With this chapter, the complete quartet is introduced. Until now, I had reserved sharing my opinion on the novel. That was because even until the end of chapter five, I still had not formed any opinion on it and it was not until chapter six… that I fell in love with this story. You don’t understand what a struggle it was for me to finish summarizing/translating the first five chapters- because I really, really wanted to skip right to chapter six! Or how happy I am to have finally finished the first five chapters. And so now the fun begins!
Even as Woon is reading a book, he can’t shake off the question as to why Seol was looking towards Yeom’s house earlier. She seemed to have returned from a trip, and Woon suspects it has something to do with Yeom who has just returned from a trip today as well.
Yeom comes to find Woon, and Woon immediately gets up to greet him with his head bowed. Yeom also respectfully bows his head. Although Woon is of a much lower rank than Yeom, Yeom always treats Woon with respect.
“I’m sorry for making you wait. You must be busy with official duties.”
“Not at all. I read a good book while waiting. Did you enjoy your trip?”
“Yes, thanks to you. Let’s head to the pavilion.”
The two men sit across from each other and drink tea. Although Woon is a year younger than Yeom, he is Yeom’s teacher in swordsmanship. But as Yeom’s talent was in scholarly pursuit alone, his swordsmanship never seemed to improve.
“His Majesty wishes to see you. I came to deliver the message for you to visit the palace.”
“As I should. There has been a lot of unrest at the news that His Majesty is ill.”
Woon still feels uneasy about seeing Seol, and finally asks after hesitation.
“Did you go on the trip alone?”
“I went with two servants from our household.”
Yeom’s gentle demeanor seems to indicate he is not lying. But as if he suddenly recalled something, Yeom asks Woon whether the palace had him followed.
“Pardon? What do you mean…?”
“Throughout the trip, I felt like I was being followed. But as they never harassed me, I thought someone was sent from the palace to check up on me during my trip.”
“No. We don’t dare inspect a royal son-in-law who has left on a trip with His Majesty’s permission.”
“Is that true? Then I must have be mistaken.”
But after hearing Yeom’s story, Woon becomes even more puzzled.
“Hey! So the royal brother-in-law has returned?” Prince Yangmyeong suddenly approaches Yeom excitedly with his arms wide open and his hat swinging on his back. But upon seeing Woon, he laughs delightfully.
“Who is this? It’s the king’s guard. What good luck! So good to see you. I was growing sick because I missed you two!”
Yeom and Woon stand to greet Yangmyeong. Yeom asks, “What brings you here without any prior notice?”
“At the news that my brother-in-law has returned to Hanyang, I ran here immediately without sending any notice. I was so excited to see you that I didn’t have a chance to observe my manners. Brother-in-law, Hanyang without you is like an orchid without a scent.”
Yangmyeong approaches Woon with his arms wide open to give him a hug, but Woon merely bows his head.
“Such an inflexible fellow you are! I would have no other wish but to hold you in my arms. If only you didn’t have a sword in your hands, I would hold you by force. But as I only have one life to live…”
This time, Yangmyeong prepares himself to give Yeom a hug, but stops himself to look around at his surrounding.
“I wish to hold you in my arms, but I’m scared that the princess is looking at us from somewhere and will come running at me to give me a beating…”
Seeing Yeom laugh, Prince Yangmyeong also smiles. Unlike Yeom and Woon who are sitting upright, Yangmyeong throws off his hat and sits comfortably. As always, Yangmyeong gives one sad glance towards the annex building at a distance.
Yeom gives Yangmyeong a teacup and asks whether he came all the way here wearing his hat like that.
“No one will say that I’m not of the royal family because I go around without wearing a hat. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake off the royal family label. But then again, my inconvenience is nothing compared to yours. What a waste of talent.”
Woon continues to drink his tea without a change of expression, and Yeom just laughs without a word. (Note: The royal son-in-laws were forbidden from engaging in any political activity or speech and public scholarly pursuit, in order to prevent them from threatening the king’s power or his throne. And thus, extremely talented people who could contribute to society were not selected to be a royal son-in-law. In contrast, Yeom was too talented for his gift to be wasted away by marrying into the royal family.)
Woon finishes his tea and stands to leave. Yangmyeong grabs his hand to stop him.
“Leaving already? It’s so hard for us to get together like this.”
“I’ve vacated my post for too long.”
Yangmyeong gives a forlorn chuckle and releases Woon’s hand. “His Majesty keeps you for himself as well. He keeps you by his side and never lets you go… I miss those days when the three of us used to practice our swordsmanship here.”
Yeom and Yangmyeong look as Woon gets up and leaves. Yangmyeong speaks, “Jewoon… is becoming more handsome with each passing day. And I’m sure his swordsmanship improves daily.”
“He excels in his studies as well. Such a shame.”
“Yes. Just knowing you and Jewoon is a blessing to me.”
“But why do you not remarry?” (Prince Yangmyeong became a widower after the death of his wife two years ago.)
“It has not even been three years since her passing. (The mourning period is for three years.) It’s the law that you wait at least three years before you remarry.”
“Those men are rare.”
Prince Yangmyeong looks sadly at the annex building once again and then speaks. “If there is a woman more beautiful than you, I’ll remarry right away. If there is a woman like you.. Though I know that annex is empty, I can’t take my eyes off of it. Though I know I must not speak of it…”
“Yes. You must not speak of it. Please look away.”
Yeom sits just staring at his teacup.
“I’m sorry for bringing it up. I didn’t even drink, and yet I must be drunk.” And in silence, the two men drink their tea.
Hwon ascended the throne four years and six months ago when he was just 19 years old. Traditionally, if the king is under 20 years old, the Queen Dowager or the Royal Queen Dowager acts as the regent until the king is of age. Additionally, to make matter worse, Hwon even looked younger in appearance than his actual age. And so Lord Papyeong (Hwon’s father-in-law) and Royal Queen Dowager (Hwon’s grandmother) insisted on instating a regency, and did.
Hwon looked for an opportunity to exercise his power, and that opportunity came during a meeting to decide on the posthumous name of the preceding king. The council forgot to include a posthumous title in his name, but Royal Queen Dowager didn’t catch the omission. Hwon attacked immediately. “How dare you try to deceive Royal Queen Dowager! This is an act of contempt not only towards Royal Queen Dowager, but to me, the King of this country!”
Then he turned to the Left State Councillor, who was also Royal Queen Dowager’s cousin and an important figure of that faction, and asked, “Left State Councillor, who is your king?”
Startled, Left State Councillor stuttered, “Of course it is Your Majesty standing before me.”
For a long time, Hwon remained silent. And then he shouted in anger, “Who gave you permission to look at my face?”
“Pardon? What do you mean…?”
“How dare you look up at my face without my permission!” (Note: It is a treason to look at a king’s face without his prior permission.)
Hwon immediately had the Left State Councillor imprisoned, and not much later, sent into exile. Just a month after Royal Queen Dowager started a regency, Hwon had regained power back into his hands. But this power didn’t last long as his health started to deteriorate not long after.
At the news that Yeom has come to the palace, Hwon’s face brightens.
“What took you so long? I’ve received the message a few days ago that you’ve returned to Hanyang. Did you wish to not show me your face?”
“No, Your Majesty. I became too engrossed in the books that I obtained during my travel.”
As soon as Yeom’s eyes meet Woon’s eyes standing behind the king, he smiles gently towards him. Woon gives a small nod in return.
Yeom does four deep bows to Hwon. (Four deep bows are reserved for a king.) And in return, Hwon insists on bowing three times to Yeom.
“Though I am a king, I know how to show my proper manners to my teacher. You will always be my teacher.”
“It was just a brief position.”
“Though it was brief, I’ve learned more from you than from any other teachers. There is not one thought or idea of mine that has not been influenced by your words.” Years ago when Hwon was a troublemaking Crown Prince, Yeom was assigned to be his teacher.
Yeom smiles brightly. “I feel at ease seeing that Your Majesty is looking healthy.”
“As I govern, the person who I think about the most is not my father, but you. That smile of yours. And the person I fear the most is you as well.”
Without a word, Yeom continues to smile.
“Why do you not tell me that those I should fear is not you, but my people. I wish to hear your clear voice. I still can’t understand father. He valued your talents more than anyone. And yet he selected you as the royal son-in-law… If you had not become the royal son-in-law, you would have become a skilled statesman and assisting me right now… rebuking me and giving me strength. Or if not, you would have worked for the development of literature. It’s truly incredulous the more I think about it.”
But Yeom remains mum.
“Did you have a good trip?”
“Thanks to Your Majesty, I had a great trip.”
“Was it a month ago? Miss Yeonwoo’s memorial…”
Yeom places his cup back down on the table. Hwon continues with a sad expression.
“I suspected that’s why you left on your trip. Because you couldn’t forget…”
“It’s not a name that you should remember, Your Majesty. It is not a name you should mention. To recall the name of my sister who is no longer of this world, buried deep in the cold ground…”
As Hwon takes a sip of the liquor, his lips shake.
“Nothing is crueler to me than telling me to forget that name. Miss Yeonwoo was my betrothed. My one and only betrothed.”