The Sword of a Warrior
This piece is a bit different from what I have posted previously for “Faith.” It is a little more analytical than usual and it won’t make you cry. I know that’s what you guys have started to expect from my posts (:D) but this time, I really wanted to just think through the character of Young narratively and explore the journey his character has made from the beginning of the story till now. This type of essay requires certain interpretations of key points in Young’s life and if there are any interpretations that you disagree with, please let me know. I love a good conversation.
Tears of Soldier (“Faith” OST)
The sword of a warrior. How much does it weigh?
Choi Young was born into a family of scholars, yet he chose to be a warrior. Perhaps he was always more athletically inclined and that’s why he wanted to be a warrior but the only thing we know for sure is that he left his home to be one after his father died. We can assume that he was very close to his father since his father was present inside his dream. It was also implied that Young latched onto the Jeogwoldae as a foster family after his father died. The death of his father must have been the turning point at which Young decided to be a warrior.
Young left his house at the age of sixteen to become a warrior. We don’t know exactly when he joined the Jeogwoldae after that but the Jeogwoldae daejang, Moon Chi-hoo, died when Young was twenty-two, which means he was a warrior for six years until that event. As an adolescent, the life of a warrior must have been exciting and idealistic for him because he believed he was fighting to protect his country, even as he killed many people and saw death everyday.
The death of Moon Chi-hoo destroyed the idealism of a warrior’s life for Young. As Jang Bin said, a warrior is someone who protects his master. Inversely, a master should be worthy of that protection. Moon Chi-hoo served his whole life to protect his king and master, only to be killed by him. So after his death, Young saw no purpose in being a warrior. He wanted to leave the palace so he can stop being one. He didn’t want to die fighting as a warrior because he saw what happened to his daejang. Leaving the palace was his only hope for freedom from a life of senseless duty. There was no higher purpose to the wielding of his sword; Young used it merely to keep from dying.
Young quickly agreed to go to heaven to bring back a heavenly doctor because he had nothing to lose if he never returned and also because he wanted to quickly complete the mission of bringing back Gongmin and Noguk safely to Goryeo so he can leave the palace as the previous king, Choong-jung, decreed. As his king, Gongmin, ordered Young kidnapped Eun-soo from heaven. When she was scared and unwilling, he promised to send her back. When Gongmin ordered him to keep her in Goryeo even though he knew that Young had made an oath to Eun-soo, Young experienced the same betrayal that Moon Chi-hoo had- that his master was not worthy of serving. Gongmin had prevented him from keeping his promise as a warrior and for a warrior, his promise is the same as his life. So he didn’t step out of Eun-soo’s way when she ran toward him with a sword since he didn’t keep his oath and in conjunction, his life was void. Being unable to send Eun-soo back destroyed all hope for him to at least keep his integrity and leave the palace, still dignified as a warrior. So when Eun-soo accidentally brought death to him, he welcomed it.
However, Eun-soo didn’t let Young die like he wanted to too. She surgically fixed him up and tried to keep him alive. Young was incredibly angry at her for saving him because he no longer had a master worthy to serve nor was he worthy of being called a warrior; there was no inkling of hope in living. But he was alive so what could he do? He could only finish carrying out his mission to bring Gongmin and Noguk to Goryeo safely. He accomplished that and asked Gongmin to let him go but Gongmin pushed it off and gave him another mission to accomplish before he would consider letting Young go- to find out who and why he had to fight. Young accepted the mission so he can leave the palace after he accomplished and repay the debt that he owed Eun-soo. But what to do after that, he had no idea. As he said to Gongmin, he didn’t know if he had a reason to keep living after he sent Eun-soo back to heaven.
With no reason to live and only desiring to just hang on long enough so he can send Eun-soo back, Young continued to refuse treatment from Eun-soo and grew weaker and weaker until he collapsed and his heart finally stopped. Eun-soo, refusing to let him die and reminding him of his promise to protect her and send her back, brought him back to life. After this, Young lived with renewed purpose to keep his oath to her and he completed Gongmin’s task in order to keep Eun-soo safe from Ki Chul.
In the process of freeing Eun-soo from Ki Chul’s clutches, Young spent more time with her and got to know her. While she was annoying and noisy, she was also vivacious and full of life. He saw her warmth with Choong-jung and she made him smile with her singing. She also lent him her shoulder to lean on. It was at this point, I think, when he could first feel the weight of his sword. Before, he did not notice the smell of blood on him and he always stood upright with his sword by his side. But when Eun-soo offered her shoulder to him and he took it, he was letting the full weight of his sword and all the fighting lay on his head for the first time. He let the weight lean against Eun-soo’s shoulder and for a brief night, stopped being a warrior.
I’ve had ponder a bit why he wiped his blood that first time, when he rescued Eun-soo from Ki Chul’s house, even before she ever said she didn’t like the smell. Was it because he wanted to show her he was alive and well and also to show her that it wasn’t hard to get to her? While I can’t figure out the reason why he did this at that point, we know after that night when he leaned on his shoulder, he became highly aware of the blood on his hands after a fight.
When Young was accused of treason and thrown in prison, Gongmin came to tell him that he only let Eun-soo go to Ki Chul because he believed she was the safest there. With this assurance, Young finally deems Gongmin worthy of being his master and gives himself willingly as a warrior to him. Young is now complete as warrior and his sword has renewed purpose to protect his king.
In episode nine, Jang Bin explained to an angry and frightened Eun-soo that Young only did what he could by killing Choong-jung with his own hand. He said to her that Young didn’t killed Choong-jung; he killed his own heart and every hope to leave the palace for his freedom. I think Jang Bin was wrong. Young’s hope to leave the palace died before when he let Eun-soo stab him. In contrast to what Jang Bin said, I think Choong-jung’s death added new purpose in life for Young, as well as when Eun-soo stepped away from him in fear after she saw him with the bloody dagger. Choong-jung’s death made Young vow to never let that happen again and his determination to fight Ki Chul grew stronger. Eun-soo regarding him with disgust also made him vow that same thing so that he would never have to wield his sword in that manner again. Young vowed to use his sword to protect and never use it again to kill those he loved. Remember, while Young was in prison, he went into that same dreamland again but this time, he fell through the frozen lake and swam out of it to a warm spring. Choong-jung’s death didn’t kill hope; it shifted it to a new purpose.
In the same moment when Young vows to never use his sword to kill the people he loves, the sword becomes heavy with that renewed purpose and history because Choong-jung’s death and Eun-soo’s disgust also showed Young what his sword was capable of doing. As he spent more time with Eun-soo and began to fall in love with her, he saw how much it worried and pained her for him to fight, kill, and get hurt. He also began to see life beyond his duty as a warrior who can die at any moment. As his attachment to Eun-soo grew, so did his attachment to life. While he was prepared to die fighting Ki Chul, he was also scared to die. By fighting Ki Chul one-on-one at that point, Young wanted to end things before he grew more afraid and more attached to life.
After Eun-soo bandaged the hand that had just tried to pull Ki Chul’s sword into his own neck, Young vowed to never risk his life so easily again. It is at this point when the sword of a warrior starts to hesitate. He said to the Chilsa at the smithy that while looking at Eun-soo live life so vigorously, he asked himself, “What the heck am I doing?” Young also washes his bloody hands in the rain and closes the eyes of the dead Chilsa, signifying Young’s changing perspective towards death and his relationship to it. Through Eun-soo, Young reflected on his own life and the choices that he made. As a warrior, he had fought merely to not die which wasn’t the same as living. Young had lived the past seven years as not dying but he was never really living either. But after meeting Eun-soo, he saw what it meant to really live for a future- to plan, to hope, and to dream.
Young’s sword became a burden as it kept him from getting closer to Eun-soo. He quickly cast it away when he had to kneel beside her when she was sick and couldn’t get up. He didn’t even remember to take it with him as he started to run to Deok Heung to demand the antidote; Jang Bin had to remind him to take the sword. When Eun-soo asked him to piggy-back her if she fell asleep, he replied that he can’t because he won’t be able to carry his sword if he did. He also couldn’t use his sword to fight his own men when he had to steal the royal seal to obtain Eun-soo’s antidote. It is at these moments which involve Eun-soo that Young is forced to confront the weight of his sword and his life as a warrior.
Young confesses to Eun-soo while they are on the run to the door to heaven that he now hesitates to use his sword and because a warrior cannot hesitate, he is no longer worthy of protecting his king. Still Young is unsure why he hesitates. When Ahn Jae asks him if Young is leaving the palace because of Eun-soo, he replies that he’s not sure. So Ahn Jae asks if it is because the sword became too heavy for him. Young learns that Moon Chi-hoo felt the weight of his sword and knew it was time for things to end. Through Ahn Jae, he finds out that his beloved leader died not only to protect his men but also because he wanted to be relieved of the weight of his sword. After learning this, I don’t think Young wants to die the same way Moon Chi-hoo. He didn’t just die heroically; he died worn out and wasted by all the years of fighting and all the people he killed. Ahn Jae asks Young how many people he has killed during his thirteen years as a warrior and Young can’t answer because it is innumerable.
Young’s sword- how much does it weigh? It has cut down an untold number of lives but it also keeps many alive. His sword is what protects Eun-soo and Gongmin but it also keeps him apart from her. His sword defines him as a warrior and without it, Young does not yet know who he is. Will Young be able to give up his sword, thus his life as a warrior? Can he? Will the weight of it become too much or will he become stronger so he can carry that weight with grace and honor? How will Young carry out his life from here and where will Eun-soo be in that life? Oh goodness, I can’t wait to find out. I need Monday like right now.