Taesung’s footprints pad along the palace floor. 

We have to be careful. If the guards find him with me, they’ll drag him out into the grounds and flog him, or worse. Despite the guards near my chambers, they relax after midnight, thinking their beloved Princess Mi-sun is fast asleep, so they take their guarding and swords to my doors to the grounds, far from where I rest my head.

Fastening the last of my servants’ garments smuggled in by Taesung, I glance down at my hanbok of pink and white silk neatly placed in its box. Finely embroidered blossoms line along the skirt of white printed with purple and blue doves. An overwhelming sadness washes over me. It is a favorite, gifted to me by my father. I wish I could take it with me, but alas, I cannot. Running my fingers over the fine silk, I look at it one last time before folding over its delicate paper protecting and sliding the lid overtop. 

Three light rasps against the wood of my door startle me. Taesung’s head pokes through the gap. 

“Are you ready?” he asks. 

Taking one last glance at my life, the years I have spent in this room, the only life I know, I nod. 

Sneaking out of the palace is tricky. Guards are stationed at almost every entrance to the palace, but we take the route through the kitchens. No one guards there. No one needs to.  I haul the small bundle of what few things I have from my now past life over my shoulder as we tiptoe through the kitchens, desperate not to disturb anything and raise the alarm. 

Taesung takes a loaf and mung bean pancakes left on the counter, presumably for the servants, cramming it into his bag. We won’t get far without food or water. I think of what’s in my own bundle: a jade comb, a small book of poetry and a silk robe. They will be good to sell for food and passage as far away from here as possible.

Taesung takes special care to open the door to the outside silently. With a jerk of his head, I squeeze through the tiny gap, him following soon after. The air is freezing tonight. Gazing up at the night sky, the brightest start peak dim through the clouds. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and tiny raindrops spit against my cheeks. We cannot take the horses, the noise would rouse suspicion. If we are to escape, we must do so on foot, and we have to go now if we want any chance of reaching the next village in one piece. 

“Come on,” Taesung takes my hand, “Let’s go.” 

As the rain starts to rattle against the soil, hand in hand, we run from the palace straight into the forest. 

“We’ll shelter here for the night. If we leave at dawn, that should buy us some time.”

Taesung makes a bed from squares of hay that have long been abandoned, wrapping them in the blankets from my bundle. A slither of bitter chill drifts past from the cracks in the door and I shiver. 

“Shouldn’t we light a fire?” I ask. “We’ll freeze.”

Taesung shakes his head sadly, wrapping his coat around the one I’m already wearing. 

“We can’t, Jagi,” he says. “If the light doesn’t get us discovered, the smell of smoke will. I – I’m sorry I couldn’t get us further.”

I can hear the guilt in his voice as he casts his eyes to the ground. The storm, now raging outside, caught us off guard, throwing our plans of reaching the village before dawn into the dust. By sheer luck we found a stone house, abandoned for what looks like decades. I cup his cheek, bringing him to look at me. The rims around his eyes are wet. 

“It’s alright.” I bring his forehead to my lips. “We didn’t know.” 

Taesung winds his arms around my waist, pulling me into a warm, much welcomed embrace. My chest rises and falls, blowing out a puff of white breath, swirling up into the air. I don’t want to show him I’m scared. If we are caught, he will die. As for me, I will never leave the palace again, resigned to my ill fate.

Rain rattles against the door in sheets, a flash of lightning blazing through the cracks. A clap of thunder roars above us. I cling tighter to him. 

“Shhh it’s ok, Jagiya…” He strokes the back of my head. “It’s not going to hurt you. I’m here…” 

Lightning flashes, thunder booms overhead while we shiver in the other’s arms. 

“We need to take these off,” Taesung says, tugging at my skirt. “We’ll get ill if we don’t.”

I’m too tired to argue with him. With numb fingers, I make my best effort to untie the strings around my skirt, letting it fall to the ground. Perishing cold wraps around my legs and I gasp. It’s so cold. Without a word, Taesung leads me to our makeshift bed for the night, wrapping the blankets tightly round me. 

I watch him disrobe, watching his obsidian coloured hair cling to his wet cheeks. I would watch him in the stables when he wasn’t looking, watching his strong body lift and work, how his beautiful hair would shine in the sun. How he cared so lovingly for the horses as if they were his own. I often wonder how I didn’t fall in love with him sooner. 

Rolling his trousers down his legs, I hear him shiver with the cold. He rushes over to the bed, wrapping the blankets around us, tucking my head into the crook of his neck. More thunder crashes above us. I whimper, burying my face in his chest. Taesung shushes and croons in my ear. 

“It’s ok, Jagiya. We’re safe…You’re safe with me…Feel my chest…” 

He cups my hand in his, pressing it against his chest. Feeling it slowly rise and fall and the gentle thump of his heartbeat against my ear, slowly my nerves start to settle. I hate the thunder and its angry roars. They remind me so much of my father when he rages, toppling tables, screaming when I did not obey him. 

That was always my father. Obey or suffer the consequences. I cannot say he wasn’t a loving father. He showered me in love, affection and protection, playing games with me and carrying me on his shoulders as a child. He was a good father, provided I obey the commands of a King. Who to see, what to do, whom to marry.    Otherwise the monster would rear his ugly, contorted face, pounding fists like a territorial beast and spitting words like sour fruit. I cannot go back. I cannot go back and marry that toad he orders me to, his advisor. I want a life with Taesung. To be taken back to the palace to marry the Lord, I would rather be exiled to a pack of wolves. It is a life with Taesung or no life at all.

Every so often, I’ll feel a kiss on my forehead, his thumb brushing over my fingers. Wrapped in the other’s warmth, eventually we stop shivering. Nestling a little deeper, I press my lips against Taesung’s neck. 

“Thank you, oppa…” I whisper. 

Each gentle kiss we share spreads through my aching, sore body. But I’m happy. I am with him, with no one to answer to but ourselves. Once far enough away from the palace, we can begin our new life together. Our foreheads touch, each cradling the other’s face in our hands. 

Stroking his fingers through my damp hair, he releases it from its pin, watching the raven tresses fall down my back to my hips. His eyes darken. Tilting my chin up with his fingers, he closes the space between us and his lips are on mine. 

Taesung guides me on to my back, his arm tightening around my waist. His fingers brush over my cheek, studying my features as I do his, before wide smiles spread across our faces and we kiss again. 

Little by little we work the strings and ties of our clothes, each threadbare layer slowly working through his hands, sinking into the blankets wrapped around us. My hands run under his shirt along his bare shoulder, sliding the cotton and silk off his back. Taesung kisses along my collar bone, massaging my breasts, pulling my shirt that falls to my thighs, above my hips. I hardly notice the cold puckering my nipples as he takes each one into his mouth, swirling his tongue around before sucking the tip. 

“We have to be careful. We can’t be too loud.” He huffs a breathless laugh. “You know carried away we can get…”

Of the times we’ve made love before, it has been an unleashing of pent up desire, disguised as horseback and hunting lessons in the woods, so no one would suspect our whereabouts. In the depths of nature we would give into our baser instincts. Biting, nipping, pulling hair, growling like animals. After our near roaring climaxes, Taesung would feel a pang of guilt. 

“I’m sorry,” he’d say. “Did I hurt you? I enjoy it with you. I promise I do. But I don’t want to hurt you.”

In my arms on a pile of leaves in the middle of nowhere, I’d tell him that no, he did not and that if I ever was, I’d tell him to stop. 

“I always would. You know that don’t you?” He’d nuzzle against my bare breasts and each time I’d say: Yes, always. 

 It wasn’t uncommon for the men, not just the Lord, in so-called respectable positions in the palace to try and take advantage of servant women. Taesung worried I’d think the same of him, that he was just using me to then dump by the wayside, like a toy that had lost its novelty. I knew this was never the case. 

 Tracing my thumb along Taesung’s cheek, I draw him into a delicate kiss. When we finally break away, our breathing is heavy. 

“I’m certain,’ I say. ‘Please, oppa.”

His eyes darken. Tilting my chin up with his fingers, he closes the space between us and his lips are on mine. 

Gently he guides me back on to our makeshift bed, his arm tightening around my waist. His fingers brush over my cheek, studying my features as I do his, before wide smiles spread across our faces and we kiss again. 

I arch against him. Slow waves of warmth rush through my body, giving into the passionate dance we have done before. I stroke over the hard bulge in his undergarments and he gasps, growing evermore shallow as our love becomes more urgent. We desperately pull at them, freeing his cock into my hands. I spread my legs. 

The cold strokes over our skin and I hurry to get the blanket over us again. Taesung hovers above me, balancing on his forearms. Silver moonlight shines through a chink in wooden panels, light streaking across his angular features. I swipe a strand of hair from his face. 

His dark, often hard eyes soften. I want to tell him this is no longer a dream that he will wake from, only to live a miserable life of servitude and our encounters were mere passing glances. This is real. We have escaped and we have taken the first steps to life we have chosen, not one assigned by class and blood. 

Gently, I stroke my hands around the hard flesh of his cock. Taesung’s breath shakes, quiet moans our only noise. His cock grows harder, his hips moving in rhythm with my hands. I move faster, pumping until he’s gasping for breath. 

“Wait…” He stops me, placing a kiss on each palm. “We don’t want it to end before it starts, jagiya.”

Taking my lips in his, we sink down into the bed. Atop me, Taesung balances on his forearms, reaching down between us. The head of his cock slides through my lips, the slickness filling our ears. My hips rock in tandem with his, aching from him just to make that one push for him to be inside me. 

Gazing up at his coffee brown eyes, our stares lock. We stay like this for a while, just drinking in the sight of one another, so vulnerable and stripped bare, before we give ourselves to the other in a bond neither of us have any intention of breaking. My hand runs down his muscular chest to his cock, silently granting him permission. Touching his cold forehead to mine, Taesung slides inside me. 

Hips rocking in a steady rhythm, we wrap our arms tight around the other, enjoying the warmth building between our legs. Kisses rain down on my neck, cheeks and lips, tender words in my ear of promise. That’ll he’ll cherish me forever. That I am his and he is mine. That we pray for him to give me a child. My nails run soft down his back and his taut muscles stiffen. 

Flashes of lightning illuminate our lovemaking in picture flash moments. His handsome face screwed tight, mouth open. Strong hands squeezing my breasts, arching to his unrefined prowess, my hair trailing over his shoulder like the adornments I’ve now left behind. 

I clutch at him, burying my face in his neck as sweet, hushed moans echo in my ears. Warmth radiates from my chest, pulling him as close as I can as our souls could merge to one this way. I cup his face, bringing him into a deep kiss, our tongues dancing only which lovers do, moans growing louder, more haggard as we rock each other to the edge. 

Taesung’s climax grunts against my chest, my heels pressing against his buttocks, willing him deeper as he releases into me. His climax has my own washing over me, gently squeezing around his cock, tingles dancing down to my fingers. 

We stay like this for what feels like a long time afterwards. Taesung snuggled against my breasts, my arms around his shoulder, a hand stroking through his hair. Wrapping ourselves haphazardly back into our clothes, we stay exactly the same until we drift off to sleep. It doesn’t feel long before I’m being nudged awake. 

“Jagi…” Taesung coaxes. “Jagiya…It’s dawn. We need to go.” 

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