Yoo Min stared out at the rain and mist shrouding Glasgow. She sipped her tea, considering how the grey tendrils wrapped around the dim streetlights as the dawn approached, a Victorian memory reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and the hansom-cab grey streets of London in popular imagination.
The beautiful gumiho sighed. 1,400 years, seven months, and two days – and counting. No one even knew if it would work – a gumiho denying herself the taste of a man’s liver in order to become human – but she would soon find out. It was trying at times, particularly when she was bored. Like being on an endless diet.
She was very, very old.
There were few things that surprised her, not the wash of time nor the cruelty of men.
Tae Pyeong had been a surprise.
GYEONGJU, THE SILLA DYNASTY
The wind blew the fragrant scent of spice viburnum through the streets, and the small houses near the palace. A beautiful girl ran through the darkness, past bunches of flowering mugunghwa. Her hand was placed over her mouth, hiding a smile, and her eyes lit up even in the deep twilight of late evening. She made sure she hadn't been followed, and turned up a path to the hill littered with flowers.
Yoo Min climbed to the top of the hill, and looked out across the valley of the city. Gyeongju, the great capital of the Silla Dynasty, would soon know untold riches under the reign of Queen Seondeok.
She waited, almost holding her breath, smiling. She would know the sound of his footstep anywhere.
Lithe, slim, lovely – the boy was like no one she had seen in her long, long years. A romantic, skilled in the arts; including those of love. His talents were meant for the queen alone, but he had chosen her instead. If he were discovered, his life would be forfeit.
He would give up everything for her.
Tae Pyeong was an idealist and a romantic. He believed his love would carry them through any obstacle. They had heard of faraway exotic places, speaking in palace whispers late at night. He told her they could travel together to see the famous cities of the world.
Her breath caught as she heard steps on the path. She turned.
Smiling at her, love shining from his dark eyes, Tae Pyeong was so intensely beautiful that wars might be started over the right to gain his favour. Yoo Min had never seen his like in the thousands of years she had been alive. Beautiful was not a word that sufficed, in any language.
The Hwa Rang – flower boys – of Queen Seondeok were famous. Chosen for their beauty, they were trained in every aspect of the gentle arts. Also called Hyangdo, fragrant ones or incense men, they were taught some of the military arts, but their main purpose was to serve as the cultured and educated harem of the queen.
Tae Pyeong was a special favourite.
He bowed low before Yoo Min, his forehead touching the ground. She gently lifted his chin so he could look into her eyes, and they embraced. He kissed her.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Are you afraid?” he asked, “To leave here?”
She nodded again.
“Yes,” she replied, “I have known no other life.”
“You deserve more,” he said.
Yoo Min smiled at his naivete. She deserved nothing, and she knew it. She knew she had no right to him, and she knew how dangerous it was, but she had been selfish; her love had inspired a greed in her heart she had not known before or since.
“And what of you? Will you not miss the arms of Seondeok?” Yoo Min asked, already knowing the answer.
“When I am in your arms, all else is forgotten,” he said, and smiled.
Her heart felt as though it might break from happiness.
Yoo Min walked through the subway, waving her mobile phone at the barrier. It let her through immediately. She walked up to the touch screen on the wall, to model in the mirror as clothes were fitted to her image and she ordered a few dresses. She remembered running down that Gyeongju street, hiding her smile, in another time. Seoul had risen from the ashes of the Korean War to become a technological megacity with an everyday science fiction reality, even in comparison to the rest of the world. Seoul was Byzantium, Bohemian Paris, the rise of Rome.
Still, she could feel the old hunger in her heartbeat, whenever one of the well-dressed descendants of the Hwa Rang passed her on the street. In the modern age, the men had embraced the flower boy aesthetic once again, and Yoo Min was finding it more and more difficult to deny herself. She had not been hungry like this in centuries. Tae Pyeong had been on her mind a great deal lately, enough that it had been distracting her from her duties at Hanguk Interpol. They had recommended a transfer to a place where the men could not possibly tempt her, particularly in comparison to the visions that filled the city streets of the Korean capital.
She stood on the hill above Seoul, watching the city lights, as she had once waited on a hill in Gyeongju, for a boy whose love she did not deserve.
She touched the piece of Tae Pyeong's rib bone on a silver chain around her neck, inlaid with the heron symbol of immortality.
Yoo Min, I love you. I forgive you.
Like Adam, he made me.