The palace doors open. A young boy slips out, and the doors shut behind him. A loud bellow rings throughout the building and echoes right into the dead air, booming into the centre of the quadrangle. The boy knows that time is not on his side, so he leaps down each stone step as fast as he can.
No-one will catch him. He does not want to go back into the shadows but be laden down with the title Crown Prince of the Light; he does not want the Queen Mother’s wispy, graying braid to stroke his face, he wants the fingers of sunlight to extend and tickle his young body.
No voice will catch him, either. As he stumbles down the last few steps, he thinks freedom is the wind that blows at this instant. He falls on the last step but manages to get up again, bouncing back with not the flexibility of his youth his body holds but with this thought in mind, freedom is the feeling that makes me weak in my knees.
The voice rings out again. He is on his feet and running, running to the centre of the quadrangle, arms outstretched and the sun beaming high above him. He replies to this sunshine, words crumbling out of him like a cookie shattered into pieces, “Take me”. The wind whips around him and takes care of the voice calling out to him. “Come home”, the voice demands. The wind is like a sword dancer…it is deft and spirals through the air, blowing away the voice of –
The voice bleeds through his twirling, and the boy feels pain splice his blissful period of freedom apart. He is forced to kneel as another blow is dealt to his back, then made to stand so two more blows can be dealt to his buttocks and thighs. “Hang your head!” The voice barks at him. The young boy’s head is already bowed, not in shame but in disappointment. How the wind has failed me.
He is dealt no more blows. Cold seeps through his garments as he is brought away, a solid hand ‘guiding’ his chest and shoulders away from the Palace Gates, steering him back to where he had come from and where he belongs: The Palace itself, back in the Chamber of Light, with servants in rustling silk aim to serve him, the Crown Prince, who refuses to play his role as a child of Heaven, a being of light – I want to be elsewhere. I want to be a peasant, in one of the fallen countries that His Majesty so often gets exasperated about. I want to have dirt on my cheeks and fear for my life.
The hand drops from his chest. The young boy is quick to breathe, his own hands flying up to massage his upper body. He wants to relish the returning of warmth but gets more than he bargains for; hot breath sears half of his face as the owner of the voice leans down. Stubble grazes his cheek. Before he can cry out or fight away, his older brother locks him in a sudden embrace.
“Little One, the only disappointment you may allow to cross your mind…is yourself. Had you run a bit farther, in the amount of time I took to get here, you would have made it out of this place.”
His older brother’s eyes rake his body, teary amber flints of stone set in a stonier face. The two of them, one petrified and tender, and one with more scars on his back than the other has scars on his entire body, standing on the stone steps.
The young boy holds his breath until his brother lets go of him. He lets himself be brought to the doors; he sees the insigna of a dragon and hunches his shoulders. He hears the voice again.
“Come. You need to see the Queen Mother. She’ll have something to say about your disobedience.”
He keeps his head down, shrunken in on himself. He manages to slide his hand out of the other’s loose grip, and wipes the sweat away on his own garment. He takes a step back. His older brother continues to walk. Older Brother walks nicely. His legs allow for a long stride, and his hips move evenly from side to side. When his brother stops moving, he allows his eyes to trail from his polished boots and up his body.
His older brother’s head turns and in that moment, he has never felt so dirty in his entire life. Whispers cascade up the walls and pour into him, tearing apart his soul like beasts ravaging a corpse. Crown Prince, why aren’t you in your seat? Crown Prince, ignore that person – he’s not anyone important. Crown Prince, your older brother is not suitable to be you. But you are suitable to be you, Crown Prince. He is unsuitable because of…because of his scar…look at your unblemished skin and youthful, plump figure. You will grow great and sinewy.
Thank you, Your Majesty.
In that moment, the Crown Prince realises the filth that the Palace is made of. He sees the people beneath their rustling silk and finds that only black exists beneath the colourful garments. He does not see gold glide the throne’s arms but sees the facade of something terrible.
He falls to his knees, clutching his gut. Older brother…help me…we shall taste freedom together…please let us go!
Before the Court Ladies of Light can gather around him, his older brother takes three long strides back. He tilts his sibling’s head back. The Crown Prince sees a flash of something silver, and tastes something incredibly sweet. This…this is what freedom tastes like. The Court Ladies of Light rush over, skirts whirling, already using their sashes to dab at their eyes, the Crown Prince is pale! He is pale! And ghastly! Call for the King, call for the King!
As chaos and commotion unfold behind the Palace doors in a mess of colur and the sickening sound of silk sweepingthe floor, the Crown Prince sees one final thing. A most crucial action, that happens in a split-second.
He sees his older brother slide a silver vial into his own sleeve. It causes the silk to rumple a little, but his older brother smoothens it out, holding his gaze. His lips tilt upwards, skywards. He lets his younger brother fall from his arms and onto the stone of the Palace.
Makeup covers the scar on his face, but the guilt that he has lived with for years takes him to his grave, unable to cover the darkness. The Crown Prince of Light swears that the dragon’s scowl becomes more ferocious whenever he climbs down the stone steps, and into the quadrangle, where the wind and the sun circle around him.
I didn’t want to write the first thing that popped into my head when the word ‘filthy’ comes to mind. However, I’ve just recently finished a drama, Scarlet Heart (which is the Korean adaptation of a Chinese Drama based on a novel by Tong Hua).
no words because…writing something as bombastic and as angsty and heartbreaking as
Scarlet Heart is a feat. A real feat.