(20 years ago)
"Uinyeo? Jinja? You mean, you really want to be a physician?"
"Ne," She beamed, "It's my dream!"
"But you're a princess. Why would you even want to be someone lower than the princess?"
"I thought I made myself clear, Yoo Si Jin," She sighed, slumping back on her seat beside him, "It's my dream, and it'll probably stay that way forever,"
Princess Jeonghyeon and Yoo Si Jin were back at their usual meeting place—the garden in the palace. Today was rather different compared to when he frequented her home days before; he did not arrive seeing her running around the huge track of land, nor was he invited to play. Instead, she just simply greeted him with a smile and asked him if they could just sit in the middle of the beautiful, white flowers and have a decent, wonderful conversation. No butterfly-chasing, no running around the garden. Just a plain and simple time to talk with each other.
And though it was a sudden change of activity, Yoo Si Jin still liked it.
For the past few hours—which felt like minutes already, they have been exchanging their opinions on books (and he found it interesting to know that she loved to read), and other matters until she blurted out to Si Jin about her secret aspiration in becoming a physician—even though she knew that it was a universal fact that princesses like her will never be qualified to become one.
"My mother does not want me to do their lowly work," She sighed as her eyes sadly stared at the flowers beside her, "Even the uinyeo and the other court ladies...they don't approve of it. They think it's absurd for someone like me to wish for something less when I have everything, but that's not true. I still lack, and I don't have everything,"
"What do you not have?" Si Jin asked her, "The title of becoming a physician, perhaps?"
"Precisely," She shrugged, "How do you know?"
"It’s obvious. And also maybe because... I understand how you feel about it," he scratched his head as he gave the princess a thoughtful, sympathetic smile, "I want to become a soldier. I want to be one among those who stood at the frontlines,"
"But just like you, that wish is considered taboo in our home,"
"Geureokuna," Jeonghyeon slowly nodded, "It's a shame, isn't it? We're bound to see our dreams slowly turn into...nothing but a dream. It's sickening,"
I agree, he nodded back as he watched her cross her arms in dismay, and as seconds flew by in the silence between them, he could not help but smile at her. She's really...cute.
"Ya, cheer up," he gently nudged her arm with his hands, attempting to lift her back to her usual smiling, joyous demeanor, "You'll get your chance,"
"We won't. Not even in any point of our lives,"
"In another lifetime, we will,"
"That's really..." She looked at him with disbelief, "...outrageous,"
Si Jin chuckled; of course he was expecting that answer from her, "l know it is outrageous, but just so you know, I also find that 'wish-granting garden' theory of yours just as outrageous. Despite that, I still chose to believe in you, Princess,"
"So you're asking me to believe in what you think?" She asked him, and he nodded with no hesitation.
"There is no harm in believing," He continued, while his eyes focused on her own eyes, "If it's true, you gain. When it's not, then you have nothing to lose—"
"Meolla! Alright, I'll believe in that...afterlife...whatever you're trying to make me comprehend," She grumbled, "Jamkkanman, can I ask you something?"
She took a deep breath before she spoke, "If what you say is true indeed...then will Yoo Si Jin find me in the next life?"
He glanced back at her direction, surprised at her sudden question, "Mwo?"
"I said will you still look for me in our next life?" He could see Jeonghyeon's cheeks slowly pigment into pinkish-red, and her hands balling into fists, crumpling the fabrics of her beautiful scarlet-colored chima, "Will I still meet you? Or rather, will you still want to meet me thereafter?"
Without holding back, Si Jin gave her his answer. "Yes,"
"Even if we still are not married, you would still want to meet me?"
"Ne, agissi. When that time comes, we're probably who we have longed to be. You'll become a great female physician, saving thousands of lives, and I will become a great soldier, saving a thousand more. And in time, I will find you again,"
She smiled, unarguably feeling the sincerity in every word he spoke; she felt it, everything: his thoughtfulness, and at the same time the security he promised her made the princess want to believe that a life after this life was indeed possible...
...and if it was indeed true, then she wanted to spend life all over again with Yoo Si Jin.
"Say, we only have a week before our marriage," She commented, breaking the ice.
"And a day before the full moon shows,"
"You're right," He looked at her, "Come to think of it, I still haven't thought of a wish for that night,"
"What is it then?" She moved a few inches closer to him with her curious wide eyes staring at him intently, "I would like to hear it!"
"Well..." Si Jin placed his knuckles on the tip of his chin as he thought of a good thing to wish. "I wish that—"
"Yoo Si Jin-ssi!" Even before Si Jin could finish, a soldier came out of the blue, running to their location in the garden. Si Jin was quick to notice Mo Yeon being frightened at the sudden appearance of the soldier when she reached and clasped his hand, "Your mother...she's really ill,"
Eomeoni... The news made him stand up from his seat, "What? Where is she? Is she okay?"
"She is at your residence. Your father, the uichangseong, instructed me to go find you and send you home," The soldier said with urgency in his voice, "Please come with me,"
With a remorse in his eyes, Si Jin looked towards the princess, who was looking worried, "I'm sorry, I have to go now, princess,"
"Ani, it's fine... Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No, I'll be okay,"
"Wait, I heard from my mother that she's really good friends with your mother," She insisted, holding Si Jin's hands, "I'll ask her to visit! She knows a little about medicine, so I'll tell her about it!"
"Aniyo, you do not have to do this,"
"Please," the princess tugged on his sleeves with her other hand, while the other remained clasped on his free hand, "I insist, Yoo Si Jin. Let me help out,"
Finding no way to decline her offer, Si Jin finally gave in, "I'm in no position to reject your kindness. Very well, I will be seeing you tomorrow,"
"At your house,"
"At my house," Si Jin smiled and gently squeezed her hand one last time before he walked to the soldier who was waiting behind. He waved at her to say goodbye before turning his back and began walking with the soldier. Gladly, they did not have to spend time walking down the busy streets of Hanyang, bumping commoners, and even getting blocked by the merchants to and fro, and the like. Thanks to the soldier bringing along his white stallion, the travel back to the Yoo Estates was convenient and fast.
However, Si Jin suddenly requested the soldier to halt after a few minutes of galloping down the street.
"What is it, young lad?" The soldier asked after he had directed their horse to a complete stop. Si Jin looked back towards the soldier and slowly pointed towards the landmark wherein they stopped traveling.
It was the bookstore, and the soldier looked back at Si Jin, then to the bookstore, and then back at the boy, "What do you want me to do about the bookstore?"
"I have to go and purchase something," Si Jin said, and the soldier was kind enough to put the little boy down on the ground before telling him some important instructions.
"Don't take too long, and don't buy too much," He warned the lad, and Si Jin could only give him a thumbs-up because he scurried quickly inside the store. He ran past shelves, as if he knew what book exactly he was looking for, until his shoes skidded when he reached the shelves containing books about medicine. After grabbing the first—and the only—book on that shelf, Si Jin quickly ran to the merchant to pay; when he was asked why such a young lad would buy a book about medicine, Si Jin said one convincible alibi with the princess kept in the depths of his mind. This is for her, he thought as he paid for the item and exited the store immediately. After a few minutes of traveling, Si Jin finally reached home; he quickly paced to his mother's room and to her side, finding thereafter that his father was seated on the opposite.
"Si Jin-ah," The woman blinked her eyes open slowly as soon as she heard the familiar footsteps of her own son coming near her, "You arrived early,"
Si Jin looked towards his father, and then back at his mother, "Abeoji called me through one of the soldiers. I thought you were leaving, Eomeoni!"
"Jinja? Why would I even leave you?" She weakly replied, this time looking towards her husband, "Ya, Yoo Young Geun-ssi, you shouldn't have scared him...look at the poor boy,"
"I am sorry," Young Geun held onto his hand, "I just wanted us to be together for now that we've got short time,"
Si Jin wasn’t too dumb to think that this was a normal conversation; his mother was losing time, that he knew.
"Eomeoni, the princess and her mother said they would want to visit you tomorrow," Si Jin interrupted all of a sudden, thinking that it was important news that his parents had to know. They were their in-laws, after all.
The mother could only smile, "It looks like you and the princess have finally bonded together,"
"A-actually, I..." He sighed, "I think everything that you said about her was right, eomeoni,"
"That's great news to hear," His mother's hand gently reached for his tiny ones, softly and tenderly caressing it, "Then I'll live to see you become her consort,"
Si Jin nodded, secretly wishing his mother could still live longer than that; he also was positive that his father, who was silently sitting at the opposite side while holding onto his mother's hand, was also wishing for the same thing twice as much.
"Ah," She blurted, seeing the package tucked in between Si Jin's arm and waist, "Is that a medical book?"
Oops, Si Jin slowly nodded.
"Are you reading advanced books your age, Si Jin-ah?" Young Geun asked, "You're really something. A genius,"
"A-Ani, abeoji, I wanted to clear things out that this book is not mine," He kept the book hidden inside his clothes, "I'm giving it to someone,"
"A..." If I tell them I'm giving it to the princess, it'll be difficult to tell if it's safe, he thought, she might not be permitted to read certain books, "...actually, it's for the princess, but she's giving it as a gift to her personal physician. She said the book was only available downtown, and so I had to buy it on my way here. I thought since she would be visiting you tomorrow, I would give this to her when she arrives,"
"About our visitors tomorrow, then we should prepare for their arrival," Young Geun suggested, and everyone agreed with it. While the servants of the house began their preparations for tomorrow's important guests, Si Jin and his parents remained in the room together; no one knew when his mother's time would come, and they wanted to spend every bit of their time together. When night took over, Si Jin finally exited the room and ambled back to his quarters with the book secured in the inside pockets of his clothes.
His lips curled to a smile as he visualized how happy and delighted she would look like when he hands this book over. It felt like he was making her dreams come true in some way. As Si Jin looked up to the sky, he could see the moon in its gibbous state. In just a day, it'll be in its full glory.
"One day more," he said, clutching on the book underneath the fabrics of his clothes. "One day more, Princess,"
Back in the palace, Princess Jeonghyeon was getting herself prepared to visit Si Jin's house. She found it useless to inform her mother about the minister's wife's condition since she had known about it all along and have been sending medicine to their place from time to time. However, when news broke that her condition has worsened and that she was nearing her death, Royal Consort Kang had no second thoughts in visiting her friend. She also agreed to bring Princess Jeonghyeon along, after countless times of saying 'no'. If it weren't for the princess' persistence, then she would’ve left her daughter home on the said date.
"Are you really joining me?"
"Ne, eomeoni," Jeonghyeon said as she ran towards the garden, where her mother was waiting, along with other court ladies, "I thought I had explained it thoroughly that I am joining you,"
Jeonghyeon walked closer, seeing the beautiful, yet slightly distraught and worried face of the older woman. "What's wrong, eomeoni?"
Without saying a word, she takes off the worried look in her face and reveals a beautiful, golden-jade binyeo under her sleeve.
"Hold onto this. Don't let this go. This thing, is one of the few things that you should hold onto yourself at all costs," she explained softly, as she hands over the binyeo to her daughter.
"What is this?"
"A beautiful hairpin, for my beautiful daughter," Consort Kang brushed Jeonghyeon's cheek with her soft, delicate hands. "Take it,"
"It's...beautiful, eomeoni, but no I can't take it," She declined, gently giving back the hairpin to her mother, "I still can't use it. Not until I'm not yet married,"
"I want you to take it,"
"Just keep it for the while, eomeoni," She politely said, promising her that she will get and use that hairpin once she is wedded to Yoo Si Jin. Her mother agreed, though she knew that she would have wanted her to take in right then and there.
Why would she even want me to get it? The princess still found it absurd, since her mother knew that she still had a week left to be considered a young maiden.
What she did not know, however, was that she might not live to be at her own wedding. As soon as they have left the palace and were already travelling a secret path to the southern part of Hanyang, spies were stationed everywhere, and soon later, the entire line of court ladies were either killed with the shot of an archer, or were kidnapped to a different place.
"My lady, please escape!" One of the court ladies screamed to both Consort Kang and the princess, instructing them to run back downtown to avoid the mishap before they even get themselves killed; but little did they know that it wasn't an ambush focused on them alone.
It was an invasion of the whole country.
Downtown Hanyang was filled with masked men in dark garments, slashing their swords on any civilian in sight. Princess Jeonghyeon had her eyes widened in the whole scene: she was seeing every single thing, her people being slaughtered mercilessly by the bandits, dead civilians piled up on the floor, puddles of blood everywhere…and what was worse was she couldn't do anything about it.
"All Hail, Argus!" One of the masked men yelled from afar before striking a civilian with the edge of his sword. Frightened, she scurried behind the court lady and her mother, who instantly dragged her to a hiding place behind one of the few buildings not burned down. Tears fell from her eyes as she had realized how things were happening all so sudden: one moment everything was running smoothly, and now people were getting killed in an instant. She watched as the nation's soldiers came rushing in from all corners, retaliating and eliminating the infiltrators.
"Jeonghyeon," she heard her mother say, "Follow me. We'll go back home," the remaining court ladies nodded as they began to look for a way back to the palace without meddling with the ruckus downtown. They were only one corner's turn away when a group of masked men in dark garments surrounded them completely. Dark, evil looks on their eyes frightened the group of ladies, and their hands holding onto their bloody swords threatened them even without saying a word that they weren't supposed to move if they want to spare
"It looks like we have captured a bounty for Lord Argus," One of them said as they walked towards Consort Kang, "The Jade Consort, and not to mention she's one of the King's most beloved women! Now, along with other maidens—and oh, a little girl!" He cackled as soon as he saw little Jeonghyeon hiding behind her mother with a frightened look on her face. "Is she the beautiful princess?"
"Don't scare her," Consort Kang bickered as she held Jeonghyeon closer behind her.
"Take them all in," The enemy instructed, and the rest of the dark-clothed rogue soldiers tied them all up one by one, harshly pushing and shoving them as they moved along away from the mishap downtown. Now a long way off from the city, Jeonghyeon and the rest of the ladies can see and hear the royal soldiers' command.
"They haven't gone far enough, so we must find Consort Kang and her daughter! We mustn't fail!"
"Ye!" The rest of the group replied in unison, thereafter spreading out into more groups and searching every house for the two important people, but unfortunately, they weren't there anymore.
"If you cry for help," The rogue soldier in black sneered at the ladies as they traveled high up and farther away, "We will surely kill you on the spot,"
Jeonghyeon gulped as she cried in her silence. She was beyond scared and frightened, and she did not know what was in store for her now that she was with these men. Their destination was still far away, and they have crossed multiple mountains in one day and have lost one woman after another as they trudged up; they die along the way because of hunger and the severe cold temperature. When a snowstorm came, the men finally decided to k