FanFic: Ok Nyeo discovers Lee Hwan’s real identity
After what seemed like hours of running, Ok Nyeo finally felt her legs gave in. She clasped a hand over her fresh wound at the chest and felt the warm oozing of blood. She was beginning to feel dizzy as she leaned on a boulder set against the path of that dark, winding forest trail. It was impossible to reach Jeonokseo on time, and even in that hazy state Ok Nyeo knew it was futile to go back. She was being chased by hired assassins and they would never let her go back home alive.
As Ok Nyeo felt her weakening body leaned on the cold boulder – and then eventually slide down onto the ground – she knew she’d lose consciousness any minute now. And indeed, she felt her mind slowly go blank.
In the distance, she could hear horses’ hooves galloping, shaking the ground, and Ok Nyeo felt certain her end has come.
The last thing she saw as she drifted off was a pair of two shadows hovering above her, one of them drawing out what seemed to be a sword.
And then the world was suddenly quiet and peaceful.
King Myeongjong was pacing his study tirelessly and anxiously. He was desperate to hear any news from his right-hand man about Ok Nyeo – any news at all that would placate him and assure him she’s fine, alive and well. He couldn’t very well go out and search for her himself, since he had to stay put in the palace and keep an eye on his mother whom he knew was trying to brew a protest among the ministers with Lord Yoon. Not to mention that she had hired people to spy on him at all times.
Late that afternoon, Tae Won had come into his office and loudly asked if he could talk to him using the pretext of discussing a government issue for the benefit of the palace servants within earshot – for they can’t be sure whom of them belong to the Queen Dowager and Lord Yoon, when in fact he had come to ask if he had anything to do with Ok Nyeo’s disappearance. Tae Won thought he had taken to heart his promise to protect her and inquired if hiding Ok Nyeo somewhere was part of his plan. He had looked at Tae Won, confused, all the while feeling dread as the implication of Tae Won’s question slowly sink in.
The King had told Tae Won the truth, hastily so. He said he really intend to protect Ok Nyeo and was still thinking of ways on how to do it. He also said he had not even seen Ok Nyeo yet. Tae Won had looked at him with that shocked and worried look on his face, mirroring his own.
“She had been missing since this early afternoon, Your Majesty, I thought….”
King Myeongjong hadn’t waited for Tae Wont to finish his sentence. He had dashed out the door and summoned Han Jae Seo. King Myeongjong had given Jae Seo urgent and discreet orders to find Ok Nyeo, and quick, before she certainly gets killed. Jae Seo had left in a hurry, and now the King was awaiting his return.
He paced his study once more, unable to sit still even for a second, his thoughts running wild about what could have already happened to Ok Nyeo. He knew he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if anything happens to her.
Suddenly, King Myeongjong heard the court lady standing outside his study announcing, “Your Majesty, the Queen Dowager is here.”
The King signed, not wanting to meet with her. But he couldn’t very well refuse her lest she suspect something. Anyway, he would also like to hear what she had come to say to him.
“Let her in.” The King answered.
A moment later, his mother was entering.
The Queen Dowager strode in looking as regal as before, but her sour expression told him she was not here for pleasantries. They had long forgotten such light, casual encounters. As she neared him, his mother eyed him intently, and the King tried to mask his expression so as not to give anything away.
Forcing himself to stay calm, he bowed toward her in greeting.
“Your Majesty, you look as though you’re waiting for someone.” The Queen Dowager said in a tone that made him think if she knew what he was up to all along.
King Myeongjong remained impassive. “My affairs are none of your concern, mother, you need not bother yourself about them.”
“You’re right,” the Queen Dowager said in a voice that has a hint of anger, but the King was unperturbed. “I just wonder until when you can hold up your own.”
“Hopefully, until I am able to see my cause through, mother.”
The Queen Dowager looked at him with angry eyes, unable to respond.
“Anyway, mother, what brought you here?”
The Queen Dowager raised her head in a sort of way to assume her authority over him and said, “I want to know when you are planning to lift the confinement orders you issued on me?” His mother asked in a quivering voice.
Unmoved, the King answered, “Honestly, I have not thought of doing that any time soon.”
“What?” Queen Dowager asked in a loud voice. “Your Majesty, may I remind you-“
“No, you may not, mother.” King Myeongjong interjected. “However, may I remind you of what I told you last time – I am the King of this nation, and I will do everything necessary to rule with fairness and justice.”
The Queen Dowager stood there fuming at his words, evidently unnerved at his convictions. “Your Majesty,” she said in almost a hiss. “Must you be so drastic? You are aware, of course, that I won’t just stand by and let you do what you want.”
“Well, then, we are in agreement, mother, because I have set my mind on doing the exact same thing as you.”
His mother was at a loss for words. The Queen Dowager, tall and proud, had looked dejected as she realized that she will no longer win an argument with him, nor could she change his mind so easily. The King had made up his mind to stand his ground. He knew perfectly as well that his mother would be true to her words, and he had prepared himself for that.
The Queen Dowager fought to keep herself composed. She drew in a sharp breath and continued to glare at him.
“Your Majesty, I hope you are aware of what you’re doing.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, mother, don’t worry.”
The Queen Dowager’s mouth twitched angrily and she turned away, flailing around in an angry manner that made it look as though she was dusting him off with her skirt.
For the King, it appeared to be a confirmatory gesture that his mother was willing to have their blood ties overlooked in favor of her quest for power, and King Myeongjong felt great sadness that it had to come to that between them. He wondered how his mother could let power overtake her, and he felt pain at the thought of the many lives sacrificed just to attain it.
Slowly, the King inched away from the door and his thoughts went back to Ok Nyeo. He wondered what was taking Jae Seo so long. Even as he thought about it, he heard his head court lady announced from outside,
“Your Majesty, Sir Jae Seo has come to seek an audience with you.”
King Myeongjong was instantly at the door. “Let him in.”
The door was rolled open, and the King watched Jae Seo enter, alone.
“Jae Seo-yah, have you found her?” The king asked without even giving Jae Seo a chance to greet him properly.
Jae Seo looked apprehensive. “Your Majesty…. I’m sorry….”
The King felt his whole body weaken. “What happened? Did something happen….” He couldn’t finish his question. King Myeongjong was afraid of the answer. He couldn’t bear to think the possibility.
Jae Seo inched closer and dropped his voice almost to a whisper. “Ok Nyeo-yah is in a safe house, Your Majesty. She’s alive, but she’s been injured.”
“Jae Seo-yah!” The King exclaimed as great relief washed over him like fresh waves in the ocean, flooding his system. “Is that true? She is alive?”
“Then you know what to do. I cannot leave right now. There are too many eyes spying on me.”
“Yes, I understand, Your Majesty.”
“That’s good. Be careful, alright?”
Jae Seo nodded, and then he bowed his head and left. The King watched him go, feeling all the more nervous than before.
All that’s left to do was trust that Jae Seo would be able to accomplish the task he’s entrusted to him.
Ok Nyeo felt certain she had died already. Her whole body was stiff and heavy and aching, and she couldn’t open her eyes with some effort. Surely, this is what death means – or perhaps just how it feels. Her mind was filled with images of the people she loved – her foster father, Treasurer Ji, Woo Chi, Sir Yi Ji Ham, Chun Dong and his minions, Song Ji Hun, Lee Hwan, Tae Won, and many others.
And then she remembered the last incident before she lost consciousness. She couldn’t possibly still be alive after those men with swords came for her. Unless someone else had come and…. Ok Nyeo struggled to open her eyes. She was confused when she felt her body nestled against something smooth and soft. Could the afterlife have such accommodation for the deceased? If so, it was rather a pleasant surprise. She tried moving her fingers, clasping and unclasping them, tying to regain their senses.
As she finally opened her eyes, it took a while for her to focus. She was feeling dizzy and the sudden flood of light assaulted her vision. It was an awful feeling!
Ok Nyeo shifted position, and then she realized she was in a mattress. But whose bed was it? Finally able to focus, her eyes grew wide as she looked up and saw herself staring at a ceiling of an unfamiliar room.
She felt more confused. She tried pushing herself up in a sitting position, and she winced as she felt the wound on her chest stretched.
Ok Nyeo looked down. She was now wearing a simple white cotton hanbok. She took a peek at her jeogori and saw that her wound had been bandaged already.
A lot of questions were swirling in her head, and she didn’t know what to think. Her disorientation was worse than her physical pain, and she hated it.
She looked around the room. It was medium in size, and it was almost empty, save the mattress she was sitting on and a tiny table on one side with stacks of books, scrolls, and other documents piled in a corner. But the room was bright, airy, and squeaky clean. It looked like it was a spare room of some kind. There was a door to the far end. She thought of getting up but she still felt so weak.
“Where am I?” She asked aloud in the empty room.
Just then, Ok Nyeo heard footsteps and a moment later, a door opened and an elderly woman entered. When Ok Nyeo saw the woman, she was shocked, for she wore a palace maid’s uniform.
She drew in a sharp breath when she realized something. “Excuse me, ma’am-“
The elderly maid saw her and bowed. “My lady, you are awake. Do you need something?”
“Where…What am I-“
“Is she awake now?”
Both of them turned to look at the man who has just asked the question and entered the room in hasty strides.
Ok Nyeo heard herself gasped when she saw the man’s face, recognizing him in an instant, with his gentle eyes, graceful nose, and smiling mouth, only at that moment his mouth was drawn in a stern manner due to anxiety and worry.
Ok Nyeo watched the man walk in. He stopped right in front of her. The elderly maid bowed deeply in greeting, while Ok Nyeo just sat there too shocked to move.
The man in front of her was the Secret inspector Lee Hwan, but his clothes – they were the symbolic King’s robe! The familiar, rich red fabric punctuated by circular embroidered dragons at the front and both shoulders, denoting the authority, royalty, and power bestowed upon the wearer as his birthright.
Ok Nyeo couldn’t take her eyes off the robe. She thought the man looked just like Lee Hwan, and so to make sure, she looked into the man’s eyes and stared at them trying to search his very soul. She found that he was staring at her, too.
“Your… Majesty?” The trace of confusion in Ok Nyeo’s voice reflected the confusion she felt. When she realized what she was doing, Ok Nyeo quickly lowered her eyes.
The King turned to the elderly maid and ordered, “Leave us,”
In the corner of her eye, Ok Nyeo saw the elderly maid kowtowed and stepped out of the room.
Ok Nyeo was left wondering how the King could have saved her. And it was true – Lee Hwan is the King. She didn’t know how she’d process that information, so she remained silent with her head bowed.
“Ok Nyeo-yah.” The King gently called.
Swallowing, Ok Nyeo slowly looked up. She saw the King trying to sit in front of her. With horror, Ok Nyeo remembered her manners and attempted to stand. But the king put out both his arms before her to stop her, just like the way he did when he had stopped her from leaving him many nights before.
“You don’t have to get up,” he said. “I know you haven’t fully recovered.”
“Sir – I mean, Your Majesty… I don’t understand…”
The King signed, and looked at her solemnly.
Ok Nyeo thought of the many times she had regarded him with an easy attitude – even treating him harshly and suspiciously. She even remembered that one night when Tae Won and Do Chi had almost beaten him for thinking he was a swindler, and she was filled with regret.
“You Majesty…” she began again in an effort to apologize, but the King silenced her once more.
However, it didn’t stop Ok Nyeo from speaking. There were a lot of thoughts going on in her mind, and she couldn’t remain silent anymore. She had been alone with her thoughts too long the past days, and she knew she had to let them out or she would go insane.
“Your Majesty, I do sincerely apologize for how I’ve wrongly treated you, but may I ask – why did you hide your true identity from me? Did you… did you do it on purpose? Were you only trying to test me? I feel like such a fool now that I know who you truly are, and I am quite uncertain on how to accept this truth. Just thinking about how I have treated you… Surely, you won’t hold that against me, since you very well know that I was unaware of your true identity. We have been through a lot as well, and I can’t help but think that perhaps it was all a part of your plan, whatever it may be. I think… I feel quite-“
“Wow,” the King said in his usual amused tone and expression that Ok Nyeo had gotten so accustomed to. It was so familiar that her anxiety lessened a bit. But for the life of her, she couldn’t imagine what could be so amusing in the situation that the King could still look at her with that mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“For someone who isn’t so sure about how to deal with the situation, you’re one to have a lot to say.”
The King studied her face. “Ok Nyeo-yah, do you want my apology?”
“Pardon?” She asked incredulously, and then she quickly shook her head and said, “Oh, no, not that, Your Majesty! It’s just that I-“
“May I?” The king asked as he motioned to sit closer in front of her.
Ok Nyeo nodded.
The King sat and faced her, his expression soft and friendly as always. When she glanced at him, he appeared to be bracing himself for whatever he was going to say to her. “Even if you’re not going to ask for it- and I’m certain you won’t – I would still like to apologize.”
“I’m sorry, Ok Nyeo-yah, I didn’t mean to lie to you, or to anybody else for that matter. I have always wanted to tell you the truth, but I couldn’t seem to find the perfect time to do it. I know I shouldn’t have lied – not with something as important as this – but I have to admit that spending time with you had been the most wonderful days of my life. And I had become afraid to tell you the truth because I know it would surely change things between us, and there’s the possibility that you might decide to keep your distance.”
Ok Nyeo couldn’t say a word. It never occurred to her that the King would even have such thoughts – and to think he had been so afraid to tell her the truth because she might ignore him… Well, she was never angry at him in the first place, even after finding out the truth. It’s true she had only felt shocked and confused, but she was never angry. But she did think about it now – if she had known he was the King, would she have stayed by his side? Or would she have stayed away? She guessed she would never know.
“Your Majesty… how can you think so highly of me?”
“To be quite blunt, Ok Nyeo-yah, people like me don’t often have…companions such as you.” The King answered with a sudden tinge of sadness. Ok Nyeo had a feeling it was coming from a deeper source; something very personal.
“Oh, Your Majesty, but why did you disguise yourself?” She asked softly.
The King looked away for a moment, seeming a bit embarrassed. She suddenly felt sorry for asking, and was about to tell him he need not answer, when he opened his mouth to speak.
“I thought I was doing the right thing. As you can see, I am wearing this Royal robe. I am this nation’s sovereign – its King. And yet that remains true only in title.”
“Oh, Your Majesty.” The King was heavy with sadness now. Ok Nyeo felt something squeeze at her heart.
“I may be the one bearing the title, but the control remains in the hands of my mother, who uses power for her personal gain. I couldn’t tell you enough how ashamed I was of being King – knowing full well I was only able to attain it by shedding innocent blood.”
Ok Nyeo didn’t say anything, coaxing him to continue with her silence, sharing in the evident grief and pain in his lament.
“I wanted so desperately to set things right and make a difference. So I disguised myself and went out of the palace even against my mother’s wish. I wanted to meet the nation I was supposed to govern and to experience life outside the palace myself. I would have loved to serve the people, cater to their needs, and provide solutions to their problems.”
A tear had escaped from the King’s eyes, and Ok Nyeo felt his pain as strongly as though physical hands were gripping her, making the room seem smaller for the both of them.
“Ok Nyeo-yah,” the King said in a choked voice, “I wanted so much to be that change I was hoping for. I didn’t want to think it was foolish or futile. But it was more difficult than I had anticipated that at times I just want to give up.”
“Please, Your Majesty…” Ok Nyeo wanted to reach out to him and comfort him. How heavy were his burdens!
The King bowed his head and Ok Nyeo couldn’t say anything as she listened to his quiet sobbing. It was heart-wrenching to see their nation’s ruler in that state. The image of a very powerful man reduced to a sobbing heap and laid bare before her was saddening. And yet Ok Nyeo couldn’t have felt more proud of him – proud that although he was of high position, he wasn’t afraid to show his weakness to her. He wasn’t afraid to acknowledge his faults, and was willing to make necessary amends. She was touched that the King even considered her trustworthy enough to expose himself to her.
Slowly, Ok Nyeo got to her knees and inched herself closer to the King. She raised both her arms and very carefully encircled them around the King’s shoulders. She ignored the pain on her wound.
Ok Nyeo knew it was a brave move – and the braveness had nothing to do with the fact that she was willing to bear the pain of her movement. The braveness was relevant to the fact that she would be violating a rule. She knew it was impolite to place her arms around him, but she figured that what the King needed that moment was a friend who cared and not a subject who conformed to rules.
As she imprisoned him in her arms, she pulled him gently toward her until his forehead was leaning on her shoulder. The King continued to sob. Ok Nyeo felt his hand clutched at her arm. He was like a child that had tasted comfort and care for the very first time. And she cried with him – silently.
She rocked him slowly, trying to ease his pain, and he clung to her like he would never let go.
Ok Nyeo no longer knew how long they remained like that. All that mattered to her was that he would be comforted. Even in that little way she wanted to help him.
The King’s sob slowly ebbed, until he finally grew quiet. She continued to hold him; and then, at length, he slowly pulled away and she let him.
A long, comfortable silence ensued. And then the King looked at her, traces of tears still on his cheeks. But he was smiling faintly, and it relieved Ok Nyeo more than she could ever say.
“Your Majesty?” She softly called, smiling despite her own tears.
As an answer, the King reached out a hand to wipe the tears from her face. “You were crying, too?”
“Yes.” She said.
“How fortunate am I… that you should cry with me, too.”
“Aren’t we all human beings, Your Majesty, who feel emotions? I cried because I understood. And I share in your pain. I’m sure it’s not easy to be the King of this nation. And I just want to let you know that you’re not alone. You never have to. So please don’t ever think of giving up.”
King Myeongjong stared at her. “I promise, Ok Nyeo-yah…” he said solemnly as he cupped the side of her face. “I will never give up.”
“We will never give up, Your Majesty.”
“Yes,” his smile slowly broadened. He retreat his hand. “This is quite not what I expected. I came here to comfort you, but you ended up doing it to me.”
“We do what we can, Your Majesty.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
They continued looking at each other, and then Ok Nyeo was the first to look away.
The King was staring at her with a quizzical, tender look on his face. King Myeongjong had to admit it – that night was far better than he had imagined.