Bloodline (조선): Chapter 1

Prologue: 숨겨진 비밀

CHAPTER 1: Starting Point (시작하자)

      Chaos: it can happen anytime at any day, but there is one thing we can all agree on. Chaos starts when horrible news spreads like a disease meant to kill everyone living.

      For my family, it started on a lovely morning. I was having a normal day ginseng tea with my closest brother, Prince Wu. We were planning on what heart-warming gift we should give to our little sister, Princess TaeYeon, who was betrothed to a noble man just recently.

      I fancied giving her a purple butterfly hairpin I designed myself while Wu wanted to give her a canvas and ink pigments since she loved painting to pass time. We had a bunch of ideas up our sleeves—so much that we almost planned on preparing them all for her. After all, we had the money of the palace. Anything we want can and will be given to us…

   

      “A bummer that I won’t get to see her around the palace anymore, though,” I pouted. “I’ll really miss her.” When a princess gets married, usually they’d be forced to move in with their consorts, meaning, they’d eventually have to leave the palace. I quite despise this tradition since I’d have to part ways with my Taengoo in a way, but that’s just the way the palace is.

      “You can still visit her,” Wu said. “I mean you’re not a wangseja (crown prince) or anything. You’re just Kibum-gun.”

      “I know, I know,” I chuckled. “Besides, I shouldn’t worry, too. She’ll be in the hands of Jonghyun. A bit sleek and smooth with the ladies, but I know he won’t cheat on her. If he does, I’ll kill him.”

      Wu laughed, “Jonghyun is a close friend of yours, isn’t he?” He grinned and sipped from his tea cup.

      “Very.”

      The doors slid open all of a sudden and in came my eunuch, Shindong. He looked quite nervous about something. Yeah, I could tell after seeing him every single day for most of my 24 years. “Daegam, Jonghyun-naeuri has a letter for you.”

      “Jonghyun?” An eyebrow shot up. Shindong handed me the letter that was hidden from beneath his green silk sleeves.

      “What’s it about?” Wu asked. I unfolded the letter.

As expected from my best buddy, Jonghyun, his handwriting was still the best among all those I’ve seen in Sungkyunkwan University…

      Wait, what’s this?

 

“Kibum-ah, there has been a major stir among the palace if you haven’t heard yet.
Yoochun-seja is dead.
 Please visit the Royal Investigation Bureau as soon as you can. My father and I would like to get your part of the story. If Wu is also there with you, please bring him along.”

 

       I blinked rapidly at the news as my eyes jolted from Wu to Shindong. “Seja Jeoha…?”

      “What is it?” Wu asked.

      “It says that Yoochun-hyungnim is dead,” I said, my breathing narrowing down.

      “What?!”

      My eyes turned to my eunuch, “Did you know about this, Shindong?”

      “Yes… but the king has forbid me and a bunch of other servants from spreading it around.”

      “That’s quite foolish. As if a death of a crown prince won’t spread anyway,” I scoffed. “C’mon Wu, let’s go to the Bureau. I want to know what’s going on.”

      Wu gently laid the tea cup on the table and stood up.

      “Should I prepare your palanquins, Daegam?” Shindong asked.

      “No, need. We’ll just walk.”

***

      Reaching the Bureau, Wu and I, along with some servants following behind, stood speechless at the entrance. Many people were running around as if in a panic and the place was heavily guarded than it should be.

      “Is any of the other royalties here?” I turned to Shindong.

      “Not yet, Daegam, but the King and princes have been summoned to be interrogated.”

      “But we didn’t do anything wrong,” Wu said, his eyebrows crumpling.

      “I suppose it is better we just answer their questions to clear ourselves if they require us to, Wu,” I said. Then I asked, “How about the two princesses? Have they been summoned to be interrogated, too?”

      “No, Daegam,” Shindong shook his head.

      “That’s a relief,” I sighed. “Let’s go in. We don’t want to keep Jonghyun and his father waiting.”

      When we were about to enter Officer Kim Young-woon’s office, the head of the Police Bureau and father of Jonghyun, a loyal and righteous guard named YongHwa stopped us and kept our servants from following in. The investigation must still be a serious and private matter.

      “So what happened?” I asked Jonghyun.

      “Crown Prince Yoochun was found this morning dead by the bu-yong pond with a two gunshots at his back and one exactly where the heart lies.”

      “Oh and nobody saw it?” Wu said.

      “His eunuch and court ladies say that they didn’t really notice anything unusual that early in the morning. They only noticed he was gone when no one was answering at breakfast time.”

      “Still in his royal underwear, I suppose, judging by how early he was killed,” I guessed. “You said it was before sunrise, right?”

      “Your skills are still very sharp, huh, Kibum?” Jonghyun noted. I once helped him in a case and I guess he still trusts my deduction skills.

      “Any suspects, yet?” Wu asked.

      “Not yet,” Officer Young-woon spoke. “That’s why we’d like to know your parts of the story.”

      Suddenly, there was an argument outside of the room we were in. From the sound of the person’s voice, it’s obvious to say that it’s a woman.

      “Let me in!”

      “I’m sorry, but we cannot allow anyone in at the moment.”

      “Please! I have to meet my fiancé!”

      At the mention of “fiancé,” I glanced at Jonghyun. “It’s TaeYeon.”

      “What’s she doing here?” Officer Young-woon looked at his son. Jonghyun shrugged and marched to the door.

      “I’m sorry, miss, but this is private matters,” YongHwa, who was at post, said.

      “Private matters?” TaeYeon scoffed. “Are you saying the death of my brother is supposed to be kept secret from me?”

      Jonghyun opened the door, startling the guard and TaeYeon. In an instant, TaeYeon jumped in the room and hugged him tightly around his waist. Jonghyun couldn’t resist so he just stood there, taken aback by her action.

      Jonghyun gestured YongHwa that it’s alright for TaeYeon to be here. YongHwa closed the doors and we were left alone.

      Since affection was not a usual sight between these two, I smirked and Jonghyun noticed it. He blushed out of embarrassment and awkwardly hugged his fiancée back.

      “Jonghyun, something terrible has happened!” she said with her eyes still closed as she embraced him. It seems she still hasn’t noticed the other three men in the room. It must be Jonghyun’s charms making it possible to blind her from her surroundings. I’m her best brother and I don’t even have that kind of ability on her.

      “Ehrm,” Jonghyun cleared his throat. TaeYeon’s eyes shot open, probably getting the grunt of awkwardness. She quickly withdrew from the hug and got eye-to-eye contact with me, Wu, and Jonghyun’s father. Her cheeks flushed pink and her eyes blinked rapidly in embarrassment. Her mouth slightly opened as she scratched the side of her cheeks out of awkwardness. I found myself giggling at her adorableness.

      “Ah, TaeYeon!” her soon-to-be-father-in-law, Officer Young-woon chuckled. TaeYeon awkwardly bowed her head at him.

      “Hello there, Taengoo-yah,” I chuckled with a frivolous grin, cutely waving my right hand at her.

      “Kibum-oppa,” she greeted back with a stubborn pout and crossed her arms to her chest. Her cheeks grew redder and tried to brush it off by shooting me a bitter look. As expected from my sister from the same mother—she despised it when I try to act cute sarcastically just to tease her.

      Jonghyun fixed his posture and cleared his throat again, “What brings you here?” he asked.

      “There’ve been rumors around the palace saying that Yoochun-oraboni is… dead,” she said. “I came here to ask if it was true.”

      We four men exchanged glances. We didn’t know if it was okay to say it to TaeYeon. Well, she’s a curious cat as always… we really can’t hold her back. She’ll find out either way.

      “Yes,” Jonghyun quickly broke it to her. TaeYeon’s tense shoulders slouched. Her energy quickly drained at the news. She took a few moments of silence to take things in and then sighed.

      “What happened?” she asked in a serious tone going from the worried and teary-eyed girl to a poker-faced facade. As expected again from her, she’s not one to show her deepest emotions. She’s a strong one.

      “He had been shot three times—one at heart and two at his back, near the neck and spinal cord. Setting is at bu-yong pond just an hour before sunrise,” Officer Young-woon explained. “It’s obviously a teamwork assassination. The killers knew he’d be there at exactly that hour.”

      “But doesn’t that mean…,” TaeYeon looked at Jonghyun.

      He nodded, “Yes.”

      My eyes furrowed. What does that mean? And since when can they read each other’s minds like this? I missed out on a lot of the romance, I see.

      “What does that mean?” Wu said with a blank face. Thanks for voicing out what I was about to say, Hyung.

      “My father and I have been able to deduct a lot of things with what we know,” Jonghyun said. “TaeYeon once told me that Crown Prince Yoochun secretly sneaks out his palace every morning just to clear his mind in the bu-yong pond.”

      “Isn’t that common knowledge?” Wu said. “Doesn’t everyone in the palace know he does this? He’s been doing that since he hit coming of age.”

      “That’s the problem here,” Officer Young-woon said. “No one knows he had been doing that other than you and your siblings. It’s not common knowledge for anyone but the royal heirs and heiresses.”

      “So are you saying any of us princes killed him?” my eyebrows furrowed.

      “We’re not saying it’s you, Kibum. Until we find any evidences, the princes are our suspects for now,” Jonghyun said. “A bit fast at jumping conclusions, I know, but it’s better to think like this than to keep wondering and making up silly accusations without any basis. That’s why we called you here: to clear some things up.”

      I nodded in understanding. “Ask away then,” I sighed as I sat down on a chair. “Wu and I don’t really have anything to hide.”

      “Let’s make this quick, then,” Officer Young-woon sat down across me. “If you would, TaeYeon, we’d like to investigate you as well. Would that be alright?”

      “Of course,” she nodded. She sat by my left and Wu sat by my right. Jonghyun stayed standing.

      “Starting with you, TaeYeon,” Officer Young-woon began. “Where were you last night?”

      “I was at SooYeon-unnie’s home talking about…” she trailed off and I looked at her to anticipate her answer. She was biting her lips as if not wanting to say what she was about to say.

      “About?”

      “Agh…,” she sighed. She hesitantly and timidly said without looking at her soon-to-be-father-in-law’s eyes, “…we were talking about Jonghyun.”

      Jonghyun and I snorted.

      “Ow!” TaeYeon stepped on my foot under the table and I yelped in pain. I guess she didn’t want me laughing at that. She’s not exactly a woman to easily fall in love with any man, but now that she is, she just amuses me so much. Jonghyun and I wanted to laugh but quickly composed ourselves.

      “Mi-young was also there with you, right?” Officer Young-woon said, referring to his daughter, Jonghyun’s sister, whom was good friends with the two princesses.

      “Yes,” TaeYeon nodded.

      “What about this morning? How did you hear about the crown prince’s death?”

      “I stopped by the Royal Kitchen to visit a friend. While I was there, some kitchen ladies who were assigned to the Crown Prince’s palace talked about his death. At first I couldn’t believe it and even scolded them for spreading such a rumor, but as I continued walking around, I heard the painter of the Crown Prince’s portrait cried because of the loss.”

      “I understand. Moving on to you, Kibum-gun. Where were you last night?”

      “I was with Wu,” I said, glancing to my right. “We drank a bit of rice wine last night.”

      “A bit?” Wu scoffed. “You almost lost it.”

      “Shut up,” I sneered, “I did not. I remember the whole night.”

      “In the morning?” Officer Young-woon asked.

      “I woke up after a nightmare when the sun had already risen,” I shrugged. “I don’t exactly remember what it was about though…”

      “That hangover took its toll on you, huh?” Wu snickered. I rolled my eyes.

      “How about you, Wu-gun?” Officer Young-woon turned to him. “Where were you during mornings?”

      “I was at my palace sleeping,” he said, stating the obvious. “My eunuch woke me up when a pack of tea from Jongdae arrived for me. I got up quickly after that to share it with Kibum.” Jongdae is the youngest of the royal heirs. Wu and I were once very close to him.

      Officer Young-woon nodded and leaned back on his chair. “You both don’t seem to be suspicious. We’ll let you off the hook.”

      “Feel free to ask us if you have any more,” I said. “But for now, can I see seja jeoha’s body?”

      “Alright.”

      When we reached the autopsy room at the left wing of the bureau, present were parties of court ladies and soldiers around a royal palanquin. Judging by the great size and quality of the dragon-carved wood coated with gold and red silk curtains, I’m pretty sure that’s the King’s palanquin.

      Entering the room, the first thing I saw was the crown prince’s body covered with cloth on the examination table. I bit my lip at the proof of my dead brother. This is real… this is really happening.

      Present were the two other princes, JaeJoong and Junsu, closest to Yoochun. I glared at them since I despised seeing them and quickly ignored their presence.

      My eyes caught King Seojin’s eyes standing in the corner, clutching a chair with his breath raggedly shaking as Officer Young-woon bowed and greeted him. I could see sorrow overflowing in my father’s complexion, trying to hold things in but couldn’t. Crown Prince Yoochun was his most favored son. Of course, after 28 years of being in the position of crown prince, the King would never have thought his successor would be lying here, cold and dead. I could only sigh at the pitiful state my father was in.

      “Abamama…,” my eyes dropped.

      “Kibum-ah…,” he cried.

      Soon, TaeYeon entered behind me with Wu and Jonghyun following. TaeYeon instantly gripped my wrists and froze as soon as she saw the body covered in cloth. I could hear her gulping at the thought of seeing Yoochun’s face, emotionless and asleep forever. I shouldn’t have allowed her to come along with me. This might be too much for her to handle.

      When the greetings to the king were finished, King Seojin himself dared to unveil the reality before us. Slowly and carefully, he took off the cloth from his head to his chest and as soon as he finished, he almost fell to the floor at the traumatizing sight. Yoochun’s eyes were closed, his face was pale, and lips were chapped. I looked away and TaeYeon buried her face on my shoulder. I expected her to cry, but to my surprise, she couldn’t. She was too shocked to do so.

      “Yoochun-ah!!!” the King shrieked with a mess of emotions. I watched my father as he kept slapping his son’s face to wake him up even though the effort was useless. It was too much for my eyes to see. I was deeply affected by the emotions he projected. It was… too much.

***

      It started to rain that afternoon. From the way the loud crashing of winds and waters beat against the roof and from the way thunder and lightning flashes every 30 minutes or so, I could predict that this rain would eventually evolve into a storm since the lovely morning already ended… just like the normal cycle of chaos.

      As the news spread like wildfire throughout the palace, so did the news spread throughout the whole kingdom. After only hours of finding out about Crown Prince Yoochun’s death, the kingdom had already started grieving.

      Meanwhile, in Wu’s palace, Wu and I silently sat in his office carefully analyzing the event that has been recently declared. Jonghyun, however, has been scuttling back and forth while biting his nails in front of Wu. As Jonghyun’s anxiety grew worse, Wu got more annoyed and stressed out. He slammed his hands on the table and angrily shouted, “Sit still, Jonghyun. You’re giving me a headache!”

      “Oh, sorry,” Jonghyun sat down. “I was just wondering how this all came to be. Why would anyone assassinate him? Do you have the slightest clue? He’s been such a great prince. I’m sure if he was the first king of Joseon, he would do a just as good as King Taejo.”

      As Jonghyun talked on and on about how great Yoochun was, Wu and I just let him even though we barely agreed with his views. Wu and I have an idea of who could have held grudges against our brother. Though most of the people outside the palace never knew it, Yoochun was a cold-hearted man. He abused most of his servants brutally up to the point when most of them just pleaded for death to end all the pain. He was only cordial to the ones he needed to impress like the King and Queen and the citizens of Joseon. To the others, he was nothing but an ignorant and cruel man.

      Even if Yoochun was our brother, Wu and I were never close to him. We despised him because he wasn’t exactly the nicest prince around. Even our other siblings agree on that. Yoochun never treated his siblings and servants kindly. He never took care of us like a big brother would. He only did what he wanted for himself to get to the top. He committed things a future king shouldn’t have committed. The only problem was, no one has enough courage to tell the King about it. He was too favored by the King. That gave him enough power and that gave us fear to keep his real character to ourselves.

      “Most of the things you know about Jeoha is a fit, anyway,” Wu said. “He’s not the nicest person around.”

      Jonghyun suddenly paused at Wu’s statement.  He could not believe it since Yoochun treated him nicely. Well, wouldn’t it be obvious why he was friendly towards the son of a police chief? He was just trying to save his own sinful soul.

      “What do you mean?” Jonghyun glared.

      Wu relaxed himself on his seat and sighed. He coldly stared at Colt and said, “Have you not heard of the ‘note’ case?” My eyes jolted to Wu knowing what he was talking about.

      Clueless, Jonghyun shook his head. Wu continued, “In the crown prince’s palace, one servant accidently threw a note away. For weeks he interrogated and tortured that servant up to the point when he could plead for mercy no more. As you know, things like this should be appealed to the courts, but of course, that news didn’t reach the king.”

      Jonghyun sat silently, paralyzed at hearing Wu’s news. He just didn’t want to believe it. He even wanted to defend Yoochun, but Wu’s glare silenced him. Wu’s fierce eyes were burning up at the thought of Yoochun’s horrible actions—not just to the servants, but also to him.

      “So what are you trying to imply?” Jonghyun glared back at Charles in suspicion.

      “I’m just saying that there are a lot of possible people that could’ve held a grude againts him. Jeoha is not as righteous of a prince as you think,” Wu nonchalantly said.

      “He’s a great man and I don’t care what grudge you have over him,” Jonghyun angrily spat. “For all I know you could be the one who killed him!”

      “That’s enough,” I said sternly. “We both know that Wu can’t even hunt or aim properly with the bow. Forgive him. He’s not exactly in good terms with Seja Jeoha.”

***

      A few days later, TaeYeon forced me to come pay her condolences to the Crown Princess Jimin, the royal noble consort for almost 20 years from the Han family. I hesitated since I barely knew the woman but I just couldn’t resist TaeYeon’s pleading eyes. She was desperate to drag me along. If this makes my little sister feel better in this current chaos, then I’d be happy to come with her.

      I really didn’t want to pay my condolences but TaeYeon’s compassion got to me. Her ability to love even though she doesn’t like some things is something I probably won’t ever completely understand about her.

      Entering the Crown Princess’s palace, we found Queen Il-Hwa beside Crown Princess Jimin, comforting her. Crown Princess Jimin was crying. She was still grieving because of her husband’s death. Though she grew cold towards the Crown Prince through the years since she also knew about the horrible deeds Yoochun had committed, you cannot deny their previous feelings towards each other once upon a time by how distraught her heart had turned losing him.

      Queen Il-Hwa sat silently, trying her best to hush the crown princess. She didn’t say much for she probably knew the feeling of just wanting to cry rather than listen to people’s condolences. You see, the Queen once had her own son—the crown prince before Yoochun—but he died at a young age and ever since then, she never bore the King another child. She knew well the feeling of losing something precious so I suppose she knew how to comfort a princess.

      “Oh, Kibum-gun, TaeYeon-ongju,” the Queen turned her attention to us. Her face was obviously filled with worry.

      “Maybe we shouldn’t have come,” TaeYeon whispered to me. “We’ll come back on another time,” she said to the Queen. The Queen just nodded and her head turned to me. She wanted me to say something to comfort the crying mother before we leave. It wouldn’t be respectful if we just came and didn’t even give our greetings or say anything at all.

      “Jimin bin-gung mama, I promise, I will catch the person behind Jeoha’s death.”

      And with that, TaeYeon and I left the crown princess’s palace. TaeYeon still remained uneasy, but I think hearing the words that come out of me a while ago calmed her in a way. I released a deep sigh as I stared at her distressed features. I hate seeing her so down. It gave me a grave amount of pressure. Will I really be able to keep the promise I made just a few moments ago? I don’t think I have enough confidence to say yes, but I’ll try.

 

This is just the start though

This is for my family

For my life

For the kingdom

I can’t turn my back on the promises I’ve made.

CHAPTER 2


Joseon titles guide

wang seja / seja / seja jeoha / jeoha – crown prince
gun – prince from concubine
ongju – princess from concubine
abamama – address of prince/princess to their father the king
daegam – “Mr.” for high position
naeuri – “Mr.” for lower position
hyungnim – respectful “hyung” / boy to older boy
noonim – respectful “noona” / boy to older girl
oppa – girl to older boy
unnie – girl to older girl
oraboni – respectful “oppa” / girl to older boy
bin-gung mama – crown princess
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