Chen was the king of the people their regional king would not protect - a selfish reign where he did not consider his people, and instead, they turned to the exiled boy of Joseon who led the nightsmen through a journey into an unknown future. A future where death could be on the horizon, they chose that over an uncertain rule from a bipolar king.
Chen had not considered himself a heir to the regional throne even though it was a fate drilled into him from birth - he had not considered it his true fate, nor a journey he would ever venture.
But there was a reason in the end, why he was right not to think himself so highly - no bastard son of a king could ever rule rightfully and peacefully.
It was a story only whispered to children on their beds before a closing of eyes, told like a fable they should learn from. That lies catch up to their subject with time, and time had caught up to the man who once was Chen's father - the king of Joseon.
Chen refused to remember the days he lived comfortably, although not long ago, because of the one person who constantly resided in those memories.
He was no longer a heirs to a tarnished throne, the son of a drunkard king, or son of a common whore. He was Chen, and only Chen, long having lost his born family name of Joseon upon Exile from the Joseon region.
He was now stuck, lingering between Joseon and Xiching on the farmlands where no one but disease struck farmers dared make their rounds. Chen remained undiscovered.
The streaks of orange and purple pushed the dark clouds back as day began to break, Chen noticed, as his surroundings became all that bit more visible. His men around him awakening to a new day of hiding.
Chen rose to his feet, hidden by the corn stalks growing in the field. His hand clutching his sword that never left his sight, he began to dress himself in his armour. He was a Joseon, after all, the spirit of an emotionless swordsman ran through his bastard veins.
"Sir, they have arrived to escort us to the village," a man he doesn't know but knows he should trust whispers through the stalks carefully as not to disturb everyone.
Chen nods, knowing fine well it was around this time he'd be summoned - the Village of Anders was under Nightsmen control and had been without knowledge of the king for some time - it was a safe place they could dare set foot in, and the closest village to the Xiching border - a place they could escape to if the kings men ever did catch onto their presence, as no loyal Joseon men would dare set foot out of the borders, or even into the no-mans land where bandits and deserters dared linger.
Chen follows the man blindly through the stalks, not tall enough to smother him and blind his sight, after all, his head still peaked over the top of the long grasses - but the other man was so small he could barely find him apart from the occasional rustle of greenery.
Then, a dirt road gives way and two smaller horses tied to a post wait patiently. The man who he hadn't seen clearly before turns and nods politely. "It's an honour to meet you, Chen."
Although he used to be the crown prince of Joseon, his face was rarely recognised. To those who didn't recognise the colours of his armour and colour of his cloth, he appeared like an outlaw. Those who did recognise, saw him as the king of the nightsmen and their families - a community that sought the restoration of the monarchy in Gauna rather than a division of six regions and six rulers at war. He was the king to those his father did not represent. To the divisional supporters he was seen as a traitor to the throne and mortal enemy of Chen's father.
Chen bows respectfully to his elder and remains silent as he unties the reigns from the wooden post and mounts his horse.
As the two men begin a steady pace on the same route Chen had ventured often, the other man talks for all he's worth. "My dearest family eagerly await your arrival, as well as many other villagers. You're the only hope they have left."
Like many other villagers, Anders was a village hit by famine that Joseon and it's throne did not seek to aid - it was also how the nightsmen had garnered their trust so easily - not that they couldn't be trusted.
"The village chief has called upon the Henders chief to meet you, he should be waiting on our arrival," the older man explains.
With his head remaining bowed, he refuses to look around while on their journey. Not that he didn't like to observe the nature and the beauty of a universe that could be, but he didn't want to see something he didn't like and could tarnish his already ruined thought of the world he lived. It was better to not see than see something you wouldn't like.
It hadn't been part of the deal struck with Anders between them and the nightsmen to have other parties involved. The involvement of Henders could be a liability.
Again, he remained silent and wiped his mind of any offending thoughts that could break his mental peace.
Letting the man on the horse beside him talk away to him was refreshing from the war talk his men would speak. No mention of the desire to slay the Joseon monarchy, no mention of the purchase of new spearheads and swords, no mention of blood and gore Chen had hated so much as a boy.
That, was probably another sign Chen should have taken that he, was in fact, not a pure-blooded Joseon. It was the curse of a witch that a Joseon would be an immense swordsman with the combat ability of regular being tenfold. Why would a natural born killer be afraid of death when it was supposedly written into the very basics of their mental code?
It may have been true that his supposed family of Joseon was cursed with the abilities of battle, who's only path to a resolution involved a sword and a dozen deaths - and while it may have seemed like a gift, the curse was that a Joseon would never feel the love of another being.
Chen might not have been a pure bred Joseon, but he knew he had at least a prick of their line running through his veins for he had never felt the warmth of anothers heart. Not to mention being the most skilled fighter in the nightsmen, earning his role as unofficial king.
In the distance across the bleak and boggy moor, Chen sees the beginning of the village starting with the dirt road that was branching out in different directions. One route would take you straight to the capital and harbour, then the other would take you to an array of settlements including Anders and Henders.
Along the road, more signs of near life become obvious; carts pulling fresh produce, men on horses just as Chen was, and villagers on foot.
Chen knew his entrance into his area of Joseon would acquire a fair amount of stares, it was also to be expected that some of them might actually know who he was. He’d been here enough to have that impact, the stories about him were told frequently.
His armour with its intricate detail, the marooned red coloured cloth beneath the clunky metal he wore gave a hint that he wasn’t a man of the army. Any person with a drop of common sense would see that he was in fact the Chen whispered only when the wind was blowing the other way.
With that presumption in mind, the carts would stop as their horses passed, and all of them would watch as Chen rode into the village. He could hear what they were saying, he could hear every word.
“Is that the son of king Chen III?” Of course, Chen had unfortunately also inherited his fathers’ name and if Chen had ascended the throne like expected of him from birth, he would have been King Chen the fourth.
“Chen of the Nightsmen has arrived, inform the chief and gather the court members!” the older man on the horse adjacent wailed into the morning sky. Those around him put up no protest and flustered around upon the order.
Chen look over to the elder. “There’s no need for that.”
The man looks surprised by the response, as if expecting him mute or something of the sort. “I beg to differ. A court should be customary for any guest of honour to the chief.”
“I assure you, my visit will be brief,” Chen explains. Chen had no intentions of lingering in any one place for long, but living in Joseon, a region so small he had not much else place to venture still undiscovered.
His visit was only for the exchange of information; Chen needed to know the schedule of the king on his yearly tour of Joseon - something that the king wouldn’t have done voluntarily if it weren’t for a tradition long expected of the royalty of this region. The villager chief needed reassurance that the nightsmen still hadn’t left their side. Chen was used to how this worked.
One thing he wasn’t so sure of, though, was the Henders chief apparently waiting for their arrival.
“The hall is right up that road, sir, we’ll be upon it in minutes,” the elder rambled, not that Chen didn’t already know those small insignificant facts. Chen was well aware of it all - his memory well adapted to useless information thrown at him over the years. He remembered everything.
Jumping from his horse, he tied the reins up to another post that acted as part of the porch and his armour rattled along with every movement and the long robe Gauna men were expected to wear over their traditional dress and under their armour was become further tedious - it was a custom outdated but Chen refused to make himself appear like more of an outsider by refusing to wear one. With frustration, he yanked the robe from where it had caught causing a loud ripping noise telling Chen he’d probably need to buy new clothing soon.
With several long strides he stood in front of the village halls door, where many people were sure to be waiting for his arrival - something Chen had never liked - people waiting for him.
The elder rushes in front of him, knocking firmly on the wooden door. He knew what was next, having went through this process several times. They would yell an introduction, Chen would walk in like a man of steel, lacking all emotion. He’d get to his knees, showing submission to the chief and lay his sword on the ground - an encounter in this village was one he done rarely for the sole reason of what was expected.
“Chen of the Nightsmen, Lord Juk!” The elder shoves the doors open, light spilling onto the floor and illuminating the gatherers inside.
Entering, his eyes never leaving the portrait on the wall directly in front of him, he pulls his sword from his sheath and as he kneels, the sword is placed horizontally on the ground, however his hand never leaves its handle.
Call it a life of hiding that has made Chen so paranoid, but no man should try take a weapon from a nightsmen and expect anything good in result.
The room is dimly lit, and whispers bounce around under the candle light like they had any times before. Directly in front of the seat for the chief and his guests, is lord Juk - chief of Anders, trusted man of the king, traitor of the throne. One of the few on the side of the Nightsmen.
“I’m glad you could make it, Chen,” Lord Juk says as he rises from his grand throne-like chair and offers his hand to the bowed man.
Chen takes his hand and rises with the lord until they both stand opposite each other. Chen was bigger, taller, and far more capable in combat than the lord figure, but common sense told Chen than luck was not on his side if he were to pick a fight with a lord who could quite easily inform Chen’s father of his whereabouts.
“I’m honoured that you’d have me,” Chen speaks, but words that he didn’t fully mean. He didn’t want to be here for anything other than the information he needed. Enough with the small talk.
The chief retreats to his chair beside his wife and the guests of honour. Now Chen takes his time to observe the people around him. Dressed in traditional uniforms and robes, Chen got a hint that the guests were in fact most probably the Henders chief, lord Guyro. Dress this formal was only used to show off when in the presence of an honorable outsider.
in front of him, a long rug led way to the seats at the top of the room, and on either side of him, the court members sat to observe the happening and keep record of whatever history.
“A messenger came from the palace just days before and gave us their word that the king and his people would be entering this area on the first week of the harvesting season, so I’d advise you move on and return when they have left for south,” Lord Juk takes his time explaining.
Why he couldn’t have told him this information through a messenger, he’d never know.
As Chen takes a step backwards in the direction of the door, the chief decided to speak. “Lord Guyro came to us in the early hours of the morn with some very important information. I find it highly likely that you and your men will be interested.”
Chen’s eyes flick to Lord Guyro, sitting there comfortably with some fine china in his hand that had steam billowing from the top. With piercing eyes he observes Chen’s every move.
The village of Henders and it’s chief Lord Guyro weren’t supposed to know about the union of Anders and Nightsmen, but the fact that someone he trusted had done exactly what he hadn’t wanted had ground his nerves down to a stub. He had no patience for whatever game they were playing.
“And what might that be?”
Chen raises his sword to place it back in his sheath, for a sense of protection, and also to show them he feared them not. Perhaps, Chen thought, it’d have been wiser if he had brought a few of his men - despite how early they’d have awoken - with him.
“A messenger has escaped Taoshi and is now in the no-mans land between Xiching and Joseon, he apparently holds details about other uprisings against the throne in Taoshi and is urgently seeking help from those alike in these regions - meaning he’s looking for people like the nightsmen,” Lord Juk explains from his throne.
Although appearing all so trusting, Chen knew he shouldn’t follow suit. Chen was brought up being educated about all the regions, Taoshi were one of the regions that took border security to another level - not to mention there was no no-mans land between borders from Taoshi to Chosheon or Yaung, meaning you walk straight from one guarded territory to another. However…
Taoshi was so central that it bordered nearly all other regions. The only section that had acquired a no-mans land, ‘safe-territory’ was on the border between Taoshi and Joseon.
“Are they in the north or the South?” Chen asks. Drawing a map up in his head, he saw the map of Gauna perfectly. The far east you could find Yaung, the far south you could find Daeshi, south west is Choseon, north west is Xiching, North is Joseon, and central is Taoshi. A perfect setup, but if a Taoshi had gotten into Joseon through the no-mans land, he could have travelled along the border or Joseon and Xiching - exactly as Chen and his nightsmen were doing - and escaped into the most northern no-mans land and laid camp there.
No common messenger would know enough information to make a rational decision and get that far, though. Chen grew suspicious.
Lord Juk turned to Lord Guyro. “For a few months we’ve been sending people to the northern no-mans land so we can trade with the people up there - of course without permission of the king. There, a few of my people were said to have encountered the messenger. A few of his people have joined him over the past few weeks.”
So it wasn’t an odd discovery of the no-mans territory, Chen thought. They somehow knew the exact layout of Joseon, and others of Taoshi knew it too.
“We felt it was something a nightsmen must deal with, so we sought you out through our connections,” Lord Guyro explains. He asked around the Lords if they had connections, Chen thoughts.
A small pit of untrust and anger built up inside. Even speaking their name amongst those you might not be able to trust was a liability. If Chen could help it, he’d cut off all connections with the lords and villagers the moment he leaves the area.
“My men and I want nothing to do with it,” Chen grunts, desperate to get away and out into the open.
Lord Guyro rises abruptly. “I assure you, you and your men will.”
No matter how much or how little Chen thought, he could come up with no benefactors to his followers if he were to seek out the Taoshi messenger.
The courts people who had previously remained silent begin their whispers as noise picks up inside the hot and musty room
“There’s evidence of an uprising, and rumours that the Taoshi rising want to execute all descendants of the original six families, meaning everyone with a power.”
Chen had before been absentmindedly looking out through a musty window, but as the words registered in his head, he turned sharply towards Lord Guyro and his eyes narrowed. “He wants to eliminate the superiors?”
The superiors were compiled of six original families with six varying powers. The founding families of the different regions. Chen had the superior of battle and combat, but no gift comes without consequence - all Joseon’s founding family descendants were cursed with never being able to feel love. Equally, all other founding families were cursed with their own corresponding fate.
Chen was a sixth generation Joseon, the curse still ran havoc in his blood.
“Inside, you’re still a Joseon. When the rising becomes bigger, you’ll be the first they come for. You’re protected by no more than commoners with a sword,” Lord Guyro nonchalantly says as he sips his tea like the issue didn’t mean a thing. To him, anyway.
Chen could feel the fire, licking at the ice inside him. It began to melt, and a puddle formed inside his boots which prevented him from turned and walking out the door before he became a pit of flaming anger. How dare he insult the capabilities of his men?
The nightsmen were the people who held their villages together, whether they knew that or not. They eliminated threats, roamed the nights executing the criminals. The nightsmen cared. Their capabilities so fine that no life had been lost from their side for nearly a year, having patrolled nightly.
“I hope that wasn’t an insult, Lord Guyro, otherwise the nightsmen might not want to observe your village in any near future. You never know who else might take up that role while it’s open,” Chen discreetly threats. Chen knew first hand that if it weren’t for the nightsmen standing post at many points in villages, many bandits, thieves, and criminal would have stolen all kinds of pieces from their homes as they slept. If the nightsmen left for so much as a night, the criminals would jump at the chance.
Lord Guyro didn’t reply, and instead seated himself one more, completely unfazed.
Chen snorted. The ungrateful swine.
“Besides, Chen, these Taoshi men could pose a threat to the people. what do the commoners call you, again? Ah, yes - The seventh king of Gauna,” Lord Juk explains, while waving his hand in different motions. “It’s your responsibility after all, as king of the people, to make sure they pose no threat, and if they do, I’m sure you can handle the elimination.”
This was a set up, all a set up, Chen thinks. Providing him with information of the Kings movements had left him open to requests, and then with a bait place - seventh king of Gauna, king of the people - he was expected to put his and his mens lifes on the line.
Chen couldn’t refuse this time. “What is it you want me to do?” he statically asks. They must have something they need.
Lord Juk nods for Lord Guyro to continue. Lord Guyro rises once more and with slow antagonising paces moves over to Chen. His long flowing robes drag on the floor, the yellows and reds becoming grungy from the stour.
“First, I want you to find out the bastard who sent him, second, I want to know everything he knows, and third, I want him executed and his heart brought back to me in a casket. No Taoshi man enters Joseon and expects to escape alive.”