- Burn The Floor -
The sharpened dagger in his hand shone as it caught the morning ray.
Satisfied, Kyuhyun sheathed the dagger carefully, slipped his belt through the hoop on the scabbard, then fastened the belt around his waist. He picked up the whetstone he’d used to sharpen the dagger and entered the storage tent.
He was just putting the whetstone back when he heard someone entering and a cheerful voice rang out. “Morning! Are you almost done, hyung?”
Looking up, he saw one of his favorite troupe members approaching with a big, sunny smile. “Morning, Henry. Yeah, just need to get the bow and arrows. Where’s Eunhyuk hyung?”
Henry sighed. “He’s still having breakfast. I swear he has a magical stomach. That hyung eats a lot but is still skinny like an anchovy. It’s not fair,” he grumbled, puffing his chipmunk-like cheeks.
Kyuhyun chuckled. Henry was just too adorable that sometimes he forgot there was only a one-year age gap between them. “You’re the one with magic, Henry-ah. Put a spell on your own stomach,” he said as he began choosing arrows to load into the quiver.
“Very funny, hyung,” Henry said as he started preparing his own gear. “If I had real magic, I would be living a good life in a big palace instead. Oh hyung, speaking of which, I didn’t get to ask you about it yesterday! How did the first lesson go with the prince? Is he a good singer?”
Kyuhyun looked at the younger whose eyes were sparkling with curiosity. Henry was always so full of life and had an inquisitive nature, which no doubt helped him become a master magician at such a young age. Ever since joining the circus five years ago, his act quickly became one of the major draws of their troupe. His tricks and illusions were just so mind-bogglingly impressive that people often thought he was using real magic.
To be honest, the troupe members, including Kyuhyun, felt the same way sometimes, even though Henry did reveal the mechanics behind some of his tricks and illusions. The only reason they decided Henry didn’t actually have magic was because, as Henry said himself, he would have been living a much better life.
“It went well. Prince Ryeowook sings like an angel, and I have to admit I think he’s almost as good as me.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “But hyung, you’re the best singer ever!”
Kyuhyun ruffled Henry’s hair fondly. “Of course I am,” he scoffed. “I said he’s almost as good as me. He still needs to brush up on some of his techniques.”
“What about the other prince? Is he a good singer too?”
Kyuhyun started, surprised by the question. “How do you know about him?”
Henry cocked his head. “Oh, Eunhyuk hyung mentioned there was another prince. I thought he might have joined in as well.”
Kyuhyun wanted to groan out loud. "What exactly did he say about Prince Jongwoon?" he asked, half afraid to know the answer.
"Eh? Nothing much really, he just said the king has two brothers, that's all." Pause. "Why? Is there something wrong?"
"No, nothing," Kyuhyun quickly said. "I just…" he trailed off, suddenly feeling there was something strange in the manner Henry was asking the question. It seemed as though what he heard in his mind instead was 'Is there something you'd like to tell me?'.
He blinked. Henry came into focus, and he was looking at Kyuhyun with a perplexed expression. Kyuhyun mentally shook his head, forcing himself to think straight. It seemed thoughts of Prince Jongwoon had addled his mind.
"Are you alright, hyung?"
"What? Ah yes, sorry, I was wool-gathering.”
Henry sighed ruefully. “Must be nice to be in the palace. I really want to see it. Hyung, you think you can smuggle me in?”
Kyuhyun laughed. “If you can turn yourself into something small, that can be arranged.” When Henry pouted, he gave the other a brotherly pat. “Tell you what, once I've done a few lessons, I’ll ask if I can bring you along. But no promises, alright?”
Immediately, Henry brightened. “You’d do that? You're the best, hyung!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms around Kyuhyun.
“Hmph, I’m only the best when you get your way,” Kyuhyun muttered even as he did return the hug affectionately.
“Ho, ho, what is this? I want a hug too!”
They pulled apart to see Eunhyuk bounding towards them with open arms. Instinctively they sprang apart, so that in the end Eunhyuk was just hugging the air.
“You’re late!” Kyuhyun grumbled as Eunhyuk stared at him with a mock-hurt expression. “You better not slow us down with all that food!”
“This brat! You’re really setting a bad example for the younger ones,” Eunhyuk said without heat, slinging an arm around Henry. “Don’t ever end up like him, Henry-ah.”
“I’ll try, hyung,” the younger said, grinning.
Kyuhyun made a shoo-ing motion. “Go, go, get your stuff! We need to be back before lunch time.”
“Who made you captain of the team?” Eunhyuk retorted, even as he moved to get his gear packed up.
“I did, because the oldest amongst us here is not stepping up to the plate; he’s too busy eating off it!”
“Hah! With your leadership, we’d be lucky if we can even bag a mouse!”
They bantered good-naturedly as such back and forth until they were ready to leave, with Henry just laughing at their antics.
It was a rare morning ride, with company by his side.
Siwon glanced at Donghae, who was taking in the sights around him diligently. Unlike him, Donghae pursued pugilistic exercises in the mornings, spending an hour or two just pummeling at a punching bag. Siwon preferred to do that in the evenings, his mornings reserved for rides instead where he could just be alone with his own mind.
So when Donghae had asked if he could join him, he was rather surprised. His brother said he wanted to get some inspiration, but Siwon could tell that wasn't the whole truth.
"Oh, that’s interesting," Donghae suddenly spoke, slowing his horse which he’d christened as Bada to a stop.
Siwon did the same with Raphael, looking at the expanse of shrubs Donghae was staring at. Its leaves were of dark purple color, almost black, edges nicely jagged. In contrast to its dark leaves, its clustered flowers were white with yellow stigma. They had not seen such a foliage before.
"I'm going to make a quick sketch," Donghae said, getting off his horse. Then he led Bada to a tree to have it tied up.
Siwon slid off his horse as well and followed suit. He leaned against the tree and watched as Donghae started sketching on his drawing pad that he’d brought along.
“Out with it, Donghae-ah,” he said after several minutes passed.
Not looking up from his task, Donghae said, “Hm, whatever do you mean?”
“Stop it,” Siwon sighed. “It’s not like we don’t know each other our whole lives.”
Donghae chuckled, pausing in his sketching to look at Siwon. “Maybe I just want some brotherly bonding time?”
His brother flashed a grin and resumed sketching. It was a few moments before he spoke again, voice soft. “Is it haunting you again?”
Siwon stiffened, knowing what Donghae meant by ‘it’. “How do you know?”
“You talk in your sleep.”
Siwon didn’t realize he did that. He balled his fists.
Donghae stopped sketching, turning to Siwon fully, concern lining his handsome features. “Siwon-ah, you know you can talk to me, right?”
Of course he knew that. But some things were not meant to be shared. “I appreciate the sentiment but you know this is… personal.”
Personal between them was a code word for ‘this is a boundary you shall not cross.’ Donghae sighed, looking disappointed. “Can’t say I didn’t expect this. But I had to try. I wish you’d learn to open up more to us. You --”
Arrows? Siwon and Donghae instinctively ducked, exchanging quick looks; suddenly there was a keening bleat of an animal -- possibly a deer -- followed by yells, coming from the wooded area to their right.
“Go, go, get it!” they heard an excited voice shouting.
Donghae looked at him with faintly amused eyes, the situation dawning upon them. Siwon straightened, looking to the right. They heard more excited yells and Donghae suddenly clapped him on the back. “Siwon-ah, let’s go take a look!”
“Are you mad? You know better than to intrude on something like that!”
“Aw, what harm can there be?" Donghae asked, quickly moving to store his drawing pad. "Come on, let's go!” he said gleefully, before taking off in the direction of the commotion.
With a resigned sigh, Siwon had no choice but to follow along. He was glad they were just in their shirtsleeves and buckskin breeches; it made moving through the trees much easier.
Soon, they came upon three men who were surrounding the carcass of what looked like a white buck deer. At their approach, the three looked up sharply, then swiftly stepped forward in a line to block the deer from view, and Siwon could see their defensive stance, hands tightening on their bows.
Donghae immediately raised up his hands in a placating manner. “Hello, gentlemen,” he said easily. “We mean no harm. We were out on a ride and just happened to hear the commotion, so we thought to take a look.”
“Who are you?” one of them asked, frowning darkly. He was slender, features sharp, and looked to be the oldest amongst the three, possibly the leader.
“My name is Donghae. And this here is my brother, Siwon,” Donghae said, giving his charming smile. “We’re just merchants.”
“Do forgive us for the intrusion,” Siwon said in his best diplomatic voice. “I assure you we’re really just passing by; we have no intention of stealing your game.”
Donghae let out an appreciative whistle. “But what a fine game you’ve got there,” he said, trying to peer over the three men. “Mind if I take a closer look?”
Without even waiting for permission, his foolhardy brother went around the three men. Siwon stifled a groan as he mentally prepared himself to drag three men away from Donghae should a fight break out.
The leader started moving forward but was held back by his friend, the tallest of the three. Then he looked to Siwon, eyes narrowed warily, and Siwon could only sigh and shrug apologetically.
Donghae knelt down by the deer, observing it in admiration. “This is one of the cleanest shots I’ve ever seen; straight through the heart and lungs, it seems,” he said, referring to the arrow sticking out from the lower front half of the animal. “It’s a quick kill. Who took this shot?”
“I did,” the tall one said, a touch of warning in his voice implying he was not to be trifled with.
Siwon looked at the other, who seemed to be slightly younger than them. “You’re a very skilled marksman,” he said with respect.
“For merchants, you both seemed awfully familiar with hunting,” he replied, not bothering to hide his suspicious tone.
“That’s because we’re traveling merchants,” Donghae clarified, getting to his feet. “Naturally we do hunt if needed.” He flashed the three men a smile, but then his gaze suddenly fastened on the tall one, as if seeing the other for the first time.
“Oh, I just realized you look very familiar. Have we met before?”
The man frowned. “I don’t believe so.”
Donghae cocked his head, tapping a finger to his temple. “No, I’m certain --” He then gasped loudly, startling them all. “My goodness, you’re the one with the dancing doves!”
“Dancing doves?” Siwon echoed, confused.
Donghae turned to him. “Oh, right, you left earlier. There was a performance at the ball and he sang with a flock of dancing doves,” he said, pointing at the tall one. His gaze then swept over the other two excitedly. “I’m right, aren’t I? You’re all from -- what is called again? Ah yes, Agilis est Circus!”
The three men exchanged glances but said nothing.
“I’m right, am I?” Donghae asked again, stepping close to them now with the eagerness of a child. “And you,” he said, peering at the leader, “you were there also! I remember you as well. What are your names, gentlemen?”
If there was one thing Donghae was naturally good at, it was making people fall for his easygoing charm. And Siwon could see the leader starting to be taken in by his brother, his body language relaxing.
“I’m Eunhyuk. This is Kyuhyun,” he said, gesturing to the tall one. “And this is Henry.”
Siwon realized he hadn’t paid much attention to the one named Henry. He was obviously the youngest of the lot, and was just looking on with a puzzled expression.
“Pleasure to meet all of you!” Donghae enthused, then addressed Kyuhyun with a smile. “You have a voice blessed by the gods, Kyuhyun-ssi. I’d really like to hear you perform again! Is the circus performing this weekend?”
“I’m afraid we’re sold out for this week,” Eunhyuk interrupted politely. “But we will start the ticketing for next week’s shows this Sunday.”
“Is that so?” his brother said, then turned to him. “Siwon-ah, let’s get tickets to their show next week!”
Siwon did not share Donghae's enthusiasm for circus acts when it came to entertainment; he preferred the theatres. But he knew his brother would drag him along regardless, so he just nodded, then said, "I think it’s best we take our leave now, Donghae-ah. They still need to field dress and we’ve taken much of their time.”
Thankfully, his brother had the decency to look sheepish. "Ah, you're right." Addressing the circus members with a smile, he said, "I guess we will see you gentlemen next week then."
They exchanged bows, and took their leave. It was a good thing the encounter with the circus members ended cordially. Siwon was eager to head back, and mentally told himself to never again have Donghae as company on his morning rides.
A sudden prickling sensation along his spine stopped him in his tracks. Looking back over his shoulder, he was surprised to see the one named Henry staring at him.
There was something disconcerting about the stare. It was as if Henry was seeing right through him. And he didn't seem fazed that Siwon had caught him staring. The young man merely blinked, then joined s who were already working on field dressing the deer as if nothing happened.
Suddenly, his vision went black. But before he could panic, a strange calmness settled in his mind…
Siwon found himself blinking and for a moment, he was disoriented. Where was he? Ah right, he was about to leave with Donghae. He saw his brother was already up ahead; how did Donghae move so quickly?
Sighing inwardly, Siwon hurried forth to catch up.
shirtsleeves - informal state of dress, wearing a shirt without a vest/jacket over it (SJ's attire in Burn The Floor stages is them being in shirtsleeves essentially)
(buckskin) breeches - the pants of that era
field dress - in hunting terms, to cut open the animal and take out their internal organs so as to ensure rapid body heat loss, and prevent bacteria from growing on the surface of the carcass