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Crown in the Flames

Chapter Text

The snow blows across the tundra, pummeling relentlessly at the tall tower of rock and earth that seemed to graze the heavens, which were grey and foreboding. Clouds locked together over the sky and poured snow down on the mountains, the whipping winds howling through the valleys and peaks and snow-covered ground. It’s not quite nighttime, but the setting sun is masked by the thick blanket of clouds, and a teeth-chattering chill is beginning settle in. It is unwise to set foot in the beginning of such a storm, and yet, a young boy trudges through the snow, searching for what cannot be in the mountains of Sssalssalhan, but rather, in the temple seated just below the tall peaks, cradled between talons of ice that point heavenward.

 

His sniffling goes unheard, for he is lost, stuck on the mountain, nobody around to hear his cries. The thick bear fur on his hood is blown from the winter gales, round cheeks flushed scarlet from the weather. He had been brave thus far, but as the sky darkens and the temperature plummets, he begins to sob, warm tears turning cold before they can trail down his chubby face. What started out as an innocent chase has now become a treacherous journey, a fear of the unknown.

 

He has grown up in this sort of climate, but he has never been lost in a place like this. It’s unfamiliar to him. The words of his mother resonate in his mind, that if he were to ever get lost in the snow, he had to seek shelter and stay put until it was safe to come out. The snow whips around him, muddling his vision until all he can see is white and grey, blindly stumbling forward and crying. He cries for his eomma and appa , because he’s frightened, and as his cries grow in volume and intensity, his presence becomes known.

 

In front of him sits a cave, yet he cannot see it due to the snow until he trips right into it.

 

The boy gasps, tumbling into the cave entrance, the snow now at his back. He’s sniveling, rests on his knees and shuffles forward, blinking away the icy tears on his cheeks.

 

He believes he’s alone, but as he stands on his feet, a gleam of silver crosses his vision and his eyes naturally turn upward. Fear should strike his heart or he should cry, or perhaps turn and run away, but his eyes widen in curiosity, pink lips parted ever so slightly as he stares into the face of a dragon.

 

He has only ever seen dragons in the books his eomma and caretakers read to him. They existed in this world alongside humans, but did not live in his part of the North; they lived in the dragon kingdom of Ssalssalhan, just west of where the boy lives, but he has not yet seen a dragon in real life since his arrival here only hours ago.

 

The dragon’s nostrils flare, captivating green eyes staring at the small human, as if he were regarding him with question. Even in the dim cave, his white scales gleam, catching the eye of the boy, who reaches out with one gloved hand in awe.

 

Taken aback, the dragon rumbles, craning its neck.

 

How did a human get up here?

 

The boy reaches up again in earnest, and reluctantly, the dragon ducks its head down slowly, the air breathed out from his nose blowing back the boy’s hood to reveal his face. Staying still, the dragon eyes the boy, taking note of his round, delicate features, as a hand is placed upon his snout.

 

What are you doing?

 

He’s clearly amazed, the young boy, running his small hand along the dragon’s cheek, feeling the smooth bumps of his scales through the thick gloves. His giggle is innocent and the dragon draws back, rearing its head. Unsure of what to do with the human, he beckons the human to follow him deeper into the cave. The little human understands the message as the dragon turns, crooking the edge of his tail in a beckoning motion, trudging deeper into the cave where it is warmer.

 

The dragon stops once they’ve ventured further into the cave where the snow cannot reach them. He rumbles again, and the boy instinctively sits on the cool cavern floor, his eyes having never left the beast.

 

You shouldn’t be here.

 

Dragging firewood over, the dragon loosely sets the wood in a circle, crouching to the ground. His nostrils flare and light dances along the walls as a puff of fire is emitted, tongues of flame swirling up from the pile of wood, embers crackling, ash fluttering up. The human is in awe, mouth agape, but he does not feel fear; he feels wonder.

 

You’re so strange. You should be scared of me.

 

Even when the dragon shows his teeth, the boy doesn’t flinch. Instead, he smiles, round lips turning in the corners, his hands coming together in a clap, cheering the dragon on with another innocent giggle that ultimately confuses the beast.

 

Grumbling, the dragon rests against the floor, keeping his head upright to watch the human, how his big eyes stare at him, stare through him. No human has ever kept the eye of a dragon like this before, but this boy. . . he’s special. Something kept him alive out in the snow.

 

The dragon places his head on the floor and curls his tail around his body, wings folded against his back.

 

I will return you tomorrow morning when you wake. Understood?

 

Of course the human can’t understand. He doesn’t speak dragon-tongue. But the message is conveyed, and the boy leans over, lying against the stone floor with his eyes trained on the dragon. The beast sighs before his eyes shut.

 

Strange creature.




 

 

Come morning, the snow has stopped falling. Sunlight streams into the cave and when the dragon wakes, he finds that the human has somehow climbed on his back, perched on his neck, tiny hands grasping at one of the spines jutting from the dragon’s body. Lifting his head, the dragon gazes at the bright-eyed human, his throat vibrating with his rumble, spines on his back quivering. The boy continues to hold on even as the dragon rises to his feet and steps on the pile of ash that once was their fire.

 

With the human securely on his neck, the dragon ambles toward the mouth of the cave, lowering his head and tucking in his wings as they emerge. His feet sink into the snow and he stretches his wings.

 

Hold on tight, little one.

 

He takes a step forward, his wings bobbing up and down once. It’s the human’s last warning to hold on. The dragon flaps his wings again, stirring up any loose snow under his weight, before they are above the ground, the snow swirling around the little boy. The sparkling ice crystals dance around the human until they fall away, drifting back into the sky.

 

The dragon is careful as he flies due to the human on his back. He’s so small, so light. . . he could float away just like a swan’s feather in the wind.

 

His wings beat steadily as they fly through the mountains, soaring over the snow-laden ground. He does not have to be looking at the boy to know his joy, his excitement, for his giggles and laughs are loud enough to ring in his ears.

 

They slow down upon approaching the temple of Ssalssalhan, its golden roof lustrous in the sunlight. Down below, in the courtyards of his temple, he spots two figures. As he begins to land, he can hear one of them shouting, and realizes that he has found the boy’s parents.

 

The dragon lands on the icy courtyard and he cranes his neck towards the ground, the little boy sliding off his neck and into the arms of his father, who holds him close before handing him to his worry-stricken mother. He recognizes the mother and father and shakes his body as he stands tall once more.



As they reunite, the dragon turns his head, nosing at the side of his neck. He knocks his teeth against one of his loose scales and watches it come free, falling right into the palm of his clawed hand. The dragon reaches down to take the scale between his teeth and he stares down at the human family, setting the scale on the ground in front of the boy’s feet.

 

The boy does not understand the gift and he stares at the scale. It is his parents who urge him forward, nudge his back, and the dragon steps away so the boy can claim his gift. He bends over and clutches the scale in his tiny hands, turning the scale over and marveling at it. The scale is well the size of his fist, but the human holds it tight, and he waddles towards the dragon with a beaming smile.

 

Do you not want my gift, little one?

 

Leaning down, the dragon becomes almost eye-level with the boy. His green eyes stare into the human’s but he does not flinch when a hand is placed against his snout. There is the urge to lower his head, and the dragon follows that urge, letting the human run his hand over his snout before he steps on the tip of his toes.

 

When the boy kisses above his nose, a hot spark courses through the beast, but he does not pull away. It’s only brief contact, but the gesture will stick with the dragon forever.

 

The human giggles again and steps back, smiling at the beast with more warmth than any fire a dragon could forge. It’s as if they were friends departing for different journeys, parting ways with a kiss, a promise that they would meet again.

 

And perhaps our paths will cross again, little prince, the dragon thinks to himself, the phantom touch of the kiss still lingering, the promise now embedded within his body and his heart.





Chapter Text

The soft hues of the morning filter through white curtains, rays of the sun dancing across the dark pelts that cover the bed and provide warmth during the cold winter months in Dang-ui. Although it isn’t chilly enough to justify so many furs on one bed, no one can deny the level of comfort the pelts provide in the northern province.

 

Bundled under the pelts, Prince Jimin cracks his eyes open against the sunlight. In the adjacent room, just faintly, he can hear pouring water. That’s right; the maids were to prepare a bath for Jimin when he had woken. His blue eyes scan the room as he sits up, nudging aside the furs in favor of sliding from underneath their warmth, feet hitting the stone floors. The cold doesn’t bother him as he pads towards the windows, where he draws open the curtains and squints in the morning light.

 

From his chambers he can see the picturesque mountain ranges, which extend out to the dark ocean just beyond the castle’s reach. The very tips of the mountains are snow-capped, but the rivers still flow, not yet frozen over. The winter months have yet to arrive.

 

Jimin steps away. The bath is still being drawn, he can hear the water, and he walks over to a pair of cream doors. He opens them, the large tub circling in the center of the room. It is raised above the tiled floors, which have been laid over with the landscape of Dang-ui, from the mountains to the vast ocean and the thick bunches of pine trees in the forests. The mosaic is centuries old but the blues are still vibrant and the whites smooth. Four pillars surround the tub, extending towards the ceiling, engraved with the mythical stories of ancient Dang-ui. Wolves, swans, goddesses, and the ancestors are carved into the marble. While the room serves as only a bath room, it remains one of Jimin’s favorites for its pleasurable aesthetics.

 

Two female maids fill the bath with oils and petals, bowing to their prince as they finish the bath. Steam rises from the clear water.

 

“I see my mother planned ahead,” Jimin chuckles, and the maids nod with smiles, stepping away from the bath. He dismisses them and they gather their things, disappearing out the other set of doors to the left. With a quiet click, they’re gone. Alone, Jimin works on removing his clothing, removing the silk garments and setting them aside.

 

The prince walks up the steps and sinks into the hot water, sighing and swirling his fingers in the water. Goosebumps prickle across his smooth skin, chin dipping below the surface. The white dragon scale necklace clinks across his chest and he examines it in the palm of his hand.

 

That’s right.

 

Today is his birthday. His parents are throwing a feast in his honor, but they’re also celebrating something else:

 

His betrothal.

 

The scale is from his intended lover, Prince Min Yoongi of Ssalssalhan, the province of northern dragons to the west of Dang-ui. They had met when they were young, Jimin small and innocent, Yoongi older and indifferent. Humans and dragons do not intermingle often, as tensions run between both groups, but an arranged marriage served as a possible solution to the problem at hand.

 

Who better to marry than the human Northern prince and the dragon Northern prince?

 

Jimin has only seen Yoongi once, but that was when he was just a tiny boy, and he remembers nothing of the day he received this scale or of the day their fate was decided. Yoongi has been a part of him for over fifteen years, as this white scale is his, and Jimin has yet to express his gratitude for the gift.

 

Perhaps marriage will be his thank you.

 

The prince releases the scale and sinks lower into the water. He’s aware that the moment he steps out of this bath, his life will change. He only has a handful of hours before the ceremony, where it is announced that Jimin will marry Min Yoongi, causing an uproar in the country from east to west, north to south. An uproar that the Parks and Min Jiho, Yoongi’s father, are hopeful for, to help turn the tide in the struggle of dragon and human.

 

They have yet to plan out the details of the actual wedding, but Yoongi will remain in Dang-ui for a couple of days after tonight, where they will discuss the specifics. As to where or when the wedding is, Jimin is unaware. Their marriage will be as mysterious as the dragons themselves.

 

Jimin only wishes to enjoy his bath before he must prepare.

 

His eyes are only shut for a moment before there’s a soft knock on the doors. Blinking, Jimin cranes his head in the direction. “Who is it?”

 

“Your knight.”

 

Jimin smiles. “Come in, Namjoon-ah.”

 

The man that enters is both Jimin’s bodyguard and closest friend. Kim Namjoon grew up with Jimin, born into a military family, and is now one of the high ranking officers in the military. It’s a personal achievement for him to have worked his way up to become Jimin’s personal guard, and Jimin would have no one else to serve him. Namjoon is everything a prince could ever want.

 

There’s a smile on his lips, dimples set into his cheeks. Namjoon carries clothing in one arm, which Jimin recognizes as his outfit for tonight. Seeing Namjoon with the armful of cream colored fabric is almost jarring. These days Jimin’s become so accustomed to seeing Namjoon brandishing a sword or shield instead.

 

“Now, if I didn’t know any better,” Namjoon begins, the soles of his calf-high boots clicking against the floor, “I would say you’re avoiding your duties for the day.”

 

“You know me too well,” Jimin murmurs, resting his head back against the tub’s edge. Namjoon stops at the base of the tub, eyes focused solely on Jimin’s face. “What else is there for me to do besides look pretty for the prince? Surely my mother has preparations nearly complete by now.”

 

Even Namjoon is dressed in what Jimin knows is one of his finest outfits. Normally, he’s dressed plainly in dark linen fabrics that have more practical purpose, but today his breeches and tunic are cut from more expensive cloth, tailored in a way that accentuates the length of his legs and the broadness of his chest. The crest of the Park family stands out embroidered over his heart.

 

“That’s why I figured I would come myself. The Queen Mother will be frantic if you aren’t dressed and ready soon. Guests are already starting to arrive, you know.”

 

Jimin’s eyes widen, the water swishing as he shifts. “At this hour? She told me the celebration would be in the evening—”

 

“And most of it will ,” Namjoon assures him, retrieving a large, fluffy towel from a twisted bronze rack just off to the side. “But you know we’re housing several nobles for the next few days. Your mother and father are already receiving people in court, and the dragon prince and his entourage should be arriving soon.”

 

“Someone should have been sent to wake me earlier,” Jimin huffs, reaching out for the towel. Respectfully, Namjoon turns around, as Jimin stands from the tub and begins to dry himself. A thick robe hangs from the door and he wraps it tight around his body, opening the doors that lead to his bedroom. Namjoon turns around and follows Jimin into his chambers.

 

“Is that tonight’s outfit?” Jimin inquires, glancing at the cream fabric in Namjoon’s arms. He had been fitted days before by their head seamstress, but has not been able to see the final product.

 

Once Namjoon’s laid it all out on the bed, Jimin can see that everything has been neatly stitched together by hand. The gown is floor-length, hemmed so that it graces the floor when Jimin walks. The collar swoops to a pointed V, held together by a single strand of silver chain across his collar. The sleeves are long, but only cover the outside of Jimin’s arms, the rest exposed. It’s elegant yet simple.

 

“Sooyoung said that if I got it dirty she’d chop my hands off.”

 

“Leave it to my mother to threaten you,” Jimin shakes his head, running his fingers across the fabric. Up close, the fabric is pleated, resembling dragon scales. Clever.

 

“I still have to prepare. Can you tell me mother that I will be there within the hour? I wouldn’t want her to rush me or worry.”

 

A quick bob of Namjoon’s head marks his answer. “Of course. I just wanted to make sure this got delivered safely and to see if there was anything else you required?”

 

“My mother would be pleased if she had the maids help me. I’m sure she has given them instructions as to how I should present myself this evening.”

 

“Ah, that would be why I saw Hani with all of those cosmetic pots earlier,” Namjoon chuckles at the dismayed look on Jimin’s face. “Don’t pretend you don’t like being made up for events like these. No one will be able to take their eyes off of you.”

 

“Do you think it will impress the prince?” Jimin asks, fiddling with the scale. In a quieter tone, he asks, “What if he’s unattractive? Will I marry an ugly man who is hundreds of years old?”

 

Silence stretches out between them. Namjoon’s mouth opens once, then closes. By the way his brows pull together in the center of his forehead, Jimin knows that he’s trying to word what he says next very carefully.

 

Dragons live to be hundreds, thousands of years old, and barely anyone has seen any of the northern dragons in their humanoid form.

 

“Don’t worry yourself about that,” Namjoon finally says after clearing his throat. Jimin doesn’t know which questions he’s answering. Maybe it’s all three. “He’d be a fool not to be impressed by you.”

 

“I only hope that you’re right, Namjoon-ah,” Jimin sighs, releasing the scale from his fingers. “I’m sure even his appearance will do little to calm my mother.”

 

“Oh, nothing will calm your mother at this point. We both know it. She’s been planning for this almost our whole lives.”

 

“I’m sure she’d appreciate your presence, your aura seems to relax her. As much as I would love to spend time with you, we both have our duties for the day that can’t be abandoned.”

 

Namjoon is already up and moving, shoulders square. It goes against almost every rule of etiquette for Namjoon to reach out and touch him, for someone of lesser blood to put their hands on the prince, but he does it anyway. It’s a feather light touch. Namjoon’s fingers curl almost the entire way around his elbow.

 

“I don’t want you to worry, Jimin-ah,” he whispers. “You know I swore myself to you. Not your mother. Not your father.”

 

Jimin purses his lips, glancing down at the floor for a moment before his blue eyes meet Namjoon’s brown ones. Loyalty is what Jimin sees in his dark irises. “I’m betrothed to a dragon, of course I’m worried,” he whispers in the air between them, swallowing the lump in his throat. Only to Namjoon could he voice his concern over the matter, as he trusts the knight with his life, and therefore, his secrets. Once he dresses and leaves his chambers, his life will change, and his future is uncertain. That uncertainty makes Jimin anxious. “I’ve never doubted your loyalty to me, Namjoon-ah, and I cannot express in words my gratitude. You have always been my closest friend. Even after today, I believe that you will stay by my side, as you always have been.”

 

“I would have it no other way.” A knock at the door makes Namjoon jerk his hand back as though burned, laughing nervously under his breath. Jimin blinks, eyes flickering to the door. “That would be Hani. I’ll leave you in her capable hands to finish getting ready.”

 

“Come in,” Jimin sings, turning his body towards the door where one of their most trusted maids enters. Her long blonde hair flows down her shoulders, the hair at her crown pulled back into an intricate arrangement of braids. She smiles, acknowledging Namjoon, and politely waits at the entrance to allow for the two to finish their conversation.

 

“Thank you, Namjoon-ah. I will meet you downstairs before the celebration begins.”

 

“I will see you then, my prince.”

 

Namjoon bows to Jimin before exiting the room. As he exits, more maids step inside, wielding cosmetic pots and chests brimming with sparkling jewelry and accessories for Jimin to choose from. The knight shuts the door behind him gently and Hani steps forward, smiling ear to ear as the maids set the items down on Jimin’s vanity. His mother is determined.

 

“Well then, prince Jimin, how about we begin?”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Jimin is patient.

 

He’s been patient since he was a child, always the one to sit still and never ask for too much. Patience is a virtue. Jimin has spent his entire life waiting for this day and has not wished for it to come sooner. His parents have let him mature and flourish as the prince of Dang-ui, and not as the husband of Min Yoongi. The life he’s lead has been his own, but eventually, the time must come when he truly becomes independent and continue his life on a path separate from the one he’s walked along for twenty years. Today, he will embark on that new path with the prince from Ssalssalhan, the dragon of the North.

 

Even as the hours draw near, Jimin sits quietly in his chambers, reflective. The maids are tedious, following Hani’s directions, steady, soft hands painting colors on Jimin’s face. A fine-bristled horse hair brush sweeps crushed winterberries along his plush lips and round cheeks, depositing hues of pink to accentuate the natural colors of those features. He keeps his eyes shut as another maid brushes a mixture of crushed minerals and herbs across his eyelids. The color is a soft bronze, and a muted black line of kohl extends to the outer corner of his eye. His hair parts close to the center of his forehead and brushed thoroughly so it appears silky in the light.

 

“You’re going to make quite the impression, prince,” Hani hums from somewhere near the vanity, and Jimin cracks one eye open to watch as she approaches with silver necklaces and earrings in her hands and around her fingers.

 

“Will I?” Jimin mumbles, breath fanning out against a maid’s hand as she applies the finishing touch on his lips, the pressure of another hand against his cheek disappearing. Then, all hands are gone, and he blinks his eyes open.

 

“That Min Yoongi would be a fool to not find you gorgeous.”

 

Hani sits down on a stool, the maids shuffling away, but only to set the cosmetic pots out of the way. They still have to dress Jimin. The prince blinks at the sparkling silver in front of him, fingers grazing over the scale around his neck. It’s his betrothal gift, and he best not remove it.

 

“I would prefer only this necklace, dear Hani,” Jimin says softly, and Hani nods, handing the silver to a maid to be stowed away. She holds in her hands earrings, ones that are short and long, and Jimin picks a dangling pair from her palm. They start with a hoop and end with a strand of silver chain, simple but eye-catching. With Hani’s assistance, he puts them on, and the maids smile.

 

“They suit you.” Hani stands and motions for the maids to come, one grabbing the outfit Jimin is to wear for tonight. Jimin stands, earrings swaying from the movement, untying the knot that keeps the robe around his body. It drops to the floor at his feet and he exhales, feeling the chill against his skin.

 

Carefully, with well-guided hands, he is helped into the gown, glad that his arms are free from suffocating sleeves. It’s as if a cape is drawn across his body, with his shoulders exposed, length of the sleeves flowing to the dress’ hem. The white of the dragon scale almost blends with the cream of the dress, which is patterned with miniature pleats that emulate the body of a dragon. Jimin has never worn a more beautiful formal outfit.

 

“You’re going to take his breath away,” Hani gasps, and the maids voice their agreement. One delicately brushes a strand of hair from Jimin’s face. “You really are marrying a dragon.”

 

Jimin smiles. He will have to thank his mother for this, for easing him into tonight.

 

One by one, the maids exit, until only Hani remains. She brushes her hair away from her shoulders, already dressed in her formal gown for the night, with long flowing sleeves and a free neckline. She’s beautiful.

 

Jimin walks towards the doors leading out from his chambers, but stops to pick up a necklace from a table close to his bed. Hani glances over at the prince and points to the necklace.

 

“Did you make a betrothal necklace for the dragon prince?” She asks, lips upturned.

 

“He gave me this scale, I would not feel right if I had nothing to offer him,” Jimin replies, holding the necklace in his palm. Together, they walk outside into the hallway, Hani close by his side. The hallways are empty, as everyone is finishing preparations downstairs.

 

“You have such a kind heart, prince Jimin. Selfless, but so headstrong.”

 

Jimin chuckles. “You’ve seen my mother, how else could she be the queen and manage my father?”

 

They share a laugh and descend downstairs to the throne room. From here, Jimin can pick up voices; Namjoon was correct about guests already arriving. For all they know, this is a celebration for Jimin’s birthday, and not a celebration of an engagement between the princes of Dang-ui and Ssalssalhan.

 

Jimin displays his princely manners when they enter the main corridor, where he smiles and welcomes the guests he and Hani pass. Many come from the country, the thanes that serve the king and queen, hailing from all regions to honor Jimin. They are clueless as to who the surprise guests are, and the mystery of it all has Jimin hiding a sly smile.

 

The throne room was built long ago by their ancestors. Purposefully built to be large, with towering columns and large windows that open to the mountains and the alpine rivers that flow into the lowlands. People are gathered here, standing beside pillars, on the gleaming marble floors, eyes focusing on Jimin when he enters the throne room. He continues to smile, bow his head in respect to those in attendance, but his smile grows ever wider when he catches his mother and father staring from their thrones.

 

“I will see you later,” Hani murmurs, and Jimin turns to peck her on the cheek in a grateful gesture, ascending the steps to greet his parents. Namjoon stands off to the side, a sword now at his hip, eyes bright and admirable on Jimin.

 

“Hello, mother, father,” Jimin greets, and the way his mother jumps from her throne to hug Jimin is short from improper in the eyes of these people. Yet, they are the royal family, and this is a special night for all of them.

 

“You make me so proud,” the queen whispers, pulling back from their embrace so that she can plant the heels of her palms against Jimin’s shoulders. Her piercing blue eyes are glassy with emotion, but the corners of her mouth tilt up into a smile. “Look at you. So grown up. Where’s my little Jiminnie?”

 

“He’s been grown for a long time, dear,” Jinyoung mumbles, but he stands as well, embracing Jimin in a hug that is quicker than his mother’s. “But we’re both equally as proud.”

 

Jimin sits in the throne chair between his two parents, his mother caressing his leg, continuing to smile. He glances over at Namjoon, and catches the knight staring. He smile sheepishly and bows his head in acknowledgement.

 

“Namjoon-ah did not ruin the dress. He told me you would have hurt him if he had done so. . . is that true, mother? Are you threatening my knight?” Jimin asks quietly, to which his mother laughs to herself.

 

“It did the job, didn’t it?” Sooyoung says it with a fair bit of cheek, and if Jimin wasn’t looking, he’d have missed the subtle wink of her left eye. “He was the only one I trusted, and I was right in my choice, as usual.”

 

“You are always one step ahead, mother,” Jimin comments, placing his hands in his lap. Out of curiosity, he asks, “When will the prince arrive?”

 

“Oh, they’ve already arrived. We’ll be greeting them last, don’t you worry.”

 

At that, Jimin sits straight, jumping in his seat. “They. . . they are already here?” he whispers. “Mother, if I had been told, I would have dressed earlier—”

 

Sooyoung dismisses his rambling with a wave of her hand. “Nonsense. It’s given them time to settle in to their quarters and freshen up. Besides, it would spoil the surprise, wouldn’t it?”

 

“Your mother is ahead of us,” Jinyoung comments with a click of his tongue. “I have learned to sit back and allow her to plan the events.”

 

“Do you think this necklace is enough?” Jimin cuts in, opening his palm slightly so both his mother and father can see it. It’s a simple choker made of smooth, black leather. From the center hangs a pendant, a blue and white flecked circular stone with several interlocking waves carved into the front. “I understand that dragons are lofty and appreciate treasures, but I hope this prince is not too particular.”

 

It’s tradition amongst the people of Dang-ui to exchange betrothal necklaces as a show of expressed interest. Jimin doesn’t even know if the dragon prince will know the significance behind the gesture.

 

Sooyoung shifts forward on her throne, humming a bit under her breath in a show of approval. “I didn’t know you were making him one. It’s only fitting, I suppose. You’ve been wearing his scale for the better part of your life.”

 

“I wouldn’t feel right if only I were wearing something,” Jimin responds. “You know why I wear it, mother. It has a more important purpose than serving as a decoration.”

 

Up until now, the entire court has been buzzing with conversation and laughter, all of which comes to a halt as the entryway doors swing open. There’s a shift in the air, something that makes Jimin sit up taller. All the hairs on his arms stand on end, eyes scanning the figures on the other side of the doorway.

 

The man that walks through first, Jimin doesn’t recognize him, but he knows logically that this must be Min Jiho— one of the Elder dragons. He’s a bit taken aback by just how handsome the man is, even though his dark hair is grey at the temples and there are fine lines in the corners of his eyes and around the corners of his mouth. He’s dressed simply for court in only a dark tunic and breeches with hard soled boots, but what makes him stand out is the gold circlet around his head, inlaid with rubies and diamonds that flicker with each step he takes.

 

Quiet whispers from the party goers begin circulating, at first just in the corners of the room, but soon they even reach Jimin’s ears from high up on the dias. Everyone shuffles to the side, out of Jiho’s path, creating a walkway of sorts from the doorway to the very foot of the thrones.

 

“Elder Min,” Jimin’s father is the first to speak, inclining his head respectfully in the dragon’s direction. “It’s an honor to have you here.”

 

This close, Jimin really has the opportunity to study Jiho, the way his nails are not short and rounded, but rather pointed and wickedly sharp looking. Almost like claws. When he smiles, Jiho’s teeth are perfectly white and straight. His eyes have slitted pupils, like a snake’s.

 

“Please, Your Highness, the honor is mine.” Jiho seems incredibly at ease, shoulders square and his posture relaxed. Clearly he doesn’t mind that the entire court’s attention is focused on him. It’s unsettling to have those strangely slitted eyes meet his gaze, and Jimin tries not to squirm. “Prince Jimin, you grew up well. The last time I saw you, you barely came to your mother’s knee and could hardly walk.”

 

“It has been a long time. I hope you have been well all those years,” Jimin responds courtly, bowing his head in respect. He has no memory of Min Jiho, but the Elder has remembered Jimin all these years. To think he was chosen to marry the Elder’s son at such a young age…

 

Movement at the entrance piques Jimin’s interest again and he sits up even taller, holding his breath in the center of his chest.

 

Min Yoongi looks just like his father, only younger and his hair is longer, dark, falling into his eyes. His robes are dark green, textured like crushed velvet, intensifying the vivid green of his eyes. Jimin’s fears of being married off to an old, ugly man are unfounded, for how he might describe Yoongi upon initial impression is . . . frighteningly beautiful. He holds the same air of confidence as his father, borderline arrogance, eyes plainly fixed on Jimin as he walks the same path and comes to stand next to Jiho.

 

Staring so obviously is considered rude, but Jimin decides he won’t look away until Yoongi does, fighting down the urge to look at his own fingers. Only when his parents rise from their thrones does their eye contact break, and Jimin stands as well. The necklace is clenched around his hand.

 

“Min Yoongi,” Jinyoung addresses, clasping his hands in front of him. He bows his head in respect. “Welcome to Dang-ui.”

 

Yoongi gives a small dip of his head in return, ignoring the flurry of muttering from the other attending guests. “Thank you, Your Highness.” His voice is deeper than Jimin imagined, raspy and low with a hint of an accent, like his tongue isn’t used to forming the vowels and consonants of human speech.

 

Jimin’s eyes dart to the crowd. People are leaning in close, murmuring, questioning what is happening from afar. The crowd is talking, but Jimin cannot leave them in suspense any longer. He glances over at his mother, her hands clasped in front of her, and she silently extends her approval for Jimin to give Yoongi the betrothal necklace.

 

When he holds up the necklace in his hand, gasps sound from the crowd. Anyone from the North will recognize a betrothal necklace, no matter if they are from Dang-ui or not. Only the North has this marriage custom, and it is known throughout the land. Min Jiho’s eyes land on the necklace, but he remains silent. The Elder steps aside quietly, hands held behind his back.

 

Jimin’s heart thumps in his throat. The crowd is raging now, whispering fiercely instead of surreptitiously, as restless as the waves that crash ashore during a bolstering storm. The prince lifts his eyes from the necklace and finds himself staring into the green irises of his future lover, slitted pupils focused forward.

 

Slowly, Jimin approaches. He straightens his chest and squares his shoulders. The man in front of him does not intimidate him; his presence is immensely powerful, yes, but Jimin holds his gaze and does not waver, not even when he stands in front of the dragon prince, the roar of the crowd resounding in his ears. He raises the necklace again, fingers reaching around to undo the clasp keeping the two silk ends together.

 

“Prince Yoongi,” Jimin speaks with revere, but he will not grovel at the feet of the prince, no matter if he is superior in nature. “You have blessed me with this scale, which I have kept around my neck my whole life. While it is a symbol of our union, it has also become a symbol for myself, as prince of Dang-ui, and I wish for you to honor that. As I bestow this betrothal necklace upon you, I ask that you honor its significance, but in doing so, allow it to become a part of you as this scale has become a part of me. Here, in my land, it is common for husbands to craft a betrothal necklace such as this one for their intended. It is an ancient tradition, and I will uphold that tradition. Your scale signifies your culture, and this necklace my culture. While our gifts are different, they carry the same meaning, and it would not feel right for me to not present a gift to my future husband. Please, allow me.”

 

Surprise isn’t something that Jimin expects to see cross Yoongi’s face, but there’s a flicker of it in the dragon prince’s eyes. No one else except Jimin can see the way one of his eyebrows quirks up, the almost smirk on his lips as he inclines his head to give easy access to the base of his throat. “As you wish, Prince Jimin.”

 

Jimin steps closer. In order to reach Yoongi’s throat, he has to be merely inches away, hands sliding to the back of Yoongi’s neck with the necklace. The dragon keeps his head tipped and stays still as Jimin presses the silk against his pale skin, glancing around to ensure that the clasp is in the correct position. Jimin breathes against Yoongi’s shoulder, the dragon’s chin just brushing against his cheek, the aroma of pine and smoke invading his senses.

 

The clasp connects with a small click and Jimin draws back, adjusting the pendant on the base of Yoongi’s throat. The black silk contrasts with Yoongi’s pale, almost snowy white skin, but Jimin admires his craftsmanship on the prince. People in the crowd burst, voices exploding, some clapping amidst the conversation. Many are left confused, having expected a celebration of the prince’s birthday rather than an engagement.

 

“Thank you all for joining us today,” Jinyoung speaks, his booming voice serving to settle the crowd, “not only to celebrate the life of my precious son, Jimin, as he enters his twenty-first year, but also his engagement to Min Yoongi, dragon prince of the North. With their union — which has been set for almost two decades — we hope to bridge the gap between our two cultures, two vastly different ways of life. So tonight, eat, drink, and be merry as we look ahead to a brighter future.”

 

Yoongi stands tall once Jimin is finished, as Jinyoung’s declaration sets the party in motion. He proves that he isn’t entirely a savage, extending his hand palm up for Jimin to take. “I’m told it’s custom to dance at celebrations like this,” he says in a way that comes out slurred. The pendant swings with his momentum, resting almost in the divot between his collarbones.

 

Not one to be rude, Jimin reaches out, gently resting his palm atop Yoongi’s. His hands are cold, unusually so for a dragon.

 

“It is, yes,” Jimin agrees with a slight nod of his head, walking down the steps away from the thrones and towards the center of the throne room. “Shall we?”

Chapter Text

Jimin excels at dancing. Yoongi, however, not so much.

 

It’s very rare that Jimin dances with a partner who lacks the skill, who is somewhat clumsy, misstepping and throwing Jimin out of his bubble. Clearly, Yoongi has never been taught how to dance, or he has simply refused to bother learning such an important skill; as a prince, he is expected to dance at any occasion, and yet, he cannot. Even with Jimin guiding him, he is stubborn, and does not follow his pattern no matter how simple it may be.

 

Despite his poor dancing, Jimin has to admit that the prince is beautiful in his own way, yet he commands a strong presence, one that can be arrogant and aloof. But he holds Jimin gently as they dance, Jimin’s hand atop his own, Yoongi’s hand gently resting on the curve of his waist over his dress. He has a hard time staring directly into Yoongi’s eyes, his slitted pupils leaving him uneasy, as if he’s staring into the eyes of a snake. They are a stunning green color, and stand out against the dragon prince’s dark hair and green robes.

 

Many are digesting the surprise news of their engagement, and Jimin knows that word is already spreading across the country in all four corners. By tomorrow morning, he will be receiving ravens and owls and hawks carrying letters of congratulation. Some may be forced, as Jimin has had many suitors in his past who have only wished for this day to never come, and must feel sour knowing now that Jimin has been off limits since the beginning, before he had even introduced himself to potential suitors. Maybe it’s wrong for Jimin to feel pride in leading them on, indulging in his short fun with them, but he is untouchable as of tonight.

 

Jimin is jostled out of his thoughts when Yoongi’s leg brushes up against his, tip of his shoes nearly catching on the hem of Jimin’s gown. They haven’t said much in the first minute of their dancing, but Jimin feels relaxed enough to speak now.

 

“My mother would prefer it if I didn’t dirty this gown,” he states, the dragon prince’s fingers tapping against his waist. “She threatened my knight.”

 

Again, there’s a subtle quirk of Yoongi’s left eyebrow. It’s like he’s surprisingly amused. “Did she now?” he drawls. “It is a pretty gown, but I’m not afraid of your mother.”

 

“Well, I would watch for the placement of your feet. I wouldn’t want this to be an unpretty gown because my betrothed can’t dance.”

 

At that Yoongi laughs, and it seems genuine. The hard planes of his face soft for a faction of a second. Jimin can even see a flash of his gums before Yoongi shakes his head incredulously. “You are nothing like I thought you’d be,” he admits, the corner of his mouth still quirked up as they move across the dance floor. “But as my fiance wishes, I will be mindful where I place my feet.”

 

“Oh, and what did you imagine in your head?” Jimin hums.

 

“Someone that wasn’t nearly as headstrong and mouthy as you seem to be.”

 

Jimin laughs, albeit quietly. “I’m assuming you are disappointed, then?”

 

“Not in the slightest.”

 

“Then I’m pleased to have fit your standards.” Jimin steps back just as Yoongi steps forward, narrowly avoiding getting his gown dirty. “Although I would have preferred a partner that could dance. . . perhaps I can show you one day.”

 

There’s a heaviness to Yoongi’s gaze, a heat that Jimin isn’t used to feeling on his skin. “I look forward to it, and I aspire to exceed your expectations one day.”

 

Jimin smiles, the music tempo changing as they switch their placement on the floor. “I understand that you arrived earlier. What are your thoughts on Dang-ui so far?”

 

“Too many people for my personal taste,” Yoongi releases his grip on Jimin’s waist to spin him around and then pull him close. It’s a miracle that neither of them trip. “But it’s a beautiful city. Almost everyone has been more than accommodating.”

 

Their chests brush from the close contact. “You’ll have to show me Ssalssalhan. I’ve heard not much is there, but your palace is gorgeous.”

 

“I would say not as gorgeous as you, but I think you might slap me for it.”

 

Jimin laughs out of surprise, amazement at the prince’s ability to flirt seamlessly. “You seem to at least be skilled in the art of flirting. I’d be extremely flattered if you weren’t my fiance.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be flattered because I’m your fiancé?”

 

“I never stated that I wasn’t flattered.”

 

The music ends. Yoongi’s entire arm is still wrapped around the dip of Jimin’s waist, pressing their fronts almost flush together. But Jimin keeps his palms both braced on Yoongi’s shoulders, chest rising and falling quicker than it should be. He can’t help that his eyes fall to the carved pendant at the base of Yoongi’s throat.

 

“My eyes are up here,” Yoongi says in that teasing, slurred way of his, releasing his grasp on Jimin and stepping back to put a little space between their bodies. He does reach up to clasp one of Jimin’s hands in his own, keeping them somewhat linked.

 

Jimin looks up, staring into bright green irises. “Yes, they are,” he mumbles, thumbing over the fabric of Yoongi’s robes. ”As are mine.”

 

The crowd disperses around them as the band picks back up with a little intermission piece that’s unsuitable for dancing. Yoongi’s gaze doesn’t waver as he brings the back of Jimin’s hand to his lips, pressing his mouth lightly against the skin. “I’ll let you go. You look like you could use some fresh air and some wine.”

 

“Thank you,” Jimin smiles, gently taking his hand away from Yoongi’s lips. “I will have the last dance with you before you retreat to your chambers.”

 

With that, they separate. Jimin twirls the dragon scale around his fingers and casts one glance behind him, watching Yoongi veer off in the direction of his father. That was quite unexpected, their dance, but Jimin is exhilarated, maybe even breathless. It’s been too long since he’s last been allowed to banter with someone like Yoongi, although the flirting is nothing but familiar to him. Yoongi is brave with it, Jimin must admit, and his confidence is admirable.

 

On his way to greet his parents, Jimin takes a glass of wine from a passing server, sipping it, knowing full well that he will feel better with wine in his belly. His mother and father sit in their thrones, receiving guests and their congratulations, and the queen’s eyes light up when Jimin approaches.

 

“The two of you look good together,” she’s quiet enough that only Jimin and Jinyoung can hear her. “What do you think of him?”

 

“I’m glad that you think that,” Jimin mumbles over the rim of his wine glass, turning around and sitting in his own throne. He can rest after such a long dance and talk to guests while he sits. “He’s. . . interesting. Of course, I expected him to be confident in his position, and he is. He’s also very confident in his flirting, which, I have to say, leaves me flattered. Prince Yoongi has a way with words.”

 

Sooyoung has a knowing smile that plays out over her full lips. “Does he now? Are there already sparks flying between you two?”

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far, mother.” He sips at his wine. “He is a gentleman, but I wonder if there is a second motive behind his flirting.”

 

“Don’t go creating trouble where there isn’t any,” Sooyoung warns, knowing her son better than anyone else in this room.

 

Jimin crosses one leg over the other. “It was merely observation,” he hums quietly, setting the glass of wine down on the gilded arm rest. “What do you think of him, mother?”

 

“I think the prince has grown up well. He’s been nothing but polite to the servants. Nowhere near as demanding as some of the human nobles we’ve housed in the past. I think he will make a good husband, and an even better ruler.”

 

“I always heard that dragons were arrogant, not to forget stubborn. Though, he is the only dragon I have ever met. Have you met any dragons before?”

 

A few,” his mother says cryptically, lips pink around the rim of her own glass as she takes another sip. “Yoongi’s father, Jiho, is the only one I’ve ever had any real contact with over the last few decades. But I’ve met a few dragons from the East before as well. This was, oh, I think I was still pregnant with you the last time any other dragons visited Ssalssalhan.”

 

“I’m sure I will become familiar with more because of our marriage.”

 

After that, their conversation lulls. Jimin sits comfortably on his throne, fingers tracing over the family crest. A swan sits among a wreath of pine and winterberries, waves carved out of the bottom of the swan so it appears to be both floating on the water and a part of the water itself. Jimin remembers a conversation he shared with his mother about their family crest, and why a swan was chosen above all other animals in their kingdom.

 

“What about a wolf?” he had asked, chubby fingers skimming the outline of the swan on his throne. “Or a bear? They’re scary, momma, but they’re powerful. A swan isn’t powerful because it’s a bird. Birds like swans can’t be powerful, momma.”

 

“Well,” the queen started, running her hand through his hair, “I like to think of it as a display of how peaceful and beautiful Dang-ui is. Even in the day of our ancestors, we did not have to fight to claim our home. Everyone around us fell in battle while our ancestors built our home and provided a safe place for all in the North. My grandmother told me stories about our founder, the very first Park, who arrived in a boat pulled by swans. He lead the people here and helped them start a new life as their generous king.”

 

Jimin looked up into his mother’s eyes, round lips pursed. “We have a swan because of him?”

 

“Yes, you could say that.”

 

His mother gently took his hand in her own, leading him down the throne steps. He clung to her dress as she walked across the throne hall to a set of windows, where she stopped. Jimin had to stand on the tips of his toes to peer out, and even then, all he saw was the water and the first snowfall.

 

“Look below, sweet prince. Can you see?”

 

Jimin pressed his hands to the cool glass. He leaned in, bright eyes searching and finding the pond in the garden. He could see birds, large white birds, floating on the water together. Their long necks curved elegantly, feathers fluffed and touching each other. In front, tiny gray specks floated, and Jimin counted four.

 

“Swans are loyal birds. They mate for life, Jimin, and never leave each other’s side. See how close they are? They love their babies, as much as your father and I love you. Like us, they protect their babies fiercely, and love each other until the end. When someone wants to hurt them, they fight back to keep their mate and their babies safe. Family means so much to swans, and it means so much to us, as well. Never underestimate a swan, sweet prince. Their loyalty is everything.”

 

Jimin finishes his glass of wine, focusing his attention back on their guests.

 

 


 

 

As the moon rises and the tide settles, guests approach the Park family to give their respects before they depart. Only the Mins are permitted to spend a night in the castle, providing for a brief, but impactful night. Come tomorrow, ravens and owls will start to arrive with letters of congratulations or letters of slander. Most of their guests will send word to others as soon as they step outside this hall.

 

Jimin has had one more glass of wine in that time and reminds himself to not have more. A pleasant warmth is already spreading throughout his body, and he knows that another glass will lead him to do something a prince should not do in the presence of so many. So he sits, saying his goodbyes to those that approach, eyes flitting over those still left.

 

A slight boredom has overcome him in his wait. While he has been seated, his eyes have rarely caught sight of his betrothed in the crowd. A glimpse here and there of dark green robes, but not much else. So when his eyes spot the dragon prince slowly ascending the stairs to his throne, he straightens in interest, both arms placed in his lap.

 

“Did you not feel like mingling with your guests?” Yoongi says in that sly, cheeky way of his, extending out his left hand with his palm up.

 

“I have nothing to say to most of them,” Jimin replies, reaching to take hold of Yoongi’s hand and stand from his throne. Again, his hand is frigid. “They all speak in formalities, through veiled words. Their purpose here is to spread word of our engagement.”

 

The dragon prince snorts in what Jimin guesses is amusement, guiding them both back out onto the mostly empty dance floor. “If you think this is bad, just wait until you’re announced in the court at Hwajae.” His hand easily finds the curve of Jimin’s waist. Practiced, like they’ve done this a hundred times already. “Dragons are infinitely more deceptive. We’ve had centuries to perfect it.”

 

“I believe it,” Jimin hums, one hand curling around Yoongi’s shoulder, their free hands entwined. “Hwajae. . . is that where our marriage will be held?”

 

Yoongi hums in acknowledgement, slowly guiding them in a slow, easy dance. “You’ve never been to the East have you?”

 

“No, I have not.”

 

“You’ll probably wither in the heat,” Yoongi says, a sharp twinkle of amusement in his dark eyes. “Since your body is only used to the cold of the mountains.”

 

Jimin scoffs. “And you wouldn’t?”

 

The way Yoongi tilts his head, slitted pupils narrowing, reminds Jimin of a predator. Like he can see right through him.

 

“Humans are more delicate ,” he says after a long moment. “Your bodies don’t adapt to the change in temperature as well as a dragon’s. The air here is mild. In Hwajae, the heat can feel smothering, especially in the throes of the summer season.”

 

All Jimin does is hum softly as Yoongi twirls him, grip on his waist tightening ever so slightly. “I can be full of surprises, Prince Yoongi. You may be surprised to find I am not as delicate as you may think, even in a land that is not my own.”

 

The music winds down to an end, and Jimin finds that when he looks around, they’re the last two on the dancefloor. Most of the guests have retired for the evening, but those that still linger in the edges of the ballroom have eyes fixed on them both. The only way to describe the look on Yoongi’s face now is a smirk, like he’s knows very well the pair of them are the center of attention.

 

He unclasps their hands, still holding Jimin in place with a wide palm splayed over the curve of his hip. Jimin doesn’t dare look away, chin up as he resists the urge to shudder while Yoongi’s free hand trails up the exposed skin of his arm, settling intimately around the base of his neck. The pad of the dragon prince’s thumb presses softly against his jawline.

 

“A pleasant surprise then,” Yoongi says, leaning forward until Jimin can feel the puff of warm breath against his lips. Jimin holds tighter to Yoongi’s shoulder, lashes fluttering. The way his eyes begin to shut is almost automatic, a motion he has repeated quite too often, the warmth from the wine spreading to his head—

 

When nothing happens, Jimin blinks his eyes open and finds that Yoongi’s attention is somewhere over his shoulder and the expression on his face seems amused more than anything.

“Goodnight, Prince Jimin,” he says, pulling back quick enough that Jimin feels chilled. “I wouldn’t want to make enemies with the captain of the king’s guard my first evening here.”

 

Confusion echoes in Jimin’s eyes as he turns his head, gaze landing upon Namjoon. The captain has stood quiet for the entire night, hands clasped behind his back. His eyes are narrowed at Yoongi but they soften when Jimin stares at him. Namjoon is slow to avert his gaze, walking up to his mother and father to instead whisper something to them.

 

Jimin twists around to face Yoongi once more but the prince is already steps away, sending a smile over his shoulder that has Jimin swallowing thickly. “Goodnight,” he mumbles, and surely the dragon prince hears him, but he shoulders his way past the crowd gathered and disappears.

 

A tingling sensation courses through Jimin’s body. The tops of his cheeks are flushed and he clears his throat.

 

What am I doing?

 

The sound of footsteps behind him draws him from his thoughts. He turns, hands clasped tight in front of him, staring up at Namjoon. The captain has his hands at his sides, one brushing over the sword against his hip.

 

“It is late, my prince. Shall I return you to your chambers?”

 

“Oh, yes. I suppose it is late,” Jimin’s voice ends on a soft note, but he offers Namjoon a smile as the captain offers his arm out for Jimin to hold. He loops his arm gently around Namjoon’s as the man carefully walks him out of the throne hall, away from curious eyes. Their walk is quiet, the slightest hint of tension in the air. It radiates mostly from Namjoon, strong and stoic, yet somehow affected by the actions of the dragon prince.

 

As they ascend the stairs to Jimin’s chambers, the prince decides to start a conversation.

 

“Is everything alright, Namjoon-ah?”

 

“Of course,” Namjoon speaks a little too quickly. “I think the evening went— well. Don’t you?”

 

“It went. . . better than expected. What do you think of Prince Yoongi?” He values Namjoon’s opinion on things, and has for almost as long as he’s known Namjoon, even before he was captain of the entire guard.

“He was very— very forward.”

 

Jimin’s eyes flit to Namjoon for a change in facial expression. His jaw is clenched slightly. “He is,” he agrees. “Though our goodnight was cut short. . . you almost scared him off.”

 

“He was making a scene,” Namjoon grumbles out, pausing at the doorway to Jimin’s chambers so that he can press it open with his free hand.

 

The prince laughs under his breath. “That entire celebration was a scene. So flamboyant.”

 

He walks to his bed, where clothes are laid out for him to sleep in. Namjoon stands by the door, hand holding it open, watching Jimin walk to the armoire to remove his makeup and earrings.

 

“You have my permission to leave, Namjoon-ah. Get some rest, yes? Tomorrow morning will be eventful.”

 

It seems like Namjoon doesn’t want to leave, not yet, not with the way he continues to linger. His fingertips trace the design on his sword’s hilt. “Should I send Hani up to help you undress for the evening?”

 

Jimin sets his earrings down on the table, shaking his head. “No need. Please send someone in the morning to take my gown, however. I can undress on my own.”

 

“As you wish,” Namjoon punctuates the end of his statement with a bob of his head. “Sleep well, Jimin-ah,” he adds on quietly.

 

“You as well.”

 

Namjoon shuts his door gently, silence taking over Jimin’s chambers. He continues his nighttime routine, removing his makeup and undressing, setting the gown aside for it to be taken by a maid tomorrow. As he redresses in a robe, he catches his reflection in the mirror.

 

Jimin twists his body and stares at his shoulder through his reflection. There is a spot of white behind his left shoulder, branching out in resemblance of a snowflake. The mark is well hidden, in a place where many would hardly notice. It is almost as white as the scale against his bare chest.

 

Both arrived at the same time. They are the two objects that make him so special, so different from other princes. He’s unique.

 

He redresses and slowly crawls under the thick blankets on his bed, fingers twisting the scale around his neck, eyes staring at the ceiling. As much as he would like to think about tonight, about Min Yoongi and the events that occurred, sleep calls for him. There will be more nights to think about the dragon prince.

 

The sound of the waves lapping against the beach lulls him to sleep.

 

 


 

 

Jimin only has to step out of his room in the morning for the maids to surround him with questions to ask.

 

He’s followed down the stairs by a group of maids, including Hani, who is adjusting his outfit that she specifically picked out for him. The shirt is cut low, opens similarly to a robe with a long ribbon in the back, dark slacks somewhat tight on his legs. She ties the silk ribbon as they walk, grinning alongside the other maids.

 

“I changed the linens this morning. Did you know that there is another boy with the dragon prince?”

 

“I heard rumors that you and the dragon prince were very close last night.”

 

“Is is true that you gifted a betrothal necklace?”

 

It is a task for Jimin to answer their questions, laughing about their excitement. From the moment he woke up, Hani was talking quickly, telling Jimin about the gossip floating between the maids and other staff. Some had even heard about the end of the night before Namjoon guided Jimin to his chambers. If word can spread this quick in the castle, surely it can in the rest of the kingdoms.

 

“He has to attend breakfast, ladies, so please, excuse us,” Hani dismisses the group, who giggle and sigh in disappointment, most of them hoping to catch a glimpse of the dragon prince. The maids have painted Yoongi in different pictures according to their own imaginations and Jimin can only smile and laugh with them. This is perhaps one of the more exciting stories the maids have heard in this castle.

 

Hani fixes Jimin’s hair in the entryway to the dining hall. “You have to look presentable, even at breakfast,” she muses, and Jimin attempts to duck away from her. “The maids are so excited. They’re eager to see him.”

 

“He isn’t anything too special, Hani,” Jimin tries to assure her, but she scoffs and rolls her eyes.

 

“Special enough for you to almost kiss last night.”

 

Jimin examines her with surprise, but he can’t lie to Hani. It would be far from the truth, wouldn’t it?

 

“Who did you hear that from?”

 

“. . . Namjoon-ah.”

 

Hani pushes open the doors to the dining hall then, and Jimin has to revert his expression to a more neutral one as he steps inside. His eyes find his mother and father seated together with the dragon prince on the other end, slitted pupils regarding him with interest. His father sits beside him, but Jimin’s brows crease at the sight of a stranger seated on the other side of Yoongi, one he does not recall seeing last night.

 

The boy is young. His head turns in Jimin’s direction, his big round eyes a shocking blue, pupils glossed over in a haze. He sits straight, and Jimin is caught off-guard by the rich red of his robes, the intricate gold stitching weaved into the fabric.

 

Eastern robes.

 

“Good morning, Jimin,” his father calls from across the room, gesturing to one of the many open chairs between the Parks and the Mins.

 

“Good morning,” he replies, walking over to the table, regarding everyone seated, his eyes trained on the newcomer. Yoongi’s eyes watch him with every step. “Who is this new guest with us?”

 

The boy’s mouth opens, then closes. His head tilts in Yoongi’s direction, and it’s only then that Jimin can see that it looks like Yoongi’s hand is resting on his leg beneath the table. “I’m Jeongguk,” the boy finally says, dipping his chin closer to his chest in respect. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness.”

 

“Jeongguk is part of the Min’s entourage,” Jinyoung further explains.

 

Jimin hums low in his throat as he takes his seat at the table, a chair across from Yoongi and his father. “The pleasure is mine,” he nods his head as well, but Jeongguk doesn’t catch it, eyes trained somewhere beyond him. He doesn’t blink, either. Jimin squints his eyes slightly before he realizes it:

 

The boy is blind.

 

“Pardon me for asking,” Jimin clears his throat, “but why did you not attend last night? I hope you weren’t alone in your chambers.”

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk’s voice is soft, small. “I didn’t mean to offend. I was perfectly fine, Your Highness. I just thought, well, this is a new place and I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone.”

 

“No, you aren’t offending. I suppose it would have been boring. . .” he stops himself from saying anything else, in worry that he may offend Jeongguk instead. “Did both of you sleep well?”

 

There’s a bit of pink on the tops of Jeongguk’s cheeks but he nods, twisting his shoulders slightly in Yoongi’s direction.

 

“We all did,” Yoongi says smoothly, shifting back against his seat so that his posture is more slouched. Hani would pitch a fit. “And you, Prince Jimin?”

 

“I did. Elder Jiho, was the celebration to your liking? I hope it was suitable.”

 

“More than suitable,” Jiho smiles warmly. Jimin wonders if Yoongi’s smile is the same. There’s so many striking familial resemblance between the two dragons. “We’ve felt nothing but welcomed since we arrived.”

 

At that moment, the servers come in with breakfast. Rolls of bread, sliced meat, and an assortment of fruits are laid on the table in a decorative sprawl. Once everything is set, they retreat into the kitchens, leaving the royal families to eat in peace together.

 

Jimin reaches for one of the baskets of bread and places two rolls on his plate, before extending his arm to Yoongi and his father. “Bread, prince Yoongi, Elder Jiho?”

 

Everyone fills their plates, but Yoongi also helps Jeongguk. The two of them speak low, but by the shake and nod of Jeongguk’s head it’s clear that Yoongi is describing what dishes are in front of them. With a shake, Yoongi passes over it, and with a nod he adds a bit to the boy’s plate.

 

Jimin spreads winterberry jam over his roll, glancing over at Yoongi and Jeongguk. Yoongi is adding food to the boy’s plate, eager to assist. The bond they share is close, strong. “I can’t help but notice your robes, Jeongguk-ah,” he says, much in admiration. The rich red dye is only reserved for the noblest of people in the East, usually dragons in a high position. “Are they a gift from the East? Are you from there?”

 

Clearly taken aback by being addressed again, Jeongguk’s face tilts up. It’s still a little disconcerting he seems to be looking through Jimin and not actually at him. “These?” One of his hands comes up, fingers adorned with several slim gold bands. The one on his ring finger has a deep red gem set into its center. “They are, but I’m not. At least, I don’t think I am.”

 

“We found Jeongguk on the mountain side when he was just a babe,” Jiho explains between bites. “He’s been with us ever since.”

 

An orphan. How sad.

 

The people in the North are hardy people and if Jeongguk was born into this world blind, then it is an unfortunate reality of abandoning children like him in the wild. The terrain is dangerous and so are the winters. Even Jimin was lost in a snowstorm and he has his sight. Elder Jiho has a kind heart for raising a human in Ssalssalhan alongside his own son.

 

“I am sorry to hear that,” Jimin voices his sympathy. “Your robes are beautiful. Some of the prettiest I have ever laid my eyes on. Whoever gifted those robes must really care about you, Jeongguk.”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Jeongguk says brightly, smiling in a way that shows off his front teeth. “I don’t remember any of it. And thank you. I’m sure you can find some like them when we go to Hwajae!”

 

Jimin catches the curious look from his parents and he sets down his silverware to continue the conversation. “I am curious about Hwajae, given that I was told last night about it. Will our wedding be held there? Is there a plan set in place?”

 

“You’ll have to be presented in court first,” Yoongi explains. “And we’ll have to meet with the rest of the Elders as well. Everyone will want to see you, to see us. Hwajae is the best place to do that. It’s the hub of the continent. Lots of trade. People from all over go there to seek their fortunes.”

 

“Seems like the best course of action,” Jinyoung meets his son’s eyes to show his approval. “One day Yoongi will have a seat on the Council of Elders. It’s important the two of you get to see and experience what that’s like, to learn the dragon court intimately. Especially for you, Jimin. You’re an outsider, a human.”

 

Jimin is not keen of the word outsider, but his father is right; if he is to marry one of the future dragon Elders, he has to somehow integrate into their traditions. “When will we leave for Hwajae to begin preparations?”

 

Jiho speaks again. “There’s a meeting of the Elders soon. It would be the perfect opportunity. So if we could leave in a few days time. . .?”

 

He did not expect to be leaving so early, but what is there for Jimin to do in the North until their ceremony? It will be a long process to begin preparations and to also convince the Elders that their marriage will be beneficial to the dragons.

 

“That would be perfect. The sooner we arrive, the better it will be for me to experience the Council. Mother, father, is that alright?”

 

Jimin shifts his gaze over to his parents, who look at each other for approval before they nod their heads in agreeance.

 

“Perhaps I can bring Namjoon-ah with? Of course, he will be absent for some time, but we know no one intimately in the East. It may bring me comfort if he comes, an added measure of security if there are people who oppose our marriage.”

 

“I agree,” Sooyoung voices, dabbing at her mouth with the edge of a napkin. “It would make me feel better with my son halfway across the continent.”

 

“I can tell him when I see him next.”

 

The discussion quiets down as they eat their breakfast. Small talk happens, and Jimin glances up at Yoongi from time to time or catches the dragon staring at him from across the table, causing a shiver to run down Jimin’s spine as he eats. They don’t say much to each other, hardly anything, but if they are going to live in Hwajae together for some time, there will be enough opportunities for them to talk.

 

The maids clean up the plates and excess food for the families, and Jimin stands from his chair once the table has been cleared.

 

“I should show you around our castle. Jeongguk-ah, prince Yoongi, would you like to walk around for a short while?”

 

While the parents make small talk at the head of the table, Yoongi helps Jeongguk stand, keeping a hand at the boy’s elbow as he sways a bit uncertain in place. “I can just return to our quarters,” Jeongguk says, eyes cast down a bit. “I don’t want to get in the way.”

 

“No, Jeongguk, you shouldn’t be left out.” Jimin smiles, although Jeongguk can’t see it. Maybe he hears it in Jimin’s voice. “I would love to have you accompany us.”

 

“It’d be rude to say no,” Yoongi says. His tone is gruff, but teasing, and it makes Jeongguk smile again in a way that has his nose scrunched up. “It’s not every day the Crown Prince of Aiseu wants to give a personal tour, hm?”

 

“Alright, alright,” Jeongguk swats at the sleeve of Yoongi’s robes. “I accept.”

 

“Good. You’ll find something to enjoy, I promise.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The sun shines brighter in the East, bathing rooms in a shower of golden light. Even in the morning it peeks through the darkest of curtains, illuminating the room. It sneaks past the thick fabric of the prince’s chambers and columns of light span the length of the floor up to the large bed in the center of the room, raised on a platform with thin drapes of all colors hanging from the ceiling. Unlit lanterns dot the drapery, but the faintest scent of the natural oils still linger in the bedroom. The sheets and pillows are mostly piled around the platform of the bed with the exception of a few, which cover the numerous bodies sprawled together on the mattress in slumber.

 

A tentative knock at the door doesn’t wake them. A louder knock a minute later, however, does, and a head of blonde hair appears from underneath the sheets.

 

“Taehyung, there’s a letter for you.”

 

“. . . Shit,” the prince mutters, eyes squinting, headache forming behind his eyes. He pries himself away from the chest one of the naked girls curled up next to him, long black hair cascading down her shoulders when she sits up as well. The other two in the bed shift and begin to awaken when the knocking grows steadily louder. The dragon prince sits up in the crimson sheets and presses his fingers to the area between his brows.

 

“Come in already!”

 

Taehyung grits his teeth when the heavy gilded door opens. His closest friend and advisor, Hoseok, slips inside. His orange hair catches the light of the sun as does his caramel skin, amber eyes gleaming in the sunshine. They widen upon the sight on the bed.

 

“I don’t even know why I’m surprised any more.” Between Hoseok’s fingers is a folded up piece of parchment. The Min seal embossed on its front in hardened, silvery wax. “All of you, out!”

 

Taehyung watches with dismay as the girls scramble out of bed, groggy from their night with the prince. They hastily grab their clothing from the floor and carry it in their arms as they scurry out, Hoseok sternly watching them leave out the door he had come in from. The door shuts behind the last one and Taehyung sighs.

 

“Why do you have to ruin my fun, Hoseok?” he grumbles, shoving aside the sheets and standing from the bed. Clearly, he isn’t shameful, exposing himself in front of the redhead as he retrieves a robe. Dark bruises stand out against his honeyed skin, hardly covered by the thin robe he slides over his shoulders. When decent, he turns to the other.

 

“You could have joined, dear,” Taehyung hums with a smirk on his lips. He takes the letter from Hoseok, pressing his fingers to the wax seal. It begins to warm under his touch until the edges become soft, and he then pries open the letter to examine it. “It’s been too long since I’ve had your company in my bed.”

 

Hoseok huffs quietly, folding his arms in front of his chest, making the gold bracelets around his wrists clink together musically. His own gauzy robe appears spun from gold threads, cinched in the front around his waist, but the edges gape open to reveal more skin than it covers. “Just tell me what Yoongi said.”

 

Clearly, Hoseok should have joined. Perhaps he’d be in a better mood this morning.

 

Taehyung’s eyes scan the letter. It’s written in his cousin’s horrible scrawl, hard to read, and it takes a master to comprehend it. “Ah, he met his betrothed finally, the little swan from the North,” he chuckles, eyes widening when he reaches the end of the letter. “Apparently my big cousin will be here in days time with the prince. Formalities, of course, but they will stay here until the wedding.”

 

With a snap of his fingers, the letter bursts into a flame, crisping and curling at the edges. It disintegrates quickly and Taehyung blows at the ashes. “That also means my Jeongguk will be staying here until then. I get to meet the little swan and entertain my dearest? How lucky I must be.”

 

As Taehyung speaks, Hoseok moves to the windows, throwing open the draping fabric so that the sun pours into the space. “ Your Jeongguk?” he laughs. “You know, Taehyungie, you talk this big talk until that little human gets here and then you trip all over yourself like a bumbling fool.”

 

“You know nothing,” Taehyung huffs, gliding over to his wardrobe for suitable clothing for the day. He has to tell his father that Yoongi will be arriving and wedding preparations will finally be put into motion. “I love him. If I am a fool, so be it, I guarantee you and Yoongi were bumbling fools when you first met.”

 

With the windows open and a gentle sea breeze blowing through, Hoseok dusts the palms of his hands off. “That was a long time ago,” he muses, eying a lacey bit of clothing peeking from the edge of bed. His nose wrinkles. “Clean this place up. It reeks of you and your debauchery.”

 

“Who are you, my mother?” Taehyung scoffs as he slips out of his robe, walking to the adjacent bathing room. “You can come and join if you’d like, cleanse yourself of all that tension in your  body. Or are you too busy?”

 

“Not until you change these damn sheets.”

 

“You know where to find me if you change your mind. Run along, then. You can find me in the court with my father soon, and my room will be clean to your liking.”

 

In a swirl of golden, gossamer fabric, Hoseok makes his way to the door. But he lingers, fingers curled around the edge. “Keep this quiet for now. It’s just— my mother. You know how she gets. I’d rather not give her a chance to stew on it before Yoongi and his little swan arrive, yes?”

 

Taehyung nods. “I will tell my father in private first. You have my word.”

 

Hoseok’s lips twitch in a smile, if only for a brief second, before he closes the door behind him. For now, Taehyung will take a long, relaxing bath and cleanse himself of the previous night.

 

 


 

 

After slipping into a loose, low top and flowing pants, Taehyung fixes his jewelry and exits his chambers. He steps out on the polished blue floors, high, looping archways climbing to the mosaic ceiling above. The sun filters in through the open windows lining the hall as he walks in the direction of his father.

 

In order to reach the area of the council, he has to step outside and travel from one building to the next, passing over one of the courtyards down below. His quarters open up to an opening where a walkway extends over the courtyard, warmth seeping into his skin once he is outside. The spiraling towers of the castle extend toward the cloudless sky, birds swooping down from their nests. A calm sea breeze ruffles the prince’s hair.

 

Down below lies the fountains and gardens centered around a mosaic design in the open courtyard. The fountain is placed in the center, where clementine and grapefruit trees line up symmetrically to the fountain on either side, from which maids harvest the succulent fruit for consumption. In all directions the water from the fountain spills over into crevices that outline the mosaic and run back into the castle where they will meet at one of the baths in the palace.

 

The building that houses the council members is certainly as elegant as the royal family’s wing, but there is more activity. As soon as he enters and continues to walk straight, he comes upon a large circle on the upper floor that leads into the council room below. People rest against the balcony and gaze down at the dragon Elders. One is missing, of course; Min Jiho, the Northern Elder, whisked away to engage his son to the swan prince with the Park namesake.

 

The gilded dome ceiling depicts images of the great dragons of their time, including the original Elders and the humans they coordinated a truce with. Of course, parts of that truce have crumbled throughout history, and even today, tensions loom between the two groups. Hence why the marriage of Yoongi and the Park prince is so important.

 

Taehyung descends the staircase to the left and it spirals around to the main floor just shy of the circular council room. The guards bow in respect to the prince and allow him to pass. Inside, the Elders are seated at a rather large round table, the seat on the far right empty. His father, Kim Dongmin is seated in the center of the table. Hoseok’s mother, Jung Hana, is seated on his left, and the Elder from the West, Kim Seokjin, on his right. Their voices are steady, not a whisper, but Taehyung’s father looks up when the blonde approaches.

 

“Prince Taehyung,” Hana states, her long brown hair twisted against her shoulder. Elder Hana is as pretty as she is frightening. She and Hoseok share the same striking amber eyes, the same gleam to their skin. Her nails tap against the scratched wood of their meeting table, long and black, like claws. “A surprise to see you here.”

 

Under normal circumstances, Taehyung wouldn’t be caught dead this close to the Elder’s table, but this morning’s letter didn’t leave him any other choice.

 

“I would like to speak to my father, Elder Hana,” Taehyung wants to finish this quickly so neither Hana nor Seokjin will become suspicious. “Father, care to converse with me outside? It will only take a moment.”

 

His father stands from his chair and regards Taehyung with stern eyes. They look almost nothing alike. Everyone always says that Taehyung looks like his mother: the same lithe build, gleam of blonde hair, the same slightly upturned nose. Dongmin is taller, broader, arms thick and corded with muscle, a man who commands attention.

 

“Please continue without me. I will return shortly.”

 

Hana’s eyes narrow slightly, but with a shrug of one shoulder, she shows her indifference to the situation. One of her attendants shuffles forward, bowing forward at the waist to whisper in the Elder’s ear.

 

Seokjin doesn’t speak. His chin is propped up in one hand, elbow resting on the table. Taehyung feels his gaze track his movements as Dongmin guides them both outside, walking to a more private area away from prying eyes and ears. They choose a spot in one of the corridors, a space where only maids and servants pass by.

 

“What is it, Taehyung?” Dongmin asks, running one hand through his hair; more white now then black.

 

“I received a letter from Yoongi. He’ll be arriving in Hwajae in just a few days if the journey goes well. With his betrothed.” Taehyung watches as his father regards him with interest now. “It might be best if their arrival is. . . a surprise.”

 

His father nods slowly, the information settling in. “The servants can be discreet in making preparations, I hope before Hana realizes. The last thing we need is her hostility.”

 

It’s well known in court that Jung Hana has no love for humans. The subject of Yoongi’s betrothal is already a sore one, especially since Hana once had hopes that her own son would be the one to permanently share his bed and heart. There’s a reason the Mins haven’t made an effort to attend court in Hwajae as frequently as they should.

 

“I’m sure Jiho will have plans for the ceremony,” Dongmin continues. A little furrow appears between his brows, which means that his mind is already ten steps ahead. “They’re brave, bringing that boy here so quickly. Did Yoongi say how many people to expect? I assume they’re arriving with an entourage.”

 

“Yoongi only said it would be him, the prince, Jeongguk, and the prince’s bodyguard. I assume he will have his own guards present for the arrival.”

 

“Jeongguk? Oh, yes, right. The human boy. It’s good that Yoongi’s bringing him. Perhaps the human prince won’t be quite so overwhelmed if one of his own kin is with him.”

 

Taehyung hums. “That boy must be brave himself for agreeing to such terms immediately after meeting Yoongi. I’m quite interested to meet him.”

 

“I am as well. And I’m sure everyone else will be as soon as the news reaches court,” Dongmin chuckles a bit. Nothing ever stays secret for very long in Hwajae. Taehyung’s mother always liked to joke the very walls had ears. “Make sure they feel at home, Taehyung-ah. You’re good at that.”

 

“Of course. They’ll be here for so long, and Yoongi will want me to keep my manners.” Taehyung laughs. “Is there anything else you needed, father? I should go start preparations.”

 

“Go, go,” Dongmin dismisses him with a wave of his hand. “I’ll be stuck at that table all afternoon at this rate.”

 

“Being an Elder is hard work,” Taehyung laughs as he is shooed away, leaving his father to his duties.

 

 


 

 

After preparations all day, Taehyung needs to unwind. He’s been bustling around the palace from morning to sunfall ensuring that all will be ready for his cousin’s arrival tomorrow or the day after. Until then, he plans on relaxing and enjoying himself before that comfort disappears.

 

One of his favorite places to socialize in the palace is their lounging hall. The hall can be considered unnecessarily large, somewhat bare, save for the mountains of plush cushions stacked in piles throughout the room. Long, cushioned chairs surround the fireplaces built into the white marbled walls, large intricate steel lanterns lighting up the room just for it to be dim, to create an ambiance of relaxation.

 

Thick woven rugs sit under chairs and the large open windows blow the soft ocean breeze inside through the curtains. Where three sides are windows leading to a balcony, one side is taken over by an immense set of onyx-carved doors with gold trim that glitters in the firelight.

 

The alcohol is plentiful tonight, carried in by maids, who hastily deliver more and cast their eyes away from the sight on the main spread of pillows and cushions against the wall. Taehyung is in good company, sprawled across the cushions with his so-called harem, a group of the most beautiful men and women who call Hwajae home.

 

He has one wrapped around his side, long fingernails dipping underneath the thin robes to caress his chest, pleased with having Taehyung’s hand over her backside. Another rests his head in Taehyung’s lap. The dragon prince cards his fingers through his long black locks, switching between that and swallowing the dark wine in his cup.

 

“How long will we have to be away, prince Taehyung?” A pretty brunette asks, her chest bare as she cozies up to Taehyung’s other side, heavy gold necklaces swaying from her breasts. Taehyung hums in his throat.

 

“A few months, perhaps,” he speaks with a sigh, but not necessarily because he will miss this; Jeongguk will provide more happiness than his harem ever could.

 

“And we won’t be allowed in your chambers?” The one with the long nails pouts, tracing over a faint scar on Taehyung’s chest. Disappointment is laced in her words.

 

“My, you’re so lewd,” Taehyung slides his hand from her body to tip her chin up with a sly smile. “I am sure someone will fuck you the way you like it, my lovely. I have important matters to attend to.” He swipes over her round lips before pulling away.

 

“It will be an agonizing wait, my prince.”

 

“Mm, perhaps.”

 

He reaches across to sip at his wine, resting his head against the back of the cushions, humming against the gold rim as another plays with his hair. Taehyung holds his glass in his hand and his eyes flicker up when he hears the heavy doors creak open, cutting through the quiet in the room.

 

Taehyung only smiles lazily as the youngest Elder, Kim Seokjin, steps into the room with his green robes trailing behind him. The aura he radiates is of immense power; power that the Elder has somehow learned to control and then manipulate it. He's rather gorgeous, tall and broad with brown hair and a focused expression, poised and dignified.

 

“Elder Seokjin,” he croons, keeping his smile even as Seokjin frowns. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

“I thought we might have a word,” Seokjin says, the slitted pupils in his light grey eyes contracting and then expanding as they adjust to the light. “I didn’t realize you were. . . indisposed.”

 

“Mm, I'm just enjoying myself.” Taehyung sits up, waving away those around him so he can stand. His robes hang off his shoulders and reveal his shimmering, oiled skin. “Excuse me, lovelies.”

 

Seokjin is already walking away towards the balcony. Taehyung follows after him, ducking past the fluttering white curtains and outside. The balcony overlooks the ocean just beyond under the cliff side, clouds hanging in the sky, shy of covering the moon.

 

“What is it?”

 

There’s no reply right away, not until Seokjin has braced his palms against the balcony railing. A breeze from the sea ruffles their hair. “You know,” Seokjin begins. He has a way of speaking that seems measured, pleasantly lilting with a hint of accent from the western province of Hwangya. “I might be the youngest Elder, but I’m far from stupid. I know there’s something going on that you don’t want Hana to know about. I saw her son heading towards your chambers with a letter this morning, a letter that bore the Min seal.”

 

Taehyung purses his lips and nods, leaning against the balcony next to Seokjin. “I was going to wait to tell you and Hana, announce it tomorrow or the day after. You’re too keen.” He sighs softly and gazes out over the water. “My cousin is coming here with the swan prince, the one he has been chosen to marry for quite some time now. He just celebrated twenty years the other night. They will remain here for the summer and beyond until their wedding. Hoseok told me he wished for me not to tell Hana as you know how she can be. We did not want her to know immediately, but I suppose you’re a special consideration.”

 

“I’d heard the rumors. It’s a bold move for Jiho, marrying his son to a human,” Seokjin muses. “And bringing them here? Surely, the human boy hasn’t been groomed for court life in Hwajae. The poor little northern swan will melt in the heat.”

 

At that, Taehyung laughs. “I am sure Yoongi has discussed that with him. He will have to present himself in our court, however, I believe he will do well. It is better for him to accustom to court life before the wedding.”

 

Seokjin turns, tall enough that he can peer down the edge of his own nose at Taehyung. “And what do you think? Do you and your father support their union?”

 

“We both support it. This may be the turning point in ending any feuds between us and the humans. That little swan is special, I already know.” Taehyung tears his eyes away from the ocean. “Do you support the idea, Seokjin?”

 

There’s a definite pause. Seokjin is the type of person to collect his thoughts before speaking; a behavior that’s been groomed into him from a young age no doubt. “I think that times are changing, that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the old ways of thinking. I think that Jiho is wise to use a marriage to make his point. It’s quicker, more binding than being caught up in negotiations for years at a time.”

 

“I do hope the benefits outweigh the risks. Their union will be powerful, but if love comes out of it, then the message will be even stronger. I suppose we will have to wait until they arrive to see how they are around each other. I’ve heard rumors that the swan prince is beautiful.”

 

“Tch,” Seokjin scoffs. “You know better than to bring silly things like love into this. People like us marry for power, for alliances, not love.”

 

“Love is the ultimate power,” Taehyung says softly. “Why do you think the Parks have ruled their kingdom so well for generations?”

 

Seokjin’s head tilts. His earrings swing and catch the light. “And what do you know of love, Prince Taehyung?”

 

“. . . I know enough.”

 

The Elder huffs under his breath, an amused smile on his lips. “I see that,” he says with a pointed look back inside the lounge where the rest of Taehyung’s entourage waits.

 

Taehyung glances back and chuckles. “Oh, that’s not love. They’re only to keep me busy. I love someone else.”

 

They fall silent for a long moment. Taehyung doesn’t add on to the subject, and Seokjin asks no questions. The young Elder knows next to nothing of Taehyung’s adoration with Jeongguk, so he must think Taehyung is speaking nonsense. Both of them stand against the balcony watching the waves, wind ruffling their robes and hair. Only once the minutes have passed does Seokjin turn back to Taehyung.

 

“I won’t keep you anymore,” he says smoothly, “I’m sure you’re eager to get back to. . . what keeps you busy .”

 

The dragon prince scoffs. “Oh, you prude. Does sex not interest you, Seokjin? I’ve seen you flirt at feasts and gatherings. Do those men and women not end up in your chambers?”

 

Seokjin offers a small smile in response, delicately stepping past Taehyung so that only the sleeve of his robe flutters against him as he walks away. “Goodnight, Prince Taehyung.”

 

Taehyung chuckles knowingly, leaning against the balcony on one side. “Goodnight, then. Enjoy your evening.”

 

The Elder disappears back inside and Taehyung sighs, turning back to face the sea. He rests his head on his hands and stares out at the open waters, where the sailboats sit in the harbor, cloth sails swaying from the breeze. He thinks about what Seokjin said, what they had talked about, dwelling on his thoughts before he can pick up footsteps behind him, a gentle touch on his shoulder.

 

“Everything alright?” the pretty boy with the long black hair asks softly, eyes meeting Taehyung’s when he turns around.

 

“Yes, all is well,” Taehyung hums. He smiles, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, trailing his knuckles down the boy’s cheek. “Did I keep you waiting for too long?”

 

“The others were concerned.”

 

“Hm. Yes, well, I shouldn’t keep them much longer, should I? Let’s go inside, darling, and enjoy our last night together.”

 

Taehyung glances at the sea one last time before he disappears behind the curtains.



 


 

 

 

By week’s end, word has spread and preparations are being made for the departure to Samag, the Eastern province. A convoy of soldiers from Ssalssalhan arrive before the departure to assist with the journey, acting as guards for the two princes and guiding them on the path safely.

 

Although letters of congratulations have been flown in the duration of the week, a handful have been written with disdain. The contents only question the marriage and why the announcement is so sudden, while others call out the profound political message the engagement suggests. One letter in particular had been addressed to Jimin, claiming that if Jimin is so desperate to marry someone, then perhaps a hog would be a better choice over a filthy dragon.

 

Yoongi had promptly scorched the letter in his hands before any other person could read it.

 

Yoongi is. . . docile. A confident, self-assured aura surrounds him, and it’s evident in his flirting; but when his priority isn’t focused on staring at Jimin or engaging in short conversation, he’s rather gentle, especially with Jeongguk present. Jimin now understand their inseparable relationship, how Jeongguk appears to be the soothing element to the dragon prince’s temper. He’s the cause of the tender smile Yoongi displays during dinner or his attention to detail when he walks Jeongguk around the castle, arm firmly locked around the blind boy’s elbow.

 

Jimin never knew dragons could show so much emotion for one being.

 

He’s attracted to Yoongi, undoubtedly so. There’s an exotic beauty to him, be it his emerald green eyes or the contrast of raven hair against snow white skin. He speaks to Jimin with revere as if he’s more than just a spouse, truthful in his words. No man interested in Jimin has left so much of an impact on him in such short time.

 

Both are too busy with preparations to spend time together outside of meals, from Yoongi communicating with his guards to Jimin saying his temporary goodbyes and well wishes to those he cares about aside from his mother and father. He’s had to attend fittings for clothes suitable for the East, a request Elder Jiho himself had placed. The ceremony is still a season away, and Jimin will have to live in the hotter climate until then.

 

On the day they leave, anything carried with them is placed in chests that Yoongi’s men will carry to Samag, and then the capital, Hwajae. Men in their dragon form wait in the front courtyard alongside Namjoon’s soldiers who will wish their leader farewell for some time.

 

Jimin is dressed in a flowing shirt that wraps closed in the front and simple pants. The journey will take the better part of the day and by the time they arrive in Hwajae at the court, the evening with the royal family —the Kim’s, Yoongi’s cousins— will soon begin, leaving Jimin with enough time to settle in and dress himself for the occasion.

 

He walks with Namjoon outside to the entourage where he meets Yoongi, dressed in an outfit similar to Jimin’s, a rich patterned blue in color. The band of the choker stands out against his pale skin, the blue pendant between his collarbones. Jeongguk stands off to the side quietly humming to himself, his robes red and gold, no doubt also a present from the East. Namjoon promptly leaves Jimin to go have a last word with the king and queen.

 

“Good morning,” Jimin addresses, a chilled breeze passing between them that ruffles his hair. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Ready to get underway,” Yoongi admits, half of his attention on Jimin, the other half on where his father and Jimin’s parents stand off to the side. Namjoon is part of their little group, no doubt receiving last minute instructions from Sooyoung, who speaks animatedly, gesturing with her hands. “How did you sleep? The journey can be exhausting if you haven’t made it before.”

 

“I slept well.” He fiddles with the sleeves of his shirt. “I’ve never seen men in their dragon forms. Will you shift as well?”

 

Yoongi’s head tilts to the side. The pendant at his throat swings. “How else will you get to Hwajae if I don’t?”

 

Jimin blinks. “You. . . are carrying me?”

 

“Unless you want to ride another dragon.”

 

The prince opens his mouth to speak, before he promptly shuts his mouth again with a hum. The slightest warmth rises to his cheeks at the embarrassment. “No, of course not. I will ride with you.”

 

The expression on Yoongi’s face softens. “Good. I don’t know if I would trust anyone else with such precious cargo.”

 

If a pink hue had not spread itself across Jimin’s cheeks before, there is now. Makeup had been applied only sparingly, and Jimin attempts to hide himself by turning to the side. The dragon prince seems to smile at his shyness.

 

As if by luck, Namjoon approaches and extinguishes any strange feelings between Jimin and Yoongi. The prince looks up and brushes his hair away from his face, clearing his throat.

 

Namjoon’s eyes narrow in Yoongi’s direction but it is subtle enough that if Jimin had blinked, he would have missed it. But he turns to Jimin, hand over his scabbard.

 

“Everything is ready for you,” he states, gesturing to where everyone is lined up to say their farewells and depart. The queen and king are shuffling over as they speak, and Namjoon’s dark eyes flicker to the dragon. “Prince Yoongi, now is the time.”

 

Min Jiho waits just off to the side, gesturing with a flick of his head for Yoongi to give the Parks some privacy. Before Yoongi can excuse himself, Sooyoung clears her throat, small hands tucked into the openings of her sleeves.

 

“You take care of my son, Prince Yoongi,” she speaks firmly: her queen voice. Jimin can see the tightness around her eyes and mouth, her worry. Jinyoung clasps a hand comfortingly on his wife’s shoulder. “I don’t care if you are an Elder’s son. If one hair on his head is out of place the next time we meet—“

 

Mother,” Jimin whispers in exasperation, earrings swaying when he moves his head quickly. His mother sighs, pursing her lips together.

 

Her palms are cold when she closes the gap, cupping both of Jimin’s cheeks between them. “You are my only son,” she says, pressing a soft kiss to the space between his eyebrows. “Allow me my worry.”

 

Jimin’s hands grasp his mother’s, rubbing circles into her knuckles. “I don’t want you to always worry about me because I will be safe and you will see me untouched at our wedding.” He leans in to kiss her cheek gently. “But you know I can handle myself, mother. I don’t need another man to save me if trouble arises. A swan can be as independent as they are loyal once they leave the nest.”

 

Sooyoung’s mouth, full and pouty like Jimin’s, twists in on itself but she nods, ducking back into Jinyoung’s arm around her waist.

 

“He’s right,” Yoongi says, dipping his head respectfully in the king and queen’s direction. “In just a few day’s time even I can see you both have raised your son not to rely on the strength of others, but on his own. He doesn’t need me to take care of him, but you have my word that I’ll be by his side.”

 

“I will take your word, prince Yoongi,” Jinyoung bows his head, and Jimin reaches around to hug him with one arm. The king runs his fingers through Jimin’s hair and grins. “We’re proud of you, Jimin. Go show them who you are.”





Chapter Text

Jimin had heard tales of the dragon shifters, how their bones could snap and rearrange from human to dragon within seconds, but he had never seen one shift in person before.

 

He marvels at the dragons in the entourage. They are massive beasts and Jimin has to crane his neck to look up at the soldiers. He notices that the Northern dragons have a rather specific color pattern; many of them are on the spectrum of grey, which represents their ability to camouflage in the snow mountains of Ssalssalhan. Their wings glisten when the light hits them in an almost prismatic manner, just like snow fall in the sunlight.

 

His eyes fall upon Yoongi in front of him. Once he shifts, they have the signal to depart.

 

The prince stands in an open area quietly, shutting his eyes momentarily. There’s a hushed silence that falls across the courtyard. Jimin clasps his hands in front of him and contains his noise of surprise when Yoongi begins to grow, a flurry of ice swirling at his feet and columning up to almost shield his body in the shifting process. Within the cloud of ice, Jimin can see spines and scales, and if he had blinked within these seconds, he may have missed everything. It happens in a remarkable amount of time.

 

In Yoongi’s place stands a white dragon as bright as the snow. His wings extend up towards the sky, the spines on his neck and back bristling as if he’s stretching after a long period of time. Underneath the shadow of his scales, thick sinewy lines of muscle trace over his legs, the long whip of his tail curling around his feet. If it weren’t for those burning emerald green eyes, Jimin may not have recognized Yoongi standing in front of him.

 

He’s frighteningly beautiful as a man, but even more so as a dragon.

 

Yoongi ducks his head down low and ambles over in a scene Jimin finds vaguely. . . familiar. Yoongi’s emerald eyes keep Jimin rooted to his spot, trained on him, and Jimin exhales a puff of air when he reaches out to touch the dragon.

 

His hand strokes over the scales of Yoongi’s muzzle. They feel rough under his touch, and Yoongi lets out a rumble in his throat. He presses into Jimin’s hand as if to reassure him, the spines on his head and neck fluttering in a sign of trust, before Yoongi is pulling away and lowering his body to allow him on his back.

 

Jeongguk is the one who shakes Jimin out of his trance, bumping into his shoulder as he walks forward, grasping at Jimin’s arm to tug him along. Namjoon follows close behind, and when Jimin glances over at his knight, the man has his jaw squared, uncertainty veiled in his eyes.

 

“Prince Jimin, follow me. I know how to get up,” Jeongguk croons as he guides Jimin towards Yoongi’s side, the dragon’s wings curled against him to not impede their climb. Jimin questions how Jeongguk can possibly be his guide, but as they reach Yoongi’s shoulder, he understands. Jeongguk has ridden on Yoongi countless times and despite his loss of sight, he still has his sense of touch. The boy places his hand on Yoongi’s forearm and Yoongi rumbles once more, perhaps in some sort of confirmation that Jeongguk has started in the right area. Jimin watches as Jeongguk holds on to Yoongi’s shoulder and begins to climb, feeling his way around the scales until he is able to hop up on Yoongi’s long neck.

 

“Just climb and sit behind me. You won’t fall, I promise. Yoongi will make sure of that.”

 

Jimin casts a glance to Namjoon, who offers a tense smile. “I’ll be behind you, go ahead.”

 

With a deep breath, Jimin begins to climb. He can see that in some areas, the scales appear to be worn down, most likely from Jeongguk over the years. A dragon has a tough skin and Yoongi doesn’t seem to feel Jimin digging in as he climbs, scaling his shoulder and reaching out for Jeongguk’s offered hand. He sits behind, the scale around his neck swaying. Jimin’s brows furrow and he holds the scale in his palm, scrutinizing it, eyes flickering to the white scales he currently sits on.

 

This came from Yoongi’s own body, he thinks, turning the scale over. But from where

 

“Everything alright, prince?” Namjoon’s voice behind him draws him out of his thoughts and he releases the scale, letting it fall back around his neck.

 

“Of course, Namjoon-ah. Are you alright?”

 

“I. . . have been better.”

 

In that moment, the body beneath them shifts, and Jimin has to hold on to Jeongguk as Yoongi stands back on his feet. Namjoon’s hands tentatively circle Jimin’s waist.

 

“If you do not want me to touch you—”

 

“It may be best if you hold on to me. I can’t risk losing my favorite knight.”

 

Jimin can hear a soft chuckle above his head as Yoongi begins to walk. They can feel the shifting weight on each side, left then right, as Yoongi finds his position in the center of their group. Jiho, the dark grey dragon at the front, flaps his wings up and then down before he is lofted in the air, snow crystals blowing into the group as he ascends. Jimin can vaguely hear Jeongguk telling them both to hold on tight before the massive white wings on either side of them move, raising them off the ground.

 

As they take off, Jimin’s eyes look back at the courtyard. His mother and father are still standing together alongside the maids and soldiers, watching with somber expressions as their swan leaves the nest. Jimin continues to stare as they fly away from his castle, until it is nothing but a shape between the mountains and the sea. Only then does he turn around, wiping away the tears that had dared to spill down his cheeks. He does so quietly, but Jeongguk twists his head, cloudy eyes fixated on him.

 

“They will be at the wedding, yes?” Jeongguk asks, and Jimin nods, relieved that Jeongguk cannot see he had been crying.

 

“Yes, my mother and father will be there when the time comes.”

 

Jeongguk hums in acknowledgement. “I hope you enjoy Hwajae. It will be your second home.”

 

“I hope I enjoy it too, Jeongguk-ah.”

 

“I think you will.”

 

With that, they fall silent, listening to the wind whistle past them as they fly into the clouds.

 

 


 

 

The hours are slow to pass as they fly to Hwajae, but the landscape changes greatly once they leave the North. They pass over the flatlands where the nomadic tribes live, villages built up from the tall coniferous and deciduous tree forests that dot the land. Other tribes live in tents made of canvas and from the hides of their animals, and from above, Jimin can spot those nomads on horseback, riding between the valleys and hills in a group. Occasionally, the nomads will look up and stare at the dragon entourage in the sky and marvel at the humans riding on their backs.

 

As they fly further south, the climate is significantly warmer. The grassy flatlands become savannah and then canyons. The East is a rather desolate place; whereas Hwajae is the melting pot full of people, the sand dunes and canyons leading to the capital are nearly inhabitable, taken over by the wild creatures that dare to live in that climate.

 

The canyons stretch a far distance, said to be an ancient river that, along with the area now covered in sand, dried up due to a dragon’s fire breathing wrath thousands of years ago. Not much can be seen from above except for the brown-red canyons and the tan colored sand, the heat of the sun’s rays penetrating through the now cloudless sky. Jimin does feel the warmth, slightly uncomfortable, but the sun doesn’t shine often in the North and his skin is enjoying the exposure.

 

Their trip through the desert landscape takes well over an hour before Jimin can see the glisten of copper and gold roofs in the distance. The dark blue of the ocean stands out in stark contrast to the dull earthy tones of Samag, the capital city truly serving as a beacon for the rest of the province.

 

Jimin watches below as they fly over the shingled buildings of the common people, streets bustling with people in the market exchanging their produce for colorful rugs or shiny silverware. The people don’t bat an eye at the shadows of dragons overhead; after all, the humans that live here are accustomed to the sight of dragons.

 

The palace overlooks the ocean and Jimin is surprised by the immense size. He’s always thought of his castle to be large, but the royal palace is grandeur, and nearly dwarfs his own. Tall spires climb to the sky, the copper and gold roof catching the gleam of the sun and reflecting it into the sky. Lush gardens wrap around the exterior, as do fountains. Large birds circle the palace and fly out to sea, where the harbor is full of ships, of merchants unloading their cargo and setting sail for the rest of the world.

 

“Wow,” Namjoon breathes, fingers lacing back around Jimin’s waist as they begin their descent, aiming for a long, wide platform suitable for dragons to land.

 

“This is incredible,” Jimin murmurs. Down below, a large group of soldiers in golden armor stand in front of the entrance to the palace, where a thick patterned red carpet awaits them. He tightens his fingers around Jeongguk’s waist as they land one by one, jostling a bit when Yoongi flaps his wings and ducks down to let the trio off.

 

Jeongguk is first to move, twisting and sliding down Yoongi’s shoulder until he lands on the ground. Jimin tentatively follows suit, and then Namjoon, and they step away from the heart of the entourage to marvel at the palace in front of them.

 

From between the guards steps out a tall, slim blonde with tanned skin, shocking bright gold eyes focused on the entourage. Gold jewelry hangs from his wrists as well as his half-bare chest, his white pants wide with slits running down the sides to expose half of his legs. A crimson red sash hangs from his waist and connects to one of his shoulders, the sleeves of his shirt also revealing his arms.

 

It’s as if the sun has blessed him like a god, how his eyes shimmer like its rays, skin gleaming and sun-kissed. He’s unbelievably handsome, an aura of power radiating from his body. Jimin already knows this is the prince; no one else would exude so much power.

 

By his side stands a redhead with amber eyes. He’s dressed in similar robes, though not as revealing, only exposing a portion of his chest from which jewelry hangs. A similar aura comes from him, and Jimin realizes that he must also be the son of an Elder. Only he, Yoongi, and the blonde hold such a commanding presence.

 

His eyes are looking past Jimin and when he turns to find what the redhead is staring at, he only sees Yoongi, human once more. The dragon prince is also staring at the redhead without blinking, as if frozen, until the blonde claps his hands together and grins.

 

“My dear cousin, it’s been so long!” the blonde exclaims loudly, walking closer to the group. His eyes immediately land upon Jimin and he gasps audibly with a blinding smile. “Oh , oh you’re a gorgeous thing! The prettiest swan I have ever been blessed to lay my eyes upon. I see why my cousin adores you so.”

 

“Easy, Taehyung,” comes Yoongi’s gruff voice as he smoothly steps around Jimin’s side and positions himself in front so that he can wrap his arms around the blonde in a familiar embrace. “Try not to overwhelm him.”

 

“Relax, Yoongi, I’m sure you’ve already overwhelmed him,” Taehyung rolls his eyes but squeezes Yoongi before releasing him. He turns back to Jimin and he bows his head, and Jimin is respectful to do the same. “Ignore my cousin. My name is Taehyung, and I’m the son of Elder Dongmin. My father is Elder Jiho’s brother. What shall I call you, swan prince?”

 

“You may call me Jimin. It’s a pleasure to meet you, prince Taehyung.” Jimin remains polite and courteous, bowing his head once more, much to Taehyung’s amusement.

 

“Call me Tae if you’d like, I’m not much of a formalities person.” The dragon prince is still grinning, patting Yoongi on the shoulder. “You should learn from him, Yoongi. He has excellent manners.”

 

Yoongi makes a dismissive noise, and Jimin can see his eyes roll back. It’s a good natured sort of annoyance. “Good. Perhaps they’ll rub off on you then.”

 

Jiho finally makes his way up the trail of red carpet, the rest of his men in their humans forms now and in perfect formation at they reach the others. “Taehyung-ah,” Jiho’s voice sounds a lot like Yoongi’s, rough but warm. “It’s been too long, little nephew. Been keeping out of trouble?”

 

“I have done my best, uncle,” Taehyung laughs, to which Yoongi scoffs under his breath at. Even Jimin can spot the fading bruises smattered across his throat. The dragon prince says a few more words to Jiho before the Elder is motioning for his men to enter the palace, carrying the belongings of all who made the trip. Jimin watches them in formation but is startled out of his thoughts by Taehyung’s sudden shout.

 

“Jeongguk-ah!”

 

Both Yoongi and Jimin turn around. Namjoon is walking with Jeongguk, their arms looped together, guiding him forward. The blind boy is smiling, and when Jimin watches Taehyung stroll over to greet him, he’s not sure he’s ever seen such joy in one’s eyes. As if Jeongguk is the only one in the world that mattered to Taehyung.

 

So that is who gifted Jeongguk those robes.

 

He’s wearing them now, the red and gold warming his complexion. He’d been wearing a heavier coat when they left Aiseu, but it’s folded over Namjoon’s other arm. Jeongguk visibly lights up as well, confident enough to let go of Namjoon’s elbow so that Taehyung can grasp at his hands.

 

“Hyung, you don’t need to shout,” he mumbles, shyer than Jimin has seen him act before.

 

“My apologies,” Taehyung speaks animatedly, raising Jeongguk’s hands so he can press a kiss to each, smiling ear to ear. “I’ve missed you.”

 

“I missed you too. Feel like it’s been forever since we were here last.” Clearly Jeongguk is more than comfortable with Taehyung, linking their arms together tight enough that he presses up against Taehyung’s side. “You’re well? How about Hoseokkie-hyung?”

 

“I feel better now that you are with me. As for Hoseok? Ah, he’s here,” Taehyung hums, leading Jeongguk over to where Yoongi and Jimin are still standing. Jimin’s eyes wander over to the redhead, who is now speaking with an older woman with long brown hair, her brows furrowed and her hands clasped in front of her tightly. She’s tense.

 

“Hoseok! Come here!”

 

Clearly there’s something that Jimin is missing out on, because as the redhead —Hoseok, he presumes— and the woman approach, Yoongi steps up to his side, an arm encircling his waist.

 

“Seok-ah,” he says, voice soft like it usually is when he talks to Jeongguk. “Elder Hana, I hope you’ve both been well.”

 

Jimin bows in respect to both. “A pleasure to meet both of you.”

 

There’s a somewhat distant look in Hoseok’s eyes, but his smile is nonetheless welcoming. He’s fighting to keep his eyes off of Yoongi. “And it is a pleasure to meet the prince who has captured Yoongi’s eye,” he laughs, and Jimin can feel Yoongi’s fingers tap against his waist. “Welcome to Hwajae. This is my mother, Hana. She is one of the Elders in the court.”

 

Conversely, Hana looks as unwelcoming as Jimin as ever seen. Even this close, she’s slightly taller than Jimin and Yoongi both, using that advantage to look down her nose. It’s the sort of look Jimin imagine someone would give the bottom of their shoe after stepping in something unsightly.

 

“Yoongi-ah,” her voice is raspy as well, borderlining a purr. Jimin files it away for later that she completely disregarded him and chose to address Yoongi instead. “My dear child, if you wanted a whore of your own, I’m sure Taehyung could have helped you with that.”

 

Silence.

 

Yoongi grips impossibly tight to Jimin. Hoseok stares at his mother aghast, but Hana’s head is lifted, slitted eyes echoing triumph. Jimin can hear his heart beating in his throat with the reality of Hana’s words sinking in. He should be civil. With his hands clasped in front of him, he digs his nails into his palms, the smarting pain reminding him to watch his words.

 

After a deep breath, Jimin smiles politely with a twitch of his nose. “Thank you, Elder Hana,” he hums with a flip of his hair, earrings swaying with the movement. “It pleases me to know you find me as attractive as an expensive palace whore.”

 

From off to the side, Jeongguk makes a tiny hiccuping noise of distress; and on Jimin’s other side, Namjoon clears his throat. He steps forward, hand comfortably on the hilt of his sword.

 

Hana’s left eyebrow quirks up, like Jimin had just said something surprisingly amusing. Hoseok’s cheeks are flushed, eyes cast down somewhere in front of Jimin and Yoongi’s feet.

 

“Perhaps we should head inside,” Namjoon suggests, choosing to ignore the comments entirely. “It’s been a long journey. I’m sure Jeongguk and prince Jimin could use the rest.”

 

Taehyung interjects, the calm before the storm. If he had heard the previous conversation, he acts as if he missed every word. “I will help lead you to your rooms. Then you may rest until dinner, where we have prepared a feast for your arrival. Follow me.”

 

Yoongi keeps his arm around Jimin as they step around Hana and Hoseok. Even as they walk away, Jimin can feel the burning glare behind him, but he keeps his eyes focused forward as they slip past thick curtains and enter the hallway. Once inside, Jimin drops his arms at his sides, wincing at the twinge of pain in his palms. Taehyung has one arm looped around Jeongguk’s but his eyes are concerned as they focus on Jimin. Even Yoongi is staring.

 

“Are you alright?” Yoongi’s voice is low, concerned. “That was a foul first impression. I had no idea she’d lash out at you like that.”

 

“I’ve been called worse,” Jimin admits with a sigh. “That was not what I was expecting either, to be quite honest.”

 

Taehyung purses his lips. “I will have a talk with my father, as well as yours, Yoongi. Maybe they can calm her down. In the meantime, Yoongi, you and your little swan will be across the hall from one another, and I trust that you know the way. Jeongguk will stay with me and I will take. . .”

 

He pauses, not knowing Namjoon’s name. Namjoon still has his hand over the hilt of his sword protectively. “Namjoon. Are you sure about the room arrangements?”

 

“Yes, of course. It is for the best, anyways. You can follow me and you will see Yoongi and prince Jimin at dinner. Come along, I’m sure the prince will want to relax as soon as he is allowed.”

 

Namjoon is clearly hesitant to leave, but Jimin nods his head in approval and Namjoon trails after Taehyung and Jeongguk, leaving Yoongi and Jimin in the hallway. It’s only then that they realize their position, and Jimin shuffles away from Yoongi as his arm drops from around his waist.

 

“This isn’t how I pictured your arrival to Hwajae,” Yoongi says ruefully, signing under his breath as he motions for Jimin to follow him with a flick of his head. “Normally everyone is more subtle about voicing their opinions. Hana’s always been a spitfire and it’s no secret she has no love for humans.”

 

Jimin follows after him. “I did not expect an Elder to act in such a petulant way. Your father is. . . very different from her. Will I meet the other Elders tomorrow?”

 

“Tomorrow afternoon will be your official presenting in court, marked by a feast that will more than likely only be surpassed in pomp and circumstance by our own wedding. Everyone will want to meet you, see you, and we’ll publically announce our engagement as well.”

 

“Tomorrow is a busy day,” Jimin murmurs. While they will dine tonight, most likely it will be only with Taehyung and perhaps his father of Elder Jiho as well as the others. He’ll have to remember how he should carry himself tomorrow, what type of impression he wants to leave.

 

“Will I have to prepare myself for anything in particular?”

 

“Just be yourself,” Yoongi assures him, a little quirk to the left side of his mouth. “It’s been vastly entertaining thus far.”

 

“I’m glad I entertain you,” Jimin smiles. Their conversation lulls as they walk, passing tall, arching stone walkways and mosaic tiled floors, all an earthy tone as compared to the cool whites and greys found in Jimin’s castle. They pass open windows, bubbling fountains, and desert fauna, until they arrive in front of two heavy wooden doors in the wing of the prince’s chambers.

 

“My room is across from yours?” Jimin murmurs, glancing between the two doors, the only doors in this hallway. These rooms must be extravagant chambers for them to encompass the entire hall.

 

Yoongi hums in ascent, stepping towards the door on the left and pressing it open with one, wide palm. “This is yours. Your belongings should be inside. Let me know if something is missing or if you want for anything.”

 

Jimin replaces Yoongi’s hand on the door as he steps halfway inside, looking back over his shoulder. “Shall we arrive at dinner together? Or shall I wait for Namjoon-ah?”

 

“Dinner should be informal, at least for tonight. Either your knight or I can escort you. Whatever my betrothed wishes.”

 

“Then Namjoon will escort me, and you can find Jeongguk if prince Taehyung does not get to him first. I will see you at dinner, then, prince Yoongi.”

 

Yoongi offers a quirk of his lips as Jimin shuts the door, enjoying the silence that greets him upon entry.

 

 


 

 

 

In the time before dinner, Jimin unpacks his belongings and soaks in a warm bath he prepares for himself. Some maids had entered earlier to ask the prince if he would like them to do anything, help apply makeup or dress him or store his belongings in chests, but Jimin had politely declined and sent them on their way. He’ll allow himself to be pampered another time.

 

His chambers are spacious, built in earthen colors and colored drapery. The walls are mosaic, with designs ranging from geometric shapes to simple flowers, one side covered in curtains that lead out to the balcony. The curtains are spread every few meters. His bed is cream colored, the pelt of an exotic animal folded at the foot, and a drape of long white fabric hangs from the ceiling above his bed, tucked underneath the base. Multicolored rugs cover the bare tiled floors and cushions are placed sporadically. A bowl of fresh fruit, mainly of citrus, sits on a table close to a long cushioned chair.

 

Although very different than his home, Jimin is fascinated with the architecture.

 

The location of the bath is. . . interesting. Instead of just serving as a bath for one, there is a door that leads to a rather extravagant spa room where the hallway outside ends. The bath is octagonal in shape and is the centerpiece of the room. Sandstone arches stand at every corner and hold up a mosaic dome in the very center. The mosaic depicts one of the mythologies of the East, which one in specific Jimin isn’t quite sure of, and the sun shines through open windows towards the ceiling.

 

To the other side, there is one other wooden door; a door that Jimin, while bathing, presumes leads to the other royal chambers. Yoongi is the inhabitant in those chambers, as they are the only ones in this hallway. They will have to share this bath.

 

At the thought, Jimin only sinks deeper into the water.

 

He returns to his room after the bath to dress himself. As this dinner is informal, he dresses himself in one of his robes with wider leg pants that cinch to his ankles, the outfit a myriad of blue to resemble the ocean. His sleeves are long, the trim a darker blue, robe lined with patterns the color of the sky. There is a lack of blue in the palace, and his clothes are perhaps one of the only objects in that color.

 

By the time he has dressed and made himself comfortable, there is a knock at the door and Namjoon’s voice echoes from behind.

 

“Dinner will be shortly. Shall I walk you down?”

 

Jimin fixes his hair and gives the okay for Namjoon to enter. The soldier pushes open the door and smiles at the prince.

 

“I thought my room in the palace was grand, but mine pales in comparison to yours, Jimin-ah,” he chuckles. Jimin smooths his fingers over the scale necklace before making his way over to Namjoon, the door shutting behind them.

 

“Oh, my chambers at home are humble unlike mine here.”

 

“They are fit for a prince, for you.”

 

Jimin laces his arm around Namjoon’s as they walk. No movement occurs across the hall in Yoongi’s room, but the prince turns his gaze elsewhere.

 

“Do you know the way?”

 

“Yes. Prince Taehyung instructed me earlier.”

 

They walk down a spiraling staircase and end up in a hallway that is wider, maids wandering about. Namjoon guides him to the left and down another staircase before they arrive in the dining hall. A grand feast is laid out as they enter, golden chairs with crimson cushions pulled out away from the table for the guests. At one end of the table, Elder Jiho sits, and at the other end, a man with greying black hair and tawny robes sits. He bears a slight resemblance to Taehyung, and Jimin wonders if this is his father, one of the other Elders.

 

Yoongi, Taehyung, and Jeongguk aren’t seated yet. Jimin follows the directions of one of the servant boys, sitting in a chair on one side, with Namjoon next to him. He places his hands in his lap, eyes shifting towards the Elders.

 

“Prince Jimin,” the man in tawny robes rumbles, fixing his piercing gaze in Jimin’s direction. “Welcome to Hwajae.”

 

Jiho chuckles good-naturedly, long fingers wrapped around the stem of the chalice in front of him. “Jimin, this is Kim Dongmin, my brother, one of the four Elder dragons.”

 

Respectfully, Jimin bows his head. “Many thanks for your hospitality, Elder Dongmin. Your palace is beautiful.”

 

“So well-mannered,” Dongmin muses. “Perhaps you can get some of that to rub off on my son while you’re here.”

 

“I’ve found the prince to be quiet social,” Jimin laughs, finding it unexpectedly easy to converse with the Elder. Servants begin to lay out bread and bring wine, to which Jimin accepts. He’s taking his first sip when the missing three appear under the open archway, Taehyung with an arm around Jeongguk’s waist and Yoongi following close behind.

 

Yoongi sits in the seat across from Jimin, Taehyung and Jeongguk next to him together. Jeongguk is in the same robes as earlier, Taehyung as well. When Jeongguk sets his hands on the chair to sit down, Jimin eyes the ruby ring on his finger. A precious gem that is only found in the southern part of the country. . . it is, without a doubt, that Taehyung gifts him many valuables.

 

“You look so pretty, little swan,” Taehyung coos at Jimin across the table. He reaches for the flat bread and places it on Jimin’s plate with a hum.”Yoongi told me of the stunning gown you wore at your party. I wish I had seen it.”

 

Jimin’s gaze flickers to Yoongi and he quirks a brow, setting his chalice on the table. “Oh, did he now?”

 

The smile Yoongi gives him across the table is small, and what Jimin is beginning to realize is affectionate. “I did. Fashion here in Hwajae is nothing like it is in the north. As much as I enjoyed that gown, you’d faint from the heat if you wore it here.”

 

“I’d like to see you in our clothing,” Taehyung grins, passing the plate of bread across the table to his father. “Perhaps tomorrow night at our celebration you should wear something from Hwajae.”

 

“As long as I don’t faint,” Jimin hums with a quick turn of his lips. Servants begin to arrive with the food, consisting mainly of fish and fruits and vegetables. Spreads for the bread are also laid out. It’s vastly different from the cuisine that Jimin’s grown up with, no doubt due to the difference in climate and terrain. But everything smells delicious, and Jimin’s nose is filled with unique blends of spices.

 

“The fish is always so good,” Jeongguk offers, speaking up for the first time since being seated. “I had this exact dish the very first time I came to Hwajae. Prince Taehyung knows it’s one of my favorites.”

 

“It’s different from our own dishes,” Jimin comments, thanking Taehyung as he places a fish on Jimin’s plate. “We mostly eat meat and the fruit and vegetables that can grow in the mountains. Soup is our main meal in the cold winter months, sometimes fish before the waters freeze over.”

 

“Mm, I only hope you enjoy our cuisine in the months you’ll be here.” Taehyung glances over at Yoongi as they begin to eat. “Do we have a proper plan for tomorrow, cousin? I’m sure it will be rather busy for the prince, what with the feast and all in the evening.”

 

“I believe we have an audience with the council in the afternoon to officially introduce Jimin and to announce our engagement,” Yoongi looks briefly to his father to confirm. “But for the rest of the day I don’t think we have anything officially planned until the welcoming feast in the evening.”

 

“Then perhaps I should show him around the grounds,” Taehyung beams. “You would not be opposed to such a thing?”

 

“Ask him yourself. My betrothed doesn’t need my permission.”

 

Jimin is already nodding when Taehyung’s golden eyes land on him. Yoongi is nonchalant, returning to his food. “I would very much like to see the rest of your palace. After the council would be a suitable time.”

 

“Perfect. Then I can show you my wardrobe and you can pick what you would like to wear for the feast.”

 

“Oh, that is too much,” Jimin admits shyly. “The only one you should pamper is Jeongguk-ah.”

 

Now Taehyung is the one who appears embarrassed. The brazen prince has hints of pink across his sun-kissed face. “Oh, I’ve room for another,” he laughs.

 

Jeongguk blinks owlishly, hands hovering over his plate for a moment before using his utensils to begin carving into the meat on his own plate. Surely he knows

 

“The goddess knows Taehyung-ah is pampered enough while we’re away,” Yoongi says flippantly, more interested with what’s in his cup than what’s on his plate from what Jimin can tell. “He’s well-versed in spoiling others.”

 

“Don’t be jealous that I will spoil your betrothed and Jeongguk,” Taehyung huffs as he swirls his wine in his goblet.

 

“You are ridiculous.”

 

Jimin holds back a chuckle, leaning back in his chair and sipping his wine slowly as the two cousins begin to banter with one another. The two Elders share exasperated looks and Jeongguk continues to quietly eat.

 

This is only his first night of many here in Hwajae, and already he is enjoying himself.