Wonbeom is alone.
His study is illuminated by a few candles, and in the dim light he sits completely alone with alcohol and snacks in front of him. Darkness is more suited for him now than the light. After losing family members all his life, he has become accustomed to being lonely. He had thought it would never happen to him again.
What a fool he had been. How did his sincere concern for his wife turn into this nightmare?
Wonbeom only wanted to make sure his Queen did not force herself into the social formalities that make her uncomfortable. He thought it was only her new phase. When the Queen comes up with something, she throws herself fully into the task. That is how it was with the concubines’ selection. No other wife in human history was that interested in choosing lovers for her husband as his Queen was. Naturally, he assumed she played the role of a perfect Queen to be a powerful inner palace ruler. That would be in character for his arrogant Queen. Wonbeom only wanted for her to be herself; she is smart and amazing without any pretense.
You didn’t fall in love with me, Your Majesty…
How is that even possible? She was there, in front of him. Of course, he fell in love with her. Who else could it be? He remembers how, out of jealousy, he asked his Queen whom among men she cherishes the most. And his strange wife gave the most unexpected answer: Jang Bong Hwan.
Considering the arrogance of the Queen before and her patient and calm nature now, does it mean the spirit answered with his own name?
Even if you have more flaws than anybody else in the world, I still like you…
His confession by the lake now became the real challenge. Wonbeom promised her he would love her despite her flaws, but why is he so confused with his ideal wife now? Perhaps he liked her flaws as well; they made her unique and interesting. He even started to write the dictionary of strange words she used. Distracting his thoughts by writing Queen’s Dictionary saved himself from nightmares. Or was it thinking about his Queen in general that saved him, and the dictionary was just a tool?
I was hiding, Your Majesty…
Wonbeom is uncertain what hurts him more in her confession: the idea that he allegedly lost the woman he loves, or that the woman he thinks he loves was hidden from him because she was tormented by him. Foolishly, he had thought he redeemed himself for the misunderstandings and his cruelty at the beginning of their relationship. But it seems like he is still paying for his mistakes. She hid from him. She let the spirit live instead of her because she didn’t want to live her miserable life with her husband.
The King… Your Majesty…
The different honorifics from two different Queens. Even the intonation of their voices are different; how didn’t he notice it before? Now whenever he hears her saying it, he’s reminded over and over again about things that changed.
Wonbeom visits Daejojeon1Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding. every day, but not for the reason the hall exists in the first place. He has questions, lots of them.
And the Queen, like Buddha, is patient with him. She listens to all his various questions, but her answers remain the same: the spirit. Every decision and act was made by the spirit. They didn’t speak in their shared mind, and therefore, the spirit always thought she was gone forever and it was her body that betrayed the foreign soul inside. But at the same time, they shared the same body and some skills. So the Queen could cook as the spirit and play gayageum2Gayageum or kayagum is a traditional Korean plucked zither with 12 strings, though some more recent variants have 18, 21 or 25 strings. It is probably the best known traditional Korean musical instrument. as Soyong. With memories everything was tricky; they shared them only if needed.
“When I saved Dam Hyang and mentioned mafeisan, you told me…”
“That I read “Three Kingdoms for Kids” many times… that book is from the future, so it was the spirit again…” the Queen explains quietly. “Are you doubting my intelligence?” He hears disappointment in her voice, but he has nothing to answer to that.
The spirit truly possessed so much valuable knowledge, and it’s his mind Wonbeom admired. Thanks to him, Wonbeom won his battle and chose a new path as the King. The idea of a constitutional monarchy or democracy where people choose their next “King” inspired him. Wonbeom wants to share his power with his people. They deserve the right to vote on what path the country will choose. Wonbeom already has ideas on how to start that transformation in the country, but he’s afraid people won’t support him. Not only the aristocrats, but also commoners who are not used to making big decisions like that.
“The only person who loved me for simply being me is dead.”
Wonbeom wasn’t supposed to hear those words since Soyong said them when he left her room. But the thin paper walls didn’t save him from this painful knowledge.
Of course, her cousin Kim Byeong-in loved the true Soyong. He wouldn’t be tormented like Wonbeom is right now, because he knew what woman was in his heart. In Kim Byeong-in’s heart was the most wonderful woman in the world who a possessive loser and fool like Wonbeom can’t recognize. When Kim Byeong-in thought about the Queen he saw Soyong. When Wonbeom thinks about the Queen he sees… Soyong and not Soyong at the same time.
Even after the battle when, according to Soyong, the spirit left her body, she still sometimes reminds him about her other self, while other times she is quite the opposite. Soyong tries to convince him that the spirit was always in charge of her mind, but why can Wonbeom name many times when he saw her, Soyong, and not the spirit?
Wonbeom is sure it was the true Soyong he kissed and made love to all night. She had been a cold and insolent wife during the day, but a tender and passionate tigress during the moonlight. The spirit possession would explain why she acted so strangely after their shared intimacy, and why she often didn’t remember anything afterward.
“It’s not important who kissed you those times or who shared the bed with you. What’s more important is who you wanted to kiss and who you wanted to bed.”
She is right, of course. But Wonbeom still wanted to make sure, so he visited her when she was in the library. And his heart broke a little more when he saw her grabbing Court Lady Choi’s elbow and pleading with her eyes to not leave her alone. As if Wonbeom would harm her. As if he’s still the monster whose cruel words and actions drove her to dive into the lake on the night before the wedding. She pushed him away when he tried to kiss her and asked him not to insult her like that. She was right. As always, Soyong was right.
“Your Majesty is hurting and confusing Her Highness,” Court Lady Choi says. Her voice and manner of speaking are still formal, and she even apologizes for overstepping her boundaries. But for Soyong’s sake, the court lady is ready to confront the King himself.
“I am hurt and confused myself!” Wonbeom tries to argue but doesn’t get any support from her. “Then come back when you figure everything out, whatever the issue is,” she calmly says.
He should have listened to the court lady, but out of his stubbornness, Wonbeom made a desperate move. He had thought he could understand what he truly felt if he kissed Soyong. If they were to be together, he would be able to feel it, right? But this decision only made things worse. The fact the woman he thinks he’s in love with fears and hates to share a room with him wounds him more than any arrow or sword could.
“How can I refuse the royal command?”
With each new encounter, they draw further away from each other. He sees how sad this situation makes her. Even more though, she’s starting to hate him and he can’t do anything about it.
Wonbeom thinks about the times when everything was easier, when they were in the rebel camp, comforting each other and taking care of each other’s wounds. Things were so much easier back then and he misses it. He wants to go back to the forest and live in a simple tent with her for the rest of their lives.
“And I am not your family?”
Wonbeom is still terrified with his own words. Of course, she misunderstood him, but it was so painful for her to hear that she didn’t give him a chance to explain.
Her voice still echoes in his ears. In his own pain, he didn’t realize how much he was hurting her. Why didn’t he slow down and think before doing something? Court Lady Choi warned him and he refused to listen.
The spirit was harsh in pushing him away. Fate was cruel to him all his life and now in giving him this new challenge. But there’s no one more cruel in his life than Kim Soyong is right now. He has become more depressed than he ever thought he could be.
He will never forget this night. He will never forget this pain.
This is how he ends up alone in his study with only alcohol to accompany him. He drinks one cup of wine after another, wondering if he can still fix everything. If he can make it all better or at least less painful. His brother comes into his study, asking if everything is alright. Gyeong-eung sits beside him, and Wonbeom pours his brother a cup of wine and tells him everything.
“What should I do, hyeongnim3Hyeongnim – male addressing to the brother.?” Wonbeom’s voice is tired, and he’s so drunk he can’t sit straight, waving a bit from side to side.
“First of all, this whole story is complete nonsense,” Gyeong-eung says, and Wonbeom lets out a low chuckle.
“I have already passed this stage…” Wonbeom fills his brother’s cup again and then his own. “What’s second?”
“If it’s all true, why don’t you believe the Queen?” his brother asks.
“I do believe the spirit possessed her body,” Wonbeom says, blinking slowly. “What do you mean, hyeongnim?”
“If what she says is true, then her assumption is right: it’s the spirit you fancy,” the prince concludes. “So right now, are you drinking because you lost her forever, or because the Queen is pushing you away again? It can’t be both.”
“It’s more complicated, hyeongnim. Something from her was there as well. I don’t know how I know it, but I’m sure,” Wonbeom argues.
“So you want her to be the way she was before?”
Wonbeom frowns. What does he really want? He just noticed the changes and voiced his concerns. He was afraid she changed to be more suitable for the palace. He has never thought about what he really wants. If she’s comfortable right now and it’s not all a pretense, then does the problem lie with him?
“She’s turned out to be different from the woman I fell in love with. Or, more accurately, she’s the one I fell in love with, but not entirely…” Wonbeom downs another cup of alcohol. “I’m completely confused…”
He had thought he knew Soyong. He always watches her so closely, noticing all the little details. But after her stories about the spirit, he understands how wrong he was. The conclusions he made from the Queen’s chaotic behavior were mostly wrong. He had thought the Queen decided to do the right thing when she saved Hwa Jin from execution. After her confession, that it was the spirit who decided to do the right thing. But it turned out that the spirit saw the King as a competitor for the concubine’s heart. On the other hand, Wonbeom knows for a fact that Soyong saved him from the well eight years ago despite the fact he was the son of traitors, and she had to go against her family’s orders. She would not let him die in that well and came back to save him. Does it mean his conclusion about the Queen’s character is right even though the reasons for saving Hwa Jin were different?
Wonbeom’s head is spinning from all these thoughts with or without alcohol and, of course, he feels irritated. First with himself, second with Soyong. All she’s done is hurt him with her statements. This night just became the last straw, the peak of their boiling emotions. It’s not about the spirit anymore; everything about her and what happened to her is hurting him now.
“Wonbeom-ah, may I say something?” The prince’s voice is unusually soft, like they are just brothers from Ganghwa Island again, not the King and prince. “I think I understand what you are feeling because I went through that myself…” Wonbeom looks at his brother, frowning uncomprehendingly. “With Lady Jo Hwa Jin,” the prince clarifies.
“The situation is entirely different!” Wonbeom argues.
“I thought she was a flawless lady with perfect manners, strong-willed and amazing. Without deceit and greed…” the prince says, drinking his wine. “But I found out she’s full of flaws and weaknesses, like any other human being. She was drowning in her lies and she couldn’t save herself from her own trap. The woman I knew and fell in love with turned out to be different. But brother, I didn’t stop loving her. People change or show a different side to themselves, and it’s not always something we can anticipate.”
“Your love remained unshakable?” Wonbeom asks. It’s the first time they have discussed Hwa Jin with each other since she left the palace. And soon the prince will marry Wonbeom’s former wife, the thought itself still feeling strange. It’s all thanks to the Queen’s new rules.
“I think I started to see her clearly and fell for her even more. I’m not perfect either, and no one can be put on a pedestal.” The prince finishes his wine. “And here you are washing down your sadness because your wife has become too polite,” Gyeong-eung jokes.
“That’s it!” Wonbeom jumps to his feet abruptly, startling his brother. “I have to fill in the blanks… I have to study my Queen again!” He drinks his wine in one gulp, happy with the new solution. But then he remembers his last encounter with Court Lady Choi and sits down, disappointed with his life again.
“What’s wrong?” Gyeong-eung asks in bewilderment.
“Court Lady Choi forbade me to approach the Queen…”
“A court lady forbade the King to see his wife?” the prince asks in an amused tone.
“Yes,” Wonbeom confirms resignedly. “She’s very protective of her and I must be the same.” Wonbeom clutches his head. “Why is everything so complicated?!”
“Maybe you should get sober first and go to sleep?” his brother suggests. “And tomorrow you can think about this more.”
The next morning his head is killing him, but surprisingly he remembers everything that was said. His brother’s story gives him hope that, despite the spirit possession, the personality he fell in love with was Soyong’s. Even if the Queen was two people in one, Soyong was the core of that Queen. But because of the possession, he didn’t get a chance to know the true Soyong. After all, he promised her that back in the pavilion when he returned her jade binyeo. He owes her at least that. And he promises himself, whatever answer he finds, he will make sure Soyong will live a happy and comfortable life. Even if it’s not with him.
After breakfast and time alone in the fresh air, Wonbeom feels a bit better. And he thinks he’s ready to see Soyong and apologize for yesterday’s behavior. He finds her in the gardens, among flowers and chirping birds. Court Lady Choi looks at him like he’s her mortal enemy and even Hong Yeon gives him an angry look. They are so protective of his Queen, he thinks. He’s glad to see it; it means Soyong is in the caring hands of people who love her unconditionally.
“I have come to apologize,” Wonbeom whispers to Court Lady Choi, so Soyong won’t hear. If her friends forbid him to meet her today, Soyong won’t find out he was here at all. Maybe he will try to write her a letter then. But after sharing looks, Soyong’s loyal friends step aside.
“Your Highness, His Majesty the King is here,” Court Lady Choi announces his arrival.
Soyong freezes as she is leaning over to smell a beautiful blue and purple hydrangea flower bush. After a moment she straightens her back, hides both hands under her dangui4Dangui is an upper garment with a white collar tied together by ribbons. The other name for this garment is jeogori., and turns around to face him.
“Your Majesty…” She bows politely.
Funny, he remembers when the Queen, after behaving so rudely for a week, suddenly approached him with a slow walk and polite bow like that. It had looked so unnatural that he spotted the pretense right away. Back then, he told her to behave as usual. But there’s nothing unnatural in Soyong’s grace now.
“My Queen.” Wonbeom carefully steps a bit closer. He sees how she immediately tenses but does not step away from him. Wonbeom stops moving, deciding not to alarm her any further. “I came to apologize for my unforgivable behavior yesterday. I made you feel uncomfortable and scared. I sincerely apologize for that.”
“I understand Your Majesty’s feelings, but you need to consider my feelings too,” she says after a moment. “I didn’t choose that spirit possession in the first place but I gave the spirit the power over me. So it started this whole mess and I’m sincerely sorry about this. But…” Soyong takes a deep breath before continuing quickly so he couldn’t interrupt. “But I’m glad Jang Bong Hwan entered our lives. That magical miracle aided your victory and history was changed thanks to that strange man from the future. He gave you that. And I learned a lot from him as well. I learned that no matter how desperate life might be, there’s always a choice I can make on my own. There’s always a way out if I don’t give up. The spirit taught me that.” Soyong pauses and when she says her next words, her voice breaks a little. “Maybe our broken hearts are the price we have to pay for all these marvelous gifts.”
“You…” Wonbeom’s heart sinks a bit, understanding what she means by that speech. “You don’t want to give us a chance?”
“We missed all our chances, Your Majesty,” she says, on the verge of crying. “When you rejected me that night, you were not willing to see me as an individual rather than my clan’s puppet. And I missed my chance too… when I chose to give the spirit all that power to live my life, sharing only a few memories and some… feelings I couldn’t hide.”
He sees how hard she tries to control her true emotions, how she is hurt by her own words. But he also sees determination; she has already made decisions for both of them.
“This is unfair. We can’t change what has already happened…” He is here to apologize and try to make amends, but they still end up arguing.
“What if you could? What if you could replace me with the other Queen, would you do that?” Soyong asks blatantly.
“I won’t, I know the price now.” Wonbeom can’t believe she would even ask, as if he could face it all again when he suffers so much right now.
“What if there’s no price, just a free exchange?” He stays silent at her words. Would he really do that if no one gets hurt in the process? His silence gives the answer she apparently expected: “This is why we have no future, Your Majesty. I do not wish to live my life wondering if I’m enough. Thinking that you settled for me because you have no other choice. That’s not life, Your Majesty, it’s torture!”
She walks past him, showing that this conversation is over. Wonbeom can’t move; she just shattered his last hope. But she’s not the only one who’s stubborn here. She’s not the only one who learned not to give up. If he managed to tire down fate itself to win his battle, he won’t give up so easily now.
“Take all the time you need, my Queen. But I’m not done yet.” He turns around to face her. “I won’t settle for anything less than a true feeling. Just because I can’t give you the answer right away doesn’t mean it would be negative. It’s all-in or nothing.” He comes closer to her again, looking straight into her eyes. “And when I find my answer and tell you, I promise you, it’s going to be true.”
He walks away, leaving her alone. How dare she think he would settle for less than true love?
I need to clarify that Soyong isn’t stupid for not knowing about democracy and Bong Hwan isn’t genius for knowing it. They are both people of their time. Things that look like brilliant ideas for closed from western culture country like Joseon is pretty average knowledge for modern people. I mean, it’s a school program and Bong Hwan’s mother is a history teacher this is why he can not only name types of the political systems but also provide examples from near countries like Bhutan.
And intelligence isn’t just raw knowledge. They are both smart. Bong Hwan is a very quick thinker and Soyong is so intelligent she could pass local exams for the government posts.
I hope I give justice to Wonbeom’s confused feelings. It’s truly her and not her at the same time. He just needs to know her better as an individual, when there are just two of them without the third wheel.
PS lolling on the birth of professor Wonbeom. Studying his wife again. He might get a Ph.D. on that XD
PSS I think I need therapy after writing these two chapters XD kidding. But it was emotionally hard to write and took me weeks to finalize it. I know my writing is far from being perfect or interesting but this story is like my baby, I put my soul into it and I try my best.
- 1Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding.
- 2Gayageum or kayagum is a traditional Korean plucked zither with 12 strings, though some more recent variants have 18, 21 or 25 strings. It is probably the best known traditional Korean musical instrument.
- 3Hyeongnim – male addressing to the brother.
- 4Dangui is an upper garment with a white collar tied together by ribbons. The other name for this garment is jeogori.