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Archive for January, 2012

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.

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