A Damo pyein’s tears

For Naeuri Hwangbo Yoon


Naeuri, you never thought the day would come when you would send Chae Ok away and hope never to see her again. “Go,” you said, “The next time we meet you would be one of Jang Sung Baek’s men and we would have to cross swords. Go….”

And as she walked away slowly, you fell onto the grass and you cried, remembering the seven-year old girl you met fifteen years ago. “This child… I did not do anything for this child.”

But how could you say that, Naeuri? You did so much for this child. You loved her. 


You loved Chae Ok with every fiber of your being. Because she lived you lived too. Yet in these dark days how deeply did she hurt you! When she was wounded so badly after intruding into the palace, you threw everything to the wind and thought only of her. An insurrection was about to take place…. the king had just entrusted you with your most important task… and yet all you could think of was that your Chae Ok was dying… and that if she died you would die too.


She was everything to you… and you thought you were everything to her. Yet in that moment of sheer joy in the temple after you had revived her… it was not your name she called out but Jang Sung Baek’s. And when you searched so frantically for her in the mountains… when it seemed as if she had disappeared forever from the face of the earth… and finally she appeared tumbling down from the waterfall… her eyes were not for you but for Jang Sung Baek. As she gazed upon the unconscious Sung Baek floating in the water and as her eyes filled with tears, she had only one person on her mind and it was not you.

Still you loved her. When she acknowledged what you did not want to hear… that she loved your arch-enemy… you clung to her and wept, “Let’s go, Ok-ah, let’s go. Didn’t you say you breathed because of me? It’s me… I’m still the same… We’ll leave everything behind… we’ll live as commoners… Let’s go…” And yet despite your pleas, she said the most hurtful words of all, “You can have my body… but my heart is already gone.”

The Chae Ok that you loved… hurting you more than you could imagine or bear… So you sent her away… for her sake and your own. You tried to kill your thoughts of her, you tried to deny her importance to you: “You are just a damo to me now, no more and no less.”


Then the letter from Magistrate Choi. Your Chae Ok captive in the hands of the enemy. And now nothing else mattered. You went, alone and unarmed, ready to exchange your life for her. As the magistrate taunted and mocked you, you fell on your knees in the sand. Naeuri Hwangbo Yoon, feared commander of the Left Police Bureau, kneeling and pleading, “Let the girl go. This is my last living request.”

Naeuri, you died as you lived… for that little girl, Jae Hee, who broke your heart when you saw her in the woods, her little feet swollen and bleeding. You died for Chae Ok, the damo who sparred with you in the rain and snow… who went to the palace ready to die so that you could be saved… so that you could pursue your dreams. As you lay on the sand gasping your last breaths, your heart was at peace because it was Chae Ok beside you… the woman you loved more than life itself.

Sleep well, Naeuri, sleep well.

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