It is a rare sight for a queen to leave the palace in plain clothes and without a royal palanquin. In preparation to leave the palace incognito, Soyong chooses a simple chima1Chima – a skirt. and jeogori2Jeogori – is an upper garment. Also could be named dangui. in pale, unassuming colors. She wears simple makeup and her binyeo3Binyeo is a thick pin used to get married women’s hair in a hairdo. is plain with no unnecessary frills. Today she intends to visit a Buddhist temple outside of Hanyang4Hanyang was the capital and largest city in Joseon. It was the center of the country’s government and home to the royal family and high ministers. As a result, the city hosted a constant undercurrent of political intrigue between various factions vying for control of the government. Now it’s Seoul – the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). without anyone recognizing her as the Queen.
She isn’t particularly eager to pray, but she will use any opportunity to leave the suffocating walls of the palace behind. The temple is outside the city, so walking there and back will grant her a whole day away from home. Her last conversation with the King still weighs heavy on her mind, and she hopes that the time away from the palace will help her decide what to say to him later.
“Achoo!” A sudden, loud sneeze breaks Soyong out of her deep thoughts.
“Yeon-ah, did you catch a cold?” Soyong asks, exchanging a worried look with Court Lady Choi. Hong Yeon shakes her head in response, but another sneeze gives her away.
“That will not do, you are not coming out with us today. Take care of yourself first,” Soyong decides.
“No, I want to go with you, Your Highness,” Yeon tries to argue between sniffles, but upon seeing the strict looks on the Queen and Court Lady Choi’s faces, she gives in. “I’ll get better- Achoo! In the blink of an eye.”
“Court Lady Choi, it seems like this walk will only be for the two of us,” Soyong smiles and they leave her chambers together arm-in-arm.
“You are visiting this temple frequently these days, Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi notes.
“What? Are you afraid I’ll become like Queen Dowager Jo?” Soyong teases. “Do not worry, I just need the walk outside.”
“If something is bothering you, you can always share your troubles with me, Your Highness.”
Court Lady Choi smiles warmly at Soyong and she can’t help but smile back. She isn’t just a court lady or a friend who looks over the Queen. Soyong imagines that this is exactly how a mother’s love and care feels like. Perhaps if Soyong’s late mother was alive, she would look like Court Lady Choi.
“Thank you, sincerely,” Soyong responds, squeezing the court lady’s elbow a little. “But you can’t keep calling me ‘Your Highness’ outside the palace or our disguise will be in vain,” she adds in a lighter tone to brighten the mood.
They whisper and giggle among themselves as they approach the meeting spot with their guards for the day. To Soyong’s surprise, she counts six guards in noble clothes instead of their usual blue uniforms.
The Queen frowns. When Soyong visits her father’s home, she doesn’t take any guards at all and travels only with Hong Yeon and Court Lady Choi. She does take a number of guards when she visits her late orabeoni5Orabeoni – how sister refers to her brother in family. Kim Byeong-In’s grave, but only because it’s up in the mountains. However, the temple, while being outside the city, is nearby and the road there is quite busy and safe.
“Why do we need so many guards today?” Soyong asks.
“It is His Majesty’s royal command to increase the number of guards,” one of the men reports.
“So we can appear openly suspicious to any would-be attackers?” Soyong notes sarcastically. “We will only take two,” she continues. “Two ladies and two men. That will look more ordinary.” She uses an authoritative tone, but the guards exchange uncertain looks. While the Queen is a powerful figure, the King is the highest authority in the land.
“Your Highness, maybe we should agree for today? They are not in a position to refuse a royal command,” Court Lady Choi attempts to smooth over the tension.
“Alright then,” Soyong concedes with a sigh. “Two of you come with us, and the other four stay at a distance as if we are two completely different groups of people,” she orders. She makes a mental note to take this up with the King in their next conversation.
Once they are outside the palace, Soyong and Court Lady Choi hire a palanquin to take them to the city’s west gates. The guards try their best to pretend they aren’t following them, but they still attract strange looks as people pass them by. They continue on foot once outside the city, enjoying the late summer weather in the shadows of the trees.
The visit to the temple is not particularly eventful. Soyong prays, speaks with the abbot of the temple, and gives him money as a charity before their group leaves to return home. It’s still light out as they move through the forest, though the sun is quickly setting on the horizon.
“Next time, let’s just go for a walk,” Soyong suggests, a bit disappointed in how the day went.
“You’ve been very busy with inner court affairs, Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi notes. “Perhaps you can take a break without venturing far outside the palace?”
Soyong ponders this for a moment – maybe Court Lady Choi is right. After all, they have the royal villa near the palace, the one Cheoljong showed her after her pregnancy news. She remembers how they rode horseback together, their bodies pressed tightly against each other. She recalls how warm his embrace was, how carefully he helped her to get on and off the horse. So many sensations, so many good memories.
She won’t get any new ones ever again.
All she can do is remember the old ones, though she must always share them with someone else. She and Cheoljong were never alone in this relationship, and she was only the third piece, unneeded and forgotten.
I can’t even hate them. Either of them. There is no one to blame but me for this whole mess. And Bong Hwan helped us a lot. He helped me in my darkest days. He was my anti-fan too.
Soyong wants to share her thoughts with Court Lady Choi, but suddenly notices something odd. There are no people in front of them, which is strange, as there was always a group walking ahead. She turns around and to her distress, she notices that the four guards who were keeping their distance are gone.
“Where are the others?” Soyong asks the two guards that are still with them. They had also failed to notice their missing fellow colleagues. Soyong has an ominous feeling about the entire situation.
Before they have time to answer, several armed men appear from the woods and surround them. They look like common robbers with hammers and sickles in hand. Soyong is momentarily grateful that they are not professional assassins before she worriedly notices that they are outnumbered. The two remaining guards take opposite sides to protect the Queen and Court Lady Choi between them, swords out and ready to fight.
“Your Highness,” one of the guards’ whispers. “Get ready to run. If you cut through the forest on my right hand, you will approach the main road to the city. It’s the busiest road nearby. They won’t attack you there.”
“I understand.” Soyong nods. “You two have to be careful. Don’t get hurt.” Soyong exchanges a worried look with Court Lady Choi as they lock hands together and prepare to run at any moment.
When one of the robbers makes the first move, the guard yells at them to run. They don’t waste any time and do as he said, hurrying into the forest without any hesitation. They hear sounds of metal clashing, as well as the horrific sound of anguished screams. They don’t know who’s winning and who’s losing. Even though the guards are outnumbered, they are skilled warriors while the robbers are mere untrained commoners.
“Ah!” Court Lady Choi suddenly yells out in pain and tugs back at Soyong with force, nearly causing both of them to fall. “Your Highness, it’s my foot. I think I sprained it.”
Soyong looks back behind them. No one has followed them yet, but they will surely catch up to them soon judging by the proximity of the noises.
“You need to go, Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi pleads. “They will not harm me. There is nothing they can steal from me.”
Soyong tries to analyze the situation despite her growing panic. If they really are common thieves, they won’t find anything precious on her person either. But if it is a planned attack masked as a robbery, it’s not coins or jewelry that they are after. And in that case, they won’t want to leave any witnesses alive. And as the Queen, her life has higher value but… screw those rules, she won’t let those bastards harm the only mother figure in her life. Even if it risks her own life, Soyong cannot stand to leave Court Lady Choi behind.
Soyong carefully helps Court Lady Choi take a seat on a nearby stone. “Alright, I’ll leave you here.” Court Lady Choi’s eyes round with surprise to see her Queen listen to her so quickly for once.
With those words, Soyong lifts her skirts with both hands and runs away. It takes a couple of moments for Court Lady Choi to realize that Soyong is running in the opposite direction of the main road and back towards the robbers. But it’s too late and Court Lady Choi’s shouts can’t change anything.
It does not take long for Soyong to find the robbers. She manages to hide among a thicket of bushes before they can detect her. She bends down and picks up a couple of small rocks from the forest floor. Thankfully Lady Choi stopped screaming or that last moment plan Soyong come up with would be in vain and for whom she tries so hard then?
I need to create some noise to make them run in the direction away from Court Lady Choi, she thinks to herself.
She throws the rocks and all but one of the robbers takes the bait and leaves in the direction of the noise. The remaining man looks around, squinting his eyes in suspicion.
“Did you lose something?” Soyong rises from her hiding spot sounding like she’s annoyed with the attendant about cold tea nor more nor less. “Maybe your conscience,” she spits out, her voice changing to a harsher tone. “If you ever had one, you bastard.”
“You little…” the robber yells at her as he runs towards her. But he’s big and clumsy, while Soyong is smaller and more graceful, so she easily maneuvers away from his bear-like grab. She puts all her force behind a swift kick to his back and he falls into the mud. Furious, the robber curses loudly and gets back on his feet, but Soyong already runs away, only leaves shaking on the bush where she was only seconds ago.
She’s disoriented and can’t make out which way leads to the main road. She hopes that she can draw away all the robbers from Court Lady Choi, so at least she can be safe. And if Court Lady Choi manages to reach the main road despite hurting her foot, she could come back with some help and this nightmare could end. Soyong wants nothing more than to return to the palace that she detests so much with her court lady in tow.
But suddenly, a man in a black robe and mask jumps in front of Soyong’s path, and she bumps into him and falls to the ground. The man unsheathes a sword and points it at her face.
This wasn’t a simple robbery all along – someone had planned to take her life.
Again, damn it!
Soyong grabs a fistful of dirt, ready to fight for her life as soon as the assassin moves closer. He makes a move to swing his sword and she throws the dirt into his face and dodges to the side, missing his sword by mere inches. Soyong doesn’t waste any time, she’s on her feet again. Her braided hair falls loose as she draws out her binyeo and aims for the assassin’s back. Her binyeo digs into his right shoulder and the man cries out in pain. The assassin seems stunned by the attack, and Soyong takes advantage of the moment to run away, hoping that she’ll reach the road or find some sort of shelter.
I need to run more often, I’m out of breath already, Soyong makes a mental note to herself.
She looks back over her shoulder for a second to see if the assassin is still in a chase and she spots him not far behind. He will soon catch up to her. In her distraction, she fails to notice the steep descent ahead of her path, and next thing she knows, she’s falling fast, desperately trying to protect herself from high grass whipping her face. As Soyong rolls down the side of the hill, a sudden pain permeates her head as she rolls over something rocklike.
When she finally rolls to a stop at the bottom of a ravine, she’s all covered in mud and her clothes are ripped in multiple spots. She opens her eyes, but it feels like the world around her is spinning. Soyong tries and fails to get up, falling back to the ground. Slowly, she crawls on all fours, knowing that she has to keep moving forward.
Finally, she manages to stand up. She feels something warm dripping over her forehead and around her right eye. When she wipes it with her hand, she is dismayed to see her fingers covered in red.
Soyong focuses her vision and is grateful to find that there are other people just ahead. They seem to be passersby – maybe she has finally reached the main road? Staggering and stumbling over the uneven stone-covered ground, she walks in that direction. She confirms that it is indeed some kind of road, noticing a palanquin and men riding horseback. Two of the men jump down from their horses and run toward her.
“Bong Hwan-ah?” she asks uncertainly to the nobleman, but after focusing her gaze, she realizes she’s mistaken. She takes a step back and bumps into the other man, whose clothes are more simple and fit for a warrior. “You are not him either,” Soyong dazedly concludes and loses her balance. The warrior catches her by her waist and prevents her from falling to the ground. She hears his deep, worried voice, but can’t understand a word as the darkness envelops her.
So the adventure begins!
SY calls out for BH, because he’s her safe place. As much as she hates the tricky situation she has right now with the King, BH still was there for her in her darkest days.
Say goodbye to SY, apart from the next flashback chapter we don’t see her in the main storyline for a while.
Now we are stuck with CJ and his feelings, for the past year and for what happened with SY just now.
- 1Chima – a skirt.
- 2Jeogori – is an upper garment. Also could be named dangui.
- 3Binyeo is a thick pin used to get married women’s hair in a hairdo
- 4Hanyang was the capital and largest city in Joseon. It was the center of the country’s government and home to the royal family and high ministers. As a result, the city hosted a constant undercurrent of political intrigue between various factions vying for control of the government. Now it’s Seoul – the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
- 5Orabeoni – how sister refers to her brother in family.