Inner court business keeps Soyong busy the whole morning and by noon she already feels completely exhausted.
Her day started with waking up next to Wonbeom, and as a worried wife, the first thing she did was carefully check his heartbeat and whether he had a fever or not. Only after making sure he was alright could she peacefully observe his sleeping features, which she could not resist as a woman in love. Time passed slowly and Soyong wished to wait until he woke up; however, she had too many plans and she reasoned that the sooner she started, the sooner she would be finished and able to meet her husband again. Giving him the sleep he needed, Soyong briefly kissed his cheek before she quietly left his chambers to attend to her plans for the day.
First, she prepared a small number of appeals for the King to consider before his first royal conference post-injury. She hoped her little note for the King would be seriously considered by him, as he needed to rest to fully recover.
In the early morning, Prince Yeongpyeong came to her in the King’s study shortly before she planned to leave. He reported to her his investigation of the assassination attempt, and she asked him to take her with him when he was set to go after the assassin’s employer.
Then, she continued with the long overdue appointments with the court ladies who had prepared a list of things they would like Soyong to change. From those meetings, Soyong found out that the hanoks1Hanok – a house. for the servants are in bad condition. Immediately, she decided to inspect everything herself and was beyond disappointed with the state of the maids’ houses.
Neither Court Lady Choi nor Hong Yeon had ever mentioned it and Soyong felt a little betrayed by them:
“How could you hide it from me when I could have arranged reconstruction work to be done?” Soyong said after observing the old hanoks with thin roofs and various cracks in the walls.
“We didn’t want to bother Your Highness when you are already handling so much,” Court Lady Choi warmly answered. “The worst hanoks are abandoned, and the palace requires fewer servants in recent years…”
“But you are my friends!” Soyong argued, turning to both of her maids. Her voice cracked a bit and she felt tears gathering in her eyes. “Aish, I feel so emotional lately…”
There, she finally was invited to Court Lady Choi and Man-bok’s hanok. After their wedding, they took one of the abandoned ones and restored it on their own. When Hong Yeon, who lives with them, cheerfully explained how they arranged everything inside, Soyong was surprised by how much they had already done. The three of them looked like a cute family together in that home. Soyong stayed for brunch, sharing a simple meal and tea with Hong Yeon and Court Lady Choi, gossiping about the latest news in the palace.
After such a tiresome morning, full of conversing and traveling through the whole palace, Soyong finally finds a bit of time to rest. Her initial desire is to meet Wonbeom and ask him how his morning has gone and how he feels now. She would feel much better just seeing him awake, smiling at her and giving a comforting hug.
However, once she reaches Huijeongjeon Hall, Soyong discovers that the royal conference is taking longer than usual. After an hour of waiting, she decides to leave another message, asking him to visit her at their usual spot or at Daejojeon Hall once he has free time. In the meantime, Soyong decides the fresh air near the water is the best remedy after a tiresome morning and heads toward her favorite lake.
The early autumn weather is still warm, and the leaves on the trees have only recently started changing color to red, orange, and yellow, making the gardens even more beautiful than before. And some late-blooming flowers still please the eye as well. Slowly, Soyong crosses the wooden bridge to the small island on the lake — the one that holds many memories from her past, both sad and happy ones, most of which are linked to her husband. Here he rejected her once and later on she rejected him back. Here she had chosen to give up on herself and also later chose to survive no matter what. But many happy moments occurred here as well, such as when Wonbeom first showed his concern for her well-being and also their happy meetings when they seem to have a hard time crossing paths in the large palace.
“Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi interrupts Soyong’s dive into her memories. “It seems that this guard wants something from you…”
Soyong looks across the lake to where Court Lady Choi points with her hand and sees a lone tall guard waving his hand. It doesn’t take long for Soyong to realize it’s her friend Seo Hwi and start waving back with a huge smile on her face.
“This is a friend I made while working for the Parks,” Soyong clarifies to her confused maid.
Meanwhile, Seo Hwi runs along the lake’s shore until he reaches and crosses the bridge to stand before Soyong. He looks so different in the guards’ dark blue and black uniform, appearing much happier than Soyong remembers.
“Your Highness,” he says, a bit out of breath. “I heard you stood up for me.” He smiles at her. “I want to offer my gratitude for Your Highness’s generosity.”
Soyong smiles warmly: she had always thought there was hope for him even if he seemed to be on the enemy’s side. She’s glad her judgment was right in the end. Even Yeongpyeong spoke highly of him after Seo Hwi helped arrest as many conspirators as possible.
“This is all your doing, Seo Hwi-ah,” Soyong points out. “I just refused to judge you without giving you a chance to share your point of view better.”
“And for that I am grateful, Your Highness.” Seo Hwi holds out a blue flower he likely picked on his way here.
“Seo Hwi-ah, we are in the palace with many eyes and ears around. You cannot give a flower to a married woman, let alone the Queen of this country,” Soyong scolds him lightheartedly.
“Even if the Queen and married woman in question is my friend? It is not a sign of affection, Your Highness,” Seo Hwi teases her back. “Frankly, you are not my taste…”
“Oh, I know.” Soyong laughs, covering her mouth with a hand; however, when she continues her tone is more serious: “But people may misinterpret it, and life in the palace entails certain restrictions compared to outside of it.”
“I have no other choice but to be hopeful your lovely maid will accept this poor rejected flower,” Seo Hwi jokes. He turns to look at the servants behind Soyong and he immediately approaches Hong Yeon with a smile. “Would you be so kind?”
With an awkward smile, Hong Yeon whispers her gratitude and takes the flower from him. Her cheeks take on an adorable rose color, making the rest of the servants giggle behind her.
Before Soyong could join in teasing her friend about her popularity among men, a young eunuch approaches them with a message from Prince Yeongpyeong.
“Is it already time?” Soyong gasps, reading the prince’s message informing her that he is ready to set a trap for the culprit behind her assassination. If she wants to participate, she must meet him at the west gates.
“I must hurry!” She catches Yeon’s hand in hers and starts running with the rest of her maids keeping up on her tail.
“Congratulations on your new job!” Soyong briefly turns her head to shout towards the utterly confused Seo Hwi.
On her way to Daejojeon Hall, Soyong instructs Hong Yeon on what clothes she must find for her while the other maids help her undress out of her current attire. Once in her chambers, she drops all her hair accessories on the table and lets the maids untie all her various skirts and jackets.
“It could be dangerous, Your Highness,” Court Lady Choi pleads to Soyong’s rational side. “Your attendance isn’t necessary. Please, reconsider your decision!”
“The assassination was personal, Court Lady Choi, and I must look into the eyes of the culprit,” Soyong says, stubbornly shaking her head. “I cannot miss justice being served when someone I deeply care about got hurt!” Soyong reminds her older friend how she was also scared and injured on that day.
Yeon returns, bringing a simple hanbok without the embroidery of a golden phoenix adorned on it. Soyong quickly changes clothes and puts in simpler hair accessories, before running to the west gates on her own instead of taking a palanquin. Luckily, the prince is still waiting for her with his usual disapproving look on his face.
“There was no need to run, Your Highness. I could wait,” he politely notes.
“Considering how everyone seems to think they know better about what I should or shouldn’t do, I was afraid you would change your mind,” Soyong answers, grasping her side where she feels tightness after running so fast. “Where are we going?”
“First, we will meet with my wife. Then, we will visit the Buddhist temple Your Highness visited on the day of your disappearance. The one where the culprits exchanged their secret messages…”
“And we need Jo Hwa Jin’s assistance because…?” Soyong raises her eyebrows, suggesting that Yeongpyeong continue.
“Because she used to be close with the Queen Dowager and… Park Yul Mee,” Yeongpyeong finally reveals. “We found where the assassin was living and some messages. Those letters didn’t contain any names, but they were written with affection, and that may be why he didn’t get rid of them.”
“If there were no names, why do you believe it is Yul Mee?” Soyong argues for the sake of fair judgment; she has little to no doubt Yul Mee could be behind it.
“This is just a hunch, unfortunately,” the prince admits. “Somehow this assassin entered Park’s conspiracy out of nowhere. Even your friend Seo Hwi doesn’t know how that happened. Someone very close must have introduced this man to Yul Mu.”
“And all the conspirators were surprised by my absence…” Soyong muses. And she does recall Yul Mee visiting a Buddhist temple one time while Soyong was still sick at their estate. Yul Mee’s maid who took care of Soyong had told her that. They could have met after the failed assassination attempt and decided to lie low. And Yul Mee could have used her charms on him as he was bewitched enough to keep the letters despite the risk of being caught.
“So your plan is to use Jo Hwa Jin to make her admit it?” Soyong guesses.
“It’s Hwa Jin’s plan,” Yeongpyeong reluctantly admits. “Believe me, if I could decide, she would stay away from this mess, especially after the dangerous situation she ended up in. But she insisted.”
Soyong chuckles, vividly imagining how their conversation about this plan could have gone. She and Hwa Jin aren’t that different; Soyong would do the same in her place.
“She misses adventures,” Soyong points out. “And she is very brave, ajubeonim2Ajubeonim – brother in law..”
“Wonbeom and I must come up with something safe to satisfy this urge for adventure, as jesu3Jesu – younger brother’s wife aka sister-in-law. Or cheoje – younger sister-in-law. (source) calls it,” Yeongpyeong grumbles under his breath.
“Maybe you should.” Soyong lets out a laugh. “Wonbeom promised to teach me how to ride a horse. I have to remind him.”
“By the way, did you two manage to talk? Last night jesu left so abruptly… His Majesty was very worried something had happened.” Yeongpyeong suddenly brings up Soyong’s fiasco from the previous night.
“Why must he tell you…” Soyong blushes, lowering her gaze. “We did talk when I came back last night, at least briefly, before he fell asleep. It’s silly, really. Nothing to worry about.”
“Glad to hear everything is alright,” Yeongpyeong says sincerely, looking at Soyong. “I hope from now on only happy things happen to both of you.”
The rest of the walk to Yeongpyeong’s estate is full of friendly conversation. They have never talked so much before, and it turns out they can have a conversation without irritating each other. At least sometimes, Soyong thinks.
They pick up Hwa Jin and discuss the plan which mostly relies on Hwa Jin’s wit and intelligence. Soyong, Yeongpyeong, and men from the Royal Investigation Bureau will wait outside of the temple, unseen by Yul Mee. After she confesses, she will be arrested and the last chapter of this conspiracy and series of life-threatening events can come to an end.
Once they are in position, the monks tell them that Yul Mee is already inside, praying for her late brother’s soul. Soyong whispers “fighting” as she punches her fist up in the air. Hwa Jin scrunches her brows, unfamiliar with the gesture from the future, and shifts her eyes to her husband who gives her a reassuring nod.
The men from the Royal Investigation Bureau go into their hiding spots while Soyong and Yeongpyeong wait outside of the temple, listening to what is happening inside.
Soyong takes a peek between the door and the wall, seeing Hwa Jin lower herself onto her knees and start praying behind Yul Mee. Once Yul Mee finishes her prayer, she turns around and notices Hwa Jin as they both stand up.
“What are you doing here?” Yul Mee sounds wary of Hwa Jin at first, but her temper seems to quickly flare up and she hisses angrily at Hwa Jin: “After what you have done… You and the Queen are the reason why my brother is dead!”
“Do you think I have much of a choice?” Hwa Jin answers emotionally. “The Queen already destroyed my life! Siding with her is my only option to be respected in society.”
Hwa Jin steps closer to Yul Mee, but the latter steps aside, turning her back to the exit so that Soyong can only see Hwa Jin’s face now. The former royal concubine has always been a good actress, but today she’s especially amazing: Soyong even sees unshed tears glistening in her eyes.
“Do you think I am happy to settle with the King’s brother when I could have been a Queen and the King’s wife?” She hisses in anger, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “Everyone knew I was a better fit to be the Queen and yet…” She bites her lower lip, looking aside, and a lone tear runs down her cheek.
“You lied to me. Do you think I will believe you now?” Yul Mee asks mockingly.
“The best lie is based on the truth,” Hwa Jin argues. “I may have distracted you to allow the Queen to sneak inside your house, but I was sincere with you that evening!”
Soyong swallows hard hearing that and wonders how believable this all sounds. She turns her head to look at Yeongpyeong, who stands leaning on the temple wall with a neutral expression. But Soyong knows how hurt he must feel.
The best lie is based on the truth…
How many of Hwa Jin’s lies today have truth behind them? Soyong places a hand over Yeongpyeong’s shoulder, wanting to give him a bit of comfort, but he shakes his head in reply. Soyong takes her hand away and focuses back on eavesdropping on the conversation in the temple.
“If only…” Hwa Jin lowers her voice almost to a whisper, though still loud enough for Soyong and Yeongpyeong to hear. “If only she could have disappeared. The King doesn’t have to cherish me anymore. Even as a concubine under the Queen Dowager’s protection I could have lived happily and carefree in the palace.”
Soyong almost snorts at this; no one in the palace could have lived carefreely, not with the Grand Queen Dowager or Queen Dowager in charge of inner court affairs. However, Soyong does everything she can to make everyone’s lives easier there now.
“I even conspired with her family when the Queen displeased them,” Hwa Jin confesses. “This is how desperate I was!”
“Then why did you stop?” Yul Mee’s voice is full of accusation. “You should have finished what you started!”
“It was pointless.” Hwa Jin lowers her head in defeat, her voice sounding so empty. “The Queen always gets what she wants, and it seems like I’m not truly the Queen at heart…”
“I understand,” Yul Mee suddenly answers, making Soyong move even closer to the space between the door and the wall, attentively listening. “No one can be trusted with a delicate task like that. You should have done it with your own two hands. But you are weak…”
Soyong holds her breath. Is this it? Will she finally confess?
“But I am not like you.” Yul Mee starts with a whisper but raises her voice as she continues: “Even if I have to do it on my own, I will find a way.”
Yul Mee’s shoulders shake from a sudden laugh: “Those two old hags promised me prosperity if I helped them, but they gave me the most incompetent, pathetic man in Joseon to achieve that plan. I never should have listened to two pathetic banished queens.”
Soyong can’t say she’s really surprised: they did suspect the Queen Dowager was involved. What is really shocking is that the Grand Queen Dowager was her ally in it. They hate each other so much that Soyong would rather believe they sent separate assassins after her instead of forming an alliance.
She has heard enough, and Soyong quietly leaves her hiding spot, moving to stand behind Yul Mee who continues exposing herself:
“I don’t care how, but I will find a way to enter the palace and poison them both, the King and the Queen. Let them die together! That will be so poetic,” Yul Mee passionately spits out. “Maybe I will disguise myself as a maid,” she says, laughing darkly. “Just like the Queen did when she entered my house…”
“A maid must be patient and smart, traits that you are lacking,” Soyong coldly says, making Yul Mee shiver at the sound of her voice. She slowly turns, her eyes going wide in shock and her mouth falling open. “One of my maids, who happens to be my good friend, almost lost her life because you wanted to get rid of me. I cannot forgive that.”
“Y-your Highness,” Yul Mee stutters. “You misunderstood. This is not what it sounds like…”
“Really? It sounded like you were plotting to murder your King and Queen,” Soyong mocks her with a smirk on her face. “Do not worry. Our Royal Investigation Bureau will get to the bottom of it, so please cooperate.”
Yeongpyeong leads the men in red and black into the temple, and they take a screaming and kicking Yul Mee out of Soyong’s sight. The prince doesn’t say a word to Hwa Jin or Soyong as he focuses on giving out commands.
“Good work, Hwa Jin-ah.” Soyong turns to her friend to congratulate her. “That sounded a bit too believable…”
Hwa Jin doesn’t answer, looking past Soyong to stare at Yeongpyeong’s distant figure.
“I hope he didn’t misunderstand,” Hwa Jin whispers. “I just wanted to sound bitter. I never meant it…”
“The best lie is based on truth,” Soyong repeats Hwa Jin’s words, making the latter turn to face her.
“But I didn’t…” Hwa Jin whimpers. “I tried to help you. Why is it backfiring on my marriage?!”
“No, you do not understand what it’s like to be in the wrong in a marriage. You do not know how the guilt of past mistakes eats you alive while the man you truly love will always doubt my love confessions…” Hwa Jin breaks down crying, and now her sincere tears run down both her cheeks. “And I can’t even give him a person who he believes will love him unconditionally…”
“Children don’t save marriages,” Soyong sadly whispers, remembering how for some time after Hyun-ki was born, she and Wonbeom were almost perfectly happy… until their past bit them and Soyong closed up again. Only after they talked everything out, and only after she truly saw how important she really is to him, did their relationship improve.
“But… but what else can I do?” Hwa Jin cries out. “I would do anything to make him believe me, but what will work?”
“Maybe tell him how you sincerely feel?” Soyong suggests.
Her gaze suddenly shifts behind Hwa Jin to Yeongpyeong, who climbs up the temple’s stairs before standing before them. He must have heard most of their conversation, if not all of it.
“Hwa Jin-ah…” the prince whispers. “I had no idea how much it hurt you…” He moves closer to her, taking both her hands into his.
“For two years I chased a dream that was never meant to be. I am sorry it took me too long to understand who makes me the happiest,” Hwa Jin says through tears. “Will there be a day when you believe me fully?”
“I am sorry, Hwa Jin-ah. I am so sorry I was such a fool!” Yeongpyeong tugs her into a tight hug, calming her shaking body as she sobs into his chest. “It will be different now,” he whispers, kissing the top of her head. “I promise you…”
Soyong feels herself almost come to tears as well seeing this heartwarming culmination of an old issue. Quietly, she moves past the hugging couple, who continue whispering love confessions and promises. She even hears them mention the idea of adopting a child among other plans, and she thinks that child will be really blessed with love from this couple.
She descends the temple’s stairs, stopping some members of the Royal Investigation Bureau on their way up.
“Shhh.” Soyong signals with her pointer finger over her lips. “Leave them be. It’s better if you escort me back to the palace…”
“But what about Prince Yeongpyeong?” one of the men quietly asks.
“The prince will escort his wife home,” Soyong whispers. “Can you wait for his further instruction back at the bureau?”
The men share a confused look but eventually shrug their shoulders and follow Soyong’s instructions. On her way back to the palace Soyong keeps thinking about Hwa Jin’s words. Her frustration was so deep that it touched Soyong’s heart too. Was Wonbeom hurt like that because Soyong couldn’t accept his love thinking it was only partly towards her? Now she better understands his frustration when he had declared he didn’t want to tire her down and for her to fall into his arms because she simply gave up searching for pure love. All people just want true love, even if they settle for half of it, just like Prince Yeongpyeong initially thought was his situation.
Soyong remembers times when she envied Hwa Jin because of the unique relationship she had with Wonbeom. They were one of the reasons why she decided to step down from the position of the future Queen, despite her affection towards the King. She knew her life would be miserable with a cold husband on one side and her family’s expectations on the other. But that’s not what was deemed to happen for her, and here she is, in a happy marriage with the only man she has ever fallen in love with.
“How hard will it be to get a simple flower from him?” Soyong murmurs to herself. At this stage of their relationship she will probably never get any courtship. All courtship from Wonbeom ended with Hwa Jin.
She even starts thinking if she can somehow hint to Wonbeom about some kind of gift exchange between them. Maybe tell him the notion of Valentine’s Day? But February is far away when she wants something now.
“Your Highness!” Soyong jumps at the sound of Court Lady Choi’s voice and only now notices her small procession reaching the west gates.
“Your Highness, you are finally here!” Court Lady Choi rushes to her, looking so concerned that Soyong feels worry rising in her as well.
“Please calm down and tell me what happened,” Soyong says urgently, patting her friend’s shoulder.
“It is His Majesty… at the training field…” Court Lady Choi gasps for breath between every word, but Soyong hears as much as she needs.
- idk how it went, but I intended to parallel SY and YP, CJ and HJ. Both YP and SY thought they were just a second choice not knowing it was far from the truth. HJ realized YP was her true love after losing CJ. SY now puts her complete trust in CJ after knowing for sure she’s the one for him. HJ/YP tried to ignore the problem and it made them both miserable. SY/CJ decided to separate, one because she thought it was the best for her heart, the other just to give her the space she needed and wait. But in the end, only honest communication saved both marriages.
- lol at SY completely oblivious that CJ doesn’t remember anything and thinks they are in another separation or something.
- The next chapter “Misbehaved royals” will be full of SY and CJ interacting and all the remaining chapters will be just them being ridiculously in love. Sorry that it takes me so long to update.
- 1Hanok – a house.
- 2Ajubeonim – brother in law.
- 3Jesu – younger brother’s wife aka sister-in-law. Or cheoje – younger sister-in-law. (source)