Black and White Ch. 15

Chapter Fifteen- Lady Chorok

Sang Yoo Min’s residence, Nam Guk

Sang Yoo Jin, the Prime Minister sat across his older brother, Sang Yoo Min,  the former Minister of Interior. Sang Yoo Jin smiled a small smile, hidden behind the cup he held.

He himself had come up with the plan to remove his brother from his previous position.

Then he had had him replaced by Cha Byeong Su, the current Minister of Interior.

It hadn’t been something he wanted to do at the time, but his brother, while being extremely clever, was also stubborn.

While he was Minister, he kept refusing to partake in anything shady.

This had not worked for Yoo Jin.

Sang Yoo Jin had secretly come up with the plan, putting a few incriminating records in his brother’s otherwise clean documents. Using these as an excuse, he had encouraged Cha Byeong Su to take the opportunity, and rally the scholars and junior officials to petition for his removal.

His brother had gone quietly, preferring to live with his family in the small town of Nam Guk.

Sang Yoo Jin felt this had been a good move. His brother had been too close to the King, but he had not been ambitious enough to use his position.

On the other hand, Sang Yoo Min quietly observed his younger brother. He had always known what type of person his younger brother was, but he always pretended he did not. One could not choose their own family. 

Yoo Min was well aware that his brother had been behind the false records from six years ago. He had never let on, preferring to let his brother feel safe in his presence.

The King had never believed that Sang Yoo Min was guilty, but he had wanted him away from the Capital. He had suggested Nam Guk, giving a simple order: 

“If your brother is ever in Nam Guk when your daughter comes of age, do not let him meet her. Send her over to Kim Dae Hyeon’s residence. He will understand immediately.”

Yoo Min had not understood this request, so he had asked the King why. 

The King had simply told him that he would know when the time was right, and he had been dismissed.

Over the last few years, his little brother had not come to visit, but now here he was.

Yoo Min had quickly sent his daughter to Lord Kim’s household, the minute his brother had arrived…

.

Three days later.

Kim Dae Hyeon’s residence…

Lady Sang stepped into the pagoda, admiring the garden around her. Everything was beautiful, from the biggest blooms to the tiniest buds. She wished she could stay here forever.

Sang Hye Yeon had been unhappy when her father had asked her to come here four days ago. Knowing that most noble ladies teased her, or made snide remarks about her weight, she had expected more of the same from Lord Kim’s daughter, especially now that she was to become Bubuin (Grand Prince’s wife).

Fortunately, she had not met the lady yet. 

All Hye Yeon’s days here had been spent exploring the gardens- and the kitchens. The kitchen women and boys had been sceptical at first, but had soon realized that Hye Yeon was not a typical noble lady.

She insisted on hanging around the kitchens since she liked to cook. To avoid getting into trouble, the head of the kitchens had permitted her use of a back kitchen building to cook at night, so she secretly did this every night.. 

Hye Yeon had convinced her maid to either remain in the room, or stay with the other house servants. The exasperated woman had willingly accepted the time off, hoping her adventurous young mistress would not get into trouble again.

Hye Yeon was actually prone to ‘disappearing acts’, especially where food or gardens were involved. 

Once she had broken into a local greenhouse.

Once she had snuck into a feast that was for only men (she pretended as a Gisaeng, but was spotted quickly because she was slightly overweight).

Once, she had even ventured into the nearby woods, studying plants and trees! 

Ladies were not supposed to do such things!

Each time she came back with a dirty hanbok, her mother would raise hell, berating her for being so careless. 

“You are a noble lady! How will you ever find a good match in that state?!” 

Or:

“Could you not wait till you reached home before eating anything? Look at the size of you! At least you have a pretty face ..”

Or:

“Pretending to be a Gisaeng?! How am I supposed to face the other women?”

It went on and on, as Hye Yeon found new and better ways to displease her mother (her father was usually amused, instead of angry). 

Now, away from her mother in Lord Kim’s household, she was free to run about as she pleased…

.

Min So Yeon watched the Prime Minister’s niece. The Prince had asked him to keep an eye on her, after he had found out she was here. Watching her, So Yeon could not help but think she was no threat at all… except maybe to herself.

In the short time he had been watching her, she had snuck into the kitchen every night and stayed mostly in the gardens during the day. Every time she came to the pagoda, she hiked the chima (skirt) of her hanbok up to her knees several times (So unladylike!), so she could climb over the rails. Each time she did this, she would look around, to make sure no one was about, then she would climb the rails to pluck a flower that was out of her reach. 

More than once, he had nearly run to her aid when she slipped, only for her to skillfully catch herself and climb down gently.

Obviously, she had been doing this in the past, and he thought she was quite agile for someone slightly overweight. At least, she was achieving her aims, he noted, amused. Several rare blooms lay around her.

He watched as she sat down finally, gathering the flowers to herself. Her hands moved quickly as she strung them together, weaving them to make a colourful crown. She placed it on her head, seeming extremely happy at the simple delight.

So Yeon decided he could watch her forever…

.

Kim Dae Hyeon studied the young man before him. Lee Ju Won had always been like a son to him, so he was at a loss on how to respond to his request.

“Ju Won-ah.” He spoke finally. “Your feelings are rather late. Why did you not speak out sooner?”

“I’m sorry, Master. I did not recognize my own feelings on time.” Ju Won replied.

Bringing up the subject with Lord Kim had not been easy, but he had had to do it. He refused to let Da Yeong go without a fight.

“You know Da Yeong is already approved as Bubuin for Daegun. Appealing to Jeonha will be treasonous.” Lord Kim was impressed, when Ju Won did not even flinch.

“If Master gives me his approval, I can convince Daegun. If Daegun is the one to break the engagement, Jeonha might change his mind as well.” He said confidently.

“Hmmm. You studied the situation… You are a courageous young man. I only wish you had spoken sooner.” 

“I’m sorry, Master.”

Kim Dae Hyeon considered his next words. When he had taken Ju Won in as a child, he had considered him a possible match for his daughter. After all, Ju Won was likely to be his heir.

Over the years, however, he and Da Yeong had seemed more like brother and sister. Privately, he did not think Ju Won stood a chance.

In the past three days, his daughter had been following the Grand Prince everywhere, hanging on to his every word. Of course, that could just be because she had found someone new and interesting, but he did not think so

Even with the curiosity of a child, she had never clung to Ju Won as much. 

Then there was the fact that the King would not even hear of it at this point. He wouldn’t even let the Grand Prince break the engagement.

Kim Dae Hyeon made the safest temporary move.

“Our Da Yeong. Does she feel the same way?” He asked after a while.

“We have not discussed the matter. I wanted Master’s permission, before confessing my feelings.” Ju Won replied.

“I thought so.” He said. “I cannot give you my permission directly.” Ju Won’s face fell, but he continued. “However, if you convince Da Yeong and she asks for the same thing, I will seriously give it my consideration.”

Ju Won brightened. It was not a direct promise, but there was hope. 

“Thank you, Master.” He said with a bow, then left happily.

Kim Dae Hyeon watched him go. He wondered if it was cruel giving Ju Won a chance. He himself had tried to fight fate and failed miserably.

.

The Kitchens, late that night…

Tae Jun sat opposite Do Young, watching him eat one bowl of rice, after another. He was on the third bowl now.

“Ya, Inom-ah. Exactly how much are you going to eat?” He asked in wonder, watching the chopsticks move quickly, from bowl to small mouth. If only this speed could be transferred to sword fighting…

“Hyeong~, I have to eat well, so I can train properly.” Da Yeong said, between mouthfuls. 

Tae Jun noted that recently, Do Young had removed the ‘nim’ that made the address more respectful. He couldn’t even complain… He found it pleasing for some reason.

Ju Won sat beside her, handing her another bowl, whenever she finished one.

“Yes, Hyeong-nim.” Ju Won said, and she smiled at him. “Our Do Young has never been a picky eater. He always eats well” He patted Do Young’s head, fondly.

“‘Our Do Young’?” Tae Jun asked incredulously. It was an extremely familiar way of addressing Do Young, so he was somewhat angry.

He glared at Ju Won, but Ju Won kept looking at Do Young, annoying him further.

There was another recent development, which annoyed Tae Jun. Ju Won had formed the nasty habit of following him everywhere, whenever he was with Do Young.

He did not know why this annoyed him, but it did. It was beginning to bother him… Then he shook his head.

There was no way he was an odd man. He had spent time with ladies and too many gisaeng to be bothered about that.

He was probably just competing healthily for his new student’s attention. When he really thought about it, he didn’t care…

He came out of his thoughts.

“I wonder where it all goes…” He muttered to himself, looking at Do Young’s slight figure and the amount of food he was consuming.

“Ya, Hyeong-nim!” Da Yeong protested. “I heard tha-.” A sudden clang, and the sound of laughter, interrupted her. These were quickly followed by a female voice:

“Jeosonghamnida! (I’m sorry!), and then another clang.

The three of them got up and went to find the source of the voices. It was very late, and they had assumed they were alone. 

The sounds had come from one of the back buildings, a room only used for storage. In front, there was a small fire going, and an earthenware pot was boiling away merrily. Da Yeong caught a whiff of cooking potatoes.

The first person they saw was So Yeon. He had heard their approach and come out.

“Daegun.” He said, by way of greeting, bowing and stepping aside as Tae Jun went inside. They all followed him.

Inside the room, there was a table full of food. Different sizes of earthenware bowls contained different dishes. It looked like a feast. At the head of the table was a lady in an expensive, but stained hanbok, as she had obviously been cooking.

It was the Prime Minister’s niece.

Hye Yeon looked around at them, pausing at Tae Jun, then down at her stained hanbok.

She had been formally introduced to the Grand Prince the night after her arrival, but she had not expected to meet him here.

Looking embarrassed, Hye Yeon bowed to Tae Jun. Tae Jun rose an eyebrow at So Yeon, but So Yeon looked away.

“Greetings, Daegun. I am Lord Sang Yoo Min’s daughter, who was introduced to you. Sang Hye Yeon.” She said shyly. 

Da Yeong curiously looked at the Lady. The Lady was a little chubby, and did not seem at all like she would have expected. She had expected someone pristine and snobby like most of the other noble ladies she had met.

She instantly warmed toward her.

Tae Jun had similar thoughts, noting her disheveled hanbok and the crown of flowers on her head. He studied the table. Apparently she ate like Do Young.

“Did you prepare all this?” He asked in apparent surprise.

“Ye, Daegun.”

“You’re a Lady of noble status, and you came to cook all this?” He began moving round the table.

“Ye, Daegun. I’m sorry for disturbing the household so lat-.” So Yeon cut her off.

“Jeosonghamnida, Daegun, Lee Ju Won-ssi, Kim Do Young-ssi.” He said, bowing to Tae Jun. “Agashi loves cooking, but she is not allowed to do such things. She comes here at night to cook, when everybody is asleep. She has the permission of the head cook, and leaves the food for the household staff, so she is actually doing a serv-.” Tae Jun held up a hand.

“Hyeong-nim! I never knew you were capable of such long sentences!”  Tae Jun teased, chuckling.

Lady Hye Yeon herself, was staring at him in surprise and amusement and So Yeon looked away again.

Inspired by the sight, Da Yeong went over to her.

“Noonim!” She addressed. They all looked at her. It was an improper term, as she was supposed to be an aide. Lady Hye Yeon was a noble, and the two did not know each other.

‘Agashi’ should have been the correct term, but Da Yeong ignored them. “You are the best cook I have ever seen!” She grabbed a nearby dish and tasted it.

“Daebak!” She exclaimed, grabbing a few more randomly. “Hyeong, you have to eat this.” She called to Tae Jun. He and Ju Won were staring at Do Young in amazement.

So Yeon went over to the chair closest to Hye Yeon, and they all followed his lead, sitting down.

After they all sat, there was a moment of awkward silence. The only sounds were that of Do Young, still eating, and Lady Hye Yeon, who was skillfully eating a lot, while appearing to eat little. Then,…

“Noonim. Why don’t we have an eating contest. Huh?” Do Young had turned to face Lady Hye Yeon.

Ju Won shuddered at this. No one had ever won against Da Yeong in that regard…

       Hye Yeon looked at the young man in surprise. She found him very improper in every way. He had called her ‘Noonim’ again, and he addressed the Grand Prince as ‘Hyeong’. Despite all that, he elicited warmth, and she found herself liking him. She shook her head politely.

“Jeosonghamnida, but ladies do not partake in such things.” She said prettily. 

Da Yeong smirked. She was bringing up the game on purpose, so they would all stop being self-consciously quiet. She taunted.

“Jinjja? Aigoo! I knew I would win before the game even begins. All ‘noble’ ladies are the same. They are all picky eaters.” She stressed the words deliberately, hoping to provoke Sang Hye Yeon…

It worked.

Hye Yeon would have ignored that- should have ignored it, but she hated being compared to other noble ladies. She liked to think she was different. She speedily grabbed the bowl in front of Do Young.

“What are the rules of this eating contest?” Hye Yeon asked. They were all staring at her in awe, but she raised a perfect brow at Do Young. Da Yeong grinned at her determined look..

“The first person to quit, loses…”

And so the eating contest began, and for the first time, Da Yeong was absolutely defeated!

.

In bed that night, Hye Yeon thought of all that had happened that day. She thought of Min So Yeon, who had defended her actions.

She thought of the Grand Prince, Lee Ju Won and the funny young man, Kim Do Young, who she now called ‘Do Young-ah’. She smiled at the memory.

That night, she had a beautiful dream. She was in an extremely beautiful place with three other people. They were shrouded in light and she could not make out their faces, but she felt comfortable with them.

There was an easy aura of companionship around them. Before her was a lot of good food, and the three of them seemed to be laughing at her attention to all the food.

It was familiar somehow…

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