AND THEIR HURTFUL WORDS FLY, EACH ONE CUTTING DEEP . . .
You know what I want to do? Line all of you up against the wall and give you a good tongue-lashing, that’s what I want to do.
For not thinking before you act. For spouting words you do not mean. For lying! For hurting! For not listening to me!
Who am I? You’ll find out soon enough.
To dispel the rancidity in the air you had to kiss Lee Sun-joon?
Because the one you love kept looking at him, you couldn’t stand it anymore and so you glided over to this uptight scholar who hasn’t smiled once the entire night and gave him a peck on the cheek, your act instantly freezing every muscle in his body. Chosun! You!
And then you fibbed, dismissing it all as a playful joke to make Kim Yoon-shik jealous, because he seems smitten with Ha Hyo-eun instead of with you. But you and I know that the one who’s jealous is you; don’t try hiding your feelings from me. Only someone as gullible as Hyo-eun would buy your story, would collapse in a mock faint, would chide Yoon-shik for coveting her whose heart is already given!
One more thing. If that kiss is the first that Lee Sun-joon has ever received, you’re going to be hearing from his father soon.
You did right to move away, to head speedily for the gibang and reflect on your impulsiveness tonight. But no, you weren’t done. As Kim Yoon-shik ran after you to apologize, saying it was all his fault, you had to reveal three things to him:
The past, the present, the future.
Alluding to the memory of your first love, a memory so searing it never goes away. Accepting that your current love will not love you back. Advising him that the days ahead will be fraught with hurting and being hurt, because what is longed for cannot be realized, not in this lifetime.
I hear what you do not say, Chosun. This longing in your heart for the forbidden; this daily hell you’ve been enduring. I feel your pain.
You, Lee Sun-joon, are going to be the death of me.
Look, the whole night you’ve been sitting next to your betrothed but did you consider her even for a moment? Your mind’s filled only with your roommate, and I’m not talking about Crazy Horse. The sparks between you and Kim Yoon-shik are so alit everyone except dimwits can see that something is going on; you are obviously as opaque as glass. You, unfortunately, also happen to be dense beyond belief. If you keep looking at Hyo-eun with so much gentleness in your eyes, you’re just fanning the fire in her heart.
But I get it. It’s impossible for you to be uncouth with any woman; you’re a gentleman from head to toe. With men, on the other hand, your manners need some work. You shoo Kim Yoon-shik away, you see him drinking himself silly and nearly falling off his chair, you want to go to him but instead you turn to the woman next to you and tell her you’ll send her home.
You and I need to sit down pronto and uncross the signals in your head.
Where were you when Chosun was rolling out her little charade? Ah, up on your favorite tree. Again.
Seriously, this tree-climbing needs to stop. Did you ask the tree for permission before using it as your bed? For all you know, you’re depriving some birds of a home and generally making the avian population in Sungkyunkwan antsy. Not only that, perching yourself so high up might give you a warped sense of invincibility. You start to do really dangerous things, my boy.
But I admit it, you can be so sweet. Up on the tree you overhear the other students gossiping about Yoon-shik and his unrequited love for Chosun. You laugh at the absurdity, but you also hurry down from your perch to go to Yoon-hee. You take her drink away, you let her lean on you and ride piggy-back, she drunk and mumbling about jerks. You bring her back to the dorm, you lay her down ever so gently, and then you leave to start a fight with Lee Sun-joon.
At least you’re predictable.
Don’t talk, Moon Jae-shin. Don’t answer, Lee Sun-joon. Walk on, to wherever you were headed. Five docked points for starting a fight, remember?
You think they will listen to us? Have they ever listened to us?
The wild horse barks first (neigh is just too mild a word, sorry). You didn’t care when that feebly lad was guzzling more alcohol than his body could handle? The other snaps back: Why should I care? If you’re so worried, go look after him yourself. And henceforth don’t ever mention Kim Yoon-shik’s name!
I’m not staying around to see how this pans out, are you? Good, we’re in agreement then. Let’s run!
Your Majesty, you’re the highest in the land while I’m just a lowly little thing. You don’t have to listen to me and yet you do. You always listen, and ruminate, and consider a problem from every possible angle. You know a fake Red Messenger is on the loose. You discern that unknown forces are out to capture the real Red Messenger. If that should happen, then you might never find the Geum Deung Ji Sa.
With so much weighing on your mind, you still decide to visit Sungkyunkwan and enjoy a day of sports and recreation. You go there incognito because you shun the pageantry that surrounds an official visit.
To be so close to you is an immense honor, Your Majesty.
Yoon-hee, Yoon-hee. You’re so unhappy it scares me.
I don’t know what to say except “Chin up, all this will one day pass.” Lame comfort, I know. The future’s too far away for you to pay it heed; all you know is the roommate in front of you now, he playing for the opposing side. How did it come to this, that the two of you, who trained so closely for the archery competition and who sleep together every night, should now face each other with an ocean of ice in the middle? That you stare and do not smile, that he fights you hard for every ball.
He even causes you to tumble, and when you do, he stands in the distance and merely looks.
Your unfeeling roommate. The one getting married to Ha Hyo-eun. The one you tried to talk to earlier, asking if he was still upset about last night because you were supposedly making a pass at his bride-to-be. To appease him, you lied and said your heart belonged to Chosun. But in response he simply brushed you away. He spat out words you never imagined he would say.
“No need to explain. I’m not interested in where your heart is headed or who you have feelings for.”
You didn’t get to punch Lee Sun-joon black and blue last night? So now is a good time to show everyone the power of Crazy Horse’s fist? In front of the left state councilor, the war minister, the chancellor and professors, and the entire school?
If we’re to co-exist peaceably, Moon Jae-shin, you need to stop shortening my life.
But of course you don’t listen. You grab your roommate (yes, your roommate, and not only that, he’s also your fellow Joseon F4 member, aigoo!) and proceed to choke him to death.
I exaggerate when I’m agitated, you don’t know?
You yell at him for making Yoon-hee fall, you make him so angry because your mere mention of Kim Yoon-shik’s name ignites a hidden fuse. And now he’s going to punch you, watch out!
Shouldn’t have said what you did, Yoon-hee.
Of course he hurt you earlier when he said he wasn’t interested in your feelings for Chosun or anyone else. Still, did you have to lambast him in front of Jae-shin? Saying he ought to be ashamed of himself for raising his fist. Saying words that make me shudder.
“Don’t mind him, Senior. He’s not even worth a bother.”
Ouch, that was cruel, Yoon-hee. Exceedingly so. Especially when you don’t mean a word of it. Especially when you see what Lee Sun-joon is about to do for you.
Can you hear me?
Never mind. I know you’re not dead so that’s a relief. Just a temporary loss of consciousness, rendered with misplaced precision by the student president. He didn’t mean to knock you out; his target was Kim Yoon-shik. But you saw it coming and you dashed forward to shield your roommate, this same roommate who’s slowly driving you insane.
As you lie on the ground, oblivious to the world, everyone around you is flapping, in varying degrees. Your father has left in a huff, the war minister is ruing marriage plans now hanging on the wire, Hyo-eun is broken-hearted, Yeorim is handing out a “I know what you just did” guilt nugget to the student president, and Yoon-shik is in tears.
And now you’re in the infirmary, drifting in and out of consciousness.
You saved him and now he’s all that you can think about, even in your present state. The first time you met at the preliminary examination. The night in the woods, in the pouring rain, your hand silencing him, your bodies pressed together even as the guards were searching just a few feet away. The moment you saw him dressed as a gisaeng and how he ran and hugged you. The way your heart pounded. On the island, the two of you marooned by inclement weather. Together in the tent, you waking up first, edging close, you leaned in to kiss him. Except you didn’t. You couldn’t.
Is he leaning over you now, smiling? Only your imagination, Lee Sun-joon. Yoon-shik is too distraught to be smiling at anyone now, least of all at you. He knows you got hurt saving him. The guilt he must be feeling!
No, don’t get up now, it’s not Yoon-shik here to see you, it’s Hyo-eun. Oops, look who else has just walked in.
Close your eyes! Continue to be unconscious! Don’t react just because Yoon-shik is here! Don’t stop Hyo-eun from leaving and definitely, definitely do not take her hand. Get back down and don’t do or say anything you might regret!
“Will you marry me? Please marry me. I’ve always accomplished what I set my mind to do. I’ve always kept my promises. I will try hard every day. If you accept me for who I am, will you please hold onto me?”
If you refuse to listen to me and decide to rebel instead, at least do so with finesse. If you propose to a lady, look at her and not at the one behind her. If marriage is a joyous thing, why do you look and sound so broken?
Don’t cry, Yoon-hee.
On second thought, cry it all out. Let your tears flow, if that would ease your pain. Because it’s time you admit this to yourself.
You love him.
Is this becoming a pattern, Crazy Horse? This eavesdropping? I’m not sure if I approve of it.
But at least you know the truth now. That when Yoon-hee cried out “Jerk!” yesterday night as you carried her home, she wasn’t referring to you but to Lee Sun-joon. Your other roommate, the one whose face you twice wanted to rearrange, is the one making Yoon-hee sad.
I must hand it to you, buddy. In moments of compassion and chivalry, you forget to hiccup. Very good.
You’re also doing a mighty fine job of cheering Yoon-hee up. In fact, I suggest that instead of prancing around Hanyang distributing those red missives and endangering yourself (and me), you might consider a new job as a counselor. Or as a torture camp commandant. Your advice about punishing one’s body in order to forget one’s sorrows is worth a shot. After all, you’re living proof, aren’t you?
Remember your senior’s pep talk, Yoon-hee. Even if your heart is still inconsolable, you can be strong on the outside. You can play well for your team. Show that Ha In-soo that you’re not someone puny that he can bully.
Oh… oh… oh. Can you do it? Can you, the only girl on that square, outplay all the guys on both teams?
Yes, you can! Yes, you did! Wow, I’m so proud I could cry. I’m also suddenly light-headed. Ask your jubilant teammates to stop tossing you into the air!
You, Soon-dol, do not need me. There isn’t a wicked bone in that rotund body; you are the only one in Sungkyunkwan today without a personal agenda. Do you see now why I’m never leaving you, even though you have no use for me?
Your young master, on the other hand, needs more than one of me. Maybe I should leave you for a spell and go to him. But wait, wouldn’t that confuse him even more? Here he is, fresh from proposing to Hyo-eun. Now look who he is gazing at so plaintively, in the yonder distance, as yelps of joy punctuate the air. How he has changed since entering Sungkyunkwan, becoming more approachable and yet also more withdrawn.
No wonder you tell him: I wonder these days if you’re still the young master I know.
I don’t know how we’re going to change anything, or if this plan is doomed to fail even before we start. But let’s try, shall we? You scream, shriek, and shake him up. For hours on end, no letting up. I’ll do the same to her. Because if we don’t take this upon ourselves, who else can we count on to knock some sense into these two obstinate souls?
Did you see that? She tried to thank him for saving her and he answered in so brusque a manner: No need to thank me, I would have done the same for anyone else. And then when she congratulated him and said he and Hyo-eun looked great together, he didn’t answer but simply walked away!
Are you shaking him hard or are you not? Your guy needs a lot of work!
Yes, laugh till your sides hurt. I’m all giddy myself, because it’s a rare occasion that you’re eating in Sungkyunkwan and not some tavern outside. Best of all, you’re not up on a tree or roof where you might fall or get shot at, you’re safe and sound here with the other Joseon F4 members, hurray!
So this white notice making the rounds about the Red Messenger turning up on Woonjong Street tonight is all a ploy to trap you? Just ignore it and concentrate on that delicious food before you. I need the sustenance too, in case you’ve forgotten.
But now you can’t eat. You’re cracking up at what Yoon-hee just said about the Red Messenger using words too uppity for common folks to understand. How are they supposed to know the truth if the truth’s worded in gobbledygook?
Fine, fine. You just admitted to her that she’s right and that you’re indeed a foolish fellow. Without any consideration for my feelings, I might add! Now, will you just eat?
Keep eating, Yong-ha. Don’t get up and follow Lee Sun-joon to the library.
What business is it of yours that he prefers to read rather than eat? You’ve been pretty good about staying on the sidelines the whole day, so why the sudden urge to be nosy now? You managed to wriggle out of playing in the jangchigi tournament earlier by feigning a wrist injury, you didn’t administer the punch that Ha In-soo rightly deserved (anyway, he’s going to get suspended by the chancellor), and you pretended to lure Yoon-shik into yet another “Rub-a-dub-dub, one scholar in the tub” game of exposé which Crazy Horse ended before it got underway.
Enough muted excitement for one day, eh?
But then again, you’re so attuned to me. Your sixth sense is rocking because of how closely you listen to me, all the time. So okay, to the library we go, to see what morose Lee Sun-joon is up to. While there, seize the opportunity to tell him that his behavior isn’t that of a man engaged to be married, it’s that of a man whose heart is broken.
Will Lee Sun-joon reflect on what you’ve just said to him and rouse himself from that bewildering stupor? No time to think of that now. From the library to the perimeter wall of Sungkyunkwan we must go!
Tonight’s the night that the Red Messenger, no longer merely shooting missives but now slaughtering minions as well, is supposed to make an appearance on Woonjong Street. The Sungkyunkwan campus is under lockdown and no one is allowed to leave without Prof. Jung’s permission.
But you, Yeorim, know that a murderous Red Messenger is as plausible as a yodeling Sun-joon. The real Red Messenger will sooner kill himself than take another life. The real Red Messenger is none other than your friend of ten years, Crazy Horse.
It hurts, I know. For you to care so much, to know so much. Because you saw how he suffered after his brother died. You wanted to comfort him, but he’s not one who receives comfort easily. And so you have watched him all these years, and the more you watched the more fearful you have grown, as he became the Red Messenger that he thought no one knew.
And now he’s telling you not to worry that he might die, walking straight into a trap laid out for him. Living isn’t that worthwhile anymore, anyway.
To hear him talk, you might as well be invisible. Or at best an inconsequential friend whose company and concern didn’t matter one way or the other.
Cry now, Yong-ha. Now that your friend has gone into the night, cry the tears that you’ve been withholding for him.
You’re not listening to me, Yoon-hee. Let it rest, don’t pursue it anymore.
But no, you search for him in the room and then in the library. Because where else can Lee Sun-joon go? It’s not like he has other friends besides you.
He sees you and immediately tries to leave. But you, my stubborn girl, is not about to let him go this time without the two of you clearing the air once and for all. Because this stupid misunderstanding that’s making him avoid you… You don’t even know what it is!
You saw Chosun kissing him. You saw him asking Hyo-eun to marry him. So you’ve been mulling and mulling, trying to connect the dots, trying to explain to yourself why he has suddenly turned so cold.
“Is it because of what happened the night of the Open House? Or because your love for that woman is so great? Because of these small misunderstandings, you allow all the time we’ve spent together to just crumble like that?”
I told you not to ask, didn’t I? And now his explanation is tearing you apart. Now you can’t stop the tears from falling. Don’t cry in front of this jerk who is hurting you so much!
I know. He startled you, didn’t he? You left the dining hall early because you couldn’t stomach seeing how cozy he and Crazy Horse were. You didn’t even return to the dorm because you didn’t want to see him until it was time to sleep.
But must you lie? And not just any lie but the kind that’s going to eat you up inside. Telling him that he’s unimportant to you, and that you have no intention of ever returning to that happy equilibrium that you once shared, as two people who cared deeply for each other. Not only that. You had to make it even worse by prefacing it with a “Listen carefully to me, Kim Yoon-shik”? For a change, why don’t you listen carefully to me, Lee Sun-joon?
Oh, you are? Great. Run after him. Now!
I told you not to go, but you refused to heed my words. And now the fake Red Messenger has wounded you. If not for some unknown masked angels coming to your aid, you would be in the war minister’s dungeon now.
You told Yeorim that living was meaningless? At least you aren’t lying now, as a stunned Yoon-hee cradles you. “How fortunate… that I’m alive.”
For your sanity and mine, don’t ignore me anymore.
I am the still small voice inside your head.