Chapter 13. Bath (1)
After he finished eating the food prepared, Jihak opened the window, and lit a cigarette. Then, while staring in the direction of the gentle breeze, he closed his eyes.
He exhaled the smoke, smiling coldly at all the scent carried by the wind.
‘They said there were seven bodies, so why didn’t they try to hide the smell?’
After clearing the table, the girl immediately took out a book and began to read. He had read the book enough to memorize most of the sentences, but the words coming out of her mouth were strangely unfamiliar.
It was surprising she wasn’t a woman of status because not only could she read and write, but she was also fluent in a foreign language that was difficult to learn and not well known.
If she had been born into a family with power maybe he would have met her in the palace instead of here. Jihak thought.
‘The royal family’s marriages are arranged at the age of nine, so…’
Jihak recalled the tiny, fragile Crown Princess who passed away before she had the chance to hold his hand. His daring and smart young fiancée couldn’t endure the prison-like life in the palace and lost her life due to a lung disease.
Jihak smiled cruelly.
It is rather fortunate that she fell ill and died young. If she, the daughter of the manufacturer, had not died, he would have killed her with his own hands.
At Jihak’s words, Eunha, who was leaning close enough to the book that her nose was nearly touching the book, raised her head.
“If you don’t like this part…”
Jihak casually flicked the ashes from his cigarette and nodded in the direction of the door.
“Come in, Yuljae. Eunha, you should go and rest.”
‘It’s only been an hour.’
Eunha stood up with a puzzled expression. She thought he would have her reading all night.
“I can’t just make you read without filling your stomach. Right?”
Dazed, she parted her lips at his words, then hugged her stomach, her cheeks blushing.
“Oh, did you hear that? I tried not to make a sound, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted.”
“Are you talking about the rare sound of your stomach growling?”
Like a flower blooming, Eunha’s cheeks turned even redder at his teasing question. Jihak’s mouth went dry as he watched the blush travel down to the back of her hands. He couldn’t help but be curious and intrigued.
After the Crown Princess died, all kinds of women were selected and pushed into his palace. Even though they had the backing of fairly famous families, they were women of virtue, who wanted to become the Queen of the royal palace and knew how to conduct themselves. Their behavior was obvious and very boring.
That made the girl in front of Jihak all the more interesting and entertaining. Although he knew everything about her, he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. It was shameful for her to create a situation where he had to take care of her.
“It’s a joke. I didn’t hear anything, so go back to your room and eat.”
“After I eat, I will return to make your bed. If you need me to stay at your bedside, please let me know. I’ll bring a book.”
“A bed attendant? Ha, will you make me sleep?!”
Jihak asked in amazement.
Eunha, who didn’t know what the problem was, smiled awkwardly and looked down at the book in her arms.
“This book is too difficult. There is so much to process, and I think it will give you a headache. Although I’m not a real storyteller, I know how to tell a good bedtime story.”
‘This girl is not aware of men.’
The only way for a man of the court to sleep well is to have sex. Even though the idea was absurd, he would be happy to listen to her cute pillow talk.
“Good night. Be prepared to come if I call you. I must also prepare my heart.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell you a scary story. Well, I will take my leave now.”
Eunha bowed politely and opened the door with an expression that could not hide her joy. Yuljae was standing in front of the door. He nodded at Eunha as he crossed the threshold.
Yuljae’s heart was filled with warmth to see his master laughing wholeheartedly again.
“Yes, I am here.”
Effortlessly erasing the smile from his face, Jihak propped his arm on his raised knee and lit another cigarette.
“How did it go?”
After closing the open window, Yuljae knelt beside Jihak, covering his mouth with his hand, and whispered his report directly in his ear. After hearing the report, Jihak’s eyes began to glow with a cruel energy.
“The luminous stone powder…”
“I applied it all over their uniforms and shoes before sunset, so by now they should be glowing blue.”
“Even as the spies head home they will surely glow blue as well.”
No matter how trustworthy they seemed, they were no different from strangers. It was silly to call these guys his men. They would never give their lives for him.
Jihak stood up and took out the clothes hanging in the back corner of his closet. Removing his night robe, which was embroidered with elegant silver thread, he changed into the same clothes as Yuljae, and replaced his top hat with black leather.
When the two men of similar height and physique stood face to face, it was almost as if they were looking into a mirror. With the sword at his waist and a bow, Jihak smiled softly before pulling his face covering over the bridge of his nose.
After confirming that he was ready, Yuljae turned off the lights in the room and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
The night was still, not even the sound of the birds chirping was heard. The two men left the building silently and closely examined the seven different trails illuminated by the luminous stone dust.
The traces of the uninvited all led to the forest behind them. They would either go into the woods to change their clothes and burn them, or head straight to their masters.
The moon followed behind the two fast and stealthy shadows. Upon reaching the depths of the oak forest, Jihak raised a brow when he found the faint presence of luminous stone dust scattered on the frozen soil.
Then, out of nowhere, an arrow suddenly flew through the air, grazing Jihak’s cheek before striking the ground. Blood trickled down from the wound.
Before Yuljae could shout, Jihak pressed a finger to his lips and shook his head. Furious, Yuljae drew his sword, aiming it in the direction the arrow had come from.
The darkness wasn’t a hindrance. Feeling the presence of a total of 30 people surrounding him, Jihak felt excitement and a strong urge to kill for the first time in a long time.
They had set the trap but were also drawn into one as well.
‘It’s been a while since I’ve given someone a proper taste of my sword.’
Jihak whistled, falling back towards Yuljae, who seemed to have vanished. Then, 12 of the former Crown Prince’ guards immediately jumped out upon hearing the signal and joined Jihak.
“Keep two of them alive. The rest… Slaughter them all.”
Eunha quickly scooped up the rice with her spoon. On the table, there was a side dish not much different than the one she ate earlier. Only the combination of herbs was slightly different.
When Eunha began to eat the barley cuttlefish, a dish she hadn’t tasted in a long time, she glanced at Gari occasionally, who was squatting in front of her, between bites until there was nothing but bones left. Gari pouted her lips, staring at the table with resentful eyes. It seemed as if she had no intention of going back and planned to watch Eunha until she finished eating.
“You don’t have to stare at me like that.”
Eunha said as she finished off the rice from her spoon.
Pulling her knees to her chest, Gari rested her chin on them, her eyes brightening as she asked,
“But the book… Were you really reading earlier?”
“Yes. Didn’t I tell you I am a storyteller?”
“But why did my Lord ask you to help out?”
Eunha couldn’t say it was because he probably believed she couldn’t betray him. She didn’t trust him; she trusted the gold coins he would pay her.
She couldn’t explain that she came here to earn much-needed money in fear of sounding arrogant. Instead of answering, she started to clean up the leftover side dishes.
“I don’t know either. By the way, Gari, do you know who he is?”
“You came here without knowing who he is?”
“I only know that he is a high-status person, and his position is comparable to an important official.”
“That’s true, but that’s not all. My master is Hong Seowoo, a consul of the Central Division. I was his wife’s maid. I was only sent here to help a blind noble. But how come he looks at me with such a scary expression…?”
“He wasn’t like this until you came.”
She wiped away her tears and jumped to her feet,
“Anyway, I’ll be on my way. When you’re done eating, just leave everything on the table. If you want to wash up, go to the bathroom and pull the rope, and I will come.”
“Why… Would you come back, Gari?”
“I would like to wait on you! Since I won’t be the one serving my Lord…”
Gari stared at Eunha, then opened the door and disappeared. Eunha gulped down the fragrant barley tea with a blank expression on her face.
‘His status is higher than the consul of the Central Division. Maybe even much higher. What if…’
Eunha shook her head vigorously. Then, as Gari instructed, after eating, she gathered her undergarments, then left the room. She could still smell the perfume Chunhee applied last night all over her body. Now that she had the chance, she wanted to take a proper bath and to cool her head.
However, no one had told her where the bath was. After wandering around for a while, she found what appeared to be a bath.
This was not a place where you just wash up and leave. The walls had self-illuminating night crystals embedded throughout. The scent of the bath was similar to the fragrance used by nobles. There was also a dressing table and comb placed on one side.
‘Is this really the right bath for me to use? Is it okay to use such a big bath all by myself? Who filled this big tub with hot water?’
Eunha gazed at the water bathed in the moonlight, then searched for the rope to call Gari.
‘Gari definitely said there was a rope…’
Suddenly, the door opened abruptly, and a metallic scent filled the air.