all masks off…

The real conflict begins now that everyone’s secret identities are unmasked. Though it is rather dubious that Won didn’t recognise San at the wedding ceremony since she was veiled similarly at the festival just the day before. San’s position as Goryeo’s richest heiress becomes a curse rather than a blessing, a true point of contention, between two men who desperately love her though they aren’t interested in a cent of her wealth. Unfortunately, those in power around them see San – her wealth and the fact both Rin and Won cherish her – as a lucrative pawn, effective bargaining chip and a means to control both of them to do their bidding. But the friendship between Won and Rin remains the most precious element of the story – just how far would they go to protect each other and their relationship?

Poor San. Now I understand why the synopsis states that she will be torn between the two men due to her wealth and status. I have a sinking feeling our spunky heroine is the going to end up hurting and suffering the most among the three of them in the long run. Now that the queen knows that the woman her son loves is not some street urchin but the daughter of the wealthiest chaebol in the land, she will be determined to take this chance to kill two birds with one stone. Her son gets to marry his first love, while she will be satisfied that their marriage would amass Won enough power and wealth to secure his Crown Prince position. BUT there is Won, who is already prepared to marry Dan to save her from being sent off to Yuan as a tribute and I don’t see going back on his word if it represents the only way to save Dan. OR his scheming mother may have other ideas to use Dan as a threat to make sure Won marries San.

Anyway, let’s back-track. Rin goes to see Won, who is just waiting and itching to help Rin. Rin tells him about the impending marriage and Won immediately agrees to step in without learning the details. Won relates knowingly that Rin did all he could on his own as not to get Won involved, and seeking his help was his last resort. His lackeys warn him anxiously he stopping the marriage is akin to going against the king… and Won answers he is aware of the consequences and assures Rin he knows what to do. Rin is visibly moved that Won needed no persuasion on his part. Awwwww… Won just wants to help Rin at any cost.

Back to the wedding. Won doesn’t recognise San since she cowers when he goes over to her… BUT honestly. She looks exactly the same as she did the night before at the festival. Oh well, I’ll let this slide. Won reasons the wedding dowry is suspicious since there is quite a bit of it and it appears that Minister Eun had been threatened for some reason. We see that Rin had gathered the information for Won to use it as credible evidence. To cut a long story short, the wedding is a no-go.

San disappears from her home. She wanders around dazedly in town, thinking back of why she chose to hide her identity from the two men. She appreciated their friendship and yearned to enjoy it just a little more. She thinks of Won – how his smile makes her happy and sad at the same time, and recalls how he blatantly claims he was a born sinner. Everything about him makes her heart ache. But there is the person beside him – Rin. The one who always doesn’t look at her. Whenever she turns around, he is always looking somewhere else. But somehow, that pains her too and makes her heart ache. San asks herself, “Who makes my heart ache more?” Wow. I’m glad she is self-aware enough to realise she has feelings for both men.

San turns around and sees Rin there. And this time, he is looking at her. She asks why he is there and he admits he followed her from the moment she left home because he was worried because she didn’t seem to be in the right frame of mind and he was worried she would fall… San mutters that she should attempt to fall just to see what he would do and Rin replies regretfully he wouldn’t be able catch her because he would be too far away. AWWWWWW… he is such a sweetie. And that’s a loaded exchange. Always too far away is Rin since he always ensures he keeps his distance.

San needlessly confirms that Won is the crown prince and since Won doesn’t know who she is yet, he must have helped because Rin asked him. And because Rin is his friend. Rin confirms that is the only reason and San asks Rin who is Rin then? Rin confesses his true status and San is mortified at her earlier behaviour towards him since he is technically royal by blood. San requests that he overlook her misbehaviour and Rin apologises instead. San walks away but turns back to ask him why he never spoke informally to her even when he thought she was a maid. Rin replies it was because she is the woman his master cherishes. It has been that way since they first met. San looks disappointed and hurt at his rather detached answer. Oh honey, look at those tortured eyes. Rin broods as he watches her walk away.

So to summarise, by ruining the wedding, Dan has to be sent as a tribute to Yuan. The king is furious that the queen can even think of adding Dan to the list. Rin is filled with guilt and resolves to find a way to save Dan. Won is stunned too that Dan has to sent away because of his actions.

At the same time, Rin and San are nowhere to be found, which irritates Won. Haha. Rin visits the queen and accepts that Jin Gwan will probably have to report his movements eventually to Won. He tells Jin Gwan not to follow him inside the queen’s quarters. Once inside, the queen points out Rin is here to ask her to save Dan. Rin coolly offers himself for his sister – he is willing to be sent to Yuan and is prepared never to return unless the queen commands him to do so. She can do what she wants with him – send him to the frontline for war, hard labour… anything. The queen snorts her son would blame her if he ever found out. Rin promises he’ll leave quietly and Won will never know what transpired between them. Plus, he adds that Won loves and respects his mother too much to stay angry at her if she is found out.

The queen studies Rin closely and sees him for who he is for the first time. She is filled with reluctant respect. She sincerely admits that Rin is a good person and will probably be a good king and be loved by his people if he were to be crown prince. Rin quickly states he has no such ambitions and she cuts in that because he is such a person of quality, he has to be sent away. He is never to contact Won and Rin agrees. Oh man. RIN.

The king holds a dinner, invites San and Jeon, so that Won can apologise. The baddies try to get San to reveal her true identity to Won, but Won manages to stop them by grovelling in front of the king. His bracelet falls off in the process and the king divulges that the dowdy gift is probably from the low-born girl his son claims to love. San listens in shock and is further horrified when Won is humiliated by his father.

The queen learns what happened to Won and wearily blames herself. She figures she might as well find the low-born girl Won cherishes so much and bring her to him – this way he won’t be so lonely and will hate her a little less. She orders her lackey to find this girl.

Back to the clueless Won as he continues to hunt down Rin and San. He realises San is hiding at his secret training ground and confronts her grumpily. But San is all nice to him and when he says that there are things of himself he has yet to make known to her, she quickly tells him not to tell her yet and asks whether she can stay by his side until the day comes that he has to admit those things. She can be his pillar of support, his friend.

Won grabs her by her shoulders and informs her earnestly that he has to do many things that may seem unpleasant. He tells her to keep in mind just one thing – that she is always his #1 in his life, his top priority. He tells her to remember that no matter what he does in the future. Jang Ui and a new good-looking guard! Where do they find these handsome young men??? Since Jin Gwan is practically stuck to Rin and Dan for now.

Won goes to see Dan and apologises that she has to be sent to Yuan because of what he did. He would have thought of another plan if he knew earlier his mother had put her on the list. He invites her to a party the queen is holding for a group of noble girls the next day. He goes on to tell her he will propose that she is to his chosen crown princess then. Awwww… he is doing this to save her. Dan knows it too and gushes her gratitude but he interrupts her and implores her to hear him out before making her decision.

She may be his crown princess but she’ll never be his first love or the woman in his life. She would ultimately be his wife in name and nothing else since he treats her like his younger sister. Surprisingly, Dan isn’t upset at his words. She says she knows that Won may never love her in a romantic way but is happy and grateful enough that he wants to marry her.

At the tea party, Dan joins the other ladies as Won is invited to take his pick. The queen invited five girls and with Dan, there are six. The queen adds she has invited yet another noble girl so Won now has seven of the prettiest girls in Goryeo to choose from. She calls for the newest addition and it is San with her mask on. Oh, hell. Won whispers in embarassment to his mother that she is the girl that Jeon was supposed to marry… and the queen says that it is rumoured that Minister Eun’s daughter is no longer badly scarred. She instructs San to remove her mask to prove it.

So San removes her mask and suffice to say that both Won and Dan are shell-shocked to find out she is Lady San.

OH MAN. Won is caught between a rock and a hard place. The queen probably already knows San for who she is and is delighted. If San marries Won, he will get the backing of her father and of course, the extra wealth won’t hurt either. But if he doesn’t marry Dan, there is a possibility that she may be sent to Yuan still since he is unaware of the devil’s deal Rin made with his mother. It is the most horrible timing ever.

I do like that both Won and Rin were equally invested in saving Dan. Rin loves his sister dearly while Won loves Rin dearly and knows how upset he would be if Dan was sent to Yuan. I was touched at how Won immediately went to Rin’s rescue even though he knew he faced the king’s wrath if he stopped the wedding. There is a streak of practicality in both of them – they both know what needs to be done and the sacrifices needed in order to gain certain things and win some battles. Unfortunately, now San is caught in the middle of everything. She is an enormous bargaining chip – for the wealth and power she represent, and the fact she can be used to control both Rin and Won.

San – I’m glad she is written fairly realistically in the sense that she is aware of her attraction to both men and questions who she has more feelings for. Her feelings for Won birth from sympathy and empathy while Rin is the elusive, mysterious one who ignores her in Won’s presence but protects her from afar, swooping in to save her whenever she needs him. It is a strange toss-up between the two. Won has been open about his feelings from the start while Rin is just starting to reveal his hidden feelings, layer by layer. San is understandbly confused since both men have done plenty for her in their own way. Rin has refused to admit to her that he is doing all these things for her because he likes her – and not just because she is his master’s woman. San seems to desire to know what is driving Rin to be so nice to her.

I’m even happier that all three can think on their own, have their own mind, and are not purely driven by romance. Yes, Won loves San but he knows there are many things he can’t avoid or control about his life. He knows he can never have someone like “So Hwa” as his crown princess and has to make difficult decisions as crown prince. Thus, the affirmation that no matter what happens, San just has to remember she is always the secret #1 in his life.

But now that he knows San is noble, it changes the dynamics of everything. If he doesn’t marry her, there is a high chance that Rin will since Minister Eun likes him, and the baddies would pick Rin over Jeon anytime if Rin was willing to abandon Won. That and Minister Eun’s wealth if he marries San, will make him top contender for the position of crown prince since the court and the citizens prefer him to Won, too. The queen would never allow that so I’m curious to see what would unfold. The teaser at the end shows Rin and Won fighting it out for real for the first time in the time they have known each other – the first crack in their friendship? And where does San stand in this growing conflict???

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