FanFic: Inner storm
A few hours before midnight, Ok Nyeo was surprised when Jae Seo showed up at Jeonokseo and told her that her presence had been requested by the King. When she asked why, the Royal bodyguard told her she could ask the king himself about it, for him, too, didn’t know why she had been summoned.
Intrigued, Ok Nyeo went with him into the palace. She was wondering what the King could possibly want with her at that late hour. It must be an urgent matter, considering he had even asked his personal bodyguard to fetch her. Jae Seo told her that as a precaution, she had to cover her head with a janggot, and Ok Nyeo obliged.
A moment later, Jae Seo and Ok Nyeo were entering the back gate of the Palace. Jae Seo showed his identification to the Palace Guard standing outside. When the guard saw it, he immediately bowed his head in greeting and let them enter; throwing a curious glance at the woman whose face was covered that went in with Jae Seo. But he didn’t say anything.
Ok Nyeo was puzzled when instead of taking the usual route to the King’s office, Jae Seo led her to a different path she was unfamiliar with. Hurrying her steps to catch up to Jae Seo, she asked,
“Sir, where are we going?”
Jae Seo looked back over his shoulder but did not stop walking. “To His Majesty’s private chambers,” he said.
“Oh.” Ok Nyeo said, unable to hide her surprise. “Why there? Did something happen to him?”
They were already in front of the King’s chamber when Jae Seo turned to her and answered, “We’re here. Why don’t you just ask His Majesty yourself?”
Ok Nyeo donned a half-smile. “Oh, yes. Yes, I shall do that. Thank you.”
Usually, a visitor’s presence would be announced by the ladies-in-waiting, but the servants remained where they were standing with their heads bowed. It was Jae Seo himself who walked up to the door and knocked three times, indicating that that meeting was to be a secret affair. In any case, the door was opened, and it was the King himself who showed Ok Nyeo in.
As she entered, she removed the janggot on her head and folded it in her arms.
Ok Nyeo was yet again puzzled to see the room in dim light, and Ok Nyeo strained her eyes trying to peer into the King’s face. She noticed the King was even wearing his white sleeping robes.
She waited for the door to be closed before she said, “Sire, what happened to you?”
The King looked at her, confused. “What do you mean?”
“You look as though you have been confined here all day. Are you not feeling well?”
The king gestured with his hand. “Unfortunately, you are correct.”
Ok Nyeo was worried. “Oh, my, I hope it isn’t serious.”
The King was quick to assure her. “Oh, no, I’m quite alright. I was sick, but I’m fine now. I just decided to stay here and pretend ill for the benefit of my mother.”
“Is that related to why you summoned me here instead of to your office?”
“I’m afraid that’s true. Aside from that, I wanted to show you some documents that my men have gathered through private investigation. They’re supposed to give us some leverage against Nan Jung, and they’re much too confidential that I wasn’t comfortable having a servant deliver them to you. I figured it would be better to show them to you myself.” The king explained, although deep inside the King knew it wasn’t the only reason he opted to meet with Ok Nyeo personally that night.
It had been almost two weeks since he last saw her, and he was quite eager to see her again.
Ok Nyeo nodded, her silhouette perfectly formed against the dim light of the room. The King wanted to come closer and touch Ok Nyeo’s arm, but he restrained himself. Clearing his throat, he said, “let me show you the document.”
He led her toward the inner side of his room, where the King’s sleeping mattress was laid; its thick, silk comforter crumpled and had been shoved aside. A small writing desk was beside the mattress with a single candle burning on top of it, along with a few scrolls piled neatly on top. Ok Nyeo figured they were the documents the King was talking about.
The King came around the little desk and sat on his mattress. Ok Nyeo sat in front of him, placing her janggot beside her.
He took a scroll and untied its strings, and then he spread it on the desk before her.
“This is what I mean, Ok Nyeo-yah. This letter, I believe, is the very thing we need.”
Because it was dim and the only light in the room was coming from the single candle, both Ok Nyeo and the King leaned closer to the desk to take a better look at the letter. It was an old letter, with the edges of the paper already peeling away.
The King turned the letter around to make it easier to read for Ok Nyeo. As Ok Nyeo read the letter – word by word- her eyes began to get wide. The letter she was reading was full of lurid details about a certain task that Nan Jung has specified herself, addressed to a certain man. Ok Nyeo thinks it was a letter addressed to an assassin, as the directives included permanently eliminating the Ming envoy and an influential Lord of the greater Yoon faction. Ok Nyeo was quite amazed at the lengths Nan Jung was willing to go to just to satisfy her need and secure her high position.
As Ok Nyeo continued to read, King Myeongjong looked up intending to ask Ok Nyeo about the letter, when he felt himself freeze as he found himself very near her. They were so close their foreheads almost touching.
Ok Nyeo’s face was only inches away from him, and the soft, yellow light of the candle gave her skin a kind of golden shimmer that he found extremely attractive. Swallowing hard, the King studied Ok Nyeo’s features: her almond-shaped eyes framed with long lashes that were curved so beautifully, her small but elegant nose, her lips – which were moist and full and red… The King swallowed again, mesmerized, wondering why the mere presence of Ok Nyeo and the knowledge that she was so near him made his heart race.
A moment later, Ok Nye looked up to him. The king was startled and he quickly looked away, leaning back and straightening his posture. He felt like a child caught in the middle of doing something mischievous.
“Sire,” Ok Nyeo said. She didn’t notice the flushed look on his face. “How did you acquire this letter?”
“I have…” The King couldn’t think of an answer. He was still distracted by Ok Nyeo’s presence. “Well, I… I have my ways, that’s how.”
“Sire?” Ok Nyeo was puzzled. Ok Nyeo noticed how he seemed to look distracted. “Are you certain you’re alright now? You must still be sick.”
To his surprise, Ok Nyeo reached out a hand and placed it against his forehead, feeling for his temperature to determine if he has fever.
The sudden sensation of Ok Nyeo’s soft touch against his skin made the King sat upright, rigidly so. Something went down his spine – and it was tingly. But it wasn’t unpleasant; he was only surprised.
“You seem fine to me.” Ok Nyeo watched him closely. King Myeongjong’s eyes were wide, but he tried keeping a straight face.
He cleared his throat. “I – I am fine, Ok Nyeo-yah.”
“Are you certain, Sire? Maybe I should leave now and let you rest. I’ll just come back when-“
“No, no, no!” To his shock, the King found himself in a panic. “How could you leave when you’ve just gotten here? Let’s discuss the letter. What would you like to know?”
Ok Nyeo was silent for a moment. She stared at him and tried to see if he was being sincere. King Myeongjong decided to pay closer attention, lest Ok Nyeo suspect something. He wasn’t very keen on making her leave. He had to focus on the matter at hand. It was difficult, he had to admit. But the one thing he wasn’t prepared to face was why he was feeling that way.
As Ok Nyeo continued to look at him, King Myeongjong tried to look formal.
“Well?” He prompted.
Ok Nyeo finally answered, much to the King’s relief. “Your Majesty, how did you manage to get your hands on this letter?”
“I had some of my trusted men spy on one of Nan Jung’s estates. One night, my guards spotted a messenger enter the house. When he came out again, he was carrying a letter. My spies believed he was also a spy, and a traitor, for he was Chinese. Few Chinese ever come to Joseon, and if they do, it’s usually for a business matter. My men apprehended him and took the letter, which turned out to be this.”
Ok Nyeo was looking surprised. “You were spying on Nan Jung, Your Majesty?”
“Lord Lee suggested it.”
“And it worked wonders, sire!” Ok Nyeo exclaimed. “You did a fine job.”
The King couldn’t suppress a smile, feeling elated at Ok Nyeo’s praise. “Thank you. I had to do a good job if I wanted to reach even half of your level.”
“Oh, sire. Well, what about the Chinese spy? Where is he now?”
“They let him go.”
Ok Nyeo was shocked. “They let him go?” She repeated incredulously. “But why?”
The King took a deep breath. “When they abducted him, they took him to a secluded place. And then they beat him until he was unconscious. While he was out of it, they took the letter and made a copy, replacing the original. And then they took all his other personal belongings to make it look like a robbery with assault.”
Ok Nyeo listened with amazement. She couldn’t believe the King would be capable in doing something as dangerous as that. He did promise her he’d make a move, but she knew him to be such a gentle man that violence and schemes seemed absolutely out of his character.
“I assume you have your men follow the Chinese spy.”
The King nodded his head. “He will lead us to the answers we are seeking.”
Ok Nyeo slowly nodded her head. So that was how Nan Jung was able to know so much of the Ming envoy’s itinerary. She had expected there would be a traitor, but she didn’t expect it to be a Chinese.
She did know there were also Chinese spies, as she had worked with some of them together with Park Tae Soo before. But she knew the Chinese to be extremely loyal. She couldn’t help wondering what Nan Jung could have promised the Chinese spy to have him work for her and earn his loyalty. Perhaps Nan Jung had saved him, or threatened him – which was not impossible for her to do. It had become apparent how wide Nan Jung’s connection really was.
On the other hand, she had to admit the King really did a wonderful job.
“You have made a marvelous progress in our quest, Your Majesty. I am impressed.”
The King’s smile broadened. “Coming from you, Ok Nyeo-yah, that’s quite an honor.”
“Will you be keeping this letter here?”
“I’m thinking of asking Jae Seo to-“
Before the King could finish his sentence, the head of his ladies-in-waiting announced loudly from outside the door, “Your Majesty, the Queen Dowager is here.”
The King and Ok Nyeo looked at each other in alarm. And then King Myeongjong got on his feet, his mind racing.
Ok Nyeo was beside him in an instant. “Your Majesty , is there any other exit-“
“No. That front door is the only way is to go in and out of here. My mother had all the other exits blocked.”
Ok Nyeo stared at him in horror. It did register how strange it was for the Queen Dowager to have all exits blocked from her own son’s private quarters.
“Your Majesty,” the servant called again. “Queen Dowager would like to request an audience with you.”
King Myeongjong frantically scanned his room for a place where Ok Nyeo could hide. He felt panic took hold of him as he realized that there was none.
He looked at Ok Nyeo, who was also looking at him. The look of terror reflected in her face gave him a determination to protect her at all cost.
As the King scanned his room again, his eyes fell on his mattress and its thick blanket. Seeing it, an idea struck his mind. He wasn’t going to pretend it was his brightest, but he figured it was better than not having any plan at all.
He looked back at Ok Nyeo. “I have a plan.”
As a response, he hurried to his mattress and gathered the blanket in his arms, clearing the way.
“Your Majesty, what are you doing?” Ok Nyeo whispered urgently.
“You will lie beside me as a pretend to be asleep. And then I’ll cover you with the blanket and pillows.”
“Come on, Ok Nyeo-yah. We have no time to argue.”
Ok Nyeo knew he was right, of course. But the King’s plan sounded so ridiculous she had rather almost decided to scale the walls and make a hole in the ceiling to escape. But unable to do anything else, she hurried to the King’s side and lay down beside him. The King took a few pillows and stuffed them behind her back and above her head, trying to hide her humanly silhouette.
Ok Nyeo struggled to make her body shrink by pressing her limbs tightly against her body.
The King took the letter from his desk, rolled it back, and then gave it to her.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The King also noticed Ok Nyeo’s janggot. He grabbed it quickly and folded it, then tucked it beside Ok Nyeo.
And then the King looked at her apologetically. “Also… Forgive me, OK Nyeo-yah, but I have to do this.”
“What do you mean, Sire?”
The King didn’t answer; instead he placed a hand around her and pressed her tightly against him. She resisted the urge to flinch, and she watched as the King covered them both with the blanket, enveloping her in darkness.
It was thick and heavy, but Ok Nyeo wished it was thicker than that. She couldn’t imagine how they could fool the Queen Dowager with such a poor cover-up.
The King arranged himself beside her, keeping still.
Outside, the Queen Dowager had lost patience and ordered the servants to move away from the door. Even Jae Seo was unable to do anything as the Queen Dowager ordered a maid to open the door for her.
“Your Majesty, I am coming in.” The Queen Dowager said and stepped inside. She frowned at the sight of the darkened room.
The Queen Dowager’s eyes drifted to the single blazing candle at the top of the desk, and then she saw the King lying on his back. The silken curtains that conceal the inner quarters had been drawn apart.
The Queen Dowager’s servants had informed her earlier that the King had not left his quarters all day and no visitors had come to meet him. When she heard the report, she was pleased. But at the same time she had become worried about her son’s health. She had attempted to visit him earlier in the day, but she had been told by one of the King’s servants that His Majesty specifically ordered not to be disturbed. She assumed that the King was really feeling ill to want to be left alone.
But now, she had to go and pay him a visit. She wanted to make sure he was alright. The King might have given her a hard time the past few days, but he was still her son.
The Queen Dowager slowly approached the sleeping King. As she drew near him, she looked at the obvious bulk stuffed underneath the blanket beside him and wondered why the King had so many pillows. But then she also noticed, with the help of the soft glow of the candle, the documents piled neatly on top of his writing desk. It appeared as though the King had been studying some reports. Perhaps that’s why he needed the extra pillows. He must have used them as cushions when he reclined.
The Queen Dowager sat beside the mattress and gazed at her son. King Myeonjong’s face was paler than usual.
Meanwhile, Ok Nyeo felt like she was having difficulty breathing, and her confinement under the blanket had nothing to do with it. Her heart was beating wildly she had become afraid the Queen Dowager might hear. She couldn’t see what the Dowager was doing, but she could feel she was staring at the King, who was pretending to be asleep beside her.
How she wished the Queen would leave.
“Your Majesty.” Ok Nyeo heard the Queen called out.
The King pretended to stir, and then he turned his head away from his mother. Beneath the quilt, Ok Nyeo swallowed with difficulty, trying not to think of what could possibly happen to her if the Queen Dowager discovers her presence, clutching at the letter as though wanting to press the ink out of it.
The Queen Dowager heaved a deep sign. “Are you still asleep? You seemed really ill.”
Ok Nyeo noted a trace of worry in the Queen’s voice. She almost felt sorry for her, but all the while she also remembered the vile things the Queen Dowager had committed against her parents.
“Your Majesty, are you not going to open your eyes to talk to me, even just for tonight?”
At the Queen’s question, Ok Nyeo wondered if the Queen was aware all along that the King was only pretending to be asleep, but then she added, “It’s just as well. We could both use the rest.”
The Queen reached out a hand to straighten the blanket around him, and instinctively, King Myeongjong pretended to stir again and immediately turned on his side and draped an arm across Ok Nyeo – hidden underneath – so that the blanket won’t be moved out of place.
Ok Nyeo felt her body stiffen. She began to think that the Queen might have finally noticed her, and the sensation of the King’s strong arms around her contributed to her feeling more nervous.
Thankfully, though, the King only looked like he was hugging the pillow beside him. And the dim light of the room emphasized that illusion.
A few more moments of silence went by. Ok Nyeo felt like an eternity had already passed. And then she heard the rustling of the Queen Dowager’s skirt and the faint thump of her socked feet on the wooden flooring as she walked away, and then there was the sound of the doors being rolled open and then shut closed.
Apparently, the Queen Dowager had left. After gazing at her son for quite a long time, she decided it was time to leave and retire to her quarters.
The Queen Dowager had been gone for some time now, and King Myeongjong had long opened his eyes, but neither Ok Nyeo nor the King could move.
Ok Nyeo couldn’t bring herself to push the King away, while the King felt frozen in his place. It wasn’t just the fact that he didn’t know how he would react after he released Ok Nyeo from his grasp and be confronted with her questioning gaze, but the truth that having Ok Nyeo in his arms felt warm, pleasant, wonderful – too beautiful a feeling that he was willing to not move just to savor it more – to be suspended in a timeless rhythm of old.
So the King remained motionless.
And then a strange thing happened to him.
He was suddenly filled with the strong urge to look upon Ok Nyeo’s face. As though having a mind of its own, the king’s free hand slowly reached for the blanket and peeled it away. King Myeongjong found he was feeling a sort of anticipation as when a child rips open a gift.
As he slowly pulled the quilt away, Ok Nyeo looked up to him and the King felt as though he had fallen in a deep pit when he finally gazed in her eyes, which were filled with wonder.
Or perhaps Ok Nyeo’s eyes only reflected his own. In any case, he was staring down at her, lost in her eyes, which were the color of the blackest sea, wondering how could he possibly felt so lost and yet delightful and giddy all at the same time. No woman has ever made him feel that way before, and he was just helplessly being confronted by all these emotions he wasn’t familiar with.
The King could also feel the loud beating of his heart, the rushing of blood in his veins, and the pulsating of his pulse. It was as though his whole body was alive and every sense was heightened. The King wondered what could be wrong with him, considering he was feeling confused yet there was a pleasant feeling in the midst of it. He just realized that so long as he had Ok Nyeo in his arms, he was willing to weather this inner storm.
He wouldn’t have let her go – not then, not ever – but Ok Nyeo cleared her throat, and in a small voice she said to him, “Your Majesty… Don’t we need to – I’m sorry but –“
As though some sort of magic had been dispelled, King Myeongjong was forced out of his reverie. When he realized what had happened to him, he wore an astonished look that made his cheeks burned.
With some dignity left in him, he carefully removed his arm around Ok Nyeo and sat upright. And then remembering his manners, he turned back to Ok Nyeo to help her get up, but she was already sitting beside him with that questioning look he had dreaded to see earlier, smoothing her skirts about her.
He turned away and felt the dryness in his throat. He wanted to say something, open a conversation, but it felt as though the ability to speak had eluded him.
He looked up again and caught Ok Nyeo staring at him.
They locked gazes.
And then both of them suddenly dissolved into a hearty laughter, realizing they had just fooled the Queen Dowager.
When their laughter subsided, the King felt that most of his discomfort had faded. All that was left was a warm, giddy feeling.
“Ok Nyeo-yah, forgive me for putting you in such a difficult position. I think it’s time I stop imposing on you.”
“Your Majesty, I admit I was nervous a while back, but you don’t have much to worry about. It’s all part of our quest. Besides, I have already prepared myself for such situations.”
“I don’t think I can’t worry too much, as you put it. When it comes to you, I’d always worry.” The King had said it even before he could think about it.
Ok Nyeo’s smiled faded a little as she stared at him, but her eyes never lost their twinkle. And the King was relieved.
“Your Majesty, if you worry about me, will you not summon me here anymore?”
The question caught the King off-guard. He was alarmed at the implication of it. “What? No, I wouldn’t do such a thing!”
King Myeongjong caught himself. “Well… What I mean is, I would still summon you, of course, but I won’t do it if it will clearly put you in trouble.”
Ok Nyeo smiled. “I understand.” She raised the letter in her hand. “Will you be the one keeping this?”
“Then you better find a good place where you can hide it, Your Majesty.” Ok Nyeo said and handed him the letter with both her hands.
The King took it and looked at it a tad longer, wondering if he was doing the right thing – not about the letter – but about Ok Nyeo. He wanted so badly to see her, and keep seeing her. It would be a crime to try to deny he didn’t care for her presence. But he was surprised to notice he had learned to care that much about her.
He looked at Ok Nyeo and said, “thank you, Ok Nyeo-yah. I don’t think I could have possibly even dared do the right thing if it had not been for you.”
Ok Nyeo smiled reassuringly. “I am honored, Your Majesty.”
The King nodded at her in response, and he tried to remember what it felt like to hold her in his arms. The memory came as easily as he had anticipated.