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). is a huge and noisy city. It is so different from the village Wonbeom was forced to live in after he and what was left of his family went into exile. At day, the Hanyang streets remind him of rivers running through the forest as people weave and scuttle between hanoks2Hanok – a house. in their hurry to be somewhere. Others haggle with sellers at the market or converse in an open tavern.
But even when surrounded by so many people, Wonbeom feels freer here than he does in the palace. There, he is constantly observed and followed by so many attendants and eunuchs that he feels like he can’t breathe.
Tomorrow is his coronation day. Tomorrow, he will lose his freedom completely. Thus, Wonbeom has decided to sneak away and be a simple commoner for the day. He chose not to dress as a nobleman, as after years of cutting wood and carrying water on Ganghwa Island, he isn’t accustomed to expensive clothes. As an added bonus, no one is likely to pay him any mind and he can enjoy his free time.
Smiling to himself, he stands on the market street, waiting for his best friend from back home, Du Il, to join him. They are supposed to meet and enjoy some gukbap3Gukbap – hot soup with rice. in a nearby tavern (maybe for the last time in his life, Wonbeom notes sadly). But his friend is late, as usual.
What a dullard, Wonbeom thinks to himself.
While he waits, Wonbeom notices a gathering in one spot down the street. Led by his curiosity, he decides to take a look. He thinks perhaps some swindlers are using people’s naivety to their benefit. Gambling on the streets is a common activity and it gains notice since everyone loves winning easy money. But what most people are not aware of is that the sharper is the only one who takes home all the money.
But to Wonbeom’s surprise, it’s an expensive music store that is attracting so much attention. As he walks closer, he starts hearing a melody, as someone is playing the gayageum4Gayageum 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.. The melody is perky and clearly requires a lot of skill. The musician, whoever it is, is very talented.
As he approaches the music store, he realizes that the song is coming from the second floor balcony. Wonbeom finds a spot to listen from the opposite side of the street. The melody is fun and energetic; it lightens his mood. Something so unexpected can’t be found in the palace. There is nothing there that can make so many people stop in awe and forget about their duties. He will definitely miss the spontaneous aspects of life outside of his newly found cage.
Wonbeom decides to at least try to see the musician. He cranes his neck and stands on his tiptoes, but still can’t catch a glimpse of the skilled musician. After a few moments, he finally spots her: it’s a young noblewoman dressed in fine clothes. But before he can focus on her face, a maid blocks his view. Wonbeom shuffles around and jumps a few times, but he’s unable to catch sight of the woman’s face.
Aish, Wonbeom swears to himself in disappointment.
“What are you doing?” Du Il asks, his sudden appearance bringing Wonbeom back to reality. Wonbeom didn’t even notice when his friend had arrived, and based on his friend’s look, he had been standing there for quite some time.
“Staring at some pretty ladies?” Du Il inquires curiously as he jumps on his friend’s back to see what Wonbeom is looking at.
“No, get off of me!” Wonbeom shouts, blushing as he discards his friend from his back. But of course, Du Il can’t let go of this easily and teases the future King for the rest of the day.
Two years have passed since Wonbeom’s coronation as the King of Joseon. He fondly remembers his last day of freedom outside of the palace and the impromptu concert on the streets of Hanyang. Now, he is always closely watched by various spies from the Andong Kim clan. And soon he will have another one, the most important of all: the Queen.
All he knows about her is only rumors since he tries to avoid her company at all costs. Those rumors do not favor her at all. Unpleasant to say the least, they said that Destined Highness is a total nightmare. A cruel witch that makes people frightened of punishment and little kids cry seeing her. Wonbeom sometimes wonders how the sweet Lady he once met under an alcove can be the same woman. He had formed a completely different impression of her back then.
Ones appearances can be deceiving, the King thinks.
As he strolls through the open palace courtyard with a number of attendants on his tail, he suddenly hears music. He turns his head to detect the source of the melody and realizes it’s coming from the gazebo on the lake. Someone is playing the gayageum and it reminds him about that day before his coronation.
The King walks closer to the lake and finally sees who is playing the instrument: it’s his future Queen. She sits alone and plays the gayageum with her eyes closed, her delicate fingers flying over the instrument with ease. The King admires his future wife, as she seems to have mastered playing the difficult instrument.
The melody she chooses is somber, and as Wonbeom observes her, he feels as though she is pouring her own pain and soul into it. The King sympathizes with her for the first time since they met. He understands the feeling of loneliness that comes about in this suffocating palace.
If only you weren’t from the Andong Kim clan, the King thinks to himself. Then maybe we wouldn’t be so lonely in this place. We could have each other.
But it can’t be changed, and as always, the King turns his back on her and leaves.
Years later, the King, his Queen and their son sit in the gazebo by the lake. Soyong is playing a cheerful melody on the gayageum and the little prince is chirping along happily. The prince turns three years old today. For his parents, every birthday is a blessing considering the truth they know about the future. But they believe that they have successfully changed their fate and can finally enjoy their time together.
The prince laughs loudly and the King gives him a look of false seriousness. He puts his finger against his lips as a signal that the prince should stay quiet while his mother plays. It works for a while until Soyong purposely plays a wrong note and the prince begins laughing again. She cannot help it as she wants to hear that cheerful voice for eternity. And seeing how Wonbeom fails to scold their son over and over again amuses her even more.
Once upon a time, Soyong visited a music store to purchase this gayageum with Hong Yeon and her beloved brother Byeong In. She had placed a special order to have it made, and after several weeks, it was finally ready. But her brother suggested she try it out first. She played for her brother and Yeon, though her melody began to attract passerby as well.
When she first entered the palace, Soyong felt like she had lost herself. She was separated from her home and beloved family. Yeon became her maid in the palace, but had to abide by strict palace rules. Her father and brother could not visit her as often as she hoped for. And the man she fell in love with favored another woman and avoided her like a leper.
In her long story in the palace, Soyong lost her brother and was in danger of losing her own life more than once. But thanks to her friends’ help and a fairy tale-like accident that brought a time traveling soul into her life, she managed to find something new. She found herself, her voice and her courage. And as a reward, she found a new family as well.
Watching her husband and little prince play together makes Soyong feel at home. And judging from Wonbeom’s warm smile, she knows he feels the same.
- 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.
- 3Gukbap – hot soup with rice.
- 4Gayageum 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.