Nightmare. It’s all one big nightmare.
Blood splattered across earth and life surrendered up to the clutches of death.
Open your eyes. See the stars. See the moon and her glow.
The shriek of horses jolted him awake and up he sat, heart pounding wildly in his chest. Head to toe he dripped in sweat as if he’d been in one of the hot mists of a Kushite sauna. But as much as he burned, the appearance of gooseflesh prickled his skin, raising every such hair. For the longest time, he breathed heavily but consciously slowed it down, feeling his heart beat slower. There. Again. A horse’s outcry and yet it sounded one of distress… as if the beast was trying to warn him… tell him. Danger. His stomach turned and the urge to vomit rose within his gut but he didn’t. Instead, he turned to find his once asleep wife looking up at him, eyes alert. Eyes so uncanny and mystical and real. She said not a word as she lifted.
Placing a hand on his chest, she seemed to speak a silent language, one he felt, understood and communicated in return with a brush of his fingers against cheek. She swallowed thickly and at once began to get up and dress. Silently, they both moved, the morning in all its stillness an illusion of peace. Peace was not to become the Palace on this day. As fingers took hold of a geom, his throat tightened. Instead, a new era would begin.
“You heard it too.”
“Shh.” Serious eyes darted around her, surveying the many winds and paths around the two women.
“I can’t help but feel as though they are here.” Tiye spoke very low and quiet, careful.
“I agree.” Hae nodded, lips pinching slightly.
“But who? Who has led us to their table of slaughter?”
“You think someone helped them Tiye-ah?” She knew it didn’t make sense but her spirit never lied. Her gut always lead her right and it told of a conspirator.
“We have to wake the women.” She pressed, taking hold of her friend’s hands.
“Wake them. Prepare them. Get them ready. Today we shall fight for our lives and for the Kingdom.”
“Of course. At once” And at once the two became as separate branches of a much larger tree, the roots every present and strong underneath them.
Bodies began to pile and feet callously walked around them as if they were nothing more than mere insects, ants to be crushed underfoot.
“I believe our newest conquest awaits us. Let’s go greet them warmly.” Men great in number replied with a loud resounding roar and like a black river, they moved forward toward the Palace gates.
Dim lights cast an orange glow upon the faces in the watch tower and eyes sleepily drooped, a head nodding to and fro. Oft in the distance, it seemed quiet and still, proving this to be an easy watch so early in the morning.
“Han-gyeol-ah…” Said head drooped further, drool starting to gather at his mouth.
“Wake up you idiot!” A sharp slap woke him and the man jumped up, in a sleepy stupor.
“Yah….why’d you hit me so hard? Huh?”
“Shut up.. look.”
“You worthless piece of shit look over there.” Finally the man opened his eyes and with a yawn glanced in the direction the older man. Out in the vast distance, black appeared to move.
“Is it moving? What is it?”
“You’re still drunk. There is nothing the-” An arrow shot out from the far black and pierced the man brutally, entering and exiting through his head. His eye sickly dangling from the arrow head. Too horrified to scream or protest, Dwi took a step back, watching as the younger man fell first on his knees and then fell on his side, mouth ajar.
“We’re under attack!” He shouted, ducking as another arrow whizzed out of thin air narrowly missing him.
“Grab your weapons and alert the King!”
“Pyeha! We’re under attack!” The very day that the King had feared was upon him.. upon them all. His entire face grew pale and white and he immediately glanced towards him. He stood stiff and stoic, eyes on him just the same.
“What are your thoughts? How are we to save everything? Everyone?” What solution are you suggesting to enable that I save myself?
“With those bastards Cheol-su brought and my forces we’ll wipe them out Father. Don’t worry.” Seo Jun spoke first, lips sneering at him in what seemed to be a permanent smirk.
“Send those heathens to the front lines first. We need our good able bodied men.” His throat burned to retort but at the moment his response was not needed, necessary or required. Every minute they wasted going back and forth was a minute the Mongol invaders drew closer and closer.
“The answer is simple Father. We fight. As the King of this country, we all will follow your command and your lead. What are your orders?” He replied smoothly, bowing his head. The man visibly gulped, shock and fear overwhelming him. He’d fallen from the version of the man he’d grown up fearing, loving and even aspiring to be like. The great impenetrable man who had once led Goryeo away from a wicked and corrupt ruler now trembled like a child. His fear of losing what he’d obtained so great it had paralyzed him.
“Pyeha!” The sharp impatient voice of their mother cut through the delay. He kept his head bowed but he could only imagine the look on her face. Cold, callous even… impatient and even pitying. As if to say are you really the man I married? Was it worth it? After all, she’d been the biggest opponent to the changes he’d made since he’d been back home. At every turn, she’d rejected every invitation to serve the common people be it with education, food or other acts of service.
It was beneath her she said. It wasn’t in the will of the Gods to allow them to mingle with her kind… their kind. But she knew that she had to bite her tongue should the King approve. Approve he did but they all knew it was not for the benefit of the common man. No, in his crazed mind, he desired to use each and every one as a shield, ready to say that they owed him for his ‘service’. That was the kind of man he was.
“Will you allow those beasts to take everything from you? Will you sit there fearful and surrender the Throne yourself?”
“Watch your mouth woman!” His voice rumbled but there was no power within.
“What of our children? Will you let them kill them?”
“Of course not!”
“Then I suggest you un-paralyze yourself and act like the sovereign ruler you used to be.”
“If it eases your stress Father, I’ll make the first move.”
“Cheol-su! You can’t…”
“You’re the next King….err…well….in line to be the next King. The risk is too great.” Lifting his head, he tightened his jaw.
“I’m not afraid to fight and die for Goryeo. If she will eventually by the grace of the Gods and my father be mine to rule then I will rule her knowing I fought with everything I had for her.”
“Of course pyeha.”
“Cheol-su.” Eyes lifted to his father, who it seemed had aged ten years in less than ten minutes. He looked tired, weary and fearful. But he had to command his army, had to put his own life on the line. It scared him witless.
“Take the warriors that accompanied you home. All this training you’ve given to the gisaeng at my approval. Let it be put to good use.” He bowed his head.
“Seo Jun, take your military and head to the South and East Gates. Cheol su will go to the North and West Gates. Defend this palace with your lives if need be.” Turning eyes to their mother, he spoke much softer.
“I’ll have you and Mishil on horseback at once. I’ll send you both to Deoksugung where the Queen Consort already waits.”
“My Lady, please let’s make haste.” The gungnyeo urged and she left them promptly. He too didn't wait a moment longer, turning on his foot. He could feel the eyes of his brother on his back but chose to ignore it. Chose to ignore everything but the mission at hand. What was about to ensue was a battle unlike anything they had ever seen. And to the Gods above, he would make sure they prevailed.
She had just stepped outside when she saw it, a black cloud drawing closer and closer. She turned and ran back into the room demanding help pushing one of the tables down on its side. Just as they did, arrows shot through the thin paper screens of the doors, shot into the wood floors, walls, seemingly everywhere. The sound was deafening, likening to one she’d never heard before. Thunderous, loud and dangerously frightening it even shook her a bit. A girl nearest her screamed as one pierced her ankle, her blood the first to spill. Grabbing hold of her hand, she squeezed tight until the damned sound stopped, arrows resembling thick black weeds all around them. At once, she snapped the arrow plaguing the woman in half.
“Mistress Tiye…” Turning, she found Anat unharmed thanks to the Gods.
“I know. She must go to the medicinal ward. But we don’t have time. More of those arrows will come and should we not move we will die.”
“Can you pull it out? How am I to walk?” The woman complained, sweat soiling her brow.
“No. You will bleed out.” Ripping a threadbare part of her chima, she tore until she got a nicely sized piece.
“For now we have to stop the bleeding and move on. Will you be okay?” Clearly, the girl was terrified and in pain but… bless her she grit her teeth in a nod.
“Don’t try to be a hero Yeon-ha. Do what you can and fight for what you love. If you can’t then you can’t. Accept your limit and try to escape. No one will fault you.” She said gently as she tied the bandage tight around the ankle. She nodded again and inhaled sharply through her nostrils.
“Okay… we have to move and quickly. Grab as many of these arrows as you can hold and let’s go.” Once they had sacks full, they carefully headed towards the door and slipped out into the morning.
Relief washed over him as he saw her. She came towards him, the women of the harem briskly keeping pace with her.
“Pyeha…” Turning, he found Yoo-shik in tow with Dong-Il, his reins tightly in hand. Smiling briefly at his friend, he lifted a hand to pet Dong-Il’s ears.
“You haven’t abandoned me yet hm Dongie?” The stallion blew out air from his nostrils and pressed his head further into his hand, a testament to his having missed him.
“I’ve missed you too.”
“Majesty…we’ve arrived.” Eyes filled with warmth turned towards her and he stood, taking the reins from Yoo-shik.
“Yoo-shik, take the women and head towards the West Gate.”
“And you pyeha?”
“I shall take Tiye and her soldiers to the North Gate.” He didn’t dispute his orders and with a bow, ushered the women to follow him.
“Wait what will happen to them?”
“It’s alright. I’m pretty tough! And so is our wangja-nim. We’ll be fine.” She reassured with a confident smile and shooing hands. The women however remained worried but continued on their way following the guard away. For a while the two were quiet and the press of a muzzle into her hand made her sigh.
“Hello dear friend.” Turning towards the horse, she scratched his ears the same as his master before her.
“Are you ready to follow your master into battle today?” A brief neigh answered her and she laughed.
“Then we will be victorious.”
“Tiye.” Letting go of the animal she allowed him to lift her up onto his back and soon he mounted the same. Holding on tight, he gave a firm rap to Dong-Il’s shoulders and at once he began to trot.
An explosion of wall sounded and large jagged pieces burst out like shrapnel, crushing limbs and bodies. Screams filled the air and then again so did blood. And it was beauteous to behold. Indeed, they were the most savage beings in the region. Their reputation far proceeded them. He watched with amazement as soon men short in stature climbed through the hole left by the explosion, strange tawny hats on their heads, long thin feathers adorning them.
“You know you could have just come through the front door.” He remarked, taking in the dark murderous gazes that eyed him, the small beady eyes more than humoring him. So, these were the monsters of the East? One or two of them spoke something in a different dialect and a man on horseback strolled in confidently. The commander he presumed.
“So you were here.”
“As promised. Did you not think I would keep my word?” The man sneered and halted his mare.
“You know we have no reason to trust anyone. Actions always speak louder than words prince of Goryeo.” Sneering back, he sheathed his sword.
“And now they have. So, it is now time for you to uphold your end of the bargain.” The man dismounted and came up to him, though short in stature, his entire aura was one of danger, brutality and bloodlust.
“Our agreement will be honored. I will slay the King for you. And when you rise to the throne, the Mongolian empire will merge with yours.” Chuckling, he leaned forward, pleased in the fact that the man did not shy away.
“Kill as many as you want. They are yours to have.”
“But of course.”
“And should you see my little brother…slaughter him where he stands. He and his foreign little wench.”
“Not before I have a taste of her prince.”
“And I as well.” The two men chuckled as the forces began to surround the area, men and women regardless of their status cut down like weeds.
The body of the stallion pushed hard, Dong-Il ran hard per his master’s command and once he was given a reprieve, he blew a short burst of hot air out through his nostrils, chest and heart pumping. The sound of metal sounded as Cheol-su drew his weapon. Behind him, Tiye drew tight a bow and arrow. Before them strange beings had taken hold of a woman. Her hanbok had been ripped apart and her hands were tied. Muffled wails and screams rose from her as a man forced himself into her, helping himself to her unwilling body. Glancing up, slimy brown teeth smirked at them. Tiye let the arrow go, firing a warning shot that landed dangerously close to his calf.
Reaching behind him, he took hold of a short sword and at once put the crying tortured woman out of her misery with a deep slit to the throat. Her body shuddered and blood spurt out onto the man’s face. Taking hold of the arrow, the man stood and turned. To their horror, he shoved it up through his chin, lips wide and smile still visible. His own blood soaked his fingers and yet he kept pushing the arrow deeper until he fell to his knees and fell against the dirt dead. Relaxing her arms and fingers, she swallowed thickly as they proceeded onward.
Sheer chaos ensued around them, haunting cries of pain, murder and agony traveling through the air. Up ahead carnage lay in their wake, the bloodthirsty dogs entangled in battle with the Kushite soldiers and members of the army.
“Can you take him?” Cheol-su asked curtly, back stiff.
“Yes.” He hastily climbed down and ran towards the melee, sword ready. He heard her sharp rap against Dong-Il’s neck and the two gallop away from them and was glad of it.
“Bastards.” He hissed, slicing the neck of one and kicking the feet of another from under him.
“It will be a cold day in hell before I ever surrender Goryeo to you.”
“Brother Sekhemrekhutawy.” Turning towards his comrade, he gave a curt nod. The men roared as they pushed forward, piercing hearts, eyes and lungs with their swords and arrows. He grit his teeth as he pushed back against one, metal clanging harshly. The stench coming from the man was enough to peel the skin off of an onion and it made his eyes water and nose burn.
“Stinking son of a bitch…” He rasped, reaching for his short geom at his side. Tearing his tawny red armor, blood soon seeped through. Kicking him back, he quickly straddled him and took hold of his neck. Teeth black and mouth slimy, the man gasped for air and further still he squeezed. When he finally stopped moving, he finished him with a final slice across his throat. Sweat beaded up upon his forehead and his breath came in pants. He’d kill every which one he found and there would be no mercy.
Eyes filled with tears at the scene before her. Her sisters… her friends… laid slain. Some of them fought with their last breaths, even though paralyzed with fear they defended Goryeo with everything they had. Their reward was found in the almost peaceful expressions of death despite the slit throats. The tears blurred her vision and she wept as she forced Dong-Il into a run past them. Rest their souls in your embrace Mother Isis. Embrace them sweetly and reward them forevermore for their courage. Lifting hands to hastily wipe her tears, she felt her chest fill with rage. There ahead Hae, Anat and Yoo-shik engaged in a brutal battle with a small band of them. Drawing an arrow, she paced herself with the beat of Dong-Il’s hooves. 1…2…3…4….Releasing the arrow took a man off of his feet and immediately he laid dead, struck through the heart. Drawing yet another, she aimed for the one engaged with Anat. She was holding her own but she could tell that she was growing fatigued. Releasing, the man went down. Thankful eyes met hers.
“Tiye-ah!” Allowing herself to hit the ground, she threw one of her shoes in the direction they’d left.
“Go to your master!” He turned gracefully and galloped away at once, leaving a trail of dust in his wake. Lifting her arrow, she struck one. Two. Three- Hae’s sword blocked an attack behind her. Dropping her bow, she stabbed through the armor and punctured his stomach, slicing it open. Breathing harshly, she lifted her eyes to her friend, just as sweaty as she, blood already misted across her gorgeous milky skin.
“Where is Wangja-nim?” She questioned, quickly darting her eyes around her.
“He fights with my soldiers.” Swallowing, she gave a nod.
“Where is the King?” It was her turn to question.
“He plays coward in his chambers.” Hae hissed, disgust more than evident in her voice.
“He doesn’t dare fight with his people? He intends to surrender Goryeo?” A enraged yell cut the conversation short as four or five Mongolian soldiers came towards them. Together, the women slew him, Hae’s swords each embedded in his neck and stomach and Tiye having shoved an arrow through his eye. Arms enclosed around her and threw her to the ground, bringing a grunt from her. Hae lifted one of her sword to help but was forced to abandon the attempt as another one came at her. Yoo-shik came from behind and shoved his sword through the man’s back. The two exchanged glances.
“You’ve done well Hae-ah.”
“As have you.”
“I think…we should….return to….Wangja-nim’s side…” Tiye spoke, finally cutting down her opponent.
“Agreed.” Yoo-shik said with a nod.
“You three head that way through the courtyard.”
“What about you? Where will you go?”
“My place is by the King’s side. I’ve been away too long already.” Hae did not look happy but she had to accept what was. Lifting her chin, he smiled handsomely at her.
“We have a life yet to build Hae-Won-ah. Don’t worry.” Blushing prettily, she nodded against his palm and cleared her throat at the teasing eyes of Tiye. They began to part ways and rounded the corner without a moment to waste.
Fingers trembled as they held tight to a eunjangdo. She sat against the wall, knees pulled up against her chest. Eyes looked out at the man who lay dead in front of her. Pants still down around his thighs, his buttocks exposed to air. The stench of him she feared she would never get out of her nostrils and it was what led to her almost crazed assault. Fingers made slippery with blood let the weapon slide out from in between her fingers. Her breath was fast and uneven and her eyes filled with fresh tears. Glancing down at her bloodied hands, she cried silently for a moment before the cries turned into laughter. It became hysterical and she lifted her hands to slide fingers into her hair. Finally. She’d done something on her own. She’d defended herself without help. She’d completed something and completed it well. She could… she could do this after all. The laughter ceased and she once again took in the man, brutally covered in holes where she’d stabbed.
“Gongju-nim?” At once she turned towards the voice and took hold of her weapon.
“Who is there?”
“Young-ho majesty…a-are you okay in there?” Eyebrows knit together and she scrambled to the door and yanked it open. It was as he said. He stood there, sweaty and appearing as if he’d too had a battle to fight. He didn’t look particularly happy or comfortable to be there but nevertheless moved not.
“Why are you here?” She asked, lifting wide eyes upward. He swallowed and took a step back,
“Tiye-sunbae-nim requested I come to study today.”
“Yes gongju-nim.” What connection did she have with this man? Gods it was if it was he that stood in front of her, their expressions, eyes, posture even voices the exact same.
“Why didn’t you run away?” She asked next, wanting to reach out to touch his cheek.
“I couldn’t…my honor is bigger than that.” She could have laughed. His honor?
“Tell me Young-ho…d-did you…once have a brother?” His entire aura changed just then. He got stiff and tight…face pinched and frozen.
“Yes.” He looked at her for a while… hesitant to say.
“….A brother yes.”
“A twin brother. He was my hyung-nim.”
“Ah is that….that so?”
“He was only a couple minutes older than I. He came here…to the palace and I never saw him again.” Her heart pounded up into her ears and she could barely think straight at the revelations unfolding before her.
“Why…do you a-ask gongju-nim? Did you know him?” It took her the longest time before she answered. When she did her voice belied grief, sadness and a deep emotion he couldn’t understand.
“You can say that.” Before either of them could speak more, a scream rang out startling her and she tightened her grip on her geom.
“We have to go gongju-nim. I must get you to safety.” She felt her throat constrict but her feet began to follow him. Her heart breaking with each step she took.