It's with a heavy heart that Minseon welcomes the carriage of the Southern Shores as the king, Hongbin, and Hayeon step out into the front gardens.
She can see it in Hayeon- the worry darkening her bright eyes and the nervous fidget of her hands behind her back- as if it were a mirror of herself. But Hayeon doesn't have to pretend to be happy like she does. Hayeon doesn't have to mask her fears and smile because the pressure of two kings is resting on her shoulders.
It's okay, Minseon thinks. She would rather it be her to bear the burden than Hayeon anyway.
It's harder to find time to see each other this visit around. With both kings eagerly watching their every moment, it feels like Minseon is tied to Hongbin by chains around her wrists. Her father gets this beaming, starry-eyed look every time he passes by them talking privately and sometimes he pulls her aside to tell her how proud he is of her to finally look for a partner to rule the Central Woodlands alongside her.
She feels guilty for lying to him, now more than ever, but she doesn't regret a single moment with Hayeon.
It takes three full days before they are able to seriously meet without their fathers' prying eyes, and Minseon was close to cracking under the burden. In her room, alone with only the soft twinkling of the ballerina in her jewelry box spinning to a song, she had curled up on the seating lounge with too many blankets in her lap trying to sort through the anxiety bubbling in her chest. She'd never thought she could feel so physically sick with it, but her skin was clammy and her fingertips were cold and there were no amount of blankets and pillows that could make her feel truly calm with her own thoughts.
There are three soft knocks at the door that startle her, making her heart jump into her throat and her muscles tense. She moves swiftly across the room, the blanket that had been thrown over her lap now clutched in her fist. It's the middle of the night and her muscles are strung taut as she opens the door slowly.
It's Hayeon, and Minseon instinctively swings the door open wide enough for her to slip into her room. As soon as the door shuts behind them, Hayeon pulls her into a hug, arms tightening around her. The silence around them is comforting as they stay in each other's arms.
“I didn't think anything could be more torturous than being separated by countries, endless seas of land and people,” Minseon breathes.
Hayeon’s grip around her tightens even more. “Being so close and yet so far apart feels even worse,” she says, easily finishing the thoughts on Minseon’s mind.
They curl up together in Minseon’s bed, silent with the knowledge that Hayeon can't stay for long because Jaehwa had been told to keep an eye on her. Minseon plays with their fingers, mindlessly mapping out the way their hands fit together and the way the flickering candlelight casts shadows on their skin. Sometimes Hayeon sends out sparks of magic from her fingertips, and Minseon watches bright colors dissipate into the air.
“Let's tell them tomorrow,” Hayeon murmurs, almost as more of a thought to herself.
Minseon curls against Hayeon’s side, head pillowed on her shoulder. She looks up and exhales quietly. As much as Hayeon had tried to be reassuring, there are still nerves swimming in her dark eyes.
But Minseon eventually nods. The opportunity would be best in the afternoon when the two kings were likely to be conversing of politics in one of the grand living rooms. “Tomorrow, then.”
The anticipation scared her, more than she could've ever imagined, but Hayeon listens to all her worries when she’s worked up the courage to voice them. She says everything she's scared of until her hands are cold again and tremble where they're pressed at Hayeon’s waist. And Hayeon listens to all of it and promises she'll do whatever it takes with strong, fiery eyes that convinces Minseon enough to stop worrying.
She falls asleep somewhere in the stories Hayeon tells her of her childhood. When she wakes up, she rolls over to cold sheets and hopes with a heavy heart that she can finally stop this charade.
There's a crash of glass shattering against the floor, and Minseon feels something awful drop in the pit of her stomach.
Her father had pushed it aside, intent on finishing his point about commerce with vampires, but the king of the Southern Shores holds up a cautious hand to silence him for a moment. He motions at Hayeon, who is sitting beside Minseon, to cast out a foresight spell.
Minseon didn’t need to know what Hayeon saw to hear more glass shattering and the terrified yelling of servants as they ran through the halls.
“Shadow Hunters from the west,” she says, eyes clenched shut as the magical black aura around her pulses. “They’ve snuck into the castle through the kitchens.”
The Shadow Hunters had been causing trouble in the west for some time now, between hijacking trade caravans and assassinating magical beings when paid enough money. However, Minseon- much less anyone in the Central Woodlands- hadn’t expected them to break into the castle. While the Central Woodlands had far less valuables to offer for theft, there was still the prestige of the royal throne.
Minseon, less powerful and less trained than her father, would be an easier target to assassinate.
Jinyoung bursts into the room then, Kyungmi and Jaehwa behind him. He relays everything that Hayeon had seen while Jaehwa and Kyungmi provide Minseon and her father with knives to defend themselves in emergencies. Minseon takes the knife Jaehwa hands her with shaky hands, tucking it away at the hilt of her dress to hide it.
“Hongbin,” the king of the Southern Shores says, looking sternly at his son, “please protect Princess Minseon and your sister. The King and I will defend ourselves in a separate part of the castle. It’s better we keep the Ruling Family apart.”
Minseon feels like her mind is working in slow motion and it’s as though she only just now understands what this means. She looks to Hayeon, dazed. Her heart aches as Hayeon takes her hand and she looks at her father under the steadily imposing threat.
“Go,” he says, eyes curving into a gentle smile. “You will be safe with Princess Hayeon and Prince Hongbin.”
Unable to say anything around the lump in her throat and the fear and adrenaline in her veins, Minseon nods at her father and finally allows Hayeon pull her away. Hayeon squeezes her hand without saying anything, grounding her as the ruckus in the hallways suddenly sounds like a cacophony of musical instruments blaring in her ears. Her sight blurs as guards rush by, the clattering of armor ringing in her ears.
“The safe room is in the library,” Kyungmi says, producing a blade of her own inscribed with intricate runes. “Jaehwa and I will ensure they stay off your trail.” And beside her, Jaehwa smiles big and happy, unsheathing an identical knife to Kyungmi’s and winking to send them off.
Hongbin stalls for a moment, glancing frantically between the two of them. Minseon almost gathers strength then to tell them to follow them into the safe room, but Hongbin speaks above her. “Please stay safe,” he says, trying to hide the sadness from his voice. “We’re counting on you both.”
Jaehwa’s smile softens, and she endearingly pats Hongbin’s head. “We will see you later when it is safe, Hongbinnie. Don’t do anything reckless.”
Hongbin nods, though his feet stall as if he isn’t ready to leave. However, the screams coming from the first floor jolt him into action and he starts taking off in the opposite direction towards the library.
Minseon looks at Kyungmi as she turns away, her best friend smiling softly before she turns the opposite way and runs with Jaehwa at her side.
Hongbin, Hayeon, and Minseon take off in a dead sprint for the library, pushing pasts servants and guards heading towards the front of the castle. Minseon leads them through a winding maze of hallways, past her own bedroom and even further down a darker corridor towards the library.
But luck seems to be with the Shadow Hunters as five of them crash through the window behind them, spraying glass at their feet. The Hunters growl menacingly, sending cold shivers up Minseon’s spine. Hayeon’s grip on her hand tightens as she pulls Minseon behind her and a glow starts to build in her palms.
Minseon tightens her grip on her knife, holding it steady in her palms. Not a moment later do the Shadow Hunters surge forward, moving with the fluidity of a ghostly shadow. Their bodies impermanent, looking as though they float in the air as they rush forward, but their eyes burn blood red with lust as they bare their knives.
Hongbin sends out the first attack, creating an orb of light in his palm and tossing it at the closest attacker. He quickly dodges a swipe of a second Hunter and places a well aimed kick to its solid head, sending it stuttering back. Hayeon creates two orbs of light in her palms and blasts them at two more. The last Shadow Hunter manages to use the cover of the four others and breaks through their defense, knife bared straight at Minseon.
Minseon swiftly dodges his first attack. Shadow Hunters are sloppy fighters, and Minseon uses that to her advantage. She ducks around the Hunter’s wild swings deftly, managing to lodge her foot in his chest and send him flying back into the wall. The battle around her drowns out momentarily as the Hunter surges back more ferociously, waves of darkness clouding around his body. He cackles wildly, taking large swings of his knife in every direction, and Minseon manages to dodge them all. She thrusts her knife forward, the runes activating and morphing the color of the metal blue, but the attack misses its mark and only makes the Hunter hiss as the metal sizzles upon contact with its body.
She spares a look towards Hayeon and Hongbin, relief washing through her to see them holding their own. Each of them have taken one hunter down on their own. A particular Hunter seems to be bearing down on Hayeon, attack after attack flying towards her, but she defends each one with a yellow shield around her body.
The Shadow Hunter seizes its chance while she’s distracted. It lets out a blood curdling scream that makes her legs lock up and her blood run cold. It swings wildly, frantically, its blade screeching as it cuts through the air, leaving red magic behind. Minseon manages to dodge the first swing of the blade at her, the sword singing by her ear as she barely misses it. The Hunter swings again and Minseon knocks the attack back by defense of her own knife, glowing bright yellow in heightened defense. But a barrage of attacks follows, each more ferocious than the last, and with each attack more narrowly missed, with each attack cutting through the fabric of her dress and the stress beginning to overwhelm her, the terror in her heart grows until the fear seizes her. She stumbles back, adrenaline in a chokehold around her throat as the Hunter swings wildly and prepares its final attack.
Hayeon had stepped in front of her, taking the brunt of the attack. The knife swung low, cutting through her left side and leaving a deep gash behind. Minseon watches on, frozen in horror, as Hayeon grits her teeth through the pain, staunchly holding her side, while her free hand works another magic attack. And before the Shadow Hunter can attack again, Hayeon shoves her hand to its head and watches as the spell explodes, erasing the Shadow Hunter as it disappears with a screeching yell.
Minseon steadies her as she stumbles back, managing to move herself fast enough to catch her. She’s panting hard, eyes clenched shut and a faint green light pulsing at her hand on her side. But Minseon can see she’s trying to mask how painful it is, even though Minseon is carrying almost all her weight.
“Hayeon! Are you okay?!” Hongbin asks, taking care of the last Shadow Hunter before rushing over to them. Eyes wide, he glances frantically at his sister, trying to take stock of the damage.
Hayeon’s breath hitches on a groan and it terrifies Minseon. “I’m okay,” she breathes, stumbling to stand up straight. “Cast your foresight and see if there are any others.”
Hongbin hesitates for a moment but he does as he’s told. He casts out a foresight spell like Hayeon had done before, concentrating on looking through all corners of the castle for enemies.
“They’re retreating,” he says, relief obvious in his tone. “Our fathers are safe and so are Kyungmi and Jaehwa.”
Both Hayeon and Minseon breathe a sigh of relief, but the green light in Hayeon’s hand suddenly pulses weaker.
“Hold on to me, Hongbin,” she grits. “I’m going to apparate us to Minseon’s room.”
Minseon holds Hayeon against her tighter, scared as Hayeon starts to murmur a spell and her body begins to glow pink around her. Hongbin holds on as the last of the spell is recited, and by the time Minseon blinks, all three of them have been transported to her room.
Hayeon’s knees lock and she nearly tumbles if Hongbin didn’t help support her in time. Minseon and Hongbin both help her up to the bed, the faint green glow of her hands gone and instead replaced with the deep crimson of her blood.
Minseon can see the damage clearly now. While the knife hadn’t cut too deep, it had cut straight through the golden inked words on her skin. Minseon’s hands are shaking as she reaches out, wishing that the touch of her hands could erase it, but Hayeon catches her hands in the air.
“It is not serious,” she says. “Please, don’t worry about it.”
Minseon’s chest tightens. Hongbin murmurs a spell and once his hands glow green, he presses them to the gash in his sister’s side. Hayeon groans, clenching her eyes shut as the waves of magic settle in, but eventually the pain dissipates and she manages to give Minseon a weak smile.
“The wound will heal itself with magic,” she whispers, wiping her thumb across Minseon’s cheek and catching tears on her fingertips. “Everything is okay now.”
At that, Minseon finally breathes a sigh of relief. She frantically wipes the tears off her cheeks and sniffles, trying her best to steel herself. Hongbin looks on sympathetically, giving Minseon a reassuring pat on the back.
“Do you have salve and bandages on hand?” he asks. Minseon nods, silently moving towards a cupboard on the far side of her room. She pulls out a chest of medicines and holds the salve and bandages tight in her grip.
Hongbin finishes the spell, sweat dripping from his forehead as the green light fades from his hands. He pulls away, ensuring that the gash had carefully stitched closed. Minseon, with feather light touches, applies the salve and wraps the bandages around Hayeon’s waist. She carefully secures it on her hip and exhales the anxiety wound up in her chest.
After putting away the supplies, Hayeon takes her hand and intertwines their fingers. Minseon doesn’t need magic to finally feel calm again.
The doors to her room burst open suddenly and both kings run into the room, glancing at all of them with relief in their eyes. Kyungmi and Jaehwa follow behind them, not even a hair on their heads out of place nor a tear in their clothes. Minseon breathes easier seeing her father, real and safe in front of her.
But her hand is still holding Hayeon’s, and after Hayeon had taken the attack for her, Minseon figures she deserves an honest relationship.
“Hongbin, my son, you’ve done such an excellent job protecting Princess Minseon,” the king of the Southern Shores says, beaming proudly at both his children. “And Hayeon, you’re truly a wonderful daughter.”
Minseon swallows down the fear bubbling in her throat. “Excuse me, Your Highness, but I have something I must admit- to the both of you.” Hayeon’s grip on her hand tightens, almost questioning if she really wants to say this now.
“Minseon, are you sure-” Hongbin starts, but he clamps his mouth shut at Minseon’s very serious gaze.
“Father, Your Highness,” she says, looking at both of them in turn with her head held up. From behind her, she can sense Hayeon beaming with happiness, giving Minseon the strength to continue. “I firstly would like to apologize for deceiving the both of you. Prince Hongbin and I have not been in a relationship for the last few months since he asked to court me.”
The king of the Southern Shores’ face remains impassive, lips pressed into a thin line. Minseon’s father sputters in shock, looking between the two of them incredulously.
She sucks in a deep breath and continues. “My relationship with Prince Hongbin was merely just a cover. Instead, Princess Hayeon and I have been in a relationship in secret.” Minseon looks back at Hayeon, who urges her on with a soft smile. “Today, she protected me in the assassination attempt, and suffered because of me, and it made me realize that she means so much to me.”
The kings’ faces don’t change, and Minseon anxiously continues talking.
“Princess Hayeon has become my whole world, and I’ve fallen in love with a gentle, kind, amazing woman with a heart of gold. I love her with all my heart, to the ends of the universe and back, and I hope that you may both accept our relationship.”
Silence settles thick in the air, almost suffocating with an immense pressure settling on Minseon’s chest.
“Hayeon, is this true?” her father asks, glancing between his children.
“It is,” Hayeon replies, looking down at her intertwined hands. “Princess Minseon is my whole universe, and I’d sacrifice everything to be with her.”
Again, the silence settles suffocatingly in the atmosphere. Not even Jaehwa’s tail twitches with the heavy tension in the air. Minseon’s heart is beating wildly, stuttering with every breath she takes and the kings still haven’t uttered a sound.
Finally, her father speaks first. “Princess Hayeon, you are a brave, strong hearted woman for protecting my daughter- something a lot of the princes wouldn’t have done for her,” he says, a jovial tone picking up as he continues. “I can see that you mean a lot to my daughter, so I hope you will continue to take care of her.”
Minseon holds her breath, watching as her father bows to Hayeon. She hears Hayeon’s breath hitch behind her, and then she flusteredly tries to bow back to the king, only to hiss in pain as she upsets her wound. Minseon immediately flips around and presses a calming hand to the bandage, instinctively worried, until she realizes Hayeon’s father still hasn’t said a word.
She turns to look at him, anxiously waiting for him to speak. All three of them wait with bated breath until the silence draws thin and he looks sternly at all of them.
“What you’ve all done is very deceitful and sneaky,” he says, and Minseon’s heart falls immediately, unable to catch her breath as he continues. “You’ve lied to all of us and thought only of yourselves.”
Minseon struggles to swallow around the lump in her throat, as if she might actually be sick.
But then the king suddenly smiles, beaming happily at Minseon and Hayeon. “However, I have gotten to know Princess Minseon quite well when she stayed with us. She is a bright, ingenious young woman who, I hope, has a wonderful future ahead with my daughter.”
He bows and immediately Minseon bows deeper, bows again and again with gratitude spilling from her lips until her words are caught between gasps and she finally remembers to stop. Kyungmi and Jaehwa are silently cheering from where they stand behind the kings, smiles wide on their faces and silently clapping with their excitement. Hongbin is laughing under his breath, dimples in his cheeks as he looks proudly between Minseon and his sister.
And Hayeon turns Minseon towards her and kisses her in front of everyone, cupping her cheeks to keep her close but pulling away once she starts to laugh from happiness. Minseon smiles and laughs alongside her, forgetting everyone in the room for just a moment as she looks into Hayeon’s twinkling eyes and relishes in the happiest she has ever felt.
“I love you,” she says, the words ringing in her ears because she says it with every ounce of herself she can. She loves Hayeon with all her heart and knows that now they can finally love each other without hiding in the shadows of the night.
Hayeon tugs her up for another kiss, smiling wide and beaming with happiness and looking down at Minseon with an infinite amount of love inscribed in her eyes. “I love you too,” she whispers, saying it like she’s promising Minseon the world.
Minseon holds her hand and smiles in return, promising her the whole world with her heart and intent on giving Hayeon everything.
Minseon takes in a shuddering breath, curling her jacket around her small frame tighter. The sound of waves crashing against the shore are just a whisper in the distance. The wind, saturated with the scent of the ocean, sinks warm under her jacket and clings to her skin. Overhead is a cloudless night sky, stars sparkling as they shine down over the dark night ocean. Minseon stares at each one as it twinkles and blinks out, trying to focus on anything but the anxious, heavy beat of her heart.
She's nervous, and she doesn't want to mess this up.
The glass doors behind her creak open. Hayeon is humming softly as she steps out onto the balcony, a woven midnight blue blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her hair is still wet from the bath, the smell of lavender caught on the ocean breeze. She sits down beside Minseon, opening her arms up and pulling Minseon into her chest, wrapping the blanket around the both of them.
"Not tired, yet?" she asks.
Minseon shakes her head. She can see Hayeon's misplaced worry scrawled in the dip of her brow and the slight pout in her lips. Minseon doesn't blame her though; she's had so much on her mind in the last few weeks since the assassination attempt that it's been difficult to sleep. Most nights she was okay knowing that Hayeon was still there, but some nights Hayeon had cast a sleeping spell over her to help. The need for those had become less frequent since she'd taken time to stay with Hayeon at the Southern Shores.
It was harder on nights when Hayeon would undress and Minseon would catch sight of the scar just below her ribs, tearing through the gold ink on her skin. However, Hayeon would take her hand and place it over the words and the scar, whispering that the words had even more meaning since she'd protected the person that was her whole universe.
And in the last few nights or so, she had different thoughts on her mind that were keeping her awake. They were quite silly to even think of, but Minseon would never be able to push back the small bits of doubt that cling to the back of her mind.
They sit quietly beneath the moonlight, backs pressed to the glass doors and hands intertwined as they look out into the ocean. With a sigh, Minseon rests her forehead on Hayeon's shoulder and stares out into the ocean, dazed. She nervously plays with their fingers, teeth gnawing at the torn skin of her lips until it hurt and Hayeon had leaned down to kiss her to make her stop.
Gazing into Hayeon's eyes, she gains a burst of courage. Her heart is pounding in her ears as she shifts to sit in front of Hayeon and takes both of her hands into her lap. Minseon takes in the sleepy, uneven slope of her eyes, the faint blush on her cheeks, and the soft baby pink of her lips, and feels the love for her swell in her chest until she thinks her heart could break through her rib cage.
"Min'Anor, ithil, ar' elenea," she whispers, "lle quena i'lambe tel' Eldalie amin uir?"
Stunned, Hayeon shoves a hand over her mouth and her eyes sparkle with unshed tears. Minseon hears her breath stutter, glancing between her hands and Minseon as if she were trying to wake up from a dream.
My sun, moon, and stars, do you promise me eternity?
Hayeon bites down into her lip, hand twisting in the fabric of her nightgown. "Are you really-" and her breath catches "-how did you know what to say?"
Minseon smiles sheepishly as heat spreads over her cheeks. "Back when we wrote to each other in that book, you told me the story of elven royal marriages and how they promise each other eternity so they may live together," she murmurs, squeezing Hayeon's free hand between hers. She had practiced saying those words in the mirror every night since she had asked Hongbin how to say them. Hongbin, suddenly overcome with a lot of emotions, helped her learn it with damp eyes until she could finally say it without stuttering.
She looks up at Hayeon, eyes twinkling with all the love she has for her. "I'm ready to trade my mortality for an eternity by your side."
At that, a few tears drip down Hayeon's cheek as she smiles as big as she can. There are a few bursts of watery laughter as Minseon wipes away each tear and kisses her with the same raw emotion in her eyes. Looking at her, blindingly bright in the darkness, Minseon has no more doubts about their future.
In her happiness, Hayeon takes their hands together and murmurs a spell. The air turns warmer, sparks of red magic bursting around Minseon as a white light glows from their hands. The light bursts into two halves, and Minseon watches in awe as the light sinks first into Hayeon's chest and then into her own. It's warm and bright, and Minseon feels the happy hum of their bond in her chest.
"Min'aare ar' min'silme, amin weera," Hayeon murmurs, pulling Minseon into a long, deep kiss as the moonlight shines down from the sky and the ocean breeze brushes against their bare shoulders. The bond in their chests pulses with their love, bound to last for eternity.
My sunlight and my starlight, I do.