01 | PAINTER OF THE NIGHT
The bask afternoon sun had fallen absent beneath the face of the earth and dwindled to a barely perceptible luminescence of the gloom. The moon casted a celestial silver luster upon the silent kingdom of Silla, and only few golden lights shone through the somber Hwangto Hanok windows.
“I have gathered information about the artist behind those erotic paintings, my lord,” said the tubby, middle-aged, man draped in an ocher Hanbok, who kneeled with clasped hands on the wooden floor infornt of the young nobleman who observed him intensely. “He is called Jeon Jeongguk. He was discovered by the head Kisaeng as an infant and raised as her son at the house of Kisaeng.”
A courtesan of the Goryeo and Joseon eras in Korean history, Kisaeng belonged to the lowest class in society.
“We know not of his origins...but he has shown a talent for drawing and painting since a young age. And who knows what he saw growing up in the Kisaeng house? But strangely enough, it seems he would often draw men engaging in sodomy.”
The nobleman, who sat cross-legged before him on the copper Phoenix Throne, ran an embroidered emerald cloth along his long, sharp, jagged sword. He tilted his head ever so slightly, waiting for the jittery old man to continue. All but a single warm flame flickered from the candle situated on the mahogany cabinets that lined the walls of the otherwise dark room.
“The book of erotic paintings you showed me earlier is part of a series featuring acts of sodomy, which he published under a pseudonym. However, it is said that he no longer paints for unknown reasons.”
“‘He no longer paints’?” The nobleman’s sonorous voice boomed in a rollicking mordacious manner. Although his svelte fingers stoked along the blunt end of the blade, his daunting onyx eyes were fixated on the perturbed servant.
The man on the floor quivered like a leaf in autumn zephyr. “Well, that’s nothing to concern myself with...” he stammered from under his gat.
“Surly he won’t insist on it once he sees some blood ,” the man shrouded in a royal mint green Durumagi crooned, his tone dark, almost sinister. “Well then, what has this fellow been up to these days?”
“Well, sir...I hear he is just living as a drunk.” The middle-aged man, with a beard, looked up at him with a worried expression plastered on his round face.
The Tavern was completely vacant, all but a boy shrouded in a pink Jeogori and gray baji pants sat hunched over at one of the mahogany octagonal tables.
The warm peachy candlelight placed a chaste kiss upon his cheek, which caused him to groan softly. A fine trickle of drool leaked from the corner of his mouth and onto the small table his head rested on. His hand enclosed a small round bottom-drag porcelain cup idly; a marble plate of four uneaten cucumber slices lay beside a transparent candle holder and chopsticks. His slippers were inches away from him, along with his hollow wooden art supply bag.
“...wake up.” He heard someone say, but it was faint, almost far away. His head ached dully. “Wake up I tell you.” The guttural voice was unfamiliar, but clearer than before. He stirred from sleep and gradually fluttered his heavy, sleepy, eyes open.
“Finally, you’ve come to your senses.”
He peered up at the unknown nobleman who loomed over him with a wide grin stretched across his handsome, angular face. Long lashes shaped the nobleman’s sharp almond eyes; a beauty mark embellished the tip of his prominent, perfectly straight, nose and one on his equally plump lips.
The inebriated boy’s doe-like eyes sprawled wide, he shot up straight and stared at the awfully attractive nobleman, who was draped in a mint green and white Hanbok, with an addled expression.
“Excuse me, sir. But who are you?” He asked and wiped the remainder of saliva from his pouty rubescent lips, head slightly tilted.
“This Young Master is the eldest son of the Kim family,” the tubby middle-aged man with a beard affirmed. “He is Master Kim Taehyung.”
The boy massaged his neck sheepishly. “I see...” he muttered. The ivory skin between his brows scrunched together, he examined the contemptuous Young Master.
The man before him was undeniably handsome. His charcoal locks were pulled back into a topknot, hidden beneath his gat, which exposed his thick, prominent eyebrows. His peppermint Durumagi draped off his broad shoulders attractively and revealed a bit of his honey-tanned chest and collarbones, and his white baji pants accentuated his height and closed off at the cuffs.
Kim Taehyung? I’ve heard that name somewhere...
“Are you the fellow they call Jeon Jeongguk?” Taehyung asked.
“Yes, I am.” The boy in the pink hanbok replied and tucked a strand of his curly ebony locks, that were held up by a white bandana, behind his ear.
Taehyung’s eyes widened in delight, he quickly grabbed Jeongguk’s wrists.
“So these are the talented hands.” He admired Jeongguk’s dainty hand, felt the softness of his skin. A glint of astonishment shone in his onyx eyes. “I very much enjoy your paintings, my boy!”
He smiled widely and yanked Jeongguk forward.
“Can you feel it?” He asked.
Jeongguk’s eyes enlarged, a rosy hue rose to bubble upon his cheeks. His heart pounded against his ribcage and sweat dined at his temples, he was completely taken aback.
“This is how heated my loins become when I see your paintings,” Taehyung exclaimed ardently, and guided Jeongguk’s frail hand to grope his well-endowed arousal. “It has gotten to the point where I cannot engage in my nightly activities without them!”
Bumping into the table behind him, Jeongguk jerked out of his grasp and his more than rubicund face contorted in sheer horror. This nobleman had the audacity to do something so immoral , Jeongguk finally realized who the undignified man before him was.
Kim Taehyung, first born son of the Kim family! He now remembered. A fiend for sodomy with no regard for time of place, rumored to have even had his topknot cut off by his father. A notorious hell-raiser!
He was confused, completely baffled. He published those peculiar paintings under a pseudonym, so how did Taehyung find out his real name? And how did he know of his whereabouts?
He felt a foreboding pang coil in his tummy.
“I’m not sure what you are speaking of, sir.” He fibbed, and slowly pushed his hollow art supply holder behind his back.
“W-What are you talking about? You rascal!” Taehyung’s servant, the man in an ocher hanbok, berated.
“Shut your mouth,” Taehyung hissed and raised his hand at the aghast servant beside him. He looked back at Jeongguk, rummaged through the kimono sleeve of his robe and took out a sketchbook.
“So this book of erotic paintings,” he flipped through the beige, hanji pages filled with illustrations of sodomy. “Is not your creation?”
Crickets chirped in the distance. A quiet hush crept over them, swallowed them within the proximity of the sleepy Tavern.
Jeongguk gulped and eluded his gaze, before he shook his head. “N-No, sir.” Filthy liar.
“You didn’t paint it?” Taehyung asked incredulously, rhetorically, and his voice lowered an octave. His eyes twitched with fury and his gaze hardened until it became sinister.
He quickly yanked his sword out from its sheath and shot a glare towards his servant, who cowered with fear.
“N-No, no, my lord.” He stepped back in terror, and a pitiful expression etched onto his face. “It’s this fellow here who is lying!”
Jeongguk watched as the scene enfolded before him, a pang of guilt formed in his tummy. His heart roared in his ears and banged against his chest.
“I’m certain, my lord! Please have mercy on me!” He beseeched. “Please, have mercy on me!”
Taehyung grimaced, his expression embellished by the dark shadows around his eyes, and raised his sword behind his head. He stared directly into the pleading man’s glossy eyes before the blade slashed his throat.
Jeongguk’s face contorted in horror, he gasped and shuddered at the sight of the deceased man that lay comatose beside them. The slaughtered man was as cold as the ground he lay on, his umber eyes were open but unseeing, blood gushed from his throat and slowly pooled around him, and his mouth hung ajar.
Taehyung leered down at the deceased servant, the bloodied sword tight in his grasp. From the incident, blood stained his robe, and some even splattered over Jeongguk’s dreadful face. But scary enough, Taehyung looked unbothered.
Jeongguk clasped his hand over his mouth and forced his eyes shut with optimisms to block every sight out. His head pirouetted, nausea twisted in his stomach like candy floss and his eyes became slightly glossy. He gagged, the putrid stench of blood pestered his nostrils. This was inhumane . He wished to un-see that picture, but the memories branded his mind with hot metal until they engraved into his pupils. His heart ached and he became dizzy, so much until he fell comatose with a thump.
From the corner of his eye, Taehyung looked at Jeongguk’s body that lay lifeless. He heaved out a sigh and closed his eyes briefly.
Two of his other assistants, faces covered with black masks, hovered around him.
“As I have no way of knowing who is telling the truth, bring the boy along for now,” he instructed.
“Yes, my lord.” One of his men said.
Jeongguk’s eyes shot open when ice cold water splashed across his face, the water dripped from his matted hair and soaked his clothes. He jerked awake and flinched when he saw Taehyung’s face but a few centimeters away.
His wrists were bound together with thick rope, which anchored around a wooden pillar tightly, above his head. He sat on the cold, hard, floor with his knees bent and legs splayed to one side. His back arched in the position, which exposed a tiny portion of his stomach.
Taehyung tilted his head to the side slightly and grinned down at him, strong arms woven across his chest. He stood to his feet and turned to his two masked assistants. “You can leave now,” he dismissed them.
“Yes, my lord.” They bowed in unison, and the door closed with a bang.
“My lord, what have I done to warrant such treatment?” Jeongguk asked from the floor, tone as polite as he could muster. The inner corners of his eyebrows raised and drew together.
Taehyung looked down at him and fiddled in the sleeve of his hanbok. “Let me ask you again.” He pulled out the sketch book and tossed it on the floor. “This book of erotic paintings...and this one too. These are your creations, are they not?”
Jeongguk pursed his lip as he stared at the carnal illustrations. He looked up at Taehyung with slanted eyebrows. “It is as I answered you before, my lord, at the Tavern.” He said while his lip quivered. “I did not paint them.” He assured him.
Taehyung clenched his jaw, furrowing his brows and spun on his heel, hands clasped behind his back.
“You’re quite the liar, aren’t you?” He queried from under his gat, and tossed a wooden storage tube poster scroll wrapped with beige leather beside him. “I found your bag of painting tools at the Tavern.”
Jeongguk’s jaw dropped, his eyes grew wide and a gasp spewed his rosy lips. He looked as though he had seen a ghost. His face paled at the mere sight of his scroll holder.
Taehyung aimed his sword towards him. “I know those paintings are yours,” he insisted. Jeongguk recoiled as the pointy tip of the jarred blade neared his delicate face. “Not even a day has passed. Have you already forgotten?” The blade trailed down his body, until it poked against his exposed tummy. “A man died from this sword...” the tip shot up to his chin. “Because you lied.”
Sniffles resonated in the otherwise quiet room, which stunned Taehyung. He slowly lowered the sword. Jeongguk’s head hung low and tear droplets cascaded his face.
“Why are you crying?” Taehyung asked, puzzled.
He crouched down in front of him, arms folded. He received no response, but eventually Jeongguk raised his head slightly. “I don’t understand why you are doing this to me, sir,” he croaked through his sobs, glossy eyes bestowed elsewhere.
Taehyung’s face contorted in confusion, he reached out and gently wiped the tears from Jeongguk’s face with his thumbs. “Don’t cry,” he whispered. “I’m just as puzzled as you are. What have I done to you that gives cause for these tears?”
“This is the only thing I am capable of, sir,” Jeongguk squeaked, voice brittle, and peered up at him. “I only painted erotic images to survive.”
“And that is all I want,” Taehyung informed.
“E-Excuse me, sir?” Jeongguk squeaked, and furrowed his brows in confusion.
Taehyung came within proximity and Jeongguk cowered, unsure what was about to happen.
“You said you painted such images ‘to survive’, did you not?” He asked while he carefully untied him. He gently rubbed his thumb over Jeongguk’s red, bruised, skin and looked directly into his glossy chocolate eyes. “You can eat and sleep under my roof, and create erotic paintings for me. That is what I want from you.”
Jeongguk sniffled and looked up at him through his long damp eyelashes. “What do you mean by creating erotic paintings for you, my lord?” He queried quietly.
The corner of Taehyung’s plump lips curled up into a smirk.
Lewd grunts and moans of ecstasy bounced off the walls, and the room grew increasingly hot.
Jeongguk’s body stiffened as he watched the libidinous scene before him, watched how Taehyung traced patterns along another man’s soft, sensitive, skin as he mouthed on his member. The man beneath Taehyung arched his back and tilted his head to the side as he stifled his moans and coiled his fists around nothing.
“You’re capturing all of this, yes?” Taehyung plopped off the other man’s member and with hooded eyes looked towards Jeongguk, who trembled before a blank sheet of paper, paint brush in hand, and gulped.