Hakyeon walks about the palace grounds, admiring the paper lanterns that line the outposts and the decorative trays the servants are carrying about. It’s a flurry of colour and smells and the young prince appreciates the palace being busy for once. Most of the royals despise having to deal with the hassle of performing the expected royal etiquette that comes with meeting with their counterparts from the other nations, but Hakyeon is just thankful there is company that takes his mind off his life of solitude. The outside cold heightens his senses and he pulls his cloak closer onto himself. He rubs his gloved right hand against his left ease them from the biting wind.
The autumn festival brings not only the four kingdoms together but also his fellow princes as well. Prince Hongbin's kingdom rules the east surrounded by harsh mountains and borders to the other neighbouring countries while Prince Wonshik's rules the west, a mellow hub for culture and trade. And Hakyeon is the prince of the north, a central for mineral resources and spirituality. The southern kingdom has stopped joining the gatherings for the past three years.
The young prince wanders the halls and shuffles along the marble floor. He attempts to tidy up his quarters. He’s about to close the door behind him when his lingers on the door to the room across from his. He’s brought out if his reverie as a messenger tells him that his outfit is ready at the tailor’s.
Hakyeon’s gaze lingers on the hanbok the tailor unveils for him. He bites his lip. The inner shirt and its sleeves are the conventional white silk. What strikes him is the outer layer that is primarily black with golden embroidery on it. The threads scatter the light that hits and they resemble stars in the night sky.
The tailor watches eagerly, gauging his reaction. “Do you not like it, your Highness? The colours were inspired by the surge of wealth the kingdom has received this year. It will surely catch the eye of the other nations.”
It almost feels as if there is a frog in his throat when he says, “No, it’s beautiful.”
The princes arrive one after the other. Hongbin arrives first in a magenta hanbok and Wonshik in a navy blue.
Dinner begins and the servants assemble a layout filled with numerous gourmet side dishes, each with their own unique combinations of colourful vegetables and steaming meats.
A servant tries to take away the extra pillow next to the oldest prince, but the action triggers something in him and gives the boy a sharp look. It was only on rare occasions Hakyeon changed his demeanor and he almost felt guilty when he saw the fear stricken in the servants face.
But if the prince learned anything, it's to not to take back his actions the one time he does take initiative. He looks away he coughs and instinctively adjusts the glove on his right hand.
Hongbin gives him a concerned look, but Hakyeon shakes his head. Jaehwan's boisterous laughter roars on in the distance.
Hakyeon places his hands on the table, getting the attention of both princes. “So, how have you guys been doing? How has the prince life treated you?”
“It's just really annoying,” Hongbin sighs. “I'm a simple man - I just want to play chess. But then my dad brags about me to the other officials and now I have to compete with either tryhards or girls who can't stop staring at me.” He shoves a giant wad of pork wrapped with lettuce into his mouth. “Strategy planning is nice break from it all though.”
Wonshik smirked. “It’s the usual. I’m composing things and learning new instruments. Only thing is, I think they’re worried I’m too obsessed these days since they’re making excuses for me to double down on my swordfighting. And we don’t even have forces to fight against.”
“I'll fight you, just give me the word.”
Wonshik turned around to face a giant looming figure clad in traditional armour. His eyes widened in shock. He would have scrambled backward against the dining table if it weren't for the fact he recognized the cheeky smirk under the helmet. He clutched his heart as he swore it had skipped a beat. That face did not belong so such a huge body the last time he had saw him.
Hakyeon clicked his tongue. “Hyuk, you can't just go around scaring people in your new armour.” The prince proceeds to take of the bodyguard's helmet despite the man's protests. He waves his finger and holds on to it. “The moment I get attacked, you can put it back on.” Sanghyuk hums in reluctant compliance and Hakyeon gives him a pinch on his cheek before letting him go toward whatever party trick Jaehwan was demonstrating. Before he goes, he sneaks the last word to Wonshik, “Just give me the word!”
Wonshik watches on in disbelief when Hongbin nudges him under the table with his foot.
“Let me know when that experimental piece you're composing is finished. I want to hear it.”
Jaehwan, Wonshik and Sanghyuk all watch in awe as Hongbin and Hakyeon compete in a chess match.
“Hey,” Jaehwan proposes, putting his chin in his hands. “If Hakyeon loses, we get him to tell us about the mystery of the glove and he gets to show us his spooky secret room.”
Sanghyuk raises a curious eyebrow. “And if Hongbin loses?”
“Uhhh we get him to crossdress and ask one of the servants for directions again.”
Jaehwan darts out of the room as the menacing blur that is Hongbin chases him out of the room. This time it’s Wonshik’s laughter that is heard echoing through the room.
Although it was a close match, Hakyeon squeezes in a checkmate. “You’ve improved a lot since last time.” the elder tries to justify. All he receives is a judgemental squint his opponent.
“I hate you guys so much.” Hongbin mutters under his breath as Jaehwan and Sanghyuk giddily prepare his hair and makeup.
Wonshik is too busy admiring the beauty that is Hongbin that he doesn't notice the relief on Hakyeon's face. His secret is safe for another day.
When the lights die down and everyone has settled in their quarters, Hakyeon checks the hallway for any stragglers before creeping across from his room to the secret room in front. He pulls out a key from his pocket and unlocks the door, path lightened with the candle holder in his other hand. His eyes ignore the dozens of large statues enraptured in the dark, collecting dust. His attention is focused on one figure in particular, standing in front of the window. Slowly, he approaches it, as if fearful.
Hakyeon’s eyes stare longingly at the clothed figure. In a single swift motion, he whips the cloth off of the structure and lets it crumple against the cold marble floor. The moonlight that filters the room highlights each of the bumps and crevices on the figure and the prince’s heart tugs at the sight.
He feels guilty for covering the statue on such a beautiful night like this, but he tosses aside the regret and decides to instead drink in the present moment.
Tentatively, Hakyeon removes the glove and grazes his fingers along the side of the statue. They nearly ache as they touch the golden, smooth surface of the statue’s cheek.
“You would’ve really loved the moon today ... Taek.”