Sorry for the delay! I really need to have a better grasp on how detailed I want to make these summaries because they’re becoming quite lengthy. I paraphrased some, summarized some, and directly translated others, but for the first chapter, I directly translated a lot of the dialogues to give you a better sense of the speech style of the characters. As my chapter one summary became too long, I decided to dedicate its own post to it.
Cast of characters:
YI HWON (Kim Soo Hyun/Yeo Jin Goo) is the young, 23 year old king. He has a queen (hand-selected by his grandmother), but they have not yet consummated their marriage. His royal power is always at the constant threat from his powerful father-in-law. Hwon ascended to the throne at the age of 19 by outsmarting his grandmother.
HEO YEONWOO/WOL (Han Ga In/Kim Yoo Jung) is the daughter of a nobleman. Although women were discouraged from receiving education, no one could stop her love for learning growing up and she was encouraged by her loving brother who doted on her. And thus, she became more well-read than any Sungkyunkwan scholar. She is two years younger than Hwon, and is currently 21 years old.
HEO YEOM (the adult role has yet to be cast, although Kim Jung Hoon is rumored to have received an offer; the younger version will be played by Siwan, a member of the idol group Ze:A) is Yeonwoo’s older brother. He is a genius who passed the state civil exam (ranking first, of course) at the young age of 16, and at 17, he was assigned to be the teacher to the crown prince (Hwon), who is just a year younger than himself. His beauty is described to make even grown men speechless.
PRINCE YANGMYEONG (The latest report is that Jung Il Woo is likely to be cast, but not yet confirmed; Lee Min Ho, not to be confused with the same-name actor of Boys Over Flowers and City Hunter’s fame, will play the younger version) is Yi Hwon’s older brother, born of a different mother.
PRINCESS MINHWA (Jin Ji Hee) is the spoiled younger sister of Hwon. She falls in love with Yeom at first sight, and she eventually ends up marrying him.
WOON is Hwon’s trusted personal guard, whose swordsmanship is second to none. Among the swordsmen in all of Joseon, there is no one who does not know of Woon. His full name is actually Kim Jewoon, but due to his name and as the king’s personal guards are called a woon-geom, Hwon simply calls him Woon. Twenty-three years old, over 180 cm tall, and oh yes, did I mention he is beautiful? And not only is he an excellent swordsman but he also possesses the high intellect capable of passing the state civil exam… if only it is not for his one “flaw” that he was born to a concubine woman of a nobleman.
SEOL is Yeonwoo/Wol’s maidservant.
One autumn evening, Yi Hwon, and his personal guard, Woon, find refuge from the rain under a tall tree. Hwon is dressed in disguise wearing a yangban’s (nobleman) attire. Woon looks undeniably like a warrior, his long hair tied in a braid and two large swords fastened to his back and to his side.
The two men are at a distant from the nearest village, and the rain does not look like it will stop anytime soon. Suddenly, Hwon spots a little cottage at the foot of the mountain and announces that they should seek refuge there until the rain passes. Without waiting for Woon to answer, Hwon quickly walks towards the house as if under a spell and Woon has no choice but to follow. Once they arrive at the entrance, Woon pauses at seeing a pole protruding high above the gate and advises Hwon against going inside – the house belongs to a shaman’s.
Just then, a woman (who we later learn to be named Seol) opens the door.
“I’m speechless. In what kind of a situation does a guest ask the homeowner to reveal herself? Isn’t that for me to ask?”
“For what reason does a woman possess a sword?”
“It’s amazing. How did you know I possessed a sword? As expected… Ah! That’s not what I meant to say. Ahem! Milady asks me to invite you inside.”
“I said why do you have a sword in your possession!” Woon remains persistent.
“In this secluded place, just two women live alone. So shouldn’t we at least have a sword on us? What foolish question. Anyway, will you not come inside?”
Although Hwon wants to go in, he can not insist on it because of Woon. But as if Seol expected the guests to be hesitant, she continues: “Milady said that the guests wouldn’t enter this lowly place, and asked what difference is there between standing underneath the eaves of the entrance of a lowly person’s house and that of being inside her warm, heated room?”
This gives Hwon the perfect excuse to impose himself and quickly enter inside. Seol leads the guests to an empty room. The room is filled with the scent of an orchid, and on the floor lies a small table with some liquor and appetizers. And next to it is a brazier warmly greeting the guests, as if they were expected. But otherwise, the room is no different from any ordinary room and does not have any characteristic to indicate that it belongs to a shaman. In fact, the room looks to belong to a man- a scholar – for the bookshelf is stacked with classics like Reflections on the Five Classics and Queries on the Great Learning.
Upon hearing this woman whom Seol call “Milady” enter the adjoining room, Hwon returns to his seat on the floor. The adjoining room is separated by a divider, and Hwon can only make out the form of a graceful woman on the other side. Her hair is braided and tied with a daengi (ribbon), indicating that she is still unmarried.
From the other room, the lady does a deep bow to Hwon, and then follows it with another. As you traditionally bow twice to the dead, Hwon and Woon frown at the woman’s insolent action. But the lady bows yet again, confusing the two men. (Three deep bows is for Buddha.) And then to both Hwon and Woon’s great surprise, the lady bows the fourth time, the bow reserved for a king. After completing her fourth bow, the lady presses her forehead on the floor and lowers her body as low as possible.
“Lift your face.”
The woman slowly raises up her body, and gently places her two hands on her left knee. Hwon still can not make out the face of the woman. He asks her why she bowed to him four times. “Can you not count?”
“I am only showing my proper respect to the sun.”
Upon hearing her beautiful voice, Hwon is at a loss of words.
“What do you mean by the sun? To a woman, the sun refers to her husband.”
“A woman is also the citizen of Joseon.”
Hwon can not say any more. This woman surely knows that he is the king. This time the lady speaks to ask Hwon to have at least a sip of this liquor that she has prepared for him.
Hwon becomes curious of the lady’s appearance, and asks her to reveal her face. But when she merely responds by requesting him to have a drink, Hwon orders Woon to remove the divider. In one swoop of Woon’s blade, the divider that separates the two rooms falls to the floor. And as if Woon’s sharp blade has also cut across the rain clouds in the sky, the moonlight pours into the room and fills it.
Hwon once again gets taken by surprise by the woman’s extreme beauty, but he masks his surprise with anger.
“No matter how lowly the guest may be, it is the homeowner’s duty to show himself and greet the guest when he enters his home. Why do you not heed my command?”
“Though my social status is of the lowest of lows, I am also a woman as determined by the heavens. Thus, I failed to think of my duty as a homeowner and only thought of my duty as a woman (to keep her distance from men).”
“You follow those rules though you are not of the nobility?”
“But I have never heard of a law that forbids a lowly person from following the rules of a lady.”
Hwon laughs as he grabs the bottle of alcohol. He has never encountered a woman like her before who did not shirk back from expressing her thoughts so respectfully but so confidently to the king. Hwon pours a drink for Woon, but Woon does not look at the glass and only looks to the floor to indicate that he cannot drink while on duty to guard the king. Seeing this, the lady speaks:
“How very undutiful. You do not know who I am or what is in this drink, and yet you refuse the drink? Will you guard His Majesty with your sword alone?”
At her words, Woon has no choice but to have a drink. He turns his head away from Hwon as he drinks (as is the custom in Korea), and in the process, Woon’s eyes meet the woman’s.
Hwon asks the woman how she knew that he was the king.
“I humbly ask Your Majesty. If a sun shines in the night sky, is it a sun or a moon?”
Hwon does not answer, and the woman continues.
“Just as the sun is the sun no matter where it may be, the same is for Your Majesty.”
“But not a single person in the village recognized me. So how did you?”
When the woman does not answer, Hwon mutters to himself, “The table and the brazier that have been prepared in advance… Am I being haunted by a spirit?”
After a deep thought, the woman answers that she recognized him from the sword carried by Woon, as Seol is pretty knowledgeable about swords.
“She really has amazing eye. From that distance, in this dark, to be able to closely observe the sword sheath of a king’s guard. No, to know about it even before seeing it. Am I truly being lured in by a ghost…?” Hwon continues to stare at the woman and then says, “Come closer. Sitting in the adjoining room, I cannot see whether you’re hiding nine tails under your skirt.”
After some hesitation, the woman walks to the room where Hwon and Woon sit and she too takes a seat.
“Are you a ghost… or a human…?”
“Many people say I am not human.”
“Then are you truly a ghost?”
“Perhaps I may be. I am a soul with deep sorrow.”
“Are you toying with me? Where in this world exists a ghost with a shadow?”
“I do not lie. Who calls a shaman more lowly than a slave a human being? And thus, I do not dare answer that I am a human.”
“A shaman… You were a shaman. And so you knew of my coming.”
“No, Your Majesty. Though I am a shaman, I do not have the ability to foresee the future or to read a person’s mind. I am a shaman with no such abilities.”
“There is such a shaman?”
“I am ashamed to admit there is. To live like this at this place is the extent of my ability.”
“You speak and yet I do not understand. Woon, have you heard of such a thing?”
Woon takes a glance at the woman and lowers his head to indicate that he too has never heard of such a thing. Puzzled, Hwon asks again, “Are you truly a shaman?”
“Unable to end my life, I live as a shaman. As I cannot live but as a shaman, I live.”
Seeing the woman speaks so calmly, Hwon feels great sadness. He asks again. “What is your name?”
“I call myself anyone.”
“I asked for your name.”
“There is a strict law. Before the king, everyone is just a trivial being. Please permit me to introduce myself only as anyone.”
In frustration, Hwon raises his voice. “How insolent! How dare you make me repeat. I shall ask again. What is your name? If you are a human, you should have a family name and a given name. If you are truly not a spirit, tell me your name.”
“A family name is given to those who have a father, and a given name to those who have a mother. But as I have neither a father nor a mother, I did not receive either.”
“You mean you have no name?”
“I… have lived without a name.”
“How frustrating. Are you toying with me again?”
“I have told you that I do not lie.”
“I’ve heard that all shamans must have a spiritual mother. What name does your spiritual mother call you?”
“My spiritual mother has never called me by a name.”
“How is that possible?”
“Afraid of the fate that will tie us by such a thing as a name, she has not named me.”
“What is your age?”
“As I have not counted the years, I do not know the answer.”
“Have you lived here for long?”
“For a long time, I lived entrapped here. For a very long time…”
“But your speech is not of a native here. Your speech is that of a person from Hanyang (the capital of Joseon, present-day Seoul), so you’re surely not from this area. Before arriving at this place, what was your identity?”
The woman’s eyes betray great sadness. But her voice remains calm.
“That is a story from long ago that I no longer remember.”
In anger, Hwon slams his shotglass back on the table.
“I’ve asked you so many questions, and yet you have answered none!”
“I’ve answered many questions, but Your Majesty has acknowledged none.”
“Exactly what have you answered?! Your name, your age? You have not even answered what kind of a shaman you are! Are you really even a shaman?”
“If you insist my answer is not satisfactory, shall I lie to you? If I lie, will you find that answer satisfactory?”
Hwon continues to drink without a word and silence fills the room. He opens his mouth once again.
“Where you sit is still too far. Come closer.”
The woman walks two steps closer to Hwon, and sits again.
“Where you sit is still too far. Come even closer.”
The woman eventually comes an arm-length distance from Hwon and sits again. Although that is still too far for Hwon, as there is no space to come even closer, he relents. In front of Hwon is the woman’s face, whiter than a white jade. She has long eyelashes, and under them are her dark eyes. And in front of Woon is the woman’s side profile. Although a person’s face can lie, her side profile cannot. And to Woon, her sadness is apparent. In order to not look at the woman, Woon puts his head down and closes his eyes. With a deep sigh, Hwon speaks.
“Do you see my heart flowing towards you?”
“Due to the ripples created by the moonlight, I do not see.”
“Do you not see, or will you not see? … Can I not embrace you?” [Note: The word "embrace" as used here can have a sexual connotation.]
“Afraid that your heart will be heavy as you leave, I will keep fastened the ribbon (of my shirt).”
“I will not leave it behind. Cause I will take you back with me. Then will you permit me to hold you?”
“I cannot leave. I am tied to this place.”
“I, your King, have said I will take you with me. Even if you can’t leave, follow me.”
“Under the heavens, there are things that can be together and there are things that can never be together. A king and a shaman are too far apart and can never be together.”
At being rejected, Hwon raises his voice.
“Give me the reason that we can’t be together!”
The woman quotes an excerpt from Zhouyi (Book of Changes) on how a heaven and the earth must be apart to uphold peace.
“I too have read Zhouyi but that’s not how I’ve understood it.” He explains that the earth is not lowly because it is near us, but to be treated with familiarity for its closeness.
Quoting from the book of Zhuangzi, the woman explains, “The heaven being noble and the earth being lowly is the law of nature. Just as fall and winter following spring and summer is the nature of the four seasons, heaven and earth have their ranks. What more can be said of a human.”
“That’s not how my teacher taught me Zhuangzi. Although the sovereign leads and the people follow, the sovereign must be exemplary for the people who follow to be righteous. If I become righteous, my people become righteous. If I become noble, my people too become noble. I was taught that was the rank of nature. I will not become lowly from embracing you, but instead you will be noble.”
“Speaking of duty without speaking of order is no duty at all. Not embracing me brings order to your position and is exemplary for the people… I am a lowly one without even a name.”
“I too have no name. As soon as I was born, I was proclaimed the crown prince-select and could not have a name. And when I became the crown prince, I was given the name Hwon but concurrently no one could call me by that name. No one called me Hwon or Grand Prince Ilsung, but merely Crown Prince. And now as a king, my name Hwon cannot be even written on paper. Thus, isn’t it the same that both you and I have no name?”
“It is not the same. It’s the difference between the heaven and the earth.”
She remains steadfast like a rock. Hwon stays quiet while deep in thought. Then of a sudden realization, he proclaims:
“That’s right! As your spiritual mother did not call you by a name afraid of being tied to you by fate, then if I give you a name, then you and I will be bound by destiny. I shall give you a name.”
This time, even the woman reacts with surprise.
“There is not only good fate in this world. You should not give name to just a mere momentary fate. Please reconsider.”
Hwon ignores the woman’s protest and looks out to the moon outside the window.
“Do you resemble the moon, or does the moon resemble you? I shall name you Wol (Hanja for “moon”).
And from that moment, that woman becomes Wol. Hwon feels reassured as if by giving her a name, their fate will continue. Hwon wishes to reach out his hand and touch Wol’s face, but he does not, afraid that as soon as his hand touches her, she will turn into ashes. And so, he continues to drink.
“Today is not the only day. I know your name, and I know that you can’t leave this place. There will be a next time.”
Hwon pours a drink for Wol and recites a poem.
“All creations come and come again, but cannot come all.
I look to see if it has come all, but it comes again.
The things that come again and again come from where there is no beginning.
And so I ask thee from where do you first come?” (-Excerpt from the first verse of Hwadam Seo Kyung-deok’s “Relic”)
Although the poem seems to ask Wol where she came from, this question was not for Wol alone. It is Hwon’s question to himself at this undeniable feeling emerging from within him. Wol closes her eyes, not even giving a glance at the shotglass Hwon poured her.
“All creations return and return again, but cannot return all.
I look to see if it has returned all, but it has not.
They return and return again until the end, but there is no end to the return.
And so I ask thee to where you return?” (-Excerpt from the second verse of Hwadam Seo Kyung-deok’s “Relic”)
Hwon does not understand. Although he understands the meaning of the poem, he does not understand what Wol means by reciting him the poem.
“What did you mean to tell me?”
“I wished to finish the second part (of the poem). And as tonight will be the end of our destiny, it was a request that you make no promise of a next time.”
“To think that there is a shaman who knows Hwadam’s poetry…”
“And there is also a king who knows Hwadam’s poetry.” (Note: As Hwadam’s writing was a sahak and not a jeonghak, his writing was one that a king should not study. I have no idea what the differences are, but I’m guessing they’re two different schools of thoughts?)
And Wol continues, saying Hwon should now return as the rain has stopped and his shotglass is now empty. But Hwon feels hurt as Wol tries to rush him out – not so much at Wol herself but at the idea of the impending separation.
“Come with me. When the dawn breaks, come with me.”
“I’d like to ask what would be the consequence for your guard if you do not return now.”
Wol is right. As Hwon has secretly left the royal vacation estate to come to the village, if something goes wrong, it will not be Hwon, but his guard Woon, who will be held responsible. And as always, it will be Woon’s upbringing as the child of a concubine that will be attacked.
“Wol! I shall come find you again. Please wait for me.”
“I’ve said that tonight will be the end of our fate.”
“And I’ve said that tonight is the start of our fate. And so I can’t just leave. I will bring with me a keepsake from you.”
At Hwon’s mention of a keepsake, Wol reopens her eyes and smiles a sad smile. At the first smile that Wol shows him, Hwon delights and sits closer to Wol. But in the same voice, Wol replies, “I do not own anything. That moon in the night sky which Your Majesty has given me as my name is all I have.”
Hwon turns his face to look at the moon and smiles. “Then I’ll take that moon, which is your everything.”
“You should not, Your Majesty. I beg you to reconsider.”
“There’s nothing I cannot do! I will tie my feelings for you to that moon which you gave me.”
“Then can I ask you for you to leave me a keepsake?”
Hwon’s face brightens as he quickly replies, “Say whatever it may be. I will give you my everything.”
“I beg you to leave your memory of tonight, slain.”
“If I leave it slain, do you mean to bury your memories of me?”
“What a cruel woman you are! What a heartless woman you are! You invited me in, and so I entered. And now I say I won’t leave, but you push me out. Though I leave tonight, this is not the end of our fate.”
“It was a meaningless fate.”
“Meeting of the bodies is not the only fate. Meeting of the hearts is also fate. You said with your own mouth that you do not lie. Then you won’t be able to say that there was no meeting of our hearts tonight. The reason why I won’t have you tonight is because I hold you dear, so do not speak of yourself as lowly ever again. Although the social standing of a person who knows literature can be lowly, his character cannot. And so I will just take your moon with me tonight.”
And like that, Hwon walks out with Woon, leaving Wol still sitting there. After walking some distance, Hwon tells Woon, “My heart aches and I can’t bear to look back. Please look for me. Is Wol by any chance watching me walk away?”
Woon looks back, although he himself is unsure whether it is because of His Majesty’s command or of his own will. But behind them, only Seol is looking toward their direction.
“She’s not watching.”
“Yes, yes. And that makes my heart ache less. Woon, I never realized until now how blinding a moonlight can be.”
Back in the room, Wol still sits motionless as she asks Seol.
“Seol, can you see him leave?”
In tears, Seol replies, “Yes, he left. He really left!”
“Did he look back by any chance?”
“No! He left without looking back even once!”
Wol softly mutters, “Yes, yes. And that makes me less sad. Seol, I never realized until now how blinding a moonlight can be.”
“Why did you not see him out?! Why did you just sit there?!”
Smiling gently, Wol replies, “For the fine rain that led him here will rest on the grass, the earth, and in the breeze. And every time it falls on the skirt of his robe, it will permeate to his inner clothes, his shoes, and his hat, carrying my heart with it and see him out all the way back to his royal vacation estate.”