Chapter Twenty Six- Envy
The celebration was the most interesting occasion Tae Jun had ever attended.
There was no shortage of the best dishes to eat, or rare wines to drink.
More than once, he noticed a father, stopping his son from drinking too much, too quickly.
The ladies seemed to carry themselves respectfully, afraid of embarrassing their families in any way.
Most of the younger ones did not even touch the wine.
Then there were the performances.
Tae Jun had been right about the Gisaeng, as several of them had come from distant regions to perform for the King.
There were several dances, a short play, and even poetry.
Fond of using the gyobang to paint his false reputation, Tae Jun recognized quite a few faces, and he winked cheekily at them, further feeding the false personality.
Several nobles must have noticed, as they began to give the King pitying looks on producing such a wayward son.
In turn, the King had kept casting warning or chastising looks at him.
There had been a remarkable gayageum performance from the best player in Eondeog Mun, and the nobles had watched in awe as her fingers plucked the strings with amazing speed.
For Tae Jun, it was astounding, but it was not the best he had heard…
Visions of a white-haired Lady in a beautiful garden filled his mind
He had not been having the strange dreams in a while. He wondered why…
Then there had been a beautiful, but dangerous looking, dragon lantern dance, which had set of amazed and surprised exclamations all through the hall.
The best presentation of the evening had been from the beautiful leader of the Dong Guk gyobang.
She had danced, while playing a big mounted drum, a drumstick held in each hand.
It was a popular performance, called the Drum Dance, which had attracted many nobles to Dong Guk just to watch it.
Tae Jun had kept turning his attention to Da Yeong during the performances.
Most of the time, there had been complete joy or awe on her face at each performance.
This was probably her first major outing.
After a long while, the performances were stopped and the occasion had turned slightly less formal.
Then the King had briefly excused himself, his guards and eunuchs following.
Tae Jun, his brother and the rest of the guests had bowed as he exited, then they all returned to their various forms of conversations and merriment.
Tae Jun sat drinking- or pretending to drink- quietly.
“Still a very pretentious person.” His brother, Jang Tae Min, the Crown Prince, spoke to him from the other side of the empty throne. “You say you want nothing to do with all this, and yet here you are.”
Tae Jun considered acting like he had not heard him, but he decided to respond.
“Hyeong-nim knows my being here is not my choice.”
“Yes, it is never your choice!” The Crown Prince said with open vehemence. “The same way being born was not your choice.”
“If Hyeong-nim was going to be this insecure, why did you crave that position so much?” Tae Jun asked.
“Stop your condescending tone. Refuse this marriage and do not enter the Palace.”
The past Tae Jun would have felt immediate heartbreak at his brother’s words.
As a child, he had tried to follow him everywhere, continuously trying to get close to his elder brother, despite his apparent hatred of him.
But not anymore… He knew too much now.
He merely looked over the throne at his brother.
“Jeosonghamnida, Hyeong-nim. I am not marrying Lord Kim’s daughter because I want to enter the Palace. I cannot refuse this marriage.”
“An expected response. Your intent is clear. You mean to enter the Palace and challenge me!”
Tae Jun was suddenly angry.
“Hyeong-nim.” He addressed with controlled calm.
It was the type that made people suddenly afraid.
The Crown Prince was not immune.
He flinched slightly and Tae Jun continued.
“Instead of bothering with me, shouldn’t Seja Jeoha be more interested in winning the people?” He had deliberately emphasized the term ‘Seja Jeoha’. He continued.
“Working with your office of Crown Prince, you can make people’s lives better and solidify your place in society.
“That would be more productive than sending people, who stand no chance, after my life. They would just wind up dead, without even touching me.”
The Crown Prince’s eyes had widened at this.
He had never realized that his younger brother knew he was sending assassins after him.
“Ya, Ima-.” He begun, but ignoring him, Tae Jun got up.
“If I wanted that position as much as Hyeong-nim, I would have told the King what I knew all those years ago.” He turned and walked away.
He gave a hasty excuse to any of the nobles who approached, and left the rowdy hall.
Meanwhile, Da Yeong, who had been stealing glances at the Grand Prince throughout the occasion, had witnessed the odd exchange between both brothers.
At first, she had thought nothing of it, but then the Prince had suddenly become calm.
It was the scary type of calm.
Something was wrong.
Worried, she had watched him head out of the Palace hall, and then she debated on whether or not she was allowed to leave the hall.
She made up her mind and was about to go after him when someone grabbed her arm.
“Do Youn-” She caught herself. “Hehehe, Da Yeong-ah!” Da Yeong turned and looked into the excited face of Sang Hye Yeon.
“Noona!” She screeched.
Luckily, the noise around them drowned out her voice and the two hugged each other happily.
“Omo! I’m happy to meet Noona here! When did you arrive in the Capital?”
“A few days ago. You can even call me ‘Noona’ in a place like this? And looking like this! So you were this type of beautiful person? ”
She looked at Da Yeong from head to feet, then she playfully slapped her arm. “Aigoo, this gijibae!… You left Nam Guk without telling me!”
“Ah! Mianhae… Hyeong-nim was returning to the Capital, and we were ordered not to tell anyone. Hye Yeon Noona looks very beautiful as well.”
Hye Yeon brushed away the compliment and asked her seriously.
“‘Hyeong-nim’? Are you still calling Daegun that? Hasn’t he found out that-?” She glanced down at her outfit.
“Ah Ye, he has. We had to stay at his house after we arrived. He was sooooooo angry!”
“Aish, of course he would be. I kept telling you to tell him in Nam Guk.” She leaned in toward her, eyebrows raised. “So, both of you have made absolutely no progress?”
“Pro- progress?” She watched as Da Yeong turned an interesting shade of red, and her hand subconsciously flew to her lips.
Hye Yeon’s eyes widened.
“Omo! Ki- kiss?!” Da Yeong rushed to cover her mouth.
“Ya! Noona! Don’t say such things out loud!” She said in a loud whisper.
Hye Yeon removed her hand.
“I get it, I get it.” There was a mischievous grin on her face. “So how exactly did tha-.”
“You two seem to be really enjoying yourselves.” A voice interrupted behind them. Da Yeong did not recognize her, but as Hye Yeon turned, her countenance fell at once.
It was Sang Hye Su, her cousin.
The future Bingung (The wife of the Crown Prince, or Crown Princess Consort).
A line of servants stood behind her.
Sang Hye Su was the only daughter of the Prime Minister and future daughter in law to the King.
She liked to think she had achieved a lot in her life.
From an early age, she had watched her father overcome one obstacle after another to get whatever he wanted.
She had decided that this was the way life worked.
You took whatever you wanted.
With new drive, she had aimed to become the Queen of Eondoeg Mun, and she had wasted no time in drawing close to the Crown Prince (which had been Tae Jun at the time).
At first he had refused her company, her being a few years younger, but she had persisted, eventually joining his circle of friends.
She had been termed ‘the little girl who follows Seja Jeoha around’, but she had never minded…
Until the Queen had been killed and the Crown Prince had been demoted and banished.
She had felt her first setback, but she had simply backed away from him and aimed for the new Crown Prince.
His older brother, Jang Tae Min.
Crown Prince Jang Tae Min was her senior by nine years, but she had eventually gotten her way.
With her father’s help and a little creative sabotaging, she had passed the Bingung selection at the age of sixteen, and she had lived in the Side Palace ever since.
Now, she looked at the two ladies before her.
She had watched them come into the hall earlier.
She eyed Lord Kim’s daughter, the future Bubuin (Wife of the Grand Prince, or Princess Consort) first. Then she eyed her cousin, Hye Yeon.
She had not liked the attention the two of them had gotten when they entered the hall.
As if that wasn’t enough, she had heard of little else from the men around her, during the occasion.
It had been ‘Lord Kim’s daughter this, or Lord Kim’s daughter that…’
Then a few had even mentioned her cousin.
Even her overweight cousin had gotten more attention than her!
She smiled sweetly.
“Hye Yeon-ah. It has been a while. I hope you ‘found‘ enough food to eat here?” Hye Yeon’s face lost all colour, which had been her intent.
The servants behind her giggled silently, and Hye Yeon’s face paled even more.
“H- Hye Su-ah.” Hye Yeon said, plastering on a forced smile.
As children, Hye Su had always poked fun at her for being overweight, or doing strange things.
And she usually did this in front of their other friends.
Naturally, Hye Yeon had always tried her best to avoid her, but now she was Bingung.
She couldn’t just leave her presence.
Hye Su smiled coldly, reading her cousin’s mind.
“Omo! I guess you have indeed been away from the Capital for long. You cannot address me like that anymore. I may not mind, but what will others say?”
“Jeosonghamnida, Mama.” Hye Yeon bowed.
She turned to face Lord Kim’s daughter.
“I hear you will be entering the Palace as well. Such open idiotic displays are usually frowned upon.” She gestured to Hye Yeon.
“I realize it must be my dongsaeng’s fault. You must excuse her, she is a little careless. Although as Bubuin, you really should have learned to behave yourself in public.”
Da Yeong had the unladylike urge to tackle this person to the ground, but in an unusual show of self-control, she resisted.
She did not like the way she embarrassed Hye Yeon, or even the way Hye Yeon acted in her presence.
That meant this was not the first time she was deliberately embarrassing Hye Yeon.
Da Yeong smiled sweetly as well, bowing appropriately.
“Jeosonghamnida, Mama. I did not realize I was going against ‘Side Palace’ policies.”
It was an insult, cleverly coated so it was recognized as an insult, but could be passed off as an innocent mistake.
She had efficiently reminded Bingung that she had not yet entered the Main Palace.
“What- what did you just say?” Hye Su stammered angrily. She raised her hand to hit her. “You insolent little-.” She was cut off as someone caught her hand.
“Jeosonghamnida, Mama.” Chun Hwa, who had been silently monitoring the exchange, inclined his head to her slightly.
“Your humble servant is worried that such a mean display will give people the wrong idea.”
Chun Hwa had not meant to interfere, but Tae Jun would not sit quietly if Lady Kim was disrespected in any way.
Even if it was by Bingung.
Hye Su snatched her hand away. “And who are you to tell me-.” Another interruption came in the form of three of the King’s eunuchs.
“Greetings, Mama.” They chorused, politely bowing to her. The one in the middle spoke.
“Forgive us, but Jeonha requires the presence of Choi Doryeonnim, Kim Agashi and Sang Agashi.”
They each opened a scroll, and they all bowed, holding it open for inspection.
At the bottom was the Royal Seal, which was used only by the King.
The symbol was recognized all through Eondeog Mun.
The King had actually sent the eunuchs separately, but they had met in the hall.
The eunuchs handed the scrolls to the three of them, and they each noted their names were actually on the ones each of them held.
“Eh? Why would Jeonha want to see us?” Hye Yeon asked.
“One does not question Jeonha’s orders.” The eunuch replied, slightly taken aback.
All three of them looked at each other in question, but they quietly followed the eunuchs.
Sang Hye Su watched them go angrily.
Why would Jeonha want to privately meet things like them?!
Hoping they had done something wrong, she turned away and stormed off, the servants hurrying to keep up.