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    After the evaluation of the horse was finished, Sejong turned his attention to the other goods. However, the more he looked at the products Mansur had brought, the more his expression clouded.

    “There are many luxury items…”

    Upon hearing Sejong’s words through Hassan, Mansur asked with a serious face.

    “Does the king of Joseon not favor luxury?”

    “The ministers of this country dislike it when the king indulges in excessive luxury. Of course…”

    ‘They themselves have indulged in luxury and suffered for it.’

    Mansur fell into deep thought at Hassan’s answer, which he held back from finishing. Most of the products he had brought were spices like pepper and turmeric.

    ‘Who dislikes spices, almost no one, especially the nobles who would buy them regardless of the cost…’

    Mansur continued his various calculations and then asked Hassan.

    “Do people in this kingdom not eat spices like pepper and turmeric?”

    “They eat native spices that have similar effects. Imported spices like pepper are very expensive.”

    “They don’t dislike pepper, do they?”

    “They can’t afford it because it’s expensive.”

    “What’s the usual price?”

    “How much does the storage manager purchase it for?”

    Upon Hassan’s question, Mansur shared the price at which he had bought the pepper in Aden. After hearing Mansur’s response, Hassan answered briefly.

    “Multiply that by twenty. That’s the lowest price here.”

    “Goodness!”

    Startled, Mansur suddenly had a brilliant idea.

    ‘If I buy pepper in bulk from Aden, I can get it for less than the market price! And the Joseon people don’t dislike pepper. If I don’t pass it through middlemen and accept a slightly lower profit, I could monopolize the market! The reduced profit can be compensated for by increasing the sales volume! No, I can reap even greater profits!’

    While he concluded that ‘small profit, quick return’ was the best strategy, Mansur could not come to an easy decision.

    He had the obstacle of ‘the merchants of the Azram family’ to consider.

    “There’s no helping it. Hassan, can you get permission from the king of Joseon for some time?”

    “Why is that?”

    Mansur said, looking back at the merchant of the Azlam family behind him.

    “There’s another party I must successfully negotiate with first…”

    Upon Mansur’s words, Hassan replied with a grave face.

    “I’ll try, but be careful, as it could make you a criminal.”

    “A criminal?”

    “Would it be proper for a mere merchant to suggest to a king of a country to postpone negotiations? Joseon is a nation that values courtesy. A mistake could imprison not only myself but even our leader.”

    “Oh dear…”

    Mansur found himself in an awkward situation, unable to move forward or backward.

    ‘It’s a mistake! I rushed into this blinded by the prospect of making money, without proper investigation! This is a major blunder on my part!’

    Indeed, as Mansur berated himself, this incident was a result of his own oversight. He had brought a cargo focused on spices without question, thinking only of European and Chinese merchants who would open their purses without hesitation at the mention of spices, and this had led him into a crisis.

    Meanwhile, having observed the situation, Hyang suggested to King Sejong.

    “Your Majesty, may I handle this negotiation?”

    “The Crown Prince? Hmm…”

    King Sejong pondered for a moment at Hyang’s request, his face filled with worry.

    “There was much talk last time you dealt with those merchants. They said that it is unseemly for the Crown Prince of a nation to be involved in trade negotiations.”

    “It’s a matter concerning the national interest. I would like to take charge of this matter along with the Minister of the Taxation.”

    Kim Jeom, overhearing the conversation between Sejong and Hyang, inwardly exclaimed.

    ‘Why me! I already have piles of documents to deal with!’

    Sejong, whether he knew Kim Jeom’s feelings or not, turned to look at him with a smile full of kindness.

    “Minister, could you assist the Crown Prince?”

    Although there was a smile, the request was an implicit command, and Kim Jeom had to suppress the ‘No! I can’t do it!’ that nearly escaped his lips.

    “Ah, I will do my best!”

    “I trust you will, Minister.”

    “I will do my best!”

    With Kim Jeom and Hyang entrusted with the negotiations, Sejong conveyed through Hassan to Mansur.

    “This trade involves the court, and I too have taken part in it. However, as I am occupied with state affairs, I have delegated the matter to the Crown Prince and the Minister of the Taxation, hoping for a successful deal.”

    “Thank you so much!”

    Mansur felt a breath of relief hearing Hassan’s words and expressed his gratitude sincerely.

    * * *

    As Sejong and the ministers left, Mansur let out a long breath.

    “Phew~.”

    Releasing a long breath and easing the tightness in his chest, Mansur asked Hassan.

    “Is that prince the prince?”

    “Yes, he is. And the one beside him is the Minister of Taxation of this country.”

    “I see. The Minister of Taxation seems stringent, but since the prince looks quite young, he must have been appointed to watch over him. I just need to be cautious of the Minister of Taxation.”

    Mansur made this assessment based on the young Hyang’s appearance, to which Hassan warned.

    “You will suffer a great loss if you think so lightly of them.”

    “Huh?”

    “I, too, will not elaborate further because of this country’s bureaucracy, but if you let your guard down even a little, you will face a great disappointment.”

    Upon Hassan’s warning, Mansur glanced at Hyang’s face once more.

    Seeing Hyang, who still had traces of youth, Mansur looked back at Hassan. However, noticing Hassan’s expression, which was even more tense than when the king was present, Mansur muttered to himself unknowingly.

    “Good grief…”

    * * *

    “Minister of Taxation. Do you have a list of the items they brought?”

    “Yes.”

    With a short answer, the Minister of Taxation gestured, and an official from the Ministry of Taxation swiftly presented a scroll listing the items.

    Taking the scroll from the Minister of Taxation, Hyang perused the list.

    “Let’s see here… Black pepper, turmeric… Turmeric?”

    Hyang’s fingertips paused at ‘turmeric’ on the list, and his mind began to race.

    ‘Turmeric, as in curry? Curry rice is great! Wait… there are no potatoes, no onions either… Hold on, I’m aware that the history of onions is quite long. Didn’t Teacher Samcheonpo mention that? If the vegetable isn’t from the New World, then most common vegetables have been in China since the Tang Dynasty. Hmm… I’ll need to check that later.’

    After organizing his thoughts about turmeric, Hyang continued to check the list.

    ‘Most of these, no, excluding the horses, are spices? Why is that?’

    Hyang pondered in his head.

    ‘Hmm… According to the report, the ship they came on wasn’t that big, right? If so, it’s certain that the space would have been mostly taken by horses and the hay for them to eat. Therefore, it indeed makes sense to carry goods that are small in volume but high in value, hence the spices. Spices are expensive regardless of East or West.’

    Hyang nodded as he perused the list and then stopped at the last item.

    “Black bean tea? What is this? I haven’t heard of it before… Ah, Hassan!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    “What is this black bean tea?”

    “Black bean tea? I am hearing of it for the first time as well.”

    Hassan paused for a moment and then asked Mansur. After hearing Mansur’s response, Hassan replied to Hyang.

    “It’s an ingredient used to make a beverage called Qahwa.”

    Qahwa?”

    “It’s also called ‘ka-pa-ra.’”

    “Ka-pa-ra? Kapa-ra…”

    As Hassan explained, Hyang, who had been pondering deeply, suddenly exclaimed.

    “Coffee!”

    Joy was evident on Hyang’s face.

    ‘Coffee! It’s coffee! I thought it would be impossible to taste it at least until the Western Fleet was established!’

    Like most Koreans living in the 21st century, Hyang too was a caffeine addict.

    Moreover, it had beneficial effects.

    ‘It will make a great gift for the ministers fighting off sleep.’

    Of course, if one only thought about caffeine, green tea could be an alternative, but the rich taste of caffeine and the unique aroma of coffee were irreplaceable.

    Seeing the joy-filled expression on Hyang’s face, Hassan asked with a face full of curiosity.

    “Your Highness, do you know of Qahwa?”

    ‘Oops!’

    Caught off guard by Hassan’s question, Hyang hurriedly composed himself and answered.

    “I came to know about it through books. It is said to be a tea with various benefits, so how could I not be pleased to see the real thing?”

    “Is that so?”

    Although Hassan still had his curiosity, he stopped asking further questions.

    ‘There will be a day to solve this mystery…’

    Hassan made a note to himself to write about this in the book he was secretly keeping and devoted himself to interpreting the conversation between Hyang and Mansur.

    ***

    Although it is a story of the far future, the book Hassan wrote titled ‘Various Doubts Concerning Crown Prince Hyang’ became the cause of all sorts of controversies and conspiracy theories among historians of the East and West as soon as it was discovered.

    ***

    Meanwhile, Mansur persuaded the merchants of the Azram family.

    “…Therefore, the situation is not favorable. Thus, I wish to reduce the profit margin on these spices and sell them.”

    “Cutting down the profit margin…”

    Rajab, who accompanied as a representative of the Azram family, became visibly troubled. Mansur continued to persuade him, seeing his expression.

    “Wouldn’t we benefit more if the reduction in margin attracts more buyers?”

    “So, how much do you intend to reduce it?”

    “When we earned the most, it was tenfold, but I would like to reduce it to about sixfold.”

    “Hmm… Very well! Let’s do that! But I will participate in the negotiations.”

    Rajab’s response made Mansur contemplate briefly before accepting his suggestion.

    “Let’s proceed with that.”

    “Leader! They say they want to negotiate the price.”

    “Understood. Let’s go.”

    Upon Hassan’s words, Mansur walked towards Hyang with Rajab.

    * * *

    “Eh? There are more people? Who is that person?”

    Hyang asked, and Mansur relayed the question to Hassan.

    “We lacked enough ships, so we borrowed some from the Azram family.”

    Hassan slightly altered Mansur’s response when reporting to Hyang.

    “He says we’ve borrowed ships from other merchants due to a shortage.”

    Hyang’s gaze sharpened upon Hassan’s answer.

    “It seems like it’s not just the ships that have been borrowed? The trading license is exclusively granted to your Otaibi family, isn’t it? This is our first official transaction; are you planning to deceive us from the start?”

    “Oh, no, that is not the case!”

    Hassan replied in an urgent voice, but Hyang continued with a cold voice.

    “Tell the head of your family very clearly. What are you thinking trying to trick us from the first deal?”

    Mansur, having heard Hyang’s words through Hassan, hurriedly made excuses, and Hassan also desperately defended himself.

    “He says that it was truly because the ship was insufficient, and that he only borrowed the ships of other merchants!”

    “Just borrowing ships, then why is another merchant intervening in this matter? If that person is involved here, it means it’s not just about borrowing ships! Are you taking me for a fool? Does the head of your family think I am a joke, and that this country of Joseon is a laughing matter?”

    As Hyang pressed on, Mansur immediately knelt down on the floor and answered.

    “I assure you, it is not so! It’s just that, seeing this trade venture as a great opportunity, we overreached, and the other merchants, worried, decided to follow!”

    Hyang, having heard Mansur’s response through Hassan, glared at Mansur with a fierce face while crossing his arms.

    At that sight, Hassan too knelt down next to him and made excuses.

    “Your Highness! The head of the family had no intention to deceive you! It was just greed for a greater profit!”

    Hyang, who had been silently glaring at Hassan and Mansur, gestured with his hand.

    “Fine! I will choose to believe those words for now. Stand up.”

    “Your mercy is immense!”

    After Mansur and Hassan stood up, Hyang turned around.

    “Now, let’s talk about the deal, Your Excellency, is there a suitable room in the Minister of Taxation?”

    “There is.”

    Hearing the response of the minister, Hyang ordered Hassan.

    “Tell him to follow.”

    “Yes.”

    Mansur, upon receiving Hyang’s command through Hassan, sighed and looked back at Rajab.

    “This won’t be easy.”

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