"Your clothes for the wedding ceremony is now ready to be worn, Your Highness," The servant called from the other side of the door.
Mo Yeon, who was on the opposite side, got up from her seat to help herself with her garments. When she opened the small changing room's door, there was already no one in sight. The servant had already gone ahead of her. To her right, she saw the clothes were neatly folded on top of the wooden table beside the door, and accompanied with it were its complementary ornaments. When she held the raiment and spread the white and silver silk hanbok from its neat folding, Mo Yeon smiled in content at how the seamstress made adjustments to the dress, particularly somewhere on its waist.
"Four months," She sighed out her troubles, "And no word at all,"
Myung Joo was right, and Mo Yeon did not like hearing herself utter that in her mind. She hated how she did not believe in her sooner. Had she believed in every conscientious instinct that penetrated hed thoughts, every advice from her friends and those close to her, she would never have to suffer a large scale of pain and guilt. She carried the burden all on her own while Si Jin did too on his own.
But isn't that the reason why she wanted to keep him free from being knowledgeable? Confusion and conviction kept tugging on her heart, but she had to wear the dress immediately. She had to keep the concern aside once again.
Before entering the room, Kang Mo Yeon had requested the house servants—ever since her stomach begin to show slowly—that they let her be on her own when she wears her wardrobe. Mo Yeon insists she wanted to do even the simplest tasks on her own, when in reality she did not want any of them to know about her pregnancy as well. They all seemed loyal to her, but above all they were Si Jin's servants and he their master. They all swore loyalty to him before they did to her.
Mo Yeon quickly wore the hanbok with ease. It fitted her perfectly, just enough to define her shape and hide the secret formed within her abdomen. The frock was wide and its thick cloth spread down, like a petunia flower held opposite to the sun. She took the silver earrings that laid on the tray. It matched her well.
After the long, agonizing time alone in the room, Mo Yeon stepped out, one foot after another towards the empty hallway. "It's cold," She clasped her hands together while she caught a glimpse of one of the house's medium-sized trees lose its last leaf. The whole courtyard was a field of warm hues and browns.
Autumn was being too harsh this year.
She was about to walk further ahead towards the cold courtyard when she felt a hand rest on her shoulder.
"You contrast beautifully with the autumn leaves,"
She turned around with ease, knowing beforehand that it was her husband, Yoo Si Jin. She looked at him and saw his deep-set eyes; it was brown and warm in the autumn, all the red and golden leaves contained in his dark pupils. It felt cozy just by gazing at him.
She gave Si Jin a thoughtful smile, "Where have you been? Have you been behind me all this time?"
"I was walking. There is a need to move about once in a while," His hand remained on her shoulder, "You didn't notice me behind because you were too drawn with the view. Was the autumn courtyard more attractive than I?"
"Nonsense. Are you being envious of the courtyard?" She chided.
"Maybe I am. I get competitive too. Knowing that inanimate objects win over me triggers my competitiveness,"
Mo Yeon laughed, "Si Jin, it's just a courtyard!" She giggled, finding how stupid it seemed for him to be even talking about such thing, while he watched her. His angered expression slowly turned to a look of contentment.
"This is picture-perfect." He spoke with pride all of a sudden. This time, his hand went down to hold her cold palm.
"You smiling. In the midst of this cold and dead place, you make it clement and beautiful," He spoke with a proud look on his face while he watched her again and again, tilting his head one side after another, cherishing every curve, every smile she made in front of him. Her white, silk hanbok, as well as her fair complexion, stood out in the warm background so perfectly.
"Does this make you happy?"
"Yes it does," He nodded. Mo Yeon quickly joined both hands above her chin, palms against her cheeks and her fingers stretching out to the soft sharpness of her jaw. Batting her eyes towards him, she grinned.
"This? Does this make you happy?"
"You look like a porcelain doll,"
"A pretty doll?" She batted her eyes again, leaning closer to him. Si Jin snickered in his amusement that he quickly stepped back, the corner of his eyes crinkling while he laughed.
"Alright. I lose," He said in between his chuckles. "I lose!"
Mo Yeon laughed with him, and although it seemed off and bizzare for two adults laughing in front of the house's courtyard, she didn't care too much about how it would appear, or what people would say.
As long as it made him free from his troubles, Mo Yeon would always plunge into it.
The months have been a series of heartaches and tears, she realized that both she and her husband had to invest more on the smiles rather than the sorrows all the more.
While she remained standing in front of him with her 'doll' impression, Mo Yeon felt the joy in her heart seeing Si Jin's warm smile in the midst of the cold autumn. She was too engrossed with his face she failed to recognize he was dressed just as well and as ceremonial as she was. "You're quite a charmer with your clothes too," She remarked while she eyed him from head to foot. He wore grey, silk clothing, complementing her white dress perfectly. His hair was bunned up with a grey, metallic tie underneath his hat. Its beads fell exactly against his ears.
"It's a friend's wedding. I should dress up well," He crossed his arms, finally recovering from Mo Yeon's cute antics, "You're doing the same, I suppose,"
"We're on the same side. Always on the same side,"
"Like a comrade,"
"Like a comrade," She seconded, "Geundae, if there's a wedding event, who's heading the infirmary now that both Myung Joo and I aren't present?"
"The other physicians are already well-trained and disciplined. They know what to do without you,"
"Are you sure?"
"Jagi, just keep that concern out of your mind for a day," He pleaded, like a child, and she pursed her lips to keep the laughs to herself, "You can put your trust on those who pledged their loyalty to you. And besides, I'm sure everybody in that health center thinks you need to take a rest too,"
"I work at my pace," She insisted.
"Don't push yourself if you don't really need to," He shot back, hands holding onto her shoulders and with a concerned expression, "Anyway, it's getting cold. We have to get you to the ride,"
"I agree," Mo Yeon nodded while she walked the few steps that would lead her straight to his arms. She rested her head on his chest, both her hands reaching for each other behind him, pulling Si Jin to an unexpected embrace.
He chuckled, "What's this?"
"It is cold. You are warm,"
Another chortle came from Si Jin, "I am? That's new,"
"Surprisingly, you are," Mo Yeon breathed in the fragrant, musky scent of his clothing. She loved how she could easily tell if he lingered on with things just by recognizing the scent.
"It is because someone's given me enough warmth right at the beginning of the day," He remarked with a cheeky grin, "But seriously, we have to prepare if we want to make it in time for the wedding ceremony,"
Si Jin benevolently took her hands off of his waist and led Mo Yeon to the courtyard's stone pathway, leading to the gates. Indeed, like a princess, she had one of her hands held and assisted by Si Jin as they moved along. His firm grip on her hand made sure that she wouldn't slip on the rocks.
"Is your father attending the ceremony?" Mo Yeon asked while they walked amidst the tranquil of the courtyard's autumn day.
"After the palace, he's off to Yoon-yeonguijeong's house. He can't miss the celebration," Si Jin replied, "Our families were once bound to be in-laws, after all,"
She raised a brow, "You're still holding onto that, are you?"
"What I was just trying to say is that my family and Myung Joo's family are close," He straightened out, "We did not want to be married to each other anyways,"
Mo Yeon nodded, being reminded at how she entered into the lives of these people, seeing how far-fetched things seemed to be for Si Jin, Myung Joo and even the current byeongjo Seo Dae Young. Si Jin never bought the idea of marrying Myung Joo because he was a total wreck of depressing emotions at that time, and Myung Joo felt the same because she believed forbidden love could be made possible, even in the hopeless societal rules. Dae Young appeared stiff and stern with what the norms were but was emotionally yearning for something to happen.
Now, Si Jin was wedded to her, while the other two are to be wedded to each other. Everything fell into place, quite miraculously.
Si Jin took a gander towards her, noticing the glow in her face while they walked, "Why are you smiling?"
"I am in awe at how things unfolded for everyone," She smiled, poring back at him, "Are you?"
Just before they could reach the gates of their house, he responded with a nod.
Yoo Si Jin immediately led her to the small, enclosed carriage stationed right in front of the gates. The house's men servants, all of them big and bulky, were stationed on each side of the transport. A lady servant was called out of the house to aid them in their travel.
"Go ahead," Her husband gestured for Mo Yeon to get in.
"I still wonder why you had to get me a carriage," Mo Yeon placed both hands on her hips, "We could walk to Lady Yoon's house,"
"It's a wedding we're headed to. Walking won't do us any good,"
"So you only bought this for the wedding?"
He shook his head, "It'll come in handy soon, even if you don't realize it yet. Ah. Come to think of it, you said you felt cold, didn't you? Getting inside will keep you warm,"
Mo Yeon had nothing else to say. Pleased by his thoughtfulness, she bowed down, "I am moved and equally grateful for your concern. Shall I get in?"
"Go. You must," He tapped on her shoulder to get her moving inside the carriage. As soon as he was ascertained that Mo Yeon was seated in place, He commanded the servants to close and secure her door before climbing up his horse. He led the way while the group moved at a slow pace, walking an alternative route that made it possible for them to avoid the busy works of downtown streets.
Mo Yeon remained seated inside the carriage with her hands folded together; she only could picture out how the four men carrying her transport were doing their best efforts to give her a comfortable ride. She slid the wooden windows of the carriage's interior to get a look from the inside.
The air was crisp as she whiffed the calm autumn wind that it pricked her nose. It was a relief that her garments were thick and comfy—simply perfect for the cool weather. Mo Yeon tilted her head out the window an inch to look at Si Jin riding his horse just in front of the carriage. He wasn't facing her.
It was only during these times that she was safe to frown, times when he was not looking. However, it was unknown to Mo Yeon that Si Jin, while facing away from her, was looking just as displeased. The man riding the horse looked sullen like the cold, crisp autumn weather, his eyes fixed downwards, looming in all forms.
"Is there something wrong, Naeuri?" The lady servant who walked alongside Yoo Si Jin leading the convoy noticed his morose expression. Si Jin shook his head in reply; a faint, forced smile appeared suddenly on his lips.
"Nothing is wrong,"
"If nothing is wrong, then why do you appear so sad on a beautiful wedding day?"
"I don't know," He huffed, somehow bothered on why a servant would ask her master about something personal but he let her be, "But it is better to be sad now, than to appear like this in front of the bridegroom,"
The servant seemed to not be convinced by her master's reason. Despite that, she tilted his head to bow.
"I wish you never have to appear sad in every circumstance, Naeuri. A person who works hard in this life deserves to be blissful,"
How thoughtful of her. "I wish you the same...what was your name again?"
The woman hesitated, but with Si Jin's persistent staring, she finally gave him her answer, "Ri Ye Hwa,"
"How long have you been staying in our household?"
"Just recently. I had always been a court lady, but I was newly assigned to take care of Her Highness' needs. The King sent me to stay in your household for her sake," Ye Hwa replied, her round, brown eyes looking upward. "I don't know Her Highness that well, nor do I deeply understand who she is as a person, so I still have tons of learning to do,"
She appeared so young, like a woman in her teens. Her slender body was covered in thick garments too huge for her size she seemed struggling while they traveled, but she still managed to go on with the group.
"Sorry for not asking the entire time you were at our home. But now I know who you are," Si Jin said with a gracious mug, while his thumb randomly scratched on the horse's mane, a though he was holding back a thought for a moment, "Ye Hwa-ssi, can you do me a favor?"
"Anything, Naeuri," She perked.
Si Jin admired her willingness, and how resilient she appeared to be despite her youth. This woman proved herself to be strong, even following Mo Yeon—her direct master—to their home, and even now as they travelled to Yoon-yeonguijeong's abode. Her loyalty could move mountains, that was what Si Jin believed.
He made a little glance behind towards the carriage before speaking, "Remain faithful and obedient to the woman inside this carriage, and be her right hand. She will be capable of doing so much, of accomplishing so much, but when she will need rest, be there to lift her up," Si Jin told Ye Hwa, sounding more serious than before.
"When she has thoughts she would try to keep but could not help share about, be her listening ear, and the vault to every word she speaks. Make her trust you, and only divulge these things when it means her well-being,"
"When trouble arises, be there to protect her, as I cannot possibly do it on my own. There will be a lot who will raise their swords on her, but there will be a whole lot more that will risk their lives to keep her away from harm. You are one of them. Get her out of trouble, hide her if you must. And lastly..." He paused midway, clearing his mind off of a thought that crossed in his mind, "Lastly. Everything that she and I has, treasure it and protect it, as how I wish you to do so,"
"Naeuri, your word is a word I will honor," She replied with her head down. Ye Hwa promised, with her hands folded and her head tilted to a bow, making Si Jin nod in content.
The feeling of relief wallowed in him somehow.
They arrived shortly, at the time honorary guests were flocking in one by one. The bride's house was filled with celebratory ornaments, the pansori musicians were gathering on one side of the courtyard, and servants were guiding the guests to where they should be waiting. Si Jin quickly walked towards Mo Yeon and helped her out of the carriage.
"Why are you smiling at me?" She asked, taking his hand while she alighted the transport.
"I'm in awe just by looking at you. You're strangely alluring,"
Mo Yeon raised a brow, "Strange? Is it because of the cold? Or the dress, perhaps?"
Si Jin refuted to answer, and instead pulled her to his side as they walked. He glanced behind to see the jade binyeo—her late mother's heirloom—pinning her hair on a beautiful bun. "Who knew you would be wearing that,"
"I wear this with pride in my spirit," She mused, finally noticing he had been looking at her golden-jade hairpin while they ambled towards the gathering area. The ceremony was coming to its beginning with the people flocking to witness the union of two yangban individuals.
It did not take long that Dae Young appeared at the front gates of their house. With the red, wooden entrance welcoming him and his entire group, Dae Young held a goose with both hands—the wedding's traditional symbol of fidelity to the partner. Everybody's eyes were on him as he walked further in the ceremonial place. The loud, ethereal music began to play vibrant tones.
"Seo Dae Young looks nervous," Mo Yeon tiptoed as she whispered to Si Jin's ears.
"Why not? He has all the right to look nervous. He's marrying Yoon Myung Joo,"
"Ya, what kind of friend are you, really?"
Si Jin leaned to her ear and whispered back, "An honest one, I suppose?"
She frowned. Is Myung Joo really that strong to be feared by men?
When Dae Young had already stopped in the middle of the union banquet, it was Myung Joo's time to get out of her hiding place. With both hands clasped together, she wore her bridal dress with a demure, yet proud expression etched on her features. The headdress seemed like a struggle, just as how Mo Yeon described to her back in her own wedding day. The court ladies led her to meet Dae Young face to face, and the groom made one, noticeable, nervous gulp.
"He is definitely nervous," Mo Yeon finally concluded. Si Jin, standing beside her, kept his amusement inside him.
The whole event was more or less at the same time frame as Si Jin and Mo Yeon's wedding; with only a few exchanges of bows and food, they finally were given the contract of union and were pronounced husband and wife. The fanfare came immediately as the celebration welcomed the night of leafless trees and cool wind. Only there did Si Jin see his father on the opposite side of the festive gathering, happily exchanging drinks with the bride's father, Yoon Gil Joon. The older ones and the officials were having their time with each other, while the younger men and women danced at the beat of the drum and the music that resounded. Everybody who pleased to dance were at the center, while Si Jin and Mo Yeon, among the few others, remained seated at their side of the celebration banquet. She observed he was being reserved and silent for a while.
"The dancing isn't for us to enjoy, because we have done it back at our wedding, didn't we?" Mo Yeon had just finished her meal when she asked her husband, who sat comfortably on his seat while he stared blankly towards the dancing guests.
"I was never good at dancing in the first place, so it never was for me to enjoy," He replied nonchalantly. It was unlike his previous disposition.
"Unless you dance, that would be enjoyable," Si Jin remarked once again when he recalled Mo Yeon's graceful dancing back when she was a gisaeng, and then another during their wedding. He never thought she could goad him to make a few moves with his hands back then. However, despite that thought, Si Jin remained focused on his seat, watching and enjoying the celebration in his austere silence. They both had already greeted and had given the newlyweds their gifts and wishes, but other than that, he never said too much, or even moved that much. He was like a rock, seated silently on his chair, waiting for something no one knows what. Not even Mo Yeon.
"Do you want to dance?"
"I would love that," He turned to look at her, "But I don't want you to. Not now,"
She finally observed the inscrutable emotion he exhibited in his eyes; it felt puzzling, and he seemed like he was struggling. "Are you well?" Mo Yeon asked him with worry in her voice, "Does it hurt? Where does it hurt?"
"Are you well?" He shot back, and the tone of his voice confused Mo Yeon if he was even concerned or not. He sounded irritated.
He was serious, for some reason. She just did not know what was happening.
Mo Yeon leaned in closer, so as to secure the conversation between the two of them. "Are we in a fight? What's gotten into you?"
Si Jin didn't respond, but instead, made a deep sigh while his fingers tapped on the table.
The atmosphere was troubling; she never gets in a fit with her husband, and she definitely tried to avoid conflicts between them considering his health. Now, with the sudden change of circumstance, Mo Yeon was unsure how everything turned out to be this way. Did she do something that offended him? A brief recall of the past events tells her no harm was done.
"Why does it seem like something's wrong?"
Si Jin had to look up to the sky and then back at the celebration before he gave his reply. When he lifted his eyes, he caught Myung Joo staring at him in the midst of the dancing crowd. Her eyes were forceful and pushy; a glimpse of her could send you moving.
Mo Yeon seemed to notice the contact too. She glanced at the bride, and then towards her husband who seemed caught in a daze. "Yoo Si Jin-ssi, is there something wrong?"
He shook his head, "We should talk later,"
Mo Yeon pouted. Something is wrong.
Time came when the ceremony ended. Si Jin and Mo Yeon, along with the house's patriarch Yoo Young Geun, left after one last congratulatory greeting to the bridegroom. Myung Joo, before the guests left, called for Mo Yeon, "I'll see you tomorrow,"
"Are you not supposed to be with your husband for the first days of marriage?"
Myung Joo waved her hands in disagreement, "Maybe. Maybe not. But I wish I'll see you tomorrow," Not knowing what the night's bride meant by it, she agreed to it before leaving with her family.
The travel was silent. Young Geun was tipsy on the liquor, and Si Jin was acting glum and sullen, leaving Mo Yeon no one to talk to during the travel. She kept quiet within the small four corners of the carriage until they reached home and from there, she quickly paced to her husband.
"You said you wanted to talk about something?"
"I said that," He held her hand. He still gave her the impression that something serious had taken place, "Come with me,"