Empress Mun-Hee Yi is dying of cancer. And for the last twenty years she has been living in Manhattan, NY after seeking asylum for her and her four-year-old grandson Ji-Sung Yi since her husband and Ji-Sung's parents were assassinated by her nephew Eun-So Yi in a coup to take over the throne.
Since learning about her illness, Ji-Sung has been helping his grandmother with her bucket list. There were just two things left. Number 99 is for them to return to their native land, and number 100 is that she wants to be buried beside her husband Emperor Si-Woo on the grounds of the Blue Palace. As luck would have it Eun-So Yi is executed for his crimes but Ji-Sung hopes number 100 won't happen for a long, long time. Unbeknownst to him, Mun-Hee has another thing on her listâ€¦to see that her grandson find love and to settle down.
"Good morning, everyone," the pilot said. "We're about to land at Incheon International Airport. The time is nine fifteen, and the temperature is a scorching ninety-eight degrees outside on this beautiful summer's day. At this time, we asked that you return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts for landing. Once the plane is on the ground, please remove all your personal articles from around you and the overhead bins. Trash will be collected as soon as we're safely on the ground. Thank you for flying Asiana Air and have a nice day."
Mun-Hee Yi, aged sixty, followed the pilot's instructions. She strapped herself in her seat and looked to her right. Ji-Sung, her twenty-year-old grandson, had on his earphones, listening to music and probably missing the announcements. She hit him on the arm to get his attention.
Ji-Sung lowered the buds. "What?"
"We're about to land. Buckle your seat belt."
Ji-Sung didn't argue like he usually did. He fastened the belt. Her secretary Min-Jou Go did the same. Moments later, the pilot started the descent. The wheels touched down, and then the plane traveled for a few minutes before stopping.
Mun-Hee had been going on lots of trips lately, but she could honestly say it was one of the easiest rides she'd experienced. The steward and stewardesses came down the aisle, collecting trash. Then the riders grabbed their carry-ons and formed a line to disembark. Mun-Hee, Min-Jou, and Ji-Sung did the same. They thanked the pilots and the crew on the way out.
Then it was the long process of going through customs. She had made sure their passports were up-to-date.
"How long is this going to take?" Ji-Sung asked. Ji-Sung had also been doing a lot of traveling lately. He went everywhere she went.
"Do you have some place you need to be?" Mun-Hee asked him.
He gave her the usual eyeroll. "No."
"Just be patient."
An hour later, they had gone through customs and were trying to find their luggage. They'd been in America for nineteen years and had accumulated a lot of stuff. The bulk of it had been shipped ahead and probably already at the house. Ji-Sung grabbed their two matching pieces, and Min-Jou got hers. The three of them headed toward the lobby.
Two men approached. Mun-Hee recognized them. It was her advisor Man-Shik Chong and Ji-Sung's personal bodyguard, Kyung-Soon. Both of them had been instrumental in getting Ji-Sung, Min-Jou, and her back to South Korea safely. Man-Shik was once a very close friend to her late son.
"Welcome home," both of them said.
"Thank you," Mun-Hee said. "It's good to be back." That's when she noticed all the security guards and agents surrounding the room. They were all dressed in black suits and wearing sunglasses.
"The driver and the car are here," Kyung-Soon announced. He and Man-Shik escorted them out of the building. A young man in a black chauffeur's uniform stood by the car. "This is Ye-Sul Kang, Ji-Sung's driver."
Ye-Sul was young, about twenty-five, and just a couple of inches taller than her five-foot-four frame. The young man's height wasn't a problem. He was also trained as a bodyguard and licensed to carry a gun. He bowed, righted his position, and opened the door for them. He loaded their luggage in back and then climbed into the driver's seat.
Man-Shik began speaking rapidly in Korean as soon as they left the curb. He was Ji-Sung's godfather. They called him Manny. Manny filled them in on what had been happening lately.
"Your nephew-in-law, Eun-So, was executed nearly a week ago, and his ashes have been cast out into the sea."
A traitor could not be buried in the family's crypt. Mun-Hee nodded that she understood. "How are the people?"
"Restless and anxiously awaiting your return, Madam," Manny answered.
She could believe that. Mun-Hee looked over at Ji-Sung. He had those red earbuds in his ears and oblivious to the conversation going on around him. He just kept staring out of the window. The new bodyguard, Kyung-Soon, had not taken his eyes off him. She hoped they would become close soon.
Kyung-Soon spoke to Ji-Sung. "What do you think of the country so far?"
Ji-Sung looked at Kyung-Soon but did not respond.
"He's not deaf, is he?" Kyung-Soon asked.
Mun-Hee chuckled and motioned for her grandson to remove the earbuds from his ears. "Kyung-Soon just asked you a question."
Ji-Sung faced Kyung-Soon. "Yes, what is it?"
"I asked you what do you think of the country so far?"
"I haven't seen enough of it to pass judgment," Ji-Sung answered. "Ask me again in a couple of weeks, if I haven't left here screaming."
Mun-Hee saw the moment Kyung-Soon had fallen in love with her grandson. It was Ji-Sung's voice, masculine yet melodic. He'd been valedictorian of his senior class, and he held everyone's attention as he spoke upon the future of today's youth. He'd also sung in the high school choir.
Manny laughed at Ji-Sung's answer.
"Don't encourage him," Mun-Hee said to Manny.
"Ah, he's a smartass," Kyung-Soon said in English.
Mun-Hee, Min-Jou, and Manny nodded.
Mun-Hee couldn't help but notice the way her outspoken grandson was checking out his new bodyguard. Her gaze and Ji-Sung's met. Mun-Hee rolled her eyes at him. It meant for him to back off.
Ji-Sung smiled innocently.
Mun-Hee didn't fall for it. That smile could mean he was plotting something diabolical that would probably get them all ran out of the country.
"We're almost there," Ye-Sul announced from the front seat. Seoul was just thirty miles from the airport, but there was always a lot of traffic.
The thought exhilarated her. It had been an eternity since she'd left, and she wondered if the old place looked the same. She supposed not. Nineteen years was a very long time. Her late nephew-in-law didn't seem like the type to spend money on repairs. Speaking of which, Manny had assured her that Eun-So Yi had not gotten his hands on her family's money or Ji-Sung's inheritance. He told her that money had been safely transferred back into accounts for them.
Something caught Ji-Sung's attention. He stared straight ahead through the driver's windshield.
Mun-Hee looked and then clapped excitedly as the Blue Palace appeared. "Look, Ji-Sung. We're home." She'd never seen Ji-Sung's eyes so wide.
"It's huge," he said as if he couldn't believe what he saw.
"Most palaces are," Manny said. "What did you expect?"
"The only palace I've ever seen was at Disney World. I thought my grandmother had exaggerated." He'd gone there for his senior class trip.
Min-Jou, Manny, and Kyung-Soon laughed. Everyone got out of the car. Ye-Sul exited, removed their luggage, and then parked the limousine.
"Welcome home, Empress and Prince Yi," Manny said as he opened the front door. They entered.
Mun-Hee smiled. Now she could die happily.