Welcome back! The Book Club is now back in session for the new year! The novel starts from the present and flashes back to the past. If you’re watching the tv drama that is airing right now, you may have noticed that it starts from their childhood. So expect the next two chapters to be spoilers for what comes ahead. Approach with caution if you wish to avoid potential spoilers! (I’m not sure how closely the drama will follow the book.)
With the sound of the drum alerting of dawn, Wol quietly takes her leave. And not long after, Hwon wakes from his sleep. After drinking some water, Hwon immediately asks the court lady, “Did someone visit me during the night?”
Everyone reacts with surprise, but the eunuch calmly answers that an astrologer from the Office of Astronomy stopped by last night to bring an amulet.
Hwon moves his body around and asks with wonder, “What kind of amulet did he use? I feel much better.”
The royal physician is called in and his face brightens after taking the king’s pulse. Everyone rejoices at Hwon’s quick improvement of health, but the astrologers tremble with fear at the realization that Hwon’s health problems were indeed not due to any illness and they still do not know the cause.
An even greater surprise is that Wol is perfectly fine as well. It was expected that the health of the shaman who receives the bad energy in king’s place would decline to a certain extent, but it did not in this case.
With his health doing much better, Hwon insists on returning to work that he had abandoned due to his illness. He sends his morning greetings to Royal Queen Dowager (his grandmother) and Queen Dowager (his mother) through a eunuch. And to his Queen whom he feels no affection towards and often forgets of her existence, he merely sends a message that she need not come visit him.
The only times Hwon remembers that he indeed has a wife is when he sees his power-hungry royal father-in-law, Lord Papyeong. Even now, Hwon wishes to banish Lord Papyeong and send him into exile, but he cannot because that would mean an all-out war against his own grandmother who protects the man.
Meanwhile, Woon feels conflicted as he follows Hwon around. He can’t tell Hwon about Wol. But then again, he can’t hide it from him as well, when he knows how earnestly Hwon is looking for her.
Although Woon is always quiet, Hwon feels that that silence is unusual today. He sends Woon away to get some rest, and Woon leaves quietly. As the guards outside see Woon leave, they become tense. Woon not being by Hwon’s side means that the guards must be on special alert to protect the king. But as Woon passes by the guards with his sharp eyes and his pointed nose, even the male guards feel their hearts flutter at his beauty.
Woon runs into the royal astrologer at the palace. After much hesitation, Woon asks, “Where is she?”
The royal astrologer is confused at the question thrown by the always quiet Woon, but quickly catches on that he is asking the whereabouts of the shaman from earlier. He tells Woon not to worry for the shaman will be staying for one month at a secluded area near the royal shaman quarter.
“Since when was she a shaman of the royal shaman quarter?”
“She’s been listed on the shaman registry for a long time.”
And with that, the royal astrologer quickly hurries away to meet Hwon, leaving Woon with many unanswered questions. What was a royal shaman doing in the countryside outside of the palace? How is her heath now? What effect does this have on her? Where will she be heading once the one month period ends?
Before long, the sun rises from the east and brightens the entire world. Woon looks to the blinding sun.
“This distance within the palace seems so much farther than the 10,000 ri (approximately 3,927 km) I’ve travelled in search of you. Perchance are you also looking at the blinding sun right now? If so, please don’t. Better to keep your eyes closed than to look at that sun. You probably don’t know how heavy my heart is that I can’t be the cloud that covers your brightness. Don’t you think that the sun that did not see the moon is happier than the the cloud that must see the moon and then the sun?”
Meanwhile, the royal astrologer presents to the king a document wrapped in red silk listing the favorable date for Hwon and his queen to consummate their marriage. But Hwon barely even glances at the document.
“I’m still not feeling well!”
“It’s not immediate, Your Majesty. Please start preparing your body now to conceive a heir to the throne and bring stability to the Court.”
A king and a queen could not sleep together as they wished. In order to prevent the birth of a tyrant, favorable dates for conception were preselected by the Office of Astronomy. But with all the excluded dates, including the day of full moon, the last day of the month, the first day of the month, a very windy day, a very rainy day, a stormy day, or one in which either the king or the queen’s health was not optimal, the actual “approved” day occurred perhaps once a month. And so on this day, the king had to exert [the author's word, not mine!], whether or not he wished.
But Hwon had yet to even consummate his marriage with the queen. For no specific reason, he hated the queen from the start. And whenever a date was chosen, something always happened to prevent their chance. And so frequent fights occurred in court between those who insisted that a king should get a concubine and the queen’s people who argued against it.
With a frown on his face, Hwon carelessly opens the red silk wrapping the document. The selected D-day is just one day before the upcoming full moon- the last day that Wol will be spending at the palace. But of course, Hwon does not know this.
“See, Wol. I too am not human. How am I any different from the cows and the pigs chosen to breed? Even if you said you did not want to, I should have embraced you that day. I really wanted to. Not my body, but my soul.”
Returning to his chamber that night, Hwon no longer brings up Wol. In fact, he no longer even looks at the moon. Instead, he gladly accepts the chrysanthemum tea and falls into a deep sleep… not knowing that Wol whom he so dearly misses is right next to him.
Minhwa sighs in the middle of cross-stitching a peacock. It is definitely intended to be a peacock, but what she sees is a fat chicken. She cannot use this on the government robe of her beloved husband, Yeom. She hugs Yeom’s jeogori (upper garment of a hanbok).
“My lord, I miss you. It’s already been… Ah, it’s only been a month since you left on your trip. And yet it feels longer than a year to me. I wanted to show off my embroidery work upon your return, but I ruined it. Although there’s nothing to show off now, please hurry home.”
Yeom’s scent no longer lingers on the jeogori, and only Minhwa’s own scent remains. All month long, she held on to this jeogori. At the sudden rush of longing for her husband, tears start to well in Minhwa’s eyes.
“Tears, go back in. Tears, go back in. When a wife cries, bad things happen to her husband.”
As Minhwa struggles to have her tears return back into her eyes, she hears a female servant shouting from outside.
“Your Highness! Your Highness! He’s here. The royal son-in-law has returned!”
At hearing those words, Lady Min opens the room door in surprise.
“Is it true? Is he here, or do you mean he will be here?”
“He has entered the front gate.”
In joy, Minhwa shoots up and in her impatience, almost trips over her own skirt. She fixes her clothes and gets ready to head out, but stops herself to first powder her face. And then she turns to ask Lady Min how she looks. Satisfied to hear Lady Min tell her that she looks pretty, Minhwa holds up her skirt and starts running outside.
Startled, Lady Min chases after her. “Your Highness! Your dignity, your dignity…!”
But Minhwa does not hear anything and runs out in her beoseon (socks worn with hanbok). Behind her is Lady Min calling for dignity, and still behind her is the servant girl chasing after them carrying Minhwa’s shoes.
Upon seeing Yeom enter being greeted by the servants, Princess Minhwa stops in her tracks and turns around in embarrassment. Expecting him to come to her after greeting the servants, she just repeatedly touches her jacket ribbon. She feels like her heart is going to burst as she waits. And now she feels his presence right behind her. But instead of addressing her, Yeom heads to his mother’s room. Although upset, she comforts and reminds herself that it is only proper for him to first greet his mother as a filial son. Minhwa waits outside the room of her mother-in-law, barely able to control herself from running in.
Yeom bows to his mother, Lady Shin, and then sits kneeling on his knees in front of her.
“Is your heart now more at ease since returning from the trip?”
Yeom smiles quietly. Lady Shin sighs as she speaks. “The officials from the palace visited several times during your absence. The royal family and the royal son-in-law are not supposed to leave Hanyang (capital of Joseon, modern-day Seoul)…
“I was granted permission.”
“But I can’t face Her Highness. Do you know how earnestly she waited for you? Did you greet her first before coming to see me?”
“No. You come first, Mother.”
“You shouldn’t. Hurry on out and comfort her. She must be impatiently waiting outside.”
“I will go see her after I wash up. Do not worry.”
Seeing Yeom come out, Minhwa turns around and starts fidgeting with her clothes once again. But again, he walks past her to his own room. Minhwa hesitantly follows him, but upon seeing his door close, tears well up in her eyes. As servants are in the area, she quickly hides her tears and returns back to her room. Only when she is back in her room does she let out the tears that she has been holding back. After crying for a long time, Minhwa misses Yeom again. With tear-stained face, she tells her servant girl waiting outside to check to see what Yeom is doing.
The servant girl rushes back and quietly whispers, “He has just gone to take a bath.”
Seeing Minhwa getting up, Lady Min quickly grabs her arm.
“What are you going to do, Your Highness? You do not mean to…? No, you must not! I know what Your Highness plans to do. The royal son-in-law is a dignified man. You must absolutely not. Your dignity…”
“I will behave with dignity in front of others, but I have no use for that in front of my husband. I feel like I will die if I don’t see him right now. Do not follow me, Lady Min!”
Minhwa runs to the bathhouse, and without anyone noticing, she quietly sneaks inside. Even for married couples, it was against proper manners to see each other bathe. And even when bathing alone, it was proper to be fully dressed in a bathrobe. Yeom was a well-mannered man who always followed the rules. And so even now, he is inside the tub in his bathrobe.
He must have just finished washing his hair, for his long hair fell across his neck down to the water. And though dressed in a bathrobe, it was completely soaked and see-through, revealing his skin inside. The water dripping down his nose and his jaw looked so beautiful to Minhwa. His dark eyebrows, his long eyelashes, and his black pupils seem to be in deep thought, not realizing that Minhwa had come inside. Mesmerized by her husband, Minhwa too was lost in her own world.
Finally, Yeom feels the presence of another person in the bathhouse and look on with surprise. He becomes even more shocked to find that it is his wife, Minhwa. But the shock turns to awkwardness seeing Minhwa still standing around. Yeom speaks softly to her so that the others outside won’t hear them.
“I was startled. What brings you here, my lady?”
“I… I wanted to say my greetings…”
“Then just a little later.”
“No. Now… I missed you and can’t wait any longer. I miss you even as I’m looking at you like this.”
Minhwa bursts into tears. Yeom does not know how to greet her dressed (or undressed) like his. After feeling uneasy for a long time, he finally lifts his arm and reaches out his hand to her. With tears still streaming down her face, Minhwa walks towards Yeom and places her hand on top of his. Yeom’s warm hand tightly holds Minhwa’s.
“Did I upset you by any chance?”
Minhwa does not answer. Yeom gently wipes the tears from Minhwa’s eyes.
“I planned to go greet you after my bath.”
“But… You could have looked toward me just once. That would have been enough for me.”
“There were servants around. And so… Your Highness, no matter now urgent it is, you should wear your shoes.”
Minhwa looks with surprise at Yeom and finds him smiling warmly at her. The fact that he knew that she wasn’t wearing her shoes earlier meant that he looked towards her without her noticing, and for that alone, Minhwa was happy. But even that happiness is short-lived and Minhwa starts getting greedy for more as she stares at Yeom’s lips. Yeom’s expression seems to ask her to leave now that they said their greetings, but Minhwa’s face turns red as her eyes look towards his lips alone.
Yeom doesn’t understand what Minhwa wants and Minhwa knows that Yeom would never guess. The fact that she came in here was already beyond Yeom’s understanding. Minhwa knows that she should now leave the bathhouse, but her eyes would not move from the water dripping down his lips. And so she ends up blurting it out. ”I want a kiss!”
This time, Yeom looks even more startled. Minhwa puts her head down. But even after waiting for a response, Yeom does not make a move. Instead, she hears his voice.
“Ahem! Your Highness must be plotting all the time on the different ways to startle me.”
“I… I don’t want a deep kiss. A dignified one would be fine too…”
Suddenly Minhwa starts to get worried that Yeom would think of her as a lustful woman, and feels herself getting miserable.
“I’m undressed in the water like this, and the sun is still out. This is not proper manners.”
Minhwa can’t lift her head. Embarrassed, she feels her tears ready to fall but as that would make Yeom feel even more uneasy, she tries her best to hold her tears back. But just then, she feels Yeom’s lips on her forehead.
That was enough for Minhwa. Satisfied, Minhwa lifts up her head to get up, only to find Yeom’s lips upon her own. As always, Yeom’s lips are moist and fragrant. As their lips part, Minhwa smiles and wraps her arms around Yeom’s neck.
“Your Highness, your clothes will get wet. I need to first finish my bath.”
But Minhwa refuses to let go. The scent of Yeom’s jeogori she held on to this past month does not compare to the scent coming from his body right now.
From a distance, one lone person lookes sadly towards the closed door of the bathhouse. It is Seol, dressed in a man’s attire. Upon hearing a servant coming, she quickly jumps over the wall. But even outside, she finds herself unable to walk away as she turns back to look at Yeom’s estate over and over again. Only when she senses someone coming in her direction does she lower her head and hurry away. That person is Woon, being sent by the king on an errand upon hearing the news of Yeom’s return.
As Woon and Seol walk past each other, they both pause. Seol sees the sword of a king’s guard on Woon. And Woon wonders why a woman is cross-dressed as a man. Moreover, the sword hidden on her back and her walk catch his eyes. It was not common to find women carrying swords. And so he knows right away that that woman is Wol’s servant girl.
Woon looks at Yeom’s estate. He is sure that Seol was looking at this house earlier. But when he turns back around, Seol is already gone and nowhere to be found.