Frantically, Choi Young tried to shake Eun-Soo awake but the woman lay lifeless in his arms but for the anguished moans coming from her lips. Even in the soft light of the night candle her skin looked deathly pale and the young General was his wit's end.
Behind him, he heard footsteps drawing nearer and his first instinct was to grab his sword, but he could not let go of Eun Soo. Drawing his knife out of his boot, he shielded her body in his arms while prepared to gut the next person coming through the door.
"Turn it down, will'ya!" Manba was peeking into the room, seeing the General and the woman on the bed. "Other people want to sleep …" When the old Suribang leader saw the knife his smirk was wiped off his face.
"I don't know, I can't get her to wake up," Choi Young answered, letting go of the knife and pushed the sweat soaked mane of hair off Eun-Soo's face.
"Let me see …" Pushing the young man not so gently to one side, the old peddler checked Eun-Soo's pulse and tsked. "Did she eat something wrong?"
"Not that I know of, we shared the rice soup …"
"Yeah and you ate the most of it, so that wasn't it." Standing up he called out for his sister who came rushing in, her hair in wild disarray.
"Omo! What happened?" Checking Eun-Soo and opening her shirt, she sent her brother out. When Choi Young turned and tried to stand up as well, she caught his wrist. "Stay! I need your help with turning her!"
"Auntie!" he exclaimed shocked when she deftly unclasped the top of Eun-Soo's hanbok.
"Pssh," the older woman said, "The way you two talk to each other, I know you have been doing more than just holding hands …"
"What?" Choi Young asked exasperated and felt his cheeks burning up when she uncovered Eun-Soo's almost naked chest. A strange almost transparent girdle encased her breasts where usually a woman wore the undergarment.
"Heaven sure is a special place," The woman said and removed the top completely. She wanted to investigate further but her fingers hesitated over the lacy material when Eun-Soo moaned again.
"She is burning up. Get some cold water and cloths."
Thankful to get out of the room, Choi Young stumbled away to get the requested water. What was this thing? What? No, he shook his head as if to clear it, he had been right when he told her he already knew too much, this little bit of clothing that barely covered her …her … he closed his eyes only to open them again.
Focus! He told himself. He needed to focus on helping Eun Soo whatever it was that was making her sick.
When he had returned with the requested items, his pledged Aunt ripped the cloth into strips and after having them soaked in cold water, handed them to Choi Young.
"Cool her down and keep doing until I say otherwise," she demanded and Choi Young followed her instructions. Using the strips of cloth he soaked them and then wrapped them over Eun Soo's limps. After his Aunt had reprimanded on not doing it right for the umpteenth time, he tried to see her body as one of his own men, tried to ignore the softness of her skin beneath his finger tips and the faint flowery scent that her skin was exuding.
Methodically he worked throughout the night, not noticing the passing of time. Sometime during the hours of first light, when the birds started to greet the day outside, he looked up for the first time in hours. His aunt was nowhere to be found and he realized that she must have slipped out during the night, leaving him to his silent task.
Squeezing his eyes shut, he sent a quick prayer to the deities in Heaven. He was about to continue the ablutions to Eun-Soo's body, when a soft whimper let him pause.
"Imja," he exclaimed urgently and hovered over her. "Eun-Soo-ah, can you hear me?"
Eun-Soo's lips parted but no sound was heard, so he bowed his head lower to capture any sound that she might utter. Slowly, painfully he heard the words this woman whispered.
"Cold," she said. "So cold."
Frantically he almost ripped off the cold cloths that covered her body, forgetting for a moment that he exposed her body for everyone to see. Exposed her body for him to see. For a short moment he took in her sight, then almost in panic he threw the duvet over her prone body, tucking her in.
"You'll get warm soon, Eun-Soo-ah," he whispered, rubbing at her hands to will some warmth back into her. With a whimper of pain, Eun-Soo turned her face towards him.
"So cold," she repeated and her hands kept his still. Choi Young looked down on her confused and her feverish eyes stared right back at him.
"Imja, you will be warm in no time," he assured her but she shook her head.
"Give me your warmth," she whispered. "Hyperthermia can be lethal. My organs could fail, just lent me some of your body warmth." When he drew back in surprise, she added, "Doctor's orders!"
Reluctantly, he watched as she scooted to one side of the small bed and when he had laid down beside her, he drew her into his arms while covering both their bodies with the duvet.
"Warm," Eun-Soo finally whispered as she nuzzled her face at his throat and her small hands sought the warmth beneath his tunic. Slowly, he embraced her, negating the distance that had been still between both their bodies. Even through three layers of clothing he could feel her cold skin shivering so he drew her nearer if that was even possible. With a resigned sigh he settled in for a while, steeling himself against the feelings that this closeness awoke in him. For years the concerns of the body had been of no interest to him. Now of all times, it seemed that his body was very much aware of the half naked woman sleeping fitfully on top of him. Biting his lip, he willed himself to lay still. This could be a long day, he thought.