The King summoned the General for a private meeting. "How have you been?" He proceeded carefully, "It has been almost five years since High Doctor went away."
"I'm fine, Cho-na, thank you for asking."
"I presume you are waiting for her return. It has been very hard on you, hasn't it?"
"Cho-na does not need to worry about me. You keep me busy enough to help pass the time," he joked, wishing to move the conversation to a less touchy subject.
"I'm worried about your heart. You are very precious to me, Choi Young. And to the Queen. She sends her regards." The King suspected that the easy dismissal was just a cover for his chronic heartache.
"Thank you. I appreciate both of your concerns." He repeated, "Still, I'm fine. What is that you wanted to talk to me about?"
The King sighed and looked quite serious. "There is this matter. I already know your answer, but I have to address it. We need to come up with the solution. Do not be angry. Please sit."
"I'm fine standing."
"No, you need to sit down for this one."
The General felt uneasy, it was never a good start of a conversation, when the King insisted on sitting down.
"I am building new alliances, you know the politics of it. The Queen has a very influential relative. He sympathizes with our situation and has offered support on a few occasions. He sent one of his daughters to become a court lady and accompany the Queen. The Queen took a liking to her…"
Young looked impatient. He did not know where the conversation was going or how it related to him. He was combing through various possibilities in his head, and came up with nothing. "Cho-na, is it a military matter? I have long been removed from politics. It is something that a king does. Remember our agreement?"
"It is more of a sensitive matter. This girl is new to the palace and does not know much. She is young and impressionable…"
Young felt a pang of discomfort, not liking the direction the conversation was taking.
"Yesterday she confided in the Queen that she liked you and asked to arrange for a marriage proposal."
Choi Young began laughing loudly, earnestly; in fact, he could not remember when he was laughing so hard last time. The King had a fierce sense of humor.
Only the King was not laughing with him. Gongmin looked torn, always showing his emotions openly in front of his old friend. He apologized again, citing the need to discuss this matter urgently, as the Queen was very distraught last night and wanted to speak with the General herself.
"Cho-na, of course this is preposterous. I am not even going to entertain the idea. You know that. So I will take my leave and you can figure out a politically correct way to gracefully decline. OK?" He got up ready to depart.
"Wait, I'm not done," the King got up nervously.
"But I AM," he replied in a very firm tone. This has gone a little too far, and was not funny at all any longer. Choi Young was angry beyond reason. How can the King who knew better than anyone what High Doctor meant to him bring up this ridiculous topic! He glared angrily, grabbed his sword, and walked away from the King, not even using proper decorum.
"General. Choi Young. Stop immediately. It's an order!"
He did not care; anger consumed him. He rushed out of the palace building, feeling stifled. Looking around he saw walls and walls everywhere, closing onto him, and prying eyes watching him from every corner. This place was not safe. At first slowly, then faster, clutching his sword, he started running. He ran toward the pagoda, where he usually went when he needed Eun Soo the most. Hiding in the shade of the structure, he found a corner that discretely protected him from the onlookers and prevented anyone from finding him.
He started his usual daily conversation with her: Can you believe his audacity? Me? Getting married? Even if I wait for you for eternity, it's up to me. Nobody's business. How dare does he insult me like this? Just because he is a king! Ahhh, I'm so angry. He took a few deep breaths. I hate feeling like this. I miss you every waking moment; every night when I fall asleep, I dream of you.
He took another deep breath, exhaling with, I need you so much! Looking at an empty spot next to him he continued, These have been the longest four years of my life. Without you, each year seems like ten. Imja, if you were here right now, you would find a way to comfort me… what would you say?
Imagining her sitting beside him, head on his shoulder, she would probably urge him to hear out the King; maybe even speak with the Queen.
He heard commotion nearby, guards and warrior maidens frantically searching the garden. He quietly retreated further into the shadows, when heard a familiar voice of his aunt, calling him, "I know you are here. How old are you to act like that? You cannot hide forever."
Frustrated, he showed himself.
"Look what you have done! Everybody is running around like crazy looking for you. The King is upset, the Queen is distressed. Have you lost your mind, walking out on the King?! You can end up in prison or worse!"
"I don't care," he announced through his teeth. Young turned to her, his eyes desperate, "Aunt, I needed some space. I was too angry, I did not want to say or do something that I would regret later. I needed time to think."
"Well, do you want to tell me?"
"No, it's not even worth mentioning, that's how stupid it is."
"Humor me. Is it about High Doctor?"
He looked at her with surprise and worry, "How did you..?"
"Why else would you act like a lunatic? Anyway, stop pouting like a child, running away will not solve this marriage issue."
"You know already? Who else knows?"
"Nobody, just me. I know everything, remember?" she smirked, satisfied with her argument.
"I will not do it," calm and unwavering, his usual self returning.
"Nobody is asking you to."
"What?" This drew his attention. "Then what is it?"
"Talk to the King. Go. Apologize." She smacked him on the back of the head, like he was still a kid.
"Aaauunt, stop it. What if somebody sees?"
"Too bad for you then," she smiled with the corners of her eyes and walked away.
Still angry and now also confused, Choi Young marched back into the King's office. Gongmin looked upset, waiting for the General to speak first.
"Cho-na, I could not control my temper, I apologize for offending you", he expressed his regret in a respectful manner, no extra formalities.
"For a man who is so controlled, you sure can lose your temper!" King was back to his usual sarcastic self and comfortable around Choi Young. "You are such a hothead!"
"Cho-na, you mentioned there is a solution, please tell me."
"Are you ready to listen now or are you going to storm out again?" The King needed to make a point; after all, he could not have his General behave like a rebellious teenager.
Truthfully, Choi Young did not want to let go of his anger. Despite everything, even after they pledged to stay together, she still disappeared. He realized that during all this time he did not really allow himself to consider that she might not come back soon or ever. This indefinite separation without any guarantee of her return, besides his firm faith, this harsh reality finally broke through the impenetrable walls of his denial, he had carefully constructed to protect himself. No once did he think of what it would be like ten or twenty years from now, if she did not return. Who will continue his bloodline? What would his father say if he knew? It was a scary thought.
The longer he waited, the stronger his faith grew. But today, he got shaken. What if because of this she will not find her way to me?
"Cho-na, I'm listening."
"From the beginning, I never assumed that you would be interested in a marriage proposal. If you had only given me a chance to explain. If you are absolutely sure that you would not change your mind some time later…"
"I'm sure, Cho-na. High Doctor is the only one in my heart, now and forever."
"Very well then. I wanted to offer you royal protection against future nuisances like that." He called out, "Do Chi, we are ready for you."
Do Chi entered, carrying a red scroll, signifying a royal decree. He presented it to Choi Young, and bowed out.
"Please, see for yourself. Let me know if it is not to your liking."
The General opened up the scroll, reading. His eyes at first became big with surprise and then softened right away with gratitude and relief.
"It is perfect, Cho-na. I could not ask for more. This makes it so that nobody else will be confused about my status."
"I'm glad you like it." Softly smiling, the King was content. "It will be included in the annals; I will make sure that it reflects that the marriage is official as of the time when High Doctor was still here." He paused, "When she returns, I assume it would not cause a problem that it was done without her consent."
"I'll make sure she will accept your kindness gracefully," without doubt exclaimed Choi Young. He added, "I'm sorry about the young lady. I hope she will find a more suitable prospect."
"Please stop by the Queen's palace. She wanted a word with you. Do not worry, she is fully aware of the royal decree."
The scroll read:
This royal decree issued to ascertain the status of the Commanding General of the Royal Army and Woodalchi General, honorable Choi Young, as a married man; therefore, not available for any further marriage offers. He is joined in a sacred union with Yoo Eun Soo as a man and wife. Due to the matters of palace security, this marriage was not publicly announced at the time of their matrimony and is to be presented officially only at the time of the General's choosing.
Signed by His Royal Highness King Gongmin.
Sealed by the official Goryeo stamp.
The heavy weight was lifted off his heart. One less problem to worry about before his wife… Saying those words, even in his mind, was new and pleasant. "My wife," he said slowly out loud, listening to the sound of the words rolling of his tongue. He felt shy at the thought that his private matter would be revealed to others, especially because being open about his relationship might not be such a good idea, but for now it was something that gave him extra strength: he was free to openly wait for her return, fully prepared to offer her an official place of his wife, ordered and blessed by the King himself.
Choi Young hurried to the Queen's quarters. The Queen was as lovely and warm toward the General as usual.
"I heard from Cho-na that you were given an official decree of your marriage to High Doctor. I have prepared something for that occasion." The servants brought out a dowry chest. "I carefully picked all the contents myself. She does not have family here, so I wanted to give her this with my sincere heart."
Choi Young was touched by this gesture, but this whole set up seemed surreal. The King created the decree just for practical convenience, he thought at first. The marriage existed only on a piece of parchment. Although he always viewed Imja as his other half, they did not have an official ceremony yet. So why was the Queen doing this all of a sudden?
"My Queen, how can I accept it? She is not even here…"
"Not yet," she reached out to his hand, pressing it softly, "But when she returns, if she would like it, we can have a ceremony. I want to give her a wedding dress." A girl approached holding a gorgeous flowing gown. "Here it is."
It was wonderful and painful at the same time, as he could easily imagine how pretty Eun Soo would look in this dress. "I'm sure she would love it, My Queen."
"General, she told me that day in the gardens when we were all together," Queen's eyes swelled with tears. "She said that she loved you. She used this word sarang; she explained it to me once, the Heaven's word. But she did not believe you would have been interested to hear it. I think that because of that sarang she will be back. That word was powerful."
Choi Young felt a wave of emotions coming up to his throat, he swallowed hard, fearing that he might also show tears, if allowed himself to feel the depth of what he just heard. He thanked the Queen and quickly asked to be excused.
His mind was unsettled by the today's events. He preferred not to think in concrete terms about their future together, but today the acknowledgment of the royal couple, their faith in the fact that his dreams would actually come to pass affected him in a way that he could not have predicted.
The dowry chest was delivered and the curious Woodalchi questioned the maidens about the contents without any luck. They decided not to bother the General with questions and simply brought it up to his room, asking where to put it.
He did not want to see what's inside; Eun Soo should be the one to open it. He pushed it to the farthest wall and put a cloth over it for safekeeping.
He crashed on the bed, emotionally drained. Of course, waiting was hard on him. He was almost brought to tears by the Queen's words.
My Imja… she is so brave, she always speaks her mind!
He felt his eyes watering again. In the privacy of his room, he allowed himself to feel this complex combination of hope, love, fear, sadness, frustration, anger, longing, excitement and many others feelings hitting him directly in his heart. A few restrained tears slid down his cheeks, and he closed his eyes, covering them with his arm. Eun Soo's smell long disappeared from the pillow and from the sheets, but he was searching for something that would give him a tangible sense of her. Lifting up, he looked around the room and found it, the aspirin bottle. The flower was still there, dried, there was only one pill left. He held the bottle to his eyes, thinking of her.
Imja, I wonder if you would like to have a wedding. I wonder what kind of weddings they have in Heaven? Should we have one like that? He carefully placed the bottle next to him on a pillow. "Good night."