IAL - 10
It has been years since she had woken up in a cozy, well-furnished room, free from the stench of the rural sangmin community, free from the bustling noises of merchants, wooden carts, loud drunk old men and livestock animals.
Kang Mo Yeon loved this a lot.
Mo Yeon groggily sat up her bed and peered through the window to see a beautiful sight she had beheld for a week now: the sunrise at the garden courtyard of the Yoo estates. It was a cold morning, but despite the chilly weather, the thick blankets kept her warm as she watched the sun slowly emerge behind the crest of the hills. Taking a whiff of the fresh morning air, Mo Yeon greeted the new day with a smile.
She loved this too.
Her first week at Yoo Si Jin's place was nothing but wonderful compared to the environment she dwelled in before; everything was peaceful, and everyone was kind and accommodating to her in the man's abode. Even if Si Jin had particularly instructed her to be in the guise of their house's servant lady for her security and her identity (which he himself still has to figure out as well), he made sure she was still treated the way she ought to be treated—a noblewoman. He informed all the servants in their huge estate that Kang Mo Yeon was to be among them, but apart from them as well.
"Treat her nicely," She remembered him quip a statement to the head servant when he entrusted her to their care, "She's a witness under my protection. Her safety will mean the safety of the nation,"
Speaking of the byeongjo... Mo Yeon glanced back outside to check on the left side of the compound—the place where his room was located—and was surprised to see no sign of Yoo Si Jin.
"But he should be awake by this time," she wondered.
For four consecutive mornings when she woke up to greet the dawn, she would see him doing the same thing as well: staring at the early morning skies. Without him noticing her lifting the blinds of her room's window, Mo Yeon would peek and stare at him as he would stare at the dawning sun.
She didn't know which was more radiant: was it the sun, or was it the man?
Mo Yeon giggled at the thought.
She had been spending more time with him during the week enjoying his kindness; he would open up his library for her to read, warm up the conversation with a few 'how are you's', and then eventually ask her if it was okay to begin gathering information about anything that she knew with the last siege.
"Anything I know..?" She remembered her ask him during their first day of investigation as she sat at his spacious working room while the byeongjo Yoo Si Jin nodded in reply.
"Anything. The location, the detail of the place, anything that you can remember about the people who kidnapped you," He spoke as he flipped one of the books on his table closed, "Don't worry, anything you say shall only be between the both of us,"
"But you have to share this eventually to the other ministers and even to the King, wouldn't you?"
He paused at her question, and after a few seconds Si Jin eventually nodded, as if he was reluctant to do so.
"If it means the safety of everyone. But rest assured that your personal side of the story shall be kept secret if you will it, Lady Kang."
She gulped, while her thoughts brought her back to the cold winter forests. She still has the fresh memory of scuffling down the white snow stained in blood that night.
Everything haunted her, until he heard his warm, sonorous voice.
"Trust me," He calmly said with a reassuring smile, "Your secrets are safe with me. I wasn't made the byeongjo for nothing.
And so, she began.
"It was cold,"
"Ne, winter," Mo Yeon nodded, recalling all the memories she wanted to forget. "I was with other women, including my mother. We were lined up in the woods. I was the youngest,"
Si Jin nodded, the flow of her story sparking his interest and curiosity. "Go on,"
"They threatened us that if we tried to escape, they will surely take our chastity or kill us with their own hands," She replied, the last lines reminding her of what Yoo Si Jin had spoken during the library incident.
"But you escaped," Si Jin raised a brow, "How did you manage to?"
That's when things got worse, she remembered. "I escaped with my mother but she got captured and... She..."
She did not make it.
Her mother could not keep up with Mo Yeon. Instead, she gave her the hairpin and instructed her to run far away.
"'You can do it without me,' those were the last words I heard from her,"
Mo Yeon ran away while her mother who was left behind was captured and pinned on the cold ground by the enemy. Before the man could even take advantage, she grabbed the dagger hidden in the man's scabbard and stabbed it on her abdomen.
The memory haunted her.
"I-I'm sorry..." Mo Yeon heaved out a sigh, "Can we... Next time—"
"I understand," Si Jin looked down, knowing fully that the bitter memories she had back then were traumatic and unbearable, "I'm sorry,"
"It's fine. I promise I'll be much prepared to tell you everything next time,"
Hearing this, he nodded with a sincere smile.
"Take your time,"
They were supposed to begin this morning, but after a few glances outside, it seems that he was still in bed. There was no sign of him peering from his window during the morning.
A few moments later, she heard the main gates of the estates opening from outside. Mo Yeon shuffled from her bed and peeked underneath the blinds of the window to see Lady Yoon walking towards the left side of the compound where Si Jin stayed. Seeing the young lady enter only reminded Mo Yeon about being trained today by none other than the lady herself—the fiancée of the man she grew feelings for.
"They don't seem like they love each other," Mo Yeon heaved a deep sigh as she remembered Yoon Myung Joo bursting in Si Jin's office about a week ago, totally stealing Mo Yeon's moment with the man; she could vividly recall exchanging smiles and glances when Myung Joo crashed in all of a sudden.
"They don't love each other," She declared as she sat upright on one side of her bed.
"They don't love each other." She declared once more.
"Aish! Whether they like each other or not, they're still betrothed! Babo! Babo!" She wailed, plopping down on the bed in frustration. After a few minutes of rolling and flipping herself on the bed in her misery, her eyes caught sight of the beautiful hanbok that was neatly folded on the table across her.
"She's not the woman you should be jealous of,"
Then who should she be jealous of? The owner of this dress? If he says so, then it surely meant that the owner had a place in his heart.
If it's not Myung Joo, then who is the lucky girl?
"I'm glad I came just in time," Myung Joo said as soon as she hovered to Si Jin's side; due to her father appointing her as Si Jin's physician, her visits at his residence had become more frequent than the usual. She gently placed her fingers on the crook of his neck, "You look worse compared to the previous days. How are you feeling?"
"Dumb question," he murmured; his eyes groggy and his lips pale.
"You look sick,"
"Because I am sick." He sarcastically replied in a weak voice, while Myung Joo bent over and placed her ear against his chest.
"Your heart's beating slower than it normally would,"
"You should know. This always happens in the morning,"
"It got worse. Is this even normal?"
He nodded, "I have been through worse. This is just a portion of the real thing,"
"A portion? Babo!" Myung Joo was alarmed by this. She immediately dug through her pockets to get her small wooden container of acupuncture needles, "Ya, micheosseo? Can't you just tell me the details of whatever sickness you're harbouring? If you want to be better—"
"Don't have to. There's no cure to it. And besides, it does that all the time. I'll be fine after a few hours,"
Myung Joo can't help but sneer at the man.
"You're not fine," She scolded as she pinned an acupuncture needle on his wrist, "Make sure you stay at home all day. You can't go out. No yukjo meetings for you, so if you need to meet with the other officials, they better be the ones to adjust. Let them come to your house. Understand? You cannot go out for a week."
He managed a smirk despite the stinging feeling of having needles pinned on his skin from time to time, "Better. That way I could observe how you train her,"
"So you were really serious about that? You don't need to observe us though."
"Who knows you might go completely harsh on her," He quipped, slowly shifting his recline, "Be kind. Arasso?"
"Wae? Is she someone special?"
"Maybe. She's a witness, you see."
"You know I was not referring to that, right?” She asked Si Jin once more, “Is she someone special? To you?"
"Well...she's..." A shy smile crept on Si Jin's face, "Why do you ask?"
Myung Joo laughed, pinning another one of her acupuncture needles at the side of his ankle, "I have to say, it has been a while since I've seen a buoyant Yoo Si Jin. Who is that lady to you? Did she perhaps make you forget about the princess already?"
Hearing that made his brows twitch; Si Jin was caught off-guard, as it has been a long time since that certain person was mentioned.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, I observed her wearing the dress your mother made, so I assumed you've moved on,"
Choosing not to give her his opinion on that, Si Jin instead fell silent and closed his eyes in reply, and leaving Myung Joo hanging and curious for an answer.
"Ya, do you like that girl?"
"It won't make a difference whether I like her or not," The man finally got up and sat from his reclined position as he gently took the needles off of his pale skin one by one.
"But do you like her?" Myung Joo asked him again, and in his silence, she found the answer.
She could tell that Yoo Si Jin did like that stranger.
"I'm feeling better now," Si Jin broke the silence as he slowly got up from the bed, "You better go. Kang Mo Yeon-ssi is usually up by this time,"
"I see her staring at the sky by her room's window every morning," He explained with a childlike smirk, "Be kind, and don't tell her anything about me. Arasso?"
"Babo, you don't have to remind me," She mumbled as she gathered all the needles and stood up,