Hwa Jin’s head rests on Gyeong-eung’s shoulder, his cheek lying against the top of her head. To her joy, he is sleeping with her tonight now that he and his men are no longer searching for the Queen. The stillness of the night feels surreal after such an eventful day.
Today had been the most interesting, and perhaps even the best, day she had had in the past year: first her adventure at the royal villa with the Queen, then this evening with the deliberation in their gazebo. Hwa Jin feels trusted, as if her opinion is valued as it used to be a long time ago before the royal wedding. Now she’s a part of a team again and maybe she could even participate in the mission later.
She was surprised to hear about the Queen’s attendance at the kisaeng house. She once again feels envious because she has wanted to visit Oktajeong for some time for the purpose of better describing the place and the kisaengs in her novels.
Hwa Jin had pondered whether to go or not for weeks, but had eventually decided to stay home. But Kim Soyong is different. She doesn’t think twice; she goes the moment she decides something. Even on that fateful night before the royal wedding, Soyong did not hesitate for a second before going into the lake. She did not even jump or dive; she simply walked and didn’t stop when the land turned to water. The Queen was always like that, even in her darkest decisions. Hwa Jin has long admired her boldness, starting from the days of their childhood.
Today was the first time Hwa Jin had seen the King and Queen together since she left the palace, and she is truly surprised by how strange they act now. The King tries to keep his face neutral, but every glance in the Queen’s direction is full of a sad longing. The Queen stubbornly turns away from these stares and seems so cold and detached. They act like strangers, and yet at the same time, they are drawn to each other: stealing furtive glances when the other is not looking or moving just a bit closer together when they share a table. She would say they are playing a part, hiding what they truly want deep inside and resisting it at all costs. Soyong seems committed to her mask while the King looks like he is about to drop his at any moment.
“Don’t you think the King and Queen are behaving strangely?” Hwa Jin starts carefully.
“What do you mean?” her husband responds in a sleepy voice.
“Well, they seem to be together and yet apart,” Hwa Jin tries to explain the feeling she senses between them. “Don’t you think they need help?”
“Do not get involved in it, Hwa Jin-ah,” Gyeong-eung pleads, kissing the top of her head.
“I’ve noticed the same, my dear wife. But if we interfere in their relationship again and something goes wrong, we will be blamed,” her husband explains.
He is not wrong; they had both tried to interfere in the royal couple’s relationship in the past. Gyeong-eung had warned his brother that the Queen was an enemy and that they needed to show only contempt towards her. Hwa Jin for her part had reminded the King of the promises he had made, playing on his feelings about the rescue from the well. She also didn’t miss any opportunity to show how in love the King was with her in front of Soyong. She had humiliated Soyong and degraded her value as the future Queen of Joseon.
“You are right,” she agrees but still feels restless. This time she is trying to help, not make things worse.
“Do not think I do not feel for them. I do,” Gyeong-eung adds. “It’s painful for me to see my brother like this, but they need to navigate their relationship on their own.”
“I understand, dear.” Hwa Jin lifts herself up to look him in the eye. As always she sees the endless devotion to her, even though she’s not sure she deserves it. She is grateful her husband isn’t as proud as the Queen. Or Hwa Jin would be in the same pitiful position as the King.
Hwa Jin has a sudden urge to prove her love for Gyeong-eung, and she reaches out for him with a series of light kisses.
“What is this for?” he laughs as she pulls away to look at him again.
“I am so lucky,” Hwa Jin says with a coy smile. “I’m never going to stop saying that to you.”
“And I am lucky you chose to spend your life with me.” He hugs her tighter. “I love you, Hwa Jin- ah…”
“I love you too,” she responds and rests her head on his shoulder again. As it always is, the sleep in his embrace is warm, and her dreams are pleasant.
In the morning Hwa Jin rises first, leaving her husband to catch up on some much needed rest. She goes to the kitchen to begin preparations for a variety of dishes for breakfast. She informs the servants that she and her guests will all eat in the gazebo. While the weather is warm they must eat outside as much as possible and enjoy the chirping birds.
While the servants work to prepare everything, Hwa Jin sits in the gazebo with her unfinished novel The Princess’ Man1The Princess’ Man is another Sageuk kdrama with lovely Moon Chae-Won as female lead.. She finally found her inspiration and is ready to continue with another part of the heartbreaking novel. She can’t disappoint her readers and she must at least finish one chapter.
“Good morning.” She suddenly hears the Queen’s voice. Soyong takes off her shoes at the foot of the gazebo and goes up the stairs with her skirts slightly lifted. “It seems we are the first up today.”
Hwa Jin slams the book shut and gets up to bow to the Queen, using her body to block the view of the table. Only her most trusted servants and her husband know of her secret passion for writing.
“Did you enjoy your sleep here, Your Highness?” Hwa Jin politely asks and notices how Soyong uneasily shifts from one foot to the other before answering that everything was comfortable. Hwa Jin wonders if she and the King had another fight about using Soyong as a spy when he walked her to her room last night.
“Do you read Cha Eun-woo’s novels as well?” Lost in her thoughts, Hwa Jin is startled to find that
Soyong has detected the book on her table. The Queen walks around her and before Hwa Jin can protest, takes the book into her hands.
“We love reading his novels. I mean, my friends and I do.” Soyong looks excited as she opens the book to the first page. “I guess a new part was published. I must have missed it while I was away…” She flips through the pages and Hwa Jin grimaces when Soyong sees the unfinished ones.
“Wait…” Soyong looks at Hwa Jin, then at the unfinished pages, and back to Hwa Jin. “That can’t be!” The book slips from Soyong’s hands and Hwa Jin barely catches it in time, red with shame that she was exposed so stupidly.
“Please, Your Highness, do not tell anyone!” Hwa Jin begs in a high-pitched voice. “This is a longtime passion of mine that gives me peace of mind.”
“So the tall handsome warrior and the young pretty lady from the last novel are Prince Yeongpyeong and you?” Soyong covers her mouth in shock. “But they had so many intimate scenes!” Hwa Jin is somewhat offended by the fleeting disgust on Soyong’s face.
“I love my husband and I see no reason not to express that in the form that’s the most comfortable for me.” Hwa Jin feels as if her whole face is burning.
“Wait a moment.” Soyong’s face lights up, seemingly with another shocking realization. “In one of your past novels, there was a scoundrel who cheated on the main character and married his childhood friend… Was that the King and me?”
“I wrote that novel right after I was deposed and left the palace. It was the perfect opportunity to release my frustration and write down my anger,” Hwa Jin makes excuses without looking the Queen in the eye.
“I hated them both in the novel. I was swearing a lot…” Soyong mumbles. “Does that mean I was cursing at myself?”
Hwa Jin must admit, sometimes the Queen looks so innocent it’s hard to believe she managed to escape an assassin and even wound him.
“I think you owe me one more favor now,” Soyong says slyly. “Can you make a portrait by my description?”
Hwa Jin agrees and they sit together at the table to make a sketch. Well, Hwa Jin sits while Soyong hovers above her right shoulder giving instructions. She describes a man with an oval face and strong jawline, a big forehead, and slightly puffy almond eyes.
“The hair is short,” Soyong points out when Hwa Jin starts to make outlines for the sangtu2Sangtu – high bun\top knot, men’s hairstyle of the Joseon era..
“Who wears short hair in Joseon? It’s not proper,” Hwa Jin notes, irritated with the constant edits.
“He doesn’t live in Joseon,” the Queen clarifies. She takes a pencil and makes an unskillful outline to give Hwa Jin an idea of how it is supposed to look.
“Who is this man?” Hwa Jin asks, wondering if Soyong actually has a lover and this is the reason behind her coldness towards the King.
“Anti-fan,” Soyong says the unfamiliar word and Hwa Jin quietly repeats it after her. “It’s the King’s and my friend. Unfortunately, His Majesty never saw him in person, but I did, so I thought about giving him a gift like this. Please, keep it a secret until the portrait is ready.”
Hwa Jin looks at the sketch again. She had never seen a man like this in the Queen’s entourage. She had not seen a man like this at all before she entered the palace, nor after.
“He’s handsome, don’t you think?” the Queen suddenly asks.
“I suppose, maybe?” Hwa Jin hesitantly admits.
“It’s good he is not present to hear the uncertainty in your voice. He would be so wounded.” Soyong shakes her head. “He praised you a lot.”
“I have never even met this man!” Hwa Jin argues.
“That is what you think.” Soyong pats Hwa Jin’s shoulder before leaving her side. “Just tell me when the portrait is ready.”
They finish the outline just as their husbands head in their direction, talking about something between themselves. The servants prepare the table with a breakfast that includes many side dishes for everyone’s liking. Hwa Jin is proud of herself as she can finally show her hospitality in her new home, and she hopes it’s not the last time.
She continues to steal glances in the royal couple’s direction to observe them more closely. The King gallantly puts a side dish in his wife’s bowl and Soyong freezes seeing it. The Queen looks in his direction only to see him smiling foolishly. She rolls her eyes and says nothing; however, she eats everything he offers as the breakfast goes along. Hwa Jin lets out a barely audible chuckle. Do the King and Queen know how amusing they look from afar?
She empathizes with the King and his desire to give his loved one his full attention. It’s hard to prove one’s sincere feelings after making mistakes in the past. Even though Hwa Jin is happy in her marriage, she wishes to give Gyeong-eung more confidence because she senses he still doubts her feelings.
“My lady, a letter for you has just arrived,” a young maid announces. Hwa Jin beckons her forward and the maid hands her a small envelope.
This is very strange, Hwa Jin thinks. She is an outcast in Hanyang3Hanyang 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 never receives any letters or invitations. She opens the envelope, and as she starts reading, her eyebrows raise in surprise.
“Is something wrong?” Gyeong-eung asks, but instead of answering him, Hwa Jin raises her eyes to the Queen.
“Lady Park Yul Mee has invited me to share a dinner tomorrow,” Hwa Jin announces, earning a surprised look from everyone around the table.
“I don’t remember you two being friends,” Soyong frowns.
“We never were! Just like Your Highness,” Hwa Jin reminds her. Neither of them had liked Yul Mee for her rudeness when they were younger. Soyong was forced to speak with her only because of their families’ relationship. Hwa Jin’s family had no relation to the Park family, so she successfully avoided Yul Mee’s company outside of their shared studies.
“Could she wish to ask about palace life?” Hwa Jin ponders. “She probably heard about my situation.”
“It could be,” the King agrees. “She didn’t take the rejection lightly.” Soyong chuckles at those words, and Hwa Jin is reminded of the Queen’s departure from the Park estate. Soyong did not go into details about this part of her story, but Hwa Jin surmises there may have been an unpleasant talk between her and Yul Mee.
“Is it safe though? To go into their house?” Gyeong-eung asks, voice laced with anxiety.
“As far as I know, Yul Mee isn’t aware of the conspiracy, and she never asks her brother about his work,” Soyong reassures Gyeong-eung. “Otherwise, she would not have tried so hard to impress His Majesty yesterday.” She gives the King a sideways glance, as if it was his fault he had had to receive Yul Mee’s courtship. “Besides, if you refuse to meet her it would be considered rude or even suspicious.”
“I will have to meet her then,” Hwa Jin decides. It would be an opportunity to learn more about the conspiracy threatening her family.
“I’ll be very careful, dear.” She caresses Gyeong-eung’s shoulder. “And if I hear or see something important, I will share it with you all.”
- 1The Princess’ Man is another Sageuk kdrama with lovely Moon Chae-Won as female lead.
- 2Sangtu – high bun\top knot, men’s hairstyle of the Joseon era.
- 3Hanyang 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).