Adagio - Chapter 1
The sliding paper door shut softly. As she sat upright, Ha-young’s eyes quivered. She stared at the flickering light of the lantern and then slowly closed her eyes. It had been a very hectic and tiring day.
She got married today. Today, the youngest daughter of the Ju family had become the second daughter-in-law of the Yeon family.
She breathed out a loud sigh, her stomach tightening, suffocating her. It sounded somewhat like an exasperated sigh.
‘Is this what a prisoner feels like when he’s confined in the enemy camp?’
On the first day of her marriage, the new bride’s expression was full of anxiety instead of excitement.
“The two families must become in-laws to fix their long bad relationship and start afresh.”
Ha-Young was seventeen years old when she received the ‘Royal Decree’. But after seeing how there hadn’t been any progress at all for six years, she never thought that she’d get married until she reached the age of twenty-three.
The two families were in a state of turmoil for a while and did everything to somehow avoid the marriage. However, they couldn’t persevere against the relentless ‘Royal Decree’ and eventually had to receive the Hanseo.*
*[In a traditional Korean marriage, once the date is set, the groom’s family sends a box to the bride which is known as Ham(함). In the Ham, there are typically three items. The Hanseo(혼서), the Chaedan(채단: bridal silk), and the Honsu(혼수: bride price). Of the three the most important is the Hanseo or marriage papers. This is given to the bride in dedication to wed only one husband. The wife is expected to keep this paper forever and when she dies, the papers are buried with the wife as well.]
Once the Hanseo was received, the marriage became inevitable, unless one of the parties died before the wedding.
Then something very strange happened. After the date was set, the ceremony was postponed due to unavoidable circumstances.
The first time, the wedding was cancelled due to some circumstances within the Ju family, but when the date was set again, something happened in the Yeon family. Then later because of a sudden state funeral*, the ceremony was postponed again. After almost a year of the incident, a natural disaster struck the kingdom and the auspicious date was pushed ahead again.
*[국상 [gukssang]: The funeral for a king or a royal family member in which the entire nation goes into mourning.]
It was as if the heavens themselves were interfering with the union of the two families. People’s interest also increased as the years went by. On every New Year’s day, the people of Daejingu exchanged New year greetings with the joke, “Will the two families get married this year?”
The two families hoped that the king would come forward and revoke the ‘Royal Decree,’ pretending as if such a thing never happened. But the king remained adamant to the end.
“This is the best way to resolve your grudges and fill that gulf of hatred between you two. I really look forward to the harmony between the two families.”
The most scandalous and highly discussed marriage in the kingdom was finally completed. The sunny and cozy weather did little to the tension-heavy atmosphere caused by rumours saying that the ‘Heavens would again interfere this time.’ Ha-young was anxious that a lighting bolt might strike during the wedding, but fortunately nothing of the sort happened.
The wedding ceremony, which began at dawn, concluded only until after dusk. No, it wasn’t over yet, the ‘wedding night’ had yet to commence.
Ha-Young nervously waited for her husband. As time passed, her nervousness intensified as there still was no sign of anyone entering.
‘What if… what if he doesn’t come?’
Disrespecting one’s wife on the very first night was really despicable, just imagining this made her face heat up.
Although she had not even seen her husband’s face properly yet, the rumours that she had heard about him were quite extraordinary. If the rumours were even half true, he should have already broken off this marriage even if it was matched by the king himself.
Her heart was anxious and her layered wedding clothes seemed to weigh down on her whole body. While tossing and turning, Ha-young felt a foreign object poking at her waist.
‘I completely forgot about this.’ Ha-young squeezed her hand between her clothes and took the object out. The object held in her hand was a long Jang-do*. The gilded blade and handle embedded with blue jade made it look quite delicate and expensive.
*[Jang-do(장도) is an encased ornamental knife. During the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasty, it was mainly worn by the women.]
As per the customs, the wedding ceremony, which lasted until the afternoon, was held at the bride’s house. After the ceremony, when Ha-young was alone for a while, her third brother Chang-young suddenly came in.
“Brother! You can’t come in here… Are you drunk?”
Chang-young looked down at Ha-young with his face flushed from consuming too much alcohol. He then threw a Jang-do in front of her.
“If that bastard ever mistreats you, stab this straight into his gut. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Ha-Young was speechless as she watched Chang-young’s eyes tear up.
“How could Father do this? How can I send you to that damned house! If Mother was alive, this would never have happened.”
“Brother, please watch your language. Get out quickly before someone comes in. Before Father sees this, please go back to your chamber.”
After somehow convincing a drunk Chang-young to go out, Ha-young quickly hid the Jang-do inside her waistband. She was planning to secretly give it to her nanny and tell her to put it away, but in the midst of all the chaos, she forgot to do so.
‘I hope Father won’t notice brother’s inebriated state.’
Chang-young was often scolded for his careless words and actions. Ha-young was very worried about Chang-young. Unlike her other two elder brothers, he was the brother with whom she shared most affections with.
‘He’s such a hopeless person.’
Looking at the long Jang-do, a silly smile came on her lips. How can an older brother give a knife to his married sister to stab her husband?
‘Brother Chang-young can hardly take care of himself and he claims he would take care of everything.’
Keeping the relationship between the two siblings aside, Ha-young calmly evaluated Chang-young. Still, her heart warmed when she remembered her brother worrying about her.
As she was looking at the beautiful knife, suddenly someone caught her wrist. As soon as she raised her head, her big eyes widened and she gasped in surprise.
“What are you doing?”
A low voice came out. Under the fierce momentum of the man who shot daggers at her, Ha-young just stupidly blinked her eyes. She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the door open.
The man took the Jang-do from her hand and looked at it with a cold sneer.
“Even after the wedding ceremony and crossing the gates of the Yeon family… You’d still prefer to die rather than be the daughter-in-law of the Yeon family?”
Ha-young gulped nervously. Even though his voice was calm, she could feel the fierce anger suppressed in it. There seemed to be something undulating inside his deep black eyes.
“Is it your own decision? Or is it the Ju family’s idea?”
Ha-young knew that she should resolve this misunderstanding quickly, but her mind was blank. Aside from her family, she never had a man approach her so closely.
Pen and Sword*.
*[This here refers to the Yangban classes. During the Joseon Dynasty, the Yangban(aristocrats/bureaucrats) were divided into two classes: Munban [문반, (文班)] which comprised civil administrators and Muban [무반, (武班)] which comprised martial officeholders.]
This was the biggest difference between the Ju family and the Yeon family. As a member of a family that had practiced martial arts from generation to generation, he certainly had a unique body frame. He was almost twice the size of her brother. He seemed domineering even though he had lowered his stance to meet her eye.
Seeing Ha-young’s pale face, Mu-eun closed his mouth. He mocked himself inwardly. ‘What would I get by questioning someone like this! Especially if the person is so disgusted with me that she would want to die on her wedding day.’
‘That day, when the decision was made, I should have left the city.’
Mu-eun got up in a terrible mood.
Ha-young woke up from her daze and turned around to see him leaving the room. Looking at his back, only one thought came into her mind.
‘I can’t let him leave like this.’
What if this gets into the ears of the elders of both the families? Imagining the worse, she felt chills run all over her body.
She hurriedly looked around, grabbed a pillow from the neatly laid bed and threw it at him.
The pillow didn’t hit him, but he turned his head when he saw the pillow near his feet.
“You misunderstood it.”
Ha-young’s voice cracked. Embarrassed, she coughed a few times to clear her throat. Fortunately, he patiently waited for her.
“It’s a keepsake from my mother.”
Ha-young made a hasty excuse.
“I couldn’t pass it to my nanny because I forgot about it and when I remembered, it was quite late. I didn’t have any other intention.”
Although she felt guilty for using her deceased mother, Ha-young turned the Jang-do, which she had seen for the first time today, into a keepsake.
“…So you’re saying it’s a misunderstanding?”
“Yes, it’s a misunderstanding.”
Mu-eun stared at Ha-young without saying a word. Ha-young looked at him with a confident yet innocent look. As she looked at his face, she observed her husband’s features for the first time.
Throughout the long period of their engagement, he had never come to see her. So, she could only depend on the rumours to guess what he was like.
She wasn’t really sure about the authenticity of those rumours. The only information that Ha-Young knew about him was that his name was Mu-eun, and he was three years older than her.
His overall demeanor left quite a first impression on her. He was completely different from her three elder brothers. All of his features were dark… His eyes, eyebrows and even his skin color was dark.
‘As per rumours… there should be…’
His face had a scar running diagonally from the top of his right eyebrow to the bottom of his eye. The light scar on his tanned skin looked more prominent and noticeable. Ha-Young had heard about more than five rumours about the story behind that scar.
The corners of Mu-eun’s lips curled up. Ha-young was dumbfounded when suddenly an emotion appeared on the expressionless face of the man. It was rude to stare directly at someone’s physical weakness. She realised her mistake after it was too late.
“You’re really good as well as bad at lying.”
Mu-eun briefly glanced at the long Jang-do in her hand and then looked back at her.
“Something that was made just a few months ago could be a keepsake from someone who had passed away a long time ago. Isn’t this amazing!”
Ha-young was so surprised that she couldn’t hide her agitation. She looked up at him with a vacant look and slightly parted lips.
“This Jang-do is made by a famous craftsman, so it has a distinctive feature.The craftsman uses different kinds of jewels every year to decorate his swords.”
Ha-young’s face became hot when she heard this. She lowered her eyes and bit her lips tightly. She would rather lie again than tell him the truth about the Jang-do.
‘What should I do?’