Kingdom of Moutan
Present, 5th Year of Fangbei: Late Autumn, 1471
When Feiyan woke it was still dark, and she kept her eyes closed, trying not to frown against the broad chest of her companion.
“You don’t have to pretend, Fei…” the chest rumbled with sleepy masculine humour.
“There’s no fooling you, is there?” she smiled, but still didn’t open her eyes. “I want to stay like this just a little longer…”
“Your father will skin me if he finds me in your bed, your Highness,” the firm muscles of the chest complained. “It’s not that early…”
“Coward,” she said, opening her dark eyes to look up into the laughing green eyes of her fighting partner and lover, Gen. “And you can’t call me ‘Your Highness’ when I’m not dressed as him…it makes me think you’re using me as a substitute,” she complained, threading her fingers through his light coloured hair and pulling his face closer to hers.
They kissed, gently at first, but with growing passion as the seconds became minutes. Cupping the back of her head, Gen rolled her under him, growling low in his throat as he became fully awake.
“Fei…” he whispered, meaningfully.
She laughed, slithering out from under him.
“I thought you were afraid of being caught by Father?”
“I’m not actually afraid…”
“Well, you should be, seeing as I’m about to have you flayed, and then your tendons and ligaments ripped from your bones…” said her Father, who had silently appeared next to the bed, arms folded with disapproval.
Fei shrieked from embarrassment more than surprise, covering her red face with her bed sheets while Gen threw something over his lower body and hit the floor, forehead pressed flat to the ground in submission.
“Lord Mu…this Shadow gives his greeting,” he acknowledged, in a surprisingly steady, but subdued voice.
“Get up,” said the Grand Chancellor, the candlelight reflecting off his silver half mask.
“Yes, my Lord,” said Gen, and quickly stood, only to be punched back to the floor quite soundly and with frightening precision. Realizing that the Lord had stopped just short of breaking his jaw, Gen, once again put his now scraped forehead to the ground, ignoring the incredible throbbing that made the blood slosh back and forth in his head.
“Thank you for your mercy, my Lord,” he mumbled around a mouth that was already swelling too much to talk.
Gen chanced a look at the man who was his master and swallowed. The grey blue eyes above him were icy with fury, hard and unforgiving, and for a moment, they glowed with something unearthly. The voice that sounded above his head was calm enough though, but a chill ran down Gen’s spine at the words.
“Gen, you forget your place. I spare you this once out of respect for my daughter’s feelings, but not because your mistake is forgivable. Your duties are reassigned. Go the practice ground. You will teach the young ones until I am appeased. Do it well or I will change my mind about making your skin into a drum.”
“Yes, my Lord,” the young man tottered to his feet, bowed at the waist, and hastily gathered his clothes before retreating out of the chamber.
“Father…” Feiyan said in dismay. Dammit!
Because the Grand Chancellor was a political advisor, many forgot that he personally trained his Shadows, thus his ability to move swiftly and silently, and to kill swiftly and silently, was often forgotten…and yet he still far surpassed any of those he had trained…except perhaps his daughter who, right at the moment, was having an internal meltdown.
Eyeing her with a measured expression, Lord Mu sighed and sat down on the bed, but the words of censure that she had been expecting did not come out of his mouth, surprising her.
“Feiyan, please forgive Father. I am sorry that you’ve been lonely…” he began.
Wait! What kind of conversation is this…?
“However, you mustn’t forget the rules of being a Shadow,” her Father continued. “There cannot be any personal feelings within the guard. None. It is for your protection and for the safety of all Shadows that we can act without worrying about emotional attachments. If it’s just training, then combine your bodies, not your hearts. If you absolutely must have a lover, then I’d prefer you find someone from outside the palace.”
Gods…why am I having this conversation with Father? I’d rather die…
Gathering the shreds of her composure, she chose to go on the offensive:
“As the Crown Prince’s Shadow, how can I? Surely, I would be recognized. Taking a lover outside would affect the Crown Prince’s reputation…what would you have me do?”
“So, you have thought about it. Yes, it’s risky to liaise with anyone within the palace as you might be recognized, and there are few chances to go outside…I see now. This is why you chose someone from within the guard. I understand that, but my beloved daughter, you should keep a clear separation from those who will eventually fall to your command,” he chided.
“Father…” she started, but then stopped, dropping her hands into her lap. Of course everything he said was true, and as she knew it herself protesting more would be silly.
“Father…” she pleaded, shoulders drooping, but inside she still seethed.
Father is such a hypocrite…do you think I didn’t know what you were doing all those years with Moon? Am I the only one who is not allowed to love someone?
“Come here,” he said gently, opening his arms. Lord Mu leaned over to kiss the top of her head, hugging her warmly. As if reading her mind, he said: “That’s why I said that I am sorry you’ve been lonely. I will endeavour to spend more time with you outside your duties and mine.”
Father’s ability to read me is frightening…
“Come. Get dressed and have a meal with me,” he said. “I still have to meet with the Inspector General today…there is much to do at court…”
“Are you not…not upset about…?” she muttered, blushing again as her nudity began to sink in.
“Fei, you’re nineteen. Why would I be upset about it? Moreover, as a female Shadow, if you knew nothing about sex, you would be disadvantaged. How could I be upset?” he asked, sounding surprised, and perhaps a little hurt that she would think so little of him.
“Oh,” she said. She had never anticipated that her father would be so liberal minded.
Gods…was Father a libertine in his youth…?
“Besides, I’ve taken a lover or two and you never seemed to care…” he muttered almost under his breath, looking slightly uncomfortable.
“Father!” Feiyan cried in embarrassment, covering her head again. He only chuckled softly.
“Come and eat with me when you’re ready,” he repeated, patting her blanket covered head. “I’ll be in my study.”
“Mmnn,” she acknowledged, peeking out as he shut the door with a crisp clack. When he was gone, she turned over thoughtfully.
Maybe some part of me wanted to be caught…but…
Turning towards a rustle, she noticed her other lover, Hajoon, pulling his tall body out of a wooden chest with a measured look on his face. Stretching, he shoved his black hair out of his deep purple eyes and huffed air out of his nose. He stretched magnificently, like a huge tiger.
Well, Hajoon certainly has talent! How did he manage to squeeze his entire frame into that little box…? she laughed silently to herself.
“Well, Lord Mu certainly hasn’t lost any of his edge over the years….” he breathed, still running his fingers through his long dark hair.
“You’re a sly one,” she said a bit sourly, as he slid back into bed with her. “Why didn’t you warn Gen that Father had come in?”
He shrugged and pulled her into his arms.
“Why should I? He’s a Shadow. If he doesn’t have the skill to sense when his goose is about to be cooked, then why should I get involved?” he chuckled into her hair. “Besides, I want to go another round with you, and I like it better when he’s not here...”
“Vice-Captain…you have duties and Father is expecting me shortly…” she said, expression cooling.
“It’ll be quick,” Hajoon promised, grin widening.
“No,” said Feiyan, also grinning, but it did not reach her eyes. Hajoon was right about Gen, but she was still mad at him for it, and upset that Gen had suffered such a setback.
Who knows how long Father’s ire will last…
Hajoon twisted suddenly, trying to pin her under him, but ever alert, she slipped out with ease. Suddenly, they were both moving as fast as lightning, and by the time she skidded onto the floor in a crouch, breaking out a dagger from nowhere, they had exchanged about thirty moves.
However, she was saved from blocking a further attack by an irritated grunting noise.
“A little early for sparring, isn’t it?” was the lazy query from the side. Sitting in the sill of what was a third storey window, tapping a metal flute on his thigh, was their golden eyed Captain, Xia. Slender and graceful like a cat, he gave them a bored smile, twirling a lock of hair that had come loose from his long dark braid.
Hajoon moved quickly to drape a robe over Feiyan, standing in front of her so that Xia couldn’t see her naked body, but Feiyan wasn’t embarrassed as Xia preferred men, and the guard was close enough that everyone had seen everyone else naked at one point or another.
“How long have you been there?” asked Hajoon over his shoulder, face set.
“Of course, I’ve been here since the beginning. Hajoon, you are also suspended, and will be disciplined according to the Shadow’s code. I’ve come to collect you.”
Hajoon nodded curtly, but his hands were gentle on Feiyan as he tied her robe closed. Searching her eyes, he smoothed his hands reassuringly over her shoulders.
Xia did not miss the gesture and snorted.
“Feiyan, you aren’t spared in this either. Since you like to spar so much, dress and come down to the practice ground before you go to your Father and before the Court session this morning.”
She nodded without showing her feelings.
“Is Gen’s wound tended yet?” she asked, in as neutral a tone as possible.
Xia’s cat-like eyes were instantly narrowed.
“Is that for you to worry about, brat?” asked Xia with a velvet steel voice that told her that she would get nothing further from asking. Instead he snapped: “Hajoon…don’t make me wait.”
With that, the leader of the Shadows simply turned and stepped out of the window as silently as he had come.