He was too much of a coincidence, but I had forgotten that my life was practically a coincidence. If it were meant to happen, then it was bound to happen. I wouldn’t truly know him until . . .
      Adventure had been overdue, and now that I was paying its price, I would feel its wrath. This meant meeting the Koseian Princes, who had arrived several days ago. The King wanted us, Cael, and me, to accompany them until the day of the King’s birthday, which was around a week after their arrival. We were basically tour guides, but before the touring could commence, introductions had to be made over tea, specifically, ginger tea.
      “Do we have to drink this old people’s drink?” a slender, ghostly pale man grumbled while lifting the ashen porcelain cup in his hand.


      He was too beautiful to be a man, especially with his long, silky hair tied in a half pony tail, which was stabilized by a golden, decorative piece. Although this was a common hairstyle for noble men, he was able to show that simplicity meant beauty. His robes were tainted violet, which was representative of his royal status. Only members of the Koseian royal family were allowed to wear certain colours, and purple happened to be one of them. His double-eye lid eyes were particularly large, and doe-like with their gracious grey colour. What highlighted his eyes was his distinctive jaw, which was sharp to match his heart-shaped face. The bridge of his nose was also thin and the tip of his nose was gently hooked. If he didn’t have an Adam’s apple, I would have mistaken him for a woman.
      “Saburo Rin.” The slightly older man, about twenty-nine years old, elbowed Saburo, who sat to the right of the man. “Do not be rude now. The Prince and the Princess just want us to feel at ease.”
      This man, who was presumably the oldest at the table, was a few inches taller than Saburo. He was not as pale as Saburo, but still considered to be fair. Still, I could tell that the two were brothers for they inherited a parent’s round eyes and physical build. Both were leaning towards the skinny side, particularly accentuated by their bony shoulders. What differentiated the two were the shape of their faces, their lips, their noses, their hair and their attire. The elder brother had a soft, squared visage and somewhat plump lips. His nose, sporting a bulbous tip, was concave due to a depression at the bridge. His hair was secured in a bun and had no side bangs draping his eyes like Saburo. Even his clothes were not as heavily decorated as Saburo’s sakura blossom robes. His navy robe was simple to wear with just a white sash tying his pants and kimono in place.
      Saburo rolled his eyes and even imitated his brother’s tone, “Ichiro Kou, stop trying to be polite when you also hate ginger tea. Oh, but there is a great story about Kuro and ginger tea.”
      Seeing the frustrated look from Ichiro’s eyes, I knew this was going to be an interesting tale.
      “Do tell us, Prince Saburo!” I begged and flashed a smile.
      Cael, who was beside me, lightly kicked my foot, reminding me of my place, but I ignored him, of course. Saburo winked along with a fruity smirk, which meant lifting a corner of his lips upwards. “If you call me Rin, then I’ll tell you the story.”
      Ichiro immediately reprimanded, “Saburo Rin, that is highly inappropriate of you to ask for Princess Ghislaine to do!”
      I had to agree for once. In Kosei, it was necessary for everyone to have two names and a surname. The surname was recognized as the primary name. All males carried their mother’s surname unless they became the head of the household. Only then would they be able to inherit their father’s surname. The first name was then referred as the secondary name, which was what people would be called in general. The second name, which was known as the secondary name, was only used between family members or lovers. I matched neither of these categories.
      “If Prince Saburo wants to be my brother, then I would not mind calling him Rin.” I giggled, hoping to ease the tension already building.
      Saburo agreed without any hesitation, “Well I suppose you have found yourself a second brother and I guess it would be easier to call you Ghislaine?”
      “Saburo Rin!” Ichiro slammed his fist on the table.
      “It is fine, Your Imperial Highness,” I remarked. “I would prefer if all of you called me Jiyuna. So, what was the story?”
      Leaning his cheek on his palm, Saburo scowled, “All right Jiyuna, I can do that. When Kuro was six or maybe five, he was at some tea session with the Empress. He hated drinking tea, so he arrived earlier to the Garden before she did and then . . . aha, Kuro, why do you not tell them what you did?” Saburo now deviously stared at Kuro, who was to the right of him.   
      I had completely forgotten about Kuro’s presence. He was not particularly memorable at first glance, which was perhaps because of his long bangs that grazed across his forehead, covering one of his eyebrows and at least half of his other eye. His hair too was untamed, yet straight. It reached to his shoulders unlike the other princes, meaning that he was several years younger compared to the others, but he was still older than me. This led me to conclude that he was only fifteen.
      Perhaps, what made him unmemorable was also because of his slim, straight nose that stood between his expressionless eyes, making his smiles too rigid. Those were strained smiles though. I could tell by his withering camel-coloured eyes. They were staring ahead, shielding his thoughts and sentiments. As I wondered what occupied his mind, he suddenly made eye contact with me, petrifying me. I could see the glistening glow from his cat-like single eyelids that were now burning with anger. Dull no more. Alluring, he became.
      He reminded me of a leopard, particularly his oval-shaped visage, his puffier bottom lip, and sand-coloured skin tone. He would be a versatile hunter with those eyes of his, which were growing too intolerable to stare. So, I shifted my gaze to Ichiro and then Kuro uttered, “I had the maid have a separate kettle of tea for me and that liquid had to be about the same colour as ginger, so I had gone to the kitchen to borrow a bottle of plum wine. As the Empress sipped on her ginger tea, I was drinking an alcoholic one.”
      “Oh Kuro, you are skipping the humorous part,” Saburo reminded. “Since Kuro is too cowardly to laugh at his own mistake, I will do the honour of sharing it with all of you. Kuro . . . he became so intoxicated that he accidentally vomited. Of course, he vomited elsewhere, and that happened to be over the balcony and . . . his vomit landed on Shiro and Hachiro’s mother. Ha, she deserved it!”
      “Saburo!” Ichiro cautioned again. “I am so sorry for my brother’s behaviour. He is probably suffering from travelling so much on the road.” 
       I pitied Ichiro, who had to constantly prod at Saburo’s behaviour. I was surprised, however, at how composed Kuro was. His hands were simply placed on his lap and his eyes still remained lucent. His attitude matched the colour of his robes, midnight blue.
      Kuro unexpectedly grinned too sincerely and in a soft voice, he remarked, “Saburo, that was indeed a funny story of mine, but I suppose we must not be cowardly to avoid drinking tea now. No matter how much I hate it, I will devour it. If it were not finished, then that would mean that it has devoured me.”
      “Kuro, you really paint the world kuro!”
      Saburo winked and became the first to taste ginger tea at the table. All of us laughed at his joke. Kuro was also a Koseian term for black. Finishing the drink in one gulp, he wiped his mouth with his drape-like sleeve.
      “Disgusting,” Saburo cheered with his eyes closed.
      At last, Cael noted in a sing-song manner, “Saburo, Saburo, I wonder what the Emperor would do with you.”
        “He doesn’t know what to do with me so he’ll let me be!”
      Envy.
      I was jealous of his words. I too wanted to be . . . myself. I had accidentally ogled at him, at Kuro, and so he arrogantly concocted a grin from the corner of his lips. I didn’t quite understand what he meant by that, but I was sure that he was not so mundane after all. Perhaps, he was the sort that needed time to grow on me. He was like plum wine, dainty and vinegary with a zest of bitterness. The first taste was putrid, but subsequent tastes proved to be gratifying.
      “Say, why do people like to drink so much, Alanna?” I had asked one day when we were shopping.
      Adriana had interrupted, “Drinking is fun! People do the craziest things that it’s hilarious!”
      Alanna, on the other hand, had solemnly answered, “I’m not sure, but my older brother, Eury, says that he drinks to remember. That bitter taste, he says, reminds him of the past and of his mistakes.”
      “Is something wrong?” Ichiro inquired.
      I wanted to say no, but ahead of me was a set of apathetic eyes paired with a nefarious grin. “It looks as if the Princess would like a taste of plum wine,” Kuro affirmed.
      “Y-Y-yes,” I agreed, hoping that they would not dwell on this, “Plum wine does seem rather delectable.”
      Saburo winked while suggesting, “Ah, then next time, Kuro, you should treat the Princess to some plum wine of yours. Kuro, here, has these massive, plum trees at his palace. His workers make the best plum wine, and I am positive that Kuro knows how as well!”
      Ichiro reminded, “Saburo Rin! Do not make arrangements for people without their—“
      “It is fine,” Kuro interrupted, “I would be more than happy to fulfill the Princess’ wish.”
      Some wish this was. A wish with a devil or rather a demand. Drink with me, he seemed to order, and if it were before, I would have stuttered and succumbed to his request. This time, I would play along with him, and so I taunted, “That is very kind of you, but I am afraid I am not of age.”
      “I did not say today,” Kuro retorted, “I meant, in the future, when you do visit our country, and it is our turn to host your journey.” 
      I gulped a hefty breath down my throat. “Then, I hope you will not forget the promise you set,” I warned.
      Pouring more ginger tea into my cup and into his, he then lifted his mug in the air and decreed, “I always remember, so I hope you are not one to forget. Let us drink then, to a happy agreement.”
      I mimicked his actions and swallowed the hot liquid, which almost burnt my tongue. While the others carried on their conversation, he and I frequently glared at one another. My glare was always met with a polite smirk. This boy . . . was nothing, but hazardous. A true fox. 
Chapter 16                                                                            Chapter 18


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