Pairing: JaeChun, JaeMin, slight Yoochun/OC
Genre: Historic, Romance, Drama
Summary: Growing up within the brothels and backalleys of the royal city, Kim Jaejoong learned at a young age exactly how to make others submit to his will. However when he enters the palace he realizes that there are things that are even darker than he is--especially when he encounters the King's wildly cunning and wickedly dangerous stepbrother...
A Tree With Deep Roots
Because the Wind Does not Sway it
And Bears Fruit
Water From a Deep Spring
Because a Drought Dries it Not
Becomes a Stream
And Flows to the Sea
~Yongbieocheonga; Joseon Era Poem~
Because the Wind Does not Sway it
And Bears Fruit
Water From a Deep Spring
Because a Drought Dries it Not
Becomes a Stream
And Flows to the Sea
~Yongbieocheonga; Joseon Era Poem~
“Power, Jaejoong-ah. It's power that will get you anything in this world”
Those were the words Kim YoSoon whispered to her son the moment he was born and every single day after that. It wasn't that she wanted to raise her son, her only child, harshly—but she had learned personally that love and emotions were for the weak.
Emotions didn't change her lot in life; they didn't stop her husband from walking out on her while she was with child. Didn't stop her from being abandoned in Hanseong, the royal city, with nothing to her name but a young child, her youthful looks, and a keen common sense developed over her early years of living in the provinces.
YoSoon was determined to raise her son to be greater than herself. To make him someone that would be in control, to seize power in the highest form he could—and to take the power that had been denied him since the moment his father had walked out on the family. It didn't matter what needed to be sacrificed in the process.
If the boy grew up to be emotionless, souless, so be it.
As long as Kim Jaejoong was not weak, nothing else mattered.
Jaejoong stepped through the alleyways that led away from his tutor's house. His clothes—beautiful and neatly pressed—were hiked up around his ankles in a desperate attempt to keep them away from the dirty water and filth that clogged the ditches.
He made his way quickly through the dark, narrow passageways with slanted rooftops crowded so close together than almost no natural light shone through. It would make more sense to walk out on the streets, where it was open and not filled with the waste from the rest of the city.
But that was the first lesson that Jaejoong had learned. Let no one know where he came from.
So instead, he took to the back alleyways, moving through the maze of narrow canals and shallow ditches with practiced ease.
He slipped into a more narrow passageway, virtually hidden from the normal passerby, but clearly open to those who visited with purpose. The crumbling stone walls on either side of him were filled with low doorways, women hanging out of them—their dresses cut too low at the necks and too high up their thighs. Faces made beautiful with layers of coal dust around their eyes and rogue on their lips. There was no question what this area was, nor what these women were selling.
A drunken man stumbled out of one of the houses and nearly knocked Jaejoong over. The young boy wrinkled his nose at the stench of alcohol. It was barely high noon.
“Oh, who is this little pretty over here?” the man asked, drinking in the features that the boy possessed. The strong cheekbones, straight nose, large eyes, and the full lips stained a dark crimson hue.
Jaejoong opened his mouth to tell the man off before noticing the insignia that the other wore on his robes—a little scale sown onto the cowl neck. This man was a royal official. One that clearly belonged to the lowest ranking Ministry, but an official nonetheless.
Immediately Jaejoong eyes grew wider and his lips trembled in a perfect sign of venerability.
“Do not mind me, sir” the boy muttered, his voice barely above a whisper. “What can a young boy such as myself offer an official such as you?” He looked up through thick eyelashes at the man.
The official swallowed deeply.
“I'm sure that there can be something you have to offer, pretty little thing” the man said with a wholly leering grin, wrapping an arm around the boy's small waist.
Jaejoong forced a shiver run through his body as he cocked his head to the side, letting his hair fall over his shoulder in a waterfall of straight, raven locks. “And what would that be sir?” He took his hand, trembling with practiced perfection, and clasped it over the one the man had placed on his waist.
“Daegwon! Let that boy go! He's only fifteen, and a male at that. For shame! Do you want to be reported to the palace for propositioning a child?”
The official immediately let go of Jaejoong's waist and stumbled away, cursing under his breath and he quickly left the narrow alleyway.
Jaejoong sneered at the loss and turned to find Lee Soori standing in the doorway of her own house, which was larger than the others in the alleyway. The older woman ran a brothel and had known Jaejoong since he was just a toddler, brought into her place of business along with his mother. They both lived with her still.
“Kim Jaejoong, how many times must you be told to mind your place?” the old woman said, narrowing her eyes. “Do not tempt without knowing what the consequences will be. Now come in. Your mother is waiting for you”
Jaejoong walked into the building without saying another word. The richly colored fabrics that Soori had strung from the ceilings mixed with the light scent of incense gave the place a feeling of class that it did not in reality possess. No matter how beautiful the facade was, this was still a whore house.
“Jaejoong, you are a scholar” Soori said to the beautiful boy as he walked past her. “One of these days you are going to make it to the palace. Everyone here knows it. Do not waste such a future on meddling in business that should be left to us women”
Jaejoong nodded to the woman, earning him a bright smile. He then turned and made his way up the narrow staircase until he reached the third floor. He walked to the end of the hallway, ignoring the sounds and scents around him, until he reached a doorway covered in thick red cloths.
“Mother” he said as he pushed the cloth aside and came into the room. Kim YoSoon was sitting at a vanity at the end of the main room, dressed in the normal fashion of all the women that lived in the building.
“Jaejoong” she said, her voice clipped and formal as it always was. “Come inside, son. Away from the doorway. You don't want this whole building hearing our business. You know what the rule is...”
“Always keep your affairs private” Jaejoong answered fluidly as he walked over and folded himself on a cushion next to the woman. YoSoon checked over the boy, taking in his delicate features and then running her hands through his hair, her long nails scraping at his scalp.
“It is growing out nicely,” she said, critically appraising the silken strands, “after that vile Soori cut it last winter I was afraid it would never come out nicely again”
“I passed the second gwageo exam, mother” Jaejoong breathed out. The woman's hands stilled in his hair as she looked at him with widened eyes.
“They chose me to be one of the 33 to go in front of the king to take the final exam”
Everyone in Korea knew that besides the royal family, the only way for a male to enter the palace was to either become a eunuch and serve the queen, or to become an official. There were nine levels of officials in three different categories—literature, military, and miscellaneous. The literature officials were the most prestigious and in order to become one a student had to take two gwageo exams. At the end of the exams, 33 total people were chosen to take the final exam in front of the king himself.
“So what happens now?” YoSoon asked.
“The King personally tests us,” Jaejoong answered. “The one with the highest score becomes a 6th rank official, the next two are set to 7th rank. Seven are then assigned 8th rank while the rest have the 9th...”
“The lowest rank,” YoSoon spat out. “It's better to just become a whore than to be a 9th ranked official. They have no power. No respect”
Jaejoong's mind went back to Daegwon, the drunkard who had accosted him in the alleyway near minutes before. That was not what he wanted.
“It's obvious what you must do, isn't it?” YoSoon asked.
“Score the highest, take the highest rank” Jaejoong answered immediately.
YoSoon didn't smile, but she did tilt her head in acknowledgement of the words. “Of course, Jaejoong. The only thing that matters in this world is...”
“Power” the woman repeated. “You achieve sixth rank and then continue until you are the first ranked official. Then continue further until you have the king under your command. The man with the most power is always the winner.”
“I will study harder then,” Jaejoong said. It was always what he said to his teachers, and it never failed to please them. His mother, however, was not so easy to pacify. The woman chuckled ruefully.
“You idiot boy. Do you think at this point, it matters how much harder you study? You already know everything that you need to, as do the 32 other men who will be with you in that exam room. If you try to go to this exam with a mind solely in books, you will come out as a useless 9th ranked official.”
“My teachers told me that the greatest weapon that we have is our books and our minds” Jaejoong answered. It earned him a sharp hit on the head.
“If your teachers knew better then they would be sitting for the exams themselves.”
Jaejoong shifted on his pillow, staring hard at the ground. “Then what to do?”
“You must make the King need to have you in his court. To be the person he wants to keep the closest to him and that he couldn't imagine himself without” YoSoon said. “That is what I learned from the mistakes I made, Jaejoong. Make yourself a person who is to be desired and no one will let you leave. You will have the highest rank in the palace in a short time”
“A person to be desired?” Jaejoong asked.
“I have taught you this over the years, Jaejoong. Don't ask as though you do not understand the meanings behind my words”
Jaejoong understood them perfectly. His mother had taught him well, and that which she hadn't taught he had learned himself from living his life in the brothels. He knew what men wanted, needed, and he knew exactly how to manipulate that to his advantage.
Jaejoong knew how to look, how to act, and most importantly—what to do—to make his fellow men fall to their knees before him.
“People might see this as a woman's job,” YoSoon continued. “But you are more intelligent than that, are you not Jaejoong? You know that it does not matter...”
“A person must do whatever they need to do to ensure that they are at the highest position of power” Jaejoong recited drolly and for the first time, a genuine smile pulled over YoSoon's lips. She brought her hand up and caressed the side of her son's face; thankful for the unique, spell-casting features that she had blessed the boy with.
“You know that you must do whatever you need to,” she breathed out, “and that, my pretty Jaejoong, is what you have above all the others”
The final of the gwageo exams took place in the palace itself, in the grand hall where the King and his council of highest ranking officials sat on the throne platform and surveyed the examinees as they entered in a single, organized line.
Though the exams were technically opened to anyone, usually only those from higher class families who had enough money to send their sons to private tutors partook in the gwageo. The literature one was especially excluded. Because those who ended up being the highest ranked official in literature ended up monopolizing the power of the court, it was always an unwritten rule that the men who took the exams in that category must come from only the highest class.
Because of this, Jaejoong had taken on another persona when he took the gwageo. He was not Kim Jaejoong, the son of the a brothel worker who lived in prostitute alley. Instead he was Han Jaejoon, the only son of Han Seungyun, the aristocrat who tutored Jaejoong and gave him an alias in exchange for the money and prestige having a palace official in the family would give to him.
“Those sitting for the miscellaneous category exams, please go the the hall on the right” an official announced after each of the candidates entered the hall. Jaejoong eyed the men who stood up and quietly left. It was a known fact that the officials from that category were always looked down on. There was honor in the literary and military exams that could not be found in the miscellaneous one.
“Those sitting for the literary exam, please step forward to the front of the throne platform”
Jaejoong stood up and walked forward, surveying the other men who walked with him. He was by far the youngest and the only one that did not carry a bag full of scrolls or other studying material with him.
The group stopped at the platform, and while the rest of them men bowed their heads down to wait for further instructions, Jaejoong took a chance and looked up straight at the panel that was to be judging him.
There were the three number one ranked officials—all in their official red robes. Standing next to them was the King Former. Though he was still living, his health was failing rapidly and he had abdicated the throne to his eldest son the year before.
Jaejoong swept his eyes to the right and found both the King and the King's half brother, the Royal Prince Successor, standing upright.
King Yoochun was a young ruler; only twenty-seven years of age. He was the only child of the Former King and the Queen Dowager, and according to the gossip that the officials brought with them to the brothels—their lips loosened by alcohol, drugs, and sated natures—the king was as sheltered and clueless as they came. They said he had a childlike naivety and would be lost without the advisors to guide him.
On the other hand, Prince Changmin was the son of the former King and his favorite concubine. Two years younger than Yoochun, he had lived outside of the palace walls for much of his childhood, studying the arts of war and literature both. Officials said that he was intelligent and quick witted, not easily fooled by anyone.
It was Changmin that caught Jaejoong's eye as the boy looked up at them. The young prince quirked an eyebrow, looking at Jaejoong in interest as they kept eye contact.
Jaejoong tried not to smile to himself as he made his eyes bigger and his body posture smaller, as though telling the prince he was willing to submit to him. The interest in Changmin's eyes grew.
“As you know,” one of the officials stated, breaking the contact between Jaejoong and Changmin, “the literature exam is modeled after the imperial exams that are given by our honorable neighbors, China. They will take place in three parts. The first part will be to test you ability to compose in various literary forms. The second will be to write a problem-essay, which will show your political aptitude. And the final portion of the exam will be an interview with the King himself in order to test your knowledge of the Confucian canon.”
Jaejoong nodded his head. The first two parts he knew that he would be fine in. Writing came naturally for the boy, and his years in the brothel had made him privy to enough gossip to be clearly informed in any political issue they were to throw at him.
And just as he had thought, he completed those first two sections with ease. It was simple to come up with flowery things to put onto paper. He had studied vigorously for this after all—spending hours with his scrolls in the spare room on the topmost floor of Soori's bulding as his mother stayed in the room below him, earning the money he needed to continue his studies. Writing required nothing but rote memorization, and Jaejoong had memorized his lessons perfectly enough to complete the tasks with no problems.
Looking at the faces of the other 32 examinees, Jaejoong knew that they too were confident about their performances.
The third portion of the exam called for a personal questioning by the king himself and it was what Jaejoong was looking forward to the most. This, he knew, is where he would separate himself from the rest.
Jaejoong looked up. An official stood in front of him.
“The King is ready for your interview with him to begin” the official said as he led Jaejoong away from the main hall into a wide hallway. There was a grand door at the end of it. It opened and another examinee slid out of the room behind it.
“This portion of the exam is to test your general knowledge.” the official continued, looking down at the young boy, “let the lessons that you have learned come to your advantage while answering the King's questions, Han Jaejoon”
“I will do my best to pleasure the king” Jaejoong answered back, truth ringing in his every word.
“You have until sunfall to complete this portion of the exam” the official said before turning and leaving Jaejoong alone in the hall. There was no bowing—officials were in too high of a position to be bowing to young boys.
Jaejoong ran a hand through his hair, loosing the tie of his robes just slightly as he brought his hand down, and then turned to the door in front of him.
A wide smile crossed his face.
The room was quite small and dreadfully stuffy. There were no windows and the only air came from small slits carved high up on the wall. A few, pathetic rays of sunlight came from those slits—but the room was mostly lit by the candles that lined the floor and stood handing from fixtures in the wall.
The king was sitting at the end of the room, a grand chair carved from the stone wall itself and dusted with gold holding the man's form.
This was the first time that Jaejoong was able to see the man closely and he was taken aback with the King's looks.
His whole life Jaejoong was used to others seeing him as being fragile because of his delicate facial features, and he was almost taken aback to see that the King was in the same class as him. The man had pale skin, large eyes, and dark hair that curled around his almost boyish face. And to add to the frailty of the man was the openness of his eyes. Those were eyes that trusted without question.
He is like a child, King Yoochun is. The words Jaejoong had heard during his nights in the brothel, the voices of various officials floating and sinking until they found his ears, all rushed back to him. He trusts too easily and is swayed by any show of affection. It's dangerous...him having such a soft heart. He would sell his kingdom for love...
Jaejoong turned towards Yoochun. He had seen a woman in love before. One of the ladies in the house next to his, a whore smitten with a rich nobleman. The look in her eyes when she caught sight of her love was unforgettable and Jaejoong mimicked that expression now as he gazed upon the king.
Yoochun swallowed deeply, cheeks automatically reddening.
This, Jaejoong thought, would be too easy.