Eun-oh wakes on the third day of Chuseok, already with a splitting headache. As a rule, he despises festivals: the preening, the preparations, the processing dutifully behind his father as everyone tries to ignore his less-than-pristine antecedents. That should be enough to explain the sour twist of his mouth, but unbeknownst to all, a small army of ghosts dogs his footsteps, drawn by their families' prayers.
Dol-swe has known him long enough to avoid him during this time, but the other servants do not. They hover around him - "Young Master, would you not like to show your honored father how you have mastered the bow?" "Young Master, would you not taste this sweetmeat for this unworthy one?" - and Eun-oh grits his teeth as their cries join the cacophony of complaints that only he can hear. He can tell he must be cultivating quite the reputation among them, and firmly reminds himself that he does not care.
Teach my granddaughter my recipe for rice cakes, implores a gray-haired harridan; hers are unbearable!. Eun-oh thinks unhappily about all the trouble of tracking down this culinarily ungifted young woman and passing on cooking tips.
Tell my brother where I buried my savings, begs the plump man plucking at his sleeves, and Eun-oh wonders, bitterly, if the fool would trust anyone who could hear him with such information and still not expect the money to be stolen away instead.
Tell my son I love him, pleads a weeping young matron, and he turns away.
The first day of Chuseok brings with it an unexpected chill. Even after all these years, Joo-wal relishes the fact that this means little to him, other than the middling triviality of picking out another overcoat. That, too, brings its own pleasure; after years hiding in cowsheds, Joo-wal finds he likes beautiful things, whether they be clothes or calligraphy.
"They're calling you quite the fashionable young man down in the village," says Lord Choi, whose contribution to the holiday is to infuse that sentence with only half its usual vitriol.
Joo-wal ignores this twice as easily as usual, slipping from the estate to the village as soon as the rituals are complete. The contests have started already; Joo-wal watches the archery competition with particular interest. The thought of participating, of winning brings a quick smile to his face, one that he quashes quickly out of long experience. It doesn't do to have word getting back about the Choi heir being anything but a privileged young man with an air for artistry.
In the afternoon, he goes to visit the tombs of the Choi ancestors. This glows within him like a flame: he might share no blood with any of these men and women, and in the afterlife, they may refuse to know him, but here and now, they are his own. He sees other families gathering at their own ancestors' tombs in the distance, and all of them bow respectfully to him: even Magistrate Lee's little-seen daughter, walking across the bridge to mourn her long-dead mother, pauses when she meets him.
For an instant- just the once! - he dares to meet and hold her gaze. His contentment renders him complacent.
Arang doesn't get a chance at any funeral offerings until the second day of Chuseok. It's certainly not due to lack of trying; these days, Arang is just about sure where to send an elbow into a man's gut and where to wrap her hands around a woman's throat to convince them to release her.Something about the wretched holiday brings out the worst of her fellow ghosts. "Mine," they say, "my family left that forme", and no amount of kicking and biting and scratching can convince them otherwise. And what's worse, the other ghosts respect their claim - other offerings might go to the strongest, but those left out on Chuseok are sacred.
Well, what is she supposed to do, if she doesn't have any family to leave out food for her, or doesn't even know who they are so she can show them the error of their ways?
She gives up until the second night. After Chuseok, she assures herself, things will be better. They certainly can't be worse.
The mourners by the magistrate's house take her by surprise. Offerings laid out, still untouched! Obviously the magistrate has already been taken up by the reapers - law-abiding men like him simply have no imagination when it comes to escaping justice. Arang races forwards, only to be checked by one of the other ghosts who stand nearby.
"The magistrate was a good man, while he lived," he pronounces. "Let him go undisturbed."
Ha! Arang thinks. She bides her time, though, until the rest of the ghosts have fled to find easier pickings. Then she tiptoes to the altar. The magistrate was a good man, the ghosts went on to say, fair and merciful until his daughter ran away and broke his heart. Well, then, if he was so merciful, he won't mind if she helps himself to that which has been set aside for him. In fact, she thinks he might want it that way.
And, she discovers to her delight, it's food worthy of a nobleman, too! The fruit sweet, the rice perfectly steamed, and meat cooked to perfection - Arang devours every bite and licks her fingers afterwards, almost full for the first time that she can remember.
If she had a family, that home she belonged with, she might dine like this every year. Perhaps they're just searching for her elsewhere, or lost somehow. Perhaps one year at Chuseok they might stumble across this little town, and leave offerings out, and let Arang eat like a queen once more. The thought is dizzying, and Arang, drunk off satisfaction, giggles a little at the thought. Today has been a day for unexpected strokes of luck; what was one more? Surely even the old fogey up in the heavens wouldn't begrudge her that much.
"Find me," she commands, clutching her hands into fists. "Find me."
When night falls on this splendid day, Joo-wal - just the once! - chooses not to look at the moon. He does not think of how many spirits wander because of him and his actions. He does not think about what the Lady who waits on Lord Choi's property will ask of him when he sees her next. He does not think about how she will remind him that his happiness tonight, just like his fine clothes and face and title, is only a beautiful shell that can't hide what lurks within.
"I will not," he tells himself. If he says it enough times, he might believe it, might even manage it. "I won't!"
Lord Kim's steward approaches Eun-oh at sundown when, mercifully, most of the ghosts have gone off to do whatever it is that ghosts do when they are not busy plaguing him. It is almost enough to render him nearly respectful when he nods in acknowledgment.
The steward quickly banishes any good will Eun-oh might have felt; he stammers through a long, rambling prelude to the many virtues of Young Master Kim Eun-oh, and how dearly his father prizes him, along with the entire household (Eun-oh raises an eyebrow at that but otherwise manages to control himself) and oh, stubborn Young Master, will he render them all bereft of his presence by insisting on leaving in the morning to go seek out his mother?
Eun-oh, selfish, heartless, Eun-oh, only smiles. "Yes," he says, remorseless, "I will."