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spring & sunbeam

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The forest is prettier than any story Baekhyun ever heard. He can't see how anything so beautiful could be as bad as his kingdom claimed. Birds sing cheerfully among the trees, butterflies kiss the flowers, and squirrels and chipmunks chase one another while rabbits hop from their burrows to look for food.

He steps off the rough path a short ways, following what he thinks to be water, and finds a tiny pond—more like a swollen puddle—with shimmering fish and blooming flowers on green pads. Across from him, a doe drinks without care, quenching her thirst and merely giving Baekhyun a curious look before walking back into the bushes.

It's incredibly peaceful; he'd happily spend the whole day there, if a shadow didn't darken the moss and water.

"Are you lost?"

Baekhyun turns fast, hand on the boot hiding his dagger. He could've sworn he'd been alone, but a man, no older than himself, sits against a tree. A basket covered with a cloth is beside him.

"I'm not... My knight and I are exploring."

"Oh? You must be from far away, then. There are no villages around here, and you can't possibly hope to make it home before night." He takes an apple from his basket. It's almost perfectly round and bright red, sitting starkly against alabaster skin. "Would you like a snack? It should tide you over."

Baekhyun's stomach growls; he fights the blush and shakes his head shyly. "I can't take your meal from you."

"What if we split it?" Without waiting for a reply, he breaks the apple easily in his hands and offers half to Baekhyun. Juice glistens on the white fruit, dripping down the flesh. He chews his lip and shortly accepts with a small smile.

"I'll let you in on a secret," the man offers. Baekhyun cradles the apple in his hand, head tilted curiously. "The orchard I got this apple from,” he continues, voice hushed, “in this forest, is magic. Stars often fall into it, and their powers are absorbed by the ground and drunk by the trees. If you make a wish, it's sure to come true."

"Really?" His heart beats faster. He can hear it in his ears, overwhelming the birdsong and chattering critters.

The man smiles. "I all but guarantee it. Make a wish," he holds his half of apple as a toast and then to his lips, "and take a bite." The apple crunches with crisp satisfaction.

Baekhyun licks his lips and stares at the fruit in his hands. Hunger forgotten, he whispers a quiet wish and sinks his teeth into the apple. A burst of sweetness coats his tongue, juice and fragrance eliciting an embarrassing instinct to drool. It's delicious, even as the last bite of apple sticks in his throat, and he collapses over the moss.

Twigs break underfoot; Baekhyun's knight cuts through entangling shrubbery with his sword. “We could have just as miserable a time exploring the area closer to home, Highness,” he complains. “Why you wanted to come here is... Your Highness?" Yifan kneels by the prince's side and shakes his shoulder gently. "Highness?" He can feel soft breaths as he puts his ear to Baekhyun's chest, but they're shallow. "You're barely breathing... Why won't you wake up?"

"He can't wake up."

Yifan whirls around, pivoting on his knee with his sword drawn. The man he didn't notice or sense stands, lifting a hand in peace.

"Forgive me. He can wake up, but he won't."

"Why not? Who are you? What happened?"

"He's under a spell which can only be broken by love's kiss. Not just any love, though. A true love. The purest. Nothing else is important. Even if you killed me, the prince would remain asleep. As he is asleep, his time has slowed. The longer he remains asleep, the slower his time, until it stops completely."

"Why would you do this?"

"We made a deal." The man states. He looks at his wrist. "And you're wasting time. Help your prince, if you can." He disappears. A single blink, and the shadows swallow him, as if he was never there at all, leaving Yifan and his sleeping prince.

Yifan uncovers the basket, finding it empty and covered in lichen and moss, evidently abandoned a long time ago.