“The most dangerous part is over. You did well.”
Doyo turned her head slowly and looked at her uncle, smiling.
“We've truly survived.”
“Do you resent me, Doyo?”
“To be honest…I did. However, I'm rather grateful now. I'll never forget this experience. I don't think I'll be taken by surprise by anything that happens in the future.”
“The same goes for me. It was an amazing adventure beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I've gained a lot of valuable lessons and experiences as a result.”
“I feel the same. I got to know some great people too.”
“Have you figured out my intentions?”
“I think I understand where you came from. It’s important for merchants to foster a good relationship with people like them…”
“Exactly. Investing in interpersonal relationships is the best investment you can ever make, especially when it’s hard to mingle with people like them as merchants. If not for this opportunity, you wouldn't have gotten the chance to know them. Who do you think that noble lady is?”
Dobel shifted his gaze towards Rain.
“She looks like a lady from a duke’s family at the very least.”
“Why do you think so?”
“She exudes an extraordinary air of dignity and elegance. At first glance, the eye-catching accessories that she’s wearing are very expensive.
“What about the man over there then?”
Dobel shifted his gaze towards Gun, who was staring at the watchtower with an excited look on his face.
“He looks like he’s of a similar social status too.”
“You’re better than I expected...”
“Was I wrong?”
“No, considering the fact that you’re inexperienced, I’d say that you’re already doing very well. Do you want me to tell you what I think?”
“They are nobles who are of very high status. The lady named Rain is probably part of the royal family. The same goes for the man named Gun.”
Doyo wanted to scream but she managed to keep her mouth shut.
“I’m certain of it. They deliberately dressed modestly, but I noticed their shoes. They may have changed their clothes and everything else, but it’s harder for them to change their shoes. Those shoes were manufactured by ‘Anseong Workshop’, which boasts of making the best custom-made products in the empire, using the expensive ‘Alchin’ leather. Also, in order to distinguish the shoes, the family’s crest is engraved inside the heel of their shoes…”
“The crest of the royal family?”
“That must have been the reason why you decided to come on this journey.”
“No, if the royal figures were carrying out a secret mission, it would be wise to stay away. Getting close to their secret mission is akin to getting closer to death. Instead, those two people over there were the reason why I made that decision.”
Dobel’s gaze shifted towards San and Biyeon.
“For some reason, those two people did not want company, whereas the other people wanted to tag along. Even though the two of them are incredibly strong, their attitude when it comes to saving us regardless of the situation we were in without asking for anything in return is very impressive. People like that are hard to come by, don’t you think?”
“...” Doyo nodded in silence.
“Furthermore, the Dong-Myung Clan and Ki-Jang Clan nobles, who were usually given the royal treatment, were not angered by their insulting comments. On the contrary, it seemed as though they begged them to allow them to tag along, even the experts from the Han-Sung Clan were the same… It was such an uncommon occurrence. In fact, it was almost impossible for something like that to happen. Frankly speaking, we were in quite a crisis back in the ‘Forgotten Country’ and the ‘Forest of Sacred Machines’. It certainly seemed as though we were knocking on death’s door. However, back then, I saw the steadfast attitude of the crew members. I had a strange conviction that there was something more to it. If they were willing to risk their lives, I thought it was worth putting my life at stake too. It was a gamble, but I guess it worked out in the end.”
“We got a lot of things from this trip.”
“Yes, it was extremely fruitful.”
Exploration — Chapter 4
“The dangerous part of the journey seems to be over. We can live like human beings now. Ah! We went through quite a hardship…” said Gibin as he plopped himself down next to San.
The three or four large fish that he had just caught were flopping in his hand.
“Yeah, why do you put yourself through all the hardship? Give me the fish!”
He handed the fish to San with a slight smile on his face. San skillfully filleted the fish with the sword in his hand. It was a pretty good ingredient for spicy fish stew. San smacked his lips. Having spicy fish stew with soju on a gloomy day was the best… However, there was no minari (water dropwort)…
“Because it’s fun. If I didn’t tag along, I probably would have regretted it. I can’t have that happen.”
“Do we have any alcohol left?”
“There is still some liquor left. Do you want me to get it?”
“Yes, please. It would be a shame to eat spicy fish stew without alcohol.”
Gibin got up abruptly and trudged towards the wagon.
“Thank you. I owe you big time over the course of this trip. I will not forget it,” said San casually, as he trimmed the fish.
“You took the words right out of my mouth. Let’s be good friends from now on!”
Gibin waved without looking back.
Gun sat on a rock and tried to catch his breath. Next to him, hand-gathered dry wood started to heap up. He watched the other crew members as they got busy with their task at hand. At this point, it was a common sight for him; it was neither unfamiliar nor awkward. At the bottom, the people, who did the washing and laundry, made a fire and were busy drying the clothes, fabric, and shoes. In the middle, the Essen crew used some rocks and wood to set up a couple of makeshift dining tables. It was fairly spacious, hence they made a few large circular ones. On the right, there was a group of people by the flowing water, who were trying to catch some fish with a net or a fishing rod. There were also other people who were busy helping out with the cleaning and preparation of the fish that they had caught. There were so many fish in this valley that it seemed as though half of the river was made up of water, and the other half was made up of fish. Nearly all of the fish were the size of an adult’s forearm.
Today was the last day of their extremely brutal and grueling journey. After getting past the ford that was right in front of them, as well as the iron gate that completely blocked off the cliff, they would be able to enter the Damun Empire. All of a sudden, Gun’s heart fluttered. He took a deep breath. He looked at his surroundings thoroughly once again, as if to engrave the vast scenery that unfolded before him in his mind. Nobody was taking a rest. Gun wiped the sweat off his forehead. Sweat dripped down the back of his hand that was no longer wearing a glove. He lifted his hand and looked at his sweat that was dripping between his fingers. He touched the few calluses on his fingers and palm. They had been chapped over and over again and there were traces of healing scars on his skin.
He could taste the saltiness around the corners of his mouth. Suddenly, he had a realization that working while sweating was not embarrassing at all. The people here were not ashamed to do hard labor. In fact, there were people who felt ashamed if they failed to do their part… He had always thought that sweat was dirty and disgraceful. Being raised in a royal family where elegance and strict decorum were maintained, it was no wonder he got that idea. Any sweat-inducing labor-intensive work was considered lowly.
However, Gun’s mindset changed drastically after spending some time with the strange idiots who enjoyed working. Even though he did not want to do manual labor, he had no choice but to do it. That was the type of work Gun ever knew. However, there was more to physical labor than it being ‘lowly’. It had a real value… Gun reflected on the journey that he had just experienced.
“They’re such…awful people. I will definitely get my revenge and it will be ten times worse. Be prepared…”
When Gun started this uncomfortable journey, he had no one by his side. The two Han-Sung Clan experts were of no help. They were not his servants, but paid escorts who were not of a lower social status. Gun’s problems were things that could not be solved by force. New circumstances that kept arising incessantly, terrifying crises day and night, as well as bizarre tricky situations that required them to constantly think out of the box to come up with solutions. It was far beyond the scope of what the experienced Hansun Clan warriors could do. The Dong-Myung Clan and Ki-Jang Clan’s noble warriors, merchants and escorts were not spared either. They were greatly flustered, and were at their wits’ every time a new situation arose. The problems they had to solve were on an entirely different level than the ones they dealt with on their carefree excursions. They came face to face with unprecedented mysterious things. None of them could predict the outcome. Since it was unpredictable, they were unable to come up with countermeasures.
Surprisingly, the only people who remained calm during the entire journey were the Essen crew. They carefully surveyed and held discussions before drawing conclusions on what they thought was optimal. Furthermore, their countermeasures were carried out immediately. They did not care about what others thought and just went with their conviction. Their leaders did not give them any instructions either. They just listened silently and did what they wanted them to do. Sometimes they would give them a few pointers? But that was about it.
There were occasional failures and fatal miscalculations, but they never once complained to the rest of the crew. Whenever somebody in the party complained about the crew’s arrogant behavior…
“In that case…would you like to do it or go first?”
“Do you think that those people failed intentionally to make our lives difficult?”
“That’s not the case…”
“Were all the attempts you’ve made in your entire life successful the first time around? Was that really the case?”
“If you are not going to help, then just let it go. For the most part, failure is like poison. However, it can be a very good tonic for someone with a strong will. If those people did their best, that would be the case. I want to see them succeed. Also, I’m not in a rush at all. If I can trade ten failures for one success, that’s a pretty good deal to me. Thereafter, I’ll be able to succeed after failing five times. If I succeed after three attempts, that is a 30% success rate. After that, I would be deemed as a ‘master’. What do you think comes next?”
“Finally, I would be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. That is how our crew lives. We give our best effort and work hard till the very end so we can have a good life. Do you have any complaints?”
The other people observed the Essen crew’s actions in a very natural manner. The crew was never in a rush. Even when they met with difficulties, they were able to skillfully overcome them by working together. When the wagon was broken; when the horse’s leg was broken; when they needed to look for food; when they got poisoned; when they got lost in the heavy rain; when they fell into the swamp; when they had to allocate the work that had to be done; when they encountered dangerous things; the signals and response system they used in the face of danger, etc…
Their actions hurt the pride of the Dong-Myung Clan and Ki-Jang Clan’s warriors. At the same time, it brought their noble selves to their senses, which should have been done a long time ago.
Gun had to make a decision too. He had three options to choose from. He could overcome difficulties and challenges all by himself using his own judgment and unwavering will, which unfortunately was not a virtue he possessed. Or he could also subdue his opponents with sheer force. Regrettably, he did not have the power to bring anybody to their knees either.Previous Chapter Next Chapter