"Does the king even have the knowledge about his daughter being alive? Did you tell him about this?" the bound and determined Yoo Si Jin asked incessantly at the captive soldier, but he was only given a distraught shaking of head in reply.
“I have yet to tell him. The enemy has taken notice of my cover and killed the messenger hawk, which is why I need you to disseminate this to the king: that the woman whom you have kept safe in your house is indeed the lost princess,"
The lost princess... Si Jin still found it incredibly odd and unfamiliar to know that Princess Jeonghyeon—his supposed bride-to-be and a person he believed to have been dead a long time ago—is alive, and was Kang Mo Yeon. Had he known she was with him all this time, he would've sent her straight to the palace although he found one thing unusual, and it did bother him a lot.
If she indeed is the princess, then why did she not react when he first told her his name?
If she indeed is Jeonghyeon, then why did she not even show any hint of nostalgic wonder when he took her to places she should have been to years ago? His house that she once visited, the palace she once lived in, and the garden she loved so dearly... In all these places he had taken her, Si Jin only saw Mo Yeon make blank lackluster stares, as if there wasn’t anything significant to remember in those places.
If she was her, then why did she not notice him?
What had happened during her twenty years of disappearance that made her look like she had forgotten so much?
“Wait a minute,” Si Jin pondered on these carefully, “You said you fell off a cliff when you escaped, didn’t you?”
"I had no choice. I was deep within the forest and the only place I could run to in that hill was the cliff. There was no other way,”
“So you did fall,” Si Jin took a step closer, “Tell me about it. Every detail of it,”
Jung Joon gazed at him intently, “The hills were as white as snow, and the cold wind blew continuously. From the base, the chasing began as we skidded downhill, my feet were unable to stop myself from running away. I ran and ran, only to find out I just trapped myself in that cliffside’s edge,”
“And you jumped?”
“And faked my death. Though it had badly injured me, it was the better option than getting myself captured,”
The byeongjo nodded, trying to perfectly tie in what he said from the poorly-elaborated details Mo Yeon gave him; “I believe you and the princess escaped in the same manner, and I am relieved I still have another person to rely on with the investigation. She seemed to have forgotten the details of how she ended up in the riverbank,”
“Did Her Majesty tell you something that resembled my words?”
“On regards to you telling me you came about running downhill in a snow-covered area, yes. But she could only tell me up until there, because she can’t recall,”
"She might have hit her head when she fell,”
“It is possible that a part of her memory is completely erased when she fell down, not to mention the raging river was filled with rocks. Thankfully, I saved my head, but injured my arms," The soldier lifted his hands to expose the discolored and bruised patches on his skin, "But with what you said, does that mean she is not aware of her identity as the princess?"
"Sadly, she does not know herself if that is the case," Si Jin arrived to that conclusion so easily, given that Kang Mo Yeon did not react when he brought her to the palace. She did forget a lot of the important things: her mind was cleared out about her identity as the King's daughter, and she even forgot about the garden she loved so much. Her harsh, traumatic experience must have consigned all the beautiful memories of her blissful life as the princess to oblivion. She was indeed lost; she lost the memory of those she had held so dearly (including Yoo Si Jin), and she even lost her identity.
She was, in all aspects, on her own.
And Si Jin did not certainly like the idea of people taking advantage of her vulnerability, putting her down and slowly turning her into someone she truly is not; his anger for the daesaheon only tripled after discovering he was also a part of this treacherous scheme against Joseon, "Seeing those two government officials, Han-daesaheon and Jin-daesagan, having a conversation inside the Jurchen camp only draws us to a conclusion that there is a safe way in and out of the boundary. Do you know about this?"
"I have not succeeded in finding a passageway. It was only that night when I found out, when I saw the two officials," Jung Joon murmured, "However, I could help you locate the enemy camps set beyond the boundaries,"
In his frustration at the sudden cavalcade of revelations coming at him at once, Yoo Si Jin paused, heaving out a sigh and pressing his palm against his face as he took note of three important facts he had gathered from his investigation:
First, King Sejong actually organized an undercover operation to the Jurchen Army, with the help of a Royal Palace soldier named Ahn Jung Joon.
Second, Kang Mo Yeon and Princess Jeonghyeon are one, and she might have lost a part of her memory after suffering a head trauma when she fell off a cliff twenty years ago. She later showed up lying unconscious in the Tumen’s riverbank.
Third, the daesagan and daesaheon were the nation’s traitors, having their own covert operations under the Jurchen leader.
But why would they even try to side with the enemy? What benefit do they get with their covert betrayal? Is it only because they were trying to take the princess away again? That would be a shallow reason to have two spies lurking in the palace, Si Jin looked towards the captive soldier to see if he knew anything other than what he had just told him, "Did you hear anything else?"
"There is still one thing you should know," Jung Joon said, "It is too late to set up forts as of the moment, because the enemy is on its next move to overthrow Joseon,”
Overthrow? “Did I hear that right?”
Jung Joon nodded remorsefully, “Captain Argus, the Jurchen army leader, knew all about these things through both the daesagan and daesaheon. He took note of the King’s schedule for fort-building a week ago. Everything seemed to have been disclosed: from the number of workers His Highness would to commence the works, to the expected time his infrastructure plan shall begin. If we do not repare ourselves, then it could most likely give birth to the Second Northern Siege,"
With that being said, he discovered one more thing.
Fourth, the Jurchen army plans on making an ambush invasion to infiltrate the Kingdom.
There is indeed so much work to do, he said to himself as Jung Joon spoke once more, "His Majesty particularly told me that you are one to be trusted, and so tell me what I should do, I will follow,"
Si Jin heaved a sigh before he could thoroughly think of the whole impending situation, "You do seem like a man that I should put my trust on, but you should understand that with you saying all these things in my face at our first encounter, I can't help but keep my guard up,"
"I understand it completely, byeongjo,"
"I have to keep you away. From everyone. Sending you secretly to prison shall do until I confirm your identity to the King," he said, and Jung Joon replied with a slow nod which did look like he submitted to Si Jin's decision, "That would assure your security just in case Jin-daesagan or Han-daesaheon pursue you,"
"About those two… What do you do with the traitors? They could be inspecting your house while you are still here,"
Si Jin nodded, “I am not surprised by that since they have been lurking even before I left for the North. They might be doing the exact thing right at this moment,” of course he knew that from Seo Dae Young before he left for the Northern boundaries.
“But what now, Yoo-byeongjo?”
Though bothered, Si Jin knew on all counts that there was no time for unnecessary expressions of anger and useless anxiety; now he just need to move immediately. He just hoped things did not get worse back home. “We’ll make it back as fast as we can if that is the case. I also just hope that Kang M—“
No, she isn’t Kang Mo Yeon.
“…I hope… Her Highness is safe. Above all, I just wish my father would be wise enough to know she is a person he should protect,” After finally putting all his plans and moves in place, Si Jin informed Ahn Jung Joon that he stay inside the barracks before leaving. Yoo Si Jin then stormed out of the wooden shack to meet with his men. Dae Young, who was second-in-command, approached him first.
"What shall we do?"
"We shall head back now," Si Jin commanded as he trudged the snow-covered ground back to the barracks, "Choi-gunkwan, create another path back to the city. We have to travel faster and with more caution this time,"
The soldier, Choi Woo Geun, quickly bowed when his name was called, "Ne, byeongjo,"
"Summon the Northern regiment's commanding officer in the barracks. I shall be disclosing something important before we leave,"
The soldiers quickly went ahead of Si Jin to pack up and get ready for their journey back home, while he went straight to the barracks to meet with the regiment's commanding officer. While he waited for the officer to come to the meeting place, he cannot help but have his thoughts preoccupied with the truth about Kang Mo Yeon’s identity. I should have my mind focused more on the threat imposed by the enemy, but here I am, thinking about her. Yoo Si Jin’s mind was bombarded with a plethora of emotions: he was thrilled and relieved to know that she is alive and well, frustrated at how he did not even try to entertain the idea of her being the princess, and finally he was solidly fearful of the danger that was approaching her.
The wait for the officer to arrive gave him enough time to remember how he spent most of his days with her—in that same garden twenty years ago. As young innocent kids who never knew about their parents' plans on their marriage, he and the princess saw themselves as the best of childhood playmates, and the world a beautiful playground.
That world they had was contained in one of the palace’s garden.
His visits to the Princess’ place would often turn out this way: he would watch her run around while he sat on one corner, and that was already enough to make him happy. Even if he knew he could not keep up with her, seeing her smile somehow made him happy.
It was only when she disappeared that Yoo Si Jin realized the princess was more than just a childhood playmate; she had become someone special to him, but it was grievously too late for him to figure that out.
And even at present, he felt so stupid that he cannot even recognize the familiar look in Mo Yeon’s eyes, or the kindness she had in her sweet voice.
Is it only when we're apart when I come to realize?
"Yoo-byeongjo," the commanding officer finally appeared from behind the door and walked firmly to where Si Jin sat and waited, "I saw your soldiers outside, why are they packing up so soon?"
"We have to leave due to sudden change of plans" Si Jin stood up from his seat and placed both hands on the table, "I shall take the captive along, while you gather up your men up north and strengthen the defense. A few troops shall be sent here up north as well,"
"Mwo? Is there a siege threat?" He asked, and Si Jin nodded, explaining each detail that was important for the commander to know.
"Please stay on guard while the King shall send more soldiers in this location, considering that you are the closest to the enemy camp. I have sent a message to the other generals leading boundary regiments too,”
"Ne, byeongjo," the man politely bowed, "We shall be sending messages to the palace as well,"
After saying a few words and other agreements, the officer accompanied Si Jin out to meet with Seo Dae Young and the other soldiers—all of them riding their horses and ready to set off. He looked towards the end of their formation and saw Jung Joon riding on a horse along with soldier Gong. Seeing that everyone were all set to leave, he hopped on his stallion, "Before I come back, do not keep your guard down. All of you," He finally told them all.
"Rest assured, Yoo-byeongjo," the man replied, with the other soldiers behind him bowing their heads in respect, "We shall stand our ground. All for Joseon,"
With that, the group—led first by Soldier Choi—took off with their horses galloping amidst the falling snow. As they swiftly rode their journey, Si Jin felt the tiny motes of snow and the cold wind fanning harshly on his face. His hands started to shiver in the cold despite the thick clothes he wore. He clenched his fists, gripping tightly on the thick, leather strings of the saddle as he felt his chest tighten in pain once more.
No, I can't falter. Not right now. He had to go back immediately.
"Yoo-byeongjo, the weather is getting cold!" Dae Young shouted from behind, "Maybe we should go keep warm while two of us travel back to bring in the captive—“
"No, Seo Dae Young,"
"You do know this kind of weather would not do well for you, don’t you?"
"I know that. I know that more than you do," he looked behind to see Seo Dae Young’s serious and downbeat expression. He also knew that Dae Young was worried as if he were his own blood brother, but this time he had to disregard. “But right now, there is nothing far greater than to save the lives of the people. I wouldn’t opt to rest when everyone’s lives are in danger. We must hurry,”
Dae Young nodded, though he still felt troubled for the young minister’s selfless decision. Even if it sounded inconsiderate on Si Jin’s part, there was no denying what he said was true: he was an official, and it was his duty to save the King, and the whole nation.
“Yoo-byeongjo, we shall take a right when we reach the next crossroad. It’s a shorter way back,” Soldier Choi shouted.
“Will it take us a day like how we traveled to the north?”
“It will take us less than a day, byeongjo,”
“We’ll take that,” Si Jin spoke, “Whichever is the fastest,”
While the soldiers were rushing back home, Mo Yeon was spending the cold day inside her warm and cozy room. Yoon Myung Joo did not visit her today because of how the weather changed drastically; just this morning, the sun still showed itself despite the weather being chilly, but snow began to fall again when noon came. In just a matter of hours, the courtyard and the mansion's roofs were covered in white, and the place had become entirely cold.
"Winter came so soon," Mo Yeon sighed while she unwieldly pushed a needle into the thin embroidery cloth. She had stayed inside her room since a lady servant informed her about Lady Yoon's absence, and since then she had been aimlessly sticking threads in and out of the plain white cloth.
Mo Yeon looked at her unfinished masterpiece with disgust; a leaf was what she had in mind, but it turned out to look like a distorted, irregular, green-colored shape haphazardly formed in the cloth. "Aigoo, if he saw this, he'll definitely laugh at my face," She shoved the sewing materials aside, "I should just give up with this,"
"...or maybe not. If it means making him laugh, then I should continue," She instantly pulled them back and was about to push her needle in when a servant called from outside.
"Agassi! Please open the door!"
"One moment," Before even going to the door, Mo Yeon shoved the mess of an embroidery she made under her bed. It would be a shame if they knew she—a noblewoman—was a failure in sewing.
Running to open up her locked door, she was surprised to be greeted by a frightened servant lady. "Is there something wrong? Omo—wait!" Mo Yeon suddenly backed away when the servant pushed herself inside the room and immediately locked the door.
"What's wrong? You do seem like you have seen a ghost," Mo Yeon observed the frightened lady, trying to figure out what had made the servant look so frightened once more. Everything about her actions was so intriguing: her breathing was staggered, her hands were trembling, and her eyes stared at Mo Yeon with fear.
"I was asked by my master to stay here and make sure you were safe,"
"Ne," Her voice was shaky, and it vexed her.
"But why would he ask that? I am perfectly fine," Mo Yeon stepped aside and walked back to the door, but the lady servant quickly blocked her from going out.
"Ani! You can't go out, agassi! You can't! It's not safe!"
In a much lower voice, the servant leaned in and whispered, “There are people coming to get you,"
"Me? Why would they take me? Who are they?" She looked to and fro, entirely terrified as it has come to her knowledge that her safety was no longer guaranteed.
"It doesn't matter now, agassi. For now, please keep quiet. I'll take you out without them seeing you,”
“How will you do that? You told me yourself it is not safe to get out now!”
“Master has arranged you a palanquin ride to Lady Yoon's. The sooner you escape, the better," The servant whispered while firmly holding Mo Yeon's hand as they tiptoed back to the door.
At that point, Kang Mo Yeon knew that she had no other option but to put her entire trust to the servant lady. She absolutely had no idea what was going on, and why people are trying to capture he