Wonbeom never dreamed of being the King or leading a rebellion.
But ever since his days in exile, when he survived as a commoner, he did always dream of having a family of his own. It was the purest wish he had in his heart, something to keep him going in life. He might not have been a part of the royal family at the time, but the simple woodcutter and water carrier still had a dream.
A King and woodcutter live different lives, but they have one thing in common: both can start a family. Wonbeom always wanted a big one to fill the void in his heart after losing most of his relatives.
And finally, after so many obstacles, his family grew bigger. It wasn’t smooth sailing for him as he made so many mistakes at the beginning. He’s still not sure how he succeeded. He led a rebellion and became a King with full authority, but the most important triumph occurred when his son was welcomed into the world.
“How is your day going, Hyun-ki-ah?” Wonbeom asks in a low voice. The prince is practically drowning in his big arms: he looks fragile yet utterly happy, smiling his toothless smile.
“Please be careful, Your Majesty!” he hears Soyong say worriedly.
They are in the gazebo with the view of the lake, and she has voiced her concerns over Wonbeom coming too close to the railing multiple times already. Wonbeom rolls his eyes at her comments; as if he would ever accidentally drop their child into the water. And his son does not show any interest in breaking free from Wonbeom’s arms, where he cuddles so comfortably.
“Let’s not worry your mother too much,” Wonbeom whispers to his son and he walks them back to their seat at the round table with tea.
“If Your Majesty knew how hard it is to deliver a child you wouldn’t be so lackadaisical.” Soyong immediately moves to sit closer to them. She reaches out to Hyun-ki and fixes the collar of his clothes. Their son catches her fingers and doesn’t let go.
“Oh no, I think I’m trapped now,” Soyong says and laughs.
“O-ho, son, catching your mother is my job,” Wonbeom scolds him good-naturedly and earns an annoyed look from Soyong.
But her features change the moment her gaze returns to their son. Wonbeom feels a bit jealous of how easily she can shift from being annoyed by him to being happy just by looking at their son. He’s so lucky, Wonbeom thinks. All he has to do is look cute and she’s already overjoyed. Wonbeom can’t say the same about himself.
His relationship with his Queen has improved a bit since Hyun-ki was born. They don’t argue anymore, and they have shared a number of respectful, almost warm, conversations. Just like how winter comes to an end, the ice between them has started to melt slowly but steadily.
“I had my worries during pregnancy, but now when I see him, I think it’s all more than worth it.” Soyong watches over their son dreamily. “He’s so precious.”
“He is…” Wonbeom shifts his gaze to Soyong. “He takes a lot after you,” he adds warmly, appreciating her sitting so close to him. He had almost forgotten she has a mole on her left cheek, close to her jawline. This one is not a fake one added by a beautician, and now he can see it up close again.
“I think he looks like you,” Soyong says as if she did not notice his attempted flirting. “Look at his eyes. He’s just like his dad.”
“You think so?” Wonbeom asks, touched by her words.
He’s a bit jealous that Hyun-ki resembles his mother the most and, on top of that, spends more time with her.
Perhaps he’s more than just a bit jealous.
But just like Soyong’s anger disappears the moment she looks at their son, Wonbeom can’t feel jealous of his son for too long either.
“What a charmer,” Wonbeom jokes. No one could sulk around the prince for too long, even when he’s crying or being fussy.
“He really is,” Soyong agrees with a sudden yawn. “Oh, excuse me,” she says, covering her mouth.
“Are you having trouble sleeping, my Queen?” He examines her for signs of fatigue and notices that her eyes are a bit puffy.
“It is hard to sleep when the little prince here wants his mother’s full attention all the time,” Soyong quips.
“You need to sleep, my Queen!” Wonbeom raises his voice. “He has a nanny to look after him at night.”
“I wish to do everything like a mother. I want to breastfeed him and be by his side when he cries at night. I want us to bond from the beginning,” Soyong explains. “I can rest later, Your Majesty. I want to live through this experience.”
“I understand, but you are also working on inner court affairs. I am concerned you might get sick,” he tries to reason with her.
“Do not worry. The nanny helps as well.” Soyong smiles at him. “I have the luxury of having help and the best physicians to look after me when I am sick. Other women do not have such opportunities.”
Wonbeom lets the matter slide for the time being, knowing he cannot change her mind if she is so determined. But at their next meeting in the same gazebo, she looks even more tired. The dark circles under her eyes cannot be hidden under makeup, and she yawns even more often.
They sit side by side as Soyong shows him one of the scrolls she has brought with her. She needs his permission to use the treasury for a budget to open a school for commoners. Soyong has not only devised a solid plan and calculated the costs, but also listed many reasons why they need to develop Joseon in this direction.
“You see, Your Majesty, as we aim to prepare everything for the future democracy, we not only need to give people a choice, but we must also make sure they are educated enough to be involved in the building of our great country. Also, educated people cannot be tricked easily, so corruption won’t bloom so easily again,” she passionately explains without pause and then yawns widely. “Excuse me again…”
“The school for commoners is a great idea that I am willing to fully support, my Queen. But your health is my primary concern. Did you sleep at all last night?”
If she keeps up like this, she won’t have any strength to leave her room. Though, she would probably be even happier staying there with the prince for the whole day.
“You are fussing over nothing,” she brushes him off. “I get enough of these excessive concerns from Court Lady Choi. Please spare me from yours, Your Majesty,” she adds, clearly annoyed.
With a sigh, Wonbeom continues the discussion about the budget and her plans to open even more schools eventually. An hour later, she leans over to open another scroll in front of him and literally falls asleep in the process.
Wonbeom didn’t even notice at first, thinking she just froze while deep in thought, but after he sees her closed eyes he realizes she is fast asleep. She wavers on her seat and Wonbeom catches her head right before she falls. Gently, he guides her head to rest on his lap. Soyong mumbles something in her sleep and shifts into a more comfortable position.
“How can I not worry when you are like this?” Wonbeom whispers.
He sits like this for a couple of hours, letting her have her peaceful sleep on his lap. The sun starts going down and colors the gazebo in light orange colors. Soyong wrinkles her nose adorably when she feels the sun on her face, prompting Wonbeom to block the rays with his hand. With a smile, he sees her features relax as she continues her sleep.
When she finally wakes up, after drooling over his red dragon robe, there is no end to her apologies. He assures her everything is alright and that she can sleep here whenever she wants. But in embarrassment, she runs away from the gazebo, leaving behind all the scrolls they were reading before.
Soyong’s health worries Wonbeom so much he can’t focus on his own work. Once she is consumed by an idea it is impossible to talk her out of it. She goes all-in even if it could harm her health.
In the evening, Wonbeom makes a decision to help. He is the father; he must participate more. Besides, once Soyong mentioned the special bond she wishes to have with Hyun-ki, Wonbeom immediately thought about his own bond with the prince.
While his Confucian teachings instruct that he be strict and only show the prince the way to rule the country, Wonbeom does not wish to be a father like that. So, right after changing into his sleeping wear Wonbeom orders for his palanquin and tells his servants he will visit Daejojeon Hall1Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding. tonight.
“Your Majesty?” Soyong looks utterly confused when she sees him in her private chambers. Her gaze wanders over his sleeping wear and she nervously looks back at her bedding.
“It is not what you think, my Queen!” Wonbeom waves his hands.
He of course remembers the time they met here when she shouted at him to leave. Memories of that night still cause him a great amount of pain, and on top of that, he feels embarrassed over his behavior.
“I want to participate in our son’s life as much as possible,” he states. “And the health of my Queen concerns me, so please don’t chase me away.”
“Your Majesty must be busy…” Soyong says, hesitating to accept his offer.
“And my Queen is busy with inner court affairs,” he argues back. “Don’t think I’m not aware of your plan to change all the rules and etiquettes that were in place before your rule. The ministers have complained about it almost daily. They are shocked at the speed you have repealed the old established rules to write new ones.”
“I am almost finished with that,” she mumbles, lowering her gaze, her face turning the color of a spring rose. “But I am not sure…” She glances at the bedding again.
“Do not worry. I am not going to touch you,” he assures her. “I will sleep over here.” He gestures his hand toward the big cushion with two pillows. “You can even close the doors between us.”
Soyong finally agrees and slides the doors closed to her part of her chambers. Wonbeom is left alone in the section with her table and cushions instead of proper bedding. The pillows are too tall to use as sleeping pillows and Wonbeom ends up pushing them both down by his feet.
He is almost asleep when he hears Hyun-ki’s cry in the next room. Without hesitation, he rushes into the room and takes his baby into his arms. He rocks Hyun-ki and even sings to him, but nothing works — he just cries louder.
“You are doing it wrong, Your Majesty.” Wonbeom turns around to see Soyong yawning and rubbing at her eyes.
“I’m sorry, my Queen. I tried everything, but nothing works,” he says in desperation, his head already pounding from his son’s cries.
Soyong smiles at him and takes Hyun-ki into her arms: “You just need to do a trick.”
With those words, Soyong starts gently bouncing in place which makes Hyun-ki stop crying. Then, she bends her knees and quickly stands back up, leaning back heavily with Hyun-ki. The movement has the prince gurgling in glee, as if he is the happiest person in the world. Soyong continues to alternate between bouncing and the swaying back motion, wearing a smile on her face as she watches Hyun-ki’s amusement.
“It’s a miracle,” Wonbeom exclaims, dumbfounded. “But how long do you have to do that?”
“Until he falls asleep,” she says simply. “The nanny told me about this trick and it works every time.”
“Your back and legs must be hurting.” He himself is well-acquainted with the sore ache of muscles that appears after intense training, and he is worried his Queen is experiencing the same type of pain.
“It did at the beginning.” She laughs as if it doesn’t bother her at all.
They switch off and Wonbeom tries to calm Hyun-ki on his own. Soyong shares other tricks, some of her own invention, she proudly confesses. Later, Wonbeom firmly insists she get some sleep while he handles everything for the rest of the night.
However, it turns out to be easier said than done. Hyun-ki wakes up constantly and it leads Wonbeom to bounce him over and over again. Guessing that some variation of a flying feeling is what Hyun-ki likes, Wonbeom lifts him up and down and sways side to side.
In the morning, it is Wonbeom’s turn to yawn after a night of little sleep. Soyong gives him a knowing look and a small smile during their shared breakfast.
“Does it hurt, Your Majesty?” she asks after he rolls his shoulder a few times with a pained look on his face.
“Nothing to worry about. I’m used to the pain after training sessions. I just hurt my shoulder a few days back and it seems to be bothering me still,” Wonbeom admits.
To his surprise, Soyong leaves her breakfast to walk around the table and go down on her knees behind him: “If you’d like, I can massage it a little.”
He never expected to hear that from her so he simply nods. She directs him to face forward, and when he complies he feels her confident touch on his shoulders.
Soyong has a surprisingly strong and expert hold. She uses just enough pressure to work the muscles without hurting him. As if Soyong has been doing this all her life, she expertly increases her force and uses her fingers to massage the back of his neck as well. Wonbeom almost purrs with satisfaction under her magical fingers, closing his eyes in pleasure.
A sudden thought comes up in his mind and he opens his eyes. Where did she learn this? And to whom did she give these massages? A spike of jealousy shoots through him.
“My Queen is so skilled. How did you learn this?” Wonbeom tries to sound casual as if he is genuinely curious and not burning with jealousy.
“Abeonim2Abeonim – formal addressing to the father. is so clumsy.” Soyong laughs. “He always injures himself, especially in the last few years. He doesn’t want to admit he’s getting old.”
“Your father can afford a masseuse,” Wonbeom notes, not fully buying her story.
“Your Majesty is right, but I still wanted to do something for my father, to show my care,” Soyong cheerfully continues, completely oblivious to the sudden curt tone of his voice. “So I lied to him and told him that I must learn how to give massages for my future marriage, and he let me practice on him.”
“But you didn’t lie.” Wonbeom turns his head to look at her, his voice a warm half-whisper. “You are giving a massage to your husband right now.”
Her cheeks turn rosey and she blinks innocently a few times before leaving his side, muttering under her breath that this was enough massaging for today. She’s still too stubborn to act on her feelings, but at least her cruel animosity towards him is gone now. He must be thankful for that at least.
They meet again later in the gardens, right after Wonbeom finishes all his work for the day. They
walk together, enjoying the early days of spring. Wonbeom holds Hyun-ki so as to let him observe everything, and he happily reaches out his little hands to every flower or shrub they pass by. The prince is swaddled in a new blanket with beautiful embroidery: butterflies and flowers seem to float across the fabric, each one intricately hand-sewn by Soyong.
“When did you make this, my Queen?” Wonbeom asks curiously, remembering the embroidered scarf Soyong made for him.
He used to wonder how a person with such lousy handwriting could produce such neat embroidery. That question was answered with the resolution of the mystery of Soyong’s confusing behavior.
“I wanted to finish the blanket before I went into labor, but I was so caught up in worries that I couldn’t focus,” Soyong admits. “I am happy I was able to finish it recently. Do you think our prince likes it?”
“Of course. Look how happy he is drooling over it.” Wonbeom chuckles at his son, who has just started chewing on the edge of the blanket. Soyong laughs too and readjusts the blanket, cleaning up spittle from the prince’s chin with a handkerchief.
It is one of the nicest days Wonbeom has had in a long time. He’s beyond happy getting to know his son and talking with Soyong without arguing. It almost feels like a perfect life, but he cannot entirely ignore the nagging feeling that this is only a temporary respite. He catches himself thinking that the happiness will surely end soon.
But for now, he prefers to be ignorant to their problematic marriage, as he desperately wants these happy family moments to last as long as they can.
- 1Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding.
- 2Abeonim – formal addressing to the father.