Wheein leaned backward, tilting her head so that her bobbed hair covered her face. She enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight on her cheeks in a rare moment of quiet. Even though her sword was loosely gripped in one hand, she could barely feel its weight in the peace of late morning.
Suddenly, someone let out a yell and Wheein’s eyes tiredly fluttered open. She crossed her arms over her chest, shifting her sword to her other hand. Sprawled out before her was the final preparations for the jousting tournament. She hadn’t been able to hear the end of it from Byulyi who had seemed capable of only talking about that singular subject for the past few months.
Wheein’s mouth twisted a little as she spied the other woman on the other side of the courtyard, tending to her horse. Although Byulyi was excellent at feigning indifference, there was a little tension in her shoulders. She was probably nervous since it would be the first time Yongsun would be seeing her fight in a tournament. The close adviser to the Queen was probably exhausted after just returning from her trip to the North for the last of peace negotiations. And yet Yongsun had announced her attendance to the surprise of everyone save Wheein.
“The Queen has arrived!” shouted one of her courtiers.
Wheein immediately straightened, tipping her head back and trying to shake off the exhaustion that weighed down on her bones. She hadn’t properly slept in the past week because of this tournament. As the head of the Queen’s security entourage, Wheein had been seeing to leaving no stone un-turned for the Queen’s safety.
When she caught sight of the usual entourage full of courtiers and court ladies, Wheein dropped to one knee, bracing her sword wielding arm against her leg as she bowed her head. Although her eyes were trained to the ground in front of her, she could see the feet of the entire entourage. And then a brilliant red gown paused. If she wanted to, Wheein could reach out and grasp at the smooth silk. A small part of her wanted to touch the fabric and be the closest she could to touching the Queen.
“Jung Wheein,” the Queen murmured with a voice edged with the tiniest bit of fondness. “I expected my Shadow to be at my side this morning.”
Wheein swallowed once, fist clenching at how her chest pulled at that voice. She raised her head lazily, flicking her hair from her eyes.
Hyejin stood proudly, her red silk gown hugging her curves and golden crown sitting proudly atop long dark hair. Wheein’s stomach churned at the sight, and she remembered a time ten years ago when she had been in the same position, kneeling in fealty to a then Princess Hyejin. For a moment in the brightness of the sun, Wheein saw the younger woman in a simpler gown with a roundness to her cheeks that had long since melted away with the stress and hardship of the crown. It was hard to hide the tenderness in her smile at the memory.
“My Queen,” she murmured. “I am sorry that I left your side.”
Red lips curved into a smile.
“See to it that it doesn’t happen again. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Jung Wheein.”
Wheein bit back her automatic grin, bowing her head again.
“Of course, Your Majesty. I must tend to the final arrangements for security and then I am all yours.” Even as Wheein said it she knew she was lying. She had been Hyejin’s the moment she had gotten on her knees ten years ago and sworn her life to the other woman.
“I expect you to be with me again as soon as you’re finished,” the Queen instructed. Wheein could hear the barest hint of worry under her command. “You’ve been working yourself to the bone since the tourney was announced.”
“I would do anything for you, My Queen.”
Wheein raised her head again and she saw a familiar gentleness in Hyejin’s gaze that burned in her chest.
“Run away with me,” Wheein whispered into the warmth of Hyejin’s temple. “Run away with me and I will crown you my Queen of love and beauty. My crown will be flower garlands and not be so heavy on your lovely head.”
Hyejin had smiled at the tempting words and pulled a little away to look at Wheein who was trying desperately not to cry. Tears glittered in her own eyes and she warmly cupped Wheein’s cheek.
“You swore fealty to your princess, all those years ago. Now I think you’ll have to swear fealty to a Queen.”
Wheein shuddered at the words and she grabbed one of Hyejin’s hands and pressed small fingers against her trembling lips.
“I know what I ask is too much of you.”
Wheein let out a small sigh, knowing that there was a stubbornness to her princess’s face that could not be persuaded away. Ahn Hyejin would become the next Queen and nothing Jung Wheein did would stop it.
“What you ask of me,” Wheein said as she dropped to a knee and pressed her forehead obediently to the back of Hyejin’s hand, “is loyalty that I already gave to you all those years ago.”
Wheein pressed her lips against Hyejin’s knuckles and when she looked up she saw her Queen cry for the first and last time.
“Take care of yourself, Jung Wheein.”
Wheein lips twisted at the words, giving the lazy smirk that had gotten her called callous behind her back.
“For my Queen, anything.”
As the red silk drifted away with the stamping feet of the Queen’s entourage, Wheein fought against the urge to clutch at Hyejin’s skirts and hold her against her for just a little while longer.
For a Queen belonged to no one.
A/N: based off this tweet: https://twitter.com/MoonSunIsReal1/status/1079798058865565697