Chapter 24: The chaos of the day

Red has always been one of Soyong’s favorite colors and she loves to use different tones in her clothes and makeup, and even in embroidery with bright flowers or a beautiful sunset. And of course, her dreams of the King were filled with a beautiful scarlet Gonryongpo1Gonryongpo – Scarlett dragon robe..

Now Soyong rejects the red jeogori2Jeogori – is an upper garment. Also could be named dangui. Court Lady Choi offers for the royal conference. Instead, Soyong uses a matte green one with a pastel yellow chima3Chima – a skirt. and jewelry inspired by the forest leaves. It’s not her usual fierce look when she goes to battle, but the blood from her nightmare doesn’t let go and she doesn’t need an extra source of anxiety.

“How do I look?” Soyong asks her friends once Yeon finishes applying an intense pink balm on her lips.

“Like a fairy,” Hong Yeon quickly responds, causing Soyong’s shy smile.

People rarely called her that because of her bad temper in the past. “Harpy” was the word servants in the palace liked the most. Her father used to refer to her as a quivering doe for her delicate and obeying nature when she was still living in her natal home. Her orabeoni4Orabeoni – how sister refers to her brother in the family. loved nothing more than to tease her, calling her a stubborn mule.

“Are you sure you do not want a more…daring look?” Court Lady Choi carefully asks. “Your Highness usually prefers…”

“You are right, Court Lady Choi.” Soyong rises to her feet in front of her friend. “I use my clothes as armor.” Her lips break into a crooked smile. “But I do not necessarily need it anymore.” She places her hands under her jeogori with a royal pose and raises one eyebrow, silently questioning if her look alone isn’t fierce enough.

“We are worried because Your Highness looks so pale.” Yeon stands up too. “Even the blush on your cheeks can’t hide it…”

“It was a difficult night for me,” Soyong says softly. “I will be alright once everything settles and I finally have time to spend with my family,” she reassures her worried friends.

“I will prepare food and jasmine tea for Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi promises. “And you still need your medicine. Everything will be in place in Daejojeon Hall5Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding..”

“I am not returning to my residence until His Majesty wakes up,” Soyong replies, shaking her head. She refuses to even consider being away from both of her men for too long. She and Hyun-ki will be with Wonbeom until he gets better. “Prepare everything in Huijeongjeon Hall6Huijeongjeon Hall – King’s residence., including my clothes. I will live there for the time being.”

“Your dedication to His Majesty is so admirable,” Hong Yeon says with a wide smile.

“Yeon-ah, I am so afraid His Majesty will wake up while I am away,” Soyong confesses, nervously biting her lower lip.

“He will be proud of Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi immediately answers, giving Soyong the confidence she needs as always. “His Majesty always speaks highly about you and will patiently wait for Your Highness’s return.”

“Patiently?” Soyong scoffs. “You probably know another King,” she jokes. Wonbeom has been nothing but impatient ever since they reunited a couple of days earlier.

She’s grateful to her friends for lightening her mood in these hard times. Injeongjeon Hall7Injeongjeon Hall – the main hall where the Royal Conferences with ministers occur. might be where the royal conferences occur and the destiny of Joseon is decided, but for Soyong the place feels like a forest full of wolves.

The servants who carry the palanquin hurry up at Court Lady Choi’s request and Soyong storms up to the doors to Injeongjeon Hall as fast as she can once she arrives. Prince Yeongpyeong is waiting for her outside, reporting that they couldn’t wait any longer under the Grand Queen Dowager’s pressure.

“Announce Her Highness’s presence,” the prince demands from the servants before Soyong can even ask for a moment to catch her breath.

The doors open before her and all eyes in the room are drawn to her. Soyong takes a deep breath in and takes the first step over the threshold.

The whispers follow her, some cheery, some surprised. Soyong doesn’t even glance at the ministers on both sides of the path to the throne because the moment the doors open, her eyes are focused on the Grand Queen Dowager who stands before the King’s throne. Her older relative looks down at Soyong with open disgust on her face. Her expression incenses Soyong, but surprisingly her rage makes her more confident. She will enjoy putting Sunwon down from that pedestal, as she did before.

Gracefully, Soyong climbs one stair after another until she stands right beside Sunwon, looking straight into her eyes.

“Grand Queen Dowager.” Soyong politely bows with a faint smile on her lips. She knows her youth and beauty alone irritate Sunwon, so there’s no need for open mockery. “What brings you all the way here from the West Palace?”

“I heard the King’s condition was critical and his wife was nowhere to be found.” The Grand Queen Dowager also chooses a civil tone. “What is happening here?” She shows a fake deep concern for the situation. “Back in my days the court was never in such a mess…”

Soyong hears chuckles and whispers from the ministers, but again she doesn’t bother to pay attention to them. This was an intentional jab at Soyong, not even at the King. Sunwon is hinting that Soyong has failed as the Queen and as a wife by allowing all of this to happen.

“I am sure that throughout the many years of your regency you faced many difficulties and successfully resolved them,” Soyong calmly answers. “However, I prefer not to solve all obstacles the way you did…” Soyong smiles sweetly. “…back in those days.”

Arsenic was a preferred method to deal with people Sunwon and her brother didn’t like. And based on the louder whispers, the ministers understood what Soyong was referring to. The regency of the Grand Queen Dowager left Joseon in a poor state, with corruption and injustice tearing the country apart. If her King didn’t head the rebellion, someone else definitely would have done so in a few years time.

“Alas, Grand Queen Dowager, your assistance isn’t needed.” Soyong’s voice isn’t sweet anymore; the harsher notes are now clear as day. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but your life at the West Palace is your punishment and you are not allowed to leave there without His Majesty’s or my permission.”

Sunwon’s eyes go wide in shock at the blatant and humiliating words. If people speculated before about her departure to the West Palace now all the rumors are confirmed.

“How dare you?” the former Queen regent hisses. “No matter what, I am part of your family, child. Show your respect!”

“Respect is something one earns,” Soyong declares, stepping forward and forcing Sunwon to retreat. “It cannot be claimed by birth.”

Soyong sees defeat slowly sinking into Sunwon’s eyes. Her desperate attempt to snatch her power back while both the King and Queen are reportedly sick failed grandly in the worst way possible. Who will decide to join hands with her now? She looks pathetic in everyone’s eyes. She is just a shadow of the old Joseon Queen who used to have everything and now cannot even graciously leave the political stage.

“You should have died in that lake,” Sunwon spits the cruel words into Soyong’s face. “None of this would have happened if you were just gone. You never fit the role of a Queen.”

“I would be hurt if your words meant anything to me, Great Queen Dowager,” Soyong simply answers. She won’t let anyone ever doubt her worth. “The people of Joseon will decide what kind of Queen I am. And our descendants will see what trace I leave after myself in history.”

Utterly disgraced, Sunwon leaves Injeongjeon Hall with her head held high and the ministers’ whispers following her. But unlike Soyong’s walk into the throne room, there are hardly any positive or cheerful voices heard.

“I must apologize for the scene. Some people don’t know when it is their time to leave.” Soyong finally faces the ministers, observing their reaction to her words. They are seemingly in deep confusion; however, no one shows any signs of disrespect to her.

“As you already heard, His Majesty the King led the battle versus the conspirators who are against the crown and our current politics.”

More loud, worried whispers spread across the hall.

“How is His Majesty’s health, Your Highness?” One of the ministers finally voices his concerns.

“His Majesty needs time to tend to his wounds and rest after a tiring battle, but I assure you no one fights for Joseon as fearlessly as His Majesty, and no wounds will stop His Majesty from continuing to work for the best of our great country.”

After that overly pompous speech, the ministers wish for Wonbeom’s well-being in chorus. No one objects Soyong’s right to be there and the conference goes smoothly. She carefully reads all the appeals and attentively listens to the ministers’ suggestions. They sincerely accept her advice and rulings on some of the appeals. However, she refuses to decide on the others without Wonbeom. She promises to share everything with the King once he regains consciousness so he can make the final decisions at the next royal conference.

Hours later, she calls the end of the conference at last, promising to take good care of all the questions raised in the King’s absence.

“It’s finally over, damn it!” she exclaims loudly in the empty hall when everyone but the servants has left.

“You did a really good job, Your Highness,” Head Eunuch politely notes. Her obscene words don’t surprise him anymore after she demanded the King’s schedule from him in the past.

Soyong smiles, appreciating the nice words from the old eunuch.

However, to her disappointment, she has much more to attend to today. She heads to Seonjeongjeon Hall8Seonjeongjeon Hall – King’s study. and fulfills her promises to the ministers. Besides a significant amount of appeals, she also must take care of her own inner court affairs. A two week absence couldn’t pass unnoticed and her own mountain of scrolls await her attention.

The King’s study looks unusually empty without Wonbeom sitting on his throne with a stack of scrolls before him. Soyong turns to the wide table littered with papers, scrolls, and books on it. Everything has been prepared for her to manage alone.

She sits at the head of the table and goes through every document one by one. A few times Court Lady Choi comes by to tell her the latest news of the King’s condition, which sadly hasn’t changed since morning. Soyong is grateful that he is at least having a good sleep, while her own head hurts badly after a mostly sleepless night. Even thinking seems to cause her pain, but she refuses to stop.

Later that day, her father decides to visit her with Hyun-ki. The prince smiles happily when Soyong takes him into her arms.

“I  am sorry for using you like a nanny for the prince, abeonim9Abeonim – formal addressing to the father..” Soyong softly smiles at her dad, but he only waves his hand as if it’s nothing.

“I wanted to check how you are doing, Soyong-ah.” He sits at the side of the table, observing all the documents now spread all over.

“It looks like chaos, but I promise there is a system to keep it all organized,” she says sheepishly in an attempt to defend herself.

Her goal is to sort everything into three groups. One is what she must decide today, the second is what will wait until Wonbeom wakes up, and the third one consists of things that can wait but can be worked on if she finishes with the first group early. She developed this system while revising all of the rules of the inner court.

However, Soyong feels so exhausted she doubts she can finish the most urgent questions in just one day. And Hyun-ki in her arms reminds her she needs to be with her family more as well. She still owes her little boy for all the days they were separated.

“There is also something I wanted to talk about with you,” her father says, becoming unusually serious. Seeing this change in his voice and face, Soyong knows it must be important. He never drops his cheerful mask without a reason.

“I see how the last year has caused you a lot of trouble,” he carefully starts. “Not in your body but in your mind…”

“Intellectual work can be just as exhausting, abeonim,” Soyong reluctantly agrees.

“That is not what I meant, Soyong-ah.” He smiles sadly at her. “I see how your marriage causes you distress. And I see how His Majesty struggles as well…”

“Everything will be different once His Majesty wakes up,” Soyong assures her father. He might have started this serious talk, but he is still a bit foolish coming in late with this concern.

“This is why I wanted to talk with you now,” he continues, surprising her with the serious concern in his voice. “Please, do not give His Majesty false hope, Soyong-ah. If this marriage doesn’t work, you must both let it go.”

Abeonim, I think you are a bit late. His Majesty and I have finally reconciled.” Her father’s words worry her despite her own words about the peace between her and Wonbeom.

“Like you did before, my dear. There have been a few times when you both were utterly happy and then poof…” He makes a blowing gesture with his hands. “It disappeared into thin air as if it never happened. You are my daughter and I will always love you,” he says, reaching out to take her free hand. “But I have grown fond of His Majesty as well. He is like a son to me even if he is never going to see me as a father. And I want for both of you to be happy even if not with each other.”

Soyong finally understands what her father means. Her relationship with Wonbeom has always gone back and forth between heartbreak and happiness. Both of them made so many mistakes, leaving the other in pain and with shattered dreams. Each breakup is more painful than the last one as they have more shared memories and lost happiness on the line.

“You think we are torturing each other?” Soyong quietly whispers, looking at her father’s face for the answer and seeing the confirmation in his eyes.

“I am so sorry, Soyong-ah.” His voice is soft, and his eyes are full of tears. Her foolish father is much more sensitive than she would have thought.

“You do not have to apologize, abeonim. I appreciate your honesty.” Soyong makes an effort to smile at him even with her own tears gathering in her eyes. “And I want you to know how grateful I am to hear how deeply you care about His Majesty.”

Her father only wishes the best for them both and she loves him for that. Everyone has just encouraged her to take a chance with Wonbeom. Even Hwa Jin advocated on Wonbeom’s behalf. But her father is the only one who voiced how much they actually hurt each other. She previously thought of taking a leap of faith and falling into this relationship no matter what happens. Her father has reminded her of the price she would have to pay if an obstacle stood in the way again. How much deeper the wounds will be in the story of another failure.

The rest of the day, Soyong alternates between working and ruminating on her father’s words. Once the seed of doubt is planted and takes root, getting rid of it is harder. Especially after seeing that sealed letter from Wonbeom to Bong Hwan. She respects her husband’s privacy and cares about their history even if it causes her pain, so she plans to never read it. However, one tiny part of her is curious about what is in the letter.

As if her tormenting thoughts aren’t enough, Prince Yeongpyeong decides to pay her a visit. But surprisingly, he walks into the King’s study with a tray of food in his hands. Soyong raises her brows in surprise; she didn’t expect him to be so caring.

“Prince Yeongpyeong, this is very thoughtful of you, but Hong Yeon already brought me dinner.” Soyong points to the plates and pots with various dishes and only now realizes she totally forgot about it. “What time is it?” she asks, frowning in confusion.

“The sun is about to set over the horizon,” the prince answers, glancing at the windows.

“That’s why it’s getting so dark…” Soyong feels foolish to be stating such obvious things, but she had wondered why it had become so gloomy in the room all of a sudden. “I forgot to eat, didn’t I?” She raises her gaze to the prince again.

Yeongpyeong chuckles with one of his rare grins and approaches Soyong. She quickly pushes the scrolls aside to clear space for the food he has brought. He places everything before Soyong and takes a seat by the side, looking attentively at her.

“Please, eat before the dishes get cold, jesu10Jesu – younger brother’s wife aka sister-in-law. Or cheoje – younger sister-in-law..” His soft and caring voice is something Soyong still can’t get used to.

“Are you going to watch how I eat, ajubeonim11Ajubeonim – brother in law.?” Soyong teases him as they all just recently decided to start referring to each other as brother and sister.

“You might forget again,” he answers with total seriousness, sliding the nearest dish closer to her.

Soyong eats a spoonful of the orange-colored porridge and immediately recognizes the recipe. She notes that Man Bok is getting much better with Bong Hwan’s dishes. The prince meanwhile watches her eat everything and even brews jasmine tea for the both of them. Soyong must be honest with herself – if it wasn’t for the prince insisting she eat, she would have been scolded by Court Lady Choi later for neglecting her health.

“May I say something?” the prince suddenly asks, putting his cup back on the table.

Soyong wonders why today of all days everyone has something important to tell her. However, she simply nods for the prince to continue. Just like her father, the prince probably wants to talk about her relationship with the King. Her marriage is always the topic of everyone’s curiosity and discussions while Soyong wishes her marriage was only for her and Wonbeom.

“I am glad to see His Majesty and Your Highness reconciling at last,” he starts, surprising Soyong with his kind words. “For a long time I saw my brother’s suffering. Ever since we both were kids. Seeing him genuinely happy is warming my heart. I wanted to thank jesu for bringing a smile back on my brother’s face.”

“His Majesty has one of the brightest smiles I have ever seen.” Soyong smiles herself, thinking of how his dimples appear on his cheeks when his mouth spreads in a wide shining smile. Any time she sees him so happy, her own smile breaks through, making her forget all her worries. Isn’t it curious how the people who have suffered the most in life have the brightest smiles of all? Maybe because they know how precious happiness is and cherish even the smallest moments of it.

“My father thinks I shouldn’t give His Majesty false hope,” Soyong says softly, her smile breaking a little, recalling every thought about her conversation with her father.

“That is a reasonable concern,” the prince agrees, scratching his chin and pondering out loud. “However, I do not think those hopes are false, jesu.”

Again, Soyong is surprised by Yeongpyeong’s words. The usually pessimistic and sullen prince suddenly has so many pleasant words to say.

Seeing Soyong’s confusion, he smiles warmly and continues:

“What I see is two people who are meant to be. The journey gets bumpy from time to time, but it always leads jesu to His Majesty and His Majesty to jesu.” He grins at his own words: “There were times when I wished it wasn’t true…”

“I remember those dark days.” Soyong recalls the hostility Yeongpyeong used to have toward her. However only Wonbeom’s coldness bothered her and she couldn’t care less about the King’s older brother. “A journey, you say…”

“My brother became the King and out of all the women in Joseon you were chosen to be his wife,” he reminds her.

“Maybe fate has a cruel sense of humor or a good sense of irony,” Soyong argues.

She used to believe in fate, when she met Wonbeom for the first time. Her naïve young mind romanticized their first meeting, but eventually it changed to dark thoughts when she realized the tragedy of their possible relationship caused by the families they were born in.

She completely stopped believing in fate once she discovered Wonbeom’s tragic life as the King until the day he dies. They had to fight with their fate, desperately trying to change established history into a new course.

“And out of all the women before his eyes, he leaned toward the one who tried very hard to be you in Hwa Jin,” the prince continues. “And when jesu went mad he still couldn’t stop himself…”

Soyong opens her mouth in offense. She wasn’t mad – she was possessed!

“Fate gave you both a hard time and threw stones at you, but…” the prince continues, completely oblivious to Soyong’s offended expression.

“Our journey still led us to each other,” she finally interrupts the prince. If one looks at their story from another point of view, it seems like fate did everything to prevent them from happiness. But they still chose and fought for each other despite fate’s plans.

“Did I help you decide, jesu?” Yeongpyeong’s voice brings her mind back to the King’s study where they sit in semi-darkness now. The sun has finally set over the horizon and the few lanterns the servants set up earlier are no longer enough to properly light the room.

“My ajubeonim, these conversations with you and my father don’t change anything. It gave me food for thought, but my mind and heart have already decided. And I do not intend to change my choice,” Soyong says, smiling melancholically. “I can only hope I will have enough strength to follow through no matter what.”

“And what is jesu’s choice?” The prince impatiently shifts on his chair, subtly inching closer to Soyong.

“Tame your curiosity, ajubeonim.” Soyong clicks her tongue, shaking her head admonishingly. “My husband will be the first one to know-”

Soyong isn’t able to finish her sentence before Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon burst into the room with excited expressions on their faces.

“His Majesty?” Soyong rises from her seat, looking into her friends’ faces. Her heart feels like it has stopped as she braces for any news they have brought.

“His Majesty has gained consciousness, Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi cheerfully announces and Yeon happily nods with unshed tears in her eyes.

Soyong breathes out, relieved to hear good news, and now her heart beats fast in excitement. She looks into her friends’ eyes, not fully believing what they have just said, but she sees only reassurance and happiness.

“Thank you… Oh, thank you, Your Majesty,” Soyong whispers to herself, looking up so her own tears won’t run down her face.

She always believed in him and hoped he would live a long and prosperous life as a generous and just King. And after so many obstacles, it could finally become a reality for him.

Soyong runs out of the King’s study and into the chilly night, her heart now pounding fast as the wind rings in her ears.

Author’s notes:

So Cheoljong wanted her to make a step forward but Soyong said walking is for amateurs.

Source for brother or sister-in-law addressing.

  • 1
    Gonryongpo – Scarlett dragon robe.
  • 2
    Jeogori – is an upper garment. Also could be named dangui.
  • 3
    Chima – a skirt.
  • 4
    Orabeoni – how sister refers to her brother in the family.
  • 5
    Daejojeon Hall – Queen of Joseon residence after the wedding.
  • 6
    Huijeongjeon Hall – King’s residence.
  • 7
    Injeongjeon Hall – the main hall where the Royal Conferences with ministers occur.
  • 8
    Seonjeongjeon Hall – King’s study.
  • 9
    Abeonim – formal addressing to the father.
  • 10
    Jesu – younger brother’s wife aka sister-in-law. Or cheoje – younger sister-in-law.
  • 11
    Ajubeonim – brother in law.

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