Several Months Earlier (Chapter 126)
In the back alleys of capital Kuuto, the daughter of the Water Tribe General, An Lili, happened to encounter King Soo-Won.
In the gap between two buildings and down the stairs to the basement, there was a dark space surrounded by the smell of alcohol and cigarettes, and in this space gathered drunkards and prostitutes, all with bad looks.
She, along with her bodyguards, were threatened, about to get caught up in a fight with the ringleader of this gang -
"Please wait, Mr. Ogi. These are acquaintances of mine." A tall man wearing a white cloak spoke up.
It was King Soo-Won.
Apparently King Soo-Won disguised himself and regularly visited these back alleys to gather information.
This time as well, he was visiting the info-broker Ogi, to collect information about the narcotic drug Nadai, and traffickers selling it from Sei and Xing.
His Majesty is gathering information that certainly couldn't be gathered from the castle, to protect this country…
Soo-Won was the enemy of Yona and Hak, but in the end, Lili couldn't simply write him off as a villain. She felt as if he had a mysterious, elusive duality that was hard to put her finger on.
After listening to Ogi's information talks, Soo-Won and Lili returned to the castle and parted ways in the evening.
Current (Takes place during current arc)
The castle library was calming.
Soo-Won enjoyed immersing himself into a book without being disturbed by other people.
In such cases, he usually tried to go to the library and read military and political books, during short lapses of freedom. An 18 year old king as himself could not fall into ignorance.
Thanks to that, his breadth of knowledge was not inferior to other veteran officials, and it was generally believed by the main body of his political supporters that his expansive interpretation of that knowledge was second to none.
Ah, he felt sleepy. For some reason, he wasn't able to get much sleep yesterday. It was hard to follow the letters of the book page he was currently reading.
"Excuse me, Your Majesty."
His medical officer and personal assistant, Min-Su, called out from behind. He had entered the library.
Soo-Won looked up from his book.
"The matter you sent me to inspect... everything went smoothly without any problem."
It was the approval needed to make sure Yona met Hak without any issues with guards or servants.
"Is that so... thank you for your support," Soo-Won offhandedly replied with the usual formalities.
"...Right. If you'll excuse me – "
"Is there something wrong, Mr. Min-Su?"
Soo-Won interrupted Min-Su's words just as he was about to leave in a haste, restraining him.
"No, not at all, Your Majesty."
But Min-Su's words were very at odds with his face, which was slightly blushing, and his eyes seemed rather... strange.
He was clearly in turmoil about something.
“Did something happen?"
Min-Su was even more disoriented now, and his face grew redder.
Something had definitely happened. Soo-Won stood up from his chair now.
"Mr. Min-Su, if you aren't reporting reliably, it won't be good for you. Speak up."
With a plain, crisp tone, Soo-Won looked at Min-Su straight in the eye, scrutinizing any sign of disloyalty.
Certainly, a conspiracy or rebellion from Yona and Hak could not happen.
"It's - really nothing - " Min-Su stuttered, blushing harder. "They were just... really getting along well."
"Getting along well?"
"I went to greet them... then, I realized that they were really getting along well, so... feeling that I was in the way, I immediately closed the door."
"You closed the door?"
"Because I felt like I had been tactless..."
"E-er..." Min-Su finally reddened to the max. "T-that is because... because they were... k-k-k-kissing..."
Soo-Won’s mind went blank.
Immediately right after, Min-Su peeped out a final embarrassed "excuse me", and left the library.
After a few moments of dumbfounded shock, coupled with sleepiness, Soo-Won finally remembered to sit down.
He laid his head on the library desk, propped on his arms as a pillow, over the book he was reading.
He felt uneasy, like something was out of place, something that he couldn't put his finger on.
When he was little, he was always playing with Yona and Hak... his childhood friends. The 3 of them had always been together.
Yona and Hak were always arguing, always insulting one another, but he always knew they were really close, and he had always appreciated their bond.
In particular, Hak was always looking out for Yona, and the two were together all the time, like siblings...
So they were… kissing...
He was not very familiar with romantic relationships. He had next to no interest in who liked who, or who he liked, and he never really understood the concept of romantic love.
Well, in any case, Hak and Yona being in love is not a matter that has any effect on the alliance, so it causes no problem.
It was no conspiracy in the least. His first priority was the country.
What a waste of time, wasting his thoughts on something that wasn't a threat to Kouka Kingdom.
Standing up abruptly from his desk, Soo-Won’s line of sight fell away from the book he had been reading, and he left the library.
Yona had always thought that to kiss someone's lips was a very lewd and obscene action.
But if it was with the one you loved, it wasn't like that at all.
The happiness you felt was so strong to the extent that tears would spring in your eyes, and thus, it was a tearful, emotional, inevitable show of love.
She imagined Hak training with the Sky Tribe soldiers. His body, his big chest, strong and reassuring...
Her face went hot. What was she thinking? She had already visited Hak after so long; did she want to meet with him again in the evening?
Perhaps she would have to send a request to Min-Su again, and deliver it to Soo-Won...
As she was walking down the hallway, she bumped into something at the corner.
It was Soo-Won.
He staggered a little at the impact. His complexion looked terrible. He was tired.
"...Yona. Excuse me. Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm all right," Yona replied, fanning her red face.
Perhaps Soo-Won was tired because of all the work that encompassed being King.
"Are you all right?" Yona asked. "You look a bit pale, Soo-Won."
"...No, I'm fine. It's likely due to the heat," he replied after a few seconds. "Either way, I'm rather weak, aren't I?" He smiled ephemerally.
The Crimson Illness had thinned him considerably, yes; Yun and the others were trying to find the Senjuso herb, which could possibly give him and his relatives treatment, or at least extend their lives a number of more years.
They had finally talked things over after she had read his mother's memoir. Conversation had started out extremely awkward and tense, but now a voyage to Awa was currently in the works, and Yona and Soo-Won were somewhat on better speaking terms.
Oh, let's make that request now! Yona immediately thought. If I ask him like this instead of through Min-Su, it will take a lot of trouble off our shoulders, Hak.
"Um..." She started.
"Is it... all right... for me to have a bit of consultation?"
"With Hak, you see. I... I would like you to extend the time I have with him a little more."
Yona was desperate to control her embarrassment. She couldn't look at Soo-Won's face, and she averted her gaze. Her face must have been boiling red. She practically felt steam emitting from her face, eyes, and hands.
"B-because, you see, the Four Dragons are working hard to fight against the Kai Empire, right? He's probably heard the rumors about them, and doesn't really get the whole gist of what's going on. T-there's a lot I want to tell him. I know we already spoke today, but we h-haven't talked enough, you know...”
She knew there was no need to speak so superfluously, but she was embarrassed, and spoke fast about unnecessary things in a fluster in an attempt to justify them.
Yona, you're only making yourself look suspicious!
Soo-Won had listened to her rambling with a blank expression; his reply was brief.
"W-well, it's bad to have Min-Su outside the room waiting for me to leave, so I think it's better for him to go back to his room and come later. A court lady can come to pick me up e-early in the m-morning."
Soo-Won's eyes widened for a split second, then instantly returned to an expressionless face.
It was so embarrassing to put into words that she wanted to stay all night in Hak's room, that Yona felt like she wanted to die.
But surely Soo-Won thought nothing of it.
Soo-Won knows that Hak and I had been close ever since we were little, after all.
"...I see. I think it's convenient for the guards, so I will return with an answer after consulting with them."
Then, Soo-Won turned around and walked down the dark corridor alone.
For a split second, Yona felt like his expression had turned somewhat gloomy. His answer had been quiet and subdued.
Either just her imagination, a trick of the dark shadows of this hallway, or his health was worsening. Well, it was probably all three.
Governmental affairs did not enter Soo-Won's head at all that evening.
Even so, General Joo-doh had pointed out that he was impressed with his aptitude, so Soo-Won had surmised that he had somewhat managed to get through it all.
It was good to continue working, but as he was feeling tired, he wrapped his work up early.
Surely I can do the rest tomorrow, Soo-Won thought.
He sighed, alone, as he sat at the seat next to the window of his room, grabbing a random book from a stack of his numerous messy shelves.
The weather was so pretty tonight that he could see the setting sun, moon, and stars well without clouds.
Looking up at the night sky, the moon was slightly lower in the southeast.
"Ah... it's a beautiful full moon..."
When that moon goes up a little past south, she will head towards Hak.
Soo-Won remembered Yona's question.
"With Hak, you see. I... I would like you to extend the time I have with him a little more."
He had always thought Yona like a child, a little sister.
Yet, when Yona asked that question to him, she had suddenly taken on the face of an adult... a woman.
She was blushing, slightly tearful, and extremely embarrassed.
It was the expression of a woman in love, perhaps. For some reason, it was familiar.
He hadn't consulted with Min-Su or the other guards to extend her time with Hak to the entire night yet. Soon, he would.
Tonight, she and Hak will hug and kiss...
Certainly, her face would look the same way as it did when it asked him that question.
He imagined her making that expression towards Hak, and something in his heart snapped.
They will probably stay together overnight...
A man and woman in love... such an occurrence was absolutely not strange.
But all of a sudden, his stomach felt extremely nauseous, and his head began to ache profusely.
His book dropped to the floor.
Before he had realized what was going on, Soo-Won bent over, hands clutching his mouth as he struggled to trap his voice from crying out.
"Absolutely... absolutely.... absolutely not...! This... can't...!"
What was this? Another attack of the illness?
No... but... this was similar... stress from his heavy workload?
No, he had never felt this way.
For some reason, a feeling unlike boiling, simmering displeasure, ill feelings, that he had ever felt struck him for the first time in his life.
Towards someone...? Towards whom...?
Towards… probably towards Hak…?
He had never felt this way towards his childhood best friend at all up until now.
Because Hak had promised him, many years ago.
"Marry Princess Yona and become King. I will be your right-hand man until the day you die."
Wasn't that what Hak had told him? And now, he had romantic feelings for Yona? How had that happened?
He'd deluded himself. Hak, the right-hand man and best friend he'd coveted and wanted by his side... had been Yona's from day one, not his.
And Soo-Won... right now, Soo-Won wanted to meet her.
Soo-Won really wanted to see Yona.
He didn't want Yona to go meet with Hak.
He didn’t want Yona to make that loving expression towards Hak or any other man.
He didn’t want Yona and Hak to kiss at all.
What on Earth? Such actions don't pose a problem to the country.
There was no reason for him to feel this way. Why?
His chest tightened so agonizingly, he could barely stand it.
His face distorted. From the outer corner of his eyes, he could feel tears welling up, swimming.
No way... It can't be...
Suddenly, he understood.
And he was astonished.
The feelings that had been hidden and suppressed in a hazy mist cloud for so long had unexpectedly revealed themselves, and he was so aware of them.
The feelings he harbored for Yona...
This whole time, Soo-Won hadn't realized.
...I'm... in love with Yona.
"....I'm so stupid...!"
When he thought about it now, ever since they were little, she was the only girl he had chased after.
She was so cute and so adorable that he couldn't help it. For crying out loud, no other woman in his age group was as precious to him.
True, he loved all people. It was an intrinsic idiosyncrasy of his.
There were countless allegories, but the world he saw was all of the same, clear color.
No matter what one's age, gender, appearance, and social status was, his eyes reflected a world where everyone was the same.
That was why Soo-Won's eyes did not reflect hatred or prejudice at all.
Whether they were an ally or enemy, Soo-Won equally appreciated their qualities.
That was why he was able to move the country forward without harboring any personal feelings.
In that way, he also "loved" Yona.
Being honest, to someone like Soo-Won, there was no real difference between the way he saw men and women.
Perhaps there were a few differences. The female gender was physically weaker of the two on average.
But all in all they were the same. They were all human.
So unlike other men, he didn't understand the feeling of caring when the line of sight of a special woman reached his.
However, when he thought about it now, his "love" for Yona was incomparably out of the ordinary.
On a Port Awa street, when he bumped into a passerby woman and reached out a hand to help her up, she raised her head and their eyes met, and something was different.
In that world of no color he saw, only she was burning red.
But being so inexperienced and estranged from romantic love, Soo-Won couldn't understand what he felt for her at all.
He couldn't imagine how much passion and strength was hidden in her heart. How many precarious events had occurred and affected the soul and body he held under his cloak on that street.
Soo-Won hadn't even realized she was in love with in him.
A few days before the day he avenged his late father, Yu-Hon. A confession he never expected to hear in his life.
He knew she, his friend, would hate him after carrying out his plans, and it had taken years for him to prepare himself for the consequences.
But that night, he swiveled around in shock, to see her crying as she spilled out her true feelings.
Why? Why did she feel that way about me?
He didn't understand; he hadn't wanted to. There was no reason for Yona to feel that way.
He desperately wished that he had misunderstood.
“If you wish to be with Hak, I will escort you to his room. He’s your fiancé, isn’t he?”
“I… Soo-Won… it’s you… you’re the one I have always…!”
In a single sentence, the nature of Yona’s existence had changed and disturbed Soo-Won’s heart.
All their lives, he had seen her as nothing but a little sister. But all of a sudden he could only see her as a woman.
He had desperately tried to forget it afterwards, acted as if it never happened, but…
“I wanted to tell him… I wanted to tell Father that I could never forget you…!”
Tears had poured down her cheeks as she held King Il's corpse.
Flashes of giving her that hairpin on her birthday – that day – passed through his mind.
"I love your hair, Yona. It's a beautiful red… the color of the dawning sky."
She had smiled so lovingly receiving it. There was no mistake, that was the expression of a woman, deeply, sincerely, in love.
At that moment, something about her was different. Soo-Won had thought she was... pretty.
He had always wanted her to smile and be happy.
Seeing her smile made him so happy.
"You're not alone, Yona. I'm here. I'll always be here. Smile!" He had told Yona when her mother, the late Queen Kashi died.
He had wanted to gently hug the crying Yona, and wipe her tears.
He wanted to see her make expressions that she showed no one else, including Hak.
He had always, always wanted to be with Yona.
"...Now, of all times..."
This was the worst timing to realize it.
After undergoing the humiliation of Yu-Hon, who he adored, respected, wanted to die for… the longing of those around him to fulfill his father's dream… doing everything he could to take care of his mother... to take care of this country...
Despite wishing for Yona's smile, Soo-Won ended up killing His Majesty Il.
All of those were Soo-Won’s choices, and he held responsibility for them.
He was her enemy now. The enemy of the woman he loved. The enemy of the woman who had loved him.
And now, her warmth and care was directed towards Hak. She now smiled at the prospect of meeting Hak.
When had they even got together? Who had feelings for the other first?
Soo-Won hated himself for being in a position where he could no longer do anything... where he'd never even gotten the chance to do anything.
The position of the moon had risen a little.
Before long, Yona would visit Hak… she would kiss Hak…
Why has it come to this? Wasn't she supposed to have stayed a little sister to me?
His chest felt painful and tight. His brain could not think clearly.
He thought of Yona and Hak kissing, and other strong wave of nausea and pain wracked through his body, throat searing as he struggled with all his might to hold back any sobs.
The same evening, Lili returned to the same back alley after many months.
She had finally met with Yona and Soo-Won after so long... but she felt like she still had to be in Kuuto. As Yona's friend. To learn what kind of person King Soo-Won was.
Something about both of them seemed... off. She had invited Yona for drinks to talk, but that would only be happening only a week later.
In any case, Lili was glad that Yona could finally meet with Hak. That damn advisor Kye-Sook had done everything to separate her from her friends...
King Soo-Won, on the other hand, seemed busy and reserved as ever. Lili hadn't gotten much of a chance to speak with him about anything at all, besides greetings. The Kai Empire posed a great threat to the populace, so he was very likely overtaxed by all the work that came with military trials with the Sky Tribe soldiers, and the Dragons.
Lili had been sitting in her inn with the same boredom. She was tired of walking through the streets aimlessly. She wanted to talk to someone other than Ayura and Tetora.
Surprisingly, she had received a message from Ogi. And now, there she was at his hideout.
Before she knew it, she was surrounded by the same unscrupulous ruffians on an empty street.
"A trap?" Lili questioned. She didn't exactly trust Ogi; he wasn't a bad guy, but still an info-broker through and through.
"Lady Lili, let us handle this."
Her loyal bodyguards, Ayura and Tetora stood in front of her, ready to square off.
"Yo, rich girl. Thanks for stopping by."
A voice without hostility resounded behind the ruffians, and the man from the information store, Ogi, reappeared with one hand raised.
"So for what business did you call me for?"
Lili nonchalantly asked Ogi, who sat in front of her.
Ayura and Tetora stood outside the building, on night watch.
None were Ogi's friends around this time.
Only Ogi and Lili were in the same room.
"Here. I'm giving this."
Ogi dropped a bag, tied with string, in Lili's hands.
Lili unfastened the strings, opened the bag, and saw a heap of gold coins inside. She rummaged through the layers of coins, and saw to her surprise, an expensive violet hairpin at the bottom.
"You paid back too much. I only asked for the hairpin, not the coins."
"I treated you girls too roughly when we first met, and the info you had on how Won was doing is invaluable. Take it as a reward. Or compensation."
Ogi had long, wild hair, stubble, and an unpredictable personality.
Soo-Won had been meeting with him for many years.
But after that visit where Lili had encountered him, Soo-Won had never visited Ogi. Now, Lili was visiting Ogi instead.
"Guess I'll take it, then. Thanks."
Lili obediently accepted the exchange and tied the bag closed.
For a while, Ogi sat without speaking, smoking his cigarette.
After a moment, he broke the silence.
"Hey, rich girl. Can I ask you something?"
"What is it?"
"The last time Won visited, he brought you. It'd been a long time since he brought along someone else, so I'm asking you this, assuming that you're good friends. The woman he's in love with… what's she like?"
Lili nearly dropped the bag by this unexpected question.
"...W-why suddenly ask such a thing?"
"Why, you say? I'm curious. He's going through such a painful, bitter love."
Lili was shaken.
King Soo-Won, in love?
Several months back, when he had visited Lili in the Water Tribe after saving her in Sei, Soo-Won was completely bewildered to learn she had the hots for the Earth Tribe General Geun-tae.
Well, everyone was bewildered to learn it, and she was sure that her father would be the most bewildered of all.
Lord Geun-tae was married, after all… and has a son!!!
She shook her head.
No. That was beside the point.
No, the point was, Lili had asked Soo-Won in turn if he had someone he liked, and -
"Not in particular. I don't really understand romantic love. But I do like people."
- his Majesty had said that.
"No way… he doesn't love anyone."
Ogi motionlessly stared at Lili, but before long, he let out a long, deep sigh.
"Rich girl. You've got loads of money, you've stabbed people, you've been on the gallows, you seem mature enough. Yet you still can't understand this? You're surprisingly dull."
"Wha - no way!" Lili exclaimed. "Look, I've asked him this question - he told me that he doesn't understand romantic love!"
Although, I never got to ask him about whether he knew about Yona's feelings...
"No matter what, I refuse to believe the kindness that person showed me and Hak was all just a lie." Yona had confided with her about her past feelings for Soo-Won.
"Doesn't understand romantic love, my foot! It's plain as day to me that there's a woman he loves. Just that things don't seem to be going well. Won always showed a calm, carefree face, but recently, he's been suffering the whole time. Even your scoop on him makes it obvious. I thought, maybe the situation was that this woman was far away and he couldn't meet her, or that she became someone else's lover, or something like that. Even if I asked him what the matter was, he would just avoid the question and say nothing. As I've been friends with him for a long time, seeing him like that really worried me."
Lili did not speak for several moments, looking down at the bag.
The woman King Soo-Won loves?
A person came to mind.
No way…. it couldn't be…
"Speaking of which, the hairpin I just gave you."
Lili looked up.
"One time, Won was walking through the streets and his eyes stopped at hairpins being sold on standby. He gazed at them for a long time, as if lost in deep thought. All of them had violet as the contrasting color, and they would suit well with red hair. Coincidentally, they were the same color as the one you have, even if they're not as expensive. That's why I wondered, if the woman Won loves has red hair."
Lili was speechless.
All she could see was Soo-Won's retreating back as they parted ways many months back, the last time he visited Ogi's hideout.
"Could it be… you actually want Yona to live?"
To Lili's enquiry –
"...I have nothing to tell you."
In rejection, Soo-Won turned his back on Lili.
Then, his Majesty... most likely is in love with Yona.
Somehow, Lili found himself feeling miserable, and after finishing her conversation with Ogi, left with Ayura and Tetora by her side, looking up quietly at the full moon and dark indigo night sky full of twinkling stars.
Holding the bag carrying the hairpin, thinking that she could not tell anyone, especially Yona nor Soo-Won, what she had secretly surmised.