I heard that it did not suit him. I did not know who him was nor what it was that didn’t suit him, but those were the first words I ever remembered. I later found out that it was the golden hair and the soft blue eyes. They did not suit me, they said, it was an act of blasphemy against the gods. For a child so plain and simple to be rewarded with hair and eyes such as mine, it was impossible. In theory, at least.
My parents were old when I was born. My father was loyal, highly uncommon for any king during our times, and would not look for any younger, fertile woman to bear a child. I admire his fidelity even to this day. To lose a whole kingdom for an infertile woman was almost akin to losing one's life for a dog. That is what some of the servants would say. Any hope of an heir was almost gone until the gods had heard their cries and pitied them.
It was decided that there must have been some future for me, or that there was some forgotten descendant of the gods in my blood. However, despite the years of waiting, the prayers my mother made, and the offerings my father gave, no other answer came except for me. Their luck had dried. From the beginning, it was known that the life I would lead would always be short of what was expected of me.
When I was a child, my father held many races. On horses, chariots, even in water - he loved them all. But his favourites were the footed ones. What better way was there to test speed other than by one’s own feet? When he introduced them to me, during a time before I could run without falling over, he looked down at me. It was the first time he showed any hope since my birth, I think.
“This is the field you will race in one day,” he gestured towards his prized tracks. “And you will reign victorious against all of the other princes.”
And so I ran and ran endlessly, hoping one day the hope would switch to pride and I could finally give him some sort of honour or glory. Something. But, when he found out that even on foot I was average - useless was the word he used - he had not looked at me the same since. He cared for me, but not for anything I could offer him. That was the day when my father took me away from my classes and gave me tutors. If I could not be a Heracles, I would have to be Daedalus.
He would not have me out without his supervision; no one can know of my incompetence.
Even the servants would speak loudly about me as if I could not understand. They would whisper and sneer and thought aloud of how unfit I was to be the heir; a raffle would declare a better heir. Of course, they would never utter a word in the midst of the king or queen, despite how disappointed they may be, none can talk about their only son given to them by the gods as they do. I was only five but I could already see the future.
Despite my uncommon features, I would not grow to become particularly handsome, nor would my strength show. I would not have any outstanding talents, nor would I have many interesting stories to tell. I would simply be one of the forgotten kings whose sole role would be to carry blood to another generation.
The first race I could watch was when I was six. I would not participate, as to not embarrass my father or hurt his pride, but I would still be seated next to him, shown off like a prize rather than a son. I held a laurel on my head because my mother wished, saying it had shown well against my bright hair. My father disapproved, but also hoped that the significance of it would take away from my lack of participation.
My father looked more excited than I had ever seen before. It had been a while since he held a race due to my birth, but as soon as he was able to, he sent invitations to all of the nearby kingdoms and their nobles and farmers alike.
Before the commencement, I had to stay by my father’s side throughout the opening ceremonies. I was introduced to multiple kings and queens and their children and many of them marvelled at the sight of me. Some had been nice and greeted me warmly and others would stare and stare. None seemed to believe I was my mother’s son.
Surely you had a servant girl. Not many trusted in his fidelity. I never questioned it. Where is the mother? She could not be the queen, could she? A woman as simple as she could never have birthed a child such as this one. What have you done to be so blessed by the gods? They begged and pleaded on their arms and knees. Is it a curse? Only sometimes it is. Only to those who see it as so. If I had known that there would be so much chatter about me, I would have just stayed in my chambers.
However, one particular race was the one I was most anticipating. I sat restlessly in my seat. My parents did not seem to care for it, knowing the race was the most haphazard due to the age of the runners, but it was the one I was supposed to enter.
All of them had the same determined faces as each other. All except for one. One terribly young boy, (who had allowed him to enter?), dark-haired and dark-eyed like the others, had a look of excitement on him. It did not seem as though he was trying at all, but his heart was in his feet for that day.
The flag with our family crest had fallen, signallling that the race had started.
The boy seemed so excited that he had forgotten to watch the flag and started late. Even still, from the back of the horde, the boy weaved himself through the other children. He was smaller, but his legs moved faster than the others. He was both agile and limber, and for a child as young as I was, he seemed to run faster than light. Although he was not first, he was far from last. Out of the hundred children there, from almost infancy to late childhood, he had come in third. If he were older, I thought, if he were my age, he would have beaten them in a second. Even if he hadn't seen the flag fall.
After all of the races were over, the awarding ceremony had begun. I was to place the rushed, makeshift laurels that our servants had made (in his excitement, my father had set the dates and had sent the invitations before planning anything) on the heads of all of the winners and ribbons onto those who came close. The boy in second place was called. Then the first. Both proudly showed their fathers the laurels I had given them. The own fathers showed little concern for them.
The still-excited boy had come up for his category as well. His father had not come up with him for the placing of the ribbon so I had to be the one to put it on for him. And after some fumbling and twisting, it was finally on. The boy, with crinkled eyes and a wide smile, ran back to his father who held a crane in his hand and struggled to get up from his seat. I thought I should help but I caught the look on my father’s face. I will not move from here until the ceremony is over.
Another hundred kings and queens passed and stared and another hundred boys and girls waiting for their laurels and ribbons walked up. None of them were ever as excited as the boy.
The races have ended and I was hidden away once again.
The year passed fairly quickly; as quickly as it can for a six-year-old boy. It was the year I understood how large my father’s kingdom was. His people were especially different from everyone else. His people came from the east and traveled to the Middle-earth for the fertile land. His father had led the travel when he was only 19 years of age. More and more settlers came and it grew to the very foreign, yet grandiose kingdom it is today.
And I am the heir to it.
This was also the year I made my first friend. One of the servant’s sons had accidentally wandered into a hallway only the nobles were allowed to enter. ‘Taetae’ he said his name was. The servants took him away, though, before I could say my own.
The next time we met was a few months later. He told me he tried many other times, but someone always caught him. I asked him why. He told me because he wanted to.
Taehyung was the first person to show me freedom.
The next race came quickly and I would be lying if I wasn’t anticipating the boy once more. I sat in the same throne I had two years ago, but with less expectation. This time, however, Taehyung was beside me as my servant boy. I never called him that alone, though. But I wasn’t allowed to call him by his name either.
He told me that he always wanted to participate in my father’s races, but these races were restricted to noble blood. Taehyung was born from a woman out of wedlock and the father had run away leaving his mother forever a maiden. Although Taehyung convinces himself that she loves him, I can see that it is only because of his relation to me. He deserves better.
“Jimin?” Taehyung whispered. He wasn’t allowed to call me by my name either. “Are you okay?”
I was staring at him too much, even my mother had taken notice. “Sorry, it is… nothing.” I looked to my feet.
Any misstep and Taehyung could be taken away forever. The only reason they let me ‘keep’ him, as though he were an animal, was because I convinced my father that I had trouble making friends with the other village kids. And although it was somewhat true, that was more on my unwillingness to partake in their stone throwing and name-calling. My mother stood by the idea that a king does not need friends if he has his own followers, but, in the end, it was my father’s decision that allowed him to stay. He believed that Taehyung could prove useful for assassination attempts.
Unfortunately, when they saw my quick attachment to Taehyung, they became suspicious. My mother had heard about pedestary and sapphic love throughout Hellas and feared that I too may be converted to their uncanny ideas of love. And although I care for Taehyung more than how the Hellenes may with their own kind, she still continues to watch my every move. It is not the same, I concluded.
“Jimin!” My father called, “The races start soon, be ready to stand.”
And soon enough, the first flag fell.
Once again, I awarded each winner with a laurel or a ribbon. When the boy from the years before stepped up the stairs once again, I was surprised. Despite how I looked for him in the crowds and crowds of boys, I could not see him until now. They all wore the same garments, they all had the same brown hair. But here he was. He grew a little taller and his hair looked a little shorter than before. He seemed completely different, but he still had the same smile on his face. Like a puppy. He ran back and I watched as he hugged his sickly father with a force that could have knocked the old man over if he were'nt already seated.
Upon returning to my seat, Taehyung could only stare at me with a knowing look.
“What is it?” I ask, curious.
I huffed in annoyance. “…Say it or do not, but stop playing tricks.”
“You know, we never do anything for our own amusement,” Taehyung said one day, while we were in my room. We were ten, then.
“You define amusing as playing tricks on the other servants and hiding from my parents,” I sighed, “I do not find that particularly enticing.”
Taehyung only looked at me with another knowing look. He wanted to tell me something but didn’t know how.
“Tell me, Taehyung.” The only way I could gain his attention was if I asked him directly.
“Nothing, but…” Taehyung sighed this time. “You’re using those big words again.”
Of coure. Taehyung had never been taught to read or write or anything that was not how to serve the royal family. And we were not allowed to teach the servants ourselves either. But what one does not know will not bear any consequences. At least, that is what my tutor tells me when he curses using Zeus’s name.
“Grab a feather and some ink from my desk over there.”
“How are you able to write zeta so well, but are having so much difficulty with mu? And there is a problem with your hieut is too square.”
Learning to write becomes more difficult, Jimin has learned, as one gets older. Three months have passed with their daily secret lessons yet Taehyung still has difficulty with many letters and characters. Specifically ㅎ and μ, which are both problems, since they are in both his name.
“You know, maybe I can teach you a few things as well…” Taehyung said in a low voice, whispering so he would not affect his already trembling hands. I looked at him with a confused look. “Maybe you could be a little less of a koprophagos and a little more of a friend.” I was too surprised to say anything, though I could tell he felt somewhat troubled about what he had said.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, he sighed. “Sorry, it is only that, often, you only shout orders and say what is bad and it is quite annoying.”
I never really thought about how I spoke before. I only followed in my mother’s footsteps. This was how she talked to the other servants. This was also how my teacher talks.
“Sometimes, I forget…” Taehyung is my first friend, and I am still the middle of experimenting on how one should act like in front of a friend, “…that you are my friend and not... I apologize. You are not my servant but my equal. ”
Taehyung seemed to be taken aback. Have I done something wrong again? Being a friend is too confusing.
“No need for the formal apology, Jimin,” Taehyung laughed, “it was not as harsh as you may think, it just reminded me too much of my mother. And saying you are my equal... it is a lot, no?”
“…alright.” He looked at me with an odd face.
“What is it?”
“Again Taehyung, what have I told you about-“ I stopped myself. “…only tell me if you wish.”
“You are strange, Jimin-ssi.” Taehyung held his grin for far too long.