The Flower on the Riverbank (Book 1 - The Sprout)

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Chapter 4: The Fruit of All Evils [+18]

WARNING: This chapter depicts explicit and suggestive scenes of a sexual nature. Reader discretion is advised.

After several months went by, Soo-Ah missed the boy’s company. She passed by his room and stared for a couple of minutes trying to find traces that Jung-In was still there. None of the past games or adventures appeared to be any fun without a companion. Not even her grandfather’s lessons.

She never asked or talked directly about him. But whenever the correspondence arrived for her grandfather, she would linger around his study, waiting to hear news about him. Noticing her stalking presence, the old master would read louder, commenting on the details in his letters about Jung-In.

“Well, well, it seems our Jung-In is already settled in and making advances with his studies. He will soon be able to write his own letters. I wonder to whom his first letter would be addressed. Oh, it says here that he had a cold with a fever some time ago. The poor boy was so delirious that he started calling a name his master did not recognize. Luckily he was cured in no time and is now doing well. He is out to the market almost every day. I wonder why. Maybe he is looking for some presents...Hmmm.”

As Soo-Ah’s grandfather took another glance over all those papers he concluded:

“My, my, if I did not know it was about Jung-In I would not believe all the praises in this letter. He sends his regards to everyone and asks if you still cry after him every day.“- and after a long pause while taking a peek at Soo-Ah’s dazed face, he asked her:

“What should I write back, Soo-Ah?”

“Pfft...Stupid Jung-In!” - Soo-Ah would quickly snap out of her daze to answer, as she turned and ran away before letting her grandfather add anything more.

The only thing that had the power to lift the girl spirits was the news that Ho-Orabeoni was planning a visit.

“Finally, I won’t die of boredom anymore.” She would go on playing and singing her song.

But, the day scheduled for Ho-Orabeoni’s arrival was coming to an end and no sign of Ho-Orabeoni. The old master acted a little agitated, but he was aware travelling was no easy business and a lot of events could happen to delay the young master’s arrival. He tried to ease Soo-Ah’s mind explaining they made an unexpected stop somewhere since the weather had been acting up, and it rained a lot more than usual lately.

They went to sleep earlier, expecting their guest to arrive the following day. By midnight it had already started to rain increasingly, with thunder and lightning, so much so that Soo-Ah woke from all the noise, and now found it hard to go back to sleep. On nights like these, she would bring her little friend in a box, in bed with her so he would not get too scared. Thinking she had to be brave for him made her overcome her fear. But this night the thunder was strange. It took some time, along with the commotion outside, for her to notice that what she was hearing was not just thunder. Someone was knocking at the main gate.

Soo-Ah jumped out of bed and cracked open the door to catch a glimpse of what was going on outside. After hearing someone wailing and other people’s voices, the girl stepped out of her room and into the courtyard, her tinny feet squelched in the cold mud. The rumble of the heavy clouds escalated the little girl’s anxiety. In the pitch-black night, only the lightning flashed brightly. Not long enough for Soo-Ah to get a clear picture though. Through the flashes of light, she could distinguish a man was injured and was carried to the main house. Hearing the name “young master” was enough to make her heart sink to her stomach, and to send her sprinting toward the same building. Noona and old master were bent over someone who was clearly injured, and she recognized Ho-Orabeoni’s manservant standing near the entrance with fear stapled on his face.

“Ho... Ho-Orabeoni? Is that Ho-Orabeoni? What happened to him?” - asked the girl as she noticed blood and Ho-Orabeoni’s face looking pale with his eyes closed, and a grimace of pain on his beautiful face.

“Someone, get her out of here!” - her grandfather’s serious voice resonated throughout the room.

Ho-Orabeoni manservant took her in his arms and went outside.

“No! What happened to Ho-Orabeoni?” - screamed Soo-Ah crying and struggling against being taken out.

“Calm down, he is injured a little but your Noona and Old master are going to make him feel better.” - said the young master’s aid, trying to calm the girl down but she did not relent:

“No! Take me back! I want to be with Ho-Orabeoni. He must be in so much pain I need to hold his hand so he would not be scared.”

“Ho-Orabeoni is a very strong young man, and he is also very brave. Don’t worry about him. Why don’t you say a little prayer for him, I am sure that will help. ”

“A prayer... are things so bad that Ho-Orabeoni needs a prayer?“- thought Soo-Ah, fear not leaving her side.

She remembered hearing about saying prayers when Jung-In had that great fever that was not coming down, so she knew prayers meant things were bad. Back in her room, she laid on the floor, in prayer, whispering:

“Gods and Buddha please do not let Ho-Orabeoni die. If he needs it, take some time from my life and give it to him. I hope he is not injured too much, so a couple of months would do it until he feels better. I am ok with that. Please, gods. And Buddha. Heed my prayer!”

Then, she took Pow-Pow’s box in her arms and sat on the bed waiting for news. In the end, this is how sleep overtook her.

The next morning, she woke up startled and did not wait for sleep to clear away from her head and went straight to the main house - but no one was inside, and there was no trace of anything happening the night before.

“No, is he dead already?” - thought the young girl with tears building up in her eyes.

“Noona, where are you? Grandfather?” - but she saw both coming out of what was supposed to be Ho-Orabeoni’s room.

“He will be ok, my lady, he just needs to rest now so be a good girl and let him rest. You can see him when he wakes up.“- reassured her Ha-Rin Noona with a gentle smile and caressing Soo-Ah’s anxious face.

At the breakfast table, she picked up partial stories about thieves, robbery, and a big fight with a band of robbers. It seemed that Ho-Orabeoni and his servant had to face 6 vagrants to defend themselves. They barely escaped with their lives but lost all their belongings and their horses.

Luckily, this did not happen so far from their house and they were able to make it on foot. Ho-Orabeoni owed his life to his companion since he was stabbed in his left shoulder and lost his consciousness halfway to the house. Old Master and Ha-Rin Noona managed to close the wound and bandage it, but he was exhausted and needed to recover from the extensive blood loss.

The young master woke up late in the afternoon, while Soo-Ah would pass regularly to check on him. When she saw he had already opened his eyes she started to fidget not knowing what to say or do. Ho-Orabeoni looked at her and smiled but his smile on his pain strained face did not look natural.

“They’ve told me you were quite my little helper. Always coming to check up on me and making sure I have all I needed. Thank you, my young lady of the house.”

“I also said a prayer for you...“- mumbled Soo-Ah.

“A prayer? Yes, I am sure that was the magic trick that saved me.”

“Yes, I gave up two months of my life to the gods to save you.” - said she pouting after the sadness-filled roller coaster she had been through since midnight.

The man was touched by her timid confession,

“Two whole months? This means I owe you a debt for my life now.”

Slowly but surely the young master was recovering and was getting back his energy and his healthy colour. But having to rest in bed for most of the time meant his visit passed by without him being able to take part in their regular activities. He was trying to be his usual joyful self but whenever his shoulder would throb he would grimace. Everything was back to normal only days before his scheduled departure.

One night at the dinner table, after the alcohol intake was a lot more than usual, trying to compensate for all the missed dinners from before, the conversation took a turn to more delicate matters.

“So you are married now. Isn’t it hard to be away for so long from your consort? I am sure you were quick to get accustomed to the benefits that married life has to offer aren’t you, you rascal of a man.” - began the conversation, Old Master.

“With all that I have been through lately, and the pain in my left shoulder the benefits of married life are the last thing on my mind.” - said the young man.

“Tell me how can I send you back to your wife, like this? She will not let you come and visit us again. We need to do something to put some life back in that body of yours before you return home.“- the old master had a grin plastered on his face.

“I am sure by the time I am home I will be fully recovered and I will get no complaints in that area.“- the man started to get more embarrassed.

“Nonsense...I remember how it was to be a young man, and I understand it is hard to be away and to have no action. But no worries, for I have a plan for you.”

“Master, you talking about plans makes me feel a different kind of my chest... I am starting to be afraid!” - said the young man blushing.

“Heh...Let us discuss this over just between the two of us. I have a surprise for you for tonight.” - winked the old man and added:

“And if you do not like it, you do not have to take it. It’s simple. But I am sure it will be to your taste. I do remember how you eyed that Noona in your father’s house. You will understand my meaning...” - continued the now heavily inebriated old master, feeling responsible for Ho-Orabeoni’s well being in every aspect.

Soo-Ah was all forgotten about and was eyeing the two men with a tilted head trying to understand what they were talking about.

" Soo-Ah, why are you still here? It is time to go to sleep! Hurry now, girl!“- commanded her grandfather noticing her presence at the table so long past her bedtime.

After she got to her room, Soo-Ah found it impossible to go to sleep as she tossed and turned in her bed. What were grandfather and Ho-Orabeoni discussing in such hushed voices at the table, and why did they close the door behind her when she left the room? And why did Ho-Orabeoni look so flushed?

“Something must be going on and I need to find out what.“- was Soo-Ah’s only resolution.

With a plan taking shape in her head, she got out of bed and headed to Ho-Orabeoni’s room by taking the route at the back of the house. His light was still on. Her attention was suddenly drawn to the courtyard as the main gate hinge screeched. She squinted her eyes to catch sight of a shadow approaching. Where could she hide but also spy on what was going on inside Big Brother’s room?

There, next to his high window some large baskets were left from the last sowing of the fields, and their layout made for an easy climb to reach her target. Carefully climbing the boxes, which was a piece of cake compared to all the climbing she did in the trees, she watched Ho-Orabeoni as he was pacing around the room, looking preoccupied, and from time to time stretching his injured shoulder.

The shadowed figure stopped in front of the room and knocked. Ho-Orabeoni opened his door and stepped aside allowing the stranger to enter his chamber. Once inside the mysterious person removed the cape. Soo-Ah opened her mouth stupefied: it was a woman. Who could she be since she did not look familiar?

“What is your name?“- Ho-Orabeoni asked in a cold tone.

“It is Mei, young master. Can I let myself in?”

Coyly avoiding her gaze, the man just nodded his head.

“So, he does not know her either...but what would a strange girl do in his roooo....” - but Soo-Ah did not manage to finish the question spurring in her head because the woman had just removed her garments, and was now facing the young master with her bare bosom.

Hesitating, the man slowly walked towards her. With a sudden gesture, he squeezed her breasts as she let out a small cry.

Soo-Ah was enraptured and did not know what to make of this situation. What was big brother going to do to that woman? Why did he pinch her chest and hurt her?

But the young master pushed his unexpected guest towards his bed where she sat down. When she tried to touch him, he quickly pushed her hand away, then reached for his breeches and loosened them, while partially pulling them down. He was now standing upright before the woman that was sitting down, his manhood being fully erect just in front of her face.

Soo-Ah gasped and needed to cover her own mouth in order not to make a sound. Her gaze slowly turned to shock - she had never seen anything like the scene in front of her, and could not decide whether she should stay or climb down and get some help for the girl. She could still remember the baths she took with Jung-In when they were small children, but she did not remember seeing Jung-In’s thing looking so scary. It looked like a weapon, she thought.

The woman slowly opened her mouth, touching Ho-Orabeoni’s member with her tongue while he let out a sigh, then he grabbed her hair and pulled it, shoving his erection in her mouth, thrusting a couple of times while she seemed to struggle. Tears were now collecting in her eyes. When he pulled it out, she was gasping for air as if she was being suffocated. He lowered himself to whisper something in her ear then shoved her on the bed where they were now partially concealed by the bed curtains.

Soo-Ah was not able to distinguish what was going on, but she caught sight of the bed shaking, and from the woman’s cries a barely audible “please” could be deciphered. Why was she pleading, and why was Ho-Orabeoni not stopping in hurting the woman? But she kept moaning and begging until Soo-Ah needed to put her hands over her ears, not bearing the sounds anymore, while tears started flowing from her eyes.

“All men are the same!“- she thought while descending the crates and leaving big brother and the woman to their affair. She could not help having more and more pity for that girl and more and more hate for Ho-Orabeoni.

Because from the three men she knew well, her grandfather, Hun-Gyeol and Big Brother she could say for sure that at least two of them were capable of hurting someone like that.

Sure, she heard the same sounds from uncles’ room a couple of times, and she has since made up her mind that uncle likes to torture women, like Noona. He made them work during the day and hurts them during the night. And now she found out how he did that. But she never thought big brother would be the same.

“Are all men the same? ”

“Are all men hurting women like that?”

“But why? ”

“There is no other explanation except all men are evil. Grandfather said that men start wars, men kill people and now men also hurt women that way. ”

“What about me? Would anyone ever hurt me this way?”

“Would grandfather hurt someone like this!? No, grandfather never did anything like that. He is a good person. He takes care of everyone and is always gentle. I never heard him do anything like that to a woman. ”

“But big brother? Why are you a bad man? ”

“I thought you were so kind and gentle. You were so good to me, and I liked you so...But you are just evil. Evil like all evils and now I do not want to look at you anymore.”

“I never want to see you again, Ho-Orabeoni! I hate you!“- cried out the girl running and trying to chase her despair away. Tears were flowing down from her eyes as she felt her heart was breaking and all the faith in men was fading away.

Reaching her room, Soo-Ah was so ashamed of what she witnessed and so disappointed in her big brother. Her face was bright red, and her cheeks were burning with embarrassment and anger.

The night that passed by did not dilute the feelings she experienced, and she thought she could not face any of the men in the house today. She would start remembering the things seen the other night and her disappointment would come bubbling up, making her spur out some stupid words. She certainly did not want to see her big brother. He was the main reason she was so upset. He must not have been the kind person she thought him to be.

Soo-Ah spent the day either laying low in her room or outside in hidden nooks where no one would bother her. Meals would be the hardest to sit thourgh. She managed to skip breakfast by doing some nibbling in the kitchen and then saying she was not hungry anymore. Lunchtime was posing a problem though. Sitting now on the riverbank she waited for the time to pass by and hoped they would eat without her. Skipping stones was the only way to let go of her frustration. But hunger crept in and gnawed at her insides.

“I wonder what they are cooking for lunch.”

Sniff, sniff she smelled the air since the house was not so far away and maybe some flavours from the kitchen could reach her. There was some murmur coming from the house. Were they done preparing lunch?

Then she started to sense some smoke in the air.

“What are they cooking that they need such a big fire?”

But her attention was suddenly drawn to the other side of the riverbank where there was rummaging in the foliage like something big was moving behind them. Squinting her eyes, she started to distinguish the silhouettes of people. Not people. Men! Strange looking men with armours and swords.

The frightened girl began to feel in danger, so she backed away towards the house trying to hide her presence. But behind her, from the direction of her home, there was a bright orange sky, too orange for this early hour, and a column of smoke rising upwards.

“Grandpa! Fire!”

Soo-Ah dashed towards the manor and by the time she reached the yard people were running around, trying to save what they could, as they were coughing from the smoke. Small bits of panic talk reached her ears.

“An attack..invaders...”

“Soo-Ah! Your grandfather is looking for you!” - shouted Han-Gyeol seeing her looking disoriented, and then motioned for her to come:

“Come here, girl! We need to flee!”

“I need to get Pow-Pow. He hates fire!“- and she sprinted towards her room.

The fire had barely touched the building where her room was located, so she exhaled a hopeful sigh. She was in time to save him. But by the time she was inside and had Pow-Pow safe in her hands the fire was all around her. Raging flames started to creep closer and closer, hotter and hotter.

The girl with the eyes like water was frozen in her place. Eyes like water! Jung-In said she had the power to put out fires with her eyes. A special power that worked when she was in danger. She was in danger now. What if she stared at the flames and put the fire out with the power of her eyes?

She stared and stared, but the flames grew bigger and bigger. She needed to be brave, to hang on just a little longer and stare a little harder. But the fire raged on with more hunger. The more it ate its surroundings the more violent it became. Nothing forced it to back down.

She had no powers after all. All she had now was fear.

Fear of the pain, she imagined the pain from the fire would be too great to bear. The smoke and the hot air scraped at her throat and made the girl choke. It burned her inside her chest, and she was so afraid that she peed herself.

A loud thud could be heard and the door, which closed behind her, and was now engulfed in flames, fell. There was an opening now through the flames and Ho-Orabeoni’s face appeared with ash smudged all over, while his eyes were glistening red like blood. He snatched her from the flames as soon as he caught sight of her shaking figure and ran away, leaving the burning farm behind.

Soo-Ah felt her face impassable like a cold rock. There was no sound she could utter. Running away and being held by Ho-Orabeoni, all she had in front of her eyes was the manor in reddish colours slowly disappearing under the flames and smoke. When the young man thought they were far enough from the danger he stopped, put her down and started to check her asking if she was ok.

Soo-Ah was trembling, while drops of water gently slid off on her cheeks, though she was not aware she was crying. Slowly she started to come to her senses. She was there inside the flames and there was nothing she could do. She would be dead now. She wet herself - fear was now mixed with embarrassment for appearing like that in front of Ho-Orabeoni.

“Why are you wet? Are you hurt?” - asked Ho-Orabeoni worriedly.

“No, I ... I ..let go on myself... I...”

“You wet yourself? Thank god, I thought you were hurt ... I think you are fine otherwise. Shh, don’t cry! It’s going to be ok!” - and he hugged the girl in reassurance.

But Soo-Ah emoted nothing except for her bright red cheeks, noticeable even under the smoke stains on her face. The young man realized she was also embarrassed besides being scared so he needed to reassure her:

“Wetting yourself was the best thing. Didn’t you know that you can put out the fire with water? It was a really smart thing to do from a really smart girl.”

“I could not put out the fire Ho-Orabeoni!!! I tried!!! I tried to do it with my eyes! There is no water in my eyes. They were no good. It hurt so much; I was so afraid!” - said Soo-Ah starting to cry uncontrollably.

“Shh, we need to be quiet - there could be some bad people around. They started the fire, and we need to be careful, alright?”

The girl nodded in agreement, smothering her cries.

“We need to go, your grandfather said he would be waiting for us by the burned down oak tree near the village road. Can you show me where that is?”

Soo-Ah tried to recollect herself and became aware of her surroundings. The old burned oak tree? Yes, she remembered that strange event they all thought was a sign from the gods. When a single bolt of lightning hit the old tree and set it aflame. She knew where that tree was.

“We need to head this way, I believe” - and she pointed to Ho-Orabeoni’s left.

“Good, let us go. Your grandfather must be worried sick about you.” - and Ho-Orabeoni took the girl’s hand as they started walking in the right direction.

When they reached the designated spot, Old Master, Hung-Gyeol, Noona and the young master’s companion were already impatiently waiting for them. They managed to free the horses and salvage some of the goods from the manor.

“They set fire to the entire village and they cut the road to the capital. It will be a treacherous journey to get back, Young Master.” - said the old man, while hugging Soo-Ah tight in his arms, and checking her face after sensing she was shaken.

“But I need to be back. The reports that were sent to me before leaving my home mentioned some troops movement on the western border. Now they seem they are also attacking the north border. You will need to present yourself to the northern garrison. I guess I should start calling you general Min-Jun.” - came the young man’s response.

The old man felt like all life was sucked from his body. He was too old for war now. He had his fair share, but it seemed there was more to come. With the burning of his farm, he felt like he lost a part of himself and he knew that there would be no more time for him to rebuild what he had lost.

“Young master, if I may have a word? About my son, Jung-In.” - Hun-Gyeol was uneasy to interrupt them but he must address the man with this important inquiry.

“Do not worry yourself. I left everything in good order for him with his teacher. He will be fine. The safest place to be now is the capital. You can come with me and I can arrange for you to reunite with your son. These will be invaded lands soon. I do not think anyone will be able to remain here or rebuild anything for some time.” - the young man reassured Hun-Gyeol.

“Is it too much to ask to take Ha-Rin with us? We are husband and wife now.” - came Hun-Gyeol’s timid request.

“Yes of course. A family should stay together.“- and with the last word spoken the young man’s eyes fell on Soo-Ah:

“Master Min-Jun, what about Soo-Ah?”

“I have no more relatives to send her to. I will take her with me.” - came the old master’s implacable answer.

“Master, war is no place for a child, let alone a girl. She can come with us. She will be taken care of at my house.” - tried the young man to convince him.

“I cannot let her go unless I know she will be ok. And now it will be very hard to stay in touch. I do not know how you will make it on the road the 4 of you, let alone having a young girl. She is safest with me, for now. The roads to the northern garrison should still be safe.” - Soo-Ah’s grandfather was not thinking of letting her go.

“I can understand your point - but please know that you and your family will always be welcomed in my home. You have been such a good host. I am in debt to you and I must return the favour. You know I will look after Soo-Ah on the way and keep her safe no matter the dangers. ”

“I want to stay with grandpa!” - said Soo-Ah who had been witnessing this entire conversation.

The thoughts and feelings she had the day before started to come back to her, and she no longer looked at Ho-Orabeoni with trust. Besides, she never left her grandfather’s side and she never wanted to.

“Soo-Ah stays with me. We stay together. I will keep her away from any battles. She is my granddaughter, so I have the power to keep her safe if she is near me.” - came in a confident tone the old master’s final reply on the matter.

The young man shook his head, feeling reluctant to give in, but finding no other way around the old man’s stubbornness.

“Then I guess this is it. We should say our farewells now. I am afraid we do not know when or if we will see each other again. So, thank you, old master, for everything you have done for me all these years. I pray you will be safe. I will try to keep in contact. Please say you will do the same.” - the young man had a heavy heart saying this.

“Dear boy- no, not a boy anymore, a man, a true man. It has been my greatest honour having you as my pupil and seeing you grow up and coming into your own. Thank you for the gift you have given me. The gift of your friendship. Please be safe.” - these words were spoken as the old master grabbed the young man’s arm and held it for a while.

The old general was now saying his goodbyes to his trusted servants and urged them to try to send him news about their wellbeing. He told them that when the war was over, they should come back here where his farm was, and settle as their home.

Ho-Orabeoni turned to Soo-Ah for a farewell, but he sensed the girl was cold towards him. Blaming it on the shock she had been thru he only managed to say:

“You will have to be strong now, Soo-Ah. Take care of yourself and your grandfather for me, will you? I hope to see you again so please do not forget about me. And remember our song.”

But Soo-Ah was facing sideways and did not look at the man who crouched to look her in the eyes, as he held her cheeks in his hands. She was fighting the urge to jump and hug him goodbye with the feelings of resentment she started to have for him. A seed of resentment for all men started to take root in her heart also. With the years that will come, her resentment for Ho-Orabeoni would fade away, as resentment and distrust for men in general grew. When looking back at this scene she would find herself regretting she did not say a proper goodbye.

He gave her a song as a present after all, and she was never to hear or ask about him again.

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