- Burn The Floor -
The drawing hall was massive, interiors gilded with gold, beautiful portraits adorning the walls. But they were told it was the smallest saloon, meant to entertain an intimate circle of people.
The dining table sat six, covered in an elaborate brocade tablecloth that certainly cost more than the clothes they were wearing. Gold tableware were laid in place, and the centerpiece was a beautiful bouquet of lavender and baby breaths set in a crystal vase.
Across him, Eunhyuk was visibly squirming in his seat, clearly out of place. Shindong, seated at the opposite side of the head of the table, looked calm though his eyes wandered appreciatively around the room.
Kyuhyun pulled at his cravat a little, not used to the feeling of having cloth tied around his neck. They all looked decently dressed in their rented clothes, and the advisor Hangeng had even complimented them on their appearance.
He glanced at the two empty seats beside him and Eunhyuk respectively, and felt his stomach twisting slightly. As he anticipated, the royal brothers would be joining the luncheon as well. Unconsciously, he sat up straighter.
"How do you both look so calm?" Eunhyuk stage-whispered.
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes. The other was older than him but at times behaved like the baby amongst them.
"Hyung, calm down. It's just a luncheon."
“Just a luncheon?” Eunhyuk squeaked. “Am I the only one who understands the surreal situation we’re in right now?”
Shindong sighed. “No, but it’s enough that you’re doing the panicking for us.”
Kyuhyun opened his mouth to tease his agitated friend further, but the door suddenly opened and Hangeng stepped through.
“Gentlemen, please rise. His Majesty, King Heechul, and the Royal Highnesses Prince Jongwoon and Prince Ryeowook,” he announced.
The three of them scrambled to their feet just as the king breezed in, followed by his brothers. “Gentlemen, so glad you can make it,” the royal greeted with a smile, his tone genuine.
Kyuhyun and his friends went into a deep bow and remained so until the king gave them leave to sit.
Slowly, Kyuhyun lowered himself into his seat. Now his nerves were starting to fray and he didn’t dare look up, preferring to stare holes into his plate.
“Now, now… no need to feel awkward around us,” the king chided, laughter in his voice. “Look up, all of you.”
Kyuhyun dared to glance at Shindong. Their leader looked quite discomfited, but as expected, he gamely raised his head. “T-thank you, Your Majesty. We’re honored to be here.”
Taking the cue, Kyuhyun raised his head, as did Eunhyuk. They both offered similar thanks to the king.
“That’s better. Hangeng, you may ask them to start serving,” King Heechul instructed, then looked at the three of them in turn before settling on Shindong. “I take it you’re the oldest?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“What are your names?”
“My name is Shindong, I’m the ringmaster and leader of the troupe. Eunhyuk here is an aerialist and dancer. Kyuhyun sings, as you know, but he is also an animal trainer.”
The king leaned forward on the table, propping his chin in one hand. “Interesting! Tell me a bit more about your troupe and the acts that you have.”
As Shindong answered the king, Kyuhyun took the opportunity to discreetly study the royal brothers. Up close, King Heechul was even more striking, his beauty the kind that would make one stop and stare in awe at the first glance. When he wasn’t smiling, it would seem as if he was a marble sculpture, his beauty cool and untouchable.
Seated to the king’s left and just next to him, Kyuhyun’s impression was that Prince Ryeowook had a more muted beauty. Where his first brother would appear cold like marble, he radiated earthy warmth, like clay. He was listening attentively to Shindong, with an open smile on his face, and Kyuhyun thought the youngest prince looked extremely charming.
But the one that drew his attention the most was that unsmiling second prince seated next to Eunhyuk. Prince Jongwoon seemed lost in thought, staring blankly at the steaming bowl of soup that had been placed by a server.
If Kyuhyun had thought the prince was stunning last night, in the day, his beauty was breathtaking. To Kyuhyun, the man appeared almost like a doll or a painting, and the more one would look at him, the more one would find it hard to look away. But the prince seemed a little fatigued, as if he didn't get much sleep.
“I’ll be sure to arrange for a private performance at the palace,” King Heechul was saying. “Let’s have the soup first before it turns cold.”
They waited till the king had his first spoonful before tentatively following suit. On his own first spoonful, Kyuhyun wanted to cry. He’d never tasted such delicious pumpkin soup before. It was rich and beautifully spiced, instantly warming the soul.
“Jongwoon-ah, are you not going to eat?”
Kyuhyun glanced to see the king frowning in concern at his wool-gathering brother. Prince Jongwoon seemed to snap back to the present and wordlessly dug into his soup with little enthusiasm.
“The song that you sang last night, was it your own composition?”
Startled, Kyuhyun turned to the man who was talking to him. “Oh, yes, it is.”
Prince Ryeowook smiled softly. “I thought so. The lyrics are heartfelt. You’re really talented then, Kyuhyun-ssi. You also have a really good voice. I enjoyed your performance last night.”
“He was actually a little jealous,” the king interjected, earning him a playful slap on the arm from the younger. “To be honest, the three of us enjoy singing as well. But my singing is nothing compared to my brothers.”
“Yes, I’m really good,” Prince Ryeowook said as a matter-of-factly, “but Jongwoon hyungnim is unmatchable.”
“I don’t like playing favorites but personally, I like our Jongwoonie’s voice the best too,” King Heechul said, smiling fondly as he reached to grasp his brother’s hand.
Prince Jongwoon looked up, staring at his brothers, blushing slightly. “What are you two saying?” he said, speaking for the first time.
Kyuhyun would never have imagined such a husky baritone to be coming out of the doll-like prince.
Ignoring his brother, King Heechul turned to Kyuhyun. “Actually the reason we’ve invited you today is because our Ryeowoogie would like to get some guidance on singing and performing. I’m to be married in a couple of months and he’d like to gift me a performance.”
“And I’m still hoping Jongwoon hyungnim would join me in a duet as well.”
The second prince looked pained at this. “Ryeowook-ah…” he seemed to warn.
Kyuhyun was at a loss. He exchanged glances with his friends, who looked equally shocked. There was just too much to take in. The third prince wanted guidance from him? The king was getting married? And what was that strange tension between Prince Jongwoon and Prince Ryeowook?
“Come to think of it, it’d be nice if your troupe could perform at my wedding as well,” the king said, dispelling the sudden awkwardness that had settled. “Would you consider it, Shindong-ssi?”
“Oh, well… it’d be an honor but…” he trailed off, looking to Kyuhyun.
“I’m sure we can arrange something,” Kyuhyun assured Shindong, then turned to the king. “We’ll try our best to accommodate.”
The rest of the luncheon went on without further incident. After dessert was done, Prince Jongwoon asked to be excused.
"Where is that boy off to this time?” King Heechul was saying, and Kyuhyun realized he'd been watching the second prince leave.
As he turned his attention back to the present company, slightly embarrassed, he heard Prince Ryeowook sigh.
“Well, I have to be off too. Duty calls," the king said airily. "I’ll leave the three of you with Ryeowook. Hangeng will be in touch to arrange payment and such. It was nice meeting all of you, gentlemen. We'll meet again, I'm sure."
“Not how you would expect a king to act?” Prince Ryeowook suddenly asked when they were left on their own, looking amused. When none of them answered, he just laughed.
“Our parents raised us to be grounded. But Heechul hyungnim is the most carefree of us. Being a king burdens him but he knows as the eldest, he can’t run away from his responsibility.”
“What about Prince Jongwoon?”
Aghast, Kyuhyun realized he’d blurted out the question without thinking.
Prince Ryeowook eyed him a little too intensely for his liking. "What about him?”
Really, he wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole. Idiot, what were you thinking?
"I… I just noticed he is rather quiet. Forgive me, I didn't mean any offense."
"Jongwoon hyungnim is not comfortable around strangers," the prince said lightly but Kyuhyun could see the guarded expression on his face. "But he's actually a rather amusing person once you get to know him."
Kyuhyun could only nod. Thankfully, Prince Ryeowook switched the subject, enquiring about Kyuhyun's schedule and they discussed the best possible timings for him to come to the palace.
When they left a little while later, Eunhyuk couldn't contain his excitement, skipping merrily along the street. He was genuinely happy that Kyuhyun would be giving private lessons to Prince Ryeowook.
"Do well, brat! Don't mess things up!"
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes at his friend but the wide grin he was sporting said much of his own excitement; in fact, he’d be starting the first lesson the very next day.
Shindong placed a hand on his shoulder. "Seems like we're going to get back our investment sooner than expected," he said with a laugh. "But are you sure it'll be alright to stay longer than usual?”
Kyuhyun's smile faltered, feeling a twinge of guilt. "I… hope so."
"But it's been fine so far, right?" Eunhyuk asked. When Kyuhyun nodded, he shrugged. "Then don't worry too much. You've got a good thing going on here so concentrate on that. But Kyuhyun-ah, be careful around Prince Jongwoon should you cross paths with him again."
Kyuhyun nearly stumbled in his surprise. He stopped walking, staring at his friend. "What do you mean, hyung?"
Eunhyuk came to a stop as well, crossing his arms, expression shrewd. "I know you, brat. The way you look at the prince is the same look you'd get when you come across a stray animal."
Cheeks burning, Kyuhyun tried to recall the luncheon. Had he really been staring at the second prince so much to the point Eunhyuk had noticed it?
"Kyuhyun-ah, the prince is just… different,” his friend went on. “I’ve heard the rumors, people are saying he’s not the late king’s son. But that is none of our business. So don’t think of him as someone who needs saving or caring. I don't think he'd appreciate being thought of that way."
“I wasn’t thinking of him in that way!” Kyuhyun protested. He wasn’t even aware of such a rumor going on about the second prince. But now he understood why the royal had seemed uncomfortable at the ball and what Prince Ryeowook’s words really meant.
The cravat around his neck felt tighter for some reason. “A-anyway, let’s get out of these clothes,” he said, starting to walk again.
“Ugh, you’re right!” Shidong said, trying to do side twists. “I don’t know how nobles can stand being in such tight clothes all day!”
“Oh, speaking of which, did you see that large diamond brooch the king was wearing?” Eunhyuk piped in. “It’s the size of an egg!”
Their talk quickly took on a lighthearted turn, recalling the things they’d seen and experienced. And if Kyuhyun seemed a little too enthusiastic with his praises for the food, no one said anything.
Hyungnim is a more formal version of hyung. I thought it'd be more appropriate to use this considering they are royalty.
p/s: Just in case you're not sure what a cravat is, this is it: https://tinyurl.com/cravatbc