A new age
The first light of dawn ushered in a new age for Yona.
For the entirety of that night, after witnessing the argument between her father and beloved, she had no nightmares.
Because that scene alone was a nightmare, and she could not sleep.
She stared without seeing at her ceiling decorations for hours.
All that burned in her mind was the way King Il and Soo-Won acted towards each other.
Why? Why? Why?
Why would they act like that? What were they talking about? What is the relationship between Father and Soo-Won?
She asked herself questions she never imagined she would analyze so critically – that she didn't notice the rising sun reaching her window.
She just wanted to stay in bed forever.
But as that was impossible, her room door clicked open.
In a split second she panicked and sat up, but she instantly relaxed when the two faces that appeared were neither King Il nor Soo-Won.
It was Hak and Min-Su, King Il's assistant.
"Hak… Min-Su…" She only said hollowly.
Hak stood up tall and Min-Su came holding a tray of dishes covered with cloth.
"Princess, here," Min-Su carefully sat next to Yona and put the tray in her lap.
Yona removed the cloth and found steamed rice and miso soup.
"Not even a 'good morning', Princess?" Hak now leaned against the wall, arms crossed.
Yona awakened at this. "It's morning?" She looked out of the window, and back at Hak, who nodded.
"Try to give her some space, the poor thing's been famished all night," Min-Su patted her head, trying to alleviate the situation.
Yona negated, "no, no, I apologize. Good morning, you two. And thank you, Min-Su." She grabbed chopsticks and began grabbing at her rice.
Hak sighed. "Nah, don't apologize. You fainted." He pushed himself off the wall, walked over to Yona, and looked down at her intently.
"What?" Yona asked, chewing rice stuffed in her mouth.
"You look super tired, Princess. Are those tear streaks? Looks like you've been crying. Had a nightmare?"
Yona's back chilled at "nightmare".
"Not at all," she said too quickly, "I just –"
She inadvertently touched her face, and found it damp.
"W-wait!" In an instant, Yona gulped down her rice.
Pushing her breakfast tray into Min-Su's surprised hands, Yona stood up, stretched, and then quickly walked over to her room mirror.
A lifeless girl with eye bags, streaked tears, and the ugliest hair gazed right back at her.
"That's me? Hak, how did you manage to notice that? You're observant as ever!"
The next second, she was doubling over in pain from stretching.
"No," Hak half-laughed, half-grimaced, "I think it's rather obvious you need serious help if stretching does that to you. Don't physically exert yourself."
"It's… because… I used…. your heavy… guandao… Hak!" Yona winced as Min-Su guided her back to her bed and set the tray on her lap once more. "I'm… sorry! Did I… break it?"
"Nah, it's intact in my room. If anything, I'm surprised that it didn't break you."
Hak looked at her now with an emotion he never had before.
Why did it resemble awe? Yona wondered.
"Exactly… what happened to me?" Yona asked, now sipping her miso soup.
Hak was a bit bewildered now. "Wait, you mean you don't remember?"
"Well, you said I fainted, but how – "
"You began swinging around the guandao like – like you knew how to hold one!" Hak suddenly exclaimed. He noticed his arms were suddenly raised, and then he controlled himself and put them down at his sides. "Like you were possessed. Like a natural."
"Mother nature herself. You destroyed the entire garden."
Yona's eyes widened as a line King Il had told Soo-Won came flooding back.
"Somehow she destroyed the entire garden she loves to spend her time in with an 8 foot guandao?"
"Wha –" Yona stuttered, pointing at herself. "Me?! That's impossible, what are you saying? How am I supposed to hold an 8 foot guandao and destroy that huge garden?"
"It's 9 feet and ¾ of an inch, actually," Hak replied smoothly. "And I didn't see you destroy the garden; just your arms swinging around like..." he trailed off. "Even though it was so heavy that you lost stamina and fell unconscious in the middle. You went crazy. Tell me how that's possible. Don't you know why you wouldn't do something like that?"
"I don't know!" Yona said in disbelief, running her hands through her hair in desperation to recover some semblance of order. "What you're saying makes no sense – I can't swing your guandao around like that, much less when I'm unconscious! What could I possibly be 'possessed' by?"
"I'm telling you, that's what I saw. I had to call a medical officer. By the time I came back, Soo-Won was holding you from collapsing and the entire garden was demolished. How can you not remember?"
Yona stopped dead.
"Liar. You forced practicing archery upon her, then you forced the guandao on her."
Her father's biting words.
What actually happened? Was Father telling the truth? Did Soo-Won do something?
Yona couldn't recall.
"Hm? Yeah, he stopped your rampage."
"Is that so?"
But Yona wasn't so sure.
Well, Hak at least seems to think Soo-Won did nothing…
Hak and Min-Su began to talk to each other, and Yona silently resumed eating her breakfast.
After a few moments, her bowls were empty.
She stood up, briskly chose a few ornaments to wear (changing her nightgown in the morning would hurt her sore limbs) so she wouldn't look like she just came out of bed, and sighed aloud.
How could the entire garden be destroyed by me?
Hak and Min-Su's words faded and they looked at her.
"Hak, Min-Su," Yona interrupted loudly, not looking at them. "I think I'll be going straight to the garden to investigate the damage I did."
She started walking with the tray, planning to return it to the kitchen, but she jumped when Hak's towering figure blocked the door.
"No can do, Princess. King Il summoned you to the great dining hall after breakfast. I came here to tell you."
"He summoned me? Why? Doesn't he have duties?" Yona looked up at Hak, confused.
Min-Su took the tray out of her frozen hands, "Princess, I'll take that," and walked out of the door in a flash.
Hak shrugged. "He wants to see you."
"What about Soo-Won?"
"What about him?"
"Is he… there? In the great dining hall… with my father?"
Hak was perplexed by her question. "Well, of course he is. He's eating breakfast with everyone else. The only reason you're not eating with us is because you fainted."
Yona's stomach did an uneasy flip flop as she recalled Soo-Won screaming at her father.
Hak put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and guided her out of the room.
"I'll be your escort. Let's go, Princess."
The great dining hall of Hiryuu Castle was the largest in Hiryuu Castle. A magnificent rectangular hall, 3 times longer than wide, with countless tables. Several first-floor windows lit the room, and there was a large bay window balcony. The hall was usually used for usual meals, and especially for feasts and banquets, often on days of celebratory occasion.
This hall was decked out to impress and entertain the most important visitors.
Yona entered through a screens passage with Hak. On the other end of the great hall was the dais, where the top table was situated. The further one seated from it, the less important they were, right through to the least important people at the back of the hall.
King Il, some high-class nobles trying to get in favor with him, and Soo-Won all sat at the top table.
Yona was about to call out hello, but then she looked around at all other tables, disconcerted.
All the court ladies, eunuchs, and castle servants sitting were looking at her with shock and dread. Some of them were whispering to each other and indirectly pointing at her. Yona also noted a few visitors from other tribes were there.
Ah… the day of the martial arts tournament draws near.
"What's going on? Why are they all looking at me like that?" She whispered to Hak, nodding towards all the people.
"Oh," Hak's face changed, and he leaned over apologetically. "Unfortunately, news travels fast. They've all been talking about you. Rumor is that yesterday Princess Yona was sighted using a guandao and destroying the back courtyard gardens in Hiryuu Castle. It'll probably spread to the other tribes in due time. Maybe even a foreign country like Xing."
"What?! You can't be serious!"
She had never gotten any publicity, as far as she knew, beyond her birth and red hair. The thought of being scrutinized terrified her.
"It can't be helped. You're the Princess, but you acted like there was something wrong with your head. You'd best ignore it until the rumors die down."
Yona pouted. In any other situation she could tell Hak to shut up, but now she wasn't sure about anything.
Nearing the dais, Yona smoothed out her nightdress, and took a deep breath and walked over to the top table, with Hak right on her heels.
At the arrival of the Princess, the high-ranking nobles got up and left the table.
"G-good morning, Father," she said with forced gaiety, not looking at Soo-Won. "You summoned me?"
King Il, who had just finished eating, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and turned to look at Yona.
"Ah, good morning, dear," he said, with a relieved smile. "Yes, I did. How are you? You gave quite me the scare last night. Good to see you're back in action."
Yona suddenly felt extremely embarrassed and ashamed.
By touching Hak's guandao, not only had she disobeyed her father's orders, she had also broken their familial ideal of pacifism.
And now this news would spread to other tribes?
Immediately, she put her hands at her sides and bowed to her father, red hair covering her face and touching the ground.
"Father, I'm so, so, so, so sorry! I don't know what got over me!" Yona apologized, squeezing her eyelids shut, and bracing for the worst.
King Il, Hak, and Soo-Won all goggled at Yona.
King Il quickly surveyed their surroundings; all the other tables were now gawking at Yona as well.
"Yona," King Il coughed awkwardly, patting her shoulder, "Yona, do rise. It's all right. However, we will have to discuss this in a – better – setting."
Yona rose up again, albeit clumsily at her father's touch. "O-of course."
Hak's large boots clumped as he walked over to King Il and bowed.
"Your Majesty, Lord Soo-Won and I will be going to the armory to gather our weapons, and then stables to borrow horses, if that's all right with you."
But she remembered. That Hak and Soo-Won had agreed to go horse-riding in the morning, and Soo-Won encouraged her to join.
So they had discussed this with her father.
"Yes, that's fine," King Il waved his hand to give permission, "You'll have to talk to the head senior officer there, though. Choose horses that aren't being groomed by handlers. And you'll have to be designated to one of training grounds, won't you? Try the one in the back."
That's next to the back courtyard gardens! Yona thought.
"I'll – be going too!" She impulsively blurted out.
Instantly, she regretted saying it when she saw the frown on her father's face, and another awkward silence ensue throughout the hall, especially among Hak and Soo-Won.
"No," he said sternly, "I'm afraid you will not be allowed to join Hak and Soo-Won today, Yona. You fainted yesterday, so your health is of utmost importance. It is too dangerous."
"It's not that dangerous, Father, if I am careful!" Yona replied again without thinking.
"It's not that scary if you're careful, Yona."
Vaguely, she remembered Soo-Won telling her something similar.
Huh? Why am I repeating what he said?
Even so, she avoided looking at Soo-Won, who, unknown to her, also recognized this similar wording, but said nothing.
"Yona," King Il said with a tone of warning, "you were not careful yesterday. Besides, they will also be practicing archery," he raised one eyebrow, "I think holding one weapon is enough, don't you?"
Yona flushed with shame, remembering running wildly towards Hak's guandao, disrespecting her father's wishes.
She bowed again. "I'm sorry, Father. You're right."
Yet, as she rose, a subconscious part of her felt dissatisfied by her father's reply. She couldn't comprehend why.
Hak attempted to lighten up the mood. "All right," he took a deep breath, then smiled. "We'll be going now. Thank you for your support."
"Ready to go, Lord Soo-Won?" Hak now grinned eagerly, looking up at the young lord.
Soo-Won, who had finished his morning meal a while back, nodded. "Yes."
They've already prepared to go without me?
Why did it bring a twinge of pain in her? She never cared to ride a horse before.
Yona wanted to cry out to her father to let her join her friends, but this time, nothing came out of her mouth.
"My subordinate would never let her touch a weapon, and that's why he was against her practicing archery on horseback. He's a lot more trustworthy than you."
"She will not be riding a horse with you and Hak tomorrow. And I only agreed to let you and Hak practice archery because Hak asked. I am watching your every move, Soo-Won."
Il's words seemed to come from a dream. Yona began to grasp why she felt dissatisfied with her father.
Because he was hiding the real reason he wasn't letting her join Hak and Soo-Won.
He believes Soo-Won tried to injure me. In fact, he's only letting Soo-Won practice archery because of Hak. He thinks Soo-Won told me to hold Hak's guandao.
But that wasn't true. She remembered that she ran towards it, because Hak joked that she shouldn't ride, because she looked like a horse.
...But that was because Soo-Won suggested I ride a horse.
Her heart thudded in panic.
No way. Soo-Won wasn't trying to influence her to hurt herself, was he?
She shook her head, and apprehensively, her eyes looked away from King Il and found Soo-Won for the first time.
She quietly gasped.
Soo-Won was stabbing through her father's heart with a sword.
His eyes looked empty and dead, devoid of all warmth.
Something was different. She was suddenly seeing Soo-Won in a way she never had before: with shock, fear, and mistrust in the back of her mind.
Like out of that nightmare.
She knew she had no justification, no evidence, to think of him this way. But after that fiasco with her father...
How does Father see Soo-Won? Why does Father mistrust Soo-Won? Is Soo-Won dangerous?
Without a word to King Il or Yona, Soo-Won stood up from the table.
His line of sight promptly spotted Yona looking at him, but just as quickly as it came, it passed away from her, and he walked down the dais and stood next to Hak.
That's right... Yona realized with a sigh. Father also told Soo-Won to keep distance from me. Otherwise he would normally say good morning. Otherwise he would have tried to convince Father to let me join... right?
With a confused, pained heart, she watched Soo-Won and Hak's backs as they walked away from her and out of the great dining hall for a long time.
Was Soo-Won really like this because of Father's orders? Or... has he always been this way, and I never knew?
A few hours later, Yona was in the King's office with her father, after King Il had held council with the royal court.
Huge braziers hung at 4 corners lit up every part of the room and bathed it in a red glow.
Immense, stained glass windows depicting important figures from the Legend of the 4 Dragons were contoured by golden draperies, adorned with intricate embroidery and gilded linings.
2 guards were stationed outside the office on watch.
Yona was now dressed up in her daytime dress, standing in front of her father as he sat at his worktable, scribbling through some parchment.
"Father," Yona asked, "what exactly happened to me? I don't really remember."
She wanted to hear his version of the story.
King Il put down his writing brush and gazed at her for a moment. "I see. I assume that's due to fainting. You were cared for by medical officers. I received a report from them that you had fainted, and went to check up on you. Hak told me that you held his guandao."
"Yes, I did..." Yona admitted.
"Why did you use a weapon, Yona?" Her father questioned her. "You know that violence is wrong. What got into you?"
"I didn't – " Yona faltered, "– I didn't intend to hurt anyone – "
"So you say, but the back courtyard gardens are destroyed. All the garden renovators are having to fix it."
A pang of guilt and pain struck Yona, and she bowed again.
"I'm so sorry!"
"The only one you should be apologizing to is yourself," King Il said. "You broke your moral code, and now you've lost your garden. Including the gazebo."
"Oh no..." Yona's hands flew to her mouth in horror. "I must see the damage!"
She turned around towards the door.
"Where are you going?" King Il asked. "The garden is off limits for you."
Yona stopped and turned. "Why?"
"This is your punishment," King Il said plainly. "Fainting does not condone your actions. You really cannot be trusted with gardens, much less weapons. Thus, you will spend your future time with me. Otherwise, you will stay inside the castle, with Hak watching over your actions 24 hours a day."
"What? But what about Soo-Won?"
"What about him?" King Il raised an eyebrow.
"Aren't Hak and I allowed to spend time with him, too?"
"Hak certainly is, when you are with me," he answered, crossing his fingers and leaning back in his chair. "Otherwise... you are not allowed to meet with Soo-Won for some time."
Yona expected this. But it still hurt to hear.
"Why?" She croaked, walking back towards her father. "Soo-Won's only staying for 5 days. Can't I spend even a little time with him?"
"This is your punishment, Yona. I am also making this decision for your safety."
"And what is so dangerous about Soo-Won that I need to be kept safe from?!" Yona asked with a tone of disbelief, bringing the conversation to where she wanted.
"If I recall correctly..." King Il's voice was low enough to cause a few braziers to flicker. "Hak also told me that Soo-Won encouraged you to ride on horseback and practice archery."
"Not archery, just horse-riding."
"Whatever it was, it propelled you towards holding that guandao, even though Hak was against it."
"Hak against it? Hak was joking that I shouldn't ride a horse!"
"Why do you think he joked, Yona?"
"Why else? And what does that have to do with Soo-Won?"
"Soo-Won alone is not the problem, dear," King Il said. "It's who you became when encouraged towards an inclination to use weapons – by anyone. Hak can practice sword-fighting and archery all he wants with Soo-Won. But you can't, because we're not sure what will happen to you."
Yona was upset. "Yet you allow me to spend time with Hak, who also uses weapons?"
"Hak is under my direct orders to not encourage you to use weapons, and protect you. He is the only exception to this rule."
King Il's reply made sense, but it was still roundabout and vague. Yona didn't really understand; all she knew was that he was hiding something from her.
"...I'm not sure what to think, Father."
"Believe me, Yona. I know what is best for you, I am doing this for your welfare. One day you will understand."
Yona stood, somber.
"Why not sit?" Il mentioned towards a chair tucked into the worktable on his opposite side.
Without another word, Yona pulled out the chair and sat down, watching her father continue idly scribbling at his parchment.
Yona had always followed her father's orders without complaint. Her father had raised her with care, and always given her what she wanted.
But he wouldn't allow her to even meet with Soo-Won?
Why? Something was off. Soo-Won was their family.
"You're just like your father, violent, arrogant..."
Her father had said that to Soo-Won last night behind closed doors, and –
Soo-Won was stabbing through her father's heart with a sword.
His eyes looked empty and dead, devoid of all warmth.
Blood spilled from King Il's chest. Some of it was on Soo-Won's face.
"King Il will never open his eyes again. I killed him."
– the nightmare once again struck her into sheer terror.
That wasn't real... but in line with her father's words.
Could it be that her father was simply protecting himself from danger?
"THAT'S ENOUGH! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT – ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT – TO INSULT MY FATHER!"
Yet Yona felt mixed feelings when recalling the raw anger and pain on Soo-Won's side.
There was something she couldn't put her finger on – that she didn't know.
Is what Father said completely true? Perhaps Soo-Won may have had a reason for acting like that as well.
After all, why would her father call Uncle Yu-Hon violent and arrogant?
Sure, the late Uncle Yu-Hon was scary, from what she remembered. But he was still her father's brother.
"Er..." Yona changed the subject. "Father, what are you doing? Preparing for the martial arts tournament?"
Il was disconcerted, but continued writing. "I'm surprised to see you show any interest in the tournament."
"It's only because you usually never let me see you on duty," she laughed nervously, "and because of the castle gossip. What is that?" She pointed to his parchment.
"A letter. I'm writing to Mundok about the number of troops they are allowed to send. The Wind Tribe does not boast much in numbers, but their strength."
"Mundok?" Before she could help it, a happy smile formed on Yona's lips, and she laughed, clapping her hands in delight. "Yayy! It's been so long since Mundok visited, I'm so excited to see him!"
Hak's adopted grandfather and great Wind Tribe hero, Mundok, was a strong, but warm, old, grandfatherly man. Very good with children. Yona considered him like her own grandfather.
"I am too," Il said, "but you will only be allowed to meet him only after the tournament ends. You will stay in your room, with a court lady to watch over you."
"...All right, Father."
The sound of the writing brush dipping in ink and scrawling pervaded the air.
"Father, may I go to the garderobe?"
"You may, but a court lady will go with you. Don't get any funny ideas. I want you to return very soon."
Yona slowly rose from her chair, as King Il beckoned a court lady to enter the room and escort Yona to the lavatory.
The garderobe was built so that it projected out on corbels on the exterior sides of the castle walls. A hole in the bottom of the squat toilets let all waste drop into a pit below, sometimes reused as fertilizer for vegetarian, pescetarian lifestyles. The waste products of rich people were sold at higher prices because their diet was better, and Hiryuu Castle was the richest place around.
Yona had just entered the garderobe, with the court lady standing outside.
Unknown to the court lady, Yona did not enter this garderobe to relieve herself.
Walking past the stone walls, toilets, and water basins to wash one's hands, Yona reached the end of the garderobe, where bars were put at a small window.
From up here, she could see beyond the castle. The endless skies, lush landscape, the prairies, and glimpses of the the bustling city far away below and all the tiny dots of commoners and merchants walking around.
From this corner, while the back courtyard gardens of the castle weren't visible, the training grounds next to it were.
The training grounds were located in a wooded field, lined by fences. Near the left end of the field, were stationary circular targets, each at varying distances and with 6 rings.
Her eyes scanned around the training grounds, and eventually found Hak and Soo-Won on horses on the right end of the field.
The horses were magnificent and beautiful to look at, but it was strange to see her friends from so far away, on saddles and controlling horse reins. They looked so tiny.
But what astounded Yona most of all was their skill at archery.
With straight backs and a relaxed but firm grip on the bow, with their fingers on the bowstring, their eyes were fixed on different targets as they fired arrows from their longbows.
As she watched them, she quickly understood; Hak was better at archery, nearly always hitting the target, while Soo-Won missed a few times.
But both Hak and Soo-Won were able to practice for hours. They were in a different world from her.
Yona reached out to touch the window bars, yearning to meet them.
Before she touched the window bars, however, her foot accidentally hit a protrusion on the ground.
"Ow!" Yona nearly slipped, but caught herself.
Lifting her skirt, she looked down, and was shaken to see something like a box lodged in the ground. It was made of stone, but looked different from all the other tiles.
She poked at it with her foot, and froze when she saw the tile move and shake. It was flimsy. Perhaps the tile setters needed to repair it...
No. Yona realized with a start. This is... this is a trapdoor. Underneath it is a secret passageway Soo-Won had told Hak and I about.
Memories came flooding back. 8 years ago, they had used this secret passageway to sneak out to capital Kuuto. She had completely forgotten.
Though, capital Kuuto wasn't the only stop. This passageway had paths that also led to other areas in the castle, like the underground water source, and the armory.
The training grounds were nearby as well.
Yona looked up at the window, where Hak and Soo-Won continued to practice.
She looked behind her, where the court lady still stood outside the lavatory, waiting for her to return.
Sweat droplets formed on her forehead as she looked down again at the tile.
"Princess Yona?" After nearly 45 minutes, the door opened, and the court lady who had escorted Yona entered. "You're done, aren't you? You've taken so long, you mustn't be any more selfish. We have to get back, or else his Majesty will – "
The court lady gasped, dropping the laundry cloth she held when she realized no one was in the lavatory.
"Princess Yona?" She called in vain. "Princess Yona, where are you?"
But no one responded. The only clue, the protruding tile, was now lodged in so securely that the court lady could not catch it.
Another court lady walking by came up to her. "What's the matter?"
"Alert his Majesty. Princess Yona is missing!"
Yona had decided to take a risk and embark through a secret passageway by herself, shielded by nothing but memories that luckily helped her recall the terrain and keep fear at bay.
Well, most of the terrain. She meant to go to the training grounds, but after 15 minutes of walking through the dark, dusty, hollow passageway tunnels, she was somehow in the castle armory.
"Hello?" She coughed dust out from her throat and lungs, and called out hesitantly, but the armory was empty.
If this is the armory, surely the barracks are near...
This was a section of Hiryuu Castle that was a mystery to her. Her father would probably lose his temper if he found out she was here.
But she had to do this. Because –
I want an answer from Soo-Won. The reason he acted the way he did to my father last night. I want to hear it from him.
It was the only way she could be rid of the anxiety plaguing her from her nightmare, and possibly convince her father to lift his restrictions.
Surely this all had to be some misunderstanding. Surely.
But if I'm found by guards or soldiers, Father will know I'm here...
Keeping that in mind, Yona kept close to the walls to conceal herself, held her breath and looked around.
Inside the armory were a cache of heavy weapons, weapon and armor workbenches, and a row of targets at the end of the room.
Something boiled in Yona's blood.
Why... am I in this room?
She felt slightly dizzy. More sweat was forming on her forehead.
Instinctively, her eyes roamed for a door to leave the armory –
I have to get out, and track down S...
– but Yona faltered. Her eyes found a wooden bow, its stave bent and held in tension by a string.
Visions of Hak and Soo-Won gripping their bows, aiming resolutely, and releasing arrows echoed, and a shivering urge passed through her.
In a flash, she had picked up the bow, and held it both of her arms.
Why was this feeling so familiar?
It was slightly heavy but suited her stature.
She had never held it; yet for some reason, she felt as if she was used to handling the weapon.
Looking up, she saw a target several yards away.
Grabbing a quiver of arrows in the cache of weapons and looping it over her shoulder with a metal clip, she blindly reached behind, and expertly pulled out an arrow.
The arrow was a thin wooden shaft with a feathered tail. For some reason, she could tell the arrowhead seemed to be made of a combination of flint and steel.
Keeping her back upright, Yona placed her feet shoulder-width apart, and shifted her weight so her pelvis would move forward.
She lined her body perpendicular to the target, pointed her left shoulder to the target, and held out her left hand out in a position perpendicular to the ground, steadily grasping the bow...
Yona closed her left eye, as she was right eye dominant, and handled the arrow and bowstring with her right hand.
How was she supposed to nock her arrow? She fumbled with the string, closing both eyes.
Suddenly, the knowledge dawned on her.
Opening her right eye again, she pointed her bow down and nocked the back of the arrow to the string by a notch in the end of the shaft.
Lightly placing her index finger above and middle and ring fingers below the arrow, she allowed her thumb to support the back of the arrow.
Then she raised her bow again, her elbow parallel to the ground and vertical towards the target.
Looking straight down the spine of the arrow, she aimed alertly at the target's innermost circle.
Lifting her elbow and shoulder muscles into a "T" shape, Yona drew back the string as far as she could, until sufficient tension was produced in the bow.
The arrow propelled in a millisecond and silently hit the innermost circle, precisely on the bullseye.
Yona stared with astonishment, her bow falling at her side.
What was going on? Did she actually shoot perfectly? How? It was her first try!
Something like this was next to impossible of all weird occurrences.
"You began swinging around the guandao like – like you knew how to hold one! Like you were possessed. Like a natural."
Hak. No way. It was just like he said. She was handling a weapon like she knew how to handle it. Was this some crazy, unknown talent of hers?!
"Why did you use a weapon, Yona? You know that violence is wrong. What got into you?"
Father. Shame rushed through Yona's veins. She acted recklessly again...
But Hak and Soo-Won are allowed to yield weapons, a new thought entered Yona's head. Why does Father want to protect me from this? Why is he such a pacifist? Really thinking about it, isn't it extremely stupid? I'm the Princess of Kouka, shouldn't I know how to defend myself?
Before she could stop herself, she was grabbing another arrow, a powerful surge of craving crashing through her arms as she nocked and aimed –
– and stamped out by Hak, who caught her right arm.
It took a moment for Yona to register what had just happened. Trembling, she looked to her right to see Hak glaring at her with a severe and incredulous expression.
"Princess.." Yet his voice was deathly calm, like he was doing his best to not lose cool. "...What the hell are you doing...? Drop your weapons."
Hak's reflexes were too much for her to bear, his hand was beginning to crush her fingers.
"L-let go, Hak!" Yona cried out.
"Drop your weapons," he repeated.
Yona did as told.
The bow, arrow, and quiver dropped to the ground with a clatter.
Neither Hak nor Yona spoke for a few seconds.
Yona broke the silence, looking down at the ground, hair covering her eyes. "When did you even get into the room, Hak? How did you find me?"
"As your guard, I have that sixth sense. I know when there's something weird going on with your head."
"Fine," Hak lashed out, exasperated, "I didn't come here to find you. I came here to get new arrows, because the ones I used became too blunt. To think I would discover you, firing arrows. What the hell. And how the hell did you even end up here?!"
"...Through a secret passageway through the lavatory."
"WHAT?" Hak bellowed. "Through that stinky tunnel Lord Soo-Won showed us years ago?! You were that desperate to obey King Il's orders?! Look at you! How can you call yourself a Princess?"
Yona's cheeks burned in shame; her dress was pocked with dust stains. "Look," she retorted, "it's not like any waste was there! That tunnel's old and dusty, okay?"
"So what? Why the hell are you practicing archery? You know King Il forbade you from doing this. I never thought you would have a problem with Lord Soo-Won and I practicing alone."
"I know!" Yona's voice rose. "I know..." she lowered her volume. "I... It's because... I..." her voice was stuck.
She wasn't sure how to answer Hak without telling him about the events of last night.
At her silence, Hak's head slowly shifted towards the target, and saw her arrow cleanly lodged in the center.
His eyes widened. "No way..." He muttered. "Tell me you didn't... no..."
He desperately wanted the Princess to say that the arrow didn't belong to her, but Yona said nothing.
"...Where... where did you receive this training?" Hak finally asked. "This... this is a 80 lb war bow. You shouldn't be able to do... this!" He pointed straight at the bullseye.
Yona's head was spinning. She had broken out into a cold sweat. The dizziness was back.
Breathing heavily, she eventually managed, "I – I don't know. I'm not sure why I'm able to. I shouldn't be. Have I… have I always been like this?"
Hak scanned her face. "Princess, you look pale," he said. "Why did you decide to hold this bow? Does this have to do with the way you acted yesterday?"
...This was Hak's weapon. It wasn't meant for someone like her.
Yet, as she saw the smooth and shiny iron cut up close, something within her bubbled for the first time in her life.
A desire - a thirst - to pick up the weapon - and use it.
Why was she feeling this way? All this time she'd had no desire to use weapons. She could even say she was afraid of them.
Yet now, something was drawing her to this guandao, and all of a sudden, before she knew it, she was now somehow yielding it by the pole.
What she had forgotten from yesterday's events flew at her.
"Yes..." She said, fully registering what she felt now, her eyes big as saucers. "Yes... I felt… an urge to use a weapon. My hands and legs were trembling… not with fear, but anticipation and excitement. I felt it yesterday, and now I'm feeling it again."
Just a moment ago, she was calling her Father's pacifistic ideology stupid. The horror hit her.
What am I saying? Hak must see me as a violent monster!
She looked at Hak. Unwittingly, tears burned in her eyes, and began to flow down her cheeks. "Is this what they call... bloodlust?"
Hak only stared at her with suppressed shock.
Yona broke down, falling to her knees.
"B-b-but I don't intend to kill anyone!" she wailed, covering her face with her hands. "I didn't m-m-mean to destroy the garden and kill all those plants and flowers! I'm afraid! I'm d-d-disobeying Father!"
A hand patted her on the back. It was Hak, who had crouched down next to Yona.
"...Don't cry, Princess, it was a lucky shot, and at least you're not fainting," he tried to placate her, his voice now softened with patience and understanding. "But don't you feel fatigued right now? You didn't even get much sleep, yet you aren't fainting?"
"I-I-I… think… that's because I've gotten used to the f-f-feeling," Yona blubbered. "T-t-that urge! It's a powerful urge I wasn't used to yesterday, so I fainted. But now I feel it when using any weapon. Plus, this was less h-h-heavy than your g-g-guandao. I could h-h-handle it!"
Hak contemplated. "An urge... so you mean... using a weapon makes you feel more powerful?"
Hak sighed. "I understand what you mean," he started. "I feel like that often. I assure you that's not bloodlust; weapons can defend you. But you can't take that feeling too far. Weapons aren't to be taken lightly. They're used for self-defense, but also to injure and kill, which you can't fathom right now. I hope you never have to. I'm under direct orders by King Il to forbid you from using them, for your protection. So in the future, I will be watching your actions even more."
Hak's words sunk into Yona's consciousness, and eventually reassured her. When her tears stopped flowing, she wiped her face.
"...I know." Yona said at last. "...I've troubled you, Hak. I'm sorry."
Hak patted her head and stood up. "No biggie. I'm not sure how you could shoot so well, but you've been through quite a bit. Your safety and wellbeing is most important. Still, I'll be reporting to his Majesty about this incident once I finish training with Lord Soo-Won."
"N-no!" Yona grabbed at Hak's arm. "Please Hak, Father can't know what I've done!"
"Princess..." Hak looked down at her. "His Majesty probably already knows you're missing. Guards are likely looking for you. And you can't go back up that tunnel alone again."
Yona fell silent. "Yes," she tried again, "I know, but please don't tell him I used weapons. Please, please don't! I didn't originally intend to! Please just tell my father that I was sneaking out into the gardens!"
"You're telling me to lie to King Il about what you did?!"
"I – " Yona hesitated. "If my father knows I was in the armory, my punishment will be much worse. You don't understand, Hak, I – "
I won't be able to ever get out of my room, possibly. I'll never be able to meet Soo-Won again, either. I just know it.
She couldn't stand such a life. Her eyes set with a blazing glow, and she understood what she had to do. "Hak, I'm sorry, but I order it."
Hak was astounded. "Come again?"
"I order you to not tell my Father about using weapons; instead, tell him I wanted to see the gardens. It's true to some extent."
Hak couldn't move. Slowly, but surely, a rumble of laughter rose in his stomach, and all of a sudden, he was cackling so hard that tears were forming in his eyes.
She was actually serious about this.
"I'm sorry, Princess, but you're seriously ordering me to lie to your father, knowing that he has more power than you?!" Hak gasped from laughter. "What the hell? You are so selfish!"
Yona flushed. "Look, I don't have a choice, you stupid Hak!"
Hak's laughter eventually died down. "Princess," he said seriously. "I agree that King Il's punishments are harsh. But that wouldn't have stopped me from obeying him. The only reason I will obey you is because his orders were just "stop her from using weapons" - not "report back to me the next time you see her use a weapon". So in a way I'm obeying you both by not reporting, and preventing you from using them again. Okay?"
Yona couldn't stop smiling. Hak said that, but he could have easily ratted her out, and chose not to.
"...Thank you, Hak."
She never held a weapon in her life, how could she suddenly feel an urge to yield one? My subordinate would never let her touch a weapon.
So her father had said last night. Of course he would never believe what Yona had done was of her own doing.
Which was convenient. But at the same time, though she inadvertently put Hak's record in jeopardy by going out to meet with Soo-Won, she had failed to meet Soo-Won and get an answer out of him. All because she was enticed by the allure of weapons.
Yona's smile faded.
I'm sorry, Hak. I've inconvenienced you again. I'll make up for it in the future. Just you wait.
This took a while to write, so please let me know what you think in the comments!
In historical times, measurements like meters and inches didn't exist. Kouka likely has their own units, but it's easier to just translate the equivalent to meters and inches for readers to better understand.
Yona's a bit flighty, isn't she? She's spontaneous, bratty, and forgets important information until her memory is triggered by a point being mentioned again. That's because she's not very experienced with the world, so she bumbles her way through as she handles information that continuously shocks her and is vastly different from the life she leads.
She lacks stamina to use weapons because she rarely physically exerts herself, but don't worry, she'll begin to build up stamina as time goes on.
That is how I intended to portray her beginning character arc, for the sake of realism. On the bright side, she is still a smart and spunky girl who can put two and two together and trudges forward towards truth. She asks the right questions and is like a detective, curious and determined to find answers to mysteries, while exercising caution and doubt. And she's a kind girl who genuinely cares about Il, Hak, Soo-Won respectively, and all in all, wants to find a happy ending for everyone.
But the question is... will she find it?
I can't say, for now her future looks rather unclear.
Read further to find out ;)