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It was difficult to breathe, but I bowed my head, and so did Jieun. It was our duty to obey. I continued to stare at the floor, listening to my thundering heartbeat and to the sound of silk rustling as Physician Nanshin tended to the imposter prince, performing for our silent audience. The court ladies.
The Red Palace PDF Book by June Hur
|Name of Book||The Red Palace|
|PDF Size||4.3 MB|
|No of Pages||240|
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The eunuchs. The spies. I could almost imagine what they saw: a shadow play of silhouettes against the hanji-screened door, in the shape of a physician and two nurses moving around the prince in the candlelit darkness. “Wait.” Jieun touched my elbow as we came to a standstill. A small group was gathered at the gate’s entrance, guarded by a police officer, his face reddish-orange in the torchlight.
Isn’t that Palace Nurse Inyeong?” “Nurse Inyeong? Why would she be here…?” My gaze arrested upon the familiar face in the crowd. It was indeed Nurse Inyeong, wrapped in a straw cloak, her face pale and her eyes staring ahead. When a gust blew by, she tugged her sleeves down low, then shivered as she held the cloak closer to herself. I barely knew her, only that she was a few years older than me.
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“Maybe she can tell us what occurred,” I whispered. We hurried over, weaving our way through the spectators, who hummed with whispers. Once we were near enough, I reached out to tap Nurse Inyeong’s straw-cloaked shoulder, but she ducked and disappeared deeper into the crowd. A moment later, I saw her slipping into an alley, leaving me alone with my question.
First was twenty-year-old Eunchae, another student nurse I’d worked with at the Hyeminseo, and who was betrothed to be married next month. Ripped hair clutched in her fist. Her nose bruised purple, blood pooling under the skin. A stab through her stomach. Then the same slash across the throat as Bitna.
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Next was elderly Head Nurse Heejin, one of the few senior nurses who took the time to tutor the nurses who were falling behind in their studies. She’d recently told me about her infant niece and what joy she’d felt in holding her. A child she would never hold again. The old woman’s back had been slashed, perhaps when she had turned to run.
And again, the same slash across the throat. By the time I reached for the last mat, I was blinking cold sweat out of my eyes, sitting on the ground because I couldn’t hold myself up any longer. I took in deep gulps of air to press down my whimpers. I knew who the fourth victim was, even though her face was still concealed: It had to be Nurse Jeongsu.
Ten years my senior and like an older sister to me. She often tutored students in the early morning as well. I wanted to push past the hanji screen and tell Commander Song that he was wasting his time. Ask anyone in Hanyang—the capital of Joseon—and they would declare Nurse Jeongsu to be benevolent and kind. Even Lady Hyegyoung had spoken fondly of her just this morning. The Red Palace PDF Book
The real killer was still out there— My thoughts froze. The skin on my back tingled, the feeling of being watched. Slowly, I glanced over my shoulder, hoping that I would see only the sky, a grayish-blue over the otherwise black landscape. Instead, my gaze slid up against a pair of straw sandals, then a dusty white pair of trousers, then a patched jacket.
My pulse thundered as I stared at a quiet face sculpted in shadow and streaks of mud. The oblique sweep of his brows was crisp against his tanned skin, his dark hair tied into a topknot. He was tall, lean, and half-starved, judging by the hollowness of his cheeks. A peasant, perhaps come to the Hyeminseo for medical treatment. “What do you want?” I whispered.
Clutching the travel sack against my chest, I strode into the Royal Apothecary, a large courtyard with several stately pavilions. Black roofs undulated like the mountain ridge and eaves flared with majestic colors. Walls and beams were painted red, with bursts of jade green latticed windows. The building I was heading toward, in contrast, was lackluster and tucked at the far back. The Red Palace PDF Book
I stepped into a vast quarter where three other nurses were quickly changing into their uniforms. They were young women with sharp black eyes and subtly rouged lips. They didn’t like me, for they thought themselves above me. Keeping my eyes lowered, I bowed and offered them a greeting before moving to a corner, then proceeded to change into my own uniform.
I pretended to mind my own business, but as they whispered, I listened closely. “You asked earlier what I was doing here,” the police servant said, pulling me from my thoughts. The brittle grass and untouched snow crunched loudly under our feet. “I spent a year working in Pyongan Province, and a similar triple murder occurred there … one involving a loved one.
When the Hyeminseo massacre occurred, it led me to wonder if the two incidents were related.” “How were they similar?” I asked, then had to add, “Don’t you think that is too much of an assumption? There are mass killings that occur all the time, carried out by corrupt magistrates or nobles or soldiers.” His expression turned to stone, just for a moment. “I have my reasons.” The Red Palace PDF Book
I wiped a loose strand of hair away from my brow as I fell a step behind, my stare unwavering from the police servant’s back. His shoulders were broad, and he stood as high as a mountain peak. “Take the corpse and bury it in the hills!” the soldier ordered. “And you, find the traitor’s family and arrest them. The king will deal with the rogues as he pleases.
The rest of you, continue to tear down the remaining handbills. Not a single one must remain by nightfall.” I could hardly breathe. I had never witnessed a human life taken so callously, so swiftly, with not even a tremor of remorse. It struck me then that investigating the Hyeminseo massacre might very well get me killed. Run away, then, a warning voice whispered in my mind.
Nurse Jeongsu is not your blood family. Run away. Save yourself. I stared into the swaying grass, panic rising within me. I was too young to ruin my life, my future too ripe with possibility. I could turn my eyes away from Nurse Jeongsu’s suffering, and no one would blame me. No one at all. But I must not, I thought, more a plea to myself than a decision. The Red Palace PDF Book Download
I could never call myself a nurse again, not in good conscience, if I turned my eyes away from such injustice. I must do something. I couldn’t form a single word. As we walked in silence, no matter how hard I tried to forget, I couldn’t stop hearing the whistling of the arrow, nor the awful thud of the arrowhead slamming into flesh. The sounds ricocheted inside my skull until I thought my sanity would surely slip.
Eojin, however, had quickly recomposed himself. He had the anonymous handbill unfolded before him and was studying it with intense focus. “I want to go home,” I finally said. I didn’t want anything to do with the handbill, or Physician Khun, or any of this at the moment. “I’m leaving now.” “Are you certain you wish to leave now?” He glanced down at me. “I’m not sure you want to return home just yet.”
I followed his gaze and saw that my fingers were stained in blood, my sleeves were red, and even more blood was smeared on my torso from when I’d tried to stop the man’s bleeding. A dizzying wave rushed through me. “You should clean up before you return home. Here.” Eojin took off his long white overcoat and draped it over me. The fabric still held his warmth, offering me a strange sort of comfort. “So you don’t draw too much attention.” The Red Palace PDF Book Download
A wild laugh escaped me as I hurried back to the Royal Apothecary. I could help find the truth without my life crumbling around me. If I investigated discreetly enough, Father would never find out, either. My heart felt light as I proceeded with the rest of the day, and it was a quiet day at that.
There were few ailing royals and concubines to attend to, and so I was assigned to assist with the cutting and drying of herbal plants. And there were many; the baskets from the medical garden were overloaded with leafy green plants with nutritious roots. My wrists ached by the end of the workday, stinging from the hours spent slicing plants and hanging them up to dry.
A sting I hadn’t noticed while I was working, busy as I had been thinking about my investigation and realizing that I hadn’t seen Physician Khun all day. The most suspicious man in this case. As nurses and physicians had coursed in and out of the apothecary, I’d asked them for the whereabouts of Physician Khun, but not one had seen him. He hadn’t come in for work that day. The Red Palace PDF Book Free
The cloak nearly fell from my arm as I rushed over to the river-drenched nurse. Stepping between her and the two officers, I bowed my head and politely said, “Please, this woman isn’t well. She needs to be brought to the Hyeminseo, and perhaps you can question her afterward.” The two men hesitated, then grumbled as they stalked off to guard the brushwood gate.
“Here.” I wrapped my straw cloak around Nurse Kyunghee’s shivering figure. The rain had stopped, but I was troubled by the sound of her breath still rattling in her chest. She had not drowned, but I knew of patients who had died afterward from resulting complications. “Come, you should sit down.”
My anxiety eased when I arrived before the police bureau, illuminated by fire blazing in the iron braziers and the knowledge that Eojin had to be somewhere nearby. Darkness returned as I slipped around the walls enclosing the bureau, shadows so deep that I felt formless. I ran my hand along the grimy stone walls, my finger tracing the grooves, waiting to feel the wooden frame of the small gate used by servants. The Red Palace PDF Book Free
My hand brushed up against warm fabric, and I froze, realizing that it was silk under my touch. I remained still, staring down at the tray as I listened to the guard’s footsteps recede down the hall and out the main door, keys jangling all the while. Letting out a nervous breath, I tried to look up, but found that my chin would not rise.
It had been easy until now to detach my emotions from the investigation, to be driven by a sense of what was right and wrong. My mentor had, after all, been hidden within the police bureau, out of sight and thus out of mind for the most part. But now she was right before me. And I was afraid of what I might see. “I’ll wait nearby and keep watch,” came Eojin’s soft voice.
“Go tend to your teacher.” Finally, I lifted my gaze. The space was hemmed by wooden bars, and in the corner beneath a small window, a silhouette trembled. She appeared smaller than I remembered, so thin, and as I stepped closer, my heart clenched. I could hardly recognize her. She was all bones and sharp angles, her wide cheekbones now like two daggers protruding from her cheeks. The Red Palace PDF Book Free
Her kind and fearless eyes were gone, replaced by a frightened stare. Commander Song had broken this woman. “Apparently Minji’s father disappeared for an entire week right after the massacre,” she went on. “Inspector Seo believes he escorted Minji to a hiding place and now her family is too terrified to reveal where she’s gone. He thinks they’re afraid that once their daughter is found, she will be locked up and tortured like Nurse Jeongsu, so he is trying to gain their trust.”