“We ask that you consider deposing the Queen, Your Majesty!” the ministers bellow in chorus. Wonbeom had assumed that an appeal like this would eventually appear, but not this soon.
“Do not dare even think about it!” Wonbeom angrily slams the appeal down onto his desk.
“Her Highness the Queen neglects her duties,” the Left State Counselor retorts.
“The Queen has been working diligently in the Inner Court. Moreover, she has her own charity projects.” Wonbeom sternly looks at his ministers from his throne. “I believe she deserves her time to rest!”
Wonbeom overhears his ministers whisper rumors about the Queen among themselves. Despite the fact that he is the King, he has no power to prevent these rumors from spreading. And until Soyong returns, he knows it will only get worse.
“The Queen neglects her conjugal duties as well,” a minister from the Right State speaks up.
Wonbeom did not expect a blow like that. So they have been discussing their personal life, what they do behind the thin paper doors of their chambers. He feels sick at the thought. After the heir was born, Wonbeom had thought that he and the Queen’s intimate life would be of no further interest to his ministers. With a note of disgust, he realizes that they are destined to be observed and discussed by the court until their last day.
“To secure the future of the country, you must have more male offspring, Your Majesty,” another minister insists.
Before Wonbeom has a chance to silence him, the newly appointed Minister Park Yul Mu raises his voice:
“I think His Majesty heard you and will take into account your sincere concern.” The sarcastic tone was hard to miss. “You are not speaking about a mere concubine. Her Highness the Queen is the mother of this nation and the mother of the heir to the throne. You would do well to show the proper respect!”
After the impassioned speech, the rest of the court goes quiet and Wonbeom uses the opportunity to finish the royal conference for the day. He pulls aside Minister Park to ask him to come to his study for a talk. The minister was appointed only a few days ago, and this was the first time he voiced something at the conference.
“I am surprised,” Wonbeom says once they are alone in his study. They both take a seat at the table.
“What exactly surprises you, Your Majesty?” the young minister wonders.
“As far as I know, your family was banished from Hanyang1Hanyang 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). and stripped of all ranks by the Andong Kim clan’s order. The Queen is from that clan and yet you still stood up for her.”
“At that moment I didn’t think about the Queen’s family, but about my own sister. I wouldn’t want anyone to speak about her like that,” Minister Park says, giving a small smile.
“I see…” Wonbeom nods in understanding. “Nevertheless, I am grateful.”
“I just bought Your Majesty some time. They will bring up this appeal again.”
“I am aware of that. Still, I appreciate your help today.”
“If I may dare, could I give Your Majesty some advice?” the minister starts carefully.
“Of course,” Wonbeom agrees, ready to listen attentively.
“Your Majesty should initiate a new concubine selection.” Wonbeom is about to interject but Minister Park raises his hand to show he is not finished. “You don’t have to choose any, just show them your intentions by visiting their estates. They will be too busy ingratiating themselves to you at their homes to think about the Queen’s deposition.”
“If I do that and don’t choose anyone in the end, it will offend them greatly,” Wonbeom objects.
More importantly, he doesn’t want Soyong to misunderstand when she finds out. He intends to prove his love for her, and if she finds out he is visiting homes to select new concubines she may push him away again.
“Then Your Majesty will have to choose someone in the end,” Minister Park concludes. “Does Your Majesty not already have three concubines?”
“Two. One left the palace right before your appointment,” Wonbeom corrects him. “I do not wish to offend these women. They can’t expect a proper marriage with me.”
“This was just a suggestion, Your Majesty. You could visit my estate. My sister dreams of meeting Your Majesty. She has not stopped talking about it ever since we arrived in the city.”
So this was the minister’s true intention, hiding behind the facade of an overprotective brother. Wonbeom feels a flash of disappointment in the young minister. He needs young minds with fresh ideas for his court, and he had thought Park Yul Mu would be a welcome addition. Wombeom invited him to join his court after hearing about his success in the province the Park family was banished to. Their father was dishonorably kicked out of the inner circle of ministers – the case being fabricated by Kim Jwa Geun himself. Park Yul Mu and his sister were left without their mother and father soon after they were banished.
“I know what Your Majesty is thinking.” Minister Park’s voice brings Wonbeom back from his thoughts. “With all due respect, Your Majesty, after what I heard I don’t want us to become relatives. But my sister dreams of testing her charms on you. If you reject her gently I would be most grateful.”
On that note, they end their meeting and go their separate ways. As he always does at the end of the day, Wonbeom changes out of his royal robes and into a hanbok2Hanbok – a general word for clothes. before he goes to visit his son.
The prince greets him in a cheerful mood, making happy sounds while his grandfather makes funny faces at him. Wonbeom feels a sense of relief that his son is distracted from his mother’s absence. Everyone at the royal villa makes sure that he always has a playmate or is occupied with one of his many toys they have spoiled him with.
Wonbeom sits beside his father-in-law and holds out his arms to take his son into his embrace.
“Hyun-ki-ah, did you miss your daddy?” Wonbeom asks and receives a gurgle in return. He considers that a yes.
The prince reaches out his hands to his father’s hat strings and yanks on them. Wonbeom unties his hat and places it on his son’s head. But Hyun-ki is much too small for it so his head drowns in the hat. “You need to grow up for it to fit, my son. Eat well and soon you will be able to wear it.”
But don’t grow too fast, he thinks to himself.
“Any news about my Soyong?” Lord Kim asks. Wonbeom only shakes his head.
Lord Kim lets out a sigh.
“Did you eat well today, Your Majesty?”
“I did, just before arriving here.” Wonbeom is not exactly lying. He did eat, but it was such a small portion that it could hardly count. But he doesn’t want to worry his father-in-law too much.
The old man sighs deeply once more, but he quickly dons a foolish smile the moment his grandson looks in his direction again. Lord Kim shakes the one-eared plush rabbit in front of Hyun-ki’s face, and the baby quickly grasps the toy.
Wonbeom suddenly remembers that he didn’t come here empty-handed. He hands his son over into his father-in-law’s waiting arms but takes the plush toy away. Hyun-ki immediately bursts into tears, but Kim Moon-geun wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t have a new present handy. He hands the new toy to his grandson, who happily starts playing with it.
Wonbeom takes out the little bag he brought with him. Inside is some cloth and sewing supplies, along with stuffing to fill the toy. The rabbit is made from lilac and white cloth, but Wonbeom couldn’t find the exact same color and pattern.
Carefully, he cuts out the shape for a new rabbit ear. Then he suffers for a couple of moments with the needle and thread. Finally, when the thread goes through the needle ear, he starts to sew the ear together. He curses under his breath every time he pokes himself with the needle.
The ear turns out somewhat misshapen, but Wonbeom is still proud of his handiwork. He fills in the ear with stuffing and sews it to the lilac and white rabbit’s head, leaving it with a single pale pink ear. It is somewhat shorter than the one Soyong made, but nevertheless, Wonbeom tried his best.
“Hyun-ki-ah.” Wonbeom draws his son’s attention. “Looks like new again, right?” He shows the rabbit to him and the prince reaches for his favorite toy, pulling the new ear into his mouth again. Apparently, the new ear wouldn’t last much longer than the old one.
Later on, when Hyun-ki is tuckered out from playing with his father and grandfather, Wonbeom takes him to put him to sleep. He rocks his baby in his arms, but Hyun-ki, while visibly tired, refuses to fall asleep. He closes his eyes a few times and nearly dozes off, but then rubs his little fists on his eyes, opening them again to stare back at his father once more. Wonbeom has only one solution in mind: he has to sing him a lullaby.
Back on Ganghwa Island, he used to sing along with his fellow fishermen and woodcutters. They were mostly crude songs making fun of aristocrats. Once he became a father, he had to learn new songs – slow and soothing, to make his son fall asleep. He starts by humming the melody and then sings in a low voice:
Close your eyes Have no fear
The monster’s gone
He’s on the run and your daddy’s here
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Out on the ocean sailing away I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient
‘Cause it’s a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
Hyun-ki yawns and his eyes slowly flutter closed until he is fully asleep. Wonbeom continues to hum the song and rock his beautiful son in his arms. He hopes his son will grow up as strong as his father and as compassionate as his mother, so he can feel his people’s needs and be strong enough to fight for them.
- 1Hanyang 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).
- 2Hanbok – a general word for clothes.