We skip back a little to the procession leaving the palace for the ancestral visit to the gravesite. There’s a quick review of the ambushes and skirmishes between the good guys and bad guys until we arrive once again at Un on horseback charging towards the Crown Prince.
Dong Soo runs forward and launches himself towards Un, forcing Un to dismount. Un continues forward towards the Prince, knock down Cho Rip and more guards. As he charges at the Prince (in slo-mo!), with Dong Soo helpless behind him, an archer shoots an arrow into the Prince’s chest.
Un stops charging, and lets the guards and Dong Soo retreat towards the Prince. As they are standing off, Dong Soo checks on the Prince. It turns out that Cho Rip has been foresighted again and got body armor for the Prince to wear under his robes. The arrow has been blocked by the body armor.
With the mountain boys and Cho Rip between Un and the Prince, Dong Soo and Hong Do retreat to safety with the Prince. As they stand there, Cho Rip asks how he became like this. One of the mountain boys says that he can’t take on all four of them, to which Un gives an “oh really?” Another of the boys asks him to just please back off. Instead, he quickly knocks them all down and rushes after Dong Soo.
Back at Lord Hong’s, the rest of the plan is discussed. They assume that if he’s still alive, the Prince will head to a nearby stable to get horses. But that is where they have posted the envoy, Kenjo, en route to take care of things.
In the forest, the Prince is left with a few guards, Dong Soo and Hong Do as his guards. They find themselves where they had planned to meet if there was trouble and stop to rest for a moment.
Indeed, Kenjo, Jung the giant wrestler, and a few assassins are lurking there waiting. Hong Do asks Kenjo if this was an order from Japan, and he replies that if it were, war would break out. A few of the assassins charge Dong Soo, and he easily cuts them down.
They pause again as each side sizes things up. Dong Soo asks the Prince if he knows how to use a sword. Well, of course. So, he picks up a sword and Hong Do, who is armed with nothing but his brushes, goes to the back of the group.
Dong Soo advises the Prince on how to fight the wrestler, and then fighting breaks out, as Kenjo attacks Dong Soo. So, it’s Kenjo vs. Dong Soo and the Prince vs. Jung the giant and the guards vs the other assassins on the margins of this brawl.
Hong Do hilariously gets in a few bashes on Jung’s head with his artist case, but suddenly a knife comes flying into an assassin, and an arrow hit another one. Everything pauses as Sa Mo and Jin Ju’s group of bandits comes to the rescue!
Kenjo, Jung and a few remaining assassins regroup and leave with Kenjo’s parting “another time then.”
Dong Soo keeps them from chasing after the retreating assassins – have to keep the eye on the goal – keep the Prince safe.
As they check on everyone, and Hong Do is bragging a little about whacking the giant with his artist case, an archer takes aim at the Prince. As he’s about to shoot, Un stops him, and then kills him.
Back at Hong’s, they discuss their final plan. If all else fails, Kenjo and Un should be waiting at the outpost, where they expect the Prince to go to get horses to continue the journey.
Dong Soo asks what took them so long to get there and we ask – Wait! Weren’t these rescuers under arrest? Well, yes they were. However, Sa Mo had the little plaque from the king that gave him to give him authority. Once the troops Hong1 had saw it, they weren’t going to detain Sa Mo’s group. Hong1 was suitably chastened.
Then Cho Rip, the mountain boys, and the rest of the surviving procession catch up to the rendezvous. As they regroup, Dong Soo decides that they shouldn’t go to the outpost. He feels it’s more secure to take the longer path and avoid that route.
In fact, that idea has occurred to Hong back at his place. He asks what plans they have if they take that route. The toady has to admit that they didn’t have a plan for the longer route, because the other one was the shortcut.
And indeed, over at the outpost, Kenjo and Un are waiting. Since no one has shown up, they assume that the Prince’s group has managed to take another path, and Un starts to leave. Kenjo stops him and tells him that he heard that Un was a good fighter, ranked just behind Gwang Taek and Chun. He asks if it’s true.
Un, who clearly does NOT like Kenjo, tells him that if he wants to die, he should give it a try. Kenjo pulls his sword, and in two swift moves, Un has his blade to Kenjo’s neck. Kenjo says that it seems Un’s skills are a bit better than Dong Soo’s. Un replies that if Kenjo wants to challenge him again, he’ll be ready any time.
The Prince made it safely to the gravesite, where he places the offerings and makes his bows. The voiceover has Hong’s toady explaining they couldn’t hide assassins there because it was being heavily guarded.
The toady gets a report and goes running in a panic to Lord Hong. When he comes in, Hong says he doesn’t even have to say anything. Clearly, Dong Soo was responsible for things going wrong. (HAHAHA!).
The Prince arrived safely back at the palace, and chooses to report to the King that nothing happened on the trip to speak of.
Dong Soo and company arrive home safely, where Jang Mi has a nice big meal planned for them. They report in to Gwang Taek, and tell him that Un was there. He points out that Un didn’t actually kill anyone (well, except for that assassin, but hey, they don’t know that). He asks them to help Un in the future if they can.
Un, for his part, is over at Assassins HQ drinking, and thinking about what Cho Rip and the boys said to him. Gu Hyang arrives and tells him to stop drinking. He asks if even she thinks he’s become evil. She deduces that he met with his former friends. She tells him to let it go if it’s too painful. He asks if she also thinks destiny can be changed. She tells him to follow his heart instead of fate.
The next morning, Gwang Taek arises early to go to the palace. He makes his rounds to the King and Prince to say farewell. The King asks how he is feeling, and Gwang Taek tells him not to worry about it. The King nods sadly and asks if he still plans to go away and live quietly with the woman he holds in his heart. Tellingly, Gwang Taek says he’s going with her to a place no one can find them. Similarly, he tells the Prince that these are farewells, he won’t be returning.
As he packs up at Sa Mo’s, Sa Mo says that Gwang Taek won’t lose to Chun, so why can’t Sa Mo come along as well? Gwang Taek tells him it’s just something he has to do himself.
Gwang Taek asks where Jin Ju is, much to Sa Mo’s confusion, but Jin Ki says that she is waiting to talk to him before he leaves.
Jin Ju is actually pacing around the courtyard nervously, and Mi So advises her to say whatever it is before Gwang Taek leaves.
Chun is out at the mountain huts where he hid out with Jin Ju, thinking about her and Ji. He starts to settle in and gather wood. He’s still limping from injuries from fighting Chang.
That evening, Jin Ju finally runs into Gwang Taek, but can’t bring herself to say anything to him. He, on the other hand, asks her if she can leave behind her sword, since no matter what, the hand that holds the sword will be bloodstained. His wish is that she would live peacefully.
They all settle down to the big feast, and Gwang Taek tells Sa Mo to marry Jang Mi before it’s too late. (HAHAHA!) Jin Ju comes in last, and Hong Do leaps up to offer her a seat. One of the mountain boys want to know what the heck he sees in her, and Jin Ki retorts that he isn’t that good looking either. Jin Ju quietly serves some food to Gwang Taek like a proper daughter, and Dong Soo is the only one at the table who gets the feeling that something is really off about how Gwang Taek is saying farewell.
They go out to talk, and Gwang Taek has another spasm of pain. He tells Dong Soo the story of how the five friends became blood brothers, and then came to work for the Crown Prince. He says he didn’t arrive in time to defend the Crown Prince, so it’s his fault. (LOOK! It’s a Manzzang flashback, let’s wallow in that for a sec. Okay, I’m back.) He says he then felt it was his duty to protect the Prince until the day he died. Dong Soo says he feels the same way about protecting the Prince.
Gwang Taek says that he feels better knowing Dong Soo will be there to protect the Prince when he can’t. He tells Dong Soo to guard the Prince well. Dong Soo, who may be slow on the uptake occasionally, ain’t really no dummy, so he wants to know why Gwang Taek is saying all this. Gwang Taek says they should go in. Dong Soo tries to put his foot down and asks why is Gwang Taek talking like they’ll never see each other again. He tells Gwang Taek to promise he’ll come back. Gwang Taek smiles and says that sometimes things don’t turn out the way people want.
Over at Lord Hong’s, Hong1 and Hong2 report that Gwang Taek is apparently leaving for somewhere. Hong thinks about it and concludes that no matter what, Gwang Taek should be killed, whether by Chun or them. In fact, he concludes that no matter who wins, the victor will be vulnerable.
Chun thinks back to the last time he fought Gwang Taek, back in episode 1. (and let us bask for a moment in another lovely bit of flashbacky goodness.)
Back at the courtyard, Jin Ju has fallen asleep outside waiting for Dong Soo and Gwang Taek to return. Gwang Taek tucks her in under his robe and leaves her a note.
He leaves early the next morning, meeting Dong Soo, who had stayed up all night in order to see him before he left. Dong Soo bows to him, and thanks him for being his teacher, saying he’ll never forget him. Dong Soo starts to cry as he tells Gwang Taek that he’ll wait there until he returns. He tells Gwang Taek that he has to return, as Dong Soo still needs his help.
Gwang Taek pats him on his shoulder and leaves.
Jin Ju wakes up to find the robe and note. When she reads the note, she takes off after Gwang Taek and catches up to him at the lake. She still can’t bring herself to say anything, so in a voiceover, she says that when he gets back she will call him “Father.”
Sa Mo gets up to find Gwang Taek gone and Dong Soo kneeling there. While cleaning up, Mi So finds another note from Gwang Taek. She brings it out to the table where everyone is sitting around worrying. In the note, he tells Sa Mo to marry Jang Mi; he thanks Jin Ki for looking after Ji, and leaves Jin Ju to his care; he tells Cho Rip not to overlook small details; and the mountain boys to guard the Prince well; he apologizes to Mi So for not looking after her father or her, and asks her to forget about martial arts because she could get hurt (sexist pig). Sa Mo gets upset as he realizes it sounds like a final farewell.
Over at the lake, Jin Ju reads her note. It says he wishes he could see her wedding. But if he isn’t around, don’t be sad, because he and her mother will be holding hands and watching over her. So, please don’t cry for him (which predictably, makes her cry).
Gwang Taek arrives at the mountain hut, where Chun is gathering wood. Chun chucks a piece of wood at him just for fun. Since they have to make dinner, Chun invites him fishing.
Chun and Gwang Taek sit around and fish, when Gwang Taek has a spasm of pain. Chun cooks them dinner, which surprises Gwang Taek. Chun says he cooked for Jin Ju there. Chun asks if Jin Ju said anything to him before he left. Chun says that Jin Ju is like her mother in her habit of not saying things.
Sa Mo heads out, followed by Hong1 and the toady, to check up on Gwang Taek. They are out fishing again, hanging out by the lake. Chun comments that Gwang Taek hasn’t caught any fish. However, Chun has enough. When Gwang Taek pulls his pole from the water, Chun is amused to discover that Gwang Taek hadn’t been using a lure at all. Sa Mo sees them there and turns around to go home.
Lord Hong gets the report on their location, and sends Hong1 out with troops to kill them. Gu Hyang overhears this and reports it to Un. He also heads out, saying that these aren’t people for army troops to take care of.
Jin Ju stills at home hugging Gwang Taek’s robe. She can’t explain it to Jin Ki, but she just has a bad feeling about this. He tries to reassure her.
Over dinner, Chun asks Gwang Taek if he’s feeling ok. Gwang Taek asks in reply if they should wait until Chun heals. They toast and drink up.
The next morning, back at the palace, the King comments that things are very quiet. He asks if the Prince is worried because Gwang Taek left. The Prince asks why the King didn’t require him to stay. The King tells him that Gwang Taek had stomach cancer, and there was nothing they could do. The Prince is shocked, as is the eavesdropping palace lady, who runs off to tell Hong. The Prince tells the mountain boys, and one of them runs off.
Hong is upset to hear about the stomach cancer, and unlike Lord Kim, who finds it amusing if not ironic, he realizes that Gwang Taek may be looking to die. He sends his toady off to stop Hong1 from killing Chun or Gwang Taek.
Cho Rip and the mountain boy arrive to tell Dong Soo about the cancer, and they all run into tell Sa Mo. Dong Soo begs Sa Mo to tell him where they are, and he finally does. Dong Soo, followed by Jin Ju, run off to stop the fight.
Gwang Taek sits in the old burned out building, having a nice drink. Chun arrives and sits down to join him. As they put down the drinks, Chun asks if he’s ready.
They put down the cups, draw their swords and the fight begins. As they fight, Gwang Taek gets slashed across the chest, but the fight continues. After a little while, they pause and Chun asks if they should rest. They continue, and Gwang Taek gets slashed again. They fight a little more, and then pause. Chun starts to get a slightly puzzled look when Gwang Taek starts to cough and says they should go out and get some fresh air.
Out in the yard, they circle. In the background, the archers start taking up positions. Hong1 starts to signal them to fire, As Chun reaches for his sword…we end episode 23.
Well, well. That had a lot of fight scenes, didn’t it? Even then it was mostly set up for the big Chun/Gwang Taek fight.
It’s interesting that the two people who realize that something isn’t quite right are Chun and Dong Soo. As soon as Hong hears that Gwang Taek has cancer, he realizes that he might be fighting to lose.