One day, Yona realises - why am I being so nice? I'm not nice. Being nice sucks. I wanna fight people. So, she... does that.
Kouka is a mockery of a kingdom, especially now that Hiryuu Castle stands at its helm. The current King's palace is as ineffective as it is decorative, with rows of gardens in place of barricades and sparse smatterings of watchtowers made obsolete by their scouts' inattendance. The Sky Tribe's nobles, emboldened by the King's inaction, come and go as commonly as if it was their backyard, laying claim upon whatever strikes their fancy. The soldiers watch, silent and entirely without any intent to interfere, content with the knowledge of the royals' wealth being whittled away.
Yona, for her part, would like to not care so much.
As the days go by, she wishes she was as ignorant as the original Yona. But, no. Her intelligence is an injustice, it's so offensive that she has to be so stupidly aware of everything going on around her! She hates it here! Hello, get the fuck out, this isn't your home!
And of course the one thing the King has to be strict about is maintaining relationships with the nobles. She bites her tongue on a complaint and pretends to be deaf whenever that conversation comes up, because she really, really doesn't want to sit pretty and act nice towards a bunch of greedy pigs.
She manages to go through the first eleven years of her new life with relative ease: avoiding nobles and her royal lessons, harassing Joo-doh into piggyback rides and general kid activities because he's very, very easy to manipulate, feigning innocence in front of her father, and learning the names of all the pretty flowers and plants in the castle; the gardener is one of the few people she actually likes. Hak and Soo-won help her complete the illusion of a sometimes-overly-mature-but-overall-normal kid, playing in the sun and the snow and all times of the day. They talk a lot. It gets harder to listen. She was never very fond of kids. (Hak and Soo-won are naturally drawn to each other, with all their opposites in background and temperament and ideals. Yona is only a reluctant tag-along, as Soo-won's cousin.)
She sneaks out of the castle all of twice in those eleven years and gets caught both times, because King Il and Captain Joo-doh together make the most paranoid, over-prepared duo ever, especially in regards to her. They don't even like each other, so why are they so coordinated?!
Things are good. Not great, not perfect. Some days are downright awful.
And then there's this.
The Fire General's son is just the icing on this terrible, disgusting cake she is being force-fed by some higher power. A very mean and inconsiderate higher power, in her humble opinion.
Kan Tae-jun doesn't know the first thing about being a decent human being. Drunk on power and ever so greedy, he throws around his father's name as if he isn't in someone else's palace and thinks he has a shot at the fucking throne. And the stupid, stupid castle guards don't care.
Yona's forced smile lasts all of ten seconds before he opens his mouth and then refuses to shut up. And, to make the situation that much better, he refuses to let her leave. And! Plus! He thinks she's being shy when she says she doesn't want to fucking talk to him!
"Now, now, Princess, what's the rush?" Her ears are bleeding, she is so sick of listening to him prattle on and on. "I'm sure you can spare some time for me! Just a few hours is fine, come, I want to show you to my family's villa! It's very beautiful, I promise, you'll love it!"
Under threat of having to deal with him, she spent the past several days cooped up in her room under pretenses of illness, because wherever she went in the castle, he would be there, stalking her like the fucking creep he so shamelessly is. Today, she thought, hey, why am I hiding? I live here! And thought, well, she's the Princess, he can't possibly act too rude, right? Even if he kept leering at her throughout their introduction, stepping too close and being too touch-happy… maybe he was just a touchy person, overexcited and all that.
But of course not.
She takes a deep, deep breath and turns to face him, trying with all her meagre strength to break her wrist free from his grasp. She fails. Her frustration peaks. "Let go," she says through gritted teeth, resisting the urge to violently introduce his face to her fist. Unfortunately, that would do more damage to her than to him; and anyways, she's against violence. Mostly. Probably. On occasion.
Tae-jun ignores her and keeps talking. She repeats, louder, "Let go." The castle guards shuffle nervously in the distance.
He laughs. "Please, Princess, you don't have to be so shy."
"Lord Kan Tae-jun," she says, raising her eyes to meet his and hoping they convey even a tenth of the anger she's feeling, "that was an order." When he doesn't even flinch, she looks over his shoulder and projects her voice to the guards dallying in the distance. "I said, that was an order."
Unlike Kan Tae-jun, the guards have a working head on their shoulders, likely thanks to Joo-doh's strict management. They take the hint. She steps back, letting her anger simmer under her skin at the satisfaction of watching the guards restrain Tae-jun with startling efficiency.
"What do you think you're doing?!" Predictably, he's not very happy about being manhandled. Not that she cares. "Unhand me this instant!"
Kneeling on the ground as he is, with a soldier standing either side of him twisting his arms behind his back, Yona is allowed the pleasure of looking down her nose at him. Her anger dissipates. She nods, voice dispassionate with her next order. "Leave."
One of the guards leans down to whisper something she can't hear, but Tae-jun very clearly does as his face turns red with anger. The other guard guffaws in response. She raises an eyebrow and they lapse into perfunctory silence immediately, leaving only the sounds of Tae-jun's struggling between them as they drag him to his feet to comply with her orders. Around them, a crowd of onlookers has gathered; in the distance, she sees nobles and soldiers reluctantly parting to allow her father past.
"Let go, you bastards! You can't do this to me! Don't you know who I am?!"
Did you listen when I told you to let go? She clamps her mouth on the retort. There's a more effective way to do this. A more effective way to ensure this incident does not repeat, a way to issue a warning to all the nobles present and not. Lessons on consent would fly over his head when he only sees her as a means to capture the throne, like the fool he is.
So, she raises her chin and looks straight at the man walking next to her father (General or not, he should be at least two steps behind the King, and she understands exactly how Tae-jun turned out this way) as she says, "Of course, pardon my rudeness." She inclines her head in a nod even as the guards turn alarmed looks her way, turning back to Tae-jun with a demure smile on her lips. "You're a Fire Tribe noble, the General's own son! This is all unnecessary!"
"That's right! Princess, this is no way to treat-"
"Then," she cuts in, smile morphing into a sneer, "you can leave by yourself, with the dignity that the General Kan must have taught you."
Yes, this is better; Tae-jun gapes at her, murmurs rising amongst the gathered nobles, but she stands perfectly still. She has nothing more to say to him.
The taller of the guards snickers, loosing his grip on Tae-jun and walking past him to stand diagonally in front of her, like Joo-doh did the last time she snuck out and he chased her down just in time to find a drunkard picking a fight with her and her equally kiddish friends. The other is less polite; he shoves Tae-jun forward and tips his head in false apology when he collapses on his hands and feet, saying, "Oops, sorry, you shoulda had your feet under you better, man."
She doesn't even care that the Fire Tribe's General is fuming. She just smiles innocently as he storms forward, ignoring him and turning to her father. "Papa," she says, and she never calls him papa, "Papa, listen, Tae-jun-" Soo-jin looks thunderous when she casually omits any noble title, but his mouth clamps shut when she continues. "-was trying to take me to his villa even though I said I didn't want to, and he kept talking about how soft and comfortable the beds are, but isn't that just weird? I mean, this is the palace, the best place in the whole world, our beds should be the comfiest! Why do you think he kept talking about the beds?"
Scandalised gasps echo around them and Soo-jin goes white, turning to King Il with a nervous laugh and saying, "Your majesty, they're just kids, there must have been a misunderstanding-"
"Papa, what does he mean?" she cuts in, maintaining the look of utter innocence, as if she hadn't insulted the General and his son mere moments ago. A muscle jumps in Soo-jin's jaw.
"My King, the Princess does not know what she's talking about," he insists. "If you could just-"
For the first time since she really started looking, King Il embodies his title. Soo-jin stops speaking immediately as King Il raises a hand to silence him, ignoring everyone present with an apathy that can only be called regal. And then, he turns to her and smiles, the moment gone. "Yona, dear, why don't you go back to your room? You've got a long day of lessons ahead of you tomorrow, you should get some rest."
A long day of avoiding lessons, sure. She takes the dismissal for what it is, beaming up at him as she says, "Okay, papa!" There's an amused look in her father's eyes, one that says he hadn't believed her farce for a moment, but that's fine. He knows when she lies. She hadn't lied, not really, just exaggerated a bit. It was his clear intent, even if he hadn't said it. Not that an eleven year old should understand.
She makes sure to meet General Soo-jin's eyes and smile extra wide, before finally leaving, getting only a few feet away before stopping. Darting behind a pillar, she turns back to see Soo-jin rushing to appease the King, the nobles nervously shuffling around and ducking their heads to avoid her father's gaze, like schoolchildren. Tae-jun rushes to his father for aid but Il looks at him once and he's rooted to the spot, fumbling through apologies and desperate arguments. Il listens silently. He does not smile or laugh and nod and say It's alright, really like he does usually. He's angry, and it carries into the air around them.
Finally, finally, this is the King.
It's not until a week later that she finds out the names of the suspiciously competent guards. This is because she was very, very busy: avoiding people.
Her little stunt with Tae-jun (that she does not at all regret, the jerk had it coming and it was refreshing seeing her father flex his authority for once towards something other than forcing her to attend hours of boring lessons) receives a mixed impression from the nobles of Kouka. Her tutors watch her critically for days, cross-examining her every move when she deigns to attend their lessons. Even in the aftermath that was her father's anger, her taunts did not go forgotten.
The fact is that the eleven year old princess had, for the first time, expressed something. Not pressed civilities or unfeeling compliments and platitudes, not absence after absence after absence. For all that she's run around avoiding the nobility and expressing loudly all her dislikes and petty hates, this is the most honest she's ever been and it says something like this: remember your place.
Kan Tae-jun is one of many nobles eyeing the vacant position of King that comes after her father, and Yona is saying: it is not yours.
The next King is hers to choose, should there ever be one.
I am your King reborn, and you are dust.
The eleven year old princess has an agenda against the nobility and any who scorn the authority of herself and her father, and she is no longer willing to keep it silent.
Or so they think. She was just feeling bitter. And it's not totally strange for a sixteen year old to be scheming, which is what she is: eternally sixteen.
(But, once the story starts, she'll be more than that. She will never be seventeen, but Yona will be. It makes her heartbeat speed up with dread and her hands clammy with sweat. She can't imagine that.)
Not today, though. Today, she's somewhere between sixteen and eleven, somehow both and neither. Everything and nothing. Red hair that was once only shone with such colour under the sunlight (her mother's exasperated sighs ring in her ears yet, age-old murmurs of care and advice. You're ruining your beautiful hair. Not anymore, mom), eyes such a vivid purple she can stare at them forever and wonder where the soothing dark brown disappeared to. Wonders, if she stares long enough, they'll return to the black that's mirrored in all the people she loves.
Wonders if she stares long enough, the people she loves will be beside her once more.
Yona stops wondering.
Yona knows too much about here. She knows about the path her cousin will take, the day her father will die, the fact that Joo-doh will succeed her uncle as the Sky Tribe's General. She knows Hak will similarly succeed General Mun-dok before Mun-dok himself even thinks it. She knows of the truth behind Hiryuu's legend, knows where and how each of the dragons await the fulfillment of the prophecy, knows of the last of the priests hidden away in the depths of Fire's most treacherous lands with a young doctor keeping him alive and fed. She knows of Awa's deteriorating state before Geun-tae grumbles about them across the palace hall, knows Water's rising drug crisis before Joon-gi slows his visits to the castle, knows Fire's people are starving while Soo-jin orders all the able young men and women to stand with his army and forget where they came from, knows the Wind Tribe will always stand for King Il despite the ramifications of his dubious actions.
And, yet, she knows so very little about the land just beyond Hiryuu Castle's tall, tall gates. She knows Soo-won has friends everywhere and those friends are powerful, but that's… it. Yona is the heir to Kouka's throne (even if Soo-won will usurp it before she can lay claim to it, and that's for the better, she knows and agrees) and she knows nothing about the town around the castle. She knows nothing about the Sky Tribe from which her line of kings hail.
(She knows the history of it, of course she does. Those are unfortunately the few classes she can never get out of: history and culture studies. Who was the King before Il? What was the name of the first Sky Queen to wrench the throne away from Fire? Which General held the greatest wartime contributions? For a reign so short, the Sky Tribe has plenty to say about its rulers. So plenty that she doubts most of it is true.
But history isn't what she needs. She needs to know the now and the next, the shapes and forms of Kuuto and how it will twist once she's grown and left and returned as a Queen.
...Will she, though? She's not Yona. What will she be?)
She asks anyone she can find who might answer: there's Soo-won, who looks at her with pity and some vague sense of family, and who answers easily enough, but it takes her days and weeks to parse through the full meaning of his words and she decides she doesn't like him very much; there's Hak, who gets sad for her, sad with the thought that she's never seen the people she will one day serve, sad that she's so alone and she decides she doesn't like talking to Hak very much; so then there's Joo-doh who threatens her with additional lessons when she expresses interest in what lies beyond her walled little world because that interest always leads to running away and she decides she doesn't like talking to Joo-doh very much either; so, finally, there's these two.
Their names are Duri and Sang-chul, and they're dodgy at best (downright criminal at worst) but they're honest. Stupidly honest, if the way they insult her father to her face is anything to go off.
But, okay, King Il isn't her father in any way that matters and she's already known the extent of his crimes, so maybe they're smarter than they seem. Or just very, very lucky.
So, Yona listens. She sits and watches and listens and Sang-chul and Duri only get more nervous by the second because no one has eyes that purple and no daughter can hear their father's crimes recited with so little reaction, but Yona doesn't budge.
In the end, she's glad she asked them.
(She sneaks out into town again the next day.)
The first time he meets Yona, he hates her.
Soo-won has known from the moment his uncle is crowned King over his father that something is wrong. His father takes it in stride, sure; he's incredible like that, and Soo-won admires him endlessly.
But what does Uncle Il have that his father doesn't?
His father was never a cruel man. (If anything, it was always Uncle Il and Aunt Kashi. His mother did nothing wrong.) His father was just and righteous and loving. He loved them. He loved Soo-won, he loved his wife, he loved his brother and his father who all but threw him aside. He wanted to protect everyone.
Uncle Il- King Il is a traitor to his blood, to his brother. His daughter can only be the same. (If his uncle can glare at him, can be angry at Soo-won for the sheer crime of existing, he can have this. He can hate his uncle and his family the way his uncle hates them.
The first time he meets her, he thinks he hates her already. Her red hair is a burning beacon that screams, Look! This is your King! He hates it. His is the blood of Hiryuu, so why is King Il's daughter hailed by Aunt Kashi as Hiryuu's rebirth? Why is Hiryuu so kind to his treacherous uncle while his blood is killing Soo-won's mother?
Purple eyes meet his own and he decides, You don't deserve this.
Yona tilts her head, purple eyes devouring all that he is, until they slide past him to his father and she frowns.
Soo-won, definitely, hates her.
Hak doesn't, so he suffers through being civil to her. Mostly. (And if he doesn't really care when she gets lost in town, well. That's his business.)
Then he finds out he physically can't keep hating her. As if the soul of his father has possessed him and made him incapable of turning on his blood. Yeah, it's his father's fault. Definitely.
A/N: So, the timeline is a little messy in this chapter, especially at the end. I'm starting to bring in Soo-won's POV because I want to get to Yu-hon's death soon. Uh, maybe that's a little spoiler. Is it? I dunno, Yona's gonna be pretty passive for a while, since she's like... a kid. And having an existential crisis constantly. She'll get there.
This chapter got way longer than I expected, so I snipped it here. More Soo-won POV soon!