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15 HE, THE KING

The Crown Prince's Last Days

A month had passed since I last saw the Crown Prince. Eunuch Han had also stopped coming to my residence.

It was due to the news that the King had became gravely ill and the Crown Prince had been tied up with official matters, mostly related to the Ming – which had built up armies to attack the frail nation.

General Sun, the commander of the nation's army had been seeing went back and forth to the Main Hall and the army camps in the North Border, probably discussing progress of any plans they had came up with and I prayed not a single bad news entered the Main Hall.

I was reading a book in my room when Court Lady Song interrupted with a whisper. She was serving the evening tea for me.

"Your Highness," she whispered.

"Why are you whispering?" I asked in a whisper as well.

She came closer, "I think that we are in the verge of war," she said while looking at the front door.

"Few of the noble men had left here with all their families, leaving their houses behind," she added.

"Where did you hear this?" I asked.

"Eunuch Han told me," she said. "The Crown Prince had formulated negotiation strategy with General Sun but it was said that the Ming denied every proposal and insisted the Crown Prince to surrender the crown to them." She paused and poured me the tea. "But there's no need to worry, if the Ming wanted to attack us, they would have done so a long time ago. They just wanted to pressure the young prince since His Majesty had been ill."

"Then why are you whispering?" I asked.

"I don't want the Palace Maids to hear us, they might exaggerate and start to panic," she said.

"You are not afraid?"

"I believe in the Crown Prince, Your Highness," she looked at me, "And you should too."

I nodded, "I do."

Later that night I heard a multiple taps on my window. I went to open it and I saw the Crown Prince was standing outside with his hands full of small stones. He threw away all the stones and waved at me.

"Hi," he said with a smile. "Come out."

I grabbed my outer garment and draped it on top of my bedclothes. I wrapped a shawl around my neck and took an extra shawl.

The Crown Prince was wearing his robe. Maybe he just came back from the Main Hall since I could see Eunuch Han and few Palace Maids stood at the distance, probably on their way ushered him to his residence.

I stood in front of him and resisted the urge to hug him. It has been a month since I saw him and he looked a bit thin. I examined his face. A trace of tiredness was transparent.

"Long time no see," he said and his breath foggy.

I wrapped the shawl I brought around his neck, "You might get cold," I said.

We sat at a gazebo in my residence. He took my hand and wrapped it with his both hands.

His face was serious, "I have something to tell you," he seemed reluctant to say the next few words. He paused for a few seconds.

"His Majesty is gravely ill and the Ming is planning a revolt – these things you probably knew." He sighed and continued, "I will go to the North Border tomorrow..."

"No!" I interjected. I grabbed his hands and shook my head.

"Relax," he said softly. I knew what will happen if he went there. They had tried negotiated with the Ming countless times but always failed and the Crown Prince decision to go there meant only one thing, to fight them. He was going to a war.

"We are stronger than them, that I'm sure. If the Ming wanted to attack us, they would probably have done so since they knew about His Majesty's illness. They are afraid of us," he assured me.

"I'm going there to represent His Majesty and to show that we're not afraid of them. If there's going to be a war, General Sun would probably the one to drag me away from it," he wrapped my hands tightly and uttered words of assurance, "Don't worry, I'll be fine." 

***

The next day I went out from my residence before dawn and headed to the Crown Prince's residence. As I arrived, the Crown Prince was just heading out from his residence. He stopped his steps when he saw me.

"Crown Princess," he looked like he was going to scold me at first then he just sighed and smiled weakly.

"I just wanted to see you before you go," I said with my head down.

He came closer and cupped my face with his hands and gently lifted my head so that I was looking at him. His thumbs rubbed my cheeks lightly and then he put his forehead on mine.

"Be safe," I said.

"I will."

We stayed like that for a while then he let go and left me there as he strode away until he was out of my sight, out of my reach.

***

After the Crown Prince left, the Queen brought me to visit His Majesty.

There were white curtains hung in front His Majesty's bed, shielded him from the plain view.

The Royal Physician explained about His Majesty's condition to the Queen with a disheartened tone of voice.

I could see sadness formed in the Queen's eyes but she blinked it away as if she was not allowed to show any weaknesses.  

"I'm afraid His Majesty wouldn't able to wait until the Crown Prince returns," he concluded his report and left the two of us with the dying King.

"Crown Princess, you may go. I'll stay here with my husband." She emphasised the King's title as her husband.

Maybe I looked dumbfounded because the Queen then added, "He is the King for all his life, he gave all his time to this nation and I've been sharing his affection with all of his subjects for long as I'm his wife. But now, I want him to be just mine in his final..." she paused.

"...moments. I want him just as my husband till he...go." I saw tears streamed down her face but she quickly wiped it away and went to the King's bed.

I left them alone and gave all the moments for them to cherish.

***

The only news I heard from the Crown Prince as what Eunuch Han told me was the Ming negotiated terms and pressured the Crown Prince that they will sever the diplomatic relationship the two nations had if the Crown Prince failed to fulfill their wishes.

The two nations were never in war. Both were in business relationship since long ago and both had exchanged resources and been at peace not until His Majesty had fallen ill. The Ming might have thought that the nation had became weaker as the next in line was a very young prince.

That was why the Crown Prince himself went to negotiate with the Ming, not just to show he was brave but to show that he was a capable and a competent Crown Prince. He wanted to show that he will be as great as his father and to wipe all the Ming's doubts. He will show that he deserved the throne.
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