Chapter Four- Master of disguises
Okay, so a quick explanation. There is the main Palace, which is extremely large, that is the Eondeog Mun Central Palace. Within it, there are other mini Palaces. The King resides in the Sky Palace, the Sun Palace belongs to the legitimate Prince, the Moon Palace to the Queen, et cetera. So any palace that has a name other than Eondeog Mun Palace, or Central Palace, is a mini Palace, or a branch Palace.
Three days later…
The Eondeog Mun Palace, The Sky Palace(The King’s Palace)
Jang Tae Yong, King of Eondeog Mun, stretched his arm out of his bed-chamber window, at the eagle’s call. It was the dark hours of the morning and he watched as a glorious, golden brown eagle landed on his arm, shaking its feathers after it’s long journey.
“You’ve come, Sigan (Time).” He said fondly, petting the eagle, which preened under his attention. The King untied a small tube from the eagle’s leg, then set the eagle down on a golden perch. It immediately started eating and drinking water from two small bowls.
The king sat down behind his table, opened the little tube, and pulled out a small cloth parchment. He opened it, then read it twice. It was news from his friend, Kim Dae Hyeon, the retired Head of Military. Dae Hyeon had sent him word on a popular vigilante, nicknamed ‘Blue Bird’. The King and Dae Hyeon supported his actions, but too many nobles wanted his head, so they kept their support secret. He held the scroll to the flame of his candle and watched it burn.
Blue Bird the vigilante, was also someone both of them knew, and apparently, he was about to walk into a trap. The King took out some fresh parchment, tore of a small bit and wrote a reply. He rolled it up, put it into the small tube and whistled. Sigan, the eagle, swooped down gracefully to his desk. He tied the tube to the eagle’s leg and went over to the window to release it. Then he watched it soar away, becoming smaller and smaller in the distance.
He closed the window and went back to his desk, where he began to plan for what seemed like another long day…
The Grand Prince’s house…
The day of the wager was here, and Tae Jun, the ‘antagonist’, was about to leave the compound and go into hiding so the ‘protagonists’, Ju Won and Do Young could go and look for him…
…At least this was the way Da Yeong viewed things.
Everybody else viewed it a bit differently. Tae Jun, secretly of course, saw it as a way to stop at least one bad marriage.
Chun Hwa saw it as entertainment- and a way out of an unplanned marriage, and Ju Won simply accepted the challenge.
There had been several rules, of course.
The Prince could only hide in one place throughout the day.
It would be somewhere they were allowed to enter.
It would be in the central town, so it would not be too far. Tae Jun stepped out of the gates, the household servants and guards cheering him on.
Kim Do Young and Lee Ju Won were to follow after thirty minutes had passed, to find him. Humming a song to himself, he went into the town. He knew he was going to enjoy the day…
Noon, Gwang Guk market place…
Ju Won and Da Yeong had split up and met again several times. They had employed this strategy since morning, so they could cover more ground, but to no avail. They had searched everywhere worth searching, even entering the Gyobang- it was Da Yeong’s first time- but they had not found the Prince.
They had even described him as best they could to a famous artist, detailing everything he had been wearing. They had been showing a sketch to people since then with no luck.
They both walked miserably, tired and hungry, to a food house. Now, they wished they had eaten breakfast before taking off, but Da Yeong had been over confident and assumed they would have found him by now…
Ju Won and Da Yeong had just sat down on the floor, at one of the outside tables and were calling the serving girl, when she tripped and dropped a highly-stacked serving tray, the wood and pottery dishes clattering to the floor. Several of the pottery dishes broke. She winced as an old man’s voice came yelling from within.
“Aigoo! Is that another one?!” The old man ambled out of the inner room, walking stick in hand. He had grey beards and wore a straw hat over his head. He wore an old brown faded hanbok. He was scowling at the girl.
“You! Exactly how much have we spent on new pottery ware in the last three months?” She bowed apologetically.
“Jeosonghamnida, Arabeoji (Grandfather). I just-.”
“Ye, ye, another excuse.” He waved his grubby hand dismissively. “I’m reducing your pocket money for this month.”
“Arabeoji!” Her eyes had widened. He raised a hand.
“Forget it! I don’t want to hear it. Also, only handle the wooden dishes for now. If an expensive guest arrives, call me or Geum San.” He turned and went back inside, and she bent to pick the dishes, following him to keep them. Some of the other guests laughed weakly, but most ignored the spectacle and continued eating. Da Yeong, however, was positively livid.
“Wicked old man. cannot even forgive a mistake.” Ju Won gestured toward the girl, who was just coming back out after returning the dishes.
“Look at it from his point of view. She is probably always clumsy.” They fell silent as she came up to them, and they placed their orders, Da Yeong asking for several helpings. The girl seemed to be eyeing both of them with open admiration, and kept glancing back to look at them as she went to bring their food. It was the old man, however, who brought the food and efficiently began to serve them. They began eating almost immediately.
“Forgive me, but my granddaughter mentioned that you two were new faces.” He had removed the straw hat and washed his hands, but his face still had some grime.
His grey hair sat neatly in a bun on his head. His eyes were very bright for an old man and his hands were a little too perfect.
Being hungry though, they missed these details.
“So what is your story.” The old man asked in innocent conversation. He seemed quietly interested in how much food Da Yeong was eating. Amid a mouth full of food, Ju Won brought out a sketch of the Prince. He swallowed. “We are looking for this person. Have you seen him anywhere around?” The old man studied the picture, then laughed loudly.
“Ah! So Daegun is teaching you both a lesson.” He cleared his throat and opened his palm, placing it between them on the table. “This is a usual hunt for Daegun. He does this whenever he is bored. Once, he even hid here. Finding him won’t be easy, but I can give you a hint.”
Understanding dawned on Ju Won, and he slipped a few bronze coins into the man’s palm. Da Yeong was even more disgusted with the old man. He cleared his throat again and spoke.
“My hint is the border lake bridge at dusk. Daegun is probably hiding in plain sight.”
“Orushin (old man)! We don’t have till dusk!” Da Yeong protested, but the old man turned and walked away.
Again they missed the fact that he had come out without his walking stick, and continued eating. They wondered whether to check the border lake bridge which they had already checked.
“We’ll just have to go and check again.” Ju Won said between mouthfuls…
The central lake bridge, dusk…
Feeling defeated, Ju Won and Da Yeong crossed the bridge yet again. They had come back after the old man’s hint, but had found nothing. Feeling stupid, they had even gone into the lake to check beneath the bridge. After that, they had left the bridge and gone back into the town searching everywhere possible. When they did not find him, they had come back to the bridge again.
They were surprised to find a lot of people about, but had ignored them and went about their search when most of them did not recognize the sketch. Feeling miserable, they sat on the grass at the edge of the lake.
“I think that Orushin cheated somehow.” Da Yeong broke the silence. “We checked everywhere.” She added with some frustration.
“We will find out when we go back. It’s already dark, Daegun has won.” Ju Won said. He did not exactly feel bad. This further proved his suspicion that almost everything they had ever heard of the Grand Prince was probably false. His public personality was a fake.
Someone with that reputation would not have cared if Da Yeong had frozen in the cold, but he had…
“But why did the old man give this place as a hint?” Da Yeong asked, falling to her back on the ground. Ju Won watched her, eyes widening slightly. For a while now, he seemed strangely interested in someone he had always thought of as his little sister.
Recently, he started avoiding hugging her- the hugs now held a new meaning for him. He did not understand the sudden change in his feelings towards her. He looked toward the lake and responded to distract himself.
“I think it might have actually been a clue. What is different about this place at dusk?”
“It suddenly became full of people.” She replied automatically. “Also, I thought it might be for money, but wasn’t the old man a bit too eager to help us?”
Ju Won nodded.
“I thought so too, but it really could have just been for money.”
“Ye, but the old man bothers me for some reason….”
Ju Won sat straighter suddenly. “His hands. His hands while he was serving us. They seemed too perfect.”
“Ye! I also thought that was strange. But, what…?”
“I think we asked the wrong person for help. Look around you. Notice anything?”
“Wae? There are even more people?”
“No, look at the people….” She interrupted as realization hit.
“Ya. They are all old!”
“Ye! And the old man said the Prince was hidden in plain sight, he never said he was hidden here!”
“You don’t think…”
The next minute, they had jumped up and were running back to the food house. They were well past the time for the wager though, as it was already dark, so they weren’t really surprised when they did not find any old man at the food house.
In fact, the serving girl burst out laughing, saying she had no form of family. The Grand Prince had saved her from losing the food house a few years back, so she had been willing to help him. The guests had all been in on it, in exchange for free food.
She had even broken the dishes deliberately. That was all an act to test their observation…
The two of them, angry with themselves, went back to the Grand Prince’s house. They also had new respect for him. He had been right in front of them and they had not recognized him. They had even asked him for help and given him money!
The Grand Prince’s House
Tae Jun drank his wine, while Ju Won and Do Young apologized, on their knees, to Chun Hwa for losing him the wager. They had failed so completely. The Prince had played his role too well. He had even showed them signs, but they still had not guessed.
Chun Hwa, fully expecting to lose in the first place, was still laughing from hearing the story. His only worry was wondering how he would explain the situation to Lord Kim. Funny as it all was, he half wished he had not agreed to the wager.
A look at Ju Won and Do Young’s faces, however, put the thought from his mind, and he started laughing again.
When the two of them had returned earlier, he and Tae Jun had started laughing immediately. He suspected that, and not the cold, was the reason they were still red in the face.
All in all, it had been an interesting day. He was to leave Gwang Guk, the Capital tomorrow, and he had had enough fun to keep him cheered for a while in the small town of Nam Guk…