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Here’s more of my patchwork! Lol! This is the view from the front door.

Just inside the front sliding door looking out.

Right beside the front door, to it’s left, is the reception/cashier area.

Their a/c and beverage freezer/refrigerator is next to the reception area.

If you go straight, their inner private room, and if you turn right, their side entrance/exit if you’re either on your way out or to the toilet.

To the right are fan/drama memorabilia/souvenirs, and the wall of autographs.

I know who painted that! A very special lady and a dear dongsaeng from Hong Kong!

The inner more private room.

Side entrance/exit from/to the parking space or the toilet.

Taken from in front of the a/c.

The two beautiful ladies who has made Seoul more special than it already is! Thank you ladies!

The view from our corner table.

The Menu

Oops sorry! Was in too much hurry to check!

A heavy snack or very early almost-dinner!

Am drooling imagining our food there but you know what gives that meat an extra kick? It’s those paper thin pickled onions! Try it!

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Wouldn’t it be nice if fans can volunteer, translate and/or identify the autographs up on Park Shin Hye’s Parents’ Restaurant, Yang Cheol Bok’s walls? So we’ll number them and not in any order, okay? No fan wars here! I ship everyone!

A request for those who can identify the autograph, if it’s possible can you also include a screencap of the celebrity’s other autograph to prove that it really is them?

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

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By Taxi

The first time I went to Yang Cheol Bok was right after Park Shin Hye’s birthday fan meeting, February of 2015. We took a taxi and, this part I can’t remember exactly if we gave the driver the call card above or if a fan, acquaintance that night, gave us a handwritten address for the driver. I think she even talked to the driver before saying bye. Yeah too much excitement did that to me. Lol.

So off we went to the restaurant. You’d think it would be easy but no. Our cabbie was weaving around side streets looking for the restaurant and had to call the restaurant for directions. We were really not that far off. Cabbie just made a wrong turn on the last leg of the ride. So keep a copy of this card whether you take a cab or not. You’ll have something to show the cabbie or pedestrians for direction, plus the phone number could come in handy too.

TIP 1: If you’re taking a cab I would probably say “Seoul Gangdong Police Station” because it is the easiest landmark to find and cross from there. Even better if you can say “Yang Cheol Bok restaurant across Seoul Gangdong Police Station” in Korean.

By Bus

These are the bus numbers that stop closest to the restaurant- 3220, 3319 and 3321 and the bus stop is labelled Gangdong-gu Community Health Center. I really am not brave enough to take the buses in Seoul yet. But saw this bus stop in front of CGV Building and others might be braver than I am. So, facing this bus stop walk three or four buildings to the left and there is Yang Cheol Bok.

It’s not easy to see the restaurant from the street as it’s recessed or moved back to make space for it’s customers’ parking. If you happen to miss the Gangdong-gu Community Health Center stop don’t worry as the next one is not too far away and the restaurant is located midway between the two.

By Train/Subway

Shortest direction: Take Line 8 (Pink line), get off Gangdong-gu Office Station, take Exit 2, walk straight ~500m to the end of Seoul Gangdong Police Station compound, cross pedestrian lane on main street, Seongnae-ro, to the right is Yang Cheol Bok.

 

Epic Long, Picture Guide

Line 8 train, pink on subway maps, intersects with three other trains/lines- Line 2(green), Line 3(orange) and Line 5(purple). We came from Samseong Station and took Line 2(green). We got off at Jamsil Station to transfer to Line 8 (pink).

TIP 2: This is a bit of a walk within Jamsil station from Line 2(green) to Line 8(pink) so if you are carrying something big and heavy might be best to put it into a wheeled luggage. Same with the walk from Exit 2 to the restaurant.

TIP 3: If you’re going to meet up with friends within the station on your way to another station, one easy way of doing so would be by the door going into the train. You will find numbers above the sliding door and on the tile floor at the front that you may use for reference specially during peak, crowded hours.

First Step: Gangdong-gu Office Station
This is where you get off!

Second Step: Exit 2, Gangdong-gu Office / Gangdong-gu Police Station

Find Exit 2.

Had such very nice and helpful friends with me! So blessed! Up some steps then up the escalator.

More walking and more stairs! The last part of the exit have five flights of stairs with no lift nearby. There must be an elevator somewhere but my friends were so engrossed talking (though I have a feeling they just wanted me to have some exercise! ) and kept walking! Taking pictures helped- got my mind off the stairs and allowed me to stop every now and then.

One of the things that keeps Seoulites in shape would have to be all those stairs. On my first trip, so used to my little city of Cebu, going around Seoul was pure torture! My second, sheer masochism!

TIP 3: Yes, try to do A LOT of walking before going to Seoul! The easiest commute is not for the faint of heart, both literally and figuratively! Of course you can walk in a relax manner but when you only have so much time to go around, see, experience, and EAAAT, if at all possible, you’d want to sprint!

TIP 4: There are lifts for the elderly and PWD so worry not. Just have to find it.

Third Step: Just outside Exit 2

Okay pause at that top step of Exit 2.

Now stay there still, then turn around. This is what you’ll see behind you…

It got blurred when I highlighted on the exit sign, but can you see the flight of stairs below it? I am ov… er.. heavier than usual(blink blink) but I only huffed on the last flight. I also stopped on every landing so maybe that’s why! LOL!

Now let’s continue walking. My Korean friends have never been to the restaurant and since they walk faster than I do (I had to take pictures, you know! Ehem!) I just told them to walk straight until I say stop.

This is a straight straight walk until we’re just across the restaurant. It’s quite a long walk around 500meters, crossing three small side streets and one wide main street, Seongnae-ro, but a very pleasant and relaxed one so don’t worry. Plus, if you’re going to be reading/checking this guide then all the more easier it would be because you’ll be walking with me! Hehe! That and you’ll have pictures of specific buildings/landmarks along the way. You will definitely forget about your four-inch heels. Maybe.

First Crossing: Seongnae-ro 3ga-gil 

Maybe it’s the bicycles and the trees but this area here has the feel of a quaint little town for me with small shops along the way.

Now as you reach those clump of trees up ahead where another group of bicycles are again parked, stop. If you look to your right, across the street is Kookmin Bank…

… and to your left is Gangdong-gu City Management Corporation.

The golden arches comes next(McDonald’s, of course). Walking further and if you look a little to the right you’ll see some sort of park. Saw a map that labelled this triangular patch as Gangdong-gu Front.

Okay stop looking now as you have a side street to cross. We don’t want you to get run over. Heavens forbid!

Crossing 2: Seongnae-ro 5-gil

Street sign’s on the left and almost hidden among the trees.

Gangdong District Office.

Okay you can look again at the park across the street.

That is the landmark that a good friend told me to look for, but what she told me was “cross at the water fountain”. I looked up and down the street but there was no water fountain anywhere! She said there was when she went. She went during summer while I was there March and October. I only saw the holes on the ground on our way back to the train station. Aha! Water goes on breaks too!

I peeped around here for “my” landmark- the CGV Building.

 

Walking onwards you’ll see that really nice building with a wraparound vertical green wall. Too busy admiring I forgot to take a picture of the front door with the building’s name. Not labelled on the maps that I checked too.

Across this would be the SK Gas Station.

Crossing 3: Seongnae-ro 9gil

Third and last side street we’re crossing.

Gangdong Fire Station


Gangdong-gu Health Center


I Seoul U.

Regional Council Building

So close now. Yang Cheol Bok is at the ground floor of a cute four storey building that comes right after these two tall shiny blue buildings.

There it is! Oops oops oops! Don’t cross yet! Let’s walk just a couple of feet more to the pedestrian lane with the traffic light and be good law abiding people! Besides those Korean cars just fly, better safe than sorry, you know!

On your left is the Seoul Gangdong Police Station.

At the front of the police station is a big sculpture- a ring with the side feature of a face.

It was too big to miss but my attention was all on the restaurant that I failed to take a full picture of the sculpture. So am patching it! LOL! Not a very nice patch.

Naaah, that’s not the pink ahjussi’s name! LOL! Yang Cheol Bok is the restaurant’s name!

They close after lunch and open… ayayay, I cannot remember if it’s 3 or 4pm. I think it’s 4! So the girls sat down and I took more pictures.

So this is the building right in front of the restaurant. You can see part of the pedestrian lane that we crossed. That is still a part of the Seoul Gangdong Police Station.

Now let’s make some patchwork again. (I forgot about iPhone’s panoramic shot! Sigh!) Leftmost is the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, the main street, Seongnae-ro, the council building and the police station.

Link/s to Maps

Yang Cheol Bok on Google Map

Post/s on the Area

More Around Gangdong-gu Office Station

Pictures are screencaps and credit goes to KBS2 and FNC BTS videos and pictures.

Laid it out in a way that would make one see how behind the scenes that friendship seeps through even in the most romantic of scenes.

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Picture 768

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Picture 774Picture 766Picture 755Picture 760Picture 773Picture 779Picture 773Picture 767Picture 767Picture 765Picture 760Picture 761

I don’t know how it happened but I don’t ship them anymore. For these two, friendship is more precious!

Quoting/referencing from the same book by Suzanne White, The New Chinese Astrology, are the Horse’s past predictions from 2005-2013. It’s quite long but still a fun read when you try to match up the things that has happened to our dear Park Shin Hye in “real” life and the Horse’s predictions.

HORSE FUTURES
What the Horse should expect from the next …
Chinese animal years

2005, The Rooster Year:

A trying year for the emphatic Horse personality. You will feel confined and hampered by rules and limits imposed on you by people you don’t necessarily respect. Roosters are not the most tractable souls on Earth so be as flexible as you know how. Smile a lot. Bow and scrape if you must. The Rooster is a proud, stubborn adversary. But if you make a friend of him, you’ll never want for moral support in the rest of your days. Your financial picture is blurred this year. Take a good look at those accounts before you buy a new home or help a poor relation. You are especially tense this year. Eat properly. Become a vegetarian—at least for a few months. Go easy on yang foods—try eggs and sesame products. The home front looks good: for once, everybody in the family is rooting for you.

2006, The Dog Year:

This year you’ll be challenged to expand your sense of altruism. Think of others rather than yourself. I know selflessness is distasteful to you, but think of the Dog year as a time of apprenticeship. You are aware of your own selfishness and exaggerated independence, yet you hide from intimacy and refuse to share your feelings. This year you will not be allowed to remain emotionally incognito. If you do, you will suffer. However, should you wisely choose to reach out and help others, you will be amazed at the recompense. Not only will you feel virtuous and proud, but you’ll be able to relax your soul. Act for others. Give in to your native generosity and let the good times roll.

2007, The Pig Year:

No gambling this year! Risk‐taking is taboo for you, Horsey, because the Pig year, although a rich one for most, is loaded with surprises—not all of them good—for Horses. My advice in Pig years is to invest expendable capital in a solid dream. Build yourself that swimming pool or set off on that trip around the world you have so long coveted. Take a break from being so damned industrious. It’s time you lay back and relaxed. Stop trying to live up to your own impossible standards of perfection and give yourself a break. Watch out for hip fractures and stress‐related illnesses: see your doctor straight away if symptoms arise. Life will not be simple for you in spring and summer, but toward its end, the Pig year will afford you both new opportunity and good luck. Embark on your exciting journeys and buy your country houses early in the spring. Make careful choices based on concrete elements. The lavish Pig year can blind the conservative Horse with its promise of easy opulence and glad‐handed generosity. Don’t neglect to include loved ones in your plans. Seek advice from trusted cronies and experienced family members.

2008, The Rat Year:

Your worst year lies ahead. Rats and Horses are notoriously mismatched. The crafty Rat had no time for your galumphing hyperboles. He’s a schemer, you’re a work Horse but both of you want the power and are fearlessly aggressive when it comes to going after booty. Unfortunately for the Horse, when it’s Ratso’s turn to govern for a whole year, he tolerates no competition. Your best bet in Rat years is to lay low and cool your heels while he manipulates the world. I know you cannot and will not abide by my advice so the fight will be on. You will either stumble on perilous adventures at every turn or discover to your horror that you’ve been swindled. If only you were more circumspect…perhaps you enjoy living up to your Rat leader’s draconian demands. Don’t be disappointed when you notice crumbs of clay lying around at his feet. Save your money. You’ll be needing it.

2009, The Ox Year:

Ox years favor those who work. Other than yourself, practically nobody aspires to work as hard as the Ox. Drudgery is his friend, perseverance his drug. Although you are a more social creature than the slogging Ox, you two get along and respect each other’s methods. This year you’ll do well professionally. But forget about love. Sentimental disaster lies in wait for Horses in Ox years. One way to fend off this catastrophic development is not to get involved. Your rugged health should be in good fettle during these twelve months. Also, you ought to be making good money. Show more kindness to underlings. Sentiments aside, the Ox year smiles on Horses. Enjoy.

2010, The Tiger Year:

Here comes change. Upset and upheaval are never entirely welcome in the controlling Horse’s rather predictable lifestyle. But never mind. You are friendly with the Tiger who, God knows, needs allies almost as much as air to breathe. The Tiger bestows his generous warmth and blessing on your professional as well as your personal activities. With you in his cohort, he stands to benefit from seeing you successful, strong, independent and in love. Watch out for people who might exploit your good‐guy laborious nature in a Tiger year. Brush off all attempts to divert your from your main goal, as the Tiger year may scatter your forces in too many directions at once, diverting your energies. This is a good year for advancement in all areas. Don’t forget: you have to spend money to make money. I’m not suggesting you throw it around, but investment of both self and capital in Tiger years will pay off. Your lover may stray during this hustle and bustle of a year. Keep your head. No histrionics or you’re sure to lose.

2011, The Cat/Rabbit Year:

One of your favorites. Something about the calming effect of the Cat/Rabbit may be responsible for your smooth sailing. There is not a single area in which you have to limit your scope this year. There will, however, be a risk of boredom, because you are not patient with the sound of your own voice. Distract yourself. Get involved in politics or even dabble in espionage. But be careful of your renowned excessive reactions. The Cat’s placid saucer‐of milk lifestyle can boil over when too much heat is applied: you should try to cultivate more self‐acceptance. Do yoga. Meditate. Try laugh therapy. Hire somebody to tickle you so you can take yourself less seriously.

2012, The Dragon Year:

The Dragon wishes you no ill. His year is one in which you can shine without a backward glance. Keep your nose to the grindstone but your eyes and ears open. There is a lot of festivity going on around you. The Dragon’s flaming energy and love of celebration sparks your ambition. If you’re contemplating marriage, this is definitely the right year. All the astrological aspects are on your side. What’s more, the Dragon adores giving parties. Your wedding will attract hordes of guests from all over the map. Don’t fret about it. This union will work. All those festivities, however, may wreak havoc on your usually strong constitution. Don’t let your skittishness get in the way of your happiness. With those new in‐laws: take it easy, hold your horses—diplomacy pays off in the long run.

2013, The Snake Year:

Temptation invades your very veins this year. Sirens will beckon you away from the path of righteousness to which you so cautiously adhere. Family disharmony may accompany these feelings of potential disloyalty. Whatever you do, don’t throw caution out the window. New relationships often creak and groan in the beginning. Rough spots are part of life. Take the ruts and bumps in stride. Resist vapid enticements—shallow liaisons are the least thing you need. As this may be a lean year, you can turn your attention to building a sound support system within your own family. When your work is not so productive and the cupboard is bare, you, rebellious Horse, may suddenly understand the wisdom of the Snake. Don’t mistake your dreams for reality or give in to your whims. When you plan for the future, look beyond what you see in the mirror.

Horse’s Future

So I chanced upon a book, The Real Chinese Astrology by Suzanne White and found Shin Hye’s “future”! So we’re in the middle of 2015 and posted are the Horse’s/her 2014-2016 predictions, so we have a chance to see how many hits and misses her sign has had and anticipate how many hits and misses her sign will likely have. I think it’s very interesting.

 

HORSE’S FUTURE
What the Horse should expect from the… Chinese animal years

2014, The Horse Year:

Chinese astrologers tell us that Horses never have an easy time when their year rolls around. Disaster can strike in almost any area. Even the Horse’s family may suffer. Knowing about this tendency is half the battle: you will be able to surmount these inherent difficulties by exercising extreme caution. Don’t invest in any risky deals. Stay out of dangerous situations. Put off that Alpine ski trip. Delay canoeing down the Zambezi until next year. If you meet a new heartthrob, make sure you get to know him or her well before you make any commitments. Why not wait until this next twelve‐month span is over before deciding what you really want to do with Mr. or Ms. Right? Hang on a sec. This year is not all bad. It may turn out to be a crucial but necessary transition for you. Adversity is not always your enemy. You are tough and brave. You know how to resist your own weaknesses. Lie low and wait for the tempest to pass. Introspection and meditation will help you overcome the blues.

2015, The Goat Year:

Ok, harried Horse, you can take off your armor—you’re about to feel the light at the end of the tunnel shine warmly down your tired back. This year, you are welcomed back into the fold by the gracious Goat. All will be well and you’ll feel safe at last. Your career will prosper and your ambition be rewarded. The Goat is lucky for you. He wants you to be strong so that he can depend on the force of your character to help him through his own difficulties. For once, you can behave in the most overbearing way you want. Goats don’t mind excessive behavior. Take that bank loan now. Marry your heartthrob or take off on an Amazonian adventure. All systems are GO for the Horse in Goat years.

2016, The Monkey Year:

A harrowing but exciting year for Horses. You’ll not only be tempted by multiple new projects, but you’ll surely leap into at least three simultaneous conflagrations at once before you realize that you’re on fire. The Monkey is a trickster. His cunning and agility titillate the practical Horse’s imagination. Oh, you think to yourself, if only I were more of a gambler. I would perform such marvelous deeds. You will try to be cleverer—even prepared to practice sleight of hand—to achieve. The prospect of risky business ventures, exotic tasks, stratagems and fancy footwork will keep you hopping. You can succeed. But do be extra careful. This tricky new tack may be your undoing. Remember, Horsey, you are conservative. You’re a steady social climber whose nature is practical. You not only like to have your cake but would like it served up on a silver platter as well. Watch out for the tempting Monkey tug on your ambition. Monkey business is not really your style. He may have some rude surprises in store for those of you who take his little jokes too far. Family grief may get in your way this year as well. Pay your respects.

Unbridled 24 ~

24- The Morning After (a snippet)
Shin Hye pressed her face closer to her warm pillow. Slowly she arched her back and slid her leg and arm around it. So warm it was. She pushed her body closer and curled around it. She would have drifted back to sleep had her pillow not moved and moaned. She froze. Then she felt herself lifted and laid flat on her belly atop someone, her face nestled conveniently on someone’s neck and as she felt a hand caress her naked back everything flashed back and she remembered. She remembered. Everything!
She can feel herself flush as she turned and raised her head to see those deep dark eyes gazing back at her. She tried to right herself but she was quite snugly held in place by his arms. Is this what it is like to wake up married? Shin Hye thought. She stopped trying to get up, fidgeted a bit and relaxed onto him.
For a second or so she lazed on top of Keun Suk and shyly smiled at him but the chilly morning draft still came through the bolted windows and she shivered. Keun Suk drew the thick woolen blanket over her shoulders. He nuzzled her neck and he embraced her tighter. It wasn’t easy to relax after that. She became sensitive to the press of their bodies specifically to a very awake part of him.
He dipped his head and planted a lingering hot kiss on her shoulder, tenderly biting the corded muscle there and followed it up her neck to where her pulse is now racing.
Shin Hye gasped and moaned.

 

 

Drabble 3 ~ One of Those Rare Occasions
“I guess you never did say you loved me did you?” Shin Hye looked up and searched his eyes. She was sitting on their bench.
“I waited all this time for someone who I thought loved me!”
She took a deep breath as she said this, and then turned her head to look at the trees hiding them from plain view from the ongoing party beyond it. She smiled sadly and whispered, “You never did promise me anything.” She paused.
“Not your fault!” Shin Hye continued. “It was my mistake!”
He didn’t say anything. She stood up, squared her shoulders and left him to join the rest of their friends. She didn’t stay long though. She couldn’t. Almost as soon as she came in from the garden she whispered or nodded her goodbyes to Min Hyuk, Jong Hoon, Woobin and Heechul but just slipped away unnoticed for the rest.
Hongki just looked at her and knew. He walked her to her car. He did not put his arm around her shoulders when he walked her to her car nor did he hug her before she got in, small little things that they have always practiced and done when they’re together, rituals between friends that are only broken on rare occasions.
This was one of those occasions. He knew and she knew that if he hugged her she’d have burst out crying then and there and not be able to stop. No Hongki just let her be. Talking can come later. Or it does not have to in Hongki’s case. That’s just how they are.

Drabble 2 ~ See Through
It wasn’t a lie, they both could read off each other’s faces ever since they became friends during their drama You’re Beautiful. It comes in quite handy actually. They know when to cajole, tease, play, distract or leave the other be. Way back then they can be quite open with how they treat each other in public, like how during the SBS Awards Ceremony Shin Hye noticed and removed a fallen eyelash on his face and made him relax or how he talked and tried to make her smile as they were standing waiting for their turn to give their speech as Hongki was doing his. He knew then that Shin Hye’s mood was turning south.
Right now, he was looking closely at the monitor. He, Shin Hye and Min Hyuk were taping their commentaries for the Heartstrings DVD Director’s Cut with all three facing the monitor giving their opinion on specific scenes. This time he had an elbow leaning on his knee, his hand holding his lips and he was looking straight at the monitor hardly blinking. He knew that the camera was rolling but his focus was fixed on that small idiot box. The tiniest of quirks tugged at the side of his mouth and that was it.

ORCG Drabble 1 ~ Time

Drabble 1 ~ Time
11 texts messages and three missed calls in… er what? 45 minutes!!! Aish!!! Shin Hye hurriedly inserted her key into the ignition and clicked the remote to open their main gate, and just as she was about to turn her ignition on, there stood the menace to her Sunday morning- leaning on his big black SUV, one heel thumping on the ground, thumbs hooked into his jeans’ side pockets.

“Sheesh! How can he look so cute when his hair’s all tousled like that and he’s just wearing tattered, faded blue jeans, equally tattered white tees and gray and orange Air Nikes?… Gray and orange Air Nikes??? But… they’re the same as what I have on! Exactly the same!!! How can that be?… He couldn’t have!… Impossible!!!

Manager Jjun said a fan gave me these!!! Same fan gave him those too??? In perfect size??? Jjuuun!!! Keun Suk Oppa I really have no time for this!” Shin Hye was muttering all these to herself as she turned her ignition on and was starting to drive out of the garage when Keun Suk came bounding inside blocking the way.

“Hi!” He greeted her with a big smile as she opened her window and Keun Suk crouched. “Hi guys!” Greeting the two dogs yapping beside Shin Hye.

“You didn’t even answer any of my text messages.”

“I’m sorry but it was so hard to get up and when I did I was rushing around to get ready. You know I am going to meet Byung Hun Oppa!”

“I know! You’re going to walk Bongji and Nori with Byung Hun hyung. I just want to say have fun, and don’t forget to ask Byung Hun hyung when can I talk with him so we too can have our talk. Okay?”

“Okay! I wont forget!”

She didn’t but he had one more thing to do. And then another and another. Time stretched and stretched and things eventually slipped away. He said he’ll always love her. He said he’ll always care. He just did not have time yet to spare. It was something he no longer have control over he said- time.

Chapter 16 ~ Hong Stah

Shin Hye was running through the hospital hallway, slowing down to glance at room numbers before she’d run on.

“Room 1211 where are youuu?” Shin Hye muttered gritting her teeth.

It was almost midnight and she had begged and cajoled the hospital security for a good while before she was let in. It had been three hours past visiting hours and only emergency cases are allowed to enter the hospital premises. Manager Jjun hadn’t informed her of what had happened until after the shoot. No wonder she couldn’t find her bag with her phones in between breaks, too busy as well to even ask her coordinators about it.

No she wouldn’t have left the shooting to run to Hongki’s side, they were after all live shooting now! Everything had to be done fast with very little room for error. So no, she would not leave… oh yes, she would… no she probably would not… well, maybe just to check how Hongki was, just maybe, and she’d leave soon after. Honestly with the way things have been going on at the filming she was glad she didn’t have to decide, she knows though that it’s something she and Manager Jjun will have to discuss one of these days.

She was thankful she was still wearing her Jeguk school uniform underneath her winter jacket and she had something to show the lady security officer to prove that she had come all the way from her shoot. It helped a lot too that said officer was a big fan of Min Ho Oppa, a true blue Minoz at that!

the hospital takes a good one long hour’s drive to get to even without traffic, and if she’s lucky and there’s an extra chair in Hongki’s room she just might be able to grab an hours worth of sleep or two before rushing home to get ready and go back on location. Clutching the blue body pillow closer she hurried on to the last room on the corridor.

“Room 1211! At last!” she sighed. ‘Ah so that was what the nurse at the station mumbled!’ She thought.

Taking a deep breath she gently tapped on the door before she slowly turned the door knob and pushed it open. She wasn’t as alarmed with Hongki’s condition now compared to when Woo Bin first asked her about it. It was nearing the end of their scene, thank heavens! Manager Jjun Oppa was quick in butting in. He must have anticipated as much as he seemed so eager to jump in and explain. It was an accident. Hongki’s now in the hospital. They’re doing more test but other than that he was on pain medication. His shoulder’s been stabilized so basically he’s okay, though a bit shaken was what she was told. She was relieved of course but not receiving any messages on her phone from Hongki or any of the guys was bothering her. Okay, yes, more than bothering it was pissing her. Yes she was busy but even so she still thinks she deserves to know.

“I am Hongki’s best girl friend! Well, I am Hongki’s best, same age, female friend!” that’s the line she was going to nag Hongki and the boys when she sees them. Oh yes, oh yes she is going to give them a lot of pain on their back side.

“Hong-ghee???” Shin Hye whispered as she tiptoed her way in, turning her head from side to side checking who else would be in the room. Someone was lying on the sofa bed with his back to the room. Must be Manager Hyung she dared a guess in the quiet and dim room. Approaching the broad hospital bed she grinned.

“Ah I know where I will be sleeping,” she thought.

“Hong-geeee!” Shin Hye cooed some more, moving around the bed to the side opposite to his splint, his arm held firmly in place by it.  She plopped their favorite blue pillow on his free arm and proceeded to climb into the rather wide and high hospital bed. Good thing she was wearing shorts underneath.

“Hong Staaah!” Shin Hye said in singsong as she prodded Hongki’s leg with her toes.

“Yah!” Hongki croaked opening one eye a fraction. Shin Hye can see his bruised cheek, swollen and red even in the dimmed room. Seeing Hongki up close Shin Hye hoped that he does not hurt as bad as he looks.

“Why are you in my bed?” Hongki’s voice went quieter than a whisper. “Don’t you have a drama to finish?” His words were a bit slurred and had she not been lying right beside him she wouldn’t have heard what he said. Maybe a whisper calls forth an answering whisper, in this case less than a whisper, as Shin Hye answered in a  very soft voice, “Yes I do! Am sleeping here! Have a very early morning call.”

They heard Hongki’s hyung stir on the couch behind Shin Hye while Hongki’s sleepy eyes were fluttering close. Must be his medicines Shin Hye thought.

‘Good!’ she muttered to herself and closed her eyes, very much ready to follow suit and fall asleep! She must’ve drifted off to sleep for a minute or two when she heard someone call her name.

“Shin Hye-yah! Are you still awake?”

She knows whose voice that comes from, her heart skipped a beat and as much as she missed that voice she couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes.

‘It’s just a bad dream! Yes a bad dream!’ She told herself.

“Shin Hye-yah?”

How can she ever mistake that voice? She’s been waiting to hear that voice for so many weeks, but she couldn’t open her eyes! In fact her eyes sting right now. Like some kind of trigger that voice makes her want to double over and hug herself but she froze. She was not such a bad actor, was she? She can pretend to continue sleeping and maybe the voice will go away.

She heard and felt Hongki stir instead.

Yes she can pretend and stop every muscle in her body from moving but the one thing that she could not stop were her tears from falling.

‘It was okay.’ She thought to herself.

She was just grateful that she had her back turned towards the owner of that voice, her back pressed on the metal guard that was keeping her from falling off the bed but Hongki can see her face full on with the yellowish night lamp, bright and mounted a few inches above the bed’s headboard.

Hongki must’ve clicked its control or something for the lamp had turned off so suddenly so there was just the recessed lights left on making it dim enough for sleeping and still bright enough for the nurses to go about their business.

“She’s already asleep!” She heard Hongki say. His voice was a little above a whisper this time and he did not slur as much.

She can hear the pacing behind her. He has never been very patient, not really the type that takes kindly to waiting. Well depends on the situation and this seems to be one of those times when he couldn’t wait and she was glad.

She did not move, not even when he has closed the door behind him and left, not even when Hongki’s manager came in and occupied the now empty couch! But the human body can really only take on so much, even for hardworking actresses like Shin Hye. Fatigue, both physical and emotional, soon claimed her and she fell asleep even as tears still dribbled out of her eyes.

And Hongstah? Hongstah nudged the blue pillow higher after he turned off the light so that it partially shielded Shin Hye’s face and let her be. He wasn’t roused up when Manager Jjun came and left with Shin Hye but he can vaguely remember receiving a kiss on his forehead and felt the soft pillow on his cheek. He slept quite well, and, he didn’t seem to mind the wet patch on the blue pillow at all.

Unbridled, Chapter 23

Chapter 23 ~ Tempestuous as the Storm

Warning: Following chapter is for adults only

Keun Suk planted slow kisses down her neck to her shoulder, his mouth hot, burned a trail on her skin torturing her with its deliberate slowness.

Shin Hye felt like she was on fire, wherever his skin or his lips touches her she burns.

She made to move and face him but he held her firmly by the shoulders and pushed her gently on to the bed.

Not knowing what Keun Suk was going to do, curious and aching with a need she never knew existed, or knew how to handle, she tightly closed her eyes and waited desire rapidly simmering within her.

This moment has tormented him for what felt like forever. With a deceptively steady hand he slowly ran the tips of his fingers down her alabaster smooth back pausing for a second or two before running it’s way back up again tracing her spine up to her nape and down again as it lingered on the cleft at her back and slowly caressed and cupped her bottom.

Shin Hye tried to take long deep breaths in an effort to steady her nerves but can only manage one. She didn’t really care anymore if it seems so unladylike.

So strange the feeling of being touched intimately and yet feel like you’ve come home, that everything’s as it should be. Being in Keun Suk’s arms felt right. She did not waste time to question or to even wonder why. It just is so.

Can she, if only for tonight, forget everything? It wasn’t hard to answer.

Just for tonight.

Shin Hye sighed and like a cat stretched her neck and her body languidly.

Keun Suk saw and felt it. It was almost like a surrender, a shrugging of a load that had only minutes ago weighed heavily on those slight shoulders.

Keun Suk kneaded the muscles on her shoulders and nuzzled his nose on Shin Hye’s nape and breathed in her scent, a lovely blend of evergreen, lavender and something else he can’t quite place then he rained tiny raindrop kisses on her neck.

Shin Hye moaned.

It felt so nice as his lips planted soft kisses down her neck taking small nips and bites too as his hand slides to her front to gently cup and tenderly caress one then the other breast moving just as slowly.

The two hadn’t noticed the rain pouring heavily outside until a loud crack of lightning drowned their room with such bright light, its twin clap of thunder shaking them. Shin Hye cringed and turned her head towards the window behind Keun Suk as he wrapped his arm tightly around her.

With her eyes held under his gaze Keun Suk slowly turned Shin Hye around to face him. It was as if nature was mirroring the gamut of emotions the two were having. Face to face with the man whose eyes haunted and tauned her Shin Hye couldn’t help but gasp at what she saw in them- a storm no less powerful than the raging storm outside, dark with passion, scorching and hungry. She felt like she was drowning in his eyes swept within its depths.

For a moment the look on his eyes confused her, so used was she to seeing him annoyed at her or teasing and yes not a few times she’s seen blatant desire but never this. She saw it if only for a flicker, it was a look Shin Hye often sees her father gives her mother.

“No I must not think such silly thoughts. No, it could not possibly be!” She thought.

Then like a whisper she heard it again,

“Into the night he follows you, a night not unlike a dark sunless day, eyes as dark as coal… A wolf’s prey cuddled in his fangs… a stalker and savior… harbinger of winter’s breath and spring’s bliss untold…sure as the night that follows the day so must death, birth…

With the night at its darkest and all hope seems lost, drawn by the scent of the one lone blood it seeks, spring comes borne by a wolf with flame on its shoulders…”

The sound of the rain was getting louder as though heaven’s gates have been pulled wide open, water hammering down on the massive stone building in torrents, cocooning them in their chamber, closing them from the world outside to think of nothing and of no one apart from each other.

Shin Hye held Keun Suk’s shoulders. She knew that patience has never been one of her virtues, even so, she still could not fathom whatever possessed her to raise her hands to his cheeks and get entangled amongst the hair on his nape.

Shin Hye moved in a trance, drawn by his eyes, she drew his head downwards and laid on his lips a soft kiss. It was a tentative kiss and Keun Suk, though himself swamped with desire and an emotion quite confusing to him, held back.

Shin Hye looked into his eyes and waited for his reaction. He gave her an equally soft kiss back. Emboldened she continued to place soft kisses on his lips which he responded in equal measure. Shin Hye dropped her gaze and hid a mischievous smile then she proceeded to tenderly bite his lower lip. Keun Suk inwardly grinned at this but turned his eyes hooded and narrow.

Feeling slightly guilty she started licking and kissing the aggrieved lip when Keun Suk let go and took over. He kissed her gently at first before engulfing the both of them in a torrent of desire fierce and urgent as the storm.  Shin Hye who has never been afraid of storms rode the tumult with him responding in ways she never thought she was capable of.

Shin Hye didn’t expect she’d feel this hot and flushed with just a kiss. The feel of Keun Suk’s tongue was divine as it slid and languidly glided on her tongue and lips. Their kiss held a thrill and a longing so intense she wondered if it’s possible to draw blood but that was all Shin Hye could bring herself to do, wonder.

Keun Suk started kissing her cheeks, her eyes, her ears.

“No, no, no!” She thought. She didn’t want him to stop kissing her lips yet but Keun Suk began biting her jaw down to her neck and she was lost again.

She felt his teeth and his tongue on the pulse at her neck tasting her. He nuzzled her shoulders as his hands caressed her body in places she never thought could feel that way, sending tingles up her spine, winding the knot below her gut tighter.

Keun Suk was immersed in the smell, the feel and the taste of Shin Hye but he wanted more. Taking off the last of Shin Hye’s inner garments it was Keun Suk’s turn to struggle for breath, his eyes narrowed as he gazed down at her, eyes worshipping the sight of a flushed and panting Shin Hye eyes glazed with need.

Shin Hye felt as though Keun Suk’s eyes were committing everything he saw into memory. She shivered just as Keun Suk lowered his head to her breast. Keun Suk engulfed one coral peak then the other subjecting each to slow, sweet alternating torture drawing waves of cries from Shin Hye who arched her back moving towards the source of her pleasure.

When the sweet sensation proved to be too much though, Shin Hye twisted her back trying to pull away from the searing tingle but suddenly stopped as Keun Suk mouth clamped down on one now rosy tip and started drawing it in, his hand inching down her back molding her buttocks, sliding down her thighs, and the back of her knees before caressing his way back up. The onslaught of sweet sensation became almost too much to bear and when Keun Suk’s hand found the burning center of her desire, all that she can do was to grasp and hold on to his shoulders and moan.

Those strangled sweet cries of pleasure from her were by far the sweetest sound Keun Suk has ever heard, a fuel that further ignited the fire in his loins, his desire running wild.

He has no plans of ending the torment they were both in anytime soon, even though he knew as he drew his arm tighter around her that he was barely hanging on too.

No, not yet.

Not knowing what else to do, with mouth slightly opened trying to catch her breath, her eyes hooded Shin Hye frantically sought Keun Suk’s eyes, eyes equally glazed as he looked at her. His eyes never moved away from hers when he gently drew her thighs wider apart and caressed her. Shin Hye closed her eyes tightly wrapped in the sensation of his touch and whimpered.

Shin Hye grasped his nape and his shoulder and pulled him up for a kiss. Her insides were in knots and she does not know what is happening to her but she knows that she aches for him in ways she couldn’t understand. Shin Hye’s legs voluntarily clamped the sides of Keun Suk’s hips and with actions as old as time pressed herself to him.

“I am unraveling!” Shin Hye gasped.

Shin Hye’s eyes pleaded, her kisses turning frantic, the knot she had felt below her gut earlier had turned tighter and tighter and she felt like any time soon she’s going to explode and this scares her.

She felt like she has lost all control.

“Keun Suk!” she begged, for a release from something she knows not what, clutching at him.

It was just what Keun Suk was waiting for. He loomed above her poised at her entrance hungry to possess her. He saw the momentary panic in her eyes for a flash of a second as he entered her and her sharp intake of breath but he had been lost to the sensation. Not until he had broken her maidenhead had he realized what he had done and stopped. Mouth agape he gazed at Shin Hye and saw the natural flow of tears that sprung as a response to his invasion. Panting he froze, guilty for taking her roughly and knowing the pain that he had just given her, surprised and confused but Shin Hye reached up and tugged his head down for a kiss.

“I… Shin Hye…” Keun Suk whispered her name. He tried to find the words to soothe her as he kissed her slowly.

“Ssh!” Shin Hye hushed, catching her breath.

Keun Suk paused and gazed at the flushed face of the woman who has filled his heart with so much confusion and wonder and awe. Looking lovingly at her he brushed the stray strands of hair from her face, beads of sweat dampening the locks of hair around her forehead and neck and proceeded to kiss Shin Hye’s eyes and cheeks, trailing down her jaws her earlobe then her neck.

But Shin Hye wanted more. The pain now dulled by the need wakened by his kisses she clutched at his hips and pulled, urging him to move but Keun Suk wouldn’t move instead he continued to rain kisses on her neck and was soon on her breasts. Shin Hye had taken all the sweet torture that she can and with a movement as old as time itself took the breath out of Keun Suk as she tilted her hips and lured him into her depths.

Shin Hye managed to smile before Keun Suk leaned down and slowly pressed forward, deeper till he felt himself sheathed fully in her and his look of concentration was soon gone.

It was a blur after that for the two, the slow languid movements building up and eventually giving way to burning urgent ones. Keun Suk drinking every bit of moan and cry from Shin Hye’s lips like ambrosia as they reached their peak and before they were lost to the world wrapped within each other’s embrace.

It was after some time before Keun Suk reluctantly untangled Shin Hye limbs and wouldn’t have done so had he not felt one of her legs tremble and tenderly laid Shin Hye’s head on to his shoulder as they fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.

It was a wild night full of revelation for both as they slumbered wrapped in each others arms unmindful of the turbulent storm that lies ahead.

PSH’s New Astrology

Horoscopes afterall are pure whimsy as this blog is, now with the Lunar New Year just over and Park Shin Hye’s upcoming birthday let me share with you Shin Hye’s new astrology sign, the horoscope of an Aquarius/Horse from the book, The New Astrology by Suzanne White Copyright @1986.

The book is almost 30 years old so it’s not entirely new, have not even checked if there’s a new edition, but “The New Astrology attempts to help us understand human behavior within the universe through the “marriage” of occidental and oriental astrologies… So, in fact, everybody in the world has not just one but two main astrological signs. A Western “month” sign and an Oriental “year” sign. One sign is complementary to the other. Taken together, they show us more about the individual than either one can on its own. In the New Astrology, if someone is born in Aries and is also born in a Horse year, that person’s New Astrology sign is Aries/Horse. Aries/Horses, as you will see, are not the same as Aries/Cats or Aries/Tigers.”

Now to borrow more of Suzanne White’s words, “Astrology is hogwash and that is all there is to it!… All right, killjoy. You’re right. Astrology is nonsense. Now may we get on with our fun?”

Park Shin Hye
February 18, 1990

Aquarius

VISION            ECCENTRICITY
ORIGINALITY          SEPARATENESS
CHARITY           NEUROSIS
TOLERANCE            DISOBEDIENCE
INDEPENDENCE     THOUGHTLESSNESS
INDIVIDUALITY       CRUELTY

“I know”
Air, Saturn/Uranus, Fixed

Horse

PERSUASIVENESS             SELFISHNESS
UNSCRUPULOUSNESS      AUTONOMY
POPULARITY                 REBELLION
STYLE                      HASTE
DEXTERITY                  ANXIETY
ACCOMPLISHMENT           PRAGMATISM

“I demand”
Positive Fire, Yang

To this alert and energetic Aquarian, variety and movement represent freedom. The Horse lends rebellion to the clear-minded Aquarian, and pushes him to stride ahead. Horses are hasty and gifted for easy accomplishment. The Aquarian wants an original life. When the two are matched by birth, an eccentric, fleeting sort of being evolves. The Aquarius/Horse never lights for long.

There is much manual skill in this person. No job or task requiring digital dexterity is beyond his capabilities. He is also distinctively talented for using words well, and may even be multilingual. As one of his first priorities is to travel about and indulge in varied experiences, he picks up quickly on uncommon phenomena and dives headlong into exotica.

This person craves the artistic in life, longs for the world to be a more beautiful and caring place and spends much time and thought trying to improve it. Aquarius/Horses are concerned, active citizens who know how to go to work for what they believe in. And this character believes in eccentric schemes. She may want to have a babbling brook in her living room. He may long to own a huge castle in Bulgaria with forty rooms where people get together to stage sing-alongs. These Aquarius/Horses are dreamers and plotters of vast plans that can take a lifetime to realize. Not to worry. The Aquarius/Horse will carry out his plan in his own sweet time-preferably with his own hands. Vast scope doesn’t faze this valiant subject. He knows he can work it out in detail all alone. All he asks for is a little cooperation. And, of course, money. Often the Aquarius/Horse’s source of income is really somebody else’s. Not that this native is dependent—far from it. But the Aquarius born in Horse cannot imagine why anyone should refuse him the funds he needs to start the relief organization for errant minstrels. It’s a perfectly valid cause. Besides, the Aquarius/Horse is among the most persuasive of signs. He listens—but mostly to himself. What he wants he must have. Otherwise? Well, there is no otherwise.

This character is essentially freelance. Salaries and nine-to-five jobs seem silly to him. He’s only after the jackpot or the big deal to come through. If he can’t have a lot of money he’d just as soon starve—or mooch. The Aquarius/Horse is a liberal thinker who truly cares about the downtrodden and the poor. But often he misses seeing the forest and forgets about the trees altogether. In any case, with Aquarius/Horse it’s all or nothing. They are either right there with all the facts in hand delivering a seductive speech on their latest passion, or else they’ve drifted off somewhere to take a look at the sunsets in Malaysia.

The Horse born in Aquarius is slightly loony, too. Eccentricities abound in this person’s nature. And as Aquarius/Horses are truly visionary people, they may suffer from a surfeit of insight, which, if improperly applied, can develop into madness. Mostly though, the Aquarius/Horse makes excellent use of his peculiarities. The edge of craziness always present in Aquarians serves to enlighten the overly pragmatic Horse nature. Horse, in his turn, helps the distant Aquarian to gain a sense of belonging, and brings him safely back to earth from his frequent flights. This person promises to add magic to the lives of those who surround him or her. An Aquarius/Horse usually has a finely honed sense of self-derision, and can amuse either on purpose or simply because he is irretrievably astonishing. What you see of the Aquarius/Horse is only about one-tenth of what is actually present in this dense and zany personality.

Love

Here the Aquarius/Horse firmly believes he or she can do no wrong. When they love someone, they feel that whatever the loved one receives from them ought to be sufficient. This character decidedly does not want to be bothered with complicated love affairs. From the beginning, it ought to be clear that Aquarius/Horse runs the show, calls the shots and even sets the pace. Either his partner accepts being flexible enough not to panic each time this person floats off on some new adventure (whether romantic or not), or he’ll get a different partner. Sentimentality is not one of this person’s foibles.

The difficulty with loving an Aquarius born in a Horse year is immaterial. The only important thing about being mad for this nut is that he or she is so wonderfully kooky and fascinatingly interesting. If you have the hots for an Aquarius/Horse, look on the bright side. You cannot change them. Never hound or nag them. Nothing you can do or say will make a dent, anyway. Just try to keep your own head above water, and most of all—enjoy them.

Compatibilities

Gemini and Sagittarius/Dogs are loyal and have their wits about them. You need such steady intelligent partners. A Libra/Goat will need your protection and for that reason may appeal to you. Sagittarius/Tigers are good rebound romance prospects for you. They’re so very flexible and independent. Taurus, Leo and Scorpio/Rats are not on your list of romantic associates. Nor should you bother to take up with a Leo/Monkey.

(V65note: Gemini Dogs May 22 to June 21, 1982 or 1994

Libra Goat Sept 24 to Oct 23, 1979 or 1991 

Sagittarius Dogs November 23 to December 21, 1982 or 1994

Sagittarius Tiger November 23 to December 21, 1974 or 1986)

Home and Family

Talk about funky! This person’s house will be a museum of found objects and weirdo styles. The Aquarius/Horse is a collector. As he or she travels outrageously much, they are always bringing back some trinket or geegaw bartered from a Sikh in a souk or filched from a sheik’s dining tent. It’s a riot of color. Imagine Horse and Aquarius together and see what comes out in the wardrobe. Flash and sash with rank panache. Get those red leather riding boots and the paisley scarf wrapped fetchingly around the jodhpur tops. Wow!

The Aquarius/Horse may be crazy, but he’s not all that bananas about having barrels of kids. Children in numbers threaten his freedom of movement. This person must move. If ever he or she does settle down to have children, it will tend to be late in life. Then, watch out! This person can get so involved in the details of parenthood as to be a perfect bore. Parenting is a challenge, but viewed with the passion and potential for ecstasy of the excitable Aquarius/Horse—whew! Kids, if you want to have a great childhood, get yourself born to this wonderful cuckoo Mom or Pop. Forget bedtimes and chores forever. As a parent the Aquarius/Horse is permissive, modern, avantgarde, and utterly subjugated by childish charms.

This artsy child will amuse parents with pranks and original tricks. His creative attributes will be many. He prefers to be spoiled and pampered rather than to have to adhere to a lot of silly rules. He’s persuasive, and finds remarkably plausible excuses for his kinks. Training and manners will add polish to this character’s exterior. Otherwise, there is not much you can do except lavish attentions on this sweet creature.

Profession
So much talent should not go unrewarded. This person will not be particularly ambitious for gain in his life. The Aquarian Horse is not an investor or even a saver. He is not really much interested in money, but knows he must have lots to carry out his drastically expensive projects. Normally he doesn’t have a “job” but works in some marginal, lucrative capacity that permits him to travel to exotic lands. The Aquarius/Horse boss will be fair and just but severely self-involved. You can fully expect this character to get to the office late and leave early, and still expect you to be there on the minute and work overtime to boot. He’s a little crazy, remember? But oh, so interesting. And talented. This person can be gainfully employed provided the boss lets him or her go on trips every three or four days. The talents of Aquarius/Horse are intense and ephemeral. Use sparingly.

Jobs that might appeal to the Aquarian Horse are: movie star, photographer, interpreter, speechwriter, traveling salesperson, fundraiser, art teacher, mercenary.

(V65note: was so surprised and what a funny coincidence her mentioning Malaysia. PSH was in Malaysia specifically Kota Kinabalu around the third week of January this year, 2014!)

2 ~ White Blanket

Warning: Following story is adult in nature.

Yong Hwa bent down his head to meet Shin Hye’s soft upturned lips and with gentleness and care gave her a kiss quite different from what he had ever given her before. It was slow and gentle but deliberate, hungry and yet waiting, considerate. The passion was there as Yong Hwa’s lips brushed and kissed Shin Hye’s lips, as he gently nibbled on her lower lip when she slightly opened her mouth, as he tenderly brushed his tongue on hers when she moaned, making her draw her arms up and around his neck to pull him closer and press her body to his but it was restrained, almost… reserved. Shin Hye wanted to cry.

Seeing him almost everyday now Shin Hye has come to rely on Yong Hwa a lot and with the friendly detachment naturally gone Shin Hye has been crying herself to sleep quite a few times whenever Yong Hwa goes on extended concert tours. Yong Hwa didn’t know this of course. She wouldn’t dream of telling him for she knows he’ll be upset. He has been quite gracious in letting her decide on their wedding date but has been quite persistent in wanting her to go on tour with them and to move in. She didn’t want to, not until they’re already married she always says and she didn’t want to get married yet.

Yong Hwa has just turned 30 and in a few months it’ll be her turn too but Yong Hwa, even before their engagement, has been more than ready to enter the whole spend-your-whole-lifetime bit, branching on to other businesses- within and outside the entertainment field as a precaution and quite grounded in discussing and planning their future. With the both of them pretty stable financially, they could comfortably bow out of the limelight anytime they want to but Shin Hye was still wary. She does not mind losing her popularity but she worries too much for Yong Hwa. She knows he loves his music and she reasons the band has made a lot of headway in the international market to take any sort of risk but her unspoken fear is that he might regret losing his career because of her and for that reason nothing and nobody can convince her to do anything to jeopardize his status.

In so many ways to the people who know them the two are already, well practically, married. Though they still do have their own private lives, more often than not, they are in each other’s company. When they’re not at work or in some career related engagement they’re oftentimes shuttling between Yong Hwa’s family home in Busan, Shin Hye’s in Seoul and Gwangju or their own house in exclusive Samseong-Dong. Their friends have even gone to the extent of inviting the other half of the pair just so one would come or stay on longer. All of them making an extra effort to keep whatever activity they were in private, all of them protective of the two, and that go without saying, most specially their agencies.

Being friends for a long time before getting engaged had the advantage of making them very accepting, tolerant and forgiving of each other’s idiosyncrasies but in the months following their engagement they have formed certain ‘habits’. Habits, that unfortunately, has made any kind of separation unbearable and even downright painful. Shin Hye now misses how Yong Hwa holds and cuddles her to sleep, finding she likes having his arm draped over her tummy, even his lying halfway on top of her whether on their lounge while watching TV or on their extra wide queen-sized bed. He misses waking up with his face buried in Shin Hye’s hair and nuzzling closer for the combined scent of her shampoo, soap and neck before playfully teasing her awake which gets her all the time. It amuses her listening to him go over and over a song when he’s composing, dragging her to a nearby couch saying he writes better when she’s there which she doesn’t really mind at all. Odd really because she even finds it sweet. She goes about doing whatever it was she was doing and just works beside him. She loves how he’d bring her hot coffee in bed in the mornings even when he would constantly tell her not to get used to it cause he might not always be able to do it but which he has always done with no fail, then again in the evenings when she’s decked out on their kitchen table with papers and books scattered all over with research work for work. He likes to pamper her like that. He loves getting home and being welcomed by the smell of food that she’s cooking and how she always complains when he back hugs and kisses her neck as she cooks but always turns towards him for a lingering kiss. You can say, just a few of the quirks couples have.

Yes, after that night that Yong Hwa asked permission, Shin Hye has stayed over at their house more than once though they both say that those were rare, in-case-of-emergency times- birthdays, anniversaries of whatever kind, the NBA and Korean Professional Baseball finals, times when Yong Hwa gets sick which seems to be increasing in frequency of late, times when Shin Hye oversleeps on the couch… about a few times too, and one weekend each month as Yong Hwa courageously asked and received permission for. So surprised was Shin Hye when her father agreed that she muttered, “Appa must really want to get rid of me already!” but Yong Hwa was jubilant.

The past month has been specially trying for them though. The band went on its month long Asian tour and Yong Hwa had pleaded with Shin Hye to go with them which again Shin Hye said no to. Yong Hwa left a little unhappy and though he still calls and messages her as often as he can like he always do, it was as though some heavy cloud was hovering over the two. She saw how tired he looked when he walked in their front door. His shoulders slumped and brows in a knot. It didn’t help that Jung Shin has warned her how Yong Hwa’s mood has steadily worsened from day one, lightening only when the band’s on the stage. The most troubling piece of ‘boys only’ info Jung Shin shared though was how Yong Hwa on the last night of their tour simply told them of his desire to take a break from the band.

From the time when they had their first kiss in her SUV up to the time before Yong Hwa left never has he kissed her that way before, ever! All of their private kisses have been passionate. It may start out as gentle, teasing, tired or angry but it never takes long to turn fiery. It has never been subdued nor guarded. Wracked with longing and guilt she stopped kissing Yong Hwa, hid her face on his neck and softly cried.

It has been the longest four weeks of Yong Hwa’s life too. Though buoyed by the adulation and success of their concert and future projects lined up for them as a result Yong Hwa was too bone tired to be celebrating. He felt physically, mentally and emotionally drained and all he can think to do of his crying fiancée was to embrace her tighter and say, “We’ll talk later okay?”

“Okay!” Shin Hye croaked as Yong Hwa continued holding her till she stopped.

“Have you had dinner?” she asked looking up at him, tear-streaked eyes worried as she reached up to touch his cheek.

“I made you some spaghetti with meatballs!” she chimed, smiling timidly.

Yong Hwa tenderly wiped her tears with his thumbs as she waited.
“Okay!” Yong Hwa said as he nodded. Shin Hye clasped his hand and led the way. She knows it’s her fiance’s favorite. She has long given up trying to wean him out of it and has since changed tack by reducing its fat content, but tonight was an exception. She used the best cut of beef for the meatballs, lots of cheese and even used some butter. This was after all her peace offering.

Shin Hye made Yong Hwa sit on the tall breakfast stool while she poured their favorite red wine on to stems and handed him a glass. She had just laid their plate on the table and was about to get their serviettes and cutlery when Yong Hwa gently pulled her to him. He made her stand between his legs as he slouched on his seat and hugged her, his forehead pressed on her chest, his arms loosely wrapped around her waist. Shin Hye was getting ready for Yong Hwa to start his tirade- his complaints why she wont move in or go with them, his jealousy masked by teasing her on her last drama’s kissing scene and a report of sorts on whoever girl was caught in a picture next to him but there was none. There was nothing at all. He just hugged her tighter. Shin Hye was taken aback at this. Suddenly it dawned on her what his whole demeanor was about and it was as though someone grabbed her heart and squeezed tighter and tighter. The tears came back unprompted, silent, and she hugged him closer. It was breaking her heart to see Yong Hwa like this and she couldn’t help feel that it was her fault. Then, gently brushing his hair with her fingers, Shin Hye laid soft kisses on the top of his head and waited. They stayed like that for a while before Yong Hwa looked up, earnestly gazed at Shin Hye, eyes still tired but now keen, then holding either side of Shin Hye’s face and nape, flicking her tears away with his thumbs he pulled her head down for a kiss.

Yong Hwa captured Shin Hye’s lips with such intensity that for a second she could not move. It was as if a dam has broken and Yong Hwa’s sweeping all thoughts and questions away with his kiss. Shin Hye whimpered before she kissed him back and took a second more before she could match his urgency and fervor. All Shin Hye can think about was Yong Hwa, her senses swamped with everything Yong Hwa- his kiss hungry and demanding, his touch, his body hot and possessive, his smell manly and sensuous. Without stopping Yong Hwa slowly stood up, grabbed her by the waist and lifted her onto the table reversing their position, the straddle-r now the straddled.

It was after quite awhile that Yong Hwa quietly padded back into their room a big bowl of spaghetti tucked under his right arm, a goblet and a bottle of red wine on his hand, a tub of ice cream and an assortment of cutlery on his left. He was trying not to be too giddy lest he spill food on the carpet. For the first time Shin Hye has agreed to bring food inside their bedroom. She has spread a thick bed sheet on the carpet and was lying on her stomach, her elbows propping her up as she was tweaking two cellphones in front of her- hers and Yong Hwa’s. He laid out the food just a bit in front of the phones then he lay on his side beside her, propping his head on an arm as he looked at Shin Hye, brushing her hair off to her other shoulder. He did not even check to see what Shin Hye was tinkering on his phone with as if it was quite natural for her to do that. It wasn’t. They have always been open to each others phones but both have also always been reluctant to open the other’s unless they’re right in front and doing things upon instructions. There was nothing to hide, at least not anymore, and that’s how they have always been.

This is all he wanted, to be next to the most important person in his life, the woman he loves. He does not want to go through such hell again. he will have to find a way but right now he is very elated just lying next to her. Those reporters can gossip all they want but no one is going to ruin this moment he has with her. I’m the one beside her right now, I’m the one who just made long, delicious love with her and no one else, so no scandal is ever going to drive him up the wall.

Shin Hye tilted her head and gave Yong Hwa a crooked smile, her lips raspberry colored, slightly swollen, hair quite ruffled still. Yong Hwa raised an eyebrow at this but was more distracted by the way she looked and more so as he slowly pulled the pristine white cotton blanket she has wrapped around her an inch or two downward and grinned. He can still see the small love mark he left on her side and he was remembering what they both were doing when he made that mark.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m doing with your phone?” Shin Hye prodded Yong Hwa.

“Nope!” Yong Hwa quite simply answered. Shin Hye pursed her lips at this and smirked but all Yong Hwa was doing was tugging slyly on the blanket.

“Jagi, what do you think of December 28?” Shin Hye asked softly.
“Huh? December 28?” Yong Hwa asked a bit confused. Then looking suspiciously at Shin Hye, not even daring to hope she’s saying what he thinks she’s saying, he asked, “What do you mean by what do I think of December 28?” a smile was beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth as he sees Shin Hye’s eyes sparkle teasingly.
“You know! December 28?” Shin Hye hedged some more, her smile getting bigger by the second.

“Are you serious?” Yong Hwa said in a raspy voice. “You mean a December 28 this year? The one coming next month?

Shin Hye looked at her fiance’s eyes getting rounder, his face starting to glow and she can almost hear what he was going to do next as she nodded her head and grinned widely at him.

“YEEEEE-EEESSSSSS!” He roared. He laid on his back, pumped his fists on the air with all his might and cried, “WOOOOO! HOOOOO!” then just as abruptly he swung towards Shin Hye grasped her waist and pulled her on top of him. Shin Hye was laughing by now. They both were. And kissing too. And biting and whispered silly nothings.

Shin Hye realized when Yong Hwa chose to suffer in silence than go through their broken routine of push and pull that an angry and whiny Yong Hwa she can handle but her heart cannot bear to see him suffer in silence. Jung Shin has never lied to her and if what he said was really true then was Yong Hwa willing to sacrifice his career just so they’d never be apart like that again? She knows she can never ask that of him nor can she bear to see him give up his career. She would never admit that seeing him suffer like that was what changed her mind though. Couldn’t give him such a dangerous ‘ammunition’, could she? And besides, what did that girl say in that movie she saw on cable yesterday when the woman’s estranged husband asked her what does she want to stay married with him for? Ah yes, she said, “Because I want to kiss you anytime that I want!” That sounds like a pretty good reason to get married for as well, plus having cute little Yong Hwas and fearless little Shin Hyes too!

Looking at Yong Hwa with his eyes twinkling, his smile disarming and… Shin Hye cannot believe what in the hell was she thinking waiting all those months for? She has always known that this is the man she wanted to wake up to every morning of her life with, the man she wants to fight, laugh, live every moment with, the man who she knows will make a very good dad.

“I just love those crooked teeth and naughty smile! And that voice!” Shin Hye thought.

Yong Hwa has calmed down a bit and was just staring at her tenderly. Quite content to just ogle at his fiancee’s beautiful face. Looking blissfully at her with eyes that can cause global warming from the heat they were giving off just by looking Yong Hwa’s mind was already fast turning. Then he whispered something in her ear and bit her earlobe.

“Ohh?” Shin Hye replied and closed her eyes relishing the sweet sensation Yong Hwa’s teeth and lips were giving her.

“Mmmm…” She moaned then she tilted her head to give him better access then he started kissing down her neck as he leisurely pulled the blanket off her. That spaghetti will just have to wait a little while longer Shin Hye thought for she needs to show this sexy, crazy guy just how much she loves him, again, and how sorry she was she made him wait so long. She wouldn’t tell him that last bit though, well not yet anyway. So show him she did… in ways that only lovers understand, in a language that has no need for words.

~ The End ~

1 ~ White Dress

He gently pulled her to him as soon as she was within his reach. Shin Hye quite naturally glided into his arms as her own snaked up his chest and her hands crossing at her wrists against Yong Hwa’s nape, her lips slightly opening, eager for Yong Hwa’s kisses, still this shade of shy to initiate the kiss. To Shin Hye though it seems to have only been fairly recent since they… Shin Hye blushed remembering that unforgettable morning, the first time they made love. It was a week after they were secretly engaged, almost a year ago, when Yong Hwa refused to let her go home and made her stay at the house his grandfather had surprised and gifted them with. She has never seen him that brave and determined as he called up Shin Hye’s mom and dad to ask permission from them for Shin Hye to stay the night. Shin Hye was shocked when her father said yes but she was too tired to analyse why.

It was snowing really hard that night, the first ever in Seoul that year, she has just come from a long day of shooting and was dropping off something for Yong Hwa when she fell asleep on the sofa.

Yong Hwa’s grandfather, an old but still very active man said he’s giving them their wedding gift in advance as he might be dead by the time they both decided to get married, seeing how it seem to have taken them eternity to admit to feeling anything more than friendship for each other. He has been bugging them for years to get married even during ‘You’re Beautiful’ days when the two first became good friends, just good friends. One could probably say he was the first, the original YongShin/YongHye/Dooley fan. He said he knew from the start that Yong Hwa and Shin Hye will surely end up together after seeing them quarrel while playing cards.

Through the years of bickering and shouting matches, cold wars and double dates, silent giggles and stolen glances they’ve finally conceded and accepted that even through the years, even when one or both of them were in different relationships, even when one zigged and the other zagged, in the end as they nursed each other’s hearts they’ve slowly but surely given theirs to each other’s keeping. They cannot remember what exactly it was that tipped the scale, if it was Shin Hye sneering and whispering something to make Yong Hwa’s last girlfriend turn white with fear after said girlfriend blatantly flirted with other boys in front of Yong Hwa for the umpteenth time, or Yong Hwa’s outburst ending in near fist fights when he caught her then, “now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t” boyfriend making unwanted advances on a complaining and angry Shin Hye but they were almost inseparable after that, and, as before, still insisting they were just friends.

Maybe it started there but the issue of them being officially on was definitely when both their exes made a show of dating each other during one of Yong Hwa’s concerts. Shin Hye who was at the backstage goofing with the band then excused herself to give him time with his ex when the girl went to see Yong Hwa. Shin Hye, who has always been a good sport and who even covered up for him when he had at one stage one too many “girl” friends, walked farther than the band’s dressing room door, farther than the backstage, all the way to the exclusive carpark and into her SUV. Yong Hwa was glad Shin Hye wore her baseball cap and camouflage jacket and so was not seen or mobbed by the fans on her way out. He knows because he followed her, walking a fair distance behind her.

It was this odd smile that he saw on Shin Hye’s face as she turned around to leave that made him, thankfully, grab his gray hoodie and follow her. It was her trying-to-hide-something smile. She has never used that on him before. She knows that he can read her too well, as clearly as she can read him, so what was that for? He can’t remember ever seeing her smile like that since Heartstrings started and she was trying to hide her hurt at his insensitivity. He cannot understand why he was suddenly feeling joyous and hopeful because of it. He didn’t even turn to look at his ex nor excuse himself. He just followed Shin Hye.

“Where are you going?” he said as he opened the passenger seat and sat beside the startled Shin Hye.

“Why are you here?” Shin Hye answered then looked at her watch, “Your concert’s about to start in 5 minutes.”

Yong Hwa made a full turn to face Shin Hye but didn’t say anything. He just looked at her closely trying to read what was in her thoughts as he was wont to do when Shin Hye skirted topics. Shin Hye looked back and knew that he knows what she was feeling.

“It’s odd right? I shouldn’t be feeling or behaving like this? I’m not like this!” Shin Hye whined as she let go of the steering wheel and turned towards him.

“I am not like this at all! Ever!” Shin Hye muttered, her eyes looking beseechingly at him, her eyebrows knitting in anxiety as she took a long, deep breath which got cut off when Yong Hwa grabbed her neck and waist, drew her to him and kissed her, passionately.

It took all of one second for Shin Hye to get over the shock and kiss back. That was their first real kiss. They kissed like they’ve never kissed anyone ever before. They kissed with all the longing and the love they’ve kept hidden, too scared to cross the line and take the risk. A love unleashed that without thinking Yong Hwa bodily lifted Shin Hye off her seat and made her straddle him, his hand tensed on her butt and on her nape pulling Shin Hye tight to him, a fiery, almost fierce Shin Hye whose straining arms were wrapped around Yong Hwa’s neck, pressing herself firmly to Yong Hwa too caught up in the emotions of the moment that she probably does not even notice his hands having the same goal. They kissed with lips and tongue and teeth hungry to know fully, completely and intimately the other, licking, biting and sucking the other’s lips till they ran out of breath, till their lips were starting to feel tender, swollen. Even then they didn’t want to stop. They were only saved by the bell, Shin Hye’s ring tone of solemn ancient temple bells.

Shin Hye’s phone has been ringing incessantly before they were able to tear away from each other and even so, as Shin Hye answered her phone, her eyes glazed over, head leaning on Yong Hwa’s head, Yong Hwa continued kissing her cheeks, down to her neck.

“Hmm?” was all she was able to say as she answered her phone.

“Shin Hye noona?” Jung Shin was on the other line, his voice had a hint of laughter in them when he heard the way Shin Hye answered her phone but was relatively calm amid the rising voices on the background. It wasn’t hard to imagine Jung Shin grinning and collected amidst the chaos but Shin Hye felt like she was burning. Yong Hwa wouldn’t stop kissing and biting and it was doing more than tickling her.

“Uh huh?” Shin Hye grunted, not trusting herself to say more.

“Noona? Can we borrow our leader for awhile? Our manager can’t stop pulling his hair and will be bald if Hyung does not show up soon!” Jung Shin was trying to be as matter-of-fact about it but his smirk was quite tangible even through the line.

“Okay!” Shin Hye, her voice just a little above a whisper, turned the phone off, closed her eyes for the space of a breath and started to giggle.

Yong Hwa couldn’t resist that sound and turned dilated eyes and red, swollen lips towards its source.

“We’re both crazy, aren’t we?” Shin Hye said, her eyes bright and smiling as she leaned back to look at Yong Hwa. Yong Hwa looked can just picture his lips as swollen as hers. He took a moment or two to shake his mind off of what they both just did but his smile just broadened the longer he thought about it, he understood what Shin Hye meant though.

Yong Hwa, still not quite believing flicked his hair off his eyes, adoringly gazed at Shin Hye and slowly but clearly said, “I love you, Babo-ya!”

Shin Hye beamed looked at his eyes, his lips before she begrudgingly dragged her eyes back up to his eyes again.

“I love you too, Babo-ya!” Shin Hye whispered back and wriggled closer as she hugged him.

“Manager-nim should be quite bald by now!” Shin Hye abruptly sat back remembering Jung Shin’s call. Then touching Yong Hwa’s lips with a finger, Shin Hye pouted and said, “they’ll know!” indicating their swollen lips.

“I think they knew even before we did but yes they will know.” Yong Hwa wistfully grinned. “We’ll decide what to do later okay? Don’t leave!”

The sudden realization of the intensity of her love for Yong Hwa was so new and so strong and then seeing it reflected back at her from Yong Hwa’s eyes, Shin Hye couldn’t, didn’t want to do anything else but stay.

Yong Hwa held her hand on their way up to the backstage as she walked a step behind him, her cap pulled down low too embarrassed of her obviously kiss-swollen lips. Nobody teased them when they entered the dressing room though, not when Yong Hwa was on full leader mode, checking things up, rehashing last minute instructions as he escorted Shin Hye to a seat not far from him and had his hair and make-up touched up while reaching for his cellphone from their manager and making a call.

“Eomma! Where are you?” Yong Hwa said and paused. “Oh! She’s with me! Okay bye!”

Shin Hye raised an eyebrow, eavesdropping on the conversation but didn’t say anything. She turned her attention on Minhyuk who was pacing in front of her. Shin Hye suddenly put her foot forward acting as though she was going to trip him even when he was still two paces away. Minhyuk smirked and side stepped. On turning around though Shin Hye did her foot action too fast that Minhyuk stood frozen, laughed and in his amusement tapped with his index finger the visor of Shin Hye’s cap. Shin Hye lightly bumped with the toe of her shoes Minhyuk’s shoes in retaliation and it was a fight from there with Minhyuk sitting beside Shin Hye after just a minute or two, out of breath from laughing, complaining.

“Noona you’re so unfair!”

Shin Hye was still laughing when she glanced at a jealous Yong Hwa. She looked around making sure no one can see her then stuck out her tongue. Yong Hwa can only grin, grab at his nose bridge and try as hard as he can not to laugh out loud. Ah the giddiness of falling in love and the sheer dilemma of having to keep it a secret when all you want to do is to whoop it up and rejoice at its discovery! Shin Hye will be the death of him, he thought

“Okay! Time to roll!” their manager said as he entered followed by Yong Hwa’s mother. Everybody bowed to Yong Hwa’s mother as they bee lined out the door.

“Shin Hye we were looking all over for you. Where did you two go?” Yong Hwa’s mother exclaims just before the door closed on them.

“We just had a talk Eomma!” Yong Hwa said but did not explain further, his eyes glued to Shin Hye who after kissing Yong Hwa’s mother on the cheeks escaped by hugging the three other boys and did the hand shake the five of them have played around with before it sort of gotten stuck so they now do it whenever they see each other and in this case to wish them luck. With just the six of them left in the dressing room, his mother walked towards the door and turned to wait for Shin Hye.

Shin Hye, who had just finished doing her routine hug and handshake with Yong Hwa who she always leaves for last of the four, turned to go out and let the boys do their traditional huddle but if she thought she could get away from Yong Hwa that easily and act as if nothing has happened then, well, she was darn wrong. She barely had taken a step away when Yong Hwa grabbed her hand, pulled her just hard enough for her to land snugly against his chest and kissed her full on the lips and silently whispered, ‘Saranghe!” against her lips.

It might look like Yong Hwa was forcing her to him what with his hand still holding and pinning Shin Hye’s hand behind her as he pressed on her back, clasping her to him, his other hand clutching her nape but Shin Hye’s free hand fluidly reached up and hooked around his neck, then she tilted her head a little, replied with an equally silent ‘Saranghe’ against Yong Hwa’s lips and offered her waiting lips to him. It was not even a question to Shin Hye, she didn’t have to think what she had to do. She just did what she felt was right. Yong Hwa was a little surprised but was very pleased with Shin Hye’s response. He smiled, giddy happy, before he kissed her again and hugged her tighter. Glimpsing the astonished look of the four with Shin Hye tightly tucked in his embrace Yong Hwa, now grinning widely, raised and moved his head up and down, made the ok sign with his hand and smiled cockily. Shin Hye turned her head shyly around to peek at the four and just grinned.

Mothers really know what’s best for their kids and in that instant for her future daughter-in-law too as she shuffled towards the two, acting indifferent as if she has seen them kiss right in front of her often and herded Shin Hye away from Yong Hwa, pushed Yong Hwa towards the three, while the three boys were still stunned for their huddle and ordered all of them out. Let them tease Yong Hwa all they want later but right now there’s a concert that needed to start real soon.

Teased them they did but not after the concert. A word, a glance, an eyebrow raised starting at the latter half of the concert in fact thrown at Yong Hwa’s way and yes, though far in between, at Shin Hye’s too. And, Yong Hwa and Shin Hye just laughed at it all. They got engaged barely three months after. Yes, still in secret. Yong Hwa has let Shin Hye decide what she feels is right for them, what she’s ready for. Any public announcement was still not an option. Shin Hye said when she’s ready to raise a family then they will make it official, have a very short public engagement and get married soon after.

As Yong Hwa looks down at Shin Hye, hugging him in her white dress, he can’t help but wish she was wearing her wedding dress already. Lately it’s been getting more and more on his nerves not seeing her when he gets home, whether it was watching TV, going to bed, waking up in the morning… even drinking coffee is just not the same anymore.

“Aah Shin Hye! When will you make up your mind and marry me?”

Unbridled, Chapter 22

Chapter 22 ~ If Only For Tonight

“Seems you’ve been very busy,” Keun Suk sarcastically drawled. “What could have gotten you on your feet when barely a few hours ago you were at death’s door wife? … Love?”

Hongki had gone out of their room after Keun Suk questioned and scolded him. Shin Hye hadn’t thought it was possible for a few choice words to cut so deep but what Keun Suk said to Hongki certainly made the both of them, Shin Hye and Hongki, wince. She knows she will be in no way exempted.

“Hongki has been forthright in telling you everything that I have done today and rightly so but he does not know what has been said. Yes I met with Yong Hwa but what we talked about had nothing to do with you.” Shin Hye tried to reason calmly, for seeing Yong Hwa was one of the number of things she has done that afternoon.

She kept her back straight as she sat, wanting to look confident and unruffled. All she really wanted to do was lie down and pray that if at all possible please let everything be a bad dream and that when she opens her eyes she’s just in her bed at Tyneside listening to the early morning clatter of the manor waking up. She knows there was no chance of that happening; still it wouldn’t hurt to wish, right? Father Simon would surely admonish her for such wasteful thinking. Father Simon…

On their way up to their chamber, still huffing after narrowly escaping the East Tower, Shin Hye had been thinking of the state Father Simon was in as she left him at the monastery. And remembering, she realized the gravity of the situation they were in. Everything is hanging on air and she feels it’s all her fault. Father Simon and Hye-ya would not be here had she not asked them to and if she had gone with her uncle and aunt as had been earlier planned, her parents, Sir John and her father’s men would not be placed in such risk. If her aunt had wanted her killed then it will just be her and all the rest would have been safe. Why Hye-ya too? Shin Hye was still too consumed with guilt that it was keeping her from seeing the source of all the atrocity- her aunt. The safety of the people she loved was all she can think of. For her, until they are safe she cannot plan her next move..

“Lest you forget, you are now my wife! Everything that has to do with you has something to do with me!” Keun Suk’s tone was steadily rising.

Keun Suk’s loud voice should be enough to jolt Shin Hye back to reality. Yes it startled her but when she looked at him it wasn’t his angry eyes that she sees. It was his dark teasing eyes squinting at her that moonlit night at the cliffs. He looked dangerous and so powerful, like a roaring campfire you can’t take your eyes away from. She could have stayed in the kitchen, never ventured back and tempted fate. Why didn’t she?

She could not explain why she was drawn to him. Maybe it was his eyes. It was as if he could see through her, laughing and teasing at the same time even as he was demanding for her name in all seriousness. His nose, lips… jaws and chin set like so. It was all a heady combination. She thought it was silly when she heard people say that some person ‘took their breath away’ but it was true. He took her breath away that night and every time those eyes look into hers. She likes how the sides of his eyes crinkles when he’s amused, how sharp they get when he’s thinking and that’s just his eyes. When you see those mixed with his lips and… He’s so handsome and proud and bold.

‘And now, I’m married to him!’ she paused for a bit in her musing. ‘Why didn’t he complain? Surely he knows how much the king loves him, anyone can plainly see that, and if he had said something he would not have been stuck with me. Now I am dragging him into danger too, but how do I explain something even I do not fully understand?

For the first time in her life, she, whose life has always been carefree, whose idea of a problem was how to keep an animal’s breach birth safe or how to keep her next hunting expedition a secret from her mother, learned what utter helplessness felt like as it washed heavy over her. She opened her mouth to say something, closed it to think again and stared at the windows. Not knowing what to say she looked up at him and said the first thing that came to her mind.

“I’m sorry you got roped into marrying me!” Shin Hye said quietly. “You just… wanted a leman,” Shin Hye paused and thought. “You must have someone in mind for a wife… someone equal to your standing. Tyneside is a very small holding…” Shin Hye’s voice echoed guilt. “It’s very rich. We’ve tilled the land so well, its rivers, sea and forests are teeming with fish and animals, so food is abundant, but… but in terms of land area it is very tiny and it’s far from the pleasures of big towns!”

Suddenly she felt so small. Why does she feel like crying? She has never been a cry baby. Why even playing with the manor’s children she’s been able to stand their taunts or as a grown woman hunting with the men, one upping them even if she wants to. Crying only brings you more taunts. So no, even if she feels utterly helpless and alone, she’s not going to cry. Then she realized why. She loved him. After she has tried to convince herself that it was just a moment of weakness, that she’ll forget him soon enough… she couldn’t and if anything it made her feelings much stronger… she loved him.  But what use is love? When he sees how small Tyneside is and learns more about my family, will he still want to be married to me?

Just when she has accepted her entering a loveless marriage she ends up in a much worse situation- loving a husband who does not love her back, who only sees her as a ‘simple business transaction’, an obligation. ‘Why is fate playing such a cruel joke on me?’ Shin Hye thought. She lifted her chin hoping to hide her misery, unaware how her unshed tears has made her eyes sparkle.

Keun Suk looked at the play of emotions on the face of his headstrong wife. Wife, how did that happen? He thought. She looked up at him but he can tell she was lost in thoughts of her own. She is as stubborn as ever… and as beautiful and as brave. Something is weighing heavily on her, he can see that but she’s blind to him. Keun Suk wants to remove whatever worry she was carrying but he wants her to trust him enough to tell him what it was that was bothering her. Certainly easier for him, though he could find things out for himself but it does not need a wise man to see that the seriousness of the situation calls for a fast resolution. Not knowing what else to do Keun Suk held her shoulders and pulled Shin Hye up to him and kissed her.

It was the gentlest kiss they’ve ever shared as Keun Suk tenderly grazed his lips on hers. There was no anger or impatience in his kiss. Shin Hye felt like a young flower lovingly wrapped in his arms, his lips caressing hers, calling forth the hunger out of her, making her want to be crushed in his embrace and her lips ravished by the need she knows he’s reined in, the very need in her too. The fatigue of the past days suddenly sunk in and the anguish of what tomorrow holds hung like a dark ominous cloud over Shin Hye but it was the gentleness of Keun Suk’s kiss that made the tears fall. The tears came as she closed her eyes and surrendered her self to the feel of his lips on hers, the heat of his body as he drew her closer and eventually the feel of his tongue tenderly coaxing hers. So tender was his kiss.

Now, wrapped in Keun Suk’s arms, can she, if only for tonight, pretend that Keun Suk loved her? His kiss certainly made her feel so. Yes if only for tonight. Losing herself in his kiss Shin Hye let all her guards down and surrendered her heart. They tasted her tears as it mixed with their lips but neither of them stopped. It was only after some time that Keun Suk, breathless, reluctantly drew back, cupped her face, and wiped the tears with his thumbs then he lightly kissed her forehead, her nose and her lips. With lips slightly open hovering close but never touching they stopped to catch their breath. Then Shin Hye tilted her head and gazed up at Keun Suk. Reflecting right back at him through her tear-stained eyes was the dark yearning he felt deep inside. And he knew.

How he stopped his hands from trembling however Keun Suk will never know but they were deft as his hands moved to the laces at the front of Shin Hye’s bodice, as he slowly loosened them. Shin Hye’s hands however were slightly trembling as she shyly reached up to the buttons of his shirt and unbuttoned them, then she slid the shirt off his shoulders timidly, stealing glances at his eyes as she did so. Standing this close Shin Hye was having trouble controlling her wildly beating heart. Unconsciously she looked down and rubbed her hands at the skirt of her gown then after a moment or two she looked at his chest. He was lithe, medium built. He was not bulky or huge but one cannot call him wiry either. His chest was broad, and his muscles looked supple and firm. She wondered what it will be like to run her hands along the expanse of his chest but she could not bring herself to dare. Neither can she bring herself to touch, much less open, the clasps on his breeches so she just stood still, bowed her head slightly to hide her eyes and watched his hands as they finish nimbly loosen her laces.

Keun Suk, seeing Shin Hye nervously standing, stooped down and removed his boots but left his breeches on. He spreads open the front of her gown’s bodice and slid her gown off so with just her sheer silk inner tunic left on he paused and stared at her. Lifting her chin with his finger, Shin Hye saw the desire in his eyes and for a moment she could not breathe, anticipation steadily rising within her. He bowed his head as he opened his mouth to hungrily possess and consume the lips he’s dreamed of since that moonlit night. Shin Hye, swept by the passion of their kiss, raised one hand on to his shoulder and clasped his neck with the other, hanging on for support as she felt her knees go weak but not wanting to break the kiss, giving and taking as much as she can. Keun Suk felt no different from Shin Hye as he gripped her nape and her lower back, pressing her tightly to him. His patience running low he scooped her into his arms and smoothly, laid her on to their bed. She slid to make space for him and waited, her breathing labored unable to take her eyes off him till he reached for the clasp of his breeches and she swiftly turned to her side.

He grinned a little at her reaction. So shy and timid not at all the untamed girl he heard. Wait a minute where did he hear that? Some group of men in a camp fire somewhere, whispers of the wild young lady of Tyneside, spending nights outdoors on end with men, doubting if such ‘lady’ still has any virtue. Could this be the very same lady? Or is she just acting coy and innocent? The thought of Shin Hye spending nights with other men suddenly filled his heart with blinding rage. Rage over feeling vulnerable amidst the whirlwind of feelings Shin Hye has stirred in him, caught off guard for the first time in a very long time. He has seen one too many men falling at the mercies of a woman and for him once is enough. He swore never again. More than those though he was angry because right here and right now he did not, could not care about all that- he did not care what other people would say, he did not care what she was like before, he did not care to understand what he was feeling or what he swore he would never do. For a logical and sensible man he knew he should and he ought to be concerned but all that mattered to him that very moment was to be with her. It was crazy for him to feel this way. He cannot explain why but he just wants her to forget any other man she could have lain with or loved. He wants her to want only him and no other.

Shin Hye heard the rustle as Keun Suk removed his breeches.  She can hear her heart pounding in her ears then felt the bed give way as he lay on the bed beside her and turn towards her. She felt as though every inch of her body was thrumming, her senses heightened then she felt his hand on her hair as he combed it away from her neck and face and tucked it behind her ears. He let his hand slide down her neck to her shoulder down her arm, her hip, her thigh and hooking her tunic with his fingers he pulled it upward exposing her legs to the still cool air of the the room’s moderately lighted fireplace but there was no room for Shin Hye to get cold as Keun Suk laid his leg over hers, slipped his hand underneath her tunic, circled her waist to draw her closer and kissed her neck slowly.

It was a riot of sensations that flooded Shin Hye and had she not bitten her lip to stop herself she would have moaned loudly instead she whimpered and closed her eyes. She cannot understand how all those sensation can cause an accompanying tightening of the muscles below her gut..

Unbridled, Chapter 21

21 ~ A Change Of Plans

Upon seeing Hye-ya Shin Hye stiffened and turned to look at Yong Hwa abruptly. Keun Suk was too keen not to notice. Following her line of sight he saw Yong Hwa but Yong Hwa’s eyes were fixed on the regally standing gray-cloaked woman at the front of the throng. Shin Hye however didn’t look away. It was almost as if she was willing Yong Hwa to see her and see her he did when he slowly turned in their direction. Yong Hwa did not even look at Keun Suk. Keun Suk didn’t have to look back at his wife to know that they were conversing from across the spacious room. This annoyed Keun Suk, though he could not say exactly why. The feeling has long been alien to him.

Yong Hwa looked tired but his head and back were straight and his eyes vigilant. Keun Suk had his ears alert to the goings on in the hall too but his eyes were busy looking for the other people at the ceremony of the previous night. It was absurd to think that his father and the royal couple would have anything to do with it, still he checked and yes his father and the royal couple have seen them. Just as he expected they were not surprised to see him and Shin Hye there but was only reminded with what should have happened last night from the varying shades of amusement from their eyes- from the king’s almost well-concealed one flushed out by the queen as she whispered something into the king’s ear, to the inane attempt to cover it from his father. Now just what is there to be amused about, Keun Suk thought. So far of those whose eyes he’s met there seemed to be nothing there, all except for the four people who they were still well hidden from their view and Father John who was conspicuously absent.

Keun Suk was just turning to see if Sir Duncan was anywhere near when here Sir Duncan comes, face blank and relayed some news. Keun Suk whispered back and Sir Duncan was well on his way. Next Keun Suk looked at his father and nodded. The king didn’t give the whole crowd much to say, cutting the accusers off with a simple statement.

“All through the years people have been picking herbs and medicinal plants during St. John’s eve! Now what is this racket all about? This is a time of thanksgiving and celebration. Release everyone!” the King ordered.

There was a great shout of joy from the crowd, with men and women clutching one another in happiness, not a few of them bowing to the king in gratitude. Hye-ya, however, stood rooted and waited. The steward had to raise his voice to get everyone’s attention, eventually with the herald’s help he was able to restore some order and silence. It was then that one of the accusers stepped forward and bowing to the steward begged to be heard.

The steward called on him to approach and asked, irritatingly, “What is it?” It was a relatively simple edict that the king has made and it is true that which the king has plainly said. Yes there were talks of people dancing naked in the forest worshiping the moon or whatever creature or deity, talks and suspicions but there has never been clear proof of such activities, the steward was thinking to himself. He was rather grumpy what with all the preparations he needed to make for the feast and now this.

“Your Highness, this man here asked if gypsies are to be released too without further inquiry?” A handful of men and women distinguishable by the drape of clothing they wore pinned at one shoulder with a brooch stood huddled at this.

“These are such petty squabbles. I see nothing wrong with their way of living.  I have no quarrel with them.” The King paused. “Refer this matter to the clergy and let them decide.” The King tersely nodded at the steward as he stood up and with the Queen left the hall.

As soon as the royal couple stepped out the steward blurted the first thing that came to his mind. “You are going to have to wait for the Cardinal’s response but today being Saint John’s feast day you might just have to wait till after the festivities have died down or have a member of the clergy vouch for you and you’re free, till then, guards take these people to the east tower!” He wanted them out of his sight at the soonest possible time.

The audience were just getting to their feet after bowing when over the din Shin Hye’s aunt, Lady Bettina spoke loudly to the steward, “What about that girl with a face veil and cloak? Isn’t she a gypsy too?” Calling the attention of the guard who bypassed Hye-ya.

“She is not wearing any drape your lady!” the guard reasoned.

“How would you know? Maybe she’s wearing it underneath her cloak. Why don’t you have her remove her cloak and veil so you can be sure?” the Lady Bettina pressed on.

“Let’s go!” Keun Suk whispered to Shin Hye. Shin Hye froze. Seeing Hye-ya’s stance, back stiff and head held high, Shin Hye knows she must find Father John. And fast. Hye-ya’s not easily cowered. She can see that Yong Hwa is just biding his time and wont let anything bad happen to Hye-ya but she also knows as does Hye-ya that there really is no love lost between the palace’s clergy and Yong Hwa from the fruitless effort they have had in making Yong Hwa acquiescent to his parents orders but the east tower was infamous for the extreme human degradation they subject their prisoners to, guilty or not guilty, so she has to find a way to get Hye-ya out but first, she must let Hye-ya know that she’s there and that as soon as she finds Father John she’s coming back for her.

‘Where could Father Simon and Philippa be? Sir John too?’ Shin Hye was wondering. She slowly followed Keun Suk forward keeping track of the skirmish her aunt was raising regarding Hye-ya’s cloak. Hye-ya refused to remove her cloak as Shin Hye guessed and was turning to walk with the routed throng of gypsies out of the hall. Then Shin Hye saw her aunt do a double take when the older woman saw her. Her aunt’s jaws clenched and force a smile as Shin Hye and Keun Suk walked towards the main door. Her uncle gave her his usual brusque nod and continued talking with Lord Eric, who gave her a flirtatious smile, and Lord Maxwell who just ignored her as he conversed animatedly with the older lord. Shin Hye almost missed a step when she suddenly realized who the poison was for and who put it in. Suddenly she remembered the reason she came down to the hall and she didn’t quite know what to do or how to make sense of the things that has happened had she not felt Keun Suk’s hand warm and flat on her back. He turned slightly to talk to her, essentially hiding her partly from view, and looked at her.

“Think, don’t feel,” Keun Suk whispered.

Shin Hye, trying to erase the puzzled look on her face, gazed up at him. He looked straight, deep into her eyes and somehow she knew he understands and she nodded. Keun Suk’s hand lingered on Shin Hye’s back as they walked away. They made long seemingly unhurried steps trying to catch up on Hye-ya and just as they passed Hye-ya by a couple of steps, Shin Hye dropped her handkerchief. Hye-ya had to stop walking as Shin Hye, who was blocking part of her way, bent down to pick up her handkerchief. Shin Hye caught sight of Hye-ya picking part of her cloak’s skirt up before Shin Hye glanced up, caught Hye-ya’s eyes as she straightened but turned right around to leave without talking, both girls acting like strangers. Keun Suk stopped too, looked around the hall and saw Shin Hye’s aunt staring spitefully at her niece and the veiled lady. He waited to see if she’ll turn her attention to him. Sure enough she did and, when she did, he looked straight at her, dipped his head as acknowledgement and escorted his wife out of the hall.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

‘But why?” was all Shin Hye can think of.  “I don’t understand!”

Tired and confused, still feeling the aftereffects of the poison, Shin Hye pushed herself instead of resting. It was not a question of ‘want to’ but of ‘have to’. This is something that she needed to do! She cannot let one more minute pass by and not do anything for Hye-ya. They barely reached the door when Keun Suk was summoned by the king. Keun Suk walked Shin Hye all the way to the foot of the stairs and had Hongki escort Shin Hye to their room with instructions to stand guard outside their door. He waited for Shin Hye to go up the winding stairwell and only left when she was out of sight. Keun Suk need not have waited for Shin Hye had planned to go back to their room in the first place. What he did not calculate on was how long she was staying in it.

It wasn’t very long, in fact as soon as Shin Hye changed her clothes, strapped on her sword, dagger and pouch, she grabbed her cloak and walked right out. She did not even wait to have her horse saddled but saddled Tara herself amid the protestations of Hongki. Hongki had to hurriedly saddle his horse or Shin Hye would have left without him. He was not even able to leave word for his young master, Lord Keun Suk. He knows he’s in for a hell of a scolding but he reckoned he’d be skinned alive too if he didn’t go with Shin Hye.

It was very odd for neither one of Father Simon or Sir John to not notice and to not let reach her such bizarre on goings. It just wasn’t like them. Not like them at all. So many things are troubling Shin Hye right now not the least of which is getting to the bottom of her poisoning. At the moment her priority is Hye-ya and finding Father Simon. They had barely reached the crest of the hill with an overview of the camps when Shin Hye noticed  the noticeable lack of horses tethered to the side of their tent. Where could they have gone? And, without informing me?

There was a lone horse inside the tent blocking the view as one enters but Shin Hye knows Ghee as Ghee knows her. She’s a fairly old horse but Philippa said she’s old enough for her even though she saddles and loves Ghee’s son Tyron just as much. The loyal horse stepped aside to let Shin Hye through. Shin Hye felt like her heart stopped for a moment. Father Simon was lying in one of the cots deathly pale and had he not been wheezing she’d have thought he were dead. Philippa too was lying on a cot but she wasn’t wheezing. She looks as though she were sleeping but from the way she crossed her arms around her midsection and gripping the short sword at her side Shin Hye knows she wasn’t.

“Philippa it’s me Shin Hye!” Shin Hye whispered. “What happened?”

*     *     *     *     *     *

Shin Hye’s determined not to let the downward turn of the day deter her from what she’s set out to do which is to get Hye-ya out of the east tower and out of the castle. She never thought that something so simple as attending a royal ball could have gotten them into so much trouble. Obviously an immediate change of plans is needed and the changes so far are running as she had hoped. They’re now on its last leg. She’s just giving Hye-ya enough time to melt into the forest where someone’s to meet her and take her safely away. The guards will soon be changing and she can get out of the gray woolen cloak she’s worn over her clothes so with the face veil that was also Hye-ya’s. How could Hye-ya stand the heat of this double layer of clothes, she thought.

Just when she thought things have gone smoothly in sweeps Lady Bettina in the cell. Why is she here? Does she know Hye-ya?

Lady Bettina dismissed the guard with the flick of her hand and slowly walked closer. Shin Hye was sitting on the floor atop a scattering of the only spot of clean hay within the cell so Lady Bettina towered over her as she walked in. She didn’t talk immediately, waiting for the guard to be beyond earshot but she looked down at her with such hostility. What could Hye-ya have done to deserve such consternation?

“You apparently have not inherited your mother’s luck unlike that sister of yours but worry not she will be following you soon. It’s nothing personal mind you but it’s about time that that mother of yours learns her lesson and learns it well,” the elder woman gloated. Confused, Shin Hye cocked her head on hearing what her aunt has said not wanting to talk and risk giving herself away.

“Oh I know who you are!” her aunt continued, “I know why you’re wearing that full body cloak and dear girl I know too it has nothing to do with some illness you claim is your reason.” Lady Bettina sneered.

“And to think I thought you’d be the hardest one to get my hands on to!” She sniggered. “Philippa has failed. Dreadfully! Yes! They’ve always thought I was daft you know. Let’s see who’s daft now?” Lady Bettina gloated.

Moving fast, actions belying the age of the older woman, she clutched at Shin Hye’s dark veil as though she was going to snatch it away but paused and said, “I don’t really need to see you, do I? You even have your sister’s eyes!” her lips curled up and smiled maliciously. “Better pray for your doomed soul now my dear! You don’t have much time I’m afraid,” and out the older woman marched.

Shin Hye has never been happier to have gotten Hye-ya out fast. Now to get herself out just as fast.

*     *     *     *     *     *

She was walking rapidly with her head turning occasionally behind her when she bumped onto someone’s chest. “Oh I’m terribly sorry! Excuse me!” she uttered absent-mindedly as she side stepped to continue on but was waylaid by hands that had gripped her shoulders tightly.

“Where have you been?” Keun Suk asked angrily.

“What? Oh… just around! Umm…Can we go now?” Shin Hye asked her husband, trying hard to look indifferent even with her chest heaving from running, unconsciously clutching her husband’s arms.

“Go where?” Keun Suk raised his eyebrow at this, eyes guarded as he looked behind her to see who or what she was running away from.

Unbridled, Chapter 20

20 ~ Stubborn as a Mule

Not that many people can tell for sure what Keun Suk is thinking or feeling at any one given time. He is that good in covering up his feelings or thoughts on things. Very wise really! It is true people can use your feelings against you like a weapon but the king knew Keun Suk too much and he can tell that Keun Suk was angry as the young man stood ramrod straight in the now full main hall of the castle escorting his wife. It is not very often that the king sees Keun Suk angry. Yes he knows Keun Suk has a fiery temperament which he has seen unleashed in not a few battles, but outside of it, he was the perfect example of discipline and decorum. ‘Was he mistaken in taking counsel on choosing Shin Hye for Keun Suk?’ the King wonders. Shin Hye looks docile enough. It should be easy for Keun Suk to charm and seduce his bride. She looks tired, well it was their wedding night, so it couldn’t be that, and if Keun Suk were angry with Shin Hye then why is he hovering around his bride like a hen to her newly-hatched chick? What could he be angry about? And, what’s all this nonsense about witches?

Hongki was in a worse position than the King was about an hour previously when Keun Suk’s dagger looks, angry pacing and roaring could do nothing to stop Shin Hye from getting up and saying matter-of-factly that she was coming down with him. Feeling responsible being the carrier of the news, Hongki could not make up his mind if it would be a good idea to stand between the newly married couple if a fight ensues or if it will only further incense Keun Suk. He was thankful when Shin Hye, obviously still drained from that evening’s crisis, just sat on the edge of the bed and let her husband rant.

Shin Hye understands his outburst quite well. She knows had she been in his shoes she’d be angry too. She can and she has tried going into rants. She would most probably leave the room after her outburst and locked him in. Instinctively, she knows this one she has to let blow over. She could not help but gaze at him as he was going through his tirade. She thought, ‘Poor fellow it seems I’ve been taxing his heart nonstop. Will there ever be a time when he’ll stop being angry with me?’ Then as an after thought, ‘How can he still be so handsome even with his face all tensed up like that? Shush! Where did that come from? He looks just like any other man. Well, save for his eyes. They’re like tricksters- stormy, mysterious one moment, sparkling, teasing the next. Oh he’s done ranting!’

“I would not suffer ill-being if it were of no consequence Lord Keun Suk. I have given you my word that I would tell you everything when the appropriate time comes. Right now, please trust me! This is of utmost importance!” Shin Hye softly but firmly said.

Keun Suk signaled Hongki to leave as he, standing beside the bright window, turned to face his wife. He knows none of what he’s just said registered in his wife’s head from the glimpses he’s made. It was plain to see her mind is set. She is as stubborn as a mule. What is she looking at me now for?

“Did someone just try to poison you last night? Is there something you would like to tell me?” Keun Suk asked, now studying the sitting girl.

Shin Hye had been openly admiring Keun Suk before his question registered in her mind. She had been languidly gazing at him and thinking ‘he is a handsome man, my husband. It probably wasn’t an exaggeration what Hongki said, of women falling all over themselves to get his attention. How surreal being married overnight, waking up after nearly dying and facing your angry, stunning ‘husband’ whose eyebrow is now cocked at me! Oh heavens! How long have I been staring?’ Shin Hye lowered her head and eyes just a tiny bit too fast before doing it slowly, acting as if nothing had happened.

Keun Suk caught this, just as he can see Shin Hye as she turn slightly to her side, look up and bite the insides of her lower lip obviously trying to stop herself from grinning openly. ‘Is she laughing at me?’ And then like in a bat of an eye she was all regal, stoical with her chin raised like so, her neck long and smooth. She almost died and she’s weak but here she is hiding a smile and acting like an obstinate kid with her lips pursed like that, at least its color seems more normal now. Through the night her lips had swung from deathly pale after vomiting to blood red when her fever spiked, now they’re rosy red, plump and pouting a little. Keun Suk’s brows furrowed.

‘What did he say again? Oh the poison. Well… in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man he is now my husband isn’t he? He has the right to know. What will he do if I confirm his suspicions? There is so much she needs to verify herself. Can he wait for my explanation till I can make sense of everything that has been happening?

“Yes! Someone poisoned the wine I drank last night!” Shin Hye knows this much he has deduced. “My uncle gave me my cup and your father gave you yours. I do not know who gave the goblet to my uncle! If the wine was meant for him or for me, I…!”

Shin Hye was about to continue with her vocal reflection when she noticed Keun Suk walking closer and closer to her. ‘What is he doing?’ she wondered. Keun Suk was steadily approaching her. So she paused, looked up to try and make sense of what he’s doing, instead his eyes caught hers and held it. Fascinated was she by his eyes that she just trailed off, leaving her mouth slightly opened, and her eyes flickered to his lips as he drew closer still, suddenly she could not breathe deep enough. She was filled with anticipation, wanting, needing his lips to take hers. His lips lingered barely an inch away as he stooped, reached out and lifted her, helping her to stand fluidly and effortlessly on her feet. Unknowingly, she reached out to hold on to his arms, her eyes never wavering, her head craning upward waiting. With Shin Hye standing steady, her eyes reflecting the desire he’s long been trying to fight Keun Suk bowed and claimed her lips. Claimed it like he always has from the first moment he kissed her in the forest at Sea Crest to that night in his room just before she left, passionate, aroused. Then he claimed it like a man drowning, hungry for air. His hands automatically moving to grasp and press on her back, molding her to him, tight, one hand between her shoulder blades and the other on her lower back urgent his desire barely under control. It was quite hard to imagine this was the very same man who was raving just a moment ago.

They both forgot Shin Hye’s delicate condition as Shin Hye kissed him with as much fervor as she can, matching each kiss, each bite… each caress… each tug, each probing. She tiptoed and fought for possession of his lips, his tongue, his breath. Her arms naturally wrapped themselves around Keun Suk’s neck as she strained to press herself to him, not caring nor listening to the slowly creeping darkness she was feeling, of faint approaching until the last moment when her knees gave way and she just rested her head on his neck and tried to catch her breath fighting off losing consciousness. Both of them breathing raggedly, clutching the other tight waiting for some semblance of control, of sanity.

“Please?” Shin Hye whispered hoarsely. All Keun Suk could do was nod and whisper back, “But I say when we go!” Shin Hye nodded and rested more comfortably in Keun Suk’s arms as the poor man settled with giving her neck a nuzzle and a single kiss.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The newly wed pair was walking slowly round the main hall, where the cacophony of people talking at the same time emanated, almost like a swarm of bees buzzing. They had timed if just right. They had barely reached their place beside one of the big pillars near the front of the hall, a very good place to observe people and still be partly hidden from view, when the noise abruptly died down signaling the arrival of the royal couple. They still could not see the source of the commotion but Shin Hye’s stomach was churning in anguish. All they have to go on was the news that Hongki woke them up with- of a group of men and women rounded out by some religious fanatics were to be presented to the king that morning. They are accused of witchcraft, a transgression punishable by death, by burning at a stake.

That, however, was not the only reason why Shin Hye wanted to witness the proceedings. Yes there is something odd with the accusations being timed on the eve of St. John’s feast when it has been common practice ever since she can remember of people picking herbs and medicinal plants especially on that one particular night during the whole year and Shin Hye wants to know what is going on, but more than that she wants to see the reaction of those few people in the ceremonial party when they see her up and walking, not dying or dead. If that poison was meant for her, then whoever slipped in that poison would not expect to see her or them and she wants to see their reaction first hand. Call it intuition or gut feel, she may not be able to say for sure what it is but something certainly smells fishy

Right across them was Yong Hwa, leaning on the opposing pillar, a few steps to his left but separated by the pillar so they could not have seen him unless they moved around the obstacle are her uncle and aunt, who were standing almost to the side of the accused throng, and a little behind them are Lord Eric and Lord Maxwell. Father John is nowhere in sight. Where could he be? Shin Hye turned to look behind her and saw Lord George who had a very mischievous smile plastered on his face. It was hard not to smile back. If he only knew. Shin Hye was just turning her attention back to the front of the hall when the crowd receded and they all got a full view of those being accused. Right at the front standing tall now fully cloaked, face veil back on was Hye-ya.

Unbridled, Chapter 19

19 ~ A Honey Moon

“You sound like Fr. John!” Shin Hye weakly chuckled as she replied. “No need to worry! I can go back to Tyneside! Just give me a second and I’ll be on my way!” Shin Hye mumbled. She said it so matter-of-factly that it took Keun Suk completely aback. She was serious. So odd how hearing her say that could send a searing pain through his gut. She really believes that I will let her go? And, sick at that! He stood rooted for a minute. He prided himself for being quick on his feet but not right now. He felt furious and anxious and downright confused. Brows knitted he approached the bed just as Shin Hye laboriously slid her feet off the bed and sat up like a drunk, swaying forward eyes closed, arms holding on to the bed for support.

“And what do you think you’re doing?” Keun Suk barked. Shin Hye winced at the sound and Keun Suk clenched his jaws at not being able to control his temper.

“If you help me up I can be on my way sooner!” coaxed Shin Hye even as she continued to whisper.

“Go back to bed! You’re not going anywhere!” Keun Suk ordered.

“Er no thanks! It was really Yong Hwa’s fault that got me here you know. He said His majesty would expect me to be here.” She babbled in a raspy voice as she boosted herself up to stand.

She can do this she thought, ‘though I really wish Hongki would still be at the hall when I get out. Have to move faster!’ She concentrated on walking as she tried to remember the time when she staggered home almost frozen when she went after Hye-ya, Yong Hwa and Philippa. ‘Almost lost a few toes but didn’t, right? This is just a fever. Can’t seem to remember feeling like this whenever I have a fever? My muscles ache so and I feel like am in a haze. Stupid fever! Crazy monarch! Why marry me off to this conceited handsome oaf! Quite a short marriage but hey at least Uncle Theo would stop bugging me now, right? Yup best to stay away. Off to Tyneside now!’

Then she noticed that she’s been looking down at those boots for quite sometime already. ‘Hmm… Can’t remember wearing boots! And, why are those boots facing me! Hey move! Out of my way!’ she thought. Then she followed the boots all the way up past its cloak and long robe till she stopped and stared at the lips for a second, ‘hmm… nice lips’ she thought. ‘Oooh! Nice nose too!’ as she looked higher still. Then she reached the eyes of the boot’s owner, dark eyes, almost black like coal, like a deep dark well pulling you down into its depths. But, why is it drawing away instead? Then she felt arms wrapping around her and for a second just before everything turned black she thought she was in her bed in Tyneside, a crackling fire and cozy bed warming her. “Ah am home!” she thought and she settled in, one arm embracing her pillow like she always does.

The ‘deep well’ wasn’t really moving away as she had imagined, it was Shin Hye who was falling backwards and Keun Suk was quick enough to grab her and prevent her from falling. One of Shin Hye’s hands had clutched Keun Suk’s shoulder and she snuggled closer just before she started to sag. Standing and supporting Shin Hye enveloped in his arms he could not help hold her there longer than he needed to. Having her there in his arms felt… what does it really feel like? He cannot quite explain what it was! He only knows that her smell was like a warm cloak wrapping around him and he didn’t want to let go… till he felt her hot forehead on his throat. She’s burning!

Keun Suk scooped her up, placed her on the bed and tenderly pulled on her arm to let go. Even in her sleep she was complaining, whining refusing to let go. He had to whisper to her soothingly, almost like calming down an agitated Tristan.

“Ssssh… hush now! Am not leaving! I’ll just be right here. Everything is going to be fine!”

Keun Suk turned Shin Hye on her side and proceeded to loosen the laces on her back then drew the blanket over her as he sat- back on the headboard, legs straight beside Shin Hye, his hands holding, tapping her tensely gripping ones, and impatiently waited for Hongki. Shin Hye was restless. She kept tossing and mumbling.

It was a very bewildering night for Shin Hye. She’s never been this sick with just fever. Something’s wrong! Her mind’s all muddled and she could not think straight. She felt as if she were engulfed in a thick fog and her limbs were all hard to move. She knew she had to do something even before Hongki comes with the medicine but she can’t quite remember what it was. Then she felt Bella, her knife/dagger, pressing on her side with her small leather purse. Then groping with every bit of strength she still had left she pulled out her purse, opened it and removed a small goatskin leather bag inside, like a miniature wineskin, and took a draught. Then sputtering what sounded like a train of Italian curses under her breath, if the much surprised Keun Suk were not mistaken, her face screwing up and turning plum red from the bitter, distasteful medicine she squeaked “Window hurry! Vomit!”

Shin Hye heaved out everything in her stomach in a matter of minutes with Keun Suk supporting her weight, gripping her waist tight. She turned deathly pale when she was done throwing up, her nose, upper lip and forehead gracing not a few beads of sweat from the exertion, her limbs limp but her skin remained burning hot.

“I’m summoning the royal physician,” a much disturbed and worried Keun Suk curtly said as he laid her back onto the bed, but Shin Hye held onto his hand tight and wouldn’t let go. He can only imagine the effort she must have put to hold him like that. Looking at her, seeing her so pallid, and not being able to do anything about it he felt his anger seething, welling up.

“Tell no one, please?” Shin Hye requested and seeing Keun Suk’s puzzled eyes, “I will explain later okay? Save for Yonghwa and Hongki let no one know or see me, okay? Please?” Shin Hye softly pleaded with Keun Suk, through heavy lidded eyes.

“I mustn’t sleep… need to take medicine! Promise to make me take the medicine Hongki is bringing! Promise… me!” she urgently whispered.

“I promise!” was the last, distinct thing Shin Hye heard Keun Suk say before she blacked out again. All through the night she drifted in and out of consciousness. Remembering only bits and pieces- of being propped up and made to drink some brew, what she remembers most though was the soothing voice and warm arms of Keun Suk prodding her awake to take the medicine. She didn’t hear or see Keun Suk and Hongki fighting against each other, with just about everything from how to sit her up, make her drink, to whose going to hold Shin Hye, nor did she hear them when they fought for her life, when they couldn’t get her to open her mouth during the first dose or how to make her swallow. Keun Suk wouldn’t let Hongki assist him. He wouldn’t let him touch his wife. It took some time for Hongki to understand Keun Suk’s reticence. Keun Suk is a man of action and ministering to his wife was the only way for him to feel useful. It also helped quell his agitation and the storm of questions brewing in his mind.

It was near dawn when Shin Hye’s fever broke, her sweat soaking through her gown, kicking the covers off her and flinging Keun Suk’s arms away even in her sleep, she was moaning and pulling on her gown when Keun Suk calmed her down. Hongki placed Shin Hye’s change of clothes by the foot of the bed and a small basin with a warm damp washcloth and towel on to the table beside the bed.

“I’ll be outside of the door if you need me!” Hongki said and walked towards the door but paused and quipped, “You do know that you have to wipe her dry after the…” but abruptly stopped in midsentence upon seeing Keun Suk’s raised eyebrow.

Keun Suk became occupied in undressing, wiping, drying off and dressing Shin Hye save for a second or two as he was taking off her inner tunic and was distracted at seeing the pink crowns of her breasts again. It transported him to that night when he first laid eyes on them but he was immediately shaken back into reality by Shin Hye shivering from the exposure. He didn’t see anything after that, so absorbed was he in changing her into dry clothes and making her comfortable.

Keun Suk stood up and opened a few windows to let fresher air in when he heard a ruckus a bit way off. Maybe some boisterous revelers he thought, but never the type to take things for granted, he went out to talk to Hongki. Then he went back to bed by Shin Hye’s side, made her drink the last of the brew Hongki made, and as he lay down he scooped Shin Hye’s head and laid it on his shoulder. Shin Hye, accustomed to such position, turned fully on her side facing Keun Suk, laid her leg over his thigh, cuddled closer and hugged him. Keun Suk, despite the long night and the increasing disturbance outside, for the first time in quite a long time, effortlessly went to sleep thinking how right everything was. He didn’t even have the time to question how that can be so, he just knows it is so.

Hongki knocked softly, opened the door and peeped in. Seeing the two sleeping peacefully he thought they could afford an hour or two of sleep before he has to wake them up to some strange, disturbing development. They would probably chew his butt off for not telling them immediately but they would need their strength and wits for this one.

‘Boy what a honey moon!” Hongki muttered.

Unbridled, Chapter 18

18 ~ A Summer Solstice Wedding

“The celebration of Midsummer’s Eve (St. John’s Eve among Christians) was from ancient times a festival of the summer solstice. Some people believed that golden-flowered mid-summer plants, especially Calendula, and St. John’s Wort, had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other powerful beings.”

Like any other midsummer’s eve the air was filled with the sweetest smell of flowers in full bloom. Like any other midsummer’s night it was filled with the vibrant feel and aroma of the earth in full splendor with trees so green, flowers flaunting their riots of colors and scents, berries and fruits at their plumpest, biggest and sweetest and, though the revelry became Saint John’s eve with the arrival of Christianity the merriment and practices were rooted in old pagan origins, not a few still believe that it is at this time too that mere mortals may see faeries dance and celebrate and are at their naughtiest too. It is the point when nature’s full display and abundance is at its peak.

It is also a night of herbs, a night when herbs and flowers gathered are believed to be at their most potent. Herbs used for protection, wisdom, luck, wealth, rich harvest for some but for healing, fertility, cleansing and general well-being for others. It is around this time too when hives are the richest with honey, which when gathered and fermented turns into mead, drank during wedding parties and thus came the root of Midsummer moon’s other name Honey Moon. And mead, rumored to be an aphrodisiac, flowed freely that night. There was to be no drinking for the party inside the antechamber though. Not yet anyway.

“Lord Keun Suk take Prince Yong Hwa’s place if you will please!” the King ordered. All eyes turned to Keun Suk in surprise, even Keun Suk was surprised at why people were looking at him, immersed in thoughts no one can really guess.

“Your Majesty?” was all Keun Su can utter after it dawned on him at what the King has just ordered him to do.

“Yes Keun Suk! You! George my old friend you’re going to have to get stronger if you want to play with your grandchildren now, won’t you? It’s about time those shameless ladies stop throwing themselves at your feet Keun Suk!” the King paused. “What are you standing there for lad? Move and take your place!” the King barked but one can’t deny the mirth evident in his eyes. Keun Suk looked at his father, who looked right back at him as though to say, “What?!”

“George shouldn’t you be moving too?” the King asked.

Shin Hye started getting dizzy as the King began giving orders. She was relieved it wasn’t Yong Hwa but her heart raced realizing that the man she was going to marry was indeed the young Lord Keun Suk. Suddenly the fatigue and chill she had felt before entering the ballroom was back. Keun Suk after the momentary shock did follow as instructed but the irritation on his face was quite evident. Shin Hye couldn’t bear to look at him after that. Maybe she should have continued looking at him for as he took those last three steps just before he stood right beside her because even though Keun Suk bowed his head to hide it, amusement played on his lips and only Yong Hwa and Shin Hye could have seen it. Well Shin hye didn’t but Yong Hwa did.

This took Yong Hwa aback. Yes, he has made an arrangement with his father but he was willing to break it and marry Shin Hye if his father had chosen either of the two lecherous Lords, Eric or Maxwell. He knows Shin Hye will kill him first if he did that but Hye-ya will never forgive him. Keun Suk was a different matter. What could have gone through his father’s head to choose Keun Suk and why the instantaneous wedding? Hadn’t the King been saying that it’s better to keep Keun Suk unattached to make life in the kingdom more interesting? Yong Hwa knows his father loves Keun Suk almost like he was his own son and has told him so during those rare times they get to talk. He also said that Keun Suk just needs to meet his match. Now that he thinks about it, he agrees with his father that Shin Hye is Keun Suk’s equal in almost every way- wit, skills, good looks, and cunning. Still. Yong Hwa can’t help wondering, “is there something that his father knows about Shin Hye and Keun Suk that he doesn’t?” Then seeing that grin on Keun Suk’s face… “Was he the man at the ridge that morning? Could the two have known each other before the ball?”

Keun Suk obediently followed orders and stood beside the kneeling Shin Hye. Lord George walking right after his son stood two steps behind Keun Suk with the blankest expression he could muster. Lord Theo and Lady Bettina stood ramrod stiff and not pleased at all. The Queen motioned Shin Hye to stand as she nodded at Father John to commence the ceremony.  The rites didn’t take much time and soon they were all back in the grand ballroom and being introduced as Lord Keun Suk and Lady Shin Hye of Sea Crest, North Shields and Tyneside. Not a few ladies gasped and whimpered at hearing the announcement. Shin Hye now the center of attention not only got dagger looks but quite a number of admiring glances and a few licentious stares from the men. Not one of this escaped Keun Suk’s alert eyes and soon the two were given the floor to themselves.

At an age when marriages were almost always arranged the two didn’t look anything like the two disinterested parties the audience were expecting. Their little mannerisms and hand placements were saying otherwise. Keun Suk held Shin Hye almost possessively and Shin Hye not at all experienced in the minutiae of graces of dancing had let Keun Suk lead and felt perfectly at ease in his arms. To the crowd observing them they looked like a very much in love couple. Her fever, which earlier had only threatened but was now getting full-blown, helped her glide through the dance. She thought as long as someone held her she’d be alright. She felt like she was floating anyway. Other than making sure she does not faint or fall and kept the polite half-smile on her face Shin Hye thought of nothing else, if that’s any indicator of how high her fever has gotten and how determined she can be when her mind is set. Her cheeks were flushed; Keun Suk thought she was just excited with the turn of events.

Further stamping the King’s high regard for Keun Suk and his approval of their union, the King cut in on their dance then Lord George came, then her uncle. It wasn’t until Yong Hwa, knowing Shin Hye more than anyone there, noticed his friend being too er.. ‘pliant’ that he decided to ‘rescue’ her. Not before she saw her ‘husband’ dancing with the same lady who had draped herself all over him earlier and she clinging brazenly for all to see. Yong Hwa followed the direction of Shin Hye’s eyes and understood.

“I will talk to you later about her but for now I think you better rest. They’ve probably made arrangements for you to stay at Keun Suk’s chambers. I know there is much explaining that I need to do Shin Hye but now is not the time. I am going to Hye-ya now. Let me get Keun Suk for you!” Yong Hwa volunteered.

“No! No please! Can I just rest my head for a short while Yong Hwa?” Shin Hye looked up at Yong Hwa pleading. How can he not let her he thought when he can see all too clearly the distress his friend is going through? So he let her lean her forehead on his shoulder as he held her waist, ready to grab her if she fainted. It was actually Keun Suk’s dance partner who first caught sight of this and called Keun Suk’s attention. It was no longer than a breath or two then Yong Hwa and Shin Hye separated but it was enough to have Keun Suk’s jaws set.

“Yong Hwa I don’t want to cause too much of a stir than I already have, but I don’t think I can stay on my feet much longer. Can’t you take me to his chambers then, if that is where I must go and then inform him where I am? I have to make my excuses to His and Her Royal Highnesses. Please?” Shin Hye whispered.

Why? Oh why didn’t she listen to her aunt? Hye-ya gets the sneezes while she gets the fevers. In a way Hye-ya’s face veil has helped protect her from the pollens of the plants she was hypersensitive too but Shin Hye’s odd ailment of catching a fever if she took cold evening baths and left her hair wet for longer than an hour after washing was a little harder to explain. It was just so. And tonight even on the eve of the Summer Solstice, that pool of water was certainly cold and they couldn’t dry her hair as much as they needed to before styling it for the ball.

As quietly as they could summon, Yong Hwa and Shin Hye slipped out of the ballroom. Yong Hwa’s hand firmly on Shin Hye’s back guided her through the corridors of the palace then on the last flight of stairs they had to take, seeing nobody loitering about Yong Hwa picked up his weak friend and carried her up to the landing above to Keun Suk’s chamber. He was relieved to see Keun Suk’s squire, Hongki, who ran towards them and was about to take the slightly shivering Shin Hye away from him. Refusing to let Shin Hye go Yong Hwa ordered him to open the door to his master’s chamber and stir up the fire to warm Shin Hye up instead. Yong Hwa gently laid Shin Hye on the bed, sat and drew the covers over her. Yong Hwa not wanting to leave Shin Hye all by herself was about to order the squire to look for his master when Keun Suk barreled in, and in quite a fit at that.

“I know this is your palace Prince Yong Hwa but I didn’t know you can just burst into anybody’s chamber as you please?” Keun Suk bellowed. For all the force behind his voice he did not even surprise the two men who were more concerned over something else.

“Good you’re here! I’ll get the royal physician!” Yong Hwa calmly said, ignoring Keun Suk’s anger.

“No!” croaked Shin Hye. “I’ll be alright! Hye-ya! She’s in danger! Find her Yong!” Shin Hye whispered.

Keun Suk, furious, could not at that moment think beyond the fact that he saw his wife, of just a little more than an hour, not just let a man hold her but has let herself be swept up and carried in that man’s arms too. Hearing her call him with his pet name only added fuel to his anger. It may have started when Lady Agnatha taunted him but he let his anger cloud his reason. Anger does that. It makes people momentarily blind and deaf to everything else, save for what one thought one saw, what one thought one heard.

Yong Hwa abruptly stood up when Shin Hye said Hye-ya was in danger. He knew since they were young that the two, Shin Hye and Hye-ya, have this special affinity, odd to some but quite natural for the two to sense how the other is. He would have fled and left Keun Suk stewing in quiet rage but he couldn’t for Shin Hye’s sake, so stooping low Yong Hwa held and tapped Shin Hye’s hand to reassure her and on his way to the door Yong Hwa simply said, “Touch her! Shin Hye deserves someone better than the two of us combined!” Then glaring at Keun Suk as he passed him, he ran out of the room and almost flew down the steps focused only in finding Hye-ya.

Yong Hwa’s statement dropped Keun Suk right back to reality. Keun Suk has always wondered if it was arrogance that Yong Hwa was masking with his aloofness but he obviously cares for Shin Hye, more so for this Hye-ya they were talking about. This made him turn and become finally aware of Shin Hye. Hongki by then was crouching by the bed whispering with Shin Hye. Keun Suk could not make up his mind if he ought to be angry with Hongki too.

Hongki nodded at Shin Hye and turning to his master bowed and said, “Lord Keun Suk if you will permit me Sire I would like to go now and get the herbs needed for Lady Shin Hye’s medicine Sire. I promise to hurry right back to assist you and her lady Sire!”

“Of course! Go!” Keun Suk growled. Am I that unreasonable that Hongki’d act as that I would not let him go, Keun Suk thought. Then turning to the person that has turned his evening, his life upside down he said, “What am I to do with you, wife?”

Unbridled, Chapter 17

17 ~ The Inevitable

Shin Hye and Yong Hwa entered with apprehension the antechamber where they were led to. They had just got back in the ballroom after talking in the garden when they were summoned. Shin Hye thought it was all surreal, and the evening has barely just begun. She and Hye-ya has had a niggling feeling of something about to happen, haven’t they? So why is she still so surprised when nine out of ten they’ve always gotten their hunches right? She knows why actually. She was dreading the inevitable and she has come with as much gumption as she can dare muster along with the prayers she’s offered for that night and for her guardian angel not to desert her.

The first thing that Shin Hye saw when she entered was the pair of giant antlers above the fireplace and her mouth instantly gaped in awe. She almost forgot that she was having an audience with the king. And, the queen was there too. Though she had her eyes trained in the direction of the king and the queen and is walking demurely her admiring glances at the antler did not go unnoticed. Yong Hwa seeing Shin Hye’s awed expression smiled broadly and walked slowly so as to give her time to catch up. Her uncle and aunt were looking sternly at her, probably anxious of the impression Shin Hye would be making on the king. Had they bothered to look at the king they wouldn’t have worried. The king was talking to Keun Suk when they stepped in but soon lost all train of their talk as he looked at the young lady behind his son.

‘Well, well, well my boy sure knows how to pick his ladies I see!’ was the king’s first thought. Then as he saw her look above his head, drop her jaw and hurriedly righted herself, he found himself trying to hide an amused smile. The queen, ever conscious of decorum, sat stoically but Yong Hwa knew his mother and the tilting of her head and dip of her nose though to other people may seem as though she were looking at Shin Hye like a hawk, Yong Hwa knows those warm brown eyes were smiling in approval. There was one other pair of laughing eyes in the room, Lord George’s, but Shin Hye only had eyes for the antler and didn’t see that he was even there. The rest were swinging between amusement and admiration, save for one, Keun Suk. Keun Suk was indifferent. His mask was on full display.

They stopped quite a distance in front of the king and queen and waited for a signal from them to come forward. The king tipped then nodded his head and the two walked closer, then ten feet from the throne they stopped again. Yong Hwa bowed as Shin Hye bowed and curtsied. Seeing no other royalty around to bow and curtsy to the two approached the kneeling cushion, bowed once more and knelt before the king and the queen. Shin Hye’s eyes modestly gazing at the floor could not help snatch glances at the spears and shields on the wall too as the King let Yong Hwa do the proper introductions.

“Your Highness! Sire, Madam may I introduce Shin Hye, lady Amina of Tyneside.” Yong Hwa said in a loud voice. She managed to smile in acknowledgement to this.

“Your Royal Highness! It is a great honor and pleasure to be invited to the ball Sire, Madam! My parents send their appreciation and apologies for not being able to come!” Shin Hye said.

“What do you think of my collection young lady?” the King, too curious and never one to mince words, went straight and asked.

“They are quite magnificent your Highness!” Shin Hye answered softly, not wishing them to notice her hoarse voice.

“My elk antler’s quite splendid don’t you think?” King continued. Shin Hye gradually raised her gaze to see the King’s face, as if to check if she had mistakenly heard him. She looked down again, then she glanced to the men on the sides to see their reaction. That’s when she saw Lord George, gave him a fleeting smile and mulled if she should correct the king or not. ‘Is the King testing me?’ Shin Hye wondered.

“The antlers are indeed splendid, Sire!” Shin Hye answered steadily. The king raised a brow.

“You don’t believe they’re an elk’s?” the King questioned Shin Hye, sounding quite intimidating.

“Sire I am but an ignorant country girl and am nowhere near as proficient in hunting as your Royal Highness is. I must therefore defer to thee for reference!” Shin Hye said slowly. The King turned a little to his right but remained staring steadily at the seemingly calm girl.

“But if I may be allowed to speak of what little I know Sire…”

“Yes go on ahead!”

“In your vast woods at my home in Tyneside Sire, antlers, though so much smaller than those, would come from a hart! A great, majestic red deer buck!” Shin Hye’s voice ended in a whisper while looking on at the gigantic antler, openly admiring it. And, as though to confirm the King’s estimation, Shin Hye unable to contain her curiosity, excitedly blurted, “How many points Sire?” totally breaking the protocol of just answering and never asking unless ordered to.

“Oh! I’m so sorry for my audacity Sire!” Shin Hye blushed, embarrassed. The king looked on mighty proud and more convinced now that the wee young lady in front of him is anything but ignorant, well at least in matters pertaining to deers and elks. The king stood up and made a signal for the two to stand then motioned Yong Hwa for the two of them to move nearer, giving Shin Hye a closer look of the antlers.

“It’s 60 points!” the king said proud of his most prized collection. “How did you know they’re hart?” wanting to further test Shin Hye.

“The most obvious one Sire would be the number of tines it has. It’s highly uncommon for an elk’s antler to grow extra points than the possible 18 and it grows up, out and backward like a windswept tree while the red deer’s grow up and inward Sire, and are like rough tree bark. Is that, er…” Shin Hye stammered as she realized she was about to make a repeat of her mistake and just let her voice taper.

“You may speak and ask as you please!” the king said enthused by the evident interest Shin Hye has of the antlers. Shin Hye felt self-conscious but politely asked, “Is that the spear you used to vanquish him Sire?” Shin Hye pointed to the broken spear lying casually on the mantle above the fireplace. The king nodded in agreement and noticed how she looks and speaks of the deer and the spear with equal reverence. She could follow other people in laying on the flattery thick instead without meaning to she has shown her respect for the victor in a more indirect and honest way.

“It must still hurt Sire!” Shin Hye said a little concerned.

“Hurt?” the king replied puzzled.

“Yes Sire, hurt! Your shoulder must still hurt. It must be a big hart that one, cannot be less than 30 stones, maybe more, 35?” Shin Hye stated.

Unable to resist the queen interjected, “It is well known that your mother is quite a gifted healer!”

“Nothing extraordinary Your Highness! Thy royal doctor has to be better but yes she is a healer. We rely on herbal medicines Madam!” Shin Hye politely answered.

“Maybe so. Well the king after all is as strong as the last bear which almost devoured him.” The queen teasingly chided her husband for his fondness of the very dangerous sport of hunting. Then in a low voice she whispered to Shin Hye, “Still would not hurt to try other remedies don’t you agree?”

Shin Hye smiled then as though she heard incorrectly she croaked, “Bear?” and she turned around the room to look at its walls for a sign of the bear’s hide in anticipation.

The proud smile on the King’s was hard to miss.

Keun Suk had to step in or the three would be bantering like there was no ball or some matter to be discussed so he cleared his throat and said, “Sire?”

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“Ah… thank you Keun Suk!” the King said. It took a minute or two before they resumed their initial position, Shin Hye and Yong Hwa kneeling, sitting.

“You do know why you’re here, don’t you Shin Hye?” the king started.

“I guess… I do Your Royal Highness!” Shin Hye answered.

“You seem to know my son. What do you think of Prince Yong Hwa here?” the king continued.

“He’s like a real brother to me Your Highness and right now, other than wanting to break both his legs,” Shin Hye muttered this middle part of her reply thinking that only Yong Hwa can hear her but the royal couple heard it too as did Keun Suk and Lord George. All three men, Yong Hwa included, stifled their smirks except for the king who openly grinned and the queen raised a brow. “…I would like him to be honest with himself and be the good man that I believe he is.”

“A brother? You don’t see him as a… er… delectable husband material?” the king sounded as though he were teasing.

Do kings tease, Shin Hye wondered but nevertheless she felt a lump in her throat. Shin Hye swallowed hard, dropped her gaze and, remembering Hye-ya, willed herself not to cry. She has been churning possible scenarios in her mind with their discovery of Yong Hwa’s true identity as she waved at Hye-ya laden in the carriage driving away and walked towards the castle’s grand ballroom. Now the scenario that she has been convinced will never happen seems to be unfolding before her very eyes. “Oh God! Not Yong Hwa please!” she prayed.

If she said no she would insulting the royal couple. Yong Hwa is still their son, their third son and a known rebel, still he’s their son. If she said yes, she’d be opening herself to the possibility of marrying Yong Hwa right? She cannot let that happen. She could not live with herself knowing she’d be breaking Hye-ya’s heart even if its already breaking now from Yong Hwa’s deception. Still she cannot remain silent. She glanced at Yong Hwa, then down at her clasped hands and whispered, “Hye-ya?” Yong Hwa merely bowed when he heard Hye’ya’s name.

“Yes Your Highness! Yong Hwa is like a brother to me but you are infinitely wiser than I Sire and I am but a humble subject.” Resignation and sadness dripped in her every word.

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Keun Suk hadn’t gotten the full effect of seeing Shin Hye all made up until she and Yong Hwa were kneeling in front of the king. He caught himself holding his breath looking at her. Her skin glowed rosy in the bright flood of light from the torches and candlelight. She looks very beautiful. He couldn’t quite decide when she’s the most beautiful. She was beautiful too when she was angry glaring at him back at Sea Crest, loveliest too riding without care, then he remembered how she looked like gazing up at him tensed and self-conscious naked, mouth slightly open in anticipation. He had to take a moment to shake his thoughts right again. He looked on as the king quizzed her. She looked healthy, flushed but it could just be meeting the king for the first time, though somehow that didn’t sound quite like Shin Hye. He knows Shin Hye can stand up to anyone without reservations. What’s wrong with him? Why can’t he shake the feeling that something doesn’t fit? He must be imagining things. Wait! What did she just say? What has just happened?

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“Your Royal Highness! May I have a word with you Sire!” Yong Hwa begged. The king looked at his son hard before nodding and making him move closer. The king’s face wasn’t too pleased with whatever Yong Hwa was telling him and whispered something back before gesturing for Yong Hwa  to return to where he was kneeling, sitting.

“Well it’s the eve of St. John’s feast and it seems such a waste to let the night go by without a wedding ey? It is a night of blessings after all.” The king said aloud.

“You said any man of my choosing, didn’t you say Lord Theo? You treat this fine lady poorly Lord Theo. She needs a match fitting for her beauty and wit and I have just the right man for her!” the king declared proudly.

Everyone tensed up as the king said this. Shin Hye looked at Yong Hwa hoping for reassurance but it was of no help as Yong Hwa can only mouth “I tried! I’m sorry!” and looked straight at his father, the king.

“But Hye-ya!” Shin Hye whispered. Then she looked up and met Keun Suk’s blank stare and for a fleeting second she thought she saw anger then it’s gone.

“Father John seeing it’ll take too much time to call and have His eminence, the archbishop officiate the wedding why don’t you come and do us the honor.” The king said and beckoned the shocked priest to stand at his front.

“Prince Yong Hwa, I will hold you to your word. You may stay on seeing that you’re friends with Lady Amina er.. Lady Shin Hye here!”

There was a faint disturbance at this from what few people there were in the chamber. Lord Theo and Lady Bettina looked disappointed. They probably thought Shin Hye had caught the young prince but Lord Eric and Lord Maxwell beside them seem to be preening like two peacocks- heads held high, backs straight and proud. Who between the two would the King choose?

Unbridled, Chapter 16

16 ~ The Ball

It has been awhile since the palace has had a celebration, what with the small pockets of conflict or skirmishes springing randomly everywhere. Peace seemed relative. Until recently. So the kingdom has been itching for a good cause to celebrate and what better occasion is there for that than the eve of the summer solstice. They almost forgot about it till that afternoon, Hye-ya and her, no wonder the market was brimming with produce on sale.

It was the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist and men, women and children were walking towards the church with candles and other lights. Some would be staying on to pray all night long while others would be joining the revelry at the town square with bonfires lit, roaring, waiting to meet the rising sun, people singing and dancing. Good thing she wasn’t that late for the procession. Good thing too Hongki was with her as they walked towards the church with their candles flickering in the soft evening breeze. She had two mantles on but was still feeling cold and slightly unsteady on her feet. She must’ve overexerted herself this afternoon plus falling in the very cold pool. It’s just fatigue, she thought. She’s never been sick a day in her life, save for that time she ran after Hye-ya, not one day that she can remember anyway. She wore her worn woolen mantle over the more opulent velvet one her mother made. Her hair, braided, was still damp underneath her veil.

After paying homage and praying, Shin Hye had Hongki go on ahead of her, knowing he had duties to attend to, and waited inside her carriage. Shin Hye sat in the shadows, quite hidden from passersby with the curtains drawn, the lamps and torches bright at the palace grounds outside. She was thankful for the sheerness of the curtains allowing her to see through to the people loitering outside or passing by as she alternately rubbed her arms and massaged her temple, patience never being one of her virtues. She has to think of something else to keep her occupied or she might fall asleep what with the way she’s feeling at the moment. After all she does have a long wait ahead of her. Then she saw Hye-ya running towards the carriage. She drew the curtain to make sure it was Hye-ya then she hurriedly turned around to the other side where her horseman and footman were chatting hoping they wouldn’t notice Hye-ya get in. It’s still too early for Hye-ya to be going out. They agreed to wait for the stroke of the church’s bells at nine, haven’t they? Could there be trouble?

*     *     *     *     *

Hye-ya didn’t think Shin Hye’s plan would work but it seems to be going just fine. Shin Hye’s aunt is busy chatting with her lady friends across the huge ballroom. Ah the great ballroom is just part of the big wonders of the evening and it was grand. Wide pillars surround it, torches and candles on chandeliers and sconces were everywhere. What amused her much though were the people and how they looked at her and smiled, bowed or gazed and some, this one from a few men in attendance were shall we say ‘lusty’ and it was hard for her not to raise her brows in bemusement at their gall more than in anger at it. She was so used to either looks of intense curiosity to the saddest reaction of being ignored and treated like a nonentity. She was filled with such foreboding but she still listened to Shin Hye- she took off her face veil even before entering the thick high walls of the palace. This night in a way is her debut right? And Shin Hye hasn’t seen her yet. She wants Shin Hye to see her and be proud.

Hye-ya thought if she kept to the shadows of the great pillars nobody would take notice of her but her beauty is not the kind that can grace a wall and be forgotten. Her beauty like Shin Hye’s is the kind the shines and draws people to look. Someone with a face like hers should know how difficult that would be but Hye-ya didn’t know that. Even as she maintained a slow steady amble behind the pillars she finds men drawn to her. It was only her kind smile and her pace that deterred them. She moved as if she was looking for somebody. She was only able to stop at one pillar whose other side had some kind of commotion. The people around her seem to be craning their necks towards the clump of ladies on the other side. “Ah at last” she thought.

Hye-ya was about to move again when she heard a very familiar voice. She stopped during mid-step and moved back instead. She could not be mistaken she deliberated. Or could she? Her heart was beating so loudly it seemed as if it was drumming in her ears. She grasped her fingers and bit her lower lip as she was wont to when she’s worried over something. She leaned on the pillar and listened some more. She knows that voice, knows it very well, as well as she knows her own. How can he be here? Only noble born are invited right? What about her? She’s… she could not think about that now. She has to know if it really is him. She found herself holding her breath as she emerged from the shadow of the pillar. She didn’t have to crane her neck to see really. In the middle of the clump of women, his head partly jotting out was Yong Hwa.

“Yong Hwa!” Hye-ya could not stop herself from uttering. It was nothing above a whisper to her but to ears whose sole music is the sound of her voice it was enough.

“Hye-ya?” Yong Hwa answered. He turned to Hye-ya’s direction and for a split second Hye-ya stood frozen then she turned too. She turned… away from Yong Hwa’s view.

Yong Hwa’s line of sight was blocked by bobbing head-dresses. He did not know exactly where to look and lost the split second where he could have seen Hye-ya, her face uncovered and beautiful for him to see. All he saw was the abrupt swing of a lady’s head-dress. This time it was Yong Hwa who stood rooted.

“How…?” he thought. Then without further contemplation he ran after the moving head-dress. Well that was what he wanted to do but failed miserably. The moving girl wasn’t helping any, calling the attention of the ladies she passes to his presence. Pretty soon there was too many blocking his path to move.

Hye-ya was too anxious to think and just went straight for the door. She has to get out of here she kept telling herself. Shin Hye will know what to do but she must get as far away from here as she can. She can’t help feel betrayed even without knowing all the facts. Shin Hye please be there already, Hye-ya muttered under her breath.

*     *    *    *    *

Keun Suk was a short ways behind Shin Hye’s aunt and uncle when he noticed the disturbance across the ballroom. He saw Yong Hwa amidst a cluster of fawning ladies and was about to think nothing of it when he noticed that Yong Hwa seem to be straining away from his admirers and looking at something or someone. That’s when he noticed the fleeing girl in midnight blue. He had to do a double take. “Was that Shin Hye?” He was taken aback. Yes he has been thinking of her even when he has tried so hard to brush all thoughts of her aside. ‘Could I possibly miss that troublesome girl enough to imagine seeing her?’ He did not get a better view and had dismissed it from his thoughts. He has a duty to accomplish, has he not- to learn as much details of the couple in front of him and their niece?

“Good evening Lord Theo! Lady Bettina!” Keun Suk bowed in greeting. Lady Bettina’s eyes glittered and Lord Theo raised a brow. Keun Suk merely smiled and Lady Bettina chattered as though there was no tomorrow. Of course he had to filter through most of what she said but it would be enough to verify or disprove the information he has gathered so far. As always keeping his eyes on the ballroom and his surroundings albeit disguised in lazy disinterest he saw how Yong Hwa had steadily walked towards the main entrance hall and ran as soon as he extricated himself from the last of his clinging admirers. He could not possibly be running after that girl, could he? Keun Suk pondered.

It took a good while before Yong Hwa came back escorting the young lady in midnight blue in, walking her towards the dance floor amongst the throng of dancing couples and turning to face her, he bowed, held her hand and waist and led her to a dance. They look quite a fetching pair and people gave them ample space to dance. Those on their periphery couldn’t help but stare at the couple as they glided gracefully to the music. Keun Suk did not need to take a second look this time. His heart raced as he saw her walk in with Yong Hwa. These two knew each other very well that was easy to deduce gauging from the familiarity of their gestures. He too is familiar with the elegant young girl. Ah so he didn’t imagine her after all, did he? He knows that back, that chin, those lips too well, and it’s saying she’s tense and… ‘angry?’ but trying her best to be… ‘docile’?

‘What are you doing here Shin Hye… Mina? Is it possible? Could she be…?’ Keun Suk’s brows furrowed fleetingly as he wondered.

*     *     *     *     *

Yong Hwa was running after her as she was poised to enter the massive doors and joined her, and so Shin Hye made her grand entrance into the impressive ballroom with Yong Hwa in attendance. There were so many questions she wanted to ask her friend and all them no less blunt than the other. She couldn’t talk actually, not knowing where to start. Oblivious to the stares and glances they were getting, immersed in their own thoughts, Shin Hye and Yong Hwa walked towards the dance floor, the only refuge it seems from the people drawing closer to them. Yong Hwa immune to Shin Hye’s beauty thought nothing of the men stealing glances at her as they walked by.

Where all other girls were wearing bright shades of varying color in silk and luxuriant velvet, Shin Hye was wearing a gown of the softest brocade of midnight blue. Its bodice was snugly fitted and laced at the front, still according to Shin Hye’s wishes and against the norm of their time but cleverly concealed by ornaments of intricate lace. At her waist and hips were silver embroidered ribbons or girdles holding the full outer skirt in place with the hip girdle extending all the way to the hem of the skirt. Her sleeves tight, reached to her wrists and on its round scooped neck were dainty, frilly blue black laces. Her outer garment with a deeper shade of blue hung loosely to her knees and had oversleeves flowing from her elbow. It was clasped at the front with a round silver brooch, crafted in such a way that it looked like the full moon clasped above a bigger deep crescent moon. On her head was a veil of lace that matched the dark blue of her outer garment and fell almost to her feet, bound by a band of small silver discs. All of it highlighting her clear, fine porcelain skin and pink-red lips bereft of rouges or artificial coloring, drawing attention to her small face and big brown eyes. She had no further need of big sparkling jewels to adorn herself like most of the ladies at the ball, her simple elegant demeanor was like a whiff of fresh air and it was more than enough.

“What happened?” was all Shin Hye can say to Yong Hwa, unmindful too of the attention they were getting.

They were talking and Yong Hwa was apologizing for something that much Keun Suk can tell from afar, as he finds himself unconsciously walking towards them. ‘Are they lovers?’ was the first question that came to his mind. This thought made a dose of pure liquid bile rise up his throat. Was she jealous of the girls monopolizing Yong Hwa? Is she a member of the nobility? Or did Yong Hwa drag her from God knows where he disappears to several months in a year, making him more a stranger than resident to the palace he belongs to?

Shin Hye caught a glimpse of Keun Suk as he was drawing nearer but he had his head slightly turned to a woman who caressing his arm, smiling alluringly at him as she stopped dancing to talk with Keun Suk. She saw Keun Suk take the woman’s hand, squeeze it a little and kiss it, his eyes totally glued on the scarlet garbed woman’s face. Shin Hye took a sudden intake of breath and she did not even hear what Yong Hwa was last saying. Keun Suk smiled at the woman then bowed and continued walking in their direction. Shin Hye had to tear her eyes off him. She looked at Yong Hwa and said something.

“Are you okay Shin Hye?” Yong Hwa bent his head closer to hear what Shin Hye was saying. “Your hand is hot!”

“I am thirsty!” was all Shin Hye could manage to repeat and say in a hoarse voice. She could not get her voice above a whisper no matter how she tried and she was feeling colder now without her mantle. She had her face upturned towards Yong Hwa, eyes pleading. This was the sight that slowed Keun Suk’s approach. He looked at the two as Yong Hwa leaned his forehead on Shin Hye’s forehead. He saw Yong Hwa abruptly straighten and cup both of Shin Hye’s cheeks with his hands then wrapping an arm around her back led her away from the dance floor. Keun Suk felt his temper rising, for what reason he knows not, only that he wants to hit something or someone… soon!

15 ~ Umbrella

“Here” Shin Hye said as she handed Yong Hwa the microphone which was lying on the couch in front of the huge TV. The four were at Keun Suk’s family game/music/TV room. It was a relatively decent-sized room with enough space for the billiard table on one end, the huge LED-LCD HDTV on the other, a small mini bar conveniently nestled in one corner and a couple of modular sofas which were now positioned back to back. the sofas were movable so they can be turn when more people want to watch what’s on TV or pushed to the sides so they can have a dance floor for small parties. Keun Suk’s state-of-the-art sound system is all organized on portions of the room’s two walls and a corner, so he had what looks like an open type music booth. The room’s sound proofed and, though the floor under and around the billiard table was fully carpeted, the big space in front of the TV and the booth was made of slip resistant vinyl for dancing.

They were playing billiards in teams like they always do on the rare, and lately even rarer, times when all four would get to meet. There on the side table were chips, dips, nuts, an ashtray half-filled with cigarette butts and ashes, and their drinks- beer for Yong Hwa and Shin Hye, something harder, vodka and orange, for Keun Suk and Hongki. Hongki and Shin Hye were on one team which was really awkward as Hongki hardly talked to Shin Hye and not just from the start of the game but from the time Hongki came in. He was the last one to arrive and he just looked at Shin Hye when he came in but hugged and tapped the backs of the other two. Where the two, Hongki and Shin Hye, would usually arrive together with their arms around each others shoulders laughing at some joke or if one came ahead of the other, their usual greeting of a hug and a kiss and endless teasing was a given, the solemn entrance was almost ‘unnerving’ that the two- Keun Suk and Yong Hwa, couldn’t help but look at each other at this odd behaviour.

Keun Suk and Yong Hwa rigged the sticks so the two would team up but after the number of times that Hongki would not answer her questions or even look at her, Shin Hye didn’t force the issue and stopped talking to Hongki altogether. Keun Suk and Yong Hwa couldn’t really complain as the two were not throwing the game, in fact they seem to be playing better than they used to, nor were they somber when the conversation was among the four. Hongki just refuses to talk to Shin Hye and Shin Hye is letting him be. So gone was the sight of the two whispering and giggling about whatever secret or gossip they’re keeping to themselves or Hongki elbowing or draping his arm around Shin Hye’s shoulder. Shin Hye still looks like a mother hawk with Hongki’s drinking but like always she lets him be. She reasons, who better can he get roaring drunk with. Yong Hwa and Keun Suk, know when to keep their hands off with these two. This is obviously not the time to get the two to talk.

Hongki and Shin Hye were leading. Keun Suk was having fun dancing and joking with Hongki, teasing and trying to distract Hongki as he was studying the table and the position of the balls, laughing at his hyung as he was rubbing the cue chalk on his stick’s tip moving first to his right then his left undeterred, serious about the game. When the music video, Umbrella, started playing Shin Hye ran and grabbed the microphone from the couch and gave it to Yong Hwa. She knows Yong Hwa has memorized the part of Jay-Z at the start of Rihanna’s song and, ever the performer, Yong Hwa did Jay-Z’s rap, even imitating the actions the writer, music producer was doing, dancing too,

“Ahuh Ahuh (Yea Rihanna)
Ahuh Ahuh (Good girl gone bad)
Ahuh Ahuh (Take three… Action)
Ahuh Ahuh…”

No clouds in my stones
Let it rain, I hydroplane in the bank…”

Then substituting some words at the end of the rap Yong Hwa ended his part with,

“YH, Rain Man is back with little Ms. Sunshine
Shin Hye-ya where you at?”

Shin Hye who was still wearing the navy blue track suit she had on, ready to ride her bike for the night when Keun Suk messaged saying he was picking her up, removed her jacket revealing the more movement-friendly white tank tops inside, sang Rihanna’s part and started dancing.

Rihanna – Umbrella ft Jay-Z

“You have my heart
And we’ll never be worlds apart
May be in magazines
But you’ll still be my star…”

She had her back to the boys facing the huge TV screen following Rihanna’s moves unmindful of what the boys were doing. Its Keun Suk’s turn after Hongki, playing eight-ball in teams, and between the two of them they could take the whole song before her turn would come so she just waited to be called and tried to follow Rihanna’s dance moves as much as she can.

For someone who’s got her back turned towards her ‘audience’, wearing loose track pants, bike shoes and generic white tank tops, hair pulled to a pony tail Shin Hye had absolutely no idea what a sexy silhouette she has made against her background. Rihanna became relegated to the background even in her revealing white dress.

She made up her own steps during the part where Rihanna was dancing with toe shoes on.

“(Ella ella eh eh eh)
(Ella ella eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella eh eh eh eh eh eh)…”

The next thing you know Shin Hye was twirling, wielded the cue stick with such confidence in the cramped space of the TV room, gyrated, jumped and twisted smoothly. She really is a dancer- graceful, flexible, enraptured and elegant.

“These fancy things, will never come in between
You’re part of my entity, here for Infinity
When the war has took it’s part
When the world has dealt it’s cards
If the hand is hard, together we’ll mend your heart
Because…“

Hongki first noticed the silence, well mostly Keun Suk’s silence since Yong Hwa pretty much didn’t say anything after rapping. Hongki was bending and eyeing the cue ball. Keun Suk was on Hongki’s right. One leg extended straight beneath him while the other’s stretched sideways relaxed, Keun Suk stood near one of the corner pockets about three feet away, holding his cue like a staff in front of him with both hands, eyes seriously gazing straight at the dancing Shin Hye. And yes, Yong Hwa was silent too, sitting on a stool at one of the table’s sides a little bit more forward at Hongki’s left. Yong Hwa had his can of beer suspended on air, three inches in front of his mouth. Hongki thought, ‘He could not possibly be smelling his beer, could he?’ Then Yong Hwa slowly moved his hand down, forgot to take a gulp and just watched Shin Hye dance.The lights were a bit dim inside the TV room, other than the bright flourescent light directly above the table, the corner lights and the TV screen, Hongki can’t be abslolutely sure but he didn’t need to actually, he can tell the two were fascinated by Shin Hye’s dancing.

Hongki stood straight, rested his cue stick’s bumper part digging onto the carpet like Keun Suk’s only his he held with one hand on to his side, his other hand resting on his hip, his head tilted as he glanced from Keun Suk to Yong Hwa then at the object of their attention, Shin Hye. What is there to see? Hongki thought. They’ve seen her dance, they’ve all danced together numerous times. What is there to see now? So he looked at Shin Hye.

“When the sun shines, we’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be a friend
Took an oath, I’m a stick it out till the end

Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella

(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh, eh eh eh)..”

‘Okay she’s good!’ Hongki thought. She’s always been good at dancing, owning the song and spinning it with her body like how he takes the lyrics of a song and… then he sees. Hongki slowly straightened his head and looked at Shin Hye.

Shin Hye stopped dancing shook her arms and legs as she paced, still facing the TV screen, continued singing,

“You can run into my arms
It’s OK don’t be alarmed
Come here to me
There’s no distance in between our love
So go on and let the rain pour
I’ll be all you need and more
Because…”

Then picking up her cue stick again went right back to dancing, still calmly singing. Though her voice could sometimes be drowned by the loud music, maybe it was because she sang ‘under’ the music, that one becomes more sensitive to her voice, soft, relaxed even as she was starting to breath raggedly from the exertion of dancing. It was an old song but she must be familiar with it as she sang and danced with relative ease.

“When the sun shines, we’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be a friend
Took an oath, I’ma stick it out till the end…”

Hongki saw Shin Hye as she really is- passionate, fun-loving, a girl, enthusiasm sometimes running over, naive one time wise the next, oftentimes sensitive but sometimes like this time, oblivious to what’s going on around her. He remembered the times she reached out to him. Time and again even when he ignored her, yes in public and still she kept doing it.  It was a big faux pas what she did, right?

“Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella…”

She has always been a good friend. She even took it matter-of-factly when he bragged during their “You’re Beautiful” interviews that they will never be in a “scandal” not thinking he was also basically, indirectly saying she was not his type engrossed only with his thoughts that they were best buddies. And, she was cool with that. She still made him kimchi pancakes. She never thinks twice about teasing him, laughing at or with him about stuff, always opens with him on what and how she’s always been. Still is, even now.

“(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh, eh eh eh)

It’s raining
Ooh baby it’s raining
Baby come here to me
Come here to me

It’s raining
Ooh baby it’s raining…”

Yong Hwa hooted before he took a swig of his beer then drummed the pool table with his hand when Shin Hye finished the song. Keun Suk who hooted too, clapped and shouted, “Yeah!” Hongki walked to get his glass and drank its contents, bottoms up then muttered, “yeah, yeah!” Then he went on to eye his shot, his eyes glued on the cue ball and hit it firmly.

*     *     *    *     *

Shin Hye never drinks much so she drove the two back to their dorm. Keun Suk, just slightly tipsy, went along for the ride sitting shotgun as the two sat at the back. Shin Hye went on to check Keun Suk’s seatbelt and turned to make sure the two at the back had theirs on too. Being in that vehicular accident last year has made her more conscious of safety. She looked at Yong Hwa as he clicked on his seatbelt and sat back to relax. Hongki had his eyes closed, his seat belt already on, still ignoring Shin Hye. Of the three boys Hongki was the tipsiest, not exactly roaring drunk but drunk. Its times like these that Shin Hye clucks like some mother hen as she takes care of her ‘boys’ and they mostly let her, mainly to save them the trouble of hearing her cluck, fuss some more. Stopping Keun Suk’s SUV in front of her house, she got off and ran to get something inside.

“You know she’s been pretty busy and worried with her fanmeeting. She worries too much it making her sick.” Yong Hwa said out loud.

“I heard! I asked Manager Jjun one time how things are going and he told me.” Keun Suk added.

“I had to needle it out of her before she told me.” Yong Hwa continued. The two knew Hongki wasn’t drunk drunk. Hongki was listening but wasn’t commenting. He knows what they’re trying to imply. He never had to ask or needle Shin Hye. To Shin Hye Hongki was like her ‘girl friend’ as she is like his ‘best buddy’. Hongki opened his eyes and looked at the all too familiar gate. He misses hanging out with Shin Hye even when those times have been too far in between their busy schedule, more so after… he stared at a distance for a second or two then he closed his eyes again.

Shin Hye came back running carrying a bundle. She sat at the driver’s seat turned around to Yong Hwa and handed him the two woolen blankets.

“In case you get too cold. Can you put the other one on Hongki too? He’s very busy now with their comeback and he can’t afford to get ‘Severely’ sick.” Shin Hye smiled at the pun on FTIsland’s latest song as Yong Hwa draped the blanket on Hongki.

“What about me?” Keun Suk complained.

Shin Hye just scowled at him and grumbled, “Oppa!” as she tugged his winter jacket but affectionately patted his arm. She didn’t drive off till she was satisfied with the two.

*     *     *     *     *

It has been awhile since she’s been by Hongki’s dorm. She went down with the boys as they walked Hongki into the back entrance. ‘He’s going to be alright’ she thought, “he’s a tough dude!’

They were back on the road driving towards Yong Hwa’s dorm when she eagerly said, “Hey guys! Do you still have say 15 minutes? How about some Americano? We’ll just drive through, park somewhere, chat, then go. My treat! Whatchatink?”

The two looked at each other, grinned simultaneously and said almost in unison, “Sure!”

“Should we go back for Hongki?” Shin Hye mused.

“Aniyo!” the two indignantly said. Yong Hwa looked out of the window as he continued to grin, settling in his seat the blanket folded on his lap he likes the cold while Keun Suk went on to reason with Shin Hye why they need not go back for Hongki.

Shin Hye just lightly replied, “Oh! Okay!”

Then Yong Hwa rapped Jay-Z’s part again, Shin Hye started singing then the two joined in, acapella, Keun Suk sometimes going off key, Shin Hye drumming on to steering wheel, Yong Hwa doing an assortment of background music, all three of them noisy reaching the coffee shop with the longest

“(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella
(Ella ella, eh eh eh, eh eh eh…”)

Unbridled, Chapter 15

15 ~ The Longest Way To The Ball

In every practical sense Shin Hye could have been living in a different realm. The manor and the land that she lived in had very little, if not had none, of the war, the violence and the extravagance of the outside world. Surrounded by mountains and thick dense forests they were cocooned in their little world of work and life’s simple pleasures- of a fine harvest, good health and the birth of a new child.  Sheltered in her beloved Tyneside, her days filled with activities,

Shin Hye tried her best to mask her feelings. She thought she can swiftly put Keun Suk out of her mind but days have turned into weeks and, though the longing have eased up, he’s still there, hovering.

The first few nights back home Shin Hye spent most of her time at her parents’ chamber before retiring to her own but she would be out really early the following morning puttering at the stables or at the great hall with the hounds. She alternately rode Lightfoot and her own palfrey, Tara, for she rode more. She thought Lightfoot, Tara and their hounds were the sole witnesses to her grief but everybody saw and knew.

Maybe it was the simplicity of their living that has made them more deeply perceptive in sensing little things for they knew even as their young lady spent time talking and laughing with them that their young lady is heartsick. They knew for they see at unguarded moments her suddenly sad eyes, the occasional far away look, and solemn times amidst her keep-busy program. It is only when she’s with the animals or the manor’s children at the bailey that one can see her back to her old self.

*     *     *    *     *     *    *

Shin Hye raised a ruckus in the manor when the invitation came. She was ranting and raving and doing her own version of sitting-on-the-floor-kicking-and-having-a-tantrum tantrum. She said what is she going to the ball for if she was going to marry whoever the king was choosing anyway. They said the ball has nothing to do with her getting married. She said her father is sick surely the king would understand. They said it’s been widely known that her father’s been steadily improving. Would she show the king her defiance? Surely such insult would not be overlooked. She said she can’t go unescorted since her mother could not leave her father, especially after what happened. They said Sir John and Father Simon can escort her, her aunt would be ecstatic or anyone she wants. She said she has no skills in attending such functions. Her mother said, “Are you saying that I haven’t taught my daughter social graces?” She said she wants to bring ten more men with her. They said she’s going to a ball not a battle. And, the last straw was she doesn’t have a decent gown and this she said a day before she was set to leave. Her mother said, “I have long made a gown just for this.” She did not add that she has been steadily preparing Shin Hye’s trousseau for when her daughter would be ready to wear the fine clothes expected of her.

Where girls of her age would be squealing with delight of the upcoming ball Shin Hye’s foul mood had been steadily building up till the very last day they were set to leave for the royal palace. She was annoyed with her uncle for pushing her parents around. She was upset with her aunt for not having children of her own who they can marry off instead of turning to her, none of his bastard children will do for her fierce aunt. She knew that marriages whether for the nobles or the serfs are mostly by contract but it is possible too that the two parties would fall in love like her mother and her father, rare mayhap, yes, but possible and the very thing she wanted for herself not because inheritance and property were at stake. She’s escaped the noose for how many summers till her uncle had to meddle with her life. Hadn’t her uncle turned traitor by embracing King William without batting an eye? As if that were not enough, he’s been ‘delirious’ enough to offer his niece to be married off to one of his Norman supporters. ‘What did he have to do that for? Life isn’t fair’, she thought.

She has never been to a ball in all her life. She has never gone beyond their family’s holding until that fateful day that she had asked, well more like forced, Father Simon to help her run away. Does the ball intimidate her? Has she been so used to running in the wild and working alongside their people that she’s thought unkindly of such exercise? Or was it the fear, the possibility of seeing the young Lord Keun Suk that fills her heart with dread? ‘Will he be there? If he knows the truth he’ll think all the worse of me, won’t he? He’ll probably think as my uncle does, that I am a spoiled, good for nothing brat! … Does he even think of me?’ She can still hear his voice that morning in the forest, hard and angry.

Late that morning Philippa, Hye-ya and their party arrived. Yong Hwa’s presence was slightly missed but they’ve long gotten used to his episodic absences. He was, after all, not born at Tyneside but just came to at a young age. He comes and goes as he pleases and nobody really forced him to confess where he runs off too during those times. Even so Shin Hye’s happiness could not be contained. She had to hide her apprehensions too. It didn’t take much prodding on Shin Hye’s part to beg her mother to let Philippa and Hye-ya go with her though it was fairly obvious the look the two older women had exchanged before her mother agreed, they were not very happy.

Shin Hye felt like her heart was going to burst when she saw how her mother and Hye-ya embraced, how her father looked on with a silly grin on his face and hugged Hye-ya just as well. After the mid day meal the four women withdrew to her mother’s, Lady Elaine’s, chambers. Shin Hye’s mind was rattling a day in advance thinking of how Hye-ya would feel since she’s not invited to the ball and was hatching a plan on how to sneak Hye-ya in. Lady Elaine was busy opening two chests and Philippa was helping her. Then she saw the two older women pulling out gowns out of the chest and hit upon an idea. She was thinking if she can’t get the both of them to go in at the same time, she has just the thing in mind to get them in, one at a time.

Seeing Shin Hye’s eyes glinting, Hye-ya elbowed her and muttered, “Now what’s playing in that impish mind of yours?”

“Later. I will tell you about it later!” Shin Hye whispered.

“I don’t like that look in your eyes Shin Hye!” Hye-ya whispered back, an eyebrow rising in suspicion.

“Why? Don’t you trust me?” Shin Hye muttered and, raising her hand to her chest, feigned offense.

“That look on your face means you have something planned and has always gotten us into trouble ever since we were kids.” Hye-ya murmured, brows knitting.

“What trouble? We only got caught once and it was not even our doing. We would have gotten away with it too if Yong Hwa hadn’t told Philippa about it,” Shin Hye whispered. Then looking at Hye-ya with that naughty look in her eyes continued, “But even if that were the case you always followed me, didn’t you?” Shin Hye turned her face away from the two older women and smiled at Hye-ya mischievously.

“Well…,” Hye-ya paused then raising her downcast eyes to show the equal mischief in them whispered, “We always had so much fun after huh?” Hye-ya copied Shin Hye, darted a look at the two older women too before giggling, the crinkles on her eyes and the slight shaking of her shoulders the only indication how she had as much fun with their ‘adventures’ as Shin Hye had. “If only Iana can go with us!”

“I know!” Shin Hye sighed. “Haven’t talked to her yet you know! I think it would be better if we saw her together. We have to tell her you know.”

“Why do I have a feeling that she might have a bigger surprise than we do?”

It took Shin Hye’s party three days to reach the castle arriving just at the nick of time, the morning of the ball. They saw at a distance the field where camps have been set. They saw her uncle’s colors waving high above his tents towering over all the other flags. They set up a short distance away, with the lip of the forest behind them.

*     *     *     *     *

“Your Royal Highness!” Keun Suk bowed.

“Ah! Keun Suk! Come!” King William said as he stood up and walked out of the great hall. “Tonight at the ball there is something I want you to do so listen carefully.”

“I am all ears Sire!” Keun Suk answered as he walked behind the king.

    *     *     *     *     *

The two girls amused themselves weaving through the marketplace, marveling at the size of the place, the variety of wares being sold, peddlers and vendors side by side in wooden or brick buildings, under tents or booths or just out in the open, minstrels and jugglers performing on street corners, enjoying the smell of food and spices sold, the sound of all the colorful flags overhead waving on top of the castle’s turrets competing with the sound of the people haggling, peddlers crying their wares, livestock squealing or grunting and of bells and criers declaiming news and proclamations. Shin Hye was particularly taken with a young peregrine but was told that it has just been sold. It was a festive time.

“Shin Hye, can you please not dart from one place to another like some rabbit?” Hye-ya said.

“It’s so exciting to see Hye-ya, all these people, so many things to see. You know I haven’t been outside Tyneside till quite recently and Father Simon had to choose a remote place for me. You have been to places like these more than I have. There is nothing to worry about Hye-ya! I know my plan will work!”

“Yes sure! It always works! Always! A good number of them, barely! One of these days I’ll break into hives from sheer fright.” Hye- ya answered with a huff.

Shin Hye giggled then laughed aloud. Hye-ya couldn’t help but join and laugh too as the two went on leisurely looking at all the stalls and booths unmindful of the looks that they got- both open admiring stares, not a few lustful ones and stolen glances for the beautiful carefree girl and the graceful cloaked girl beside her, buying and eating sweet confections and fruits that they see. It was this laugh of the girls that caught the attention of two other people among the crowd.

Yong Hwa was looking at the spices in front of him when he had wondered what the vendors were gaping at behind him but took no notice of it. Most of the vendors had come from far off places and he has learned not to mind them when they go all awestruck and see people dressed in all their fineries, until he heard those distinctive laughs. He stiffened a bit and made a quarter turn towards the opposite direction that the girls were taking. Then calmly, as though he know them not he walked away, avoiding his two best-est friends. Those two do sound so alike when you don’t look at them and really listen carefully, Yong Hwa thought as his heart was pounding fast. He knows he’s got some explaining to do but he’s been trying his darnest to avoid that ever happening. He will only cross that bridge if he has to.

The other one was a man dressed like an elderly beggar sitting on one of the street corners. This one didn’t avoid the two girls instead followed them till they got tired of going around the market and went back to their tent then belying his look stood erect and walked hurriedly away.

Shin Hye’s aunt wasted no time in sending for her niece. Her aunt have always prided herself of her expertise in fashion and the social scene, and lost no time in ordering her husband’s niece over.  Shin Hye’s clothes chest was being carried by her aunt’s serfs out of the door when Shin Hye looking closely at Hye-ya whispered, “Good luck?”  Hye-ya with crinkles on her eyes answered, “Good luck!”  The two hugged and separated.

*     *      *      *      *

“What are you doing lounging there? Didn’t your pompous aunt call for you?” Philippa’s voice was rising in alarm at discovering the napping Shin Hye, who was crouching, almost sleeping on top of her laid-out gown.

“She did and I will undoubtedly be seeing her at the castle Philippa!” Shin Hye was sluggishly wiping off sleep from her eyes.

“What?” Philippa was incensed and panic was definitely setting in thinking of the preparation Shin Hye needed to get herself ready. “Ayayayay! What are you doing still sitting so relaxed on your bum like that? Where is Hye-ya? Didn’t she remind you to get ready?”

“Philippa, do I really need to go?” Shin Hye whined.

“Don’t you think it’s too late to complain now?” Philippa was looking around their tent for absentee assistants.

“Don’t worry Philippa! All I need is a good bath and am going!”

“What bath? You don’t have time Shin Hye!” Philippa was almost shouting.

“Oh no! I most definitely am not going anywhere without a bath!” Shin Hye said as she hurriedly slipped out of the tent.

“And just where are you going?” Philippa shouted as she ran after Shin Hye.

“I saw a spring by the forest’s edge. Am sure nobody will be there. They’ll all be ogling at the people going in the castle or at the tavern drinking.”

“Shin Hye you can’t! There’s not enough time. Your hair won’t dry in time you’ll catch a cold!” Philippa shouted but the running girl who was the unlikeliest kind to listen just ran on.

Shin Hye did find the small clear spring hidden among the big redwood trees. The still bright twilight sky held something in its quiet mist laden air, and Shin Hye took in one long deep draught and approached the clearing, treading carefully almost reverently then she heard a plop on the water. Someone was already in the spring. This was not Tyneside or even Sea Crest but whether it was her instincts or just guts, Shin Hye unthreatened drew nearer. She was still far off when she saw who was by the spring, sitting on a fallen log, feet immersed in the cool water and throwing rocks on to the deeper end and she smiled.

“You do know they say one shouldn’t throw rocks on to clear spring water lest you hit some nymph or water fairy, don’t you?” Shin Hye teased.

Hongki snapped his head up upon hearing Shin Hye’s voice. He was deep in thought and didn’t hear her coming. He lowered his gaze nonchalantly as though she was not there. Shin Hye knew she owe Hongki an explanation but she didn’t think he’d be that hurt, there must be something else bothering him too. He was sitting almost obliquely to Shin Hye’s right but the way, what should have been the closest, was blocked by a big boulder propped on a rocky ledge, on what looked to be the deepest portion of the spring, the shallow wade-able part a long way off. Crossing it was too dangerous and she has no time.

Hongki I can’t explain right now but…” Shin Hye started.

Hongki just looked at her, shrugged, slowly got up and turned to go.

“Hongki wait!” Shin Hye cried.

He turned his face slightly in her direction but never looked at her, then in a tired voice Hongki replied, “Save your breath! There is no need to explain to a serf!”

“Nooo! It’s not like that! It’s not what you think!” Shin Hye was walking closer to the water’s edge towards the huge boulder hoping to get nearer to Hongki so he can see her better. But, when Hongki took no notice of her but started to walk away Shin Hye cried out, “Wait! Just wait!” Then without thinking went on to remove and set aside her mantle, her sword and knife, and walked precariously onto the wet ledge towards Hongki. Hongki didn’t think Shin Hye would care what he thought or felt. He never thought she’d go after him, much more court danger to try and stop him. He thought she was like most other people who were kind to him because they have some use of him, much like his father, but she was different. And, she went after him. Refusing to believe Hongki didn’t think twice and walked away.

“Wait! Please Hongki! Please wait!” Shin Hye squeaked as she hurried her steps and promptly slipped into the water. As soon as she felt her foot slide all Shin Hye can think of was “Angels of Mercy! Philippa will surely kill me if I don’t drown here!”

The pond wasn’t very deep but as Shin Hye swam up a part of her outer tunic got caught in some branch of a fallen log under the pond. She was struggling to either tear or pull her tunic off but the woolen material that her mother has chosen proved much stronger. She was berating herself for her rashness- not in going after Hongki but in letting go of her trusty knife, Bella. Yes she calls her knife ‘beautiful’. For a split second she thought she could drown and die here but she can’t let that happen. She cannot die yet. Hye-ya’s waiting for me… Iana… my parents…  For a fleeting second she thought she saw Iana smiling at her then she felt someone tug her outer tunic loose and she was set free. There was no time to look around for she felt like her lungs were about to burst. It must be Hongki but it was a very dry Hongki who was hauling her out as she swam towards and crawled towards the shallow bank.

It had taken awhile to register in Hongki’s mind that the splash he just heard could, in any way, be associated with Shin Hye and that she really darted after him. He even scrutinized what he could see of the boulder and the part of the woods where she came from believing that she left even faster than he did but he could not see her anywhere. Refuse he might to believe that she’d risk that much for him, even with the waning light the only sign of movement that he can see was the disturbance in the water. He may have felt hurt and small with what Shin Hye did but he could not take it in his conscience to just leave if she really has fallen and is hurt because of him. He was removing his outer tunic when Shin Hye’s head bobbed above the water and frantically swam to the shallow bank. Hongki was almost in knee deep water when he reached the sputtering Shin Hye. He slung her arm across his shoulders, held her waist and braced her as they waded in the soft muddy bottom then he swept her up into his arms as they reached firmer ground and carried her effortlessly the rest of the way out of the water.

“You’re going to get wet!” Shin Hye managed to say as she coughed out the remaining water from her throat but was too winded to resist Hongki’s help.

Unbridled, Chapter 14

14 ~ Consequences

She held his gaze for a moment when their eyes met. She bowed then turned to look at the pathway ahead as she flicked the reins gently to get her mount to amble forward. Keun Suk maneuvered his charger down the ridge to meet her, further on the path were Sir Duncan and a few other men nearing Father Simon who had stopped at a distance waiting for her. Behind Keun Suk was Hongki who was trying not to look at her. He must be angry with me, Shin Hye thought, “I’m sorry Hongki! Someday you’ll understand and forgive me, but I don’t have the time to ease your mind right now! I’m sorry I left like that!”

Keun Suk motioned at Hongki to ride ahead as he waited for Shin Hye to reach him, obviously intending to have a private talk with her. As Shin Hye drew near Keun Suk dismounted and as good manners would dictate she slowed down to a stop and dismounted too. Keun Suk eyed her horse closely. Philippa and Hye-ya had changed their horses.

“I see you’re in a hurry!” Keun Suk said noting the type of horse she was riding.

“Yes my Lord we are!” Shin Hye replied simply.

Keun Suk turned to look at her abruptly when she said ‘my Lord’. Their horses have been built for speed and ready for battle, if they were forced to. Even Father Simon’s horse has been changed. Father Simon had a very handsome courser while Hye-ya lent Shin Hye her beloved Lightfoot, a palfrey mare, almost equal in value as Keun Suk’s warhorse Tristan. They needed the power and speed that only horses of this size can provide.  Tristan neighed, measuring the other horse it seems. Lightfoot just stared at Tristan.

“You say my Lord as if I really were but you just up and left without a word!” Keun Suk blandly said, belying the anger he feels at her sudden departure and then now at seeing her with another man.

“I talked with your father before I left my Lord.” Shin Hye glanced at Father Simon worrying.

“Ah yes! My father! My father who would not tell me a thing,” Keun Suk quipped.

“Maybe because he does not know where I was going to, young master,” Shin Hye replied.

“Well there is that too.” Keun Suk looked closely at the horse’s limbs.

“Fine horse!” Keun Suk commented, touched the horse’s flank getting nearer Shin Hye in the process.

“Yes she is!” Shin Hye answered as calmly as she can.

“It’s owner must value you that much to let you ride such a precious horse!” Keun Suk observed, “and provide you a nice riding mantle too.”

“Yes, the owner does!” Shin Hye knew what he was driving at but she was not going to give him the satisfaction of rising to his bait. She does not need to explain anything to him, nor is she going to give him any details or information about her or her friends, thinking of Hye-ya. She was not lying, was she? Hye-ya after all value her as much as she does her.

Shin Hye was becoming wary of Keun Suk’s comments. He and his hot temper will strike anytime soon and she would much rather it were soon because she needs to be on her way. She was very curious as to what got him this far from Seacrest and to meet up here too. They must have ridden the whole afternoon and part of the night through the forest. She wonders if they have allies who guided them through, but she didn’t want to ask. She didn’t have to wait long for Keun Suk’s temper to flare. Keun Suk held her hand which was raised near the horses’ shoulder holding the reins, and the saddle on the other, basically pinning her on to side of the horse. Lightfoot had moved at Keun Suk’s tugging so all Father Simon and the rest could see were the horses but the two were  visible from the forest.

“And this love of yours knows the kind of woman that you are?” Keun Suk pressed on, working up his temper to a boil. Shin Hye just wanted the discussion to end so she can leave. What use is there in fighting with him when in the end he still prefers to see her as bad? Why is that? What have I done to him to deserve such contempt? Shin Hye willed herself not to answer but kept her eyes down, her heart suddenly skipping as he slowly drew nearer, memories taking her to a different place and time. Even angry, Shin Hye felt Keun Suk was seducing her as he drew nearer still. Shin Hye averted her eyes. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her face as he tilted his head. She knows that if she saw those eyes, those lips this close she would throw all logical thinking and kiss him, even as she wanted to flee from him. So she stood still and closed her eyes.

“Open your eyes!” Keun Suk barked, barely holding on to his anger. He wanted to shake her for the gamut of emotions he’s been through since she left. He wanted to make her angry, make her feel what he felt. She did open her eyes and he ended up questioning and then damning himself for making her do so, for when he saw her big brown eyes looking at him with all the hurt, the worries and the fears clearly etched within them, he just wanted to cradle her in his arms and make whatever it was that was making her run and worry go away. He just wanted to kiss her and make love to her and never let her think of anything else but him.

“She is mine!” He thought. “This is crazy!” He was acting like some besotted fool. “Isn’t she Hongki’s lov… no, Hongki did say they were just friends.” He could not understand why seeing her or even the thought of her being friendly with other men would upset him so.

Shin Hye had no doubts on the effect Keun Suk has on her the moment she looked into his eyes. They were the darkest of browns that she’s ever seen but that first time by the cliff with his eyes looking as black as coal will forever be fixed in her memory- like bottomless pits, dangerous, mysterious. All she wanted was to fall into those dark depths, gaze at them as they slowly smolder.

“What is your game Shin Hye?” Keun Suk snapped. Keun Suk’s voice was like a distant hum to Shin Hye and she didn’t want to hear anymore. As Keun Suk was about to launch into his angry outburst Shin Hye crossed the two inches between them and kissed him. Keun Suk gripped her hand and the saddle tighter but needed no further encouragement to kiss her. The two could have been back in Keun Suk’s chambers of the previous night for all the fire that their kiss has set them in. Shin Hye didn’t let go of the reins either but her other hand instinctively flew up and held Keun Suk’s cheek, caressing it as she tasted once again those lips, drowned her senses again with the feel of his tongue on hers, feel the heat of his kiss set her body on fire. It took a lot of her strength and effort to keep her knees from buckling under her. It was fiery and urgent but Keun Suk felt, knew that with her kiss Shin Hye was saying goodbye and it made him feel helpless and angry.

“How can you… kiss… and mold… your body to me like this…” Keun Suk muttered as he continued kissing her, “and still go to another man?… Can’t your see… you belong to me?” Keun Suk could not let go of his anger enough to ask Shin Hye frankly what was making her flee. That woke up Shin Hye. She slowly, almost reluctantly, stopped kissing Keun Suk and rested her forehead on his chin.

“I do not belong to anyone!” Shin Hye murmured resignedly. “I’m sorry if I’m making you more confused than I already have.” She paused. “For sure I am not the reason why you are here, so please let me not retain you any longer.”

She did leave him more confused as she slowly extricated her hand and reins away from Keun Suk’s grip and mounted her horse.

“Don’t flatter yourself!” Keun Suk declared in a clipped manner as he hoisted himself up his saddle.

“Of course not! It can only be an important matter to make the young Lord run such a hurried errand. Nothing less than a message to the King I should say!” Shin Hye replied, matter-of-factly, then turned her head back to Keun Suk, gave him a sad smile. “After you my Lord!”

“No! After you!” Keun Suk replied.

Shin Hye shrugged, kicked the stirrups to signal Lightfoot to move and rode on, fast. She only slowed when she reached the cluster of Father Simon, Sir Duncan, Hongki and the other men. She nodded at them and after a glance at Father Simon both rode as fast as their mounts will permit them.

Keun Suk didn’t attempt to catch up with Shin Hye. Pride and confusion stayed him but he saw how they rode, fast- as though the hounds of hell have been set upon them. He saw them again from a great distance as Shin Hye and Father Simon left the Abbey, a common stopping area for almost all travelers in the region. Keun Suk’s party stopped there too. He handed his father’s sealed note to the Abbess and after a humble repast was on their way to their main destination.

*     *     *     *     *

It was mid-morning the following day when they reached Tyneside. Shin Hye ran all the way to her parents’ chambers, hurriedly removing the riding mantle and clutching tight the medicine pouch Hye-ya gave her. She kissed and embraced her mother then said, “Mother I found Hye-ya! She gave me these,” handing her mother the pouch, “they’re milk thistle seeds.”

“But that’s for toadstool poisoning Shin Hye. Your father couldn’t have been poisoned!” Elaine replied, disbelief in her tone.

“Mother I promise I will get to the bottom of this. There are things I must talk with you about but for now we must keep this to ourselves and find a way to give this to father. How is he?” Shin Hye asked. She climbed on to the big bed, lay gently by curled up next to her father’s side like she always does from childhood when nightmares woke her up then as she grew older when she had special ‘requests’ like permission to learn swordplay, feeling guilty after she has long started to learn, both of them keeping it a secret from her mother, her own customized sword and bow, Tara her chestnut palfrey and other such whims of Shin Hye’s or just because she wants to cuddle up to her parents.

“Father, I’m here! I’m here!” Shin Hye whispered.

*     *     *     *     *

With Shin Hye back everybody thought life at the manor would go back to the way it used to be but it didn’t. Instead things got hectic, but it was good hectic, almost like how the people would prepare for the midsummer festivities with sword plays, sports and feasts. There was the customary morning drills and training after the daily early morning mass and breakfast, and after the midday sup, soon after Shin Hye, Sir John and their knights had their discussion on that first night she got home, the whole manor seems to be up in arms in putting up and repairing fortifications almost simultaneously as the houses in the village and the manor were being repaired, improved. At the rate everybody was set to work, worrying over the old Lord’s condition was put on hold. Maybe it was also because the old Lord’s condition has dramatically improved. Four days after Shin Hye has arrived, word has trickled down to the village that the kind Lord can now sit up in bed and sip on clear broth, that their lady can be seen laughing at her daughter’s antics and stories.

Shin Hye had made discreet inquiries but it was their cook’s story that has clued her to the possible source of her father’s illness. She told Shin Hye of an odd occurrence the day before her father got sick. It seems that an old frail man had knocked at the manor’s back door and asked for shelter for a day or two till he’s rested enough to continue on his journey but this was not the odd part, they’ve been used to their mistress, their Lady Elaine, sheltering ragged travelers. What were odd was how he puttered around the garden, stayed on only for a night and how a lone grey wolf had chased the poor man away at dawn the following day. She knows she needs to dig more into it but it’ll have to take a back seat for the moment.

Her mother gave her a sad smile when Shin Hye told her about Hye-ya and Philippa, almost exactly like the smile Philippa gave her when Yong Hwa brought them to their camp. She has so many questions to ask her mother but there seemed to be no time, at least for the time being. What is important is that the medicine Hye-ya gave her proved very effective and her father has been steadily improving.

*     *     *     *     *

“Are we preparing for something Shin Hye?” Sir John asked.

“Hmm… for the best and the worst Sir John!” Shin Hye answered.

“Huh?” Sir John said, confused.

“We have been relying too much on our strong allies. It’s about time we get ready to defend ourselves for whatever might happen, right? We may not have the military might of our allies but when that time comes at least we won’t go down without a fight.” Shin Hye answered.

“Fight? Your people will be behind whatever you decide to do my Lady.” Sir John said, looking closely at the young girl who has almost been like a younger sister to him. “This has nothing to do with your uncle’s insistence on having you betrothed to Lord Eric, has it?” He asked.

“I just realized that I have been lucky in having the freedom that other girls of my age and stature never had. To whoever is unfortunate enough to marry me that may be a curse but yes, I have decided to follow whatever the king dictates but other than that I intend to have everything go my way!” Shin Hye calmly stated. Sir John can’t help hide a grin, amused at the idea of his lady getting married.

True enough summons from the king came the following day- all maidens of noble standing were commanded to attend a ball in honor of the prince.

Unbridled, Chapter 13

13 ~ Hye-ya

“Hye-ya!” Shin Hye exclaimed, surprised and happy at seeing her best friend at last. She ran into her as she rushed towards her horse and hugged her. Hye-ya has been her best friend ever since she can remember. They were born on the same day and they practically grew up together. Philippa and her mother Elaine raised them together. For a second she forgot that she was in a rush to leave but her anxiety didn’t let her forget for long.

“I have to hurry home Hye-ya! Father’s sick! There are so many things I want to talk with you about. I will come back. Please ask Philippa not to move until I have come back? Please?”

“Shin Hye come with me!” Hye-ya said, holding her friend’s hand and leading her into the dark forest.

“But I have to go. It is urgent. It’s my father…,” Shin Hye reasoned but Hye-ya is as stubborn as Shin Hye, one of the many things the two were alike about. Hye-ya held Shin Hye’s hand and calmly said, “This wont take long Shin Hye and this is very important!” Hye-ya lead Shin Hye deeper into the forest. Even without carrying any torch or lantern Hye-ya walked into the forest as though she has memorized every tree root, every rock and every bush. The light from the campfire has ceased to be visible the last time Shin Hye turned around. She must have forgotten how Hye-ya too have this affinity to the animals and plants in the forest, how she too can hear and sense certain presence or manifestation.

Hye-ya wore her usual head-cloth which covers her hair and her entire face save for her eyes. Shin Hye’s mother told her ever since she was small that Hye-ya had to wear a veil to protect herself. In the mornings Hye-ya would stay with Shin Hye’s mother in her chambers. Shin Hye can only assume that her mother was putting some balm on Hye-ya’s skin and to protect her from the strong daytime sun and the wind. She loved Hye-ya so much that even when they would fight or muck around Shin Hye would never joke about nor tease her friend about her veil. She would cry in her sleep whenever she remembers how Hye-ya would stare and look longingly at girls or ladies wearing nice gowns and head-cloths, their faces displayed for all to see, their hair braided, flowers or gold threads woven through their hair but she would never show Hye-ya how she felt. Instead she would tie her hair and hide it in a head-cloth as well or fight with her or make her laugh or tease her, anything to take Hye-ya’s attention away from those ladies. Yong Hwa coming along was a blessing in a way.

Even at their young age, Hye-ya was everything to Yong Hwa. One would think she was the very air that Yong Hwa needed to breathe. They were inseparable, next to Shin Hye yes they were. The girls were 13summers old when Philippa up and left the forest of Tyneside, with Hye-ya and Yong Hwa in tow. It was the day after the Shin Hye and Hye-ya had gone to Ever Pool, met up with Iana as was their wont, had forgotten the time and almost spent the night there. There was a big commotion when they were found. Shin Hye didn’t catch the look her mother and Philippa had at the forest that night but Hye-ya did. It was the night of the winter solstice, with the moon shining on, full.

The next day Shin Hye was inconsolable when she went to their camp and only saw ashes where their campfire used to be, touching the cold stones surrounding it only told her how long ago they had left. It didn’t stop her from jumping on to Tara, her charger, though and tracking their trail, but had to turn back when the snow storm proved unconquerable, barely making it back to the manor’s safety. They all say how lucky she was not to lose any of her fingers or toes to the cold. She was bedridden for a fortnight from her exposure to the extreme cold and in her delirium all she can utter were Hye-ya and Yong Hwa’s names, though mostly it was Hye-ya she would reach for when her fever spikes. Her mother needn’t have steel herself in front of Shin Hye, she openly mourned and cried for the condition her daughter was in and for what seemed like something more, that if Shin Hye had been conscious, she would have need to console her mother herself that was how badly her mother’s heart was broken and how out of it Shin Hye was. Those were dark days and nights for the mother and daughter. It took about a month before the outdoor and fun-loving girl could bring herself to venture outside of the manor.  She went straight to Ever Pool that day and that was the last time she’s been within its stone walls. She could not bring herself to be near it and know that she may never be with her best friend ever again. It was then that she spent all her time with Sir John learning and practicing with the boys within the manor’s bailey but she always made time to be with her mother in the mornings now that Hye-ya wasn’t there for her mother to minister to.

She was thinking about the many questions she wanted to ask her friend following her friend diligently, never really noticing where they went, trusting Hye-ya with her life. It wasn’t till they reached a clearing and Shin Hye saw the huge stone rings that she turned around and looked at her surroundings. The place was almost like their Ever Pool. Hye-ya has found another sanctuary.

“Hye-ya!” Shin Hye whispered her wonder and awe at the place, part in reverence and part in pleasure, “Have you brought Yong Hwa here too?”

“Shin Hye there is something I must show you. Come!” and Hye-ya guided her walking far a ways beyond the inner stone ring towards a softly trickling brook. The moon wasn’t quite bright but the place had a certain glow to it like it was on a cloudy day, bright but gray.

“Can you see your reflection on the water Shin Hye?” Hye-ya asked, as Shin Hye leaned a little towards the singing water and saw her worried face reflected on the water’s surface, Hye-ya leaned on the water beside her too. Then Hye-ya slowly removed her veil. Shin Hye could not move. She wanted to stop Hye-ya from taking off her head-cloth and remind her that she might get sick but all she can do was look at Hye-ya through the water’s surface. They both have the same eyes that they were most proud of. Hye-ya’s eyes were now just as worried but kinder, wiser than hers. Shin Hye snapped her head back and looked straight at her best friend’s face.

“Hye-ya! How? Why…?” Shin Hye can only smile and cry and embrace the equally sobbing girl beside her.

“You’re beautiful!” Shin Hye said and Hye-ya’s laughter tinkled in the clear night air.

“Shin Hye there is something very important that you must know.” Hye-ya held Shin Hye’s hand, pressed a pouch into her hands and led her into the center of the inner stone ring, there she told Shin Hye how to use the medicine for her father, the implications of her father’s condition on Shin Hye and on their land, and of the whispers she’s heard. And, when all the essentials have been discussed and upon knowing that her father’s condition is relatively stable as long as her mother watches over him and stays by his side, Shin Hye agreed to stay on for the night and the two talked on till they saw above them the purple streaks of the coming dawn. Then they walked back to the campsite with the veil back over Hye-ya’s head and face. Hye-ya, seeing Shin Hye’s drooping lids, told her to take a nap and promised to wake her even before the morning sun sends piercing rays through the woods.

Hye-ya had prepared a light meal for them before they left for Tyneside. Hye-ya, better gifted at cooking than Shin Hye, had prepared them hot steaming poached eggs with its center soft and gooey, flatbread cooking on a smooth stone by the fire, some cheese, fresh berries and a pitcher of warm milk. With her heart and her stomach full, Shin Hye’s planned course of action didn’t feel so grim anymore knowing Hye-ya will always be there with her. And Philippa and Yong Hwa too.

  •   *     *     *     *     *

Yong Hwa and Hye-ya were riding with them to the forest’s edge. Hye-ya and Shin Hye flanked Yong Hwa as the three talked.

“You still could not get the flick right Yong Hwa! That’s how I knew it was you for sure. The sun was at your back then but your run, footwork and that wrong flick convinced me it was you!” Shin Hye chided Yong Hwa. “Why didn’t you correct him Hye-ya?” Shin Hye continued on, still not believing how their perfectionist teacher, Philippa, would let him off the hook when she’s been very strict with the girls.

“Even mistakes have its uses, don’t you think? You wouldn’t have been sure it was him if he hadn’t made that mistake, right?” Hye-ya sounding so wise would have tricked anyone into thinking that she’s all serious and walks the straight and narrow path when the exact opposite could also hold true for her, one need only look at her sharp intelligent eyes for hints of it.

“See! My wrong flick has its use!” Yong Hwa reasoned and chuckled at Shin Hye.

They have reached the forest’s edge and after kissing and bidding her friend goodbye Hye-ya had pulled her horse’s rein to turn right on back into the forest. Shin Hye turned to her right sensing something. She saw Hye-ya look back and do the same then Hye-ya looked at her and smiled, wide. Shin Hye turned her horse so she can kiss and hug Yong Hwa too and whispered something very softly into his ears. He threw his head back and laughed so loud his horse reared a bit in surprise, then he kissed her again, turned back and raced to catch up with Hye-ya.

Keun Suk was standing on a ridge with a clear view of Shin Hye and Yong Hwa, holding the reins of his horse. She somehow knew he would be there and looked up.

Unbridled, Chapter 12

12 ~ Magnon Forest

It was a struggle the gypsies have never expected to have from quite a small bundle. The rider fell off his horse from the force of the throw of the net but was on his feet in no time, brandishing a small knife and slashing at anyone who came near. Yong Hwa, their leader, was standing at a distance observing his group bring down the rider. This is their third such exercise and so far they have been quite successful in subduing their captives but this boy seems different. His men couldn’t get near him. He didn’t make unnecessary movements slashing only when approached and seems to be studying his situation and captors quite well.

His men have exceeded their allotted time and looked desperate enough to use their swords despite his instructions, that is how frustrated they are becoming. Either way they’re in for a punishment. Their captive crouched and when he transferred his knife to his left hand and flipped it so that the blade was pointing downward, its blunt edge resting against his wrist, Yong Hwa suddenly jumped off the log where he was standing from, whistled and ran towards his men. He knows that move, their captive is ready to either maim or kill but was biding his time and from his stance Yong Hwa knew the boy can handle his weapons and can slaughter his men. So he ran as fast as he can, drawing his sword as he neared them. A sword that looks so much like Shin Hye’s- a curved, slender, single edged blade with a long grip, but where Shin Hye’s guard was circular Yong Hwa’s was squared and its length longer. He ran like Shin Hye too, crouching, arms and feet kept close to their body, steps evenly spaced shorter than most strides but faster and close to the ground almost like gliding.

All four of his men have taken out their swords circling their hostage when they heard the whistle, a whistle they have rarely heard but had come to dread. It’s a call to cease and be ready to retreat. But this is just a boy. Yes, it has taken them some to time to bring him down to surrender but what has he got to make their leader give that warning. Luckily, they were more afraid of their leader than take on the boy in front of them so letting go of their net they slowly stepped back ready to melt into the forest where they came from. The rider had no plans of letting any of them go. Suspecting their accomplices have captured his companion, the young boy was in no mood to play with the bandits nor does he have the time. Then their leader came running into view and saved the young boy time. Easier to make subordinates talk when their leader is down so tossing the net off himself, he crouched, getting ready to attack.

The young rider had his hood pulled low and made no indication of pulling it off his face not even so he can see his enemies better instead he stooped and struck a pose which Yong Hwa was very familiar with. Not one to be easily convinced he was quite willing and capable of waiting for more signs. Yong Hwa did a secret foot slide that he has been taught. Noticeable only to Yong Hwa, the rider froze for an infinitesimal second then did the same foot maneuver followed by the next step in the secret sequence. Yong Hwa flicked his sword and was surprised when the young boy suddenly dropped his guard, tugged his hood off and called his name. It was almost sundown and the forest, dense as it is, has cast a shadow on the young rider’s face so Yong Hwa could not see quite clearly.

“Yong Hwa!” the rider shouted, excited. Then sheathing his knife the young boy ran towards him with the biggest grin he has ever seen in the last 5 years. He never thought he’d be seeing that same grin again. Yong Hwa sheathed his sword in time to catch the boy as he jumped him and began poking his left side.

“What are you doing here and at this time of day? Yong Hwa asked between chokes of laughter and parrying the boys jabs at his side, tickling him.

“Where’s Hye-ya? And Philippa?” the rider asked in return not bothering to answer him in his excitement. “What are you doing with these kids anyway?” The men winced when they heard themselves being referred to as kids by a mere boy.

*     *     *     *     *

Keun Suk got up groggily. Cook was holding his breakfast, standing right beside his bed but was looking around the room. Henry, who was opening the windows, was looking around the room too but Keun Suk didn’t notice this. He was too busy trying to remember what had happened the night before to be sleeping with his breeches on. He does not wear a stitch when he sleeps. He was rubbing his temples when he saw Cook pick up a white cloth near the fireplace.

“What is that?” Keun Suk asked. Cook holding the wet shift by its straps looked at the fine cotton shift and raised an eyebrow. As his memory jogged slowly back, he suddenly turned to his side to look for Shin Hye, getting dizzy in the process.

“Where is she?” Keun Suk quipped,“Cook I don’t care if Shin Hye were your daughter or some divine creature who you worship, chaperone her if you must, yes I know you have been trying to hide or protect her from me, but bring Shin Hye here and now!” Keun Suk ordered, speaking quietly but forcefully, seething mad.

“But… but my Lord!” Cook stammered glancing at Henry asking for his help but Henry would not even dare to speak.

“We couldn’t find her anywhere my Lord!” Cook said anxiously, wringing her hands with worry.

“What???” Keun Suk roared.

*     *     *     *     *

Shin Hye and Father Simon have been riding for the most part of the day, only stopping when they came upon a brook for the horses to drink from and for their midday meal of bread, dried fruits and honey water and sped on. It was mid afternoon and they were hurrying to get past Magnon Forest to reach the abbey at the other side by sundown. She’s heard many stories of Magnon Forest. They say it was named thus because of how everything becomes magnified in it. Its trees were bigger, underbrush thicker, nights darker, animals wilder. They say a brave man who enters it becomes braver and a coward, swallowed by their cowardice, never comes out. They also say it was a land of fairies, spirits, gypsies and thieves, though not a few people would say they were one and the same- gypsies and thieves. So when they have to, people traverse the forest in groups and before midday for the half a day ride through it. Father Simon however had insisted they rode on.

Shin Hye has never been superstitious but like the animals she has an affinity to she can sense some things not quite easy to explain. She’s heard whispers and felt presences in sacred and haunted places alike. She can even remember when she was still a little girl, she and her best friends, Hye-ya and Iana had played in one such place at Tyneside. Her mother had forbidden them from playing at Ever  Pool when she learned about it. Though like a magnet the two, Hye- ya and her, have been drawn to this sacred place and meet Iana. They never quite understood why they were never caught playing there though their mothers have looked for them in the area so many times. The girls didn’t know that the place has adopted them and has hidden them from other people’s sight when they were there. Many a time their serfs would veer away from a path that Shin Hye could see quite clearly saying it was impassable that there was a big tree or a giant rock blocking the way.

Magnon forest has the same feel as her precious Ever Pool had and she felt right at home though she can feel something else too, something dark and ominous. The trees and the air with its smell of moist soil, the cool wind and the occasional eerie silence it has has given her a lot to remember about, a change that she has welcomed from the memories of that dawn before they left.

Keun Suk has fallen asleep even before she kissed his nose. She herself was fighting off the effects of the sleeping draught they had both taken, the counteracting effect of the roasted berry seeds was just starting to take effect. She sluggishly changed into her breeches, shirt and mantle, a few of the many things hidden in her heavy sack. She had picked up her sack and was ready to leave when she looked back, placed her sack down and stood beside the bed. She drew the sheets up and patted it into place then gazed at the peacefully sleeping Keun Suk.

“I will never see you again, will I?” she whispered, a bitter smile etched on her face, blinking back tears that she refuses to shed and crept out of Keun Suk’s chambers.

She was grateful for the haste they were in. Father Simon said there’ll be enough time in the evening to talk about Tyneside and that it was more urgent that they leave immediately. The wind has been very kind in wiping away her tears, for Shin Hye was resolute in not showing any sign that she was crying. She hates crying too. She always teases Hye-ya and calls her a baby when she cries and she has no plans of becoming one. No it is just the cold wind that’s making her eyes water. Father Simon has more than enough burden on his shoulders to carry. So she cried her pain to the wind and let it embrace her, welcoming its coldness hoping it would erase the memory of his kisses, his lips, his arms warming her till she sometimes felt like she was on fire, how even now its memory burns in her heart.

Why did she have to fall in love with that smile, those eyes, those crooked lips, his crazy moods, his wit. Surely I must have tricked myself into thinking so. It just cannot be. I was just cruelly and perfectly seduced that is all. In time all this pain will be nothing but a bad dream. For now her heart feels like its being crushed and the freedom of riding which she has always loved was being replaced by those nights they raced through the forest or the meadows where all she sees is his naughty, challenging, smiling eyes looking at her. Only at her.

“That bastard! Tricking me into falling in love with him! He could have had any woman he wants. And, all he wants is to make me his mistress.” she muttered to herself.  She was so immersed in her misery that she did not notice Father Simon slowing down. She’s just pulled her horse to make a turn to check on Father Simon when a net came down on her.

*     *     *     *     *

“What?” Shin Hye almost shouted. They were huddled around a small fire- Father Simon, Yong Hwa, Philippa and Shin Hye, when Father Simon told Shin Hye about what has happened at Tyneside. Her father has taken ill and her mother, an experienced and well respected healer has been nursing him with no signs of improvement since. With Shin Hye gone her uncle has again been insinuating the need for a man to take over the manor, talking as though her father’s death were inevitable.

Tyneside is a relatively small keep but its land was rich. It is but a quarter in size compared to her uncle’s holdings but it produces more food than his uncle’s land does. Its land is rich, its rivers and forest are abundant with fish and game. In their time and age, Tyneside was almost like the equivalent of paradise. Its people, hardy and hardworking, never lack of food, revere their masters and are fiercely loyal. Their way of living was simple, almost buffeted from the outside world, cocooned from invaders. She had never considered the possibility of any one of her parents getting sick when she left. She can never forgive herself if something happened to her father and she was not there to help in any way. Shin Hye didn’t care if she had to grope her way out of the forest but she was leaving.

She stood up and said, “Philippa, Yong Hwa thank you so much for your hospitality but we must be on our way. Father let’s go!”  Father Simon was at a quandary on what to do. The sun has set and night has fallen. Philippa just sat looking at Shin Hye. She knows nobody can stop Shin Hye when she’s put her mind to it, nobody, except for Hye-ya.

 

14 ~ Nerves

Shin Hye was lying on her side in her bed, her cellphone in her hand having just finished her second report. She still has one more paper to go and two presentations to prepare for. “I’ll just take a 5 minute break then I”ll get right back to it,” she said aloud, trying to pep herself up. She checked her phone looking for a text message or a phone call from one particular person. Not seeing any, she turned to lie on her back and dropped her hand onto her pillow dejected.

“It’s been 34 days since we last tweeted and he hasn’t texted or called either!”

More than 6 weeks previously the two friends, Hongki and Shin Hye, were both sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room of Shin Hye’s home where the two usually hung out, backs leaning on the sofa. Between them were 5 unopened, cold B yogurt that Hongki had brought with him, almost like bringing a six-pack beer. He was eating the 6th. He was having an upset stomach from the stress of his current schedule- he just came back from San Francisco and they’ve just released their new album. He had brought the yogurt and his strained nerves to his friend, Shin Hye.

“You know I really thought that it was just Yong Hwa whose the jealous kind among the four of us. Oh! Keun Suk-ssi is too! But not you!!! Now you’re starting to act like a jealous noona!” Shin Hye teased. “What’s going on Hongki-ya?” she prodded, when Hongki bugged her on her tweet.

“Tell me first, are you really going to leave me behind if you’re eating out with Unnie?” Hongki stubbornly said as he made a face.

“You’re so cute when you pout like that but don’t do that too often though, it might lose its magic! No, we’re not going to leave you behind. Hongki-ya, of course Unnie and I were just teasing you! Would we announce it to your hundreds of thousands of fans that we’re going to leave you if we we’re really serious?” Shin Hye ruffled Hongki’s hair as she said this, then feeling guilty fixed it right back.

“You’re sporting curly hair for this new album huh? So what’s wrong?” she continued saying. She bumped her friend’s shoulder making him sway to his side but he swayed leisurely right back.

“Just nerves I guess!” Hongki replied.

“But you’re so much tougher than I am!”

“Well yeah sometimes I am tougher than you and sometimes I am not!” Hongki downed the last gulp of the yogurt.

“Wait a minute! I’ll just go to Omma’s room. She wanted to know when you get here. And yes, I will be very careful not to wake up Appah.” Shin Hye said as she stood up.

Hongki was lying sideways on the sofa when Shin Hye came back, his head propped on the armrest, eyes closed. Minus the typical rhythmic breathing, occasional soft snoring, slightly open mouth and limbs wrapped around a hugged pillow of a typical sleeping Hongki, it was obvious to Shin Hye that he was listening to his iPhone. She gently tapped his arm and when he opened his eyes, she held his wrist then gently pulled him up and dragged him behind her. Hongki likes it when she drags him like that and makes her work for it by refusing to budge or taking his good time in walking.

“Yah! Come onnn!” Shin Hye said tugging her friend towards the kitchen. She made him sit on one of the high stools as she asked him about his band’s activities, their friends, his trip to the US, their current album, their return concert- anything that would have him talking while she went around the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and cabinets, heating something on the stove, getting a place mat, small saucers of banchan, a plate of kimchi pancake, two pairs of metallic chopsticks and two spoons and arranging them in front of her friend, then while waiting for the soup to boil, leaned on the kitchen table to listen more closely. There’s a certain sadness in her chingu’s eyes. She knew that something’s been bothering him. His tweets alone as he flew back from the US sounded…

Her mother has prepared the sundubu while she fried the kimchi pancake before he came and just instructed Shin Hye what other things to do when Hongki comes. Her mother pampers her friends that way but most specially Hongki who holds a soft spot in her mom’s heart. She said it must be hard to live in a dormitory with boys and not being able to eat hot, home-cooked meals like I do. She said Yong Hwa’s exempted as he’s been to Japan and seems tougher. Maybe she still sees Hongki as a kid, like the child actor that I too have been.

Shin Hye’s been swamped with activities these past weeks with the rehearsals leading to and the actual Melon and Keun Suk-ssi’s concert and there seems no chance of any reprieve in sight yet. Hah! I miss those times when he’d come out of the blue, jump and sit on my bed and drag me down to the living room and play whatever game we like or watch videos. Life was simpler then. Is it possible that his agency has talked to him about our closeness? The same line- girls and boys can never be friends? I did tweet him but he never replied or messaged. Maybe he’s just busy? Too busy! She sighed. He could not possibly be angry with my last tweet now, could he? And if he were, he would have confronted me about it, wouldn’t he? I mean I would if the tables were turned. Good friends should be open about things like that Hongki-ya. Hongki-ya have I hurt you?… Hey wait! That next homework on World Literature, mm…

THE FOOL’S PRAYER

by: Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

HE royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: “Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”
 
The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.
 
He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the Monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
 
“No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
 
“‘T is not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘T is by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.
 
“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
 
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say–
Who knows how grandly it had rung!
 
“Our faults no tenderness should ask.
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders — oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.
 
“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!”
 
The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”

Shin Hye sat, propped her notebook in front of her and looked at the space by the foot of the bed where she and Hongki had sat a number of times, sitting shoulder to shoulder in a huddle. She pushed the gadget away from her, pulled her legs up and hugged it. She rested her chin on her knees and just stared at the notebook’s screen. She looked down at her toes, took a deep breaths her shoulders sagging a little. Then slowly she reached for her notebook and begun pounding on its keys.

“‘Be merciful to me, a fool!’ This last line of the American poet…”

Note:”The Fool’s Prayer” is reprinted from The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900. Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1915.

Unbridled, Chapter 11

There is a reason why one needs to reach a certain age to drive, to vote, to watch certain movies or to read specific materials. This is because a definite level of maturity is needed for better understanding and appreciation of said activities.

This chapter contains some of those ‘specific’ materials.

11 ~ Sweet Liaison

“What if something bad happened to you?” Keun Suk said, forcefully this time shaking the surprised Shin Hye by her shoulders.

“Well…” Shin Hye started to explain, but was at a loss for words when she looked up at Keun Suk. She saw the anguish mixed in with the fear and the anger in his eyes. She should be angry at him for treating her like a child, right? What right does he have to… care about her? Is that what’s in his eyes? He just wants me to be his leman, right? Just a mistress, a body that is all that he wants! This body! Looking down she belatedly became self-conscious of her clothing, or more appropriately of her rather scanty clothing, but she was too proud and exasperated with the situation to care. She will be gone in no time and all this will be over she thought. ‘Why did he have to show up like this? I am going to skin that wolf if I ever get to lay my hands on him. That mongrel!’ Shin Hye was grumbling in her mind.

“That is possible but… there will never be a shortage of women for you my Lord. In fact you don’t need a leman,” Shin Hye snapped, even as she beseechingly looked at him. Bemused, a corner of Keun Suk’s lips twitched.

“You can have any and as many women you want. A different one for each week my Lord! Of course it is an honor for a lowly serf like me to be offered such a lofty erm… offer  but I am just not cut out to be leman my Lord. I am unworthy to be your leman!” Shin Hye said in all earnestness. She knows she was babbling but it was the only thing she can think of to divert his attention, other than fighting and she’s seen him fight and she has to admit he is very good but, what in heavens am I thinking, now is not the time for that. Shin Hye continued her litany, “I am uncivilized, uncultured, unrefined…”

“Untamed. Unbridled. What else?” Keun Suk added.

“What?” Shin Hye asked, perplexed.

“First you openly defy me, even challenged me, and then now you’re telling me what I should do! However did you manage to do that? And all in one go!” Keun Suk mockingly asked, astonished at her audacity.

“But you have been unrelenting in annoying me. Even in my dreams you pester me!” Shin Hye complained vehemently till she remembered that he is the young Master and she is but his serf. And, in an effort to make her statement less impolite, she belatedly added, “… er my Lord!”

“You dream of me?” Keun Suk’s voice was low and teasing as he inched closer to the whining girl.

“No! I had nightmares!” Shin Hye huffed trying to emphasize her distress but to Keun Suk one can only conclude that it meant good tidings from the sly smile creeping on his face.

“What might have I been doing in these dreams of yours to have made it a nightmare for you my dear girl?” Keun Suk cunningly kept the girl distracted as he slowly, sensuously slid a hand up Shin Hye’s neck and jaw, entangled his fingers in her wet hair and tilted her face up while his other hand snaked down to her back and leisurely drew her to him. Shin Hye instinctively propped her arms on his chest like a boundary but didn’t resist.

“I wasn’t by any chance doing this in your dream, was I?” Keun Suk slowly bent his head and lightly brushed his lips over hers.

“I know what you’re doing, you know!” Shin Hye said bracing herself.

“You do?” Keun Suk murmured on her lips.

“Yes!” Shin Hye answered still petulant but her voice was losing its edge. Keun Suk heard but only had eyes for her lips. He knows he was wreaking havoc on Shin Hye’s senses. He slowly brushed the pad of his thumb along her lower lip and he felt the stubborn set of her jaws relax and her lips slightly opened.

“And is it working?” This time he gently let his tongue run along her bottom lip as he pulled her closer and tilted her head some more. When Shin Hye didn’t react Keun Suk moved his head back slightly, to look at her. Shin Hye tilted her head to the side and shrugged her shoulders acting as though she couldn’t make up her mind. Looking closely into her eyes he saw an imp staring right back at him.

“So you’re laughing at me now?” Keun Suk raised an eyebrow as he smiled down at this crazy little minx.

“Not really. I just couldn’t resist baiting you!.” Shin Hye looked up at him smiling, her eyes shining with mirth, the corners of her lips curved like a bow. Keun Suk gazed intimately at her. Suddenly she looked so different to him. What changed? Shin Hye was basking in his smile but her mind strayed even as she continued to gaze gleefully back. She knows Keun Suk’s seducing her and she’s letting him.

This will be the last time I’ll ever see you, won’t it? I will never hear your teasing flirtatious voice, never hear you growl my name when you’re exasperated with me. I will never hear your loud open laugh or see those eyes crinkle when you laugh or smile. Never see those lips again or feel it against mine. In time someone else will kiss those lips. Her heart tightened at the thought, the same way it does when she sees other girls openly fawn at him. She wanted him to look at no one else but her. All these feelings were slamming into her in just a breath, a look. It was distressing to finally realize that she has fallen in love with the man she was about to leave and she cannot even say goodbye. Tears welled in Shin Hye’s eyes at this but it was the thought that all she’ll ever be to him is as a mistress, and she cannot even hate him for that, was what made the tears fall.

Keun Suk watched the play of emotions sweep through Shin Hye’s face, as tears gathered and trickled down her face through her smile. Keun Suk was taken aback at seeing this. He was gripped with the desire to shelter her, to protect her and never see her cry ever again. Then catching himself he thought,”What kind of foolish thinking is that?” For women everything is a part of a plan, a scheme. What is it that she wants? Everyone has a price. What is hers? Jewelry, land, status? She can have all of that even as my lover, Keun Suk reasoned, all of that except marriage.

Keun Suk has grown used to seeing her around the manor all through the day, see her stifle a grin or a laugh at his flirtations, her approving looks, even her angry stares when he’s provoked her enough. He loves seeing her independence and her spirit as they go on those nightly rides. And, he remembers all too well the feel of her body and her lips when he kissed her. She is like liquid fire in his blood and he knew, ever since that first night when he saw her at the cliff, of one thing he will make true and that is “She will be mine and mine alone!”

“There is nothing to be afraid of. I am never going to hurt you!” Keun Suk told her, wiping her tears with his thumb and planting slow tender kisses on her eyes, her lips.

Shin Hye reveled in the enticing feel of his kisses. She dropped her gaze and thought, “But you already did! You’ve taken my heart and spat on it!” then raising her eyes back up again she faintly whispered, “I guess I’m just nervous. I would like to have drink of water. I have some over there if it’s alright with you?”

“Of course!” Keun Suk replied then holding her elbow he guided her out of the pool.  Shin Hye got a small jug that she has hidden in one of the cave’s many crevices. She took a couple of gulps and offered some to Keun Suk. Holding the jug to his mouth he drank the last few gulps of water in it. Shin Hye was shivering as she stood looking at him drink and when he gave her back the jug he went and got her folded clothes and handed them to her.

“You’re going to catch a cold. Put these on and let’s go.” Keun Suk ordered as he put on his shirt and turned to stand by the cave’s entrance giving her space to change.

Shin Hye got a sack from behind one of the rocks and slung its straps around her shoulders. Keun Suk was about to take it from her but she declined. She reasoned it had her soiled clothes and was embarrassed to have him carry it for her. Chewing on some seeds she held his hand and led the way back, up the steep climb to the cliff above. The moon has waned and the way was quite dark but Shin Hye knew the way and they were under the oak tree in no time stopping to catch their breath.

On their way back to the manor though, it was Keun Suk who held her hand and led the way. “There really is no need!” Shin Hye had said but he would not let go of her hand. She relented thinking nobody would see them anyway what with the whole household asleep save for the sentries who also sometimes sleep during their post.

Keun Suk was trying to think of an excuse to take Shin Hye up to his room but even reaching the great hall he could not think of any. He thought he does not care what she would say or do, heck he was even prepared to sling her onto his shoulder like she was doing to that heavy looking sack that she has if he had to, if only doing such a thing would not jeopardize his well laid plan to seduce Shin Hye and have her come to him willingly. He may be bold in his seduction attempts but that is the only way he will have her, willing. So he made up his mind to just hang on to her hand. If she lets go then I will too. If she holds on then…

She held on. As he stumbled up the stairs she held on. That climb up the cliff must’ve been very steep for he felt his legs complaining. His feet felt so heavy but he brushed it off exultant at the feel of Shin Hye’s hand in his as he led her into his chamber. The fire at the hearth was about die and he stoked in some kindling and coal to get it going.

Shin Hye was nervous as she followed the young Lord up to his room but she willed herself to do it every step of the way. Shin Hye placed her sack by the door then turned when Keun Suk undressed and changed into dry clothes. She saw that the room was quite cozy. She had thought Keun Suk’s room would be as austere as his father’s but it was not. It had nice plump pillows, with sheets that was bordering between comfortable and extravagant, animal skins were in the floor and at the foot of his big and soft looking bed. He had rows of books, more than his father’s and on one wall were ancient weapons that he must have collected.

“You better dry your dress by the fire!” Keun Suk said as they stood face to face by the fireside. Keun Suk had his breeches on but his white shirt which looked soft and luxurious was unbuttoned. Shin Hye’s clothes, however, were the complete opposite. Her woolen outer tunic was coarse and plain gray, sleeves that reached to her knuckles and on Shin Hye’s very instructions almost shapeless with a plain, high round neck. It was no different in shape from the inner tunic save that the inner one was made of white cotton. The inner tunic was now moist from the wet shift Shin Hye had underneath it. Keun Suk had guessed right. Shin Hye had pulled her tunics above her shift in her hurry. Keun Suk turned Shin Hye around and helped her remove her tunics but when all that was left was her shift, Keun Suk turned her back to face him.

It was a special shift her mother made her. Making room for Shin Hye’s temperament and activities the tight fitting bodice which at that day and age was normally tied with laces at the back, due to Shin Hye’s impatience and independent spirit, was laced at the front. Its skirt because of her penchant for running and riding and after tearing a number of shifts had a fuller skirt and as if that were not enough had two thigh high slits at the side, something completely unheard of then. And lastly, to pamper her only child, fine and dainty silk lace fringes were on the low scooped front highlighting the finer and smoother skin and the swell of her breasts underneath. It was this that Keun Suk was clearly regarding when she turned around.

Shin Hye’s skin glowed with the amber tone of the hearth’s low blaze. Her back was straight, her neck stiff and her eyes were downcast as she stood. Keun Suk was wondering if she was still ‘baiting’ him but he brushed this aside minding her wet clothes. She will get sick if she does not get it off and change into dry ones soon. Looking at her quietly standing, waiting, he could not help but wonder what had finally induced her to follow him knowing fully well what his intentions were. Is she ready to finally be my lover, my leman? Maybe it was the warmth of the fire but he felt languid, almost sleepy, and didn’t anymore think of the why of things.

Shin Hye felt the warmth of the room embrace her skin when they entered but when Keun Suk helped her out of her tunics she felt as though hot water was poured over her from her head down to her toes even with her wet shift clinging to her. She was acutely aware of the mayhem Keun Suk was doing to her senses. She felt a gnawing ache as Keun Suk, ostensibly mesmerized by the shadows playing on her skin, traced with the back of his fingers her skin from her cheek down to her jaws, her throat to the alabaster mounds of her breasts straining against her wet shift. She was trying hard to control her breathing, calming it, as he gently pulled on the ribbon and slowly unlaced it down the front to her navel. Raising his hands he hooked his thumbs on the thin material of her neckline near her shoulders then, as if he can never tire of running his skin against hers, he slid his thumbs down the front caressing her skin as he went, then holding either side of the plunging front he peeled the wet bodice open.

Shin Hye was embarrassed when Keun Suk didn’t move and was openly admiring her. She was about to cover them with her arms when Keun Suk held and moved her arms away, looked at her and mouthed “No!” then putting a finger under her chin, he tilted her face up. He planted a gentle kiss on her lips then her cheek giving her small, tiny kisses till he reached her earlobe then drew it into his mouth and tugged it. Shin Hye’s breath was breaking at the feel of his tugging and his breath blowing on her ear. Then, Keun Suk gently bit her jaw and his kisses started to move downward her neck. Shin Hye bit her lip to stifle her moan. Keun Suk tilted her head a little more exposing her long and creamy neck and he slowly kissed her from the tip of her jaw down to the very edge of her shoulder, biting the milky, pearly skin at the tip with savage care, pulling her wet shift down her shoulder and letting it slip down to their feet as he continued tasting and teasing her, his breath turning as ragged as her’s. Shin Hye hadn’t notice her shift had fallen until she felt Keun Suk’s hand glide on her back, the heat of his palm burning her as it caressed her from her nape down her spine to the small of her back sending shivers on her skin. Thinking she felt cold Keun Suk took his shirt off, slung it around Shin Hye’s shoulders and helped her as she slip her arms through the sleeves but he held her hands before she could button it.

Standing very close but not touching her, Keun Suk reached and gathered her wet hair behind her and squeezed some of the water from it. Tiny curls escaped and framed her face and brushing them off her cheek and tucking them behind her ear Keun Suk knew that he didn’t care if she never told him who she was or where she’s from. All that mattered is that she’s in his arms right now. He cupped her face with his hands and looked hard and deep into her eyes as if he was memorizing the different shades of brown in it, into every curve and corner of her face, every lash and brow, as though he was etching everything in his mind. He closed his eyes and drew close to her so that their foreheads touched and their noses were bumping against each other, then slowly, he rubbed his nose up and down the sides of her nose, smelling her and feeling her skin next to his and then he stopped. He caught whiffs of her evergreen scent still left on her skin. With his lips just over her lips, as if they had all the time in the world he slowly traced her lips with his tongue.

Shin Hye’s heart was hammering in her chest. The gentleness and slowness of his movements was like torture to her. When he drew back a little to look at her the burning desire in his eyes was so intense that Shin Hye knew that Keun Suk must have nerves of steel to be able to control the passion and need that was blazing in his eyes. But Keun Suk was reaching his limits and can barely restrain himself. She quivered in anticipation and without meaning to a moan escaped her and, like the last drop of water that broke the dam, Keun Suk’s lips came crashing onto hers. Whether Shin Hye flung herself into Keun Suk’s arms or Keun Suk grabbed and clutched her to him it didn’t matter anymore for they were now lost in their kiss. Keun Suk left her nothing to think about except to feel and to give and be engulfed by the sensation of his lips, his tongue, even his teeth as he took everything she can give and still demand for more.

Keun Suk kissed Shin Hye with such passion that he lifted her up to him, her arms wrapped around his neck, kissing him with equal urgency and fervor. If it was rough and wild nobody was complaining all they know is that neither one of them was going to stop. Shin Hye was a willing captive in Keun Suk’s arms and when she shivered again he drew her closer to him. With his hand spread low on her back he clasped her closer to him, his warm body pushed against hers. He would not stop kissing her, even as his hand slid down and grasped her backside, his other hand gripping her neck. His kiss may seem harsh had she too not been straining to get closer to him too.

It was after some time before Keun Suk gradually loosened his grip on Shin Hye and with both of them leaning on the other’s forehead, catching their breath. Shin Hye clasped Keun Suk’s hand and pulled him towards his bed then pulling the cover off Shin Hye snuggled under the blanket and looked at Keun Suk adoringly. He tipped his head a bit trying to remember. For someone who awhile ago just tried to convince him she’s inappropriate for him, she sure looks very cozy and relaxed lying in his bed, he thought. Shin Hye opened the blanket for him to get in. Keun Suk was about to remove his breeches when he changed his mind. His hands were kind of heavy and trembled slightly. He can always do it later. He slipped in sluggishly and lying on his side gazed at Shin Hye wearing his shirt lying beside him, finally, a very sad smile on her face.

“What’s wrong my princess?” Keun Suk whispered, looking at Shin Hye through heavy eyes.

“Nothing’s wrong my sweet prince!” Shin Hye murmured and proceeded to kiss Keun Suk’s eyes, nose and lips.

Unbridled, Chapter 10

10 ~ Haven

She has discovered this haven on her first night in the manor when homesick she found herself sitting on the cliff amidst the bushes. Then as has been her usual an animal, a wolf, came near her looked at her and with actions that have been quite familiar with her- nodding its head up and down then turning it’s head to a certain direction, bid her to follow him. Scared she may be, she did. Keeping her eyes on the wolf with its tail wagging she took a step beyond the bush at what she believed was one sure step to death into the cliff where the wolf was gradually disappearing at but instead of air she felt hard, solid ground. Holding onto the weak bush she took another step and she thought, “why do I court death?” but death did not meet her, at her feet instead was the wolf motioning her to take another step in his direction and another and another and she was going down by the side of the great steep cliff till near the bottom where the sounds of the waves pounding on the surf can turn deafening, was an opening. She did not dare to look at the space beyond the path and the cliff’s hard wall. Into the face of the cliff arched like a crescent crack into the hard rock face was the entrance to a cave. The moon was quite bright then and she can hear water dripping inside but she did not brave getting in without enough light. So she and Otto, for she has nicknamed the wolf after Otto the Great, the Emperor of Italy who just recently died after all the wolf acted like some royalty ordering her to follow him, sat at the mouth of the cave.

The cave was relatively deep. Its entrance partly covered by roots that hung like a curtain. Its floor sloped down with ragged and smooth rocks and stones. There is a small flattened area just before the raised rocks rimming the pool of brackish water. The rocks around the pool were mostly big and ragged save for a narrow cleared area where one can carefully walk into the pool, crescent shaped like the cave’s opening . Stalactites and stalagmites abound and those directly above the pool had water slowly but steadily dripping down.

From random query she discovered that nobody knows of the cave or of the path that leads to it. She did get a lot of stories of the place being haunted, of how ladies in white can be seen floating around the area, of men lured to jump off the cliff by mermaids in the sea beneath it, and that it is enchanted guarded by the spirits of the forest. Nobody would even get near it. So she found herself a safe haven and with its warm water a good place to bathe.

Shin Hye put her brazier safe on the side after lighting the torch that she has placed inside shortly after discovering the cave. Listening to the water dripping on to the pool she whispered, “will this be the last time I’ll ever see you?” Looking at the clear pool of water remembering its warmth she walked towards it, removing her shoes, she took a step into its shallow edge. She looked around and as she has done a number of times before she took off her tunics, neatly folded them and laid them on top of a smooth rock on the side and wearing her fine white cotton shift she walked towards the deeper end of the pool. As the water reached the top of her thighs she dug her feet under and dove in, easily heading for the flat raised rock in the middle of the pool, bobbing as she reached it.

The silence would have been deafening if it weren’t for the sound of the water continuously falling in slow drops on the water. It was like a singsong of individual notes as the clear water fell, the distant sound of the surf dulled by the ebbing tide. She felt selfish when she first discovered the cave and not share it but when she brought Hongki towards the cliff and dared him to peep he would not even go near the tree. He said it was a sacred place.

It was a sacred place in a way, for her it is. The peace and tranquility it gives her was just like what any chapel or church exudes. Then she heard distinct footsteps. Slowly swimming to the raised rocky edge and hiding behind its shadows she held tight to the rocks her heart pounding at the thought of being discovered and the possible danger she could be in. Well she has a pin but her dagger would have been much better. It was in a special compartment in her outer tunic though. Then listening more carefully she realized who was coming. “But how?” she thought. “How could he have found the path? Surely not Otto?”

Keun Suk stepped into the cave perplexed at having found it, lighted at that, and remembering the reason he was there in the first place he looked around the cave and descended taking the torch with him.

“Shin Hye I know you’re in here! You better come out now! I cannot waste my time waiting for you!” Keun Suk’s voice boomed.

“What are you doing here?” Shin Hye questioned.

“Get out of wherever you’re hiding and get back in the manor.”

“How did you find me?” Shin Hye refusing to carry his orders and  insisting that he answer her.

“Where are you?” he said angrily, paused then, “I followed you and your wolf showed me the way. Did you train him?”

“Who trains a wolf?  Shin Hye sarcastically said and peeped from behind the rock.

“Get out of there and go back to the manor!” Keun Suk said quietly.

Shin Hye knows that Keun Suk is getting angrier but so was she. “How dare he treat me as though I were a thoughtless child!” she thought.

“I will go in a little while my Lord! I am not a child. I can take good care of myself! Thank you!” Shin Hye said petulantly.

Like Shin Hye, Keun Suk does not take too kindly to being admonished and was getting more irate.

“If you’re not in front of me at the count of three, you very well will see how a defiant child ought to be treated.” Keun Suk warned her.

Shin Hye’s eyes bulged and she clenched her teeth indignant at how he’s treating her. Swimming back towards the raised flat rock at the middle of the pool, she stood on it and with her hands on her hips and her elbows bowed outward, head and back ram rod straight, she stood rebellious and said, “And then what?”

Keun Suk looked at Shin Hye’s mutinous eyes and knew he has to teach her a lesson. Finding a crevice to leave the torch in Keun Suk furiously pulled his tunic and shoes off so he was in his breeches when he waded. Shin Hye heart was pounding when Keun Suk started undressing and she turned her head away. She turned around instead looking for a safe place to run to but there’s just the high slippery rocks on the side and the curved back of the cave. Thinking of her possible options she gulped, dreading what Keun Suk will do when he gets her. He’s not going to lay me on his lap and spank me, is he? Or cuff or use the rod? Well he’s not going to catch me. No way! She was able to avert her eyes when Keun Suk was undressing but she couldn’t anymore when he started wading in the water towards her.

He was beautiful. If such a word could be applied to men then that’s exactly what he is- beautiful! His built was not as big as most men and he took advantage of this. His physique suits him, built for speed and agility than for bulk and brute force. He was lithe and solid even in the flickering light of the torch this she can see- his muscles, the form of his torso and his whole proud stance. She has never been conscious of a man’s physique though there were plenty of half naked men whether working or at training practice at their manor, not until now. Was it just his physique or was it his looking at her with those dangerous angry eyes that has mesmerized her. “Wake up! What are you thinking?” Shin Hye had to mentally shake herself. “Goodness what do I do?”

It was then that Keun Suk stumbled and stepped onto or more appropriately fell on the sudden drop off of the pool. Shin Hye’s first thought was “does he know how to swim?” Of course he must know, she reasoned then seeing him recover and start making clean strokes swimming towards her, Shin Hye dove and swam, aiming for the shallow end where Keun Suk came from, swimming on the extreme edge of the pool near the rocks and away from the oncoming Keun Suk but was intercepted with just two full strokes of the agile young lord. With Shin Hye struggling to evade Keun Suk’s grasp in the deep portion of the pool both were out of breath when Keun Suk finally reached the portion where his feet could touch the rocky bottom with the spitfire still trying to escape, coughing up and drinking water in the process.

“God’s breath, even drowning she’s still fighting!” Keun Suk thought. He grabbed her by her waist and hauled her towards the shallow end where she can touch bottom, catch her breath and stop sputtering. Touching the bottom with her feet encouraged Shin Hye to turn and run, to swim away. Keun Suk had to shake his head. Any other time he would have smirked and admire the girl’s courage but today was not that day. He was onto her even before she made a second step. There was no longer anything left of his patience and so like on that eventful first meeting they had on the cliff up above Keun Suk pinned Shin Hye again, her hands on top of her head his body pressing her, on the rocks this time. He was holding her hands too tight and there was no gentleness there. She felt overwhelmed and confused by his anger. Suddenly Keun Suk seemed frightening towering over her, intimidating and mean.

“Why is it so hard for you to obey me? Why?” Keun Suk said huffing, trying to catch his breath too from the tussle, furious. “Don’t you know the danger you could be in, running around in the dark like that?” Keun Suk’s anger was fierce and his eyes dark with emotions. For once Shin Hye got scared of him and Keun Suk seeing this wanted to back down but he needed to impress upon her sternly that life is full of dangers. There seems no other way to do that other than to really scare her.

“I… I understand what you mean. You can let go of me now.” Shin Hye said, eyes downcast. “Please!” Keun Suk sharply let go of her so that she almost tumbled. As Shin Hye turned and walked towards the shallow area Keun Suk saw her rubbing her wrists, trying hard to pull up her shoulders and shuddered. The water was warm and with the absence of any breeze Keun Suk knew the shivering was not from the cold. He was asking himself if he’d scared her too much. In all his years he’s never met anyone who he’s wanted to kill at the same time protect as he has with Shin Hye. He knows he was doing it for her own good but he could not let her go thinking that he would or could in any way harm her. Without hesitation he grabbed Shin Hye, hugging her from behind an arm around her waist and the other around her shoulders his cheek pressed next to hers. She was still shivering and trying to calm her breathing.

“Are you cold?” He gruffly asked, couldn’t think of any excuse to hold her. “Come here! He turned her around and hugged her, rubbing her back and her arms to warm them up and then moving back just a little to look at her he said, “we’re going to dunk your head under the water and see if that can warm you so you have to hold your breath. Do you understand?” Shin Hye shocked at the sudden turn of his temperament can only nod. Holding her by her upper arms, Keun Suk submerged himself and Shin Hye under the warm water for a second or two then came right back up. With water dripping from their faces Keun Suk helped Shin Hye wipe the water off her face and with Shin Hye about an arms length away from him Keun Suk saw the girl’s now sheer cotton shift seductively plastered like a second skin next to her breasts. He closed his eyes and held Shin Hye’s shoulders, then taking a deep breath and with anger coming right back up said, “What would have happened to you if some other man came upon you dressed like this?” Then he looked at her straight in the eyes trying hard to ignore the sight of her creamy neck and shoulders and the taut pink buds straining against the delicate cloth of her shift.

Unbridled, Chapter 9

9 ~ Guardian Angels

Keun Suk’s scheme was not without an audience. It wasn’t just confined to Lord George, Hongki and old man Thomas’ view, for once the young Lord’s knights and the household had started noticing the direction of the young Lord’s piercing, stolen stares and deceptively discreet interest, gossip spread like wildfire. Not a few of the village girls were jealous of the attention afforded Shin Hye by the handsome, striking Keun Suk, but those who have met the young lady healer have nothing but prayers that she be delivered from their young Lord’s whimsical desires, their number ever increasing. With the old Lord no longer confined to his chambers, Shin Hye has been sneaking some time to minister to sick animals again, and somr people too.

Shin Hye was not without guardian angels, albeit self-appointed ones, and they were just about a handful. Other than the first three people to notice, there was Adel, Cook, Sir Duncan, Keun Suk’s right hand and head soldier whose stallion Shin Hye had nursed from a long recurring stomach ailment, and, Sir Ian who wouldn’t have consulted her had he not reached the point where even walking has proven a problem, a condition that only Shin Hye and old man Thomas, who had assisted, know and whose condition they will likely be bringing to their graves having given their word not to divulge what his malady was.

Adel rescued her by feigning she needed Shin Hye’s healing touch when she has difficulty breathing at night as Keun Suk would have moved Shin Hye to the chamber between his father’s and his. Cook would bring the young Lord’s food in his chambers or to the great hall making inane excuses for Shin Hye. Hongki would often times beat Keun Suk in riding with Shin Hye to or from old man Thomas’ hut, while Sir Duncan and Sir Ian’s mere presence seem to deter Keun Suk’s brazen amorous flirtations. These ‘coincidences’ frustrates Keun Suk but amuses Shin Hye no end. It was only Henry who has taken the young Lord’s side reasoning that Keun Suk is but a young and virile man and as such has need for ‘stimulation’. All of these the old Lord have seen and heard, and kept in mind.

Keun Suk saw it too. And, he saw more. He saw that Shin Hye is equally fierce with the things she believe in as he is- keeping her word, helping animals and people whenever she can, a disdain for dubious rules and convention. He’s glimpsed and saw how she gently handles pigs and horses, children and grown people alike, how tough she is with Hongki when he’s slacking in his chores or his training, how undaunted, candid but always courteous she is of the old Lord and on unguarded moments, how regal she carries herself and yet never thinking twice in immersing herself in manual labor. One time, if it wasn’t a figment of his imagination, he saw her twirling his father’s staff casually as she was walking towards his father’s chambers, believing she was unnoticed. What… who is she?

Shin Hye saw it too and she saw Keun Suk. She saw how diligent and determined he is in attaining his goals- from the training of his men, the way he deals with the manor’s problems that have been brought to him, the way he gets along with the people in the manor and see their respect for him. She saw the respect, almost downright reverence his men, his soldiers has for him, saw the village girls shamelessly flirt with him and how he jokes but treats them kindly and firmly, and how the villagers trusts his judgment and words implicitly as much as they do his father. As for his relationship with his father, any differences in opinion that they have were dealt very maturely by Keun Suk and treats the older man with deference. She saw too how much he cares for Tristan- how he’d caress the warhorse or firmly pat him, even whispering to calm the horse. No wonder Tristan, though undoubtedly one of the fastest and fiercest of the war horses in the stables follows the Keun Suk like a young pup.

Lord George saw more and took matters one step further. During that night’s sup in the midst of the men’s discussion on battlements and ramparts and the burs that the king had ordered built Lord George said in a clear but quiet voice, “I must be getting old…” he pauses then when the conversation quieted down to a whisper he continued, “…but what is a knight or a proper man supposed to do when he deflowers a virgin?” Now that put the whole conversation to a stop. Everyone heard him clearly of course and not one believes him when he implied that his age has made him forget. Nobody talked and just looked at whoever it is they were conversing with, as though waiting for some confirmation that they have heard the astute Lord right. Not a few brows were raised with that question

“When a knight deflowers a maiden, he becomes the owner of her body, after which she belongs to him and no one else of course.” Keun Suk automatically answered.

“What about nobles who deflower maidens of no standing?” Lord George inserted. It was thanks to Father Simon’s constant ministrations in keeping ones’ feelings to oneself that has made Shin Hye walk into the great hall as though she has not heard anything of the men’s conversation.

“More so my Lord! No man of proper standing would do such a thing and let the lass go with honor tarnished! Why it would be scandalous not to mention humiliating! Don’t you agree Lord Keun Suk?” Sir Phillip earnestly answered.

“But of course!” Keun Suk replied, almost brushing off the intrusion of the old Lord’s questions to the discussion at hand. Then as an after thought he carefully asked, “But what has brought on the question, father?”

“And if the maiden refuses? What then?” Lord George continues, completely ignoring his son’s question.

“What maiden would refuse? To be properly matched thus, such a thought is almost unheard of! Marrying a knight is almost akin to marrying a noble man. As for the nobles, isn’t marriage just some arbitrary arrangement to either further the king’s hold on the territory or a simple business transaction?” Keun Suk disdainfully replied.

Shin Hye heard her very words, well the last part that is, but coming from Keun Suk it bore a certain bitterness that gripped her heart in a way she has never experienced before. He was after all stating a fact. So why does hearing him say it hurt? She had to shake her head slightly and turned to go then she remembered that she has Lord George’s tonic so she walked nonchalantly and gave the old Lord his tonic without glancing at anyone in the room. She did not know that Keun Suk was staring at her as she did so.

“Is that resignation I hear in your voice Keun Suk? Have you after all accepted the King’s er… suggestion? Is that what your uncle has been pestering you to discuss?” the old Lord asked.

“Seems futile swimming against the tide, don’t you think father? Didn’t you follow your King’s command too?” Keun Suk sarcastically answered wanting to see a more marked reaction from the exiting Shin Hye. “Seems the wisest move!”

In that second it seemed as if everything suddenly became blank, empty- space, time, feelings. Empty. As she made each step calmly walking with nary an indication of comprehension, it felt so. If only it were so but it felt so though, empty. Like nothing had any meaning. Why is that? She felt nothing. She smells nothing, sees nothing, and hears nothing. Even with the knowledge of dinner waiting for her at the kitchens and her being famished after dashing in and out of the manor to help in birthing a sow and anticipating Lord George looking for her, food no longer hold any need for her in that instant. Fairly odd! She’s heard of this feeling, the girls in the kitchens have gossiped about it but she never thought she’d feel it. Not like this.

“Well I have it on good word that Father Mulroney is back with us with a very healthy friar too so we would not run out of celebrants in case we have a wedding then, ey?” Lord George quipped. Keun Suk raised an eyebrow at this. “What do you have in mind father?” He wondered.

“Could it be? Father Simon?” Shin Hye thought. On stepping out of the door she wasted no time and ran.

“Have you had the evening sup?” Hong ki asked Shin Hye, rushing in hungry on meeting her by the stairs as the lass was hurrying off.

“Eat ahead. I will be right back.” Shin Hye called out to Hongki.

She does not understand why she ran like that. What ever for? All she can think of is that she wanted to get as far away from the walls of the manor and that she cannot breathe. What was she thinking? What did she expect? He wanted a leman, not a wife. Did I want to be his wife? Of course not! That insufferable oaf can never attract a maiden in her right mind! He’s conceited and obnoxious and… I need to get away. As far away as I possibly can, I don’t want to see him ever again. Hongki has been making the old Lord’s tonic as I and, now, old man Thomas has taught him. There is no need for me to stay, is there? Wait! What was I thinking? It hasn’t been two moons and Father Simon is back. Mother! Father! Are they alright?

Father Simon wanted to leave immediately. He was listless when he told Shin Hye that her father is sick, very sick and they don’t have any time to lose. There must be more to the story Shin Hye thought. Father Simon is like a second father to her and just as he can spot things about her so can she about him and it was obvious he was keeping himself in check. Probably till they have had more privacy. It was getting late and with the moonless night and the increasing danger on the roads, what with talks of ambushes and thieves along the way, it was not hard for Father Mulroney to convince them to wait till its almost dawn, besides they need to give Father Simon’s horse some much needed rest for the travel ahead.

Shin Hye excused herself and promised to be back before the crack of dawn. There were some things she needed to do. First thing she did was to go to Lord George, talked to him then she went to look for Hongki. She found him in the stables getting ready and she told Hongki she was not feeling well so she would not be going with him to old man Thomas’ as has become their practice and was going to sleep early. Then as she was about to get out Shin Hye told Hongki, “Hongki fighting is not just about being able to withstand and take a blow it also being able to bend with the wind and dance with it when you need to. Always be alert, keep your eyes on your opponent and on your surroundings at the same time!” Then she told him to crouch, put one foot in front of the other and holding his shoulders with a grip Hongki never thought was ever possible for a girl of her size to have, showed him how to sway and not fall on his butt then left.

“Shin Hye is behaving very oddly. She really must be sick!” Hongki said but he proceeded to practice the maneuver Shin Hye just taught him.

She didn’t tell anyone she was leaving and there is no angel in heaven that could make her want to see Keun Suk. She does not want to see him or to hear him. “That pompous ass!” She muttered, though she could not pinpoint exactly why she’s angry with him when she does not really care what he thinks or what he will do with his life. “Hah! Serves you right if the King will make you marry a fat ugly sow!”

She has grown to care for the people of the manor but she has made up her mind- she’d disappear as suddenly as she came. She was able to sleep while people were still puttering around the manor but when she woke up and the whole manor was quiet, apart from the snores of its occupants and other night sounds, Shin Hye found herself tossing and turning. She was anxious about her father and about their coming trip back home. Her father has never been sick a day of his life nor her mother and her mother is the best healer in their manor which makes the news all the more alarming. She has never thought about such a thing happening. Tomorrow when they’re alone she’s sure Father Simon will be telling her more. Till then she cannot decide on what to do when she reaches Tyneside. She could not go back to sleep so she reckoned she might as well get her things, go to the chapel and wait for Father Simon. With a brazier in hand she tiptoed out of the manor, ran across the meadow to the oak tree by the cliffs then disappeared behind the bushes.

13 ~ Myeongdong Noodles

“What has gotten into your head that you should crave for Myeongdong noodles at a time like this?” Yong Hwa was chiding Shin Hye.

“And what has gotten into your head that you should pick me up at school and take me here?” Shin Hye smiled as she answered back. “Good thing the rest of my afternoon classes have been cancelled or we’d be drinking those noodles instead of chewing them.” She paused then added, “You look really cool on your jacket by the way. You wore that for our anniversary dinner with Hongki and PD Hong right? I did tell you you looked good in them then, didn’t I?

“Yes you did!” Yong Hwa smirked. She must really like this jacket, why she even complimented me twice that night but she can’t remember. Ahh Shin Hye-ya!

“I was craving for shellfish you know!” Shin Hye pouted her lips, grumbling.

“I know. I saw your tweet. Remember? That’s why we’re here?”

“You have time to check twitter?” Shin Hye said sounding surprised and sarcastic at the same time. She still could not believe she’d hear from Yong Hwa let alone be with him, even on the off chance that he’d have read her tweet.

“I was driving around when I saw your tweet. Good thing I was near your school when I read it.” Yong Hwa, brushing aside the sarcasm, answered as he turned around checking the place as they waited for their order.

Credit: SBS, Dramabeans, YB Epi 6

“Shin Hye-ya is today our anniversary?” Yong Hwa asked in a low voice.

“What anniversary?” Shin Hye was frowning when she hissed, wondering what anniversary Yong Hwa was talking about.

“Well in You’re Beautiful our date at Myeongdong was shown around the third week of airing right? Let me see… mm, we first aired at October 7 so the third week should be… the 21st and the 22nd! Yah!… Today’s the 24th! If I remember correctly it was episode… 5… no it was… 6!” Yong Hwa, proud at remembering, was beaming at his friend.

“That’s right! It was episode 6 and yes we’re 2 days past the Myeongdong shoot.” Shin Hye was amused at Yong Hwa’s reaction.

“Did you miss me and our Myeongdong date that much?” Yong Hwa teased Shin Hye.

“Bo? Are you crazy?” Shin Hye exclaimed. “Just because I remembered our Myeongdong shoot doesn’t mean I miss you or anything! Maybe you’re the one who missed me a lot! How come you’re wearing a hat and eyeglasses that looks like Shin Woo’s during our shoot that day?”

“Huh! Oh! Do they really look like Kang Shin Woo’s? So how come you still remember what Shin Woo wore that day?” Yong Hwa said rather surprised at himself, smiling all the while. “Yah! That’s Go Mi Nyu’s hair too!” Yong Hwa whispered, pointing out Shin Hye’s wig of straight long black hair with full on fringe or bangs!  Shin Hye just made a face. He knows Shin Hye would never admit it specially when he has been rather unreachable the past days, almost right after Heartstrings, what with the release of their new album and their concerts and he knows that he has been and can be quite insensitive, like his mother always tells him and have rarely been contacting her. This isn’t the first time he’s been rather negligent of his friends. Haven’t even talked to Hongki in quite awhile, even when they belong to the same agency and would have bumped into each other like they used to. Times have really changed.

“Do you still remember that time?” Yong Hwa asked Shin Hye.

“Yes I do! Do you?” Shin Hye asked back, looking at him keenly. Yong Hwa did his broad sheepish grin and said, “As a matter of fact, I do!” Then the two friends went on to talk about that day.

It was not that busy at the restaurant yet but it will be in a little less than an hour, when most schools get dismissed, offices get off and rush hour starts, so he was a bit apprehensive. He can outrun the fans and he really didn’t mind the rumor mills after all Shin Hye’s his only female best friend but fans can get nasty and Shin Hye can get hurt.

“So what should we do if fans would see us? Yong Hwa asked. “Am game on whatever you decide on as long as you don’t get hurt- physically or otherwise.”

“Well you can run and I can stay behind, but then they will still see me with you and the antis would clobber me on the net! Hmm… why don’t you just follow my lead!” Shin Hye said and grinned. Yong Hwa didn’t like that grin. Shin Hye is up to her antics again and his apprehensions just went a notch higher.

Their noodles came pretty fast and soon they had their heads down, shoving the hot delicious noodles in their mouths, blowing on the hot soup and slurping as they went. They’d glance at each other every few spoonfuls and smile at the rush they seem to be in finishing their soup- both hungry and delighting in the feel of the hot food sliding down their stomach. Though Shin Hye was wearing black jeans, a shirt with a red army jacket and black boots with her long straight black wig, Yong Hwa can’t help grinning, remembering her denial that she didn’t miss their date and his wearing Shin Woo’s look alike hat and glasses. ‘Sure Go Min Nyu! You don’t miss our date!’ was what Yong Hwa was thinking.

Yong Hwa wasn’t popular then. He started to skyrocket as the drama was about to end, thanks in small part to the now famous ‘second-lead’ syndrome biting a good number of “You’re Beautiful” fans. His music and band soon took off, then a series of concerts and shows and now they’re up there as one of the sought after bands in South Korea and Asia.

The restaurant had the same smell as it had when they shot their scene here Shin Hye reminisced, only now Yong Hwa joined her on her table so his back was towards the door. They weren’t that popular then, but now between the two of them, he was more likely to be spotted and mobbed than she was- a given in the Korean entertainment industry as its usually the male celebrities that people chase after.  The same industry that woefully could call friends going out for noodles a “scandal” The amount of gossip if they were discovered would be too much of a hassle specially on Yong Hwa’s side, what with agencies overly zealous of their idol bands, talents’ “moral standing”. So, yes, they were courting danger coming here Shin hye thought, now what are we going to do when people starts getting curious? Well we’re just going to have to see, right? We’ll just have to cross the bridge when we get there.

And, cross the bridge they did.

They had just handed the waiter their payment and were about to get up when three school girls stepped into the restaurant, sat down and in less than a minute started whispering to each other. Shin Hye caught a glimpse of them and before the girls could whip out their cellular phones, Shin Hye after catching Yong Hwa’s eye and mouthing “follow me”, got up and they both slowly walked towards the exit as if they didn’t notice anything. They had barely passed the restaurant’s wide front glass window when they heard the girls squeal and the sound of chairs being hurriedly pushed aside. With one look Shin Hye and Yong Hwa held hands and made a run for it. As they turned a corner they slowed to a hurried walk so as not to catch any more attention. Good thing the noodle shop was not along main street Myeongdong so they still had a number of side streets or alleys to try and throw off the girls who were following them, who in turn was being followed by an increasing number of other girls. Two turns more and they’ll be on main street and there, with the wider area to walk, they could lose them or they could get trapped and sandwiched between the fans behind them and those walking towards them, who’d wonder who the small crowd was following.

They acted calm but hurried in their steps. If they crossed the road to their left when they reach the coming corner they would just be a two blocks away from their parked car, but it will also give the fans full view of their side features compared to just seeing their jacketed backs and hair. She was busy thinking of what to do when right ahead of them was a couple holding hands and leisurely walking wearing ‘couple’ stuff- shirt, jeans, sneakers. She got irritated at their slow pace as they could get blocked and trapped. She had to chuckle though when she glimpsed at Yong Hwa’s furrowed brows, a twin to her initial expression. He grinned hearing her chuckle.

“Ey Bolmae-ya! I have an idea!” Shin Hye said as they both squeezed past the couple a few meters before they reach the intersection where they need to cross.

“What is it? Yong Hwa without missing a step drew nearer as they continued walking fast.

“When I say run, we’ll run okay? And then…” Shin Hye whispered the rest of her instructions as they both sensed the seemingly increasing murmuring and footsteps following them.

The fans were not yet one hundred percent sure that it was Yong Hwa they saw. The girl he was with walked slightly ahead so they were basically following a gray jacketed man with reddish brown hair and stance like Yong Hwa and a girl with long straight black hair in a red jacket with a hoodie. They cannot erase their suspicions when it looked as if they were walking in too much of a hurry that she and her friends cannot walk near enough to make sure who those two really are. They have after all seen and have gotten autographs from a few actors and singers walking around Myeongdong.

“I really think it is him- Yong Hwa oppa, right?” said one.

“I know right? But who is he with? I thought he didn’t have a girlfriend?” said the other.

“Come on! Hurry! Two more turns and we could lose them!” the third one said. Then just as they were about to walk faster the couple suddenly ran to the end of the block and turned right. And that’s when they screamed for when the running guy turned right they saw Yong Hwa’s side features. The girl was very quick in covering her hair with her red hoodie so they couldn’t see. They stopped in their tracks for a second then screamed, “Yong Hwa oppa!!!” then they ran as fast as they can. They had to squeeze through the couple in red couple shirts who behaved as though the sidewalk were a park.

The three knew, being Myeongdong regulars, that if Yong Hwa oppa and his date were to run fast they’d be taking another turn into the main street by the time they reached the corner so they ran with all their might, so did the number of girls who heard them talking that it was Yong Hwa that they saw. The girls ran so fast they almost run smack into another couple as they turned. They had to make an abrupt stop and evade them wasting a few precious seconds for them to actually see which direction the running couple turned. Still the three girls ran on followed by a dozen or more other girls.

As they reached the corner to their right and near the end of the opposite building they saw a growing cluster of people. One of the girls looked to their left but did not see any gray and red jacketed couple. The other looked back to where they came from and other than the girls who were following them, who were now hurrying to get a better view of what it was people were huddling around for, were two couples unmindful of the world around them and a few people window shopping there wasn’t any sign of the running red and gray jackets. The third one not wanting to be overtaken by the hordes of other fans following them grabbed the two girls and rushed into the crowd, now sure it was Yong Hwa they saw.

But it wasn’t Yong Hwa in the middle of the throng. It was a guerilla interview with some actress.

“But that isn’t Yong Hwa!”

“Sheesh! They escaped?”

“Am absolutely sure it was him!”

“If that couple in white couple shirts hadn’t blocked our view we would have seen more clearly where Yong Hwa and his girlfriend went!”

“Yeah! Shameless! Hugging and kissing in public like that? Is there a couple conference near here?”

“Did you see that other blue shirted couple? Did you see how blue shirted guy was holding his girlfriend?”

“You wouldn’t be surprised if you saw the face of the guy!” was all they could say as they giggled. Giving up their pursuit of Yong Hwa and his ‘”girlfriend” they turned their attention to the actress being interviewed.

*   *   *

It wasn’t until they’ve parked on a quiet area in Shin Hye’s school that they managed to look at each other and burst out laughing.

“That was a close call!” Yong Hwa, almost shouting and laughing at the same time, said.

“I know!” Shin Hye gasped. “Maybe it’s much better if we just do take out next time.” Yong Hwa’s eyes bulged in disbelief at what Shin Hye said.

“Okay I’ll order home delivery next time or better yet I’ll just go by myself next time.”

“It wasn’t really bad Shin Hye! I just don’t want you to get hurt!” Yong Hwa said. The idea of Shin Hye eating Myeongdong noodles all by herself didn’t sound quite right in his ears.

“That was very ingenuous what you did back there!” He said rather proudly. “In fact if I could turn back time, there is only one thing that I would change about what happened to us!”

“It was, wasn’t it?” Shin Hye gave her wide impish smile like a little kid who has been caught with her hands inside the cookie jar, then she frowned and said, “you would change what?”

*   *   *

Just before they ran Shin Hye told Yong Hwa to remove his jacket as soon as they turned the corner and he did. Speed was very crucial but they had luck too and most importantly “presence of mind”. It was luck that when they removed their jackets, they found that they have the same white V-necked shirt on, luck that Shin Hye had in her bag the two red baseball caps that her fans club has just sent her, luck that she brought, though it was Yong Hwa who carried and had slung it on his shoulder, her big messenger bag that was big enough to fit and hide their jackets in. It was a tribute however to their presence of mind and degree of closeness everything that came after.

As soon as Yong Hwa and Shin Hye turned the corner they stopped running, took off their jackets and stuffed them inside the bag then they took out and wore the baseball caps. Just as they were about to walk back to the corner where they came from and cross the street  they heard the sound of running steps of what sounded like a good number of people and not a few calling “Yong Hwa oppa”. There was not enough time to reach the corner before the fans did so Yong Hwa backed Shin Hye on to the wall. With his elbow propped on the wall near Shin Hye’s ear, his other hand on Shin Hye’s lower back, Yong Hwa’s body shielded Shin Hye from the oncoming rush of people then had enough foresight to lean his head towards the opposite side as to block the view on that side so it looks as though he was kissing her. The running girls would stop and side step as they reached them, nary giving them a glance. But when the girls on the tail end started to slow and not a few were looking around, Shin Hye got anxious that Yong Hwa’s cover might not be enough so without any hesitation she slowly moved her arms up, crossed her wrists behind his head and tilted her head towards the opposite side further cementing their kissing pose.

“Nice cover huh?” Shin Hye smiled as she whispered belatedly realizing her lips were a little less than an inch from Yong Hwa’s then her eyelids started to flutter, a habit of Shin Hye when she’s embarrassed over something.

“We’re both geniuses!” Yong Hwa agreed and saw too clearly the discomfort Shin Hye was in. “And, you know you need not be scared of me so why are you doing that?” Yong Hwa smirked.

It was hard enough to control their breathing with the suspense of being surrounded by unsuspecting fans passing by a few feet away from them but to have someone this close wasn’t something common with Shin Hye, well save for the three other ANJells and some good friends. She freezes in her kissing scenes, the only exception being the Goong S kiss that her character had to initiate.

“Just because!” Shin Hye replied. “So you’re saying I need not be scared of you because you’re never going to kiss me?”

“Not unless you want me to! Why? Do you want me to?” Yong Hwa looked at her closely as he answered, a sly smile playing on his lips, one eyebrow raising. Suddenly they were conscious of how close they were, of how warm and minty their breaths were on their cheeks and lips even if it had hints of the soup that they just had mingled with their breath fresheners, of how idyllic their pose seemed to be. In fact, it had a sensation of a deja vu for Shin Hye but she can’t seem to remember when this same scene has happened.

“Pabo-ya!” Shin Hye uttered quickly then seeing that the girls have all but dismissed their presence she leisurely took her arms off Yong Hwa’s neck and hooked one arm around his waist as Yong Hwa quite naturally draped his arm around Shin Hye’s shoulder and as they turned to face the corner getting ready to cross the road and go to their car. “So we’re having a five to ten minute acting workshop now, right?” Shin Hye asked.

“Uh huh! In a way, yeah!” Yong Hwa quietly replied, “Why?” Wondering what Shin Hye was thinking about he was surprised when Shin Hye leaned her head on his shoulder and tilted her face up to look up at Yong Hwa, which she had to exaggerated a bit what with the baseball cap’s visor blocking her view, then sweetly, talking as softly as she can, so Yong Hwa had to look on at her straight on, she said, “Now Jagi never ever forget your promise okay?” Then she made a face and added, “We really should be going now right? Pali-pali?”

*   *   *

So what are you going to change about today? Shin Hye curiously asked.

“Hm… I should have borrowed the white tinted car instead of this blue clear one!”

“That’s it?” Shin Hye said a smile starting to spread on her face.

“Yeah it would have  matched to our shirts!” Yong Hwa said so seriously and smiled right back.

Unbridled, Chapter 8

8 ~ The Chase

Hongki insisted he was feeling much better than the day before and that he didn’t need the cold soak anymore but Shin Hye could not be swayed. They were walking slowly to old man Thomas’ hut when they heard the sound of hooves behind them. It was Lord Keun Suk on Tristan, a brown palfrey in tow. A few feet before reaching them the young Lord threw the reins at Hongki which Hongki quite adeptly caught and, not missing a beat, ran alongside the cantering mare, jumped on and rode forth.

Shin Hye found herself looking at the butts of the two horses and the backs of the two men. “Hah! If he had thrown the reins at me those two would have seen the proper and more efficient way of jumping on a galloping horse!” Shin Hye was muttering under her breath and walked on remembering the countless of times she’s done the same thing when hunting or riding with the manor’s men. She was after all trained in all skills needed for a squire by Sir John- horse riding tricks not being in the least of the skills that she’s learned. It is so hard this business of hiding and pretending, she was thinking and gave a loud sigh.

Keun Suk turned back and galloped towards her. When she saw his hand stretched out towards her, she reached for it without a second thought. Keun Suk effortlessly pulled her up and had her sit behind him. She held on to his mantle at the start but had to hold and wrap her arms around his waist tight as they rode in full gallop, easily passing Hongki on the ride to the old man’s hut. As a consolation to her much bruised pride she dismounted gracefully even before Tristan has ambled to a stop, landing lightly on her feet choosing rather instinctively, even in semi darkness, a leafless area to land on so Keun Suk was taken aback to find her already on the ground while old man Thomas, who had a full view of her poised descent was looking on quite proudly. She had to turn and hide her smile.

The old man must have been anticipating their arrival for he was sitting outside his hut, an earthen brazier in front of him and the strewn cut logs doing quite well as chairs. The young Lord hesitantly sat on one- a ready view of the shallow spring being afforded them- of Hongki soaking in and Shin Hye, as the night before, grinding her poultice as she sat, looking over Hongki like a mother hen hovering over her chick. This rankled Keun Suk to no end, it was very plain in old man Thomas’ eyes to see. Keun Suk glimpses had been hard for him to do, raising his eyebrows almost every time and even stared hard when Shin Hye started washing the caked blood on Hongki’s face and neck, so much so that even Hongki noticed it.

Shin Hye was oblivious to this though, her back conveniently turned towards the two men. She saw Hongki look at the other men’s direction and saw too the slight wrinkling of her friend’s eyebrows but she dismissed it as mere desire on Hongki’s part to join the mens’ discussion. Her thoughts were on the three interlopers she saw in the bailey that day, who, she surmised, the young Lord has cunningly lured into his army. She was also wondering why the young Lord didn’t get angry with her last night. ‘Was it because I was with Hongki or because he knew there was no longer any danger within the forest? But what is it to him if I was in danger? Is he really that deprived that he should have great need for a leman?’

With both men highly sensitive to the young Lord’s rising temper, both Hongki and old man Thomas hurriedly escaped into the hut as soon as Hongki finished soaking. Old man Thomas had grabbed the bowl with the poultice that Shin Hye was carrying and dismissingly told her that he will be the one to bandage it on Hongki’s bruises, murmuring something about it being more proper if he did it. Was old man Thomas implying it’s not proper for me to do it, she wondered. This didn’t quite agree with Shin Hye’s state of mind and made her frown.

Thomas rapidly retreated toward his hut, leaving the unsuspecting but increasingly miffed girl to the seething temper of the young Lord. She turned to look at his angry eyes and right away understood why the two were scampering. ‘Those cowards’ Shin Hye was muttering in her head. ‘What is he angry about this time’, she thought, she’d better get in too. She made a comically fast curtsy and said, “I will help them my Lord!” then she turned to follow them.

Keun Suk’s irritation cannot be hidden and as he grabbed her wrist. He pulled her to him so forcefully, she just about slammed into him. He pinned her hand behind her back, leaving her other hand straining, flat on his chest, bracing herself from crushed close to him, her bosom heaving, out of breath from the suddenness of the embrace.

“Which part of what Thomas said did you not understand woman?” Keun Suk said as he looked down on her upturned face, eyes beginning to glitter in annoyance. How can she look more beautiful annoyed, he asked himself, conscious of her softness pressed to him, his anger slowly dissipating.

“But Hongki!” She squawked.

“He’s not your child!” Keun Suk said with a clip.

“Nor am I yours!” Shin Hye hissed.

“No you’re just my leman!” He looked at her, gazed at her stubborn upturned nose, her head held high, her demeanor proud.

“I would rather die than become some man’s leman!” Shin Hye snarled.

“You’re like a wild animal hissing and snarling. In case you didn’t know I tamed Tristan and I would only be so pleased to train you!”

Before Shin Hye could push herself away from him, Keun Suk grasped her nape and kissed her. She was quite ready to tackle him, expecting brute force from the abruptness of what he did but instead of hard, crushing lips she felt nothing but gentleness, catching her off guard, not knowing what to do. He was raining soft slow kisses on her lips. What is he doing? I am not going to be tricked that easily she told herself, even as her lips had involuntarily opened, but as he tenderly wedged a very small part of her lower lip between his teeth and lightly drew it in his mouth, she totally forgot what it was she had decided to do. She stood frozen, all thoughts centered on the feel of his lips and teeth, the calculated control of his bites and nips and how it brought pleasure and made her hang back for what he will do next. It felt almost like a dream but the word leman kept echoing in her ears. ‘Do you really think that only you can play this game?’ was Shin Hye’s unspoken challenge to Keun Suk. Her mother didn’t label Shin Hye unbridled for no reason.

If snarling wont work then maybe the opposite will, Shin Hye thought. With such simplistic thinking Shin Hye was at her crazy antics again. She swung her free arm on Keun Suk’s neck and kissed him the way he kissed her- slow and soft with small nibbles and bites, but she went a step beyond that. For whatever reason or excuse it was that has gotten her to do such a thing, obviously common sense wasn’t one of them, she let herself be carried away. Immersed in the sensations and the feelings the seduction has evoked in her she pressed, more like molded her body to his. Whether it was animal or human instinct that’s what she did and Keun Suk though taken aback can not be any happier by her sudden change. Hugging her by her waist and kissing without any indication of even stopping, he lifted her off her feet, took a couple of steps backward, spun around and settled her so that her back was pressed on to a tree.

She giggled and moaned as a tree node poked her at her side, and Keun Suk drew back just far enough to quizzically look at her.

“A node is poking me on my side. Am ticklish.” Shin Hye declared. “Do you always pin your women on to tree trunks?”

“Just you!” and he planted a kiss on her nose.

“My women don’t need any coaxing to climb my bed!”

That was just the right sentence to wake her up and Shin Hye felt like she had taken a dip in the cold spring as Hongki had, and an ache so new to her settled at the pit of her stomach, squeezing ever so slightly at the thought of… ‘Nonsense’, she silenced that pestering voice in her heart.

“You should go back to them then. They at least need no ‘coaxing’!” Shin Hye said sardonically, and this time she slipped fast away from Keun Suk, hurriedly walking towards the hut.

“You’re not jealous, are you?” Keun Suk said folding his arms in front of him and leaning on the tree instead of running after her, a grin spreading on his face, his wolf-like eyes narrowing. “Just a few kisses and you’re jealous already?

“You must be dreaming!” And, she stomped away, impatient to get as far away as she can from the sight of him.

On the way back to the manor Keun Suk had seated Shin Hye in front of him, one had holding the reins while the other possessively held onto her waist. Of course she took notice of this, as did Hongki and old man Thomas. She felt like a horse with Keun Suk’s family seal permanently marked on all her saddles- a situation that she has ran away from but end up being threatened into just the same. It will not be for long she promised herself. In the time being, his holding me as such doesn’t feel too bad. In fact, it was rather er… ‘agreeable’ and very funny.

And thus begun Keun Suk’s seduction of Shin Hye. It was second nature to him. Almost like waging war in the ingenuity of his ways- hidden smiles, stolen glances and caresses, seemingly unintended but a caress just the same, appearing beside her when least expected. He didn’t stop his irritating her though. Their whispered quarrels were a staple- the woman indignant, the man flirtatious. But in between they got to know the other’s mannerisms, getting adept at judging thoughts and behavior. Not too few a times he’d receive a hidden smile from Shin Hye when he’d skillfully do battle maneuvers or demonstrated skills to the army.

He discovered, as he half-suspected that Shin Hye is a good horsewoman. He has taken her riding through the forest since that night with Hongki. They would sometimes leave Hongki with old man Thomas to go riding, Keun Suk has never kissed Shin Hye again, though he has teased her a number of times by acting as if he would. He was laying down his traps quite efficiently.

Whatever it is this girl is hiding I will find out and whatever that secret might be, one conclusion is inevitable- she will be falling into my bed, and soon. He has never backed down from a chase. Sometimes the chase is the only thing that makes the whole exercise entertaining and pretty soon, like all the other women he has pursued, everything would have their end.

12 ~ 2 Minutes!

“Can you please just not say anything? Just hold me? Please?” Shin Hye said, muffling her last sentence on the collar of his shirt. And, he held her. Shin Hye had wrapped her arms around herself when Hongki came upon her standing at the terrace of her house looking out at the small garden at the back. He had playfully hugged her from behind then, covering her arms and hands with his own. It was a cold day! And here she was standing out here. He had turned her around after sometime, hugging her still and when she would still not look at him, he bumped the top of her head gently with his forehead, giving her a very tender headbutt, and said, “Yah!” That’s when she said those three sentences.

He was about to let go when she said that. His thoughts were on Shin Hye’s parents. Ahjumoni will definitely kill me, he thought, but Shin Hye’s Ahpah will probably skin me alive first, salt me, then he’ll cut me piece by piece. Still, he held her. Good thing he was wearing his thick brown leather jacket. He unzipped his jacket, wrapped it around Shin Hye and enfolded her in his arms as she buried her face on his chest. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t cry either. She just stood there hugging herself as he embraced her. She didn’t move even as he rubbed the exposed part of her arms and back to warm them up. She did move when he, without letting go, goofily walked her towards a corner of the wide concrete side railings which doubles as a high bench so he can hug her as he sat and had her stand between his legs. He was quite comfy holding her like that, Shin Hye standing, pitching sideways on one of his thighs, head leaning on his shoulders, face hiding on his shirt collar, her arms around her tummy as he hugged her.

“Shin Hye-ya! If Ahjumoni sees us like this she will kill me, wont she?” he asked.

“Uh huh!” Shin Hye nodded in agreement.

“But you’re still not going to move even if I tell you to move, right?”

“Uh uh!” Shin Hye moved her head from side to side in emphasizing her decision not to move.

“We can’t stay very long here or we’ll both get sick you know that, right?”

“Uh huh!” Shin Hye assented.

“So a few minutes more, or shall we go in now?”

“Two minutes.” Shin Hye whispered. She didn’t move from where she stood but snuggled more comfortably within his arms, raising her clasped hands to her mouth to blow warm breath onto them which tickled Hongki neck and made him shiver.

“Yah!” he complained, so Shin Hye with a crooked grin on her face put her hands down and folded it in front of her again.

“Pleeease?” she gruffly added and Hongki relented. What in heaven’s name is this girl thinking about, he asked himself. It was a nice feeling though, the cool afternoon air surrounding them contrasting with the warmth of their hug, his jacket cosseting them from the biting 12deg cold temperature.

“Ya Babo, its been more than 2 minutes,” he gently reminded Shin Hye, looking at the wall clock hanging on top of the doorway.

“It has?” Shin Hye replied. “Okay!” as she slowly straightened up and take her arms from around him. “Remove your jacket. I’m going to wear it!”

“What? You mean you’re staying behind and letting me go in by myself?”

“Sssh! You talk too much! Just give me your jacket!” Shin Hye answered, then she pulled him down from where he was sitting, sat where he used to as she put on the jacket, pulled him close, placed his hands around his waist, tucked the still warm jacket around him and said, “Now it’s your turn!”

“Huh? What…?”

“Just do as I say. You’re too tall though. Can you lean your head on my neck?” Shin Hye was asking as she surveyed their position. Upon seeing it was an uncomfortable position for him, Shin Hye hopped down, dragged a stool so he could sit in front of her comfortably,  sat right back, hooked one of her leg around him as he sat sideways between her hanging legs and hugged him so it was his turn to be in the warm cocoon, wrapped in Shin Hye’s arms… and er, one leg too.

“Okay! 2 minutes! And, no talking!” Shin Hye warned. It was so cozy and the feeling was rather pleasing that he didn’t complain. Surely he wouldn’t get killed now, it was Shin Hye who was hugging him, right? ‘Hmm, this is nice too’ he thought, relaxing into the safe and sheltered feeling of the hug.

“Okay! 2 minutes is up.” Shin Hye said as she gently released him from her embrace and slowly pulled him up.

“Omma saw you hugging me huh?” Shin Hye asked as she fixed his hair as he stood up.

“Yup!” He answered standing up straight in front of her like a school boy with his mom fixing his hair.

“That’s why you asked me aloud if she’s going to kill you if she sees you huh?” Shin Hye continued running her fingers through his hair.

“Yup!” He just looked at her eyes as she busied herself with his hair.

“That’s also why you had to broadcast your question, if I’m going to move or not and the rest huh? So Omma will hear?” Shin Hye then removed the jacket that she had sequestered from him and held it open for him to put on, which he obediently did.

“Yup, yup!” He said. Then he raised his hand out to her to assist her in getting down from the railing.

Shin Hye took his hand then hopped down. She clapped both his arms to make him stand up straight, hooked her arm around his elbow and lead him towards the door.

“Ahh Hongki! Where is Omma so she can now kill you?” Shin Hye turned to him and impishly smiled.

Hongki looked at his friend ruefully and stopped walking, willing her to talk to him. “Are you okay?”

“Yup!” Shin Hye tenderly smiled at him, gone was the mischievous eyes.

“You know I am always here, right?”

“Yup!” Shin Hye answered, a trace of sadness now evident in her eyes but she would not talk. He gazed at her for what felt like a minute or two and he let it be.

“Okay so where is Ahjumoni so she can kill me for hugging my best friend?”

Unbridled, Chapter 7

7 ~ The Game’s Afoot

Shin Hye was mending the old Lord’s torn garments and was doing a terrible job at it. Not only was she not good with needles and thread but her attention was mostly glued to the sounds outside coming from the bailey. One time she heard what she thought was Hongki shouting and caught herself more than halfway, sewing shut one armhole. She was just putting the shirt down inspecting the almost sealed up armhole when she noticed the old Lord’s book shaking.

‘Oh nooo’ she thought, ‘was he having a seizure?’ She rushed to the old man’s side to find Lord George choking back his laughter, and at having been caught at such a predicament, rolled to his side and gave himself to his amusement till tears were streaming down his eyes. All Shin Hye could do was smile and eventually laugh with him. She went back to her seat by the window and undid her handiwork while Lord George tried to compose himself, amused at the silly girl punished for rousing the curiosity and desire of the young Lord, his son.

“Go call Henry and hurry!” the old Lord ordered. Shin Hye ran out wondering if Henry would be at the great hall and instinctively felt embarrassed at feeling excitement at the possibility of seeing the young Lord. He had been most gracious last night. Good thing Hongki woke up long enough to walk towards the manor before he collapsed with fatigue and slept. She had hurriedly said good night and fled.

She wasn’t able to go too far from the Lord’s chamber, however, for Henry was by the stairwell when she went down as though standing guard. ‘Hmm, that seems odd!” but she brushed it off and called Henry. She was told to wait outside of the old Lord’s chambers when Henry went in. She was musing what the two could have been discussing as the old Lord wasn’t ranting and raving as he was wont to do every time he was with Henry. She did hear Henry’s protestation, his typical, “But my Lord…!” and then there was silence. It took awhile before Henry hurried out in a huff, worry etched in his forehead but disbelief painted all over his face. Then, when he looked at her he just muttered, “What…? How…? How did you do it child?”

“How did I do what Henry?” Shin Hye was plenty alarmed at this. “But it was just an armhole and I’ve even started to fix it! It’s even easier to undo those stitches than to sew them on!” Henry looked at her incredulously and hurried down to the hall. Is he going to tell the young Lord about such a trivial thing? And, will he be angry with me again- thinking of the young Lord’s possible reaction, and over an armhole at that?

Her brows were furrowed when she got in and was shocked to see Lord George all dressed up. He may not have worn his finer garments but seeing him in nothing save for his usual nightgown from the first time she saw him, and then seeing him all dressed up like that was enough to bring a proud smile on Shin Hye’s face. Now she knows where Lord Keun Suk got his good looks.

“Ahh! I see that you approve?” Lord George queried.

“Oh you look rather dashing my Lord!” Shin Hye asked, wondering at the back of her mind if they were expecting visitors that afternoon.

“I want to see the exercises we now have at the bailey! Now since I have had no squire for some time, you will be my squire for now. I trust you know what needs be done?”

“Yes of course my Lord! But… the stairs and the distance?”

“I see you do not delve into the keep’s pastime, gossip. Contrary to what you might think, I am not an invalid. I stayed in my chambers because I chose to! You were right to think that my hands, feet and joints have been bothering me, and thanks to you I am feeling so much better the past few days. Now you can stay here and get on with whatever you have been doing to my clothes or you can go out with me and assist me. Which would it be?”

Shin Hye felt as though it was the morning of Cristes mæsse anticipating the eating and dancing and general merriment of the festival. She jumped at the chance. “Of course I will accompany you my Lord!” Shin Hye answered enthusiastically and ran right behind the old Lord to check on the room, straightened the bedcovers then standing a step behind Lord George did a jig but abruptly stopped when she saw that the old Lord had turned and looked at her, an eyebrow raised.

“Oh! I’m sorry my Lord!” Shin Hye uttered, soberly and stood erect.

“Pass me my staff and let’s go!”

Shin Hye went and got the walking staff, handed it to the old Lord and opened the door. He didn’t show any limp in his walk, Shin Hye observed, maybe just slow but the old Lord was doing quite well. She went ahead of the old Lord in getting down the stairs, half-turning, in her descent, mindful of the Lord’s steps. That amused Lord George. Months prior and he would have hollered at her.

Henry has prepared a chair for the old Lord when they got to the bailey though it wasn’t of much use to Lord George as he preferred standing for a better view of the exercises. There were about twenty men in all, thirteen to twenty or so summers old. Of course she looked for Hongki. The trainees were being supervised by Keun Suk’s knights and the more senior soldiers. It had seemed all too sudden the last minute recruitment of soldiers. She wondered if it had something to do with those sham poachers in the forest two nights ago.

The manor and its lands were not as bountiful if it had more water for farming and raising more animals. The place had a pretty laid back feel until yesterday. It had been awhile since the manor’s been afrenzy with activity. Something is up and she was wondering if she would still be in the manor to see the unfolding of whatever it is the young Lord was preparing for.

The clanging of metal hitting metal was almost music to Shin Hye’s ears and she’s always been curious how other knights train their soldiers. Tyneside has never been much into fighting, having more carpenters than soldiers, relying mostly on the knowledge that they were being flanked by strong allies. They have never had problems till her Uncle insisted on her marrying Lord Eric. Well she has never had any problems till her Uncle insisted on her marrying Lord Eric. Her life had been quite perfect, hadn’t it?

For someone who intended to stay in the background she certainly chose, or rather was given the coveted role, never mind if she was just filling in for a day or an afternoon, but she had the coveted role of standing behind the old Lord as a squire does, never mind that she looked so diminutive holding on to the Lord’s unusual walking staff. That was the reason why the men were stealing glances her way, this staff is a really odd looking sort, or so she reasoned. She was sure there was a story there somewhere but till then, till the old Lord has chosen to have a squire, if he chooses to have one, then she’ll just have to continue hiding behind the old Lord’s chair or his robes and act as though she’s a squire.

She didn’t know that the afternoon light had cast a glow on her hair from the side and even with her hair in simple braids and dressed in plain brown wool tunic, she was a pleasant sight for the men after a morning of grueling physical exercise. Hongki who was quite immune to Shin Hye’s beauty had to do a double take when he noticed her. He smiled at the thought of her futilely hiding, and suffered thus by having his legs pulled from under him and landed on his butt. Shin Hye saw him and was in fact smiling at him when his opponent hit Hongki again even when he was visibly down. Then he raised his wooden sword to hit Hongki again. Good thing her friend was able to evade so the full force of the strike hit the ground and only grazed Hongki. That was not a very gentlemanly move and made Shin Hye’s blood boil. She scrutinize the gray wool cloaked man. He looked fairly familiar, then she remembered one of the men who almost caught up with her and the young Lord. I’m sure he’d have recognized him, she thought. He is an astute warrior so why would he invite an obvious enemy into his home. So she looked for him around the bailey, craning her neck this way and that, but could not see him anywhere. He might be lightly built but he has a presence that can draw people’s attention if he chooses to.

“You would not happen to be looking for me, would you?” he spoke behind her.

The hair on her nape felt like they were all standing on end and she had to regulate her breathing to control the sudden excitement she was feeling, her heart was beating so fast. She’s supposed to be angry with him, isn’t she? The flush on her face however she could do nothing about so she just avoided looking directly at him but straightened her head and back to hide the embarrassment she was starting to feel for having been caught and turned to look in the direction of Hongki hoping he would understand what she wanted to tell him.

“I know. I remember!” Keun Suk said, looking closely at the gray cloaked man and two more of his accomplices among the new recruits.

“Hongki is getting clobbered and is defenseless! He is inexperienced next to that man.” Shin Hye whispered.

“Then Hongki shall be learning fast to avoid being hit often.”

Keun Suk had no idea how Shin Hye was itching to take on the man whacking at Hongki. The man is careless, his conceit has made him lazy, Shin Hye studied his mistakes as well as his strengths in the short time she’s been observing them. Hongki has such potential but needs patience to learn the basics, a very common fault among new recruits. Their method of training is not all that different to what they had in their keep only more rigid and their trainers more exacting. She knows that there is not much she can compete with if brute strength were the only thing there is in fighting and it is precisely because of this that Sir John had trained her early on to use her wits and not meet the force head on, teaching her maneuvers to unbalance or evade her adversary and land blows that matter. She would like to teach the man some manners.

“Would you like to have a try on Hongki’s opponent woman?” Keun Suk softly but matter-of-factly said.

“Sire?” Shin Hye quietly answered, belatedly realizing she’s been gripping the staff rather fiercely and so relaxed her hold. “Oh no, my lord! It just seems rather unfair of him to hit a fallen man that’s all.”

“There is nothing fair in a battle. All one has are but his wits.” Then turning to his father, Keun Suk said, “Well father it seems our noise have roused you from your rest. Would you rather we move somewhere farther?”

“Nonsense lad! I think the very sound of swords ringing is doing me a lot of good.”

“What has brought on the sudden change of heart, my Lord? I thought you said you have had enough of wars?” the puzzled son asked, low enough for just the three of them to hear. “You don’t have something up your sleeve, do you?”

“Ahh! Aren’t elderly people allowed to change their minds?”

Unbridled, Chapter 6

6 ~ Easy Boy

Hongki was very sullen during that evening’s sup- not talking to her, not even looking at her. ‘Oh Hongki! I certainly have gotten you into trouble now, haven’t I?’ Shin Hye thought, gazing at her friend across the table. That’s when she noticed that the rest of the serfs, save for Adel and Cook, were giving her the cold treatment too. It got too unnerving for her to the point that she escaped to the stables to find and talk to Hongki after the meal. Hongki however turned and left when she came in. So alone she went on around the stable cleaning and, when fatigue came, she went to Virginia’s stall stacked bails of hay like she always does and thought she’d just take a nap and wait for Hongki. She was petting the foal when she fell asleep.

“Shin Hye you’re going to get me into trouble again if you sleep here!” Hongki almost shouted while shaking her shoulders.

“Huh?” Shin Hye turned her head around to orient where she was. “I wouldn’t have fallen asleep if you’d come back sooner instead of letting me do all the work, you oaf!” Shin Hye was rubbing her eyes.

“Oaf!? Oaf!? You oaf? And, so its my fault now?” Hongki blurted astonished. Shin Hye who was trying to wake herself up, sluggishly sat up, pulled down Hongki to sit beside her and hugged him.

“Oh Hongki! I thought you were never going to speak to me again!”

“Hey! Who says am speaking to you again? Am not an easy boy you know?”Hongki complained but a grin was starting to tug his lips up as he let Shin Hye hug him.

“Yes you are! I’m sorry about this morning Hongki! I was in such a hurry to make Lord George’s tonic I went out earlier than usual without telling anybody. But I’ve been doing that ever since right? Even though I was mostly in the gardens and with Virginia? I don’t understand what all the fuss is all about?” Shin Hye whined as she pulled away from Hongki, still stubborn.

“Can’t you just follow Lord Keun Suk’s  orders for once Shin Hye?” Hongki pleaded. “At least for the time being? While he’s here?”

“I didn’t really mean to disobey him Hongki but… while he’s here? You mean he’ll be leaving soon?” Shin Hye’s voice went a pitch higher, excited. Hongki suddenly clamped her mouth with his hand and good thing too for behind him Keun Suk’s voice boomed.

“HONGKI!”

“Oh! Umm… sorry my Lord!” Hongki hurriedly ran to get Tristan saddled as Keun Suk leaned on the stall’s entrance, blocking her exit, staring blankly at her.

“Just last night you were passionately kissing me and now you’re in the arms of another man. My my my aren’t you quite something?” Keun Suk scornfully said.

“Excuse me my Lord!” Shin Hye stood up, crouched and was about to squeeze through the small space left of the passage when Keun Suk moved. Not wishing to bump into him, she stepped back and ended up being pinned against the stall’s wall, Keun Suk’s face and body merely inches away.

“Is that all you have to say? Excuse me my Lord? No pleas for understanding? No declaration of innocence?  Wouldn’t you want to come away clean and ‘pure’ with me? I after all have the power to make a dent in your lot in life!” Keun Suk said with derision, anger rising again at seeing the two in an embrace.

Shin Hye, her eyes still looking down, raised her eyebrow but said nothing. Keun Suk saw this. He raised his arm, rested his hand on the wall near her head and leaned closer. She could feel the warmth of his body, heightened by the cold wood to which her back was flat against, and his breath hot on her cheek and on her lips.

“Wouldn’t you rather be my leman than be a common serf? I am after all a very reasonable master and lover. Even if I have, shall we say have had my fill, and i assure you i will, you would still be much sought after. Why even baronesses and princesses would crawl on their knees for a taste of my lips. I think last night was proof enough, don’t you think?”  Keun Suk wanted to anger her and even if he has never said such vile words to a woman in all his life, he can’t seem to help himself, the words just tumbled out of his mouth as if it had a will of its own.

Incensed with his crudeness and conceit, Shin Hye quietly whispered, “Then you shouldn’t waste them on poor maidens my Lord! Why throw diamonds at pigs? They can’t tell the difference and would be much happier rolling in the mud.” Catching him off guard yet again, Shin Hye said “if you would please…” and she slipped away once again.

She was so angry at Keun Suk she had difficulty sleeping and even with her promise to Hongki to try and obey the young Masters’ orders, Shin Hye snuck away to the cliff that night once again. Troubled as she was, her instincts warning her, she still went on to the cliff, sat cross-legged and cried. She can’t understand what she has done to deserve such contempt. Leaning on the tree trunk, looking at the far off seas, fatigue eventually overtook Shin Hye and she fell asleep, oblivious to the three pairs of eyes watching her- one, from a few meters away, the second, just a bit farther, and the third, watching all three of them.

After some time, the one nearest came and picked her up. She was too tired to open her eyes but knew from his walk and the feel of his arms around her who it was. She was hiding her eyes on his shirt’s collar. She was thinking they must be puffy now, her eyes. It was after some distance when she talked. Whispered actually, eyes still closed, she said, “Why does he hate me so Hongki? What have I done to deserve those insults? I am not a bad girl you know?”

She felt the jostle. ‘Has she been transferred to another person’s arms?’ the fleeting thought came, but she was falling into a deep sleep and all she can do was whisper once again, “I’m not a bad girl!” and sobbed. She heard a faint answering whisper, as if she were underneath a tunnel, the voice said, “I know! It’s not your fault. Sleep now!” Then she snuggled closer and slept.

“You’ve met your match have you dear boy? Ah yes! You’ve met your match indeed!” Someone from within the manor was smiling and muttering to himself, looking on at the sight he has just witnessed.

She woke up the following day the same time she always does, skies still dark blue, before the sun peeps out of the evening sky, before the cock crows.  There was no need to make any more tonic as the jug she made yesterday was enough for a week’s use. She was going out to the stables to see the foal and Virginia and yes even Tristan too. She was tiptoeing out when she saw Hongki still sleeping, mouth slightly open, sleeping so deeply that she didn’t wake him up. She’ll let him sleep some more she thought, he did carry her back to the manor. How could he have carried her all the way back, that far, when I am so heavy and the way isn’t even very clear in the waning moon light, she wondered. Sleep well my friend.

Feeling confident, listening to the solitude of the early morning, not a soul making a sound, she took out her staff from her hiding place and did the routine she has done since she was seven and wanted to impress Sir John, then she fed the horses, went to the cliffs and went back in the manor before Hongki can go out to look for her.

She had breakfast with Hongki and the rest of the serfs. Hongki’s good mood was rubbing off on everyone, and it almost felt like everybody has forgotten the previous day’s incident.

“You seem very happy Hongki. Did Cook give you an extra piece of bread may haps or did you have a very good dream? You’re back’s not killing you, is it?”

“No. No. And, thankfully, no to the last question as well. I just have some new assignments. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long, long, loong time.”

“Noooo!!! You’re serious? You’re going to be included in the training sessions now?” All she needed was to see the twinkle in her friend eyes to know the answer. She saw him as he went on his way out of the kitchen towards the bailey and there was a hop in his step. “Let’s see if you can still hop by day’s end dear friend.” She muttered to herself grinning, as she went up towards the old Lord’s room.

To Shin Hye, her activities that day seemed like a foreshadow of her new routine- clean the old Lord’s room in the morning, give him his morning dose of tonic, putting balm on his hands and feet, then Lord George would have Henry bring up Shin Hye’s food too, and thus began their mid-day meals eaten together, still eaten in comfortable silence. It is the afternoon that is killing Shin Hye, there was nothing else to do but sit, rearrange things, fold or unfold sheets anything to keep herself occupied, the times when she would hear the sounds of  and long for the activities outside of the manor. She would oft turn her head when she heard voices from the window, get startled at the knock on the old Lord’s door or longingly looked at the books on the table and mantle. All this the old Lord has noticed.

That night after the evening’s sup, Shin Hye ran to the stables where Hongki was groaning. He even skipped his supper which Shin Hye secretly brought for him. Even the heavy work he does around the manor was not enough preparation for Hongki. Her immediate concerns, however, were the blisters on her friend’s hands and the bruises he has on his body. If he was to survive tomorrow’s and the following days’ training she must help him. She looked for and gathered the medicinal plants needed to dry up and ease the pain brought on by the blisters, then pushing and pulling, she made him walk to the cold shallow spring near old Thomas’ hut and ordered him to soak in the cold water as she made the poultice for the ugliest looking bruises. She has gathered spider webs for the cuts and leaves that she will crush and bandage on once they’ve reached the manor. She thought of making him some pain numbing tonic but she knows that there is much to be learned from pain as well so she didn’t.

Shin Hye knows that Hongki, like any boy in those dark times, has always dreamed of becoming a knight, but had very little hope of even becoming a squire. Knights almost always belonged to a noble family, they start training at the age of 7 as a page then more years and training as a squire, countless battles to prove their bravery and valor and that’s still not enough for one to be conferred the honor of becoming a knight. Then there is the expense of knighthood but Hongki takes no notice of those. To be allowed to train as a soldier was already a big honor for Hongki. Young and arrogant he may sometimes be but Lord Keun Suk’s reputation for training highly-skilled and astute soldiers was almost as good as a knighthood.

If Hongki lived with his family it would have been his mother’s role to do everything in her power to look after his cuts and bruises so he wont back out or lag and be kicked out of training, but he’s been with the manor since he was very young. He was almost as good as an orphan, save for Adel, Cook and Henry who has been like his family since. They were too busy to attend to him though, so she stepped up for the role instead. She cajoled, ordered, nagged and threatened him into following everything she wanted him to do. The soak in the cold water should ease the pain and the swelling. Noticing Hongki fighting off a yawn, Shin Hye sat sideways on the rocks beside the pool, held his hair so he wont fall asleep and slip his head into the pool.

“Shin Hye I think you’re holding the only part of me that isn’t bruised, but if you don’t ease up you may pull all of it soon!” Hongki complained.

“Well I’d rather see you bald than dive in to rescue you from drowning in a thigh deep pool.” Shin Hye retorted. “Come closer!” Then dipping her hand into the cold water, cupped some water and washed the dried up blood on Hongki’s forehead, rubbing it gently then cupping some more water to tend to the cut near his brow. She was too absorbed with what she was doing she did not notice Hongki gazing at her, a wry smile on his face. Then he held her hand, placed her palm on his cheek, looked at her tenderly and said, “Thank you Shin Hye!”

“You’re welcome Hongki!” Shin Hye gave him a smile and continued, “Now one last dip and we’re done.”

Hongki went into old man Thomas’ hut to changed into dry clothes, warm up and have some of the poultice Shin Hye made bandaged on. Hongki was walking like a drunk on their walk back to the manor. Sleeping would not be a problem once they get there but for now she has to take on part of her friends weight as they walked back. Propping Hongki’s arm around her shoulders Shin Hye half dragged, half carried Hongki. Her friend still has two weeks to get used to the pain and the grueling mind-numbing fatigue. But the toughest days are the second to the sixth, ‘on those days at least let me help you my friend’, she thought.

On their way back, Shin Hye took a different way from that night when Keun Suk saved her. Lord Keun Suk found them anyway, he reached out and told them to hitch up. Shin Hye didn’t have the heart to have Tristan carry more than two passengers so she begged him to just take Hongki back. Keun Suk would not permit such a thing and convinced her to ride with them by showing her how Hongki was literally swaying on his seat. Shin Hye reluctantly agreed, and by holding on to the young Lord tethered both herself and Hongki for safe travel. She noticed how the young Lord used a different route, a route where nobody seems to be on. Was Lord Keun Suk doing this for Hongki? So Hongki can still save his pride?

‘Hongki was pretty much out of it for the duration of the ride so he wouldn’t have known that the young Lord held her hand, would he? He was only doing it to help her hang on to him, right?’ So acutely aware was she of the feel and warmth of Keun Suk’s hand on hers. She had not complained, nor had she pulled her hand away when he held her hand till they reached the stables. She could have very well loosen her grip during the ride, right? He was just trying to be practical.

11 ~ “Whoah!”

The young guy at the bleachers has been sitting there for about half an hour, legs crossing and uncrossing. He was tinkering with an iPad in front of him and he had a notebook- the pen and paper kind as well, as if he’s doing homework.  But he would every now and then look at them and listen. He knew because Yong Hwa has been glancing at him for the past half hour. There was something about the young boy that he can’t quite put a finger on, even made him wonder, “Do I know him?”

He is a strange visitor. Maybe he’s a relative of one of the Olympic Hall’s security or of some aide FNC has hired for the concert waiting for his brother or father. He looks like any other boy, dark jeans and jacket, baseball cap, eyeglasses and that’s it. He didn’t seem that irritated or harassed by the constant tuning of their instruments, their starting and restarting, repeating one song then another. He came quite handy when they needed feedback on the volume and all those other stuff. He never shouted back just gave the more effective hand signals to answer their questions. One time while Yong Hwa was singing a ballad, ‘Y,Why’,  the boy stuck his index finger inside his open mouth and mimed puking, that made Yong Hwa laugh.

It was after some time when Yong Hwa noticed the boy stand up, folded his arms in front of him and just looked and listened at them. The next Yong Hwa glanced at the boy, he had his knapsack on his back and seemed to have waited for him to look at him, then the boy thumped his chest twice on the top, thumb side of his right fist, pointed two of his fingers at his own eyes and with his index finger pointed straight at Yong Hwa.

‘Whoah! That punk! Isn’t that the gang sign for “I’m watching you”?’ he was about to call out something or tell the other boys if they saw what the boy just did,  then the boy pulled down his cap, turned and left. Yong Hwa chuckled. “That boy is unusual! But he’s cool!” He reminded Yong Hwa of those opossums in the movie Ice Age 2. The boy was a welcome sight and break during that night, their final dress rehearsal, hours running up ‘Blue Storm’, their concert.

*   *   *

 “Hi guys!“ Shin Hye piped as she entered their dressing room. She was wearing a black frilly blouse, thigh-length beige coat and black skinny jeans, a wig with long wavy brown hair and fringed bangs. She looked like some doll, which if you see mixed with her thumping, shaking and slapping the guys arms and hands would make you do a double take, even if she does it so femininely it was still like seeing Barbie break dancing. He was always the last one she greeted. Depending on proximity or if they were in a huddle, it was always Jong Hyun first, Jung Shin second, Minhyuk third, and Yong Hwa last.

Sitting in front of the dressing table with his back turned towards the door, Yong Hwa watched Shin Hye from the mirror as she worked the room. He wondered if Shin Hye would ever enter a room, look and go to him first- before greeting or smiling at just about every body in it. Even if he has gotten used to her being like that he just couldn’t help but ponder. ‘She seems a little nervous. Her smile would sometimes leave her eyes.’ He observed, ‘Must be the antifans she’s worrying about.’ Good thing they’re all focused on Shin Hye or they’d have seen him stare at her as she walked towards him.

On reaching Yong Hwa, Shin Hye tapped both his shoulders hard with her hands, leaned down so her face was right beside his, both of them looking at their reflection from the mirror, bumped her right cheek with his left and whispered, “Hello handsome!” then they both laughed. Easy to shift Yong Hwa’s attention, Shin Hye thought. Then wrapping her arms around his chest and neck from behind as he continued to sit, she said, “I am still the best make up artist for you Yong Hwa-ya, right? Didn’t you look just lovely then?” Remembering the time she gave Yong Hwa the “pink overdose”- pink foundation, pink blush, pink eyeshadow, pink lipstick. “Pink is still the color for you Yong Hwa!” Twisting around and standing up, the sneakered, black shirted Yong Hwa stood just slightly taller than the high-heeled Shin Hye. They gave each other low fives, one armed hugs and taps, smiled and looked at each other, standing closely like they most often do, as though discussing a secret.

“My Chingu’s getting handsomer by the minute I see!” Shin Hye said, looking at her friend proudly.

“Not as much if you had come earlier and did my make up!“ Yong Hwa gamely answered. Shin Hye had a lot of fun doing his make up during You’re Beautiful’s Gee parody. She  said that was the “color me pink” Barbie look. She probably just invented that name but… the company was good, the view was even better, until I had the bout of the guilties, or was I being selfish in telling her to hold on to her blouse so Hongki and Hyung behind me wont see her cleavage when she leans down. He remembers how she clasped her blouse front onto her chest and with the other clamped his eyes shut.

“What were you doing going that early to the Han river?”

“What were you doing reading tweets when you should be concentrating on your concert?”

“Do you meet someone there? Who bikes with you?”

“Have you always been so nosy? Are you three ganging up on me asking me the exact same question?” Yong Hwa answered this by raising an eyebrow. Shin Hye just beamed.

“No I do not! It’s the best time to bike and you get to pray too actually!”

Yong Hwa looked intensely at her, knowing her enough to tell if she was lying or not. He did his lopsided sheepish smile when he saw that she wasn’t. Shin Hye smiled as well.

“Come here!”

“What? I am already right in front of you, Pabo!”

“I meant this!” Yong Hwa held Shin Hye’s chin, tilted her head and kissed her full on the lips. Sure he heard the three’s “Oi!” “Hyung!” “Yah!” but did he really care? He was thinking,  “Just a few seconds guys please! I really need this!” It didn’t help that Shin Hye kissed him right back, transporting them back to their rehearsal kiss.

Then he felt a knuckle tapping on his forehead. “Yah! What are you staring at me for?” Shin Hye was looking at him oddly. “It’s not the right time to daydream Yong Hwa-ya!”

Yong Hwa had a blank expression on his face. ‘Was he just dreaming that kiss?’

As if to remind Yong Hwa where he was, Shin Hye teasingly asked, “Who do you suppose those people are chanting for Yong Hwa-ya? FTIsland? Or Maroon 5?”

Yong Hwa scrunched up his face, ever the jealous Yong Hwa, and said, “Go on to your seat first. It can get pretty dark on your way to your seat when the lights are turned off.”

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea! They might not like seeing me.” Never the type who wants to draw attention to herself and ever wary of antis, Shin Hye hesitated.

“Okay! Umm.. go walk towards the aisle on the side of the stage then when the lights are turned off you can get to your seat. Oemma and Ahpah are already there. You’ll be okay with them.” Yong Hwa looked closely at her then said, “Okay?”

“Okay Ahjussi!” And, Shin Hye gave him a mocking smile then turned to go with the rest of the people filing out of the room, leaving the four members behind.

‘How can she just leave like that?’ he thought. ‘She didn’t even say good luck!’ Then , just as he turned to the other three, Shin Hye came running in, laughing and yapping how she’s gotten so forgetful and gave the three a hug and greeted each “Good Luck!” then turned to go, leaving him out. Yong Hwa out of exasperation abruptly put his hands on his hips, opened his mouth as if to say something and knitted his brows.

One, two, three steps… five steps… before she turned around with the most mischievous grin on her face ran to Yong Hwa, slamming into him as she hugged him. “Whoah!” Yong Hwa blurted, staggered back at the impact and laughed at Shin Hye’s theatrics. Then she cupped his face with her hands and said, “I don’t really need to do this, right? You’re cool, right?”

Yong Hwa laughed and replied, “Yeah am cool. Of course, I am!”

“Okay then! Fighting!” Shin Hye pinched his cheek. “Aw! Yong Hwa grabbed his cheek.

“It wasn’t even hard! Let me see!” Shin Hye protested. Then sensing a ploy, she said, “So did I give you an owie?” Shin Hye cooed as though to a child, taking her friend’s hand away, willingly and with a smirk gave his cheek the kiss he was playing for, then left, hearing the three mocking Yong Hwa for being shameless. Five minutes after, the show started.

*   *   *

The band was in such high spirits even before their encore. Shin Hye was already waiting at the wings with small towels and a big smile for the four, gave each to Jung Shin and Minhyuk as they exited and milled behind her waiting for the other two. Jong Hyun and Yong Hwa being the last two to come out. She wiped Jong Hyun’s forehead before she handed him the towel, saw a triumphant Yong Hwa raise his eyebrow at her, that she opened the small towel to cover his whole face and laughed. “Bwahaha! Doesn’t fit you, Yong Hwa-ya!” then she proceeded to wipe his forehead and draped the towel on his sweat-drenched neck and gave him a hug.

“I’m sweaty!”

“I don’t care! Congratulations! Daebak!” Good thing the lights on the wings was on low for the two were grinning at each other candidly. Then Shin Hye turned aside, pushed Yong Hwa to follow the exiting three, out of the curtains onto the backstage and the rest of their well wishers. Shin Hye left without saying goodbye. The guys were engulfed by their well wishers, so many fans, friends and family tapping, hugging, kissing them. Yong Hwa turned to look for Shin Hye but he couldn’t find her. She’d be crushed, he thought. Where is she? He turned around once again. Then he saw the silhouette of the young boy at the bleachers of the previous night walking towards the exit. The lights were quite dim so he still could not make out his face all that well then the boy turned to him and did his “I’m watching you” hand gesture, pulled his baseball cap down on his face,  spun around and left. Manager Jjun and Shin Hye’s stylist, a beige coat draped on her arm, hurriedly walked after the boy and flanked him.

“Whoah!”

Unbridled, Chapter 5

5 ~ Flares

Keun Suk felt her hold slacken midway on their short ride to the manor and there were times when he had to grab at her loosely clasped hands on his stomach when he thought she’d let go altogether, she must’ve fallen asleep. And he was right. Shin Hye was tottering and was about to fall forward and hug Tristan’s back when Keun Suk dismounted the stallion. He was about to grab her when he saw Hongki rush from the other side, pull Shin Hye down and carried her. Keun Suk couldn’t make sense of the sudden rise in his temper. Wasn’t Hongki supposed to take Tristan’s reins and guide the horse into his stall rather than hold her like that? He briskly led Tristan in himself and was in a rather foul mood when he stepped out.

“Shin Hye you have to wake up! I am not carrying you all the way to house you hear? It’s too dark and you’re too heavy!”

Hongki was sitting on a tree stump with Shin Hye propped on his lap, her head snuggled on his neck, his arm around her back and his other hand patting the sleeping girl’s cheek.

“Mama just a few moments please!”

“Who are you calling Mama?” Hongki grumbled. Keun Suk could not help stifle a laugh when he heard Hongki say that but he was still irritated seeing Hongki and Shin Hye positioned so.

“See to the foal Hongki it looks sick!” Keun Suk said aloud. To this Shin Hye groggily jumped up and said, “That’s crazy! Who said that? I just saw him a few hours ago and he was just fine. Skinny perhaps, but fine!” Rubbing her eyes and slapping her cheeks to wake herself up, she stumbled forward and nearly fell had Hongki not grabbed her waist to steady her.

“Hah! Surely you don’t need an excuse to cuddle to your lover by feigning sleep?”

That got Shin Hye standing stiff and livid and Hongki sensing imminent danger grabbed Shin Hye’s wrist and dragged her to the manor. The angry young Lord trailed then passed them. Shin Hye feels like giving him a good whack with her staff, though her staff and the rest of her things were all hidden at the stable’s attic.

The morning didn’t find Keun Suk any better. The household was on tiptoe by the time Shin Hye entered the kitchen. She didn’t stop to ask what all the shushing was all about. Shin Hye woke up pretty early and had sneaked out before anyone was up to get the additional plants she needed for the tonic she was going to make for the old lord, then went to the old decrepit outdoor kitchen at the back of the manor to brew the tonic. So she was holding the covered jar and small clay bowl when she sat to join the rest in the kitchen for the morn meal which she ate in a rush, unmindful of the glances the rest of the serfs were giving her. All that she noticed was how strange it is not to chat with Hongki while eating.

Shin Hye was just in time, reaching the old master’s chambers, as Henry was getting out with the Lord’s food tray. Henry was slightly startled when he saw her, scowled and went right back to the same brooding silence he had before seeing Shin Hye. She didn’t think much of it assuming that the old Lord was at his ranting again as she walked in excitedly into the room. She made her greeting, her head always bowed, entered, placed the jug and the small bowl on the table and went on to open the windows wide and inspect the room. Too absorbed was she in her thoughts and task that she didn’t notice that the old lord was no longer ranting as he did the day before and that there were not that many things to pick up from the floor anymore.

When she finished she stood at the foot of the old lord’s bed, curtsied and said, My Lord, if it is not too much of an imposition on thee, may I speak sire?” The old lord looked at her moodily, and gruffly motioned her to move closer. Her head still bowed she took a few steps closer; she continued to speak “My Lord, I would like to ask for your forgiveness for I have done something rather presumptuous!” She looked up to see the Lord’s expression and when she saw him frown some more she persisted, “oh but sire I had done it with no ill intentions at all sire and I assure you I am very knowledgeable in this area and..” the Lord raised his hand, motioning her to stop talking and said, “What did you do child?”

“Oh!… My Lord I made you a tonic without asking your permission sire.” When the Lord didn’t say anything she stood up straight and looked directly at the old lord and said, “I had noticed the swollen joints of your hands and feet sire, and though I was thinking of the tonic while I was here yesterday, it wasn’t until I was at the stables with Hongki when he mentioned that you used to ride Virginia that I finally decided to make you the tonic sire, unprompted. My mother is a healer you see and I’ve made this brew and balm so often I can almost do it with my eyes closed. It is not a cure sire but it will ease the pain immensely and reduce its swelling. We’ll try two sips first sire and go from there. I can take a sip to prove to you that it is not poison my Lord, if you wish, but I can’t take more than that as it makes me act as though I were drunk even if I can out drink any drunkard from here to… oh so sorry sire!” realizing she’s been rambling. She looked at the old Lord whose gaze was fixed at the window facing the cliff, lost in his thoughts for some time before he raised his hand for the tonic. So she took the jug and poured two sips worth of the medicine into the goblet and gave it to the old Lord. He took the goblet and slowly drank. When he finished she took the goblet and cautiously added, “Sire I also made some balm. I…”

“Later” interrupted the old Lord. She went around doing more cleaning but having done a lot the day before she was much finished even before the mid day meal had come. So she sat by the window looking longingly at the garden, the trees and meadow outside as Henry came in with the Lord’s food and her bowl of gruel. Shin Hye was surprised. “But Henry!”

“I don’t know what you did child but you’ve angered the young master mighty right and now he’s barking at anybody who so much as come within two arms width near him. And, where did you run off to early this morning again. Since Hongki could not find you, he told Hongki to stay out of his sight. Even after I’ve told him I saw you come in and go about your duties to the old Lord this morning, he’s still seething. What ever did you do child?” Henry didn’t wait for her reply but brusquely handed her her bowl and mug and hurriedly went out of the chamber.

“Wha…?” Shin Hye’s face was a smooth kaleidoscope of emotions from surprise to a scowl to a frown to knitted brows and stiff jaws of stubbornness to blazing-eyed anger complete with shoulder raising breathing. Just as smooth was the slow tugging up of the old Lord’s lips from an amused smile to a laugh to a loud guffaw. It did not help that Shin Hye’s expression went right back to a surprised one again upon seeing him laugh and then back to the scowl and frown once again. Thankfully it didn’t go back to the red faced angry one as before but she was certainly brooding over something now. The old Lord was trying to choke back his laughter which only made him laugh all the more and had to slap his knee a few times to calm down. As his laughter was dying down and he was uttering, “I’m sorry child. I was not really laughing at you. I was…” when boom opened the door and in came Keun Suk.

“And what seems to be the source of such merriment, this blasted day has brought you, father?” Though he sought to look at his father, the old Lord saw, even through his laughter-induced tear-blurred eyes, that Keun Suk looked around the room for the girl before looking at the source of his “concern”- his father.

“Well my boy it’s called fresh air!” And as the old man’s laughter died down to a snicker, he couldn’t help but frown that there surely is more to it than fresh air but his father looks like he was not inclined to say more. He turned to look at Shin Hye, he saw, even as she averted her eyes, that she was angry and was not likely to talk too. “Well fine I don’t care anyway. It’s much better that way” he thought.

“Of course!” Keun Suk said in answer to his father’s quip and turning back to Shin Hye, “Come. I want to have a word with you.”

“Oh no! Not yet my boy. I will send her down to you in a moment. You may go now.” The old Lord said matter-of-factly, his tone strong, carrying the authority it has always wielded. Keun Suk seems taken aback at the change in his father, not having anything else to say, he retorted, “I will wait then.” He went out closing the door strongly behind him, strong enough to show anger but not enough to show defiance. This brought on a smile to the old Lord’s face.

“Child you said you have a balm?” Shin Hye silently got the shallow bowl and with eyes cast down proceeded to gently rub the balm on to the old man’s hands and feet. The Lord sensing the turmoil in the girl did something he’s only done one other time in all his lifetime, he engaged in small talk. Shin Hye had no inclination to ask but if she had then she would have known that the old Lord never engaged in “small” talk. Actually he does not like talking much at all.

“How come it does not smell bad?”

“Sire? Oh the balm. I used some pine needles to mask the strong scent of the herbs my Lord and the oil kind of dulls that too. Then Shin Hye carried on and talked about the tonic and the balm and how she made it on her mother’s instructions.

“Yes it is presumptuous of you and I forgive you for that. But I am thankful too that you took the time to observe and to minister to… sick people.”

“Oh sire! To be honest, I am better with animals am afraid! Did you know that Virginia’s given us a foal sire?” And, off went Shin Hye talking about the horse and the foal.

“I can see you love the outdoors. So what has brought on your being imprisoned in here?” the old Lord interjected. Shin Hye’s stubborn anger came right back in a flash with that question, and she looked down and paused before answering, “It’s because I disobeyed the young master’s orders sire.”

“Go get your food and eat right there,” the old man said, pointing to the stool near his bed. “Eating cold food is not nice but eating alone is worse.” Shin Hye thought how lonely the old Lord must be cooped up in his room and though they ate in silence it was a peaceful silence and the anger in Shin Hye defused. As she gathered their bowls the old man said, “I think we’ve made your young Lord wait long enough. Take the bowls down with you and see him.”

Shin Hye was startled at this and looked at the old Lord. But he just waved her out. Henry met her at the foot of the stairway even before she could turn to take a step towards the kitchen. So she made her way to the great hall. She has never stepped beyond the kitchen for the two weeks she’s been at the manor, hiding away, wishing to know as little of the place and the people as possible but seems she has no such luck there. Just as she has no such luck forgetting what has happened the previous night. Making the tonic and thinking of how the old Lord would react to her making it had helped occupy her thoughts when she woke up. But now as she unconsciously touched her lips she remembered the kiss she had the night before, her first. But who would ever believe it was her first? She probably responded like some wanton woman would. She kissed him with an abandon she has never had outside of her passion for taming and healing animals, for mastering her staff and sword and reading. She can remember the feel of his lips as it tugged and kissed and learned every crease and line of her lips, his breath warm on her cheeks, the scent of pine around them and their breaths mingling. Worse is the memory of her doing the exact same thing on his lips, she remembers how she couldn’t seem to press herself close enough to him, how she clung on to his neck to support her slowly buckling knees. Maybe there wasn’t much to be embarrassed about she knows he feels the same way too- she felt it in how his hand pressed on her back, felt the urgency and desire in his kiss and she felt how hard it was for him to stop the kiss and as he hugged her after.

‘Why? Oh why did I have to remember all of it right now?’ she thought. She felt like she was transported back even while walking, head down unmindful where she was going, forgetting that the manor wasn’t very big, that she has to stop by the entrance and wait to be announced or called in before entering, heedless that she bypassed the stunned squire on guard, or maybe it was just from some force of habit- something that she has never done in their manor unless there were important guests or has she, well once or twice maybe she has. Immersed in thoughts so surprised was she to see shoes in front of her that when she looked up, the memories of last night’s kiss were still in her mind and hadn’t registered that the face that went with the shoes was looming above hers.

He was angry to have been kept waiting. He has been fuming since the morning when he ordered Hongki to have her come and Hongki could not find her. What is wrong with her? And, now his father is waylaying her too. Then he sees her enter as though she owns the manor. He could have just shouted at her insolence or had one of his knights accost her but he jumped before any of them could move and met her halfway into the great hall. Whether he moved too fast or she walked too slow he does not know but he was already standing with his arms on his hips when she noticed someone blocking her path. Good thing she was walking slowly too or she would have walked right smack at him. She didn’t. She hurriedly reached out to what she thought was a wall to brace herself and turned hooded and glazed eyes at ‘the wall’. The same eyes that has haunted him in his restless sleep.

And the wall had angry eyes that laughed became guarded before becoming angry again.

“Don’t they teach you manners where you come from?” Keun Suk said.

“What? Oh!” She turned around to see where she was at and belatedly realized her mistake. “I… I’m sorry I was thinking about something and I didn’t know where I was going.” She looked back at him. His gaze wavered for a bit.

‘Heavens bless me but all I want to do is either strangle this woman or kiss her and throw her into my bed, so what if its still early afternoon.’ That thought got him all the angrier at her.

“What were you doing in the forest last night? Where were you this morning?”

“I was just here sire.” Shin Hye placed at a defensive stance can only answer the last question.

“If you were just here then why couldn’t Hongki find you?

“But I don’t know where Hongki went to look for me sire.”

“Hongki said you were up and out very early, before anyone was up.”

“That’s true sire.”

“And…?”

“And what sire?” Shin Hye was aggravated enough not to satisfy him with the easy answer. She thought, ‘what does it matter where I go or what I do? I am just a serf here so why bother?’

“Do you really want to play dumb with me? Or would you, in any way, think that I am dumb?”

Shin Hye sensing the threat looming backed down thinking why fight over so petty a thing.

“I was at the old abandoned kitchen early this morning sire making some tonic for the old Lord, Lord George, that is also why I was at the forest last night. I went to old man Thomas’ hut to ask for some wolfbane since I could not find it anywhere near here.” That silenced him. He wanted to say, ‘You did not go there to meet another man? Aren’t you satisfied with Hongki?’ Anything to anger her. Aah, that is stupid! What is wrong with him?

“If that is all young master I would like to go back to my duties now sire.” Taking advantage of Keun Suk’s momentary confusion and before he could utter another word, Shin hye escaped back to the old master’s room. The old man was reading a book. Since she has nothing much to do, she just sat by the window, looked out at the meadow and field outside or looked around the room and at the books. A short moment later they heard someone bellowing orders below. Seems the tantrum hasn’t really died down. The old man smiled behind his book.

10 ~ Buddies

“Ya! Shin Hye-ya my flight’s been postponed. Are you at the awards ceremony right now?”

“Nae! You’re supposed to be in Japan by now, aren’t you? I thought you’ve left? What’s all that noise? Where are you?”

“We’re on our way out of Incheon airport. Seems there is a problem with our visa. So we’re rescheduling our trip.”

“Ya! You haven’t even left and you already miss me?”

“Bo?” Yong Hwa snapped, disconcerted and taken aback, still registering what Shin Hye just said.

“Kekeke! It’s okay Yong Hwa-ssi I do know I am quite lovable so I really understand why you miss me so much!” Shin Hye could not help tease her chingu, as she guffawed at the speechless Yong Hwa.

“BO?” Yong Hwa raised his voice and acted indignant but a smile was spreading on his face that he had to look down to hide his amusement. “Ya! If I know, it’s you who is missing my elbow to hold on to, my wonderful company and, of course, my handsome, dashing looks.”

Shin Hye just keeps on laughing at the other end of the line.

“How many times have I escorted you Shin Hye-ya?”

“Too many times! I’m almost ready to file a protest. Surely there are other guys out there who would want to escort me! Where are they?” Shin Hye was still smiling as she whined. Yong Hwa just chuckled.

“Shin Hye-ya consider yourself lucky you had me! Next time you’ll need to get a number for your turn. Okay I got to go. Chalga!”

“Chalga rocker dude!” Shin Hye whispered teasingly then laughed as she put down the phone, while Yong Hwa was having a hard time controlling his grin till he thought ‘aish! what the heck! just let it go’, so he grinned, even as the rest of entourage were elbowing each other, till Minhyuk could not help but ask, “Hyung! I thought you said you were not feeling well, so how come you look as happy as a mouse who has inherited a cheese factory!” But Yong Hwa just shrugged and continued smiling.

“Are you done yet?” Yong Hwa asked, calling his friend again after more than an hour.

“In 15min yes! Wae/Why?”

“Wait for me. We’re picking you up! We’re almost there. If you’ll take longer, no worries, we’ll be at the carpark. Message me when you’re on your way out. We’ll pick you up up front!”

Sure enough there they were. She didn’t have a hard time convincing manager Jjun to let her go with Yong Hwa but he wanted more details other than that “they” were picking her up and that she does not even know who the “they” are so she told him she’ll text him the details as soon as she knows. “They” turned out to be just Hongki and Yong Hwa. Both boys were sitting at the front- Yong Hwa’s driving while Hongki’s riding shotgun. So Shin Hye had the back seat to herself which she did not appreciate at all.

“So where are we going? I was planning on going biking you know?” Shin Hye asked as she leaned forward to kiss Hoongki’s cheek.

“It’s a secret!” Hongki replied, kissing her back and giving her shoulder a pat.

“And where did you get this car?” Shin Hye asked and turned to kiss Yong Hwa and do their hand signal/giving five.

“That’s a secret too! After you learn secret #1 then you may know secret #2!” Yong Hwa answered, smoothly maneuvering the vehicle even as he hurriedly turned his head to kiss Shin Hye, who was absentmindedly turning her head around the same time, admiring the spacious SUV with its new car smell and accidentally grazing the side of Yong Hwa’s lips with her constant turning.

“Oh mianhae!” Shin Hye hurriedly wiped off her lipstick from Yong Hwa’s cheek and lips with her hanky and saw Yong Hwa’s impish smile, who countered with, “You miss me that much huh?”

“Ya! Pabo-ya!” Shin Hye laughed as she hit Yong Hwa’s arm.

“Are you sure you guys didn’t carjack this Sorrento? I trust you guys but Manager Jjun will be grumbling for a good while if I don’t text him soon.”

“Then just tell him you’re with Yong Hwa and me and that we promise to bring you home after midnight!” Hongki said. As if that were that and that it would be okay. Oh well, Shin Hye thought, it wouldn’t hurt to try so she did as Hongki said and sure enough Manager Jjun answered, ‘Ok!’ Makes her wonder if Manager Jjun trusts Hongki more than he trusts Yong Hwa? But she brushed it off her thoughts and just leaned back on the seat and let the boys have their fun.

“Am hungry! Are we going some place to eat or are we taking out food?”

“Both” Hongki answered and raised a layered lacquer box. Then the two went on talking nonstop about work related stuff of idols and music and schedules as they drove a little bit farther from the main streets to an exclusive residential area and further up to a low rise three- story building perched on a gentle mountain slope, come to think of it, it almost has the same feel of that house that they had for You’re Beautiful. Shin Hye was enjoying herself, looking around. All its neighboring residences are big and luxurious with intricately designed fences. They drove through the building’s automatic, remote-controlled gate and driveway door and parked alongside a Jeep Wrangler. The area was dimly lit and the tints on the car didn’t help for her to see more clearly the other two cars parked in the garage. As she opened her door Hongki stood in front of her and said, “Shin Hye-ya for this to be a real surprise we were told to keep your eyes covered so how about we use your hanky for that and I’ll lead you?”

“Do we have to do that?”

“That’s one of the conditions so yeah we have to.”

Shin Hye complied through three flights of stairs up, a couple of doors and hallways, with Hongki and Yong Hwa alternately holding her hand to guide her. She could sense that the two were new to the place too from the way they moved. They stopped and she could hear the boys move to open what sounds like a sliding door.  Then they must have walked out to an open area judging from the breeze that was whipping her hair and Yong Hwa removed her blindfold.

The three of them were dumbstruck by the view before them. The city lights were twinkling right in front. Unobstructed. Bright.

“Wow!” the three  said almost in unison. One said ‘sheesh’, another ‘shit’, and another ‘oh mannn!’ They were looking around them- to their back was the open-spaced living, den, dining room, and above it, behind the building they could make out tall trees clustered all around the back down to the sides just where the city view starts, as though ensconcing them, hiding them from the neighbors’ line of sight  and there were lounge chairs clumped here and there in front of them. In the middle, as though its centerpiece, was a traditional Korean table/platform about five or six feet square, a smaller table perched at the center on top of which were lamps of varying sizes and a picnic basket at the side. They each walked further out of the deck past the lighted platform, each inspecting the view and admiring the simple elegance of the minimalist decor.

The oohs and aahs did come to an end and soon they came to sit on the platform. The guys moved some of the lamps around the platform away from dangers way as Shin Hye opened the basket, inspected the food and a bottle of wine inside and took the lacquer box from Hongki.

“Are you still not going to tell me anything?” Shin Hye asked. Yong Hwa just looked at Hongki and Hongki shrugged at Shin Hye.

“How about you wash your hands first then, while I take all these food out,” Shin Hye shooed.

Just then her phone rang.

Lee Byung Hun calling.

“Ahjussi!!!”

“Bo?”

“Bwahahaha!!! Byung Hun Oppa!!! I am angry with you! You left without saying goodbye! We were supposed to go biking before you left. You promised!!!” Shin Hye laughed then whined as she pouted.

“I know! I’m sorry Shin Hye-ya! I thought I still had time but things got moved ahead of schedule…”

“No a promise is a promise! And you broke your promise!” Shin Hye sounded serious but she was smiling and the smile reached Byung Hun.

“Whining like a spoiled brat sounds cute on you, do you know that?” Byung Hun laughed. “So what are you doing now? Where are you? Manager Jjun with you?”

“Oh my goodness! Oppa you would not believe where we are right now! This place is just to die for. It’s sooo beautiful here! I don’t have enough words to describe it. You should come here to believe this place. Oh ummm… manager Jjun’s not here. I don’t know how these guys managed to get this place but there’s even food here and my favorites too. It’s just me and Hongki and Yong Hwa. Oh you haven’t met Yong Hwa right? But I’ve talked to you about him remember? He was my costar in Heartstrings.”

“Manager Jjun’s not there? Yong Hwa? Isn’t he the guy who likes you or the guy you liked during…?” Byung Hun prolonged his pause, teasing Shin Hye.

“Ya! Oppa! I never said anything like that! He’s just a good friend like Hongki is a good friend!”

Byung Hun laughed at how so much like a kid Shin Hye still is.

The boys were on their way back out after washing their hands and Shin Hye got up to go in and wash, talking to her Oppa all the way to the sink, even putting him on speaker as she washed her hand.

“If only the boys turned on a little more light outside and and maybe one more inside so it wouldn’t be hard to walk. Am scared I might trip on my gown and break something.  They probably couldn’t find where the light switches are.”

“Why? Where are you right now?”

“Am at the kitchen sink. I hope the owner wont mind, I saw a bottle of Dove liquid soap and I got some and washed my face here. But that’s our secret okay?”

“Oh am sure the owner wont mind. So are you done washing up?”

“Yes I am Oppa! Why?”

“If you’re in the kitchen then there must be a dining table, right?”

“Right? What about it?”

“Go to the end of the table, whichever end. Are you there now?”

“Yes! And?”

“Feel underneath the table there is a panel with switches and knobs- feel for the round knobs on the sides and slowly turn it clockwise.”

“How do you know there’s a a control panel here and which…” It suddenly dawned on Shin Hye to whom the place and the cars belonged to. “… knobs to… OPPA!!! This is your house???”

Byung Hun was smiling at his innocent, funny dongsaeng. ‘Ah Shin Hye if only you were older’ he was thinking to himself, ‘I would have taken you to my home myself.’

“Yes Shin Hye-ya that is my home! When I get home we will have your friends over and have dinner there. For now this is my humble bribe so you will forgive me for not saying goodbye.”

“Ya! You’re making another promise when you’ve just broken one? Until you come home and really do that, I will not forgive you Oppa!” Shin Hye said but Byung Hun knows that she has never and will never bear a grudge on her Oppa, not for long anyway, specially after he made sure the basket had the blueberry cheesecake that she loves and relying on the knowledge that she has a kind and ever forgiving heart.

“Hahaha! Okay Shin Hye-ya! And don’t let whoever is driving drink too much and don’t stay out too late!”

“You mean we can’t sleep here?” Shin Hye gasped.

“SHIN HYE-YA!!!”

“Bwahaha! Oppa I am only joking! Too bad you deck is facing the sunrise too!”

“Shin Hye! You’re going to be the death of me!”

“Oh Oppa! What will happen to Storm Shadow if you die?” Shin Hye said referring to Lee Byung Hun’s much coveted role in G.I. Joe as the suave but ruthless villain.

“Enjoy Shin Hye! Bye!”

“Chalga Oppa!… Oppa fighting!”

“Fighting Shin Hye!” And Byung Hun put down the phone.

Shin Hye has just finished wiping her face and was about to walk towards the door when she remembered about the lights. She looked for the knobs as Byung Hun instructed, turned the track lights on but on dim, so it was now a bit brighter but low and muted  and started to walked out to the deck. Weather was just right and the coat was too bulky so she decided to remove it.

Yong Hwa and Hongki noticing the lights grow a bit brighter turned towards the door. They saw Shin Hye’s silhouette before she stepped out of the door as she threw her coat on the chair nearby, and they saw her flooded with lights as she stepped out and rubbed her hands together and then in her softly flowing magenta chiffon gown, her hair pinned in such a way that she looked almost like a little girl on her first day of classes, Shin Hye walked casually towards her two best friends, two boys, totally unaware of her effect on them.

Jointly both boys are proud and pleased with how their chingu looked like. Individually they had different reactions.

“Hey Shin Hye-ya you look good in your gown! And you look very young with your hair like that! Are you sure you’ve graduated from high school?” Hongki commented. He was sitting on top of the platform, his arms propped up straight behind him supporting his torso as he leaned back, both legs bent and comfortably spread apart, knees raised and wiggling but stopped when he saw Shin Hye, feet flat on the platform, relaxed and totally at ease. ‘Ah my chingu is looking prettier and prettier indeed!’ Hongki thought.

Yong Hwa was positioned more forward than Hongki, sitting near the edge of the platform, his legs lazily stretched out in front of him, spread apart, knees slightly bent, feet on the ground, his elbows propped on his thighs, fingers interlaced, his body slouching, leaning forward and had his head turned towards Hongki when he noticed the lights coming on so he turned and saw Shin Hye. He tilted his head to the side as Shin Hye walked closer and he gave her one of his Lee Shin admiring, loving stares and smiled. ‘Ah Shin Hye-ya! You’re breaking my heart!’ he was thinking then said, “You may look beautiful in your outfit Shin Hye-ya but you’re sorely lacking one very important thing!”

Shin Hye was particularly satisfied with her get up and was quite happy to hear what Hongki said and to see the look on Yong Hwa’s face even if she knows he’s just teasing her but on hearing what Yong Hwa said, she stopped walking, stood straight with arms akimbo and with a smirk got ready for a sparring with Yong Hwa, she countered, “And what, pray tell, am I lacking?”

Yong Hwa got up, still in his supposedly press conference all black get up of jeans, dress shirt, and leather jacket, walked towards Shin Hye, stopped two feet in front of her so Shin Hye had to defiantly look up to maintain her fighter posture, with all three of them having left their shoes as they entered Shin Hye lost the advantage of her high heels to put her close to Yong Hwa’s eye level for better leverage, and with his thumbs hooked on to his jean pockets Yong Hwa leaned close to Shin Hye’s face till his nose was about an inch from hers, all the time looking closely at her eyes then smiling teasingly at Shin Hye the way he sometimes does ever since their YB days, he said, “Me!”

“Is that so?” Shin Hye blurted. She couldn’t move back or it would be like conceding defeat nor could she move closer or their noses will surely bump, so to show that she was not backing down she tilted her head, which, though it did not make any part of their faces bump, inadvertently brought her lips closer to Yong Hwa’s. Yong Hwa ceasing his advantage raised his eyebrows and ever so slowly looked at Shin Hye’s eyes then at her lips then back at her eyes again then mischievously smiled as if saying ‘do you really want me to kiss you that badly?’ Shin Hye sensing her impending defeat but not wanting to give in called Yong Hwa’s bluff and froze. ‘Ah Shin Hye-ya! If Hongki were not here I would sorely be tempted.’ Not one to readily accept defeat either Yong Hwa did the only win-win solution he can think of- he kissed Shin Hye’s nose and said, “Yes that is so! Now stop looking for a fight and let’s eat.”

“Ya!” Shin Hye and Hongki exclaimed as Hongki sat up and Shin Hye wiped her nose. The two protested but Yong Hwa was smiling quite pleased with himself as he took Shin Hye’s hand, linked it around his elbow and escorted the grumbling but acquiescent Shin Hye to the platform. He held her hand as she sat and helped her gather the skirt of her gown up to her knees, lifted her partly up to turn her around and move her closer to the center table. All this while the two were scolding him for not being fair and such but mercifully, saved by the delicious hot food right in front of them, the topic eventually changed. Yong Hwa, from constant practice during their times in Heartstrings, like Lee Shin, handed Shin Hye her chopsticks and spoon which she unconsciously accepted.

“Ya! Yong Hwa-ya! You’re not Lee Shin anymore you know, so you cannot just kiss and be all sweet with Shin Hye like that!”

“I know! Just force of habit am afraid. It’ll pass soon enough am sure. Now can we eat? Which do you think should we start on first?”

Shin Hye was quite at home to the boys arguing and was piling food on to Hongki’s bowl then Yong Hwa’s.

“Look you complain on my taking care of Shin Hye but you don’t complain when she’s babying you and you’re not Jeremy!”

“Ya!” Shin Hye said to catch Yong Hwa’s attention.

“Bo?” Yong Hwa answered as he turned to her. Shin Hye blowing on to a piece of meat held between her chopsticks, offered and held the meat to him and he quieted down and ate it.

“Shin Hye-ya! You’re only supposed to do that to your boyfriend!” Hongki reprimanded her.

“Who said that?” She asked back.

“It’s just so!”

“Well you two are my boy friends so there! Now here, open your mouth and eat! Aah! …” As she gave Hongki a nice plump pink steamed shrimp which Hongki ate with relish and with no complaints whatsoever and the three buddies just laughed.

It was a beautiful evening for the three, after clearing their food they sat all scrunched up on the otherwise spacious loveseat for twowhich they dragged towards the edge, propped their feet up the ledge as they looked at the city view in front of them, talking, laughing, teasing… just buddies hanging out. They stayed on that loveseat even as Shin Hye got a big slice of cheesecake for them to share, Hongki got the bottle of pink champagne Byung Hun Sunbaenim has instructed for them to pair with the cheesecake, and Yong Hwa got the guitar from the den. They hanged out till at past one Byung Hun’s driver called up Shin Hye and told her he’s been instructed to drive the three of them back to their places. Shin Hye asked for a thirty minute extension as they sang some more and wound down. The three were slouched on the loveseat-cum-daybed quietly staring at the lights in front of them. Shin Hye’s head was leaning on Yong Hwa’s shoulder as he leaned back on top of Shin Hye’s head, his arm draped on her shoulder and his hand on Hongki’s hair whose head was leaning on Shin Hye’s shoulder and neck as Shin Hye’s arm hung over Hongki shoulder to his chest like a hook, Hongki hugging and sharing the huge pillow with Shin Hye. They didn’t even jump and move when they heard the driver cough by the doorway. It was almost the exact same position they had as the driver drove them back to their places, odd maybe, but still… buddies.

Chapter 9 – Clueless

“I’ve seen some BTS of the two of you during your last drama, you know. The friendship I saw then is not the same one as I am seeing now, is it?”

PD Pyo Min Soo commented nonchalantly but Shin Hye understood what he was implying. Yong Hwa, the PD noticed, seemed confused.

“You’re still pretty clueless aren’t you?” the PD looked at Yong Hwa.

The PD walked towards the door, turned and said, “Enlighten him Shin Hye! Lee Shin and Kyu Won’s bickering is about to be over! It would be hard to keep up the pretense once their love starts to grow. Solve this!”

Shin Hye, who was sitting on the hospital bed as she had during their take, leaned forward, tensely pressed her hands on the bed and grimaced in pain. Not having anyone to turn to for help Yong Hwa moved closer to Shin Hye and held on to the bed rails.

“Kwaenchana??”

Shin Hye was breathing in slow shallow gasps. Yong Hwa lifted the railing to release the catch and lower it then moved nearer to look at Shin Hye, concern evident on his face. Shin Hye frowned at him.

“Hey what’s that frown for?” Yong Hwa glanced towards the door then sat sideways on the bed, part of his leg resting on top of it so he was facing Shin Hye straight on.

“Are you okay? Do you want me to get Manager Jjun?” But Shin Hye just shook her head.

“What is PD talking about Shin Hye-ya? We can’t go back to YB days, if that’s what he means. Times have changed.”

“You’re right times have changed. So have you!” Shin Hye quipped her breathing slowly easing.

“What about you? You’ve changed too! You don’t talk to me or goof around as much as you used. I understand if you’re cautious with regards to antis so I don’t mind it anymore.”

“What do you mean you don’t mind it anymore? Do you think that’s the only reason?”

Now it was his turn to frown.

“Yah! I can’t be like Shinwoo or… be like Hongki! You know that! What about hyung?”

“Cut the crap Yong Hwa! Of course I am cautious about antis but not to the extent of not talking to you. And, that’s unfair of you to think I want you to be like Shinwoo or like Hongki. And, what has hyung got to do with us? Are you crazy? I thought we’re friends, good friends. It’s really depressing, not to mentioning humiliating, to find out that it took you ages to give me your cellphone number when everybody already has had it for the longest time you know. But hey that’s your call right?” Shin Hye shifted a little annoyed, still looking at Yong Hwa, challenge shooting from her eyes.

“What’s the use of giving it anyway? You don’t even answer back, and not once have you texted or called! Well except for that time when you called with your virtual wife!” Shin Hye’s voice was slightly rising.

“What kind of a friend are you?”

“Honestly Shin Hye-ya, do you really expect boys and girls to be just friends and stay that way always?”

“What were we before then? Acquaintances?” Shin Hye’s hurt seeped through her voice, pain clearly written on her face.

“But if I have to spell it out for you then yes I do believe that a boy and a girl can be friends. Yes, attractions are natural but you have a mind to decide what you’re going to do about them. You don’t court every girl you get attracted to!” Shin Hye paused.

“Yes I do want to be as good a friends as we were before, but who am I to make demands? I am just an acquaintance right? A stranger you happened to bump into!” Shin Hye said in a clipped tone.

“Please let me pass Yong Hwa. I’m tired. I want to go home now.” Shin Hye’s voice didn’t raise this time. Resignation dripping in every word she uttered. She started to slide down to get past Yong Hwa.

“Wait!” Yong Hwa lightly touched Shin Hye’s shoulder to stop her from moving. “Just wait a minute!”

Yong Hwa saw the sincerity and the sacrifice it took to keep all that hurt in and again now to get it out in the open. Even in pain she took the effort to talk it out with him like she has always talked things out with him before when he was a relative unknown. Shin Hye who has coached him, guided him and joked around with him and made him feel welcome… And, he turned his back on her, in a way, hasn’t he? She’s a strange girl to not think twice about having guys for friends. So am not used to the idea, and I can be a bit dense… and how could she not know that I find her er… ‘interesting’? Can I really control those things?

“Rest for a few minutes Shin Hye-ya! Lie down for awhile!” When Shin Hye did not move he added, “Yah!” He held her chin and turned her face towards him. Shin Hye still feeling the remembered hurt took a few seconds to look at him. When she did, he gave her a brisk upward, curt, nod.

“If you don’t lie down right now, I am going to wrestle you down!” Then holding on to the back of her neck while his other hand was holding the pillow steady on the slightly raised top half of the bed, he said, “Come on, I’ll help you. Just relax!”

Shin Hye was taken aback, her eyes shut wide at suddenly seeing the quirky Yong Hwa she knew three years ago. Turning puzzled eyes at Yong Hwa her eyebrows knitting, Yong Hwa glared at her and firmly said, “Re-lax!” Shin Hye leaned as he lowered her to the pillow behind her, still puzzled at seeing the change.

“So was it the seat buckle that has bruised your side?”  Yong Hwa suddenly changing the topic.

“How did you know I bruised my side?” Blurted Shin Hye, surprised all the more that he knew.

“Shin Hye-ssi I’m sorry! I can be quite a blockhead and my Omma can attest to that, but next time, if I go zombie on you again, I give you permission to hit me okay? Scold me but don’t be cold on me okay?” He paused, then without skipping a beat said, “But I asked the question first. What happened?”

Shin Hye hit him and said, “Yah! Don’t forget you said that and don’t ever think I wont do it too!” then she proceeded to talk about her accident as Yong Hwa turned, reached for the other pillow near the foot of the bed, leaned across Shin Hye and placed it on her aching side. Yong Hwa continued sitting on the bed as they both talked and as Yong Hwa was listening to his chingu, he can’t help but think, “Shin Hye-ssi do you know how odd you are?”

There was no great reveal that happened the day after, it was not as if they weren’t talking to each other when Heartstrings started anyway, but the invisible wall that was lifted between the two was palpable ever since that night. They laugh more openly now. Shin hye no longer thought twice about hitting or pushing Yong Hwa when he is goofing or making mistakes. Yong Hwa’s playfulness increased so with his teasing and playing pranks on Shin Hye, sometimes forgetting her injuries. In the eyes of the cast and crew of Heartstrings Yong Hwa and Shin Hye’s story was wickedly imitating Shin and Kyu Won’s with things turning bright and sweet.

It certainly helped their dating scene as both collaborated and suggested things that Shin and Kyu Won might do. It was a collection of activities they, if they were dating would do. In their busy and hectic lives, those dating scenes, one could say, is the closest thing the two could get to having an ordinary date with ordinary people. In a way they did. Never mind that there was the camera and the crew and the fans looking at them or that they were just friends. Maybe they just thought of it as hanging out but the two certainly enjoyed each other’s company and shooting went smoothly.

With their last day drawing close Yong Hwa, without getting a call slip, went to Shin Hye’s location shooting.

“Hey! What brought you here?” Shin Hye exclaimed, accepting the towel that Yong Hwa took from one of Shin Hye’s assistants and held out to her as they gave each other fives, their hand signal for hello, and hugged.

“Would like to discuss something about our coming shoot at the park.”

“Oh yeah! Been meaning to talk to you about that too. Have you had dinner?”

“No. You?”

“Not yet too and a bit hungry.”

“How about we get some pizza first? I’ll ask unnie to have some delivered while you go freshen up.” Yong Hwa suggested, finely attuned to Shin Hye’s penchant for cleanliness. Shin Hye has just finished her dance shoot and was aching to have a shower so Yong Hwa circled and chatted with the group that was left behind and with Manager Jjun as Shin Hye showered.

The dance studio has been cleared of Shin Hye’s things and it was just the three of them left in the room- Shin Hye, Yong hwa and Manager Jjun, when they started discussing what they were going to do during their kissing scene. Manager Jjun, feeling ill at ease, excused himself and said he’ll just wait by the door and see to it that they were not disturbed.

They were sitting huddled side by side, their backs leaning on the mirror, their notebooks, iPad’s out, surfing the net and were discussing how they were going to do it.

“Did you and hyung discuss it this way too?”

“It was more debate than discussion.” Shin Hye chuckled.

“Google translate is terrible!”

They’ve gone through Youtube and Daily Motion and tried to compare- laughing at some and horrified at others, basically not quite knowing what to do. Then they heard the door click and saw a short chubby elderly lady in white slacks and white girly blouse walk towards them. They instinctively moved apart not wanting to be misunderstood, stood up and bowed. She had the air of authority about her that not even her short height can diminish.

“So you need a coach!”

Yong Hwa and Shin Hye looked at each other surprised then back at the lady and nodded.

“So what is the scene?”

“It’s a kissing scene.” Yong Hwa quietly answered.

“What have you done or decided so far?”

“Er… uhm… nothing.” Shin Hye replied.

The lady looked at them, one to the other, seemingly annoyed. “I assume you have your toothbrushes with you?” The two raised their eyebrows and simultaneously uttered, “Bo?” Realizing how disrespectful they sounded, almost simultaneously too, they blurted, “ Joe-song-hap-ni-da Seonsaeng!”

“You,” pointing to Yong Hwa, “go brush your teeth first and if you have, put on some lip moisturizer.” Like a boy chastised Yong Hwa hurriedly went to the washroom attached to the room and did as ordered.

“You,” looking at Shin Hye, “sit down and tell me in the shortest possible way about you character.”

The acting coach, or so they presumed she was with both too intimidated to ask, was asking Shin Hye questions when Yong Hwa came back and it was Shin Hye’s turn to brush her teeth and Yong Hwa’s turn to explain his character and be grilled. When Shin Hye came back she was still holding her lip balm and was rubbing her lips together when she sat beside Yong Hwa facing the lady.

“You both know that Korean kissing scenes are but of two kinds- the fake and the real. Both take responsibility to execute. The fake one doesn’t need practice but I want you to do it just the same.” She walked to their side and continued talking.

“Stand up. Now turn around and look at yourselves on the mirror.” The two stood up, dusted themselves and followed as they were instructed.

“Close your mouth, relax, and then walk closer to the mirror. Go on! There’s no way out of this! Closer! Closer still, until your lips are flat on the mirror. Okay stop. Now don’t move.” It was at a slow count of 3 before the coach told them to move a step back.

“Easy right?”

“So if the fake is flat, what is the real kiss?” the lady walked to stand a step behind but in between the  two of them.

“You can do whatever exercises you want to relax your lips or not at all but the common start of a kiss is with relaxed lips. With your lips slightly open, that’s not slightly Yong Hwa. Close it a bit more. Ok that’s right. Now relax, you’re not blowing through a flute here. Look at your lips on the mirror. Now close your eyes. Can you still see how your lips look like in the mirror? Now remember that position. Open your eyes. Has your lip position changed? Do it again. Close your eyes… remember… open your eyes. Good!”

“Now step closer to the mirror. Closer till you’re about an inch away. Now I want you to kiss the mirror the way you kiss your Omma’s forehead.” Both smiled, puckered their lips and gave the mirror a resounding kiss.

“Perfect!” Then she made them kiss the mirror in a full pucker position, with lips pursed and with a floppy pucker position, asking questions on the difference each position makes. They went on to the different speeds of approach,  movement, breathing, head tilting, arm and body positions, stance, practicing on the mirror or on each other or just discussing the differences between kisses, both getting at ease in the process.

“Like music you can alter several factors of the kiss to create different varieties of kisses, like the key, the length of the note, the beat, the intensity of the sound, etc. In this case the pucker of your lips, the opening, the pressure you put on the kiss, will there be a sound, how rapid is your breathing, the urgency of the kiss, your head position, your arms, your body, your stance that too makes up the kiss.

“You are conveying your feelings to your partner when you’re kissing, whatever those feelings might be.

“Before we go to the last part, I want you each to go on opposite corners of the room.” Pointing at each end. “Go!” And, they both went- Shin Hye sat on the floor while Yong Hwa paced on his side both not looking at the other.

“You have five minutes to put yourselves in Lee Shin and Kyu Won’s shoes starting now.”

Yong Hwa was fidgety at first and the coach silently gave them 2 minutes extension to get into character. Then in a firm but quiet voice the lady said “Remember what you two have been through the whole year you’ve been away. Finally you see each other. So close, each within reach and yet you cannot bridge the gap dividing you two… each believing their actions as right… both right… both unhappy… Now slowly get up but look down…”

In a softer voice the lady said, “Lee Shin slowly look up. You see Kyu Won in front of you right? … Her heart is bleeding because of you… You know that, don’t you? … With the fame she has got and the sacrifices you two have made, is she happy? … Is that what you want for her? … Is that what YOU want? … Look at her! … See her!

“Kyu Won look at Lee Shin. He is such a stubborn ass, isn’t he? You hate how stubborn he is, but you love him still. You’ve tried so hard to hate him but never could. Now you’re scared as you see him. Will he reject you again? Are you going to be banging your head again on this hard brick wall called Lee Shin?

“Lee Shin… Kyu Won… what is your heart telling you to do?”

Looking only at each other, hearing their hearts beating loudly in their ears, it felt like everything just faded away. There was just the two of them. Kyu Won took a step and another then stopped, gazing at Lee Shin, hurt, longing and fear mingling in her eyes. Lee Shin looked at Kyu Won his eyes soft, speaking… telling her ‘what have I done to deserve you? I’ve hurt you, haven’t I? I still believe that what I did was the right thing to do but right now… at this moment… all I want to do is wrap you in my arms and never let go… and tell you… show you how much I love you. Yes I love you Kyu Won!’

Kyu Won loved him unconditionally but she knows that whatever wall it is that Lee Shin has built around him only he can break it down. With her eyes she asked ‘Is your love strong enough to let go of your shield Lee Shin?’

And, with a language that only lovers whose hearts are truly bound can hear, Lee Shin showed Kyu Won his answer. He briskly crossed the distance between them finally knowing what his heart was singing and wrapped his arms tightly around Kyu Won, fearful she’ll disappear if he let go.

‘Ah Lee Shin, pabo-ya! What took you so long?’ was all Kyu Won was thinking and she hugged him just as tightly back.

“I miss you!” Lee Shin whispered. Kyu Won drew a deep breath and sighed, “I miss you too!”

Drawing away from the cocoon of their embrace almost felt like having his heart wrenched away but there is something he must tell her, and he wants her to look into his eyes when he says it. So he drew away from Kyu Won, gently held her face between his hands, looked softly at his beautiful patient Kyu Won and said.

“Saranghae!”

Her arms still wrapped around his waist, Kyu Won tilted her face up, made a nervous laugh as if saying ‘you just realized that now? Pabo-ya!’ then looked at his lips, drew in a breath and looked back at his smoldering eyes and waited.

Lee Shin lowered his head and did what he has so long ago wanted to do but never had the chance to, he kissed Kyu Won full on the lips. Their eyes closed as their lips touched, savoring the feel of the other’s lips next to theirs, finally… and, as though in a slow dance they moved- kissed, pressed their lips against the other ever so gently then pulled slightly away, only to find another part of the other’s lips to kiss, again and yet again, sometimes pulling away enough to gaze into each other’s eyes or to smile before they close their eyes again to kiss, a silent saranghae with each touch of their lips. Somewhere along the slow gentle kisses, Yong Hwa grasped Shin Hye’s waist and drew her firmly close to him, as his other hand cradled her neck. Shin Hye as though drugged and dazed has unknowingly snaked her hand upward entangling her fingers within the hair on his nape, holding on to him, as her other hand clutched at the shirt on his back.

So carried away were they that after the last time Yong Hwa pulled away and went back to kiss her, they both parted their lips and had the other’s lip between theirs. The sensation was so heady that it almost felt as if time stopped. The feel of their lips caressing the other further compounded by the feel of the pressure and the tugging of their lips, their breathing turned ragged as they continued to kiss. They do not know how they managed to stop, but stop they did. Still wrapped in each other’s embrace they tried to catch their breaths. Shin Hye hiding her face on Yong Hwa’s neck, Yong Hwa’s face leaning at the top of Shin Hye’s head. It was after awhile before they slowly moved back, both looking down, both smiling sheepishly, giggled and laughed, hit each other’s arm then looked around for their coach waiting for her comment which they would never hear for she has disappeared.

“Did we kiss that long?” Yong Hwa asked.

“I don’t know! Did we?”

They were both blushing as they looked at each other.

It was then that Manager Jjun knocked then entered. “You two not done yet?”

“Did you get in earlier?” Yong Hwa asked.

“No. Why? Did you call me? I was talking with your manager just outside.”

“How long ago has the lady acting coach left? Shin Hye asked.

“What lady acting coach?”

Confused but relieved to hear that they haven’t been seen, the two hurriedly gathered their things, gave their fives, hugged and went their separate ways.

It was a kiss they’ve never quite had in that it was sweet and tender but passionate as well. The two didn’t sleep very well that night and though their rehearsed kiss was like a dream in a way, it adversely affected the kiss that they shot- both too scared, knowing they could get carried away so they did the best that they could, under the circumstances. That lady coach would surely be mad at them, after all she has done. Well, if they ever see her again. Both their managers said they didn’t get an acting coach for them nor did they let a short lady in white get in or out of the room. The guys must have been too tired to notice.

Life would have gone back to routine for both of them until Yong Hwa saw Shin Hye’s tweeted picture of her with Hongki and the rest of the band. Feeling Lee Shin-ish Yong Hwa called Shin Hye.

“Yoboseyo!”

“Ya! I just turn my back for a second and you’re out with other guys already?” Yong Hwa laughingly chided Shin Hye.

“And why are you jealous? You ran right back to your wife’s arms sooner than saw Hongki? Do you have to make me see you hold hands like that? At least I wasn’t holding hands with any of the boys!”

“Did you have to tell Song Seung Hyun that he’s handsome?”

“I did not say he was handsome I said he was looking good!” and the two happily bickered like they were Lee Shin and Kyo Won till Yong Hwa was called for their turn.

“Ey Shin Hye ya! Be a good girl now!”

“You too Bolmae jung! Rock em all, will you? Chal-ga!”

With smiles on their faces the two said goodbye.  Crazy Yong Hwa. Crazy Shin Hye.