Chapter Nineteen- The Meetings
The Eondeog Mun Palace, two days later…
The Ministers and higher officials sat before the throne, murmuring amongst themselves.
They were all clad fully in their official Sangboks, red for the ministers and high officials. Blue for the rest.
Outside the door, the King himself wore his official Gonryongpo, the Ikseongwan on his head.
He raised his hand and a eunuch announced.
“Bow before Jeonha!” Silence fell at once from within, as two other eunuchs slid the doors open.
“Jeonha!” The ministers and officials chorused, bowing to the ground at once. They remained bowed as he and his guards passed their midst. He got to his throne and arranged himself on it.
“Rise.” He said. He studied the Left Wing Ministers (Those to his left). Compared to the Right Wing Ministers, more than half of them seemed calmer.
He had always suspected that the plague was not normal, but it had been confirmed the previous day. Evidence of shamanic activity had been found close to the four gates of the Capital.
He also suspected they were left there on purpose.
The King knew more than half of the Left Wing Ministers were the Prime Minister’s people, and that was his biggest suspect. He opened his palm and an official behind him bowed, placing a scroll in it.
“As you must know, this meeting was called again because of the current plague.” He opened the scroll and scanned its contents.
“This is the second meeting, since a few of you were absent in the first one.” He looked pointedly at the Prime Minister. The timing of the plague, and the convenient absence of the Prime Minister, was too much of a coincidence.
“In the last meeting, we decided to close off the Capital and reinforce the quarantine centers. We were hopeful that it would have stopped by now. The number of deaths has increased, and more sick people are emerging. What is going on, and what are your suggestions?” He closed the scroll and handed it back.
He listened for a while as they gave updates from their own ends. The Health Minister and the High health officials had been the ones organizing the quarantine centers and treatment.
The Minister of Defense and current Head of the Military had dispatched soldiers to prevent exits from the Capital. From the previous day, he had also organized a search through the Capital, looking for the culprits.
He was loyal to his predecessor, Kim Dae Hyeon, so the King could trust him.
The Literary Minister had mobilized the education officials to temporarily shut down the two major schools.
Wells had been inspected. Farms and foodstuffs had been inspected. The reports went on for a while.
After their main reports, the King asked for new suggestions.
“Jeonha.” One Right Wing Minister bowed, then said. “If your servant may speak.” The King nodded. “Jeonha. I suggest we summon all doctors in Eondeog Mun to the Capital. There might be a hidden talent. Together, the doctors can study this plague and come up with a cure.” The King considered this for a few seconds.
“The idea has merit.” He finally replied. “Health Minister.”
“Ye, Jeonha.” A minister from the Left Wing answered bowing.
“You and the health officials should look into the possibility of this and report back to me.”
“Prime Minister. You have been silent.” The King said.
“Any ideas about this situation?” It was an obvious trap. The Prime Minister had been secretly meeting Shamans, and the plague had started after he had left the Capital. The coincidence was too high.
He had probably left the Capital to shift blame. Any suggestions he gave would reveal his intentions.
Unfortunately, he knew Sang Yoo Jin would see through the trap.
And he did.
“Jeonha. This servant was not even present when the plague started. Everything already seems to be in order. This servant will merely pray to the heavens that Jeonha’s strategy works.”
The King scoffed. He had expected that kind of answer. He knew their intentions would come out eventually. And he did not have to wait long.
After a few more suggestions, which he dismissed,…
“Jeonha. If your servant may speak.” It was another Left Wing Minister.
The King nodded and he continued.
“Jeonha. If this plague was started by shamans, should we not fight it using the same means?” There was instant murmuring. “Jeonha could seek out good shamans that might desire to help-.” The King leaned forward on his throne and he fell silent at once.
“What did you say?” He asked. Silence fell.
“Please punish this servant, Jeonha!” He said bowing to the ground. “This servant’s thought were out of place, Jeonha!”
But the seed had already been sown.
“Jeonha. If your servant may speak.” Now the Prime Minister was talking. Someone else had brought up the suggestion as he had planned, so he was safe.
The King scoffed and nodded.
“Jeonha. This is not necessarily a bad idea. We can select a group of trustworthy Priests and Shamans to cleanse the Kingdom. If you can re-establish the Palace priests and Shamans, we can prevent things like this from happeni-.”
“Priests and Shamans have been banished from the Capital for more than a hundred years.” The King cut him off.
“Jeonha. Punish your servant for speaking such things.” He bowed to the floor. “Your servant speaks because he is worried. The Shamans were banished from the Capital, but we do not know why. It might be a completely trivial reason. At a time like this, our options are limited. Jeonha!” He bowed again.
It all became clear to the King now. The evidence had been left so the people would know it was dark magic that caused the plague.
If he refused to use the shamans and priests, they would embellish the rumours to the people, painting him as a King who did not care for their suffering.
And if he let them in, the Prime Minister would have his way.
In the end, they wanted the Priests and Shamans back in the Palace. He suspected it was part of the assassination attempt Tae Jun had warned him about.
“Hmmm. And who decides if these Shamans are trustworthy?” The King asked.
“Jeonha can assign anybody he pleases for the selection.” The Prime Minister said bowing, a hidden smile on his face.
The line had been silently drawn.
If the King refused to reestablish the Priests and Shamans, he will systematically turn the people against him, and cure them with dark magic.
He would emerge as a savior to the people.
If the King allowed the Shamans and Priests back into the Palace, he would kill the King.
The King, Jang Tae Yong, watched the Prime Minister’s smug look and smiled.
He may not have a clear a counter plan, but he would not let that show.
He would give them what they wanted for now, but he would partially tie their hands.
“It is a good idea.” He said, finally nodding.
Most of the ministers looked surprised, whispering amongst themselves.
He silently watched their reactions.
He had basically eliminated the Right Wing Ministers from the plot, but most of the Left Wing Ministers were involved.
Now the catch.
“Why don’t you be the one to select the Magical Body?” The Prime Minister looked up at the King in surprise, and all the ministers began murmuring again.
He did not know what the King was planning, but he did not like it.
The Grand Prince’s residence, that night…
Entering the Capital was allowed after a thorough search, but leaving was absolutely not allowed.
After their arrival in the Capital, Tae Jun had tried to get Ju Won, Do Young and the third guard out, so they could return home, but though he was the Grand Prince, he still needed the King’s express permission.
Since the King had been busy because of the plague, he had simply told the three of them to stay in his house for a while.
The King had however, sent guards to his house, long before he arrived.
No stranger was allowed into the household, so the plague would not spread in.
Tae Jun would have dismissed them immediately he arrived, but the King had expected this. He had sent Eunuch Eun, his personal Eunuch with them.
After finding out the old man had followed him for so long without getting caught, Tae Jun had a new respect for him.
On the sixth night of the plague, a message arrived for Tae Jun.
For years, he had always had eyes in the Palace.
Being good with ladies, he preferred the Palace maidens. He sought them out before they even entered the Palace, usually looking for the clever, crafty ones.
He had however, never attempted to spy on his father.
Now, he opened the letter sent by one of his usual spies:
This servant greets you.
The government meeting ended on a shocking note earlier today.
The King is lifting the banishment on Priests and Shamans, from the Capital.
He is also reinstating the Palace Magical Body (Priests and Shamans).
The Prime Minister is in charge of the selection.’
Tae Jun had read the short letter twice, then had cast it aside in annoyance.
He didn’t underestimate his father, but this was too risky.
If the King let the Priests and Shamans into the Palace, it would be easier to reach him.
He decided he would go and see the King the next day.
Putting out his candles, he went to sleep.
Tae Jun was having one of the dreams again.
He found himself on a snowy white mountain.
‘It’s cold!’ He thought to himself, looking around.
It was very silent, and he wondered if anything was alive around him. Even the trees were covered in snow and frost.
His feet seemed to move forward on his own, his footsteps making barely any sound on the frost covered ground.
He came to a slight clearing, and the first thing he noticed was the house.
A snow covered hanok, sitting alone by a lake.
It was breathtakingly beautiful… He stood there and stared in wonder.
The lake, which should have been frozen but wasn’t, reflected the white heavens. It’s small waves added their own music to the wind.
‘Can such a beautiful place exist?’ He asked himself in wonder.
But then, despite the overwhelming beauty, the place filled him with a sense of loneliness.
‘Who would live in such a cold and lonely place?’ He asked himself again. He turned around.
Then he saw the men.
No. It felt like he felt them first.
Then he heard them.
Then he saw them.
There were three men, all hooded in black.
They dashed out toward the lake, and he followed, but when he reached a certain point, he could not move forward.
‘Huh?’ He tried to press forward, but it was as if an invisible barrier blocked him.
He looked at the lake and saw the men. They were surrounding a lone figure by the lake and had drawn their weapons.
It was the lady in white.
For once, her face was not covered, but she was too far away to recognize. All he could sense was her immense sadness…
She seemed very familiar, and he tried to move closer again, but he couldn’t.
From where he was, Tae Jun could not hear what they were saying.
Soon, the men removed their hoods, then they attacked almost at once.
He saw the words wrap around her, saw the circle of light, then the one with the sword had stabbed her.
For an instant, Tae Jun felt as if he was the one that was stabbed.
He fell to his knees, his hand flying to his chest.
“Hayan-ah.” He said, but had no idea why. “Hayan-ah! He shouted into the silent snowy night.
The force of the dream woke him up.
He was in his bed. He sat up, stunned, his hand flying to his chest again, this time, curiously.
He felt fine.
He jumped off the bed in frustration.
He suddenly felt like dark clouds were looming over him… A sense of impending danger.
Calmer, Tae Jun settled back down on the bed.
He pondered the dream.
Had he just seen how the White deity had died? Why had she not fought, if she was a deity?
Why was he even having these dreams? And what was that feeling at the end? Why had he felt so much pain? He had even called her ‘Hayan-ah’!
He was about to lie back down when he heard the sound.
Tae Jun had spent years getting used to the sounds of his own house, and he had really good hearing.
There were feet running on the roofs of his household.
Grabbing a sword hastily, he dashed out of his room. He met So Yeon at the doorway. He had awoken when he heard the Prince wake up.
“There are intruders.” He said simply, and So Yeon followed him.
Elsewhere in the Grand Prince’s residence, Joo Chung Jae was putting up another act.
With the same orders to kill the Grand Prince, he had been sent to the Prince’s residence.
He had attacked, but with no real intent to kill the Prince. He had killed a few guards to make it seem like he had been serious, but he would not kill the Prince.
He had begun to enjoy the sadistic pleasure of seeing Lord Sang frustrated.
This time, Lord Sang had sent other men with him. He happily sent a few of them toward the Prince’s chambers.
They were only five…
Despite their skill, the Prince would be through with them in a few minutes.
The others would fall prey to the Prince’s guards.
He had turned to leave, when he felt the tip of a sword at his neck, catching him by surprise.
He smiled impressed.
This person was good.
Da Yeong stood behind the intruder, her sword at his neck.
Earlier, she had awoken when she heard one of the guards scream. The scream was muffled, but she had heard it.
Thankful that she had slept off in her yungbok, and she had come out in time to see a masked man in a black yungbok.
At his feet was a dead guard.
He had attacked at once when he saw her, but she was not as easy. He was quite skilled, so he kept forcing her into defensive moves.
Then she started remembering all she had been learning from the Grand Prince, and the man became a fairly easy opponent.
Using her slight figure to her advantage, she had waited for his next attack, then stepped to the side at the last second, sending her sword toward his middle.
The man had blocked it effortlessly, but she merely spun around him, sending her sword into his back. He tensed up briefly, then went limp, falling foward.
Da Yeong had removed her sword, just as an alarm was raised.
Worried, she had headed toward the Prince’s chambers.
It seemed like an assassination attempt, so that was the logical place to go.
On her way, Da Yeong had seen another intruder, and this time, there were several lifeless guards lying around him.
‘Monster’. She had thought to herself and had snuck up on him to kill him, but something made her stop.
Instead, she raised her sword to his throat.
Before she knew what was happening, he had moved, slashing round himself, at her.
Da Yeong blocked the attack, but was pushed back by the force of his swing.
Almost immediately, he had attacked again, and she had been stuck narrowly blocking or dodging his vicious attacks.
“You blocked all the attacks.” The intruder said to her. They were circling each other.
She was already breathing hard.
“You are good, even though you are so young.” He struck suddenly, an attack she barely saw.
Da Yeong blocked by instinct and succeeded, but she was not fast enough to block his next attack.
She felt his sword slide through her, feeling pain like she had never felt…
…Tae Jun halted suddenly in his progress.
He had already eliminated five of the intruders, and had been searching for more when he felt another stabbing pain in his chest.
He staggered, raising his hand to his chest again.
Getting a sudden bad feeling, he changed direction, heading to the west of the compound…
…In Nam Guk, Lady Sang Hye Yeon awoke suddenly.
She started coughing immediately, and her maid, Eun Song came running.
Eun Song fetched the water jar, but before she got back, her young mistress had collapsed.
She ran to her at once…
…Choi Chun Hwa suddenly dropped the book he had been holding.
What was this strange feeling?
He felt like he had been knocked out.
He staggered, leaning against the wall.
Then he sank to the floor, suddenly unconscious…
…In the Gwang Guk temple, Pal Wol stepped back hastily, as the candles she had been using to pray, all went off.
She cast around her for an evil presence, but found none.
“Eun Bi-ah!” She whispered furiously, slightly shaking her daughter, who had fallen asleep while they were praying.
“Wake up. We have to pray. We have to pray for that child…”
Da Yeong collapsed against the intruder, looking up at him, wide-eyed.
A surprising recognition lit her eyes. She felt like she knew this person.
“Chung Jae-ah…” She heard herself say.
Chung Jae reacted at once.
That voice… He looked closely at the young man’s face.
In shock he shoved him away, he himself tripping in his haste to get away.
Why was Lady Hayan’s face on a man?
And why did he call his name?
He crawled over tentatively.
The young man was not dead. He had missed any vitals, but the man was slipping away fast.
He slightly opened the front of the yungbok and caught a glimpse of the white bands.
“It’s a woman.” He said to himself.
He remembered the silent monk’s words.
She must be the reincarnation of Lady Hayan in this life.
Chung Jae picked his sword and lifted it.
He could end this… this cursed existence.
He took a step closer, raising the sword.
But then, he remembered that cold night.
The hurt and betrayal in her eyes, even as he stabbed her.
The sensation of her blood, her life flowing out before him.
And now, the same thing had happened again.
Chung Jae let the sword clatter to the ground, falling to his knees.
“Don’t die.” He said weakly. “Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die….” He repeated it over and over, as if his sheer force of will could keep her alive…
He remained there for a few minutes, then got up and picked his sword. He was about to sheath it, when he felt the presence behind him.
He spun around, sword at the ready. This person’s bloodlust was on another level.
It must be the Grand Prince.
Obviously awakened from sleep, the Prince was wearing a white robe which was stained with blood.
Chung Jae guessed at once that none of the blood stains were from him, and he took an involuntary step back.
The Prince must have killed the five men already…
Tae Jun glanced at the body on the floor.
Even in the poor light, he knew it was Do Young.
He could feel it.
He looked up at the intruder and he suddenly felt as if an evil creature had been awakened inside him.
He struck out at once.
Chung Jae barely saw him move, and just managed to block the attack.
The force sent him a good distance back.
He could sense another attack and decided to attack as well.
Tae Jun blocked it easily, recognizing him in the process.
“Joo Chung Jae. You are going to die here.” He said simply, a sadistic smile on his face.
He was swinging his sword with an almost careless precision.
He seemed to hit his mark every time, Chung Jae barely managing to block.
Chung Jae tried to study him.
The Prince seemed off somehow.
He had not even known the Grand Prince knew his name, or could even recognize his face.
But then again, Chung Jae reminded himself, the Grand Prince always seemed to know everything.
A sudden thought occurred to him.
He glanced quickly at Lady Hayan on the floor, then back at the Prince.
They had never gotten a clear look at the Grand Prince… Not since he was banished.
He waited for the next attack and met it head on with his sword, facing the Prince squarely.
He gasped in surprise, for the second time that night.
It was Lord Geom Jeong.
Chung Jae knew at once that he did not stand a chance, and his mind took him back to the night of the Queen’s murder…
He should’ve known!
He played the only card he could think of playing.
“Wait!” He said, backing away.
As the Prince made to attack again, he pointed to Lady Hayan on the floor.
“That person is still alive.” The Prince stopped at once.
“Every second we waste here might cost that person’s life.” He added, and breathed a sigh of relief when the Prince dropped his sword.
Tae Jun felt himself come back.
For a while, he had been in a red haze, and killing had seemed like a game.
He dropped his sword and looked at Do Young.
Then he looked back at Joo Chung Jae.
“You should go. If I ever see you again, I will kill you immediately.” He said simply.
Chung Jae bowed, then left without looking back.
In one night, he had met Lady Hayan and Lord Geom Jeong.
The Grand Prince was Lord Geom Jeong!
He still could not believe it.
He had been under their noses the whole time!
It explained somethings, like his unnatural talent with the sword.
This meant that the other two deities were somewhere around as well.
One thing was for sure. The deities did not yet know who they were…
At least Lord Geom Jeong did not.
There had been no sign of recognition, and he had called him ‘Joo Chung Jae’, instead of ‘Yoo’.
Lady Hayan had called him by name, but it had been for a brief moment…
Now, Chung Jae wished he had listened to the the Silent Monk.
The shame of what he had done, had finally hit him fully.
He did not intend to return the Prime Minister.
He vanished into the night, intending to find a way out of the Capital.