Taehyung adjusted his footing and pushed upwards, right hand reaching for the next slightly dislodged stone. His grimy fingers nearly slipped against the smooth surface, but he took a deep breath and gritted his teeth. His hands were starting to cramp up. He was almost there.
He glanced farther up and saw his sisters looking down at him. They were already a few inches away from the window. One teasingly stuck her tongue out at him while the other hissed for him to “hurry up”.
They needed to be in and out quickly.
Taehyung’s muscles strained as he finally hoisted himself through the window and unto the stone cold floor. His sisters smacked the back of his head for being so loud, and quietly scolded him for lagging behind.
“We’re only grabbing what we can from this room,” one of them whispered.
“It’s too risky to go further inside,” the other agreed.
Taehyung simply nodded. He was used to following orders from them.
The girls turned on their heels at the same time and split up, each going to a different end of the room to search for valuables. Taehyung stared after them before scrambling to his feet.
The room was impressively huge, with a fireplace and a colorful coat of arms hanging above it. Plush leather seats and ornate tables sat atop a large rug that covered most of the room. Taehyung was nearly overwhelmed by it all.
He didn’t have an eye for rare objects, but he knew what gold looked like. So his fingers grabbed anything of that nature and tucked it beneath his arm.
The sound of a door slamming shut down the hall made all three thieves stop and hold their breaths.
Taehyung’s eyes widened as footsteps echoed towards them, getting closer and closer.
“Let’s get out of here!” one of his sisters suggested, already making her way towards the window with an arm full of expensive furs. “We’re dead meat if we get caught!”
His other sister was right behind her, precariously balancing a bowl full of jewels atop her head. “Come on, Taehyung! Stop gaping like a fool and get a move on!”
Taehyung snapped his mouth shut and stumbled after them.The gold lamp and vase in his hands clinked loudly with every step he took. “Wait! Sumi! Sunhee!” he called frantically, but his sisters were already disappearing over the edge of the window ledge.
Taehyung’s feet skidded against the expensive rug. He stopped and held his breath, hoping that his tan skin would blend into the dimness of the room and shield him from the eyes of whoever was behind him.
But that was wishful thinking.
“So a thief really believes they can come in here and raid my castle?”
Taehyung slowly turned around. His hands were getting so clammy and shaking so hard, he just knew the lamp and vase would drop any second now.
Standing before him…
in nothing but loose pants…
Was prince Yoongi.
If Taehyung’s eyes were wide before, they were practically taking up half of his face now. He bowed out of instinct, and then abruptly stood up straight, causing his brown hair to flop against his forehead and messily cover his eyes.
The prince eyed him up and down, hands crossed over his pale chest.
Taehyung found his eyes gravitating towards the milky skin of their own accord. He couldn’t help being entranced by the numerous symbols and markings that covered the prince’s chest and arms. He wasn’t used to seeing someone with so many unnatural drawings on their body.
“I’m guessing you’re from the southern clan?”
Taehyung sucked in a breath and took a step back, eyes flying up to look at the prince’s face again. He almost wondered how the man knew, but then the weight of the pendant around his neck reminded him of its presence. Everyone in the southern clan wore one.
“Those two girls… if you tell me who they were I will tell the king to spare your hands.”
Taehyung swallowed thickly. There was no code of honor among thieves, but Sumi and Sunhee were his older sisters. Even though they abandoned him, his heart just couldn’t rat them out.
“Surely you know the punishment for thievery, right?”
Taehyung kept his mouth shut.
The prince shifted from one foot to the other. “There has been talk among my people of a pair of identical sisters called ‘The Tyrannical Two’. They go from house to house, taking what doesn’t belong to them.”
Taehyung’s hold on the lamp and vase tightened until he could feel the gold digging into his skin through his thin shirt. He still remembered the night his sisters told him of the name the Kingdom had started to call them. They laughed the whole live long night over their new title.
Of course, he told the prince none of this.
His lips were sealed.
Prince Yoongi sighed. “Do you know who I am, kid?”
The prince’s mouth curled into a pleased smile.
Taehyung hunched his shoulders and took a step back. Even though the prince was shorter than him, his presence felt so large. And in comparison of body weight, Taehyung was a tiny, willowy thing. All it took was one nudge from his sisters to make him topple over.
“You’re right, Kid, i’m the Prince. Which means I have a lot of say in what happens to you.”
Taehyung was shivering so hard his vision began to blur.
“So tell me where I can find those girls, and I’ll let you off easy. It’s clear that they left you to take the fall anyway. Tell me their names and I won’t call the guards.”
Taehyung shook his head without an ounce of hesitation.
Prince Yoongi raised a brow at his stubbornness.
“Very well then…” he murmured.
Taehyung couldn’t even bring himself to attempt escaping. He watched on with shaky breaths as five guards rushed into the room and flanked him on all sides. They grabbed at his arms, and he let them tug the lamp and vase from his grasp.
One of them tried to tie rope around Taehyung’s wrists, but the boy was so slender the guard had to tie it tighter and double the knot.
“Take him straight to the dungeons. No food, only water, for three nights,” the prince instructed. “Don’t speak a word of this to my father. I’ll oversee the punishment for this prisoner.”
“Yes, your highness!” the guards chorused.
Taehyung felt the back of his neck prickle with uneasiness. How could he be so foolish as to let himself get caught? If he ever saw his sisters again they would never let him live it down! Neither would the rest of his clan.
“Do you have a name, Kid?”
Taehyung glanced away from the prince’s piercing gaze and continued to hold his tongue.
“Take him away.”
The guards started yanking Taehyung towards the door. The brunette kept his head down as they passed the half-dressed prince. He didn’t dare to look up, even when the prince leaned towards him to whisper in his ear.
“You have three days to change your mind.”
The walls of the dungeon were covered in moss and slime. Along each wall held multiple narrow cells, some containing prisoners who looked like they could barely stand.
Taehyung hated the smell more than anything.
“In you go,” the guard to his left grumbled.
He was roughly shoved inside, knees scraping against the wall as he tried to catch his balance. The heavy bars clanged shut behind him, and Taehyung turned around to watch the guards click the lock in place.
There was no hope of escaping.
“You’re lucky the prince saved you,” one of them spat, and then they all marched away, leaving him in pure silence.
Taehyung pulled his knees into his chest and shivered. How did being thrown into a dungeon equal being saved? The prince basically ordered for him to be starved for three days.
Taehyung squeezed his eyes shut as one of the prisoners down the hall started to groan in pain.
If he was being honest with himself, starvation was the least of his worries. It would be no different from how he was treated back at home anyway. His sisters were always favored by his parents, and Taehyung was constantly taunted for being weak and frail.
Eventually, the fatigue and the stress made his eyes droop and his head tilt.
Taehyung fell asleep with dried tear tracks on his cheek.
“Get up and bow before the prince!”
Taehyung startled awake as ice cold water was splashed directly into his face. His breath quickened and his chest heaved as he spluttered against the dirty water.
“That wasn't necessary,” the low baritone of the prince whispered.
Taehyung pressed himself as far back into the wall as possible. His wet clothes clung to his slight frame, showcasing just how skinny he really was. He could hear his heartbeat thundering in his ears.
“Bring in the chair. Strap him down.”
Taehyung tensed up as he felt himself being lifted up and placed on a wooden chair. Leather straps were slapped over his wrists and ankles. He uselessly tried to pull at them, but stopped when the overwhelming presence of the prince entered his small cell.
Two large guards stood on either side of the prince, a few feet behind him. The guards that had thrown water on Taehyung were stationed behind his chair.
Taehyung could practically feel them breathing down his neck.
“Ready to talk, Kid?”
Taehyung ignored the prince in favor of staring down at his shaking knees.
Prince Yoongi rolled his eyes in exasperation. He circled the chair and Taehyung could see out of his peripheral that the man was finally wearing a shirt. It was a white blouse that made his pale skin shine even brighter, accentuating his mint green hair and the dark markings all over his skin.
The prince stopped directly in front of him and Taehyung’s gaze slowly traveled up his boots, dark pants and well pressed shirt to stare directly into his eyes.
Taehyung bit his bottom lip.
The prince turned around and snapped his fingers, catching the attention of all of his guards.
“Leave him strapped until tomorrow,” he ordered, before walking out the cell and down the corridor.
One by one the guards left with him, and Taehyung was alone again.
The chair was hard and uncomfortable. The brunette could feel splinters poking into his butt and back. What did he do in his past life to deserve any of this? Sure, he was a thief, but he honestly had no choice in the matter. Taehyung was born into a clan of thieves, so it was automatically expected of him. Which was why he was constantly scolded for being too “soft” and “honest”.
A rat scurried past Taehyung’s feet, and the boy’s instincts made him jerk against his bindings, but the rat didn’t bother him. The rodent simply continued on to wherever it was heading, completely unfazed by the teary-eyed boy strapped to a dusty old chair.
Maybe Sumi and Sunhee will tell Father and Mother, and Father and Mother will send out a rescue party for me, Taehyung thought wistfully.
But it was just that.
The next two days of interrogation continued in the same way.
The prince would enter with four guards and ask Taehyung the same question:
“Ready to talk, Kid?”
Taehyung’s eyes would drift towards him, slow and tired, and not a word would leave his lips.
The prince would give him a few more chances to speak up before leaving, and Taehyung would continue to sit in the chair, wasting away.
At this point, he wouldn’t even be surprised if he became one with the chair. His wrists and ankles were rubbed raw from where the leather pinched his skin tightly. The sweat on his back and the back of his legs made everything even harder to bare.
Did the prince really need to catch his sisters that badly?
On the third day, Prince Yoongi entered the room much like before, except this time he had one of his guards bring in another chair and place it directly in front of Taehyung. Then, he snapped his fingers and ordered the guards to leave him alone with the brunette.
“But, Your highness, we--” one of them started to protest, and Yoongi quickly cut him off.
“Does it look like the prisoner is going anywhere?”
The guard glanced from Yoongi to Taehyung, before shaking his head with a resigned scowl on his face.
“No. I suppose not, Your highness.”
“Then get out,” the prince demanded, firmer this time.
The guards quickly shuffled out of the room, leaving Taehyung and Yoongi alone.
A small whimper escaped from the back of Taehyung’s throat as the older man took a seat in front of him. Was he going to be tortured? Would the prince threaten to cut out his tongue? He didn’t know, but he felt like all of the acid that had built up in his stomach for the past few days was about to burst from his mouth.
“You’re extremely loyal… for a thief.”
Taehyung blinked slowly. It was too hard to even lift his head.
The pale prince leaned back in his chair and regarded Taehyung with a thoughtful expression.
“It may seem like those girls just took ‘stuff’ to you, but it’s more than that.”
Taehyung furrowed his brows in confusion.
Upon noticing the younger’s confusion, Prince Yoongi continued on. “They took family heirlooms, dowries, and things that poor families were planning on trading in order to provide food for their children.”
Taehyung lowered his gaze, a stinging pressure building up behind his eyes. All those times he accompanied his sisters on a run to go loot a place, he never stopped to consider the family they were robbing. His parents and the rest of the clan constantly told him that they had a right to steal, that the families they were taking from were selfishly holding on to things they didn't even need.
But here came the prince, telling him that everything he ever knew, was a lie.
“Still don't have anything to say?” Prince Yoongi pressed.
Taehyung sniffled. He could tell the prince all about his sisters, ultimately betraying them, or he could keep his mouth shut.
They were always telling him to keep his mouth shut.
Annoyed by Taehyung’s silence, the prince abruptly stood up, and Taehyung winced when a pale hand reached for his face.
Surprisingly, the prince gently held his chin and lifted his head.
“Such a young, impressionable thing,” Yoongi murmured. “I don't want to have to tell my father about what you did, so please--”
His words were cut off by the sharp sound of footsteps rapidly approaching Taehyung’s cell.
The prince let go of Taehyung and turned around to face a bespectacled man with a handsome face. There was a thick stack of parchment paper in the man’s hands, and his cheeks were flushed red from running.
“Didn’t I request for no one to interrupt me during my visits to the dungeon, Seokjin?”
The man, Seokjin, got even more flustered at the prince’s words.
“I know, your highness, and I don’t mean to go against orders, but there are a few pressing matters that need to be attended to right now.”
Taehyung watched on through his hazy gaze as Prince Yoongi crossed his arms in irritation. He didn’t seem too happy about being bothered, but maybe he held some respect for the man standing in front of him, because he nodded.
“Ok. Spit it out.”
Seokjin nervously glanced at Taehyung.
The prince looked back at the brunnette. He silently stared for a few minutes before coming up with a conclusion all on his own.
“He isn't the gossipy type.”
Seokjin didn’t look like he was willing to accept that answer, but he plowed on anyway.
“Well the first thing you should know is that Prince Jimin of Busan has arrived.”
Busan? Taehyung thought. What was the prince of Busan doing here, in their Kingdom?
Yoongi cursed under his breath and shifted from one foot to the other.
“Already? I thought he was scheduled to arrive tomorrow?”
Seokjin shrugged. “It seems his caravan arrived earlier than planned. He said something about the weather being good, but you can never tell what is truly going through that child’s head.”
Yoongi restlessly tapped his foot. “What else is there? You wouldn't run all the way down here just to tell me that.”
Seokjin pushed up his glasses before handing over the sheet of parchment at the top of his pile.
“There is talk of a possible invasion from the Kingdom of Seoul. The castle needs to be better fortified in case of an attack, seeing as how there are clearly ways to get in…” Seokjin’s eyes fell on Taehyung again, and the younger boy released a shaky breath.
Yoongi barely glanced over the paper before shoving it back into Seokjin’s hands.
“Why aren't you discussing this with my father?” he asked dismissively.
“Because, Prince Yoongi, your father put you in charge of the army, which makes you responsible for fortifying the castle.”
“The east wall.”
Both men stopped talking and stared down at the boy strapped to the chair.
“What about the east wall?” Prince Yoongi asked carefully, almost afraid to say the wrong thing and make the brunette go silent again.
Taehyung’s chest heaved as he mustered up the energy to continue.
“There is a weak p-point at the east wall. There is a s-stone with three scratches on it th-that isn't noticeable unless you were to feel along the surface. That stone, and the fives stones surrounding it, are loose and easy t-to remove. It makes a hole big enough for s-someone to slip inside.”
The sound of a quill pen scratching across paper was all that could be heard in the cell when Taehyung’s voice died down. Seokjin wasted no time taking note of everything.
“T-There’s also the tunnel t-that runs beneath the south wall, the guard who always falls asleep at the same t-time each night, a-and so many more…”
Seokjin was looking at Taehyung in both wonder and fear now.
Yoongi regarded him with nothing but fascination.
Silence stretched between all of them, but then Yoongi suddenly moved forward and started fiddling with the straps around Taehyung’s red wrists.
“Your highness, what are you--”
“It’s ok, Seokjin,” Yoongi assured the older man. “He’s too weak to do us harm anyway.”
Taehyung should have taken offense to that but it was the honest truth. He tried rolling his wrists once the straps fell away but he could barely even lift his arms. Gravity was weighing down every frail bone in his body.
He flinched when Yoongi moved down to his legs, and stared, wide-eyed, when the prince started to undo the straps around his ankles as well.
When he was done, the mint-haired man stood back up and looked at Taehyung so earnestly, the younger couldn't find it in himself to look away.
“You won’t tell us about those two girls, and that's fine, because I think I have a different task for you.”
Taehyung licked his dry lips. “For… me?”
“Yes,” The prince nodded with a smirk. “All you’ll have to do, is sign an agreement.”