(20 years ago, Yoo Estates,)
"Agassi, your son is right at your doorstep, he would like to have a word with you," a house servant announced in the room occupied by a young, genteel woman. Upon hearing this, the woman gently set aside her cup on the table placed just beside the bed she sat on.
“Announcing my son’s reasons in visiting me is not necessary,” She said calmly to the servant who bowed meekly to her direction, “Please let him in quickly,”
“Yes, my lady,” The lady servant said before she paced towards the door. Holding one side of the knobs, she slowly pulled it open to reveal a little boy dressed in the simplest clothing. She smiled, watching him walk to where she was seated in a timid manner.
“You look handsome, my Si Jin,” She grinned as soon as he sat on the mattresses. The woman observed him from head to toe: his hair was unruly, and the clothes he wore were nothing special at all; the threads were of wool and not of silk, and they were not even properly worn, “However, I am not quite sure you have taken note of meeting the princess today,”
The little Yoo Si Jin shrugged, tilting his head to the side. With only one look, his mother knew what he was up to.
“Are you doing this so that she would not take any interest on you?”
“Is that the reason?” Her voice was so meek and calm, and no one—not even Si Jin—could resist her warm voice. He finally gave in, with his stern-looking expression altering into an upset one. He lips formed into a frown, and his pleading eyes perfectly displayed that of someone who wanted to beg and cry for help.
“Eomeoni, please don’t tell me I’m crazy for being sad about marrying the princess,” He cried, both his shoulders slumped down, “I’m tired of hearing the exact same thing from everyone around me,”
“Well, if that’s what you want me to do, then I won’t tell you that,”
“But do you think I’m really crazy?”
She blinked, “No, why would I think you are?”
“Because it’s what people think. However, I just think it is too soon, and I even heard she’s about two years younger,” Si Jin explained, and it was evident in the way he defended his side that he was, by all means, not in favor of this marriage, “Do people really force each other to spend the rest of their lives together? Were you forced to be with Abeoji?”
That innocent question made by her only son made her laugh, “Aigoo, you’re really a smart, innocent lad,” She spoke while smoothing the strands of his hair back into place, “How do I say this? I have been in the same boat as you were. I never knew your father until the arrangement happened,”
“Your father was also a son of an official, while my parents were landowners. As sons and daughters of influential families, I knew I had no chance to object to their wishes, and neither did your father have his chance as well,” She continued, while the little boy listened attentively, “When we first met, it felt comical to see the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with at that moment. But when I saw your father, I personally felt guilt and pity…I felt bad I have deprived him of his own choices and priorities in finding his woman. So I had come up with my own solution,”
“What is it?”
She smiled, “I promised myself to make him happy.”
“Make him happy? You wished to make him happy? That’s…not so complicated,”
“Precisely, only the people who make you happy are the ones you love. Gladly, as time passed by, we got to know each other even more. We learned how to love each other, and it did not take that long when things did not seem arranged at all. I made him glad, can’t you see?”
He could see it; he could definitely see how his father lit up in joy each day, and he saw how much he loved his mother—that even after knowing she harbored a con sickness, even if she had one of the qualifying reasons for divorce, he still chose to be with her…because his father loved her dearly…
…because she was always by his side. She loved him, accepted him.
She was his father’s source of joy.
Because of this, Si Jin just wished things turned out the same for him and his betrothed, the young princess whom he is yet to meet eye to eye on this day.
“Will she think of the same thing as you did?”
“Si Jin-ah, you worry too much for a young child. Our lives are unique, and things that had taken place between me and you will be different,” His mother reached for his hand and gently pressed her thumb against his small palm, “But I assure you that it will always be possible to learn how to love,”
“She is surely in the same predicament as you right now; the princess is probably pacing around her room, worried of whom she’ll marry, wondering how you look or where you come from, and she could be anxious, but for sure, she's a lovely woman, kind, meek and warm” She gently held his arms and drew him closer for a warm embrace, “You'll take away her anxiety. I know Yoo Si Jin knows what to do.”
(20 years ago, inside Gyeongbokgung Palace)
"I don't understand," in the midst of the upbeat chatter, a little girl spoke her mind as she stood in the middle of a wide and spacious room. She cluelessly looked to and fro, watching and observing with her curious little eyes how the court ladies were tending to her: one of them were busy adorning her head with beautiful ornaments, while the others fussed with even the smallest detail, the tiniest wrinkle on her colorful garments, "Why are you doing this?”
"You are beautiful, Agissi," One of the court ladies said with her head down, "However, Mama specifically desires you to look even more beautiful on this day,"
"Why would she desire for me? All I would want to do for today is to go out and play,"
"Mianhe, agissi," One of the court ladies said with her head bent down, "We do understand you would love to run around the palace, but today will be different, just as your father, His Majesty, wants it to be,"
Even my father desires for me... The girl pouted at the thought. Even if she did want to object, she knew clearly that she was in no position to object the King's wishes, "What makes this day set apart from the other days?"
"You will be meeting your betrothed in a while, agissi.”
Oh. Right. How can she even forget she’ll be spending her last days as a free princess? In a month, she’ll be wedded to a man she had never met.
“His Majesty instructs you to go to the place in this palace where you would like to spend most of your time in, although neither of us know where that is,"
"It is most likely an avenue for you to personally and exclusively meet the man," Another court servant added.
The little girl had her eyes widened when the court lady gave her reply; while everyone that surrounded her were wearing ecstatic smiles on their faces, all she could give them was a look of disbelief. "Betrothed? But... I have not chosen one of my own,"
"Your husband has been chosen by His Majesty, as well as your mother the Royal Consort, Your Highness," they bowed down, while she had felt disheartened about the news. All the while, she thought this moment would go a long way for her—that she could still enjoy her life playing and having fun before matters such as this would be encountered. Lamentably, it had turned out that things were like a speedball, happening faster than how she thought it would be.
For the young Princess Jeonghyeon, despite being bombarded with the knowledge and the teachings of the society about women, she still chose to challenge these so-called truths that limited women from their rights, even in matters of choosing the person she would want to be with for a lifetime. She, beyond any doubt, wanted to believe that finding the person she would live with for the rest of her life would not be by the parents' pre-arranged schemes, but by choice and love. She wanted to believe that in the sea of people in this world, there exists one person who was destined for her—and it was only she who could point out that man, not her parents, nor an inter-family contract. Unfortunately for her, she lived in a world wherein what's written in books are far greater and more important than what was written in the stars, where facts were preferred but not reason. Princess Jeonghyeon had nothing to do but to cease to break free and conform to the patterns instead.
Would they make me marry someone I do not love? Would they keep me in the arms of a man I have never gotten the chance to know? She loved her parents; she loved both of them, but she just thought this was cruel.
With a heavy heart, she took off every piece of ornament in her head and hair, and immediately ran away from her quarters with tears in her eyes; the excited court ladies who tended to her clothing had their faces painted with both worry and wonder as they watched the young girl disappear from their sight. Though the court ladies tried to call her, or even run after her, the princess can never be caught; she ran away so swiftly that by the time the court ladies reached the exit doors, they can no longer see the little princess in sight.
They would've caught her in the nick of time if they only knew the place she frequented: the one and only place in the palace she truly treasured.
Just a few yards behind the living quarters of the princess, she can be seen running toward her favorite place in the palace: the white garden. It was a place she proudly made along with her mother, and planted beneath the fertile grounds of that garden were the flowers she personally admired. The garden functioned as both the place she'd go to when she was happy, as well as the place that would comfort her when she was sad.
Out of her visual and muscle memory, she was certain that even without looking straight, the pathway she ran along was sure to lead her towards the garden until she bumped into someone hard to her surprise, causing her to fall back to the ground.
But instead of falling with the back of her head straight to the bricks, Princess Jeonghyeon only fell onto one of her knees, while her wrist was tightly gripped by another hand—a hand that felt like it was just as big as her own.
"Are you alright?" The young voice asked her.
"No, I'm not!" She shoved him away while she was still down on her knees, crying with her hands stiffened underneath her long, silk sleeves, "I'm not having a great day!" As she continued sobbing, she sensed the person crouching down to her level all of a sudden, and she instantly had an idea of who the person was without lifting her head up: just by seeing the lower garments and the shoes, she knew that he was a little boy.
And true enough, he was.
"It'll be fine, whatever you're going through," she heard him speak again.
"You sound as if you know me so well," she snorted, while a handkerchief was slowly being handed over in front of her. “I’m telling you. You don’t know anything, and you do not know me. It won’t be fine,”
"My mother once told me that everything would be okay in the end," He was persistent as ever, "If things are not yet okay, then it isn't the end yet,"
Jeonghyeon still did not find it convenient to agree instantly with whatever this stranger was telling her; how can everything be alright when things would never go according to plan from the beginning? Her mind was too preoccupied with the internal mumbling and grumbling until the boy spoke again and shot her some wisdom he had taken from his mother.
"I apologize if I'm too hideous to be looked at, but please just stop crying and take this handkerchief," Princess Jeonghyeon blinked and realized he had been waving the cloth on his hand for quite some time now, "I would have given this to someone else, but I figured you needed it the most,"
Jeonghyeon reluctantly grabbed the handkerchief away from the boy’s hands before patting its clean, soft cloth above her teary eyes and her cheeks, "Thank you," She sniffled, while the boy simply just smiled as he stood back up.
"I'll get going then. I still need to see someone here," He bowed down and turned away when she suddenly grabbed onto the sleeves of his hanbok.
"W-Wait!" Little Jeonghyeon stood up instantaneously, now facing the boy's back, "At least...let me repay your kindness by taking you to where you should go!"
"What?" She heard him ask, even if he was not facing her.
"Yes, certainly! I'll take you there. I definitely know the places here, and so I'll get you to where you should go," She offered again, but he raised his hand, slowly waving it to show his decline.
"It's alright, you don't have to take me there," He voiced, while his finger pointed a few meters away—where the white flower garden was located, "I found the place."
It was her flower garden.
The place she knew where her heart belongs.
The place she loved...
...and this young boy was headed to that exact spot.
Could he be...?
"Can you...turn around?" She softly asked, wanting to get a closer look of the ‘possible’ man, and the boy did as she had requested. Thereupon she saw him completely with both eyes: though he did look like a manly young boy, he had a complexion that of a gentle lass. His dark-brown eyes showed its hues and noirs when the sun hit his irises. He wore the simplest of gray clothes, and they are not even made of silk!
And that cute, playful look in his face that exhibited wonder...he was simple, charming and yet mysterious. She could tell she was just his age, or if not, he was older by a year or two.
"Why?" He asked, and right when he saw her eyes widen in unsure astonishment and wonder, a realization suddenly came in mind, "Wait, are you perhaps going to that garden as well?"
"Are you...supposed to be waiting for someone important?"
"Are you perhaps…” He paused, “…you know, the princess?"
Her head ceaselessly moved up and down, constantly nodding to every question he asked, “Yes, I am! Are you—“
‘Y-Your Highness,” The boy immediately got down on bended knees, leaving her appalled at his unexpected, spasmodic move. The Princess immediately hovered to him, trying to pull him back on his feet.
“Please don’t kneel! Don’t kneel!” She pleaded, “I’m fed up with people kneeling before me, so please get up,”
“Sorry,” In just a split-second, the boy was back on his feet, standing right before her. He noticed she had her neck tilted up to gaze at him, for she was standing shorter, with her head just right beneath his chin level.
She looked, frail and gentle—more like someone who needed to be protected.
“I tend to make a mess at introductions,” He chuckled while he had his hand involuntarily scratching the back of his head. He was nervous, indeed, “It was too inglorious of me,”
“No, not at all. I tend to lose my composure in these kinds of things as well,” She replied. “This was perhaps a laughable encounter,”
“Well, this is a first,”
The two exchanged shy laughs, it was indeed daffy, but at least it was a good way to make things light for both of them. Moments later, as they were unaware that they were already killing time, she can’t help but smile as the boy smiled back, and eventually they were smiling at each other—as if it was only them who could understand the profound messages hidden beneath the genuine smile that curved on their lips.
The way he smiled at her made her feel that she was not a royal, since he looked at her without exalting and beholding her as a royal entity or being. Instead, his eyes focused comfortably on her as if she was someone he considered as a good friend, and Jeonghyeon wanted that. At least, that gave her the notion that this boy was someone she knew she would feel comfortable with. Likewise she was delighted by how she had met the man she would soon marry—a man who turned out to be someone she found favor into—even before they reached the garden where they were supposed to meet.
As for him, well…the way she smiled at him was a manifestation of what his mother had told him earlier. She…looks happy, he said to himself.
“So it’s you,” Princess Jeonghyeon said with that smile still intact, finally breaking the comfortable silence between them. “May I know the name of my betrothed?”
“Yoo Si Jin,” The boy replied.
“Yoo Si Jin-ssi…” Princess Jeonghyeon looked to her hands, where his plain-colored handkerchief was kept, “Are you…in a hurry?”
“Hmm… Well, Your Highness, I don’t have that much to do later, but I’ll be heading home because I have to watch over my mother and—“
“Ani, not that,” She waved both her hands instantly, realizing how vague her statement was, “What I meant was if you are in a hurry in marrying me,”
Well, certainly not! “Why do you ask?”
“Because I…” she blushed, “I want us to get to know each other first,”
Si Jin had to stare at her for one moment, amazed at how she also wanted the same thing he did, and partly because he found the princess really charming.
“M-Mianhe, it was foolish to ask that from you, I’m sorry!” She covered her flushing cheeks, while Si Jin was left to smile.
“There’s nothing to apologize for, Your Highness. I’m perfectly fine with what you wish. In fact, I also wanted the same thing,”
Her hands revealed her eyes once covered, “You do?”
“So we won’t be doing adult stuff just yet? Like sitting down in one corner and listening to the elders talking?”
Si Jin nodded his head. Of course he didn’t want to do that tiresome thing immediately. That was sickening.
“…does this mean I can still play?”
“Well, umm…yes…?” She’s got ‘play’ in her mind, she is really still young.
Yoo Si Jin could tell in an instant that he had spoken the right words when she beamed with that radiant smile on her face while jumping excitedly, and in her ecstatic high, she couldn’t resist but throw herself toward him and give him a tight hug, screaming ‘thank you’ countless times in his ear.
“Come, I’ll show you to the garden! It’s really nice! The servants and I made it and the flowers are really beautiful and I really love playing here!” the princess went on, tirelessly exclaiming as she grabbed hold of his hand—and my, her hands were so delicate and soft. She let the way, skipping with a bright smile on her face while she pulled and yanked on Si Jin’s arm.
Si Jin, on the other hand, noticed that she was treating him more as her ‘playmate’ than her ‘husband-to-be’, and surprisingly did not find this annoying. In fact, he liked it. He liked it when she made him sit on the cushions stationed at the garden, and he liked it when she freely ran around, aimlessly catching the butterflies fluttering around them. He liked it when the princess’ face brightened when she saw him catch one in just an attempt. Although Yoo Si Jin found it funny to know that there exists a princess who did not dwell behind the closed walls of her house but instead loved being around in the sun, he simply liked seeing her shining bright, and compared to her sad and melancholic disposition earlier, she looked prettier with the smile etched on her face.
Things went on the same way as each day came after another; being the son of the current Right Minister and the having the title of being the princess’ future consort made it easier and convenient for Yoo Si Jin to enter the palace. Oftentimes, he would want to visit the library, but in those exact same times, the little Princess Jeonghyeon was also there by the garden—which was only a few distances away from the library. Eventually, he ends up spending most of his time in the palace with her.
“I just learned something about the flowers,” She randomly said during one of those moments wherein they found themselves sitting and staring at the beautiful, white petals.
“What is it?” Si Jin asked her, and the princess leaned to whisper something in his ear.
“They make wishes come true,”
Okay, that’s just ridiculous, he said at the back of his mind, but to keep the smooth conversation, he replied with an amused look in his face, “Wah, daebak,”
She frowned, “You’re lying,”
“No. You think it’s absurd, don’t you?” She yanked on his sleeve, “You’re lying,”
Si Jin sighed, though he was surprised at how she was able to see through his bluff, “Well then tell me why you believe it works? How do these flowers make your wishes come true?”
“When you stand in the middle of the blooming moonflowers, under the light of the full moon,” She explained carefully as though it was a huge, million-age treasure that she has revealed, “Make a wish. It’ll surely come true,”
“Full moon? It’ll take more than a week for that to happen,”
“Then we’ll wait until that time comes!” Jeonghyeon grinned, “We’ll wish together, what do you say?”
“Aish…” He chuckled, evident in his face that he still found the whole ‘wishing’ thing out of this world, but the princess pulled on the sleeves of his clothes again.
“Please be here when the moon shows itself. I have prepared one wish for you,” She timidly said, looking at him. “You’re…going to be the rest of my life, after all,”
He swore that remark made his heart skip a beat; she caught him off-guard with what she said. Hiding the blush forming in both cheeks, Si Jin looked away.
“It’s fine if I was not the first person in your mind. Compared to me, I am sure you have more family and friends…good relationships to think of. But in my case, I found my first friend in you, which is why… I’ll give you my first wish,” She said with a hopeful smile, “I wish for Yoo Si Jin to be happy, and that I’ll be one of the many who can give you joy, just as how you gave it to me when we first met,”
It did not matter whether the wish-granting garden worked or not anymore.
Simply knowing that she had pla