Chapter Three- An odd dream
The Grand Prince’s gardens were quite enviable as they housed beautiful plants found specially from all over the kingdom. Tae Jun was showing off his garden to Chun Hwa, pointing out some of the rarer plants.
He was dressed in a light green dopo (over-coat), with a matching dark green baji (pants) and dapho (vest). Both were intricately and expensively tailored, with pink and white embroidery, and he wore a pair of taesahye on his feet.
He seemed every bit like the Prince he was, without a care in the world. But Chun Hwa wasn’t fooled. Tae Jun openly showed a lazy, carefree, womanizing Prince to the world most times, but that was all an act. Right now, he was simply making it clear that he and Chun Hwa were close, so no one would question his sudden visit…
The last time Chun Hwa had come here, Tae Jun had taken him to the gyobang, the Gisaeng house, introducing him to everybody as his sworn brother. Then they had proceeded to display their carefree and womanizing natures.
The real Tae Jun, however, was calm, precise and clever. He had mastered the art of stealth, disguise, and several combat skills. He was also an avid reader and his genius put most scholars, except Chun Hwa, to shame. Chun Hwa was sometimes scared of him. He did not seem to have a weakness.
Tae Jun interrupted his thoughts.
“Chun Hwa-ah, which of your two guards do you think is strongest?” Tae Jun asked, genuinely curious. He had asked this after he had led them considerably far away from the guards and servants, the only person around them, Min So Yeon, who was Tae Jun’s trusted aide.
Chun Hwa thought about it a moment, then answered.
“I would say- probably the older one. Lee Ju Won. I heard he is a favourite of Kim Dae Hyeon. The younger one is talented, but careless.”
“Hmmm. That’s probably the case.” Tae Jun said seriously. “I would like to spar with both of them.”
“Really?” Chun Hwa mildly asked. He stopped in his tracks and Tae Jun turned to face him. He continued. “Not that you cannot handle them, but I think you’ve been too cooped up in the Capital. You’re bored. It’s been almost four months since you left. Maybe you need to go on an adventure.”
“No, I really would like to fight them. Why don’t we have a wager?”
Chun Hwa got suspicious. “Why the sudden wager? I don’t trust your wagers.” He replied with humour. “You always bring them up when you want something- I’ve not recovered from the last one.”
“Ah, that your beautiful white horse! Don’t worry… I’m still taking care of him well.”
“Don’t remind me…” Chun Hwa acted faint and they both laughed, then he asked. “What’s the point of wagering with you? You’re not even adorable, you always win. I’m almost afraid to ask what you want this time.” He resumed walking, Tae Jun fell in beside him.
“How about I make it easy for them to win? If I win however, your engagement… cancel it.” He kept walking as if he had not just said something surprising.
“What?” Chun Hwa exclaimed, surprised. “Tae Jun-ah!” He had stopped, not sure how he should react to the request. He did not want the marriage, but he had made a deal with Lord Kim. “Why do you want me to cancel my engagement?” He asked him. For as long as he knew Tae Jun, he never did anything without a good reason. Tae Jun stopped as well, facing him.
“It’s the right thing to do. You don’t want this wedding.” He paused. “Last night, you said you would leave her alone and live in the Capital as a bachelor, chasing after knowledge. Such a marriage will only-.” He paused suddenly, as if realizing he was about to voice something private. He looked away and quickly straightened his worried features. “You know I must have a good reason, so how about it?”
Chun Hwa knew exactly what Tae Jun’s problem was. He walked over to him and rested his palm on his shoulder.
“Ya. Are you insinuating that I would get married, then find love elsewhere?” He sighed, then continued.
“You were going to say marriages like this would only create illegitimate children right?” Tae Jun gave him an intimidating look, but he ignored it. “Children who never get anything in life because of their status, or become evil trying to get them- like your elder brother, Seja Jeo….”
“Seja Jeoha is not evil! But seeing as you understand the situation so perfectly, then humour me and agree to the wager.” Tae Jun interrupted him. He shrugged away from Chun Hwa’s hand, turned away and stalked off.
Chun Hwa watched him go, knowing he would probably agree to the wager- he did not exactly want the marriage in the first place. Besides, Tae Jun was now in one of those moods…. He felt bad, however, for ever planning to abandon his wife, if he did marry her. That was another one of the Prince’s qualities. When you did the wrong thing, he was good at making you feel guilty!
At noon that day…
Da Yeong was angry at what she had just heard. “What do you mean by that?!” She demanded, forgetting who she was talking to. They had been called before the Grand Prince in front of his chambers, and Choi Chun Hwa had just told them they would be fighting the Grand Prince, two on one.
“Are you insulting my Fa-” She caught herself. “My Master?! Are you saying you will fight both of us at once?”
“Do Young-ah!” Ju Won warned. Tae Jun watched them, amused. His ever present smirk in place.
“That’s enough!” Chun Hwa spoke. They bowed contrite, immediately. “Have you forgotten who you’re in the presence of?”
“Please forgive us, Daegun, Doryeonnim!” They both said, hers definitely forced.
“It’s fine.” Tae Jun spoke for the first time. He stepped toward them, stopping right before Da Yeong. He put his face right in front of hers. “Raise your head.” She did, slowly, backing away slightly, when she saw he was so close. Her initial surprised look turned hateful. He smiled, ignoring this.
“Feeling insulted? You must be since you have daggers in your eyes right now.” He turned, stepping away. “Well I feel extra insulting, so let’s change the rules. I will go into town at dawn in three days. You two are to find me before dusk, or you lose. If you find me, I’ll apologize to you and your master.”
“Tae Jun-ah! That’s…” Chun Hwa was a bit surprised. A member of the Royal family did not have to apologize for anything, unless ordered by the King..
“That should be easy enough for you two.” Tae Jun interrupted him. They were both glaring at him. He turned to face Chun Hwa. “You just might win this wager after all.”
He turned smoothly, using the elegant black and gold fan he held to sweep his over coat out of the way. He had almost reached his doors when he stopped and turned. He looked at Do Young(Da Yeong). He(She) flinched.
“You. The cherry trees make an annoying mess. I don’t want to see any cherry leaves in front of my doors at dawn. And you.” He faced Ju Won. “You are not permitted to help him.” He went through the sliding doors, shutting them behind himself and leaving behind a stunned silence. Min So Yeon, who had been standing by in silence, followed after him.
The silence was broken when Da Yeong exclaimed softly. All around them were cherry leaves. The compound actually had quite a few cherry trees in it. “This is why I always tell you to control your temper.” She heard Ju Won say. She definitely had her work cut out for her!
Prime Minister’s residence, that evening…
Joo Chung Jae watched quietly as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior held a fake ‘conversation’ over wine. For a while now, they had suspected there was a spy in the Prime Minister’s house, especially since conversations in this very room seemed to find their way to the Grand Prince’s ears.
Luckily, the Prime Minister had always been cautious, even in his own home, or the Grand Prince would have known way too much.
This conversation was an attempt to use the Grand Prince’s own spy against him. They had a small list of suspects, and they intended to watch them closely this night. Sang Yoo Jin spoke.
“Minister, I think we should urgently bring the third book to the Capital. If we are hesitant, it might fall into the hands of the Grand Prince.”
“Is there no other way?” Cha Byeong Su asked. “It seems like a risky move.”
“We have no choice!” Replied the Prime Minister, and on it went. To an outsider, who could not see the grins and gestures on their faces, there was definitely a plan to transfer the third book to the Capital.
Now, they just had to wait for the spy to transfer the news, and as was expected, one of the people they had suspected, a kitchen boy, snuck out of the compound later that night.
All that was left, was deciding between themselves, when they were definitely alone, whether they would use this opportunity to transfer the real book or not. The book was currently in one of the small towns surrounding Dong Guk, where it had been found by a scholar in the Prime Minister’s employ.
The Prime Minister had chosen the location outside Dong Guk so it would escape the Prince’s detection. Cha Byeong Su was against moving the book, but The Prime Minister, used to butting heads with the Prince, decided they would transfer it through another route, while the Crown Prince pursued the ‘main envoy’.
Chung Jae would, himself, not have known the significance of these books, and the secrets they contained. However, he had discovered the grim truth of his own life eleven years ago, when they had all played a role in the assassination of the Queen, and attempted to take the former Crown Prince’s life.
They had all had strange dreams that night, similar but different.
The dreams had been a revelation of each of their past lives, each seeing the role they had played all those years ago to gain power. Chung Jae shuddered at the memory of it.
It had not been pleasant, the sensation of waking up from a long sleep and realizing all his past lives since that event, had lived in line with Lady Hayan’s curse. Not to mention, remembering the events of that very night- every single detail…
The way the light had gone out of her eyes.
The quickly spreading blood.
The strange light.
The race down the hill for their lives
The sensation that demons were chasing them…
The books, four in general, seemed to contain incomplete bits of the story. A story that could not be read or understood easily because of the strange language used to write it. They themselves could not exactly read it, and they definitely did not want the story read by anyone.
The Prime Minister wanted all of them, safe from prying eyes.
He was trying to repeat the events of the books, so they were dangerous…
As the Interior Minister began taking his leave, Chung Jae got to his feet hastily, and bowed as they both left the room, then followed behind them. Now, he was not bound to the Prime Minister solely out of loyalty, but also out of a sense of self preservation.
It seemed like the only way to escape Lady Hayan’s curse…
Later that night, The Grand Prince’s House…
Tae Jun strolled quietly through the compound. He thought about everything he had just heard from Na Hyo Jun, a kitchen boy he had planted at the Prime Minister’s house.
Na Hyo Jun had told him of a plan to transfer yet another book, but had also told him that something had seemed strange about the conversation. He could not explain it, but he seemed to think there was too much information.
‘It is probably a trap.’ He thought to himself, but he did not voice this to Hyo Jun. Instead, he told the young man not to return to the Prime Minister’s house. If the information wasn’t a trap, then they would come up with a reason why he had been absent for a while.
Besides, he had other spies surrounding the Prime Minister. Dismissing Hyo Jun to his own kitchens, he paced the compound, thinking of what steps he would take.
Shortly after midnight, he made up his mind and made his way back to his chambers. He stopped short when he saw Do Young still in front of his chambers, sweeping the cherry leaves off the floor. He had ignored him earlier in the evening, when he had passed to go out, assuming he would have given up, or at least figured out his command was a trick.
The cherry trees shed leaves with every flow of the wind. It wasn’t possible to get rid of them. He watched the young man continue sweeping, ignoring his older companion, Ju Won, who was telling him to stop sweeping. The night was very cold, their breaths coming out as clouds in front of them.
Tae Jun suddenly did not like the fact that he was shivering and still sweeping in the cold
He was suddenly very angry.
“What do you think you’re doing?!!” They jumped startled.
“Daegun.” They chorused, bowing. He strode toward them angrily. He grabbed the broom from Do Young, glaring at him. He threw the broom down, grabbed his hand and began dragging him away, toward the kitchens. They had not gone four steps when Do Young jerked his hand away.
“What are you-?” Da Yeong started, momentarily surprised. He turned to face her, stepping closer. She stepped back, wide-eyed.
“Are you some kind of idiot?!” He pointed to the ground she had been sweeping, where the broom lay. “Did you not notice the leaves come back every couple of hours?!” She became indignant.
“Why are you like this? You said I should sweep up every cherry leaf from the front of your door, and that’s what I was doing?!”
He calmed down enough to smirk. “I will ignore your tone for now. Besides, I said no such thing.” Her eyes narrowed at him and he continued. “I said, ‘I don’t want to see any cherry leaves in front of my doors at dawn.’ Even an idiot would wake up early and sweep before dawn. You did not even have to lift a finger today!”
“No- no way….” Da Yeong wanted to argue, but she could not come up with any argument. She turned a deep shade of red. She suddenly felt very dull and silly so, without another word, she allowed him grab her hand and drag her to the kitchens, Ju Won following close behind. There, he asked Hyo Jun, the kitchen boy he had just sent to the kitchen, to prepare something hot for them. Then he turned, still shaking his head and left the kitchens.
This time, it was both of them, still a bit stunned, watching him go. Did Princes do things like this, or was it this one that was odd? Da Yeong turned back to face the warm kitchen, going to sit at the humble, but lovely big table. It was surrounded by twelve chairs, and she instantly felt welcome in the disorder.
For once, Da Yeong allowed herself think of her engagement to Choi Chun Hwa, the Information Minister’s son, and wondered just how she would give up the freedom of her current life. She pushed the thought and decided to think about present matters.
Sure, the Prince was smart and probably skilled, she thought to herself. Ju Won had told her about their first night here and his encounter with the Prince outside these very kitchen buildings.
Still, she was NOT going to let him get away with belittling them. It was an indirect insult to her father. She fully intended to win the wager tomorrow and receive his apology toward her father. She smiled at the imagined moment he would apologize.
Ju Won pulled an askew chair back to its place and sat beside her at the table, shaking his head. He had already read all her thoughts on her face. He had learned not to underestimate the Prince though. Somehow, despite how simple the task seemed, he did not think it would be easy.
As he made his way back to his chambers, Tae Jun wondered why he had gotten so angry. All he knew was that something about watching the young man sweep the compound in the cold had angered him. He also thought about how he had dragged the young man to the kitchens. It had felt weird, especially since he had not found it unpleasant. He pushed the thought away, going into his room, where So Yeon was waiting to change him for bed.
Tae Jun slept almost immediately, and for the first time in his life, he dreamt of something other than the events of eleven years ago, when his mother had been stabbed right in front of him.
In this dream, he seemed to be in an arranged meeting in a lovely room, with a lady who had pure white hair. The color of her hair was confusing because she wasn’t old in any way. Her hair was pulled into the daenggi meori hairstyle for unmarried maidens, the ends in a golden ribbon (otgoreum).
She wore a pristine, high- quality, white hanbok, the upper garment held together by a lovely leaf patterned gold ribbon. Apart from the colour and quality, it was the style worn by unmarried noble maidens, and a gold and silver norigae swung over her full skirts. She looked very beautiful, even though a silk veil covered the top half of her face.
Tae Jun wanted to reach out and touch her. The name ‘Hayan’ danced on his tongue, but he did not know where it came from. Perhaps because she was dressed all in white (Hayan means white)…
The lady did not look real… In fact, she could not be real, and Tae Jun found himself subconsciously glancing down to check his own clothing. He did not think he owned anything that could match her…
But when he looked down, he found he was dressed in an exquisite hanbok as well, all black with gold lining. Adorning his feet were Mokhwa boots, rather than the low silk taesahye he usually wore around.
Grinning with renewed confidence, he looked up at her, but she had disappeared, and so had the room. Around him was fog, and before him was a very big mountain.
Everything seemed black, including the stones and sand. If Tae Jun had to imagine a cursed hill, this would be it. He was about to venture forward, when the whole sight vanished, and he found himself waking up in his bed.
He had been sweating, despite the chill, and it was dawn already…