"I'm so sorry for your loss, Soo-Won."
No you aren't you sick evil vile twisted bastard monster why are you here why are you here WHY ARE YOU HERE –
It had happened at General Yu-Hon's funeral. His father's funeral.
The morning was freezing cold, typical winter weather. A snow-filled day, remnants of a blizzard.
The chirping of birds and soft light of dawn welcomed a new day, a new beginning.
But it was only the beginning of Soo-Won's pain.
The funeral guests were gathered and speaking in hushed whispers after Yu-Hon's last rites and burial had been properly attended to, and the royal family was in a room together, and then –
King Il's arms wrapped around the little boy of 9 years.
For a split second, Soo-Won thought he could feel the blood of his father on the smooth silk robes brushing against his cheeks.
He wanted to scream at King Il to get off him and rot in hell.
King Il was a murderer, a traitor, a pathological liar. He deserved to die.
He was acting in front of all these funeral guests, trying to raise his already low image.
But like ice splitting his head in half, Soo-Won remembered.
King Il did not know that Soo-Won saw.
From the perspective of a Soo-Won who never witnessed the murder, Yu-Hon had died from an accident, and King Il was a good uncle, a brother in grieving, who was comforting his nephew.
That was how it was how it was supposed to look to the general public anyway.
To all the court ladies, all the public officials, all the generals, all the nobles, all the commoners, everyone.
The entire country.
Even if they looked down on King Il, they did it for all the wrong reasons.
Certainly, they did not expect him to strike a sword through his own brother.
They probably doubted he even had the ability.
Soo-Won opened his mouth, but "thank you" was stuck in his throat, and he squeaked inaudibly.
This man – his uncle – the kind, peaceful King Il – who took care of him as a boy – was all a lie.
Soo-Won had witnessed it with his very eyes.
King Il had killed his own elder brother.
His own elder brother who hadn't cared for the throne, who promised to protect his little brother and his people.
And King Il had lied to Soo-Won and his mother about it all.
He did not care about Soo-Won at all; yet here he was, at his father's funeral, acting like he did.
It made Soo-Won sick to his stomach.
Soo-Won couldn't move. He stood there, frozen, unable to breathe.
Memories of his father, his hero, the promises he had made, and Soo-Won's dreams of fighting alongside him when he grew up flashed through Soo-Won's mind.
It was all gone. It would never happen. It was impossible to believe.
And King Il had taken it all away.
Tears filled his eyes, and his throat was choked with unfathomable heaviness, and his head.
Oh, his head. It was splitting in half.
Was this the Crimson Illness his mother had told him about? The illness that would kill him one day?
Soo-Won knew he had to return the embrace. He knew he had to act.
He knew he had to say "thank you" in front of all the funeral guests.
He was a powerless, helpless child facing the King of Kouka.
Yet, Soo-Won couldn't.
How could he ever thank his beloved father's killer?
How could he act at his father's funeral?
Soo-Won's mind raced in a panic.
If King Il found out Soo-Won knew the truth, he would kill Soo-Won. He would kill his mother.
He would kill all witnesses, anyone who knew the truth, anyone who threatened his reign, with those terrifying, merciless eyes.
With a weapon with a weapon with a weapon WITH A WEAPON HE ACTUALLY USES WEAPONS THIS DAMNED MAN WHO CLAIMED TO BE A PACIFIST AND AVOID VIOLENCE ACTUALLY KILLED MY FATHER WITH A SWORD –
It was unbelievable, but undeniable.
He was no coward. He had the guts to trample over Soo-Won and his parents.
If he finds out he'll kill me and he'll kill mother just like how he killed father and they'll die they'll die they'll die they'll die and I'll die WE'LL ALL DIE how dare he how dare he how dare he come here how dare he embrace me with the same hands he used to kill father HOW DARE HE –
He felt his uncle's arms tighten around him as Soo-Won shook, gasping for air.
Oh no. King Il saw him through.
He was going to suffocate him. Soo-Won was already hyperventilating.
I'm going to die I'm going to die I'm going to die I'M GOING TO DIE –
It was his mother Lady Yon-Hi's voice that broke through Soo-Won's trauma.
His mother's frail hand rested on Soo-Won's shoulder and with a sweep of her thin arm, guided the little boy away from King Il.
"Thank you for your words."
Lady Yon-Hi was not crying, but she was shivering, even though she was wearing 5 pairs of clothes and jackets. She firmly caught Soo-Won's eye, but Soo-Won looked down.
He couldn't look at his mother.
Half of Soo-Won felt comforted by his mother's touch.
He was so sure no one understood him, but then her touch reminded him he wasn't alone. The touch of the last parent he had left alive.
His mother was the only person in the world who could probably understand what he was going through at that second.
The only person who he had no doubt was his ally at that moment.
The only person besides Kye-Sook who understood how much he despised and feared King Il.
She shared some of his personality; she knew manners. And she could act.
Half of Soo-Won was thankful.
But half of Soo-Won wanted to throw up.
He wished he had stayed strong for his mother.
He wished his mother had never thanked this man who killed her husband and left her widowed.
He wished to yell at King Il to stay away from his mother.
His mother was sick and dying. It had been so hard for her to even get out of her hospital bed, to stand in the snow.
She almost never left their mansion. She hadn't for years. Would there be an aftereffect?
His father had tried to help her fight her deadly disease, yet he ironically died first.
She was devastated, maybe even more than Soo-Won.
King Il knew nothing about what she had gone through.
If his mother had said "kind words", Soo-Won wouldn't have known what to do.
Not a shred of King Il was kind.
But Soo-Won also knew his mother had no choice. If someone hadn't said it in public, it could be interpreted as stepping out of line.
Soo-Won suddenly glimpsed curls of glimmering red; it belonged to a little red-haired girl of 6 years peeking out from behind King Il's robes.
Soo-Won hadn't seen her since the murder, and her presence felt so jarring and out of place.
She's touched his robes…
Instinctively, Soo-Won began to dart away in horror, trying to hide behind his mother, but Yona had already seen him.
She stumbled towards Soo-Won.
"Soo-Won! Are you all right?"
Before Soo-Won could react, Yona caught him in a tight embrace.
He could not speak.
He was certainly not all right. His head was spinning as he stood Yona's tiny arms.
Yona's trembling head was buried into his robes, but then she slowly looked up into his eyes and raised her long sleeves to wipe his tears.
Soo-Won hadn't even realized he was crying.
He looked down to scan her face, and saw fat tears streaming down Yona's own cheeks, her large, innocent violet eyes watching him with deep affection and sadness.
She genuinely cares. She's not like him. She's cute and innocent and harmless.
As quickly as the horror of getting hugged by Yona bubbled up, it was replaced by a sense of shame for treating her differently.
Now, Soo-Won felt an urge to gently wipe her tears and hug her back, like he had always done. He hated to see her cry.
Little Yona's presence, her warmth, it somehow soothed him, even in a situation like this. Even his headache was melting a little...
BUT THEN HOW ON EARTH IS SHE THE DAUGHTER OF A MONSTER LIKE HIM?
The raging thought struck like a lightning bolt through his head. The rushing hatred and overwhelming fear he now felt for King Il who killed his beloved father mixed with the love he felt for Yona and Soo-Won felt dizzy once more, finding that he couldn't hug Yona back.
Not anymore. He couldn't tell her or Hak anything.
Hak was somewhere in that funeral crowd, far away, somewhere with General Mundok. They stood in the cold with the entire Wind Tribe, certainly pitying Soo-Won's situation.
But like Yona, they were ignorant of everything. Their lives were perfect.
Later, they would stop by to pay respects, and Soo-Won did not know how Hak would treat him.
With the same gusto? With an awkward hug? A word of advice?
He didn't expect Hak to cry like Yona, but he might be a little awkward around him.
Hak surely did know what it was like to not have blood ties.
He knew what it was like to not have parents.
Yes, perhaps he would give him a pat on the back and tell him that he wasn't alone.
Hak was very loyal like that. He would crack jokes and try to make things less awkward.
But it would be more awkward for Soo-Won than Hak would ever know.
Because Soo-Won and General Mundok were especially close to King Il.
Even Hak, who Soo-Won had thought was strong, super cool, reliable - someone he could ask advice from – someone he had aimed towards as a goal – someone he admired and loved - couldn't be completely trusted.
What would Hak do? Hak had never been in a situation like this. King Il would never kill General Mundok.
He couldn't try to be like Hak here.
General Mundok had been good friends with his father, but also King Il in the past.
No one knew.
There's no way no way NO WAY I CAN'T I'M GOING TO GO CRAZY –
"I'm so, so, so sorry, Soo-Won! Please feel better soon!"
Yona's soft voice rang out and she desperately clung onto him, as if she wished to protect him from King Il, as if she was afraid that he would collapse to the ground from dizziness if she let go.
But Soo-Won reminded himself to not get deluded.
No. Don't be stupid. She has no clue what her father has done.
Soo-Won's eyes flickered to King Il, who looked down at Yona and Soo-Won with seemingly sad eyes, and Soo-Won realized.
He wasn't found out. He wasn't going to die.
I'm not going to die. I'm not going to die. King Il didn't catch me. He won't kill me in front of all these people. I have to calm down.
He chanted these words like a mantra and forced his rampaging pulse to slow down.
His uncle had mistaken his panic for grief.
Numbly, despairingly, Soo-Won finally allowed himself to rest his trembling hand against Yona's red hair, now wet with his tears.
But only a trembling hand. He couldn't hug her. He couldn't tell her the truth about Yu-Hon's death.
"It's all right, Yona," Soo-Won lied, letting the tiny bundle of warmth rest her head against his shoulder. He patted her on the head as he fought to stop his voice from shaking. "I'll be alright."
Lady Yon-Hi watched the two children with a stricken expression on her face.