52 Striking a Chord Pt.2


    With a sudden jolt, Gyuri broke away from her daydream. "Huh? What? What's up?"

    Kalyani scorned at her from the other side. "Are you still not done?" She gestured at the partially polished deck of floorboards outside one of the Kim brothers' personal living quarters. "The Kims will be arriving from the palace soon-why are you not finished yet?"

    "I'm going as fast as I can, alright?" she retorted while scrubbing more vigorously, "There's just so much to clean."

    "Quit your whining" Kalyani sneered. She rolled her eyes as she tutted, "Of all the people I had to work with, it had to be you."

    Two hours before, Madam Zhou had distributed the tasks amongst the maids. Gyuri had hoped that she would be given something easy but, to her dismay, she had been allocated to clean quarters. And to make matters worse, she had to work with Kalyani, who hated her to the core. Gyuri was immediately apprehensive: she detested paired work.

    For Gyuri, 'working in pairs' often meant 'doing work for two'. As Subin, she never had any luck when it came to paired work in school. Often because she was always paired off to an idiot or a lazy arse, who couldn't care less about the task at hand. And more often than not, Subin ended up doing all the work by herself while her partner just signed off their name in the end.

    Gyuri bit the insides of her cheeks to stop herself from lashing back at Kalyani. While she detested working with lazy bums, nothing could compare to her loathing towards stuck up teenage girls who looked down on others. If anything, whenever Gyuri met those type of girls, she was always reminded of the plastics from the film, 'Mean Girls'.

    "Honestly," Kalyani grumbled as she scowled at Gyuri, "why couldn't I have been put on flower-making duty instead?"

    "And why couldn't I have a more hardworking partner?" Gyuri muttered under her breath.

    "What?" Kalyani snapped. "Did you say something just now?"

    Gyuri gave her a sarcastic smile. "Nope. Nothing."

    Kalyani narrowed her eyes at her before continuing with her task. With a half-hearted effort, she completed her end of the deck before pushing herself up from the floor. "Oh, look at that," she said while dangling her empty bucket, "I'm all out of water."

    Gyuri ignored her and continued cleaning.

    "I guess I'll have to go and refill it at the well" she stated, indirectly telling Gyuri of her plan to depart. Kalyani peered at Gyuri when she did not receive any sound of acknowledgement. She hmphed when she saw Gyuri fixated on cleaning the floorboards, blatantly ignoring her presence. Fine then, Kalyani thought to herself, I'll ignore you too, you arrogant wench.

    With subdued annoyance, she got up hastily to leave but halted when she suddenly remembered that the house next door was out of bounds. A crooked thought immediately entered her mind accompanied by a roguish smile. This wench needs to be taught a lesson, she thought as she eyeballed Gyuri inconspicuously. I'd like to see how she gets out of this one.

    "You should head over to the next house without me" Kalyani uttered, trying to mask her grin, "I'll come and join you once I'm done re-filling my bucket."

    Gyuri gave Kalyani a sideward glance. She knew from her flippant tone that Kalyani was not in any hurry to return from the well. "Okay" she replied while rolling up her sleeve. "I'll see you in the next one."

    When Kalyani was finally out of view, Gyuri let out an audible sigh. "I guess even bitches exist here too" she muttered bitterly. She huffed as she lifted her bucket and hoisted it to the next house, which was across the courtyard. "And here I thought I would be able to see the coronation today."

    Gyuri pouted as she mused about the coronation. Before Kalyani had snapped her out of her reverie, she had been fantasizing a grand scene, one that she had seen many times in her historical K-dramas. There would be beautiful decorations, prim and proper ladies and often, a majestic ruler with a tragic past.

    Oh, how she wished her life in Saim was a lot more interesting.

    "Why couldn't I have switched bodies with a princess?" she asked herself aloud while making her way inside the house. "It sucks that I'm a maid."

    As Gyuri contemplated this, her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a melancholy tune. Gyuri halted in her steps as she listened to the music drifting from inside. Strings were delicately plucked to produce a sorrowful melody, one that conveyed a sense of hesitance and grief as if the musician was lamenting the passing of a loved one. She listened attentively, her heart aching at the richness of the sound produced. So much emotion was conveyed through one instrument. In her mind's eye, she was suddenly seeing the image of Yoongi and her dad, who she hadn't seen for almost a month. Their faces were burned at the back of her mind as the music continued to envelop her in its bittersweet melody; her eyes growing moist the longer she listened to the music and thought of them.

    How did a piece move her so much?

    Curious to find out who was playing such a poignant melody, Gyuri peered through the crack in the sliding door. There, at the far end of the room, was a pale-faced boy hunched over a stringed instrument. She gaped at him in wonder, taking in his ghostly appearance. Like the shade of moonlight, his skin was as translucent as paper while his eyes, which were framed by very long lashes, were half-closed as if he was in a trance.

    Gyuri was mesmerised by the elegance of his hands as they glided across the guzheng with ease. With each string that was plucked, a chord in her heart was struck and a new image of her family flashed before her eyes. It was like she had been enchanted by his music. In fact, when was the last time her ears were greeted by a sound other than the cockerel's crow in the morning? To Gyuri, hearing music again was a novel experience. But what she found most peculiar about the whole ordeal was the instrumentalist himself. Who was he? And why was he playing such sad music on a joyous occasion like today?

    Knowing that it wouldn't be wise to suddenly interrupt, Gyuri slowly backed away from the door. She decided that she would come back later, maybe even ask Kalyani about him when she arrived. But before she could, she suddenly tripped on her bucket causing the remaining water to spill across the floor. Gyuri cursed under her breath as she fumbled to clean the mess up as quietly as she could, desperately hoping that the boy on the other side didn't hear.

    "Who is there?"

    Oh, damn it.

    "Brother? Is that you?"

    Gyuri inspected her surroundings wildly as she tried to figure out what to do. Maybe she could run and hide before the boy walked over to her side?

    But before she could act, the sound of approaching footsteps was abruptly heard. The door slid open and soon, towering above her, was the pale-faced boy. He looked down at her curiously, his dishevelled dark brown hair was tied into a ponytail with stray strands framing his small face. Gyuri observed how he was wearing white robes-ones that she knew were often used as pyjamas.

    Seeing that it was a young lass in front of him, the boy blushed slightly as he covered himself with a pale blue jacket that resembled a kimono. As he did so, Gyuri noticed how there were intricate patterns embroidered on the sleeves. After spending a month in Saim, Gyuri had learned that only the nobility wore heavily adorned clothes. And seeing the boy wear something expensive led her to deduct that he was someone of high status: he was one of the Kims.

    "Who are you?" he questioned Gyuri cautiously. He narrowed his eyes as he inspected her appearance and then the puddle at his doorstep. He frowned when he recognised the clothes she was wearing. "You are a maid. You should not be here."

    "I'm-I'm sorry, Master" Gyuri fumbled as she tried to wipe away the puddle at the same time. "I didn't mean to disturb you-I didn't know that someone was still here."

    He surveyed the vicinity as if he was searching for someone. "You should go before my brother comes" he replied. "He will not like it if he finds you here."

    Gyuri nodded. "Right away, Master" she muttered with her head bowed.

    The boy watched as Gyuri prepared to leave. But before she did, he suddenly spoke again, "I have not seen you before. Are you new?"

    Gyuri meekly nodded in reply.

    The boy considered this. "Actually, I am quite bored at the moment," he said out of the blue. "Will you accompany me for a little while?"

    "Accompany you?" Gyuri repeated uncertainly. "But you just said I should go..."

    The boy's mouth stretched into a playful smile. "Yes, that is true" he replied. "But I just thought it would be nice to talk to someone. It is rare for me to have a visitor, save from Tutor Wentai, Physician Koh and my brother." He gestured at the deck. "And you came here to clean, right? You might as well clean while you are here."

    Gyuri eyed him sceptically. One minute he wants me to leave, the next he wants me to stay. "Okay," she warily answered. It's not like I can refuse what the Kims want anyway. Gyuri placed her bucket and rag down as she prepared to polish the deck.

    Pleased, the young boy gave her a small smile before returning to his room.

    From the corner of her eye, Gyuri watched as the boy settled next to his instrument as he resumed playing the same tune from before. Immediately, she was once again transported into a meditative state as the fluttering music carried her into the recesses of her memories. Gyuri closed her eyes as she let the music wash over her, filling up the courtyard with a melancholy tune that, by the end, left her at the brink of tears. Gyuri hastily dabbed at her eyes before her tears had the chance to escape. She sniffled while she applauded him.

    "You play so beautifully" she commented. "But that piece... why does it sound so sad?"

    "Some people may interpret it as sad" he replied while admiring his guzheng, "but to me, it conveys a longing for something unattainable."

    Gyuri watched as he subtly turned his attention to the garden overlooking his room. It may have been her imagination but, Gyuri thought she saw a hint of sadness in his dark eyes.

    He murmured, "True happiness is fleeting."

    Puzzled by his utterance, Gyuri wished to pry further but was mindful of her station. Instead, she asked, "Erm, master?"

    The boy turned to face her.

    "I know this may seem odd but, may I know your name?"

    The boy looked taken aback. "My name?"


    The boy continued to gape at Gyuri before letting out a small chuckle. "My name is Jongin" he replied. He smiled as he added, "I am the fourth son of Kim."

    "Master Jongin..." Gyuri muttered under her breath. She eyed him curiously and guessed that he must be at least a few years older than her, if not, her age.

    "And you?" he enquired, somewhat entertained by something as trivial as introductions. "May I know yours?"

    Gyuri fumbled in reply, "It's Gyuri, Master Jongin."

    "Gyuri..." he repeated to himself. "You have a lovely name."

    Gyuri grinned sheepishly.

    "But it does surprise me that you do not know all your masters." Jongin tilted his head slightly as he questioned, "Did Madam Zhou not educate you?"

    "Err..." Gyuri scratched her head awkwardly. "She did but I'm not good with names." She thought for a moment before asking, "Are there any other Kims I should be aware of?"

    "Well, there are six of us in the household, including me" Jongin explained. "But..." he paused as if he was debating whether to continue, "there used to be eight of us."

    "Eight Kims?"

    Jongin nodded. "Our cousin lives with the Lees now that she is married" he elucidated. "And the other one..."

    Gyuri observed how Jongin was reluctant to continue. She eyed his solemn expression as he gnawed at his bottom lip. "The other one was exiled a long time ago."


    "Is that person your cousin too?" Gyuri dared to ask.

    Jongin shook his head. "No. The one that was exiled was second brother. Brother Se-"

    "What are you doing here?"

    Jongin and Gyuri looked up at the sound of a steely voice. There, standing at the entrance was no other than Junmyeon, the scary brother. Junmyeon shifted his gaze from Jongin to Gyuri, his scowl deepening the longer his eyes lingered on her profile. Under his fierce glare, Gyuri retreated backwards, intimidated by his piercing eyes.

    "Brother Junmyeon" Jongin began. "I can explain-"

    "Get out!" he shouted at Gyuri. "How dare a lowly servant like yourself enter these quarters without permission?"

    Gyuri jolted in surprise before scrambling to her feet. "I-I apologise, Master" she stuttered, her voice squeaky.

    Jongin watched as Gyuri scurried off without a second glance. He felt terrible that Junmyeon had berated her even though it was he, who had requested her to stay. Once she was gone, he met eyes with his brother whose sharp features did not soften at all. Jongin was about to admonish him for his rude behaviour when he noticed how flustered he was as if something was troubling him.

    "Brother, are you alright?"

    Junmyeon refused to meet his eyes. "Get ready for the wedding reception" he ordered, before stomping away.

    Jongin watched as Junmyeon left with a defeated stride. It was then that he realised that the cause of his brother's outburst was not solely due to his overbearing protectiveness but because of the painful memory which stayed rooted in his heart. A painful memory that resurfaced because of the wedding ceremony between his first love and their eldest brother.
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