the cold breeze of nighttime blew through the trees, moving their already falling leaves and shaking the branches slightly. the garden was large, as if built on top of a mountain. it was said that their ancestors had built such an enormous forest to oversee their kingdom from the top, to watch over it as every monarch in the past dynasties had.
kim yongsun sat on a bench underneath the shaking tree. the night was starting to get cold, but she did not care. she had managed to run away from her chasing handmaidens before dusk. as soon as they finished helping her get dressed in her salmon and light blue hanbok and white slippers, she had disappeared from her room, using the old window trick.
the guards and handmaidens were unfazed. they were used to such behavior from the king’s only child. the princess had tried to run away repeatedly in the past, only to get caught every single time. as punishment, she would be locked inside her room. this did not work, however, since the young woman always found a way to escape her confinments again and again.
eventually, her father surrendered and only ordered for extra surveillance at the palace walls. this had frustrated the princess’s plans to say the least, but it never meant that she stopped trying.
that night, surrounded by the safety of the trees and flowers planted by her mother a long time ago, she was scheming another escape plan. there had been discussions on her marriage. she’d heard, she was sure.
she was not allowed to join some of her father’s council meetings, especially not that particular one. but yongsun, mischievous as ever, had eavesdropped from the nearest window.
“the moons are a good house. a big house. a powerful house. the number one prospect among the rest in korea. your daughter marrying their heir would secure the kim power in the capital and in the country.”
“what do the moons have that the rest don’t?”
“gold. plenty of gold. land. an army.”
“we have gold too, maester. we rule over many lands and we also have an army.”
“not quite enough for the japanese threats that the chief commander in busan has been reporting, your grace.”
“the moon heir is also an army general,” another member of the council intervened. “that and their big army would be a great addition to our house. they have been fighting the wild barbarians from the north as well and have kept them at bay. they’re strong.”
“it’s a fine arrangement to ensure the continuation of the great kim dynasty in this country, your grace.”
the king seemed to consider it. outside, yongsun hoped for the best from her father as she internally panicked and tried hard not to jump inside the room and cuss all of the members out for merely suggesting selling her off for more gold and men. at last, her father spoke.
“very well. we will host the moons and make arrangements. if my daughter likes their heir, that is.”
the conversation repeated itself over and over inside the princess’s head. her short blonde hair moved with the wind. she tried to keep it in place but failed miserable, opting to just let it go wherever it went.
“i can’t even control my stupid hair.” the princess thought, frustrated.
“if my daughter likes their heir, that is.”
i won’t like him. i know i won’t. she thought miserably as the stars became visible in the dark sky. the mere idea of having to marry a man she had never met in her life before made her want to jump off the nearest cliff. matter of fact, there was one not too far away from the palace. she pondered. decided against, in the end.
it would be better to try to escape again. her dress was not adequate to try the action, but she did not have time to go back and change, especially if her handmaidens were still waiting for her return in her chambers.
the moon family was going to arrive that night. her father had told her so. she feigned ignorance at his secret plan and agreed to wear her best gown for the meeting. instead, dirt had already been smeared on her shoes and hem of her hanbok. she smirked triumphally, thinking she’d at least win once during the night.
the gates were opened in the distance and cheers reached her ears. she knew their guests had arrived already. if she was going to do something about it, she had to do it quick.
it wasn’t usual for her to curse the enormity of the palace’s garden. on the contrary, since she was a child in her mother’s arms, her love for the forest-like place had only grown stronger. that night, however, she hated it.
yongsun made her way into the deepest parts of the gardens where the tall trees would hide her frame. branches hit her on the face and tore parts of her hanbok apart. some places were muddy and she slipped on a root, falling face-first on the hard ground. she was sure she had swallowed some dirt.
“some gardener is getting fired.” she mumbled as she persisted. from afar, the sound of commotion reached her ears and she knew they were looking for her. walking faster and trying to avoid the obstacles, the princess was finally able to discern the short wall from afar.
a chair was usually brought along for the purpose of climbing, or a small bench. this time, however, she would have to jump as high as she could.
she got ready, taking off her ruined slippers and securing her skirts at knee-height. “i can do this. i can do this.” she whispered to herself, jumping up and down as her mind and body got ready for the task.
at last, she ran out of the woods at full speed. there was nobody around, all the guards must have been looking for her in the gardens or welcoming the moons. there were no servants, no no cooks, no fools. they were all inside, entertaining the newly arrived family.
the feeling of victory rose in her chest. she was going to be free. she was not going to be married off to a stranger and forced to reign beside him. her opportunity was just a few feet away.
the wall was right there. she ran faster, pushed herself up with all her strength and jumped as high as she possibly could.
her face was met with the stone-made wall, just like the rest of her limbs. her body immediately stumbled backwards and fell miserably on the ground for the second time that night. she saw black for a moment, eyes having a hard time to focus back on the starry night above.
“ow.” was the only thing she was able to mumble, lying defeated. betrayed by her own walls. “ow.”
“i’m curious to know what you were attempting to do.”
a voice came. it was near. very near. she panicked. it didn’t sound like her father most certainly. it didn’t sound like a guard either. it was odd, but chances could still not be taken.
dizzy, yongsun jumped back to her feet and tightly grasped a stick that laid nearby, as if to fend for herself in case this stranger attempted to drag her inside by force.
“are you serious?” the person said. they walked to the wall and rested their backs against it, taking their sword out of its scabbard. the blade shone in the moonlight as the stranger moved it from side to side. “as you wish.”
“who are you?” kim yongsun demanded.
“i could ask you the same question.”
“oh. i’m sure you would love to know who you are pointing that sword to.”
“and i’m sure the king would love to hear that a peasant is going about his castle crashing against walls and running half naked in his garden.”
yong remembered the state of her skirts, blushing deeply. she was sure that she looked like a mess and this stranger was not doing anything to make her feel any better. in anger, she moved forward and poked them with her stick.
they didn’t have time to complete the phrase and yongsun threw herself on top of them, making them lose their balance and falling on the ground. the sword came loose and yongsun made sure to kick it way from their grasp. she hit them with her stick. one, twice, thrice.
the wooden thing was doing nothing to the stranger, she was sure, so she threw it away and started beating them with her fists. she met chainmail and some and steel, however, so her hands retreated back as they pulsed, injured.
the stranger took this opportunity and flipped them around, jumping to their feet. but before they could take their sword back, yongsun took action and grabbed it.
“hey. girl. calm down. i was joking.” the person said, throwing their hands in the air, yielding.
“i’m sure you were.” yong replied, swaying the sword right and left.
“do you even know how to use that thing?”
no matter what they said, they were still moving backwards, away from yongsun and her almighty weapon. she did not know how to use it, that was true, but they were still backing off and that was all that mattered to her.
“girl. let’s just talk-” their words were interrupted as they stumbled back and fell. the light of one of the torches finally fell on the stranger’s features and yongsun stopped her attack.
the person was wearing chainmail and steel, indeed. they were too beautiful to be the armor of a simple guard though. a silver cape was hanging from their shoulders and on their chest, the engraved emblem of a red moon. their eyes were as dark as chocolate and their hair as dark as the sky above them, as long as hers.
a woman , she realized.
“are you a member of the moon’s guard?”
“what? no.” the woman finally lowered her hands as yongsun did the same with the sword. noticing, the person smirked in victory. “i’m lady byulyi of the moon house. i’m here to be wed to a beautiful and delicate princess. or so my father says. they couldn’t find her so i came here to look for her.”
yongsun dropped the sword. the clang round loudly and the closest guards were alerted. byulyi and yong could hear them running towards them but neither moved.
“are you a servant of the kim house?” moon byulyi returned the question as their guardians caught up with them. the kim soldiers surrounded yongsun and bowed to her.
“no, you idiot. i’m the delicate princess.”