Midnight. Only the soft twitter of crickets breaks the silence of the slumbering forest. The lone figure of a man sat motionless behind the trees, watching the deserted road. His dark clothes, together with the wide-brimmed hat that covered his face helped him blend with the surrounding forest, rendering him invisible to the untrained eye. Silent and unmoving, like a predator stalking its unsuspecting victim, he lay quietly in wait. He knew that his mark would not risk travelling through the main road to the capital.
After the incident at Chuwha County all roads leading to Seorabol would surely be heavily-guarded, if not barricaded by now. His target’s only chance of evading the authorities would be the back roads that traversed the forest, and this same road, being the shortest route between the mines and the capital, would be the most logical one he would take. He also knew that the mines would be his target’s only refuge now that their rebellious plot had been exposed.
For the past few days he had been observing his target’s movements and he was not happy with what he had learned. The weapons and other troop provisions he saw being systematically stored within the abandoned mines near the border of Seorabol confirmed his suspicion. His target, together with his co-conspirators, were actively preparing for an uprising. It was time that he put a stop to their delusions. He had reached the limit of his patience and he could no longer tolerate their sly manipulations, their illusions of grandeur, their unquenchable thirst for power. It was also about time that he honored his promise to Her Majesty.
At last, the distinct sound of shuffling feet was heard. His prey had arrived. Silently, he left his hiding place and moved towards the road. Approaching was a group of men, casting nervous glances as they walked into the darkened forest, their torches forming eerie shadows against the trees. Slowly he advanced towards them, unaware of another dark shape shadowing his every step.
The men halted when his tall frame, clad in a non-descript attire, blocked their path. The large straw hat which he wore low on his brow obscured his face and a long sword was held loosely in his hand. They were startled when, in an imposing tone, he called out to their leader.
“Yeomjong! Show yourself, you coward! Stop hiding behind your men and face me!” he shouted.
“Who are you to address me that way, you miserable wretch!” a voice from behind the men answered.
The man removed the straw hat concealing his face and flung it towards Yeomjong. He slowly lifted his head. His eyes were blazing with unmistakable fury as he greeted Yeomjong with a mocking smile.
“Bidam!” Yeomjong exclaimed. He tentatively stepped back, genuinely fearing for his life. Yeomjong knew Bidam well and he immediately recognized the bloodlust in his opponent’s unwavering stare.
“My Lord! Where have you been? We’ve been searching all over for you!” Yeomjong cried after regaining a little of his composure.
“It’s over, Yeomjong. I’m sick and tired of your despicable conspiracies. So, stop wasting my time and let’s get this over with quickly! You’re not the only one on my list, afterall!” Bidam replied, sneering.
Yeomjong knew in his heart that Bidam was not to be fooled and was bent on killing him. There was no forgiveness to be found in his superior this time. Yeomjong made to run as he screamed for his men to attack the hostile new arrival.
“What are you waiting for, you fools? Kill him! Kill him!” he shrieked.
Yeomjong’s men ran towards Bidam, their drawn swords pointing menacingly at him. Bidam smiled and slowly unsheathed his own sword. He flexed his neck, as if loosening the tense muscles there and with his feet postured apart, braced for the onslaught, the silver blade of his sword glinting maliciously in the firelight.
“Twelve to one..hmm..seems like an even fight,” he said, taunting his opponents, a lopsided grin etched on his handsome face. With his free hand, he gestured for them to come forward. Yeomjong’s men charged and commenced their assault. Bidam swung his sword and parried each deadly blow, slashing left and right, cutting down everything in its path like a scythe. One by one, the men fell to the ground, dead.
The last three survivors circled him as they prepared to launch a concerted attack. With astonishing speed and grace, Bidam leapt from the ground and pirouetted in midflight, his sword cruelly hacking into his opponents’ bodies with deadly precision as he came down at them. In the blink of an eye, the battle was over and Bidam was left standing amongst Yeomjong’s fallen men. Breathing heavily, more out of exhilaration than exhaustion, he looked up at Yeomjong and smiled triumphantly.
Yeomjong, choking with rising panic, slowly backed away from Bidam’s approaching form. He stopped short when his back hit the trunk of a tree. He turned to flee but Bidam adeptly leapt to his feet and landed directly in front of him, his sword poised at Yeomjong’s throat.
“I should have killed you a long time ago, you scum!” Bidam said, a cynical smile curving his lips.
“I can see that you haven’t lost your touch, my lord. You are still the best swordsman I’ve ever seen! Truly, you’re a master, a master, indeed!” Yeomjong said, chortling nervously, his eyes darting from left to right, frantically searching for an escape.
“Ah, I remember now. I also wondered then if you could still laugh with your head rolling in the dirt. Perhaps it’s time that I satisfy my curiosity,” Bidam said. He raised his sword, the metal glinting with evil purpose, prepared to deliver the death blow.
The gleaming sword stopped midway its deadly track when, out of the corner of his eye, Bidam saw a dim figure emerge from behind the trees. In the silence of the forest he heard the soft hiss of the poisoned projectile as it flew towards him. He twisted his body to the left, just in time to avoid the deadly dart that was the meant to end his life. His eyes followed its path as it harmlessly hit the trunk of the tree behind him. The assassin adjusted his aim and let loose a second dart but Bidam easily deflected it with the blade of his sword. Hastily, he turned away from Yeomjong and pursued his would-be killer.
The assassin swiftly ran towards the forest but Bidam was able to overtake him with ease. The black-clad figure turned and drew his sword, forced to face his pursuer. His sword clashed with his chaser’s blood-stained weapon as he tried to strike, left then right, desperately trying to cut his adversary down but skilled as he was, he still was no match for the other man’s expertise. The assassin was quickly overpowered and disarmed in just a few seconds.
“Who ordered you to kill me?” Bidam asked the assassin, his sword poised threateningly at the other man’s throat. The man, however, remained silent, his eyes flashing in defiant hatred at his executioner.
Unable to receive any response, Bidam impatiently pulled off the assassin’s mask and was stunned when he immediately recognised the man to be Heuk San, one of Her Majesty’s household guards, the same man who had denied him access to the Queen just a couple of days ago.
A cold sweat broke out on his forehead as a dreadful thought hit him. It can’t be! It’s impossible! A thousand possibilities swam inside his head and he dreaded the man’s answer. Yet his desire to know the truth overpowered his fear.
“Tell me the truth! Who sent you here?” he screamed – icy panic slowly creeping into his heart. “Tell me or I swear I’ll cut you down, right here, right now!” he furiously asked, his bloodied sword now pressing against the assassin’s exposed neck.
The guard called Heuk-San, still fearless and defiant, just stared at him and said nothing.
“Answer me, you bastard! Who sent you to kill me?” Bidam hissed, pressing his sword closer to the man’s neck.
“Kill all enemies of our kingdom! Kill all traitors! Long live Her Majesty!” Heuk San cried insolently and with surprising strength, grabbed Bidam’s arm and pressed it closer to his neck, the sword slicing lethally against his throat.
Bidam stared as the dying man slowly slid to the ground, dumbfounded by the unexpected suicide of his ill-fated assassin, the deadly sword falling from his numbed fingers.
Dazed by the dying man’s final words, Bidam slowly turned and walked away from the ghastly scene. Heuk-san’s dying words kept ringing inside his head, the message clear yet too staggering to believe.
Yeomjong came running beside the dead man’s body and shrieked when he also recognised the black-clad figure.
“My lord! This man was a Palace Guard! He’s one of Her Majesty’s personal household guards. How could he....” he stopped short when he saw the same conclusion etched in Bidam’s anguished expression. When he looked back, he saw Bidam walking aimlessly down the dirt road.
It can’t be! She wouldn’t! Bidam kept on repeating to himself. It’s impossible!
Yeomjong ran after Bidam and grabbed his arm. Slowly, he guided his confused leader to the side of the road and made him sit on a small rock. As if in a trance, glazed eyes staring out into the dark, his lips moving wordlessly, Bidam followed without resistance. Yeomjong knew that he had to bring the valiant warrior back to his senses.
“Master, this treachery cannot be forgiven! You must take action now. The Palace guard was obviously sent by Her Majesty to kill you!” he paused, waiting for any reaction from his befuddled leader. Emboldened by the other’s silence, Yeomjong plunged on.
“Look at what she’s done to you! You devoted your life in service to her, you almost abandoned us for her sake and this is how she rewards you?” Yeomjong cried.
As if awoken from a deep sleep, Bidam slowly turned his gaze towards Yeomjong and grabbed him by the throat.
“If you don’t shut your mouth, I will slice it off your face,” he said, the crazed look on his eyes almost dissolving Yeomjong’s determination. Yeomjong knew, however, that he had to break through the other’s chaotic mind so he steeled himself and mustered what little courage he had left.
“Go ahead! Kill me, then! But will it change anything? Will it change the fact that Her Majesty had finally turned against you?” he screamed.
Bidam felt like a thousand knives were suddenly thrust into his heart. He pushed Yeomjong away and slowly rose on trembling legs, his whole being assaulted by a piercing feeling of defeat and revulsion.
Yeomjong started to rise too; intent on following his leader but Bidam raised his hand and signalled for him to stop.
“Let me be,” he said quietly and slowly walked towards the eerily silent forest.
Yeomjong knew that his master was in a very dangerous state of mind and must not be provoked any further so he sat back down and contended himself with watching the tormented man stagger away. He could almost touch the waves of conflicting emotions that emanated from Bidam’s plagued soul.
Silently, he looked at the retreating figure of Bidam and thought, Go and confront your demons, Bidam. I will be here, waiting...
Bidam hurriedly walked towards Ingang Palace after receiving an urgent summons from Her Majesty, the Queen. He suspected that it pertained to the contingency plan he had presented earlier in court. He also hoped against hope that she had finally changed her mind. Silla was now officially at war with Baekje and Bidam, as head of the Royal Inspectorate, charged not only with the internal affairs of the state but national security as well, had designed emergency plans to address this new crisis. Based on the recent intelligence reports, the Baekje armies were already marching towards Amnyangju, obviously emboldened by their continuous victory against the Silla defence lines. News of Lord Jujin’s forced retreat to Nam Cheon due to heavy casualty was received with trepidation by the entire royal court.
Silla’s capital, Seorabol, was just a day’s ride from Amnyangju, and would surely be breached in no time if the Yushin army, known as such because of its famed leader, Lord Kim Yushin, also failed in routing the invading forces. Her Majesty had sent them as reinforcement to Lord Jujin and was just now engaging the enemy. These recent developments at the war front plus the knowledge that it was his sworn duty to protect not only the kingdom but Her Majesty herself, had prompted Bidam to present to the court the boldest plan he had ever come up with –the immediate evacuation of the entire royal entourage to a safe location in Yul Po Heon. Although it ensured the safety of the entire royal family, it also meant forcing the Queen to abandon the capital itself. Bidam had assured Her Majesty that he, together with his troops in the Royal Inspectorate, would remain in Seorabol and defend the capital to the last man.
Conflicting reactions to this bold plan were voiced by the ministers. Lords Seo Hyeon and Yong Chun, staunch supporters of the Queen, advised Her Majesty against it. They insisted that such a move would be tantamount to defeat since it would surely deflate the armies’ morale. The two insisted that the Queen’s abandonment of the capital would mean virtual surrender, with the capital handed over to the invaders on a silver platter. On the other hand, Lords Mi Saeng and Ha Jong, both members of the Royal Inspectorate and loyal supporters of Lord Bidam, urged Her Majesty to evacuate the capital as soon as possible. Their argument was that evacuating the Queen would secure her from immediate capture should the capital be inevitably penetrated by enemy forces. The Queen patiently listened to the suggestions put forth by the two camps but in the end, her dedication to her troops won out making her refuse Bidam’s proposal entirely. She declared that it was a cowardly move and would do nothing but dishearten the people. And so, Bidam was left with the dilemma of convincing Her Majesty to accede to his proposal.
When Bidam arrived at the Palace, he was immediately escorted to the Queen’s receiving room where he found her sitting at her desk, going over several documents. Although he knew that she was already aware of his presence, she refused to look up from her papers. Her cold gesture told him that she was not in a very congenial mood. Yet he could feel no animosity towards her for he saw the tell-tale signs of the strain of the war with Baekje. The dark circles under her eyes also told him that the war was beginning to take its toll on her and that she had not been sleeping well lately either. A sudden desire to protect her welled up within his breast and he became even more determined to make her see the wisdom of his plan.
“Your Majesty, shall I go over my contingency plan again?” he asked after taking a seat directly before her.
“I will not leave Seorabol,” the Queen said, her voice betraying the irritation she felt at Bidam’s insistence. Turning from her papers, she looked up sharply at him and said, “However, I would like you to escort Lord Chun Chu to Yul Po Heon so that if worse comes to worst and the capital indeed falls into enemy hands he would still be able to lead our remaining forces in our campaign to regain it.”
Her words, though logical and filled with good intention, frustrated Bidam. It also gave him the impression that what the Queen really feared was the possibility that he would seize control of the capital once she and Lord Chun Chu had been whisked away to a safe location. He felt that the real reason for the Queen’s reluctance to leave the capital was her suspicion of his real motives. Her reaction to his proposal implied that she did not believe that what he was doing was really for her own protection but rather borne out of a desire to be hailed as hero.
“Are you afraid that I will seize control of Silla? Don’t you really trust me anymore?” he quietly asked, his voice cracking with emotion.
“It’s not that,” the Queen answered, averting her eyes.
“Then why can’t you look at me when you say it? Have you forgotten that I am the person who brought about Mishil’s death? Have you forgotten that I drove my own mother to her death? For your sake!” he cried.
The Queen quickly turned to him, clearly hurt and upset by his words, her eyes flashing venom and boring into his very soul.
“Are you now blaming me for that? Are you beginning to resent me for what you’ve done?” she replied.
Bidam was taken aback by her answer. Her words stung him and painfully he realized that he was no longer speaking with the Deokman he once knew.
“You have changed. When I first met you I had tried to turn you over to your enemies in exchange for medicine. Instead of hating me for such a deed you even thanked me. I was not aware of your reasons, then, but it did not matter for that was the first time that anyone had ever thanked me. That was the first time that someone had not reprimanded or blamed me for my actions,” he paused and took a deep breath, dying slowly inside.
He could never forget the first time that he met the young princess and for him, it did not seem that long ago; in fact, it still felt like it happened only yesterday.
It all began fourteen years ago, when a mysterious plague had been ravaging several of the remote villages just north of the capital. Medication was scarce and most of the seriously ill were either abandoned by their families or were already the last living member of theirs. He and his master, Geokson Munno, were just passing through the village but since the Geokson was quite knowledgeable in rare diseases, he took it upon himself to care for the neglected sick and the dying. Several days after their arrival at the village, Munno instructed Bidam to gather as much wild ginger root as he could from the surrounding forest. He was told that it was the primary ingredient in the concoction needed to cure the rare disease. Bidam searched the surrounding forests and gathered as much as he could find. It turned out, however, that the much sought-after herb had already been harvested by the local apothecaries. After failing to gather the required quantity he had no choice but to seek the village merchants who were apparently hoarding the highly in-demand ingredient.
And so it was that while he was pleading with an extremely difficult merchant for the medicinal herbs that he was forcibly taken by a group of men, whose leader, he later learned, was no other than the much-feared Lord Seolwon, Silla’s Minister of Defence and Lady Mishil’s right-hand man. Upon reaching the Minister’s temporary headquarters, Lord Seolwon’s aide told the Minister that he had heard Bidam say to the merchant that he was one of the last remaining residents of the ill-fated village and so he surmised that Bidam might know of the presence of the persons they were pursuing. The Minister, after learning of his predicament with the herbs then promised to give him whatever he needed if he helped in getting hold of two fugitives, a young man dressed in a Nangdo or Army Trainee outfit and his companion, a run-away officer of the King’s army.
From the Minister’s description of the wanted men, Bidam concluded that the men they were seeking were the same ones he had helped escape from a group of armed men the day before. Little did he know that the young man was actually the long-lost princess of Silla, disguised as a man. But because of his desire to get hold of the herbs, he decided to help the Minister. He surmised that the lives of two hundred people who would be saved by the medicinal herbs the Minister promised to give him for his services far outweighed the fate of the condemned men. After striking a bargain with Lord Seolwon, and after being told that the Minister was really only after the young man, he immediately went back to the village to look for them. In order to get the young man alone, he tricked and incarcerated Yushin, Deokman’s companion and self-appointed protector, in an old cell inside an abandoned prison camp. He then tied Deokman, whom he only saw as an unfortunate “young man”, to an ancient Yew tree inside the camp. He expected the young man to fight him nail and tooth but was bewildered when Deokman, instead of getting angry at him, calmly accepted “his” fate and even thanked him for his kindness when he brought them their food.
Deokman’s demeanor disturbed him and caused him to have second thoughts about his deal with Seolwon. However, his need for the herbs was more urgent and so he brushed aside his apprehensions and escorted the young man to Minister Seolwon the very next day. After surrendering his prisoner to the minister, he went back to Munno and presented him with the herbs that he received as payment for the capture of Deokman. His doubts, however, would not leave him in peace and so he confessed to his Master what he had done to get hold of the herbs. The older man rebuked him for his callousness, telling him that he did not have the right to sacrifice the life of one man even if his intentions were noble. And so, with a palpable sense of dread aggravating his guilt, he went after the Minister’s entourage and risked his own life in rescuing the young princess whom he had inadvertently betrayed. He had no idea that that single decision would change his life forever. He never even imagined that from that moment on, he would never be the same again.
Pulling his thoughts away from his sordid past, he turned back to the young Queen before him as, with a voice barely hiding his pain, he continued, “You were the only one who looked at me differently. What other people called insolence, you called confidence. What the world saw as cruelty, you called courage. What everyone saw as vile underhanded tricks, you called brilliant strategy and on the day that Lady Mishil killed herself and I had admitted to you that she was the mother who had abandoned me as a baby; the mother who never even acknowledged me as her son, you did not condemn me but instead embraced me and comforted me.”
“Stop it! I don’t want to listen to this anymore!” the Queen said, turning away from Bidam. Bidam, however, could not help but voice his despair.
“So, why do you question my motives now? Why then is my sincerity suddenly regarded as just a ruse to take control of Silla? Why is my genuine desire to protect you so unbelievable? Are you now so oblivious to my true feelings? Have you really changed that much?” he cried, the agony of his soul overpowering the last vestiges of his self-control.
Unable to take the pain that was gripping his heart Bidam did not wait for the Queen to answer but instead hastily stood up and fled the room.
The Queen, startled by the intensity of Bidam’s words, remained seated at her desk, feeling more confused than ever. Strangely, she understood the anguish that plagued the man. She and Bidam, both having been raised outside Seorabol and unaccustomed to palace life naturally gravitated towards each other. They were both strangers to the politics of the palace and they found comfort in each other’s company. She recalled the countless times that Bidam had been at her side. She remembered how he had been there to unquestioningly support her in her bid to reclaim her place as the long-lost daughter of the King after her twin sister Chongmyeong had been assassinated. She remembered how he had risked his life countless times in her arduous journey to re-establish the political clout of the Royal Family and gain the throne. She remembered how after she had been finally recognized as Princess and had returned to the Palace, he brought her wild flowers that he had picked along the way only because he thought it was her birthday.
Having lived most of her life disguised as a man, she never had much chance to act like a girl and it was the first time she had ever received flowers from anyone. Even Yushin, after confessing his deep feelings for her, never did that. It was a simple gesture that had made such a deep impression in her heart.
She remembered how Bidam came to rescue her when she bravely went back to the Palace to face the false charges that Lady Mishil had fabricated to discredit her, how he held her trembling hands after she had, as a young princess struggling to impose her authority, unwillingly executed the rebellious farmers she had entrusted with their own farmlands, how he had always come running to her side to comfort her whenever she felt like crumbling from the pressures of her position, how he would crack jokes and act silly just to make her laugh and forget all her worries, how he had always been there to sit quietly beside her and make her feel human again.
All of a sudden, the Queen felt a deep longing for the Bidam she once knew; and just right then she realised just how much she really needed him. Slowly, she picked up the contingency plan Bidam had drawn up and slowly read it with new eyes.
Although still dismayed by their earlier conversation, Bidam knew he must notjust let the matter of Her Majesty’s evacuation remain as it is, so when evening came, he went back to the Palace and sought audience with the Queen. Her household guard told him that she was outside taking a walk. Instinctively, he knew where to find her.
The Queen had always loved looking at the Lake at night, especially when she needed to think. She said that the calmness of the still waters helped her to see things more clearly. And just as he expected, he found Her Majestywalking along its banks, looking out at the water, lost in thought. He could still feel the burning pain in his heart brought by her utter rejection but protect her, he must, and he needed her to change her mind – now – while there’s still time to put his plan into action. Quietly, he approached her.
When the Queen saw him approaching, she quickly wiped away the tears that streaked down her cheeks, unaware that he had already seen them.
“Have you finally decided?” Bidam quietly asked. He wanted so much to comfort her but he wasafraid that she would reject his touch and so he restrained himself and looked down at the placid waters instead, quietly waiting for her answer.
The Queen remained silent, her pale face, shrouded by the shadows cast by the torches, turned towards the darkened Lake. The agony in her heart was evident when she finally spoke.
“There was a time when everything in my life was simple. I did not worry much about the past nor about the future. Then one day,my world was turned upside down. I met Chilsuk, a traveler who turned out to be the very man who had been hunting me for the last fifteen years. He sought us out even in the desert and tried to kill me. In the desert, I saw the mother I had known all my life die before my eyes protecting me. From then on, I swore that I must find out who I truly was.
And so, I travelled to Gyerim, on my own, to search for Munno, the man whom I thought held the key to my identity. To protect myself, I disguised myself as a man and due to some strange turn of events became an Army Trainee, a Nangdo. Then, just as I was ready to give up on my search for my past I found out that I was a twin, the princess that His Majesty had sent away to protect the Royal family. Those who were loyal to the King wanted to kill me to belie the prophesy that declared the fall of the Royal House in the event of a twin birth, Lady Mishil tried to capture me to oust the Queen; my sister, Princess Cheonmyeong, died protecting me and Yushin risked everything to do the same. The rest of the people who learned about my real status bowed down before me and revered me, telling me of the great feats that I must accomplish. Since then, nothing had been the same and I suddenly felt that I had ceased to be me.
Then, out of nowhere, you came into my life. You intended to sell me to my enemies but instead ended up saving my life. Even when you learned about my real identity, you did not care that I was a princess and treated me like you would an ordinary person. I did not mind and I evenasked you to keep on treating me that way because, with you at least, I felt like my old self again. Even when I regained my title and had returned to the Palace, you did not change and even brought me flowers. You were not afraid to show me your concern and had no qualms in touching me or holding my hands to comfort me, when everyone else distanced themselves and put me on a pedestal. Even when other people warned me about your motives, I did not care because with you I could be myself and that made me happy. And that’s also why our relationship never really changed that much,” she paused and turned to look at him.
“So what happened? Why do you seem so different now?” he asked, longingly looking into her eyes.
The Queen turned away from him, afraid of the emotions that he might see in her eyes.
“I changed the day that I lost my name. I became the Queen and therefore had become nothing more than ‘Her Majesty’ to everyone. Princes and Princesses have names, even the lowliest peasant has his own name but a ruler does not. A ruler ceases to be a person and no one can ever call me by my name again,” she replied.
“Then I will do it for you. I will continue to call you by your name, if that’s your wish!” he quickly answered.
“Then you will be charged with treason. Even if you do it out of love for me, the world will still call it treason. So now you ask me, why did I change? Because I had to! Because the moment that I became the Queen, I became Silla and you ceased to be who you were to me! You became nothing more than an influential vassal. And I, as your ruler, must constantly assess your motives and actions. I must always be suspicious of you, because I must always wonder if you would be just another Mishil!” When she turned to face him, her cheeks were drenched with unheeded tears. Her eyes were tender and sad when she spoke again.
“But, Bidam, do you have any idea how hard that is for me? Do you know how painful that is? Do you even realize how much I want to trust you, how much I want to depend on you, how much I long for you to comfort me?”
He felt the pain in her voice and had started to reach for her but his own emotions were in such turmoil that he did not know what to say or how to respond to her confession.Uncertain of what to do, he abruptly turned and walked away from her. He walked away not because he wanted to but because he could not do anything for her now. Not until he found refuge for his own troubled soul.
The Queen sadly followed Bidam’s retreating frame, her heart torn between disappointment and another, more powerful emotion that she refused to name. Reluctantly, she turned away from the now empty lane leading away from the palace and sought solace in the scenery before her.
A gentle breeze caressed the smooth surface of the lake, the soft current slowly twirling the floating lilies in a gentle dance. The Queen looked sadly at this simple spectacle, silently wishing that her life could be as easy, that she could just go along with the ripples of history. But then, she had chosen this life, hadn’t she? She had chosen to give up the simple life and become the ruler of Silla. Once, there was someone who was willing to give up everything he had, everything he was, just to be with her, to live an ordinary life with her. But she had refused and had chosen to serve her country instead. So now that she had achieved that, why was she feeling so conflicted?
Yushin, was I wrong in refusing you? She asked herself. Was I wrong in choosing Silla over the life you had offered me? Was I really ready for this?
She had refused to leave Seorabol in order to wrest Silla away from the clutches of Lady Mishil. It was a long and difficult road but she had been able to triumph in the end. She had done everything in her power to regain the political influence that the royal family had lost and she had sacrificed her own happiness, her right to her own life, in the pursuit of such lofty ideals. And so now, must she make the same sacrifice again?
It seemed ironic that the only person who can grant her what she now desperately needed was Mishil’s own son, the son she had abandoned as a baby, the son who grew up under Geokseun Munno’s strict rules, not knowing who he really was, the son who eventually chose to love and devote himself to his mother’s nemesis.
Bidam, I will always be grateful for your devotion but I cannot give you what you want. Just like Yushin, you must remain by my side because the kingdom needs you, nothing more. The Queen sighed, the burden inside her heart feeling heavier by the minute. But if that was the only reason, then why do I feel so miserable?
The Queen ignored the hot tears flowing down her cheeks. She had kept her emotions locked inside for so long that she felt relieved at letting go of them at last. Then she remembered how she had never been afraid to show her emotions to Bidam. With him, she never had to hide her tears, never had to suppress her laughter, never had to act like a princess. With him, she never had to pretend to be strong, never had to hide from the truth. With him, she could always be herself.
And just like that, she knew. She knew and she had always known the real reason for her attachment to Bidam. She was just too stubborn, too afraid to admit it to herself. Politics had nothing to do with her desire to keep him close! All through the years she had convinced herself that the reason she had refused to send him to the battlefront, in spite of his being the best swordsman and the most cunning strategist in the land, was that she needed his brilliant mind, his exceptional tactics, and his unparalleled dedication to aid her in her everyday decisions. But what she really needed from him was the emotional contentment that only he could give. She could not send him away because she could not bear to be apart from him even for a day. And now she knew why. I love him! I’ve always loved him!