We’re kicking off 2020 by returning to last year’s Korean selection, Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name. This story comes in a three volume set, and I will look at volume 2 next.
To recap since I didn’t continue with the series later in the year last year as planned, the story takes place in the Silla Era with the Queen of Silla giving birth to a set of twins that they separate since they are in a power struggle with Mishil, the leader of the Hwarang fighting force and former concubine of a deceased Silla king. The King keeps his daughter Princess Cheonmyeong and sends his second daughter off with palace lady-in-waiting Sohua with the help of the revered Hwarang leader, Munno. Once the second princess, only known as Deokman and raised in Central Asia in a Silk Road caravan town, Mishil’s agents have traced her. After a series of misfortunes and Sohua’s death, Deokman goes in search of Munno, uncertain of who her father may be, and meets Princes Cheonmyeong along the way, though neither of them know who the other really is.
Turning to chapter 1 in this volume, “A Fated Encounter,” I realize I must have skimmed the end of volume 1 too quickly, because we’re starting in a very dramatic, ugly place with volume 2, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I haven’t watched the series in quite a long time, and maybe I should refresh my memory, but chapter 1 starts with 5 scenes worth spending some time on.
In scene 1, we begin with a description of a midsummer day at what is probably a Buddhist temple called Yeoraesa. The description of the scene includes a “sea of blood,” assassins and a massacre. Deokman is there, and she leaps up the main sanctuary’s stone steps. A clanging sound can be heard in the distance, and the assassins disappear.
At this point, Deokman heads straight for Yeoraesa, looking for the man she thinks is her father, Munno. She is surrounded by corpses covered with black flies and the fishy smell of blood in the intense heat in the temple’s garden. She can hardly believe a great man like Munno could have been killed in this attack since he is a Hwarang leader with an extensive background in the martial arts. Tears are running down her cheeks as she looks over the dead bodies to find him.
When she finds one man who is still alive but near death, she asks whether Munno survived and says he is her father. The dying person is certain Munno wasn’t there during the massacre and asks if she is really his daughter. Near the end of scene, Deokman snatches an ornamental knife she finds in the garden.
The story returns to Mishil’s palace in the next scene. Mishil is wearing a wide, floral print skirt, and she’s talking with Sejong and Misaeng about her son Bojong, who has disappeared. Bojong is known to have a calm demeanor and superior skill at the military arts, so they are concerned that he disappeared, which is also connected to the massacre at the Yeoraesa temple in Gongju.
Mishil also speculates that Prince Yongchun and Princess Cheonmyeong have an illicit relationship although they are in laws, and Misaeng mentions that Cheongmyeong also went missing after she fell off a cliff, but no one knows if she died or survived the fall. Seolwon goes to look for Bojong.
In scene three, we go back to the Silla palace and King Jinpyeong, who drops a cup of wine as he speaks with Prince Yongchun about Princess Cheonmyeong’s disappearance. He wants to know why she went to Yeoraesa Temple, and Yongchun tells him she went to meet Munno. This news surprises Jinpyeong, but Yongchun says she has wanted to meet Munno for a year and had gathered intelligence that he was at Yeoraesa. Both men think she fell off the cliff there at a place called Mannogun. They then talk about the kings of the other kingdoms of Baekjae and Koguryeo.
The next scene appears to be a flashback with Yongchun with Princess Cheonmyeong at Mannogun. They are with Kim Yusin’s mother Wife Manmyeong, who is married to Kim Seohyeon. She doesn’t realize at first that the weeping girl with them is a princess of Silla. Their discussion ranges from Silla’s royal family, Mishil, and the Hwarang as Kim Yusin himself arrives.
The final scene in the chapter shows an injured Bojong among a pile of corspes. Deokman is there with a male friend Jukbang, and Jukbang takes Bojong’s amber ring before they leave the area.
Chapter 2, “A Deal With the Enemy,” opens with Mishil having an audience with King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya about the disappearance of their children. Queen Maya is tearful and heartbroken over the situation, and King Jinpyeong is also very depressed. The second scene shows more of these characters, but I’m going to stick with the juicier subplot with Deokman and the Princess.
We get back to Deokman in the chapter’s third scene where she’s traveling with two men, Jukbang and Kodo. Jukbang still has Bojong’s ring, and they’re looking for somewhere to sell it in the Eastern Market. Later in the scene, there’s an extended description of a victim of the Yeoraesa Temple massacre who owned the ornamental knife Deokman took. At the time, she is concerned he might regain consciousness, but he doesn’t recover.
In the next few scenes, the missing characters Bojong and Princess Cheonmyeong return to the palace. First, Mishil and her coterie go to visit Bojong, who gets very emotional and cries as they discuss Munno and Yeoraesa. Then, the next scene begins with a description of a pine forest known as Cheonkyeongrim, located in Gyeongju, and contains a few references to the northern and southern skies. Of course, astronomy is central to the plot of this series since there’s the prophecy of the rise of Mishil’s enemy when the stars of the Big Dipper change. After a brief description of the people of the land and some commentary on the kings of Silla, Deokman and Cheonmyeong appear near a stream that passes by Heungryusa Temple, a large temple situated in Gyeongju during the Silla era. Deokman tells her she’s now safe, but Yongchun chides Deokman for speaking so casually to the princess. Deokman is surprised to hear that Cheonmyeong is a princess.
They talk about Munno, Yeoraesa Temple, and how members of the Hwarang massacred the monks there. Deokman says she hates the Hwarang and doesn’t want to live with them, and Cheonmyeong asks if she has given up on meeting Munno in that case. Deokman says she hasn’t, and Cheonmyeong promises to show Deokman books written by Munno that are kept in a library. Deokman says she prefers to stay with Jukbang and his brother since she’s more comfortable around them. Finally, Cheonmyeong asks Deokman to give her Bojong’s ring and the ornamental knife, which Deokman does still have, and she hands them over.
The final scene of the chapter shows Mishil going to Cheonmyeong’s palace with a bowl of honeyed fruit juice as an offering. She finds Cheyonmyeong there, and they chat a bit. Mishil asks if she remembers the prediction she made to the princess years before. Chyeonmyeong says she does, mentions the Big Dipper, and says that Mishil encouraged her to flee her fate and run away from the palace. They also discuss Kim Seohyeon’s family briefly and refer to a cover up of the Yeoraesa Temple massacre.
This is where I’m going to stop for the first installment of this series. We’ll continue it in the next post.
Part one of a three part series.