159 A New Dawn Pt.1

    "I am beside myself with excitement!"

    Junmyeon's eyes flew open at his brother's sudden exclamation.

    "Apologies, Brother," Jongin said when he noticed Jumnyeon stirring from his seat. "Did I wake you?"

    "It is all right," he answered, his utterance ending in a yawn. He blinked away the tears that formed. "What are you excited about?"

    "The royal wedding, of course. There are only five days left and it will be my first time attending a banquet let alone a royal one. It is the biggest event since Brother Minseok's wedding."

    Junmyeon sat upright as he smoothed the creases on his robes. Having recently returned from meeting with the Waekugin, Junmyeon had visited Jongin before being lulled to slumber by his brother's melodic guzheng. Bleary-eyed, he blinked at Jongin. Lately, the sickly Kim brother had been showing signs of improvement. With sunlight streaming through the windows, Junmyeon could see the colour returning to Jongin's countenance. He was growing stronger by the day and could now manage lengthier excursions away from his quarters. Junmyeon dared to hope that the worst of his illness had passed.

    "Do you think the royal wedding will be as grand as Brother Minseok's?" Jongin asked.

    "Of course."

    The younger's eyes lit up with excitement. "What sort of entertainment will be present at the banquet? I heard from Taehyung that there were all sorts at Brother Minseok's wedding." Jongin's expression grew rueful as he added, "It is a shame I missed it."

    "Well, you need not fret. The best entertainers around the kingdom will be in attendance again."

    Jongin's tone was hopeful. "Even dancers?"

    Junmyeon nodded, his mouth curving into a slight smile. Recently, Jongin had taken a keen interest in dance. "Even dancers," he confirmed.

    The younger's cheerfulness returned.

    "I trust that you will behave yourself during the banquet. I will most likely be occupied with attending to the Waekugin, so I will not be able to chaperone you-"

    "The Waekugin are attending?"

    Junmyeon watched as Jongin suddenly leaned over his guzheng, his eyebrows arched in surprise and his mouth agape. He nodded. "They are His Majesty's guests."

    "But is it not unconventional for foreigners outside our allied circle to attend an intimate affair?"

    "The Waekugin are in Saim for diplomatic reasons," Junmyeon explained, "and so represent their king. As you already know, the alliance between Saim and New Britannia is still in progress. It is hoped that extending an invitation will curry favour with the ambassadors."

    "But will it really help?"

    "Only time will tell."

    Jongin peered at his guzheng, his brows furrowed. "Surely, in an event as important as this, their king will attend personally."

    "I would imagine so," Junmyeon murmured, "however, with travel to Saim from New Britannia being long and arduous, it is simply not possible. An invitation was sent to their king many weeks ago on the matter, but I speculate it did not arrive on time."

    "It just seems wrong. From what you have mentioned in the past up until now, it is as though Saim is constantly trying to appease the Waekugin."

    "How so?"

    "If King Hiram is truly serious in building a relationship with Saim, should he not make the effort to attend the ceremony?"

    "Yes, but-"

    "Why should his ambassadors suffice?" Jongin asked, his voice rising in pitch. "Had it been the other way around, I am certain that His Majesty would have traversed the continent to show his respect. Why does the king of New Britannia not do the same?"

    Junmyeon was quiet as he contemplated his brother's argument. Jongin was right. In the past, negotiations with New Britannia had been slow: neither side had been willing to compromise. It was only recently when Saim had adopted a conciliatory approach did negotiations start to progress. Things had begun to move forward, but at Saim's expense. A prickle of unease made itself known. Should their influence remain unchecked, how much more would the Waekugin succeed in obtaining?

    "That may be," Junmyeon hesitantly replied, "but should the fault lie in the tardiness of the post then we can hardly blame their king."

    "Still..." Jongin grumbled.

    "I understand your concern. It is unprecedented to have past colonisers attend a regal event, especially one as monumental as the emperor's marriage ceremony. However, we must not view the Waekugin as enemies," Junmyeon spoke with as much conviction as he could muster. "They will be our allies soon."

    "I do not trust them."

    "No, I do not expect you to." Junmyeon forced a smile as he laced his fingers together. "We will deal with the Waekugin later. For now, ensuring the royal wedding goes through as planned is paramount."

    Jongin reluctantly nodded. "Of course." He cocked his head to the side as the sky bled red, staining their surroundings in amber light. Something about the mellow glow was foreboding. "Speaking of which, have you met her?"


    "The princess."

    Junmyeon joined Jongin in observing the scenery. "Yes."

    "What is she like?"

    "She is the epitome of royalty." Remembering the princess' dignified demeanour, Junmyeon elaborated, "She is modest, graceful and her beauty is only second to that of..." He abruptly paused, correcting the sudden slump of his shoulders. "...that of Her Highness." Junmyeon shifted uncomfortably as memories of his first love flooded his mind. "She is everything His Majesty could want in an empress."

    "I see," Jongin muttered, and Junmyeon felt his brother eyeing him carefully. "I hear she is a princess of Huaxia. Is that true?" Junmyeon managed a hum. "I wonder what made His Majesty choose Huaxia over Nihon? Both kingdoms offered large dowries and favourable terms of alliance."

    "If you are asking whether the emperor based his decision on the princess' beauty or intellect," Junmyeon answered while staring into the distance, "it is neither."

    Jongin turned to his brother. "Why do you say that?"

    Junmyeon's lips were set in a grim line.

    Ever since the Huaxian ambassadors arrived, Junmyeon noticed a change in the air around the emperor. There was something off about him. Despite His Majesty's usual veil of indifference, Junmyeon thought he appeared troubled. It was a look he was all too familiar with. From the way he carried himself, Junmyeon saw a kindred soul burdened by a weight much heavier than the kingdom he carried on his shoulders.

    And what could be heavier than a broken heart?

    Junmyeon was quick to dismiss the possibility. Instead, he reasoned, "Had the emperor chosen his bride because of her beauty, he would not have been able to tear his eyes away from her. His Majesty would have kept her close so that he could admire her even from afar." He gestured to the guzheng between them, "Had it been because of intellect, he would have had lengthy conversations with her. Perhaps even engage in topics such as Music and Art." He met eyes with Jongin. "A month has passed since the Huaxian princess' arrival, and I have yet to witness the emperor do any of these things."

    Jongin was puzzled. "If it is not because of beauty, intellect, or political gain, then why did the emperor choose the princess of Huaxia? Did His Majesty act on a whim?"

    "That, I cannot answer." Doubt gnawed at Junmyeon as he recalled the longingness in the emperor's gaze as he stared at a vase of wilted camellias. "All I can say for certain is that something must have happened for the emperor to agree to the proposal."

    "Indeed. I just hope His Majesty's choice of bride will not affect our current standing with Nihon. After all, they are a proud nation and do not take kindly to being rejected."

    "You think too much," Junmyeon dismissed but he could not help but be unnerved. "Let us change the subject. All this talk of politics must tire you."

    "But I enjoy it," Jongin protested. "In this age, not all battles are fought with swords. A career in the military is not possible for me but life in court still is." Jongin sat up. "Brother, when I am of age, I want to be a court minister just like you."

    Junmyeon raised his brows in surprise. "But why? With your current talents, a career as a scholar is easily attainable. You need not go through what I endured."

    "I want to be a court minister," Jongin reiterated. "It is the only way I can fulfil my duty of shaping the political landscape for generations to come."

    Junmyeon listened attentively as Jongin shared his aspirations with fervour. He spoke determinedly, his whole being radiating with boldness. As Jongin raved about his ideas on how to improve their kingdom, Junmyeon's chest unavoidably swelled with pride. For a moment, he saw a bright future for Jongin. One that was not afflicted with illness nor confined to the same four walls.

    That future can still be.

    Suddenly, Junmyeon stood up. Jongin stopped midway his utterance at the sight of his brother's sombre expression.

    ���I need you to pack a bag."

    Sensing that something was amiss, Jongin shuffled to his feet. "A bag? What for?" Jongin rushed to block Junmyeon's path when he tried to leave without answering. "Brother, why do I need to pack a bag?"

    Junmyeon locked eyes with him. "Because you will be going away for a while."

    Jongin furrowed his eyebrows, the surprise in his gaze evident. "What?"

    "I have arranged for you to leave the day after the Emperor's banquet," Junmyeon explained impassively. "You will stay with our relatives from Mother's side-"

    "You are sending me away?" Surprise morphed into a resolve Junmyeon rarely saw from his gentle brother. "But why?"

    "It is for the best-"

    "But I want to stay here!"

    Junmyeon persisted, "It is not safe here. While the plague persists, your life will always be in danger. Going away is the best solution for now."

    "How is it?" Jongin retorted, holding his ground. "I do not understand. I am getting better, am I not? There is no need for me to leave."

    "We cannot take chances," Junmyeon replied sternly. "It is precisely while you have the strength to travel that we must make haste. You will learn to like it there. The air is fresher and-"

    "No. I am not going," Jongin protested. "You cannot make me."

    Since when did he become so rebellious? Junmyeon matched Jongin's defiant stare. "You will do as I say."

    "Why should I?" Jongin spat. "It is unfair. I am not as fragile as you believe. Everyone treats me like I am made of glass, but I am not!"

    "Jongin, listen-"

    "No, you listen," Jongin interrupted. "It is not up to you whether I should go away. You are not the head of this family. Brother Minseok is-"

    Suddenly, Junmyeon seized hold of Jongin's collar, catching the younger off guard. Jongin whimpered as Junmyeon tightened his grip. A wild look flitted across Junmyeon's features as he breathed heavily, each laboured breath serving as a reminder of the temper he sought to control.

    His brother had never seen this side of him before.

    For the sake of Jongin's delicate constitution, Junmyeon had kept a tight lid on his infamous temperament. Junmyeon knew he had always been seen as a kind and caring older brother that was often misunderstood. Like their father, he was stoic and blunt, but unlike their father, Junmyeon had never acted on his anger.

    That was, until now.

    That is right, Junmyeon thought as he watched his younger brother cower. Fear me like everyone else. If fearing me is the only way you will leave, then so be it.

    Eventually, Junmyeon loosened his grip, allowing Jongin to escape and put distance between them. Seeing the fright in Jongin's eyes almost broke his resolve. He turned his back to Jongin. "I may not be the head of this family," he muttered, "but I always put our family's interests first." Junmyeon glanced over his shoulder. With his face half eclipsed by long shadows cast by the evening sun, Jongin met eyes with a brother he no longer recognised.

    "Never forget that."
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