Disclaimer: Not mine.
Beta: TenTenD (I'm so sorry. There is no excuse.)
It was calm now, the immediate result of Bidam's absence no doubt. That man had so much energy and was so desperate to spend it that he actually latched onto the first interesting thing that happened to him and went with it.
Oh, Alcheon had no illusions about Bidam's motives. However, his help being so valuable, he made no protest of his constant presence.
He relaxed a bit. One of his nangdo was guarding the cave and the Princess was resting inside of it, so he could afford it. That finally gave him time to think about the whole situation in which he found himself so unexpectedly and, or so it seemed, with neck-breaking speed.
He remembered his reaction when Princess Cheonmyeongannounced the arrival of new and untested clan into the elite that are Seorabeol's Hwarang. He was far from delighted.
Indignant, dismayed and angry was more like it. Seeing the miserable bunch did not improve his mood, nor did his opinion changed when they received an easy and thorough trouncing.
In the years that followed he spared them little thought except when contemptuously noticing their absence at yet another Beejae.
When Lord Seokpum rose the issue of an insult made and demanded the Jinsong Bejae, he was not surprised by the fact that they acted dishonourably or that they were still trying to avoid the fight.
Then the Dragon banner was raised and they went to war. He was certain that that fight between Bicheon Jido and Yonghwa Hyangdo nangdo was the reason why his Clan was not taken to the battle for Sok Ham Fortress. He was... displeased. Especially since they suddenly became his responsibility.
After those horrible and futile attacks on the Ah Mak Fortress his mood changed to downright furious. The only thing he could have won in that situation was to lose as little of his people as possible. Yet that incompetent so-called Clan ruined that as well. Those were great and unnecessary loses caused by cowardice.
Later on, he accepted the validity of the command to spare that nangdo's life. It grated on him, but it was war and some principles and rules had to be adapted. He knew that all too well.
Still, he decided to keep an eye on that little coward and make sure he was in no position to endanger anyone else. That went double for that entire Clan.
That was also the first time he noticed Deokman. He considered him brash and impudent and was surprised that even Yushin allowed such behaviour in his ranks. He quickly dismissed him from his thoughts though; there were far more important things to ruminate about.
What followed was a string of shocks that changed his very self. All at the hands of that weak-looking nangdo. At the end of that war campaign he realized that the unremarkable looks and skills hid the core of steel, strong enough to support not only its own will to live, but all those surrounding it. He envied Yushin such a nangdo.
Killing his own, his nangdo he trained and took care of for years was painful enough. He did not need accusations and judgment from an inexperienced soldier on his first war campaign. He understood Deokman's ideals, but he also, far better than that child, understood how cold necessity and practicality of the war made those ideals dangerous and crippling.
To tell the truth, Deokman's audacity and brazenness stunned him and he decided to have a serious talk with Yushin if all three of them came out of this alive. This sort of behaviour was unacceptable, no matter how lousily Yushin enforced the discipline.
Second shock came when they were surrounded, vastly outnumbered and in knee-high mud. He was ready to lead everyone into a worthwhile death when a command rung out. "Hochin!"
He nearly got a whiplash when he turned to look incredulously and unbelievingly at Deokman. He recovered in the next moment and followed the command with the rest of the men.
Why didn't he gave it? Was he so focused on the perceived, inevitable end that he gave up on a mindset necessary for survival? Possibly. He decided to correct that in the future. In the end, apparently, he didn't do well enough job with that.
When he received the wound during the ambush he knew immediately what the result would be. He was at peace with it. Especially now that he got to know Lord Yushin and realized that his nangdo will be in good, competent hands.
His prayers went to those who will continue the struggle and he choose Pyeonjo to deliver the final strike. Out of all those he called out, he would deal with it the best.
But, of course, the gravity of that moment meant nothing to that loudmouth and he interfered again. He was so angry he could barely catch his breath, absolutely incredulous at the whole miserable scene. Yet the nangdo would not give up.
His words pierced through him and the shell of his beliefs, confusing him for the first time in a long, long time. He always knew what being Hwarang meant and he knew he choose the good, honourable path to follow that way. But now... Did he break one of the basic principles? "Never take a life without a just cause." Was he doing that?
He was still in a haze of pain and confusion when Lord Yushin made the decision, allowing to be swayed. His heart agreed with him, but his mind kept screaming about the futility of it all.
Final shock was them coming out alive, with numbers far greater that he ever dared to hope for. He was reborn into a better man, Hwarang, in all that blood, rain and mud and vowed to, somehow, pay back that debt to Deokman.
Additional gift of a true and equal friend made him feel blessed with a touch of Heaven's grace.
What followed was a string of political infighting that he followed as an outsider, not getting involved. Not yet.
As a Hwarang he believed, unlike most of his peers, that he should stay out of the Court politics. However, he also quickly began to realize that his newfound friendship with Yushin may very well force him to change that. For Lord Yushin was a Kayan and a staunch supporter of the Princess. This put him both in minority and in the centre of all the infighting.
He caught only edges of happenings, he latter regretted that when Eulje Daedeung came into play. Unlike Lord Imjong, he wanted to know whether his orders were righteous or not, benefiting Shilla as a whole.
Lady Mishil's spite caused by Yushin's rejection of her offer left a bitter taste in his mouth. Yushin never said that that was the cause of his people sudden, heavenly-declared banishment, but it was obvious.
There was nothing he could do except offer him a sympathetic and confidential ear, so he went looking for him. When stumbling upon Deokman, their conversation made him brake into a heartfelt laugh.
Imagine! A life debt repaid by a drink in the tavern!
Still, it seemed all was well between Deokman and Yushin now. He might even ask Yushin what the whole surveillance thing was all about.
Then came Eulje Daedeung's orders, that night hunt, and everything changed again. Finding Deokman there, as a person who is supposedly endangering Shilla and as a person he was supposed to kill...
Deokman offered no explanation, just looked at him with those pain-filled eyes. In the next moment a spark of that familiar determination entered youth's eyes and the words invoking a life debt were spoken.
He let him go. Forsaking his duty by doing so.
For the first time he truly cursed his lack of involvement, no, outright avoidance of Court politics. He did not know what the right course of action was. So he did the only thing he could - he informed Yushin and hoped that will be the end of it all.
It was not.
He did not know how Eulje Daedeung came up with Deokman as the target of his hunt, but he was dismayed when the Councillor deliberately deceived Yushin so he could catch his nangdo. He was desperately trying to sort through it all when Imjong spotted Yushin leading Deokman out of the Palace. They half-heartedly tried to stop him, expecting him to comply, but he ran and then managed to evade the chase.
He later retraced Yushin's steps and realized that things simply did not add up.
Eulje Daedeung hunted Deokman as a dangerous criminal, but what criminal is unconcernedly spending time in Princess's palace!
He did not know what to do. He had no clear orders and any independent action could cause serious harm because he did not know what was truly going on. For Yushin to go on a run like that...
Then Yonghwa Hyangdo nangdo came to him for help. Having lost four of their members, including their lord and both informal seconds, they were truly at the lost. Unfortunately, so was he.
While he was struggling with what to say to them, Princess came. He did not have much interaction with her, so it did not occur to him that she was looking for him.
But she did, and she needed his help. Finally receiving some clear instructions, he immediately put things into motion.
He came up with several theories about why Deokman was suddenly the focus of so many people. It did not escape him that Princess was a bit more concerned about Deokman than Yushin. Which was a surprise since everyone knew how close Princess was with the one Hwarang whose absolute loyalty she had.
That Deokman was actually a female and a Princess never occurred to him. He was pretty sure it would not have occurred to him had he had a full lifetime to think on it.
He told the Princess that he will forget about what she said, and he did, locking up all the wild thoughts and speculations. He did not have time for that now. No time.
Seeing the Princess with Deokman, with his, her hair down and dressed like a true noblewoman brought the whole fragile peace of his mind down.
A woman. A Princess. A twin Princess. The Princess Yushin choose.
He understood, but also didn't, Yushin's ease with choosing to leave behind everything for a silent life with a woman who, as far as he could see, was not nearly as in love with him as he was in her. He wondered how long Yushin knew about Deokman. For the feelings to develop so deep it must have been for a while. He couldn't imagine sending someone he would look at like that into the pain and bloodshed of the war. He was staggered by his friend's actions.
Then Princess Cheonmyeong died. He failed.
He failed yet again when he was blocked from avenging her death. His heart was bleeding so hard he felt like that blood was gushing through his mouth, choking him.
There was only one thing to do. It was obvious.
Deokman disagreed. Again.
When she asked him to acknowledge her, for the first time he fully realized that she is a Princess, Seonggol, and that their relationship is inside entirely new boundaries. When she asked him to endure, he hesitated. He failed; this was the right course of action.
When she claimed him as her Lord he looked into her eyes and saw the same pain, same intensity that was there while she was crying over her older sister's body.
He was ashamed, confused, humbled and, suddenly, hopeful. So he paid respect to his commander and felt peace starting to crop upon him, stopping the bleeding.
She took his breath away. He was beginning to believe that he was never going to stop being surprised when it comes to this woman.
She wanted to rule. She wanted to rise from a cursed Princess few knew existed to the throne of Shilla.
Could she, they do it? He did not know, but if there was ever one capable of such a feat – it was Deokman. His Princess.
He sneaked a glance at her. She was asleep. Good, she needed it. As soon as Bidam returns they'll probably have to be on a move again. Without Yushin this time as he was... he was not sure what currently went on between him and the Princess and it was not his to ask.
You would have to be blind, deaf and stupider than Lord Hajong to miss Yushin's feelings for Deokman. Hers were more of a mystery and he was from knowledgeable when it comes to female hearts to be able to unravel it all.
He supposed it's hardly a surprise feelings developed between those two. Yushin had obviously cherished his scrawny nangdo. He had no idea when Yushin found out about him being a she, but he was pretty certain he did not know it from the start. All that affection most likely easily turned to love when Yushin realized the object of it was a woman. As far as Alcheon observations went, Yushin had no taste for men.
Falling in love with such a woman must have been very easy indeed. Alcheon really had no idea what might have been Yushin's initial long term plans.
However, Yushin did accept the idea of leaving with Deokman for a life of commoner with remarkable ease. So he probably did gave some thought about developing their relationship beyond that of a Hwarang and a nangdo.
Then came the next lovely wrinkle. Deokman was a Princess; and that put the whole thing on a completely different level. As far as he could deduce, Yushin's realisation of her status was followed quickly by those of Eulje Daedeung and Lady Mishil's; followed by a wild run from the palace. Yushin had no time to process it all, he was sure of it, and maybe time away will be good for him. Especially now.
Marrying Deokman as a Princess might have been possible; after all they did engage him to Princess Cheonmyeong. Marrying the ruler of Shilla was a vastly different proposition, and his respect for Princess rose as she gave Yushin an honest and fair warning. It was also very perceptive of her, to realize the consequences of attaining her goal. He doubted she envisioned them all, but she had a remarkable grasp on most of them. His prayers went to his friend; he didn't envy him this plight.
Yushin's plight aside, there was one problem he was pretty sure his Princess failed to consider in her plans – Bidam. Bidam was not in love with a Princess, not by any means. Too selfish and self-centred for that.
But he was getting there. Fast.
He wanted to live fully, to have fun and experience things. Deokman was giving him all that. He was following her because he liked her and her own version of craziness (let's be honest, this whole endeavour was a bit crazy after all) appealed to his own approach on life.
He was fond of her, her actions excited and amused him and, eventually, there was a high chance his feelings would develop further and therefore deepen.
Leaving aside obvious problems like Bidam's status and Yushin, the biggest problem was that Bidam was highly amoral. The whole 'line up and chop the heads off' thing made that clear. Furthermore, had the Princess ordered him to do it, he would have. Alcheon was sure of that.
If Bidam decides that he wants Deokman, it would make for a very messy and unpredictable situation.
Still, nothing he could do about it now except keep his eyes and ears wide open.
And that left him with the last part of the quartet.
Alcheon did not lie to himself. He could be wrong in his conclusions, like his apparent ease when it comes to quick acceptance of death in life or death situations, but he did not deliberately fool himself.
He knew very well that he was very close to falling in love with Deokman as well. That would be a disaster on all levels imaginable.
He could not hurt his blood-brother so. The Princess hardly needed yet another problem, now and in the future. And he…, he did not want to fall for a woman who already had another in her heart.
That path was filled with pain and suffering, with little hope of happiness, and he did not want to walk it. Watching Yushin walking it and watching Princess suffering for it was enough of a deterrent. At least he hoped it would be, for he has decided to keep squashing and burying these feelings as mercilessly as he would wield a sword in a battle.
He wanted it to be so and his decision stood firm. However, Kim Alcheon, Bicheon Jido Hwarang did not lie to himself, and he acknowledged a presence of a small amount of need, fear and panic in his heart.
For those who walk the path Heavens prepared for them change the world around them. And everyone knew, world is changed through the hearts of people.
A bird's cry tore him for his musings. Bidam has returned.