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    Last chapter for this week. See you next time!

    Late at night, at Kangnyeongjeon.

    “Let’s call it a day for now. You have all worked hard.”

    “May you rest comfortably tonight.”

    After sending the officials away, Sejong had just changed into his night robes when an eunuch standing outside reported.

    “Your Majesty, the Chief of the Royal Guard requests an audience.”

    “Let him in.”

    Shortly after, the Chief of the Royal Guard entered Kangnyeongjeon, bowed respectfully to Sejong, and took his seat.

    “What brings you here?”

    In response to Sejong’s question, the Chief of the Royal Guard glanced around and then spoke softly.

    “Urgent news has arrived from Cheonggyecheon.”

    Sejong’s face tensed up at the report and he extended his hand.

    “Let me see it.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Following Sejong’s command, the Chief of the Royal Guard pulled out a well-sealed letter from his robe and handed it to Sejong. Sejong opened the envelope, took out the letter inside, and slowly read through its contents.

    After reading the letter for a while, Sejong let out a long sigh and handed it back.

    “Hmm. Read it.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    The Chief of the Royal Guard respectfully took the letter and began to read it carefully.

    After finishing, the expression on the Chief’s face was more serious than ever.

    “Have you finished reading?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty. Immediate orders must be issued to the left and right bureaus of surveillance.”

    Sejong shook his head at the request.

    “No, I won’t issue them. If we issue orders now, we might commit the folly of ‘startling the snake by beating the grass’. Inform Cheonggyecheon as follows: Find out who they are meeting with and where they are staying. Also, warn them not to be blinded by a sense of righteousness and make mistakes.”

    “I will convey your instructions.”

    “And, can the Royal Guard and the Golden Army be trusted?”

    At Sejong’s question, the Chief of the Royal Guard responded firmly.

    “The Royal Guard is loyal only to Your Majesty.”

    “I will trust only you, Chief of the Royal Guard.”

    At Sejong’s words, the Chief of the Royal Guard saluted.

    “I will not betray Your Majesty’s trust!”

    After the Chief of the Royal Guard left, Sejong looked at the letter with a troubled face. Opening the glass cover of the lamp, he set the letter on fire and watched it burn on a copper tray, muttering to himself.

    “Brother, I hope it’s not you.”

    ***

    Upon receiving orders through secret channels, the secret police investigators immediately began their operation. Utilizing their members skilled in tailing and the beggars around Cheonggyecheon, they eventually started gathering approximate information about the subjects in question.

    “We’ve found them.”

    “Really? Where?”

    “At the house of former Minister of Law and Punishment… .”

    The report from the member made the leader of Bukchon secret police’s face grow serious.

    “Former minister of Law and Punishment… Seo Dal’s father?”

    “Yes.”

    At the member’s report, the leader smacked his lips.

    “Tsk! They’re really going ahead with their plans.”

    At the leader’s remark, all the members nodded in agreement. Everyone in Hanyang knew about the bad blood created between Sejong, the Crown Prince, and former Minister of Law and Punishment Seo Seon and his son Seo Dal.

    “Will you report this immediately?”

    At the member’s question, the leader shook his head.

    “No. We’ll gather more information first. Who among our kids is good at scaling walls? Seems like it’s time for a game of cat and mouse.”

    Upon hearing their leader’s words, the members of Bukchon secret police started listing those among them who were skilled at such tasks.

    Similar activities were underway in the secret police of Dadong and Unjongga.

    “The problem is the duplication and poor organization of information.”

    At a meeting with only the leaders present, the leader of Dadong secret police pointed out the issue, to which the other leaders all nodded in agreement.

    “It seems best for us to join hands and move together this time.”

    “Let’s do that.”

    Following their agreement, a kind of temporary joint headquarters was established. The more intellectually inclined members, serving as strategists, gathered to analyze the information coming in from members of each secret police.

    “Those flocking to Hanyang now are coming from the Gyeonggi region.”

    “That’s unexpected. I thought they’d be from the noisy Samnam region.”

    “Gyeonggi region… Can’t be helped. It’s too far for them to come from Samnam.”

    The strategists of each secret police started putting together a larger picture with the incoming information.

    As they pieced together this picture, the strategists realized they were missing something important.

    “This feels a bit unsettling, doesn’t it?”

    “What exactly?”

    “Can lord Seo really pull off this operation on his own?”

    “There are other nobles involved, aren’t there?”

    “Those nobles are just feathers, and the problem is lord Seo might be the body, but he lacks the head, the brain. After initiating an act as serious as Bumgweol (trespassing the royal palace), do you think he can just retreat?”

    The Bukchon secret police strategist, well-versed in the ways of the nobility, made a point that led the other strategists to nod in agreement.

    “That makes sense.”

    “It’s absurd to think lord Seo himself aspires to the throne…”

    As they pondered the question ‘Who then is the brain behind this?’, a strategist from Dadong secret police suddenly stood up.

    “Gwangju!”

    “Gwangju? The one in Jeolla Province?”

    “No, you fool! Gwangju in Gyeonggi Province!”

    “Ah!”

    The other strategists gasped at the revelation from the Dadoong secret police strategist.

    In Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, was Grand Prince Yangnyeong.

    Yangnyeong had all the qualities to be the mastermind. He was originally the eldest son of the former king and the crown prince before being demoted.

    “If he’s involved, the influx of people from Gyeonggi region isn’t just a matter of distance!”

    “The main force is from Gyeonggi!”

    With Yangnyeong as the presumed head, the picture they were painting rapidly came together.

    ***

    Though demoted from the position of crown prince, Yangnyeong continued to live a life of turmoil.

    He constantly caused trouble with alcohol and women and roamed around under the pretext of hunting, creating problems.

    Suddenly, Yangnyeong would appear, conscripting local villagers as beaters for his hunts and squandering the resources stored in government offices and monopolies during his feasts. Complaints from local officials and Ministry of Taxation officials became frequent, lamenting the hardships caused by his extravagance.

    Moreover, he frequently ignored the order not to enter Hanyang and visited the palace.

    As a result, numerous petitions from ministers demanding Yangnyeong’s punishment poured in, but Sejong did not accept them. For Sejong, Yangnyeong was his political Achilles’ heel.

    ***

    Upon hearing the strategists’ reports, the leaders immediately issued orders.

    “Find out where that nobleman is right now!”

    “That’s not advisable!”

    The strategists countered the leaders’ commands.

    “We control Hanyang, but we are outsiders elsewhere. We’ll be discovered immediately!”

    “That’s right! It’s better to start trailing him the moment he enters Hanyang!”

    “He might already be in Hanyang! We should report to the higher-ups first and then scour Hanyang again!”

    Following the strategists’ advice, the leaders sat back down to reassess the situation.

    After exchanging opinions, they quickly reached a conclusion.

    “First, we report to the higher-ups.”

    ***

    The report prepared by the secret police was promptly delivered to Sejong.

    “Seo Seon, huh…”

    “Should we arrest him right away?”

    Sejong, grinding his teeth as he repeated Seo Seon’s name upon seeing it in the secret police’s report, was asked by the Chief of the Royal Guard.

    Sejong shook his head in response to the Chief’s question.

    “No, we will not act rashly for now. However, Chief of the Royal Guard, prepare the Royal Guard quietly. It’s likely that we will need to move soon. Such an event is bound to happen.”

    “Understood.”

    The Chief of the Royal Guard bowed and acknowledged Sejong’s command.

    As Sejong was burning the letter, he suddenly remembered something he had forgotten and quickly turned to the Chief of the Royal Guard.

    “Chief of the Royal Guard!”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    “How much does Seo Seon know about the armament of the Royal Guard?”

    In response to Sejong’s question, the Chief of the Royal Guard paused to recall and then answered.

    “He was aware of the deployment of the muskets.”

    “What about the semi-automatic muskets?”

    When Sejong mentioned the semi-automatic muskets, the Chief of the Royal Guard quickly grasped the crux of the question.

    “At that time, it had not been deployed yet, but if it’s lord Seo, he would have anticipated even that.”

    “Indeed? Then prepare the long-range cannons well. But ensure that no rumors spread.”

    “I will comply with your command.”

    “It’s imperative that no rumors leak out.”

    The Chief of the Royal Guard promptly acknowledged Sejong’s emphasis on secrecy.

    “We can use Area 51 for that purpose.”

    “I see. I will speak to the Crown Prince about this matter.”

    The weapons used by the Royal Guard and the Golden Army were regularly maintained in Area 51. It wasn’t just for maintenance. Area 51 was also the location where the Royal Guard and the Golden Army soldiers conducted live-fire training.

    After the Chief of the Royal Guard left, Sejong looked at the ashes of the burned letter. He had not shown the letter to the Chief because of one name written on it.

    “Brother, please take care of yourself.”

    ***

    Despite the unrest in Hanyang, Sejong did not cease his offensive against the local gentry.

    The final and most devastating attack on the gentry was the ‘Tax Reform’.

    – “From this year, all those earning an income will be taxed.”

    – “The tax rate will be based on the amount of property and income one possesses.”

    The new tax system, dubbed ‘Property Income Tax’, was to levy taxes on everyone from tenant farmers to the local gentry.

    -The self-sustaining farmers will pay taxes ranging from a minimum of 4 pun to a maximum of 6 pun, based on their harvest, owned houses, fields, and the number of livestock they raise.

    -Tenant farmers will also be taxed according to the same criteria, paying a minimum of 1 pun to a maximum of 1 pun and 5 ri.

    -However, if a tenant farmer cultivates land larger than the average size owned by a self-sustaining farmer, and their harvest exceeds the average of self-sustaining farmers, then they will be taxed at the same rate as self-sustaining farmers.

    -Tenant farmers who properly pay their taxes will have their rights protected by the state.

    Although there was initial dissatisfaction among tenant farmers over being taxed, this quickly subsided. The tax rate was low, and there was an added incentive that proper tax payment would ensure protection from the state.

    For self-sustaining farmers, the system was relatively favorable. Although the tax rate slightly increased, the burden of compulsory labor (tribute) was completely eliminated.

    However, the local gentry faced a tax bombshell.

    The tax rate differed based on whether their houses were thatched or tiled, and the number of rooms in the house further influenced the rate.

    Taxes were also variably applied to the land they owned, based on its area and productivity.

    The biggest issue was related to slaves. The tax rate changed depending on the number of slaves owned, especially those of working age.

    Furthermore, this tax rate was progressive.

    As a result, the taxes to be paid by the local gentry were significantly higher compared to those of self-sustaining farmers.

    The least taxed individual paid 30% of their yearly harvest, with an average tax rate of 46 pun. There were not a few who were taxed at an astonishing rate of 58 pun.

    However, gentry with names recorded in the local registry received a slightly more lenient standard.

    – “These individuals have served the country with the toil of dogs and horses, and thus deserve proper respect.”

    Another blow was dealt to the gentry who now faced the burden of unexpectedly high taxes.

    – “All taxes must be paid in currency!”

    -The currency can only be exchanged at the newly established National Joseon Exchange.

    Upon Sejong’s announcement, the more astute among the gentry began to quickly find solutions.

    “It’s a hint to manumit our slaves.”

    “Since income is what remains after expenses… we may not feel it this year, but from next year onwards, we’ll have to hire laborers.”

    Those who quickly found answers were mostly those who had recently retired from government positions.

    Others, the majority of the gentry, chose to react not with acceptance but with resistance.

    “Let’s submit a petition!”

    “Yes, that’s right!”

    Once again, petitions started pouring in, followed by news that local gentry from the provinces were planning to come to the capital to protest.

    Receiving these reports, Sejong assessed the situation.

    “If it ends with just a protest, that would be fortunate. But there’s a chance these fools might start something. Then, those in Hanyang will seize the opportunity. They know there’s a limit to the forces that can be deployed to the palace, so they won’t miss this chance.”

    Traditionally, when the Jurchen tribes in the north or the Japanese pirates in the south caused disturbances, the troops guarding the palace were redeployed to the front lines.

    Therefore, those planning to trespass the palace were likely hoping for the gentry to rise up.

    Knowing this, Sejong had already devised a covert plan, mobilizing the Chief of the Royal Guard and a few military officials.

    Having assessed the situation, Sejong sighed deeply.

    “Hmm. With this opportunity, it’s time to settle some matters….”

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