He'd enjoyed more than his fair share of joy in his life. Knowing it intimately the day his first born had entered the world. Looking up at him without reverence, temerity or even fear as Queen Soheon laid back against the birthing bed with a tired sigh - smiling with her eyes. Graceful and beautiful even now - especially now - as their daughter hiccuped a protest when the physician placed her in his arms.
He had been beyond tears, caught in such a strong rictus of emotion as he looked down at her small face. Seeing the new world he would create for her in the lines of her chubby cheeks. Experiencing a warming sort of pride flush through him as the servants cooed and hovered. Murmuring honest praise as the news of her arrival spread across the palace.
The first Princess.
The first of his line.
They named her Dan-bi. And both received much joy out of the decision. Park Yeon's seemed equally pleased, in that quiet way he had. Remarking years later, as they watched his daughter run circles around half the household - giggling uproaringly when she was finally seized by one of the ladies and carried off to bed - that he believed their Dan-bi would have approved.
He'd experienced joy again when his Hangul alphabet was finally completed. Its manuscripts sent to the scholars for distribution and study. Finding himself smiling more than he had in a long time when he took to the villages around the palace in secret. Watching young children teaching each other the letters drawn in the dirt with a stick. Coveting the slow spread and watching it grow until there was silver in his beard and the newest group of eunuchs being trained for service spoke and wrote nothing else.
So yes, he'd known joy.
But he'd never found her again.
That strange girl who'd reminded him that even a King was allowed to run. The one who'd taught him about the world, but perhaps more importantly, about himself before the gods returned her home. To the place she belonged. The place he could not follow.
He'd wondered often if it'd been a sort of punishment. A lesson from the gods not to be so hasty in his perusal of logic and science. And yet, why then would they have sent the one person - perhaps in all of time and creation - that could help make his dreams for Joseon possible?
No, she hadn't been a punishment. Rather, a gift. A precious memory he could cherish deep in his breast. Kept safe and perfect as the rigors of time turned his body soft and his eyes tired.
"If you're by my side, that's enough for me. It's not because I need you; but because you're enough for me."
He should have been content with what he'd had of her. After all, he'd lacked for so little in his long life. He had been blessed with many sons and daughters. He had a perfect regent in his third son - one keen of mind, but gentle at heart. Who shared his dream of a more equal and prosperous Joseon. He had a rash of dutiful and loving wives, a kind and generous Queen who had become his closest friend and ally in all things. He had created Hangul for the common people and brought his people into a new age of enlightenment. One where math and science reigned in the place of dark rituals and shadow-strewn superstition. But the truth was, he wasn't content
There wasn't a time it rained that his thoughts weren't of her.
For him, her ghost was always in the rain.
He smiled softly into the lantern-light. Sensing the servants hovering worriedly beyond the door. By now the word from the physicians will have spread and the truth of his condition would quickly reach those he cherished most. It would soon be time to say goodbye. But perhaps not tonight.
"Eunch Joo," he issued, lips twitching when the muted sound of mad scrambling issued from behind the sliding doors.
"Yes, your highness?"
His smile was one of honest wickedness through the following pause. Reminding him of the antics of his youth as he raised his head and looked towards the glow of the distant moon. Ignoring the tremors of palsy in his hands as he placed them firmly on each thigh. Choosing the pose for the support and authority it offered - knowing this would be a fight hard won considering his Head Eunch's stubborn nature.
"Saddle my horse."
The small company of guards followed his instructions with great reluctance when he ordered them to stay behind the dunes. Choosing to walk the short distance to the ocean's shore with only his shadow for company. Relishing the peaceful silence as the moonlight lit up the soft sand as if it were a distant heavenly beacon.
He stopped when he reached it. Knowing it intimately as a gentle wind whispered through the silver of his beard. The spot where she'd slipped through his arms and returned somehow home.
" One day I will find you. No matter how much time may pass. "
He smiled softly through a respectful bow. Looking out at the distant waves as the surf threatened to lap at the embroidered leather of his shoes. Perhaps when it was his time, that would be his request of the gods. Perhaps he would be selfish and ask for a chance - for a second life where he could see her again. Even if it was only once.
After all the years he'd spent without her, one more time would be enough.