Winter’s freezing cold cloaking all beauty in its white snowflakes’ gelid grasp was here. Every single bone in his body trembled with cold and even if he had been wearing his armor and thousand more layers it wouldn’t have been enough to shield him from the north’s mad coldness. He was expecting it to be cold but never thought the stories would be true, people in his kingdom used to talk about the White Kingdom’s mysteries and how the cold could freeze your heart. It appeared as if somebody had draped a sparkling white sheet over what was once summer and put it to bed. He fancied that maybe all the gossips were true.
Why am I here, he thought, but then remembered he’d been summoned by the Queen of the White Kingdom itself. Queen Kim Kyung Soon had requested help from other kingdoms, but due to past conflicts he was uncertain of how many knights would willingly show up to her rescue. He didn't want to be there either but he had to follow his King’s orders.
He was unsure if he was roaming on the right path until he saw the castle. He stood in awe; not expecting the sight that was in front of him. Rising from the frozen ground reaching out towards the sky was the Ice castle, so big it was almost the size of a mountain. From far away he could see the beauty of the its fine architecture, big ice towers reflecting light rays like a prism creating colored shadows, and entwining to give it a beautiful crown shape. Once near the entrance he saw the details displayed on the ice walls, long patterns were carved in them and ice flowers aligned in the path to the castle’s entrance. He had always loved how the castle looked but the person living inside of it disturbed him. To his surprise nobody was guarding the entry, no spears or swords tried stopping him. He was about to knock on the door when it suddenly opened.
Ice was all he could see as the doors swung open. The hallways were completely made of ice as if everything contained in the castle and the structure itself had been carved out of pure ice. Trudging through the castle he could feel goosebumps appearing in his skin, everywhere his eyes fell upon looked completely uninhabitable, the place was eerily empty. Wondering whether this was a dream, he kept wandering down the hallways until he found a beautiful set of crystal stairs. They were at the center of a big circular hall at which sides corridors opened slithering further into the castle. He could feel the unbearable cold emanating from them seeping through his body, chilling him to the bones. Just being near the openings of the various corridors disturbed him. Everything pushed him to climb the stairs that coiled upwards to the topmost corners of the frozen castle.
Nearing the end of the hall he felt the hairs on his arms stand, something was off and he wouldn’t wait to see what it was. Hurriedly he started climbing, with every step he took he felt the cold intensifying making every movement laborious and tiring. When he reached the top of the stairs he was magnified by the imposing doors standing in front of him; they probably led to the throne room and he was “delighted” to finally be a step closer to her majesty’s presence.
The doors to the throne room rumbled and he heard the guards announcing his arrival. Slipping through the slowly opening doors were small waves of heat that relieved him but made him feel uncomfortable as if something were out of place; like a puzzle piece that didn’t fit. He decided it would be better to stay alert once inside the throne room for his 6th sense had never failed him and something was definitely suspicious. Once the doors opened he saw little rays of sunshine seeping through the thick layers of transparent glass in the ceiling. There was a throne next to the queen’s, it was no bigger than her majesty’s imposing one but not small enough to be ignored. Something was off, he thought but was ripped away from his thoughts when the figure sitting in front of him spoke.
“Nice to see you Kim Taehyung, son of the South, it has been a long time since I last saw you, I am ecstatic that you answered my call. It is a pleasant surprise since the last time we crossed paths you told ME I would never hear of you again, yet here you are in front of me. What brought you here to my aid?” Queen Kim Kyung Soon spoke arrogantly. She was clearly a woman in her thirties with olive complexion, long black hair, black eyes and scandalously red lips. He had never liked her at all.
“I was startled to discover that the Queen of the North requires my assistance. It surprised me when King Min Yoongi asked me to take this challenge, at least that's how I prefer to call it. For me this is like any other errand, but believe me when I say I’d rather be somewhere else.” Taehyung said while shrugging his shoulders.
He was concerned about being there, the last time he’d set foot in this empty castle had been long, long ago when he had been young, innocent and recently initiated in knightship. He remembered having a friend who used to say he would also be a knight one day yet months later he vanished without a trace. He wondered if he would ever see him again, but caught himself before he got lost in the past. He turned to face the Queen again shielding his gaze so that his emotions were well hidden.
“What does your majesty require my services for?” He said with a sharp tone not bothering to hide the resentment laced in his voice. “Everything at its due time dear. First I want you to meet your companions, Kye Hyung let them in.” As soon as the Queen finished speaking the doors creaked open and two hooded figures entered the throne room. Taehyung turned around to see the two hooded figures stop at his right and remove their hoods uncovering their faces. The first hooded person was a girl with pale skin, long red hair and beautiful chocolate brown eyes. The second was a boy at least 180 cm tall with a slim figure and tanned skin, so Taehyung assumed he must’ve been from a country far in the south.
“Finally you are all here, I’ve been waiting to have you all together to present the mission I’m trusting you. Kye Hyung proceed to explain their task and roles, presentations can be done later. It is urgent to start moving right away.” Said the Queen with a sweet smile on her face that didn’t match her eyes. Her servant a male with sickly pale skin and void eyes stepped forward in front of them.
“Ahem … The outcome of this mission is of crucial importance to the survival of the White Kingdom as we know it today, for that reason we have called you here, the best of the best. Few years ago a very dangerous criminal that had made of our Kingdom his main target went missing with our precious Krystal stone. After being pursued by our guards, we thought he’d vanished for good along with our Krystal. Unfortunately, some months ago it reached our kingdom that he had been witnessed in neighboring lands. Your main task is to go after him and bring him to court to receive his deserved punishment for disturbing our peaceful kingdom and retrieve the Krystal stone. At the end of five days you’ll have to return with him in your custody. You will all work as a team but just one of you will be rewarded. Kim Namjoon here is one of the smartest minds in existence making him essential for the mission, he will lead the quest. Kim Taehyung, you as one of the most renowned knights of all kingdoms and the strongest man known will take care of keeping the team safe through the quest and use any mean at your disposition to capture the subject, might as well show off some of your swordsmanship tricks. Song Areum, who knows every nook and cranny of all the kingdoms will guide you through the neighboring lands towards the target.” Taehyung looked at his partners who he now identified as Namjoon and Areum while a servant gave each of them a parchment scroll. Slowly he opened it.
“Oh! Right, before I forget the target is a young man known as Seokjin.” Finished Kye Hyung, and somehow Taehyung had the impression the target’s name came out of the man’s mouth infused with cruelty. He couldn’t help but feel uneasy as he looked at the open scroll in his hands that contained the face of the man they would catch and bring for certain execution. The man's face was extremely handsome, the kind of beauty you couldn’t find just anywhere, but those same eyes that looked at him felt somehow nostalgic. It made his heart clench but he couldn’t feel for his prey, this was a job just as many others and that was all that it would ever be.
“You are all dismissed go back to your chambers and get ready. You will depart tomorrow at dawn break. Oh, and Taehyung I’m still waiting for you to give me the right answer.” The Queen broke the silence that had fallen upon the room. Taehyung was relieved to put more distance between him and the Queen, and along with his companions bowed and made his way out of the room into the freezing hallway. Once outside, the three of them went together to their assigned chambers and upon reaching the section of the castle where the chambers were, they went their separate ways not bothering about the others. Taehyung was incapable of sleeping that night, it seemed to be evading him like a fish gliding through the water, weaving through algaes. Deep inside of him he knew that something was awry, the White Kingdom was never like this in the past. The thing that bothered him the most was the drawing of the wanted man. That face had felt so familiar, but he couldn’t bring himself to remember; this memory just like his sleep evaded him.
The next morning, he woke with the worst headache he’d had in ages, hurriedly took a shower and made his way into the stables of the castle; where he was informed they would meet to collect the horses and necessities for their journey. He was the last one to get there. Areum was already mounting one of the horses with her luggage attached to the sides of her horse and a bow and quiver with arrows strapped to her back, while Namjoon had a knapsack in his shoulders and was having a difficult time saddling his horse. When Taehyung was done preparing his horse seeing as Namjoon still hadn’t handled his problem he became impatient and decided to help his leader prepare everything in order to depart at once and get away from the nerve wracking castle.
When he was done helping Namjoon he mounted his horse and adjusted his sword. “Thank you, I’m not really good at horse riding.” Namjoon said passing at his side to take the lead, nodding his head at him in form of a thanks.
“As long as we get out of here as soon as possible, I can help almost anyone who asks. We’re a team remember?” Taehyung winked as they departed to the neighboring lands. They led their horses through the inhabitable territories of the White Kingdom at trot for one day only taking rest when needed, until they reached a small village in a warmer land.
On the second day they decided to stop and rest in one of the near bars that was currently open. They unmounted their horses, tied them outside the bar and made their way inside in complete silence. They must have been quite an eye catching group for as soon as they entered the few people inside all turned to look at them. Still in silence and being watched they made their way to the most isolated corner of the bar and sat at the table. He and Namjoon ordered some food and beverages but Areum only shook her head and took out one of her maps along with an apple.
“Are those the maps that will lead us to that guy?” asked Taehyung while taking a sip of his beer looking questioningly at Areum.
“Lead? Hardly, but if you mean it will show us the area and allow us to thread through this land then yes, it will. Now, if I remember correctly he was last seen in the east side of the Sei Forest which tells us he is still in this area. The forest confines with another kingdom but it would be idiocy to try and cross for the inhabitants of those lands are extremely violent. I’d bet he ventured into the forest or is hiding in the rocky cliffs at north of it.” Said Areum looking directly at both of them with a confident unwavering gaze not sparing another glance at the map.
“I think he is trying to lead us there. He wouldn’t be as stupid as to leave all those clues around unless he’s waiting for someone. I’ve been curious on why the Queen looked for us to do this job, finding this guy doesn’t seem like a difficult task, then why not send her guards? If you remember, the tales people tell about the White Kingdom said the Queen died after giving birth to their first son and then the King remarried but died two years later of a heart attack. The heir suddenly vanished and no one was able to locate his whereabouts. If we all recollect everything we hear this is how Queen Kim Kyung Soon whom we are serving right now came to power.” Said Namjoon.
“Namjoon, we have to remember all that is just rubbish that people like to gossip about. Can we start concentrating now and stop talking about that idiocy?” Said Taehyung annoyed of the time being wasted when all he wanted is to get back home at once.
“Fine, just keep that in mind. I’ll be open to any possibilities, but at the end everything I want is the gold, I have a family to feed.” Namjoon slammed the glass of beer on the table.
“I didn’t come here for the fucking gold Namjoon, the only reason why I came here is because my best friend advised me to do it. I would kill whoever he asked me just to make him happy, so you can keep the gold all to yourself my only price will be to see a big smile plastered on Junkookie’s face. Plus, I don’t want anything to do with that creep of a Queen.” Taehyung finished.
“And why is that? Ever since you came here you’ve been talking as if the Queen were someone not worth your time, what did she do to make you hate her so much? I get you probably have secrets you’d prefer to keep to yourself, but even if you do I could see how the Queen looked at you. She even mentioned something about waiting for a reply. Something happened between both of you long ago which made you hate her so much. I don't see any other reason why you would hate her, unless she really wanted to get in your pants not realizing that you were actually gay…” Namjoon trailed off looking at Taehyun realizing he had not all that well about his comment.
“So what if I am ah!? I…. I don't have to explain anything to you.” Taehyung stood up off from the chair and was ready to walk out when suddenly a hand wrapped around his wrist stopping him from advancing towards the door.
“I think you’ve both drunk too much and should stop now.” Areum who still had her hand on Taehyung’s wrist told them firmly to stop them from causing a scene. When Taehyung had taken his seat once again she continued.
“As for the gold you can keep it Namjoon, what I want is something else, so as long as none of you gets in my way we’ll get along. Let’s make a quick stop through our journey to look for an ancient weapon that’s supposed to be hidden in this region and then I’ll guide ya. Seems like a good deal to me; Tae has his friends smile, Jooni his gold, and I my weapon. Everybody is happy. What do you think?” Areum interrupted them with a wide grin trying to lighten the mood around their table. Both boys blinked dumbfounded by her casual way of addressing them.
“Back to the original topic, I don’t know much about this Seokjin guy waiting us in any of those locations but we should probably get going soon and camp in the forest. That way we can cover territory faster since we have only three more days left.” She said when none of them replied.
“Yeah, I think she’s right. We should stop talking and find some place to rest, we still have a long journey to go.” Namjoon stood up from the chair and made his way to the exit door of the bar. Taehyung and Areum followed, leaving everyone who was at the bar utterly confused.
After a fast ride through the forest in their horses they found a place to rest near a river and raised their camp. They unpacked the necessary for the night and sat around the campfire for a fast update. “We didn’t find much about him today, tomorrow keep your eyes open. Tomorrow we shall find him. Areum, Taehyung anything you’d want to share?” Namjoon said.
“For a matter of fact I do. It seems like someone recently passed through here, if we go back to the path we came from we will find traces of a person traveling by foot going towards the rocky area I mentioned before. We should probably check that area tomorrow; plus the weapon I need is somewhere around there too.” Informed Areum studying one of her various maps.
“It seems reasonable that he is going to all those places. If you think about it, places like the Sei Forest, Doomed River and the Rocky Mountains have the best weapon builders. Given all of that I think he has a plan. I don’t know who he is trying to kill though I don’t really care, because its none of my business, but I think those patterns we are seeing about his maneuvers to those extremely dangerous places have to do with that.” Taehyung said while he rested his head on his pouch and stretching his legs outward.
“Taehyung, I wanted to apologize for what I said earlier. I know those words were not to be spoken but either way I did. I swear I’m not like that. I might be smart and in courtesy of my intelligence I can analyze things ten times quicker than the normal human being therefore making me a tremendous jackass.” Namjoon apologised with a sincere tone not enduring the tension that had been created between them , showing his regret.
“Don’t anguish too much. You were not far from the truth to begin with, after all we were drunk and you know what that does to the human brain.” Taehyung replied grateful for Namjoon’s goodwill to mend things between them.
“Is there any way we could sneak a little bit into your past without feeling like blabbermouths?” Asked Areum trying to close the gap between all of them.
“ If Namjoon was near the truth of your whole back story, then let me tell you that I’m interested too, but if you decide not to it’s fine, I respect that.” She said while sitting next to Namjoon resting her head on his shoulder.
Taehyung exhaled and decided to try opening his heart to them in order to make it a bit lighter. It had been a while since he last talked about his dead lover, maybe they could keep his secret. They would not see each other again after the quest so it was fine or so he told himself. Preparing himself for what would be a long night he started digging in his mind for those memories he had sealed away a long time ago and didn't expect to return to ever again.
“It’s fine if you want to snoop a little, I guess. It’s just that it's a sensitive topic ever since that happened.” Taehyung opened his eyes to see their reactions. For his surprise he found Namjoon and Aerum’s position rather funny, he remembered when he and Hoseok did that all the time. He decided not to make any comments to both of them but at least he knew that the two of them were not new to each other.
“For starters, yes, I like men or used to love one. His name was Jeon Hoseok, we met in the academy. We were both training to be knights. He was the most beautiful human being I had ever come upon, always smiling a trying his best to prove others that he was willing to be the best of the best. Giving everything in his tasks he was like the Sun … that’s why I fell in love with him. I did not dare tell him about my feelings for him until had terminated our training at the academy, because I afraid of losing his friendship. I didn't know whether he’d accept my feelings, honestly I didn’t think he would, that’s why I decided to keep it a secret all those four years we spent together. On our last day at the academy I declared my love to him not really expecting a reply. I was only trying to convey my feelings before we went our separate ways, I had no way to know if I’d ever see him again.” Taehyung stopped to take a deep breath looking up at the sky where only hours ago the Sun had been shining brightly.
“And then? How did he react?” Namjoon said intrigued by this emotional side of his till now stone faced companion.
“Shhhh, let him talk Jooni.” Areum said nudging him on the ribs, inching slightly closer to Taehyung and urging him to continue. Taehyung cracked a small smile at her behavior, relieved for their disposition to listen to his story.
“He took me by surprise, jah, I would never have imagined it possible …. But he told me he also liked me, and that in his eyes I was beautiful. In that moment I felt as if thousand butterflies were fluttering inside my stomach and I was unable to process what was happening. Then he did something that, wow. He kissed me.” He remembered that day clearly. Their lips had met for the first time and it was then when he’d snapped out of his trance realizing his Sun was in front of him. He’d felt his body going numb by the sweet taste of his lips and the warmth of his body. It was a day he would never be able to forget. He still longed for that feeling but he knew nobody would ever be able to make him feel that way.
“We were happy after that. We used to visit each other and keep each other's company whenever we had the chance to. Even though we had to keep our relationship a secret from the other knights we were happy.” Taehyung told them with a fond smile on his face and sad eyes. His companions could see how much he had loved this guy, but understood what they saw was nowhere near the full extent of his feelings for him. However, there was still an unanswered question lying in the air.
“How is the Queen related with everything you’ve just told us?” Namjoon asked him as unintruding as he could in order to not make him mad once again.
“She’s the reason the person I loved the most in the entire world is dead. When the kingdoms were at war me a Hoseok were called by our King, King Min Yoongi, to come and aid the White Kingdom. We went together to help Queen Kim Kyung Soon because we knew that the King had just died and the heir to the throne had vanished. Our King felt pity for her that’s why we were sent to her rescue, but we were wrong. It was not my first time in the castle you know. I went there when I was little because my father was a well-known general and was usually invited to royal parties around different kingdoms. That’s how I met her. She used to treat the King however she liked. It was like the King was not himself but her puppet instead. No one could say anything because they all thought the King was deeply in love with the woman. She always had her eyes on me, even when I was little though I really never understood why. She used to praise my dad and tell him I would be an admirable soldier just like him. It creeped me out how she smiled at me back then, it still does. She was the one that asked King Min Yoongi to send his best warriors to help her and made sure to mention me in her card specifically for that purpose.” Taehyung stopped, running his hand down his face taking a deep breath. Areum and Namjoon stayed in silence waiting for him to be comfortable enough to continue, neither of them liked where this was going. Areum got up and went towards the river to get some water for them. She offered a canteen to Taehyung and went back to her place with another canteen for her and Namjoon. After Taehyung had taken a good long drink of water he resumed his retelling.
“The day we arrived to the castle she was already waiting for us in her throne room, she told us what we had to do, and dismissed us to our chambers. That same night one of her guards knocked on my door and told me that the Queen herself requested my assistance. I was nervous by his words because we were not going to the throne room but we were rather to her private chambers. At the end my fears were well founded; the reason why she wanted me there in the first place was because she wanted me in her bed. I refused to sleep with her and stormed out of her room, the thing I regret the most is that I never told Hoseok about what happened that night. As if I would ever agree to do such thing. The next day the knights that had been sent to help were to depart to war along with the White Kingdom’s army, they told us to go first. However, even though the conflict was with their kingdom when we arrived at the front they did not show up at all. We were outnumbered, but we were the best knights from the various kingdoms so we could somehow counter the other party. We won, victory what a joke. That day I lost everything I held dear, there were many casualties … and … and he, my Hoseok, was one of them. I found him before his life ended, he made me promise to take care of his little brother. With a last kiss his life slipped away from him while in my arms. My best friend, whom I mentioned earlier, is Hoseok’s little brother Jungkook.” By now tears flowed out of his eyes and Areum too had joined him crying.
“Later, that woman decided to show up to congratulate us and took our recent battle as a pretext to say I had played an important role and that she wanted me as one of her knights. SHE HAD THE NERVE to ask me that after he’d died because of her tantrum. I snapped, I couldn't stand it anymore and told her I’d never do anything for her ever again. I had only gone to help her kingdom I did not care for her. Can you understand now why I hate her? She retained her army just because I rejected her. She might as well have been the one killing my little Sun.” Finishing his story Taehyung cried in silence waiting for his companions’ response.