“Your fingertips have been damaged.”
MuGyeom murmured curtly as he applied the bandage to EunSeo’s fingers.
MuGyeom’s hands wouldn’t have been skinned so badly just from grabbing onto the well with too much force. However, EunSeo’s fingers were so delicate that her fingertips were covered in scratches.
EunSeo gazed at her ten fingers which were now all wrapped up in the white bandages. She smiled bitterly.
The edges of EunSeo’s eyes were still red.
“It almost looks like I’m dyeing my fingernails with garden balsam flowers.”
“How can you say something like that at a time like this?”
MuGyeom couldn’t believe it.
If EunSeo had successfully jumped into the well and died, MuGyeom would share the same fate.
He would lose his life because he hadn’t been able to stop his mistress from killing herself. Or they might even accuse him of throwing his mistress into the well himself. Either way, he would have died.
In the end, he didn’t save EunSeo. He saved his own life.
If EunSeo died, he’d die as well.
That’s how it was right now.
And it would continue to be like this for the next ten days.
“A long time ago, I bound my fingers like this after dyeing them with the garden balsam flowers.”
EunSeo gazed at her hands while MuGyeom took the dirty socks off her feet.
Her white feet were incredibly small.
He almost wondered how she even walked on feet like this.
Her leg was limp as he lifted it to slip the new socks onto her feet.
“Do you feel anything?”
EunSeo nodded in response to MuGyeom’s question.
“I can’t move it, that’s all.”
“What did the doctor say?”
“He said I wouldn’t be able to walk for the rest of my life.”
EunSeo’s clothes were also a complete mess.
However, if he had to change her clothes, her skin would be exposed.
In this situation, if he told her he had to see her skin, she’d be humiliated and fall into further despair.
“May I ask how this happened?”
MuGyeom cautiously asked EunSeo.
He wasn’t sure if she’d answer him.
But he wanted to know.
“Do you want to know why I was abandoned?”
Did he ask something he shouldn’t have?
MuGyeom regretted it immediately.
“I got married 2 years after my engagement. When I was engaged, I only knew his name. I didn’t know what he looked like, and I waited 2 years for my wedding. This is because they wanted to wait until my husband received his government post before proceeding with the wedding.”
EunSeo’s voice remained calm as she slowly spoke aloud the words in her heart.
“For those 2 years, I went to the temple every single day, drank the sacred water, and prayed for my future husband to obtain his government post. For 2 years, even if it rained or snowed, I never missed a day. It was so difficult…”
How old was she?
He only heard that she was Lord Yoon’s youngest daughter.
MuGyeom truly didn’t know anything about EunSeo.
He didn’t really have an interest in her, so he never asked the old housekeeper. Should he have asked her?
“Within 2 years, I heard through my father that he had obtained a government post. And so our wedding day was decided. The dowry was received, and the wedding preparations were being made. But during all this, I got sick. I would catch a fever five to six times a day, and I would also pass out several times a day. The doctor said this disease was caused by a lack of yang energy.”
Lack of yang energy.
There was no way MuGyeom knew what that meant.
“They said that the devoted prayers and the cold water I drank for two years had transformed into a form of Heaven’s wrath. It had become poison in my body. And so I suffered. I suffered like a dying person for a whole month. And when I woke up, I couldn’t move my legs.”
EunHa raised her head and looked up at the ceiling.
MuGyeom could see that her lips were trembling.
Even though she was talking so calmly right now, MuGyeom knew how she really felt.
“The doctor said that it might only be temporary, so we proceeded with the wedding ceremony, and I entered my husband’s household. My in-laws told me to peacefully recuperate in a separate residence. They said that as long as I took the yang tonic, I’d be able to walk again. However, one month turned into two, and my legs still wouldn’t move. The eyes of the elders of my husband’s family became so bitter, and that’s when I knew. People can transform at the drop of a hat.”
MuGyeom finally realized the situation.
It was obvious.
They were nobles.
Nobles considered their faces more important than a person’s life.
Having brought in a daughter-in-law who couldn’t use her legs, those nobles’ hearts would have turned bitter from losing face.
They thought their daugher-in-law would get better with some time, but now that it seemed like she would never use her legs again, there definitely must have been some kind of commotion.
For the nobles, the reputation of their family was more important than the life of a maiden.
“Starting then, they began to mistreat me. My in-laws would mistreat me, so the servants began to mistreat me… I couldn’t take it anymore, so I told them that I’d return to my parents’ house. My mother-in-law smiled at me and told me that it was a good idea.”
EunSeo’s hand clenched on her lap.
“Why didn’t I just die then? If I just died from the fever, I wouldn’t have had to go through that. Then it wouldn’t have gotten that bad.”
“How can you speak of dying so easily?”
“Then do you call this living? Is this truly what you’d call a life? Like an invalid, I can’t even walk on my own. I can’t go to the bathroom on my own. Is this how a human lives? I’m asking you. Is this how a person lives?”
EunSeo looked at MuGyeom.
Her eyes were filled with hatred as she stared at the man who had barely managed to save her life.
When MuGyeom saw her eyes, he realized the reason why her ears had turned red when he carried her to her room.
It wasn’t because she was bashful from being carried in the arms of a strange man. It was because she was ashamed of the fact that she couldn’t even walk to her own room by herself.
She was the proud daughter of a noble family.
“As you live, you continue living. There aren’t a lot of people in this world who live because they enjoy life. They live because they’re alive. They do their best to live because that’s all they can do.”
“I… don’t think I can live…”
“You don’t know that.”
“What do you know about me?”
“If it were me, I’d live for others to see. I’d live to show everyone who made me this way how alive I am.”
“For others to see…”
EunSeo’s lips became crooked.
“If I live like this, they’ll only point at me in disdain.”
“Did the doctor say that you will never walk?”
“He said I wouldn’t be able to walk for the rest of my life.”
“Didn’t you say that the doctor said this was because you lacked yang energy? That means, with time, it might get better.”
“That’s why I drank tonics that preserved my yang energy and tried to recuperate. However, my legs remain limp. That’s why the doctor said there was nothing he could do.”
“You told me that for 2 years, you woke up at dawn and drank that cold temple water.”
MuGyeom didn’t know why he was saying all this.
His mouth seemed to move on its own.
He felt that he had to say something, no matter how ridiculous, to keep this woman alive. If he didn’t, he felt as if she’d burn to death any time he left her alone.
“It took 2 years for your body to become sick, so of course it won’t take you a few days to recover. The further you go, the longer it takes to come back. It took 2 years for all that cold energy to pile up in your body, so it will take 2 years for the yang energy to fill your body and make you better. Don’t you think?”
“So you’re telling me to wait 2 years?”
“Yes, my lady. If you’re going to take your own life anyway, just wait 2 more years. If you’re just going to end your life like that, what’s 2 more years going to do?”
“Then are you going to watch over me for the next 2 years so that I can’t die?”
What 2 years?
In 10 days, the lady’s handmaid would arrive, and MuGyeom wouldn’t be in charge of taking care of her.
And the handmaid would be in charge of watching over her.
“I won’t watch over you, but…”
“Then you must stay by my side for the next 2 years.”
MuGyeom looked at EunSeo in shock when he heard her unexpected words.
“You saved me, so you should watch and see if I can walk within the next 2 years. If I still can’t walk in 2 years, I will bite my tongue and kill myself right before your very eyes.”
EunSeo didn’t sound like she was joking.
She wasn’t the type of woman to joke about her legs.
“Does that sound good to you?”
If he said he wouldn’t do it, would she try to kill herself right away?
Or she might even go off somewhere to kill herself in the middle of the night while he was asleep.
So his hands were tied.
“I’ll do it.”
For now, he needed to stop her no matter what. Stop death.
“Fine. So you’ll do as I said?”
EunSeo’s sigh sounded like a groan as she looked up.
Her eyes still carried traces of tears.
“I want to get changed.”
She sounded determined.
By telling the servant that she was willing to show him her skin, she was sealing their promise. She would live for 2 more years.
MuGyeom took out her new clothes from the dresser.
EunSeo had only brought white robes and dresses and nothing else. Like a person who was going to die or someone who planned on dying.
EunSeo kept her head lowered and her eyes closed. MuGyeom sat in front of her and began to untie the ribbon on her top.
He didn’t feel anything towards her.
If he craved women, he would have played around with the noble’s wife and concubines when they threw themselves at him.
And he didn’t plan on trying to force someone against their will.
Because of how he was born.
Because of how his own mother had been raped by a nobleman and conceived him. As a result of that nobleman’s crime, he was born into this world.
Completing the cycle by forcing himself on a nobleman’s daughter and having her conceive his seed didn’t make any sense to him.
MuGyeom believed himself to be better than beasts like that.
After he took off her top, he began to untie her skirt.
She was wearing a set of underclothes underneath her dress.
However, because her underclothes were made of very thin cloth, her hidden skin clearly shone through.
MuGyeom did his best not to look at what was underneath as he changed her clothes.
While he was doing this, EunSeo didn’t say one word.
She merely kept her mouth shut. MuGyeom could hear the sound of her breaths coming from her nose.
EunSeo fell asleep soon after.
It was only noon, but she probably exhausted herself by crawling all the way to the well. As soon as MuGyeom finished changing her clothes, she fell asleep.
MuGyeom stayed by her side long after she had fallen sleep and watched over her.
Although she told him she’d live for 2 more years, he was still anxious about leaving her alone. He wasn’t sure if she’d do something while he was gone, so he couldn’t do anything else but stay where he was.
MuGyeom glanced at the bandaged fingers resting on top of her chest.
He had never pitied anyone before. This was because he had always thought his own circumstances were too pitiful for him to feel sorry for others.
However, he came to realize that he had met a woman whose circumstances were more pathetic than his.
Not just anyone made the decision to die.
That kind of decision was made by those who had come to a dead end in their lives.
‘You don’t know… You don’t understand…’
MuGyeom recalled the way EunSeo had sobbed at the well. The sadness that had welled up within her had burst out with her tears.
“I don’t understand.”
EunSeo was right.
MuGyeom didn’t know the sorrow within this woman’s heart.
He thought he knew, but after really thinking about it, he didn’t know the pain and suffering she had gone through.
He thought he understood her sorrow, but in actuality, he didn’t even have a clue.
This was because he had never been unable to walk before.
How could he know something he had never experienced?
The sorrows that he had experienced and the sorrows that she had gone through were completely different.
“But even if we have to roll around in dog shit, I still think this life is worth living.”
If he died, who would remember him?
People would only remember him if he stayed alive.
What use were anyone’s nice words and comfort after death?
“As you live, good days will pass. The heavens are fickle. Who knows? Maybe you will be able to walk one day.”
However, no matter how fickle the heavens were, even if she could regain the use of her legs or not, a servant would always remain a servant.
Would miracles only happen to nobles?
Would the heavens lower a rope for a humble servant like him?
MuGyeom glanced at EunSeo’s thin, small wrist.
Her wrist was slender, her head was small, and her physique was petite.
It almost seemed as if she wouldn’t be able to support her own slender body.
“Nobles are very strange. They abandon their own children in order to preserve their reputation.”
He could understand why her in-laws were acting like this.
However, he couldn’t understand Lord Yoon. EunSeo was Lord Yoon’s daughter, wasn’t she?
He didn’t understand why he would marry off his daughter who was in this condition. And when she was abandoned and returned, why did he kick her out to the countryside like this?
Did he truly not anticipate her desire to take her own life if he abandoned her like this?
‘Actually… he might have wanted that…’
By pushing his daughter to go down to the countryside, Lord Yoon might have been hinting at his daughter to choose death instead of life.
What nobleman would be happy to receive a daughter who had been kicked out of her in-laws’ home?
He might have thought that they’d be better off if she didn’t exist at all.
That’s why he might have sent her here. And having taken the hint, EunSeo tried to throw herself down the well.
If that was the case, it all made sense.
The old housekeeper and him… They were the only ones taking care of this house. It made sense why they sent their daughter to this house without sending a separate servant to attend to her needs.
They sent a noble lady to the countryside alone, without a handmaiden to attend to her, because they knew that she wouldn’t live for very long. They might have thought that an extra servant might get in the way of her death.
They thought that if she was in a house with a half-deaf housekeeper and one male servant, she would be able to carry out her death on her own.
“Humans can be so cruel…”
Did nobles think their reputations were more important than their own children?
His mother, who had been an ignored servant just like the generations before her, hadn’t conceived him out of her own will, but she still knew how to treasure the child she had carried in her belly. Although she let him know that he was a servant, she still cherished him.
Despite knowing that the woman he married carried another man’s seed, his father had treated him even better than his own blood-related children.
While he wasn’t his birth father, he was the father who had raised him.
Because of their lowly stature as servants, they couldn’t do much to help him. However, they never turned their backs on him.
Even humble servants knew how to cherish their children, so how could these nobles push their own children to their deaths?
“You had better walk. You should walk, and with your own two legs, confidently return to Hanyang. Wouldn’t that make you feel better?”
He thought it over again and was suddenly filled with disgust.
They sent their daughter to die in a place where only MuGyeom and the old housekeeper lived. After she died, weren’t they going to put Mugyeom and the old housekeeper to death as well?
Well, if they were able to kill their own daughter, why would they hesitate to kill a mere servant?
“You must live, my lady, and so should I. Don’t you think we should both try to live?”
He wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but MuGyeom and EunSeo were in the same boat. He was going to help her because his own survival depended on hers.
It definitely wasn’t because she vowed to bite her tongue and die if she didn’t walk within 2 years.
It definitely wasn’t that at all.
: Ancient Korean method of coloring one’s fingernails (since there was no nail polish) by crushing the flower petals (light orange color) and mixing it with vinegar. They would apply this mixture to their fingertips and bind them with cotton for a while to make sure it completely soaks the nails. There was also a superstition that one’s first love would be fulfilled if the color remains on the fingernails by the first snowfall.
: Possibly a reference to a Korean folktale about the creation of the sun and the moon. Long story short, a brother and a sister are being chased by a tiger. The children pray to God for help. A long rope is lowered down from the heavens, and the children began to climb up. The tiger prays as well, and a rope is also lowered down for him. As they climb higher, the tiger’s rope breaks because it had been rotten all along. The tiger falls to its death, and the two siblings ascend into the heavens and become the sun and the moon.