Chapter 3

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Entering the city had been no problem. Both the guards and Moo-Myung had been very confused by the papers permitting her entrance but they were obedient soldiers, not questioning it any further. This still left her with the latter and she was pretty sure he wouldn't be satisfied with a simple excuse. Luckily, that was a problem she could deal with later. She and Moo-Myung had split shortly after they entered the city because he wanted to buy a sword, a decision she wasn't quite sure how to feel about. But at least this gave her some time to explore the city, learn what kind of place this had become.

The city had changed a lot. Or maybe it had just been a long time since Jia had last been here. At least everything looked smaller now than back then. The streets were wide but it still felt restricted compared to the wide fields on the outside. The shadows seemed to swallow her and she felt a chill creep down her spine as she tried to bring some distance between herself and the city walls. The houses seemed small in the shadow of the huge dark wall that surrounded this place like the walls of a prison. She wasn't sure yet whom they were incarcerating: The peasants on the outside or her on the inside?

Jia was pleased to see that Pi Joo-Ki was still the owner of the Dayiseo, a store in the inner city. And he had expanded, turned the house next door into a tea house called Sutabaksu. She remembered how she used to sneak out all the time and hide underneath the big wooden counters in his store whenever a guard saw her. What a nice memory. But he probably wouldn't even remember her after all those years. Maybe she should pay him a visit?

But the young woman kept roaming through the streets until she reached the market. The scent of spices mingled with freshly cooked rice welcomed her, embraced her like a big cloud, and the tension in her muscles melted away. A sea of people populated the plaza, so...lively. Servants negotiating with fishmongers and young ladies in colorful dresses browsing the stands for a new hairpin or Norigae. She blended in with the crowd, only contrasted by the fact that her clothes had more in common with those of a fighter than a young lady's Hanbok.

Norigae=노리개, traditional Korean accessory hung from a woman's dress
Hanbok=한복, traditional Korean clothing

Jia stopped, not far from the center of the crowd, observing them as they walked by. So many people, young masters, servants, and mothers trying to keep their children in check, who, for their parts, seemed to be way more interested in chasing an alley cat than listening to their parents. A short smile played around her lips. It was refreshing to see so many people living their seemingly carefree lives in here.

"They look like ants around an anthill, don't they?"

"What?" Hypnotized by all of this, she hadn't even noticed the young man that suddenly appeared next to her. She looked at him puzzled and scrutinized him. He was not much older than her and the expensive fabric of his azure robe marked him as a young master. The exact type of person she had planned to avoid for now. But instead of looking at her, he faced the crowd and a few strands of his dark hair were falling into his face so she couldn't see his eyes.

"They run around all day, here and there, and gather around the market... I wonder where they came from. Why they're here. Where they're going after this"

"Most of them will probably go home afterward", she said and shrugged her shoulders, still a bit intrigued. 'Who is this man? And why for heaven's sake is talking to me?'

"Maybe. But I don't like that idea. It's too simple" He shook his head and seemed to pout slightly as if he was disappointed by her lack of creativity. "Maybe they will go to meet a spy from Goguryeo to conspire against the queen!" he beamed. It was kind of fascinating to see how his mood shifted within those few sentences, all clearly displayed on his face.

Goguryeo= 고구려, a kingdom north of Silla in the era of the three kingdoms

"You have quite some imagination," the young woman chuckled. Even though she still had no idea what he was up to, she started to enjoy the conversation with this whimsical young man. "Are you here a lot, watching these...ants?" She started walking again and he accompanied her as if they had come here together.

"Every day. I know a lot about these people. Like her", he pointed at a woman not much older than the two in a green silky dress standing in front of a stand selling fans and accessories. "She's a handmaiden of the queen. But twice a week she meets with a guard of Park Yong-Shil, a master opposing the queen. They can never be together and if they were to be exposed, both would most likely lose their position or even be exiled from the city. A truly tragic love story...Or him" The expressions on his face shifted within the blink of an eye. For a brief moment, he had looked somber as he talked about the forbidden love but then it was gone again and he seemed to be invested in the next story he wanted to tell.

She followed his gaze to an elder man, haggling with a merchant over some rice. "His daughter died not long ago and now he's raising his three grandkids on his own. They have barely enough money for a meal a day but he is too proud to accept help from his neighbors."

She nodded somewhat impressed. "And you learned all of that just by watching?"

He nodded proudly. "Everyone in the city comes to the market at some time. I know everyone who lives within the city walls. That's also how I know you're from outside the capital."

Jia went all stiff.

He turned towards her and it was only now that she could properly see his face. He was, as she had to admit, undeniably handsome. But his looks were the least of her concerns, now that he appeared to know she was an outsider. He scrutinized her but his dark eyes held no hostility towards her. Rather curiosity.

"You're right, I am. Is that the reason you are following me?" She forced her muscles to relax again and she raised her chin.

He hummed in agreement and tilted his head a bit, still not taking his eyes off her. "You're interesting." That reply took her by surprise. "I want to know who you are, where you're going"

She shook her head in disbelief. This was probably the weirdest conversation she could have imagined. A stranger from the outside was nothing more than an interesting story to him? "Will you tell me who you are first?"

"Suk Hansung," he said and smiled brightly. "Nice to meet you!"

"Kim Jia. And where is the young master going, if you don't mind me asking?" They stopped at a stand on which odds and ends on it. Big vases with flowers and ornaments painted on them, unique bracelets, hand mirrors, and other curiosities were accumulated in seemingly no order.

"I don't know... I want to stay here a little longer," Hansung said, and picked something up that looked like a wooden plate with a compass in the middle, characters of stars engraved in circles around it. He eyed it fascinated and tuned it in different directions, completely captivated by the objects in his hands.

Jia couldn't help but smile in amusement at the sight of it. His eyebrows were furrowed slightly and his lips slightly opened unconsciously as he pinned his dark eyes to the strange compass. She probably could have killed the merchant right next to him without him even noticing it. He really seemed to have his heads in the clouds.

"I'm afraid I'll have to leave you now," she said and surprisingly got his attention.

"Already?" He looked up and pouted.

"Maybe I'll be around here more often," she assured him and he nodded slowly. Without waiting for a further reply, she turned around and walked away.

But she felt his gaze following her as if he was wondering whether she was on her way to a secret meeting with a goguryeoan spy as she disappeared in the crowd.

~•~•~

Okay maybe it's just me but I'm in love with the dialogue in the beginning. First time I wrote a chapter relying on dialogue and it wasn't as horribly difficult as i always imagined it to be lol I had so much fun writing this chapter, Hansung is really an interesting character! We all see him as goofy but most of the times we don't realize how damn smart that boy is...
As always, thanks for reading ^^

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