Chapter Seventeen- Lord Paran
Chun Hwa opened his eyes. Instantly alert, he jerked up, but found himself restrained, as an arm flew across his chest. At that same instant, he felt the sharp pain from his side and plopped back down to the bed, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Chun Hwa-ah. Chun Hwa-ah!” Tae Jun shook him gently. “Are you ok?”
Chun Hwa opened his eyes, surprised, at hearing Tae Jun’s voice. He stared at him for a full minute, then looked round the room.
“Ya Ima! Don’t tell me you lost your memories, or something.” Tae Jun interrupted him.
“What am I doing here?” He asked after a while. He tried to move again, but the sharp pain made him give up. He had a headache.
Chun Hwa was about to ask why he was in this state, when the memories came flooding back. He sat up abruptly again. He winced in obvious pain, but he ignored it and faced Tae Jun.
“Tae Jun-ah. Some people are trying to kill Jeonha! I overhea-.”
“Ye, I know. You have told us about it several times already.” Tae Jun cut him off, gently pushing him back down to the bed. “You were stabbed and it is not healed, so be more careful. The physician said no sudden movements.”
“You arrived here three days ago. You have been slipping in and out of a fever.” He placed a wet rag on Chun Hwa’s forehead and continued.
“Each time you woke up, you repeated the same thing. ‘People are trying to kill Jeonha’. I sent a message to Appa Mama that very day, and I return to the Capital in two days. Besides, Appa Mama is not so easy to eliminate.”
Chun Hwa sighed in relief, visibly relaxing. He had made it on time. He remembered struggling to reach here, hoping he would not be found. After reaching Lord Kim’s gates, he did not remember anything.
“I have been here for three days?”
“Tsk tsk tsk. Your impulsive, adventurous spirit will be the end of you.” Tae Jun said, shaking his head. “Me and a few men went to investigate the hidden temple. Even without an attack, that place is dangerous.
“Last time, you went with Kang Seo. Why did you go alone this time?” Kang Seo was Chun Hwa’s guard. Tae Jun continued.
“Lord Choi and the scholars have been worried, but they can’t openly say anything or show it. If news spreads that you are injured, your attackers will realize who you are.”
“The scholars found out?” Chun Hwa asked. He was the leader of the Nam Guk scholars.
Being an extremely young leader, he tried to hide all forms of weakness from the scholars, because despite his obvious skill as a scholar, most thought he had obtained his position because of his father.
“Don’t worry. The scholars are fully on your side this time. They take it personal when a scholar gets attacked. Rather, be more careful next time. Don’t put yourself in danger carelessly!” Tae Jun’s tone was sharper than he intended, but Chun Hwa merely scoffed.
“Aigoo! Why are you berating a sick person? What matters is that Jeonha has been alerted.” He said, but he silently noted Tae Jun’s face.
Tae Jun was good at hiding his emotions, but Chun Hwa had always been able to read him. There were bags under his eyes, his obvious worry clearly written on his face.
At least it seemed clear to Chun Hwa. Most people usually saw what Tae Jun wanted them to see.
“I’m sorry, Tae Jun-ah.” He said. He did not like making Tae Jun worry. He knew Tae Jun hated the thought of losing anybody close to him.
After Tae Jun’s banishment, he had gone from being a lively cheerful boy, to someone withdrawn and cold. He hated drawing close to people for the secret fear of being abandoned again.
It was the reason he hated his title. He had gone from ‘Seja Jeoha’ to simply ‘Daegun’ overnight… A constant reminder that his mother had died and he had been banished.
“Tsk, Pabo. It’s fine.” Tae Jun replied, and the two remained in comfortable silence.
Lord Sang Yoo Min’s residence
The Prime Minister re-read the scroll one of his aides had handed to him. It was good news from the Capital, which had cheered him up immediately. He had been unhappy with the events four nights ago. Someone had heard his plans, but now it it did not matter.
It would not stop him, he knew. No one had any idea what move he was about to make, but he wished he could eliminate the person.
He had initially suspected Daegun, but he doubted it. Daegun might fool everyone, but he did not fool him.
The men had said the intruder had been wounded. Given their few numbers and level of skill, Daegun would have escaped unscathed. That left him with only one other suspect.
Lord Choi’s son.
He knew Choi Chun Hwa had found the fourth book in the hidden temple, so it made sense for him to go back there.
After the incident, he had gone to Lord Choi’s household to pay a visit, but when he asked about his son, Lord Choi had brushed it off, changing the topic.
This made it more suspicious…
If only Chung Jae had been there, the intruder might not have escaped. But ever since his visit to the Silent Monk, Chung Jae had been withdrawn.
He suspected he must have found out about the Silent Monk’s murder. He would have to do something about him soon.
He pushed the thoughts from his mind, rolling up the scroll and setting it aside. The Priests and shamans in the Capital were in place.
It was time to move forward.
The Gwang Guk hidden temple, late that night…
Oh Min Suk, special aide to the Minister of Taxation, opened the sealed boxes before him, detailing the items within. The boxes had arrived that morning, his master’s men having to bribe a few officials to escape inspection.
Each box contained ceremonial clothes for priests and shamans. Since both were banished from the Capital, they had had to secretly smuggle the clothes in.
They had barely arrived in time, and one set of shamans were already playing their part.
The Prime Minister’s plan was about to begin.
The eight shamans moved quietly in the moonlight, two each to the four gates of Gwang Guk. They were all dressed in black and red ceremonial hanboks.
Hiding in the shadows, each set created a circle with yellow cursed seals. One of the two maintained the circle with incantations, while the other performed a ritual dance.
As four shamans chanted, and four shamans danced, dark shadows silently rose into the air…
The next day, the Capital awoke in chaos.
A deadly plague had spread in the night, infecting a lot of the people. An alarm had been raised, and the King had met with the Health Minister and officials.
Several quarantine centers were already being set up, and treatment was being administered.
Still, by noon of that day, almost thirty people had died.
The King called for a full government meeting…
Kim Dae Hyeon’s residence…
It was a cool morning, and despite Tae Jun’s protests, Chun Hwa was out for a walk. The stab wound on his thigh had not been serious, so he had no problems walking.
The previous day, he had met with Lord Kim, thanking him for saving his life and taking him in.
Surprisingly, Lord Kim did not seem angry with him anymore over the broken engagement. He supposed Tae Jun must have explained everything to him.
Of course, afterwards, he had teased Tae Jun on his upcoming marriage.
Chun Hwa had also been introduced to the Prime Minister’s niece, who he found was pleasant company. Tae Jun seemed to believe she could be trusted, so he did too.
He had also met Kim Do Young and Lee Ju Won again. Both seemed to stick to Tae Jun a lot, calling him ‘Hyeong-nim’!
Chun Hwa found he was more amused that Tae Jun actually allowed them get close, even agreeing to train the young man, Do Young.
It reminded him of a much younger Tae Jun. When he had been Crown Prince, he had always been surrounded by people…
As children, he and the Crown Prince had viewed each other as a challenge; one they each needed to surpass.
Chun Hwa had always been gifted when it came to books, but his father had wanted him to be better at combat, instead of books, even though he had no real talent with the sword.
His father always compared him to the Crown Prince, so Chun Hwa had been envious of the Crown Prince, who seemed to have natural talent in combat.
He had taken up combat training, and with his logic, he had been a fairly formidable opponent.
However, he had been no where near the Prince’s level.
Meanwhile, the Crown Prince had been envious of Chun Hwa’s natural talent with books, and had wanted to surpass him.
While he had to study to even come close, the Knowledge seemed to come naturally to Chun Hwa.
Chun Hwa was known as the child that had memorized all the Confucian classics at the age of seven.
Childish as Tae Jun was at that age, plus older than Chun Hwa by a few weeks, he had no qualms bullying him whenever they met.
But after the Queen’s murder, Tae Jun had been banished and Lord Choi had moved to Nam Guk. The two had not met again for a long time.
Six years later, Choi Chun Hwa, now seventeen, had been preparing to take the scholarship exam in the Capital.
Being naturally talented with books, he was not even particularly studying, much to the anger and envy of the other scholars.
In the library, one day, he had found an old riddle in one of the books.
Out of curiosity, he had solved it and found it led straight to another book, which led to another book, and another book, and then finally, to a map hidden in yet another book.
The map had directed Chun Hwa to a hidden ancient library in the Capital. It was said to be the library of a very powerful Shaman.
There were no dates on the map, but the parchment seemed very old.
Set amidst the dangerous rocks of the Gwang Guk mountains, the library had probably gone unnoticed for more than a hundred years!
Wondering if there would be any books which had survived such a length of time and abandonment, Chun Hwa decided to explore it.
The day before the exam, He had risen early and gone to find the hidden library, and after climbing for a couple of hours, he had found it easily enough.
Without the map, the library would have been impossible to find. The library gates seemed to have been removed a long time ago, and he passed through the empty gate way. The whole structure was in ruins, weeds slowly taking over. The front doors were wide open.
Chun Hwa had gone inside, excited about his find, but had found something entirely different. After passing the first chamber, which was lined with statues, he had come to a small library room.
This room held quite a few books, which looked like a good breeze would destroy them, but this was not what bothered Chun Hwa.
In a building that should have been deserted for a century or more, he was seeing new sets of footprints which had disturbed the dust.
The floor in the previous chamber was made of stone, so he had not noticed anything.
Here, the floors looked like old polished wood, the footprints clear on the layers of dust.His first instinct was to turn back, but he fell silent and followed the footprints, going deeper in.
After a while, he began to hear noises. He came to an opened chamber, where the noises were coming from.
Sneaking, he looked into a room and then jerked back immediately in fear.
There were people in the room.
He slowly looked in again and counted six men in total. They were dressed all in black, with their faces covered. The men seemed to be looking for something, scattering books and moving shelves across the floor.
Something suddenly exploded inside Chun Hwa.
“Ya! What do you think you are doing?!” He had demanded angrily, without thinking.
Seeing precious books being treated like that, he had suddenly snapped. He bent to pick the ones closest to him.
The men, taken by surprise, had looked at each other, but they recovered quickly.
Next thing, they had all charged at him, six swords flashing toward him.
Having no original interest in swordmanship, Chun Hwa had abandoned it when he had stopped seeing the Prince.
Right now, he was not even armed. Realizing he had no way of winning this fight, Chun Hwa forgot about the books and took off running.
Unfortunately, given the rocky terrain, he was no match for them in terms of speed, and they caught up to him easily, surrounding him.
One of the men raised a sword to strike him down and Chun Hwa squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the blow.
It never came.
He was surprised to hear it clash with another sword.
Chun Hwa opened his eyes after a moment and saw someone standing in front of him, a sword in his arm. He wore a black yungbok like the men. His back was to him, and he wore a straw hat low over his face, so Chun Hwa could not see him.
The men attacked at once, trying to eliminate both of them. The man was more than a match for them, keeping them engaged and off Chun Hwa, who had ducked and slipped away from the commotion.
In less than a minute, the man had killed two, adding two more to that number in the next thirty seconds. His sword seemed to be a part of him, knowing where to go before he even moved it.
Chun Hwa was amazed.
He caught a glimpse of the stranger’s face, noting that he looked really young, probably around his age.
‘Just who is this?’ He thought to himself in frightened amazement.
The two men left were apparently amazed as well, because, considering their options, they chose to run away. Oddly, Chun Hwa noted, his rescuer did not pursue them. He merely put his bloody sword back and began to walk away.
Chun Hwa finally found his voice. It was his first time witnessing such a bloody scene firsthand.
“You- you killed them so quickly.” He said, amazed. The young man had stopped a little distance away.
“It is kill or be killed in the battle field. It is no place for a scholar. If you saw the men first, then you should have run. Blindly challenging them and drawing attention to yourself like that is the fastest way to get yourself killed.”
He turned to face him. “Luckily I had been following, or…” He drew a finger across his neck, signifying a slit throat.
Chun Hwa swallowed audibly. He bowed to the stranger. “Thank you for saving me. I’m from a noble family, so my father grant you a reward. If you come to the Choi household, you will be repayed.” He said, still shaky. Then he turned to go, straightening up with the usual noble pride, but the stranger’s voice stopped him.
“Choi Chun Hwa.” He had said, and Chun Hwa had spun around, surprised to hear his name.
The stranger scoffed and continued.
“So you’ve become someone dependent on his father for such simple matters. It figures, since you spent all your childhood days within a book. I wonder if you are still an excellent scholar…
“If you are thankful, come first in the exam tomorrow…” He removed his hat and smirked. “Back then, you were always showing off. Impress me.”
With that, he had run off, leaving Chun Hwa stunned, looking after him.
That annoying smirk…
He now knew who the stranger was.
The next day, Chun Hwa, who had been ignoring the exams so far, had taken it very seriously. He intended to prove to the Grand Prince that he was still not an easy opponent!
He had easily won Best Scholar by a landslide, personally getting commended by the King.
After the announcement ceremony, he had found out the Grand Prince’s house and gone for a visit- and Of course, to show off the exam results…
Now, five years later, the two had become close friends. They had many differences. Tae Jun, when he was not pretending or in disguise, was cold and precise. Chun Hwa was impulsive, open and cheerful.
Despite these, they got along perfectly well.
As he walked, Chun Hwa recalled the odd dream he had had the previous night. In it, he seemed to watch himself and Tae Jun, sitting in a very beautiful Pagoda, a game of baduk before them.
They both looked different, each dressed in what looked like really expensive clothing.
Tae Jun was dressed in a black and gold hanbok, his hair bound up and falling down his back.
The dream Chun Hwa, wore an exquisite looking blue hanbok, an open book beside him. He seemed relaxed, the front of his robes slightly open, and his hair falling freely down his back.
Tae Jun, on the other hand, seemed ready for battle, his clothing arranged with severe precision.
‘Ah!’ Chun Hwa had thought in the dream. ‘ So he is like this even in a dream…’ His own laughter had woken him up.