds before Hakyeon opened the window lightly and looked towards the small shed they had built for the horses, making sure the guy was gone before he sighed.
"Who was that?" Sanghyuk asked as he sat down on the floor where their bedding still was, spear beside him.
"It was not someone we know. A stranger of a high title based on his clothes." Hakyeon answered.
"What was he doing near our home? Not only that but he was sweet talking to you? The manner in which he looked at you was not like how a stranger looks at another."
Hakyeon sighed as he sat beside his brother, "I do not know why he spoke like that to me. Though Angelos accepts a man being with another I do not believe that it is the case here. For him to say something like that to me, it is not right."
"Damn right it is not okay. No one can speak like that to my bother when I am around." Sanghyuk almost yelled, hitting his chest lightly, "I must see that the man who wishes to do so is deserving of such action."
"Sanghyuk," Hakyeon hit his brother's shoulder, "I am no damsel that needs to be looked after. I am a man who can look after himself."
"You are my brother," Sanghyuk argued, "Man or women, it does not matter. I will still look after you. But putting that man's presence aside. Why were you up before sunrise?"
Hakyeon brought his cover closer to himself as he looked at his brother, "I had a nightmare." Sanghyuk's expression filled with concern, "It is nothing to worry about. I was just unable to sleep after that."
"It is something to worry about if it has stolen rest from you," Sanghyuk argued expression turning sour, "When will you learn that as much as you care for me I also care for you? Tell me, allow me to share your sorrows."
Hakyeon tried to smile but the said act was futile as it did not hide the pain he still felt, "It is the same as always." was the only thing he stated.
"Our parent's murder," Sanghyuk added, remembering his brothers constant sleepless nights as they rode away from Angelos.
'And my mistake that caused your innocence,' Hakyeon thought but did not state, "Yes. The memory seems to haunt my every moment." 'And will continue to do so for many years to come.'
Sanghyuk did not know what to say, no words could help his brother be at ease. "Why don't you try to rest again? "
"No!" Hakyeon quickly stated voice raised. He realized his raised voice and cleared his throat. "No," he spoke more calmly, "The sun will be out soon. I need to prepare Eunmi and head out to hunt. We need game to cook and sell. You try to rest however, you had a rough day."
"Ha-ha," Sanghyuk said with a straight face, "acting like a blind man is not as hard as you try to make it seem. I do nothing all day. I am more than well rested."
"Then stay home and laze around," Hakyeon stated as he grabbed onto a pair of clothing from the cabinet. It was the clothes they had brought with them two complete moon cycles back, made specifically for the life in the woods. Hakyeon was quick to change, not paying much attention to his brother's eyes that bore holes at his back. After finishing he grabbed ahold of his leather boots and was quick in putting them on.
It was after he finished and his hair was placed up into a top knot that he finally turned towards his brother. "Will you stop staring at me as though you wish for me to die?" Hakyeon asked.
"I'm sorry," Sanghyuk stated, words holding a sarcastic tint to them, "What my stare was trying to say was that I wished you would die the most horrific death to mankind."
Hakyeon scoffed as he tried to hold back a smile, "Well, I apologize for reading your face expressions wrong. Seems like I have grown rusty in that skill."
"Why don't we try to do something else hyung?" Sanghyuk suddenly changed the topic.
Hakyeon hands stopped moving as he heard the question, his knife sheath loosely strapped on his thigh. After a few seconds, the shock left his body and he tightened the straps, "What do you mean?"
"We should find a new kingdom to go to. Someplace no one knows us. We have staid in this kingdom far too long and, although I love the people here, it has become a hassle to act as though I am blind." Sanghyuk paused, "Maybe we could...return to Angelos?"
"No," Hakyeon growled out as he grabbed ahold of his dull brown bow and quiver of arrows. His eyes fell onto the dresser that held their clothes and bedding, still open and showing the dark cloth where his other bow was hidden. It was the one he had had for years but hadn't used since stepping into the Joseon kingdom. His hand caressed the feathers of one of the arrows, that poked out of the coth as he attempted to calm down. With one last look, he closed the door of their drawer which held everything they had brought with them and emergency satchels. "We are NOT returning to Angelos."
"It has been many moons since that night and we have not been caught! Perhaps they believe we have passed?"
"I have said no Cha Sanghyuk!" Hakyeon yelled, causing his brother to jump. It had been a long time since the younger had heard his real name, "We are not returning to Angelos. We have been blessed by the gods for many moons and that has caused them to not be able to find us, but that does not mean that I will risk our lives in a second of stupidity."
"I have said no Sanghyuk," Hakyeon growled out, "and I have meant my words. We will stay here and that is final." with those last words Hakyeon was out the door once again. There was a loud crash from within the home but he made no move to check what it was as he knew it was only his brother throwing a tantrum.
With a heavy sigh, Hakyeon moved to Eunmi's side again, finishing her braid and then strapping her saddle and fixing his quiver and bow on her. With one last look at their home, he mounted his stallion and made his way to the woods.
"Your Excellency!" yelled General Choi, voice wavering upon seeing the expression the second price held. Though this was only field practice the young prince was taking it too seriously, expression blank and eyes dark as he fought against his personal guards, preparing them for the worst. General Choi cleared his throat, eyes slightly wide as he spoke, "His Majesty wishes to see you as soon as possible. It is a matter of utmost importance."
The second prince dropped his defensive stance, sword finding its way to its sheath. Once seeing that the prince was busy the soldiers took the opportunity to run away, merging in with the other men. "And what is so important he was asked you of all people to come and fetch me?"
The General cleared his throat, looking around at the other soldiers who were working hard in their training, not minding them too much, "It is in. . . regards to the matter of two years ago."
"Two years?" Realization crossed the second prince's expression, "You should've said that earlier General," his wings unfolded as he spoke, giving one, two hard strokes and he was up in the air, "Well let us go then." And with that he took off, leaving the older General alone in the practice fields.
The General sighed, pulling his horse's and making his way back to the palace. He was too old for this. Why couldn't his son just take his place already? He was old enough, strong enough as well. Why did he just spend his every moment chasing the youngest son of Minister Lee? He hummed to himself, wondering when it would be the best time to tell his son that he had already been engaged to the young Lee offspring.
When he finally got to the Palace and had made his way to the King's quarters both brothers were deep in conversation, head's turning to see who had come in, one bringing a fan he held up to his face, "Sorry for taking such a long time, a horse cannot beat wings."
The second prince chuckled while the King's eyes wrinkled around the edges, showing he held a smile behind the fan he delicately held up to hide the bottom of his face. Upon seeing the doors closing the fan fell to his side and he sighed.
"Too important matters," General Choi fell to one knee in front of them, eyes to the floor instead of on The King's face. General or not he was not worthy of setting eyes upon the King. "I will do as you command me, my King."
The King nodded ever so lightly and the Second Prince stood up from where he was seated, expression blank as he walked towards a wooden stand close to where they all were, looking through the shelves for a few seconds and coming out with a folded cloth. He moved to General Choi's side and extended the cloth towards him. The General took it with both hands, head bowed even lower to show his respect. After the Second prince sat down the General stood up, opening the cloth and gasping upon seeing the feather that laid within. It was deteriorating, the color dulling to a murky yellow and slowly transcending into black. The feather was slowly turning into ashes.
"They seem to have..." The young King found himself unable to finish his words, expression turning into something far more unreadable then his usual poker face. He cleared his throat and spoke again, "Take a group of men, squad eleven, and confirm if it is true."
The General's eyes widened, "Your Highness...I understand the importance of this mission, I really do. But Squad eleven? They are not-"
Rage filled the King's eyes, turning them darker, "Are you questioning my orders?" He asked, voice coming out cold and louder than usual.
"No your majesty, I would never. It is just that squad eleven are your personal guards..." The General's voice became smaller as he continued to speak. "It will be done, sir." He finished with a bow.
"You leave at dawn tomorrow. Wonsik will be joining you in this journey." The King finished, shooing them again right after.
The Second Prince was startled, eyes going wide, but a smirk soon falling unto his lips, "As you wish."
With a deep bow, General Choi presented the feather to the King who took it without a word. The two men exited the room, the General making his way to the palace gates while the Second Prince made his way to the Royal Infirmary.
General Choi sighed as he mounted his stallion, "I am too old for this." he mumbled to himself, preparing himself mentally for the moment when he would tell Lady Choi about his departure.
Hakyeon took a deep breath, muscles relaxing as he was surrounded by the woods, memories of his home filling his head and making him feel lighter. But his head was soon clouded by the words he brother had said. They had stayed here for a very long time, nearly three moon cycles to be exact, and maybe it was time to find a new kingdom to find refuge in. Maybe continue south, farther away from Angelos. Because he would not return to Angelos.
He would choose to die over returning to Angelos without a second thought. Angelos may have been the kingdom he was born in but it was never his home. The Fallen forest was the only home he knew. Besides, regardless of what Sanghyuk said it was a dangerous place for them. The King may not have found them but that did not mean he was not looking, Hakyeon was sure of it.
He shook his head, trying to control his wandering mind, being so lost in thought would only make his shooting bad. He instead listened to the sounds of the woods, eyes darting down to the floor to see if he could see any animal prints. He shivered lightly, the cool breeze managing to caress his skin through his cloak and the cotton material that made his shirt.
Hakyeon hated the wolf moon with all his heart. To be honest he hated the dark days (September to the beginning of March) with all his heart given the fact that he was born in the sun days which were looked after by Apollo, the god of the sun. But this kingdom did not count time in the same manner as Angelos did and even if he had been living here for so long he was still not used to it. He preferred the way Angelos kept time; The cycle had twelve moons, six moons made the Sun days and the six other moons were the dark days. Why couldn't Joseon have the same idea?
The rustling from snow-covered bushes to his right made him bring his bow up, arrow positioned and ready to fire. His stance soon fell as he saw the young bird perched on top of the snow covered bush and he smiled. "What are you doing there little friend?" He hopped off Eunmi and moved to the young Raven who stared at him with curious eyes, "You don't belong in these parts, do you? It is winter, your kind does not lay eggs or is born at this time." He placed his hand down and the young bird hopped onto his finger, "I've never seen your kind here before."
Ravens did not seem to be a common thing in Joseon and Hakyeon had missed the small birds who seemed so fond of him. When they were in the Fallen forest the birds would keep him company and after he had gotten his wings ravens seemed to flock to him without a second thought. The first time it had occurred his parents had freaked out, always believing that they would only bring bad luck to their child. But as time went on they came to terms with the weird occurrence. "Where did you come from and why in the heavens are you here? It is far too cold for you to be out."
The raven chirped as if trying to communicate with the human. Hakyeon laughed, the sound sounding like a sweet song. If other birds had been around him they would have surely rustled around and chirped along. "Do you wish to accompany me? I am hunting and I would love some company." The bird chirped and flew clumsily up onto his shoulder, "Hold on tight," Hakyeon commented as he climbed up onto Eunmi again, "Where are you from little friend? and where is your family? You are nothing but a young little thing." The bird chirped and nuzzled close to Hakyeon's neck, seeming to be cold. "If you don't have any family I will take care of you. Maybe Apollo has brought you down to me to keep me company?" The young Raven chirped as if agreeing with him.
Hakyeon continued his way into the woods, keeping his eyes open for game. Unaware of what exactly the Raven meant in his future.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5; Ravens and Secret Lovers
Hakyeon is offered a solution to a problem that has plagued his mind. Wonsik visits the palace infirmary.
Hakyeon returned to the village when the sun was high on the sky with two deer, a large wild boar, a few rabbits, and a new friend. Eunmi pulled the makeshift cart with all the game, the weight making her move slowly. It had been a great hunt overall and he was happy about that. They would make a good profit today.
He moved through the early birds who were already at the market, trying to get the best and freshest product. Hopefully, they were able to sell as much meat as possible, he didn't want any of it to go to waste. Upon reaching the stand in front of the small shop that belonged to him and his brother and seeing said male standing around with a bored expression he stopped Eunmi and looked around. There were a few people already lined up in front of the stand, waiting for the meat.
With a heavy sigh, he dismounted, groaning lightly from his stiff muscles. Grabbing one of the deer he placed it over his shoulders, the Raven chick on his head and walked past the line, a smile on his lips. "All right, sirs and madams the game has just arrived. If you would be so kind as to give me a few seconds to skin it and we'll get right to business." He spoke to the group, who nodded in understanding as the oldest Cha left to the back of the shop to skin the deer.
Sanghyuk left his post at the front, moving to where Eunmi. He caressed her mane quickly and with a heavy sigh, he placed the other, much larger deer onto his own shoulders. With his stick he hit around, trying to see where he was going until a kind young boy helped him 'find' his way into the back of the shop.
The Cha siblings butcher shop was small compared to others around them, and they were looked down upon by many due to their work. When they had come to Joseon they hadn't known of all of the classes that were there and who made them. They were not sure about how they should make money and as they were the best at hunting they decided to choose a job that went with that. As a result, they became butchers, a job that they could do even if that made them one of the lowest people.
They had used all of their gold from Angelos to make both the shop and their home and it had taken them nearly a year to build them, but they were able to make it in the end and their young shop made enough money to feed them and keep them afloat. Hakyeon didn't understand why as they only sold hunting game and there was nothing extraordinary about that. Sanghyuk had joked that it was because of their looks that had many young women and men alike bewitched and as more time passed Hakyeon could do nothing but agree.
With fast movements that questioned his blindness, Sanghyuk skinned the deer while Hakyeon took the orders, writing them down to ensure that he remembered them. He smiled when he saw the young woman who walked to them, blush easy to see even if she tried to hide her face as best as possible with her green satin jangot*. "Ah, Yoonhe-ssi. What brings you here again? This is no place for a lady of your title."
Yoonhe was a ministers daughter and she was as stubborn as she was beautiful and she seemed as bewitched as the other girls as well. She had continuously come with one of the kitchen servants from her home every single time the young lass was asked to buy meat.
Yoonhe's blush darkened and she hid her face with her jangot so that only her eyes could be seen, "I am just keeping my servant company. I did not know she had been tasked to come and buy meat."
Hakyeon's eyebrow rose ever so slightly, touching the headband he wore, "Is that so?" the young woman nodded, "I believe it would have been better if you had waited outside. It is not good for your face or the face of your family to be seen in such a place."
Yoonhe let her jangot fall, showing her face that looked slightly infuriated, "I believe you are in no position to tell me what to do young butcher."
Hakyeon brought his hands up, showing he surrendered, "It was not my intention for you to take my words in that manner. I was simply stating an option."
"Well, your option was not asked for or needed." She was furious as she continued to speak, knuckles white as she held the fabric of her jangot. "You think I don't know what it is that I am expected to do?!"
Hakyeon's face softened at her attitude but he simply turned to the servant who had kept quiet during the whole interaction. He wasn't meant to be rude but he had learned the hard way that it was best to leave some ladies of important households alone. "What is it that you need noona?"
Yoonhe gasped upon being ignored and simply walked out, stomping her feet upon the wooden floor in such a brute way Hakyeon was worried if it would break under her feet. "I am sorry about her," The servant girl, Meiri, sighed, "You know she is head over heels for you even when she has been ordered to marry when the flowers bloom."
"Ah," Hakyeon mumbled in fake understanding. "Her affection is flattering but not returned. I am sorry. What will you order? Although I wish to speak with you until the sun lowers, there is a line behind you."
"Oh sorry. Yes, what is it that you hunted today?" She asked as she tried to look through the curtains that separated the front of the shop from the back.
"Deer and some rabbits, a wild boar as well."
"And you still have no beef?" She asked, a hopeful tone within her voice.
Hakyeon shook his head, "We do not noona. We don't raise cattle. We only have the meat from game. You know that beef is too expensive for us to raise and buy from other places."
Meiri sighed but nodded solemnly, "I'll take two gwan* of deer meat, three geun* of boar and one rabbit please."
Hakyeon nodded as he wrote in his paper, counting the total in his head, "Thirty-five mun* noona."
"Thirty-five?" she looked slightly scandalized, "Is that not too much?"
"It is times of hardship noona. My brother and I had no choice but to raise the price of game as the King raised the taxes himself. With the sudden increase of taxes, we're barely making any profit," he scratched his neck the knowledge weighed on him, but it embarrassed him to speak of his worries with someone whose household had been the one to vote for the raise. "If this continues we might have to close down our shop. Thankfully it has not come to that."
Meiri nodded in understanding, yet a concern. She did not pry, however, upon seeing the expression Hakyeon wore. Taking the money from the small pouch she hid within her skirts she held her hand up and handed it to the younger male, "By when will it be ready?"
Hakyeon looked to the back of the store for a second, looking through the curtain and seeing his brother hard at work, raven beside him. Hakyeon suddenly came to the conclusion that he should really not name the young thing if he planned to let it free as soon as the cold let up. "We will continue to take orders until the hour of the snake* has passed and close shop for the hour of the horse* to ensure that we have enough meat. Come back at the hour of the goat*."
Meiri nodded and handed the mun to Hakyeon who counted the coins and place them in a bag at his side, "See you then."
"See you as well." Hakyeon bowed ever so slightly and looked at the next person in line, "Can I be of service?"
Meiri turned at the last second, catching Hakyeon's attention, "If it ever comes to the point that you must close the shop...I have a friend who works at the palace. She has told me that they have been looking for more male servants and guards. She said something about the return of a prince from neighboring lands. I am more than sure that they will not hesitate to take you."
Hakyeon smiled, causing half of the women there and even some men to slightly swoon, "I'll keep that in mind noona. Shop safely and wish the young lady a good day for me."
With that Meiri left and Hakyeon turned to work, a small smile on his lips even as his eyes darkened with emotions.
Wonsik entered the Palace Infirmary without making any sound, expression softening upon seeing the man he was looking for. He looked around, expecting the Royal Healer to be within the infirmary but upon not seeing him a smile formed in his lips. He took quiet yet fast steps towards his target, embracing them in a tight back hug.
Jaehwan jumped upon feeling the pair of arms wrap around him. He turned, ready to jab the person who held him with the acupuncture needle he had grabbed, but only rolled his eyes and pulled himself away. "Your Highness, what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"Jaehwan, my l-" Wonsik began but was shushed by Jaehwan. With eyes filled with hurt, he tried to grab ahold of the older only to be pushed away again. "Why is it that you treat me in such a cold manner?"
"What is it that you mean?" Jaehwan asked with an innocent expression, "I only treat you with the highest respect a person of your title should have."
Wonsik looked extremely hurt it broke the older male's heart and his expression soften slightly. Jaehwan moved forward and tilted his head to a bed to his right. Wonsik turned towards the directed place and nodded as he noticed the bandaged soldier. The young man's eyes were closed but Wonsik was unsure if he was unconscious or not. He cleared his voice, moving away from the healer and fixing his attire.
"What has brought you here your highness? Are you feeling sick?" Worry filled Jaehwan's expression within seconds, "Have you injured yourself?!"
Wonsik laughed, head thrown back and pearly whites in full view. A spark ran over his eyes, something keen to electricity as he spoke again. "No, I did not. However, there is some news I would like to share with you."
Jaehwan looked at Wonsik then at the soldier and without a word dragged the younger towards the room where his father kept all the herbs and salves. When the door closed behind them and he was sure they would not be heard he spoke up, dropping the honorifics he had been using before. "What is it? What happened? Why have you come to me?"
Wonsik laughed lightly, arms wrapping around Jaehwan's smaller body tightly when the smaller made no move to pull away. "Squad eleven has been asked to go on a quest and...I will be traveling with them. " Wonsik smiled fondly upon seeing his loved one's expression and explained his words. "I have been sent by the king himself. It seems there is someone whom he is looking for and I am needed to lead the squad. I do not know when and if I will return."
Jaehwan looked slightly bewildered, eyes darting to the many herbs. He pulled away from the prince, going to pull at a few dried herbs, ripping the leaves from the stem with harsh rugs. He said nothing yet Wonsik knew the older was not happy.
"Love," Wonsik tried to grab ahold of Jaehwan but the older only pulled away and moved to a different table, checking the salves with a prominent pout. "Love, do not give me such a cold attitude. Do not be mad at me."
Jaehwan turned, throwing a fist full of herbs at the younger male who coughed but staid still, "How can I not be mad at you?" He whispered yelled, tears of anger filling his eyes. "How do you expect me to not be infuriated by your willingness to head out with the King's killers?! Do you not remember the last time you left with them?! Need I remind you of the scars that paint your body with remainders of all the gruesome acts you have seen?! Of the acts, you have committed?!"
"Jaehwan," Wonsik tried again moving forward but being pushed away. He tried once more, hands finally making contact with the elder's body and bringing him into a warm embrace, "I have been ordered by the King to accompany the soldiers. I cannot just disregard his orders."
"But why have you been sent with the eleventh squad?" Jaehwan asked. "Why can you not simply take another squad or troops?"
"The eleventh squad has the manpower and skills of two platoons. And to move with a whole troop through neighboring kingdoms could be seen as a declaration of war."
Jaehwan cried, hands holding the material of the youngers royal hanbok so tightly his knuckles were turning white. He knew Wonsik could not say no to their King, nobody could yet he wished Wonsik at least tried to change the King's mind. He sobbed, the fear of losing his secret lover too heartbreaking.
They stayed like that, wrapped in a warm embrace that if found doing would most likely cause problems. Jaehwan had asked to keep their relationship secret even when Wonsik had made it clear that he was not afraid to show anyone how madly in love he was. Jaehwan was only the healer's son, a man with no title. And Wonsik was blessed by the Gods. He had the favor of one of highest God, the ruler of the skies. Jaehwan was never going to be good enough to take the place as Wonsik's official lover. Yet, even if he knew he did not wish to break what they had.
"Promise you'll come back to me," Jaehwan whispered, voice muffled by Wonsik's strong chest.
"I promise with all my heart and soul that I will always return to you," Wonsik whispered back, eyes filled with a brightness that could rival the sun. He brought a hand to Jaehwan's cheek, pulling the elder's face from his chest and bringing his head up. He smiled, whipping the elder's tears with his thumb. "I love you."
Jaehwan didn't return the words of endearment, choosing to step on the other's feet to gain a good height advantage and sealed their lips together instead.
By the time the hour of the rooster* fell upon Joseon Hakyeon and Sanghyuk were already closing their shop, body, and mind exhausted by the days work.
Hakyeon allowed Sanghyuk to ride on Eunmi, the younger looked far too exhausted to be able to walk. Hakyeon took to pulling Eunmi's reigns as they walked back home, the raven chick on his shoulder, talons gripping the material of the cloak tightly.
"And you just found the young thing in the woods?" Sanghyuk asked, eyes looking upfront with a blank expression, "With no mother raven with him and no nest in sight?"
"Yes," Hakyeon answered, moving away from the people that were passing through them. The kingdom was darkening and as a result, the morning market was closing down for the day while the night market was just getting open. Snow fell lightly over the streets and Hakyeon shivered, finding himself wishing that the sun would come back out again. "I couldn't leave him behind."
"I do not mind the new addition to the family," Sanghyuk smiled lightly, "He seems rather endearing. Have you decided on a name?"
"I do not wish to name him," Hakyeon commented, smiling when the small chick cuddled closer to him for warmth. "If I name him I will grow attached and will have a hard time letting him go when the snow melts."
Sanghyuk snorted, causing Hakyeon to give him the stink eye. "You won't be letting him go. And even if you did try I highly doubt that the ball of feathers will go anywhere farther then a league away. " Sanghyuk turned to where his brother was but did not look down, "He seems rather attached to you. Like the many ravens from home."
"I wonder why it is that they seem to grow attached to me." Hakyeon wondered, free hand coming up to pet the chick.
"It could be that you have won the favor of a God and he presents the birds to you as a gift. Or you were a bird in your past life." Sanghyuk wondered out loud, but soon after chuckled. "More like a worm."
Hakyeon turned to him, smacking his leg as hard as he could and causing the younger to hiss in pain, "Haha. Very funny and mature Hyuk."
"Do not hate me for saying the truth hyung," Sanghyuk joked after getting over the pain that his dear brother had inflicted upon him, "There is a higher chance that you lived your past life as a worm than it is for a God to favor you."
Hakyeon looked forward, biting his lip before turning and bringing Eunmi towards their property and stable. He used the time it took for Sanghyuk to dismount Eunmi and head to Changmin to look around them, making sure that they were alone. He placed the raven chick on his brother's shoulder before he continued, "Listen Hyuk, while I was hunting I thought of what we spoke about before I headed out."
Sanghyuk visibly stiffened, turning his attention to the stable wall behind Hakyeon. Even if they were alone he still had to keep appearances. "We do not need to speak of that. I--"
Hakyeon interrupted him, "I understand. I do and I am sorry for instantly trying to stop you from speaking your mind." He took a deep breath, choosing to unbuckle the horse saddle while he spoke. "I agree with you that we have spent a large amount of time here. Over twenty-four moons have passed yet we have not left. Maybe it is time we do." Sanghyuk's eyes twinkled with happiness, nearly breaking Hakyeon's heart as he continued. "But not to the kingdom you so desperately wish to return to."
The happiness escaped from within the younger's in a matter of second, but he was quick to change is expression to something unreadable. "Then to where do you plan to travel?"
"Somewhere farther south. We may cross the sea." Hakyeon sighed, "But not until we have enough gold."
"Gold?" Sanghyuk asked confused, "Why would we need gold?"
"We will not leave in the same manner we left Angelos, brother. We will save as much gold as possible to ensure that wherever we may go we are able to redo what we have left here. We will sell our home and shop when we leave and build new ones wherever we may go."
"The shop is making enough to stay afloat but I do not believe it is making enough to actually allow us to save any mun, let alone turn it to gold. This journey might not be until--"
"When the flowers once again bloom many moons from now." Hakyeon finally turned to his brother after making sure Eunmi was comfortable and ready for the night, He moved to Changmin, shooing his brother farther away. "But it will happen. If the need arises, Meiri mentioned that the palace was looking for servants. I am sure I can fix something."
"And work under the roof of Royalty?" Sanghyuk spat, face scrunching up as if be had eaten something bitter. "Have you gone mad?"
"As mad as you have for suggesting to return to Angelos," Hakyeon muttered, running the brush through Changmin's mane. Sanghyuk gasped, a hurt look passing over his face. Hakyeon felt guilt and looked away, he lowered his voice to a whisper barely loud enough for Sanghyuk to hear. "It was only a suggestion. Nothing is set in stone. And if it comes down to that we might be safer in the palace than what we are out here."
The sun was met with the young King of Angelos upon awakening, its bright rays hitting the pale skin of the human the Gods favored. The fire king looked around his chambers, feeling slightly out of place within the space. He should be at the palace entrance, saying farewell to his soldiers and wishing them a safe and fast journey. He should be reminding them of what he desires, threatening them with death if they were unable to do as he asked.
Yet here he was, within his room and away from any prying eyes. He stood up from where he was sitting, pitch black wings bursting through his back as he walked to the altar near the door that leads to the King's garden. He looked at the deteriorating feather with barely controlled range, eyes tinted red. Throwing his head back he closed his eyes, feeling the cool air that slithered through the cracks within the doors and tried to make their way to him.
He chanted a name, voice thick with the power that one simple word held. The air around him stilled, the temperature rising and hitting his skin with the force of a just opened pot of boiling soup. Loud snarling was heard from behind him followed by a second one then a third. The young king was not startled, turning towards the sound slowly.
He opened his eyes, feeling the heat that the large beast he summoned gave off, "My dear guard dog," he stated, voice a low whisper. He grabbed the feather, ashes falling unto the wooden floor, as he brought it towards the still snarling beast.
The beast quieted down, smelling the scent that the feather still radiated despite its condition. Once he was satisfied with himself he looked upon his caller and master, waiting for the command the young King would give.
"I, the Fire King of Angelos," The young man began, "And future King of the underworld order you to find the owner of this feather and bring them to me. Dead or alive, I do not care."
Jangot*- a type of clothing used by women, typically of high title, to cover their faces. Similar to the outer jacket of a Hanbok with a collar and ribbon.
gwan*- A unit of measurement pertaining to weight used in the Joseon times. Translated to current weight measurements a gwan is around 3.75 kilograms or 8.3 pounds.
geun*- a unit of measurement pertaining to weight used in the Joseon times. Translated to current weight measurements a geun is the common Korean pound. A geun of meat is roughly 600 grams/
mun*- Monetary currency in the early years of the Joseon era.
hour of the snake*- 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
hour of the horse*-11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
hour of the goat*-1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
hour of the rooster*-5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Chapter 7: Chapter 6; Running Away
Hakyeon, it seems, attracts more than he can bargain.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
By the time the second moon within the cycle came upon them, all Joseon was already knee-deep in snow. Hakyeon had reached the time of the year where it was nearly impossible to hunt anything, half of the animals hibernating and the other half's coat too camouflaged for even Sanghyuk's trained eyes to see.
It was at this time when the temperatures were far too low for any being's liking that everything the Cha siblings had made for themselves began to crumble.
Sanghyuk brought his thick cloak closer around him, attempting to chase away the cold that was trying to crawl into his very core, "Do not take my words in the wrong manner hyung," he began as his teeth chattered against each other. "I love hunting as much if not more than you do. Any other day I would say with all honesty that I love it more than my own life. Yet today is not one of those days. If we stay out here any longer we will surely freeze."
Hakyeon snorted, eyes crunching up as he smiled. He was not immune to the cold, yet with the rays of sunshine hitting his face he was able to look right through it. The cold did not bother him as much as it bothered his brother. He held Eunmi's reins loosely, letting her walk through the snow at her own pace while he looked around, "You will not die from the cold. We have been through much worst days than these. Winters at Angelos were always difficult and you managed to survive thirteen."
"Even though your words ring true, I hold no joy within my soul as I stand out here." Sanghyuk hissed running his frozen fingers through Changmin's mane, bringing warmth to both of them. "To make matters worse, I am a blind brother. What will you do if we meet anyone here? I will be of no help to you despite your claims saying otherwise."
"We have Byeongsu to act as your eyes," Hakyeon commented said bird crowing as if it was agreeing as well. The young Raven flew from his master's shoulder and onto Sanghyuk's as if to prove a point. "And you have a great gift brother. A little snow will not stop you, will it?"
Sanghyuk held Changmin's reigns with one hand the other holding his spare spear. The weight of the weapon felt foreign in his large hand, the change caused by the lack of practice. His walking stick was strapped upon his back, hitting Byeongsu's tail feathers and Changmin's side, useless in these circumstances.
Sanghyuk brought his face closer to the small bird, nuzzling him for a second before looking at the front again, a minor smirk of triumph on his lips, "Thought you were not going to name the young thing."
Hakyeon simply ignored him, eyes scanning the snow-covered forest for any doe or boar. If they didn't hunt anything the shop wouldn't make any profit.
Maybe it was time to contact Meiri and ask her about the palace servants and if they were still needed. Even if Sanghyuk was against the course of action it would be best than being unable to make money. They had to get out of Joseon as fast as possible and waiting until the snow melted to make even one mun was not the best plan.
Hakyeon's concentration was broken by a deep snarling. He brought his bow up, ears trained as he aimed to his right. There was nothing, however, and the realization only made his heart beat faster, adrenaline rushing through his veins. He was sure he hadn't imagined that.
Byeongsu crowed, wings opening as he jumped off Sanghyuk's shoulders. He flew in circles above them, crowing desperately.
"What in all the heavens was that?!" Sanghyuk asked, attempting to keep Changmin at bay even though the horse was hell-bent on leaving the woods. "Changmin, please stay down or you will throw me over!"
Changmin did not listen, standing on its hind legs and neighing in frustration. Hakyeon was having difficulties with his mare as well, the horse acting, in the same manner, she often did if she saw a tiger or wolf. Instead of keeping her calm, he climbed down, eyes scanning the woods for the animal they had heard. His eyes caught sight of an animal's head and then another and another still. And as the beasts took cautious steps his breath got stuck in his throat. Without a word he moved to Changmin's side and hit his behind, causing the horse to run.
Startled, Sanghyuk tightened his grip on the reins, pulling them in an attempt to turn him back but the horse would not listen. Hakyeon always had better reign over the horses, they listened to him more than they did Sanghyuk. He looked over his shoulder, seeing his brother and horse was still in the same place, "Hyung? Hyung?!"
Hakyeon moved back to Eunmi's side and grabbed her reigns, using all his strength to bring the horse's eyes towards his honey-colored ones. The horse fought, her nature warning her to leave. Hakyeon ran his fingers through the mare's mane in an attempt to keep her calm for as long as possible, "My dear friend," he began, his voice catching all of her attention. "Find Changmin and lead him home. Go, Now!" With those last words, he moved her head away and moved, smacking her behind with as much force as he could muster. Eunmi, startled out of her sudden trance and bolted away, running through the white forest.
His eyes darted up, looking at the Raven that continued to fly over him, crowing but making no move to leave, "Byeongsu, leave me. Return home with your master's brother." He didn't know if he would listen to him. It hadn't been long since Hakyeon found him but he was surprised when the crow circled once, twice before heading in the same direction Sanghyuk had gone.
When the hooves were barely heard he turned to where he had seen the beasts, prepared to fight them. Three pairs of eyes stared at him, crimson red and void of emotion. They hadn't moved from the place they had been the first time he caught sight of them, yet their stance was different. They were crouching down, ready to pounce.
They were hunting.
"Me." Hakyeon muttered, "look at me. Chase me."
The beasts snarled, taking a cautious step towards him in eerie synchronization, snow melting beneath their feet as they moved, Hakyeon took that as the sign to run. And thus he did, running towards his left, away from both his brother and village and deeper into the woods. He looked over his shoulder, seeing black fur so out of place in the pure white chasing him. He was slower than them, his thick cloak weighing him down and if he continued at this pace he would surely be mauled to death.
He fumbled with the sun-shaped clip that held his fur cloak on his shoulders, cold fingers shaking as he tried to free himself from the heavy garment.
Hakyeon felt a pull on the garment. It was strong, stopping him mid-step as he was pulled back, losing his center of gravity and nearly falling. One of the beasts had grabbed his cloak and the others were close behind. With freezing fingers he finally managed to pull the cloak off, the cold wind hitting his skin with such force that his heart skipped a beat. He jumped up, allowing his wings to rip through his flesh after so many moons and pull him up.
It was painful. Perhaps not as painful as when he was gifted with them, but never-the-less a pain that he hadn't expected and knocked the wind out of him.
He screamed, however, as the other two beasts finally caught up and clawed his left-wing. He staggered mid-air, losing his balance and almost falling back to where the three beasts were yet was able to sustain himself at the last second. He spread his wings, beating once, twice, and gaining a larger space between him and them. He looked down at the beast who stared up at him as they snarled, barked, and jumped up. The snow around them had disappeared, green grass appearing and burning soon after.
Hakyeon panted, continuing to beat his wings every so often to ensure he would stay in the air. It was painful, one of them stung with every movement he made. But if he stopped he would drop and probably be devoured by them.
His hand went behind him, in the small junction between his wings, to grab his bow but wrapped around nothing, "No," he muttered, eyes wide as he extended his hand even more before his eyes caught his quiver and bow on the ground, half the arrows broken and the bow in no better shape. "This cannot be happening."
He couldn't just leave and let the beast go. As much as it pained him they had his scent and that was a risk he could not have. He was not going to risk being caught off guard by them and getting hurt or having Sanghyuk get hurt. Hakyeon looked around the woods trying to find anything he could use as a weapon that he could make a fly for.
His left-wing burned with how difficult it was to keep himself above ground and by the wide stains that appeared on the snow every time he flapped his wings it was bleeding. Could this day get any worse? He bit his tongue the instant he thought the words. The Gods would surely have no mercy on a mere mortal if he challenged them with his thoughts.
His thoughts were proven right when the sound of multiple horse hooves against the snow was heard. Hakyeon looked towards where it came, body going stiff upon seeing the large group of foot soldiers and horsemen. They were far off, but if he could see them they could surely see him as well. He looked down at the beast who themselves were looking at the group of men. They looked at one another before looking back up at Hakyeon. With one last snarl, they ran in the opposite direction, getting lost within the curtain of trees soon after.
Hakyeon fell, wings giving up under the strain of his weight. He gasped in pain when his back made contact with the burnt ground, what was left of his quiver of arrows and bow hitting the back of his head with a snap. Surely something was broken. With small puffs of breath, he got himself into a sitting position and le looked around him in an attempt to get his bearings once more,
With difficulty, he tried to retract his large wings but the lack of calling upon them, let alone flying, made the task impossible. It hurt so much to even attempt to retract them. He fumbled with the remains of his torn cloak, putting it over his shaking body in an attempt to hide his wings.
The cloak was large, made for someone twice, maybe three times larger than Hakyeon. It had been made like that on purpose by his mother, to ensure if the need came her children would be able to hide their feathered appendages well. He couldn't help but thank his mother at that moment as, despite being torn, it still served its purpose well.
With shaking fingers he picked up his quiver and bow. He calmed himself down, it would do no good to look like a nervous mess at the moment.
After what felt like an eternity he was finally able to get up, his wings getting entirely covered by the cloak which, much like them, dragged against the ground. It looked off, his shoulders seeming to be broader and his head far too small. There were tears on the fabric, caused by the beast's claws and teeth and Hakyeon hoped his wings would not be easily seen through the tears as he pressed them as hard as he could muster against his back. He took a deep breath and with stiff shoulders walked in the same direction the party was coming from.
His body shook from exhaustion and cold sweat was forming close to his hairline, hands shaking as they brought the cloak close to his body, hiding as best as he could. If he didn't know better he would say he had been poisoned or perhaps bitten by something venenous. He remembered the feeling, there had been many snakes in the fallen woods after all.
He quickened his pace, bowed to the man that was leading the group, and continued on his way. He was neither in the mood or in the shape to deal with anything. He continued on and towards the village, unaware that one soldier, in particular, followed his retreating form.
"What is it, sir?" The soldier beside him whispered, following his line of sight.
"Nothing," The soldier answered eyes coming back up, keeping his horse in route and eyes away from the retreating figure. "Nothing to worry about."
Sanghyuk paced around, unsure of what to do. Sanghyuk was not brainless, he was the total opposite of that. He heard the growls. He didn't see what had made such deep sound, but it hadn't been a rabbit, he knew that for sure. And his brother had left him, not a word of explanation for his course of action. Had he gotten hurt? Had he made sure Sanghyuk had gotten away to ensure he would not get hurt? Sanghyuk huffed under his breath, he was not a child who needed protection! He was sixteen!
He had lived through sixteen difficult winters.
Had fallen in love.
He was no child!
He turned, staring at the raven perched on top of the stand Hakyeon had made three days after taking the young thing in, "Byeongsu," Sanghyuk spoke, voice laced with worry. He moves to the door, opening and signaling outside, "Find me your master."
Byeongsu crowed, jumping off where he was perched, circling the room once before exiting. Sanghyuk grabbed his walking stick and walked to where Changmin and Eunmi were. He mounted his horse, grabbing the reigns and looking around for a second, ensuring he was alone and leaned down, "Follow Byeongsu, my friend."
With those words, the horse neighed and raced after the Raven. Sanghyuk could only wish for his brother's safety.
As he passed through the nearly deserted streets of the Joseon capital, his heart kept beating within his chest, attempting to rip itself out of his body and run away. What if Hakyeon was hurt...what if he was dead? No. That would not happen. Hakyeon could not die and leave Sanghyuk all alone.
He was startled out of his thoughts as Changmin came to an abrupt stop, almost sending him forward due to the force. Sanghyuk looked around, not caring if the little number of villagers saw him and began to question if he was really blind. He looked up into the dark sky and breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing Byeongsu. The raven was flying in circles, crowing to make itself known. He circled once, twice before swiping down as if getting ready to grab its prey.
Sanghyuk held his breath as he watched it all unfold and found himself near tears as he saw who the 'prey' had been. Byeongsu was perched on a cloaked individual, a man, who was floundering closer. Sanghyuk jumped off of Changmin, walking stick forgotten on the ground and ran towards the cloaked man, forgetting about everything as he took in his brother's frail body. He was stumbling, feet getting caught in his cloak but continuing toward his brother all the same. Sanghyuk grabbed ahold of his brother's shoulders, near tears as Hakyeon's hood fell, placing his pale face in full view. "Hyung, what is wrong? Why did you send me away?!"
"Wings," Hakyeon whispered, breaths coming out in icy huffs, "venom." He fell against his brother's strong chest, still as a log. Byeongsu crowed, jumping off its master and crowing in a manner Sanghyuk could only describe as frantic. The Raven circled around them, going higher and higher as the seconds passed.
"venom?" Sanghyuk repeated, face scrunched up due to confusion. He looked around, at the people who had left the comfort of their homes to see what was going on. He looked around for a second before wrapping his arms around his brother's smaller body. "Wings," He muttered, understanding as his hands felt the wings bellow his brother's torn cloak. How was he going to get him back home without exposing his wings more than they already were?
"Changmin!" Sanghyuk yelled. Upon hearing his master's voice Changmin moved towards him. Sanghyuk felt for his horse's reins, faking his blindness in front of the many who had come out of their homes to see what the commotion was about. When he finally felt them he pulled the reigns closer and continued to tap until he was able to feel the horse's saddle. With a huff Sanghyuk was able to place Hakyeon onto the horse, his feet hanging from the side and the tip of his wings showing. Sanghyuk unclipped his own, much larger cloak from around his shoulders and placed it over his brother's form, effectively hiding his wings from wandering eyes. He shivered against the cold wind hitting his hunting shirt, but did his best to ignore it.
Grabbing Changmin's reigns, he allowed the horse to lead them home, his foot hitting his walking stick seconds into the journey and he leaned down. Tapping against the floor until his hand found it. Once it was securely in his hands he moved, continuing on his way. His mind raced, trying to figure out what his brother had meant when he muttered the word venom. He was so lost in thought that he didn't even notice the crowing of the Raven had served as Byeongsu was gone.
Wonsik pulled his horse's reins, keeping him in place as the three large wolves ran to them, eyes red and paws hitting the snow-covered road with force. The four other horses behind him were making a fuss, hooves hitting the road and foot soldiers attempting to control them. The horses were able to tell that these wolves held something dark within them and their instincts told them to run away. They questioned why the humans did not fee the same way,
Wonsik dismounted, moving to the front of the searching party and waited until the wolves were in front of him. He had only seen them once before, on the day of his brother's coming of age. Yet despite his last encounter with them had been many moons ago he still feared them as much if not more than what he did when he had only been only five years of age.
All three walked with authority and in disturbing synchronization, almost as if they were not three entities but one alone. One paw in front of another, tail wagging ever so slowly from the right to the left and then right again, chest rising and falling within the same moment and eyes scanning their surroundings with a fierceness that made many men cower. The air around them felt similar to the hot air that came from the peak of the sun months; suffocating and clammy. The snow melted around them, leaving behind burnt grass and blackened dirt.
One of them held something gold in its mouth, treating it almost as if it was a delicate object, jaw not closing fully but remaining slack in hopes of not harming it. When the large beast was close enough it presented the objects to Wonsik, placing it by his feet and bowing his head as if it knew the man's rank. Wonsik stared at the beast for a few seconds before he leaned down, eyes not leaving the beast own until the last second. He inspected the three golden feathers, grabbing one between his fingers and bringing it up to his face. Twirling it around, he watched as the light of the sun reflected upon it.
"Where did you find this?" Wonsik asked the wolves as he held the feather towards them an explanation. The feather may be duller in color than the one his king had kept hidden yet no one would be able to deny that it came from the same being.
The wolves tilted their head, one of them turning in the direction that they had come from before looking back at him in expectation. Wonsik, let the feather he held fall onto the others and mounted his horse again. The wolf who had presented him the gold feathers sniffed them, bumping his nozzle against them lightly before he picked them up delicately and walked away from the search party, towards the direction of Angelos while the other two were still, waiting to hear from Wonsik.
Wonsik stared at the wolf's back for a few seconds, watching as it disappeared into thin air before turning towards the other two and speaking, "Lead the way."
The Streets of Angelos were bare, many choosing to stay within their homes as the last Winter storm hit them full force. There were some, though very few in number, who still chose to go out.
Important store owners chose to keep their stores open in case people needed any last-minute food or lantern oil. Mothers would peak out, wrapped in thick cotton hanboks, some wearing two or three, to gather snow. Those who owned animals made their trek to their stables to check that they were still holding up against the strong breeze and heavy snow.
The Lee family's shop was one of the few places still open, the oldest Lee offspring leaning against the counter, bored out of his mind. Only one person had come to the shop today, Mr. Park who had needed grain for his horses and dried meat for his son and husband. Apart from him the store only had Hongbin as its companion and if no one came in by the time the rooster, if not frozen by the bitter cold, Hongbin would close down the shop for the day and go to the spare room at the top floor where a small furnace was placed to sleep the rest of the day away.
Hongbin wasn't too happy about having to spend the worst part of the storm in the shop, helping anyone who entered take their bought goods home before running back and trying to shake the bitter cold the storm had brought with it. He hated the cold and being here but he knew why he had to do it. His father was already old and wasn't able to face the storm head-on as he used to and there were people who needed help.
And Angelos, being the land of the gods, would never turn their backs to them. Hongbin had been taught to always try to be the best he could because if he showed kindness the same would be shown back to him.
Yet Hongbin was carrying a bitter heart filled with pain that caused him to question why he should show kindness to others. He knew that his neighbors were not to blame for the bitterness he carried yet he found himself blaming anyone who stood before him.
Angelos had changed. Nearly all its happiness disappearing in the blink of an eye.
Hongbin remembered the day it had disappeared like the calloused palm of his hand. It had been on the last day of the bitter moon, when the shops had all opened and the people risked the bitter cold that nipped at their noses, turning their cheeks as red as the blush of a just married maiden on her wedding night. They had all prepared their gifts, spoke to each other over the days leading to this location with joyous exhilaration. Everyone was excited to finally get a glimpse of the Chas after six moons.
Hongbin had been one of those who was excited beyond belief yet still terrified. Ever since the Cha boy's visit on the last day of the Hungry Ghost moon, the youngest Cha hadn't come to visit him at night. Hongbin had been furious at first, not believing Sanghyuk would so suddenly turn his back to him. But as the days passed Hongbin had grown worried and after two moons with no signs of the younger male, Hongbin was seconds away from jumping on his family's horse and going on a journey to find the Cha family. But he did not know how to ride and would most likely break his neck from falling or get lost before even coming close to the right direction and as a result, chose to wait.
Yet the Cha family were not in Angelos as the sun Chariot rose and were nowhere to be seen as Apollo rode through the skies. All of Angelos was baffled, worried, and unsure as to why the Cha siblings were not there. Some people thought that maybe they had changed the day they would be there and so they waited. And waited. And then continued to wait until the days became too cold and they had no other choice but to hide within their homes.
And when the flowers bloomed, the day of the Cha's visit fell upon the great kingdom once again. But the villagers were greeted by disappointment as bitter as the one they felt during the dark months. The people mourned as if they had lost their king or a loved one. Hongbin mourned with them and continued to mourn even as the moons passed. But then his sadness turned to bitterness as the flowers withered and their kingdom was covered in white.
The bell on his shop's door brought Hongbin out of his thought and he turned to the shop's entrance, greeting on his tongue. He smiled, seeing Blacksmith Min and his son, wrapped in a large fur cloak he had yet to grow into, dragging behind him. "Blacksmith Min and little Yoongi," Hongbin began with a large smile as Yoongi scowled due to being called little. He was ten and not a child. "What can I do for you two?"
"We need food," Blacksmith Min answered, shaking off the snow from his body as Yoongi took off his cloak and shook it as well, following his father's example. Hongbin made a face at all the snow on the ground and the hassle it would be to clean it. "Dried goods, rice, and grains."
"I'll see what I have and I'll be right out," Hongbin told them, going into the back of the shop to see if they had the things in stock. He came back with three sacks, smiling widely, "You're in luck, this was our last sack of dried fruit and meats. It should last you a moon if rationed appropriately."
"Thank you boy," Blacksmith Min smiled back, turning towards Yoongi to make sure he was not misbehaving. The child was by the window, looking into the white empty streets, "How much will it be?"
"One gold and seven silver," Hongbin answered, glancing at Yoongi while the older male looked for the coins. "Florist Park came in when the chariot had just risen," he stated, trying to catch Yoongi's attention. The whole town knew the little Min was smitten by the young Park child. "Said his boy was growing as beautiful as a flower. What do you think about-"
"Dog," Yoongi interrupted, eyes never leaving the approaching silhouette of the said animal.
"What was that?" his father asked, handing the coins to Hongbin and grabbing the sacks.
"There is a dog outside father. Shouldn't we take it home?" Yoongi asked, turning to look at his father for a second before grabbing his cloak from the floor and running to the door, the piercing wind running in once opened. "It must be so cold, father."
"Yoongi!" Blacksmith Min cried out, letting the sacks fall and going after his boy. He was the last he had, he couldn't lose him to a wild dog. He picked up his pace, grabbing the boy's arm and pulled him towards him. He stopped, staring into the piercing red eyes of the large wolf his son had mistaken as a dog as it passed them.
Hongbin was out the door in seconds, holding a spear he had in the shop and preparing to shoot it if the need arose. He lacked experience, but Sanghyuk had taught him enough to be a threat. The wolf stopped on its tracks, large head-turning in Hongbin's direction, and Hongbin stilled, unsure if the wolf was looking at him or something else. He held his breath, the air feeling hot and his hold on the spear tightened. He brought it up slightly and the wolf let out a warning growl that continued until Hongbin let go of the spear, the weapon disappearing into the snow.
The wolf stared at him for a few seconds more, huffed, and continued on his way.
Hongbin grabbed the spear when the wolf was far enough, moving towards the Min, "I'll take you both home Blacksmith Min. I'll get the sacks, wait for a few moments and we'll be on our way."
The blacksmith nodded, not letting go of his son for one second, instead of bringing him closer and getting up, bringing the child with him. Yoongi wrapped his legs around his father's waist and hid his head in his father's shoulder, "Was that a dog father?'
Blacksmith Min chuckled yet it held no humor, rougher than anything, "No, Yoongi-ah. That wasn't a dog. That was a wolf," Blacksmith Min looked at his son's face as he continued, "They are dangerous creatures. Do not go near them."
The boy nodded, understanding his father's words. Hongbin came out with a cloak around his shoulders and spear strapped to his back, "We should go, I must return before the sunsets. What will we do about the wolf?" Hongbin asked as they made their way to the Min's home, "We can't let it roam around the streets, someone is bound to get hurt."
"Let it be," Blacksmith Min answered, "The people will not leave their home until the storm is gone and the snow has begun to melt." Hongbin looked disbelieving, "It was going in the direction of the palace and I believe if it gets too close it will be shot down by the guards. I have faith in our king. We will be safe, do not worry."
Hongbin bit his lip but nodded once, their King would keep them safe. He always did.
Sanghyuk was afraid, no, he was terrified. Hakyeon was sweating excessively, body spasming as he lay face down on his bedding, wings exposed to a panicking younger brother. He had claw marks on his left-wing, blood slowly oozing from the wound and feathers losing their color as every second passed.
What should he do? He knew nothing of healing compared to his brother. He had always found hunting far more interesting and while his brother liked the passing time too it was nothing compared to his love for healing and the arts.
Sanghyuk only knew the basics, clean the wound, crush some Yarrow, and some other herbs his brother kept in jars and then bandage the wound. But Sanghyuk didn't know anything about venom and by the way, his bother's wing was turning black it seemed as if he had been bitten by a venomous animal. But by what? The wound was made by claws from a dog, maybe a wolf but there was no wound from a possible snake bite. He didn't know how to fix this.
Sanghyuk stood up from where he was, pacing around the room like a mad man. Was it a good idea to contact a healer? But if he did they would be exposed and would have no other choice than to kill the healer and run away. And even that didn't guarantee his brother's survival.
He could pray to the gods, ask them for help, but he doubted the gods would hear him. They were two mortals and the Gods didn't seem to care for them if he read the many trials they had gone through right.
Yet he couldn't let his brother die! He was everything he had! Sanghyuk cursed, feeling lost and useless.
There was a sound of pecking from the door of their home and Sanghyuk called his walking stick, the object flying to him. With soundless steps, he moved to the door, ears trained to the sounds around him. The pecking continued as he moved to the door and Sanghyuk threw it open, the walking stick being held defensively but was met with nothing.
Confused, he looked around but upon seeing nothing he closed the door once more and locked it, turning to his brother once again. He jumped when he saw Byeongsu besides his bother, hand coming up to his chest as his heartbeat within his rib cage, "My Gods Byeongsu," Sanghyuk growled, putting the spear down and leaning toward the Raven. "You nearly killed me from fright. Was that you at the door?" He asked the bird even if he knew the Raven could not answer him. "Where did you go?!"
The Raven crowd, tapping a vial beside him which Sanghyuk was sure hadn't been there before. The Raven tapped it, then turned to his master and picked at the wound on his wing.
Sanghyun moved toward it, grabbing him and pulling him away from Hakyeon's wing, "Hey!" He growled out, looking at the Raven with very judging eyes as he scolded him, in the same manner, one would a child. "He is your master! He saved you from the bitter cold of winter and this is how you repay him?"
The bird bit him, beak bitting into his index finger. Sanghyuk cursed, letting the Raven fall onto the floor and inspecting the bleeding finger, "Byeongsu! How could you just bite me?"
Byeongsu paid him no mind, choosing to walk back to his master's side once more. He poked at the vail once again with his beak, seeming more aggressive this time. When Sanghyuk still didn't seem to understand Byeongsu grabbed the vial very carefully and moved to his master, jumping onto his injured wing and dropping it on the wound before turning to Sanghyuk expectantly. He crowed in a manner that almost seemed frustrated and Sanghyuk's brain tried to process what he was seeing.
"You want me," Sanghyuk began, pointing to himself, "to put whatever that is on my brother's wound?" The Raven crowed before poking at the wound with its beak again. Sanghyuk turned away from the bird, looking around the small room a few times. "I cannot believe I am taking orders from a bird," he grumbled to himself.
Sanghyuk grabbed onto the vial, eyes inspecting the beautiful glass and violet liquid with questioning eyes and then glancing at Byeongsu for a second, "If this does not go as I hope Byeongsu," Sanghyuk growled as he uncorked the vial with shaking hands. A repugnant smell filled Sanghyuks senses and he glared at the quiet Raven. "I will pluck you clean and have you for dinner."
Sanghyuk carefully tilted the vial watching intently as a drop of the violet liquid desperately grasped to the rim but with a small tilt, it fell on his brother's wound.
He regretted the action the instant the sound he could only describe as meat burning over a fire reached his ears. He moved to grab the cork, and get rid of the darn thing. He couldn't believe he had taken orders from a bird when it was clear that it was impossible it knew what it was doing.
He gasped when Byeongsu slammed against his hand. The Raven wasn't heavy, but the sudden push against his hand had caused the rest of the thick liquid to fall on Hakyeon's wound. The hissing was loud in his ears as he stared at the empty vial and then at Byeongsu. "You damned bird!" Sanghyuk yelled at Byeongsu who didn't even pay attention to him, choosing to instead stare intently at the unconscious Hakyeon.
Sanghyuk moved to grab him but was startled by Hakyeon screams of pain, vial falling from his fingers. He turned to his brother and was rendered speechless as a thick black liquid oozed out of the wound just like the blood had only moments before. And as the tar-like liquid made its way out of his body the golden color returned once again to his feathers.
Byeongsu flew to the forgotten vial and tried to pick it up but Sanghyuk was faster, grabbing the vial and putting as much of the strange liquid into it. It smelled worst than the violet liquid had and Sanghyuk gagged.
It smelled close to the smell of burning flesh and rotten meat yet those smells could be considered the fragrance of freshly plucked wild blooms compared to what he held in his hand. He made a face as he closed it with the cork, and then hid it deep within the dresser where the kept their bedding, besides Hakyeons golden arrows and bow to be dealt with later.
And when it was all over he slowly sat down beside a pile of broken arrows and inspected each one with critical eyes. Those that could be saved he put aside and those that could not be fixed were stripped of their tip and thrown towards the door.
Hakyeon had a large amount of explaining to do, but for now, Sanghyuk would let him rest and hope for the best.
The fire king sat in his throne, expression blank as the many ministers in front of him fought, pointing fingers at each other and blaming one another of all the bad in their kingdom.
To be honest he was bored, the ongoing yelling bringing a painful prick to his head that did not seem to have any plans of disappearing any time soon, a product of trying to look through the red veil between him and his subjects and the lack of sleep. He could not continue with this. Any longer and his head would surely explode. He had better things to do then just sit around and listen to old men yell and throw tantrums as if they were only five full cycles old.
"Silence," he stated, voice going unheard over the yells between parties."Silence, Silence. Silence!" He said the word like a mantra, voice raising each time it left his lips until his voice rang over the throne room.
The room was quiet. Ministers afraid to so much as move and cause the young king to throw his rage at them.
He stood up from his throne, the room growing hot, humid to the point the ministers began to sweat in only a few seconds. "Quiet," he whispered, his voice seeming to still echo due to the stillness within. He touched the veil with a pale finger, watching as it burned the instant his finger so much as graced the thin material. Within less than a minute it was gone and the ministers fell to their knees, bowing as low as they could.
The young king took his time stepping down his thrown, each step burning marks on the wooden material of the stairs. "All of your yelling," he looked at every bowed figure before him, disgust in his gut. "All of your childish arguments, will not bring my fallen soldiers back to me. Now, will it?" He reached the end of the walkway, turned back and continued on his pacing. "You send five hundred of my men away without so much as a word to me and what returned was nothing but graves and sorrow."
"Your majesty," one of the crouching figures wailed, voice wavering. The king was surprised by the man's courage. This old fool had enough guts within him to speak up, yet he was still weak and sane enough to not even try to look at him. "Forgive our foolishness, oh mighty King of Fire! We all deserve death for our mistakes. We were in the wrong!"
The young King's jaw clenched, eyes turning as black as coal. This man was trying too hard to win his favor. "You were in the wrong." He muttered, his pacing bringing him in front of the man. "You. Were. In. The. Wrong." He punctuated each word, eyes running over the room before they fell once again on the man in front of him. He crouched down, eyes boring into the male until the minister was brave enough to lift his head and look at the King. "Would you like to change places with them, Minister Kim?" The man's eyes widened before he tucked his head down again, forehead touching the cool wood.
"Forgive my foolish words, my king!" The man begged, fear clear in his wavering voice. His shoulder shook as he spoke, and that only seemed to anger the young king more. "I do not know what I am saying!"
The young King stood up, hands stretching out around him, "Would any of you want to change places with my fallen soldiers?" He bellowed, eyes scanning the room.
Silence greeted him and the rage the King felt seemed to double.
"You ask for death yet you still fear it!" The King yelled, voice echoing within the room. "You send men to a battlefield where they are not to return. Telling all that they can not fear death for they shall perish for their country's sake. Yet now when the opportunity is given to you, you do not wish to follow in their steps and take their place. 'It is an honorable death!' you cry to them. 'Die for your country as a warrior and you shall be received with open arms by Hades himself in the gates of the underworld!' you promise."
The ministers cowered, shaking and wishing to be swallowed by the ground. Anything would be better than facing the King's wrath.
"Well let me promise all of you this," the king whispered, steps leaving burning prints behind him as he walked to the doors of his throne room. He turned on his heel, staring at the men before him with disgust that burned deep in his throat. "You will not be received with open arms."
The doors behind him opened and the young King stepped out as palace guards ran into the room, swords raised and eyes dark.
It rained blood with every step the young King took.
Hakyeon's eyes opened very slowly, vision blurry. His whole body ached as if he had been in battle; sleeping on the cold floor and facing ruthless warriors during every waking moment.
He scanned his surroundings after allowing his eyes to settle. He groaned, noticing that he was home, on the floor with his head resting on his crossed arms. The flickering light told him it was late, most likely night and the shadow looming over him told him he was not alone.
"Hyuk," Hakyeon spoke into the room, throat parched and muscles aching in protest as he attempted to get up.
The shadow moved, seeming to startle awake and soon began to grow. "Hyung?" Sanghyuk asked as his hand fell onto his elbow. He sounded happy, relieved yet angry as well. "Oh, thank the gods you're alive. I was worried."
Hakyeon attempted to get up again, feeling as his wings slid on the cold wood that made the floor. Sanghyuk's hands steadied him as he managed to sit. " How did I get here? What happened?"
"What happened?" Sanghyuk asked with a cold stare. "Shouldn't I be asking that? What were you thinking, sending me away like that!? Hyung, you could've died!"
"I'm sorry," he groaned as Sanghyuk propped him against the wall. It brought great pain to his wing, but the pain helped him stay awake. "Understand me."
"Understand you?" Sankhyuk stood up and glared at his brother, 'Hyung, all I've been trying to do these past years is try to understand you but all you do is push me away!"
"Oh, Hyuk-ah," Hakyeon groaned, this was getting too painful. "I just want to protect you."
Sanghyuk growled, angry at both his brother and himself. He sat down, bringing his knees close to his chest and willing himself not to cry. "We only have one another hyung. Please do not push me away from you. I can help you. I want to help you."
Hakyeon stared, eyes filling with tears from both the pain and the frustration. "I apologize Sanghyuk. It is not my intention to make you feel this way. But you're my baby brother and I do not wish to lose you as well."
"Let me help you, please!"
"Perhaps I should agree to the offer Meiri told us of."
"Hyung," Sanghyuk growled in disgust, "Work for the King?!"
Hakyeon laughed, but groaned in pain right after, "See it from a different light. Working at the palace would be safer than being out in the open. Not many can go in and the pay is better than what we are earning day by day. I can get what I would be getting in a year's worth of money in half the time. We need to leave as soon as we can you know that better than I do."
Sanghyuk groaned, unwilling to believe what was coming out of his brother's mouth, "But Hyung."
"Sanghyuk," Hakyeon gasped, "Please understand. The chances of seeing the king are low. I will be a guard or a servant. It will only be for a year, less perhaps. We can sell the shop and the house, live in the servant quarters."
"Please Sanghyuk," Hakyeon begged. His vision was beginning to fog, but he needed to make preparations, and the sooner the better. "Please."
Sanghyuk sighed, pulling at his hair. "We'll talk later. When you are more conscious."
Hakyeon tried to get in a better position, groaning right after, "In the meantime, I need you to help me. I- I can't retract my wings. I've been trying but I can't. Why can't I?"
Sanghyuk called upon his own wings, hissing as they ripped through his skin and clothes. Calling on them after such a long time was painful beyond words. They hit the wall to his left as he expanded them. He was unable to open it fully, only a quarter while the other hit the door at his right.
"Are you showing off?" Hakyeon muttered.
Sanghyuk snorted, "We both know who has the bigger wingspan between the two of us hyung. There is no need to feel hurt about it." He moved to the center of the small room, his wings expanding halfway as they adjusted to the tight space. He helped Hakyeon to sit up and face him in the center of the room, taking notice of the way his brother could barely stay upright.
Grasping the older male's hands in his own he shrugged his shoulders, again and again, his wings fluttering as he did so, "Do as I do."
Hakyeon groaned and turned away, "This is a waste of time."
"Just do it hyung and tell me exactly what happened while we're at it."
Hakyeon stared at Sangkyungs wings, the way they fluttered and moved in slow yet fluid motions, and copied him.
They used to do this when Sanghyuk had first gotten his wings. He had been unable to move them well in the beginning. His back muscles were too stiff and he was unable to get his wings to do as he asked. Hakyeon hadn't had anyone to teach him when he was younger but he had five years of experience and was determined to use them to help his brother as much as he could. They had spent every morning while they were in Angelos exercising and enlarging their flexibility. It was something that he had learned helped him become one with his wings and so he had taught Sanghyuk the same
He couldn't believe Sangkyuk stilled remembered despite them not having done the exercises since the day they ran away from Angelos.
Sanghyuk expanded his wings as much as he could and then pulled them against his back slowly, taking his brother's tired state into consideration. He noticed how Hakyeon's wings had become dull in color, matching his eyes. His right-wing followed the movements well, a second late but the movements were being performed. The left-wing was a different story. From the very beginning, the wing had been limp, and if it moved it only twitched.
"There were wolves. Three," Hakyeon began. He could feel his wings now. It was stiff but he was able to feel them now instead of the mind-numbing pain he was only feeling before, "They were...abnormal. The snow and ground melted under their paws. They smelled like blood and death. And they moved... as one."
Sanghyuk's wings stilled, falling limp against his side, "Like one?"
Hakyeon nodded. The movement was too much and before he could understand he was falling forwards unto Sanghyuk's open arms.
"Let's stop," Sanghyuk stated, moving Hakyeon to the bedding and putting him on his belly once more, "We'll talk when you wake up."
Hakyeon mumbled something under his breath before his eyes closed and darkness consumed his senses.
Sangkyuk pulled the thick cloak against himself and hit his walking staff against the ground, agitating the snow below his feet.
It was dark around him the bell across the street from him was ringing, letting the last of the people around him know that the hour of the pig* had just begun. It was the second to last hour before the night market closed and the last of the people retired until the sun rose.
Sanghyuk needed to get to the household Maeri was serving before the hour was up. He needed to head to the village doctor and get herbs from him, salves that might help his brother to get better sooner.
His staff hit against the ground once more, it was more muscle memory than anything else at this point. But he needed to keep up the act, needed to look the part even though it was irritating him to the point he felt he was going mad. It made him a signal of pity and a target for all the people who thought he was weak.
Like the three drunk men three feet behind him.
Sanghyuk sighed. He wasn't in the mood for this. Not after everything that had occurred during the day. Hakyeon was ill if the amount of sweat he was producing was anything to go by. And the Raven seemed to know much more than he let see if the vial he had brought in his beak was proof enough.
"Hyuk-ssi*?" a voice to his left spoke up.
Sanghyuk turned to the left, a blank look on his face. Meiri stood a few feet away, holding what looked to be a large bolt of deep red silk against her chest. She had a thick jangot over her shoulders, a new year's gift, and her cheeks and fingertips were tainted red as she held it closed with her free hand. He covered her mouth with her hand for a second before grabbing the fabric of her jangot once more.
"Forgive my manners," She spoke as she moved through the crowd and towards him. "It's me. Meiri."
"Ah," Sanghyuk smiled, "Meiri-ssi. What a pleasure to meet you out on this lovely night."
Meiri giggled, "Oh I would hardly call it lovely. With this cold and all."
"Any night that is graced with your presence is lovely."
Meiri's cheeks deepened in color, "Aren't your words as sweet as honey." She fixed her hair shyly as she spoke.
"What brings you out here so late?" Sanghyuk asked with a smirk. He always liked to tease the young maiden. She was old enough to get married, but she would not be allowed until her lady was married well. Sanghyuk liked to see how she reacted with the smallest of flattery.
"The other servants and I are making the dress for our Lady Yoonhe. She is to marry when the first flowers bloom and the dress must be made as soon as possible. What brings you out here at this time? You are not usually out this late."
Sanghyuk nodded, "I was actually on my way to your household. There were a few things I wanted to speak to you about."
"Oh," Meiri exclaimed in surprise and looked around her. "I am just going to pick up a few more materials and I will be on my way back. Would you like to join me?"
Sanghyuk nodded, extending his arm for Meiri to hold. Meiri blushed but wasted no time in pulling her hand through the sleeve or her jangot and then pulling the other after maneuvering the paddle of silk. She wrapped her hand around Sanghyuk's elbow and lead him to a stall only a few feet from where they had been talking.
Sanghyuk allowed Meiri to lead him around the slow crowd, a pleasant talk between them as they moved. Saghyuk didn't wish to ask her the main reason he had wanted to see her and Maeri had no intention to bring it up.
It was when they were walking back to the Kang household, only a few other people around them that Sanghyuk finally brought it up.
"The reason I wished to speak to you was in regard to what you told my brother about a few nights ago. About the palace looking for new hands."
Meiri took a second to think. She had not gone by the butcher shop for a few weeks, having been promoted as the female servant of Lady Yoonhe. "Ah, yes. I remember."
"I was wondering if there were still some positions open?"
Meiri was silent for a few seconds, "For you?"
Sanghyuk laughed, "No, for my brother. He would have come to ask you himself but some matters came up and he was unable to."
Meiri blushed once more, feeling foolish. "Yes, of course. They should be some servant spots still open. My friend, Daeun-ssi was telling me that there had been a sudden problem with the previous servants and many of them were dismissed." She said the last words in a whisper, looking around for a few seconds.
Sanghyuk didn't know if she meant dismissed as exiled or dismissed as executed. The frown on her face told him it would be best to not ask.
"They are having a large number of guests once the snow melts," Meiri continued. "They are in desperate need of filling up the open positions. if they wish to have everything prepared for then."
They reached the large doors of the Kang household. Meiri let go of Sanghyuk's hand while Sanghyuk offered her the few wrapped bundles of materials he had been carrying for her.
"I will speak with Daeun-ssi. Ask her that she put in a word or two to the eunuch* in charge of the servants. Come back or have your brother pass by tomorrow night. I should have news for you then."
"Thank you Meiri-ssi," Sanghyuk bowed lightly towards her, relieved to hear that there were still positions for him and his brother in the palace.
"No need to thank me," Meiri brushed him away, "Head home Hyuk-ssi. It is quite late and it would be dangerous for you to be out alone at this time."
Sanghyuk bowed once more, watching as Meiri went in and closed the door behind her. Once her footsteps were no longer heard Sanghyuk turned, walking back the way they had come.
He hated the thought of working in the palace, the hatred of royalty rooted deep in his heart. Yet he also saw where his brother was coming from when he had brought up the topic. They would be hidden in the palace, safe from the constant stares they would get by passing travelers. Fewer eyes would be on them and there would be a steady amount of mun coming in.
It was their best option. Sanghyuk knew they didn't have enough gold to leave Joseon yet. This was for the best.
Sanghyuk returned to the market area as the few time watchers began to yell the change in time, letting the few people and stalls still open that it was time to retire for the night.
Sanghyuk followed the current of people heading home for the night. Now that he had spoken with Meiri the most important matter was bringing his brother back to health.
Hour of the Pig: A measurement of time used in the old Joseon times. 21:00 to 23:00
-ssi: A formal way of addressing someone. Added to the end of one's name (ex. Sanghyuk-ssi). It could be described as the equivalent of Mr. or Ms./Mrs.
Eunuch: Servants or slaves who had been castrated to make them reliable servants of the royal court. They served all of the Royalty with any task such as bathing, putting on robes, etc. They were also messengers and advisors to the royal court.
I apologize for the wait.
Please comment, I would love to hear what all of you think about my work so far. Your comments also give me motivation.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7; Lightning
Wonsik is not the biggest fan of Angelos.
Hakyeon simply wants to stop running into people.
Sanghyuk returned to the Kang Household in the day Meiri had told him, hopeful for good news. There were a variety of positions for them to choose, from kitchen staff to the King's guards. They would have to go to the palace as soon as they could as the positions would be filled in six days. Sanghyuk had thanked her and returned home to tell his brother the good news.
They spoke of the possibilities, of what each position entailed, and which one was safer for them. They chose to be stable hands, knowing anything higher, as a guard or soldier would require physicals and knowledge tests along with proper identification, something the Cha siblings did not have. To attempt to try for the test with fake identification would put them both at risk. However, being stable hands would keep them far away from the main palace that received most if not all the guest. They would be able to take care of both Changmin and Eunmi in secret as well.
By the last day of the six-day time frame had come they had packed all their things, sold both their house and butcher shop. They had sold nearly everything but the clothes on their backs and their most prized possessions. They were both reminded of when they stepped into Joseon, the memory bitter on their tongue but filled with hope.
Hakyeon had regained full consciousness by the deadline and had been able to retract his wings. The process had been agonizingly long, taking nearly all day, and extremely painful. It left Hakyeon breathless and pale beyond belief. When Sanghyuk had asked him how he had felt Hakyeon could only describe it as having swords stabbed into your back, the blade piercing through you slowly and seemingly endless. Sanghyuk had wrinkled his nose, reminded of the day he had been gifted with wings. Hakyeon had laughed when Sanghyuk had shared his thoughts. He agreed with him but shared it was many times worse.
When they reached the palace they saw various guards, spears in hand as they guarded the main entrance. Above the gate there stood various archers. Sanghyuk sized them up with a neutral face, scoffing under his breath when he saw cockiness they let off in the way they stood. They probably only had air in their heads. From how young they looked they hadn't even hurt, let alone killed a man.
Hakyeon, hushed his brother under his breath, moving towards one of the young men, "Pardon me, but where is the servant entrance?" Hakyeon asked.
The guard looked at them both for a few seconds, sizing them up as well before turning his head to the left.
Hakyeon stared for a moment, expecting the male to say something but when it was clear the guard had no intention to speak he bowed politely, pulled both Changmin and Eunmi's reigns, and began to walk once more. Sanghyuk, holding tightly on Changmin's saddle had no choice but to move forwards as well.
"I wager a silver piece that I could take them both down without losing my breath," Sanghyuk muttered. He only earned a small chuckle from Hakyeon in return.
They walked forward after that, reaching another much smaller gate in no time. This one only had one guard at its side, the male speaking to a smaller servant girl as they approached it.
"Pardon me," Hakyeon said once more, bringing the attention of the other two to him, "Is this the servants' entrance into the palace?"
The guard stared, mouth ajar, and nodded, "Yes sir."
Hakyeon smiled, turning to the servant girl who was frozen by the guard's side, "Are you perhaps Daeun?"
The young maiden nodded, lips parted in the same awed manner the guard was. She had fair skin and large eyes that reminded both brothers of the strong and bitter tea their mother used to make for them each mealtime.
Daeun had heard tales in regards to the Cha brothers, from Meiri and some Kitchen maids who had seen them or bought meat from their shop. Tales of their beauty and strange magnetic pull that once tied to would not let you go. The tales did no justice to them, however, as the only thing she could compare them to was God's in human form.
She showed them inside with a wave of her hand and led them to the head Eunoch* in charge of the coming and going help. The people around them stared, unsure as to whom they were or why they dragged the two large horses behind them.
The head Eunoch, a small man with a round belly and thick white eyebrows stared at them as well. He looked like he was reaching the ending parts of his life but the firm frown and pressed lips told the brothers he had no intention to leave his position anytime soon.
"You must be the butcher boy Daeun told to me about," The eunuch began, "I am Eunuch Byum head of all the staff within the palace."
"I am Ehn and this is my brother Hyuk," Hakyeon introduced them, bowing in greeting.
The Eunuch stared at Sanghyuk, making it quite clear that not only was he not impressed with him but was also not happy he was here at all. "We have no place for a blind man."
Sanghyuk's jaw tightened at the words thrown his way, "I assure you, it may take some time but I am more than capable of taking care of any task given to me."
"My brother has taken care of horses before, he is capable of doing it again," Hakyeon argued as well.
"He will not be paid until I can see he is capable of doing the job given to him," Eunuch Byum informed them in a stern voice that rubbed Sanghyuk the wrong way. "And no personal animals can be brought to the palace. I suggest you get rid of them by the end of the week unless they are offerings to the King." With those last words, he disappeared back into the building he had come out of earlier.
Hakyeon looked at his brother, not missing the way his jaw was tightly set, eyes ablaze with anger he would not be able to show until they were alone and out of wandering eyes. Sanghyuk was not one to tolerate words against his character.
"This was a terrible idea, hyung," Sanghyuk spit out, turning to Hakyeon's general direction. Had they been in Angelos Sanghyuk would have thrown his spear at the Eunoch the instant he so much as looked his way. He didn't like this at all. "We should not have done this."
"We have sold nearly all our belongings along with our home," Hakyeon reminded him, pulling the horses forward once more when he saw Daeun signaling them to follow her. "We have no choice but to move forward."
Sanghyuk growled deep in his chest, a resonating sound that startled even Chanmin, but said nothing.
"You agreed to this matter earlier, went as far as to ask Meiri-ssi yourself." Hakyeon reminded his brother. "Why are you suddenly going back on your word?"
Sanghyuk grumbled, knowing his dislike to the eunuch would only make his brother tease him.
They reached the stables soon after that, a large building that connected to a smaller hut on both the right and left. Walking in Hakyeon was able to see at least a dozen horses and various open spaces for guest horses and possible additions. All around them stable boys were running around fixing a door, cleaning, or feeding the horses. For the number of horses, it was clear they required help.
There was something about the environment that brought a sense of comfort to both brothers. It made it easier to breathe and reduced the tension on his shoulders. This was the environment they were used to. It reminded them of the days in Angelos where all they had to worry about was ensuring Eunmi and Changmin were set for the day before they left on their usual flight.
Hakyeon was startled out of his bubble by the smiling face of an older man near his own. He turned to Daeun who smiled his way and then waved towards the man before Hakyeon. She didn't say a word, simply nodded and left them in the care of the older male in charge of the stable staff.
"My name is Chongpil," he looked at how the siblings were expecting some goodbye from the girl who had left them. "Excuse Daeun, the King cut her tongue. I am in charge of these stables and will be your superior while you work here."
Hakyeon brought his hand to his mouth unconsciously, turning to Sanghyuk who gave him a stare that held too many emotions. "I am Ehn," Hakyeon introduced himself, "and this is my brother Hyuk."
Chongpil chuckled, "Don't look so startled, Daeun lost her tongue at a young age."
Sanghyuk hisses, like if that made it better.
"And who might these two be?" Chongpil asked, trying to change the topic.
"This is Eunmi and Changmin," Sanghyuk spoke for his brother, "they are our horses. We will get rid of them soon."
"Ah, Eunuch Byum asked you to get rid of them, huh?" Hakyeon nodded, "Do not fret, you can keep them here, we will just take the price of feed from your wages. Eunuch Byum never comes to these stables as they do not house the Royal horses. He'll never be able to tell they are here."
"Thank you," Hakyeon bowed, he looked up at Sanghyuk, planning to smile at him in triumph but recalled he should let Chongpil know about Sanghyuk. "My brother is blind but he will not get in the way. He works well despite his lack of sight."
Chongpil's eyes landed on Sanghyuk, who didn't so much as give him the time of day as he rubbed Changbin's neck.
"Sooman will show you to your quarters," Chongpil stated, and pointed to a man cleaning up one of the stables to their left. He turned his back to them moving away as he spoke, "you can put your horses in an empty stable while he finishes up. You can start once you get yourself situated. "
Hakyeon bowed turning his back to Chongpil and walking to where the empty stables were.
Sanghyuk dismounted Changmin, whispering to Hakyeon as he undid the straps of his horse's saddle, "I dislike everyone here," Sanghyuk hissed out. "I can't believe he did that to a girl. A ki-"
Hakyeon shushed him, wrapping a hand around his wrist, "We are in the palace Hyuk. To say anything against the king will get us both killed."
"He is no King," Sanghyuk growled out, eyes suddenly turning so white his pupils were the only color on them. "A king does not harm the weak. "
"Hyuk," Hakyeon's grip tightened on his brother's arm. "Enough."
"You two must be Hyuk and Ehn," A voice brought them out of the silent war the brothers were having with their eyes. "I'm Sooman, follow me and I will show you to the stable quarters."
The brothers turned to the man, Sanghyuk closing his eyes and attempting to control the anger that was swallowing him with each passing second. He was never able to understand how Hakyeon was able to swallow his emotions down and keep such a straight face.
Hakyeon and Sangkhyu followed him out of the stables no words being spoken between them. By the time the moon rose Sanghyuk and Hakyeon in the shared servants quarters, getting ready for the next day.
They had come into the palace with the thought of protection but with each moment that passed and the stares they got from the rest of the help, Hakyeon and Sanghyuk couldn't help but feel like they had made the wrong choice.
Hakyeon and Sanghyuk grew accustomed to the work in the stables with ease. It wasn't different from what they had been doing all their life in Angelos.
Every day they would get up when the sun chariot was barely showing in the still-dark sky. They would eat with the other stable hands, a breakfast made of watered-down porridge, kimchi, and other vegetable side dishes. Once done they would make their way to the stables and begin the cycle of cleaning, brushing, feeding, and washing. Then they would eat a late lunch of rice balls and soup. Return to work once more, fix a horse's saddle here, work on a door there. They would finish the day with a small dinner of rice and side dishes similar to the ones they had in the morning.
Every day was the same, always wake up before the sun chariot rose and fall asleep long after the moon took its place. Before either of them knew it they began to fit into the palace life.
Soon the snow had melted away and the world around them began to show the deep green the snow had hidden below it. The dark moons* were slowly disappearing and slowly the sun months* began. During the time they had been in the palace Hakyeon had worked hard to be as invisible as he could be. He would remind Sanghyuk to not attract attention. To stay in the shadows. They would only be here long enough to get the needed money and then they would leave right after. They didn't need to be on people's good side, definitely didn't need friends.
The cycle broke, like everything in their lives, unexpectedly.
The day had begun like all the days prior. Hakyeon had decided to skip breakfast, leaving his brother to eat his portion. He took that small portion of time to go to Eunmi and Changmin. He felt he was neglecting them and so chose to use all the small portions of time here and there to pamper them as much he could. He and Sanghyuk had been taking turns every other day. Sanghyuk liked this time the most and Hakyeon didn't blame. Some stable boys were trying their hardest to make his task more difficult.
They would try to get in his way, move things from their regular place, or trying to trip him or taking away his cane. Sanghyuk, being conscious if his brother's warning to keep a low profile, would fall for most if not all of the pranks. Hakyeon was grateful Sanghyuk had taken his words to heart but angered as well. He would yell at the other stable boys, push them around, and made it clear that he would not stand his brother being looked down upon by them. Sanghyuk, on the other hand, seemed to be seconds away from murdering anyone who so much as looked his way.
"We should ask for a day off," Hakyeon muttered as he brushed Eunmi with her brush. They weren't allowed to use the brushes in the stable. Hakyeon was happy they had not sold any of the horses' things. "We could go on a hunt and if we're lucky we can find a hidden little place to molt," he whispered to Eunmi, playful grin wide on his lips.
The brush fell from his fingers when he heard the sound of the door pulling open in a fast movement. He turned towards it. He hadn't opened it all the way, only far enough that he would be able to fit through.
He tried to calm his heart. It was most likely the rest of the stable boys coming in to start the day. His eyes widened, however, when he saw no one there. "Whose there?" Hakyeon yelled, hand coming down to his thigh.
His daggers weren't there. Hakyeon swore under his breath, making a quick scan of his surroundings for anything that could be used as a weapon. He quickly leaned down and grabbed a spare piece of would he hadn't gotten to cleaning up from Eunmi's stable and moved forward. "Show yourself," He growled out, holding the piece of wood like a club waiting to be swung.
Around him, the horses slowly woke up and made a ruckus. They were expecting to be allowed out and fresh hay. Hakyeon tried his best to ignore them and focus on everything else. A shadow moved behind him and Hakyeon turned, ready to swing. He screamed when he came face to face with Sanghyuk. Sanghyuk screamed as well, not expecting the swinging wood. It made contact with his forearm and he hissed.
"Hyung!" Sanhyuk yelled at Hakyeon, feeling betrayed. He held his forearm tightly.
"Hyuk! What is the Gods' name did you do that for?!" Hakyeon asked, holding his chest tightly as he tried to calm down.
"I should be the one asking that. Why did you hit me?"
"You were the one who scared me first."
"I just got here. I used the second entrance."
Hakyeon stilled, "That wasn't you?"
"No, what's going on?"
Hakyeon looked around them, bringing a finger to his mouth and shushing Sanghyuk before he could say anything else. He was sure someone had been there. He wasn't wrong, not when it came to things like this.
A second later the door to the second entrance opened, the rest of the stable help made their way inside, all chatting to one another. A few of them carried lanterns and it was only when he saw them that Hakyeon remembered he had been alone in the dark stables.
There had only been a small amount of light coming from the windows and opened the door. It was no surprise the horses around him were making such a ruckus.
The darkness hadn't bothered him at all, he had been quite content.
Hakyeon swore, mentally slapping himself. He had been so stupid.
He had gotten comfortable here, with the endless cycle of working, eating, and sleeping. For a second, for one stupid second, he had thought he has back in the Fallen woods of Angelos.
"Hyung?" Sanghyuk asked, concerned as the color left his brothers face.
"Hyuk, someone saw me," Hakyeon whispered. His heart was beating out of control as his body grew cold.
"Saw you?" Sanghyuk asked in confusion. Why was that a troublesome matter? Sanghyuk understood that Hakyeon wanted to stay as set apart from the rest of the palace's help. When Sanghyuk had asked him his brother had told him it would be best for them to keep their distance. They would be leaving soon, the attachment would make it difficult.
But that didn't explain why Hakyeon now looked as if he had seen a demon. People saw Hakyeon all the time, Sanghyuk saw his brother all the time.
Suddenly realization hit him. Hakyeon made it a point to never be seen at night. "We'll talk later."
Hakyeon nodded, following Sanghyuk's example and moving to the horses. Today was not a good day.
Hakyeon made it a goal to always stay in the general area of the stables. There had been no reason for him to go around the palace, his work and lodging was in the stables.
Now, however, there was a huge reason for him to walk around, scanning the palace around him and trying to see if there was anyone who flinched away or reacted to him in any way.
He needed to find the person who had seen him, needed to ensure that they would keep his mouth shut or get rid of the problem before it became too large of a threat. He shuddered when that thought came to mind. He never wanted to take the life of another being.
Hakyeon, sighed as she ran a hand over her face. He walked through the palace slowly during his lunch break, smiling to the people he passed while eating the rice ball. He scanned their facial expressions and trying to see if anyone who met his eyes would flinch in terror or look away.
No one reacted in a negative way when they looked at him. Hakyeon was worried that this was only a waste of time. He was getting too close to the main palace, he had to return now.
Hakyeon paused as he contemplated returning, eyes falling on the trees close by. He knew those trees. Persimmon trees. They had yet to bloom, the leaves only beginning to cover the trees.
Yet despite the branches' nakedness, Hakyeon could smell the sweetness of the persimmon flowers. If he thought hard enough it was almost as if he could taste the fruit.
"Prety, huh? They have yet to bloom but their beauty is there even in the winter."
Hakyeon turned, starling at the sudden voice. A man, young and tall, stood to his side. He had silk robes and in a deep blue color. On his head was a hat with small beads the color of his robes dangling decoratively. He was a noble, and if him being in the palace meant anything, he was probably close to the royal family.
He was standing too close, making Hakyeon awkwardly take a few steps away.
The man took notice of the way Hakyeon reacted and he turned to him, smiling brightly. "My apologies. I did not notice how close I was standing. Despite the snow melting the chill has not left. Perhaps I desired your warmth."
Hakyeon's cheeks reddened and he turned away. By the God's, what was this man thinking?
The man coughed, looking away as the double meaning of his words registered. "I did not mean to have my words sound the way they did."
"I apologize, my lord," Hakyeon bit out, "I must return to my duties."
"Yes," the man nodded in understanding. "I suppose you do.
Hakyeon took that time to turn on his heel, stepping away from the man and back toward the stables.
"I apologize," the man said again, voice sharp and determined.
Hakyeon huffed and turned on his heel once more. Why couldn't he just let him leave?
"Did I make you uncomfortable?" The man asked with concern. "With my words or my sudden appearance?"
"No my lord," Hakyeon instantly argued, falling to his knees and bowing as low as he could. "There is no way my lord could make this lowly peasant feel uncomfortable."
There was a laugh, sharp and airy. "You are very different from that night some time back. Rise," The man pulled at Hakyeon's arm, bringing him back to his feet. "There is no need for such actions. We are of the same age, please treat me like a friend. Call me Gwangsuk."
"We are of different status," Hakyeon bit his tongue, cursing himself mentally at his lack of thought before speaking. " Forgive me, my lord, I could never."
"Nonsense," Gwangsuk argued, "Walk with me, let us become friends if that is what you worry about."
"I must return to my duties," Hakyeon argued. Why couldn't this man take no for an answer? "A lowly peasant such as myself cannot be in the main palace."
"I am friends with one of the princes," Gwangsuk argued once more, a smug smile on his lips. Hakyeon had the sudden urge to slap it right off but held back. "If there is a problem your supervisor can come and tell me."
"Hyung?" A voice yelled close to the two of them.
Hakyeon and Gwangsuk turned to the new voice. Sanghyuk was making his way to them, cane agitating the dirt under his feet. Hakyeon pulled away from Kwangsik, running to his brother.
"Hyuk," Hakyeon muttered, grabbing Sanghyuk's hands tightly. "Oh thank the God's you're here."
"You must have come to safe your brother once more," Gwangsuk voiced his thoughts. He was walking to them, a smile on his lips and posture straight. "How endearing."
"Hyung?" Saghyuk asked in confusion. He stared in the man's general area, keeping himself at bay so that he would not glare him down. He was the same man who had been staring at his brother and trying to make small talk with his brother a few moon faces ago. Sanghyuk would have found the fact that they met him again amusing had it not been for the fact that he was in the palace. Sanghyuk didn't trust this man, nor did he like that he seemed to be infatuated with his brother.
"Hyuk," Hakyeon began, plastering a fake smile on his lips, "this is lord Gwangsuk. He is friends with His Majesty the prince."
Sanghyuk's jaw tightened, eyes zoning in on Gwangsuk. "Is that so?" He bit out. Why was the friend of a prince trying to kidnap his brother?
"I am simply a ministers son," Gwangsuk seemed to try to explain, back stiff as Sanghyuk's white-blue eyes stared him down. "His majesty crown prince Hwisu's reading partner if anything."
Gwangsuk had seen it before, these brothers were wary of the higher class.
"I apologize," Hakyeon began, pulling at Sanghyuk's arm to break the death stare he was sending Gwangsuk. "We must return to our duties."
"Yes," Gwangsuk nodded in understanding, "I have kept you too long, I apologize."
Hakyeon and Sanghyuk bowed taking three steps back before turning on their heel and speedwalking back to the stables. As they left a group of Eunock ran passed them.
"What was that?" Saghyuk growled out, not turning to look over his shoulder by pure will and the tight hold Hakyeon had on his arm.
"I do not know!" Hakyeon hissed back. "He was suddenly there."
"He is the same man," Sanghyuk stopped abruptly, causing Hakyeon to stop as well. "The same man who suddenly came to see you all those moon faces ago. What if he knows s something? We need to get rid of him"
"Hyuk," Hakyeon growled out, looking around them to ensure no one was close enough to hear their conversation. "Watch your tongue. We are in the palace, you cannot speak such words here."
Sanghyuk pulled his arm out of Hakyeon's hold, "Is that not what you were going to do if you found the person who saw?"
Hakyeon's eyes widened, nausea forming in the pit of his stomach at those words hit. He had thought of that, yes, but when said out loud he was sure that he could never do such a thing again. "There are more ways to take care of the problem."
"But none as permanent as death."
"Cha Sanghyuk," Hakyeon whispered, a vein in his neck came into view as he tried to control his expression. Their parents had raised them to be thankful for the life around them. To only take what they needed and never be greedy. To help those in need and never take life in vain. How could his brother go against all he had been taught and say such a thing?
"Why?" Sanghyuk asked defensively. "Am I wrong?"
"This conversation is over." Hakyeon spits out, turning and leaving Sanghyuk. He needed to cool down, needed to control his emotions before he said something he would later regret.
Sanghyuk stared at his brother's retreating form, eyes glossed over with unshed tears of frustration. His words had been harsh and evil, Sanghyuk knew that. But they were also true.
Could they risk having someone they didn't know to know that they weren't normal?
Hakyeon could not see that. No, he refused to see it.
Without a word he flung his cane to his left, listening as it pierced the wooden door he had aimed it at. "So it was you?" He asked as he turned, "The person who came into the stables this morning."
Daeun was on her knees, knuckles white as she held her skirts in an attempt to keep his hands from trembling. She had been trying to run away when she had seen the two brothers, but it seemed that she had not been as quiet as she had thought she had been. The basket of dried mushroom she had been carrying was turned over in front of her, the mushrooms scattered around. She did not attempt to pick them up, however, her body frozen as eyes looked ar her critically.
"Ah," Sanghyuk sighed, scanning the area for other servants but there was no one around. Once he was sure they were alone for the most part Sanghyuk walked forward, pulling the cane out of the broken door and leaning down at the same time. "And here I thought it would be a bigger problem than this."
Daeun bowed, her forehead touching the dirt on the ground. She was asking without words for Sanghyuk to spare her. To spare her life as she would not say one word in regards to what she saw. Who would believe her when she, herself, was unsure of what she had seen.
"Raise your head," Sanghyuk ordered, scanning his surroundings once more. A kitchen servant was walking towards them. She was looking around, searching for something and hadn't seen them yet. "Raise your head and busy your hands with the mushrooms."
Daeun did so, looking up and grabbing fist fulls of dried mushrooms, despite the dirt. She shoved them back into the basket with trembling hands. She could clean them later.
Sanghyuk touched around him, pretending to look as he whispered to Daeun, "Nod your head yes or shake your head no. Do you understand?"
"Have you told anyone about what you saw?"
Daeun shook her head, resisting the desire to bow and plead once more.
"Good," Sanghyuk grabbed his cane. "Tell no one. Not a word about what you saw or heard. Your life depends on that."
Daeun nodded as fast as she could, standing up as the kitchen staff finally stood to before them. She grabbed the basket with trembling hands, willing himself not to cry.
"Oh, you foolish girl," The kitchen worker scolded. "Come along now, we are off schedule as it is."
Daeun nodded, bowing to Sanghyuk as she ran behind the woman.
Sanghyuk watched them both leave, eyes piercing as Daeun turned one last time to stare at him before she disappeared through a corner.
He could not kill her with all the eyes in the palace. Not yet at least.
The two large wolves stopped at the edge of the woods, black eyes on the large gates they had reached. They took a seat, licking their snouts as they waited. The horses and foot soldiers caught up soon after. The horses stomped on the ground as their reigns were pulled to a stop. The large beast looked towards them before looking towards the gates once more, signaling that they had reached their destination.
"Is this it?" One of the men on horseback asked with surprise and disgust as he moved to the front were Wonsik and another man was. He looked at the gates, tall and made of stone. There were archers above and foot soldiers below who let commoners pass after examining their carts and papers. "This small country is the place they have run off to?"
Wonsik tried to control his facial expression. "Watch your words Junmyun," Wonsik warned, "Do not judge a kingdom which you know nothing of."
"I apologize, your majesty," Junmyeon bowed as low as he could. "My words were said without thought."
"Then think before you speak," He turned to the soldier at his left, "Did Jongin already go in?"
"Yes your majesty," the man instantly answered. "He left the night before, he should have gotten there by the time the sun chariot was highest in the sky. But he has yet to return."
"The darkness is coming closer," another soldier behind them informed, "We should find an inn to stay in while we wait."
"To enter a Kingdoms capital without the Kings welcome is an act of war," the soldier to Wonsik's left informed him.
"Yet to stay outside is a show of weakness, " Junmyueon shot back.
"Junmyeon," the man warned.
"Yifan," Junmyeon shot back wit the same tone Yifan had said his name. They were of the same rank, there was no need to be formal with him.
"Enough," Wonshik growled. He was tired of all the land they had traveled, irritated by the fact they had not found what they were looking for. "Both of you, quiet down. We are here peacefully. We only come intending to find what our nation lost, not to start a war. We will find an inn outside of the capital and wait until Jongin returns. "
"Your majesty," Junmyeon exclaimed, eyes wide. "I beg you to reconsider."
"Enough!" Wonsik ordered, voice pitching lower as he spoke. Above them, a shot of lightning illuminated the darkening sky. The souldiers straightened, grabbing ahold of their horse's reins to keep them at bay. Around them people ran, trying to get to their destination before any rain fell.
"I will not say it again," Wonsik warned, turning his horse and moving away from the gates. "You two will be on night guard. The whole night."
"Yes your highness," Yifan and Junmyeon spoke in unison, bowing to a retreating Wonsik.
The two wolves huffed, standing up and walking behind Wonsik. Seconds later they disappeared into the shadows, leaving nothing but smoke in their wake.
"Your majesty," The eunuch bowed, "Please listen to this lowly servant. You must return to your bed chambers."
The King of Joseon, Sukjong, threw the book he was reading over his shoulder, grabbing another and looking over it. King Sukjong threw that book away as well, grabbing another at the same time. "Eunuch Kim, have you ever heard of a Kingdom by the name of Angelos?"
"This lowly servant has never heard such a nation's name," Eunuch Kim answered instantly. "I beg you, return to your bed chambers."
"I have never heard of such a place either. Yet there was a messenger sent by one of their princes. If such a nation exists how is it that there are no records of it?"
The doors to the royal library open with force and the fast steps of another eunuch were heard. "Your majesty," the eunuch yelled while he bowed, "Your majesty, prince Yeongjo," the man took sharp breaths as he tried to speak through his parched throat. "Prince Yeonjo is in the palace."
"What?" King Sukjong asked, looking up from the book he had been scanning. "Why is he here?"
"Crown prince Hwisu invited him here."
"He has no right to do so!" The King yelled, throwing the book he held towards the Eunuch who had told him the news. "Kick him out of the palace, have him return to his residency at once. How dare he come and go as he wishes! And bring Crown prince Hwisu to me as well!"
"Your majesty" a man at the door knocked, "the messenger from the Prince of Angelos is awaiting your reply."
"Have him wait!" King Sukjong yelled. "Have him wait as long as he pleases! I will answer him as I see fit. If the Kingdom he comes from has not been written off then they are nothing but a speck in the map and will be treated accordingly! Now bring me the Crown Prince and while you are at it bring me Yeonjo as well."
A few moments later both princes were brought into the Royal Library. Iyun bowed to the king while Yeonjo simply stared.
"You," The king stepped forward, his hand making contact with the Second prince's cheek in a harsh slap. The Eunuch, who was by the door, took a few steps back, bowing and closing the doors to the library as he stepped outside. "Return to your residence at once," he finished with a kinder tone.
"I am here as Crown Prince Hwiso's reading partner and Prince Yeonryeong's playmate, your majesty. " Yeonjo was quick to answer, spitting the mouthful of blood the slap had caused to the side. His cheek stung, but he made to move to touch it. "I will not leave unless it is they who ask this of me."
"You insolent boy," King Sukjong yelled, trying to keep a facade he did not like. "What if the Queen sees you? What will you do then?"
"The Queen does not leave her bed chambers," the second prince informed the King. He knew of this matter better than the King himself, always listening to the commoners talk to one another about how the Queen was hiding in her bed chambers and would only come out every few days. "Unless it is for official matters. I do not need to worry about her. And it is Gwangsuk. I left my name along with my robes."
"You-" The king coughed, turning away as he hid his face with his sleeve.
"Your majesty," Eunuch Kim begged, from outside the palace library. "It is late and the chill of winter has not yet disappeared. Please return to your bed chambers."
"Your majesty," the Eunoch waiting outside as well spoke once more, "The messenger from Angelos is awaiting your reply."
"Enough!" The king yelled, "Send him away!"
"Your majesty," The Eunuch cried. He sounded worried and quite frankly terrified. "I Beg you to reconsider."
King Sukjong, enraged by the matters at hand walked to the door, pushing the doors open harshly with a flick of his hand. The Eunuchs by the door moved away and bowed deeply, guards and court ladies doing the same.
"You!" The King pointed at the man in light armor the color of freshly ground ink who kneeled a few feet from the Royal Library's doors. Guards were surrounding him, keeping an eye on him in case he tried to do anything. "You insolent messenger! I will answer your Prince's request when I see fit! I have other matters to take care of. Your mediocre nation with no record is the least of my problems."
The messenger, who during the whole time had been keeping his head lowered out of respect, looked up at King Sukjong. "My Kingdom can swallow this mediocre nation in a second, your majesty," the messenger stated, voice even as he spoke despite the rage in his eyes. The title was said with disgust as if the person whom he was speaking to was a slave who didn't deserve an ounce of respect. he couldn't understand how such a man was king.
"You," Eunuch Kim growled, "How dare you speak in such a way to his majesty the great king of Joseon?! Do you want to be beheaded for your words?!"
"I would present your lowly Kings head to my own before these guards so much as unsheathed their swords." The messenger stood up then, causing the guards to draw their swords. "The only reason I came here was that my prince asked this of me. And because my King ordered us to take care of this with as little bloodshed as we could. The annihilation of Joseon's royal bloodline, though justified, may perhaps be too much force." He looked at the guards with indifference, they were no threat to him. "I did not come to start a war, however, do not be the ones who do."
At this point, both Gwangsuk and Crown Prince Hwisu had come out of the Royal Library as well, curious as to what had caused their father to yell so loudly. King Sukjong turned to them, sharing a glance with Crown Prince Hwisu before he spoke, "Bring ink and paper. Have someone fetch the Royal seal as well." He glared down at the messenger, "You want an answer? Fine, I will give your prince an answer."
Junmyeon and Yifan, who were standing Gaurd at a rundown inn saw as Jongin returned, eyes amused as he saw his superiors in the place Jongdae and Luhan often were.
"Did you two fight again?" Jongin asked as he dismounted. "Why is it that you both seem to self-destruct the longer we are away from Angelos?"
"Quiet," Junmyeon growled, from the second floor's balcony.
"Respect your superiors," Yifan huffed.
"My superiors often act like children," Jonging shot back, amusement still clear in his voice. "It is not my fault Our King ordered for squad eleven asked us to work in teams of six."
Junmyeon and Yifan huffed but said nothing more. Jumyeon was the first to notice the paper in Jongin's hand, having a clear sight of it from the upper floor. "Have Jongdae and Luhan take Yifan's place Jongin. I'll wake up his Majesty." With that, he disappeared into the room he had been guarding.
Jongin stayed behind, only long enough for Jongdae and Luhan to take guard on the front doors. Once they were in place he went in, taking the stairs to the second floor, barely making a sound as he opened the door to the room Wonsik was in only wide enough to slide in.
Wonsik pulled on the robe Yifan was offering, as his wings began to shrink. The robe was a deep blue silk piece that was more to cover his front. The back was only held together by a few strands of silk crossing over each other and strapped in place by silver buttons.
In Angelos, it was custom for the Royals who were blessed with wings to show them at most if not all times they were surrounded by others. It was proof that they deserved to be in the place that they were. As a result, most of the Royal clothes were altered to let the large appendages show.
During trips outside of Angelos and in nations that did not know of Angelos, it was considered Taboo to show their wings to others. Wonsik, it seemed, had not expected the King's reply to come until morning. He had taken the liberty to have them out due to the fact he had thought he would be alone.
"Speak," Wonshik ordered as he took a seat on the raised bed. He was in a bad mood, having just falling asleep only to be woken up abruptly.
Jongin fell to one knee and offered the envelope with both hands, "The Joseon King's reply to your majesty's message."
Wonshik grabbed the envelope, staring at the red dragon drawn over with bright red ink for a few seconds. "It seems," he spoke as he broke the seal, "that we share some similarities with this little Kingdom of Joseon." He took out the letter from the envelope, reading it before huffing in agitation. He handed it to Yifan who read it for a few seconds before he huffed as well.
"Prince Wonsik of Angelos," Yifan read out loud, "I have read your letter and met your messenger. The fact that you asked for permission strengthens the statement in your letter but your messenger's words against me and my Kingdom contradict it. I cannot object your entrance into the capital but you are not welcomed into my palace until three days from now. I expect you to formally greet me with all the respect that the King of the nation you are visiting deserves."
"By the God's," Wonshik growled as he stood up. Lightning shot through the sky at that moment, illuminating the room with an eerie light. Wonsik turned towards the balcony his expression darkening with each second that passed.
Yifan and Junmyeon fell to their knees, eyes glued to the floor to ensure that they would not see prince Wonsik's bareback.
Lightning struck once. Twice. Each time getting closer to the Inn. The third lightning made the small Inn shake with its power, as light illuminated the sky as if it was day once more.
"I hate this little country."
Dark moons*- this refers to fall and winter. In Angelos, the four seasons are cut into two, the sun moons/months and the dark moons/months. The brothers still often refer to the different times of the year.
Chapter 9: Chapter 8: Gold
Molting is hard and Hakyeon doesn't know why he keeps meeting Gwangsuk.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Hakyeon hid his mouth in the sleeve, hiding the yawn that managed to escape his lips. In the process, he managed to jab Eunmi in the ribs. The horse, laying down at his side huffed in irritation. "Sorry," Hakyeon muttered and tried to get comfortable.
It was hard to do so, despite the fresh hay in Eunmi's stable and the blanket over his form. The lantern hanging on the stable pillars, did very little to light the area he was in and so the shadows danced around him, forming monsters in their wake.
Though it was small, the light was sufficient to keep his eyes on their honey hue.
"Hey," He said, catching the attention of the mare housed in the stable in front of Eunmi's, "When are you going to have it?"
The mare, a deep brown beauty with white hooves, simply stared at him appearing to be in a bad mood as she kicked her back hoofs in agitation. The door to her stable was opened and she had her reins on and was strapped to insure she would not try to get out.
"Yes," Hakyeon agreed, "I want it to come out of you as much as you do. However, I cannot help you. Do you want me to cut you open?" The horse neighed in irritation once more, "I thought so. You have to push it out then!"
The horse neighed, this time louder than before. The other horses around her joined in her neighing.
Hakyeon, tired of the noise and the waiting, could only sigh in resignation.
Eunmi stood up, causing Hakyeon's back to hit the hay floor. "Eunmi!" Hakyeon yelled, standing up as the horse stomped her legs in irritation. She had been trying to sleep and all the noise was keeping her awake.
The door to the stables opened, causing all the horses and Hakyeon to turn their head in simultaneously. Sanghyuk walked in, his walking stick held tightly in one hand and a firm expression on his face. Daeun walked in behind him, closing the door behind her as quietly as she could. She held a lantern with both her hands, illuminating the way. The swaying or the light made it clear that her hands were shaking.
Hakyeon stilled, unsure of what he should do. Sanghyuk and he had not spoken to one another since the argument they had two days ago. Hakyeon had not attempted to speak with Sanghyuk, knowing that they both needed time or they would end up hurting each other.
He did not understand why Daeun would be here. They had not seen the girl since the day they had to enter the palace. Out of sheer panic, he hid his face with his hand, walking to Eunmi and hiding behind her and turning his back for good measures.
"Don't bother with that," Sanghyuk spat. He instantly regretted his tone of voice when Hakyeon's back stiffened. He chose to turn to the mare to check on her. She had yet to give birth, "Why hide something she has already seen."
Hakyeon's head snapped to them, startled by the words his brother had just spoken. Daeun stared at him, eyes wide and hands trembling. She did not know if Hakyeon would react in the same way that Sanghyuk had done when he had learned it had been Daeun who had seen his eyes.
Sanghyuk appeared to think the mare was more interesting.
"She will be useful to us," Sanghyuk answered, thinking of Hakyeon's silence as a question as to why Daeun was still here. "That is why she is not dead."
Hakyeon's jaw tightened, eyes flaring a golden hue at the nonchalant way Sanghyuk spoke.
"How?" Hakyeon asked instead. Daeun looked young, barely old enough to be considered for marriage. In what way could this child help them?
Sanghyuk starred at the mare, analyzing the way she was acting. She was agitated, angry with the discomfort she was feeling. "She will not have the calf until the chariot is at its peak."
Hakyeon huffed, so he had been asked by Chongpil to stay on duty for no reason. He was losing sleep for nothing. "Gods above," Hakyeon growled, willing himself to not swear.
"And below," Hakyeon said under his breath. He finally turned to Hakyeon, leaning his cane on the door to Changmin's stable. He ran his fingers through his ash white mane.
Changmin moved closer, looking for his owner's warmth and rubs of affection. Perhaps he would have an apple for him as well.
Sanghyuk held Changmin close, forehead against the horse's forehead. "Strip," he finally said.
Hakyeon huffed turning away and coughing when he saw the way Daeun's cheeks were a deep red. "What, are you out of your mind?"
Sanghyuk, already working on the ties on his maroon shirt paid him no mind, "Strip hyung. If we want to get as much done as possible we cannot lose any more time."
Hakyeon watched, eyes wide as Sanghyuk's wings ripped through his skin, growing in seconds.
The horses, startled by the sound and the shadows formed by the lack of light, began to make a ruckus once more. Sanghyuk hushed them with a flick of his arm, a 'shh' sound leaving his lips.
"Cha Sanghyuk," Hakyeon hissed eyes large and betrayed. "What have you done?"
"We have been avoiding the problem for long," Sanghyuk said as an explanation. When Hakyeon didn't say anything Sanghyuk had no choice but to explain. "Hyung, I must check your wound and we must molt. If we wait any longer our molt at the beginning of the dark months will be delayed as well."
Hakyeon sighed. He knew his brother was in the right, but to do it in front of Daeun, was to put her in danger. If she had a chance of living after all this it had diminished the instant Sanghyuk had shown her his wings.
He turned to look at Daeun, who stood by the door, eyes wide and disbelieving. Despite having the chance to run away, she was not taking it.
Hakyeon sighed, stripping off his top garment as well as he walked out of Eunmi's stable. Sanghyuk was right, to wait any longer to molt would only bring them trouble. Daeun, it appeared, was here to make this go faster. How, Hakyeon was not sure.
It was painful to call upon his wings, excruciating to the point Hakyeon held back a scream deep in his throat. Despite his desperation and desire, his wings would not come. He fell to his knees, tears falling as he huffed. "It is not working."
"Hyung," Sanghyuk, moved forward, keeping his wings close to his side to ensure he would not hit the stable doors or have them catch on something accidentally. He leaned down, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Will them. You have done this before hyung. You taught me how to do it. Imagine them, their weight. The feel and colors of the feathers. The way the air hits them."
Hakyeon cried out, unable to hold the screams any longer. He needed to calm down, to control it before someone decided to come and look for the sound's source.
Daeun, who stood behind the two brothers watched in fascination as the ink on Hakyeon's back glowed a soft hue, getting stronger with each passing second. She thought this as a dream. Or a hallucination brought by the stress she seemed to be getting from having to help at the royal kitchen.
The deep groans of pain and the quiet yet clear cries were clear signs that this was nothing more than reality. She wanted to help, but she feared that if she so much as breathed near the brothers it would only lead to worse pain.
But Hakyeon was bleeding now, tufts of dull gold feathers, ripping through his skin as if they were knives. The ink on his back was slowly fading as the tufts of feathers increased.
Both Changmin and Eunmi were agitated by Hakyeon's pain, wanting to do something, anything to make him stop hurting. The Horses around them began to get agitated as well.
All of a sudden the Gold ink disappeared completely and in its place were large golden wings. There were patches, here and there that reflected the light that fell on them and illuminated dark corners of the stables.
Hakyeon's scream was muted by Sanghyuk's hand as he kept his mouth covered. He whispered comforting words to him, trying to hold him up with one hand.
Hakyeon leaned forward, mind going blank as his sight began to darken. This ordeal had taken less than a stick of incense to run its course but had taken the energy of nearly a whole day's work.
"Sleep," Sanghyuk whispered in his brother's ear. He looked over to Eunmi who had calmed down significantly. She had no reins and stayed in her stable by Hakyeon's command. Sanghyuk beckoned her with a low whistle.
Daeun watched in awe as the dun stallion moved from the stable and slowly, laid down without needing an order. Sanghyuk moved slowly, being careful of his brother's wings as he leaned his brother against the horse.
"Daeun, I told you what you needed you to do as we were making our way here." Sanghyuk turned to her, watching her nod. He positioned himself behind Hakyeon, close enough to him that he could reach the tips of his wings but far enough that he was sure he was not crushing the lower feathers. "Do as I do."
Sanghyuk ran his fingers through Hakyeon's wings, loosening the feathers that were ready to be plucked. He steered clear of Hakyeon's wound, unsure if it healed entirely yet.
Daeun stared for a few seconds, unsure of what exactly she needed to do. Was she allowed to touch Sanghyuk's wings?
She expected some order from Sanghyuk, a confirmation or something else but all she got was silence. She gently placed the lantern down, slowly sitting behind Sanghyuk and running her hands through the plumage.
The touch could barely be considered a touch at all, more like a graze.
"Harder," Sanghyuk whispered, conscious of his sleeping brother. "As if you were plucking feathers off a bird."
Daeun would have laughed and said some witty remarks if she had a tongue to do it with. All the could do was giggle silently to herself.
She put more pleasure on her hands, swallowing a gasp at how soft the plumage was.
Sanghyuk paid her no mind, hard at work on his brother's wings. His hands worked on autopilot, accustomed to doing this for his brother since Hakyeon had been gifted with his wings. His parents and himself would take turns grooming Hakyeon's wings for him, getting all the places Hakyeon just couldn't reach. As a result, despite the months that passed by, he was always able to do this task as if it was second nature to him.
His eyes were glued to the area where Hakyeon was wounded, inspecting the wound for any signs of infection. Tentatively, worried any sudden tug would wake up his brother he raised the feathers around the claw marks, inspecting the skin below the plumage.
The wound was almost healed, leaving behind tender scars. Sanghyuk was sure that with time, the scars would fade away, never to be seen again. The feathers around the wound were a light gray, the golden color lost completely. Sanghyuk hoped that when the feathers were plucked and new ones grew they would be the golden color they once were.
The neighing of the horses and Hakyeon's low breathing were the only things that could be heard as Daeun and Sanghyuk worked in silence.
Hakyeon awoke hours later. It was warm all around him, yet his chest felt stiff. He sat up carefully and looked around him.
Eunmi, no longer feeling her human's weight on her, turned to Hakyeon and stared at him questioningly.
Sanghyuk, wings retracted and upper garments back on, was sweeping the floor with sharp motions. Daeun, only a meter or so away, was shuffling on her hands and knees as she shoveled the gold and white feathers into large brown cloth. The brown mare was still kicking in agitation.
"You are awake," Sanghyuk muttered, stopping his aggressive sweeping to look at Hakyeon. "See if you can retract your wings."
Hakyeon, mind not fully functioning, shrugged his wings a few times, making the stray feathers and any other small debris around him scatter around. Ah, no wonder he was so warm. He had missed the warmth his wings brought.
Sanghyuk glared at him, huffing under his breath at his brother's antics. Hakyeon always appeared to have a hard time processing things in the morning. "I said to retract them, not toss all the stray feathers around. The rest of the stable help will be awakening soon. We must clean up before anyone notices."
Hakyeon stood up slowly willing, his wings to retract as he did so. It was hard, but nothing compared to the mind-numbing pain he had gone through when he had called upon them. It was getting easier to will them in to existence and retract them. His back felt stiff, as if mud had dried over it as he had been sleeping. He needed to bathe.
"Head to the river," Sanghyuk muttered. It was easy to read Hakyeon's mind based on the expression of mild disgust on his face. "At the end of the palace grounds where the servants go to wash their clothes. The chariot has not risen, you should be able to rinse without anyone seeing you though the water will be cold. Daeun and I will take care of the feathers."
Hakyeon walked Eunmi back into her stall, taking his upper garment that hung from the door and shrugging it on. His shoulders felt stiff as if he had been flying for hours on end. "I will return as soon as I am done," Hakyeon commented, glancing at the brown mare for a second before grabbing a spare pair of cotton pants that had seen better days and exited the stables.
The walk to the stream right outside took him a little bit over ten minutes. He passed by the servant gates on his way there, nodding at the guard stationed at the gate. When he finally got to the river the chariot was barely grazing the skies and the world was still in darkness.
Hakyeon was quick to strip off his upper garments he had tugged on earlier, throwing it over his shoulder as he walked over the rocks around the river edge. He all but flung himself into the river when the water was deep enough, hands hitting the ground to propel himself up and above water.
Like Sanghyuk had told him, the water was freezing. It was expected when the chill of winter was still there at night despite the fact that the snow was all gone. It took his body some time for him to get used to the temperature but the goosebumps that had formed earlier were still there.
The water around him became a light pink that disappeared with the current.
The water was cold, the goosebumps formed on his skin and teeth chattering against each other making it easy to see. But Hakyeon was happy to be in the river. It had been over a month since Hakyeon had bathed, using only a wet rag to clean himself during the time.
In the beginning, he was afraid to bathe outside. He was worried that someone would see him. His brother and he had taken turns bathing while the other kept watch of their surroundings. It had been at night when the water was already cold and you did not know if what had touched your leg had been a fish or something else entirely.
Hakyeon submerged his head again, not coming out until seconds later. He stayed in a partially knelt position, the water hiding everything below his neck. He rubbed at his eyes, getting all the dried tears out and feeling refreshed. He grabbed the handfuls of water, sipping the water and sloshing them around in his mouth before he spits the mouthful out.
He looked around his surroundings, seeing no one he undid the knot of his cotton pants taking them off slowly so that he would not end up taking his undergarments accidentally. Once they were off he stood up, the water reaching his hips as he straightened. The goosebumps that had finally began to go down resurfaced as the cold dawn air brushed his skin.
Hakyeon would be lucky if he did not catch a cold.
He scrubbed at his back with his pants, having difficulty getting specific areas without help. He did his best though, rubbing lightly at the sore skin, changing the pants between hands to get the most skin he could.
Hakyeon absentmindedly scrubbed his neck, head swirling with thoughts. They were getting their pay by the end of the day. Counting the amount Chongpil would remove from the horses' hay and feed there should still be a sufficient amount to go into town and get them a new brush since their old one had been broken.
While he was here it would be a good idea for him to also go check on the area in the woods where he had buried his daggers along with his bow and arrows. He needed to ensure that nobody had accidentally found them after the snow melted. He should check to see if Byeongsu was still in the woods as well.
Hakyeon sighed, he missed Byeongsu as he had not seen the raven since he had let him free the day before Sanghyuk and he had come into the palace. Had he survived the ending days of winter? Had he already flown to another nation, far away from Joseon?
Hakyeon wanted to see the young raven again, at least to properly say goodbye.
The snap of a twig, closely followed by a loud rustling brought Hakyeon out of his thoughts. His head snapped towards the woods as his body submerged into the water.
He scanned the woods, looking for what had caused the loud noise. The chariot was grazing the skies now, chasing the darkness away. And while the river area was bright, the woods were still hard to see inside. This was no problem to him, his eyes adjusting to the darkness as the second passed.
"Ah," a voice groaned in mild pain.
Hakyeon's head snapped to where the voice was coming from, eyes widening in surprise and worry. A man was laying on the edge of the woods, trying to use a tree sapling to bring himself into a sitting position. It appeared that he had slipped on the small slope that connected the woods with the river's edge. When Hakyeon finally recognized the now sitting man he moved to the large rock that he had left his dry clothes at, kneeling down to be covered fully. "Lord Gwangsuk," Hakyeon muttered under his breath in surprise as he hurriedly put on his shirt.
Gwangsuk, now standing up, looked back into the river where he had last seen Hakyeon's form, brows furrowing when he didn't see him there. Had he imagined someone there?
No, it could not have been. Perfect sun-kissed skin marred only by a fading scar and such an intricate tattoo the color of gold was not something that his mind could ever create let alone hallucinate. "Hello?" He called out.
Hakyeon, hiding behind the large rock swore every God in his mind as he stripped off his undergarments and into his cotton pants. He instantly regretted his thoughts and muttered an apology under his breath. He used his dirty garments from before to wipe at his hair, trying to extract as much water from it.
"Hello?" Gwangsuk called out once more, this time closer to Hakyeon.
Hakyeon looked around him, heart pounding in his ears. There was no way to escape. The woods were in full view and to get to the palace he needed to pass in the direction Gwangsuk was. If he stayed here Gwangsuk would most likely find him.
Hakyeon sighed, prayed to the God's above and below under his breath, and stood up.
Wonsik rode on horseback with a straight posture, eyes dark, and face pulled into a frown he did not appear to be able to control. His prince robes were stifling and constricting. He would prefer significantly to be wearing the armor he had been using before. He was a soldier, leading men into the battlefield in the name of his family and nation but he was also the next in line for the throne if anything were to happen to his brother.
Unfortunately for him, it was clear that he had to be the image of a young prince. His official robes, it appeared, were an unfortunate necessity for the facade he was trying to create.
King Sukjong did not need to know that the people who were before him were the deadliest soldiers in their nation and the general of Angelos' troops. He needed to think that Wonsik was only a prince who was in return to Angelo's after his stay in a nation across the sea.
It was a lie.
One of the simplest lies he had said but the most important one if he had to be honest. They were supposed to find the Royal peasants without any other nation they may be visiting finding out their motive for coming into their land. This meant that Wonsik had to look the part of a feeble, nonthreatening prince.
Wonsik dismounted, making a point to take the hand offered to him by Junmyeon. Junmyeon appeared as displeased as Wonsik by the turn of events. For the King to belittle their great nation was an insult he would never forget.
King Sukjong stood at the top of the area they had been led to by Joseon guards, the red royal gown he was wearing a sharp contrast to the dull colors of the building before them. His head was tilted up, lips turned up into a cocky grin that rubbed the Angelos entourage the wrong way.
"Just say the word, your majesty," Jongin muttered from behind Wonsik, eyes glaring at the king before them and arm tightly grasping the hilt of his sword. "Give us the order and we will burn this palace down before the chariot reaches its peak."
"Do you wish to lose your head, Jongin?" Wonsik asked, face a blank slate as he waited for the Joseon king to make his way to them. "You should know that Hades will not welcome you with open arms. Not when you have looked down upon his successor."
Jongin bit his tongue, hand slipping from his sword's hilt and head bowed, "I apologize for your majesty. Ares' will appears to cloud my own."
"It seems," Wonsik whispered to him, "Ares' will is strong when it comes to the Joseon King." He plastered a smile on his face, projecting his voice. "Your Majesty, it is a pleasure to meet the man of Joseon. I have heard much in regards to you and this nation."
King Sukjong, having already reached the Angelos Group, smirked, flattered by Wonsik's lies. "I cannot say the same in regard to you. Our libraries show no records of this 'Angelos' your messenger spoke so highly of."
Wonsik's jaw tightened as his brow twitched in irritation. "Our nation is secretive. Only a few nations know of our existence. "
This was not a lie. Angelos was secretive in their ways. To Wonsik's recollection, only the Kings of two other nations knew of their existence. Both of those nations were across the sea and sworn to secrecy by a treaty. If either of them even attempted to speak of Angelos the treaty was broken and they would be faced with a war they would surely lose.
The citizens of those two nations thought Angelo's was a legend told to them by their parents at night. Any other nation had never heard of the kingdom of Angelos.
Wonsik would have preferred that Joseon, the filthy nation that it was, had stayed in the dark.
"Your majesty," Junmyeon whispered, trying to get the younger male out of his head.
Wonsik blinked, glancing at Junmyeon from his peripheral vision before he turned back to King Sukjong.
King Sukjong was waiting, expecting something specific from Wonsik.
Wonsik, despite his desire to scoff, kept a straight face. He brought his hands together before himself and bowed. He would not keunjeol*, not to a king who did not care for his citizens the way a king should.
King Sukjong puffed up his chest, feeling a sense of accomplishment at seeing Wonsik bowed before him, despite the fact that it was not the low bow he had been expecting. He gave Jongin a look, mocking him with his eyes only. 'Look at your Prince,' his eyes appeared to say, in the way they glinted. 'The man you hold so high is below me.'
Jongin's jaw tightened, eyes hard. The only thing that kept him at bay was Wonsik's earlier warning. The Fire King would not hesitate to have his head pitched on a pike in front of the training grounds as a warning to the rest of the soldiers despite their rank.
"Despite your messenger's crude words, it appears your nation is of scholars and not barbarians," King Sukjong jabbed at Wonsik.
By the Gods, Wonsik was seconds away from letting his anger spike. He really wanted to kill him.
"Tell me, Prince Wonsik," King Sukjong began, walking away. He expected Wonsik to follow and smirked when he did, "why are you truly here? Despite your words of being a young prince returning home from overseas your guards were not seen in the capital before. I assure you if they all have the character of your messenger my people would remember."
Wonsik wanted to laugh. Jongin was one of the more mellow members of squad eleven. If King Sukjong thought him crude he would be left speechless by the rest.
"I believe it would be to your benefit to make yourself believe our words," Wonsik's facade fell suddenly. His expression had darkened as his voice deepened. "All you need to know is that we are not here to start a war you would, without a doubt, surely loose."
King Sukjong stopped mid step, startled at the way Wonsik suddenly changed. It was as if before him was a suddenly different person, one who radiated power a royal could only wish to be born with.
Wonsik, who had not noticed King Sukjong's abrupt stop looked to his side and then behind. Oh. He raised his eyebrows in question.
King Sukjong opened his mouth but no words were forming. He cleared his throat.
"Your majesty," a Eunuch who had just joined them spoke up head bowed. "The officers are awaiting your appearance at this morning's meeting."
King Sukjong willed the sigh of relief to stay in his mouth, eyeing the men before him. I must go. Eunuch Kim will show you the way to the guest chambers."
Wonsik bowed his head, watching as King Sukjong and his entourage disappeared into a corner. Eunuch Kim was the last one left and he shrunk into himself as all the Angelos men watched him.
"Well?" Wonsik asked the frozen man.
Eunuch Kim sprinted forward, eyes anywhere but on the Angelos men.
"We search the capital," Wonsik began once Eunuch Kim was far enough that he would be unable to hear them. "We leave as soon as we are done or we find them. There is no need for us to stay longer."
Wonsik looked around at the palace that looked similar to Angelos's own. At the servants who walked around them in issued uniforms. And the slaves here and there with tattered clothes and too thin frames.
"Any longer and I will burn this nation myself."
"I must apologize to Lord Gwangsuk," Hakyeon lowered into a low bow, kicking the wet undergarments into the small crevice between the large rock and the floor. He would return for it later. "I was in a deep sleep and unaware you were here. Are you looking for someone?"
Gwangsuk, hands behind his back, looked at Hakyeon with a smile on his face. "Ehn-ssi, what a surprise and pleasure it is to see you here. I had thought I had seen something but it appeared I was wrong. It appears you started your day before the sun rose."
"As do you," Hakyeon paused, "I apologize Lord Gwangsuk if that by any chance came out as insulting."
Gwangsuk laughed, "I assure you, I think nothing ill of your words." He looked around, a habit he had unwillingly turned to when he had left the palace with nothing but his chosen name and robes gifted by his mother. "I desired a walk in the woods to clear my mind and lose time. I did not know that a new day had begun until the sun rose." He turned back to Hakyeon, "Let me ask, would you be willing to walk back to the palace with me?"
Hakyeon hesitated. He needed to return to the palace, that was true but there was something in his head that kept telling him to keep away from Gwangsuk. To decline however, seemed like a waste of time. "If you do not mind the company."
Gwangsuk smiled, "After you."
Hakyeon grabbed his straw shoes, putting them on as fast as he could without falling. Taking large steps to get besides Gwangsuk faster he followed the other to the path that would lead them to the palace faster.
They were quiet at the beginning, Hakyeon contemplating his surroundings while he walked while Gwangsuk thought about what to say. Finally, halfway there Gwangsuk was the one who spoke.
"I never thought I would see you at the palace. I did not think I would see you ever again unless it was by coincidence."
"It was a sudden decision, made out of necessity and not desire." Hakyeon answered honestly. He didn't wish to actually go into it and wouldn't if Gwangsuk asked.
Gwangsuk smiled, "I take it you do not like the palace or nobility. Then again, I may be wrong and it is me you do not like."
Hakyeon gulped, worried of the way Gwangsuk would react. If there was one thing he had learned during his stay here it was that those of high title in Joseon all appeared to be temperamental at best. So he chose instead to make light on the matter. "Is my dislike of the high class that obvious?"
Gwangsuk smiled, "I am not the best person to ask such a question, my answer would be in favor of you." He glanced at Hakyeon for a second, "I have been told I pay too much attention to the things that interest me."
Hakyeon stopped mid step, face losing any sign of playfulness as eyebrows furrowed. Gwangsuk stopped as well, turning to look at Hakyeon.
"I assure you, Lord Gwangsuk," Hakyeon began, with a stiff tone, "when I speak I do not do so with the intention to insult you. But I must know if I should be worried in regard to this interest you appear to have taken to me. You see, I do not come from the same kingdom as you. I am from a Kingdom across the sea," Hakyeon lied, "and while things are different I have learned during my stay in Joseon that men do not usually take interest in other men."
Gwangsuk opened his mouth but when no words came out he had no choice but to close it. His cheeks reddened, feeling embarrassed by Hakyeon words. He looked around, worried that perhaps someone had heard Hakyeon words. He had not expected for Hakyeon to be brazen enough to speak about a topic such as male to male relationships out in the open. "I," he coughed, "You are worried that I fancy you."
Hakyeon tried to keep a straight face, he had forgotten that Joseon men did not speak about this matter. To them it was a sin that deserved death. Yet while Sanghyuk and him were making their way to the capital they had been propositioned by many eager widows.* He bowed apologetically, "I mean no disrespect with my words."
Gwangsuk cleared his throat, "Though I admit that I was mesmerized by your appearance when I first met you, I can assure you that my interest in you is not the same as the one a man would feel in regards to a woman. If I must be honest with you, I am the child of a concubine and am looked down upon by the nobles around me. Kindness, let alone friendship is not something easily found in my life."
Hakyeon felt pity at those words. In Angelos, showing kindness was something that the citizens had all been taught at a young age. And while there was always those who lacked the ability to show it, Angelos prided themselves in being a nation of kindness.
"I simply wish to be your friend," Gwangsuk spoke in a small voice, feeling self-conscious about this matter. It had been years since he had a friend or something close to it.
"I apologize," Hakyeon bowed his head, "my words have hurt you."
"No," Gwangsuk shook his head, "You have every right to be worried about a man suddenly saying he has interest in you. Let us forget this conversation and start again." He smiled, expression brightening as he extended his hand. "I am Gwangsuk and I would be honored to be your friend."
Hakyeon stared at the extended hand, wondering if this was the best idea. Finally, he accepted the extended hand, shaking it lightly with both of his own.
The rest of the walk back to the palace was filled with silence once more but unlike earlier this silence was comfortable.
Hakyeon bowed to Gwangsuk when they finally got to the palace servant entrance.
"Thank you for walking back with me," Gwangsuk said, a smile still clear on his lips.
Hakyeon opened his mouth, prepared to say something back when Daeun entered his line of sight. Her hands were stained black and there were streaks of stain on her kitchen apron and uniform. She looked frantic and based on the way she stared him down it was clear to him that she was looking for him. "Daeun?"
She grabbed his hand, pulling at his sleeve to get him to follow her.
"Daeun?" Hakyeon tripped on his feet, looking back at Gwangsuk apologetically. Gwangsuk only waved goodbye. "Daeun, slow down or I will fall. Daeun!"
Daeun stopped, letting Hakyeon go and looking around them. The servants were going around, paying them no mind as they went around the courtyard and did their job. She reached into thes sleave of her hanbok, taking out a glob of something and placing it on the palm of Hakyeon's hand.
Hakyeon stared at it, confused and surprised.
Gold. He was holding Gold. It was stained in some areas with what appeared to be ash and was not in a specific shape but it was definitely gold. "You," he began, looking around in a panic as he grabbed the girl's wrist and pulled her along. "Where did you get this?"
Daeun made a few groaning sounds and hand gestures, giving up and tapping his back repeatedly with her free hand. The ash she still had on her fingers transferred to Hakyeon's clean shirt.
Hakyeon stopped and Daeun smacked against his back due to the sudden movement. Hakyeon looked pale, eyes wide and mouth parched. "What?"
Daeun tapped his back, this time with more force as she tried to make a point.
Hakyeon understood the meaning of her gesture, but it was taking him longer to process the information.
The Gold was from his feathers.
keunjeol*- a ninety degree bow. This bow is thought to be the biggest show of respect.
by many eager widows*- While homosexuality was considered taboo there were noble men and commoners in the country side who partook in homosexuality. There were many instances where young widowers in the countryside took young and good looking teens in as lovers.
A/N: Hello, it's mama panda,
Happy early thanksgiving, if any of you celebrate it. I, for one, am not the biggest fan of how the holiday came to be but I am thankful for a day I can spend with my family. To all those who are traveling in these hard times stay safe out there. And to all those who are staying home, stay safe as well.
I send you a hug and a kiss wherever you are,
sillyvamp (a.k.a. Mama panda)
Chapter 10: Chapter 9; Tonic
Sanghyuk gaped, trying to keep his expression as passive as he usually had every day. There were two horses being escorted into the stables by three stable hands and one guard he didn't recognize.
He has been brushing Changmin out beside his stable, letting the horse stretch out when the doors had suddenly opened. He had thought nothing of it in the beginning as Chongpil opened both doors when he came into the stables after his breakfast. The open door brought more light into the stables and brought in clean air as well.
He looked up when he felt a hand on his forearm and then was pulled out of the way. He looked in the direction of the pulling, eyes wide in confusion. Sooman, one of the only other stable help that was decent, was pulling him away from the empty stables and towards the other stable hands and horses. Sanghyuk stumbled as Sooman stopped and stepped in front of him, shaking him from the new arrivals.
"What is it?" Sanghyuk asked, placing a hand in Sooman's shoulder for both stability and to go on with the presence.
"The palace has received sudden visitors from a kingdom to the North of Joseon. It's a large party, some noble and his guards."
"I thought large parties were not allowed in the main palace?" It was an unwritten law Sanghyuk had learned in their stay here. Nobles and visitors were only allowed one guard and a servant to ensure there would be no sudden attacks to the royal family. Who was so important that they were able to break the rule with ease?
"A kitchen maid saw the group when they just entered the palace." Sooman explained. "She said it was a noble and around a dozen guards, half on horseback."
Sanghyuk stared at the unknown guard, sizing him. He was big, the simple chest and shoulder armor fit snugly on his body and accentuated his muscles. He wore a scabbard on his left hip, made of steel and thicker than any Sanghyuk had ever had the pleasure of seeing.
"Ssangyong Geom*" Sanghyuk muttered under this breath. He had heard of the Ssangyong Geom before. Blacksmith Min had told him once, when they were in the capital of Angelos, that it was rare for him to get an order for the making of such weapons. There were few soldiers, let alone guards who used it.
The guard turned to the side for a second, running his fingers through one of the brown horses' manes in goodbye. He took a step back, allowing the stable hands to unsaddle the horses. His eyes snapped in Sanghyuk's direction suddenly, piercing and calculating.
Sanghyuk held his breath as Sooman stiffened in front of him. Nothing about this guard was normal. He screamed danger in a way Sanghyuk had never seen before.
Sanghyuk unconsciously gulped, speaking in a whisper, "What is wrong?" The guards head tilted ever so slightly to the right, eyes never leaving Sanghyuk own. Sanghyuk fought every instinct that told him to look away. ”Sooman, tell me what you see."
The guard stilled, chuckling to himself before his stare was dropped. He left right after that, muttering to himself.
Sanghyuk's hand fell empty as Sooman fell to his knees, gasping as if he had been drowned. It seemed he had been staring at the guard himself.
"That was-" Sooman bit his words back, slowly rising with the support of a stable door. He straightened his Sooman and squared his shoulders, acting like he hadn't been having heart failure. "He just suddenly looked our way."
"He?" Sanghyuk asked eyes on the guards retreating, feigning confusion.
Sooman went on to retell the things that had occurred, loud enough so that the other stable hands could hear as well. He sounded excited and prideful, as he walked Sanghyuk back to a worried Changmin.
Sanghyuk listened half-heartedly, caressing Changmin's neck reassuringly. There was something about the emblem in the guard's chest armor that looked familiar.
He needed to speak to Hakyeon about it as soon as he could. Perhaps his brother would be able to fill in the gaps Sanghyuk had in his memories.
Sanghyuk shuddered, feeling a sudden coldness unfitting to the sun months passing through the stables.
Hakyeon quickened his pace, trying to keep himself from running back to the stables. The sleeve of his Jeogori*, where he had hidden the nugget of gold, was heavy with both its weight and its secrecy.
If anyone were to find that he, a small stable hand, held such a large amount of gold he would surely be beheaded.
He needed to show Sanghyuk, needed him to try to understand what he couldn't.
Daeun, a few paces behind Hakyeon, tried to catch up to him to stop him. She wanted to yell at Hakyeon, tell him to slow his pace and watch where he was going. However, the words would not leave her mouth. Could not leave her mouth.
Hakyeon slammed against a large body, taking fast steps back to balance himself. He was grabbed by the shoulder by the other man, an attempt to keep him from falling as well.
Hakyeon shuddered, smacking the man's hand away as the hairs on the back of his neck raised. He stared at the man, honey eyes wide with surprise and fear.
The man stared at him, entranced by Hakyeon's eyes. They reminded him of honey and the sugar candy he once ate before he left his home to train in the palace. The man could almost taste the sweetness on his tongue, feel it crack under his teeth.
"I apologize," the man said, pulling himself out of the trance he had fallen into. He sounded both startled and offended by the Hakyeon's sudden smack. He had only been trying to help the servant. His act of kindness didn't deserve such an action, especially when he was not the one at fault.
Hakyeon stared at the man dressed in black and wearing light armor over his chest and shoulders. He had his hair tied in a top knot that despite its tightness had strands threatening to fall out. Had it not been for the Donggot*, his hair would have fallen from the knot for sure.
Hakyeon, bowed low in apology. "I apologize, lord. It was my mistake for not looking at where I was going. I meant no harm."
"You are so formal," the man said, smirk on his lips as he looked at Hakyeon up and down a few times. He looked towards the servant girl behind the man before him who was also bowing from the waist down. "Too formal."
"Excuse my lack of manners but I must excuse myself," Hakyeon muttered as he straightened up, "I am in a hurry."
"Do not mind me," the man said, taking a step to the side.
Hakyeon bowed his head once more, before he left the man and went to the stables.
Daeun followed after him, bowing in a hurry and walking behind Hakyeon.
The man watched them leave, eyes calculating and firm.
The man turned to the person who had said his name, smirk returning to his lips. "Jongin, have you come to fetch me away?"
"We have to leave," Jongin told him, hand resting comfortably on the hilt of his sword. His nose wrinkled as if he had smelled something repugnant as he continued. "The Joseon King will not allow all of us to stay."
"And why not?" Chanyeol asked, eyebrows furrowing. "We said that we didn't need to stay at the main palace but on the outskirts with the palace guards."
"It is a precaution on their part," Jongin explained, "It seems we placed too much fear on the old King."
Chanyeol scoffed, "He has the heart of a chicken*, if such simple words moved him in such a form." Chanyeol walked to Jongin, leading them both towards the part of the palace the second Prince of Angelos would be in during his stay. "Where are we supposed to stay then?"
"Outside of the palace," Jongin told him, "I have already sent the foot soldiers to book and pay the inn we were in the past few days. The rest of us are at his majesty's lodging. He wishes to speak to us before we head out."
Chanyeol's smirk fell from his lips once more, "This nation lacks manners. Not even paying for our inn."
"It lacks more than that." Jongin muttered. "I can only assume this is the King's way of getting back at us for the way I disrespected him"
Chanyeol huffed, That was probably the case.
They reached the second Prince's quarters where a servant was waiting at the door.
"Announcing Royal guard Park and Kim," The guard spoke, opening the door and allowing both Chanyeol and Jongin to walk inside.
The doors closed behind them right after and they walked through the hallway and into the room where Wonsik and the rest of the guards were. They bowed low, connecting their fisted hand to the open palm of their right arm.
Wonsik grabbed onto the tea pot, serving himself more tea. He had stripped of both his royal and inner robes and was now wearing a silk robe over his undergarments. Unlike the one from a few days before, this one had its back covered by an intricate dragon and angel made of silver and gold thread. It was clear by his attire that he planned to stay inside for the rest of the day.
"Your majesty," Jongin greeted, "I have brought Chanyeol back."
"Thank you Jongin," Wonsik muttered, sipping the tea. "As we're all here let us speak about what our plan of action will be."
Chanyeol and Jongin stood up, joining the other men to the side.
"Junmyeon and Yifan will be staying here with me. They will check the palace for the possibility of the Royal peasants being here. Jongin, since you and Luhan are the fastest, I will be sending you two lower south, to check the areas we have not checked. I know the King's mutts said they were in this area but it would be best to check.
"Cerberus," Upon being called the two wolves emerged from the shadows. Snarling at one another playfully. "One of you will go with them as a messenger. The other will stay here."
Jongin and Luhan bowed, accepting the prince's orders.
"Chanyeol and Jongdae will search the capital with the other foot soldiers." Wonsik scratched at his shoulder, irritated by the itchiness under his skin. "As for me, I will stay in here for a few days and molt. This itching is driving me mad."
The guards bowed once more before they headed out the door. Cerberus stared at Wonsik for a few more seconds before they disappeared as well.
When Wonsik was alone, with the guards turning their back to him he stripped off the robe, calling upon his wings with urgency. He scratched at the places he could reach, irritated by the fact he couldn't get the right spot.
"Yifan," Wonsik huffed, "Yifan, call a servant inside please. I need them to help me."
Yifan bowed, leaving the room to ask one of the servants stationed outside to come in. Junmyeon followed after him.
Hakyeon bowed his head towards Sooman and Chongpil, moving to his brother with urgency. "Hyuk, brother, there is something we need to talk about."
Sanghyuk turned to him, confused. Daeun was still behind him, breathing hard and looking sick around the edges. Why was she here? The kitchen help was always busy, especially in the morning. "What is it?"
Hakyeon looked around them, shaking his head, "Not here." He pulled Sanghyuk away by the wrist and to the sleeping quarters. There would be none at this time of day.
Daeun's Cheeks were flushed as she waited outside the door when the other two went in. She wasn't allowed in any of the men's quarters.
She gasped as the door opened and she was pulled in.
Hakyeon had been the one to pull her in. Sanghyuk was sitting by the made bedding on the farthest wall from the door. He had the nugget of gold in one hand, inspecting it carefully. This gold was real, pure. "Where did you say you got this?" He asked Daeun.
Daeun looked at them both, unsure why it was that these two didn't seem to understand that she could not speak. She gestured to Hakyeon's back, tapping it lightly before she crouched down, acting how she had placed the feathers into the morning fire. She crouched deeper and acted how she had taken the nugget from the furnace.
"My feathers must have made it," Hakyeon muttered, "Do you not remember? Mother and father would always have gold when we could go to the city. They never took jobs, never sold anything. Yet we always had gold."
"If this was how, then why were we never told? We've burned your feathers before, we do it all the time. This is the first time this has happened. Why now?"
"I don't know," Hakyeon shot back. Despite himself, he was getting agitated by Sanghyuk's words and tone. "I don't know," he said once more, this time softly. "But it is good. With this we can leave at the end of molting. We will have enough gold then. More than enough."
Sanghyuk nodded, he thought the same as well. Memories of the guard this morning, of the way he glared at him. "Half a moon is too long."
"To speed up the molting could leave me flightless for many moons to come," Hakyeon answered him. To lose his feathers too fast would end up hurting his skin. It would make the molting during the dark months painful and damaging. "We can't stop mid way either."
Daeun held her hands in front of her, unsure how she could help. This sounded like a personal matter she shouldn't be here for. She worried that with them leaving they would get rid of her.
"And what of Daeun?" Hakyeon asked.
Daeun's head shot up, eyes wide.
"We get rid of her," Sanghyuk stated.
"Are you out of your mind?" Hakyeon exclaimed in a low voice. He glanced at Daeun, who held her skirts tightly, hands shaking. She would surely faint any time soon.
"That was the plan from the beginning."
"That was your plan," Hakyeon pointed his index finger at Sanghyuk, face red with anger. "It was never mine."
"Hyung," Sanghyuk sighed, rubbing at his face. "Let us not fight. Listen to me this once, that is all I ask of you."
The door to the sleeping quarters opened then.
Sanghyuk shoved the nugget of gold into his sleeve while Hakyeon grabbed Daeun, shoving her to a corner and standing in front of her. He tried to cover her as best as he could.
"Hyung-nim is asking for you two," Sooman told them, his head poking into the room. He ignored the deep blue skirts he could see from behind Hakyeon, eyes on Sanghyuk. "Come when you're ready."
Sanghyuk nodded. "We will be out in a second."
Sooman nodded, closing the door behind him as he headed out.
Daeun let out a gasp she didn't know she had been holding, heart hammering in her chest.
"We will speak of this later," Hakyeon told Sanghyuk, helping Daeun up.
Sanghyuk said nothing more, only handed the nugget to Hakyeon and left the room. He returned a second later, grabbing his cane from where he had left it and leaving once more.
Hakyeon sighed. The relationship between him and Sanghyuk was becoming strained. This whole ordeal was causing the cracks to broaden. If this continued, Hakyeon wasn't sure that they would ever return to the way things were before.
"Return to the kitchens," Hakyeon told Daeun, "Come back at dawn."
Daeun nodded in understanding.
"Daeun," Hakyeon began, chest tight. "My brother only has the best for him and I in thought. But I assure you, I will make sure no harm will come to you." He extended his left hand to her.
Daeun smiled, but looked confused.
Hakyeon chuckled, gently grabbing her hand, wrapping his fingers around her wrist. With a small nod of encouragement Daeun did the same slowly. "In my nation, this is done as a form of greeting. To do it with the left hand shows you are close to the person. I am thankful for the kindness you have shown me and my brother despite my brother's words."
Daeun's cheeks reddened. She let go of Hakyeon's wrist and left the room, barely containing her heart as it beat against her rib cage.
Hakyeon watched her go with a fond smile.
Jaehwan yawned, covering his mouth with his sleeve. His father, a few paces in front of him, tsked in discontent. Jaehwan instantly put his hand down, swallowing down the second yawn that tried to escape.
"You would think I awoke you before the sunrise," Jaehwan's father reprimanded him, moseying through the shrubbery between the outskirts of the palace ground and the beginning of the Royal woods. It was in that small area, where their wild herbs were growing.
Jaehwan bit his tongue. It had been exactly what had occurred. "I was kept awake by the salves," Jaehwan chose to say. Some of the salves they were making needed to be mixed on a strict schedule.
It was the task of the other healers, especially the new comers, to keep track of the salves at night. But Jaehwan was uneasy, waiting for word from Wonsik that had not come since he and unit one of squad eleven.
Jaehwan was becoming anxious. Wonsik had missions before that had taken him away from his side for close to a full moon's cycle. But he had always sent letters by hawk to let Jaehwan know he was well.
This was the first time that Jaehwan had no word from his beloved. He didn't wish to think negatively, but he feared that Hades had welcomed him in his arms before he could.
"Jaehwan," his father scolded.
Jaehwan turned to him, ashamed of his dozing off. "Father."
"I have been calling your name, but your mind seems elsewhere."
Jaehwan's father handed him a basket of small sprouts, shaking his head. "Our King is molting, he needs tonics to make the process as smooth as possible. We have much to do Jaehwan, I need you here."
"Yes father," Jaehwan muttered, taking the basket.
"Return to the infirmary while I check if the yarrow is beginning to grow. I will be leaving for the city right after. Prepare his majesty's tonic while I am away."
Jaehwan looked unsure. His father was the head healer and as such made all the medicine for their King. Jaehwan had helped him a few times, but he had never done it alone. Not only that, he would have to present it to the king himself. "Father, I don't think I can do it. What if I do it wrong ? What if I poison his majesty due to my lack of knowledge."
"Jaehwan," his father cupped his face, raising his head to see his panicked eyes. "Take a breath. It is a soothing tonic. You have seen me do it since you were able to walk. You know it well."
Jaehwan's father tsked in discontent once more. "You will take my place someday Jaehwan. It is time you began to take part in task I often do."
Jaehwan took deep breaths, calming his panicked mind. He nodded in understanding, straightening his posture. "Yes father."
"Now go," his father dismissed him.
Jaehwan walked back to the infirmary. He looked around once he got there, placing the basket of sprouts down on the washing basin. His hands shook as he washed the sprouts' roots, ridding them of dirt and any other impurity.
"Prepare a fire," Jaehwan told the waiting help. They moved around him, preparing the fire and setting a small clay pot on it to heat. Jaehwan moved around the room, picking up roots and dried herbs from different areas. He filled the pot with water and watched as it boiled.
Adding ingredients one by one into the pot Jaehwan began to call down, used to the movements of fanning the fire and checking the tonic. It was as like any other time he brewed medicine, that he began to forget for whom this tonic was.
It was half past the hour of the dragon*, when the tonic was done and he was putting it into a ceramic bowl when he remembered he would be seeing his Majesty. The uneasiness returned once more and his stomach tightened with worry.
He didn't fear the king, no, it was simply the fact that he was meeting his Majesty that had his nerves in a knot. He had never met his majesty before. He had seen him only once, on the day of his majesty's coronation. It had only been his back that he had the honor of seeing. It had only been for a second but had left an impact on him.
His majesty's wings were a deep black. So pigmented that they looked nearly violet when the chariot's light grazed their plumage. They were as long as he was tall and stronger than the previous king's ever had the privilege of being.
Jaehwan worried he would make a fool of himself in front of his majesty and end up bringing shame to his father and to their deceased ancestors. To Wonsik, who had chosen Jaehwan to be the aim of his love.
Jaehwan held the wooden serving tray tightly, checking to see if he had spilled any tonic due to his shaking hands. To his surprise, both the tonic and candied peach were intact.
He reached the King's palace soon after, where he was greeted by guards and a few Gungnyeo*. They allowed him passage and he moved into the palace, where Eunuchs and more Gungnyeo were outside his majesty's quarters.
"I am healer Kim," Jaehwan spoke, voice soft. "I have some to deliver an herb tonic to his majesty."
"Your majesty," the head eunuch spoke, "healer Kim is here."
There was the ruffling of garments from inside the room. "Let him in."
The door opened in front of Jaehwan and he stepped in, head lowered and eyes on the tray. His hands were shaking harder than before, breath coming out in short puffs.
When he saw the bottom of a Gungnyeo's skirts he stopped, falling to his knees slowly and presenting the tray. "Your majesty."
"You are different," A soft, quiet voice spoke up.
Jaehwan shivered, the hair on the back of his neck raised. The voice was smooth, like freshly harvested honey. It held a melodic tone yet was still firm and powerful.
"You must be his son."
The serving tray lightened as the tonic bowl was picked up by the Gungnyeo.
"I am Jaehwan," Jaehwan told his majesty.
His majesty chuckled, amused. "Wonsik's little canary."
Jaehwan's head shot up as his cheeks reddened. His heart beat against his chest so loud he was worried the king would hear him.
He knew who he was. Wonsik must have told him. What's going to happen to him now? Would be he told to leave Wonsik? Would he be killed?
"There is no need to worry," his majesty soothed. "I am in no place to say who Wonsik can and cannot be with."
He sighed in relief and caught his mistake when he saw the shadow behind the red veil. He lowered the tray and set it in front of him. He bowed, head against the floor. "Forgive me your majesty, I meant no disrespect."
There was another chuckle, and a murmured thank you. "No need for such formalities. You are Wonsik's beloved canary. Raise your head."
"I cannot your majesty," Jaehwan objected, "I am not worthy."
"Worth," his majesty, muttered. "What an interesting word that is. Raise your head Jaehwan. You have nothing to worry about. The veil will disturb your sight if you are worried about it."
Jaehwan did so, slowly straightening up and leaning back on his legs. Much like his majesty's words, he wasn't able to see much through the veil at a glance. If he looked close enough he could see a few things however, like the way his eye pierced through Jaehwan even through the veil. Jaehwan made it a point to keep his head up but his eyes on the edge of the veil.
His majesty hummed as he took a careful sip of the tonic. "You would think I would be used to the taste."
Jaehwan picked up the tray, offering the plate of candied peaches to his king. The Gungnyeo took it and presented it to the King as well.
His majesty laughed, small and high-pitched, "Peaches, I'm more of a tangerine man."
Jaehwan blushed, cursing himself silently. Candied peaches are Wonsik's favorite snack. The king preferred fresh fruits over candied. Wonsik seemed to be in Jaehwan's mind more than what he had ever imagined. "Forgive me."
"I must say I miss him too."
"Your majesty?" Jaehwan's voice broke, chest tightening.
"Wonsik is well, Jaehwan. He has sent word that he has found what I send him to look for. If things go well for them they will return before the dark moons come upon us."
Jaehwan nodded, relieved to hear that Wonsik was alive and well. "He is well," he repeated.
The door was opened after a light knock. Jaehwan turned, curious as to who came into the royal chambers with only such a small warning. Two Gungnyeo came in, one held an empty tray in her hand while the other held a tray with tools Jaehwan recognized as tweezers the healers used to pick delicate herbs.
There was a small girl with them, head held high with confidence her eyes failed to portray.
It took him a second to recognize the white garments she was wearing were the ones the royal shamans wore.
"Your majesty," the girl spoke. Her voice wavered for a second before she continued. "We are here to help you with your molting."
"It seems the time has come once more," The king muttered more to himself than the other occupants of the room.
"I will take my leave, your majesty," Jaehwan spoke in a soft voice. He needed to give them privacy as he was unworthy to see the king without garments.
"Thank you for the tonic Jaehwan. It would be my pleasure to speak with you once more."
"The honor would be mine, your majesty." Jaehwan stood up, head lowered as he stood careful steps back. Once he was far enough he turned and left the room. His heart hammered against his chest as he walked.
He couldn't believe the king wanted to see him again.
Ssangyong Geom*-- are twin swords which are carried in a single scabbard which is how Chanyeol carries his. The sheath is twice as wide because it needs room for the second sword and is often made of iron. The swords are usually made of iron, scabbard included, and are often double-edged. It can vary from twin long swords or twin short swords but in Chanyeol's case, they are long swords. They're distinctive from regular swords as they are curved.
Donggot*- a hair pin often used by men to keep the top knot secured. Depending on the wearer's status the Donggot could be extravagant and expensive or simple and made of wood.
Hour of the dragon*-- 07:00 to 09:00
Gungnyeo*-- The ladies in waiting. Female servants who follow the king and other royal family members. They are in charge of nearly everything around the inner palace from clothing to helping the royals bathe. In the case of Angelos there is Gungnyeo who helps with the molting process. They are not allowed to actually touch the feathers so they use specially made tools.