The King of the East flicked his eyes to Eun-Jung.
“You know what you must do.”
Eun-Jung stood, flustered, confused, and unsure of what to do or say to such words.
“Brother,” he repeated once more, his voice lower, more desperate, as though repeating it would remind his own brother of his promise, of his duty as the eldest of their family.
The King of the East closed his eyes and sighed deeply but said nothing.
“Brother, you do not mean this. You cannot give me this order! He is our blood! He is our brother!”
The King of the East whipped around, the first time Eun-Jung had seen his brother so outwardly aggressive.
“Do you think I have not weighed this! He has forced my hand—he has given me no choice. Would you rather that I let my people die or become enslaved to his misguided will!” The King of the East’s chest heaved from the power at which his words were delivered, each word filled with pain, but he spoke no further, and his anger was fleeting indeed.
Eun-Jung stepped back, taken aback once more.
“But…brother…what you ask of me…I, I know I am not the wisest at your disposal, nor the strongest, but certainly, you know where my loyalties lie. But this order, how am I to give this to my men, to deliver it before our people? What will they say of this?”
The King of the East had composed himself once more, his out-lash a desperate man who had been within his own council for far too long, hiding from those he wished he could trust but they were not kin—they would not know the true pain of his decision that must be made. He was haggard from the restless nights of constant battles between his head and his heart. If it were just between brothers, his choice would have been different—rather, could have been different, but it was not just his life he had to weigh, not just his concerns and it was this thought that brought the final nail in the coffin.
He saw the look in Eun-Jung’s eyes and knew that within was the same debate, though his words belied a different stance; no, it was a plea; one last desperate effort to keep things as they were, bad as it was, but they both knew that because of their youngest brother’s decision—this was impossible.
He knew Eun-Jung was the most compassionate out of all of them, the most outwardly affected by the arguments that went on between his youngest brother and he, the King of the East. He knew Eun-Jung suffered the most, for if he could not even make peace between his two brothers, how could he, then, make peace with anyone else? But the King of the East knew also, that out of the three of them, it was Eun-Jung that their youngest brother would listen to most, find no fault in his person, for it was not from his shadow he hid within, and because of this, he saw their middle brother as a man—not an ideal. Not a legend.
It was why he ordered this, not as a brother, but as a King. If his youngest brother was to hate anyone—it should be him; if he was to continue this war—it would be with the King of the East—not with his brothers.
He sighed once more and began slowly stepping down each step that kept the two of them from even ground.
“They will say outwardly—‘Our King is wise still, he has done what is right.’ What they say in their hearts, I know not, but it is for them that I do this, regardless of what rumors, scorn, or praise I will get from my choice. You must understand, brother, that I cannot think only of my family—for are my people not my family as well? Do I not protect them, and do they not, in return, protect me? What my youngest brother lashes out at is me, as a King, and thus, my response must be as a King. Do you not see this? He does not see me as his kin—no more than you consider him your enemy. I mourn for you, my brother, for here you stand—in the middle, as you have always been, have always had to be. I hope one day I cannot use you this way, but this is the King’s order—it is my decree and I shall say it again—banish our brother from my lands.
He has hurt my people, and has tried to make a mockery of my rule for his petty reasons that if he had but kept them between us, could have been treated as they were—of a young boy lashing out at shadows. But he is a boy no longer, and he has played with things he does not yet realize the full consequences of—and for this, he must take responsibility, as an adult, and as a man.”
At last they stood face-to-face, his middle brother taller than him by a few inches, but still they stood eye-to-eye: brother-to-brother.
“You must understand this. What malice I have is not for my brother, but for those that have continued to corrupt him, weakening what little he thought of me as his brother, as a companion, not as an enemy. He has suffocated under my shadow, and if this is the way I can free him, to protect him, even if it is to the wolves he goes, then this is it. This is all I can do as brother, the rest must be as King.”
Eun-Jung’s shoulders sagged, the clear devastated understanding welling up in his eyes before he closed them, hiding his emotions. When at last he opened them, his eyes were no longer the brother concerned for brother, but rather the eyes of the General of the Special Ops, whom he, the King of the East, trusted to be his greatest protection and eyes in his lands.
His brother knelt in front of him and bowed his head.
“As the King commands, thus shall I answer.” He whispered, “For brother.”
The King of the East looked down at his brother and smiled sadly, his eyes full of the emotions he could not voice as King.
“Go then, with all that you have within you as brother and as my General—go and do what must be done.”
Without another moment, his brother disappeared from his sight. Eun-Jung had said that he was not the strongest of his men, but this was untrue, yet, as always, his brother denied any glory for himself. Sometimes the King of the East wondered if things would have been different had Eun-Jung been King rather than he. He wondered if this would have even happened, if this pain would have been avoided.
But the King of the East banished those thoughts quickly, what could have been was not his to dwell.
The King of the East stood staring where his brother had once been and mourned that he could not be brother only—that he was, in some respects, what his youngest brother believed—a cold ideal.