A/N: this chapter is kinda long, because I had to merge a lot of scenes on this one. There were some details that would explain a lot, hence the lengthy chapter.
Hope you like it!
Back at the Yoo estates, the rumored couple Si Jin and Myung Joo sat in the compound's main hall, while they were being attended by the house's servants. Tea was served as they patiently sat and waited for Myung Joo's father to show up for a sudden meeting.
When the lady servant was about to pour tea on Si Jin's cup, he immediately shook his head "I won't have some, thank you,"
"A cup of water, perhaps?"
"Better," Si Jin smiled at the servant before they all bowed and left.
Silence seeped in, and Lady Yoon broke the eerie, deafening pause between her and the minister.
"You never really liked tea, do you?" Myung Joo asked Si Jin after seeing him decline a drink.
"I never drink tea," Si Jin replied, "It’s like drinking poison, in my case,"
"Are you talking about your illness? You haven't told me about it yet,"
Si Jin quickly diverts the topic to politics when a servant comes in and serves him a glass of water. When she exited the room and he was more than convinced that the servant was completely out of earshot, he nodded at Myung Joo's prior question.
"It's a heart ailment I believe I contracted from my mother,"
Her heart froze in astonishment when she heard his answer.
Myung Joo knew about his mother's condition, but she did not expect it to be hereditary; Si Jin's mother was a noblewoman, but compared to the other women who could be seen primly walking around with their sartorial glamor, their hanbok of bright and beautiful colors, she was rarely seen outdoors because of a heart ailment that prohibited her from physical exertion.
To be honest, she was a qualified woman for divorce because of her condition. Anything that made a woman bound for divorce was the inability to bear a son, talking rudely to the in-laws, jealousy, and theft...the list would go on. But Yoo Young Geun, Si Jin's father, loved her so dearly, and it was safe to say that he loved her more than she did to him, even to the extent of accepting her despite what the norms of Joseon society dictated upon women with an illness.
They went on with their marriage as a happy couple and even had a son, which she had difficulty in giving birth with and almost took a toll on the sick woman's life. Nevertheless, they had saved both the mother and the child, and after that brief moments of fear, life went on blissfully. The Yoo estate was happy with the woman around, as she had a pure and understanding heart, loving and supporting her family, welcoming guests and even treating the servants well.
But sadly, all good things in this world must come to an end.
She only lived long enough to see Si Jin grow for nine years. That was all Myung Joo knew, until Si Jin broke out just now that he had experienced the same signs and symptoms of the incurable disease, therefore concluding that it was hereditary. Shortness of breath, fatigue, occasional palpitations, fainting, dizziness...it all matched what his late mother experienced.
"When did it start showing signs?"
"Half a decade ago," He said bluntly.
"I can't believe you could keep it that long...." Myung Joo had no idea what were the right words to say, because she was perplexed at how Si Jin could still exhibit a calm, nonchalant face despite his condition. He even kept it from everybody. "Is it terminal?"
"If triggered, it will be,"
"Why are you so calm about this?"
"I would have wanted to keep this as something the public should not know, but I’ll tell you because it could be an escape route from our betrothal," Si Jin replied, his face as calm as it ever was during the course of their conversation, "I'm sure your father would not give you to a man who can't secure your future,"
"Let's put that matter aside, can we? I'm talking about you," Myung Joo was worried as well; Yoo Si Jin is one of her closest friends ever since she was a child, and she hated seeing him throw away his life just like that. "Why do you talk about it like it's just some kind of cold that would eventually disappear? Do you even care about yourself?"
It took Si Jin a long while before he could speak a word. He understood why people were fussing about how he deals with what fate had manifested in his life, but he was more than prepared. If it meant leaving the pressures he'd constantly receive from everyone around him, he was ready to leave anytime.
"Everything is uncertain for me at this point, and I don't see any valid reason for me to care more about my well-being. I'd rather think of the people around me,"
She wanted to slap him on the face, but instead of doing so, she gripped on his hand pleadingly.
"I...admire your selflessness, Yoo Si Jin. But you cannot just simply talk about it like this. Even if I had never seen you as the man I love, you're still someone special to me,"
He smiled, "You've never been this kind with your words, Lady Yoon,"
"I'm serious," She murmured.
"And I am too. Do you even know what happens to a woman whose betrothed dies before or after the wedding?" He looked at her with stern, serious eyes, "You will be forced to keep your honor for my sake. You shall die a widow, remain that way in your life, or if your heart stirs for someone else, you will be punished. Killed. Persecuted. Your whole family's honor crumbling down along with you. Do you want that?"
"I don't want it," Myung Joo shook her head.
"Then I believe there's enough reason to tell your father about me. We won't lose anything because of this, not even the ties of our clans shall be at stake, so there is no harm in telling," Si Jin explained, "Let me do all the talking,"
She nodded, slightly convinced with his reasoning, though she still felt troubled for the young man, "Okay... I guess I have no choice but to leave it to the best battle strategist in Joseon,"
"By the way," Myung Joo shifted, "I saw my first book about medicine in the hands of that lady earlier,"
"I wanted her to read it," Si Jin replied, "And I told her to keep it,"
"Without asking the owner's permission?" She raised a brow, and Si Jin simply chuckled.
"Are you trying to change history here? I am the owner of that book," He crossed his arms in dismay, "If you remember I told you to write your name at the back just so you don't lose it like how you lost some of my books. How many have you lost? Three? Four?"
"Gladly you ree safely. Aish, you keep on losing things," Without paying that much attention to her icy glare, Si Jin stood up to walk towards the entrance of the room where they waited. "I'm helping you out on not losing your chance to be with the man you truly love, so you better cooperate,"
She was left to ponder on his words. Si Jin was indeed finding ways for them to cut the red string that forcibly bound them together.
"For a sick man...you're already doing too much to help," She scoffed, her eyes trailed at her reflection on the cup of tea.
Moments passed by silently, and just when the sun started to set, the two were alerted when they saw a group of soldiers and horses marching to the entrance of the estate. Si Jin peered once more to see his father and the yeonguijeong riding on each horse, while soldiers walked in unison, surrounding them as they entered in. As they neared their location, Si Jin saw the Right Minister—his father—looking at him with serious, yet apologetic eyes. He could tell his father had been feeling guilty since their last conversation.
Walking alongside his father was the Chief State Councilor, who seemed delighted to see Yoo Si Jin and Yoon Myung Joo together, "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but it's good to know you've been spending time together,"
Yoo Si Jin bowed, as well as Myung Joo, "Yoon-yeonguijeong, permit me to say this, but if you wanted to have a personal meeting, I should be the one to travel to your house,"
"I had always thought you were strong and righteous like your father but indeed you're also kind man, byeongjo. Like your mother,” he giddily replied, on which Si Jin would've wanted to object. His father was not kind to him ever since his mother passed away. "Don't bother. I heard from your father that you have not been feeling well lately, and so I decided to meet you in your house instead,"
Is he trying to make up with me? Si Jin lifted his head and glanced at the Right Minister, who was quick to avert his eyes from his son.
"What was it you wanted to discuss about?"
"The nation," State Councilor Yoon said, "And my daughter,"
Si Jin looked towards Myung Joo, who stood right beside him, and then back at The State Councilor, "I also wanted to discuss something,"
"...about the wedding," He saw his father flinch at his statement; Si Jin was aware that among other things his father forced him into was this marriage with Myung Joo.
To secure their power...to strengthen the bonds between their clans.
That was plainly it.
And Si Jin can never fathom how his father—who had selflessly loved a woman for who she was—can never give his own son the liberty of doing it also.
"Before you and yeonguijeong discuss that matter," everybody looked towards the Right Minister, "We have to talk things about that first, Yoo Si Jin,"
You shouldn’t have said that! Si Jin flinched, taking the opportunity to object but Councilor Yoon affirmed his father’s appeal.
"Ah, right. I understand your side, Yoo-uichangseong," The councilor spoke, "Then, shall we discuss the matter regarding the Northern rebellion for now?"
Si Jin can do nothing but nod as he and the State Councilor walked inside; if it weren't for his father's slick move, he could have ended him and Myung Joo right then and there.
"I heard about the success of the recent deployment along the borders. All military personnel in the roster came home safe," Councilor Yoon said affirmingly to the young man, "Jeonha extends his utmost, heartfelt gratitude for leading your men to war,"
"It is an honor, sir,"
"Jeonha wanted to personally speak to you during the ministry gathering at the royal courts, but you were not there,"
"My apologies," Si Jin replied, "I had an unplanned trip to the hospital,"
The councilor looked at him, "I see... The past month must have been straining on your part, you had to sacrifice your health for the safety of the country,"
"Please keep yourself back to good health in time for the wedding ritual," The councilor patted his shoulder, and even if Si Jin was at the brink of confessing everything, he could not do anything other than nod his head.
Oh, what a perfect time to tell the councilor about his illness if it weren't for his father's appeal.
The hour passed by, and the two men have discussed matters that pertained to the military defense of the country from the different boundaries and entrances of the land. Yoo Si Jin had got them all covered with the help of his whole ministry, and especially with the loyal soldiers of the country. When asked how he could think of such strategies in the battlefield, Si Jin simply answered that he had always wanted to be a soldier, and somehow leading with a leader's mind and a soldier's heart helped him in his decisions.
"Even in your class, you still would like to be on the frontline?" Councilor Yoon asked, and the young minister nodded.
"It has always been my dream," It shall always be a dream.