"I have returned before you, Pyeha." The male spoke, respectfully lowering his head.
"Aish, this man." The ruler gently shook his head, grinning at his friend. "Rise. Come on. There is someone I must introduce you to." The King spoke, closing the distance between him and his Hwarang. He placed a hand on the other man's shoulder, smiling when he felt him relax. "Let him in." Jin Heung loudly instructed after a beat.
A maid followed by a man in an armor entered. "Pyeha," She lowered her head. "this is General Isabu." She announced, before leaving when dismissed with a shrug of the hand.
"Just Isabu?" The King inquired.
"Dae, Pyeha." The man replied, keeping his head low.
Jin Heung chuckled. "You can look at me, I no longer am the faceless King." He informed, getting a smile out of his friend and Hwarang. "I will be entrusting you with the life of my men, I need to be able to see your eyes. I need to be able to look into them and see the truth."
Sun Woo furrowed his brows. "What do you mean, entrust him with the life of your men?" He inquired, seemingly perplexed.
The King sighed softly. "I need a leader for the armies." He spoke, offering his friend a faint smile. "I need a tactician, an experienced general aware of Silla's ways and past wars." Sun Woo swallowed at the words but lowered his head. "While I, will lead the Hwarang from now on, General Isabu will lead the army beside me."
The General chuckled. "I am flattered that you chose me." He chuckled. "But I haven't yet chosen you." Isabu's lips curled up. "You are the Majesty people chose, aren't you?" Jin Heung nodded. "Then give me time to choose you too."
"Very well." The King replied, clasping his hands behind his back. "Return to the palace when you have made your decision."
"Jin Heung, pyeha." The general lowered his head respectfully saluting before leaving.
"Your Hwarang. Your army. Your vision of Silla." Sun Woo smiled. "I am proud of your Highness for finding their own voice." He lowered his head, bowing further than he normally would.
"Why does your tone not match the happiness that should come with those words?" The King inquired.
"Because there was once a time, when I was a half bone Cheonin, a man approached me and asked if we could change things together. If I could imagine, a better future with him." Sun Woo smiled in remembrance of those memories. "That man said he'd rather my friend than being King."
"And you denied him. You held a blade to that man's throat. Don't romanticize the past, my friend. We are where we are now because we are who we are." Jin Heung replied, traits hardening. "We might both be of royal blood, but we are not the same. We will never be. I am, King."
Sun Woo furrowed his brows. "Do you believe that I am after your crown?" He inquired, disbelief coloring his words.
Jin Heung sighed. "Ji Dwi is the best amongst the Hwarang. Sun Woo is the king amongst the Kings." He rose an eyebrow. "This country, this Silla, my, Silla, can have only one King. And so, you can no longer lead my Hwarang into battle."
"What if my name was Kim Shin, would you fear I was a god amongst men?" Sun Woo inquired, furrowing his brows.
Jin Heung laughed. "If the people believed you were, it wouldn't matter. I would have your head before the rumor spreads. This country once had three rulers. I, need to be the only King. For the future I imagine."
"You? There is no more us, in your vision?"
"The time for an 'us' has passed." The King replied. "I needed you, because the Hwarang followed you. Now that they publicly chose me too, I have the council eating in my palm because I have their children, their future, standing beside me."
Sun Woo laughed. "So you used me?"
"Didn't you do the very same?" Jin Heung asked, approaching the other male. "You keep claiming that you want us to pave a way. But you walked it first. You, started it, and I, must go further to prove myself." He replied, tears welling in his eyes.
"To whom?" Sun Woo asked.
"Everyone." Jin Heung replied.
"Not to me." The Hwarang replied. Carefully, he reached out , eyes anchoring themselves in his ruler's. Carefully, he wiped away a tear that had barely left the eye. "I would rather be your friend, than being King."
Swallowing thickly, Jin Heung wrapped a hand around the other male's wrist. "Gae Sae, do not forget just how different we are." He spoke, harshly removing it.
"To me, no man is different from another." Sun Woo replied. He knew the King had intended to remind him of his origins with the nickname, but he wasn't ashamed of his roots. While he had two orabeoni with prestigious names, his appa remained a Cheonin. And so was he. You may take a man out of the village, but you can't take the village out of a man.
"You think like a god." The King replied, narrowing his eyes. "To God, there is no difference between men, but to men, there are a multitude of differences." He sighed, taking a step back. Lifting up the hand that held his blade, the King held it towards the Hwarang, presenting it. "Sun Woo, Wang amongst men, Shin, amongst Kings. I will, remind you of your own mortality." Jin Heung heaved a long sigh. "The Prince of South Buyeo is vexed to have lost to an usurper. He wanted your head. I was intending to go to war. For you." He chuckled, feeling foolish. "You will go. Not with the Hwarang. With the army. Trained men for you to command. You want to be my general don't you? You think you deserve it? Then prove yourself and win. Or notify me of your death and I shall notify you of my sorrow."
"Would you rather I died a coward's death or on the battlefield like you expect me to?" Sun Woo asked, eyes anchored in his friend's.
"I wish you didn't have to die. But I need to prove myself. And make my own path. For that, I would rather shed a little blood quickly than a lot of blood throughout time." Jin Heung replied, remembering the words of his late mother.
With tears in his eyes and a trembling hand, the Hwarang seized the sword offered to him. "Await for my report, your Majesty." He determinedly replied, holding the ruler's gaze. "I won't live like my father, I won't live like a ghost. But I won't die either. I will soil my blade on the blood of your enemies, so that every time your kingdom progresses further, you remember I started walking that path alone. And I will await for you to join me. Or I will die on the blade I can't miss."
"Are you insulting me? Your King?!"
"No." Sun Woo shook his head. "I am trying to reach out to my friend." He replied, tears rolling down his cheek as he walked past the man.
Jin Heung grabbed his arm. "Anyo." He spoke, dragging him back to him. "You forgot who I am. When you carry this blade, whatever land you win, you win for me. Whatever path you carve, you carve in my name. Whatever enemy you defeat, the King defeats through you."
Sun Woo chuckled. "If you know it, why do you still believe it's more my path than yours?" He inquired.
Tears welled in the King's eyes. "Because outside of these walls, we are but rivals." He swallowed. "I am your ruler, pay, your, respects." Sun Woo chuckled, freeing his arm. Anger fueled the male marched to the door. "I could have you beheaded for that." Jin Heung reminded Sun Woo, making him still in his steps.
"It'd probably hurt less than the hole you made in my heart. But will you do it yourself, or will you just let another life be taken in your name out of fear?" The King's lips parted in disbelief as a tear rolled down his cheek. But no word came out. "That's what I thought. Pyeha." The Hwarang gave a curt nod before walking out.
"Pa Oh!" The King called for. His most trusted soldier slipping in the room within seconds.
"Pyeha." The soldier lowered his head.
"Prepare a bastion. Sun Woo is going to war with South Baekje." The King replied.
"Sun Woo?" The soldier asked, brows furrowing. "Just him?"
"If he looses, we must preserve the alliance with Baekje. We will say that he acted of his own, being too moved by the lost lives of our citizens. And flatly apologize. If he wins, he wins under my orders. Silla shall be protected either way." The King replied.
"Do you expect him to win, Pyeha?" Pa Oh asked.
The young King's eyes met with his mentor. "I..." His eyes fell shut as he loudly exhaled, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I don't want him to die."
"But?" The soldier inquired.
"But there can only be one King. And he cannot, become a god." Ji Heung replied. The older man offered a supportive smile, giving a curt nod.