The wind carried the sound of the drum and it was bittersweet to her ears. Braids loose around her, she smiled down at the sleeping man who rested in her lap.
“Shall we go then my love?” Fingers nestled into the man’s onyx strands, she pressed a kiss to his forehead.
“Let us go before they try to capture us. Let us go to paradise.” Pulling out a small celadon vial, she smiled again as the man’s eyes opened and looked up at her. For the longest time, they looked into hers and a myriad of emotions traveled between them. At long last, he sighed and turned to press his face against her.
“There is nothing to fear my love.” She said softly, lightly scratching his scalp with short fingernails. Humming, he tightened his hug on her hips before laying as he did once before, body stretched out comfortably in front of her.
“What I feel is not fear Tiye.”
“Is it peace that surrounds you? It is the only thing you should feel.” Twisting the small top off of the vial, she looked out across the horizon and with a small sigh, she lifted the vial to her lips, drinking some of the contents.
“You are the greatest king this world has seen and it shall remain. Now and forevermore.” She spoke softly as she glanced down at him.
“You’ve done so much for your people.” He smiled, eyes soft as they glanced up at her.
“Yes but now I must retire. Into your arms I must go.”
“And how warm they will be, enclosed around you.” He took a breath, eyes never having left hers.
“Welcome me then sarang.” Lifting the vial again to her lips, she took more than before into her mouth. Softly brushing his jaw with her fingertips, she leaned down and kissed him, letting the liquid therein saturate his mouth, coat his throat and travel down into his awaiting belly. Pulling back some, she wiped the excess from his lips and finally his gaze, intense, hard even drew away from her as his lids closed.
“In this life and in the next thousand lives, you…my love, my dearest…” Pain began to enter his expression but he fought through, continuing,
“You, my wife, friend, held in the highest regard, shall always be mine.” Tears began to well up in his eyes the same as hers but she softly… quietly kissed his away.
“As you wish it Taewang-nim.” He was wet with sweat, soaked from head to toe and she could see the light fading from his beautiful eyes. The love however, struck her to the core. He lifted a hand and touched her face, letting his fingers run sloppily across her skin.
“My beautiful…beautiful Yeonwang.” His hand fell away from her and she caught it, bringing it back up to her face.
“Sweet one… my dearest love…here I come….” Her mother tongue flowed from her lips softly as she began to feel the fiery tendrils of pain as they snaked through her body. At long last, not a moment later her body fell limp, fell forward on top of him, their entwined hands upon the dirt soon growing cold.
Theirs was a tale that was intentionally blotted out from the history books. Brought on by a hatred of a King, a King they rumored ruled with an iron fist. A tyrant who murdered babies still in the womb of the mother, cut out the hearts and tongues of innocent men. A King who made a savage a wife, brought her into the palace and defiled all that was sacred. This they reasoned was inexcusable. This they reasoned was unforgivable.
They made sure that the oral tradition carried this fact…this rumor proved true. After all, how could the great Kingdom of Goryeo….now known in modern times as the Republic of Korea allow their way of life to be sacrificed? How could the people in power allow one man to destroy all the founding fathers had died to protect? One man who let his desire for a blood thirsty beast overtake his desire to lead his people, his country into the promised land. As so it was told.
A cry was heard as a small body was thrown to the ground.
“Seo Jun!” A woman came rushing from the inner corridor, concern all about her face.
“Why are you so rough with him? He’s only a child!” The boy watched as his mother stooped low and picked up the younger, cradling him to her bosom.
“Mi-gyung! You cannot baby the boy forever.” All three turned to see the King standing there, arms clasped behind his back. The woman swallowed thickly but let go of the child.
“Seo Jun is teaching him the way of the world. As he should. Let them spar as they like.” And like that, the two brothers began to spar, a match that would endure the remainder of their lives.
All of it was burned. Nothing remained. His entire existence had been removed from history. All because of a choice. A choice that he had to make not only as a King but as a man. Whoever said the ruler of men could not too have love lied. He made sure he had the best of both worlds. In his world, she lived and loved freely. He shaped an entire Kingdom around her and his interest with her kind had most definitely been piqued from a young age. It seemed nothing or no one could separate the bond the two had, even as children.
A pair of curious brown eyes peeked over the top of the long wooden post, the laborious sounds of the horses drifting into young ears. Small brown hands gripped the post as the sounds continued and the child was in complete awe.
“You’re not supposed to be out here.” Jumping, the caught girl lifted her gaze to see none other than Wang Cheol Su standing there, hands on his hips, chastising her with his gaze. She felt all the saliva in her mouth dry up and felt the heat of embarrassment as the once quiet sounds grew louder in pitch before all was quiet.
“My apologies Wangja-nim.” The gaze lifted to the two fatigued animals that now desired to rest after their midnight rendezvous.
“The horses woke you I assume.”
“Yes Wangja-nim.” Lifting his arms and folding them across his chest, he felt a smirk come to his face.
“And your curiosity got the better of you didn’t it? You had to come see just what the noise was about hm?” Her mouth fixed itself to retort but he instead took hold of it and squeezed, making her pout.
“No matter how many times I tell you to stay in your chambers past dark…you never listen.”
“I’m…sorry Wangja-nim.” She struggled to get out and at that, he let go of her face, opting instead to laugh.
“When Father gave you to me, he didn’t know that he’d given over a handful.”
“Perhaps if there was more for me to do then I wouldn’t have to sneak out.” His eyebrow lifted.
“I…Forgive me… I wasn’t thinking.”
“Agreed.” He lifted a finger and poked her forehead.
“You are forgiven tonight. But don’t let it happen again.”
“Come. Let us retire.”
“Yes Wangja-nim.” Eyes followed him as he began to walk past her and she was in awe for quite another reason. When had Wangja-nim gotten so tall? Just four years ago when she’d been brought to this place, he was the same height as her. But it seemed that his body decided that it would not stay the same. No, it decided that it would grow long like bamboo.
“Walk up Tiye.”
“Yes.” At fourteen summers, he was losing the infantile fat around his face and instead a chielsed jawline was forming in its stead. Eyes drifted up past shoulders that were growing broad to his hair.
He had rebelliously kept it short, soon after learning of her arrival. Rather, of how she arrived. He didn’t much seem to support the idea of chattel slavery even though influences of it existed in his very own country. Though he probably wouldn’t think so. But in her fourteen years on this earth, she’d seen enough about it to know that it was a disease that had spread worldwide. It didn’t care what color you were or what your background was.
Licking her lips, she toyed with imaginary braids before stopping herself. That’s right. It had been three years since the King, his father had forbade her to wear her hair as it was and forced his attendants to cut them off. Since then, she’d worn a short coily bush. As they neared his chambers, she swallowed some, grateful for the saliva that had returned.
“Tomorrow will be a day you might enjoy.” He said quietly as he let her in.
“Tomorrow my brother and I shall spar.”
“For that, we must rest. I’m sure you’ll prove to be a worthy opponent as always. Come.” He’d gone to lay on his bed of furs and soon she joined him, surrounded by his warmth. Sighing against her, he soon grew lax beside her and she took the time to observe him, turning underneath an arm that desired to keep her still. The moon streamed starlight across his face and she took in his eyelashes that fluttered against the tops of his cheekbones. The small short tuffs of air that traveled up from in between his lips. The hair he’d let free fell across a sweaty forehead.
Closing her eyes, she pressed her face against his chest. Wangja-nim was a good person. Since her arrival, he’d not laid a hand to her, had not tried to take advantage of her or abuse her in any other way. Instead, he had patiently taught her his mother tongue, taught her how to read and write, albeit in secret. He was always there…always close by. With him, she felt safe. Protected. That feeling she hoped would never fade.
Fade it did not. The years continued to pass and in her own way she too decided that she would not stay the same. She’d stayed in her place… for the most part. Only twice had she received the lash for rebellious behavior. Both times of which Wangja-nim was most indignant. He too was reminded of his place. And hers. To the family, to the society in which she’d been forced into… she was dirt. Rather… she was lower than horse shit. And so, his favor while not disappearing completely waned a bit. At least while they were in public. When they were together, well… that was a different matter entirely.
She wasn’t aware that he had been watching her the entire part of fifteen minutes and counting. He intended to remain hidden for as long as he could stand it. Off alone, she stood by the bath and slowly began to remove her hanbok, a recycled old one that needed throwing away. His breath caught in his throat as she stepped out of it. Turning to face him, she reached up to start to unravel the gold twine she used to adorn her hair. Heat flushed him as his gaze slipped down her body. Pert breasts and small dusky nipples were clothed in smooth dark skin. The same golden twine encircled her waist and draped round hips. A small lush bush of hair the same coily texture as that on her crown hid treasures underneath and he felt his nether regions jolt as she turned back towards the water, her back facing him.
“So, this is where you are.” Startled, he turned to face a grinning brother, arms crossed.
“Spying on your girl hm?” His eyes drifted past him and he knew just where they settled.
“It must be a blessing and a curse both.”
“Having an ass like that.” Anger hit him in the chest.
“I’ve never seen one so…plentiful.”
“We should leave her in privacy.”
“Should we?” Seo Jun glanced downward before smirking.
“Judging by the tent you’re pitching, I’d say the last thing you want to do is leave her in privacy.”
“Hyung-nim.” Chuckling lowly, his brother’s eyes found her again and this time, his gaze followed his line of vision. She lifted a rag from the water he’d ordered to be laced with perfume and rubbed it across the back of her neck and down across those tantalizing breasts, nipples now erect.
“At any moment, should you choose to, you can.” Lowering his gaze, he clenched his jaw shut.
“Right this minute you could stop hiding like a little rat, go in there and take her. Bend her over the edge and fuck the temptation out of her.” The anger in his chest had spread to his fists and he wanted more than anything to strike him. His brother glanced at her one last time before a lecherous grin slipped up onto his face.
“You’re the second most desired man in the Kingdom, save for myself. She wouldn’t dare refuse you. She knows the consequences she risks by doing so.” It hurt to swallow but he forced himself to do so, eyes lifting to meet his.
“Sometimes, Father and I worry about you. Worry that you’re far too concerned with what that musori thinks. How she feels. Remember who you are Cheol Su. Put no one above you, be it a cheongmin musori or not.” Finally, he left him alone and he took a deep breath as he heard water splash and feet step onto the ground. Without another glance at her, he left her alone, chest tight with emotion.
When she found him, he was dressed for a ride. Smiling, she leaned against the ledge as he mounted. Once again, like he always had, he let his hair free; refused to tie it or secure it. Despite the nagging from Wangbi-nim. He always managed to do what he wanted when he wanted. With not much consequence. For that, she had to say she envied her friend.
“Are you coming?” Snapping out of her trance, she found him smiling at her, reins in hand, ready to take off.
“I would love to…but…”
“You’ve nothing better to do eolin-i. Come, ride with me.” At his nickname for her, she smiled softly and crossed her arms as she slowly approached him.
“What if I don’t want to go?” Like so many years before, his eyebrow lifted. But this time, a most unsettling grin accompanied it.
“Are you refusing my order?” Before she could stop herself, she answered quickly.
“Perhaps.” What she didn’t expect was for him to dismount his horse and approach her, taking her cheeks in between his fingers. Squishing them together, he held on a bit firmer than he ever had, making her eyes grew wide.
“I’d advise you don’t. Ever.” Leaning down, he brought her face closer.
“Whatever it is I ask of you it is expected that you do it with no hesitation.” She kept still as his eyes dropped to her puckered lips before letting her free.
“Not many are as lenient with you as I am Tiye. You must remember that.” On the onset of her reply, a throat cleared loudly. The two turned to find the Queen, Princess and Queen consort all standing there, looking most displeased.
“Cheol Su-ah, I presume you’re about to ride?” The Queen asked, lips tight and thin.
“Yes Mother. I am about to practice archery.”
“Ah. Good. You need the practice.” At his offended expression, his sister the Princess Mishil began to laugh.
“What say you of his archery skills musori?” The shrewd eyes of the Queen turned onto her and she kept her head bowed, eyes on the ground.
“They are most satisfactory my lady.” She offered no other reply but a grunt.
“I think I’ll ride with you Cheol Su-ah.” Lifting eyes but a brief second across the girl, she felt her throat grow tight. Jae-Hwa was her name and she was promised to be wife to Wangja-nim. She hadn’t liked her from the start but it wasn’t her place to voice any opinion. Jae Hwa was from what she had seen a typical Korean noble woman. No guts. No strength. Content to sit by and allow their men to rule both their lives and decisions.
“I will ride alone.” A childish pout came across her face.
“This is how you care for your visiting guests Cheol Su-ah? I’ve come all this way just to spend time with you.” At no reply, she didn’t need to look at her to know her eyes were on her.
“Tell me then… pyeha. Have you heard the latest rumor on the street?”
“I care not for those sorts of things.”
“This one you might to hear if not to also correct it.” A devious little smile spread across her lips.
“They say you treat your slave better than you do your own family. That you care more for her than you do for your own mother and father.”
“Anyone who believes that is a fool.”
“Are they really? As far as I’ve known her, she’s never known hard labor. You keep her tucked in your chambers at night doing God knows what at unholy hours. She eats only the choicest of foods. And I hear she bathes in perfume every night. It’s almost as if…she is your Queen consort and not I.”
“Enough!” The bark in his voice was enough to startle even her and she kept her eyes on the ground as he walked past her up to Jae Hwa.
“She belongs to me and me alone. What I do or don’t do with, to, or for her is none of your business.” Jae Hwa grew quiet as he neared closer still, nose almost touching hers.
“As for your insufferable jealousy, it would be wise to see it removed.” Turning on his foot, he mounted his horse.
“I will ride alone. Stay here and keep my sister company. I’m sure there is something you two can do.”
“As for her? Your beloved little musori?”
“As of this day forth, she shall sleep in the servant’s quarters. If it will appease you, I will write a public statement to dispel any more rumors of the like. Make no mistake about it, I have not forgotten what she is and who she is to me. Nor has she to I.” With a firm slap of the reins, he took off, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake and it blinded her for the smallest minute.
“Girl,” Turning eyes towards the three women, she for the first time since she was a child felt bare, open and vulnerable. Unprotected and susceptible.
“The cook needs help. Help her prepare tonight’s dinner.”
“Yes Wanbi-nim.” Bowing low, she didn’t get up until their feet disappeared from out of her side view. Eyes teary, she clutched the front of her hanbok and preceded to head to the kitchen.