It starts with a flashback. The time is 1st of June 1388. Outskirts of Gaesong. 8 days after turning back the army from Wihwa Island. Ji sang (Ji-sung) warns General Lee Seung-gye( Ji Jin-hee) that there's no turning back. If they fail, it's a rebellion but if they succeed, it's a revolution. Lee wonders if it's God's will. Ji Sang tells Lee he doesn't have God's will - instead Lee is a human capable of changing destiny. That's enough for him to make the momentous decision. And attack Gaesong they shall. Ji sang raises his hands to the rain and look up into the raining sky.
Cut to a fallen star. Cue mythical creatures appear to converge on a spot in the mountains.
Seo Woon-gwan with the talent to recognize this precious blessed land. And the chosen one is Dong-yun (Choi Jae-wong), who's stubborn but talented. More importantly, he's no blabbermouth, a handy trait since this mission has to be carried out in secret. Only, the princess looks worried.
Dong-ryun is warned about the potential difficulty in reaching the sacred place and what he must do there. He's not too worried himself and is about to set off alone. But the princess is worried for him. Ah. She likes him. He brushes off her concern coldly and refuses her gift. But she just tells him to be careful. She'll be waiting for him.
He starts digging excitedly but finds a plate with a message : "This is the resting place of the great King 50 years later. Do not touch it before that". He holds his head thinking back of the little monk's warning to leave the place and return in 50 years.
Dong-ryun returns to Goryeo but is mercilessly tortured when he refuses to divulge the location of the sacred ground. Dong-ryun stubbornly explains the time is not right but the royal witch does not believe him. He's branded with hot iron and blinded in one eye. Ouch ouch ouch. He's threatened with the life of an innocent man but still he remains determined. They're not joking when they claim he's tight-lipped.
10 years have passed. It's now 1352. Peasant girls and women are being forcibly dragged away by soldiers. Not even a bride is spared. The peasants begs General Lee In-nim (Jo Min-ki) to spare their young ones. He agrees but his sidekick reminds him that they'll be short with the palace maids if the girls are released. Lee mulls that his precious sword is now only used against useless people instead of in battles. He stabs the groom of the bride that was taken. Then he declares that all the girls are taken in, the King will be belittled by the Yuan's envoy if the maids are lacking.
In the palace, the warriors put up an impressive performance with their skills and sword. But the Yuan envoy is frowning. King GongMin tries to smooth his ruffled feathers but the envoy remains agitated. He claps at the end of the performance but suggests that the King is planning to attack Yuan with this showcase. To appease the envoy, one of warrior was sacrificed. Pretty heartbreaking stuff.
Soo Ryun Gae (Oh Hyun-kyung) spies the exchange and they exchange a look.
These two- they're lovers. She knows he likes Yeong-ji but goes to her for physical pleasure and he doesn't deny it. The ambitious Lee In-nim frowns upon the spineless King. Ryun-gae vows to help him slay the King and serve the Yuan. One devious lady.
The royal shaman enlists Yeong-ji's help in convincing Dong-ryun to reveal the location of the sacred ground. This is news to Yeong-ji who thought Dong-ryun died 10 years ago in the search. The King is behind this request. He realizes he's being regarded as a dog and a puppet, but he needs power and for that he needs the sacred ground.
Meanwhile, the locked up Dong-ryun hasn't been idle. He's been keeping himself fit by exercising and polishing his skill with the dagger. He's brought before an overwhelmed Yeong-ji. Blinded by the sunlight, he keeps his eyes closed and doesn't realize her identity even as she offers him freedom, wealth and even herself in exchange for the location of the sacred ground. With her voice trembling with tears, she asks if he really does not recognize her. He finally opens his eye and sees her. He asks after her well-being. But how could she be well knowing the man she waited for never returned. She advises him to give up the location to save himself and calls him a stubborn fool when he continues to refuse. Finally, he remarks that her stare is more frightening than ten years of torture and captivity and agrees to reveal the location. But he insists to lead them there in person. She warns him not to entertain any thoughts of escaping because they will be accompanied by Goryeo's finest warriors. She says this in worry and not maliciously.
Yeong-ji and Dong-ryun set out with a bunch of guards to the mountains where the ever alert Dong-ryun is always looking for the best opportunity to escape. He finally makes a run for it, after asking that his shackles be removed for him to wash up properly. He fights off the closest guards and makes his escape. Yeong-ji seems to know he'll take the water route but the guards think he'll head for the mountains. And true enough Yeong-ji later finds him at the river, rowing away. She tries to follow with her horse and falls into the river. Dong-ryun jumps in and drags her to safety into the boat. She locks him and herself together with the hand cuffs and throws away the keys.
By now, the guards are catching up. They join forces and row hard to safety. That night, they seek shelter at an abandoned hut. Dong-ryun manages to axe their shackles off and while she sleeps, he notices her dirty bare foot. The next morning, Yeong-ji wakes up worried that he's gone and left. But he didn't - he went and got her a pair of nice shoes. It's large because her feet are small but they share a small smile. He tells her to go but she insists on following him.
The King orders Lee In-Nim to find the princess and protect her in her mission. If the location of sacred land is found, he is to kill Dong-ryun. If she fails, Dong-ryun must be brought back alive. The royal shaman suggested In-Nim for the job, believing him cruel enough to get the job done.
Soo Ryun-gae calls for In-nim, suggesting that she knows where the princess is. She explains to him how the King wishes to have the sacred ground so that he can declare independence from Yuan. In-nim finds it incredulous for he thinks the King is cowardly and suspicious. But the envoy joins the little party, declaring that it's just a false front to deceive him. The envoy strikes him a bargain - bring him the sacred ground which he would destroy and in exchange, he would recommend In-nim to the Yuan emperor. In-nim hardly hesitates and agrees. Ish.. you rat. Ryun-gae reminds him to kill Dong-ryun and Yeong-ji once the deed is done to leave no witnesses. In-nim is reluctant to kill Yeong-ji. Ah...you b***h...you wanted her dead, didn't you? Ryun-gae instructs In-nim to the village where Dong-ryun's younger brother is residing.
Dong-ryun and Yeong-ji is already there but finds the village in ruins. They find a little girl in hiding who claims that the people in the village are captured by monsters...to be eaten. Armed with a measly axe, they make their way into the woods where the alleged monsters are. They are quickly caught by a bunch of cannibals? Or at least savages. They certainly look the part, what with the animal skull, fur and face paint.
Both are led to the tribe's main camp site and brought before the leader, who thinks they are spies from their rival tribe. Dong-ryun tries to attack when told that his brother may have been killed. He's easily restrained and just as the two of them are led away, presumably to their death, Yeong-ji declares she knows how to find the exact location of the rival tribe. Someone else shouts out. It's Ji JinHee in his cannibalistic attire. Heh. He's definitely interested in this piece of information. Yeong-ji and Dong-ryun are confident they can find the rival tribe with their knowledge of the lands. But if they fail, they shall die.
Turns out they are right. They find the main campsite and Ji Jin Hee starts to lead the attack, somewhat recklessly I might add.
I think MBC invested a lot for the drama. The scenery and costumes are gorgeous. Among the main cast, only Ji Jin-hee's Lee Seong-gye (I barely recognize him) has appeared so far and I'm actually surprised they didn't begin with the customary "childhood" portion so prevalent in sageuks (or actually in every long kdrama ever. Then again, Ji-sung's character hasn't even been born yet so I suppose that comes later. I haven't seen Lee Jin since her X-Man days so that's a nice surprise. And she turns in a pretty solid performance as the feisty princess as well. The story is flowing pretty nicely though everytime I see King GongMin and Princess Noguk I'm reminded of the same characters in Faith. Haha. They're relatively minor characters thus far but it's nice to see them together, with somewhat similar characteristics. It's early days yet, so I'll comment more later. So far, I like what I see and will tune in for more episodes.