Chapter 9: Goryeo Royal Palace, Gae Kyeong (Ep. 5)
Eui Son and Dr. Jang reluctantly left Choi Young in the care of other doctors for the time being. They had been summoned to attend the King’s first audience with his advisors and nobles. Lady Choi helped Eui Son dress appropriately and make her way to the throne room, where she waited to be introduced to the court.
The King and Queen were making their way to the court, walking about five feet apart. They were an interesting pair to see, the tall, willowy princess from Yuan with delicate features and an elaborate headdress, and the shorter King with a serious face. He wore his hair in a long pigtail down his back, trimmed with gold cloth that matched the color of his robe. The King suddenly stopped, and that obliged the Queen to stop as well. Both of them remained facing forward, not looking at the other one.
He said, “I have not made up my mind what to do, but no matter what I choose, you will not like what you see.”
“Of what are you speaking?”
“One, I might choose to be brave, and have the throne snatched away. Then your life will be in danger, too. And the other choice. If I lower my head and become an object of ridicule, I can maintain this throne. Which one will you find more bearable?”
“None of them.”
He nodded, “I thought so.”
She asked, “Where is the Woodalchi Commander?”
“He is unable to come due to an illness.”
“Is it an illness?”
The King turned to her and said, “As he cannot come, we must go with a third plan. It involves the Doctor from Heaven.
Given their relationship, she was surprised that he would confide even this much to her, and she told him so. He replied that whatever he suffered, whether it was ridicule or death, she would suffer it also. They held each other’s eyes for a moment, then faced forward once again and continued down the hall to the throne room.
As the royal couple entered the throne room everyone in the court stood and bowed as they walked to the royal dais. He turned and sat on the golden throne. The Queen sat down in a chair to his left, with Dr. Jang standing by her side. The King invited everyone to be seated.
Once everyone was seated, one of Ki-chul’s minions, Ja-won, spoke, “Your Majesty the King. Your Highness the Queen. Seeing your royal selves in good health, I am very thankful to the Heaven’s protection.” Everyone bowed to the King again.
The King planted a smile on his face and spoke for the first time to the assembled Court. “Are you? It is so. I am also thankful for Heaven’s protection.” While the King spoke, Il-shin kept nodding his encouragement. The third plan had been his idea.
The King continued, “I’m not sure if you heard the news, but the path from Yuan to here, this royal palace, was quite perilous. For a moment the Queen almost lost her life.
He looked around the room and asked, “Why do you look so surprised? You all heard of it. Hwata’s heavenly gate opened and a heavenly healer was sent to save the Queen.”
The King motioned to his right and a eunuch raised a narrow curtain there. It revealed Eui Son, seated, with Lady Choi standing next to her. Eui Son, for her part, had been told to get ready for a meeting, but she was surprised at the size of the audience staring at her, all men. She turned to the side, starting to rise to her feet to leave, but Lady Choi firmly but discretely pushed her back down in the chair.
The King continued his speech. “I have thought about it again and again. What does this mean? Why did heaven choose this Goryeo, of all countries? Why did heaven send a heavenly doctor to this poor King?” And indicating Eui Son, he asked his courtiers, “What do you think?”
“Moreover, this heavenly healer has spoken about the things I will do for this country. The future of Goryeo is written in the books of heaven. Don’t you want to hear what she has to say?” The advisors controlled by Ki-chul looked worried. He was strengthening his hand quite effectively.
Then Ki-chul made his entrance from the far end of the room, announcing, “This is quite disconcerting.” As he walked up the center aisle toward the King, the advisors bowed to him as low as they had previously bowed to the King. He continued, “Your Majesty, I am Ki-chul, Prince of the Court from Deokseong. I came running here to be in the King’s audience.” Stepping onto the dais, which was disrespectful to the King, he stated, “But I’ve heard a very odd story. A gate to Heaven. A Heavenly Healer. Even a High Doctor.” By the time he finished speaking, he was practically next to the King on the dais. Woodalchi guards had begun to stop him, but the King had waved them back.
Ki-chul continued, “My King is still very young, and has stayed far from his homeland for a long time. Things might still be confusing. But you are the King.”
He turned to the court and began to shout, “Who has dared…Who has dared to whisper such drivel to His Highness to confuse his mind?!” He pointed at Eun-soo and shouted, “The wily one there? You…The one in the form of a woman…Answer me!”
She didn’t know what to do. She turned to the side and started to get up from her chair, and once again Lady Choi restrained her. Dr. Jang urgently whispered from across the dais, “Please don’t run away. If you run, you will die.”
She replied to him, “I don’t think he’d really…”
Ki-chul called again, “You wily thing! Did I not say to answer!” She was shocked at the vehemence in his voice.
But at that point the King interjected himself in an attempt to reframe the conversation. He smiled and chuckled, “It was predicted.” Arising from his throne and looking at Ki-chul, he continued, “So you are that Prince of the Court from Deokseong. When I was in Yuan, your sister, Empress Ki, told me much about you. I know very well it is thanks to you and your sister that I am here today.
Looking doubtful, Ki-chul replied, “You know it is thanks to us?”
“Yes. Empress Ki said this as I crossed to here from Yuan. Upon returning to my homeland, Prince of the Court from Deokseong would take care of everything for me. That I need not worry.”
As the King continued speaking, he walked down off the dais and down the center aisle, addressing the court officials seated on either side. “That I must not be surprised if you seem to show disrespect to me by stepping right up to my throne. To calm the officials if they seem to be astonished at your actions.”
He looked back at Ki-chul and continued with a friendly smile. “Because your actions are not that you lack loyalty to the crown. In fact, your allegiance is so great that you cannot control your passion.”
The King turned back to the courtiers while pointing to Ki-chul. “See? Look at how he ran here so worried that I might have been in danger. What loyalty!”
But Ki-chul was not to be put off. He came down from the dais, chuckling, “So then, Your Majesty is trying to say that thing is indeed from Heaven? Do you really believe such drivel?”
At that point the Queen spoke up, since she had been the beneficiary of the Doctor’s attention. She addressed Ki-chul and the Court, “I believe it. I am your Queen, the daughter of the King of Yuan. On my journey here, an assassin was sent and my neck was cut by a sword.” She tore the bandage from her neck, exposing the stitches, and continued, “This is the neck that High Doctor attached again. Is there another doctor with such skill on earth?”
Dr. Jang again whispered across the dais to Eui Son, “You must show them that you’re someone from heaven.”
Frustrated, she replied, “So what am I supposed to do?”
Lady Choi leaned down and whispered to her, “Don’t cry and don’t be shaken.”
Dr. Jang added, “Act as you do in Heaven.”
Ki-chul picked up again, saying, “My young and innocent King. And his Queen. Who had you believe that, Woodalchi’s Choi Young? Did he bring that wily one to you, saying that she is from heaven? That is what I have heard. Isn’t that right?”
The King looked away, unsure how to respond. Ki-chul addressed the ministers, “Where is Woodalchi’s Choi Young?” His voice rose to a fevered pitch, “Drag that treacherous and disloyal criminal here at once!”
At last Eui Son rose to her feet and spoke. “That’s impossible!”
Ki-chul looked at her with a triumphant smile and said, “So the wily thing even talks?”
She continued, “Choi Young, the Commander…he is my patient. No one can take him without my permission.”
Then she went to sit down again, but Ki-chul took a few steps toward her. “What? You witch!”
She had had to put up with pompous bullies when she was a resident in training, and she wasn’t about to tolerate more of it. Her anger overcoming her fear, she stood up again. “Watch what you say! How dare you curse and use informal language with me!” Gathering steam, she stalked up to him, looking him in the eye. “Oh, seriously! I don’t know how I ended up dragged to this ditch, but at my age, I have to be cursed at?! How old are you?”
Stunned by her nerve, he stuttered, “W-what?”
“I am a cosmetic surgeon in Gangnam. That means I’ve dealt with enough nasty people threatening me all the time, and I know how to deal with them. Do you think I’m being nice because I don’t know how to curse? I’m holding back since we’re in front of the King, so let’s drop it here.” While she spoke, the King, Queen, Lady Choi and Dr. Jang all looked at each other, wondering where this confrontation would go. When she finished speaking to Ki-chul, she turned to the King and asked his permission to leave, saying she had a patient to attend to. With a nervous smile the King quickly gave his permission.
But Ki-chul wasn’t about to give up. As she went to leave, he stepped in front of her.
Startled, she rebuked him, “You scared me!”
In a menacing voice he said, “You wicked thing…do you want to die?”
Instead of responding to him directly, she turned to the King. “You said his name was Ki-chul, right?” The King nodded. Then she pointed at Ki-chul, “Now I remember. Ki-chul, Empress Ki, King Gongmin. That’s right! It was all on the exam!”
She turned back to the King, explaining, “You might not be able to tell, but I was a good student then.” Then she turned back to Ki-chul, sneering, “Anyway, Yuan’s going to collapse soon…” She started to sing a little ditty reciting the Chinese dynasties to the tune of “Mary had a Little Lamb”, counting them off on her fingers: “Tang, Tang, Liao, Yuan, Ming, Southern Song…”
She announced, “So, it’s Ming Dynasty next.” Everyone in the court looked stunned. This was big news.
She continued, “Soon, the land of Yuan will die and Ming will come in! Yeah, that’s right. I even remember how you will die, Ki-chul. But I won’t tell you. Why? Because you’re a jerk!”
She put her finger in his face and said, “Hey, F…k you, go to hell!” Then she turned away and left Ki-chul standing there, stunned by this feisty woman and her predictions. The King dismissed the Court soon after, all abuzz with the idea of the Yuan Dynasty ending soon and Ki-chul having been cursed by the Heavenly Doctor.
Once she left the throne room through a side door, she nearly collapsed from the tension of the confrontation with Ki-chul. Dr. Jang caught her. He was smiling and told her, “Well done. You overachieved!”
The two doctors returned to the Royal Hospital to attend to their patient, who was still unconscious. Dr. Jang asked her if she was going to be Choi Young’s doctor again. She said her involvement was only to ensure that he didn’t die, because if he died, she wasn’t sure who would help her return. Looking at his incision, they found that it was very infected, oozing pus and surrounded by grayish tissue. She opened the incision again in order to clear the pus and remove dead tissue. Then they infused it with a concoction of Dr. Jang’s to sterilize the wound. He said the medicine would also help the living tissue heal.
While they were operating, Choi Young dreamed again of the frozen lake and his father. This time his father asked him, “Is she…still in your heart?” Choi Young smiled tenderly and answered, “She is still there. I cannot let her go.” His dream changed to a memory of being with May Hee, practicing their fighting skills together and vowing to love and protect the other one. He leaned down to kiss her, but she suddenly disappeared. Then he experienced again the ravaging grief of discovering that she had hung herself from a tree, unable to bear the shame of having been responsible for their leader’s death. His grief was quickly followed by a crushing sense of shame and guilt for not having been able to protect her or his leader. All of these emotions had haunted him for the past seven years. His only relief from them had been when he was sleeping or fighting. He slipped further away.
After operating on Choi Young, Eui Son had fallen asleep in a chair next to him. She awoke to Dae-man’s cries of alarm. Choi Young was once again having a seizure. Others ran into the room to hold him down and slip a strip of wood between his teeth. Eui Son was puzzled. What could be the problem? They’d removed the source of infection, his fever was down, and he should be recovering. But he wasn’t getting better; in fact, he was worse. She left the room in frustration. Dr. Jang followed her, and they met in the hospital’s garden. Dr. Jang told her that this wasn’t the first time Choi Young had been injured by a sword, and that his inner power was so strong that he had usually healed himself without the need for medical treatment. She asked him why that wasn’t working this time. He replied that she had healed the Commander’s disease but couldn’t heal the person. Her professor had told her the same thing. No matter how well surgery went, if the patient didn’t have a will to live, then recovery was questionable. It was one of the reasons she left the field of thoracic surgery and went into cosmetic surgery. She didn’t have to deal with life and death issues with patients, and besides, it was a much more lucrative field of medicine. Dr. Jang asked her if she had ever had a patient die, and she replied, “Is this some kind of drama? Do you think I suffer from pangs of conscience over a patient who died? No, none of my patients ever died.” He replied that, if Choi Young died, he would be her first. She was brought up short by that, realizing that it might be so.
As for Choi Young, he continued dreaming. On the icy lake it was getting colder and colder. He could feel frost forming over him, in his hair, on his hands, and even on his face. It was getting harder and harder to move, but he didn’t want to move anyway. He just wanted to stay there, where he felt at peace.
Once Ki-chul and his minions had returned home from the court, the talk was all about what had occurred at court. While Ki-chul was being bathed, Yang-sa and Ki-chul’s brother were talking in an adjacent room. Yang-sa said angrily, “Such nonsense. All those words that wily thing is saying with her snake tongue! Every word is nonsense.”
“Well, I thought you believed in heaven and gods, Yang-sa, something like that. So how come you’re so angry?”
“Because she is confusing the entire country, that’s why. The city is in an uproar. A High Doctor who was sent by Heaven to protect the new King? Ha!”
Ki-chul’s brother was more superstitious. “Well, when I saw her speak, I got a little frightened. She treated my brother like a servant. And Yuan being destroyed…and she knew when my brother will die too.”
“I tell you, it’s all nonsense!”
“But, she even cast a spell, ‘Hey, F…k you…’ and she sent it through her finger into him. Everyone saw and heard it. They believe it brings death!”
Ki-chul finished his bath, which had calmed him and helped him think about his next steps. He decided he had to see that woman again. His men told him that she was so closely guarded by the Woodalchi that it was impossible to bring her to him. Then he inquired about Choi Young. Why hadn’t they brought him into his service yet?
Yang-sa replied that there were rumors that Eui Son had gone to the Woodalchi barracks, and that Choi Young had become ill after that visit. Perhaps he had offended her, and she cursed him. He was said to be very ill, even near death.
His brother added, “Didn’t I tell you? She is casting spells!”
Ki-chul dismissed all the talk of heaven and spells as nonsense. He decided to go see the King.
The King had agreed to meet with him late that evening. He was sitting on his throne as Ki-chul entered. Several Woodalchi were staying very close to the King with hands near their swords. As Ki-chul knelt on all fours, he said, “I, Prince of the Court from Deokseong, have come to see the King.”
The King let him stay there for a few moments longer, making it clear who was the King and who was the subject. Then he said, “Ah, this was such a big surprise I’ve forgotten to ask you to stand up. Please sit comfortably. What has brought you here at this late hour?”
Ki-chul took out his copy of the paper that had been found where the advisors had died and placed it on the floor in front of him. “I have come to discuss the secret letter Your Majesty sent me a few days ago. I have found its meaning.”
“Ah, from the place where 24 subjects were poisoned. I sent you a copy of that letter.” Do-chi, one of the King’s attendants, picked up the paper and gave it to the King.
Ki-chul read, “’If the river (Kang) and hill (Reung) find their place, the sun will collapse.’ Here, Kang Reung means…”
“It means me, whose previous name was Prince Kang Reung.”
“And the rest says, ‘Save the sun and stand up for the great cause.’ And this means…”
“It can mean the previous King, Prince Kyeong Chung, my nephew.”
“May I put that meaning together and interpret it?”
“If Prince Kang Reung ascends to the throne, I, Prince Kyeong Chung, will die. Loyal subjects, please save me.”
At that moment the King was thinking that Choi Young had been right, the person who planted the paper would reveal himself. He decided to act as if he believed the message was genuine. “So you’re saying that the advisors gathered to protect the previous King, Prince Kyeong Chung?”
“There is no other way to interpret it, Your Majesty. It had to be on behalf of the exiled Prince.”
“Then who killed all of them?”
Ki-chul paused. Then he said, “It was I, your subject.”
Surprised that he would admit it, the King leaned forward and said, “You did?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“For your Majesty, and for this country of Goryeo.”
The King was deciding whether or not to reveal the lie. “What if…this secret letter wasn’t the one those poisoned people had, but a forged letter which was planted by somebody after they were all dead?”
“Who and how would they do something like that?”
The King laughed, deciding to keep playing along. “That’s true. Who and for what reason would they do that?!” Ki-chul joined him in laughter. After a moment the King added, “We can’t just laugh about this. I must reward you for protecting me from rebellious officials.”
“You will reward me, Your Majesty?” Ki-chul was pleased this was going so well.
“What do you want? Tell me. I don’t know well yet what kind of prize is suitable for this kind of great work.”
“Then I will dare to make my request. At our house, there is an illness that no one except Hwata can cure. May I be allowed to take the High Doctor? If that woman is a doctor from the heavens, then of course she will be able to cure that illness. If she cannot, then this subject, on behalf of His Majesty, will clean her up secretly.”
The King arose from his throne, came forward and sat down on one of the steps of the dais, facing Ki-chul for a more informal but serious conversation. “Do you really plan to kill her?”
“Didn’t I say? That it is for Your Majesty’s sake.”
“Are you afraid she will be by my side? I didn’t know you were such a coward as to be afraid of a woman.”
“The person I am afraid of is not that woman. It is you, Your Majesty. Didn’t you know?”
“Enough wordplay. Tell me exactly what you are hoping for.”
“It’s not playing words. What I really want is you, Your Majesty. To win your trust. And I will get rid of everything that comes between us until you do, whether it’s the High Doctor or the Woodalchi Choi Young.”
“To trust you? Does that mean that I should become a toothless King who follows your words obediently? Is that it?”
“It is a bit…different. What I want is your heart. Having the heart of the person I want. The harder the heart is to get, the more I want it. Gathering hearts is the joy of my life.” Ki-chul finished this statement with a large smile on his face.
“Men’s hearts, you say?” and the King chuckled while thinking that he didn’t have the power to keep Eui Son out of Ki-chul’s hands for long.
“What is so funny?”
“Let’s try it. Who will be able to capture the heart first? Shall we try the High Doctor’s heart?”
“Ah. I understand.”
“How long would you need to take the High Doctor’s heart? Would seven days be enough?”
“Seven days will be enough,” Ki-chul said confidently.
“Take her. Go and, if you can get the High Doctor’s heart within seven days, then she will be yours. But if you fail, you have to bring her back with not even a single hair of hers getting hurt.” Ki-chul was looking down, evidently thinking about the King’s offer. The King asked, “Do you not have the confidence?”
Ki-chul looked up then and said, “I will receive your command,” and bowed to the King.
The King knew this was a gamble, but he hoped it would keep Eui Son safe for the time being, until he could think of a plan to return her safely to the palace.
In the medical office, the person under discussion, Eui Son, was mixing medicinal herbs that Dr. Jang had told her were used to treat inflammation. She was determined to learn what she could about medicine in this era. Deo-ki came into the room, frowning at her, and motioned that she was urgently needed. She followed her to where Choi Young lay. Dae-man had been keeping watch, and he told her that the Commander’s body was too cold and his pulse was hard to detect. She looked at Choi Young, shook her head and sat down. She asked where Dr. Jang was and was told that he had gone to see another patient. Dae-man asked her if she wasn’t going to do something. How could she just stand there? She thought aloud that she’d need a ventilator, a heart monitor and pulse oximeter, but she had none of those. She told Dae-man there was nothing she could do.
He protested, “B-but…you’re the High Doctor!”
“That…is just what you guys call me. I never said I was.”
Dae-man shook his head in frustration and left with Deo-ki to find Dr. Jang.
Sitting alone next to Choi Young, Eui Son remembered that even unconscious patients could sometimes hear someone talking to them. So she began, “Hey, I happened to listen to your conversation with the King. And I understand you’ve had a very hard life, having to live in this dog-like world. So that’s why you’ve become like a psycho now. I can understand that. But…you’re not the only one. We all have a hard life. Everyone lives persistently, desperately. Because…because…”
While speaking she looked at his ashen face and suddenly realized he wasn’t breathing.
She jumped up, felt for a pulse and put her face near his nose to detect any breathing. There was none. Alarmed, she cried, “Arrest!” and went into emergency mode. She removed the pillow from under his head and took the covers off his chest. She put one hand over the other, interlacing her fingers, and began to pump on his chest. At regular intervals she moved over to his head, pinched his nostrils shut, opened his mouth and breathed into it, giving him artificial respiration. Then she returned to chest pumping.
In a few minutes Dr. Jang came in with Dae-man. He wasn’t familiar with what Eui Son was doing but it was clear she was trying to save Choi Young’s life. By that time she was soaked in sweat and looking desperate as she continued trying to resuscitate him. Dae-man started sobbing. Dr. Jang took Choi Young’s limp arm in his hands and felt for a pulse; he couldn’t feel one. He grabbed her arms and said to her, “Stop it! He’s not breathing!”
But she shook him off, continued her efforts, and spoke to Choi Young again. “No, you are not leaving me! You can’t leave me here alone! Not because of my sword cut!” She leaned over his face, preparing to breathe into him, and continued, “You can’t die! You can’t! You said you want me to stay by your side. You said that you’ll protect me!” She put her mouth to his lips, breathed into him, and then returned once again to pumping.
Whether it was her tears or drops of sweat that fell on his cheek, he felt them in his dream. And he heard her say that he had promised to protect her. Part of him wanted to live, and his strong sense of duty became a lifeline. He reached for it and felt the ice on his face begin to break apart and then melt. And on the table, he began to breathe again. This time when Dr. Jang stopped Eui Son, it was to say, “His breathing has come back!” She stopped pumping, looked at Choi Young’s face and saw that a little color had returned to it. She was tearful with relief and smiled tenderly at him. She hadn’t killed him after all; in fact, she had just saved him.