Chapter Sixteen- Do I love you?
A week later…
Choi Chun Hwa staggered further away from the hidden temple, ducking between buildings to escape his pursuers. Using the dark night to his advantage, he managed to elude them.
He removed his palm, which had been pressed against his side, and noted that the stab wound was bleeding profusely. There was another wound on his thigh, but he ignored it. He clapped his hand back over his side and staggered toward Lord Kim’s household.
He had to see Tae Jun.
Three days ago, he and Tae Jun had met and discussed what the Prime Minister might be doing in Nam Guk. They had decided to quietly investigate, search for more clues…
Then the previous day, the body of the Silent Monk had been discovered floating in a river. The body might have been lost forever, but somehow, the monk’s led had been latched to the bank of the river with weeds.
Of course, Tae Jun had told him the story of the Silent Monk.
If the hidden temples had once been home to the Grand Priests, then the hidden temple in Nam Guk was a good place to start their investigation….
Chun Hwa had gone back to the hidden temple alone, slipping away from his aide quietly. He had looked through the temple for hours, going through the mundane temple records.
All he found was an old diary, detailing the life of a past Grand Priest.
The only thing interesting in the diary, was a suspicion the old man had had. The old man had been afraid that his apprentice was going to surpass him. But he had been even more afraid of the evil he sensed within his apprentice.
As he had described his fears: ‘…evil that has lain dead for centuries. He bears a darkness that has not been heard of for a long time…’
Chun Hwa found it interesting, but not interesting enough… It did not seem like something Sang Yoo Jin would have been interested in.
As it grew dark, he decided to go back, but stopped short at the sound of movement. He hid himself quickly, watching as two men, dressed like personal guards, passed by the temple library, where he was hidden.
This temple was supposed to be deserted…
Curious as always, Chun Hwa had followed silently. As they went, he noticed they were going further and deeper into the temple, passing through a hidden door he had not found before.
‘Jackpot!’ He thought to himself. He would surely find something here…
The walls here were old, crumbling in some places, and cobwebs had become a solid part of the building. The men finally went through a set of heavy wooden doors, and Chun Hwa stopped short, hiding in the shadows to observe them and listen.
There were about a dozen men in total inside, quietly discussing. Two were nobles, but he could not see their faces. The Prime Minister came to mind, but he couldn’t be sure.
“…It is the right season, Daegam. We have laid enough in place… I think it is time to throw Eondeog Mun into temporary shadow.” One of the noble men spoke, gently dropping a cup he had been holding.
The other filled both their cups, appearing deep in thought. Then he downed the contents of his own cup in one swallow.
“Indeed. The meeting with the Silent Monk didn’t go as planned, but I think it is time to clarify my intentions to Jeonha!”
The statement and the way the man spat out the word ‘Jeonha’, made Chun Hwa certain; it was Sang Yoo Jin. He continued to listen.
“Let’s summon the chosen magical body (priests and shamans)” Sang Yoo Jin said, dropping his cup. “It is time we destroyed the sun and pulled it out of the sky…”
Chun Hwa’s eyes widened as came to a surprising conclusion.
They were planning the assassination of the King!
Deciding he had heard enough, he turned to go, but his gat (wide-brimmed hat), which he had completely forgotten about, scraped against the wall, sending several loose stones crumbling to the floor.
The guards were out of the door in an instant, chasing him through the temple.
He had reached the outer temple courtyard, when several of them surrounded him. He pulled the gat low over his face, then drew his sword, thanking the heavens he had thought to carry it.
Trying to remember everything he had ever learned in combat training, he knew one thing for certain. He could not eliminate them all, but maybe he could outsmart them and escape.
He struck suddenly, bringing down one of the men.
They all attacked him at once, but rather than fight them head-on, he concentrated on eluding their attacks, using their own numbers against them.
It was a shadowing trick he had learned, or tried to learn, from Tae Jun.
Chun Hwa waited for an opening, and took it, ducking out from their midst.
It took the men a few seconds to realize the person they were attacking was running off.
They gave chase, but it was too late. The minute he came out of the temple, it became easier to avoid them.
His escape plan had worked, but not entirely. He had been stabbed twice.
Trying his best to stay conscious and ignore the agony, he slowly weaved through the silent dark buildings. He hoped they had not seen his face…
Kim Dae Hyeon’s residence…
It did not seem like a dream.
Da Yeong and Ju Won were riding in front of the Royal palanquin, their eyes and ears alert. So Yeon rode beside the palanquin as usual, seemingly at ease, but equally as alert. The Grand Prince was returning to the Capital, and they were escorting him back. As they approached one of the small towns between Nam Guk and the Capital, they were suddenly attacked.
The men that attacked were quite skilled. They all fought, keeping them well back and Tae Jun came out of the palanquin to help fight the men, eliminating a lot of them.
Da Yeong had been fighting with about two of the men, when something whizzed past her ear. She spun round, seeming to follow the arrow’s progress in slow motion.
“Hyeong-nim!” She warned too late and watched as the arrow lodged itself into his chest. They all ran to his side, So Yeon reaching him first.
Da Yeong watched helplessly as the Prince bled. Watched him cough up blood. He raised his hand to her, trying to smile, but his hand went limp in hers, his head fell back against So Yeon, and Da Yeong felt the life go out of him.
“Hyeong-nim!” She shook him, clutching his hand tightly in hers. She felt like her own heart had been ripped out of her chest.
“Hyeong-niiiiiiiiiiim!” She screamed, disbelieving, her voice piercing the silence.
It was the screams that woke Hye Yeon up. She sat up abruptly, taking in her immediate environment. She noted two things immediately.
That it was still quite early, and that her maid, Eun Song, had awoken as well, looking as confused as she herself felt. She got up, making for the door.
“Agashi! You cannot go out like that!” Eun Song said, making Hye Yeon halt. She looked down. She was wearing the white hanbok most ladies wore as nightgowns.
The day was not fully bright yet, so Hye Yeon ignored this fact and headed out of the door, Eun Song following behind her.
Lord Kim’s household had four levels. The outer level was frequented by many. It held the sleeping quarters of the men in training and led straight to the training grounds.
The middle level held the public houses, like the offices, and the sleeping quarters for the higher ranks amongst his men.
The third and inner level was inaccessible to most. Only members of the household, guests, and servants were allowed in here.
Behind the third level were the kitchens and the dwelling quarters of the household servants.
Rumours usually went round, saying that Lord Kim had wanted his house to be like a mini palace, but this was not the case. The vast compound had merely been added to over the years, as the needs arose.
The third level was the biggest level and it contained Lord Kim’s expansive library, the gardens and pagoda, the banquet hall, and several other multipurpose rooms.
It also held the classiest hanoks for sleeping chambers, which were spread slightly apart to give dwellers a sense of privacy.
Hye Yeon had gotten lost on her first day here.
Now, she stood outside the hanok that served as her sleeping chambers. The screams had seemed to come from nearby, but she was not sure of which direction, so she guessed and headed right.
She had not gone far, when she saw the source of the commotion. At least she guessed it was.
In front of a very beautiful hanok, surrounded by beautiful trees and gracing a small beautiful stone pond a maid was trying to halt the progress of her young mistress, who seemed hysterical for some reason.
Like Hye Yeon, she wore a pristine white hanbok, the high quality of which was clear, even from this distance.
Hye Yeon guessed she must be Lord Kim’s daughter.
Wondering why she had not been introduced to her before now, she approached the two.
As they reached them, the girl turned briefly to face her, and she gasped in shock, taking an involuntary step back.
The girl had long black hair, and tears streamed down her face, but she recognized the face at once. It was Kim Do Young, or someone who looked extremely like him.
“What is going on here?” She asked the harassed maid. Eun Song went over to help, holding the lady’s hand. The maid bowed slightly to Hye Yeon, but maintained her hold on the young lady’s hanbok.
“Jeosonghamnida, Agashi. She suddenly woke up screaming, and kept saying she is going to see Daegun.” Hye Yeon stepped closer to the Do Young lookalike.
She had decided that, of course, it could not be Do Young. Maybe they just looked similar…
But she was surprised when the young lady noticed her and took her hand.
“Noonim!” She said at once. “Noona! Daegun. Something bad has happened to Daegun.” She said not seeming aware of her surroundings at all.
“Tell her to leave me alone. I have to go and see him!” Her pitch increased with each word. Her maid bowed, backing off slightly, but still held unto her.
Hye Yeon was shocked, but she got over it almost immediately. She grabbed Do Young’s shoulders, shaking him…. or her? Looking closely at her front, she realized Do Young was indeed a girl.
“Do Young-ah!” She shouted into her face, still shaking her. “Do Young-ah!” The young lady went still for a moment, then seemed to awake finally, her eyes widening. Hye Yeon, Eun Song and the maid sighed in relief.
Da Yeong suddenly woke up. She took in her surroundings, then looked up into the face of the person staring worriedly at her.
“Noona.” She said simply, then realized too late, where she was… and what she was wearing. She stepped back hastily, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Jeo- Jeosonghamnida. Er- Noona, th-that-.” Da Yeong did not know how to explain the situation… She herself was still confused.
Hye Yeon noticed her discomfort and smiled warmly at her.
“Calling me ‘Noona’ is a bit strange under the circumstances, don’t you think?” She teased and grabbed her hand. “Let’s go inside first. I don’t think you can see Daegun like that.”
Da Yeong followed her meekly into the room, recalling the nightmare. She still wanted to see the Grand Prince, but she was thinking more logically now.
Inside the room, Hye Yeon watched as the maid rearranged Do Young’s hanbok, which she had been grabbing to halt her progress. When she was done, she went out to join Eun Song, who waited for her mistress outside.
“Are you alright?” Hye Yeon asked immediately they were alone.
“Ye.” Da Yeong replied automatically. Her mind was still on the nightmare. Daegun had died in front of her. The intensity of her emotions at that point tore through her.
Even now, she could still feel it. It had felt so real…
“So, who are you? Is your name Do Young?” Hye Yeon asked. She slid across the floor to her, taking her hands.
“Jeosonghamnida. I’m Lord Kim Dae Hyeon’s daughter, Kim Da Yeong.” Da Yeong said looking up at her. “Sorry for the late introduction. I’m sorry for deceiving you.” She bowed slightly at her.
Hye Yeon studied the scared looking girl before her. So this was the future Bubuin. Now she understood why she had found ‘Do Young’ so improper.
“Ani. I’m sure you had your reasons.” She said kindly, finding it hard to imagine this person in the Palace.
“Does Daegun know who you are?” She asked after a while, and Da Yeong flinched. Hye Yeon patted her hand. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell him.” She quickly added.
Da Yeong sighed in relief, but she suddenly felt the need to explain herself.
“My engagement to Daegun came as a surprise. I will soon be leaving everything behind and live a trapped life in the Palace. I just wanted to enjoy the rest of my days here, being myself.” She found herself crying.
Recently, Da Yeong had been worrying about this very issue. Would Daegun hate her after he found out she was a lady?
She was even to be his future wife! Pretending to be a man was extremely frowned upon, so she feared he would react the same way.
Hye Yeon’s voice brought her out of her thoughts.
“I understand the need to be yourself.” She said, rubbing Da Yeong’s back in comfort. She raised her hand to wipe her tears.
“Before I came here, I used to steal every bit of freedom I could. That is why I like it here. Things are so easy. My mother would never allow me act like a man.”
“Well, my father has been indulgent for most of my life.” Da Yeong admitted, finally smiling at Hye Yeon. “My father is a military man, and he did not have sons, so maybe that is why?”
“Ani! My mother is just difficult… I dressed as a Gisaeng once… She was not amused!” Both of them laughed heartily at this, Da Yeong visibly relaxing. No proper lady associated with Gisaeng.
When she seemed a bit calmer, Hye Yeon asked her what had happened.
“Was it a really bad dream?” She asked.
Da Yeong was not sure how to explain it. She still felt gripped by the nightmare.
“It did not feel like a dream…” She said. She remembered everything too clearly.
Then she remembered something else.
The death of the Silent Monk.
She had had a similar dream then, and it had actually happened. Even if she had doubted her visions after that, the body of the Silent Monk had been found.
She jumped up immediately.
“Noona. I have to make sure. I do not know how, but the last time I had a dream like this, the events of the dream happened in reality.” She was already getting ready, and Hye Yeon watched amused, as she transformed from a young lady into a young man.
“Omo! If I did not see it with my own eyes, I might have doubted it.” She said in admiration, but she was a bit worried.
She got up as well. “I’m sure Daegun is fine, but lets go together. I will go and prepare quickly.” Hye Yeon made her way to her own room to change and follow Da Yeong.
Tae Jun, So Yeon and Ju Won sat at different tables in Lord Kim’s library. Tae Jun, dressed in one of his resplendent hanboks, had awoken very early to address an immaculate looking scroll.
He had written a letter to the King, asking to remain in Nam Guk and investigate the Prime Minister.
In the letter, he had explained all the strange things that had happened, ending with the discovery of the Silent Monk’s body. Then he had arranged for sending the letter.
Now he was exploring Lord Kim’s vast collection of books, several candles burning merrily to light up the room.
So Yeon was with Tae Jun as usual, reading a book to pass the time.
Ju Won, also reading a book, had seen the Grand Prince coming out, and had ended up following them…
Da Yeong and Hye Yeon had searched everywhere they could think of for the Grand Prince. Hye Yeon watched as, every time they searched somewhere and did not find him, Da Yeong’s worry grew.
It was with some relief that they finally found him in the library…
Da Yeong entered the library, a good distance ahead of Hye Yeon, who was struggling to match her pace.
The room was dark, but the candles made it bright enough.
“Hyeong-nim!” She said loudly as she entered.
They all turned sharply toward the doorway at the loud voice, So Yeon and Tae Jun coming out from behind shelves.
“Ya. Do Youn-.”
Da Yeong was not sure how, or when she moved, but next thing, she had thrown herself at Tae Jun, her arms going around his middle in a full frontal embrace.
In shock, Tae Jun dropped the books and the candle he had been holding. The candle went out at once.
Ju Won nearly fell off his chair, knocking over another candle.
So Yeon dropped his book as well, and Hye Yeon gasped audibly from the doorway.
Tae Jun remained unmoving, strange sensations going through him.
This pleasant feeling… It was the type of feeling he expected to get when holding a female.
He stood there confused, not exactly sure whether he wanted Do Young to let him go, or just keep holding on to him.
Hye Yeon made the decision for him.
“Jeosonghamnida Daegun!” She said, bowing and dragging Do Young by his collar, away from the Grand Prince. “Do Young-ah thought something bad had happened to you, and got a little carried away upon finding you.”
“Jeosonghamnida!” Da Yeong hastily bowed, fully red in the face. Her heart raced in her chest. “Jeosonghamnida, Daegun.” She had just realized her mistake and her cheeks burned with the embarrassment.
Men did not hug fellow men like that. An awkward silence followed, then…
“Ya. Kim Do Young.” Tae Jun spoke finally.
He was suddenly angry, although he did not know who he was angry with.
Himself? or Do Young?
“Behaving like this is not amusing after a while.” He punctuated each word with a poke to Do Young’s forehead.
Ju Won wanted to step in, but So Yeon grabbed his arm. Tae Jun continued.
“Will you keep doing improper things? If you are going to continue like this, let’s end your training here. There is no point training you if you will carelessly get into trouble.
“Do you think you can remain under Lord Kim’s shadow forever?” He gestured toward Ju Won, scoffing.
“Or is it under Ju Won’s shadow you intend to remain? Being cute and amusing is not going to save you every time. It is time for you to grow up.” He turned and left the library leaving behind a stunned silence.
Hye Yeon, who had been watching the exchange with curiosity, grabbed Do Young’s hand and dragged him(her) from the room.
So Yeon’s expression tightened at this, but no one noticed.
So Yeon let go of Ju Won’s arm.
“Daegun, when he is like that should not be interrupted.” He bent to pick the fallen books and candles. “He is nice, but you do not want to see his deadly side.” He dropped the books and went after Tae Jun.
He was a bit confused by the Prince.
For someone with sharp reflexes, he had not pushed Do Young away immediately, which would have been the normal reaction.
Then there had been the emotions on his face at that point.
And then his sudden anger.
From past experiences, So Yeon knew the Prince had no problems with women.
He was going to take a closer look at the young man, Kim Do Young.
Da Yeong sat with Hye Yeon in the garden pagoda. She had no idea how she got here, barely even remembering Hye Yeon grabbing her hand.
Her thoughts were on the Grand Prince. That moment in the library when she had held him, she had never wanted to release him.
His words had stung, but she had paid barely any attention to them.
It was as if his words had been bouncing off an invisible bubble that surrounded her…
She heard them, but they didn’t affect her.
When had she grown so close? To the point of making such a stupid mistake.
Did she ‘like’ the Grand Prince?
“Do Young-ah. Are you alright?” Hye Yeon asked. Since she was already used to the name ‘Do Young’, she continued to use it. Da Yeong turned to face her blankly.
“Noona. It does not make any sense, does it? How can I… To Daegun.” She turned away again, placing her palms flat on her cheeks, which still felt like they were burning.
“Do Young-ah, do you like Daegun?” Da Yeong flinched, but sighed immediately.
She had always found it funny when girls chased after her and Ju Won. She had never thought she was capable of that type of stupidity.
“I don’t know.” She replied simply. “I thought I would die if something happened to him. Does that mean I like him?”
She turned to face Hye Yeon, who was now thoughtfully studying her.
“Do Young-ah, don’t you think you should tell Daegun who you are?” She remembered the Grand Prince’s odd reaction to Do Young’s embrace.
Then she remembered Do Young’s hysteria that morning.
It was obvious that Da Yeong liked the Grand Prince, and he himself was conflicted in her presence.
“No!” Da Yeong protested at once. “Not- not yet.” She added, sighing.
Now she was doubly concerned about the Prince’s reaction.
Hye Yeon shook her head. Man likes woman. Woman likes man. Both are even engaged…
‘Why complicate things?’ She asked herself.
“Aigoo!” She sighed, and began making flower crowns, leaving Da Yeong to her thoughts.
Flowers were much easier to understand at this point.
Da Yeong did not know if she loved the Grand Prince, but if she did, she would rather quietly enjoy this time with him.
She knew he was marrying her out of responsibility, so she did not expect his attention. At least, as Do Young, she was allowed to spend time with him.
Tae Jun stood silently, watching the men train in the cold dawn. His eyes were seeing them, but his mind was elsewhere…
Precisely in the candlelit library, where he had left it with Do Young.
Tae Jun did not understand himself. His anger whenever Ju Won was around. His recent desire to spend time with Do Young. And then the library…
He shook his head but the memory was still too clear.
At that moment, he had been briefly lost, almost forgetting who, and where, they were. His arms had nearly reached up to return the embrace…
‘Could it be, to Do Young— to a man, I-‘. He cut the thought short. He refused to even consider it.
“Daegun.” So Yeon’s voice brought him out of his thoughts. “I think there might be a problem.”
Tae Jun looked up to see two men heading toward them. Their faces and body language spoke volumes.
Something had happened.
They approached and bowed.
“Greetings Daegun. Lord Kim humbly requests your presence.”
Tae Jun and So Yeon looked at each other. It did not sound good so they hurriedly followed the men. The men led them to one of the hanoks near Lord Kim’s own, and they hurried in.
Inside, Lord Kim sat beside a bed. On the bed, deathly pale and unconscious was Choi Chun Hwa.