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3 – The Wolf

His detractors call him the Wolf with contempt, the people of the manor however, utters the same moniker with near reverence, but whatever way it was said they are one and the same in meaning- that when he hunts, he hunts with near precision as a wolf’s, senses on high, eyes, ears, nose, touch focused. Now a mere wisp of a girl has upset his strategy with pigs and though he should have deduced right away where the girl could have come from, some conflicting facts and the outrageousness of the possibility annoys him beyond his pride can take and he almost automatically dismissed it. Now, he narrowed his eyes at the girl who has managed to do just this.

He watched her from the shadows. He saw a good distance to his right old man Thomas the Hermit. He too looked at the girl but moved back, silently and slowly. “He knows her,” he thought,” Old Man Thomas knows her, and he does not want to disturb her. Who are you? And, why does Old Man Thomas care if he disturbed her or not?” Noting her slumped shoulders he muttered, “Are you sad you lover Hongki did not come for you woman?”

Then as though surprised she suddenly sat straight, turned her head to the side as if listening carefully then went right back to hugging her legs. It wasn’t long after that that she stood up and walked leisurely away from the cliff and into the forest. He got ready to follow, good thing too as his legs were getting cramped. She was taking her time walking, even passing near his hiding place but she went straight ahead, deeper into the forest and then turned so she walked parallel to the forests edge. Right when she was starting to be a good distance away from him so he needs to follow her quietly, she abruptly broke into a run.

“What in the Angels of Judgment…!!! Is that girl running away from me? She could not have noticed me!” He grumbled to himself. She was wearing her outer tunic now of gray wool which made it harder for him to see her. She was trying to throw him off, but in mid run although she has gained considerable lead and was out of sight from Keun Suk, she suddenly stopped, knelt and whispered, “You shouldn’t come this far. It’s dangerous. Go now! And hurry!” She said it not above a whisper but the command was very distinct in her voice. Still running, Keun Suk was trying to place where the girl’s voice was coming from. Just as he turned around to see the brushes moving and saw no one except for a tuft of fur that wagged and disappeared among the bushes, she commenced running. She almost seems to know the forest as much as he does. Almost. Then he smiled and veered to his left and was lost among the trees. Shin Hye paused to breathe and to listen if she was still being followed. No sound. Nothing. At least nothing audible above the sound of the pounding of her heart in her ears, she was too scared of getting found out that all she could think of doing is to continue running.

“Just around through that big oak Shin Hye, a few meters more and you’re safe.” So she increased her pace, made a turn at the big oak and banged on someone’s chest. Thump!

Keun Suk only went as far as the village tavern when he left the manor that afternoon. He wasn’t due at his uncles’ till the end of the week but who else will know that, after all nobody else has read the note, having burned the note soon after. What perfect timing! He knows that if there’s any news to be had then it would have to be at a place where tongues tend to get loosened- from ale or pride or for those who had nothing better to do than talk. It was not uncommon for the young Lord to mingle with his people since from a young boy he has run around the streets and the houses of the small village, another attribute the people of the manor are very proud of. There was not much that night save for the usual talk of people getting sick, giving birth or talk about the harvest underway, till, as he was about to finish his tankard of ale and leave, Seamus the Elder came in, saw him and bowed.

“Young master how are you? It’s been awhile that I haven’t seen you sire! I am so sorry but the wife has been very sickly you see. But she’s alright now. I will be visiting the manor more often now what with Virginia about to give birth.”

“Virginia?” “Oh the old mare sire, Virginia, the only horse that Tristan can stand bunking next to. I don’t think your girl can do it by herself by the way.”

“Girl?” ” Yes, your new girl sir. She is quite knowledgeable I might say with animals but a lot of times birthing needs strength more than skill.”

“Ah Seamus I think in this instance skill worked just fine as Victoria has just given us a colt.” “That’s fine news sire. So she did it, didn’t she? Hahaha! That girl is quite something. I’d up and grab her if I were your manservant, Hongki. That’s a mighty fine filly he has there.”

“Yes he has,” Keun Suk thought to himself, “but for how long?”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *

Shin Hye was at a crouch when she ran smack into a hard chest and arms, and in trying to distance herself from whoever those chest and arms belong to Shin Hye stepped back and almost fell backwards had those strong arms not held and grabbed her.

“Hongki!” Shin Hye gasped and when she realized it was Hongki she reached out and clutched at his shoulders to steady herself. “I didn’t know you had muscles? Why are you here?”

“What???” Hongki chuckled. “What do you mean you didn’t know I had muscles? Where do you think did all those carrying, chopping and hauling go to? And why are you here?”

“I…” Shin Hye stuttered and looked around but Hongki continued talking, “I couldn’t see you at the cliffs from the manor so I thought I’d check the stables. I saw you carrying a brazier when you went out. Why don’t you ever listen Shin Hye? You may not be afraid of animals but there are all kinds of animals you know not all of them on four legs…!” Then acting all menacing Hongki moved his hands down Shin Hye’s arms and locked his hands behind Shin Hye’s back. Shin Hye, arms still propped on Hongki’s chest like a boundary between them only looked at Hongki, giggled and relaxed in Hongki’s arms as though she’s used to being hugged by Hongki, not feeling the least bit threatened by his posturing and big, wide eyes.

“Tell me when I’m supposed to act scared okay so I won’t disappoint you?” Shin Hye said as her breathing gradually slowed down, further tilting her head at Hongki, the mirth in her eyes and the open smile on her lips mirrored in her friend’s face as he looked down at her. Then somebody cleared his throat and they both jumped. Hongki automatically stepped in front of Shin Hye and shoved her behind him.

“Ahh! I doubt he will be, but I bet Father Mulroney will be when he sees the two of you fumbling about like that!”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

“Master Keun Suk! Sire this is not what it might look like,” Hongki entreated. Shin Hye tugged at Hongki’s sleeves and whispered, “Hongki!”

“And, though I believe any man who would have her as their wife is indeed a lucky man, I am fond of her purely as a friend Sire!”

“Well you could have fooled me. I have never seen you… err… care for any of the girls in the manor as much as you do this girl. Are you sure, Hongki?” Keun Suk said sarcastically.

“You are right on that matter Sire and I’m afraid I have no excuse for behaving like such with Shin Hye save to say that I just do so. We get along very well and we always have such fun even when we’re working.”

“So now she’s Shin Hye not Mina?”

“Shin Hye is her nickname Sire. Mina is her real name.”

“Mina? Mina of what?”

Hongki was saved from further interrogation, for, as if on cue, a wolf howled not very far from where they stood. Keun Suk flicked his head at Hongki indicating the direction of the pathway where Hongki had come from, whereupon the dutiful serf took hold of Shin Hye’s hand, turned and lead the way out of the forest. They walked in a single file- Hongki towing Shin Hye behind him as Keun Suk took the rear, his sword swinging on his side.

“For someone who just claimed that he does not have any desire for this girl you certainly like to touch her a lot, don’t you Hongki?”

Hongki abruptly stopped, turned to Shin Hye and blurted, “Oh… I… I’m sorry Shin Hye! I didn’t mean to…” Hongki then loosened his grip to let go of Shin Hye’s hand but Shin Hye clasped his hand tighter instead and blurted, “No Hongki I was the one holding your hand!” Hongki gave her a nervous smile and she smiled kindly back. In her head she wanted to turn to Keun Suk and glare at him but thought the better of it. She knew it was in Hongki’s nature to be courteous and kind. These are two of the traits that she’s admired in him when she came to the manor. How could their master not have noticed that? And, what’s with the badgering? She quickened her steps trying to get as much distance between her and their master but silent though he may have walked he was just a step or two behind her. She didn’t even have to turn her head to check.

They were reaching the clearing and Shin Hye was hurrying, hoping to escape from their young master’s presence. Then as they reached the side of the stable Keun Suk called out, “Go on ahead Hongki I have a few questions for your friend here.” Keun Suk saw Hongki look at Shin Hye and added, “You don’t have to worry. I have never yet forced my attention on anyone! You know that!” Keun Suk need not explain himself but he had been a young boy himself when Hongki started working in the manor, albeit a little older by a few years than Hongki, so he has always seen Hongki more as a friend than a serf. Hongki of course knew this and he knew Keun Suk, which is basically why he looked at Shin Hye. He knew that nary a girl has been able to resist his master’s charms when he puts his mind into it and Shin Hye is a nice girl and a good friend. For once Hongki sincerely regretted that he and Shin Hye have never been the kind to gossip or he would have given her fair warning.

Shin Hye saw the reluctance in Hongki’s face. She’s always been able to handle herself with the men at the manor so to her there’s no cause for alarm. Maybe she should have listened more closely to the talks in the kitchen instead of hurrying to the stables or the vegetable garden or the forest when her chores were done. She can see the other serfs’ love and respect for the young lord and his sick father but other than that she has made a conscious effort not to know more, to avoid possible complications. Befriending Hongki was not something she could steer clear of nor was it something she would have dared miss. Here is a male bosom friend that she’s dreamed of having. And now her friend seems ready to grab her hand and bolt away from their young master.

“Go!” she gently said. Shin Hye decided to save her friend from having to show any defiance so she squeezed his hand tight and let go. He looked back at Keun Suk then at Shin Hye again before he spun around and left. They looked on as he walked towards the manor dragging his feet as he went, then Keun Suk walked a bit ways back to the far side of the stables, hidden from sight from the manor and from Hongki. Shin Hye turned around but did not move to follow him.

“Are you scared?” Keun Suk said, daring Shin Hye. “Should I be?” blurted before she realized what she was saying, overtaken by her extreme annoyance at Keun Suk. Realizing her error, she looked down and bit her lip.

“I’m sorry Sire!”

“Somehow I seriously doubt that! Now come here or would you rather Hongki see me kiss you?”

“Are you out of your mind???” cried an incredulous Shin Hye, tipping her head up abruptly, standing ramrod straight, livid at the sheer gall of his behavior.  Keun Suk was leaning on one of the stable’s side posts arms loosely folded in front of him. His face peering at her closely.

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6 – Wha…?

“Stop acting like a kid and grow up!” Shin Hye calmly but emphatically said, although she looked up with annoyed eyes at Yong Hwa.

Yong Hwa, smug and equally irritated, turned to look at Shin Hye and retorted, “Why don’t you get some air?”

They were standing face to face, Shin Hye’s arms crossed up front, jaws stubbornly set, eyes piercing Yong Hwa’s. Yong Hwa, tightly clutching his body bag’s strap, wasn’t backing down and was glaring at Shin Hye with equal intensity. He, however, had the added advantage of height and and took a step forward which forced Shin Hye to tilt her head a bit to show her defiance of Yong Hwa’s intimidation. The two have been getting into each other’s nerves as the rehearsals progressed. Shin Hye stood her ground and glared back, not that she had much of a choice, there was not enough room to step back either as her back’s almost touching the dressing room door, but Yong Hwa kept getting closer and she had no choice but to lean on the door as she raised and clenched her hands into fists in front of her, involuntarily propping her arms on his chest to stop Yong Hwa from getting any closer, both of them still glowering at each other. Then Yong Hwa tilted his head a bit, raised his brow and acted as though he was threatening to kiss her. Shin Hye defiantly tilted her head and pursed her lips as if saying “Yeah right! Do it and you’re dead meat!”

It was then that the door gave way. Shin Hye fell through the room, and though she tried to take small backward steps to prevent her fall, her feet got entangled with Yong Hwa’s, who looked like he was doing a running dive. Shin Hye fell, and Yong Hwa landed partially on top of her. Good thing Yong Hwa instinctively placed his arms around Shin Hye, so her head fell on to his fleshy arm instead of banging on the floor and her back had his hand as a cushion. They were both so shocked that they could not say or do anything, save to appraise the room and check if anybody saw them fall. They made quick, almost simultaneous clipped movements to confirm this, then they stared at each other for a second and burst out laughing. Yong Hwa hastily rolled off to Shin Hye’s side and continued laughing. When their guffaws started to die down Yong Hwa eased out his arm from under Shin Hye’s head, stood up, held out his hands to her and helped her up.

They were dusting themselves and chuckling as they stood. Shin Hye looked up at Yong Hwa when he reached over and fixed her hair. She smiled up at him, amused and grateful at how sweet and thoughtful he was, her irritation forgotten. When Yong Hwa was flicking the hair off her face, he noticed Shin Hye impishly smiling at him and he asked, “What?” “You’re like my Omma! Kekeke!” Shin Hye teased him. Yong Hwa raised his eyebrow, made a crooked smile and said, “Omma?!” Then he acted all burly, clutched her shoulders, and loomed ominously over her. But, Shin Hye just kept smiling not feeling threatened whatsoever, then his smile gradually disappeared and he turned all serious on her, gazing gently at her eyes then her lips, then back at her eyes again, his face just a few inches from hers. Puzzled she uttered, “Wha…” Whatever Shin Hye was about to say was caught in Yong Hwa’s lips. She could not move.

She felt Yong Hwa’s lips, felt it warm on her lips, felt it as it gently caught her upper lip and press a kiss on it, felt it as it glided on her lips very slowly and tenderly a little ways to the side and pressed again, and then again till it slid to a stop at the side of her mouth. She felt warm all over but she was only conscious of his lips on hers, she didn’t think, and maybe because she didn’t notice, that it may also be because now she was enclosed in Yong Hwa’s arms, that Yong Hwa’s hands were warm on her nape and on her lower back, that his breath was warm on her cheeks and her hands were flat on Yong Hwa’s chest all the while he was kissing her. She could not even remember that she had closed her eyes. She looked as though she was straining to listen to some soft and faint music. Then he stopped, moved back a bit, gazed softly at her as she opened her eyes, and, after a moment of hindsight, with unsteady voice, teased back, “Omma?” Then he turned, a silly smile plastered on his face and went right on walking… with a bounce. A couple of paces after, with Shin Hye still staring after him stunned, he turned around to face her, skipped backwards and said, “Didn’t you just say you don’t want to be late?”

“You! You!.. Argh!!!” Shin Hye shrieked. And Yong Hwa ran.

“CUT!!!” Director Pyo Min Soo yelled. “Okay! Good! Good! Let’s call it a night!” he added.

It had taken them quite a few takes as Yong Hwa was so self-conscious and had forgotten what little line he had. Shin Hye and Yong Hwa bowed and thanked their director and the staff close at hand then Yong Hwa went closer to Shin Hye and whispered, “So sorry it took me so long to get it right Shin Hye!” “ Hehe! It’s okay! It took me a number of takes to get my first screen kiss right too. I really understand Yong Hwa!” They were walking towards the big white RV that was their dressing room for the week’s shoot, bowing and thanking the staff as they went, chatting along the way.

“Am going to get lots of antis for this you know?”

“I don’t have that many fans Shin Hye-ya. There’s nothing to be afraid of!” Shin Hye just rolled her eyes up in disbelief.

“Ayayay! Hyung is here?” “Huh? Hyung who?” Shin Hye spun around scanning the surroundings- her view, a mass of people walking around, rolling up cables, carrying boxes. “Keun Suk?”

“Keun Suk of course! Who else?” “Oh? Oh yeah right! What was I thinking? Where?”

Yong Hwa nodded off at a direction a few meters to the right of the RV, where Keun Suk’s SUV, Khan, was parked, its motor turned off.

“Maybe it’s just Keunsama. I think Keun Suk’s busy with his shooting.”

They didn’t see Keun Suk inside the RV nor did they find Keunsama, just their make-up artists who quickly and efficiently did their job of taking off their make-up as soon as they were seated. Yong Hwa had changed his shoes, took his jacket from the hanger and was putting them on when Keun Suk knocked and came in. Yong Hwa’s entourage bowed at Keun Suk and were making an exit while the two guys shook hands, hugged and had a chitchat, and then Yong Hwa bid a hasty goodbye and called out to Shin Hye that he’s going ahead. Shin Hye cracked open the door a bit, stuck out her head, unintentionally showing a bare shoulder too, and shouted, “Byeee! Drive carefully!” She was inside the small inner room then, changing her clothes and she glimpsed at Keun Suk standing, tilting his head to imitate and look at her.

“Hi! I’ll just be a second okay?” She came out as soon as she had her sweats on, carrying her socks and running shoes to the outer room as she gave Keun Suk half a hug, a peck on his cheek and proceeded to sit on the chair right in front of him. He crossed his arms and half sat and half leaned on the small dressing table watching her automatically pulling her socks and shoes in place, tying the knot while she kindly asked Manager Jun if she can talk with Keun Suk for a few minutes. Manager Jun readily nodded and herded everybody out.

“How are you? I thought you were busy with your film?”

“I still am. I’m great. We got off early and it’s been awhile since I last saw you so… here I am!” Shin Hye smiled at his straight forward statement.

“But, where were you? We didn’t see anybody inside Khan as we walked towards the trailer.”

“I was behind Director Pyo Min Soo by the camera monitors.”

“You were? For how long?” “In time for the last take.”

“Oh? And?” “And what?”

“How was it? What did the Director say? What do you think?”

“It was beautifully angled, the panning and close up was well timed. He said he didn’t regret the number of takes it took to get the last one as it was just what he wanted. What do I think? I think I ought to ask what scene you’ll be shooting the next time I visit.” Keun Suk chided.

“Huh?” Shin Hye stood up tilted her head and peered at Keun Suk to see if he was really serious or joking around. He was serious but he was keeping a poker face about it. They did not have the luxury of time so she didn’t give it much thought. Instead she gently held Keun Suk’s ears, leaned her forehead on his, pressed her nose against the side of his nose and said, “Remind me to bring a lotus leaf for my succeeding kissing scenes, ok? I keep forgetting.” Then Shin Hye intuitively rubbed her nose up and down Keun Suk’s nose and continued speaking, “So… what do you want to do now?”

He was taken aback by Shin Hye’s display of affection although he readily put his hands on either side of her waist to draw her a little closer, but he was completely derailed by Shin Hye’s mention of a lotus leaf and was wondering how it relates to her coming kissing scenes. He did not make any show of it, so he just replied with, “Ok I’ll remind you. A lotus leaf! Err… Well we can continue rubbing our noses or we can grab a light snack, have a talk before you go walking… or biking and then I’ll drive you home?”

It was on their drive home that Keun Suk finally discovered what the lotus leaf was for, and it made his heart all warm and cozy he wanted to wade and cut her a leaf right there and then as they were passing a neighbor’s pond. What she said probably wouldn’t make sense to others but it has forever altered the way he looks at lotus leaves now. Shin Hye said, “Lotus leaves remind me of my frog prince. Okay frog prince, your princess is very sleepy. Let’s go home now.” It had a really nice ring to his ears, what she said, and it was hard for him to hide his surprised expression and sheepish grin from Shin Hye, so hard that when he leaned back with a self-satisfied smile on his face, she looked at him, frowned a little and exclaimed, “Wha… why are you grinning like that?”

“Nothing!” He said then smiling his frog prince smile and glancing at Shin Hye for a second or two as he drove, he clasped Shin Hye’s hand tighter and said again, “Nothing at all!”

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