The first thing Minho learns about Landfall is that ‘Wreath does not hate’. No one’s pointing at the planet blocking out half the sky when they say it, they direct his attention to the horses impounded for royal use and the common people crowded in the throne room – but the message is clear.
All things – Wreath does not hate them. And for as long as Minho is his parents’ son, he is Wreath.
(This is not a coming of age story, this is not the tale of a prince who defied his parents in his quest to escape their influence. This is a story about accepting one’s fate.)
The second thing Minho learns about Landfall is how to make the best of a bad situation; which is a grand statement in the name of optimism, and no one ever needed to teach him how to make those. Wreath is tiny, and impossibly close to its parent planet, making the journey between the two a balancing act between patience and boredom. Aged twelve, he sits himself in front of the windows below the bridge and hums around the tapping of Danah’s fingers on her tele-screen. She’s bored, howling for parents otherwise engaged and begs to know when they will arrive in Cleric.
Minho tells her “frue.” Soon.
Danah doesn’t believe him, and flicks her hair as she sticks her nose in the air. Not even eleven, her horns are already longer than her brother’s, and Minho has to duck to avoid losing an eye. She doesn’t realise she’s dangerous, and Minho doesn’t take it personally.
There in the shadow of an ancient evil, Minho learns patience and kindness. He will spend the rest of his life being told that the former makes him slow and the latter makes him weak and he will learn how to toss his head and be proud of the way people step back from swinging horns.
Three days later, he will meet a boy barely older than Danah and barely younger than himself. With hair like the night sky in winter and the preordained knowledge that patience makes you slow and kindness makes you weak. They will be told that one day they must marry each other and to the both of them, this won’t seem real.
And for now, that’s the sum total of their similarities. Minho will stare at the boy’s wings in wonder, and the boy will stare at Minho’s horns in fear.
The third thing Minho learns about Landfall is Language, and as far as he’s concerned that’s by far the most important detail. Aged fourteen, he struggles with irregular verbs but buries his nose eagerly in ancient texts. He doesn’t understand much of them, but he loves the feel of a foreign tongue unravelling in his mouth.
He learns his vocabulary in a rush and twenty years from now the grammar will still be hard for him. Danah laughs at Minho’s twisted sentences and tells him there’s no magic on Landfall.
Patience – we know Minho learned it young. This doesn’t mean it’s not a lesson he forgets from time to time.
Three days after his fifteenth birthday, Minho sees that the tips of his horns have passed the shell of his ears. In a few years’ time he will be amongst the beasts put out to pasture in the home he makes so very far from here, and will finally understand why the wings call him ‘sheep’. For now, his mother turns his attention to the russet reds and muddy greens that splash across the great steppes of Landfall.
She tells him it's a dangerous place, that they hunt people like them there.
Minho has his mother’s horns, thick and stubby, curved neatly along her jawline where they won’t get in the way. He’s seen her charge at men twice her size though, seen them scramble away from her trajectory, because these horns hurt when they hit home; even if they could never poke out your eye.
Danah has their grandfather’s horns. By the time she’s fourteen they’re half a metre long, and when it rains water skitters down their spiralling crevices like the last blood of the war.
Neither of them ever develop the second prong to mark them as the royal successor; that honour goes to the son of the king. Minho is almost old enough to have left, and more than old enough to be making plans, before Gunhee’s horns split. He breathes a sigh of relief together with the rest of Wreath when he gets the news and packs his bags guilt free.
When Gunhee comes out to the shuttleport to see him off, Minho has to look closely to see the change. The pair of them have always had the same horns, the same rugged optimism, he hopes his cousin won’t change in the face of power.
“Do ni fieraj,” Gunhee smiles. He doesn’t say he’s sorry, but Minho sees it in the way his smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes.
Gunhee always had a better brave face. He was always supposed to be king.
His family don’t get to come with him this time, not all of them anyway. Minho holds his father and sister at once and whispers that he will see them again soon.
The fourth thing Minho learns about Landfall is that things look much simpler from a distance. He steps out onto the runway in Cleric and sees that nothing is red or green here; the city is silver.
Towers are built on grass and stone and built of glass and steel. There are birds and insects, uncommonly enormous, flitting between them, scattering rainbows across the sun where the light hits their wings.
They are people.
A woman with gossamer dragonfly wings bursting from her uniform rushes up to meet them and bows as deep as she can without taking her eyes off them. Minho’s mother links her arm in his and pulls him close.
“Homoj tie volas mortigi vin.” She doesn’t flinch, and so Minho doesn’t either. He has been told a thousand times that this place is dangerous, and the act of stepping into the lion’s den doesn’t press the point home any further.
Minho wonders what would have happened if it had been his horns that split: would Gunhee be standing in this place today, or would it be Danah? The first who would have refused to assimilate, the second who would have restarted the war.
He’s under no false impressions of what he has been brought here to do; he is the price of prolonged peace, and a prisoner until such time as the truce can hold itself. He doesn’t mind, he was always going to do this; though as he crosses the airfield alone save for his mother, Song Minho remembers that Wreath is the one who had to bend lest Landfall should break.
The terminal is almost empty, wide and white and nothing at all like the high class drawing rooms and royal bedrooms Minho remembers from his first visit to Cleric. Rich fabrics and fine foods – excess, his parents had called it, the bloating of the upper classes. Back on Wreath the royals live as simply as the challenges of their status can justify, on Landfall the royals have been too far removed from politics for too long to remember what it feels like to have to watch your back from the throne.
There is a boy standing by the check in desk, with wings of a familiar midnight blue and a face that is soft because it is sharp. His eyes are fixed on a point too far for anyone to follow, sunlight stroking his skin and making him shine like the skyscrapers of the city. Minho remembers him, but he doesn’t remember him being beautiful.
“Saluton,” the boy’s eyes sharpen, but he doesn’t look up. His Cleric accent is heavy, strange sounding around Wreathian, but at least he’s trying. Minho’s never heard the wings speak his language before.
“Hello,” Minho bows deep. The boy looks up.
The fifth thing Minho learns about Landfall is that love is not all encompassing here. The marriage contract is nothing more than that, legal jargon begging for signatures. There are no vows, no rings, no mention of anything more profound than the linking of two families. His parents met and fell in love and were happy forever, Minho is told that mutually assured destruction is the only way to protect his people and that is that.
If he were a little meaner, he might say no. Minho pretends he isn’t aware that his family only chose him because he is too kind, and refuses to call it a weakness.
He and the boy shake on it, and exchange names.
“Nam Taehyun. Third son of the King in Cleric.”
“Song Minho. Nephew of the King and cousin of the King-To-Be on Wreath.”
His mother leaves, the skies darken. Minho is led out to an armoured car, and doesn’t know if the silence between him and his husband is born of a language barrier or hostility.
Taehyun can fly; full bodied, majestic wing strokes driving him higher and higher above the city, till he is nothing but a shadow across the rooftop of the palace. Minho watches him go with the awe of a fourteen year old boy unlocking Language for the first time.
The sixth thing Minho learns about Landfall is that no one ever taught them not to hate. The palace servants refuse to talk to him, or to so much as look at him unless he is with his husband. They call him ‘moony’ and ‘sheep’ – words he doesn’t need to understand to know are not said kindly. Taehyun’s brothers mock his accent and his clothing, and the newspapers make no secret of their dislike for his presence.
The royals may not stand for much anymore, but they are Landfall. To see their son lie with a beast…
Minho doesn’t read any further. He eats a handful of berries and clicks his fingers but just like every other morning, the paper doesn’t go up in flames.
Danah had told him there was no magic on Landfall, he had decided not to listen. As it transpires there is no magic in the flight of the wings over the city of shining silver, but when he writes home Minho makes it sound like the world is beautiful even so.
On Landfall, men fly and women have their wings broken before they’re old enough to speak. Minho leaves that out of his letters too, but it feels more like lying than reinventing magic.
“What are you doing?” Taehyun snaps, furling his wings in a storm of displaced dust.
Minho holds up a letter. Taehyun laughs.
“We have comm screens, what are you writing for? Or is Wreath devoid of technology after all?”
The trouble with Landfall is that everyone speaks the same language here, there are no dialects, no differing lexicons. People speak fast and long without having to consider how hard foreign words are for someone who didn’t grow up hearing them.
“I write.” Minho says without malice, staring at Taehyun long enough for his eyes to become caught in his blue hair.
Taehyun rolls his eyes and Taehyun shakes his shoulders. Taehyun fluffs his feathers and sticks his nose in the air, thinking that Minho won’t see him staring at his horns out of the corner of his eye. He is kinder than the rest of Landfall, though by necessity over choice.
Minho speaks Wreathian without meaning to most days. “Mi iras bani, vi povas veni kun mi se vi ŝatas.”
Taehyun looks up from whatever game he’s playing with his brothers, and every time Minho has to squash the reproach he feels towards the man who will not learn his tongue in return.
“I go to bath, you will come?”
Taehyun’s brothers laugh, their wings rippling in mirth. Dark gold and grey, russet red and muddy green, Minho grits his teeth against their shrieking impersonations of his voice.
All the same, Taehyun comes. Wings spread wide so that Minho can’t walk beside him, and muttering furiously under his breath, but he comes. Soaking himself from the wings down in the bath house, water dripping from his dorsal feathers every time he raises them up.
Minho half expects the water to turn blue where Taehyung touches it, people don’t come in all the colours of the rainbow on Wreath.
A long time ago, marriage didn’t seem real or immediate to either of them, and that was all they had in common. The seventh thing Minho learns about Landfall is that the people like to clean themselves communally here too. He suspects Taehyun only comes here with him because it’s what’s expected of him – not that they should fall in love, but that they should be friends.
On the basest of levels, falling in love with Taehyun is the obvious thing to do. The longer Minho spends in his company, the more he sees to be loved: supple muscles and fine shoulders, the way his hair clings to his neck when wet, the silken strike of feathers too close to the untrained face.
“Sorry,” Taehyun mumbles every time it happens. On Landfall, everyone already knows how to get out of the way.
Minho thinks of Danah, swinging her horns with the careless abandon of a girl who hasn’t yet realised she has the power to kill. Her pride would never let her admit it, but she would have been happier here than he is. She would still have restarted the war, but she would have loved to charge through the Cleric with her head down, putting up wings as she went in peacetime too.
In his weakest moments (though not his kindest), Taehyun wraps Minho up in his wings and touches him under cover of dark. This is another marriage right that on Landfall, they have decided can be fulfilled without love, and Minho doesn’t know if it’s in defiance or compliance with that culture that he plays along. In a bed too rich for his family, millions of miles from home, he traces the contours of a stranger’s body and hisses spells under his breath every time Taehyun arches into him.
But there is no magic on Landfall. Taehyun is his husband, and Minho doesn’t love him, and here that’s normal.
Or Minho does love him, but only because it’s what he should do, because it’s so obvious. They barely talk, save in broken Language and one word exchanges in Wreathian – it’s enough for now, but it won’t last forever.
“Brothers are awful, aren’t they?” Taehyun sniffs as the other princes hoot and holler outside their bedroom door.
Minho doesn’t understand, he doesn’t know the first thing about brothers.
“I have sister.”
Minho has been on Landfall for six months, it’s the first time anyone asks him about his family.
They must have children, biology be damned. After two years, the king comes barging into their palace quarters and thrusts a baby towards them. Taehyun tells Minho not to ask where it came from, but only after he opens his mouth. It makes no difference either way – they get no answer.
The eighth thing Minho learns about Landfall is that kings can be cruel.
The child is female, the beginnings of butterfly wings spouting from her back and a mess of black and gold hair on her head. She cries profusely, and never sleeps when they want her to. Taehyun moans that she’s an insult, a bug brought into the royal family and a girl to boot. Minho thinks she’s too beautiful for words and grins wide whenever her tiny hands grab hold of his horns. By the King's command they call her Soohyun.
“That’s dangerous,” Taehyun snaps, and peels away her fingers. Minho grabs his hand and pulls him forward to touch the horns’ dull tips.
Taehyun runs a finger along a horn till it vanishes into Minho’s hair, it’s the first time he’s really looked at them without being scared.
And so they stand, in their quarters, close enough to touch, with a baby between them. For the briefest moment, it looks like a marriage that Minho can recognise.
Nine months after she is given to them, Taehyun tries to bleed Soohyun’s wings. He screams about culture and expectations as Minho runs from him with his daughter pressed to his chest. Lacking the language and the tact to argue back, he screams words like ‘barbaric’ amongst jumbled Wreathian, and wonders if it would be worth it to dip his head and charge at his husband.
In the end, Minho cowers in the corner, shrieking and crying and holding Soohyun tight; her back facing outwards so that Taehyun can see her wings. They are black and gold, just like her hair, and one day she will fly over Cleric, one day she will fly over Flokronon, and Cleave, and Gardenia, and Quietus, and The Robot Kingdom – and Minho can’t remember the last time he went out and saw the universe.
Minho was never fool enough to think Taehyun would break all at once, he anticipated this argument taking days, weeks. He knew he might not win.
But in the end all it takes is her wings. Taehyun is angry – with himself and with Minho – but he drops the knife in his hand and reaches out to take their daughter. When Minho won’t hand her over, he crawls forward to wrap them in his wings, and it feels more like love than anything they ever did in the dark.
It’s another three years before Minho can return home, long enough for the shuttle he takes to be faster than the one that brought him to Landfall. Wreath is golden corn and blue oceans at a distance, while Landfall no longer looks so green. Advancing deserts, red cities that straddle continents, the politics that the royal family in Cleric doesn’t concern themselves with.
The ninth thing Minho learns about Landfall is that he has not learned nearly enough about it in his five years there. Language is no longer hard on his ears, his daughter is growing strong – there’s no excuse.
It’s with pointed solitude that he wanders across the landing strip in Flokronon space port, unannounced and unexpected. He is alone for now, stepping back into a city of wood and stone.
Perhaps to limit Flokronon to wood and stone is unfair, it has electricity, it has internet, the hinges on the doors are made of metal, and yet it looks like a ‘primitive’ village from one of the stories that Taehyun reads to Soohyun before bed.
The palace is but a short walk away. Minho moves between people and plants, muttering spells under his breath and feeling his voice stick when only half of them hit home. He can feel it in his bones – this planet has tried to forget him.
“Minho!” Danah hits him like a force of nature, running from the palace in bare feet with his mother and father trailing after. Her horns must be three feet high now, they make it look like she should topple over at any moment, but she carries herself with grace and control.
“Vi diris al ni, ke vi venas” his mother chides, but she’s smiling – leaning up so that the rough edges of their matching horns scrape together when they embrace. It’s hard to feel guilty; if he had told them he was coming they would have tried to make a spectacle of him.
(Not that Minho doesn’t expect to be made a spectacle of, but he wants to feel the earth between his toes before he’s put on display)
His parents have aged, which doesn’t surprise him. They’re still young in the grand scheme of things, but their tempers have worn shorter and their fondness for the young wines of summer has grown more acute. Minho swallows the dismay he feels watching laugh lines he has never seen before form around his mother’s eyes when she laughs with him, and pretends his father’s hair was always that thin.
They’ll be fine though, he’s sure of it. Danah is still bold and fiery but she has learned patience. Minho tells her that on Landfall they say it makes you slow, and she snaps at him not to bring that winged bullshit up here, not to her precious moon.
His smile falters and her gaze hardens. “Ni ecx ne malamas,” he tells her, and wonders if she might not start a war after all.
Instead he tells her about the first time Soohyun said those same words, to her uncle Taebin with the wings like stormy skies. Minho watches comprehension wash over Danah’s face – she has a niece, and no matter how much Wreathian the child speaks she still has wings.
The family clamour for pictures of her, then the planet follow suit. There are grumblings that it’s not right for a child of the royal family to be off raising children with the wings, but what happens off world is little of anyone’s concern or business. Instead, a collective fascination sets in, for a child with butterfly wings who speaks Wreathian without a Landfall accent. First she is declared the ‘most beautiful girl in Cleric’, then she becomes the darling of Wreath.
“Sed vi amas lin?” Gunhee snaps when Minho has spent too long describing the streets in Cleric at rush hour – awash with wings and colour.
He has to think about it; he doesn’t not love Taehyun, but he doesn’t love him like that. You can’t raise a child with someone without loving them a little, even if you hate them a lot, and you can’t live without strife in someone’s home if all you do is antagonise each other. Minho huffs and shakes his head, because he knows which question Gunhee is really asking.
The king must marry for children, the rest be damned. Gunhee can marry for love as he pleases, but there’s a boy in the training yards with short white horns sharpened into clean points that Minho suspects make the two options mutually exclusive in his cousin’s eyes. The way they’re eyes lock when Gunhee steps into the stand, the way he lingers after the other boys have left.
“Kio estas lia nomo?” Minho asks quietly.
Minho doesn’t mention Soohyun to Gunhee, because he is kind before he is practical. He spends another day on Wreath, then he tucks a newspaper into his luggage and returns to Cleric. It feels strange to walk through the opulent halls of the royal palace there and feel as much like he has come home as when he stepped onto the dirt floor of his parents’ house.
Taehyun is reading to Soohyun from an old Wreathian children’s book that Minho doesn’t remember buying but is glad that they have. His accent is poor and his pronunciation suffers because of it, but together with his daughter, he will learn.
Minho drops the newspaper down in front of them, with the headline declaring Soohyun the prettiest wing that would ever fly. Taehyun brushes it aside, “I know she’s beautiful.”
Minho sits beside him, kisses him on the cheek, and pulls their daughter into his lap.
Picture this: eternal morning, cold enough to fold a planet into fog so thoroughly that lighthouses must light the paths and the herdsman find their livestock by instinct rather than sight. A planet populated pinnipeds and lost souls, stumbling through the mists trying to find themselves.
Alternatively, the planet modernisation forgot. Entire cities red with rust, where the dead return to howl at the intruding forces and the earth is pumped free of all minerals. The last place in the known universe where space ships quite literally grow on trees, a beautiful home reduced to someone else’s ruins.
Or a planet named for the vegetation that smothered its skies, the green that had to be beaten back. The kind of place where the countryside is still wild and the cities are wilder, where drugs are harvested from the forest and brought into people’s lives whether they like it or not. Where they film enough junk TV to satiate the galaxy.
And if that is not enough, think of the place where organic life failed, where all the old nightmares came true. Think of sentient computers forming monarchies and governments, building weapons and tearing across world after world in search of their own assured power. Think of old Victorian palaces reshaped in the name of metal.
Think of the universe. All that is. Wreath does not hate it.
And yet Danah hates Landfall and his parents hate extravagance and Gunhee hates the necessity of his legacy. Ni ecx ne malamas – it’s a nice sentiment but perhaps Wreath was too bold when it decided to live by it after the war.
When Soohyun is five, they head out into what is left of the green and look at the heavens. Together, her and Taehyun look like all the night sky – his hair and wings the colour of space, the golden flecks in her hair and wings like the stars. Minho tells them as much, watching them walk ahead through the trees.
“If we’re the sky, then you’re the ground,” Taehyun laughs. Minho appreciates the sentiment – the ground is strong and immutable and it gives and it gives and it gives. The ground is patient, the ground is kind, the ground is planets swirling through a storm of stars and space carrying life upon its back.
Taehyun doesn’t mean any of that, but Minho will take the compliment he sees.
In Cleric the stars are smothered by the city lights, and Minho stopped looking up a long time ago. He had forgotten about Wreath, hanging in the sky above his second home shining wild and gold. The colour of Soohyun’s wings.
“That is my home,” he says to Soohyun, pointing at the little moon where half her family still live.
“Tio estas via hejmo!” she corrects him.
“I understood that,” Taehyun grins.
When Taehyun flies, his wings beat the air hard enough to make thunder. It sounds powerful, it sounds like effort. When Soohyun takes off Minho has to strain his ears to hear her kick off the ground – her wings are soft and silent and flight comes as easily to her as walking. The king makes a point of bringing up his granddaughters peculiarity whenever Taehyun is in earshot, but Minho can’t see why anyone would be ashamed of such a beautiful girl.
They watch her flitting between the trees, Taehyun drops his wings far enough for Minho to walk at his side.
“We should take her to Wreath sometime, she can meet her grandparents.” Taehyun’s voice is so light, like he never once stared at Minho in fear.
“The family is big, not just grandparents. Soohyun has aunt, second cousin…many second cousin actually. All Wreath loves her.”
“And they hate me.”
Minho slips a hand into Taehyun’s and pulls him close, “They do not hate you. Wreath does not hate.”
And both of them know that’s not quite true, but it’s a better precedent to set than a hundred years of a war nobody wanted.
Up ahead, Soohyun alights on the path in a cascade of falling stars. Her wings, as tall as she is, flutter on doggedly even once her feet are on the ground – the little girl who learned enthusiasm and perseverance first – Minho thinks that Danah may like her after all. She comes running towards them, giggling like flight is the best joke she’s ever heard, and half jumps half flies into their arms.
Soohyun twists one hand in Taehyun’s shirt and wraps the other around Minho’s horn – they have no choice but to carry her together. On into the night, into the green, on the brink of a brave new world in which all of Landfall can be seen between the three of them.
Minho likes to think of the three of them. Be it back in Cleric or up on Wreath, he has decided that they belong together.
He loves his daughter very much, and his husband just enough. This is love, Minho has decided, not fire and flames love, not melt you heart and set your soul free love, not water falling on the desert love. This is a love born of necessity, slow to start and slower to progress. The kind of love that forms when you know you must spend the rest of your life with someone, and you have all the years to savour it.
It’s not strong enough to be worth saying out loud, but it’s strong enough for Minho to squeeze Taehyun’s hand and grin at him over the head of their child. The final thing Minho learns about Landfall is that he can have happiness here, that he can have a future.