Black and White Ch. 2

Chapter Two- A mysterious book

Sang Yoo Jin threw the cup he had been drinking from, at the wall, and it shattered. “What did you say?” Joo Chung Jae was kneeling before him. He spoke, apparently unaffected by the Prime Minister’s anger.

“I’m sorry Daegam, Lord Choi’s son got away.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Sang Yoo Jin asked. “You said he would be easy to handle!”

“I’m sorry Daegam. After the first two attacks near the temple, he panicked and hired two guards from Lord Kim Dae Hyeon, and they were quite skilled. The guards would not be a problem for me, but I could not approach so I would not be recognized.”

“So he is in the Capital now?” He asked

“Ye, Daegam.” Chung Jae answered. ” He should be at Daegun’s house now.”

“So our Daegun has gotten hold of the last book?” He asked no one in particular. “The fact that he survived eleven years ago is still a thorn in my side. If he begins moving seriously, he would be an inconvenience. Now we both have two books.”

“What should I do, Daegam?” Chung Jae asked.

“Set a trap of course.” He smiled. “Bring the third book to the Capital.”

.

The Grand Prince’s House….

Choi Chun Hwa stepped out of the lifted front flap of his palanquin, placed his gat on his head, stretched and looked at the remarkable compound before him. The gate of the compound bore the Royal Family Emblem, two dragons surrounding the sun. Arranged and impeccably dressed in front of the gates, were a small array of guards and servants. They bowed to him and he laughed. Obviously, his surprise visit wasn’t a surprise at all…

.

The Grand Prince, Tae Jun and Chun Hwa drank in companionable silence in the cool evening. This had been a ritual, every time they met, for almost five years, when Tae Jun had saved Chun Hwa’s life from assassins. The two had hated each other as children, but after that incident, had drawn close and became best of friends. Chun Hwa dropped his cup.

“Aren’t you going to tell me? You always seem to know these things. How did you know I was coming this time?”

Tae Jun set his cup down as well. “It was the strangest thing. My fabric merchant came through Nam Guk, and said he sold some rare fabrics to your household. I believe you’re wearing several of them right now.”

“Ah! So my household servants have big mouths.” He said with humour, picking his drink.

“Yes! And so does my fabric merchant.” He waved a hand, and all the servants left two of them alone. “Now I believe we have important matters to discuss. How did your search go?”

“Hmmm. It went fairly well, but I think the Prime Minister suspects.”  He reached into the side of his hanbok and brought out a wrapped bundle. He dropped it between them on the table.

“Getting this out of the mountain temple wasn’t hard at all. There was a fairly simple riddle leading to it in my family library. I followed the clues and it led me right to the temple.”

“Simple?” Tae Jun raised an eyebrow.

“Well, okay, I’m a pretty skilled scholar, so maybe not so simple for an average person.” He said with some pride. When it came to books, he knew the only person who could even try competing with him, was Tae Jun.

Even then, Tae Jun was no match for him, when it came to being a scholar.

Then again, he was no match for Tae Jun, when it came to combat and strategy…

He continued.

“I think the Prime Minister knew there was something hidden in my family library, and that you would ask for my help. Getting this to you was harder than finding it. I was attacked twice after I left the temple, but I managed to outsmart them. No one ever thinks a scholar can defend himself.” He shook his head. “I was attacked four times on the way here, but only two attacks were from the Prime Minister, the others were too weak.”

“This is indeed interesting.” Tae Jun picked up the bundle. “You’ve been through a lot to get this here. Komawo (Thanks). The Prime Minister has begun to move more openly so we have to be more careful.” He unwrapped the bundle and brought out a very old looking book. Tentatively, he opened the book and looked through. “Yes, this has part of the story and more illustrations of the hills. The language is still strange.”

“Tae Jun-ah, what exactly are these books?” He seemed worried. “You said I shouldn’t read it for my own protection. Still, you’re a pretty good scholar, even though you hide it really well, so I know you must have an idea. This is the second book. What is going on?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but I know it cannot be anything good if the Prime Minister is looking for them. Two of us understand each other… He knows I won’t let you read it, so he will try to steal it from you…

“But if he suspects that you know the contents of these books, he will try to kill you seriously.” He began to study the book. There is mention of my ancestor, King Seung Jae, who killed the whole royal family to rule. People secretly blamed the death of the previous King on him.”

He gently flipped through the old book. “There is also mention of four deities again. I have never heard anything about deities. Then there are the Munjigi (Gatekeepers)…. the whole thing is confusing.” He closed the book, planning to study it later. He continued.

“As to the books, the names in them come up in other old books. It took a long time to go through the palace archives- especially since I was sneaking in- and some of those books are really old and mouldy, but it was worth it. The writers of these books were Palace Priests and Shamans a hundred and fifty years ago.”

“A hundred and fifty years- Wasn’t that when they were banished from the Capital?”

“Yes.” He put the book away.

“Daebak! This can give goosebumps…”

“This story, whatever it is, might tell us why they were banished.” He picked the jar and filled both cups. “The Prime Minister might also be meeting Shamans. There’s no proof, but it looks that way.”

“Tae Jun-ah, I don’t have to say it right?” Chun Hwa lifted his cup and drank.

“I’ll be careful.” Tae Jun replied, drinking as well.

“Good good. Now let me tell you about how I got engaged….. It’s really all your fault!”

.

Later that night…..

The night grew dark and the prince’s household fell silent as well…. except the kitchen, something foreign was definitely going on in the kitchen.

“Ya, Amso (cow), exactly how much are you going to eat?” Oh Mi Ju, one of the kitchen girls asked the person who had demolished several bowls of rice earlier, and was still eating. They were alone in the kitchen.

“Noona, I haven’t eaten properly in four days!” Da Yeong kept eating from a bowl piled with potatoes and vegetables. 

“Don’t call me that! It’s strange coming from you, and besides, we’re age mates.”

“Yes, but if I were actually a man looking like this, I would be younger than you.” She said and continued eating heartily. Earlier, Oh Mi Ju had recognized Da Yeong as her childhood friend. She had not been sure, but when she had heard the name ‘Kim Do Young’, she had dragged the ‘young man’ aside and asked a few questions. 

Before long, the two had started an exited dance in reunion, and had been catching up with their lives ever since. Of course, they had to be careful, since Da Yeong was supposed to be a man. 

.

Meanwhile, trying to study the book before him, Tae Jun found it increasingly hard as he kept hearing noises from the kitchen. He had always had very sharp hearing, sometimes picking sounds from a very far distance. He had learned to close off sound from an early age, but whoever was in the kitchen wasn’t particularly trying to be quiet.

He kept hearing clangs and bangs from the kitchen, clear and very annoying. He had deliberately arranged for the kitchen to be set far from the quarters, so kitchen sounds were never heard. Besides, by this quiet time of night, people should be asleep.

Giving up on the book temporarily, the book Chun Hwa had found, he draped a black cloak over himself and slipped out of his room. He silently made his way to the kitchen, going through the back and stopping a little distance from the back window. He looked into the kitchen and found to his amazement, one of the kitchen girls talking with one of Chun Hwa’s guards. It was the young man, the younger of the two that Chun Hwa had said were very skilled fighters.

It was like being struck by lightning.

He stared intently at the young man, wondering what caught his interest…

Then he pushed the thought away, focusing on the current situation.

Like what they were doing in the kitchen, this late at night.

Tae Jun had laughed when Chun Hwa had told him about how he had acquired their services. Being adventurous and stubborn by nature, he had insisted on getting the best, and he had….. Along with the daughter of Kim Dae Hyeon, whom he had impulsively promised to marry! Tae Jun did not like the idea of the marriage, but Chun Hwa had already made the agreement. 

Now, Tae Jun observed the strange young man, eating what he considered three people’s share of food. He was chastising himself for adding disgust to his problems, when he felt the cold sharp tip of a sword at his throat.

He was impressed. He had not sensed the person’s approach.

“Who are you and what is your business here?” It was the second of Chun Hwa’s guards, the older one. “Depending on your answer, this might not end well for you.” Tae Jun got up slowly, the tip of the sword following him. Then he spun around, swiftly side-stepping Ju Won, and putting a hidden knife to his throat.

“You’re good, but you dropped your guard the minute you gained the upper hand.” Tae Jun said calmly.

“Who are you?” Ju Won asked, wondering how he had been so careless, and trying to find a way out of the current situation, and warn Da Yeong. Just keep him talking, he thought to himself….

“No point keeping me talking, I’m not after your life.” He stepped a little distance away, taking his knife with him. As expected, Ju Won swirled to face him, sword at the ready. “There’s no point trying to fight me. I was just leaving.”

“I cannot just let you go. You are a spy, aren’t you?” They circled each other. Tae Jun smirked.

“Will you fight me even if it means putting your young partner in danger?”

“That’s not my problem.” Ju Won said automatically, but he wondered how this person had thought to threaten him with Da Yeong. “He can stand up for himself.”

“Really?” He took aim through the window and skillfully threw the knife he held. It fell several feet short of it’s mark as Ju Won blocked it with his sword, risking a dangerously close distance to the intruder. Tae Jun simply stepped further back.

“You were easy to read from the start.” He lifted the hood of his cloak. Ju Won threw down his sword and bowed.

“Jeosonghamnida, Daegun.”

“It’s fine, rise.” He walked over and picked his knife. “You gave yourself away when you did not raise immediate alarm.” He turned round and started going. “That meant you were unsure of the type of opponent I was, and did not want your young partner to jump in. Too easy…” An idea had formed in his head on how to cancel Chun Hwa’s engagement.

Ju Won watched the Prince walk away, his head still respectfully bowed. It was the first time. The first time he had met someone like his Hyeong. 

Before Lord Kim had found him, he and his brother had wandered alone from place to place. His brother had been extremely strong, but he had died protecting him. Now, he had met someone who resembled him. He wondered just what type of person the Grand Prince was.

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