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    Hyang sighed deeply after reviewing the proposal sent up from the Ministry of Military Affairs.

    “Phew~. They’ve all turned into water ghosts… Who on earth brought in such foul water?”

    Had the ministers and Sejong heard this, they would have been taken aback by Hyang’s casual manner in addressing such serious matters.

    * * *

    Two weeks later, at a tiled house in Andong.

    “By royal command! Scholar Kim Chang-seop, come forth and receive the royal decree!”

    At the loud voice of the county magistrate outside, the large gates of the tiled house swung open, and the person in question, Kim Chang-seop, hurried out.

    “Are you Kim Chang-seop?”

    Despite being acquainted for a long time, the magistrate asked with a stiff expression as if they were meeting for the first time, to which Kim Chang-seop quickly replied.

    “Yes, that is correct.”

    “The king’s command is to be followed without delay. Dress in your official attire at once!”

    Following the local official’s order, Kim Chang-seop quickly turned around to change into his official robes.

    He then solemnly performed the pre-reception ritual before the magistrate began reading the royal decree.

    “Scholar Kim Chang-seop, listen well. Having read your petition, I could not hold back tears at your patriotic loyalty. Though you have lived in obscurity, your devotion to the country shines bright. How can this not bring joy?

    I am thankful, profoundly thankful, to the heavens and earth that such talents still exist in Joseon.

    How can we allow a person of such patriotic loyalty to remain hidden in obscurity?

    Thus, Kim Chang-seop, upon receiving this decree, come at once to Hanyang and report to the Ministry of Military Affairs.

    Reveal all that you have for the well-being of Joseon at the Ministry of Military Affairs.”

    After reading the decree, the magistrate handed it to Kim Chang-seop.

    “Congratulations. Such opportunities are rare, and to be called to service by royal command is truly commendable.”

    “Ah? Yes? Thank you.”

    Still in a daze, Kim Chang-seop received the decree as the magistrate offered one more congratulation before turning to leave.

    Such events were unfolding all across Joseon.

    Noblemen who received Sejong’s decree were filled with dreams and hopes, heading towards Hanyang.

    * * *

    Meanwhile, in the northeast frontier, there was much discussion about Sejong’s proclamation.

    “It seems there are still many down south who are unaware of how the world works.”

    Choi Yoon-deok’s remark was met with a nod from Hwang Hui.

    “Frogs in a well, indeed. It’s giving me quite the headache.”

    “A headache? Why?”

    At Choi Yoon-deok[1]’s question, Hwang Hui pointed to the proclamation.

    “This proclamation is the cause of my headache. Considering the current situation with the Jurchen tribes, quite a few have submitted to the might of the Joseon army led by the Commander-in-Chief. However, I worry that this proclamation might embolden some to underestimate Joseon and engage in foolish acts.”

    “Hmm…”

    At Hwang Hui’s concern, Choi Yoon-deok also stroked his chin beard with a serious expression.

    Hwang Hui’s worry was not unfounded. To the average Joseon person, the Jurchens were seen as ignorant barbarians.

    However, the Jurchens were far from ignorant barbarians.

    They were cunning.

    Moreover, many of them possessed intellectual capabilities rivaling those of Joseon’s scholars.

    If such individuals underestimated Joseon and caused trouble, it could bring great turmoil to the northeastern region, which was just beginning to find stability.

    Yet, contrary to Hwang Hui’s concerns, Choi Yoon-deok soon responded with a slight smile.

    “I believe it would be manageable.”

    “Really?”

    “With the current capabilities of the Joseon army, we can certainly suppress them. In fact, hiding too much might lead them to suspect and distrust us, complicating matters further.”

    Hwang Hui stroked his chin beard at Choi Yoon-deok’s words.

    “There is some merit to your point, but…”

    “This is guaranteed by me, who has fought against the Jurchens in the north and the Japanese pirates in the south.”

    “Hmm…”

    As Hwang Hui pondered, Choi Yoon-deok added,

    “Unless the Jurchens wish to confront the Green Tiger Army, no fool would act rashly just because of a piece of proclamation.”

    “I see.”

    Hwang Hui nodded in relief at Choi Yoon-deok’s words.

    * * *

    The Jurchens referred to the Joseon army as the Green Tiger Army.

    This was because the Joseon army’s plate armor was covered with dark green cloth.

    It was Hyang’s idea.

    The plate armor, covering most of the body, would become unbearably hot under the sun.

    To prevent this, Hyang wrapped the plate armor in cotton cloth.

    “While we’re at it…”

    Hyang dyed the cotton cloth dark green.

    As a result, the armor’s reflection of sunlight was reduced, allowing Joseon soldiers to approach the Jurchens more closely.

    Thus, the dark green armor became a symbol of the Joseon army. And as the northeastern frontier was developed, the Joseon army began to be called the Green Tiger Army.

    Jurchens who had never clashed with the Joseon army mockingly called them the ‘Green Racoon Group,’ underestimating them.

    “No matter how many racoons swarm together, a racoon is still a racoon! Cunning racoons that only know how to ambush!”

    They ridiculed the Joseon army, which primarily used ambushes and surprise attacks as their tactics, calling them racoons.

    However, for the fortunate Jurchens who survived an encounter with the Joseon army, the ‘Tiger’ in ‘Green Tiger Army’ was not a racoon but a tiger.

    “It’s not a racoon, but a tiger as cunning as a racoon! It’s a pack of such tigers swarming together!”

    Those who survived the Joseon army’s assaults cried out in fear, captured by terror.

    ***

    Hwang Hui felt a wave of relief wash over him at Choi Yoon-deok’s confident words and nodded in agreement.

    “Now that the Commander-in-Chief is so assured, I feel relieved. By the way, what are your plans regarding the Odori tribe?”

    When Hwang Hui mentioned the Odori tribe, Choi Yoon-deok’s expression turned troubled.

    “That’s a bit worrisome. They hardly show any weaknesses…”

    “Wouldn’t it be better to command Lee Jing-ok[2] to handle it?”

    Choi Yoon-deok shook his head at Hwang Hui’s suggestion.

    “That won’t do. His Majesty ordered us to handle it discreetly. But Lee Jing-ok is the type to forcefully attack without regard for diplomacy. He wouldn’t consider diplomacy at all.”

    “That is true.”

    Hwang Hui nodded in agreement with Choi Yoon-deok’s assessment.

    * * *

    King Sejong’s order to deal with the Odori tribe stemmed from a longstanding grudge that dated back to the reign of King Taejong.

    The leader of the Odori tribe, Tong Mengge Temur (Aisin Gioro Mengtemu), had been a chieftain of the Jurchen tribes who had submitted to Joseon since the time of King Taejo.

    However, when Taejong succeeded the throne and Emperor Yongle ascended to the throne in Ming, Temur defected to the Ming.

    This marked the beginning of the hostile relationship between the Odori tribe and Joseon.

    Taejong did not want the Odori tribe, located near the ancestral lands of his family, to defect to the Ming.

    Consequently, there were continuous clashes between the Joseon army and the Odori tribe, leading the Odori tribe to migrate to the area controlled by Aha Chu’s Huligai tribe.

    Later, after Sejong ascended the throne, the Odori tribe returned to their original settlement near Hwaryeong.

    Temur expressed a willingness to resubmit to Joseon and offered his son as a hostage, but Sejong refused.

    “We don’t need hostages. If you need something, say it. We will provide support.”

    Though outwardly a peaceful relationship was established, Sejong was determined to eliminate both Aha Chu’s Huli Gai and Temur’s Odori.

    “One cannot entrust the border to such bat-like beings! Elimination is the best course of action!”

    Thus, Sejong had given Choi Yoon-deok the order.

    – Eliminate the Odori at the first sign of vulnerability.

    * * *

    Explaining that entrusting the task to Lee Jing-ok would bring more harm than good, Choi Yoon-deok continued with a slight smile.

    “Fortunately, the Orangkhai tribe is located on both sides of the Odori. Moreover, the Orangkhai tribe has definitively submitted to our Joseon, and even better, they don’t get along with the Odori.”

    At Choi Yoon-deok’s words, Hwang Hui stroked his chin beard and nodded.

    “Then an opportunity will arise soon.”

    “It will. It all depends on how long Temur and his clan can hold out.”

    “I hope it won’t take too long. You have no idea how much my impatient subordinate has been pestering me…”

    Hwang Hui’s complaint elicited a knowing look from Choi Yoon-deok.

    “An impatient one… are you talking about Kim Jong-seo?”

    At Choi Yoon-deok’s question, Hwang Hui silently nodded.

    ***

    Meanwhile, Kim Jong-seo was discussing matters with Lee Jing-ok.

    “Look here, Jing-ok. It seems like the reorganization of the Jurchen tribes is almost complete, but why hasn’t the Commander-in-chief ordered a withdrawal yet?”

    “Brother Kim, isn’t there still one left? No, perhaps two?”

    At Yi Jing-ok’s words, Kim Jong-seo nodded as if he understood.

    “Ah, the tribe from Mount Baekdu?”

    “Exactly. Those reed-like fellows. The other one is the Imangju.”

    “Tsk.”

    Kim Jong-seo clicked his tongue lightly at Lee Jing-ok’s words.

    For Joseon, Aha Chu and Tong Mengge Temur symbolized betrayal and were entities that must be eliminated eventually.

    Besides the reason for their betrayal, both Imangju’s Huligai and Tong Mengge Temur needed to be eliminated for national defense reasons as well.

    Their locations near the northern banks of the Amnok River and the northeastern banks of the Tumen River, as well as near Baekdu Mountain, were strategic.

    Securing the natural defenses of the Amnok River, Tumen River, and Baekdu Mountain required the elimination of these two tribes.

    Lee Jing-ok grumbled with a face full of dissatisfaction.

    “I’d like to just march in and sweep them away, but the problem is that both have received official positions from Ming… This is why I hate politics!”

    “I’m no fan of politics either.”

    “Aren’t you an official in the court? How can a nobleman like you dislike politics?”

    “It’s a job, just a job. I’d rather enjoy the nights in Hanyang as a man of culture.”

    At Kim Jong-seo’s words, Lee Jing-ok grumbled to himself.

    ‘That’s why he gets called a dandy.’

    In the northeastern frontier, Kim Jong-seo was famously known as a ‘dandy.’

    Even the Jurchens called him an ‘old horse,’ implying that he would do well when asked but would dawdle and try to escape until then, much like an old horse that’s been through much and only has tricks left.

    Whether Kim Jong-seo was aware of Lee Jing-ok’s grumbling or not, he continued to complain.

    “Ah~ I miss Hanyang. I long for the courtesan alleys of Ungjongga and Bukchon! I’m even starting to miss the smell of dung from Cheonggyecheon!”

    Expressing his longing for Hanyang openly, Kim Jong-seo then suggested a plan to Lee Jing-ok.

    “How about using the Jurchen cavalry?”

    “The Jurchen cavalry? Ah! You mean the scouts?”

    “Exactly!”

    Kim Jong-seo was referring to a newly organized unit within the Joseon army composed of Jurchens.

    ***

    As Joseon expanded into the northeastern frontier, many Jurchen tribes submitted to their rule.

    Hwang Hui pondered over how to manage these surrendered Jurchens efficiently.

    While Hwang Hui struggled to find a solution, Kim Jong-seo presented an answer.

    “Wouldn’t settlers from the south be arriving soon?”

    “That’s right.”

    “They’ll need to clear land for farming, given the situation where we have vast lands but not enough people, right?”

    “Indeed.”

    “What if we recruit labor from among the Jurchens?”

    “Hmm?”

    Kim Jong-seo’s plan was as follows:

    • As previously mentioned, the new settlements were vast in land but short on people.
    • Recruit Jurchen men who were willing to learn farming.
    • Employ these recruited individuals as laborers to assist the settlers from the south in their land-clearing efforts.
    • This arrangement would enable Joseon’s farmers to quickly clear and cultivate the land, while the Jurchens could learn the methods of clearing and farming.
    • Since the Jurchens would be recruited as paid laborers, they would be compensated. Although the state would need to provide the wages, a significant portion of the funds could be recouped through their expenditures at the government-run market.
    • This approach could facilitate the settlement of many Jurchens.

    “That’s a good idea.”

    As Hwang Hui responded positively, Kim Jong-seo quickly added:

    “Of course, we’d need His Majesty’s approval for the payment of wages. In that case, you should go to Hanyang, right? Since you said we should always move together, I’ll prepare to go to Hanyang!”

    “Hey! How did the conversation turn to that!”

    Despite Hwang Hui’s loud protest, Kim Jong-seo had already disappeared.

    Watching Kim Jong-seo’s departure, Hwang Hui grumbled:

    “That dandy fellow…”

    1. A military commander. First introduced in Chapter 97[]
    2. Another prominent military officer first introduced in Chp.97[]
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