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Fragrance of Love

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful day. White, fluffy clouds drifted across the sky. The sun was shining brightly and a warm breeze was blowing. Perfect for dating and picnic. Go Hajin wearing a grey colored checked suit stood outside the building she had worked for around 3 years. She looked through her mobile contacts. Nothing. She didn't have friends or at least not anymore.

She used to be very popular before. Charming, vibrant and kind-hearted. She had lots of friends when she was attending high school. But all of that changed when she entered university. High tuition fees meant she had to take numerous part-time jobs. She hardly had time to rest let alone hanging out with her friends. She naturally grew apart from them. She tried to make new friends. And she did. But she couldn't maintain them. She was always studying and when she wasn't, she was working. She still made time for her friends whenever she could. However just because you're sincere does not necessarily mean that the other person would be sincere too. Her so-called friends saw her as a pushover, someone who is too nice to say no to any request even if it costs her gravely. The one time she stood up for herself, they accused her of being selfish and arrogant. She broke off with them. She didn't need such friends but she still missed having someone to talk to especially at a time like this. Her colleagues were friendly. She was not friends with them but she had good relation with them. But today she lost them too.

Hajin lifted her head to see the busy, bustling and crowded street before her. She could hear the incessant honking of the vehicles. Nobody's looking at anybody, too absorbed in their own lives. She didn't want to return to her empty house so she walked around aimlessly. Her legs brought her to a nearby lake. It was filled with laughter and happy faces. She felt envious in her heart. Her eyes fell on a homeless middle-aged man sleeping on the ground.

I guess I am not the most unfortunate person in this world. She sighed.


She looked up to the sunny sky, a stark contrast from her current mood. “You should have taken me with you.” A tear escaped from her left eye which she wiped away with a thumb.

As Go Hajin was the only child of her parents, she had been pampered all her life. Her each and every wish was fulfilled. It would not be wrong to say that she was spoilt to some extent. When her parents died on a horrendous car crash, some called her lucky to have managed to survive such terrible accident, some called her pitiful while some called her a witch who caused her parents to die for she was the one who had suggested that trip. Only after her family died, she had learned that her father had a huge loan under his name. The creditors confiscated almost everything. With the remaining money, she had decided to start anew. But it was easier said than done. That little money was not enough to pay for her rent, school fees and basic expenses. To cover them she had taken part time jobs on various cafes and convenience stores. Hajin was always a lazy student until she became an orphan. Then she had gotten this complex obsession of making her parents proud. She had sacrificed her sleep and vacations to achieve her goal. In the end she had successfully passed high school and university with flying colors. After her graduation she had landed a job in a well-known perfume company.

When Junwoo first confessed to her, she was perplexed. That was not the first time she had been confessed but that was the first time she had ever considered entering a relationship. Earlier she'd reject them simply because she didn't want any distraction from her studies. Junwoo was gentle, well-mannered and was in the same department as hers. She had thought she had achieved what she had wanted and could finally live a freer and happier life now. She let herself fall for him. She let her guard down around him. She trusted him. And for that she had to pay a huge price. Junwoo framed her for leaking their company's confidential documents and she was fired because of that. When she had asked him why, he had replied, “You are nice but you were in my way of promotion”. She had wanted to laugh at his reason. For that lousy reason he had ruined her years of hard work. Now no reputable company would want to hire her anymore.

Hajin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I haven't done anything wrong”, she reminded herself. “I need not have to suffer. I will overcome this. I can.”

As she was turning around to leave, she noticed a little boy reaching out over the water, and a moment later he fell in. Hajin's first impulse was to jump in and save him, but she tried to convince herself, “I am not in a position to help others. I am sure someone else saw him too.” But a glance around proved that nobody’s even noticed.

Frustrated, “Aish why me again?!”

She took off her shoes and ran for the water. After she pulled the boy to safety, she tried to get out of the water herself but instead she was dragged underwater by some unknown forces.

Please let me live. I don't want to die. She prayed earnestly.

The last thing she saw before losing consciousness was the thinning of the crescent as the moon covered the sun.

She was gone.

Chapter Text

Hajin slowly opened her eyes. She saw the wooden ceilings above her. Where am I? Have I died? , she wondered.

“Soo-ya, are you alright? Are you still in pain?”

The voice made Hajin turn to her right. An older woman with pale complexion was looking at her with a mixture of anxious and worried expression. Beside her was a girl whose hanbok was plain compared to the other lady.

“Where am I? Who are you, people? Ah, right I died. So is this heaven or hell?”, she asked while rubbing her temples.

“You didn't die. You nearly died”, the younger girl said cheerfully.

Hajin abruptly got up from her bed. Her head was still hurting but that was least of her concern. She pinched her arm. The pain confirmed her doubts.

I am still alive

“Haesoo-ya”


“Why do you keep calling me Haesoo? My name is Go Hajin.”

The two women looked at Hajin with a confused look.

“Agassi, why are you talking like this? Don't you remember you fell down from the stairs two days ago? You have been unconscious since then. Our Lady Hae was so worried about you. ”


Fell down from the stairs? But I obviously drowned.

“Where is this place then?”

“You are in Songak. This is the home of the 8th Prince Wang Wook. I am your sixth cousin Myung Hee.”

“Songak, you mean Goryeo?”

“Yes, do you remember now?”, The lady asked hopefully.

Hajin laughed, “Excuse me. Even if you're joking, isn't it bit too much?”

But the Lady's expression remained unchanged, serious and concerned. Go Hajin finally realized that she hasn't died, she isn't dreaming and nobody is joking with her.

“Who is the king now?”, Hajin asked in a low voice. She felt light-headed.

“It is His Majesty who founded this land.”

Later the doctor examined Hajin and after asking her some questions, he concluded that the Young Miss is suffering from memory loss. It can be due to shock. As for when her memory will return, no one can tell.

                                                                                                                           ***************      

That night, Hajin shut herself in her room and huddled in fear. She turned her head to see her reflection in the mirror. The face is mine but this body.......

How did I end up here? This girl Haesoo, where is she now? Did she die? How can I go back? Should I try stabbing or hanging myself? If I die here then maybe I can return to my world. She considers it for some time but in the end, she decides against it.

There's no guarantee that I will be able to return like that. Moreover, it's too painful and ugly. Hot tears started running down her cheeks. She cried at her helplessness.

She wiped her tears away and took a deep breath.

Think about it positively. This is your chance to live. What do I know about Goryeo? King Taejo founded Goryeo unifying the three kingdoms: Silla, Beakje, and Gogoryeo. There were some disputes between his sons. One or two of his sons died shortly after ascending the throne. Gwangjong then took the throne and ruled for a long time.

"Gwangjong Gwangjong", she repeated the name in her lips, trying to remember anything she can of him.

Gwangjong is considered one of the best kings of Goryeo. He is known for straightening the royal power and his notable reforms. But he is also known for his ruthlessness and instigating bloody purge. He received special love from his father. There was something peculiar about his marriage. What was that? Ah, he married his half-sister. How can someone marry his half-sister? No, that's not the point here. What was his birth name?

Even though she tried her level best, she couldn't remember the name.

"Instead of reading about the lifestyle of women in Joseon, I should have paid attention to the teacher when he was teaching Goryeo history”, she cursed herself. It would have been better if I was transported to Joseon dynasty instead. At least I have more knowledge about that dynasty.

The knocking on the door and calling of Lady Hae and Chaeryung pulled Hajin out of her thoughts.

But I am not Haesoo. What would happen when they will find out? Would they blame me for the disappearance of Haesoo? I don't even know what kind of world is out there. I am scared. I am scared to death. She was trembling with fear.

Suddenly the door of her room came crashing in and 8th Prince Wook entered the room.

Worry was visible all over his face. “I brought you here, so I will help you through to the end.” He holds out a hand. “Won't you trust me and come outside?”

I can't change the way things are now. Until I can find a way to return back to my world, I have to pretend to be Haesoo. If this is the only way I can live then I will take this chance.

She takes his hand.

 

***************


After arguing with Princess Yeonhwa, Hajin was taken to the library by Prince Wook.

“They say you do not remember anything. Then you must not recognize me either.”

“I heard that you are 8th Prince.”

“You heard that?”

Afterward, Wook asks her what she plans on doing now. If she wants to go back to her hometown, then he will make arrangements. He assures her that whatever decision she will make he will support her and take care of her.

“Why? I am the one who got hurt. Why would you take care of me? I am not even your wife's biological sister, just a cousin.”

Wook was taken aback by her question. But he collected himself quickly and begins to move around the bookshelves of the library.

“Anyway, you don't have to send me anywhere. I am going to get through it and stay in this house”. From what I heard from Chaeryung is that Haesoo is an orphan. Her uncles don't really care about her. Lady Myung Hee is the only one who genuinely loves her. It is safer for me to stay here. Also I cannot move places I have to stay here to find a solution for me to get out of this mess. She thought to herself.

Following the Prince from behind, she continued, “I may have lost memories but I am a fast learner. If Your Highness and Lady Hae helps me and be patient with me then I promise I will surely become a person who is needed in this household”

The Prince all of a sudden turned around and Hajin found herself facing him. Their bodies almost touching. She moved back hurriedly.

Wook eyed her curiously. “You seem like a different person.”

Did he catch on already?  “Maybe because I lost my memory.” Hajin nervously said.

“You must not worry my wife any further.”

Her face lit up. “Does that mean you are allowing me to stay? Thank you. Believe me, I wouldn't disappoint or burden anyone.”

Relieved, she happily started walking away when Wook called her.

“Myung Hee unnie not Lady Hae”, he gave a little smile.

“Ah, right she's my sister”, she grinned.


***************


It has been barely two days since Hajin arrived in Goryeo but she could already feel that the haughty Princess Yeonhwa is not very much fond of Myung Hee and strongly dislikes Haesoo for some reason. She would find fault in Hajin's everything-walking, talking and even eating. She would always be in search of ways to criticize or trouble her. When the Princess realized that Hajin was utterly hopeless at fashioning lanterns shaped like flowers, she dismissed her and gave her the tiring job of making glue. Aside from the back pain that the task gave her she also had to listen to the teasing of 8th Prince while doing it.

I do not get why that two-faced Princess hates Hae sisters so much. Lady Hae is one of the kindest people I have ever seen in my life. I wish I had a sister like her in my world.

Hajin had managed to induce Chaeryung to show her the stairs where the real Haesoo had fallen from. As she was standing on the Damiwon stairs, several times she had the urge to jump, hoping in a blink's time she would return to the present. Nevertheless, she did not, for she was more afraid that if by any chance she fails to return to modern times, then she would have to live her entire life with a disability. She made her way to the nearby bathing pool and started walking leisurely by the pool, lost in her thoughts. The slippery floor made her lose balance and before she could do something she fell into the water. Hajin knew how to swim but the memories of drowning came back to her which made her mind go blank. She was unable to move her body according to her wish. She struggled to keep her head up. She felt the waves lapping over, and over, and over her frantically waving hand. In the end, she gets tired.

As Hajin sunk slowly beneath the water, a hand grabbed her wrist and dragged her out of the water.

She gasped for air, “Oh I am alive! I thought I was going to die again.”

She looked up at the man who was staring at her dumbfoundedly. Before Hajin could say or register anything, he clasped a hand over his left eye, looking ashamed.

“Did you see?”, he hesitantly asked.

“Ne (What)?” What did I see? What is he talking about?

Without warning, he grabbed her throat and bellowed, “I asked if you saw!”

Hajin stayed still, paralyzed with fear. The only word she could make out was, “Please.”

“Forget me. Erase it all. If you don't, your face will become like this too.” He ordered her then grabbed his clothes and left the pool.

Hajin stood still, trying to comprehend the event that just occurred.

Chaeryung arrived minutes later and panicked to see the lady socked and numbed in the middle of the pool. She helped Hajin get out of the water. As Hajin was exiting the pool she spotted a hairpin, thinking it belongs to the man from before she picked it up and kept it with herself.

On the way back to 8th Prince residence, she was shivering with cold. Chaeryung took her hands and rubbed to make them warmer.

“Agassi, what were you doing in Damiwon? Do know how long have I been looking for you? Why did you return to the place where you had your accident? Didn't I tell you it would only bring bad memories?”

“I thought it would help me find my memories back”, she lied.

“I heard from some court ladies that 4th Prince was also in Damiwon.” She fearfully asked, “Did you perhaps run into him?”

So that person was a Prince.

“Why? What about 4th Prince?”

Chaeryung explained, “His birth mother is Queen Yoo. His adopted mother is Royal Concubine Kang. Although he is a powerful man with two families, he is famous for being cruel and scary. They say he kills people easily too, especially those who have seen his scar.”

But he did not kill me. In fact, he saved me. Even though he threatened me later, he looked quite...... vulnerable.

Hajin understands how scary rumors are. She recalled the time in high school when one of her classmates was almost suspended because of a false accusation of bullying. “Chaeryung, we shouldn't judge people based on rumors only. Rumors are always half-truth and half-lie.”

“But he really did kill every last wolf in all of Shinju.”

“We don't know the full story. Maybe there is a part we are still not aware of. We should not pass judgment on someone we don't even know personally.”

Chaeryung smiled, “Agassi you have changed.”

“How have I changed?”, Hajin asked, curious about the owner of the body she is in.

Chaeryung thought for a few seconds then answered, “Before you were quiet and obedient. You used to trust other's words without any question.”

“Trust”, Hajin smiled bitterly. Seems like you and I are not that different.

When Hajin returned 8th Prince's residence, she was stunned to see the whole household waiting for her. Lady Hae rushed towards her, “Where have you been? Why did you stay out so late at night? Above all why are you in this state?”

“I went to the market to buy some things but then I lost my way and fell into the water by accident.” She gestured Chaeryung with her head to not reveal the fact she was in Damiwon.

“You should have informed someone before going somewhere. The whole family was waiting for you.” Lady Hae's tone was stern but her eyes were tender.

Family. The word sounded foreign to her. After her parents died her relatives had cut ties with her, considering her a burden and jinx. For the past 8 years, she yearned for family and its warmth. Hearing someone calling her family overwhelmed her with emotions. She threw herself into Myung Hee's arms and cried profusely. Myung Hee was puzzled by her sudden action but she patted her anyway.

***************


Hajin was idly strolling on the courtyard when she noticed a man of almost her height peering through a tear in the door and then hastily running away. Moments later she saw Chaeryung coming out of the room screaming. Hajin immediately understood the situation.

Losers exist in all eras. She thought to herself. She walked to that man and stopped in front of him.

“Apologize”, she demanded.

The man laughed as if he just heard the world's funniest joke. “Do you even know who I am?”

“Do I look like I care? Apologize right now." She said with a firm voice.

The man pushed her out of his sight and started walking away. She ran after him and twisted his arms behind his back. He groaned in pain. “I am telling you, you will regret this. Let go of me”, he said while trying to free his hand.

Go Hajin had learned taekwondo when she was in middle school. Even though she wasn't in practice anymore it was still easy for her to overpower a man who has zero knowledge of martial arts. “If you don't apologize then you will be the one who will be regretting”, she warned him while twisting his arms harder. He kicked her in shin making her fall on the ground.

Enraged, Hajin got up and raised her hand to slap him but her hand was caught on the midair. She was too annoyed at this point. She turned her head to see the person who was holding her hand. She recognized him as the 4th Prince from Damiwon and he was looking at her with an amused look.

“He was spying on that girl”, she pointed to Chaeryung who was anxiously looking down. “I asked him to apologize but he refused. Aren't you a Prince? Order him to apologize to her or else punish him.”

“How can a Prince apologize to a slave?”

Hajin finally noticed the crowd in front of her. 8th Prince was worriedly looking at her, Princess Yeonhwa had her usual annoyed expression and the rest were looking at her as if she was some joker in a circus.

Prince. Hajin's eyes widened at the word. Does that mean I just fought with a Prince? What will be the consequences for hurting an Imperial Prince?

Realizing she has gone too far already, she decides to continue anyway. No Hajin, you are not doing anything wrong. You only stood up for what is right. Have some confidence.

“Even if h-he is a Prince, it doesn't ma-akes his mistake any less. They say the h-higher you are, the more y-you should care about jus-stice. A Prince should be a g-good example to othe-ers.” She paused for a second to compose herself and stop her stuttering.

“Before a slave, Chaeryung is a woman. Just because she is a slave, it doesn't mean anyone can play with her dignity. She is here to work not to sell herself. How can anyone understand how traumatic such incidents are for a woman?” Hajin's hands were shaking with nervousness and she still couldn't dare to raise her head.

“Apologize to her, Eun.”

Hajin had expected Prince Wook to interfere but she never imagined that the masked Prince with such a cold aura would take her side. 10th Prince Eun's eyes were filled with shame though he kept his face nonchalant. He casually said sorry to Chaeryung and then stomped off.

Hajin frowned, Not an inch of sincerity but unfortunately, that's the most I can get out of a Prince.

She wanted to express her gratitude to 4th Prince. But she was pulled away by Myung Hee who had watched the whole incident. She brought Hajin to the temple of prayer. While Myung Hee was offering her prayers, Hajin awkwardly stood there, wondering why Lady Hae brought her to such a faraway place.

Looking at the pile of stones Myung Hee addressed Hajin, “Whatever the reason was you shouldn't have hurt an Imperial Prince.”

“He pushed me first and he was in the wrong.” Hajin tried to defend herself despite knowing it's of no use.

“How does it matter? He is still the son of the King of this nation. You would not be able to escape punishment. Perhaps my husband would be punished too considering you're in his care”, she sighed.

Hajin hadn't considered that she is no longer alone. Her actions can affect other people too now. She felt guilty in her heart for being a nuisance to the people who have been good to her.

“This is where mothers come to pray for their children”, Myung Hee explained. She pointed to the tower at her left, “This one was made by Queen Hwangbo for her son Prince Wook and daughter Princess Yeonhwa.” She looked at the tower in front of her. “And this.....I am building it for you."

Hajin glanced at Myung Hee, bemused. “For me.”

Myung Hee wheeled around and looked at Hajin with teary-eyed, “Your mother made me promise on her deathbed to take care of you. Our uncles always mistreated you but you never spoke up in fear of being abandoned. Although you never shared your sufferings with me, I could see how dull and sad your eyes were. Even then, I could not do much to help you. So after my marriage, I brought you here at the first chance I got.”

Myung Hee wiped Hajin's tears who was crying at this point and held her hand, “I always thought of you as my own child. But on a day like this, I fear my efforts and affection have been insufficient. How can you be so careless? If something happens to you, how am I supposed to face your mother in the afterlife? How am I going to live without you, Soo-ya? She enveloped Hajin in a hug and tearfully requested, “Please get along well here, or else I would be forced to sent you back to our hometown which I don't want to.”

The sun had set. But Hajin was still sitting before Haesoo's tower of prayer stones wearing a dejected face.

“Why did I want to return to the modern world so badly? Who is waiting for me anyway?” Hajin chuckled ruefully.

She took one stone in her hand, “You are lucky to have someone who cares about you so much.”

Hajin's expression suddenly turned solemn. She placed the stone back in its place.

With a grave voice, she asked, “Haesoo can I stay here?”

“I don't want to return to my lonely and empty life again. I know this is unfair for you and I would have returned this body to you if I could. But....but I don't even know how I came to this body nor where are you now. Please let me stay here. I don't want to go back. Please, I am sorry. I am sorry.” Her tone was desperate and her words were rushed. One would not be able to make out what she is saying if not listened carefully.

While sobbing convulsively, she kept pleading to someone who might not even be listening until the sky got dark.

 

 

Chapter Text

Haesoo carefully inserted the silver hairpin into her hair and smiled, “Unnie, it is done.” She held up the mirror and Myung Hee was astonished at her transformation-her formally pale and wan face looked blooming and healthy.

“Beautiful”, Myung Hee said happily while still admiring her reflection.

“Is it? Then allow me to do your makeup and hairstyle on special occasions”, Haesoo said, putting away the brushes.

“Of course. But where did you learn this from? You were never interested in such things before”, Myung Hee asked curiously.

"Unnie, I love pampering myself so I learned it on my own." Haesoo thought of the time when she used to get up early in the morning to prepare herself for college or office. In my modern world almost every girl more or less knows how to do makeup so it is not unusual that I have some talent too, she chuckled.

“Haven't I told you not to bring up our past again?” Haesoo pouted. “You are the only one who remembers everything. Do you realize how much it upsets me when I think that I might not ever recover our precious childhood memories?” If there is one thing Goryeo has made Haesoo expert in then that is lying. It was difficult at first since her real self was never a good liar but Myung Hee once told her that she likes new Haesoo better. This encouraged Haesoo to become more shameless.

“It just slipped out of my mouth. I should have been more considerate of you”, Myung Hee said apologetically.

Haesoo told her it's not her fault either and took a seat before her. “I had a dream. In that dream, I was selling perfume. I opened a perfume shop with all my savings. It also met with moderate success. But my lover who was losing customers because of my shop spread negative rumors about my products around the market and in the end I had to close my shop.” She ended her dream with a sigh.

“So you had a nightmare”

“Nightmare?”

“You should forget them quickly. Remembering them will only bring you pain.” Myung Hee advised her.

Haesoo nodded, smilingly she promised, “I will forget it. I am going to forget it all. From now on, I will live happily with Unnie. I can do it right?” Her face was still smiling but her voice trembled.

Myung Hee didn't notice it and answered yes without knowing the gravity of Haesoo's question.

 

***************


“Your Highness, may I come in?”

“Yes”.

Haesoo entered the 8th Prince Wook’s library with a tea tray.

“Why did you bring it? Where are the servants?”

“I wanted to apologize for what happened that day in the courtyard. I heard because of me you were reprimand by His Majesty.”

She carefully put the tray in the table and bowed deeply, “I am extremely sorry for causing trouble to you, Your Highness. I had promised that I wouldn't be a burden to you but.....” She looked down, feeling ashamed.

Wook could feel that she was sincerely sorry for her actions. “What's done is done. Just be more cautious from now on. His Majesty would not always be merciful.”

“Thank you so much. I was worried that His Majesty would hang me for laying a hand on a Prince. I didn't even know that he was a Prince.” Haesoo confessed.

“Does that mean you wouldn't have confronted him if you had known?” Wook finally looked straight into her eyes.

“No”, she firmly answered. “He was an ill-mannered snob. I would have still confronted him but maybe a bit more tactfully”, she giggled like a child.

Her laugh was infectious and he found himself smiling without even realizing.

“Wait. Am I bad-mouthing your brother in front of you?” She immediately covered her mouth, “Why am I such a fool? Are you going to punish me now?” She hesitantly asked.

“Well, since you have understood on your own what you should say and what you should not, I don't have any reason to punish you anymore. You can leave now.”

Haesoo bowed and instantly disappeared from the library.

As long as she is here days won't be boring, I guess. Mused Wook.

 

***************

 

Haesoo saw Chaeryung anxiously pacing back and forth outside the library door.

“You will faint at this rate.”

“Agassi, what to do? 10th Prince is coming here to meet you.”

“10th Prince?” She said while trying to remember. “That little kid Prince with whom I fought in the courtyard that day.” Haesoo's eyes widened in shock.

“Is he coming to punish me personally? I don't want to die yet. But His Majesty already pardoned me. Since His Majesty already forgiven me and I am 8th Prince's wife's cousin so he cannot possibly kill me. Then by any chance is he going to cut off my arms and legs? Such an unfair world it is I have to be punished even though I did the right thing.” She stomped her feet.

Seoul was better in this respect. At least I didn't have to worry about losing my arms there.

Worried Haesoo was waiting at the main gate with Chaeryung when she saw 10th Prince proudly and enthusiastically galloping in.

“Were you waiting for me?” Eun excitedly asked while waking up the stairs.

You wanted me to wait for you. Isn't that why you informed us of your arrival beforehand? Haesoo gritted her teeth.

Haesoo bowed, “Greetings to Your Highness. Are you here to punish me?” She asked hesitatingly.

“Do you think I am that petty? You know, you should thank me for begging the King for forgiveness on your behalf. I asked him if a girl who hit a prince were to be punished, what happens to the prince who got hit by a girl?” Eun puffed up in pride.

As expected from such patriarchal society. “That is very generous of you. I will remember your kindness, Your Highness.” She bowed. “If there is nothing else, then I will take your leave.” She was about to turn and leave but when she lifted her leg, she heard, “You’re the first woman to treat me like that.”

Chaeryung and all the servants gasped in surprise.

“YES?” What is he? An elementary kid? And the line? I didn't know this line was invented thousands years ago.

“Yes. Does that mean you are accepting my heart?” Excited Eun asked.

“No no.” How should I reject a Prince without offending him? “What I meant to say is that you don't even know much about me. How can you fall for someone you have met only once?”

“Well, It was the first time someone fought with me. Others don’t even dare to touch me or just let me win so I have never fought with anyone properly before.”

I also would not have fought with you if I had known you were a Prince, at least not openly and physically. Because of my recklessness 8th Prince was scolded by his father.

He shyly continued, “It was fun fighting with you. But if this too fast for you then we can be friends first.”

Friends? Right, I can be his friend and then slowly make him realize that it is just his infatuation. He looks harmless too. “Fine then let's be friends.” She stretched out her hand for a handshake with a smile.

Eun stared at her hand in confusion. He tilted his head quizzically, “Do you want us to hold hands?” Understanding that the Prince is not familiar with handshakes, Soo explained, “This is how two people begin their friendship.” She motioned him to hold her hand and shook them. Her voice became stern again, “But on one condition you cannot spy on girls again.”

“Can you please not bring up this again? I am already embarrassed and for your information that was my first time.”

“And that should be your last time too.”

Eun promised.

“Fine then we are friends now”, She declared smilingly.

 

***************

 

The capital was filled with song and dance. The gauzes that decorated throughout and the luminous pearls that were placed made the entire roof to be filled with brilliant lights and vibrant colors. It was a completely new but wonderful experience for Haesoo and she did her best to enjoy them along with Chaeryung.

At one point Soo spots 4th Prince while taking a break from sight-seeing. After checking if she still had his hairpin with her, she ran after him. The chase took her into the woods and it didn't take her long to lose 4th Prince's sight due to the darkness. She belatedly realized she made a blunder entering the woods alone and wondered around the woods to find a way out.

Haesoo, how can you be such a fool? What are you going to do if some wild animals attack you?

She heard a rustling noise, thinking it came from the 4th Prince she followed it. But the scene she witnessed there was terrifying. She quietly retreated and ran frantically, knowing that her life is not in danger from animals only but also from humans.

She happened upon So and an unknown man pointing swords at each other. She hid behind a tree, looking at So, her only hope of returning home now. Sensing that the man was unwilling to surrender, she picked up a nearby stone and threw with all her might hoping she won't miss her aim. The stone slightly touched the man's shoulder but it was enough to distract him. The Prince took this chance to move closer toward him but that man was faster. He bit something inside his mouth and within seconds white foam came out of his mouth and he fell down on the ground, dead.

Haesoo trembled with horror. It was the first time she has ever seen a person dying with her own eyes. So dragged her out of her hiding place and pressed his sword close to her neck. “All because of a girl like you I lost him.”

“I....I had only lost my way. Please let me go.” She pleaded. But he only pulled her closer. “If only you hadn't appeared then I could have made him talk.” His eyes were murderous, his tone was dangerous and his sword....if he brings it any little closer then blood would spill. 

“That man.... he never had any intention of speaking otherwise he wouldn't have kept poison inside his mouth.” Soo tried to reason with him. She felt him loosening his grip.

“There are some dead people over there.” She said to distract him and it worked. His questions were now all about those dead bodies. Before she could answer him, she saw Prince Wook approaching them. Seeing him Prince So let go her, Soo did not waste time to run to Wook.

Surprised to see Haesoo in the middle of the forest, Wook rushed towards her. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to be in the market. Are you okay?” He asked in concern.

Soo nodded. She breathed a sigh of relief and finally let the tears fall that she'd held back. She tells him about what she had seen before and then led the brothers and soldiers to that spot. But when they reached there the place was empty.

Wang So asked suspiciously, “How dead bodies could have disappeared?”

“It was definitely here. They were stabbed from behind.” She said, looking around confusedly.

“Stabbed...Who was stabbed? Who stabbed them?” So pressed her for answers.

Ignoring So, Haesoo looked at Wook. “It was dark so I could not see anything clearly but...people with swords stabbed the people with masks from behind. There wasn't any struggle.”

Although they couldn't found any body, Wook discovered clues in the surroundings-blood spatters and sword cuts-and he deduced that the same person who mobilized the assassins also killed them.

Hearing this So's frustration doubled. He grabbed Soo's one arm, “That man was the last witness. Do you know how important it was for me to catch him? If you hadn't interfered-”

“Then you could have taken him to the palace.” She cuts him off. “Do you really think that would have been possible? No, he would have killed himself on the way to the palace or after entering the palace.” She kept her voice calm. “I understand you are frustrated for being unable to catch the assassins. But it's not my fault just like it's not yours. Then why....why are you venting your frustration on me?”

Her heart was beating faster in fear but she chose to remain calm. As she believed panicking would only make the situation worse. The pain was numbing her hand but she could tell from his tight grip that it would be useless to try. Her eyes never left his face and nor his eyes left hers. There was something in his eyes or many things, she noticed. Anger, frustration, disappointment, despair. Although despair was clearly overpowering the others.

So opened his mouth to say something but Wook freed Soo's hand and pulled her behind him protectively.

“Hyungnim, Haesoo already told us everything she knew. If we search for some more time then we will definitely find something.”

Wook ordered one of the guards to escort Haesoo home and forbid Soo from mentioning this incident to Myung Hee or anyone. Just when she was about to leave, she remembered another important detail. She whirled around, “There was one man who was wearing fur. He seemed to be the leader. That's all I remember.” She added just in case 4th Prince comes after her again for answers.


***************

 

Wook was returning to his quarters when his eyes fell upon Soo standing outside her room, looking at the stars. Assuming she is disturbed by what she went through in the evening, he approached her.

“Can't sleep?”

Haesoo watched him as he slowly walked up to her and stood beside her. He was looking at the sky with a gentle smile on his face. A smile she has gotten used to.

She turned her head to the sky. “I want to but when I close my eyes I see blood and lifeless bodies. My whole body is tired and I really want to have a good sleep but I am scared of what I will see in my dreams.”

She was still looking at the sky when she asked in a soft voice, “Your Highness, when you first experienced such thing how did you deal with it?”

“I don't know. I just remember my mother washing my bloody hand repeatedly and Yeonhwa's crying sounds. I was eleven years then. A thief entered the quarter where Mother and Yeonhwa were. I protected my family with my own hands, which made me happy. I was proud.” He almost struggled to say the words. “I do not remember what happened next. Maybe I had slept that night. Maybe I hadn’t slept that night. I am not sure. I do not remember.”

Soo stared at him with wide eyes. As he was a Prince she expected him to be more familiar with such matters than her. But she never thought that his first experience would be like that. She felt bad for him but she was also moved by his courage.

“It's only right for you to be proud of yourself. You didn't kill anyone rather you saved someone. Moreover, you didn't have any choice. But....you were just eleven then. How difficult it must have been for you!”

He turned around to face her. “You really changed a lot or maybe I never knew you properly. Before whenever we met, you hardly ever looked into my eyes, too timid, too meek.” “But today the way you stood your ground”, he chuckled. “I never thought of you as someone who would not be intimidated by my 4th brother.”

She smiled melancholically, “Honestly I....” She looked down, hesitating, “What if 4th Prince was right? What if it was my interference that killed that man? What if 4th Prince was right to blame me?”

“But you looked quite confident when you were insisting that it was not your fault.”

“That's because I was scared. I thought if I don't get him believe me then he would actually hurt me.” Her voice broke and tears rolled down her cheeks.

Wook placed a hand on her shoulder. “Soo-ya, trust me none of that was your fault. Don't blame yourself for something you are not guilty of. Even if you were wrong still don't blame yourself. It's okay for humans to make mistakes sometimes.”

She sniffled and raised her head to look into his eyes. “Then it must be okay for you to make mistakes sometimes too, Your Highness.”

“What?” He asked in confusion.

“I always see you forcing smile and retraining yourself. The weariness that you hide behind your smile is visible. You see, there is no such rule that a kind person should always be perfect and smiling. You are a good person, Your Highness. Even if you don't force yourself to smile, it won't change that fact.

He averted his eyes. “I never forced myself to smile. He told her in a serious tone. You must have been mistaken.”

Haesoo gently smiled, “I truly hope so.”

Chapter Text

Haesoo boringly threw a rubber-tipped arrow into a narrow necked wooden jar.

Chaeryung clapped and asked with amazement, “Agassi, how are you good at this game?”

Haesoo answered with a straight face, “I have been playing this for hours. If I am still bad at this then that would be strange.”

She looked at the arrow in her hand and irritatedly threw it away, “Aish, I am sick of this.”

How did people of the ancient world survive without smartphone, WiFi and television?

“Chaeryung, is there nothing else to do?”

“Do you want to play The Rose of Sharon has bloomed game?”

“We played it in the morning.”

“Gongi?”

“Yesterday.”

“Do you want to read some books?”

Soo glared at her, “I cannot read. Are you making fun of me right now?”

“I cannot read too”, Chaeryung murmured, looking on the ground.

Soo immediately regretted her words and changed the topic and started talking about weather, dresses, anything she could think of. She heard some maids whispering and walked to them, hoping they would have something interesting.

“What are you guys talking about? Share with me too.”

The maids just looked at each other nervously without answering her.

“What is happening here?”

The commanding yet soft voice made everyone turn around. Myung Hee approached them with a stern face. After hesitating for a while one of the maids finally revealed that they are trying to avoid taking a meal up to the 4th Prince out of fear.

“How can you take the Prince's meal so lightly?” Myung Hee rebuked them. “Someone take up the 4th Prince's meal”, She ordered. Noticing that the servants were reluctant she looked at Soo with innocent eyes.

Soo shook her head vigorously, “He dislikes me. He would rather starve than eat the food I would bring him to.”

“Why would he dislike you?” Myung Hee was confused. According to her they met only once and she couldn't find any reason why the Prince would dislike her sister.

“Have you forgotten I lack manners? I will end up doing something silly in front of him.” She started making excuses.

“Do some work. You are always playing around or sleeping.”

“You were the one who had ordered me not to work because of my heart condition. Now you are saying this to me!”

“Are you arguing with me right now?”

“When did I argue wit-”

“Go”.

***************


The path up to the mountain was not easy. Haesoo was never a mountain fan so she wasn't used to it either. With much difficulty when she reached the top she saw Wang So sitting quietly.

Soo frowned, “Yesterday, he made such a commotion at the temple of prayer. He sure looks innocent from the back. He actually looks lonely.”

Holding the basket she walked to him.

“I am such a nice person. You scared and threatened me yet I am delivering meals to you.”

Wang So glanced at her, “So do you want me to say thank you?” His voice cold as ever.

“An-niyo, I am just requesting you to not be so mean to me next time.” You should say sorry to me not thank you, you rude jerk.

Although So told her to leave the food and she tried to comply but in the end she couldn't help herself from sitting down.

“I have to take back the empty plates anyway otherwise the servants will have to climb up here just for them.” She told him her reason for staying.

She hesitantly asked, “Did...did you apply medicine on your wounds?”

He stiffened at the mention of last night. A night when his own mother expressed her disgust for him. “You didn't see anything. Don't you dare talk about this again!” He warned her.

She rolled her eyes. “I am being concerned for you and you are threatening me! I have my own issues. I don't have time to go around talking about other people.”

The winds up the mountain were especially cold. Her hands were freezing but to her dismay he hadn't even touched the food let alone eat them.

“You should eat them whilst it is still hot.”

“So that you can return early? You don't have to force yourself to come here if you don't want to.”

“You have already scared off the servants. If I don't deliver meals to you then who would do it?” She turned to him. “I don't really have that much problem delivering meals to you but is it really necessary for you to eat here? Do you know how tiring it is to climb the mountain?”

After not getting any response from him, she followed his gaze while controlling her irritation, “Are you looking at the Palace over there? Must you eat looking at your own home? No you live in Shinju right? It's understandable then I guess.” After a pause she said thoughtfully, “You are quite lucky.”

The word made him turn his head. After the night he got the scar he never once considered himself lucky. “Why do you think I am lucky?” He hesitantly asked.

“Well, you have your parents. Even though you don't live with them, both of them are still alive. Moreover you have two mothers. Some people don't even have one.”

He remembered his brothers talking about how cousin of Wook's wife became an orphan at a young age and grew up under her uncle's care. He looked at her with pitiful eyes.

She laughed, “You don't have to give me that look. I am fine now. It's been a long time and I have my Myung Hee Unnie with me now. Ever since I met her I have realized one thing as long as you have at least one person in your life, who genuinely loves you, cherishes you and cares for you, it's enough. You don't need many people to make your life bearable or colorful one person is enough. I used to blame the Heavens for giving me such a sad fate but I no longer do so. People say everything in this world happens for a reason. Who knows maybe there is a reason why I had to live such an unhappy life?”

“Reason! What reason can justify the sufferings of an innocent child?” He snapped at her. Soo flinched at his sudden high-pitched voice. Little did she know he was talking about himself.

“If that's the case then answer me would the reason behind your parents’ death be enough for you to forget all your pain?”

“No never. But why are you being so upset? It's not like you have ever suffered in your life. You must have lived a life full of comfort and warmth.” She pushed the meal nearer to him. “Just a few more days then you will be able to eat with your mother and she may even feed you with her own hands considering you live far away from her. Just the thought of how much your mother will pamper you is already making me jealous.”

So didn't correct her misconception and quietly ate his meals with a heavy heart.

 

***************


By the time they were returning the sun had already set. The moonlight shone down, a diffuse glow, lighting the forest from pitch black to charcoal grey. Haesoo walked in slow pace, afraid of tripping and dropping the food basket. Wang So followed her in close distance, contemplating whether to help her or not.

Soo sorrowfully sighed when she saw the small brook before her. Crossing it was a risky task even in the daylight. If Soo was in her modern attire she could have jumped over easily but her hanbok was the main problem. She cautiously took a long step but to no avail. While managing her skirt and basket she lost her balance and her right foot touched the water. Before she could fall completely on the water, a hand grabbed and pulled her back. Her back touched So's chest and she breathed heavily in relief.

“Wait”, So said in a soft tone. He then moved to cross the brook and after reaching the other side he extended his hand. Soo glanced over his hand and handed the basket to him before jumping over the brook with ease. So stared at the basket in his hand. He was definitely not embarrassed. He turned around to leave but Soo was not behind him. He looked down only to see her taking off her socks.

“Ya! What are you doing?” He yelled, looking all scandalous.

“You surprised me. Can't you see I am taking off my socks?”

“Exactly, why are you taking them off?”

“Am I supposed to walk with wet socks then?”

“You must have really hurt your head bad. Don't you know nobody can see a girl's feet except their own husband? Girls treat their feet as preciously as their life and here you are baring them in front of me over a small matter.”

If I take that into account then I must already have more than 100 husbands in South Korea. She thought to herself.

“I don't believe in such things.” She was about to touch her socks again when So abruptly held her hand. Soo scowled, “Rest assured. I would kill myself before marrying you. You never have to marry me, So Wangjanim. Are you satisfied now?”

Letting go of her hand he innocently asked, “Why are you talking about death all of a sudden?”

“You are the one who is always threatening others”, she said incredulously. “Turn around.”

“Why?”

“So that you don't have to be my husband.” She gritted her teeth.

She quickly took off her socks and put on her wet shoes. It's so uncomfortable. She lamented.

“Are you done?” His voice impatient.

“Yes.” She got up from the ground. “Let's go”, she said while holding the basket with one hand and dusting her skirts with another.

“Give it to me.” So stretched out his hand with an uncaring expression.

“Unnie will scold me if she learns that I made a Prince work.”

“I am not going to tell her”, he said just as he snatched the basket from her and started to walk.

Haesoo walked or more precisely ran after him as she was unable to keep up with his long steps.

***************


Myung Hee's condition deteriorated each day. There were nights when Soo had to stay up all night to nurse Myung Hee. With her limited knowledge on medicine she tried to treat Myung Hee as much as she could but she was of not much help as necessary materials weren't available then. Soo couldn't understand her sister; despite her sickness she was concerned about leaving her husband alone. She wanted to talk Myung Hee out of this and make her think about her health first but then she realized she was doing this out of her love so she just let her be. She often questioned her own feelings for Junwoo. She loved him there's no doubt but maybe not that much considering how quickly she got over him after arriving in Goryeo. She didn't miss him but she remembered his betrayal. She knew that his betrayal is going to make it difficult for her to trust someone again.

Befriending 10th Prince Eun was a good decision. His light-hearted jokes and playfulness could make her laugh even when she was in her most dull mood. 8th Prince Wook was as usual kind and gentle towards her. She tried to be in her best behaviour so that she doesn't cause any trouble for him as she believed he was already stressed about his wife's sickness. Then there was this cold but handsome 4th Prince.  After that day he started eating in his room so it was easy for her to deliver meals to him since the servants were still scared of him. Usually Soo would just quietly place the meal on the table and leave but sometimes she would sit with him until he finished his food. Their conversations were brief and would mostly be just her chattering. The more she talked to him the more she found him less irritating. She discovered he had a great sense of humor which she hadn't expected and was impressed by some of his thoughts which she thought were unusual for that time. Soo noted how the three brothers were so different from each other.

On a sunny afternoon, Haesoo joined the ladies in a knitting session. Myung Hee and Queen Hwangbo were making sweaters for their husbands and Yeonhwa was making a pillow for her father. Sitting beside Myung Hee, Soo tried to help her but whenever her sister gave her something to do she'd mess up so Myung Hee ordered her to just sit quietly. After some time passed she remembered about her sister's medicine.

“It's time for your medicine. Let us come back after you take them”, Soo whispered to her sister quietly but it was still heard by Yeonhwa who was sitting just opposite of Soo.

“Are you not tired of taking so many medicines? Even my father who is way older than you must take fewer medicines than you. But then you are older than my brother too.” Yeonhwa's smugness behind her pretty smile was visible.

“I will take better care of my health.” Myung Hee meekly said, keeping her head down.

“What's the point now? If you had taken better care of yourself earlier than my brother won't have been childless now and our family would have an heir too.”

“It's my fault also. After all, I was called to look after her but.....” Haesoo sighed. Nobody was expecting her to speak and her sad voice urged everyone to focus on her.

With a gentle smile she continued, “It was generous of the 8th Prince to marry my cousin sister. If he had married someone younger then he would've been a father already. He must have received lots of proposals.” Soo looked up to meet Yeonhwa's eyes.

Yeonhwa's face darkened at her words. He didn't and they both knew. No clan wanted to associate themselves with a fallen Prince. Even Hae clan agreed for the marriage because Myung Hee was adamant that she would not marry anyone else other than Wook.

Putting on the most apologetic face, Soo said, “As a member of the Hae clan I sincerely apologize for the uselessness of my clan and sister.”

Yeonhwa was smart enough to realize the reminder behind her apology. She wanted to shout at her for being impudent but she wasn't wrong either. It was because of Myung Hee and her clan's influence that she and her family were able to return to the capital. However her pride was not letting her to let go, she pursued her lips but her mother spoke before her.

“You should eat your medicine on time. Haesoo, take your sister.” The Queen ordered them as she didn't want to ruin her household's atmosphere anymore.

Soo knew from her sister's glaring that she was definitely going to be lectured from her later.

 

***************

 


Haesoo had instructed Chaeryung to hide the hairpin So had left behind in a place where he’s not likely to find it right away so he’ll think he just misplaced it on his own. When Chaeryung was taking too long to return, Soo herself went out to look for her. As she was passing a pavilion she spotted Chaeryung tied up and being whipped by another maid and Yeonhwa standing behind them.

Soo rushed to the pavilion and stood protectively in front of Chaeryung. “What did she do so wrong for you to do this?”

“She stole something important from the 4th Prince”, Yeonhwa explained.

“Are you talking about that hairpin? I asked her to put it there. She didn't steal it.”

“Why would you have it?” Yeonhwa felt jealousy in her heart to see some other girl owning something of the 4th Prince.

“I picked it up from somewhere.”

“From where?”

“I don't remember.” She refused to answer, remembering Soo's words.

“You are not willing to answer then what should I think of this situation.” She swept her eyes around the ground acting as if she was really thinking.

“Are you implying I stole it? Talk some sense. I might not be a Princess like you but you also know that I can afford to buy 10 or even more hairpins like this.”

“You can afford this but not her. Maybe you are lying to save her.”

Soo didn't say anything and just observed Yeonhwa. After a few seconds she raised her chin. “You actually don't care whether she stole it or not right? You just want to show off your power.”

“How dare you!”

“Fine then. Tie me up.” Soo moved to untie Chaeryung and while untying the knot she continued. “Since I was the one who had asked her it's only fair that I get the punishment.” She offered herself as she realized the Princess was using this matter to vent her anger on her and she could not think of any other way to save Chaeryung.

Yeonhwa happily complied and had her servants tie Soo. It hurt more than Soo had expected and it was understandable since Yeonhwa was using all her strength to whip her.

Soo tightly closed her eyes expecting the third strike which was weirdly taking too long to come. She turned around her head to see So holding Yeonhwa's hand.

“She is mine”, He said, looking directly into her eyes.

Soo stared at him dumbfoundedly. What nonsense is he spewing?

Even though his "she is mine" line irked her, his presence and 10th Prince's little lie actually saved her and Chaeryung from Yeonhwa's beatings.

Soo wanted Chaeryung to rest and offered to talk to Myung Hee for her about taking a day off from her duties. But she refused her fearing that the Princess will use this chance to trouble her or even worse kick her out of 8th residence. Despite Soo's continuous persuasion she didn't budge and worked with her injuries the whole day. Later at night Soo brought Chaeryung into her room to tend to her.

Soo was finished bandaging Chaeryung wounds and was arranging the medical kit when Chaeryung spoke, noticing her gloomy mood. “I am alright, Agassi.”

“I can see that.” Soo said with a grim voice.

“This seems painful on the outside only in reality it hurts a little more than a mosquito bite.” Chaeryung said with a big smile on her face in hopes of cheering Soo up but Soo's expression remained unchanged so Chaeryung continued, “Moreover this has not happened for the first time.”

Soo put down the box with a loud thud. “Because this has happened before does it mean this is okay?” Anger and frustration was evident on her face.

“You are a human. How can they tie you up like an animal and whip? This is a violation of human rights.”

“Human rights?” Chaeryung blinked in confusion. First time hearing such words.

Haesoo bitterly laughed, “Of course. You must have never even heard this word. I was a fool to forget that this is an era where human beings are treated on the basis of their status. If you are of high status they will worship you like a god but if you are low status then you will be nothing more than dirt to them.”

“This is all my fault. If I had not been caught by Princess Yeonhwa then none of this would have happened. Because of me you quarrelled with her and she.....” Chaeryung broke down into tears before she could finish her sentence.

Soo wiped Chaeryung’s tears and assured her that she's not at fault. “I shouldn't have asked to put that in his room. I am sorry. You were punished and treated like that because of me.” She held her hands together. “I promise you I will not let anyone hurt you from now on. You are my friend and attendant. Nobody can touch you without my permission.”