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    It was afternoon by the time the guards and Malbok returned from the police office.

    “How was the punishment?”

    “I received five strokes of the cane.”

    “I see.”

    Upon seeing Malbok follow the guards, Hyang pointed to a chair in the corner of the office.

    “Come and sit here.”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    As Malbok hesitantly sat down, Hyang shook his head.

    “Sit comfortably. Are you in too much pain to sit?”

    “No, not at all! It’s just that I’m not used to being in such a place…”

    Malbok responded, to which Hyang let out a chuckle.

    “And yet you dared to block the Crown Prince’s way on your first time?”

    At Hyang’s words, Malbok immediately knelt on the floor and bowed his head.

    “I have committed a grave sin!”

    “It’s alright, sit back on the chair.”

    “Yes…”

    Once Malbok was seated again, Hyang got to the heart of the matter.

    “You wanted to know what kind of work you can do?”

    “Yes, yes!”

    Observing Malbok’s appearance, Hyang commented.

    “Let me think… For someone asking for a job, you’re dressed neatly and look sturdy. You don’t seem like someone who’s been struggling without work.”

    “Well, about that…”

    Malbok shared his life story with Hyang.

    When Malbok was five, his parents died of an infectious disease. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his grandmother, who did all sorts of menial jobs to support him.

    Seeing his grandmother struggle, Malbok, at the age of eight, started working as a errand boy for a shop.

    “Was there work for an eight-year-old child?”

    “Well, I did chores inside the shop and ran errands nearby. The shop owner was kind and hired many kids like me.”

    “Is that so? He sounds like a good person. Then why don’t you continue working there? Why are you looking for work?”

    At Hyang’s question, Malbok scratched his head and replied.

    “Most of my peers who started with me learned reading and arithmetic and are now managing the shop’s business. I’m not bright, I know only about 300 characters, and I’m not good at arithmetic. Last year, I started lifting heavy stones and finally earned a decent wage, but the shop has enough laborers for that kind of work. I felt out of place…”

    “So, you’re looking for a job because of that?”

    At Hyang’s question, Malbok nodded vigorously.

    “That’s right! I considered working as a porter at Mapo Wharf, Noryangjin, or even in Jeoja, but there were already too many people there, so it wasn’t profitable. I thought about becoming a soldier or a peddler, but then I worried about leaving my grandmother alone.”

    “Hmm…”

    Hearing Malbok’s words, Hyang put down his pen and fell into thought. Tapping his fingers on the desk, he asked Malbok a question.

    “So you’re not completely illiterate, but only know about 300 characters, and though you know arithmetic, you’re not proficient at it…”

    “Yes, that’s right!”

    “That’s quite a dilemma…. Ahh…”

    Hyang let out a long sigh.

    ‘In the 21st century, the most troublesome category was kids like this!’

    Even back then, such kids were a real headache.

    At least Hyang was a nerd but with good grades, so things turned out well for him.

    The kids who played around at the back found their niche quickly and settled into their roles.

    But solving the career path issues for kids who were mediocre like this had caused many teachers to suffer from hair loss.

    Of course, there were also teachers who just left them alone, thinking, ‘They’ll manage somehow.’

    As Hyang pondered while looking at Malbok, he continued his questioning while holding the pen.

    “Apart from letters and arithmetic, Malbok, what are you good at? What do you enjoy?”

    “I like to move around! That’s why I always volunteered first for deliveries when I worked at the shop!”

    “So you wanted to be a peddler because of that?”

    “Yes!”

    “Anything else you’re good at or proud of?”

    At Hyang’s question, Malbok eagerly replied.

    “I have memorized the entire geography of Hanyang! I know the geography of all four main gates of Hanyang, north, south, east, and west! I even memorized the geography of the villages that were rebuilt after the last fire. If I go somewhere once, I memorize the way immediately!”

    Hyang genuinely admired Malbok’s boasting. Although it wasn’t comparable to 21st-century Seoul, current-day Hanyang was also a complex and bustling city.

    “That’s impressive!”

    “Hehe! It’s just a small talent!”

    Flattered by Hyang’s compliment, Malbok awkwardly scratched his head.

    Hyang smiled at this but quickly became troubled again.

    ‘This is really tricky…’

    However, he couldn’t disappoint Malbok, who had trusted him and risked his life.

    ‘But I can’t lie either.’

    Hyang honestly explained the situation to Malbok.

    “I wish I could give you an immediate answer, but it’s not easy.”

    “Yes…”

    At Hyang’s response, Malbok’s face fell.

    “Come back in fifteen days. I’ll have an answer by then. Wait for me at the main gate of Area 51 in fifteen days. Until then, continue to work hard at your current job.”

    “Yes? Yes! Yes!”

    The dejected Malbok perked up at Hyang’s words, nodding continuously with a brightened face.

    “Then you may go back now. Your grandmother must be worried.”

    “Yes! Yes! Thank you so much! Thank you!”

    Malbok stood up and repeatedly bowed deeply as he left the room, his head almost touching the ground with each bow.

    After sending Malbok away, Hyang let out a long sigh.

    “I’ve made a promise, but it’s perplexing.”

    ***

    That evening, Hyang, who had returned to the palace, was sought out by Sejong.

    “Did you call for me?”

    “Yes. I heard a commoner presented you with a difficult problem?”

    At Sejong’s query, Hyang sheepishly smiled and replied.

    “Yes, it’s not easy.”

    “I trust you. I believe you will produce a good outcome.”

    “I’ll do my best.”

    At Hyang’s response, Sejong smiled and nodded. The ministers who remained in the room also looked at Hyang with warm smiles.

    “Having the people trust and rely on us is the greatest blessing and gift for a ruler. It’s truly a good thing.”

    The Chief State Councilor, Lee Jik, commented, and Sejong responded in agreement.

    “Yes, it is good.”

    Hyang, however, threw a dampener on the warm atmosphere.

    “But, Your Majesty, shouldn’t new laws be established?”

    “Laws? What kind of laws?”

    At Sejong’s question, Hyang pointed out the reality.

    “There are more than just one or two people who saw what happened today. Will they just stay quiet in the future?”

    At Hyang’s remark, not only Sejong but also the ministers let out curses in unison.

    “Damn it! Ugh!”

    Realizing they had cursed unwittingly, Sejong and the ministers looked at each other with embarrassed faces.

    “Cough! Cough!”

    After clearing his throat, Sejong instructed the ministers.

    “It seems likely that similar incidents will occur frequently. Although there is the Shinmungo (royal suggestion box), the number of people who will speak up is not small. Let’s think about it.”

    “Yes.”

    Seizing the moment, Hyang quickly excused himself.

    “I shall return and ponder over Malbok’s situation.”

    “…Do so.”

    As Hyang swiftly left the hall, Sejong watched him go with a glare, then gestured for him to leave. Hyang quickly bowed and left the Geunjeongjeon Hall.

    The historian who recorded all these events concluded with the following statement:

    “…Therefore, the King and ministers discussed laws to prepare for cases similar to what happened today.”

    The historian notes:

    It seems the area around Gwanghwamun will be noisy for a while.

    * * *

    “This is not easy…”

    Although Hyang had promised Malbok a solution, he muttered in frustration, unable to find a clear answer even after five days.

    “I thought I could find an answer quickly after hearing about Malbok’s specialties… Sigh…”

    Struggling with the difficult problem, Hyang was lost in thought.

    Initially, Hyang thought of ‘delivery services’.

    “Since he knows the geography of Hanyang well…”

    He thought of just handing over a handcart, but soon realized the issue.

    “There are too many alternatives to a delivery service!”

    At ports or in front of commercial buildings, there were not only delivery workers from shops but also laborers with carrying poles looking for work. Moreover, households that could afford to have goods delivered already had servants.

    “So, the conclusion is that a delivery service is out of the question…”

    Overwhelmed by the situation, Hyang opened the office window.

    “Damn it! The weather is so horribly nice!”

    As he cursed at the spring scenery, Hyang heard the laughter of soldiers.

    “Run, run!”

    “What?”

    Hyang heard the soldiers encouraging each other as two handcart-racing soldiers approached. It seemed they were returning from construction work, carrying pickaxes and shovels in the carts.

    Watching this scene, Hyang chuckled to himself.

    “Yes, such simple pleasures are needed…”

    Suddenly stopping mid-sentence, Hyang had an epiphany.

    “That’s it! Inner Guard!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    “Bring High Official Ko!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    ***

    On the day of the promised fortnight, Malbok was pacing nervously in front of the main gate of the 51st District.

    The gatekeeper remarked upon seeing him.

    “His Highness won’t be here for a while. Why come so early?”

    “How can I, a mere commoner, be late when waiting for His Highness?”

    At Malbok’s reply, the gatekeeper nodded unknowingly.

    “Well, that’s true…”

    A commoner couldn’t be kept waiting for a prince.

    About two hours later, a cavalry troop approached the 51st District from a distance.

    “His Highness is coming!”

    At the gatekeeper’s call, the soldiers guarding the gate straightened up, and nearby, curious civilians began to gather.

    “Why are these civilians here?”

    A tense gatekeeper asked, to which a subordinate replied.

    “They heard about Malbok’s story. They are just curious.”

    “Typical of our people to be so curious…”

    The gatekeeper muttered under his breath about the characteristic curiosity of Koreans and instructed the soldiers.

    “Have the people step back, just in case!”

    “Yes!”

    Following the soldiers’ control, the civilians slowly stepped back.

    Shortly after,

    “Make way for the Crown Prince! Clear the path!”

    At the Inner Guard’s command, Malbok and the surrounding people promptly prostrated on the ground, and the gatekeeper and soldiers saluted.

    “Attention!”

    “Thank you for your hard work. Here’s the pass.”

    After receiving and checking the pass from the Inner Guard, the gatekeeper stepped back.

    “Pass confirmed. Proceed! Open the gates!”

    “Open the gates!”

    While waiting for the gate to open, Hyang, who was surveying the surroundings, noticed Malbok prostrated on the ground and was delighted.

    “Hey! Malbok! Follow me inside! I think I’ve found a suitable answer!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    At Hyang’s response, Malbok energetically answered and got up from his place.

    ***

    Inside Area 51, Hyang led Malbok to a certain location.

    “Here is the answer to the problem you posed.”

    “What is this?”

    Looking at the object in front of him, Malbok asked, and Hyang responded with a smile.

    “This is a rickshaw.”

    “A rickshaw?”

    Hyang explained in detail as he and Malbok circled the rickshaw.

    “…so you carry passengers in this seat behind and transport them to their destination. You’ll receive payment for this service. How about it? You like to wander around, right?”

    “Thank you so much! I’m extremely grateful!”

    At Hyang’s words, Malbok prostrated on the ground to express his gratitude. Seeing this, Hyang laughed and spoke.

    “Ha-ha! I’m glad you’re satisfied! But how will we settle the payment?”

    “Settlement?”

    Malbok looked puzzled, and Hyang, feigning a stern expression, asked.

    “Were you planning to take advantage of the Crown Prince of Joseon for free?”

    “No, not at all! That would be utterly unreasonable!”

    “Do you have anything to settle the account with?”

    “…I will earn and pay back. If I cannot, you may take me as a servant.”

    “That’s settled then! Here’s what we’ll do! Come here every fortnight for six months and report your experiences with the rickshaw. What issues did you encounter, or any problematic streets in Hanyang, for example. Report every fortnight for six months, and if you do well, the rickshaw is yours.”

    “Report?”

    “Yes. Just let me know things like, ‘This part was troublesome when I was pulling it, or this street in Hanyang has issues.’ If you report properly every fortnight for six months, the rickshaw will be yours.”

    “I will definitely do so!”

    “Don’t forget. It’s a promise with me.”

    “I will never forget!”

    “Then…”

    Hyang climbed onto the seat of a rickshaw and looked at Malbok.

    “Let’s give it a go to Gwanghwamun!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    Malbok’s rickshaw, as it left the 51st district, immediately caught the attention of the residents of Hanseong.

    Upon arrival at Gwanghwamun, Sejong, having heard the story, personally came out to inspect the rickshaw.

    “Did you say his name was Malbok?”

    “Yes, yes! Your Majesty!”

    “Work hard and take good care of your grandmother.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty!”

    And thus, Malbok became the world’s first rickshaw driver.

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