Yunho and his guard mates left the palace early that day. It was a well-known fact that the public enjoyed nothing more than a good, large-scale visit of a foreign royalty; and if the visiting royalty happened to be a princess it was all the better. Although there had been an attempt to keep the arrival as low-key as possible, the secretive atmosphere and circulating rumours made the occasion all the more interesting in commoners’ eyes. The government was expecting a big crowd to gather to welcome the visitor in the city, and had appointed a suitable number of palace guards to aid the common royal guard of the city to assist with crowd control and provide the visitor a smooth entrance to the southern capital and the palace of the High King. As Yunho marched along the wide main street among his guard mates, he realised why they had been commanded to assume positions at such an early hour. There were already people swarming around, families settling down behind the line the royal guard had set up. There was laughter and merriment everywhere, and only then Yunho understood what a blessing the citizens regarded the visit as. It was a welcome change to their arduous labour, and people seemed keen on savouring the chance to forget their dull everyday life, if only for a moment.
“Hey Bookman!” the young soldier who had first informed Yunho of the big event rushed his steps to reach Yunho’s position in the line. He threw a hand over Yunho’s shoulders, entirely ignoring the other’s indifference as he gushed about the upcoming event with the eagerness of a virile young man. “So how are we going to do this? How are we going to manage to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the century? No, it’s not even the century, the millennium!”
Had Yunho felt any need to open his mouth, he would have pointed out that the dreamlike subject of the other’s misplaced affections was most probably going to travel inside a carriage; and even if she weren’t, she would most probably be veiled from head to toe.
As it was, he settled for a half-hearted shrug of his shoulders and let the other go on and on about the rumours of the beauty’s hair darker midnight and eyes wider than the big lakes in the south. Absentmindedly, Yunho wondered if the other guards had perhaps had enough of the other’s childlike enthusiasm, as he couldn’t fathom why the young man had chosen him of all as his partner in crime.
The march finally came to a stop, and Yunho was positioned along the middle part of the road leading up to the palace through the city. All of the royal guard were wearing their better uniforms, dressed up like exquisite birds trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex, but still intimidating in their embroidered head scarfs covering their head and face. The palace guards were especially decked out in their usual blood red, placed on the sides of the road closest to where the carriage would pass by.
The incessant young soldier glued to Yunho’s heels had been assigned as his pair, and would not give up his chipper conversation.
“You have to admit that we have quite the seats to this parade,” the other chatted on joyfully as they settled in their position, checking on the surrounding royal guards to see if the situation was under control, as it should. There had been a few minor fights breaking out along the side streets, a natural side effect of so many people gathering in one place. The higher officers seemed quite keen on welcoming their foreign visitor to the city with as little hassle as possible, equipping the guards with strict instructions to keep all spectators in line.
Yunho straightened his back and squared his shoulders, setting his hand to rest on the pommel of his sabre before glancing back at his companion who was smirking at him at his side.
“I mean, in the frontline and all. If anyone gets to see her face, it will be us!”
The man went on for a while longer while Yunho tuned him out, staring into the crowd on the opposite side of the road, letting his eyes wander over the bustling mass of people.
The wait was long. Eventually, his companion got tired of talking, though Yunho didn’t really notice the moment he quietened. The people along the sides of the road calmed down as well, many sitting down to save their strength for when the visitor would actually arrive. The sun kept climbing higher and higher, until it finally reached its zenith, burning people’s skin, heating up Yunho as well under his protective layer of cloth. There were drops of sweat rolling down his brow and just when he thought of drawing back his scarf and swiping them off, there was a sudden chaos as the sounds of drums and horns finally marked the arrival of the princess.
People stood up quickly everywhere, pushing forwards as the royal guards turned around to keep them from entering the road. When Yunho glanced at his companion, the young man had straightened up as well, his eyes gleaming as he stared down the road towards the direction where the city gates stood, out of their sight.
“She’s here,” he whispered excitedly, “she’s here!”
Yunho followed his gaze down the road, and after a wait that seemed to last and last the first nomads of the caravan rode into sight, accompanied by soldiers of the High King playing various kinds of instruments. Loud cheering arose from the crowd, rising in volume every time some nomad took the effort to shake his weapons towards the people or even just glare at them.
The caravan was much bigger than Yunho had expected, but then again none of the caravans he’d seen before had been accompanying a princess. After dozens of nomads had rode past them, there was finally a large carriage being pulled by two very fine horses. The carriage was finely carved of wood and decorated with gold leaf, and it was apparent that it was not nomad handiwork. It had open windows, but they were covered with curtains, and Yunho’s companion groaned in disappointment.
“Who knew she was going to be that covered up huh?” the man lamented as they watched the carriage roll by, two maids walking on both sides of it, covered with veils as well. “Not even the maids providing us any kind of consolation,” he huffed and kicked a stone that bounced along the pebbled road. “The carriage was exquisite enough but I was hoping for some slightly more womanly assets today… You know I come from the west, plenty of fine woodwork there but less dark-haired beauties…”
Yunho couldn’t help but to snort at the young guard’s indignation and watched him turn around to inspect the crowd. Yunho then returned his eyes on the carriage, just in time to see the curtain of the rear window being drawn slightly open.
There was a light yellow figure hovering inside, and when she leant forwards to peek outside Yunho could see her golden jewellery gleaming under the harsh sun. The figure was veiled, but as if to see better, she pulled the cloth back from her eyes, glancing around.
Yunho froze. He had seen those eyes before, in fact, for ten long years those eyes had always been looking at him. Yunho remembered quite clearly how they had watched after him with love and patience, and sometimes anger and frustration as well. There was nothing quite as familiar to him in the world as those eyes, and it did not take Yunho even a split second to recognise the owner.
Now those familiar, dark eyes were darting about without any apparent emotion, appraising the city and the crowd surrounding the road. Yunho could have sworn that they quickly swept over his suddenly very heavy form as well, and he stared back with all his might but the dark eyes only continued on.
Someone in the crowd screamed, having noticed the generous display, and in a heartbeat countless other voices joined the cheer, causing the peeking figure to quickly retreat and close the curtains.
Yunho opened his mouth to join the shouting but all he could manage with his speech organs that had been sleeping for a long time was a pathetic croak.
“Jaejae,” he tried to cry out, slowly gaining back the control of his heavy limbs, dragging one foot before the other. “Jaejae! Jaejae!”
Only when the guard standing next to him turned around to stare at him with his mouth open Yunho realised he had managed to let out a sound. Fighting against the damned sluggishness of his body, he struggled to pick up speed, to run after the carriage moving forward so very slowly.
He felt his arm being caught up, instantly starting to struggle against the grip as his mate breathed out harsh, unbelieving words against his ear.
“What on Earth, Bookman,” he accused, “you have been able to speak all this while?”
“Jaejoong,” Yunho wheezed, wrenching his arm out of the grip of the other’s strong fingers. “Jaejae! Jaejae!”
The carriage was already at some distance, rows of nomad soldiers marching behind it but Yunho paid them no heed as he charged forward colliding with several people as he ran. At first they merely stared at him, making no attempt to stop him as he was after all dressed in the uniform of a palace guard, but when they finally realised he was actually running after the carriage, there were suddenly countless pairs of arms grabbing his clothes and holding him back.
“Jaejae!” Yunho cried, still trying to forcefully push forward even as he felt himself being dragged backwards on the road.
“You better shut up this moment before our leaders hear you,” the familiar voice of his earlier companion suddenly hissed into his ear, “Bookman, I’m serious. If they hear about your suddenly re-found ability to speak, you shall hope you never opened those pretty lips of yours.”
Realising he was hopelessly trapped, Yunho stared after the carriage, breathing heavily as he saw it disappear on the road towards the palace. When the guards holding him down felt him relent, they eased their grip, only to be surprised as he made a new, sudden move to charge forward after the carriage. Only the young guard was still holding him down, and he wasted no time jumping over Yunho’s back to knock him to the ground.
“Calm down!” he shouted, struggling to take control of Yunho’s arms as the man attempted to roll over. “Calm down and shut you mouth!”
Before long, sounds of horns were heard, announcing the gate of the palace being opened for the visitor, and in a time much too short they were played again, notifying the city that the visitor had arrived in the palace safely and the gates had been closed again.
Only then Yunho gave up his struggle, feeling all energy leave his body for a second time during a very short time period, and rested his head on the ground with an anguished cry. The young man still lying on top of him drew back carefully, sitting up on his knees and adjusting his headscarf.
“Oh-hoi,” he remarked, his innate joviality resurfacing as he got back on his feet. “The last man I ever thought I’d see lose his head over a woman. Even miraculously got back his gift of speech.”