I sit on my chair anxiously, glance at his face in every stretch of now and then. Drops of sweat are running across my back, thankfully hidden beneath my pink robes. The unfortunate ones on my forehead, I keep wiping with my palms.
We just finished eating and I don't want to dive into the water right away so I wait patiently before speaking my thoughts out loud. Watching as the court ladies clean the table one by one, I think of the words I planned to say.
'Hak's been there for too long now. Please let him go.'
I hope I could finally say it now, get this lump out of my chest as soon as possible. I planned this for days, but no matter what preparation and how much I practice I still might end up hanging in the middle.
"You have something to say?" he tells me as the servants exit the room, his eyes focused intently towards me.
I swallow hard. "I-uh ... yes. I want to talk about H-Hak." I pause for a second, wait for him to say something. When he doesn't, I continue, "H-How long are you...?" My sentence are left hanging in the middle again.
Inwardly, I hope that he's getting what I really wanted to say. Because I couldn't get them out on my own. I'm afraid and nervous and really ... I'm afraid of him misunderstanding my words again.
"I was just about to tell you. I'm letting him go tonight."
What did he just say...?
I launch my gaze straight to meet his own ones which never left mine even for a millisecond. A glint coated in lush green sea.
"D-Do you ... do you mean ... Hak?"
"Hak," he confirms. "I just talked to him. I'm letting him out this very night."
There's no way I could ever contain the hundred and thousand emotions crawling inside me right now. First is relief. Then gladness. Like an oil of gladness is being poured over me this very morning.
"I-I don't know what to say."
Almost made myself rush from my seat on to the other side of this table, throw myself around his arms, thank him -
But just then it suddenly dawns on me the bigger picture of us and the whole story. There's no way he's doing that without some hidden motives, my other self is shouting at me. What is he up to?
"What's happening?" I say uncertainly. "H-How did you...?" I never get to finish my sentence, my mind racing at the many questions I intend to ask him.
He seems to understand what I was trying to ask because he says, "He agreed to go back to the Wind Tribe, and never speak of what he knows." And then he averts his eyes out into the window. "His disappearance is fanning the flames of rebels. It's not dangerous as of now, but it may put the whole Wind Tribe in danger for later, knowing rebellion is a very serious crime."
Rebels? On Hak's side? Rebellion? The whole Wind Tribe? So there's been some uprising. I knew it. Mundok won't buy their whole lies. The whole Wind Tribe won't. They've always been wiser. If not for their lack of power they would've marched to this place now, try to reach me.
"Hak agreed to my terms for the sake of his people, along with his freedom. I'm allowing him to go back to being chief, or do whatever he likes, as long as he stays a considerable distance from you."
What is he doing? Now he's even denying my right to see Hak again?
Is he no longer important to you? I want to say out loud. Will you just let go of him forever? Throw away those years?
I exhale sharply. I shouldn't be saying these things to him now. I can't give him any reason to go back on his word. Isn't it the one I've been wanting to ask him all along? Hak's freedom?
"I vowed to kill him. When that day comes, will you stand by his side?"
Hak's own words ring through my ears like alarm bells. "Hak," I say to Suwon. "You said he'd vowed to ... kill you ... right? Did he ... did he change his mind?"
Suwon flickers his gaze at me, then back to the window. "We'll have to see," he mutters almost to himself. "If he can."
If he can. But he can. Or can he? Could it be ... that Hak changed his mind? If he agreed to Suwon's terms then he did change his mind. For that thought I'm partly glad. This arrangement saves Hak the most. Especially his soul.
"I'll send for you at dusk," he says while rising from his chair. "I'm allowing you to talk to him for the last time before I send him off." Then he's behind me, hugging me from behind. "Hak is important to me too. You know I never intended to do him harm from the beginning."
I think for an instant I could hear faint sadness in his voice, and longing. I know he loved him too, just as I do. Hak's still a part of us. No matter the circumstances.
When they come to pick me up, evening is just falling from the skies. A handful of court ladies, a dozen soldiers. And Hyuuri. As expected. He's his most trusted servant who would gladly embrace death than disappoint his master. Suwon is nowhere to be found, as I expected too.
We arrive at the worn-out looking structure where they're keeping Hak. Outside it looked like an abandoned builing, except that the moment you enter the iron doors there would be a multitude of soldiers willing to silence any intruder. Two guards holding torches accompany me down the dim staircase, Hyuuri trailing behind us.
We pass through the twisted corridors. This place, it's like a maze. Cunningly built for special purposes. Along the way we meet more soldiers still, ever armed and ever alert. Finally, they all stop in a corner and motioned for me to go on alone.
A few more steps and I'm seeing him again.
"Why are you here?"
Why am I ... here?
I'm met with a cold barrier, cold wind rushing to meet my paleness. Hak is leaning against the iron bars, back facing me. Why isn't he facing me? Is he not happy to see me? I don't understand?
"I came to see you," I say quietly. "Suwon told me..."
"I'm no longer your bodyguard, Your Highness."
"What's going on?" I say as my tears threaten to spill over. "What's with you, Hak?"
When he doesn't answer, nor even spared me a glance over his shoulder, I say bitterly, "You must hate me so much. I know it's all my fault. Why all these happened. It's all my fault and I'm sorry."
In the space between us, an awful shard of silence begins to coat over. He still won't speak to me. I beckon myself to come closer and connect to him, but my body won't listen to me.
"Suwon told me about everything," I say, watching the stray droplets fall from my eyes to the floor. "I don't know when I'll see you again. I just ... I just want to know you're okay. When you arrive safely at Fuuga, don't forget to write me a letter, please? You're still my friend, my best friend. Even if it all came to this, I want you to know ... that you're important to me."
Please speak to me, Hak.
"I never wanted any of this," I say. "If only I had known..."
"None of these is your fault," I hear him say. "You're wasting your time here, Your Highness. You should go back now."
I watch painfully as he disappears from my sight. Perhaps he's just tired, or he's disappointed. Or he's being threatened again. I want to tell him that I understand but his behavior still pains me so. I feel like I'm being betrayed all over again, by that one person who's all I have left. A small creaking sound reaches my ears and I realize he's gone to bed.
I shouldn't be here robbing him of his sleep. He'll have to travel tonight, he would need more strength. Right. I'm sorry. I take agonizingly deep breathes.
"Then I'll leave," I announce.
I don't wait anymore for anything. I just start to run, run away from this painful place. I don't even remember the trip back to the villa anymore, nor laying myself down on the bed. I just find myself crying all over again.
But I don't fall asleep.
So later at midnight when Suwon came he finds me still awake, eyes all swollen and red. And then the next moment I'm in his arms seeking comfort, seeking comfort in the wrong places.
The days pass by in a blur. A blur of blue and yellow and red. Days turn into weeks. It's now the third month of my father's death. Suwon has allowed me more freedom. I'm free to go about the whole castle again without much company. Only that he's assigned Hyuuri to guard me now. But as long as I ignore him I'd feel like I'm really free to move alone, because he stays at least twenty feet from me.
I wander aimlessly. I stop outside the library, debate with myself whether to go in. In the comforts of the quietness inside, I always end up sleeping in a corner until Minsu comes to wake me. Glancing at the noon sky, I figure there's still so much time to spend, and I can't spend them all wandering through the whole castle.
So I go inside the library, find a tight corner, settle myself. Hug my knees, rest my head above them, wait for sleep. As expected, Minsu comes to wake me hours later.
"You shouldn't be sleeping here, Princess," he would always say.
When I first saw Minsu beside Suwon, I felt betrayed. But then I remember, I'm the only one who knows the whole truth behind my father's death. Minsu doesn't know anything. Sometimes I feel like I wanted to tell him everything, because I've kept these secrets to my heart that it aches not to whisper them to him.
But then some things are better kept secret, if you want to protect those important to you. So I let him think what they'd been told of me.
The sky is a canvas of yellow and orange and pink by the time I stepped outside. I resume walking, follow where my trustworthy feet would take me. As if some string is tugging me, I pause by in one of the training grounds, the one that's mainly used for horseriding and archery. It's empty as usual. Ever since Hak left.
"No fair! I want to do archery with Suwon too!" I remember telling my father in this very spot, three months ago. When everything was fine.
On that day Suwon and Hak were practicing archery while on horseback, taking each other seriously. As if on a tournament.
"Let them be for a moment," my father said. "They haven't seen each other in a while."
And I haven't seen Suwon for a while too, I pouted. Not really fair.
"Come down Yona!" I heard Suwon shout from below the balcony where father and I were watching. "I'll let you ride with me."
The excitement I'd felt in that moment...
"Suwon!" my father objected right away. As expected. He never liked Suwon.
"She'll be all right," Suwon replied flatly. "She'll just be riding the horse."
I wish I had noticed then that moment the way he so disobeyed my father directly.
"Relax. Hak and I will support you."
Without really much awareness I move forward, pick a bow from one of the raised holders. I run my fingers through the intricate wood, through the limbs, through the string.
My father, he doesn't like me holding weapons. But he's gone now so what does it matter?
When I pick an arrow from the sheat Hyuuri is beside me in a flash, taking the weapons from my hand almost forcefully.
"Let her be."
Hyuuri backs away immediately at the lone source of the voice he would ever acknowledge.
"Are you interested?" Suwon says as soon as he reaches me.
I shake my head, place the weapons back to their right places, back to their home. Then I start walking away from him not even bothering to spare him a look.
Sometimes I do that, ignoring him when I feel like it. Show him my real feelings, make them more evident. He made me promise to stay by his side, but it doesn't mean I'll stay like a loving dog all the time. In little things like these I could somehow take my own revenge against him.
Still I always make sure to not go so far. If he snaps and explodes, who knows what he'd do again? So I always make sure not to go too far.
The next day, I'm back in this place. I never really have anything to do anyway. I just walk around the whole palace as a princess who has nowhere to go, who is homeless. Maybe someday when I finally earn Suwon's trust he'd allow me to start meddling with the matters of the court. For now, I just go with the flow of the wind.
"I thought you said you weren't interested," Suwon says from behind me.
I watch plainly as he takes a longbow, an arrow. He positions himself, nocks, aims for the target board. In a split second the arrow comes flying, hits the bullseye perfectly.
It's intimidating, to be honest.
"Do you want to try?" he asks cheerfully. "It can be a good pastime too."
Before I could protest he's placing a smaller bow in my hand. I take it hesitantly, unsure. I don't even know how to handle it properly. This one weighs a bit heavy, but no doubt much lighter compared to the one he's holding.
As I glance at Suwon's direction I catch his eye staring at another figure on the balcony. A man with long black hair which covers one of his eyes, wearing purple overcoat with black hemlines. Even from here I recognize him already. Keishuk. Suwon's own adviser. Why is he here?
"I'll teach you archery, how does that sound?" Suwon says, drawing me from my thoughts. "We can start tomorrow morning." Then he proceeds to hug me tightly, in front of them. "I'll see you tonight."
When he releases me he turns to Hyuuri. "Escort the princess back to the villa safely."
I don't need to be told a second time. Just from Suwon's tone alone, I know that they'll drag me should I refuse to do so. Reluctantly, I walk back to the villa, wondering why he's sending me back even though it's only morning.