In Soyong’s dream, she has an uneasy feeling that she is prey in a hunt. She does not dare to look back while she runs for her life through the woods. If she looks back, she’ll be doomed. If she looks back, the masked man will catch her. The woods surrounding her are impossibly thick and she feels like there’s nowhere to go. Soyong is panicking. Soon he will catch her. Soon…
Soyong shudders and hears someone’s voice. A girl cries out and then calls for her.
Soyong slowly opens her eyes, struggling to focus her vision. Everything is blurry and her mind is in a haze. Her hearing is muffled as if she is in water, like she is drowning in the lake again. She has to put a lot of effort into focusing on the simple bedchamber she finds herself in, dimly illuminated by candlelight. She turns her head and sees a young girl with a wet compress in her hand. Soyong concentrates harder to understand her.
“Are you alright?” the girl asks, peering into Soyong’s face worriedly.
“Where am I?” Soyong’s voice sounds unfamiliar to herself, too hoarse and weak. She tries to clear her throat, but it doesn’t help. The girl brings a bowl of water and Soyong hastily drinks it all in a few large gulps. She hadn’t been aware of how thirsty she was until that moment. She thanks the girl in a clearer voice and repeats her question.
“You are in 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 this is Master Park’s estate,” the girl informs her. “We found you on the road in the woods. Don’t you remember?”
Soyong remembers the robbers on the road and the masked man in black. Remembers how she ran with Court Lady Choi and how she left her because she was injured. Soyong panics, wondering if her court lady is alright. She has to be safe, she just has to.
“Was I alone? You didn’t find anyone else?” she asks, but the girl shakes her head.
Soyong doesn’t know if it’s a good sign or not. She can only hope that Court Lady Choi is healthy and safe. Soyong quickly decides she needs to get back to the palace immediately. She tries to get up hurriedly, but her head starts spinning again. She falls back onto the bed, feeling nauseous.
“You can’t get up yet!” The girl covers Soyong with blankets, tucking her in. “The physician said you need to take medicine and rest. You need to recover first.”
“I need… to go back home…” Soyong tries to object, but she suddenly feels sleepy and her eyes close against her will. She falls into a troubled sleep again. Back in the woods.
She wakes up periodically and the same girl gives her a bowl with medicine that tastes awfully bitter. Soyong misses Yeon, who always adds honey to her medicine.
Soyong doesn’t know how much time passes, but she feels better every time she wakes up. Soon, she gains the strength to sit up in her bed, with her back leaning on the wall.
It is around that time she finally meets one of her saviors. It’s a tall, handsome man dressed in black and burgundy combat clothes. He seems exceptionally tall, in fact, or at least he does from Soyong’s sitting position. She heartily thanks him for saving her life and hears his deep and pleasurable voice again.
“My name is Seo Hwi. Do you remember yours?” He takes a seat on the cushion by her bedding.
“Not yet,” she lies.
Soyong has been repeating that lie ever since her mind stopped feeling hazy and she started to speak in longer sentences. As the Queen, she cannot let herself be found like this. Every day, she asks the maid who brings her food about the latest news. The girl talks about anything except news from the palace. It could mean only one thing: her smart and resourceful husband had managed to keep her disappearance a secret. Otherwise, the whole city would be abuzz with news about her absence. She is beyond grateful for the King’s sharp mind.
At first, Soyong wanted to rush home despite her poor state and constant nausea. Because if she was attacked, then her son might be in danger too. But she had no strength to do so. When her mind cleared up enough, she came to the conclusion that the King would do anything to protect their son. She couldn’t trust her heart and her love to him, but she would easily entrust her and their son’s lives to him.
“Maybe we can make up a name for you then?” Seo Hwi suggests, dragging Soyong out from her thoughts. “Maybe Mi-Ah?”
Soyong lets out a soft laugh for the first time since the incident. Mi-Ah literally means “beautiful name.”
“Alright,” Soyong agrees. “I can be Mi-Ah. It is nice to meet you, Seo Hwi.”
The young warrior smiles shyly in response. He suggests they go outside for a walk, and Soyong happily agrees to the change of scenery. The faster she recovers, the faster she can go back home. Maybe not to the palace straight away, but she could perhaps visit Director Hong’s office. He could inform the King that she was back, and they could all figure out a way for her to return to the palace without arousing suspicion.
Seo Hwi helps her with everything. He leads her onto the threshold of the maids’ hanok2Hanok – a house. and assists her in putting her shoes on. He holds her arm and his other hand is on her waist to support her better. They are too close for Soyong’s liking, but without his support, she would fall. So she is grateful for his strong hands and soothing voice as he tells her about the estate.
Upon seeing it and hearing about it, Soyong finally recognizes the Park estate from her own memory. She had visited here as a child, and the Parks had come to visit her home as well. The estate currently belongs to a brother and sister, but Soyong can remember their parents too.
Soyong attended etiquette lessons with young Lady Park Yul Mee. Jo Hwa Jin also probably remembers that callous girl. They didn’t like her back then because she mocked them about their lost mothers, while hers was alive and healthy.
Seo Hwi informs her that the brother and sister are orphans now. Despite their past, Soyong feels a twinge of sympathy for Yul Mee.
Her older brother, Yul Mu, is a minister now and attends the royal conferences. She remembers him as a handsome fifteen-year-old, not a boy, but not yet a man either. Whenever he and his sister visited Soyong’s home, Yul Mu and Byeong-In practiced together in sword fights. It was a tough competition between the two, as they were both highly advanced.
But one day, the Parks disappeared from Soyong’s life. She went to her lessons and Yul Mee wasn’t there. The other girls told her that her family was disgracefully banished from the town. She had found it all odd back then, as her own clan had always thought highly of the Park family. Soyong wonders if the Parks had gotten on the wrong side of the Kim clan to be banished in such a way, much like her own husband’s family had.
Now they are back to their old estate thanks to the King. And they have kindly taken her in, a complete stranger.
The estate is in poor condition now, but seeing the many servants working hard on reconstruction, it is only a matter of time before it returns to its former glory.
Soyong breathes in the fresh evening air and thinks about her own family. She misses them dearly. She wonders how her sweet Hyun-ki is doing now. Does he miss his mother or are his nannies keeping him busy? Soyong fears she might miss something important, like the first time he sits on his own accord or his first word.
She misses Hong Yeon, who tells her all the palace gossip every morning when she braids her hair. She misses Court Lady Choi with her constant nagging. She misses her dear father who brings countless presents for his grandson. He swears he buys them with his honestly-earned money, as he is not involved in the corrupt practices of his clan anymore. Soyong believes him because she sees how barren her natal home is of luxury goods. Her father spends everything on his family so nothing is left for himself.
She misses the King, too. She had spent so much time avoiding him at the palace, but even then she would have the occasional glimpse of him. Now that she is away, she realizes how much those small moments had meant to her.
She even catches herself on the thought she envies Park Yul Mu because he visits royal conferences and has the opportunity to see and hear the King at his best. So confident and magnificent and…
“Are you unwell?” Seo Hwi asks suddenly. “Your cheeks are red and your breathing is heavy.”
“I am just enjoying our walk and the fresh air, that’s all. Being in that room for so long was suffocating.” Soyong tries to hide her embarrassment and calm down her quickly pounding heart. She chides herself for getting carried away with her memories.
“Let’s take a seat.” Seo Hwi leads her to another hanok to sit on its threshold. “I’ll bring some water.”
He takes his leave and Soyong is left to her own devices, accompanied only by the sound of crickets. She lifts her head up and tries to see the stars, but it’s not dark enough yet.
Suddenly, she hears a couple of unfamiliar voices. There seems to be two men talking around the corner.
“Do you think it’s the best timing for our plan?” one of the men asks.
“Park Yul Mu is hesitant; he is a patient man after all. But we can’t miss this chance. We need to convince him. We know the King better after all.”
Soyong feels a chill run through her. What are they talking about?
“That is true, I have never seen him so depressed.”
“Yes. It seems like the rumors about the Queen’s illness are true.”
“He looks like a ghost…”
“He is weak…”
The voices grow faint as the men walk further away from Soyong’s location. She hurries to stand up, but it’s still not an easy task for her. She uses the hanok’s wall as support and turns around the corner. She spots the two men walking away, but she cannot recognize them from the back. She follows them carefully towards a gazebo in the middle of the garden. It is surrounded by the same large trees she remembers from her childhood. She had once managed to climb one of these trees to win a game of hide-and-seek. But she had been too scared to climb down, and Byeong-In had to help her down as if she was a kitten.
In the dim light of twilight, no one notices Soyong sneaking around. There are guests and servants arriving at the gazebo from the opposite side. The servants light up the lanterns and serve food and drinks to all the guests. Soyong quietly hides behind the trees and observes everyone from afar.
She sees some vaguely familiar faces, but she can’t recall any names. From the servants, she only recognizes the girl who had nursed her back to health.
At the head of the table, she spots the host of this dinner – Yul Mu. She now recognizes the boy from her childhood – how could she have mistaken him with Bong Hwan when he had found her on the road? He had grown up even more handsome than she remembers.
Yul Mu draws his guests’ attention once the servants are dismissed:
“For our common goal!” He raises his cup of wine and drinks it. Everyone else does the same.
“Are our men ready?” a familiar voice asks. Soyong recognizes him as one of the two men she had overheard earlier.
“Yes, the camp is set up and they are spending their days in training,” Yul Mu confirms. “But I’m not sure now is the right time for our plans.”
“Now is the best time. The King is most vulnerable right now!” the other man says. “The Queen’s health has His Majesty preoccupied. He won’t even notice our first move!”
“Are you sure she is ill?” Yul Mu is apparently not convinced.
“The eunuch that saw her urgent departure from the palace in the middle of the night said she coughed up her lungs while approaching the palanquin.”
Soyong is puzzled for a moment by that statement, but when she catches on, she almost lets out a laugh. Nice one, Your Majesty! Her husband had come up with a very clever cover for her absence.
“Rumors can be false. Let’s wait a bit longer and observe,” Yul Mu insists, but his guests don’t agree. They object and argue, but Yul Mu raises his hand to stop them. “Let’s make this clear. You asked me to help you because I had all the resources you would need for your goal. These are my men and my money so the last word is from me. You all need me more than I need you, don’t forget that.”
No one argues further with that. The rest of the evening, they don’t spill anything else valuable besides agreeing to meet in Oktajeong3Oktajeong is a kisaeng house. next time. Finally, they get up and leave, saying their thanks to Yul Mu one by one.
When Soyong leaves the safety of the trees, she does not get far, as she bumps into the owner of the estate himself.
“Oh, the damsel in distress!” He greets her jokingly and she must admit that he grew up into a very charming man. “I apologize for not visiting you earlier. I was too busy with a new job and new place, as you can see…” He smiles widely at her. “Are you ready to go back home?”
Soyong freezes for a moment.
She wants to be home. She wants to get back to her family. But she must also protect both of those things. So instead of responding, she dramatically turns her head away, and makes her lower lip tremble. She doesn’t blink, so her eyes can appear more watery as well.
“Master!” she shouts, probably too loudly, turning back to him. He looks startled and confused. “I have nowhere to go, Master!” She suddenly clasps his hands with hers and he almost takes a step back, his eyes wide with shock. “Please, let me stay and serve you. This is the only way I can repay your kindness!”
She doesn’t know if she will succeed or not but she must at least try. Now that she is in the enemy’s den, it’s the perfect opportunity to find out everything about this conspiracy. As much as she wants to see her family, friends, and even her very confusing husband, she will stay here for now.
Now repeat all those compliments to your husband’s face!
I was trying to find a funny fake name for SY but come across this comment on reddit and chose Mia Ah:
I have an aunt named Mia which uses beautiful Mi and beautiful Ah characters. Really a beautiful name, except also means a missing child or a lost child.
- 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).
- 2Hanok – a house.
- 3Oktajeong is a kisaeng house.