I crept closer to the hole and started inspecting every coin inside.

It is real. These are not forgeries… where have they come from?

Sangria scandal*

I removed all the money I could see and it never ends, no matter how deep I go.

As I removed each penny, I bumped into something hard. I dug, pulled it out, and dusted it.

A ledger.

I opened it and saw transactions from different people, mostly illegal.

I dug some more and saw more ledgers inside the seemingly endless hole.

By the looks of it, these are owned by ministers… but why is our mother keeping these?

I opened everything and read the contents page by page. Is my mother the trusted partner of these criminals? Is that why shes keeping these? Could it be that she was about to turn it to the King when they caught her?

Or is she a criminal? Is that why we
e about to run away that day?

I fetched the rose colored ledger and scanned it. The handwriting is rather unique. It is not something the ministers could have used in writing.

I stood up and headed to the bookstore carrying the ledger with me.

~

”Mahri! How are you? ”

I went to my friends bookstore cause I can afford to get caught by anybody. I need to be under someone I can trust, and theres nobody else here but him.

”Hey, Dun Oh! Do you have any books here that contain handwriting from the higher ups? You know from ministers and people like that. ”

He scratched his head.

”Sorry I don have that kind of book, but I do have the handwriting of the King. ”

”What? Why do you have his handwriting? ”

”He passed by the bookstore earlier and well, you know who I am, I haven been paying taxes and they thought it was because I was abusing the fact that I am a child of an officer. Ive been kicked off the family registry, I don know why nobody knew that. Anyways, ”

He walked to his counter and took a piece of paper. He handed it to me.

”He wrote an agreement. If I don pay by the end of the month, Ill be kicked out of the bookstore, but well, hope that helps you through. ”

I took the paper.

”Thanks. ”

I went onto one of the tables. With the bookstore mostly made of wood, its pretty soundproof compared to one made out of paper. The very small gaps from the ceiling makes sufficient lighting inside and keeps the place from being dim despite its size. I am five tables away from the entrance and one table away from the storage room. To my right is the counter. I noticed a few drawers opened and a stack of books. Some are covered in cloth and tied up with a little paper on top of each stack. I lit up the lamp beside me and compared the handwriting on the ledger with the one from the King.

Its the same.

A flawless and unique calligraphy.And I know that our current King is the only one with this kind of writing so far.

King Ho Yeon.

A chair was moved and I heard a rustle behind me. I shut the book with a loud thud.

”What are you doing with that document anyways? Its suspicious actually. ”

Dun Oh lazily spoke behind me.

I opened the ledger again. Only two pages are filled.

He purchased a house far from our place. Inside the woods. Why?

He also paid people.

”Dun Oh. Is there a minister named JuWiGo? ”

”None that I know of. But I heard that name somewhere, wait. ”

He paced back and forth.

”Its somewhat familiar. ”

He stopped and thought deeply.

”Ah! Its what the organization behind the castle is called! People say that they are hired to kill and kidnap people. Torture and stuff as such. They come with a very high fine that only those in the yangban nobility* and the middle class folks can afford it. Not that the middle class men have any reason for it but its a possibility. However, they are often called by those in the yangban nobility, more specifically, officials, ministers, and people in the higher ups who need a dirty job done. Their name stands for Jug igi wihae goyong (hired to kill) ”

I stared at the ledger.

”They are located behind the castle grounds, you say? ”

He nodded.

”But hey Mahri, I am not involved in any of these nor is my family, at least not that I know of. I just got the information from gossip, so I may be wrong. ”

”Yes, its okay. Thank you for all the help, Dun Oh. ”

I stood up and went to his counter.

”No problem, Mahri. Anytime. ”

I reached for my pocket and left money on his counter and quickly left. I am not sure how much money is needed to pay all his missed taxes but I really want to help him though I know that he won let me, so I left as quickly as I can before he can notice anything and give it back to me.

~

I am walking around the castle grounds trying to act as nonchalant as I could. The back of the castle is a far way to go.

I looked around, looked at people and at what they were doing.

I saw a guy trip thrice. Idiot.

A kid stole an apple from a vendor who is too consumed with talking to somebody else to notice.

A dumb baby won stop wailing no matter what her tired mother does. What a poor woman.

The head of the royal servants kept scolding his inferior for pasting the notice wrongly. Or is he the head of the royal servants? I may be wrong since they are posting a notice for the scholars examination in the next two days.

I quickened my pace and ignored everything around me.The leaves I am stepping on rustled as I neared the place. And I reached their den.

”Why can you do anything right?! You should boil the water before placing the ginger, its that simple! ”

They lit a fire and are currently frying the ginger in front of a small hanok. I don think a lot of people live there, a home for three people is more like it. This looks normal. Are they sure that this is a den for a group of vicious killers?

”Whats going on? ”

I was frozen in place. Id recognize that voice anywhere.

Its the leader that came to our house.

”We apologize for waking you up, sir! ”

They all saluted after noticing the presence of their leader, the burning ginger is completely ignored.

Is this the ministry of defenses quarters?

”Any status about the lost girl? ”

”No sir! Weve heard none from anybody yet and everyone tells the same story. Nobody has seen her since that night. ”

”Are you possibly worried that she might speak, sire? ”

”No, a weak, useless creature like that one isn to be frightened of but she might get in contact with the woman. Itd be trouble for us if his majesty found out. ”

I backed off. I am not surprised that he sees me as someone weak and useless. I am more surprised by the fact that the King is involved. Here, he is either the one who ordered these men to take my mother or they are just scared to be taken down because of somebodys complaint.

But the latter wouldn match. Something doesn match…

I looked at the ledger again. The King had a transaction with them. He paid them to do something which means the King also uses them. There is a larger possibility that it is the former.

It is the King who ordered them to take my mother… but why?

As I walked slowly out of their radar, I gently closed the ledger. I need to investigate the King to find out how exactly he is involved in all of these and to do so, I have to get close to the King but how?

While walking to the market, its been a bit hard to ignore all the noise but I couldn care less. I have something to think about right now other than the markets noise.

I was thinking deeply when someone hugged me from behind. I was so shocked I almost hit his pretty face. He was shocked but then laughed after looking at my face.

”This is not funny, Song Yun. What are you even doing here? ”

He wiped a tear off his eye.

”Sorry, I couldn help it. You were looking at me as if you were being followed by someone who wanted to kill you, its priceless. ”

I looked at him bluntly.

”If you are here to mock me, then I am leaving. ”

I turned but he took hold of my hand.

”Come on, can you take a joke? I haven been able to see you laugh or smile after what happened to you. I only have two days before I get restricted from going around, can you spare me your two days? ”

”No, I am busy. Besides, you are going to study, you
e not dying, do not be overdramatic. ”

His cheeky face suddenly disappeared, all the sparkles hiding from his long pretty eyelashes were gone and he became serious.

”By the way, where have you been staying? Did you sleep on the streets? You shouldve stayed at our place, we are worried sick of you, we thought you were hurt too. ”

”Don waste your time worrying about me, I can handle myself. ”

”What if you get ill after sleeping on the streets? Or did you get caught by the patrol during the curfew? Or did some bad people get you? Hurt you? ”

Right, I haven even taken time to fix myself. I probably look like a beggar.

”I am not staying on the streets. I have been staying with my mothers friend. ”

”Are you sure that that person really is your mothers friend? That person isn faking it to take you for granted or to maltreat you? That person mustve threatened you! Is it a guy? I need to see him first. ”

”No, Song Yun, its not a guy, its a woman. She helped mother at the market before. ”

”Are you sure? ”

”Yes, Song Yun. I am sure. ”

”Okay, but if you need me, or you need anything, or you
e in trouble, you know where to find me. ”

I smiled. I know that he is worried. And it worries me because all the time they spend worrying about me mustve been interfering with their lives. I don want to be a problem to them. It is the very reason that I didn come to him first when I needed something. All of my friends help me so much, and most probably too much. I am becoming a hassle.

”Thank you. ”

I was about to leave when…

”Song Yun! ”

I shouted.

”You are coming clean? She really is harassing you? ”

”What? No! Whats your problem? ”

I inhaled.

”Who is the closest to the King? ”

”The King? Out of the blue? Why? ”

”Is it his concubines? ”

He paused for a second.

”No, they are just there as the Kings pastime. Even the queen isn that close to the King. ”

”The ministers? ”

”Its a war between the King and his ministers, didn you know? ”

”His parents? The rest of the royal family? ”

He shook his head.

”Nope, not them either. ”

”Then who?! ”

I yelled out of frustration. I am a woman, how else should I get close to the King?!

”Whoa, don get mad. They said he is closest to the scholars because hes been molding the next lineup of ministers. He is the one who is deciding on the contents of the examination for the next two days. He would even be there at the examination area to observe the applicants. ”

”Doesn it take a week before the decision gets released? Why does he have to stay there? ”

”Hes observing everyone. I don know why, maybe its another factor hes considering before letting anyone be a scholar. Why are you asking me anyways? Are you planning to take the King? Do you like the King? ”

”No, hes too old for me. ”

He sighed in relief.

”Thanks for the information! Take care! ”

I ran off as he waved goodbye. I headed to the womans house.

~

”Hi, my lady! Are you looking for my mother? ”

Wait, that woman has a daughter? She looks so young I never thought shed be the same age as my mother.

A girl, probably my age, looked at me enthusiastically. She has a pointy nose and round brown eyes. Her lips are slightly curved. From a side view angle, she looks like her mother.

”Ah, yes, where is she? ”

”Shes inside. In her room. ”

”Thank you. ”

I bowed and went to her room. I closed the door behind me and looked at her.

”I was expecting you, the tea is still hot. ”

Shes sitting down in her room with a table prepared for two.

”You
e a seamstress, right? Can you make me look like a boy? ”

She smiled and looked at me.

”Sit down. ”

Sangria scandal*

”I can. But are you willing to listen to what I say? Are you willing to do what I tell you? ”

”Yes. ”

Im having a bad feeling about this.

Key term: (all words in italic and ends with an asterisk* excluding the title)

Yangban nobility In the Joseon Dynasty hierarchy, the yangban nobility stands on top of the pyramid. They are one of the most powerful, influential, and wealthy people amongst Joseon. They are mainly composed of highly educated civil servants, military officers, and aristocrats. Following the hierarchy, Yangban is followed by Jungin (middle class men), sangmin (commoners), and lastly, cheonmin (outcasts)

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