Yeong Shin had just gotten home from patrolling when he heard that the prince was suffering from a high fever.
“It’s just a fever and nothing more.” Seo Bi shrugged. “The sun is almost down, we have to close the gates up.”
Almost a year after the incident at the palace, the three of them began their journey to research about the resurrection plant, the monsters it created and the very source of the plant. Things, however, have not gone as they pleased, given that they were stuck in a village far from the nearest town. Autumn was nearing its end and the group barely had anything, and now they had a sick prince.
Yeong Shin hastily closed the gates and made sure the barricades were set. He turned to the physician. “Did His Highness overworked himself again?”
Seo Bi frowned and scratched the back of her neck. “It would seem so. He wasn’t bitten so he made sure he helped around the village before passing out. His Majesty didn’t tell us that he was ill and wounded.”
“His Highness is wounded?” the hunter almost shouted as he walked away. “Let me tend to him. I was able to get some herbs along the way.”
Seo Bi shook her head and let the man do as he pleased. She was not about to get in the way of a budding development. The physician was well aware of her two companions’ feelings, but she figured the two were much more oblivious than she had expected.
Later that evening, Yeong Shin slid into the prince’s tent. Across the dimly-lit room, he saw His Highness, unconscious on the rough straw mat. Upon closer look, the prince’s shoulder was exposed so his wounds had already dried up.The tiger-hunter sighed at the sight of the prince, who was too lightly dressed for a fall evening.
“His Majesty is quite foolish.” He said as he untangled his muddied coat. He placed it on top of the prince to keep him a little warm. “I’ll be back. I will look for something much cleaner and warmer.
Chang sat up when he heard Yeong Shin leave. He looked down on his chest, where the other man’s coat was laid across. The prince ran his fingers across the fabric, it was rough and dusty and it smelled quite foul with sweat. But still, it kept him warm, and the prince preferred it as it was.
When Yeong Shin returned, Chang had already closed his eyes. He almost evidently frowned when the coat was taken, and was replaced by a fur blanket. Surely, the blanket was softer and warmer, but it was not Yeong Shin’s coat.
“Your Majesty,” the hunter began. “You shouldn't be too reckless.”
The man carefully wiped the dirt and wound off the prince's shoulder.
“The people need you here,” he sighed. “ I need you here.”
He worked his calloused fingers around the shoulder, wrapping it with a clean bandage. He gently placed a wet piece of cloth on Chang’s forehead.
Yeong Shin gave another exasperated sigh. “Your Highness, if you die, I'd go nuts. Please stop making me so worried.”
When the prince was once again alone, his eyes shot open. The sound of the cackling flame and crying crickets irritated him. He longed for the raspy, needy voice that he heard from the tiger hunter. It was the voice of an anxious man yet the most endearing one for Chang’s ears.
The following morning, his body did not ache so much. He dressed himself and he remembered Yeong Shin’s filthy yet comforting coat, and how it greatly contrasted his neat and clean robes. He stepped out of his tent and immediately saw the hunter.
He came up to Chang and bowed his head. “Your Majesty, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard. Please rest some more.”
Chang hesitantly smiled. “I’m alright. How are the patients?”
“Seo Bi checked on them earlier. She said that the villagers did not know that the plague was like this and only a few were cured.”
The prince, afraid to meet his eyes, turned his back on Yeong Shin. “I see. Have you checked the area around the village? Where did the monsters hide?”
Yeong Shin stiffened and replied. “I haven’t checked.”
“I see. Please do so now. We must burn those bodies as soon as possible.”
With that, Chang walked off to the patients’ tent.
Yeong Shin bitterly scouted the area. It wasn’t the first time that they talked without facing each other but the prince never turned his back on him. Half a mile from the village, Yeong Shin crossed a stream, and he felt the cold winds brush his skin.
He was ticked off with the way the prince had behaved, his refusal to keep an eye contact and how the prince had turned his back on him. Yeong Shin began to wonder if the prince had heard him last night. That’d be horrifying , Yeong Shin shivered.
As he examined the area, he felt that the wind was a little too chilly. It was a bright morning, but far too cold to be a normal one. Yeong Shin looked around and saw no animals, and he heard no birds or insects. The last sightings of the monsters were from last night, and they were at least a mile away. Winter should come in about two days, it’s too early.
The man fell, and before he could get up, he felt some flesh rip from his neck. A bloodied undead screeched and attempted to bite him more, but Yeong Shin pushed it off and slit its nape. When he stood up, he saw a whole wave charging towards him, eager for the blood they smelled.
They were quite far but the sight of them rapidly rushing towards him felt strangely comforting. It was almost stunning to see the gore dangling from their dirt-smeared body against such a pale blue horizon.
“Hyung, please don’t leave me.”
He did not move from his position; he stared and pondered.
“Tell me. Why are you so loyal? I heard about your family. I know that’s why you helped me. So that you could avenge them. My master and Cho Hak-ju are gone. Their sins will lay to rest with them.”
Perhaps I can finally rest as well.
Yeong Shin looked ahead; his lips curled into a soft smile.