A Stranger in the Night
“You’re joking?!” I asked in disbelief as Greta paused in the midst of her long speech, informing me of the sudden and abrupt journey, to take a deep breath.
“I am not done yet!” She snapped and slammed a cloth bag onto the table. The bag made a loud thud as it hit the surface of the table.
“You’ll need to pack a few more sets of clothes and a coat and be quick about it!” Greta barked and then swerved around to face Lyssa and Eris.
“Why are you girls still sitting there? Can’t you see how urgent this is? Give us a hand!”
“If you say so,” Eris shrugged and began folding the dresses.
Lyssa rolled her eyes and joined Eris as both of them stuffed the final few items into the blue cloth bag.
“Greta! Prince Yunho is already waiting in the main hall!” Pansy shouted as she dashed into the room.
“Go!Go!GO!” Greta chanted loudly as she pushed the cloth bag into my arms and steered me out of the room.
“Bye!” Eris called out as Greta pulled me into a run.
“Remember, from now on, only address Prince Yunho as Young Master and nothing else. Understand?” Greta panted and tightened her grip on me.
“Yes,” I said as I kept pace with her easily.
“Whatever happens, make sure that the Prince is safe and you are to attend to your duties to him as faithfully as you would in the castle, under my supervision. He is your first priority, understand?!”
“There you are!” Prince Yunho exclaimed as we rounded the corner into the main hall. Prince Yunho had changed to a much simpler set of attire compared to his usual royal robes. A long object in the shape of a sword, wrapped in white cloth was slung across his shoulder while the other shoulder carried a large black cloth bag. The plain dark blue clothes did nothing to dispel his air of nobility; he was as striking as ever. He’s rather conspicuous, I thought as we stopped before him.
“We’ve been waiting for so long! Here, put this on,” he said as he passed me a long black coat.
“Why?” I asked.
“Stop asking questions; just do what you are told!” Greta hissed in my ear as she reached over for the coat and dumped it on my shoulder.
“Everyone ready?” Prince Yunho asked as two plain clothed guards stood beside him. I glanced at them then did a double-take; they were identical from their faces to their posture; twins. Interesting, I thought.
“Hyung, be careful,” Prince Junsu’s voice travelled across the main hall as the four Princes descended the stairs.
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry. Pang and Ping are with me so it’s all good,” Prince Yunho said reassuringly as he went over to hug each of his brothers.
“Time to go,” Prince Yunho said cheerfully as he waved and motioned for me to follow him.
The two guards came automatically behind Prince Yunho as I formed the rear.
“Pull up your hood,” Greta hissed into my ear as she tugged on the black coat.
“Remember; take care of the Prince at all times!” She whispered urgently in my ear.
I nodded, and then realizing that I almost blended into the dark night, I murmured a soft “Yes” back.
The night was still and silent as the small group gathered in front of a carriage. Even though it was only the beginning of autumn, I pulled the cloak closer towards me as I felt the goosebumps rising along my arms. I turned and stared towards the brightly lit castle and as I scanned my eyes across the top windows, a sudden movement caught my attention. I squinted towards one particular window that had its binds down, positively certain that the binds were up a moment ago.
“Ker!” Prince Yunho called out from inside the carriage.
“Coming,” I shouted as I tore my eyes away from the window.
Pushing the small nagging feeling to the back of my head, I climbed onto the carriage and joined Prince Yunho and the two guards.
“Ker, meet Pang and Ping. The top two highly skilled guards in the kingdom,” Prince Yunho said as he waved towards the two guards.
Pang and Ping somehow managed to synchronize their movements as both of them gave me a small nod at the exact same time. I smiled weakly back towards them and turned to Prince Yunho.
“Are they really their names?” I asked in a low whisper.
“Yes,” Pang and Ping replied together.
“Wonderful names,” I said brightly and smiled.
Again, both of them gave me the slightest of a nod.
“As all of you know, this journey may have its risks as we’ll be escorting Princess Misaki to our Kingdom without the Queen’s knowledge. Furthermore, none of us except Ker has been to the South before, so I need all of you to stick together throughout this journey, understand?” Prince Yunho asked in a serious tone.
“Yes,” all three of us replied.
I sighed inwardly again; this was proving to be hard since I had never so much as set foot in the South much less than been born there. I would somehow have to source information about the South on the way there.
“Good,” Prince Yunho smiled then continued. “We’ll be reaching the borders of our kingdom in the morning, so for now let’s all rest. Extinguish the lamps will you Ker.”
I nodded and blew out the two lamps that hung from the ceiling. The carriage was instantly plunged to darkness and as my eyes adjusted slowly to the dark, I could see that Pang and Ping had assumed position at the entrance of the carriage. Both of them alert and awake as their eyes gleamed under the moonlight that streamed from the open windows. Prince Yunho was seated comfortably on a mass of cushions at the opposite end of the carriage and was staring towards the ceiling.
“Can’t sleep?” Prince Yunho asked after a while.
I turned away from the window, towards him.
“No… Everything’s a little too sudden,” I said softly.
Prince Yunho gave a low chuckle and patted the space on his left.
I moved towards him and sank into the big squashy cushion; a definite relief from the hard seat that I was seated on previously.
“It was sudden for me as well. A few hours ago, I learnt that a great friend of Father had killed himself and now we have to save his daughter from the Queen. Rather unbelievable isn’t it? I wonder how horrible this Queen really is for us to save the Princess,” Prince Yunho said distantly.
Indeed. The Queen must be ruthless, like Nyx. I shivered a little at the thought and patted the pouch that hung from my waist. It contained all the writing materials that I needed to report back to Nyx; Lyssa and Eris should also be in the midst of informing Nyx about my trip to the South, I thought.
Something heavy fell on my right shoulder and I jumped in surprise. Prince Yunho had somehow managed to doze off and was now resting his head on my shoulder.
“Young master!” I hissed and tried to push him upright.
I felt two pairs of silent eyes watch me as I pushed Prince Yunho away from my shoulder. Looking into their stony eyes, I smiled and closed my eyes pretending to sleep. Within a few seconds, I felt the familiar weight on my shoulder again as Prince Yunho slid down from his upright position.
I growled inwardly in exasperation. Shifting my shoulder to a more comfortable position under Prince Yunho’s head, I crossed my arms and forced myself to sleep.
“Are there any news of them yet?” I asked the minute I entered our common room.
“Honestly Hyung, they’ve only been away for the last couple of hours, probably not even at the borders of our Kingdom yet. Don’t be such a woman,” Changmin said without looking up from his book.
I slapped Changmin playfully on the back of his head and continued to walk around the room in circles. I had barely slept throughout the night and the circles under my eyes proved that point as I bent down to observe them in front of the mirror.
“Hyung just sent a message!” Junsu shouted as he dashed into the room waving a small piece of parchment in his hand.
“What does it say?” Changmin asked and put down his book as I flew to Junsu’s side.
Junsu frowned as he read the letter in his hand.
“Oh dear,” Junsu muttered to himself worriedly.
“What happened?!” I asked anxiously.
“Hyung! Did something happen to Yunho hyung?” Changmin asked as he tried to peer at the small parchment that Junsu was holding.
“Hyung is…” Junsu looked up with a mixture of worried and painful expression on his face.
“WHAT?!” Changmin and I shouted as Changmin snatched the letter from Junsu’s hand.
“Out of our Kingdom!” Junsu screamed then burst out laughing and prepared to escape from the room.
“BASTARD!” I shouted as I gave chase and bear hugged him from behind before wrestling him onto the floor.
After a few pleads and an “I am sorry for lying to my dear Hyung, I promise I will do no such thing ever again,” from Junsu, I decided to let him go.
Still laughing to himself, Junsu sat crossed legged on the floor and watched me read the letter.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I folded the parchment carefully before giving Junsu another glare in which he promptly stared back at me innocently.
Hyung is safe, that’s good to hear; I thought pleased.
“We should bring that letter around to Eris and Lyssa, they would want to know that Ker is safe,” Junsu said as he stood up.
“Good thinking, let’s go pay them a visit,” I said, curious to find out how the maids rooms looked like.
“Coming Changmin?” I asked.
“Definitely,” He said and grinned to himself.
Raising my eyebrows, I cuffed him playfully on the ear and followed Junsu out of the room.
“Where have you been all night?” I asked as Lyssa stepped into the room. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders and her makeup was flawless; as usual she looked stunning as ever even without a wink of sleep at night.
Running my hands through my own tangled hair, I glanced into the mirror and grimaced at the sight of the dark rings under my eyes, the consequences of staying up all night rushing the report for Nyx.
“Nowhere in particular,” Lyssa replied airily.
“Somewhere with guys’ maybe,” I asked irritatibly as I caught a whiff of alcohol on her breath.
“Maybe,” Lyssa shrugged and lay down on the bed – clothes and shoes.
“I just washed the sheets yesterday!” I screeched and attempted to push her off the bed.
“Get a life,” Lyssa retorted back and stuffed my pillow under her legs.
“Get up! We have so many things to do and not to mention Ker’s duties as well,” I said and tugged on her hair by mistake – wrong move indeed.
Lyssa flinched and spun around to face me. Her eyes glittered cold and dangerously as her blood red lips moved slowly.
“Listen kid. You have no right whatsoever in ordering me around. Respect still holds for the senior daughter and you need to remember that. Never order me,” She hissed and pressed her perfectly manicured finger into my arm.
Anger lashed through me as Lyssa released her finger. Grabbing her finger with my index and middle finger I pulled her hand towards me.
“Says who? We’re on this mission together and since Nyx appointed Ker as our leader, we are of equal status. So get up NOW!” I shouted and twisted Lyssa’s finger hard.
I did not see Lyssa’s other hand as it crashed onto the side of my head. I released Lyssa’s finger almost immediately and leapt back with my hands raised in front of me. My head was spinning a little with the impact of the blow and I shook my head to clear my mind.
“Little Eris wants to fight?” Lyssa chuckled as she stood up lazily from the bed.
Lyssa shook her head in amusement, all the while pacing herself closer towards me.
Come on, a little closer; I urged in my mind.
Within less than a blink of an eye, I saw an object spin towards me with flying speed. I shot my fist out in reflex and smashed the vase inches from my neck.
“Not bad for beginners,” Lyssa whispered near my ear as I whipped my head to my right and blocked her fist just in time before it smashed onto the side of my head again.
“Fast, but with no strength,” Lyssa jeered and slammed her body against mine. I crashed painfully into the table behind me and rolled to the side and tried to doge Lyssa’s attack.
“What’s with that RACKET?” Prince Changmin’s voice floated into the room.
Both Lyssa and I froze in midair as three pairs of footsteps approached the door.
Grabbing my still-in-defence-position arms, Lyssa pulled me to my feet and just in time as the doors opened.
Prince Yoochun, Prince Junsu and Prince Changmin all stared in astonishment as they viewed the mess in the room.
I stared in amazement at the sight before me. So this is how a maid’s room looks like; not much better than mine before cleaning, I thought as I stepped into the room.
Lyssa and Eris were holding each other by the arms and both of them looked surprised at our entrance.
I’m not surprised; they must have never had royalty visit them before. Come to think of it, we’ve never actually visited any maids before, this is something new. I thought in amusement.
“So what happened?” Changmin asked and viewed the broken table.
“Rat,” Lyssa said as she pointed to the right.
“Cockroach,” Eris said at the same time as she pointed to the left.
“YEOW! WHERE?!” Changmin jumped and shouted.
Eris snorted in amusement as she dropped her hand. “We chased them out,” she said in a smug voice and gave Lyssa a squeeze on her arm.
“We did didn’t we Eris?”Lyssa said sweetly as she returned Eris’s squeeze.
Lyssa’s smile seemed to freeze on her face as she gently removed Eris’s hand away.
“We thought you two might want to know that Ker is safe and sound out of the country,” Changmin said as he passed the letter to Eris.
“Oh… Thank you Prince Changmin,” Eris said in surprise as she reached over for the letter and unfolded it.
I sat down gingerly on the only upright chair in the room and scanned the upturned table and shattered glass on the floor. That must have been either a huge rat, or something else; I thought to myself.
“Help! Someone! Please! Help me!” A desperate voice called out.
“Honored people! Please help me!” The voice pleaded again as the carriage suddenly came to a stop.
“What happened?” Prince Yunho asked and peered out of the window.
“I will go check,” Pang said and exited the carriage.
“Please sir! Help me! My mother is dying and the only physician is out of town. Please help me! Please! My mother is the only family I have! Please sir…”
“Out of my way kid; we are rushing for time,” Pang said irritably. A loud thud followed by screams of the boy.
“MOTHER! MOTHER! WAKE UP! MOTHER!…”
Prince Yunho got up suddenly and left the carriage and I hurried to follow suit.
A young lanky lad was kneeling on the floor with his arms around a woman’s body. He was sobbing loudly as he shook his mother’s small frame.
“What happened?” Prince Yunho asked as continued to stare at the young lad.
“His mother is ill and the physician is out of town; Young master, we should get going. The inn is still some distance away and we need to leave the town early tomorrow morning, please do not trouble yourself with trivial matters.”
Prince Yunho remained silent as he continued to stare towards the boy and his mother.
“Take them to the nearest town,” he said and went back inside the carriage and came out with two bundles.
“Ker and I will walk to the inn and we will meet you both there at nightfall. Make sure that his mother receives the proper treatment,” Prince Yunho said as he slung both bundles across his shoulder.
“Young master!…” Pang said urgently.
“Go! Now!” Prince Yunho said and motioned for me to follow him.
“Thank you sir! Thank you sir! You will be blessed for life! Thank you! Thank you!” the young lad blubbered as he kneeled his way towards Prince Yunho and bowed profusely.
Prince Yunho smiled gently towards the boy and walked off, leaving Pang staring helpless towards him.
“Ker!” Prince Yunho called out. Once again, I was surprised by his actions; help the boy by giving him money maybe, but to send the boy all the way to a physician in the next town… why would he do that?
Reminding myself to ask him one day, I jogged to catch up with him.
The last rays of the sun slowly disappeared as we turned yet into another corner. The crowd of people that had gathered near the market place was now steadily decreasing. Gongju was the town right outside the outskirts of the Central Plains and although the town was larger than the Central Plains, its population was by far the smallest.
I folded my arms across my chest, wishing that I had brought the cloak along with me when I grabbed the bags.
“I think it’s that way Young Master,” Ker said as she tugged on my clothes.
“We came here a while ago,” she continued and led me towards another alley on my left.
“Are you sure?” I asked and followed her hesitantly.
“Yes, see those marks? I made them a while ago when we passed this lane,” she said as she pointed towards a few chalk marks on the wall.
I stared at the chalk marks. Clever, I thought to myself and shrugged indifferently.
My feet were starting to cram as we continued walking in silence, occasionally meeting a few people along the way. Nearly all the shops we passed were closed and my stomach grumbled in response to the light meal that I had in the late afternoon.
“I think we may be lost,” Ker said as we came to another dead end.
I sighed and turned towards Ker who still looked fresh and energetic despite the long walk. I stared at her slightly then realizing what I was doing, hurriedly looked around.
“Let’s try there then,” I said and pointed towards the turn on my right.
Ker shook her head slightly and pointed to the opposite side.
“The inn should be at the west of the town and considering the sun set in that direction, it would be our safest bet.”
The west, yes, how could I have forgotten; I must be too tired, I thought and nodded.
I trudged along grudgingly after Ker as she walked towards the path with a fresh spring in her footsteps.
It wasn’t until a while later that I felt a sudden chill across my back. While we were walking along the last two stretches of roads, I had heard the constant light muffled pads of feet. I had initially thought it was Ker whose feet made those noises, but I had memorized the rhythm of her footsteps and that of the ones I heard were more irregular.
“Someone is following us,” Ker said softly as she leaned towards me.
“You felt it too?” I whispered into her ear as I extended my arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer towards me. Her muscles were stiff and tense as I wrapped my hands around her shoulder. I squeezed her shoulder gently and increased the pace.
“Around that corner,” I whispered again, my lips barely moving.
The light tapping of footsteps seemed to amplify in the small alleyway as we neared the sharp corner. Turning into the passageway, I flattened Ker against the wall with my hand and stood in front of her; alert and prepared.
I could feel the coldness of Ker’s fingers seep through the thin fabric as she held onto my arm. The silence of the night was deafening; I strained my ears for the same taps that I heard earlier on, but heard nothing, only the uncanny silence.
My arms dropped lower as I turned my head towards Ker. In the moonlight, Ker was almost translucent; her eyes were guarded and watchful as she returned my look. I nodded reassuringly and took a tentative step away from her. I slowly inched towards the edge of the wall and holding my breath; I turned and stared straight into a pair of gleaming red eyes.
Thank you to my lovely beta Kiryu!:)
Comments would be loved!!!:)
Just on a side note … AVEX ROCKS MY WORLD!!! :):) always keep the faith my dears!