This is another rough chapter in the sequel. Enjoy.
Father Won sat silently lamenting his son’s death at the end of a large dinning table that normally sat sixteen. He speculated the possibility of his son becoming a ‘kaekkwi’, a ghost, roaming aimlessly across the lands and he wondered what he could do to stop it. His wife sat around the near corner to his left. Father had yet to find the appropriate time to tell his wife about their first born who lay frozen in an insulated transport casket in his second son’s transformed wine cellar. Father spun the rotating serving carousel apathetically looking at each of the assorted traditional garnishes as they passed in their individual bowls. He began to notice how they were prepared and how delicately they were placed symmetrically below and around the circular grill sizzling meat over coals in the center. He watched as the smoke curled languidly into the outer reaches of the vaulted ceiling and migrated sleepily toward the vents and open windows. Mother turned strips of browning meat with silver chop sticks on the grill as Father again spun the carousel with distant effort.
Father mentally changed the subject and inhaled through his nose. “Um, Pulgolgi. It smells great.”
Agima smiled and replied, “I thought you’d like it. We haven’t made dinner together for ourselves in a long time.” She shrugged and moved some of the tender brown pieces of meat to the edge of the grill to keep warm, “It seemed appropriate.”
“Yes.” Father nodded and reached for a lettuce leaf and with his silver chopsticks put some cooked meat along the spine of the leaf. He spun the carousel with a renewed interest and laced the meat with various vegetables, garlic, spices, and red chili sauce.
A woman entered the room with a flask of soju rice whiskey and a carafe of spring water from the mountains and placed them on the table between Father and the agima. “Will there be anything else?” the servant asked with a bowed head.
The agima looked at Father who twitched his head and she answered the servant, “No, not now. Thank you.”
The servant bowed deeper at the waist and walked silently back out of sight through the kitchen door.
Father used his chopsticks skillfully and placed some kimchi on his plate. “Isn’t that Lynn’s wife?”
“Yes. I hope you don’t mind. She asked for work a few days ago. She says, since Lyin has been gone on such a long errand to Jeju do for Won Jie, she has no one to cook for and she doesn’t know what to do with herself.” The agima watched Fathers’ face.
Father closed his eyes for a moment and spoke slowly, “Of course I don’t mind. Whatever job she wants she is welcome to – as long as she wants.” He spooned some rice onto his plate.
The agima spread the coals out to cool the grill and began preparing and decorating her plate. “Do you remember when we used to do this with the children? They loved it so much. We would have two grills going, one at each end of the table, you here and me down there; both of us helping the little ones. It was always a happy time. So many good times all laughing and making so much noise.”
Father smiled and started in on his plate, “Yes, I remember. I remember when one of the boys, I think it was Chunwei left the room and Chanyu took the meat out of his brothers’ lettuce leaf and filled it with hot chili sauce. When Chunwei returned and bit into it -,” Father chortled, “Oh, the look on his face.” Father put down his chop sticks and belly laughed, his eyes watered with long buried happy memories scarred by blossoming grief.
The agima held a napkin over her mouth, nodding and chuckling as her shoulders heaved as if on a trotting horse.
Father half stood up and crossed his left forearm across his waist and poured some soju in his wife’s glass with his right and then poured himself a glass and sat back down with a smile. “My favorite memories of the children were when they were young; the boys playing soccer or baseball, the girls at dance or gymnastics, all laughing, all innocent. They were all good children.”
“Do you remember going to Alaska and making love under the Aurora Borealis conceiving our first son?”
Father nodded and looked at his wife, “You were so beautiful and I was so scared. I still didn’t really know what to do.” He took a bite of Pulgolgi. The lettuce leaf was cool and crisp and gave way to the herbs and spices and adorned hot meat. “We barely knew each other.”
“I remember when I first saw you coming up the stairs to my parents’ front door. You looked so clean and proper – except – one of your shoe laces had come undone.”
Father grunted a laugh, “Yes, I nearly fell in the front door at your doorman’s feet.”
“Uh-huh, my mother and I saw you; we were on the second floor watching you and father talk in the parlor. You asked father for permission to see me while accompanied by a chaperon. But my mother had already explained everything; that a day would come that I would marry you. So I already knew that our fathers and mothers had set it up.”
“Do you regret the arrangement they made?” Father took another bite of his Pulgolgi and eyeballed his wife.
She scoffed at him and replied proudly, “Not in any way; I was born to be by your side and have lots of children and raise a family with you. It was my destiny which I honorably accepted then as I do today and tomorrow until one day – we pass.”
“You have been a good woman and you have given me many beautiful children.”
“Yes and by the way, I invited them all here tomorrow for lunch.”
Father gave a surprised look of joy, “What! They are here? Now!?”
Mother replied with the subtlety of a bomb, “Yes. I summoned them after Jie called and asked for Lyin’s help transporting Chanyu’s body from San Francisco back to Seoul. I happened to hear Lyin talking to Jie on the phone and asked Lyin what it was about. He was obligated to tell me. Since then, Jie and I have spoken a few times and he told me of Lyin’s death at the Stell house as well.”
Fathers’ smile vanished in his slack jaw.
“I realize you were waiting for the right time to say something about all of this, maybe it was going to be tonight – maybe not. I know you didn’t want to hurt me with the bad news. And I thought it would be good for you to be surrounded by those who love you and that you love the most.”
Father reached out with both hands across the corner of the table towards his wife, “I’m so sorry. It’s true, I was afraid to tell you. I didn’t know how. I didn’t want . . . ,” he paused looking deep into his wife’s eyes, “will you forgive me?”
The agima returned the stare and reached for Father’s hands holding them lovingly, “You know; we do not have many secrets between us. We are products of a devoted past and bound by love, marriage, history, and honor.” The agima slid her hands out of Fathers’ and got up to walk to the middle of the room, “Throughout time my forefathers fought against many foes all the way back to the Xiongnu Empire. As the country fell, my ancestors avoided capture at the battle of Loulan in108 BC and of course – my family was almost completely destroyed in the Gorguryo-Han Wars two hundred years later. We’ve battled against invading Mongols, the Yuan, the Japanese, successive wars with the Chinese and even with our own marauding warlords in their day.” She then pointed to an old painting on the wall, “And here is a painting on our wall to remind us of our mutual ancestors; a Wuhuan warrior, before the spelling was changed to Won; your forefather defeated my forefather and took his vault key from around his neck which he had taken from his slain Hun enemy.” She moved to another portrait painting of a Korean Princess, “Your forefather also took a most beautiful Cho princess named, NAME, as his bride in a marriage treaty of peace and to gain information about the vaults; my ancestral blood mother stands obediently behind her man for all eternity in another painting in the study.” The agima knew of the shadow in the painting depicting a knife handle on a backdrop wall cabinet. The shadow suggests a knife handle sticking out of the Won king’s back as he studies and toils over the vault map by oil lamp. She didn’t mention it. “I stand behind you now and always.” She returned to the table and kissed Fathers’ hands and sat back down, “Until death do us part.”
Father said with a grateful smile and the slightest tearing, “Thank you for understanding. You carry such a burden upon your strong will.”
The agima had staged her husband perfectly and now she held some uncharacteristic wild cards she was going to enjoy playing, one after the other. “Father, now I am going to ask for your understanding, leniency, forgiveness, and most of all, – compassion.”
“Won Jie brought Chanyu’s body back and I know it’s in a casket in Jie’s modified wine cellar.”
Father Won sat silently and nodded sadly.
“I have made his death robe, his suui and written up invitations to be sent out tomorrow morning by messenger for the funeral which starts tomorrow afternoon. All family members outside of Seoul have been notified already and will, for the most part, all arrive in time.”
“You have done all this?”
The agima nodded and continued, “Hegin is getting bushels of cut flowers in the morning while Lu helps tidy up the place and prepare the viewing room and coordinate the guests and guestrooms.”
Father was speechless.
“Won Jie also brought with him the Un Jangdo that my ancestor, the princess Cho (NAME) carried with her which has been handed down through the women of the Cho since before our two families had mutual beginnings; the same Un Jangdo that our first daughter, Won Ji Tun, killed herself with; the same knife found in our first sons’ heart.”
“Everything you are telling me, I already know but I didn’t think you knew about our son or Lyin.”
“Did you know that Ji Tun changed one of the inscriptions on the blade to point to her dishonor? It was her way of apologizing to you.” The agima began to choke as the heartfelt emotions flowed from her eyes. “Ji Tun realized her father was right not to trust John Stell. She was ashamed and you wouldn’t listen to her anymore. You excommunicated her. You locked her out of your heart, your mind, our house, away from her family and silenced her laughter.” The agima took a moment and put her hands over her face gathering tears and composure in the darkness of her palms. She inhaled through her nose and raised her head defiantly and announced, “But I couldn’t do that. You have to forgive me for keeping such things from you. I kept in touch with Ji Tun until a week before she committed suicide. Did you know that, my dear husband?”
Father sat very still, dumbfounded; regretfully knowing that he had made some mistakes with his daughter that his pride would never allow him to restore. “No, I did not know that.”
“There’s more,” she said with a rasp in her voice speaking slow and deliberate, all the while swallowing a steady flow of tears, “Won Jie also brings with him, Monica Won Cho Stell; Ji Tun’s daughter. I’m sure you didn’t know anything about her.”
Father blinked stunned and spoke softly, “Ji Tun had – had a daughter?”
“That’s right; Ji Tun had a daughter six months before she died. And Monica, being the first daughter of my first daughter, is the rightful heiress of the Un Jangdo, her mother’s key and a blood descendant of the Women of Cho, equal to, if not higher in status than our own two living daughters. Monica Won Cho Stell is a Cho Princess.”
“But, how can this be!?”
“Quite right. How can this be; after your vengeful assault on the Stell family most of them are dead or have disappeared; you personally poisoned poor Robert Stell’s wife, you and Chanyu abducted Robert Stell who recently died in a cage on a beach of I don’t know;” she shrugged her shoulders with unconditional surrender, “starvation, exposure, heat exhaustion, Malaria, all of them? And fifteen years ago you left an innocent boy, Rayman, to fend for himself. Your own daughter, Won Ji Tun Stell, committed suicide. And now, after many years of peace, our first born son is murdered in the Cho Museum. Our own museum! And against your orders our most devoted servant Lyin of seven generations has burnt to death because he faithfully followed alternative orders from Won Jie to kill Rayman Stell – who has now disappeared.” The agima pointed towards the kitchen and in a whispering low voice hissed, “Lyin’s wife works here now, she set this table and served you dinner and she doesn’t know that her husband is dead or why. Is it because of your revenge, your hatred, your greed? I don’t know what? But this business is spilling into the innocent. When does it end?”
Father slammed his palm on the table, “When we get back what rightfully belongs to us! John Stell used Ji Tun’s key to steal my brothers’ keys! I want revenge for both our families!”
Mother looked pathetically at her husband and huffed before confidently replying, “Actually, John Stell did not use Ji Tun’s key because she had put it in a safety deposit box with instructions to deliver it to Monica on her eighteenth birthday. The key was in hiding when your brother and his family were shot and killed. You assumed John used the key to find your brother. It’s not true.”
Father sat startled by the suspicious errors being exposed in his theory, “You know this?”
“Yes. With the key, Monica received a letter from Ji Tun telling her to keep the key a secret from her father and everybody else for that matter. Monica told Jie this then showed him the key around her neck and let him read the letter – then he told me.” She picked up her lettuce leaf wrapped Pulgolgi and tucked in the loose ends with her chop sticks while watching her husbands’ uneasy body language out of the corner of her eye. “You should talk to your son – when you’re not too busy trying to kill everybody.”
“Do not patronize me, woman!”
A long silence began.
Father Won boiled within.
The agima took a bite. She had never enjoyed her Pulgolgi more than right now. Every flavor, every smell became immaculate and filled her senses.
In Father’s mind even the paintings seemed to turn and listen to the silence and watch in a timeless stare.
With the empowered tone of a true matriarch the agima calmly set her will in motion, “I want to welcome Monica into our home and teach her our mutual history and end the feud with the Stell family. This you must grant me, dear husband.”
Father searched the paintings for a brush stroke of direction, a hue of enlightenment. The future faded to black in his thoughts as he witnessed his wise wife artfully set up a new canvass on which she began painting an unimaginable portrait of their mutual life story. With every word she spoke she mixed colors of influence which stained and bled into the white canvass of their future. Father wondered if she too would merge the shades of their demise and apply the dye to the canvass as the ancestral artists had done on the paintings surrounding them on the walls of their home. He fought an infectious tug of war with his emotions eventually conceding with a head bow. “I love you wife; I believe you will do what is right for our family. It will take me some time to get used to this idea so please allow me to meet and teach Monica on my own terms, after the funeral, when I am ready to do so. Tonight I am going to begin funeral preparations and wish not to see her or hear another word about her throughout the next three funeral days of Sam Il Jung.”
“That’s fine. Then I will begin building our son’s shrine tonight.” Mother watched her husband in silence for a moment. “My dear husband, we mourn death together and share in life as one. This is a difficult time for all of us and it will not be easy for us knowing that Monica’s father betrayed our family, but John Stell also betrayed Ji Tun and Monica.”
Father scowled and stated, “I didn’t trust her father; it is not likely that she will win my trust.”
“Good. Then, as before, you will be the watchful eye for all of us, because Monica will be joining the rest of the family at some point in our mutual future. You are invited. But I must tell you, she is not to be harmed in any way without my permission. Monica may prove to be more than just an ally or a liaison to the Stell camp, as the Cho women were to the Won family. She’s a product of us and our enemy.”
Father nodded eyeing his wife, “I will not be here.”
Mother grabbed her glass of soju and held the glass up to her husband.
Fathers’ mind was working quickly trying to turn the situation to an advantage. Something came to mind. He smiled dimly and raised his glass, “To the Women of Cho.”
“To the women of Cho.”