Chapter Thirty- The Queen’s Murder
The two princes sat facing each other, neither of them, particularly happy about the meeting.
The First Prince, Tae Min had always denied his little brother’s advances, but for once, Tae Jun had demanded to see him.
Tae Min was going to give up his seat to the Crown Prince, as was custom, but Tae Jun had waved it away, sitting before him instead.
“Does Hyeong-nim hate me?” Tae Jun asked directly, after the palace maiden left, leaving a tray of tea between them.
“Why does Seja Jeoha ask such a question?” Tae Min asked, suddenly guarded.
“Let’s say there is a good reason for asking.” He looked up at his brother.
“I do not hate Seja Jeoha.” Tae Min answered almost at once. “I ask Seja Jeoha’s forgiveness, if I have given that impression in any way.” He finished smoothly and inclined his head to Tae Jun.
A boy of seventeen, he had been six when the Grand Prince had been born.
He had hated his brother from the moment he had been born a Grand Prince, but that was not something you admitted.
He dropped his cup in shock when his brother asked…
“Then why is Hyeong-nim planning with bad people to kill me and Omma Mama?” Tae Min’s eyes had widened.
“Wha- wh- what is Seja Jeoha talking about?” His brother was known for always knowing things he should not know.
He seemed to always be in the right place at the right time, to hear or discover something that usually was not his business!
Still to know something like this, was near impossible…
Tae Min tried to calm himself. There was absolutely no proof.
Tae Jun watched his brother’s guilty expression, heartbroken.
He had always chased after his brother, meeting rejection every time.
At first, he had cried each time his brother pushed him away, then he had decided to simply try harder.
His efforts were still met with rejection, but none of those times compared to what he felt now.
His own brother actually wanted him gone, and did not care if his mother went with him.
He got up suddenly, looking away from his brother.
“I know Hyeong-nim has never liked me, but please… Don’t hurt Omma Mama because of me.”
He felt like crying, but he refused to, turning fully and heading to the door.
Tae Min’s voice stopped him in his tracks.
“It must be easy for you, ‘legitimate’ son of the King! Looking down on your Hyeong, who never got anything out of life.”
Tae Min was not sure where he was getting the courage to speak out, but it was like something had burst inside him, and he could not stop himself.
Tae Jun had spun around to face him in shock, but he continued.
“‘Do I hate you?'” He scoffed. “I have hated you since you were born, because the minute you were born, I suddenly became nothing.
And then you dare follow me around, calling me ‘Hyeong-nim’ when you obviously outrank me. Stop being so pretentious! Go on and tell Appa Mama! Tell him the thing that you know. Let me be executed!”
Tae Jun had flinched, wide-eyed, but Tae Min was beyond caring at this point.
“End my meaningless life! You don’t know what it’s like being an illegitimate child, and you will never know… Having everything taken from you, just because of your mother’s position! Never being acknowledged by your own father. You don’t know…”
He had burst into tears at this point, and Tae Jun had backed away, clearly seeing things from his brother’s eyes.
He turned and ran from the room, tears running down his own face, his heart and mind raging with an even greater turmoil.
Who did he blame at a time like this?
Could he even blame his brother?
No. His brother was only like this because of him. His existence was the problem here…
Inside the Jade Palace, First Prince, Jang Tae Min, calmer now, fearfully waited for the Palace guards to come and arrest him.
He had just insulted the Crown Prince!
That was equal to insulting the Crown!
And worse, the Crown Prince somehow knew he was involved in a murder plot.
Surely he would run to Appa Mama.
He anxiously waited and waited, but they never came…
Five days later…
The Crown Prince was ill.
Five days had passed, and Eunuch Soo was reporting to the Queen, yet again, that the Crown Prince was still refusing to eat properly.
She sighed in frustration, and followed him to her son’s bed chamber, which was now right beside her own.
She sat by his bed, arranging the blanket properly over him. She touched her hand to his forehead, noting he had a high fever again.
She noticed the untouched dishes a little distance away, and sighed, gently placing a wet cloth on his forehead.
He opened his eyes and smiled weakly at her.
“Tsk tsk tsk! Aigoo, this child. If it is bothering you so much, then unburden your heart to Omma and Appa. Are you going to remain like this?” She knew her son’s present ailment was tied to his inner dilemma.
The King had told her everything…
When she had heard, she had insisted that her son be temporarily moved into the Moon palace.
Since it was not too far from the Sky palace, the King had agreed, and tripled the guards.
She had not been far from Tae Jun since then.
Queen In Hee, like the King, suspected the First Prince of being involved in some way; It would explain her son’s silence.
But the King had refused to act on mere suspicions, despite her protests.
In Hee had been in no mood to be nice. She had suggested sending the First Prince away temporarily…
When she had first come to the Palace as Queen, the First Prince’s mother had died a year after, so she had tried to draw close to the little First Prince, and he had been like her own child for a few years.
This had changed completely, when she became pregnant, and then gave birth to Tae Jun months later.
Even as a child, Tae Min had glared at Tae Jun with hatred, and had refused to draw close to her after that.
When Tae Jun had been seven, and the King had wanted to name him Crown Prince, she had been strongly against it, knowing it would only increase Tae Min’s hatred of his brother.
But the King had continuously recited the law at her, stubbornly refusing to change his mind.
An illegitimate Prince could not rule if a legitimate Prince was present.
In the end, she had backed off, watching as her fears come true each passing day…
At present, In Hee sighed, looking down at her son.
Deep down, she knew he would never say a word.
She hoped the King’s measures were enough to protect them.
Even though he was keeping an eye on Tae Min, and he had tripled their guards, she had still been getting a very bad feeling recently.
That night, Tae Jun was awakened by the sounds. The sounds which seemed to be drawing closer to them.
‘Is this the planned assassination?’ He asked himself. He felt weak, but he could not ignore the sounds.
It sounded like intruders.
He got up, fighting the sudden nausea. He stepped over Eunuch Soo, who had been sleeping close to his bed.
He slid the doors open silently, and went into the next room.
“Omma Mama-.” He choked out. The Queen, and her head maid, Min Ok, woke up at once, the Queen rushing to him.
“Tae Jun-ah. What happened? Why are you like this?” She asked, putting her hand to his forehead.
“Omma Mama… Intruders… They are coming…” He managed to get out, before losing conscious thought.
“Alert the guards!” The Queen said to her maid, while clutching at Tae Jun, and the maid rushed out.
She was not sure if there were intruders, but they could not be too careful.
Sang Yoo Jin knew that the King was aware of their plan. The First Prince had alerted them, even telling them the Crown Prince had been moved to the Moon Palace.
But it appeared the naive little Crown Prince had not reported his brother, so the King did not know who was behind it.
He may be expecting the attack, but he would not know how or when.
The assassins had been preparing for this attack for a long while.
They were well trained to attack swiftly and silently, eliminating a considerable amount of enemies before their presence was known.
The archers found good vantage points, silently picking off the Palace guards, while the ground men hid their bodies before alarm was raised.
They stealthily approached the Moon Palace, but were surprised to meet the guards fully expecting them.
The Moon Palace guards were thankful for the warning from Jung Jeon.
They had barely gotten into position, when the intruders arrived.
They attacked the intruders and began pushing them back. The fight went on for a while, but soon, all the intruders had been eliminated.
Sang Yoo Jin had expected a swift counter attack to wipe out the assassins.
He gave a small smile; most assassins did not understand what the Palace was really like.
They tended to think that with stealth, they could achieve their aims, but they had never stood a chance— he should have told them that.
Yoo Jin did not fool himself that the King was foolish.
But knowing your enemy, made you adequately prepared for all scenarios.
The murder of the first group of assassins, would only make the targets relax, and the First Prince had also played his part.
Besides, a larger group should be attacking the King.
They stood absolutely no chance.
He laughed; again, he should have told them that, but their duties were merely to cause a delay.
He smiled, drinking the wine before him.
The hidden assassins should be revealing themselves soon…
Inside the Moon Palace, the Queen, the Crown Prince, who was now awake, a few guards and the servants stood waiting in the silence following the short battle. When the guards came in, there was an audible sigh of relief.
But Tae Jun, who stood weakly beside his mother, yanked on her hanbok.
“Omma Mama. Intruders.” He said, pointing at the guards, but she just smiled at him.
“Don’t worry Tae Jun-ah. Those are the guards.”
“But, Omma Mama-.” He was cut off as the head guard approached her and bowed, the other guards behind him.
“Jung Jeon Mama, the threat has been eliminated for now. Please proceed with us away from here, in case more intruders co-.” He never finished what he was saying, as he was stabbed from behind.
His face registered his surprise, as blood poured from his mouth.
Then he fell sideways to the ground, and all the maids began to scream, trying to run away
At the same time, a few guards had drawn their weapons and were killing the other guards and even the servants, who were taken by surprise.
Soon, they were the only ones standing, and for the first time, Tae Jun realized the role his brother must have played in this attack.
He had switched the guards.
“Jung Jeon Mama. Seja Jeoha. You have to die now.”
The impostors had turned to face them, and the Queen hastily grabbed the sword of the head guard.
“Min Ok-ah.” She addressed her maid, then pushed Tae Jun back toward her.
“I will hold them back, so escape with Seja Jeoha.”
“Jung Jeon Mama!”
“There is no time for this! Go. Go with him now!” She shouted, charging at the impostors.
The first one underestimated her and fell dead before her.
The others did not make the same mistake, but she was not as easy to handle as they had thought.
She had trained under her uncle with the King.
Again, Sang Yoo Jin, honourable Prime Minister of Eondoeg Mun, smiled, still drinking the warm wine before him.
If the hidden assassins failed for some reason, well, Chung Jae, and his elite group, should have reached the Palace now…
Tae Jun tried to struggle with the maid, Min Ok, but she was not letting him get away.
Still, they had barely gone through the door, when their path was blocked by someone else.
It was the stranger from the library.
“Greetings, Seja Jeoha.” He actually bowed. “I’m sorry, but I cannot let you leave this place.”
A few more men gathered behind him, all fully armed and menacing.
The stranger slashed at Min Ok without a moment’s hesitation, and she fell, lifeless, to the ground.
Tae Jun took a step back in shock, but he felt the wall at his back. He started to inch toward his left, to the door they just came out of, but the stranger halted his progress, stabbing the wall right next to his head.
“Seja Jeoha. Everyone says you are very brave young man.” He removed the sword. “You should stand and die like a Prince.”
Tae Jun suddenly stood straighter.
He was still frightened, but he refused to cower in front of this man.
“I understand I have to die, but don’t hurt Omma Mama!” He yelled.
Chung Jae pondered this for a moment, admiring the child’s bravery, then said finally.
“I’m Sorry, but that is not my decision.” He raised his sword and the boy shut his eyes.
He hesitated for a few seconds, questioning himself, then he stabbed the boy.
Unfortunately, at the last instant, with almost unbelievable speed, the Queen had come out of the door and thrown her arms around him…
Tae Jun had shut his eyes, waiting for the impact of the sword, but it never came.
Instead, he felt arms go around him, and then a soft gasp.
It was a familiar embrace…
He was almost too scared to open his eyes now.
He felt the person slide down, kneeling before him.
Tae Jun opened his eyes and looked into the face of his mother.
Blood trickled out of the side of her mouth.
“Omma Mama.” He whispered in disbelief.
She clutched his shoulders.
“Tae Jun-ah. This is not your fault.” She struggled to speak, patting the top of his head, which was still neatly arranged in the sangtu.
“Omma Mama was already injured from the inside, uh? Omma Mama would have died already, but she came for her baby.”
She coughed up more blood at this point, and she gripped his shoulders again.
“Like this, Omma Mama will protect you. Mianhae (I’m sorry), Tae Jun-ah.” She choked out. “Omma will go first…”
Her hands slid off his shoulders and she fell to the ground.
As she lay there, she thought: ‘Mianhae Jeonha. Forgive me for leaving before you.’
And she slipped away.
Tae Jun dropped to the ground beside her.
“Omma Mama.” He shook her. “Omma Mama!” He screamed and screamed into the silence, tears flowing freely down his face.
She might have as well spoken in a foreign language, because his last conscious thought was that she was gone forever, and that it was entirely his fault.
He lost himself in sudden blackness.
Chung Jae and the other assassins watched the sad display before them in silence.
Chung Jae faltered, taking an unconscious step back.
One of the men behind him stepped forward and raised his sword to kill the Crown Prince, but he found himself flying backwards, the sword in the boy’s hand.
The boy had suddenly stopped screaming.
The man looked at to companions, hoping for an explanation of what happened, but they seemed as startled as he was.
The Crown Prince stood up and looked up at them.
Most of them took an unconscious step back.
His eyes were wider than usual, but scarier was the fact that he bore absolutely no facial expression.
The next thing they knew was a swift and sudden death, as without even appearing to move, the Prince seemed to stab and slash at them, and they all fell, hitting the ground.
Chung Jae had been stabbed as well, but he had moved at the last instant, minimizing the damage.
He was better trained than the men, so he had seen what they had not.
It was not that the Crown Prince had not moved.
It was that he had moved too quickly for their eyes to see.
Too quickly for him to dodge properly.
Chung Jae fled, disbelieving what he had just seen.
His last view of the Crown Prince was of the boy collapsing beside the Queen, the sword clattering to the ground.
The King and his guard arrived at the Moon Palace to meet a deathly silence.
When they had heard the commotion, they had been headed here, but had had to fight an immense number of intruders on the way.
Someone, whoever was responsible, had broken the law and trained personal soldiers.
He had kept a few of the men alive.
He must find and punish the culprits!
The King’s first view of the Moon Palace was filled with dead bodies.
His immediate reaction was a little relief that the majority were clad in black, which meant they were the intruders, but his heart was still filled with apprehension.
The unsettling feeling that something was very wrong.
It did not take him long to find it, as his eyes were drawn to the only figures in white.
The King of Eondoeg Mun had not cried when he found his dead wife.
Nor had he been visually relieved when he found his son was alive.
But his men knew better.
The next day, everyone, every single person, except for Eunuch Eun, had been sent far away from the Sky Palace.
They all knew they were being sent away so they would not witness the King’s grief.
Despite the distance, a few of them had still heard the heartbreaking cries.
Also, the Crown Prince was moved to the Sky Palace, and the King tended to him personally.
It was with a heavy heart that the King noted his son was not the same anymore.
He was not crying, talking, smiling, or even doing much of anything.
He seemed to have shut himself off from the world.
The King was sorry that he had allowed his son witness such a tragedy at such a young age.
He was just a child.
The King had his suspicions about who the culprits were, but there was no evidence.
The captured intruders, even under heavy torture, seemed to believe it was the Northern Faction that organized them.
Then the Shaman, Pal Wol had arrived with his friend, Kim Dae Hyeon, and new things had come to light…
On the Prime Minister’s end, he had been furious when Chung Jae had returned severely wounded, with news that the Crown Prince was still alive.
He knew he would have to find another way to kill him.
He was not worried about any captured assassins.
The men had never seen him, as he had used a disguised stranger to lead them.
The stranger had played the part of a northern faction official, representing the faction.
Chung Jae’s main duty in the Palace was to leave behind false evidence, and the Minister of Interior’s duty had been to make sure a few choice northern faction nobles were coincidentally in Gwang Guk at the time.
Nothing could lead back to Sang Yoo Jin.
As they all slept that night, all those involved in the murder had awakened into their memories…