82 That Female Physician Pt.4

    Junmyeon let out a deep breath to calm his nerves.

    "Brother? Are you alright?"

    He turned to look behind him and spotted Jongin peering up at him from his bed.

    "Jongin" he spoke softly. "I apologise, did I wake you?"

    The pale boy weakly smiled. "No, I-" suddenly, he started coughing and Junmyeon rushed to his side. "I-I am fine" Jongin managed to wheeze once his coughing fit had subsided. He attempted to sit up and Junmyeon helped him. "What-what are you still doing here?" he asked once he was upright. "Are you not supposed to meet with Father?"

    "I was about to leave" he replied, observing Jongin's frail disposition. He seems a lot worse today. "But since you are awake, I can stay for a little longer-"

    "And keep Father waiting?" Jongin interrupted. He raised a brow at his elder brother. "You should go, brother. Father does not like to be kept waiting." He smiled at him affably. "You must not let your nerves get the better of you."

    Junmyeon feebly smiled back. "You are right." He got up. "I shall visit you later."

    With as much courage as he could muster, Junmyeon left Jongin's quarters with his shoulders straightened as if he possessed more confidence than he did. But once he was out of sight, Junmyeon let out another long sigh.

    Compose yourself, Junmyeon, he internally thought. You can do this.

    As he approached his father's quarters, Junmyeon's pace slowed down, each step noticeably becoming smaller and smaller just so that he could delay meeting with his father by even a second.

    He swallowed.

    Despite his cold exterior and proud outlook, Junmyeon always found meetings with his father nerve-wrecking. It wasn't because Hyesung was an intimidating man nor was it because he was hard to please. No. The truth was, what made Junmyeon nervous the most was the inevitable conclusion of their meetings: it always ended with Hyesung bitterly berating him and uttering his disappointment.

    Not this time, Junmyeon chanted to himself. This time will be different. He ran his hand across his hair and straightened his robes so that he was presentable. Now that Brother Minseok is gone and with Second Brother exiled, Father cannot ignore me for much longer. He breathed in, as he remembered his mother's words, it is now my time to shine.

    With renewed confidence, Junmyeon knocked on Hyesung's door and waited anxiously for his reply.

    "Come in," he eventually heard his father grunt.

    Junmyeon proceeded inside, his clammy palm clenched tightly.

    From his elevated chair, Hyesung glared down at Junmyeon, his sharp eyes inspecting him closely. Junmyeon fought the familiar prickling sensation of the hairs on the back of his neck standing erect. He always felt that way whenever Hyesung's gaze was locked on him.

    "Father" he greeted while bowing politely.

    Hyesung nodded in return and swiftly ordered, "Sit down."

    Glancing down at the cushion in front of him, Junmyeon obediently sat. With his eyes averted, he questioned, "You called me, Father?"

    "Yes," he replied curtly. "I wish to know what is happening in court."

    Junmyeon shifted in his seat. "A lot has been debated in court" he replied, "with the most important being the emperor's choice of empress."

    At this, Hyesung revealed a hint of interest.

    "So far, the two most popular proposals are from the princess of Huaxia and the princess of Nihon."

    Hyesung nodded while stroking his wispy beard. "I see."

    "But His Majesty has yet to make the decision."

    Hyesung hummed in thought. Both options are advantageous, he contemplated, but either choice can greatly affect Saim's standing in the world.

    "However," Junmyeon continued, "what has most stirred the ministers at court is..." he eyed his father steadily, "the Waekugin."

    Hyesung abruptly froze.

    "Recently," Junmyeon spoke solemnly, "we have received word that foreign diplomats from the colonies of New Britannia have designs to visit His Majesty."

    Hyesung's thick brows snapped together. "Why?"

    "They claim to wish to improve relations."

    Hyesung's face soured. Those barbarians, he thought bitterly. Is this another one of their tricks? "And? What did His Majesty decide?"

    Junmyeon thinned his lips. "He has decided to meet with them."

    Hyesung's face darkened. Noticing his father's displeased reaction, Junmyeon opened his mouth to say something when suddenly, Hyesung slammed his fist against his desk. "This is outrageous!"

    Junmyeon jolted.

    "What is His Majesty thinking?" he shouted heatedly. "Is he not aware of their past attempt to colonise us? What if it is a hoax? The Waekugin are not to be trusted!"

    Junmyeon watched in bewilderment as his father ranted passionately on the subject. While he knew how detested the Waekugin were, he was not aware of his father's strong aversion. And, how could he be? His conversations with Hyesung were only limited to greetings and weekly reports. He had never conversed with his father on anything apart from politics and the weather. Not even once.

    "Working with them may be advantageous" Junmyeon stated, in an attempt to impress him.

    Hyesung looked at him, puzzled. "I beg your pardon?"

    "Father, the Waekugin possess advanced technology that can prove beneficial to Saim" Junmyeon began. "That advanced technology is not limited to medicine and weaponry. Father," Junmyeon spoke eagerly, "if things go well, Saim can have improved medicinal practices and Jongin might-"

    "You foolish boy!"

    Junmyeon blinked in surprise.

    "How dare you even consider Saimese relations with those barbarians!" His frail body shook with a seething rage that Junmyeon had never witnessed before. "Those barbarians are greedy, ambitious demons that sought to destroy our race!" he shouted. "If our ancestors had not led a campaign against them we would have been at their mercy!"

    "I-I apologise, Father, I was naïve to think that-"

    "No, you were not thinking at all" Hyesung snapped. He glowered at Junmyeon. "I did not raise you to be an idealistic fool."

    "I-I am sorry, Father-"

    "You really are a disappointment" Hyesung sneered.

    Junmyeon felt a stab in his heart.

    With a dismissive wave of the hand, Hyesung ushered for Junmyeon to leave. "Go."

    Junmyeon pursed his lips as he bowed to Hyesung in goodbye. As he walked away, Junmyeon bit the inside of his cheeks to keep his tears from springing. The familiar flavours of blood flooded his taste buds, overwhelming him with memories of his adolescence when this bad habit began. It reminded him of all the times his father had uttered those dreaded words to him repetitively, building the growing resentment he had for everyone around him.

    As he approached Jongin's quarters, he hesitated outside, taking in great gulps of breath to help conceal his misery.

    What was I thinking? He thought. Today was no different from any other day. He clenched his fist a little tighter. And to think that things will ever change...

    Suddenly, he remembered his mother's words and he lowered his eyes. A mixture of shame, resentment and a sense of betrayal filled his chest.

    "Mother, I am afraid you were wrong" he spoke bitterly, "Father will never accept me."
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