Wonbeom strongly believes that the assassination attempt on the Queen failed and that those who prepared the attack were as clueless as him regarding her whereabouts. If they had succeeded, those who organized the attack would have revealed a dead body (Wonbeom shudders at the mere thought) or spread a rumor about it a long time ago. And his ministers would plead to start a new Queen selection.
Since Wonbeom is not willing to choose any new concubines, the ministers are left without any opportunities to advance their careers. It is amusing how those men look down on the women in their families, but will use them at a moment’s notice in an effort to gain power.
The ministers have begged him to select more concubines, hiding their own agenda behind faux worries about the kingdom, that the King must have more than one male offspring. Wonbeom has refused their requests, as he isn’t interested in any women other than his wife. However confusing their relationship may be, he can’t think about anyone but her.
Wonbeom believes the Queen is alive, but he has no idea where she is. Soyong could have found her way home if she ran away from the attacker. Perhaps she was kidnapped, but then why had no one asked for a ransom in the past week? Something isn’t right, but for now, Wonbeom can’t figure out what exactly. For now, Hong Byeolgam and some of his trusted men are secretly searching for the Queen around the area she went missing and in all the nearby villages.
Wonbeom thinks back to how overwhelmed with happiness they both were after succeeding against the Kim and Jo clans. How bright her smile was as she looked into his eyes with utter adoration. He knew she loved him back, but that was the first time he had seen such deep affection from her.
In time, he managed to bungle everything. He curiously asked her why she kept using honorifics with him. Soon he started noticing more things, among them, how her beautiful smile faded more with every passing day. He had seen that face before, when she was his fiancee and he was cold to her on purpose, not even hiding his relationship with another woman. Back then, he had left her feeling alone in the palace and it leads her to darker thoughts. He definitely didn’t want to unintentionally drive her to that state again.
One day, she came to his study and told him a story about a man from the future named Jang Bong Hwan. She explained what that man’s spirit, which temporarily lived in her body, did for her, for him, and for the kingdom. She told him how she wasn’t completely herself when the spirit was there and how the spirit had disappeared and never come back.
With a trembling voice, his Queen declared that he hadn’t fallen in love with her. Wonbeom needed many days and a copious amount of alcohol for that insane story to sink in. Prince Yeongpyeong does not believe in the story to this day, but he chooses to accept it as both Wonbeom and the Queen believe in the spirit’s existence.
Their situation improved for a brief time when the Queen went into labor with their child. Wonbeom was so frightened he might lose her when he heard her muffled cries and the strict orders from the midwife. He had been tempted to break into the Queen’s chambers and order that awful woman to be flogged for daring to shout at his Queen. Luckily, he was able to hold himself together.
Soyong’s father was also there, mumbling nonsense to himself, his face pale as snow. He muttered something about how it was all his fault and how he should have let Soyong stay at home and never get married. The foolish old man’s words only irritated Wonbeom more.
When he finally heard his son, prince Hyun-ki, cry out, Wonbeom thought his heart would jump out of his chest from happiness and excitement. He was allowed to enter the room and the first thing he saw was his Queen with their baby in her arms.
Soyong called out to him. In a heartbeat, Wonbeom joined her side, looking at their baby boy in her arms. He was so small and fragile, his skin heavily flushed pink. Wonbeom greeted their son with tears in his eyes before turning his gaze to Soyong.
In that short moment, only he, Soyong, and Hyun-ki existed. His exhausted wife gave him a little smile, her forehead still wet from exertion. But he saw pure joy in her eyes. And that look of fondness was back as well.
But their problems did not disappear. And soon she drifted from him again. Wonbeom wanted to know her so desperately, to understand how she had changed. But she only slipped further away from him. She didn’t like to be examined so closely. Maybe he was too obvious in his attempts to study her, and his intense gaze scared her off or even offended her. She asked him to minimize their meetings once more. But stubbornly, he kept “accidentally” bumping into her on occasion. Of course, she saw right through him. While he demanded the Queen’s schedule from Court Lady Choi, Soyong did the same by asking for his schedule from his Head Eunuch.
Eventually, Wonbeom decided to back off for her sake. If she needed time, he would give it to her. It seemed like his waiting was starting to pay off, as the Queen was ready to start talking to him again. But unfortunately, her disappearance had interrupted any of their progress.
“No intruders were found, Your Majesty,” one of his men reports, drawing Wonbeom out of his memories. “We will take shifts through the night. If I may, you don’t need to be here all the time, Your Majesty.”
Wonbeom supposes that is true. For the past week, Wonbeom disappeared from the palace as soon as his duties as ruler were over for the day. He spends nearly all his free time with a search party, along with his brother and Hong Byeolgam. Otherwise he is here, at the royal villa, participating in his son’s protection.
It is starting to take a toll on him. He eats irregularly and barely sleeps, and the anxiety is a heavy burden as well. How terrible must he look if his guard finds it reasonable to voice that the King doesn’t need to be present?
“It is not that I don’t trust you all,” Wonbeom assures his guard. “I just can’t sit doing nothing.”
“We know that, Your Majesty. We protect that child as our own because we know you would do the same for our families.”
Wonbeom gives him a small smile. He chose the right men for his secret agenda. It was the right move to maintain a group like this for urgent and delicate situations like the Queen’s sudden disappearance.
He decides to visit his son before getting back to the palace. Even though it is late at night, he wishes to at least see him sleeping peacefully in his crib. He tries to sneak in secretly, but his own men detect him as they should.
“I just wanted to check the security,” Wonbeom clarifies, satisfied with his guards’ work.
He finds his son asleep, hugging a stuffed rabbit tightly to his chest. Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon are watching over him, as usual.
“Is he still crying a lot?” Wonbeom asks.
“Ever since Lord Kim Moon-Geun arrived here, His Royal Highness has calmed down significantly, Your Majesty,” Court Lady Choi informs him.
Wonbeom couldn’t keep the secret about Soyong’s disappearance from her father for too long. It was impossible as his father-in-law visited the Queen and their son almost daily. And it didn’t feel right to hide that information from him.
Even since Wonbeom had told the truth to his father-in-law, the old man joined everyone else in the royal villa to help look after his grandson. He swore not to leave the villa until the situation cleared up and Soyong returned home safely. Wonbeom is glad to have him here after hearing Court Lady Choi’s words. While the prince’s mother is not around and his father is too busy looking for her, it’s good that the prince has another relative to look after him.
Wonbeom notices that the red scarf is always somewhere nearby his son, as well as the little plush rabbit Soyong made for him. Hyun-ki has played with it enough that it’s already missing one ear.
“I apologize for overstepping my boundaries, Your Majesty, but maybe you could consider eating something before returning to the palace?” Court Lady Choi bows respectfully, but Wonbeom hears the genuinely worried tone in her voice. For the second time that night, Wonbeom wonders how terrible he looks that others are showing so much concern for his welfare.
“I don’t want to disturb you…” he starts, but the court lady interrupts him:
“It is no trouble at all, Your Majesty. I will be right back!”
She leaves him in another chamber so they won’t disturb Hyun-ki’s sleep. This room is supposed to belong to the Queen, though she has never used it to his knowledge. Her attendants have brought some of the Queen’s belongings here so the place won’t look too empty. He notices some cosmetics and hairpins, as well as some books, most notable of all, Dongmongseonseup.
Wonbeom takes the all too familiar book into his hands, caressing his finger over Kim Soyong’s name. A long time ago, he returned this book to the wrong girl and it started the sequence of misunderstandings between him and Soyong. When he was enthroned as king, he asked Jo Hwa Jin to give it back to him to instill hope in him as it did a long time ago when he was trapped in the well. He remembers when he returned the book to the right person at last. How the Queen’s awkward look changed into a fonder one as she caressed her beloved book. Silly him, he had missed all the signals and changes in behavior. The two souls were too different to be mistaken as one.
“Her Highness repaired the book by memory.” The sudden voice of Kim Moon-Geun makes Wonbeom turn around. He sees his father-in-law in his nightclothes, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
“Repaired?” Wonbeom asks, confused.
“One page was ripped off,” Moon-Geun clarifies, and Wonbeom flips through the book to find one page of a different color. Although, the leftovers of the missing page are still there as if Soyong didn’t dare to throw it away even though it is damaged.
“Does she know this book by rote?” he asks.
“Yes, she always read it on her birthday until she got nosebleeds.” Lord Kim smiles sadly, remembering it. “Her birthday is her mother’s memorial day. Her late mother learned from it when she was little and she wanted to pass it on to her own child.” Tears appear in Lord Kim’s eyes as he remembers his late wife. “But it was I who presented Dongmongseonseup to Her Highness instead.”
Wonbeom did not know that. He had guessed that the book was important to that strange girl, as she gave it to him as a guarantee that she would come back. If it belonged to her mother, how kind must Soyong have been to entrust such a precious thing to a complete stranger? Suddenly, Wonbeom feels ashamed for thinking she deceived him and left him to die back then.
Their spontaneous family bonding moment is interrupted by Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon arriving with trays of food in their hands. It is awkward to sit and eat while being watched by so many people. But Wonbeom understands he can’t leave anything on his plate, as these people are closest to Soyong and now they are extending their care to him as well. Their marriage may be complicated, but he’s glad the Queen has such loyal people who care about her wellbeing if he can’t be close to her himself.
“Haven’t you noticed changes in the Queen’s behavior? In the last year, I mean.” Wonbeom tries to keep his voice as casual as possible. All three share confused looks between each other.
“What do you mean, Your Majesty?” Lord Kim asks curiously.
“In the past year, the Queen has had a sudden change in behavior, has she not?”
“Not only for the past year…” Hong Yeon starts, confused by his question and shy about speaking with him directly. “Her Highness has been changing ever since she entered the palace.”
“Yes, but after that battle…” Wonbeom tries to lead the conversation in one direction, but the young maid isn’t finished yet.
“She changed after she found out about Lady Hwa Jin, after she fell into the lake, after her vegetative state, after the battle, after…”
While the young maid recites all those meaningful events, Court Lady Choi and Lord Kim both nod in agreement.
“But the most striking changes were after the lake incident,” Wonbeom insists, deliberately avoiding a direct reference to her attempted suicide. “And after the battle.”
“I don’t think so,” Hong Yeon answers him again. Out of everyone present, it seems like she knows the Queen the best. “After her vegetative state, she started remembering things more and more. And she slowly returned to her old self.”
“I noticed that too,” Court Lady Choi agrees. “There were still a lot of strange words and behaviors, but…”
“But at the same time, she became more familiar,” Hong Yeon finishes. “And after the battle, she returned completely,” Court Lady Choi concludes.
“At the royal wedding, I barely recognized her,” Lord Kim admits. “But when I collapsed and she visited me at my home, it felt like my daughter had come back. Instead of the Mad Queen, my sweet Soyong had returned.”
Wonbeom wants to object and insist that he never calls his wife mad again, but a sudden noise from outside catches his attention. In the span of seconds he’s on his feet, grabbing his sword and rushing outside. The guards are shouting, running towards the location of the disturbance, torches in hand.
“What’s going on?” Wonbeom asks the head guard.
“We have an intruder.”