Length: Part 1/? (It's a LONG short story)
Summary: Jae is concerned about the attention his sister is receiving from a dangerous man but he isn't in any position to take care of it himself so he turns to the king. However, the King, Jung Yunho, presents unforeseen complications...
A/N: Loosely based on/inspired by the Korean movie "Frozen Flower." If you haven't seen it, you definitely should but make sure you watch the uncensored version, ie, not the Youtube/Dailymotion one. There's a lot of graphic sex (almost pornographic TBH) but it's actually a powerful & important part of the overall story.
He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and forced himself to remain seated. If he gave into his current urges, he knew he’d end up losing his head to the blade of a soldier’s sword.
Why is she doing this?, he wondered. She can’t possibly like his attentions.
His eyes swung to the girl in question: his sister. Looking into her face was like staring at his own reflection. Twins: born only a minute apart, he being the older of the two. As the older and the only male, the responsibility for their welfare fell on his shoulders. They were wards of the kingdom, of the king himself, but they were the only real family they had.
As soon as the King rose from the table and exited the room, signifying the end of the nooning meal, he jumped up and stalked to where she was seated, still batting her eyelids at the man down at the end of the table.
He grabbed her arm and wrenched, eliciting a cry of pain from her as she swung in his direction, eyes now shooting fire. “We need to talk.”
Her eye narrowed. “I don’t want to talk to you. Now let go, you’re hurting me.”
He squeezed harder. “Come with me quietly or I’ll say what I have to right here in front of everyone. You know I will,” he threatened.
She opened her mouth as if to retort but, thinking better of it, pushed up from her seat and let him lead her away.
As he walked towards and past the man in question, he saw the look exchanged between the man and his sister and it infuriated him more. But when the lascivious gaze swung up to meet his and the man gave him that same disgusting look, in addition to a head to toe sweep, he couldn’t suppress the creepy sensation that crawled along his spine. The man was an utter toad.
When they had reached the deserted end of the outer corridor, his sister wasted no time in pulling her arm away and turned on him with furious eyes. “How dare you embarrass me like that?”
“What the hell are you doing?”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she insolently flipped her hair over her shoulder and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
His eyes hardened and he advanced on her. “You know damn well what I’m talking about. You’re playing with fire and you know it. You’d better stop before you get burned.”
She scoffed. “Minister Lee likes me, so what? I see no harm in a little flirtation.”
“A little flirtation to you is serious business to him. Do you want to become wife number four? Or better yet, another one of his concubines? Is that how little you value yourself?”
She cocked a brow at him. “You’re being overly dramatic, Jae. We’re the same age, you and I. You take that one minute thing way too seriously. I’m a grown woman, I can make my own decisions.”
“A grown woman?” He laughed harshly. “Seventeen years of being indulged and pampered and you think you have enough experience to take on the likes of Minister Lee? How sadly deluded you are…”
“Deluded, I may be, but at least I’m living. At least I get enjoyment out of life. You can’t say the same, can you? You’re always trying to ruin my fun instead of finding ways to have fun of your own.”
“I’m sorry that I’d rather not see my sister made into a whore,” he dripped sarcastically.
She gasped, shocked, and automatically swung a hand out but he caught it before her palm impacted with his cheek.
“Why are you always so mean to me?” she asked, hurt evident in her voice as tears filled her eyes.
His expression softened, his grip gentling around her wrist. “I don’t want to be mean but I don’t like the path you’re going down. You and I, our position in this kingdom is precarious. We have no titles, no family, no one but each other.”
“But the King is our appointed guardian,” she argued.
Jae nodded. “He is, so long as he sees fit to be so. But should we ever become embroiled in any kind of scandal, we have no one to turn to, no one to fight for us. The King has power but we both know that there are also limits to it. Minister Lee is also a man of wealth, position and power in this land. His wives are all daughters of similarly powerful men, even his concubines have respectable lineage. What could he possibly want with an orphan?”
Her nose flared in indignation and she started to speak but he cut her off.
“You’re smart, educated and heaven knows your beauty rivals the goddesses but you have to be practical. He’ll never love you: he only loves himself. You can’t even be his wife since you have no dowry. There’s nothing for him to gain by marrying you. With the King’s permission, you can become his concubine but is that really what you want? To be at his bidding whenever he wants to rut? If you keep encouraging him, he’s going to think you’re amenable to the idea and if he makes a formal request, the King will have no choice but to grant it.”
She shook her head, not wanting to believe his words. “Minister Lee isn’t such a monster. He’s a nice man. He’s always been kind to me, even when he doesn’t have to be, which is more than I can say for some of the other lords.”
“Minister Lee is a man, a very carnal one at that. You’ve been blooming right before his eyes for years. It’s only natural that he’d take an interest in you the way a man does. He’s not the only man who’s noticed how lovely you are but he’s the only one who’s crossed lines that he shouldn’t have.”
She chewed her bottom lip stubbornly, an unfortunate trait that she’d had since childhood.
Jae sighed, feeling suddenly defeated. “JiHye, I can’t do this anymore. I won’t. You know better, you know that what you’re doing is wrong, but I can’t keep following you around to make sure you stay out of trouble. It’s tiring. You say you’re mature enough to run your life, so be it. But keep this in mind: we don’t live in the West like the characters in those stories the scholars read to us as children did. The rules of our society are a lot more rigid. It’s nice to think that you’re free to do as you please, that it’s possible to fall in and out of love on impulse without thought to the consequences. But there are consequences and you must never forget that. Especially since you’re a woman. There’s a divide between those with power and those without but there’s also a distinction between the rules for men and those for women. Have as much fun as you want but never do anything that will make you fall out of grace with the King. Because you aren’t the only one who’ll be paying for it.”
With that, he turned to head back the way he’d come. He had only taken a couple of footsteps when he felt the warm body forcefully hit his back and arms sliding around his waist.
“I’m sorry,” JiHye whispered tearfully into his robes. “You’re right, everything you said. I’m just being selfish…and stupid.”
Jae extricated himself from her hold and turned around. He wiped her tear-streaked face with gentle fingers. “You’re not stupid…just naïve. I’m sure Minister Lee counted on that when he started this…whatever it is you guys have been doing.” He laid a palm on her cheek and she leaned into it.
“Do you love him?” Jae asked on a whim.
She gasped, eyes widening. He could feel the heat of the blush that stained her cheek in his palm.
She shook her head. “I don’t know… I don’t think so. I’ve never been in love before so I have nothing to compare it to.”
Jae nodded his understanding.
“But I do like when he smiles at me or says complimentary things,” she added. “It’s nice to be noticed and feel appreciated. Wanted even. Some girls my age are already married, others have their grooms picked out. I’m like the only one left. Is it that no one wants me?”
Jae couldn’t fathom the idea. His sister was simply too beautiful, too amazing.
“No,” he said confidently. “We’re wards of the King so anyone wanting your hand will have to make a plea to the king himself. Marriage proposals are daunting enough, it’s even more scary when you have to face the ruler of the land head on. And you haven’t shown an interest in any young men, or even older ones, Minister Lee notwithstanding. Perhaps the King just doesn’t think you’re ready yet.”
“I am ready,” she insisted. “I want a home and a family. I want to experience what we never had.”
“You’re young yet, no need to rush into things.”
She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “I can already tell that you’re going to be an old bachelor. If it weren’t for your looks, I don’t think any woman would want you.”
Jae smiled. “You may be right.”
The two mirror images smiled fondly at each other.
Jae took JiHye’s hands in his and held them gently. “I love you, sister. Will you promise that you’ll stay away from him?”
Her smile fell, lips thinning. She really didn’t like being told what to do. Her natural inclination was always to disobey orders. But Jae was right: she meant nothing by her interactions with Minister Lee, at least she wasn’t sure of her feelings anyway, but there was no telling what he was thinking. They’d never had such an open, forward conversation. It just wasn’t proper. And if he was of the opinion that she wanted to be his mistress, there was nothing she could do to stop it once the ball got rolling. Being female and powerless frustrated her to no end but it was her lot in life. There was nothing she could do about that either so it was best to err on the side of caution. She might be a rebel at heart but she’d never put her brother in danger. He was all she had.
She squeezed his hands, nodding her assent. “I promise. I’ll be good, well as good as I can be.”
Jae laughed and pulled her into a tight hug. “That’s all I ask.”
A few days later, he was lying under a cherry blossom tree watching the puffy white clouds float across the blue sky, a book splayed open on his chest. It was a nice, clear day. The wind was cool. He glanced around at the people working around him. He always wondered what it would’ve been like to be raised in the town instead of the palace. He might have been a merchant. Or a soldier, since there was an orphanage where the male orphans were groomed into soldiers, the females trained to be staff at the palace or other wealthy households.
Instead, he spent his time lazing around, reading, writing, and until recently, keeping his sister out of trouble. Since he had no family, there were no footsteps to follow like the other sons of wealthy households were expected to. He’d been educated by scholars, taught how to hunt, ride horses, shoot guns, had mastered swordplay. He’d excelled in all of those fields but the King had never asked or demanded anything of him. He could’ve been a soldier, he supposed, might have even been allotted a high position by the grace of the King but it wasn’t his nature. He was more suited to a classroom than the battlefield.
His mind returned to his sister. It had been days since their last talk but JiHye had kept her word. Jae was proud. Minister Lee cast many glances her way at meal times but she never met them. She was always caught up in one conversation or another with the person next to her. He didn’t know if they were distractions or she’d just taken an interest in getting to know other people. Whatever it was, she seemed happy and that was all that mattered to him.
Sitting up, he stretched and yawned. The soothing breeze and peacefulness of the land made him sleepy. A nap was next on his agenda.
As he made his way back to the palace, he passed many merchants and soldiers milling about. He nodded to them, they bowed to him, and he wondered what people thought of him. He led such a solitary life. Maybe JiHye was right: he needed to find some fun of his own. Other young men his age and of the same class had many entertainments afforded to them but he indulged in none of it. And he had no friends of his own, not really. He sighed.
I’m the palace bore.
He walked through the courtyard gates and turned towards the kitchens. He’d say hello to the cook, maybe get a little snack, before heading to his room. He was walking along the corridor, humming along to the song the birds were chirping, when he happened to look towards the eastern gardens. He froze at what he saw.
JiHye was by the koi pond and standing in front of her, with his hand gently caressing her hair, was Minister Lee. He had two of his personal guards with him but their backs were turned to what their lord was doing as they’d been trained to.
Before he knew it, he was running across the garden. The guards saw him coming and closed ranks to stop him but he pushed through them forcefully and grabbed the Minister’s hand.
“Don’t touch her.”
The Minister cast him a baleful glance then, realizing who it was, smiled wolfishly. “Well, if it isn’t the other little twin. Hello there.”
Jae dropped his hand in disgust. “Have you no shame? Not only being seen with but touching an innocent, young girl so casually in public?”
Minister Lee cocked a brow. “Shame? I have nothing to be ashamed of. I was merely brushing aside a bug that had landed on your dear sister’s head.”
Jae scoffed. “You can’t seriously expect me to believe that?”
The Mnister’s expression tightened. “Are you accusing me of doing something untoward?” He took a threatening step towards Jae, inwardly surprised yet admiring when Jae didn’t back down. “Need I remind you of who I am? You should choose your words carefully when you speak to your superiors, boy.”
Minister Lee raised a hand and skimmed his fingers down Jae’s cheek, laughing when he turned his head away. “The resemblance is striking. But for the birthmark on your chin, I wouldn’t be able to tell the two of you apart. That and the obvious differences in anatomy, of course.”
Biting his tongue before he said something he couldn’t take back, Jae grabbed JiHye’s hand, muttered a terse, “Let’s go,” and walked off, leaving an amused Minister Lee looking after them.
“An interesting pair, those two…” he mused.
Jae didn’t stop until they were a good distance from the Minister. He was afraid he’d change his mind and do something stupid. JiHye followed along quietly, not saying a word as she left him to cool his anger. When he finally stopped, he dropped her hand and turned to her, waiting for an explanation.
“I didn’t say or do anything to encourage him,” she began. “I was simply taking a walk and stopped to look at the fish. Suddenly, he’s next to me saying how pleasant the weather is and how lovely I look. A bug really did land on my hair but I didn’t ask him to brush it off for me. I hadn’t said a word to him yet when you came charging up to us. It’s the truth, you have to believe me,” she finished insistently.
Jae knew she spoke the truth. He could see it in her eyes, hear it in her words. Besides, JiHye had never been much of a liar. She was too blunt and proud of her actions to lie about them.
His lips tilted in a small smile. “I know, I believe you.” He brushed her messy bangs back into place. “Are you okay? He didn’t scare you, did he?”
She shook her head. “No, I was just…surprised. I didn’t hear him approach so it was a bit disconcerting to be snuck up on.”
“Hopefully he’ll keep his distance from now on,”
She nodded. “You also need to be careful. It’s just as you said, we can’t afford to get caught in any scandals and that includes getting in the bad books of the Minister of War.”
Jae nodded. “Deal.”
JiHye went off to her afternoon class but Jae stood there contemplating the situation for a while longer. He trusted his sister, knew she’d keep her word, but Minister Lee… There was nothing to stop him from doing as he pleased and that scared Jae.
There was only one thing he could do.
Jae approached the outer guards with his shoulders squared, head thrown back arrogantly. If he showed the slightest hint of weakness, they wouldn’t take him seriously. He hated cockiness but he’d seen his peers portray it enough to copy them adequately.
“I need to speak to the king,” he demanded.
The guards gaped at him, glanced at each other, then burst out laughing.
“Run along kid,” one of them said.
Kid?, he steamed inwardly. They were maybe three years older than him, definitely no more than five.
His expression hardened. “I need to speak to the king, now.” He raised his voice this time, trying to sound both important and impatient.
He wasn’t surprised when the doors to the King’s chambers opened and the inner guards poked their heads out. He’d been counting on it when he raised his volume. Behind them, he could see the King sitting on the floor, bent over a low writing desk placed over his knees. He wasn’t paying attention to the ruckus at the door.
“What’s going on?” one of the inner guards asked.
Ignoring them, Jae raised his voice again and addressed the king directly. “Your majesty.”
The king’s movements were slow, calculated. First his eyes raised to the source of the voice, then his head tilted up and he leaned back, sitting straight up.
The gaze he pinned Jae with was almost enough to shake his confidence and have him running down the halls but he held his ground.
“Your majesty, if I could have a word.”
The king simply stared at him for what felt like an eternity and he feared he was going to be turned away, or worse, punished for his impudence. As a result, he almost fainted when the king finally spoke.
“Let him through.”
The guards parted like the red sea, albeit grudgingly, and made way for him.
When he was in the king’s inner sanctum, the king ordered the inner guards to step outside, leaving just the two of them in the room.
Jae walked towards the king, a bundle of nerves, stopping just short of the desk he sat behind. He knelt and bowed low until the king ordered him to rise. He sat back on his heels, hands clasped in his lap, eyes lowered to the king’s writing desk. They were both silent until the king finally said, “What can I help you with, Jaejoong?”
Jae’s eyes swung up to meet his. He was somewhat surprised that the king remembered him. Although he’d lived there his entire life, he’d never really had any real contact with the king. He and JiHye had been left wards to the old king, who had died three years before. Until then, the current king, then crown prince, had been receiving his training in a neighburing allied kingdom. When he’d returned upon his father’s death, twenty-two years old and with his new bride in tow, the twins had paid their respects to him just as everyone else had but had had no personal contact with him since. Jae assumed he’d been told about their situation. They hadn’t been kicked out in any event, and he’d never thought about it in any great detail.
Clearing his throat, he phrased his words as eloquently and respectfully as possible as he began to speak. “Your highness. I…don’t really know where to begin.”
“I find it best to begin at the beginning,” the king said with a smile.
Jae nodded, swallowing nervously. “I have a…situation that I think needs attending to.”
“It’s not something you can attend to yourself?” King Yunho inquired, picking up his pen and continuing his writing.
Jae shook his head. “No, your highness. It involves persons, a person, of great importance and I can’t think of anyone else who would be more suited to handle the matter than yourself.”
King Yunho chuckled. “Is that flattery I hear, Jaejoong?”
Jae ducked his head. “No, your highness. I apologize if I’ve offended you.”
He waved a hand carelessly. “Flattery can never be offensive, especially if there’s truth to it.” Sitting back more comfortably, he gestured to Jae. “What is this matter that requires my attention?”
“It concerns my sister, your majesty.”
Jae nodded. “Yes, your majesty.”
“Is she in some kind of trouble?”
“No sir, at least not yet.”
Yunho cocked his head to the side, laying his pen down. “What seems to be the problem then?”
“There’s a certain lord who has been making advances towards her. She’s gone out of her way to avoid him but he hasn’t taken heed.”
“Does JiHye find his attention bothersome…or is that your interpretation of it?” the king asked knowingly.
Jae wouldn’t dare lie to the king so he spoke honestly. “I admit that she didn’t mind at first, may even have encouraged it, but she no longer desires any association with him, your majesty.”
“Are you certain?”
Jae nodded quickly. “Yes, sire.”
“Have you spoken to the lord about it?”
Jae chose his words carefully. “He knows I disapprove, your majesty.”
King Yunho nodded knowingly. “I see… What exactly is it you’d like me to do, Jaejoong?”
“Well…” Jae paused. He’d been in such a hurry to come talk to the King that he hadn’t considered what exactly the king would be able to do about it. Yes, the king could order Minister Lee to stay away from JiHye but on what grounds? So far, he hadn’t actually done anything. Nothing that would warrant disciplinary action from the king, at least. “Well… I… I don’t really know, your majesty. It seems that in my urgency to protect my sister and my haste to come here, I didn’t really think things through. I apologize for wasting your time, sire.” With that, he bowed formally, then rose to his feet.
He was almost at the door when the King called out to him.
“Wait.” Jae turned around to face the king, hands clasped in front of him, eyes glued to the floor. “Who exactly is causing you such distress?”
Jae’s gaze swung up to meet the king’s, eyes wide. He hesitated. The minute he spoke the name, the situation and the king’s involvement would become very real and official.
“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me who it is…”
Jae swallowed thickly. “Minister Lee, sire.”
The King cocked a brow. “The Minister of War.”
“I see…” he said for the second time.
Silence lapsed between them but the King’s eyes were very speculative as he looked at Jae. Jae had to fight the urge to squirm, his gaze was so disconcerting.
Suddenly, the king asked, “Have you brushed your hair today?”
Jae’s brows furrowed in confusion. “Sire?”
The king gestured with his hand. “Your hair. It’s coming loose from your binding.”
Jae absently reached a hand up to feel tendrils of hair escaping the knot at the back of his neck. “Oh…”
“Come here, Jaejoong.”
“Sire?” he questioned. He felt like he’d lost his grasp on the conversation. One minute they were discussing the problem, the next they were talking about his hair?
The king patted the spot next to him on the floor. “Come here.”
Jae forced his feet to move, slowly making his way to the king’s side. He sat down gingerly, going deadly still when the king grasped his arms and turned him sideways so that his back was to the king.
“Don’t move,” the king said, the warmth of his breath tickling the hair on the back of Jae’s neck.
Jae heard him move away but he returned mere seconds later. He placed a leather bound book on Jae’s lap.
“Read it. Out loud,” the king instructed from behind him.
Jae felt the tie in his hair come loose and his hair tumbled in waves down his back. Was the king really going to brush his hair, he wondered. Why?
Jae undid the binds of the volume and opened the book to the first page. The words were hand-written in eloquent script. Did the king write this?
He started reading, trying to concentrate on the words he spoke, but faltered when he felt the king’s hand slide beneath the fall of his hair and a soft-bristled brush slowly glide through the straight strands. Clearing his throat, he repeated the line he’d messed up.
After a time, the king said, “You will come here tomorrow at this very hour, understood?”
Jae nodded. “Yes, sire.”
“I have not forgotten what you’ve asked of me,” he went on. “I’ll have to speak to your sister first to make sure the situation is as you say it is but once she corroborates what you’ve told me, it will be dealt with. Have patience.”
“You are under the protection of the crown, my protection. I know I’ve been lax in my responsibilities towards you both but trust that it shall be rectified immediately. I will not forsake my duty to you.”
“I’m honored, your majesty,” Jae said huskily, his throat clogged with emotion. And he meant it. The words that the king spoke were the kindest, most caring things anyone had ever said to him since his father’s death over a decade ago. It made him realize just how deprived he was for basic human affection.
Perhaps sensing his distress, the king paused his strokes and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. Moments ticked by before either one spoke again.
The king picked up the brush and resumed his gentle strokes. “Continue.”
Jae cleared his throat and began reading again. As he read the king’s words while the soft bristles of the brush gently massaged his scalp, he found himself relaxing, enjoying and losing himself in the warm feelings that enveloped him.
Perhaps they weren’t really as alone as he’d thought…