Chapter Twenty Eight- Memories
The lake before Tae Jun was beautiful, not a ripple disturbing its clear surface.
The moon was perfectly reflected on its dark surface, adding a beautiful glow to the atmosphere.
Fireflies danced about, and the warm air hung with the scent of flowers.
He knew he must be dreaming.
“Orabeoni!” A voice called out, and Tae Jun turned to see the white-haired lady again.
He was slightly taken aback, as this was the first time she had ever said anything to him, or even spoken at all.
A veil covered the lower half of her face as usual, and again, she was dressed in a beautiful white hanbok, hairpins gleaming in her hair.
She seemed otherworldly as usual, but for once, she was looking right at him, like he could reach out and touch her.
Surprisingly, he was reacting to her presence or attention, as he thought he would have…
She was overshadowed, even in his dream.
The image of Da Yeong in her unique peach hanbok, or even in a yungbok, felt more powerful than this beautiful apparition.
He found himself worrying about Da Yeong again, but he faced the lady before him.
They stood face to face.
The vision, or dream, or apparition did not go away this time.
It appeared, whatever she was, she was ready to face him.
He had questions.
He wanted to know why he was having these dreams- or visions, and if she was actually Lady Hayan, the white deity.
He had always assumed she was, and he had even called her ‘Hayan-ah’ in the last dream, but now he wanted certainty.
He also remembered what Lord Kim had said.
Was she and Da Yeong the same person?
“Orabeoni’s heart is somewhere else today.” She stated, interrupting his thoughts.
“‘Orabeoni’?” He smiled, despite himself. “You addressed me that way earlier as well… Why are you calling me something like that?”
“Ye? Is that what you really want to ask me?” Her voice was tinged with laughter.
“Who are you?” He asked after a pause.
“Orabeoni already knows the answer to that question.” She replied simply.
“Tch! Calling me ‘Orabeoni’ again… Are you Lady Hayan? The white deity?” He asked.
He began to step towards her.
She still did not back away or disappear, but answered simply.
So his assumption had been accurate.
“What happened a hundred and fifty years ago? Why did you die? Why do you keep appearing to me? What is it that you want?”
He paused when she giggled.
A beautiful tinkling sound that made him remember the most delicate of music.
“The question is, Orabeoni: Am I appearing to you? Or are am I a memory that you keep calling to you?”
He lifted an eyebrow, studying her curiously, then smirked.
“I can only remember you if I once knew you. I think I was born a little too late for that.” He joked.
“Really?” She did not seem remotely fazed. “Then why am I here?”
“Why are you here?” He repeated, and she lightly punched him.
“Aigoo! Orabeoni is only clever when it comes to strategy!” She accused, laughing.
“Ya!” He looked down at her laughing expression and felt drawn.
It was all too familiar.
Without knowing what he was doing, he lifted his hand to her veil.
She stopped laughing, but did not stop him.
She merely looked up at him.
He slowly removed the veil, and his eyes widened…
“Da Yeong-ah.” Tae Jun woke up peacefully, the name on his lips.
“Kim Da Yeong.” He whispered softly into the darkness, the warm feeling from the dream wrapping around him.
It was a few moments, before he noticed his surroundings.
He was sitting on the floor, outside his chambers, and was cold, not warm.
“Aish!” He exclaimed, running into his room.
He had been too worried to sleep after returning from the Palace.
Lord Kim had taken Da Yeong with him earlier- despite Tae Jun’s protests-, then he had gone to confront the King, his father, but the King had refused to see him.
Angrily, he had returned from the Palace and began pacing in front of his chambers with worry.
He must have sat and fallen asleep, because he had suddenly found himself in the dream.
With the white deity.
With Da Yeong.
Still shivering from the cold night air, Tae Jun was not sure whether he should even be surprised at this point.
Kim Da Yeong had surprised him so often in the short time he had known her.
‘So Lord Kim was right’. He thought to himself.
Da Yeong was indeed the white deity.
He had always accepted there was a possibility, but it was still a bit shocking…
‘That careless, noisy, strange person was the white deity?!’ He smiled fondly, remembering their brief history together.
…Her flaring up about an insult to her father, who he had assumed was her master at the time…
Her stubbornly trying to sweep up leaves in the wind…
His encounter with them as blue bird…
Her falling on top him from a tree…
Her looking for a strange white fox…
Her teasing laughter…
Her asking him to train her…
All the funny moments of training together…
…Then how she had embraced him in the library…
Tae Jun suddenly did not feel so cold anymore, and he sought out his hand fan.
He sighed, thinking of the more recent memories.
Finding out she was a woman…
Finding out she was the most important person to him…
“Aigoo…” He fanned himself furiously.
His life recently, was suddenly filled with Da Yeong.
He did not exactly mind…
It made him wonder at how much he had changed in such a short time.
Da Yeong brought out a happiness he had never really felt since that event eleven years ago.
He let his mind slip back into the past.
A place he had always tried to avoid…
Eleven years ago…
The Stone Dragon, which was what people called the monstrous dragon statue in the Palace, was mystifying to all, including the King.
No one knew what it signified, or why it was even erected.
Some went as far as saying a real dragon had landed and turned to stone, and others said it was haunted and that it roared on dark nights.
All these stories were very interesting to the eleven year old Crown Prince of Eondeog Mun, who currently stood before the statue
He decided he must uncover this great mystery.
Without a moment to waste, he ran off to the Palace library, hunting out every book on the Palace history he could find.
If he solved the mystery, he would tell Appa Mama and Omma Mama first.
Then he would use it to surpass Choi Chun Hwa’s own solved mystery!
The week before, Lord Choi’s son had been brought, with a few other young noble boys, to train with him.
The two did not like each other, but Appa Mama had flatly refused his request to keep Choi Chun Hwa out of the Palace.
“The King cannot be partial to his subjects! Learn that now, and learn their strengths so you can use them.. Choi Chun Hwa will be valuable in the future. Befriend him!” His father had ordered.
And that had been that.
Even when he was not training, and he met the other noble children in the Side Palace, boys and girls alike, Choi Chun Hwa was always present.
The other faces were present sometimes, and absent sometimes, but Choi Chun Hwa was always there.
This annoyed him immensely.
One particular day, the training masters had organized a few small competitions for the young nobles.
Of course, many of them had wanted to best the Proud Crown Prince, but Tae Jun had effortlessly won every time.
The training masters usually looked at him with awe…
They had never had it so easy training a child.
The boy was a prodigy.
The last duel had been between he and Choi Chun Hwa.
Chun Hwa had been a good opponent, using logic and surprising even him a few times, but he had still defeated him easily.
He had laughed at Chun Hwa’s frustration at losing- yet again, and he suddenly felt happier.
Then he had heard the other children talking.
They were discussing about a great mystery in the Capital that had been recently solved.
There was an empty hanok by the edge of the woods which no one knew the origin of.
The shabby hanok sat precariously atop a small brook, which seemed to pass right beneath it, flowing freely.
As usual, funny rumours accompanied the hanok.
Some said the brook was once a big river that had carried the house to its current location.
Some said water spirits had built the house.
Others said it simply dropped from the sky.
But Choi Chun Hwa had sat in the Gwang Guk library for a few hours, and uncovered the forgotten story of a very beautiful noble lady and her peasant lover, who had built the shabby, but sturdy hanok to hideaway from an arranged marriage.
Back then, the Capital did not extend that far, so they had been sheltered safely in the woods, feeding off the forest and drinking from a nearby river.
Months went by, and they were eventually caught, but the house had remained forgotten.
Years of erosion and weather changes had channeled a small branch of the nearby river through the earth beneath the hanok.
It was all very simple.
And Chun Hwa had solved it.
Tae Jun had glanced over to him angrily and he had smirked.
His smug expression seemed to say: “You may be skilled in combative arts, but books are my territory… Know your place.”
Tae Jun had stalked off, ignoring his training masters and throwing a spectacular anger tantrum in his mini palace, the Sun palace.
His eunuch, Eunuch Soo, used to such displays, had backed out of the danger zone at once, leaving the palace maidens and servants to suffer it.
Tae Jun was good with his studies, but every single time he made a new accomplishment, he eventually found out that Choi Chun Hwa had already done it, and better too!
Now here he was in the library, attempting to outdo Chun Hwa.
He had picked a day when the palace librarians were meeting Appa Mama.
That meant the library would be empty and he would not be disturbed.
Still, he had been here for almost three hours, and had made absolutely no headway!
He was going through the sixth book filled with boring palace history and politics, when two people came in.
One was Jang Tae Min, his brother, and first Prince of Eondoeg Mun.
Tae Jun did not know the second man.
Tae Jun was further back inside the library, so they were not aware of his presence.
They probably thought it was empty.
He was about about to approach, but something- some deep instinct made him hide instead.
The stranger was not dressed like a palace servant, and something about him made Tae Jun extremely uncomfortable.
He was a young man, about his elder brother’s age, but there was just something…
Tae Jun was not really trying to listen, but he had always had extremely sharp hearing, so even though he was a bit far from them, he heard bits of their whispered conversation.
The stranger seemed to be trying to convince his brother to ‘hold onto the Prime Minister’s hand’.
He did not really understand what that meant, and he wondered why holding someone’s hand was so important, but he did not move or make a sound till they left.