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Keep Your Broken Arm Inside Your Sleeve

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The palace is much as one expects palaces to be: big, ornate, sprawling with more rooms than are ever necessary, and filled with soft footfalls from servants as they scurry about tending to the rich and powerful that call this monstrous estate their home. It is beautiful, objectively, and has lasted through generations of royalty and their court, the staff coming and going without notice, though the good cooks are always remembered when the bad arrive. It has withstood almost a decade of war now, the people seeing the most of the hardship, though a few of the higher nobles have watched the battles or engaged in minor conflict.

Generally, life is nothing but routine and general passing of the time, enough to drive most of those within mad with boredom. Somehow, the princesses never seem to struggle to find something to do, whether it is learning skills or practicing them. Most of them are gone now, married to princes or nobles or some other important man in an important position somewhere so the ‘kingdom may prosper.’ It’s mostly just ceremony, seeing as the marriages don’t actually provide protection or food or a respite from the daily toil of life for most of the people in the kingdom, but it gives the King an easy way to appease those who venture into his court with the potential to threaten his power.

Today marks the first day without war in nearly a decade, and the entire royal court is assembled in the great hall to welcome their now allied kingdom as they march into the city with banners flying and no intent for carnage. The day itself is hot, stuffy and humid, and most of the official robes are high starched and stiff, making it feel hotter and more suffocating than ever in the room. The king, as per usual, sits in his high throne in poor posture, having gone as far as to dress appropriately but clearly not intent on impressing the visiting King.

“They’re late,” the King grumbles, looking towards his group of advisors and council, who all look a bit nervous as sweat beads at their temples. “Where in fuck are the bastards?”

A few steps away but still in royal presentation, the crown prince resists rolling his eyes at his father’s behavior. Instead, he settles for keeping his gaze affixed on the door at the other end of the room. Supposedly, for the first time since he was dragged from his mother, he might have the chance to leave the palace and the ‘protection’ of his father, a fact that he’s not sure he’s too happy about. However, any relief from being in the constant confinement of this court and the strict regulations and yet constant gossip of how he’s ‘dirty’ would be welcome. Further, it would eliminate any continuing chatter of his worthiness of his title.

Only a child of royal blood can be properly married to another suitable royal in another kingdom, something the King knew quite well when he forgave Jongdae’s bastard status after dragging him from his family into a life of rules and expectations and the title of ‘Crown Prince.’ Overall, Jongdae won’t complain much, considering he’s very aware of how being taken into the royal family meant avoiding the daily hazards of living back in the hovel he had been born into. Disease, for one, had not killed him as a child, nor had starvation and malnutrition, as the palace diet was always rich and consistent, even when the rest of the kingdom starved in war.

Overall, the position Jongdae was dragged into was a tremendous benefit to his person, though the constant treatment of ‘never enough’ had always felt a bit like a double edged sword. Regardless, today is a day when Jongdae is to be exactly as expected, a crown prince meeting his suitor from a kingdom they have only just reached peace with after a decade of bloodshed. It means leaving, as per the terms of the peace treaty between the two kingdoms, as Jongdae will be marrying into their court and supervised, after the union, by the court medicine sage, who will ensure the marriage is prosperous.

It is very clear that, regardless of whether Jongdae likes this arrangement or not, his duty is to accept it and do as is asked of him. “For once,” his tutor had advised him as he aided Jongdae in preparing earlier that day. “Just do what you’re told and don’t open your mouth.”

“It appears there was some unexpected delays in the city,” one of the council members reports, stepping forward in a bow to the king.

“Fancy way of saying they’re taking their damn time,” the King sighs, looking all the less pleased. Before he can continue, however, the door opens and a page enters, announcing the arrival of the King and his court of Pyeongyeon. The king waves them in with a frown, though he straightens in his chair.

The court from Pianjian walk in elegantly, their robes all of a finer material, thinner and softer looking but with high collars and long sleeves. It looks uncomfortable in this weather, though none of them appear to have broken sweats the way most of the court here in Goyangi have. Of course, Pianjian is farther south, so Jongdae supposes it is only natural that they endure the summer weather better than they do here. The court themselves are all lithe, poised and almost rigid. It is a dramatic contrast to what Jongdae remembers from the times he’d been pushed into battle and witnessed their soldiers in combat.

Vicious, is the best way Jongdae can describe it. Unlike most battles, the Pianjian battled and fought ruthlessly, with no honor and happily stabbing and killing by any means possible. Their appearance today, of a poised and elegant court is almost jarring to witness, though Jongdae ensures none of his reactions show upon his face. The king, a man in white robes and a thin circle for a crown, steps forward to greet their own King, his face set and unsmiling.

“King Jaejun,” the King of Pianjian, Lu Sai Tian, makes the smallest of bows towards Jongdae’s father. Behind him, his court stares up at the ruler of this kingdom with cool expressions, the young man a few paces behind the King looking almost cold. It is he that draws Jongdae’s attention among all of the visitors they have. Hair pulled high in a knot at the back of his head, he is otherwise unadorned. His robes, a soft pale blue, cascade down around him like cool water, seeming to flow about him to flood the room itself. His face is smooth, pretty, if Jongdae cared to admit, though his eyes are cold, fixed on his father.

From the small diadem resting against his forehead, it is clear that the young man is the Crown Prince, here to claim Jongdae as per the treaty agreed upon by their collective fathers.

Against his better wisdom, Jongdae can’t help his first impression of his intended as that of a cold and arrogant pampered prince. In all likelihood, that is exactly what he is, which doesn’t much improve Jongdae’s sentiments about being married off to him.

However, there isn’t much to do about it, and Jongdae holds back a sigh as he watches the two Kings exchange relative formalities before their respective councils bustle in and take over, drawing up the agreements and explaining the events and banquets and celebratory festivals they’d planned for the King’s visit and the announced marriage between their two kingdoms.

As the council members chatter, dragging both Kings into discussion, Jongdae finds the Crown Prince’s eyes have drifted to his own. Prince Lu Han his mind supplies sluggishly, as if slowed by the summer heat which has only gotten worse. That’s who he’s going to be spending the rest of his life with, supposedly, a prince from a kingdom that had been at war with them for a decade, and a prince who looks about as kind as the steel blades of the King’s personal guard.

“So all that’s left to do, really, is have a wedding,” one of the advisors practically giggles, looking between the two kings with sweat running down to his chin.

“Good,” King Jaejun grunts, looking at King Lu with a disgruntled smirk. King Lu looks, to his credit, unaffected by the behavior, and only the corner of his mouth lifts in a small sneer himself. “Best get these two set up for that. You brought the magic user?”

A man who had stood at the back of the party steps forward now, hastily walking towards the kings. He’s dressed in dark robes that seem to undulate about him, his long hair free to flow out behind him, and his fingers weighed down with heavy looking metal rings and bands. “Your Graces,” he smiles, teeth crooked and yellowing. “I am satisfied to say that, upon consultation as we entered this great hall, both suitors appear to be in good bearing.”

The words settle like lead in Jongdae’s stomach, though he keeps his face calm. Across from him, he sees Prince Lu’s expression falter somewhat, but looks away from him hastily.

“Excellent,” King Sai Tian says, his smirk spreading to show his clean teeth. “Finally, and end to all of this nonsense.”

Watching the discussion continue and feeling the weight of the eyes of the court upon him and the other prince, Jongdae can’t help but to feel the statement a bit bold, considering they’re attempting to achieve what would be considered nonsense. It is rare to ever wed two like-sexed heirs, though the coupling and romancing is widely accepted here, and common folk rarely care much about trivial matters of preference. However, diplomatically, a marriage such as this would be looked upon dubiously, as few have yielded well without appropriate aid.

Eyeing the court healing physician, his dark robes and the air about him giving off a metallic tang that Jongdae associates with ‘magic,’ leaves Jongdae feeling like there is little escape for him. Of course, there had been the possibility that he’d quietly held onto since his father’s intentions for him became known, that the union would fail and he’d be returned to live a life in disrespect for a while until either the King needed him again for some other diplomatic mission or died before the current queen could manage a son and Jongdae would be allowed to live in relative peace.

Now, however, that possibility is farther and farther away, and instead the cool shuttered eyes of Prince Lu gaze back at him under the weight of formal robes and oppressive heat and conduct. Once more, Jongdae feels any hope of a better life slip through his fingers, and resists the urge to sigh, instead resolving to make the best of this as he can. Perhaps it won’t be so bad, living out his life in a foreign kingdom with a husband who at least doesn’t appear as rough and cruel as Jongdae’s own father had been and still is.

At least there’s that, Jongdae thinks, as the council dismisses and he is beckoned to greet his intended. The Crown Prince doesn’t flow across the floor, Jongdae notices, but clearly walks with a slightly heavier gait as he approaches Jongdae. He’s a bit taller than Jongdae is, though doesn’t seem to think much of it. “Your Grace,” Prince Lu says, his voice softer than Jongdae imagined, and slightly melodic, though void of much emotion.

“Welcome to you, Prince Lu of Pianjian,” Jongdae greets formally. “I am glad we may meet at last and anticipate our day of union.”

“Just call it your fucking wedding day,” Jongdae’s father grunts from his throne, watching the exchange with a sour expression.

Jongdae ignores him, but watches Prince Lu’s eyes flicker to the King with a clear note of dislike in them. “I feel the same,” Prince Lu says, but the words sound hollow. Good, Jongdae thinks. At least we agree on something. That’s a fair start. Though the Prince’s face looks slightly paled with discomfort and dislike as his gaze returns to Jongdae. It sets a sour taste at the back of Jongdae’s throat. “I hope that the ceremony may hasten so we may move in a direction that prospers for all.”

Odd way of putting it, but Jongdae isn’t about to comment on a culture and country he isn’t well informed of. He imagines Prince Lu also has no idea of his own culture and country, seeing as most of what they know of each other’s homes has come from slander and propaganda during wartime.

“Perhaps the princes would like to retire to the gardens,” the advisor for King Sai Tian proposes, his eyes on the two aforementioned young men and a wide smile on his face that looks false. “I have heard your gardens are simply magnificent. Perhaps Prince Jongdae can entertain Prince Lu with the architecture and some conversation.”

“Yes, go on,” King Jaejun waves them off.

Dismissed, Jongdae turns to Prince Lu and waits for him to follow. It is awkward, as to be expected, to ask to wander the gardens and make light conversation, but Jongdae figures they’ll have to start somewhere, and it may as well be familiar and simple before it gets as heavy and complex as life always does.