Fandom: Super Junior AU (Fairy Tale)
Pairing: Hankyung/Heechul, background Kibum/Donghae, Kangin/Eeteuk, Kyuhyun/Sungmin, Yehsung/Ryeowook
Word count: 7,459
Summary: In which Heechul is, literally, a pretty, pretty princess, and Hankyung fails at being Prince Charming (or at least by Heechul's standards).
Warnings: This is where fairy tales go to die. Also, unnecessary genderswitching. IDEKY. Also, historical inaccuracies, chocolate what.
A/N: Just stop. Stop right there, turn around, and pretend that you never stumbled across this fic. Though the fact that you've clicked on the link suggests that you want to read it so, please, feel free to blame kayevelyn and meiface for this, even though they refuse to take the blame. They not only refused to discourage me from this, they actively encouraged me. So you see, they are to blame for the absolute stupidity of this. I have been complaining about this for about a week now. Inspired, partly, by shieldkitten’s wonderful Suju/Disney crossover, and no where near as good.
Oh la, I think that I am so funny and talented, when really I should be stopped and never allowed to write again.
Part 1 / Part 2
Once upon a time (or was it, in a galaxy far, far away; this narrator never can get her clichés right), there lived a Princess by the name of Kim Heechul, who was different from other princesses in that she wasn’t sweet, kind natured, loved all creatures great and small, or quiet – in fact, she was just the opposite, loud, brash, rather vain, and would no sooner go for a walk in the woods than she would wear an outfit of two clashing colours. Her favourite pastime was to complain about being forced to sit in the alcove above the men’s training grounds while her cousins, Princess Sungmin and Princess Eeteuk, watched the men train, something that took place regularly.
The narrator would like it to be known that in spite of this, Heechul did have her redeeming qualities: she was mean to only those who deserved it; she was an accomplished pianist, and could dance reasonably well; and although she often spoke harshly, she always spoke her mind and told the truth.
Heechul would like the narrator to shut the fuck up and get on with the story, and this is what the narrator shall do, because she feels that more redeeming qualities shall, hopefully, come up over the course of the tale.
It was tradition in the Kingdom of Okaywecan that on the heir’s eighteenth birthday, a Year of Courting should take place, during which suitors from near and far should come in the hope of winning the heart of the next ruler. For Heechul, this meant a year of endless balls, endless chaperoned visits to places of interest with handsome men, and trips to far off palaces and castles for the chance to see how her suitors lived. At any other time, she would have welcomed these things whole heartedly, especially the balls, but there was a problem: Heechul did not wish to get married.
“I shan’t,” she announced to her cousins as she lay on her back in the middle of her bed. “I shan’t do it.”
“I don’t see how you can’t do it,” said Sungmin helpfully, sitting at the mirror and combing her hair. “I mean, it is tradition.”
“If I said that I won’t do it,” said Heechul, sitting up in order to glare more efficiently at her, “then I won’t do it.”
Eeteuk sighed just then, in a dreamy fashion, and both of the other girls in the room turned to stare at her at the window. She was looking out of it at the Kings men training in the courtyard, and when she sighed again, Sungmin jumped up and went to look out with her.
“What is it?” she asked, resting her face against the glass in order to get a clearer view. “Which one is it?”
“Kangin,” said Eeteuk, resting her cheek on the palm of her hand. “He’s so good looking.” Heechul snorted; her cousins ignored her. “Look, there he is, fighting Eunhyuk. He’s so-”
“Manly,” said Sungmin, scrunching her nose up. “Not my type at all. He’s probably all sweaty underneath that armour; I don’t know how you’d be able to handle it.”
“Just because you like men who’ve never held a weapon in their life,” retorted Eeteuk, annoyed. “The one you like probably wouldn’t know one end of a sword from another.”
“Just because Kyuhyun is a musician doesn’t mean that he can’t fight,” said Sungmin angrily, standing up to glare at Eeteuk. “Your Kangin wouldn’t know a harpsichord if it hit him in the face playing Beethoven’s fifth symphony.”
“You guys!” screamed Heechul, stamping her foot. “Can we focus on me, and my being forced into marriage, please!”
The door suddenly opened, and a young man poked his face around it, looking a little confused. “Did someone say marriage?” he asked.
“Oh, go away, Donghae,” said Heechul, throwing herself dramatically onto the bed. “I don’t want to listen to you today. I have important things to think about.”
Donghae just grinned and came into the room, sword by his side clanking off the stone doorway. He was merely an apprentice swordsman for the Royal Guard, still young at just a year older than Heechul herself, but they had been childhood friends and so he was granted a few privileges. He had never quite grasped the concept of not entering a lady’s room without knocking or without an escort, though as the only ladies around were those that he had known for quite some years, the narrator feels that his habit could probably be blamed on this.
“That’s a shame,” he said, picking at a couple of the grapes in the fruit bowl at the corner of the room. “Because I just heard from Shindong that the cooks in the kitchen have already started preparing your birthday cake. It’s going to be eight layers, covered in pink icing.”
“I don’t want my birthday,” said Heechul sulkily.
“Come on, Heechul,” said Donghae, poking at her in the side, and Heechul hit out at him and almost broke his nose. He clutched at it, but carried on nevertheless. “I mean, marriage isn’t that bad.”
“How would you know?” asked Heechul, sitting up and looking at him sharply.
“I don’t,” said Donghae, shrugging. “I was just trying to make you feel better.”
“Siwon,” said Heechul mournfully, lying back down with an arm thrown over her eyes. “That’s who I’ll end up marrying, Siwon.”
“Siwon’s not that bad,” said Eeteuk. “I mean, he’s very nice and kind.”
“Plus, he’s incredibly good looking,” said Sungmin. “Ridiculously good looking, in fact.”
“He talks with his hands,” said Heechul. “Have you noticed that? Really big hand gestures, it’s so annoying. Plus, I’ve known him since he was a boy who thought that because he had a sword he was a man and too big to play with us, but he was still afraid of worms.”
“You’re too picky,” said Sungmin, resuming in her beauty ritual. “You probably don’t have to worry about getting married; there’ll be no one that you like anyway.”
“One can hope,” muttered Heechul.
“I think Lord Siwon would make a good choice, Milady,” said a new voice, and Kibum came through the door holding a jug of water for Heechul to wash her hair later on that evening. Donghae immediately stepped away from the bed, flushing a little red at being caught standing so close.
“You’ve noticed, haven’t you, Kibum?” Heechul sat up and looked at Kibum with a little desperation. “About the hands.”
“It’s not my place to notice,” said Kibum, a slight smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Everyone knew Kibum well enough to know that by that, she knew perfectly well what Heechul meant, and found it just as annoying.
“I can’t marry him,” decided Heechul. “I mean, he annoys my handmaiden, I can’t put poor Kibum through that.”
“It would be a shame to lose out on such a perfect opportunity because of me, milady,” said Kibum, laughter in her voice.
“I think that Siwon might actually like you,” said Donghae doubtfully.
“He has commented on your beauty, according to Yehsung,” said Kibum. Donghae beamed, completely obvious in his pride at Kibum agreeing with him on something.
“Hand talker,” dismissed Heechul. She had a rather unfortunate habit of focusing on one thing at a time, and was unable to just magically forget Siwon’s one shortcoming. She sighed heavily. “Kibum, get me some chocolate,” she said. “I need something to cheer me up.”
Kibum curtsied low, and tried to leave the room to follow the request, but Donghae caught her arm and said, in a deceptively casual tone, “Kibum, I was wondering – if you’d maybe – if you’d like to go down to the village tonight and maybe go for a meal, and if you wanted-”
“Give it up, Donghae,” called Sungmin, piling her hair up onto her head and trying out different hairstyles. “She’s not going to go out with you.”
Donghae immediately crumpled in on himself, but Kibum just laughed lightly and nodded her head at him. “Keep trying, Donghae,” she said, gave a smile that was positively wicked to Heechul’s eyes, and then left the room. Donghae’s expression flipped from devastated to overjoyed in a second.
“Did you hear that?” he asked happily. “She said that I should keep trying! That’s means that I still have chance! I wonder when she’s in the servant’s quarters, I’ll ask her again then…”
“Whatever, fishy,” said Heechul, rolling her eyes, but Donghae was apparently oblivious to her scorn as he floated out of the room, still murmuring to himself happily.
“You probably shouldn’t say things like that to Donghae,” said Eeteuk reproachfully to Kibum when she came back into the room. “He thinks he actually has a chance.” Kibum smiled mysteriously and didn’t answer.
Heechul stood up slowly. “I have decided what I am going to do,” she announced loudly.
“What?” asked Sungmin, dabbing cold water onto her cheeks in an attempt at bringing out some redness. “What you’re going to do about what?”
“About the marriage,” said Heechul. “I’m going to run away until they decide to let me off.”
“Oh, Heechul,” sighed Eeteuk, standing up from the window and walking over to sit on Heechul’s bed. “You do this every time that you’re forced to do something you don’t want to do, and nothing ever comes of it.”
“It will this time,” said Heechul insistently. “It will this time, because this time I’m not going to yield just because mother promises me another ball gown.”
Her cousins exchanged looks which suggested that they believed otherwise, but Heechul knew that all the other times she had run away, her heart had never truly been in it, and towards the end she had simply been doing it because she knew that her parents would promise her something wonderful; her parents were remarkably exploitable. This time, however, was different; this time, she would stick to it, because she knew that she would not be forced to be married to someone that she did not want to be married to.
Heechul liked men for their looks; she was not the type to fall in love easily, like so many princesses of stories before hers. Eeteuk dreamt of lasting relationships and happily ever afters, and Sungmin had regularly fallen in love with a different man each year after her twelfth birthday until the arrival of the new court musician – Heechul scorned such ideas as thin and vapid, and thought that men could be, at best, simply annoying, and at worst, arrogant toe rags. At no point in her life had Heechul ever wanted to be married to a man, nor ever be in a clinch with one.
So explained her refusal to be married.
Her plan for escape was set in motion that very night, without her cousins knowing, and therefore they were unable to tell her parents of her plans and ruin it all. Heechul told only Kibum, who was so used to her mistress running away that she didn’t believe that this time was any different either, and helped her easily, getting her a package of food from the kitchens, and taking money down to one of the stable-hands in order for him to quietly saddle her horse. She rode off just as the sun rose, dressed in her warmest clothes, provisions packed into her small satchel at her side.
Heechul always ran away to the same place, which explained why her parents were always able to find her, but she had never once thought of going anywhere else; not when, as she explained to Eeteuk and Sungmin, “I have managed to get it just as I like it.” ‘It’ was a small wooden building which stood overlooking the river that ran through the kingdom, a ride of an hour or two from the castle. She had found it, quite by chance, when she was nine and on an accompanied ride with Donghae, and over the years had decorated it to suit her purpose and style of living. She had persuaded Donghae, when they were twelve, to build her a bed there (she did this by threatening to tell Kibum how he felt about her, and once the bed was built, she’d done it anyway), and she had procured some drapes and a rug from the castle, and the hut was able to be kept warm by a fire. Although Heechul hated dirty things and would prefer not to have had to, she had learnt how to light the fire herself, although she drew the line at chopping the wood herself, and had paid a boy from the village to come down twice a year and chop it for her.
She was able to live quite comfortably in the structure for quite some time with the amount of food that she always brought with her, but before long she always became sick of the place and longed for the castle and the comforts that went with it; it was this reason, along with the promises of new outfits, that caused her to yield.
This time, however, she was not given the chance, because on her second day, as she sat and read one of the books that she kept in the house, there was a creaking sound that made her close the book and listen carefully; then there was a loud rumbling; and then the wooden cabin went tumbling into the river below, Heechul in it, where it hit the water and broke up, throwing all its contents to the mercy of the water.
Heechul could swim as well as the next person, but she had never been swimming in her warmest (and therefore heaviest) clothing, and the weight of it pulled her down as she struggled against it desperately, her head breaking through the surface only to be dragged back down, water filling her lungs each time. Eventually, on one of the occasions that she was above the water, she was lucky enough to be in reach of a piece of debris from the house, a panel from the wall, and she quickly took hold of it and pulled the top half of her body onto it, coughing and tired.
“Well,” she said after a minute or two, glaring around at the river banks as if to blame them. “That was unexpected.”
Her battle with the river hadn’t taken very long, but the speed of the water ensured that by the time she was aware of her surroundings, she had already travelled quite some way, and she no longer recognised anything around her. She travelled further downriver, shaking, cold and wet, unable to push her hair from her face for fear that she should lose her hold on her make-shift raft and be pulled to the bottom of the river, unable to return.
As she floated, she wondered as to what had happened to her hide-away to cause it to go toppling into the river – she had no evil step mother that wanted her dead, nor did her parents have any enemies (she would not have dared step out of the castle if this was the case). Kim Heechul really was an unusual princess in that her misfortune was not caused by the actions of any human, but rather loose soil, an old building, and more trinkets in the building than the loose soil was able to handle.
This, however, did not stop her from coming up with different scenarios as to what had happened, such as, perhaps, a rebel to her father’s rule had pushed the building into the river in order to get rid of the heir. Her favourite by far was that the whole thing had been engineered by Lord Choi Siwon, as revenge for not accepting his affections, and she felt that this was more likely than anything else, because it seemed like the kind of thing a rejected suitor would do when confronted by her magnificent beauty.
“Really,” she thought, annoyed, having almost convinced herself that this was what had happened. “Men can be so silly sometimes.”
As she was thinking this, she suddenly came to a slow bend in the river, alongside which was a sandy outcrop, a place where boats were no doubt landed and, sensing her freedom from the water, she quickly kicked out in order to reach it. There was a tense moment in which she feared that she would not make it, and would have had to have been swept further along until she came to another place to stop – and who knew how long that could take? – but eventually she managed to stagger onto the land, legs weak, and she collapsed onto the stony sand, and there she lay for quite some times, contemplating what had just happened, and what she was going to do about it.
What she was going to do, she decided after a couple of minutes of listening to the bird calls coming from the forest which surrounded her, was lie exactly where she was, and wait for someone to come get her, because she was Princess, and she wasn’t going to go tramping through the woods for anything. While she waited, her dress could dry, and before long they would find her. If they didn’t, well, she’d be Queen soon anyway and she’d punish those who didn’t find her.
“Um,” said a voice. “Hello?”
Heechul opened her eyes. There was a strange man standing above her, tall, with black hair and a large bow and a set of arrows on his back, but Heechul wasn’t scared by that because she lived in a castle with a lot of men who carried swords around, and besides, the man was only a danger if he’d had an arrow set to her throat. “Hello,” said Heechul. “I suppose you’re here to rescue me, are you?”
“What?” asked the man, looking confused.
“I must say, you’re very late,” said Heechul. “I’ve been waiting for absolutely ages.” She held her hand up for the man to take in order to help her up – he just stared at it, and then stared at Heechul.
“What?” he asked again.
Understanding dawned on Heechul, who sat up, sighed, and looked at him pityingly. “You don’t know who I am, do you?” she asked. The man raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “I’m Kim Heechul,” said Heechul, but the man just looked at her, looking no more like he knew who she was than he did before. “Princess, Kim Heechul,” said Heechul loudly. The man just frowned at her. “Of Okaywecan.”
“Oh,” said the man. “Really? Why are you here, then?”
“Where’s here?” asked Heechul, pushing her hair from her face. “Isn’t this Okaywecan?”
“No,” said the man, shaking his head, and really, he looked like he felt sorry for her, and that quickly enraged Heechul, who was a princess and didn’t need peasants feeling sorry for her. “No, you’re in Sujuman.”
“Sujuman?” shrieked Heechul. “I can’t be in Sujuman, I simply can’t be!”
“You are,” said the man, sitting down cross legged on the floor next to her. “You’re in the north, near Okaywecan, but you’re in Sujuman nonetheless.”
“But Sujuman’s full of barbarians, everyone knows that,” said Heechul bluntly.
“Thanks,” said the man dryly. Heechul glared at him, because he really didn’t have any right to be speaking to her like that when a) he hadn’t known her name, and b) she didn’t know his name.
“You are,” she said, sticking her nose in the air. “You have strange dance rituals, and you wear black and white all the time, and you even have your own language, even though four sevenths of you speak Okaywecanian anyway.”
“You are just as strange to us,” said the man with a laugh, and Heechul noticed that he had an accent that she hadn’t picked up on before, which didn’t annoy her like Donghae had that time that he’d gone around talking like he was from the countryside simply to see what it would be like. The man smiled at her; she scowled at him.
“My name is Han Geng,” said the man. “My Okaywecanian name is Hankyung; you may call me that.”
“I may call you that?” repeated Heechul, outraged. Who did this man think he was, telling her what she could do? “I’ll call you whatever I want to. I’m the heir to the throne, thank you very much.”
“You don’t want to be shouting that about,” said Hankyung, suddenly serious. “These are dangerous times.”
“No, they aren’t,” scoffed Heechul. “Our nations have been peaceful for hundreds of years.”
There was a rather nervous pause, before Hankyung grinned. “I know,” he said. “I was just joking.” Heechul was just about to inform him that she didn’t appreciate his humour when his expression turned serious again. “If our nations are so peaceful,” he asked, “then why is the Prince of Sujuman not attending the Year of Courting?”
“You have a Prince?” asked Heechul, nonplussed. “He’d have been invited if we knew there even was a Prince.”
Hankyung sighed, got to his feet, and held out a hand for Heechul to take. She ignored it. “Why are you here, anyway?” he wanted to know. “How did you end up in the forest?”
“I was running away and my wooden hut collapsed into the river,” said Heechul.
“You were running away,” said Hankyung flatly. “Why?”
“Because of the Year of Courting,” said Heechul. “I was going to be forced to be married.”
“Oh,” said Hankyung. “Your parents let you? Run away, that is?”
“We have no enemies,” said Heechul. “I always run away.” Hankyung stared at her, and she quickly reassured him by adding, “I always run away to the same place, so mother and father tend to just wait a week or two and then come and beg me to come back.”
“Weird,” said Hankyung, and then muttered something in Sujumandarin, or at least, Heechul assumed that was what it was, because she had never bothered to learn the language. Very few people in the palace actually knew the language, though Donghae had had a go, and Sungmin had been overjoyed to find out that ‘her Kyuhyun’, as Eeteuk called him, knew a small amount – though Heechul hadn’t understood why this was such a big deal, considering Sungmin didn’t speak the language anyway – and apparently, Siwon had spent a couple of years in the country.
“I want to go home,” said Heechul loudly, and got to her feet herself without help, because she wasn’t going to accept the help of a Sujuman. “Take me home, right now.”
“You’re very demanding,” said Hankyung, in a casual tone, as if her order hadn’t really been taken in.
“I’m a Princess,” said Heechul. “It comes with the territory.”
“Right,” said Hankyung. “Come on then.” And he strode off in the direction of the forest. Heechul shrieked at his back, and he turned around to look at her with some disbelief.
“I’m not going in there,” she said. “I refuse to go into forests on the principle that they are dirty and they will ruin my clothes.”
“Princess,” said Hankyung, in a patient tone of voice that no one else managed to have when speaking to Heechul. “Take a look at yourself. Your clothes are already ruined. There is no way to get you home without going through the forest.” He bent down and pulled a dagger from his leather boots, and showed it to her. “Don’t worry,” he said with a smile. “I’ll protect you.” And for the first time, Heechul believed a man other than her father and Donghae.
“I’m tired,” said Heechul an hour later. “I’m tired and I hate woods, and it just goes on forever, and my feet hurt, and there is definitely something on my back, and would you please stop laughing at me?”
“Sorry,” said Hankyung, not looking or sounding it. He stopped and turned to face Heechul, smiling. “Would you like me carry you?” he asked. “I can be chivalrous when I want to be.”
“No,” said Heechul, sniffing. “I am perfectly capable of walking. Besides I’m not sure that I quite trust you. You aren’t my idea of Prince Charming, you know.”
Hankyung didn’t answer, just raised an eyebrow and then continued walking. Heechul got the feeling that she had annoyed him. Good, she thought. She had better things to be doing than making sure that the feelings of strange huntsmen were perfectly in tact. Her mother would be annoyed at her treating him this way, but her mother wasn’t around, and besides, Heechul hardly ever did anything her mother wanted her to do.
“Where are we going?” she asked after another half an hour, when the sun was beginning to set, casting a red tint over the sky. She went on, her tone sharp; “If you think that I’m sleeping in this forest, then you’re stupider than you look.” This was a bit of an empty insult, because she had to admit Hankyung didn’t look stupid in the slightest.
“We’re going to join up with my hunting group,” said Hankyung without looking back at her. “They are staying in a clearing nearby. We shall sleep there for the night, and then in the morning I shall take you to the capital, a day’s horse ride from here.”
“Sleeping in a forest,” grumbled Heechul. “I’m likely to get mauled by a bear before you can use that little dagger in your shoe.”
“I said I’d protect you,” said Hankyung, but he still didn’t look at her.
They came across the clearing suddenly, Heechul stumbling into a round space, where several tents stood erected, a roaring fire in the centre, casting a flickering but warm light over the surroundings. Heechul paused as everyone turned to stare at her, and then carried on after Hankyung into the middle where three people sat, two men and a woman; those who stared were probably just stunned by her beauty, reasoned Heechul.
“Well, well, well,” said one of the men when they reached them. He spoke Okaywecanian with an accent much more pronounced than Hankyung’s. “I think I saw a boar, you said, and you went running off, and here you come back with a gorgeous young maiden. I think I know what you really saw.”
“Shut up, Zhou Mi,” said Hankyung, glaring at the speaker. “Hold your tongue before royalty.”
“But you’re-” began the man, but Hankyung interrupted him.
“This is Princess Kim Heechul of Okaywecan,” he said loudly. The one named Zhou Mi and the woman both made noises of shock; the boy who seemed to be younger than Heechul was just staring at them in confusion. “Through a series of events, she has come to be in our country, and tomorrow I shall be taking her to the capital in order to arrange the appropriate escort for her to be returned to her kingdom.” He said something in Sujumandarin, something that caused Zhou Mi to laugh, and the other two to frown reproachfully at him. He just shrugged.
“Li Xu,” he said to the woman. “Could you arrange for accommodation and some fresh clothing?”
“Of course,” said the woman, and she jumped up. Now that Heechul looked closely at her, she didn’t seem to be a woman so much as a girl; she actually looked to be a year younger than Heechul, with long brown hair that fell in waves and high cheekbones. “This way, your highness,” she said to Heechul, curtseying politely. “I’ll help you find whatever you need.”
“You speak perfect Okaywecanian,” noted Heechul as she followed the girl to a nearby tent.
“I learnt it from a man who stayed at the palace two years ago,” said the girl, a hint of sadness in her voice. “He was - wonderful – we – Okaywecanian is not a language that many people know; only those who can afford the tutors are able to speak it. I have been very lucky – I was merely another servant before he came along, but the Prince heard me conversing with him, and he has taken me under his wing ever since.”
“You know the Prince?” asked Heechul, surprised. She had not expected to find someone who knew fellow royalty in the middle of the forest.
The girl went suddenly still, and when she turned around, her arms laden down with clothing, her smile was rather tense. “My Okaywecanian name is Ryeowook,” she said. “I hope to be of service to you, your highness.”
“Yes,” said Heechul, slightly unnerved by the obvious change in direction of the conversation. She cast around for something else to talk about. “Who were the others with you?”
“The one who spoke was Zhou Mi,” said Ryeowook. “He has a name in your language, but no one uses it, even during official duties. He’s been friends with Hankyung for many years. The other boy is named Xian Hua in our language, although in his own he is called Henry. He has no name in your language. He speaks no Okaywecanian, and just enough Sujumandarin in order to get by. He came from his country overseas when he was younger in order to be trained as a musician.”
“A motley crew,” said Heechul. Ryeowook laughed; Heechul ducked into the tent that she was given.
“I hope this is to your liking,” said Ryeowook, looking a little nervous.
It wasn’t, but by this point in time Heechul was too tired to argue, and so she just shook her head, and curled down onto her thin mattress on the floor when Ryeowook bid her good night and slept.
The narrator would like to relay a story of terrible fear and horror back in Okaywecan, with our Princess’ parents casting their army far and wide in order to find their only heir, but after hearing from Kibum that their daughter had merely run away again, they decided to leave her be, and so no one ventured down to where the hut had once been, and so the ruins were not found. There was no one looking for the Princess.
If Heechul had been aware of this, she probably would not have slept as deeply as she did, but early that next morning she had to be woken by Hankyung, who shook her, and ignored the outraged, incredulous look that she gave him. “Come on, Princess,” he said, standing up. Heechul realised that the nightdress Ryeowook had handed her had become tangled up in her legs, and her neckline was dipping dangerously low; she glared at Hankyung, daring him to look, but made no move to change anything – it was Hankyung’s duty to not look. Luckily, he averted his eyes. “We shall have to leave now if we are to make it to the capital before nightfall.”
It turned out that the others were to join them on the journey, and Ryeowook was rather shocked to realise that Heechul sat astride a horse like a man. Heechul brushed it off by explaining that she had learnt to ride from Donghae, who, along with knocking and chaperones, couldn’t see the point in riding a horse in a way that made it so much easier to fall off.
“Mother tries to make me change it,” Heechul said just before they set off. “But I don’t think it makes a difference as to how I ride, so long as I get there on time.” She caught Hankyung looking at her, and turned away, shaking her hair out.
The journey was long, but fortunately over flat, clear ground after they left the forest after an hour. Heechul spent it wondering what would be happening back in Okaywecan; wondering whether her parents were combing the kingdom for her; whether Donghae had managed to convince Eeteuk and Sungmin that it wasn’t a good idea to go looking for her; whether Siwon had thrown himself from the high tower in grief at losing her.
The narrator would like the readers to be aware that none of these things had occurred, and that the night before, the entire palace had in fact had a banquet.
By the time the walls of the capital of Sujuman had come into sight, Heechul was sick to the back teeth of riding, and had let Hankyung know this many times, relaying it to him in a loud voice. The white dress that had been given to her was brown around the bottom from dust kicked up, and her hair was in no fit state to be seen. Hankyung just laughed at her.
“Plus, I think my horse is getting tired,” she said. This was actually true; her steed had begun to lag, unable to cope with the long ride, only an hour’s break for lunch. “I don’t want to cause it to collapse or anything.”
Hankyung looked around at her, something that she couldn’t place on his face. She noticed for the first time that he had clear – and quite beautiful – eyes, and she looked at him hard until he glanced away, smiling softly.
“You surprise me, Princess,” he said.
“Just because I’m pretty and like to look my best, doesn’t mean that I’m stupid,” said Heechul, annoyed. Hankyung looked at her again, and then turned away, face still unreadable. Heechul scrunched her face up at him, and Ryeowook hit her laughter in her sleeve, and almost fell off her horse.
Heechul announced that the castle in the capital of Sujuman was not nearly as nice as her own castle back home, but really she was just shocked that they had a castle at all. The stories that were told of Sujumans had never suggested that they were in any way as advanced as the people of Okaywecan. Some of the lower peasants in her kingdom had stories of complete anarchy, of no ruler of the nation, and while most people in the higher circles knew that this was complete rubbish, that Sujuman had a King, or rather, a Queen, there had never been any mention of a Prince. It was probably just as well that he wasn’t invited to the Year of Courting, thought Heechul bitterly as she descended from her horse, ignoring the hand that Zhou Mi held out for her. He was probably annoying, loud mouthed and arrogant, just like every prince who had come to the castle over the years. She couldn’t deal with another one without hitting someone.
“How far from Okaywecan are we?” she asked Ryeowook, who she had decided was the only one worth talking to, as they went up the back staircase to where Heechul would be staying.
“About an hour or two from the border, and then another two hours to your capital,” said Ryeowook. “Our capital was built so close so that we would be able to trade easily with you. We’ll have you home by tomorrow.”
“Good,” said Heechul, but Ryeowook didn’t really seem to be listening to her, but rather looking around herself furtively, as if she was trying to avoid someone. It took them some time to get to the room because Ryeowook kept pausing, and she refused to tell Heechul why.
Heechul ate with Hankyung in the large set of rooms that she had been granted, and while Heechul thought this was very odd and just a bit ridiculous, that a huntsman should be able to sit and eat with a Princess in a palace, Hankyung just smiled at her when this was brought up, and said that the Prince was busy and unable to come see her that night.
“Good,” said Heechul. “I’ve had enough of Princes.”
At some point in the night, the talk turned to exactly why she had run away; she told Hankyung about the men that she had met over the years, and even told him about Siwon, explaining that “I like him, but he can be so annoying sometimes.”
“How so?” Hankyung actually looked interested – Heechul had met many men over the years who had expected her to simply sit there and listen while they talked about themselves and their many achievements, which usually resulted in Heechul getting up and leaving them in the middle of dinner. Heechul was a little selfish, but she preferred to think that it was simply her not being a pushover.
“He talks with his hands,” said Heechul. “And sometimes he can have a holier-than-thou temperament.” She was aware that her reasons for not wanting to marry Siwon could have sounded a little thin, but they made perfect sense to her. If no one else quite believed her, it was nothing to her.
“I knew someone like that,” said Hankyung thoughtfully. “A few years ago. He was from Okaywecan as well, but his name wasn’t Siwon.”
“I don’t think I’d mind being married to him,” admitted Heechul, poking at her meal in front of her. “He’s better than most I’ve met. But I don’t want to be forced into anything.”
“You have a year to choose someone,” pointed out Hankyung.
“And at the end of it, I’ll have to have chosen someone,” retorted Heechul. “That’s the same as being forced into it.”
There was silence for a few minutes, as Heechul tried to work out which parts of her meal were likely to be healthy, and how much fat was in the piece of meat, and then Hankyung said, suddenly, but quietly, “I think the Prince of Sujuman would have liked to have come to the Year of Courting.”
“I’ll talk to my parents when I get back,” said Heechul, a little surprised. “They could invite him then, if you think he’d be that bothered. But I don’t think he’s going to have anymore chance than any of the others there.”
“You seem determined,” said Hankyung, and there was something like amusement in his voice, which annoyed Heechul. Donghae laughed at her all the time, but that was different, because she’d known Donghae for her entire life; the man in front of her had only met her the day before, and he had no right to be laughing at royalty. The annoyance made her snap back at him.
“Of course I am determined,” she said. “Every prince that I have met has been a stuck up snob, and I have no desire to meet another arrogant man who thinks that it is his right to own me. I don’t see how your prince will be any different.”
Hankyung raised his eyebrows, his gaze cool, but Heechul was physically incapable of feeling embarrassed or humiliated, and so she just tossed her hair over her shoulder and continued her meal with her nose in the air.
The narrator would like to take the readers back across the border to Okaywecan, where a council meeting was being held in the throne room – the Princesses Eeteuk and Sungmin were present, as were the King and Queen, along with several ministry officials, such as Lord Choi Siwon. The meeting had been in session for half an hour or so when something unusual happened – the large doors at the end of the room suddenly burst open, and two apprentice swordsmen ran in, risking not only their positions but also their heads for interrupting something that was supposed to be private. They were followed by two members of the Royal Guard, who, it appeared, had been trying to stop the two boys from coming in.
Donghae ran up to the King’s throne while Eunhyuk tried to hold off Kangin and Shindong, and he fell to one knee, bowed his head in deference, and then looked up, breathing heavily. “Your highness,” he gasped, as everyone stared at him in shock. “I bring grave news about your daughter!”
“I didn’t know he knew how to speak formally,” murmured Sungmin, but Eeteuk shot her a look which suggested that she should be quiet, as the King stood up, shock on his face, and the Queen gasped and covered her mouth with a hand. Truth be told, the two girls weren’t that worried, because it was considered grave news when Heechul snapped a nail.
“It’s gone,” said Donghae, and for the first time Sungmin noticed that he looked and sounded frantic, and realised that if Donghae was so worried, then something terrible must really have happened; she took hold of Eeteuk’s sleeve, and noticed that she looked just as worried as Sungmin felt.
“The house,” said Donghae. “The wooden hut, it’s gone. It must have fallen into the river; we found the wreckage when we went down to deliver food to her highness. Everything is gone, and we could find no sign of the Princess.”
Eeteuk gasped and nearly toppled off the wooden platform where their chairs were; Sungmin’s legs gave way and she sank back into her seat; the Queen actually fainted, and Sungmin and Eeteuk later agreed that that had been taking it just slightly too far, though they knew now where Heechul got her dramatic nature from.
While everyone tried to rouse the Queen, the King bellowed out order after order, dispatching his men to search the Kingdom for a sign of Heechul, to search the river, to follow the river downstream in case she had ended up there. Donghae came to stand near Sungmin and Eeteuk, and was just about to whisper something to them when the King said, in a grave voice, “Get me Kim Kibum.”
Donghae’s head shot up; he stared at the King, and then back at Sungmin and Eeteuk, face white. “Why does he want Kibum?” he asked, looking up at them on their raised platform from his place on the floor. “What has she to do with this?”
Sungmin shook her head to show that she didn’t know, and when Kibum was escorted into the room by Kangin, Eeteuk reached down and took hold of Donghae’s shoulder as a sign that he shouldn’t get involved. Kibum had not been told what had happened, or why she had been called to the throne room, but because Kibum never gave away any of her emotions, she looked nothing more than a little apprehensive as she was taken up to the King’s throne, where she curtsied and kept her head low.
“Where is my daughter?” asked the King, his voice quiet and controlled; Sungmin flinched back from it.
“Your daughter, Sir?” Kibum glanced up, unable to mask her confusion. “She’s at her cabin, just like she always goes to.”
“My daughter is gone,” said the King, anger creeping into his voice. “Her cabin is gone. My daughter is missing, and you were the one who told us where she had gone.”
“The Princess is – missing?” asked Kibum, and she looked even more confused now.
“Where is my daughter?” bellowed the King, voice filling the grand hall in a way that is only available to royalty. “You were the one who told us where she was going – no one saw her leave! This time she has gone missing, and she never mentioned that she was running away to anyone else, only you! You have done something with her! The punishment for this sort of crime is beheading! Now, tell me where my daughter is!”
“No,” said Kibum desperately, “No, it wasn’t me, I didn’t-” And it was the first time that Sungmin and Eeteuk had seen the girl look so scared, and Donghae shook the hand from his shoulder and ran up to the King, standing in front of Kibum.
“No, Sire,” said Donghae loudly, half shouting. “No, it’s not anything Kibum has done. The soil – the soil underneath the building, it had given way. There was nothing anyone could have done, it was just nature.”
“That’s right,” put in Eunhyuk, white as Shindong held him back.
“And Heechul told us she was leaving,” said Sungmin quickly. “She told us that she was going to run away. We didn’t mention it because – well, she always does it.”
“Kibum wouldn’t harm Heechul,” said Eeteuk, and if anyone, the King would believe her, because she was older, more mature, and had never had the misfortune to have been caught either unaccompanied in his daughter’s rooms, or sitting in the dirty kitchen talking to the Court musician.
Sungmin began to cry silently as she realised just how serious the situation was; Eeteuk hugged her, and the King sat down heavily on his throne and turned his attention to his wife, who was still unconscious. Donghae turned to Kibum and took her by the hand and pulled her from the room. Siwon motioned to Yehsung, and they too left, for the stables, where they saddled their horses and left the castle in order to search for the Princess.