115 The Emperors Dog Pt.2

    "Hey, Chim Chim," Gyuri spoke softly, her face downcast, "do you... hate me?"

    "W-what?" Jimin was startled. He abruptly stopped and Gyuri did too. "Why do you- why do you ask?"

    "It's just that, I didn't really make a good impression when we met." She shrugged. "And since then, we've just... I dunno. We've never really cleared the air between us."

    Jimin wiped the sweat away from his brow as he gestured for him and Gyuri to take shelter under the shade of a building. He fumbled for words as he deliberated her question. Do I hate her?

    Seeing him hesitate, Gyuri rushed to say, "It's a stupid question, forget I said anything-"

    "No," he answered finally.

    Gyuri blinked.

    "I do not hate you." His voice trailed off as he tried to think of a reason. "I am just... wary of you."

    "Wary of me?"

    Jimin nodded. While he was still unaware of how he truly felt for Gyuri, 'hate', certainly, was not it. "Well, can you blame me? The first time we met, I caught you stealing meat buns from a vendor."

    "There's a reason for that!" Gyuri blurted. "It was Taehyung's idea. I was against it from the start-"

    "And then, there was also the matter of you wrestling me to the ground."

    Gyuri bit her lip as Jimin waited for her reaction. But as Jimin stared at her, he noticed a small greenfly tangled in her locks.

    "I can explain" Gyuri eventually spoke as she stared down at her feet. "Remember the ring you were wearing last time?"

    Jimin tensed up at the recollection. He tore his eyes away from the tangled fly to meet Gyuri's gaze. "Yes?"

    "Well, that ring..." she murmured, "it looked familiar."

    "... Familiar?" Jimin's eyes flickered as he tried to remain composed. "How so?"

    "It looked like something I lost."

    Jimin gave a discreet sigh of relief. There is no way it can be the same, he thought. That ring has always been passed down to the emperors of this nation. He recalled the inscription engraved in the inner band of the ring and grew pensive. Only those that bear the weight will understand the significance of those words.

    "There are many rings with that design" Jimin smoothly informed her. "After all, it is a popular accessory and jade rings are a popular way of flaunting one's wealth."

    "I guess so..." Gyuri hesitantly agreed.

    "If you work hard enough" Jimin continued to chatter, "you may be able to purchase an affordable version here, at the market."

    Gyuri forced a smile as if to thank him for his advice. But as Jimin beckoned for them to continue with their stroll, inside, Gyuri couldn't help pondering more about the ring and its origins. There was something about it that didn't seem right to her.

    If only the rich can afford jade, Gyuri thought, then could my ancestors have been wealthy? She scrunched her face in consternation, allowing the hubbub of the lively market street to blend in with the background. How else could grandma have gotten a ring like that? She stared at her hand as she tried to conjure an image of the ring around her forefinger, but with little luck. Instead, all Gyuri saw was her rough palm, the skin blistered and dry from washing laundry and scrubbing floors.

    "Kim Gyuri, the deadly princess who infamously brought down the thriving House of Kim..."

    Gyuri clenched her fist.

    No... that Gyuri isn't me, she inwardly spoke. It's just a coincidence. We probably just have the same name or something. As they ambled by a market stall, she suddenly caught her reflection in a stone trough filled with water. She stopped and stared at it. Peering back at her was a face that she had grown accustomed to but knew didn't belong to her. And it frightened her that as the days went by, she was starting to forget what her own face looked like.

    Kim Gyuri... she murmured. Who are you really?

    "So, you forced me to the ground because you thought I had your ring?"

    Gyuri tore her eyes away from her reflection and found Jimin eyeing her. "Huh? What?"

    "I asked why you tackled me to the ground" he repeated with a brow raised. "Was it because you thought I had your ring?"

    Gyuri smiled apologetically. "Sorry about that. I-I was just desperate to see if it was the same."

    Jimin amusedly chuckled . "You really are a mad wench..." he muttered under his breath. He continued to gape at her and narrowed his eyes when he spotted the small greenfly still tangled in her hair. Had she not noticed it yet?

    "That ring," Gyuri began with her eyes fixed on her hand, "it's something really important to me..."

    Preoccupied with the fly, Jimin took a step toward her.

    "And I may be wrong, but I just have this feeling that yours is the same as mine."

    Jimin reached out his hand with the intention to free the aphid from her hair.

    "So, if you don't mind, I'd like it if you-" Gyuri looked up.

    There, in front of her was a pair of pink lips so dangerously close to her own. Her eyes rounded at the sight. Under close inspection, she followed the shape of Jimin's cupid's bow, so full and plump that she was both in awe and envy of such gorgeous pair of lips. Damn, they look just like Angelina Jolie's...

    "There," she watched Jimin say, his warm breath blowing onto her forehead. "You are free now." He observed as the greenfly flew away, oblivious to how the sudden movement of his lips had caused Gyuri to tense up. When the fly was no longer in sight, he peered down and was startled by how close he was to Gyuri. Jimin stumbled backward.

    "Why are you surprised?" Gyuri shouted in embarrassment, "I should be the one reacting like that!"

    Heat rose to Jimin's cheeks as he instinctively covered his mouth with his hand. "For-forgive me. There-there was a fly-"

    "Stupid, Chim Chim" Gyuri mumbled as she averted her gaze. "You scared the hell out of me."

    But as Jimin was about to reply, a gruff voice suddenly interrupted them, "Look who we have here!"

    Jimin and Gyuri turned to the owner of the voice and were immediately on guard.

    Not too far away from them were three burly men, red-faced and slick with sweat. A pungent smell surrounded the air around them: a combination of body odour and stale ale clung to their skin and tattered garments.

    Gyuri tensed up as she stuttered, "It's-it's him again."

    The grubby man in the middle pointed at Gyuri. "I remember you" he slurred. "You're that hussy that refused to give me a bowl of soup last time!"

    Gyuri inched closer to Jimin. "That's not true! We ran out of bowls that time. That's why-"

    "Shut up!" he growled. He turned his attention to Jimin. "And you, pretty boy. You're that imperial guard that was there last time too."

    One of the other men sniggered, "What? Was he the one that knocked you out?"

    "Shut up!" The grubby man leered at his companion. "No, this one didn't do anything." He smirked while eyeing Jimin up. "He's weaker than the other one."

    Jimin narrowed his eyes.

    The grubby man took a brave step forward as his companions watched expectantly, their beady eyes keenly observing how Jimin would react. In response Jimin stretched his arm out, signalling for Gyuri to stay back.

    "Chim Chim?"

    "Whatever happens," Jimin calmly spoke, "you must stay behind me, okay?"


    "Gyuri," Jimin's voice was firm.

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    Seeing the determination in his eyes, Gyuri wordlessly nodded.

    Having reached an understanding, Jimin turned to the grubby man. "I do not wish to fight you." He raised both his arms as if to surrender. "So, while I am still asking politely," he lowered his voice, "get out of our way."

    A loud cackle escaped the grubby man's mouth. Seeing their leader's reaction, the other burly men laughed along too. "You think your imperial uniform scares me?" the grubby man taunted. "Hah! All imperial guards are just decorated wastrels." He glared at Jimin. "You are just the emperor's dog and I am not afraid of your bark." He reached for his weapon and drew out a long sabre. "A dog may have a ferocious bark, but it means nothing if it has no bite."

    Jimin sighed as he dropped his arm. "This is your last warning."

    Gyuri watched as both Jimin and the grubby man glared at each other. But while both were locked into a stare down, little did they notice how a growing crowd of peasants had started to encircle them. Curious whispers filled the air as the spectators waited to see the drama that was about to unfold.

    "What's going on?"

    "Is there a fight?"

    "An imperial guard fighting? Why?"

    Gyuri bit her lip in worry. The last thing she wanted was to run into the burly man from before. But none of that mattered now- not when Jimin was in front of her and was about to engage in a fight. I must do something! I have to stop them! She hurriedly looked around and suddenly remembered that Zeren was back at the storage house. But just as she was about to run and get him, Gyuri abruptly heard a long sword being unsheathed from its scabbard.

    Jimin had drawn his sword.

    With the tip of his sabre aimed for Jimin's throat, the burly man jeered, "I'll make sure to cut you up well. That, I promise you."

    Jimin smirked as he raised his sword to a defensive position. "I would like to see you try."
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