The morning greets the King with a bright sun and clear blue sky. It’s as if the weather reflects his cheerful mood as he’s ready to meet his Queen and ease her worries. He goes straight to Daejojeon Hall1Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding. in hopes of meeting her for a quick talk before he has to go to a royal conference. But to his disappointment, he discovers she has already left for a walk in the garden. The attendants who have stayed behind to clean up the chamber inform him where she planned to go and he hurries in that direction. The Head Eunuch is of course nagging him that they will be late for the conference, but the King doesn’t listen to him.
Cheoljong spots Soyong from afar as she walks under the cherry blossoms, but he also notices a new face in her entourage – a tall and handsome man carrying a sword in his hands. He is not wearing a uniform, so the King doesn’t know if he is from the royal guard or some other royal bureau. But the mysterious man doesn’t hide in the shadows so it means he’s there for a reason. His hair is not tied in a sangtu2Sangtu – high bun\top knot, men’s hairstyle of the Joseon era. like other men, but instead tied in the back while his long bangs frame his face. Court maids admire him from afar while passing by, whispering and giggling among each other. Not long ago they used to admire their King, but it looks like the stranger has caught their attention now. But what concerns Cheoljong is that this man is following after the Queen like a faithful puppy.
“Who in the world is that?” Cheoljong wonders aloud to himself. Though to his surprise, Prince Yeongpyeong happens to pass by and hear him.
“Do you mean Byung Yeon?” Yeongpyeong asks, following the King’s gaze. “As I recall, you requested to find a personal guard for the Queen. You specifically asked to find the best of the best and so this is Byung Yeon. I’m disappointed we didn’t recruit him sooner, he’s so skilled in martial arts and great with a sword as well. Also he’s…” Yeongpyeong pauses mid-speech after seeing his brother’s strange facial expression – half offended, half outraged. “Is something wrong, Your Highness?”
“Did you really have to choose someone so…?” Cheoljong makes a series of bizarre hand gestures, attempting to describe what he can’t put into words.
“What? The best in martial arts?” The King exhales loudly in indignation: “I don’t think so!”
Prince Yeongpyeong looks amused as he can’t wait to relay this scene to Director Hong. They always found the King’s jealousy entertaining and they loved teasing him about it. They know him as a usually reserved and level-headed person, but once Cheoljong sees someone showing affection to his wife he becomes a completely different man.
“Your Majesty,” the Head Eunuch suddenly interrupts them. “It’s time for the royal conference, the ministers are waiting!”
The King has no choice but to go away with nothing but distress. He ends up working through the whole day without a break, partly because there were too many things to do, partly because he couldn’t focus at all. It is true that he requested a personal bodyguard for Soyong, but not for inside the palace for goodness sake! Now that they had obtained more power, they could go about the palace freely without worrying about enemy clans’ spies. There was no longer a need for disguises, fake documents, or wall climbing (as fun as that was). The King simply wanted someone who could protect the Queen when she left the palace without his company. He definitely didn’t ask for competition for his wife’s attention.
Thoughts about a handsome man hovering around his wife continue to plague Cheoljong as he attempts to fall asleep that night. The moment he closes his eyes, vivid images of his Queen in the company of her new bodyguard flood his mind. As they walk in the garden together, Soyong stumbles on a tree root and nearly falls to the ground. But luckily for her, Byung Yeon catches her, his strong hand gripping her waist. She looks up into his eyes longingly and her heart skips a beat…
Cheoljong rolls onto the other side of his bed in frustration, but his imagination continues to torment him with different scenarios. This time, Soyong and her bodyguard are outside of the palace, sitting opposite each other at a tavern with bowls of gukbap3Gukbap – hot soup with rice. in front of them. As they eat, the Queen licks her full lips and Byung Yeon can’t hold back his desire anymore. He reaches forward to steal a kiss…
Oh no, thinks Cheoljong, but what if…
The setting is the same, but this time it’s Soyong who initiates the first move. She swipes their bowls off the table (what a waste of gukbap!), climbs over, and kisses Byung Yeon passionately…
The King looks grim the next morning. There are dark circles under his eyes and the Head Eunuch shakes his head in frustration, pitying his King for the return of his nightmares. Little did he know that the King was seeing nightmares of a new kind.
The day doesn’t go well for the King either. Yet again his attempt to meet Soyong in her chamber is unsuccessful.
“Her Highness has an appointment with a young scholar,” one of Soyong’s maids informs him. “They are supposed to discuss learnings about western countries.”
The King walks in such a hurry that he’s close to breaking his “Kings do not run” rule. Soon he finds Soyong in a gazebo, enjoying tea and snacks with a young and (yet again) handsome scholar. Her bodyguard is nearby too, standing by the stairs and watching over them. Cheoljong wonders why it is that every time he wants to see her, the number of men around her increases? It also doesn’t escape him that the Queen looks cheerful and enthusiastic in her discussion with her new friend. They are both quite loud, inappropriately so for the palace, but they are so deep in conversation that they seem to have forgotten about propriety.
If Cheoljong were to step a bit closer, he would be able to hear what exactly they are saying, but he doesn’t want to interrupt them. He feels envious, since he wants to be the person his Queen seeks out to discuss her life and plans. Is he so easy to replace with someone else? Cheoljong decides to respect Soyong’s boundaries and dejectedly walks away again.
Not today then.
That night he yet again can’t sleep. This time, his imagination pictures Soyong and the handsome scholar together in the royal library. They sit side by side reading the same book when the scholar turns his head to gaze at her elegant profile.
“Your Highness, you are a fascinating woman. I wish I could read you like a book,” he murmurs in a low voice.
The King doesn’t know why these words affect him, because he is well aware she wouldn’t fall for the scholar’s forward gestures. Cheoljong wishes he could erase these images out of his head, but he fails as new scenarios involving Soyong and her new entourage of men assault his mind.
His next attempt to meet Soyong looks promising at the start. No men around, at last! She is drinking tea with her concubines, enjoying the good weather outside. Technically, they are his concubines, but Soyong is the one who spends time with them, so for all intents and purposes they are hers.
They are engaged in friendly conversation, giggling among themselves and covering their mouths shyly. As he approaches, the King gives the Head Eunuch a hand signal to not announce his arrival just yet.
“Did you already read the new volume of Untold Scandal? I can’t believe that this sly cousin seduced a young man and made him her lover…” Suk-ui Min shares in a low voice, making Suk-ui Hong gasp and cover her mouth beside her. “Just listen…”
Cheoljong’s ears turn bright red as he hears the concubine’s voice read the most juicy part of the novel.
They did what in the palanquin? But how? There’s no room for it! Cheoljong wonders to himself, trying to work out the logistics of it all.
Even as Cheoljong wants to hear out the rest of the story and perhaps ask some questions, he decides he can’t reveal himself now. He’s still the King and it would be inappropriate. Yet again he leaves, wondering if he will be able to find answers in his own dirty book he formerly used as cover a long time ago. He really doubts it though.
Night falls and Cheoljong thinks that maybe he will sleep peacefully tonight, as there were no men around Soyong today. But soon he remembers how the Queen showed eager interest in all of his concubines in the past. She had explained Bong Hwan’s desires for them, but even after the spirit was gone she remained very close with them. He has heard that they occasionally stay overnight in the Queen’s bedchamber to read books together (an occasion known as a “sleepover” according to the Queen’s Dictionary). It didn’t bother him before, but now he knows exactly what kind of books they share. New images flood the King’s mind of Soyong and her friends reading vulgar novels and possibly even recreating scenes from them in her bedchamber.
He hates everything and everyone these past few days. Thinking about how his wife shows so much attention to other people and not him frustrates him to no end. She is indeed capable of finding her happiness even inside this golden cage-like palace. He should feel happy about it as it’s what she truly wants – to be more than just a wife and ruler of the inner court. He’s going to be supportive of course, even if it pains him right now. But he wishes to meet her as soon as possible and resolve one last misunderstanding.
Seeing how this night appears to be as sleepless as others, he decides to read his favorite book on military tactics as it helps ease his mind. But soon the Head Eunuch announces there’s a letter from the Queen and asks if he can come in and hand it over.
“From the Queen? At this hour?” Cheoljong asks. And then add one more question suspiciously: “Are you sure it’s for me?”
He remembers their past misdelivered letters and the ensuing confusion it created. But upon seeing the eunuch’s clueless face, he takes the letter and dismisses him. Cheoljong opens the envelope the moment he is left alone and is about to start reading when he hears a loud noise outside his chamber.
In the next moment, the doors are thrown open and the Queen herself enters, or more accurately flies, into the room. She is in her nightgown, out of breath and red-faced after running. Before Cheoljong can react to the welcome ambush, Soyong sees the letter in his hands and rushes towards him.
“No!” she blurts out, snatching the letter from his hands and tearing it into pieces.
Dun-dun-dun, a wild Soyong appears! I wonder what was in that letter ^_^
“Untold scandal” – is a 2003 kdrama movie set in the Joseon era and based on French novel “Dangerous Liaisons”.
If you want to see how sexy times in the Joseon era look like you can watch it. And yes, there were seduction scene in palanquin ^_^
Fun fact2: actress who played his love interest also played sly cousin in other kdrama version of that novel “The Great seducer”.
Like mother like daughter.
- 1Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding.
- 2Sangtu – high bun\top knot, men’s hairstyle of the Joseon era.
- 3Gukbap – hot soup with rice.