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    Kim Jong-seo earned the nickname ‘Fierce Tiger’ through his struggles with the Jurchen people. The battle in January particularly solidified this nickname.

    January, the 11th year of King Sejong’s reign.

    “My lord! There’s trouble!”

    As a worker attending to chores at the development headquarters rushed in shouting, Hwang Hui, who was reviewing documents, asked with an annoyed voice.

    “What’s the matter?”

    “We’ve been attacked!”

    At the word ‘attacked,’ Hwang Hui sprang up from his seat.

    “An attack! Tell me more!”

    “Yes!”

    According to the report, the attack occurred while the carriages, which had set off from Musan, were en route to Gilju, where the development team’s headquarters were located.

    As soon as the word ‘trouble’ was mentioned, Kim Jong-seo, who had just entered Hwang Hui’s office, took over the questioning.

    “Where exactly did it happen?”

    “According to the messenger’s report, near Sincham.”

    While listening, Hwang Hui traced his finger across the map.

    “Sincham… Sincham… Sin… here it is!”

    Having located Sincham on the map, Hwang Hui shouted angrily.

    “Damn it, they’ve come this far!”

    Sincham was midway between Musan and Cheongjin.

    At the time of the incident, Joseon’s northeastern region had expanded up to Hoeryeong and Najin.

    Musan, bordering the Tumen River, was a frontier area heavily guarded by the Joseon military. The incident in Sincham, located in the middle of the Hamgyong Mountains, occurred in an area believed to be already secured.

    “This is maddening. It gets breached as soon as we let our guard down a bit…”

    To Hwang Hui’s comment, Kim Jong-seo pointed out the reason.

    “We’re short on troops.”

    “Reinforcements are supposed to be coming soon. We’ll have to trust that. Meanwhile, what’s the damage?”

    “The furs and wool collected by the Jurchen in Musan and nearby areas, along with the family registry and land registry…”

    “Magistrate!”

    Upon hearing that the family and land registries were compromised, Kim Jong-seo was enraged.

    Hwang Hui, without further ado, gave his permission.

    “Take half of the men with you.”

    “Yes!”

    With his response, Kim Jong-seo burst out of the office, shouting.

    “Everyone out!”

    At Kim Jong-seo’s command, officials who had been working in various parts of the headquarters building rushed out.

    Kim Jong-seo explained the situation to the officials.

    “Some damn thieves have stolen the carriages carrying the family and land registries!”

    “What a damned situation!”

    “Those who deserve to have stones tied around their necks and thrown into the Tumen River!”

    At Kim Jong-seo’s words, the officials, without exception, spat out curses and became furious.

    “It’ll take forever to rewrite all that!”

    This was the reason for the officials’ anger.

    The prospect of having to redo their work.

    Seeing the officials’ fury reaching the sky, Kim Jong-seo gave an order.

    “Form two columns!”

    Snap!

    As soon as Kim Jong-seo finished speaking, the officials quickly lined up in two columns.

    “This column! Get ready immediately! We must reach Sincham before sunset!”

    “Yes!”

    Upon Kim Jong-seo’s command, the designated officials hurried back to their rooms to don armor and grab their bows.

    Their movements were as quick and efficient as well-trained soldiers.

    In less than a quarter hour, about twenty fully armed officials rode out of the development team headquarters with Kim Jong-seo.

    Thud, thud, thud!

    Leaving behind a loud clatter of hooves and a cloud of dust, the cavalry-like officials vanished.

    A merchant running a shop near the development team headquarters waved his hand to clear the dust and grumbled.

    “What stupid Jurchen fools have caused trouble this time?”

    By the time Kim Jong-seo and the officials arrived in Sincham, Lee Jing-ok’s troop, which had rushed from Geumpae, was also arriving.

    “Hey! Chief Lee! Long time no see!”

    “Deputy Kim, it’s been a while!”

    After exchanging greetings, the two men rode side by side, sharing information.

    “Do you know which tribe it was?”

    To Kim Jong-seo’s question, Lee Jing-ok replied with a voice full of sarcasm.

    “Do you think they’ll speak the truth?”

    The ‘they’ Lee Jing-ok referred to were the surrendered Jurchen people.

    Every time such an incident occurred, the Joseon army would question the affected tribes and those nearby to gather information.

    However, the Jurchen would typically accuse tribes with whom they had deep grudges when responding to the Joseon army’s inquiries.

    It was a strategy of borrowing another’s knife to kill – using the power of the Joseon army to eliminate rival tribes.

    At Lee Jing-ok’s cynical response, Kim Jong-seo nodded in agreement.

    “Well, that’s true.”

    When Kim Jong-seo agreed, Lee Jing-ok added,

    “As I always say, subjugation is more efficient than taming. How can we trust those Jurchen!”

    At Lee Jing-ok’s words, Kim Jong-seo smirked and slightly shook his head.

    Lee Jing-ok, among those who were in charge of King Sejong’s northeastern frontier development plan, was a notorious hardliner.

    He had entered the military as a foot soldier and then passed the military examination. He had been at odds with the Jurchen before joining the Joseon army’s general staff. If history had proceeded as before Hyang’s intervention, after passing the military examination, Lee Jing-ok should have continued to oversee military affairs in Pyeongan-do and Hamgyong-do as a fourth-rank Jolje commander. However, his life took a slightly different turn after Hyang’s intervention.

    Having begun his military life in the north wrestling with the Jurchen, Lee Jing-ok always advocated a hardline stance on Jurchen policy.

    “We mustn’t approach them amicably just because they’ve expressed loyalty! We need to be strong from the start!”

    “Punishing one as a warning to a hundred? The Jurchen laugh at that! We need to execute a hundred to warn a hundred! Only then will we be safe!”

    Lee Jing-ok’s argument could be summarized as “The only good Jurchen is a dead Jurchen.”

    Whenever Lee Jing-ok advocated for tough measures against the Jurchen, Choi Yun-deok and Hwang Hee had to force a bitter smile.

    “Perhaps it’s because he’s still young.”

    “With such vigor, we must let him release it.”

    Thus, Lee Jing-ok came to lead a force consisting of 500 cavalry and 200 artillery.

    Lee Jing-ok’s unit’s mission was a combination of long-range patrols and rapid strike forces.

    * * *

    The moment Kim Jong-seo’s group and Lee Jing-ok’s unit arrived at Sincham was just as the sun began to set in the west.

    “Quickly set up the camp!”

    At Lee Jing-ok’s command, the soldiers started taking down tents from the supply wagons and began lighting fires.

    While the soldiers were busy setting up the camp, Lee Jing-ok, Kim Jong-seo, the military officers, and the officials surveyed the scene of the incident.

    Lee Jing-ok and his officers looked for any evidence that could indicate who was responsible at the site, where bodies had been moved aside by the Jurchen who first reported the incident. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-seo and the officials searched for any remnants of the documents.

    “Here it is!”

    “It looks like the bastards burned it.”

    The officials, grinding their teeth, reported upon inspecting the few small pieces of burnt paper left behind. At the officials’ report, Kim Jong-seo couldn’t help but curse out loud.

    “F*ck!”

    As the officials discovered the ashes of the documents, Kim Jong-seo approached them, grinding his teeth.

    “Those damn bastards… First, try to recover anything that’s salvageable.”

    “Yes, Deputy Administrator.”

    After giving instructions to the officials, Kim Jong-seo walked over to Lee Jing-ok.

    “Did you find any traces of the bastards who did this?”

    Pointing to the Jurchen who were earnestly explaining something to an interpreter, Lee Jing-ok replied,

    “We’ve tagged their tail. We’ll start the pursuit as soon as dawn breaks.”

    “What about crossing the border?”

    At Kim Jong-seo’s question, Lee Jing-ok stared at him intently. Understanding the unspoken answer, Kim Jong-seo sighed deeply.

    “Phew… Damn it… Looks like we’ll have to write those documents again.”

    * * *

    Just before dawn the next day, the soldiers and officials were up early, tidying their camp and boiling water for their rations.

    After finishing their meal, the soldiers and officials were ready to depart.

    Kim Jong-seo gathered the officials and gave them orders.

    “You lot head to Musan and start rewriting the family and land registries.”

    “Aren’t you coming with us, Deputy?”

    At the officials’ query, Kim Jong-seo, touching the bows at his side, replied,

    “I need to give these damned culprits a piece of my mind.”

    “Please be careful.”

    “You too, be careful. You’ll have escorts, but one never knows what might happen.”

    “Yes, Deputy.”

    After bidding farewell to the officials, Kim Jong-seo mounted his horse and headed towards Lee Jing-ok.

    Watching him, the officials whispered among themselves.

    “Is he really going to give them a piece of his mind, or is it more like taking a breather?”

    “Probably a bit of both.”

    “We should move too. Hopefully, our colleagues in Musan followed the ‘Rule of Three.'”

    “They must have. Otherwise, they’d be the ones suffering.”

    With these murmured conversations, the officials mounted their horses.

    The ‘Rule of Three’ mentioned by the officials was a maxim that originated in the military and spread to all departments of the government.

    “Always make three copies of a report. One for submission to the superiors, another as a contingency, and the last for your own safety.”

    * * *

    Following the trail left by the pursuers, Lee Jing-ok and Kim Jong-seo crossed the Tumen River.

    “Actually crossing it.”

    “Been doing it so often, it’s become routine.”

    Although the two had been joking lightly before crossing the Tumen River, they maintained a constant tension afterward.

    About 20 li after crossing the river, the Jurchen trackers they were following rode up to them.

    After receiving the Jurchen’s report, Lee Jing-ok turned to Kim Jong-seo.

    “20 li north from here is the tribe that attacked the carriage.”

    “Then let’s go.”

    Stopping their unit behind a hill, a short distance from the suspected tribe, Lee Jing-ok dismounted and moved cautiously.

    Climbing the hill, Lee Jing-ok lay on the ground and quietly took out a monocular to observe the tribe.

    “Is it them?”

    Kim Jong-seo, who had approached silently, asked. Lee Jing-ok handed him the monocular.

    “Look at the carriage in the house on the far left.”

    Focusing the monocular on the spot indicated by Lee Jing-ok, Kim Jong-seo ground his teeth.

    “That’s our carriage.”

    * * *

    “Attack!”

    Having found the evidence, Lee Jing-ok ordered his men to attack.

    On Lee Jing-ok’s command, the soldiers donned windshields made of glass instead of crystal and pulled up the cotton masks they wore around their necks to cover their noses and mouths.

    The windshields were meant to protect their eyes from the wind while riding, and the cotton masks were to shield them from the smoke when firing their muskets.

    The cotton masks worn by the soldiers were adorned with the mouth of a goblin. With their faces covered by windshields and masks, the soldiers looked like demons.

    Once his men were ready, Lee Jing-ok swung his arm and then extended it forward.

    “Charge!”

    “Attack!”

    “Here we go!”

    “Ahhh!”

    With the loud noise of soldiers and horses, the Joseon army and the surrendered Jurchen charged towards the Jurchen tribe in sight.

    The ensuing battle was a complete victory for the Joseon army.

    The Jurchen warriors who had rushed out to stop the Joseon army’s charge were quickly overwhelmed. After dealing with the most troublesome Jurchen cavalry, the Joseon army began to lay waste to the village. Flames rose in all directions, and many Jurchen men lost their lives in the onslaught of the Joseon army.

    “Damn it!”

    Kim Jong-seo cursed as he faced an unexpected crisis. As he pursued the fleeing Jurchen and rounded a corner, a Jurchen hidden in ambush stabbed his horse with a spear.

    As his horse fell, Kim Jong-seo quickly leaped off and drew two horseback bows from his side, pulling the triggers.

    Bang! Bang!

    Soon, the bodies of Jurchen, who had lost their lives, lay scattered around Kim Jong-seo.

    Click! Click!

    After firing 12 shots, Kim Jong-seo urgently scanned the surroundings. Seeing the pouch with extra bullets pinned under his dead horse, he cursed again.

    “Damn it!”

    Seeing more Jurchen charging to kill him, Kim Jong-seo cursed and gripped the horseback bows upside down.

    “Damn it all!”

    * * *

    After completing the punitive expedition, Kim Jong-seo returned to Gilju with Lee Jing-ok’s unit and headed to the Joseon army camp next to the development team headquarters.

    Entering the camp, Kim Jong-seo went straight to the place responsible for the repair and exchange of muskets.

    “My muskets are broken. Please replace them.”

    “Excuse me?”

    The Jinmu (military administrator) in charge of musket repair and exchange looked perplexed at Kim Jong-seo’s request.

    Noticing Jinmu’s expression, Kim Jong-seo took two badly damaged horseback bows out of his bag and placed them on the desk.

    Seeing the horseback bows covered in crusted blood, Jinmu thoroughly examined Kim Jong-seo.

    “Are you injured…?”

    “It’s not my blood.”

    “Ah, yes…”

    While inspecting the muskets, Jinmu muttered to himself, bewildered.

    “How on earth could the muskets be like this… Even if trampled by horses or cows, they should be intact…”

    * * *

    After exchanging Kim Jong-seo’s muskets, Jinmu inquired among the soldiers who had participated in the punitive expedition.

    “What are you looking for?”

    “I just wanted to ask something. How did the Deputy Administrator use his muskets?”

    “I didn’t see it, so I can’t say…”

    Finally, after continuous inquiries, Jinmu found a soldier who had witnessed Kim Jong-seo’s fierce battle.

    The soldier shook his head at Jinmu’s question.

    “I think he ran out of bullets… He grabbed the horseback muskets upside down, you know. When he was hitting the Jurchen heads… it was like a potter smashing defective pottery. He was breaking Jurchen skulls like that.”

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