It’s never a good sign when someone says “we need to talk.” Not for the 19th century nor the 21st. But Soyong knows it’s necessary, and she refuses to be chased into a corner by her fears. Not now, when she’s finally found her true self. She is free from her clan and certain of her own values and dreams. Now she’s going to raise the question that concerns her the most, the question that jeopardizes her continued happiness.
She sighs deeply and nods to the head eunuch so he can announce her arrival.
“My Queen!” Cheoljong greets her with a cheerful smile as he always does. He’s sitting at a desk with a mountain of scrolls that need to be examined before his next royal conference meeting. “I’ve been quite busy the past few weeks and thought about how little time we have spent together lately. I was hoping we could meet later today for tea?”
“That would be nice, Your Majesty, but we need to talk first,” Soyong proclaims.
“Does something concern you, My Queen?” he asks. Upon seeing Soyong’s serious expression Cheoljong begins to worry if something bad has happened.
“I wish to tell you a story that you already know, but from a different angle. Please, Your Majesty, listen carefully until the very end.”
And so she begins. Soyong tells him how after she first fell into the lake, she met Bong Hwan, a strange man from the future. How in the first days after the incident she felt so weak and sad that she didn’t want to control her own body. How later, she found strength and her own voice (quite literally), thanks to Bong Hwan. How their souls merged so tightly that both of them didn’t know who they were: Soyong, Bong Hwan, or a new person combined of the two.
“On that day when we fought for your throne…after we were shot, he suddenly disappeared. I sincerely hope he returned back home as he always wanted,” Soyong muses. She looks up to meet the King’s eyes, so he would know how important her next words would be. “Your Majesty, I want you to know he really cared about you and didn’t want to leave in the heat of the battle. He desperately wanted to make sure you were alright.”
The King sits in silence, avoiding her gaze now, not sure how to react. It’s not the first time she has spoken about a man from the future. For a time, she claimed she was a man, though she now speaks of the man as a third party.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but in the past year you have noticed changes in me. We didn’t have time to talk about it properly with all our work and my pregnancy. Maybe I should’ve started this conversation earlier. I apologize,” she murmurs, voice beginning to tremble with sadness. “I’m afraid I can’t surprise you anymore, not in the way I did in the past.”
For a few long moments they don’t speak nor look at each other. Neither one of them is sure how to continue the conversation.
“I thought I would be able to write countless volumes of the Queen’s Dictionary,” the King responds bitterly, his gaze now on a bookshelf nearby, where the dictionary is placed. “But it looks like it will remain unfinished.”
“I miss him too,” the Queen adds quietly. “But I’m happy to be myself again.”
“Thank you for sharing this. I’m sure it wasn’t easy,” Cheoljong replies earnestly. “I now have a lot to think about.”
“I want our lives to be based on truth. I will always be honest with you,” Soyong promises, forcing herself to look into his eyes again. She needs to voice all her thoughts now, while she has mustered the courage. “There’s something else I wanted to tell you. It’s about our marriage and our future together.”
Cheoljong frowns a little, not knowing what she means by this. She has given him so much information to swallow, he’s not sure he’s ready to process even more news.
“I am always going to support you in your noble aspiration to make Joseon a country we can all be proud of, one where people can have happy and satisfying lives. No one can stand between us and make us enemies, that I can promise,” Soyong vows resolutely. “But you need to choose who we are in our marriage. Are we lovers or are we friends?”
The King stares blankly at the Queen, dumbfounded by her words. He blinks once, twice, opens his mouth to ask if he heard her right, but fails to form any words. She had just said she couldn’t surprise him anymore. What definition of the word surprise did she have in mind then?
Upon seeing his confusion, Soyong decides to further clarify what she means. Her face now blushes a bright red, but she feels the need to finish what she has started.
“If you love me the way I am, even without the intruder from the future, then our marriage is going to be as it’s supposed to be: loving and passionate,” Soyong explains. If he chooses her after knowing the truth, she will be the happiest woman in Joseon. “But if you do not, and I assure you I’ll understand, then we can form some kind of friendship. We have a son to raise, and we have to at least try for his well being. But please, if you can’t give me what I desire, then promise me you won’t stop me from finding someone who will.”
“Wait…Wh-what?” Cheoljong stammers, not believing his own ears. He lowers his voice to a whisper. “Are you talking about taking another man as a lover?”
“Why not?” Soyong asks simply. “To me it looks fair. You have the opportunity to have many concubines, dozens even. Even though I can’t officially have any lovers, I wouldn’t be the first Queen to have one.”
“You’d be the first one who warns her husband about it!” Cheoljong retorts, starting to lose his temper. “How could you even think about it?”
“I deserve to be happy,” Soyong replies, also raising her voice. “I thought you would support me, as you promised not to harm me again. I won’t sit and suffer silently, hiding my true feelings as before. There’s more harm in that for everyone.”
Soyong rises from the desk. “It’s up to you to decide, Your Majesty. I’ll wait for your answer, so please tell me when you are ready. But for now, excuse me, I have work to do.”
Having said everything, she wanted to say, Soyong lifts her skirts and departs, leaving the King alone in his study.
What the hell just happened? – Cheoljong thinks to himself, stunned by the Queen’s words.