“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing people off.”
Hyejoo looks into the mirror to see Chaewon standing behind her, the princess meticulously adjusting the leather strap of Hyejoo’s shoulder guard. She tightens it, then loosens it, then tightens it, then loosens it, and Hyejoo starts to wonder if she’ll ever be satisfied with her work. Probably not, Hyejoo figures when Chaewon begins to tinker with one of the buckles holding her armor together.
“It’s not exactly a good thing to get used to,” Hyejoo says as she watches Chaewon’s tongue stick out in concentration. Chuckling internally at the sight, she’s fine with letting her betrothed do as she pleases even if her actions won’t really amount to anything. Any excuse to stay just a bit longer with Chaewon is one Hyejoo is willing to take.
After all, who knows when they’ll next see each other?
“I think I cried the first time Jinsol had to leave to go fight the Kim Kingdom,” Chaewon muses, now moving on to rubbing off some imagined smudge on Hyejoo’s chestplate. “Like actual, full-on sobbing.”
Hyejoo looks down at her.
“Please don’t start sobbing now.”
“I won’t,” Chaewon pouts. “That was years ago. I’d like to think I’m more mature now.”
“Would be sad if you weren’t,” Hyejoo notes, the sides of her mouth lifting upwards. “I won’t mind a tear or two though. At least that way I know you’ll miss me.”
“I already miss you, stupid,” Chaewon huffs. She glares up at Hyejoo, though the intensity of her anger is ruined by how her lower lip is still jutting out. “I hope you know that I’ll be right here waiting, counting the days until you come back.”
“Sooyoung once had a book that asked about that,” Hyejoo recalls, a distant memory triggered by Chaewon’s words. “It said something like… ‘Is it more painful to wait? Or is it more painful to keep someone waiting?’”
“... What was the answer?”
“‘There’s no need to wait anymore. That’s what is most painful.’”
Slowly, contemplatively, Chaewon moves to pick up Hyejoo’s helm. She stares at it, deep in thought.
And then she bonks Hyejoo on the head with it.
“Ow!” Hyejoo yelps, cringing as she clutches her skull. “What the hell was that for?”
“For being such a downer,” Chaewon says stubbornly. “Did you really have to say something so depressing right now?”
“I was just quoting the book,” Hyejoo protests. “I didn’t mean like… You know I’ll come back to you no matter what.”
“You’d better,” Chaewon warns. “The only way I’ll ever stop waiting is when I see you right in front of me, safe and sound.”
“Your wish is my command,” Hyejoo says grandly. “But–”
Chaewon promptly shoves Hyejoo’s helmet onto her, cutting off any further arguments. It sits askew, obscuring Hyejoo’s vision as she hears her fiancée give a small ‘hmph.’ The knight moves to readjust it, but a tug on her arms stops her.
“... I can’t see.”
“Let me fix it.”
Fragments of light dance across Hyejoo’s eyes as her helm is moved left and right. She catches a glimpse of Chaewon’s face every now and then like the fleeting glimmer of a distant star until Chaewon blocks her view with her hand.
“Do you trust me?” the princess asks quietly.
Hyejoo blinks in the darkness.
“Don’t move, okay?”
Hyejoo obliges, standing still as Chaewon shifts in front of her. She hears a rustle of fabric, a faint inhale, and then she feels it: a gentle push against her mouth.
That slight pressure vanishes before Hyejoo can fully process what it is. She’s left staring blankly as her sight returns to her just in time for her to witness Chaewon stepping away.
“Stay safe,” the princess whispers with a sad smile.
“I will,” her knight vows.
Once again, Hyejoo leaves.
The thundering of hooves follows her the entire way as she leads a combined Kingdom-Alliance army of cavalry on an expedited march southwards. They travel without delay, joining up with a regiment of Empire soldiers to inflate their ranks as they aim straight for the treasonous regent. To Hyejoo’s surprise, these imperial reinforcements are commanded by someone younger and significantly smaller than her.
“Don’t underestimate me,” Squire Yeojin says, determination blazing in her eyes as she convenes with Hyejoo during a stop to make camp for the night. “I’m General Hyunjin’s number one fighter, and I was handpicked by Empress Haseul herself!”
“Uh, right,” Hyejoo nods.
“I’m going to do my part in saving the Empire,” Yeojin declares, either accidentally or intentionally ignoring Hyejoo’s awkwardness from being around such an exuberant stranger. “Don’t think I’m going to let you take all the glory!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I’m going to be the one to defeat the regent!”
“Go for it.”
“I’ll become the hero of this war in honor of Empress Haseul!”
“Good luck with that.”
“Just watch, I’ll take down more enemies than even you!”
“... Tch, you can try.”
Squire Yeojin does turn out to be quite the contender. She soon proves herself worthy of being a fellow commander and comrade-in-arms as she and Hyejoo capture stronghold after stronghold on their way to their true objective. Anything Yeojin lacks in terms of pure combat prowess, she makes up for through her unrivaled loyalty and dedication to her liege, something that inspires the men and women under her leadership. Her zeal spurs Hyejoo to fight harder too, for she also has people counting on her triumphant return.
Plus, Hyejoo doesn’t plan on having to explain to her future wife about how a squire outclassed her in battle.
Their joint forces reach the regent’s final garrison in record time. Aware of what’s at stake with countless other battles erupting across the land, Hyejoo wastes no time in surrounding the supposedly impenetrable Vay Fortress.
“General Hyunjin said that this place was built centuries ago,” Yeojin informs her, an unusually grim expression on her face. “Not a single army has been able to breach its walls since.”
“Not a single army, huh?” Hyejoo raises her hand. “Good thing we brought three.”
They storm through the gates together in just over two weeks.
Although their trebuchets never manage to do much more beyond chipping off chunks of Vay Fortress’s exterior, their relentless assault on the base wears away at the morale of those trapped inside. Much like the Siege of Artioso Hold, Hyejoo and her allies don’t let anyone escape, though they deliberately allow a few couriers to slip through and deliver news of Empress Haseul and Queen Jiwoo’s victories in the east. When word breaks out that General Hyunjin and Princess Jinsol have successfully seized the central plains and are advancing on Vay Fortress, a squadron of the regent’s followers lose hope and defect, opening the gates for their attackers.
Yeojin charges first.
She bursts into the main castle of Vay Fortress with a rousing yell, shaking her lance furiously as troops pour in behind her.
“For the Empire!”
“For the Kingdom!” Lieutenant Gahyeon proclaims with equal fervor.
Hyejoo tunes them both out. She concentrates on taking down the fanatical traitors still trying to make their last stand; they’re dangerous in their desperation to cling to the remaining vestiges of this stolen regime, and many single her out as a high priority target in a do-or-die bid to turn the tides. They fail to defeat her, of course, and Hyejoo is once more surrounded by the color red.
A face flashes in her mind, and Hyejoo finds herself praying for this to be the last time she has to take so many lives.
Swing after swing, slash after slash, Hyejoo delivers death to all her challengers. Like a hurricane that refuses to abate, a seemingly endless wave of infantry rush her. They barely give her time to breathe, let alone think, and all she can do is rely on pure instinct and years of experience to protect her as she carves her way forward.
“You’ve come far enough, Demon of the North!”
Hyejoo cuts down a pikeman before looking up to see a knight standing defiantly in front of her. Half a dozen other men and women flank this newcomer, and the quality of their armor makes it clear that they’re far above the fodder from earlier. Their weapons are clean compared to Hyejoo’s scarlet-soaked blade, and Hyejoo realizes with dismay that this can only mean that they haven’t fought anyone yet and thus have all the energy in the world to use against her.
As soon as she completes that thought, they attack.
Hyejoo immediately retreats. She seeks out the nearest wall, backing up against it so that her foes can’t surround her from all sides. Although that does indeed protect her rear, the drawback comes in the form of a concentrated frontal assault that traps Hyejoo and keeps her on the defensive. A shower of strikes rain down upon her, and for once, Hyejoo finds herself truly struggling.
It’s too much.
Even so, Hyejoo remains calm.
If this is to be the end–
This won’t be the end. It can’t be, not with so much on the line and so much left unfinished. There are things Hyejoo hasn’t done yet, things she hasn’t said, and above all, there’s a promise she cannot break.
“I will not die here,” Hyejoo snarls, her spirit reignited by her resolution. She pushes past any fatigue she feels, shoving it all to the back of her mind as she continues to fight on despite being outnumbered.
One, two, three, four, five… The regent’s finest knights slowly fall one after the other. By the time Hyejoo takes down the sixth, her arms have gone numb from exertion and her armor has taken multiple heavy hits. Even her halberd has earned several chips and dents from the constant clashing of metal against metal as Hyejoo parries blow after blow, and something tells her that this battle is about to reach its conclusion.
Her final opponent seems to share this sentiment when they back away for a quick moment to speak.
“If I’m going down,” the knight pants. “You’re going down with me.”
Hyejoo doesn’t bother coming up with a retort. Instead, she uses this millisecond of an opportunity to gather all the last remaining power she can muster. Eyeing her enemy’s equally battered sword, she suddenly swings.
The sword snaps.
It shatters at the point of impact, its blade unable to withstand the brutal force applied to the largest crack along its edge. The top half goes sailing through the air, spinning like a top, and Hyejoo doesn’t waste a second.
The fragment of the knight’s sword hits the ground at the same exact moment their body does.
Hyejoo takes a deep breath.
And then she continues onwards in her pursuit of a better future.
The war ends in the heart of Vay Fortress.
As anticipated, Yeojin is indeed the one to put a stop to the regent. Hyejoo comes across them in the great hall, the young squire standing over an unconscious body with her lance poised to deal the final blow.
“She doesn’t deserve mercy,” Yeojin states, and Hyejoo gets the inkling that she’s speaking to herself. “She’s done so much harm to the Empire, to Haseul…”
Her spear shakes, and Hyejoo moves forward.
“It’s over,” she says firmly, blocking Yeojin’s weapon with her halberd. “She may not deserve mercy, but she can still face justice.”
Yeojin lowers her head and puts down her arms.
“Thanks for not letting my squire kill the regent,” General Hyunjin says a few days later once her unit makes it to Vay Fortress. “She looked after us, once upon a time. I know Yeojin still remembers those days when the regent was just ‘Haseul’s aunt’ and nothing more.”
“People change,” Hyejoo murmurs.
“You’re the expert on that, aren’t you?”
“... Excuse me?”
“How does it feel, going from being known as the Demon of the North to being known as the Rosy Knight?”
“You can thank Scarlet Silk for that,” Hyunjin chuckles. “The Princess and the Black Knight is a very popular ballad here in the south.”
Hyejoo’s eyes narrow.
“I don’t see where the rosy part comes in,” she mutters. “And I don’t think I want to know.”
Hyunjin tells her anyway.
“You earn the title of the Rosy Knight after you oh so valiantly save Princess Chaewon from the pirate lord that kidnapped her, slaying the monstrous kraken dwelling on the Isle of Roses as you do so,” the general says, sweeping her arm across the air as she recounts fantastical events that definitely never happened. “Bard Seungwan sings a series of high notes that I’ve been practici–”
“Okay! Back to work!” Hyejoo interrupts loudly. For the sake of her sanity, she throws decorum out the window and physically drags Hyunjin into their next meeting before she’s subject to further torture and embarrassment.
It takes a while for things to settle down. As the official representative for the Eden Alliance and the not so official delegate of the Jung-Kim Kingdom, Hyejoo begrudgingly works with General Hyunjin in reestablishing order in Vay Fortress and its surrounding territories. They also begin laying the foundations for a more long term collaboration between their nations along with mutually signing a formal nonaggression pact.
Hints of eccentricity and an excess passion for culture aside, General Hyunjin is quite the stateswoman and strategist. Like Yeojin, she works with an intense care towards her country and an eagerness to help it heal. It’s ultimately thanks to her that negotiations are wrapped up faster than anyone expects, thus freeing Hyejoo to return to Artioso Hold.
It’s also thanks to Hyunjin that Hyejoo is delayed on her day of departure.
“Why are you and half the imperial army out here picking flowers instead of packing your things?” Hyejoo grouses when she finds Hyunjin in a random field of all places. “I was going to leave without saying goodbye, but apparently that’s ‘diplomatically rude’ according to your squire.”
“She’ll be knighted once we get back to Kel Citadel,” Hyunjin says absentmindedly. She runs her hands through a bush, examining the small blossoms growing on it before she explains, “We have a tradition here in the Empire. Or a superstition, I guess. Pick a flower before the march home, and if it survives the entire way, give it to someone you care about to tie your destinies closer together.”
And then she begins searching.
When Hyejoo and the troops under her charge finally, finally, finally return to Artioso Hold, it’s to great fanfare and acclaim. They’re welcomed as heroes for their role in this short-lived conflict, and civilians flock to the streets to sing their praise. What was meant to be a simple procession back to the barracks turns into an actual parade complete with blaring music and roses being tossed into the air every step of the way back to the castle. Although this winds up pushing back Hyejoo’s time of arrival even further, she finds it hard to mind this additional hold up. Her subordinates do deserve to be celebrated, after all, and she understands that the masses are overjoyed to know that they won’t be losing any more brothers and sisters in a protracted, drawn out war.
Even so, Hyejoo finds it harder and harder to contain herself the closer she gets to the Hold’s main castle. Subconsciously tilting her head to avoid yet another thrown rose, she grips Aegis’s reins tightly to fight the anticipation swirling in her gut. Anxiety and excitement duke it out inside her chest, the latter winning over the former in the end when Hyejoo can’t fight the smile that comes to her when she thinks about being able to see her again at long last.
Hyejoo is only vaguely aware of Lieutenant Gahyeon and her other comrades peeling away from her as she continues riding forward. There’s only one person on her mind, only one person that matters, and the world slows down as a familiar figure comes into view.
There she stands, the one who took Hyejoo’s heart and gave it a place to rest.
Time resumes its incessant, ineluctable flow as Hyejoo dismounts to stand in front of her betrothed. A hush descends on the crowd surrounding them, and Hyejoo would be worried by the carefully neutral expression on Chaewon’s face were it not for the warm tenderness of her gaze.
“Ser Knight,” Chaewon greets. “You have returned.”
“Princess.” Hyejoo sinks to one knee. “I bring back victory in your honor.”
“And you have brought Artioso Hold much glory as well,” Chaewon says, pride seeping into her voice. “Rise, Ser Hyejoo, for you have more than earned your future crown.”
Her words are met with cheering, and the feeling of belonging swells inside of Hyejoo. It lifts her as she stands with a grin, and even Chaewon is unable to hide her true smile any longer.
“I missed you,” the princess whispers in a voice that’s meant for Hyejoo’s ears alone.
“I missed you too,” Hyejoo murmurs. “And I, uh, brought you a little gift.”
She rummages through the satchel on her waist, careful to not jostle anything as her fingers wrap around a small vial. Pulling it out with great attentiveness so as to not spill the water contained within, Hyejoo holds it up to the sun to examine the flowers resting inside. Daylight caresses purple blossoms that have retained their vibrancy despite the long journey here, and a relieved Hyejoo hands them over.
“Squire Yeojin told me these are called… heliotropes?” Hyejoo grimaces. “I’m not sure what they symbolize. I just chose them because they reminded me of you.”
“Oh?” Chaewon accepts the flowers, now smiling shyly as she looks up at Hyejoo. A coy twinkle enters her eyes as she asks, “How so, Ser Hyejoo?”
“They’re pretty,” Hyejoo states with pure honesty. She can’t resist the urge to smirk when she deliberately takes a step forward, however. “They’re beautiful. Just like you, Princess.”
Chaewon’s ensuing laugh is happy and bright to the point of dazzling. It envelops Hyejoo, embracing her as it fills her soul, and Hyejoo never wants to go another day without it.
“If I recall correctly, the heliotrope has two primary meanings,” Chaewon says once her mirth has subsided. “The first is devotion.”
“... And the second?”
Any reply that Hyejoo is able to formulate dies in her throat when Chaewon abruptly stands on her tiptoes to look Hyejoo directly in the face. There’s only a fraction of a second for Hyejoo to register this sudden proximity before something incredibly soft brushes against the corner of her lips.
Artioso Hold promptly breaks out into a chorus of delighted cheers, hoots, and whistles. There’s some crying as well for some peculiar reason, though none of that matters.
None of that matters as Chaewon ducks her head, hiding an adorable blush behind her flowers. None of that matters as she holds out her free hand in a wordless question. None of that matters as Hyejoo answers her by entwining their fingers, and none of that matters as the two of them walk together towards tomorrow.
“You know, when I once said that your wedding was going to be historical, I didn’t mean this historical.”
“Tell me about it,” she says dryly as she waltzes with Sooyoung in the middle of Haen Castle’s massive ballroom.
The entire palace has been decorated lavishly in a theme of ocean green and silver, Chaewon’s choice after Sooyoung and Jinsol still couldn’t reach an agreement after months of arguing, and an entire spectrum of colors whirls inside the grandest hall as guests take to dancing to celebrate the long awaited union between princess and knight. It was way overdue, as some complained, for their marriage had been pushed back first to give the Lunar Agreement precedence, then again to serve as commemoration for the successful allyship between three countries. Now, after many months, citizens of the Jo Empire, Jung-Kim Kingdom, and Eden Alliance are finally able to gather in the north for the sake of attending the wedding that should have happened long ago.
“When Jiwoo and I first came up with the idea of you marrying Chaewon, we did it for the sake of securing Artioso Hold for the Alliance,” Sooyoung chuckles. “Who knew this would turn into somehow bringing peace to everything west of the Bylo mountains?”
“You all better make this last,” Hyejoo warns with a glare. “I waited so long for this stupid wedding, so if you six with the biggest crowns screw things up and start another war, I’m going to declare independence and kick your butts.”
“Oooh, making big plans already as the Princess Consort of Artioso Hold, huh?” Sooyoung teases. She squeezes Hyejoo’s hand appeasingly when the knight’s glower intensifies. “Trust me, more bloodshed is the last thing on our minds. And we do feel bad, you know, for making you and Chaewon wait so long.”
“We almost considered eloping,” Hyejoo grumbles, the sides of her mouth rising when she hears a scandalized gasp.
“You two, eloping right under our noses!?” Sooyoung’s eyes are wide, and she almost looks as though she’s about to pass out from sheer outrage. “Never! Jinsol and I would never let that happen!”
“And who would stop us, huh?” Hyejoo challenges. “For all you know, Chaewon and I could have already secretly gone to some chapel and–”
“Noooo!” Sooyoung wails, and Hyejoo has to hiss at her to get her to quiet down before they attract more attention. “You didn’t really, did you?”
“Of course not,” Hyejoo sighs fondly. “I mean we did think about it—Oi, be quiet—We considered it, but we figured it wasn’t worth it without our families there.”
Step by step, Sooyoung brings their shared dance to a slow, followed by a full stop. She basically freezes there in that sea of suits and gowns, hands gripping Hyejoo’s tightly as wetness starts to fill her eyes.
“When you say ‘our families’...” Sooyoung begins, voice thick with emotion. “Do you mean…”
“You and Jiwoo?” Hyejoo grins. “Yeah. Who else would I be talking about?”
The High Queen of the Eden Alliance lets out an annoyingly loud sniff.
“I– I need a moment,” she says, pulling out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. She separates from Hyejoo only to push her towards the crowd of dancing bodies. “G– Go save your w– wife. I need to tell Jiwoo that you called us your f– family. I can’t believe… Oh my god...”
Hyejoo cackles to herself as she watches Sooyoung stumble away. The older woman makes her way back to the head table where Jiwoo is sitting and comforting a sobbing Princess Jungeun, who pauses with her waterworks to point and laugh at Sooyoung’s weepy face. The sight is both hilarious and heartwarming, and Hyejoo pats herself on the back for being forthcoming with her feelings as she goes to “save” her spouse as instructed.
Fortunately, it doesn’t look like Chaewon needs much rescuing anymore. She seems to have somehow escaped her sister, who had been hogging her for the past seven dances or so. Princess Jinsol had been staring pointedly at anyone who so much as looked at Chaewon for too long, warding off any potential intruders with her eyes, until Empress Consort Kahei presumably intervened. She’s the one waltzing with Jinsol now as General Hyunjin and Empress Haseul cheer them on from the side.
Meanwhile, Chaewon is nowhere to be seen.
Hyejoo sweeps the floor for her, dodging elbows and arms while she navigates the throng surrounding her. She passes General Yubin, Commander Gahyeon, Prime Minister Heejin, Guard Captain Siyeon, and other familiar faces as she goes, but none of them are the one she’s looking for. She’s not fussed though, for it’s only a matter of time; she knows she’ll be with Chaewon again sooner or later. Hyejoo’s existence practically gravitates towards her, a fact that’s proven when her feet start to carry her in the right direction without her even knowing it.
Hyejoo’s stomach does a happy swoop when she spots the person she’s willingly bound to for life.
Clearing her throat, Hyejoo taps Chaewon on the shoulder.
“Princess. May I have this dance?”
The jewels adorning Chaewon’s hair glitter like stars as she turns around to face her wife. Pretty as they are, they cannot compare to the brilliance of her smile. Even the sun is eclipsed and overshadowed by Chaewon’s radiance, and not for the first time, Hyejoo’s breath is taken away as Chaewon beams at her.
“Of course you may, Princess Consort,” Chaewon giggles before scrunching her nose. “Ugh, why is your royal title such a mouthful?”
“It’s only two more syllables than yours,” Hyejoo points out as Chaewon takes her hand. Affection floods her when their hands easily slot together like a sword returning to its scabbard, and she indulges the giddiness flowing inside her by pulling Chaewon closer despite all the people no doubt watching them. “I think it’s way better than the Rosy Ruler of the Seas or whatever it was, but feel free to call me whatever you’d like.”
“Hm… What about ‘prince’? You would make quite the dashing, gallant prince,” Chaewon suggests. Something mischievous flashes in her gaze as she likewise takes a step closer to Hyejoo. “I do have another idea though. Maybe I’ll just call you mine.”
“Ew, newlyweds,” Knight Yeojin pretends to gag as she twirls by with Squire Yerim. Hyejoo tries and fails to trip her.
“It’s true though,” Hyejoo acknowledges when she returns her attention to where it should be. Lowering her voice, she leans forward and rests her forehead against Chaewon’s. “I am yours. And I have been for a long time.”
“I am so glad you came into my life,” Chaewon whispers back. “Even if we didn’t meet under the best of circumstances, to have you with me right here, right now…”
She trails off when a sudden rush of sentimentality threatens to overwhelm her, and Hyejoo gently bumps their noses together to comfort her.
“Don’t forget, we’re stuck with each other for life now,” Hyejoo reminds Chaewon softly. “We just made a vow in front of all these people that we’ll always be together no matter what.”
“I know, it’s just…” Chaewon pulls back ever so slightly, and when she looks at her knight, it’s with nothing but love in her eyes. “You’ve come so far, Hyejoo.”
“… I have, haven’t it?” Hyejoo says hoarsely. She smiles through the tears that have started to well up. “Almost feels like I came all this way because of you.”
Chaewon playfully hits her shoulder before reaching up to place her hand on Hyejoo’s cheek.
“You came all this way because of yourself,” the princess states in a tone that brooks no argument. “You should be proud of that. And no matter where you choose to go now, I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“Even if I run off to the mountains and abandon the throne?” Hyejoo jokes.
“Especially if you run off to the mountains and abandon the throne.”
Hyejoo laughs and places her hand over Chaewon’s. She turns her head to briefly press her lips against Chaewon’s fingers, and the rest of the world falls away as she gathers her feelings into three words that could never truly convey the depths of her heart.
“I love you,” Hyejoo says.
Chaewon answers her with a kiss.
Up, right, down, down, left, left, up, up, right, down…
Hyejojo operates a switch on the back of a statue with practiced ease. It’s almost instinct to her by this point, having done it dozens of times, and it’s only a matter of seconds before there’s a click followed by the rasp of stone against stone as a passage into darkness is revealed. The ocean beckons from beyond it through both scent and sound, and Hyejoo heeds that call as she moves forward. Shadows swallow her for a minute until sunlight and a cool breeze greet her in the open air.
Hyejoo takes in a deep breath before proceeding onwards.
She paces herself, telling herself to not rush as she treads down well-worn stairs. Although it’s unlikely that she’d stumble on such a familiar path, it would still be rather embarrassing if she did somehow lose her footing and come tumbling down as a heap of uncoordinated limbs. That sort of humiliation is better off reserved for her current guests at Artioso Hold.
Hyejoo spies one of said guests sitting at the final step leading to the ocean. She nudges her with her foot.
“Oh my god!” Jiwoo screams as she nearly falls over.
Hyejoo rolls her eyes.
“I didn’t even push you that hard,” she says.
“Yeah, but you nearly gave me a heart attack,” Jiwoo protests before jumping to her feet and tackling the taller woman. “Anyways, you’re finally here! I missed you so much!”
“I was only gone for the morning–”
“You can blame those imperial idiots then,” Hyejoo sighs with fond exasperation. “Our new highway system isn’t even that complicated, and yet Haseul insisted on an escort so they wouldn’t get lost.”
“Aww, I think she and the rest of our friends just wanted to spend some extra time with you,” Jiwoo suggests, ever the optimist. “I know Sooyoung does, except, well…”
Hyejoo looks past Jiwoo to scan the beach behind her, lifting an eyebrow when she only sees Jungeun there. The Queen of the Jung-Kim Kingdom stands alone, hands planted on her hips as she watches two children play in the sand, no other royal to be found.
“Where is she?” Hyejoo asks. “And where’s Jinsol…?”
“They’re borrowing your throne room,” Jiwoo says with a pout. “They’re currently holding a debate on whose daughter is hitting on whose.”
“... Your kids are three.”
Hyejoo shakes her head and pinches the bridge of her nose.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my wife so we can evict those two–”
“Waaait!” Jiwoo cuts in loudly, grabbing Hyejoo’s elbow before she can begin to make the trek back to Artioso Hold. “Chaewon’s here! She’s just a bit further down the shore. The children sent her to go find more seashells.”
“Why didn’t they send you?”
Jiwoo’s pout deepens.
“They said Auntie Chaewon picks the prettiest ones because she’s the prettiest,” she explains as she crosses her arms. “Hmph.”
“Well, they’re not wrong,” Hyejoo smirks. “Everyone knows Chaewon is the fairest in all the lands.”
“Ugh, go away,” Jiwoo whines. She shoves Hyejoo in a random direction. “Go flatter her to her face, not to me!”
Hyejoo snickers as she complies with the demand, taking a small detour to say hello to Jungeun and the next generation as she passes by them. Waves almost reach her feet as she follows the shoreline, but she ceases to mind when she sees a certain someone just a ways ahead of her.
“Boo!” she shouts as she grabs her wife from behind.
Chaewon lets out a yelp as she loses balance from the unexpected force applied to her. Fortunately, the arms around her keep her safe, and the princess goes from screaming to glaring as she turns around to face her knight.
“Geez, did you have to do that?” Chaewon complains. “What if I punched you or something?”
“Tch, like you would ever hurt me seriously,” Hyejoo scoffs. “I don’t think you even can.”
“Try saying that again when I have a knife in my hands,” Chaewon threatens.
Her faux anger quickly crumbles when faced with a barrage of kisses. Hyejoo shamelessly showers Chaewon with affection, repeatedly pecking her lips and cheeks partly to apologize but mostly just to satisfy her own whims. Chaewon does make a half-hearted attempt to protest, but it’s more for show than anything as she giggles and does her best to return Hyejoo’s love.
“Welcome back,” Chaewon laughs, the melody of her voice surrounding Hyejoo’s heart.