136 Of Stolen Time Pt.2

    "Help!" Gyuri screamed at the top of her lungs. "I'm gonna fall. I'm gonna fall!"

    The dark-cloaked traveller winced as he signalled for his horse to come to a steady trot, his ears still ringing from Gyuri's screeching. To his dreaded surprise, she had screamed all the way from where he had found her on the muddy path to where they were now, slowly approaching the gates to the Kim household. The traveller encouraged his steed to keep moving toward the carved gates, where two green-clothed guards stood as a sentry.

    "You have to put me down," Gyuri implored, her hands still gripping tightly onto the saddle. "Please. I'm terrified of this thing."

    The traveller let out an irritated sigh. "Not yet. We're almost there."

    Gyuri turned to face him and the traveller saw how pale she was. "I swear if you drop me-"

    "I told you I wouldn't, didn't I?" He tutted. "Can't you just trust me?"

    "How can I trust someone who carted me off on his horse against my will?" Gyuri rebuked.

    The traveller was thoughtful. "Fair point, but why would I drop you when you're my way inside the household? I have some use for you yet." He lowered his voice so that it was barely audible, "I just hope it won't have to come to that."

    Gyuri chewed her lip in apprehension as she peered down at the ground. Even though she wasn't too far from the ground the height still made her dizzy.

    "Rather than being worried, you should be honoured," the traveller mentioned, breaking Gyuri from her reverie.

    "Honoured?" Gyuri peered over her shoulder. "Why?"

    The traveller tossed her a lopsided grin. "Because you were swept away by a handsome guy like me."

    Gyuri scoffed in disbelief. This guy's so full of himself! But as much as Gyuri hated to admit it, he was right. The traveller, despite his unruly appearance, was quite attractive.

    When they finally reached the gates, the guards approached them cautiously, their spears slightly angled towards their direction.

    "Who passes?" the guard bellowed.

    The traveller motioned for his steed to stop. From the corner of her eye, Gyuri noticed him grip the reigns tightly.

    Was he nervous?

    The traveller took a deep breath as he announced, "Kim Seokjin."

    Gyuri froze.

    The guards exchanged looks of confusion, both uncertain that they had heard correctly. Gyuri immediately turned to face him, sharing the guards' befuddled expression.

    Did I just hear right?

    Noticing her stare, the traveller simpered. He was amused by Gyuri's gobsmacked expression. Feigning innocence, he arched his brows as if to ask, "What?"

    Gyuri hurriedly faced forward. No, he can't be... she tried to reassure herself. This guy can't be one of them. There's no way that he's one of the Kims!

    "If you really are Master Seokjin," one of the guards managed to say, "then show us some proof."

    "That's right," the other guard agreed. "Master Seokjin was exiled. We cannot simply admit you, a stranger, who claims to be him. We need something to vouch for your declaration."

    Gyuri heard Seokjin sigh.

    "Unfortunately, I have nothing to prove my identity," he replied. "As you can see, I travel lightly." Seokjin gestured to his untidy appearance. "On my way here, I had encountered thieves and by sheer luck managed to escape with my life. The letter which my brother sent me to prove my identity was lost amongst my belongings. If you bring Brother Minseok out, he can verify that what I have told you is the truth."

    The guards exchanged looks of scepticism.

    "Our apologies, but if you do not have anything to prove your claim then we cannot admit you into this household," the shortest of the guards explained. "We are under strict instructions not to let anyone in without a form of verification."

    "And we cannot risk the safety of our lord by bringing him out here," the other added.

    The shortest guard stepped forward, lowering his spear so that it would land on Seokjin's chest should they meet. "If you have nothing then I must insist that you leave."

    Seokjin stood his ground. "Look," he said while massaging his right temple in circular motions, "I have not just travelled for ten days and endured this wench's screeching just to be turned away like this." Gyuri shot him an offended look which he ignored. "I was summoned here by my brother and I will not leave until I've seen him."

    At the sound of Seokjin's defiant tone, the guards grasped their spears with both hands while taking a defensive stance. "Do not force our hand, sir."

    The traveller's horse whinnied as the pair of guards cautiously inched closer. Seokjin frowned as his horse started retreating on its own accord.

    "Well, it seems they're not gonna let you in," Gyuri observed, "and they don't seem to care that you have me with you." She turned to face him. "Which is enough reason for you to let me go."

    Seokjin peered down at Gyuri and held her gaze. She didn't like the way he was looking at her. "Tell me, wench, do your masters still care for their servants' welfare?"

    "Of course, they do," Gyuri answered slowly, unsure of his intention. "Why do you ask?"

    A coy smile spread across Seokjin's pillow-like lips. "I apologise in advance."

    Before Gyuri could so much as blink, Seokjin had reached for his short sword which he had concealed behind his dark cloak. In one swift motion, he secured his grip on Gyuri with the tip of the blade pinned against her throat. Her eyes rounded in surprise as she gasped.

    "If you don't want this innocent wench's blood on your hands," Seokjin threatened the guards, "you will open the gates now and let me in."

    "What are you doing?!" Gyuri hissed while leaning as far away from the sword as possible.

    "Relax," Seokjin whispered into her ear, "as long as you sit still, you won't get hurt."

    "Was this your plan all along?" Gyuri asked, her voice getting higher in pitch. "To kidnap me and then sacrifice me in front of the guards?"

    He smiled mischievously. "Not quite. It would be a shame to see you go. I was just getting used to your unbearable screeching."

    Gyuri gave him a fear-stricken look, completely missing the playful tone in his voice.

    "Just trust me."

    "Trust you?" Gyuri's shrieked. "How can I trust you when you have a sword aimed at my neck?"

    Seokjin was about to reply when he suddenly noticed movement from the corner of his eye. He hitched the sword higher up Gyuri's neck making her squeak. "I believe you're heading in the wrong direction," he addressed the guards. "Open the gates," he pressed the blade closer to Gyuri, "or the wench perishes."

    Gyuri involuntarily whimpered causing the guards to hesitate.

    "Let me in now or the girl will not live to see the next sunrise!"

    Reluctantly, both guards surrendered their stances so that they could retreat to the gates. Begrudgingly, they granted access allowing Seokjin to pass through. Once they were finally inside the household grounds, Seokjin loosened his grip on Gyuri.

    "See?" he said as he began lowering his sword. "All you needed to do was trust-"

    Suddenly, Seokjin keeled over as Gyuri elbowed him in the ribs, catching him off guard. He spluttered.

    "What... what are you... doing?" Seokjin gasped between breaths. Despite having the wind knocked out of him, he was still able to keep Gyuri's prying hands away as she made a grab for his sword. "Stop it... you silly... wench!" Seokjin coughed. "Stop it... or we'll both fall!"

    "I rather fall than let you threaten to kill me again!"

    As Gyuri struggled against Seokjin's solid frame, little did the pair take note of the horse's complaints. Made anxious by their thrashing, it grunted and whinnied to catch their attention but to little avail. Without warning, the horse suddenly stood on its hind legs, forcing Gyuri and Seokjin to tip over. A surprised yelp escaped Gyuri's lips as she clung to Seokjin. With a loud thud, the pair landed on the gravel courtyard as the horse trotted away, an irritated snort escaping its mouth.

    Gyuri groaned.

    Baffled as to why the floor was soft but solid at the same time, Gyuri tried to make sense of her bearings. Surprisingly, she didn't feel as much pain as she had expected after falling off a horse. Had she miraculously landed on a sack of grain that softened her fall?

    She opened her eyes.

    There, pressed against her cheek, was a man's chest, rising and falling as he breathed. If Gyuri listened closely, she could hear the rapid beating of his heart. As she scrambled to get up, her eyes involuntarily trailed upward, unknowingly taking in the traveller's features in a blink of an eye. With their faces so close, Gyuri noticed Seokjin's bristly chin, stubble peppering his jawline, giving him a rough look. His curved nose was tanned from the sun, and his intense obsidian eyes were like a pair of black jewels.

    Gyuri was startled to find Seokjin staring back at her.

    "Get off me," he grumbled as he shoved her away.

    "Ouch! That hurt-"

    "What is going on here?"

    Gyuri and Seokjin turned to the owner of the voice where a puzzled Minseok stood peering down at them. With all the commotion, Minseok and the rest of the Kims had come out of their conclave to see what was happening. In the distance, Gyuri noticed two others approaching while three stayed behind.

    "My lord!" one of the guards called out as he rushed from the gates. He aimed his spear at the traveller. "Please stay back. This man forced his way in-"

    "It's not safe," the other guard interrupted as he positioned himself in front of Minseok. "My lord, he is armed."

    All eyes turned to Seokjin, who was still clutching his sword. He smiled wryly. "This wasn't how I expected our reunion to go, but then again, I don't remember our family being ever fond of peaceful gatherings." Suddenly, he raised his sword in the air and stabbed the earth, making everyone jump. "You have not aged at all," Seokjin met eyes with Minseok as he used his blade as a crutch to help him up, "Brother."

    The puzzlement on Minseok's face morphed to one of surprise. "Seokjin?" He pushed the guard's spear away so that he could draw closer to the traveller. "Is that you?"

    The man smiled weakly as he stood up. "Greetings, Brother Minseok."

    Everyone watched in astonishment as Minseok lunged forward, capturing the traveller in a welcoming embrace. "It really is you! Look at how much you have grown!"

    As Minseok and Seokjin exchanged pleasantries, Gyuri pushed herself up from the ground. So, he really is a Kim... Gyuri thought, panic slowly rising in her gut. She facepalmed herself. And I raised a hand against him and called him a dimwit.

    Keen not to stick around for her potential punishment, Gyuri began slinking away. The last thing she wanted was for Seokjin to remember what she'd done. Why did he have to be one of the Kims? She kept thinking. Had it been anyone else, my actions would've been justified! But just as she was about to take a step further, she suddenly heard a familiar voice call out to her.

    Gyuri nervously turned around and sighed in relief when she found it was Taehyung.

    "What happened to you?" he asked when he finally arrived. He gave her a once-over and noticed her shivering. "You are soaked to the skin!"

    "It's a long story," Gyuri replied, teeth chattering slightly. She had been so frightened by the horse ride earlier that she had forgotten how cold she was.

    Taehyung quickly took off his cloak and wrapped her with it before she could protest. "Stupid Gyuri, you will catch a cold!"
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