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    Although there were people who showed a passion for education to the extent of even falsely transferring their residency, there were also those who did not.

    Jugyohyeon near Boryeong, Chungcheong Province.

    Teacher Lee Chung-ho, who checked attendance every morning, furrowed his brow.

    “Still absent…”

    Lee Chung-ho, who was checking attendance through the student roster created by the Board of Finance, had a serious expression.

    “It’s been five days since school started, and they’re still absent…”

    Sensing something strange, Lee Chung-ho opened his notebook, made a record, and led the children into the school building.

    That evening, after the lessons ended, Lee Chung-ho pointed out this issue at the teacher’s meeting.

    “…So, there are students who have not come to school for five days.”

    “How many are there?”

    “Three. They are siblings.”

    At Lee Chung-ho’s answer, the teachers’ expressions turned serious. It was definitely strange for all the siblings not to come to school.

    “Are they sick?”

    “Only those siblings are sick? That doesn’t make sense.”

    “That’s true, but…”

    As everyone trailed off, Ahn Sook-hee, the most senior teacher, spoke up.

    “Their parents must have stopped them.”

    “…”

    At Ahn Sook-hee’s words, the teachers fell silent. The situation they least wanted to think about had occurred.

    “Fortunately, there are no classes tomorrow, so Teacher Lee and I will visit those siblings’ home.”

    “Yes, I understand.”

    The next day, Ahn Sook-hee and Lee Chung-ho visited the home and heard the answer they expected.

    “What’s the use of those brats learning to read? It’s enough if they can read and write their own names!”

    “But for that, they need to come to school…”

    “The village clerk can teach them everything, so why go to school? It’s much better to feed the cows and plow the fields during that time!”

    “You never know, the children might achieve success…”

    “Hah! Do you think everything that comes out of your mouth is sensible? Don’t put silly ideas in their heads!”

    In the end, their persuasion failed.

    On the way back to school, Ahn Sook-hee let out a long sigh.

    “I think we’ll have to write a petition.”

    “A petition?”

    “Did you see those children’s eyes earlier? They were full of frustration at wanting to learn but not being able to.”

    “Ah…”

    At Ahn Sook-hee’s words, Lee Chung-ho showed an expression full of compassion. However, Lee Chung-ho also knew the reality.

    “Even if we submit a petition, will we receive a response? And even if we do, it will probably just end with a perfunctory ‘We encourage you.’ Will such people comply with that?”

    At Lee Chung-ho’s words, Ahn Sook-hee’s voice rose.

    “So should we give up? Should we abandon those children?”

    “That’s not what I mean, but…”

    “Then a petition is our only option.”

    And so, a petition signed by Ahn Sook-hee, Lee Chung-ho, and the other teachers working with them was sent up to Hanseong.

    ***

    Ten days later, as the sun was slowly setting in the west.

    A group of cavalry rode into the village where Ahn Sook-hee and Lee Chung-ho’s private school was located.

    The cavalry that entered the village headed towards the private school.

    As soon as word spread that ‘the cavalry entering the village headed to the private school!’ the villagers flocked to the school.

    “What’s going on all of a sudden?”

    “I know, right?”

    The villagers looked at the private school with worried eyes.

    There were only two reasons for the military to swarm into the village.

    Either a rebellion had broken out, or there was treason.

    “But aren’t the people at the private school chosen by the government?”

    “Yes, that’s right…”

    “Then has a rebellion broken out?”

    “Say something!”

    As the residents whispered among themselves, the teachers came out of the private school.

    “Where are you gentlemen from?”

    Ahn Sook-hee, the most senior among the teachers, stepped forward.

    “The children are in the middle of class. Where are you gentlemen from?”

    At Ahn Sook-hee’s question, one of the men who had dismounted from the cavalry stepped forward and answered.

    “We have come escorting His Highness the Crown Prince.”

    “Pardon?”

    The startled teachers immediately knelt on the ground and loudly proclaimed.

    “We pay our respects to His Highness the Crown Prince!”

    “We pay our respects to His Highness the Crown Prince!”

    As the teachers offered deep bows in unison while proclaiming ‘We pay our respects to His Highness the Crown Prince!’, the children who had followed behind them and the residents gathered around also erupted in chaos.

    “Oh my goodness!”

    “Wow!”

    “Oh!”

    All sorts of exclamations burst out as the children and villagers prostrated themselves on the ground.

    “We pay our respects to His Highness the Crown Prince!”

    Among those bowing was also the local magistrate who had rushed out of the government office upon hearing that the cavalry had arrived.

    Receiving the people’s bows, Hyang ordered the eunuch beside him.

    “Tell them to rise.”

    “Yes, Your Highness. Everyone, please rise!”

    At the eunuch’s shout, those prostrating on the ground hurriedly got up.

    “Your Highness. This humble one is Lim Jae-seok, the magistrate of Jugyohyeon.”

    At the greeting from the magistrate who had hurriedly approached, Hyang lightly nodded his head.

    “Is that so? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

    “It is an honor for this humble one to meet Your Highness as well. But may I ask why you have come here…”

    “I came to meet someone. Who is Teacher Ahn Sook-hee?”

    At Hyang’s question, Ahn Sook-hee stepped forward.

    “That would be me.”

    “I read the petition that you and the other teachers jointly submitted. There were a few things I was curious about after reading it, so I came.”

    “Is that so? For a matter that could have been inquired about in writing…”

    “Sometimes there are things that need to be seen directly rather than through documents.”

    “But we never imagined you would come in person.”

    Hyang smiled and replied to Ahn Sook-hee’s words.

    “Hahaha! His Majesty was going to come directly, but I came in his stead.”

    “What an immense honor…”

    As Ahn Sook-hee showed an overwhelmed expression, Magistrate Lim Jae-seok was fainting with his eyes rolled back.

    ‘His Majesty was going to come directly!’

    “Sir, sir!”

    “Qu-quickly call a physician!”

    As the clerks fussed about supporting the collapsing Lim Jae-seok, Hyang, who was watching, issued an order.

    “The magistrate seems to be ill. Clerks and physician, take good care of him.”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    Amidst the commotion, Ahn Sook-hee informed Hyang with a still overwhelmed face.

    “We are utterly astounded and at a loss for words that His Majesty was going to come personally because of the petition we submitted. Please forgive our transgressions.”

    “I did not come to punish you teachers. I simply had something I was curious about.”

    “Pardon?”

    The teachers showed puzzled expressions at Hyang’s answer which they could not grasp at all. Seeing their expressions, Hyang spoke.

    “Where is the house of the man who made you write the petition? Guide me there.”

    “Pardon?”

    ***

    A short while later, Hyang’s group arrived at a small thatched-roof house on the outskirts of Jugyohyeon.

    “This is the place.”

    At Ahn Sook-hee’s words, Hyang turned to the eunuch. At Hyang’s signal, the eunuch stepped forward and called out.

    “Come here! Come here!”

    At the eunuch’s call, a woman came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

    “Who is it?”

    The eunuch answered the woman’s question.

    “Is this farmer Chu’s house?”

    “My husband’s surname is Chu, but who are you?”

    Ahn Sook-hee stepped forward to address the woman who was full of suspicion at the group of people who had come.

    “Do you remember me?”

    “Oh my, aren’t you the teacher?”

    “Where has Jang-soe’s father gone?”

    “He’s still in the fields.”

    “An esteemed guest has arrived, so tell him to come quickly.”

    “Pardon? Yes… Mak-soe!”

    Chu’s wife called her youngest son who was inside.

    “Go and get your father…”

    “Huh? Dad!”

    However, before his wife could finish speaking, Mak-soe called out to his father with a happy face.

    “What?”

    Beyond the low brushwood fence, Chu was running over in a hurry.

    Chu, who had run over in a rush, immediately prostrated himself upon seeing Hyang and shouted.

    “This lowly farmer Chu pays his respects to Your Highness the Crown Prince!”

    Hyang spoke with a surprised expression.

    “How did you know to come?”

    “The neighbors told me…”

    “Is that so? Rise.”

    “Yes.”

    Chu, who had hurriedly gotten up, stood awkwardly, observing Hyang’s expression. Seeing Chu, Hyang spoke with a slight smile.

    “But how long are you going to make us stand outside?”

    “Pardon? Ah! This way!”

    Chu tried to escort Hyang to the main room. However, Hyang shook his head and walked towards the wooden bench in the yard.

    “The weather is still hot, so let’s talk here.”

    “Pardon? Yes.”

    As Hyang sat on the wooden bench, Chu knelt on the ground next to it.

    Seeing this, Hyang pointed to the empty space on the bench.

    “Come up here.”

    “Oh no! How could I!”

    At those words, Hyang laughed and responded.

    “Haha! I did not come to see you as the Crown Prince today, but as a guest who has something to ask you, so come up here.”

    “It’s fine like this.”

    As Chu continued to refuse, Hyang put on a stern expression.

    “Then it is an order.”

    At those words, Chu hurriedly climbed onto the bench and knelt.

    “Teacher Ahn, you come sit here too.”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    Once the situation had settled to some degree, Hyang brought up the main topic.

    “You refused to send your children to the private school?”

    At Hyang’s words, Chu immediately pressed his head to the bench.

    “I will send them right away! I will send them immediately!”

    “No, I am not trying to punish you. Of course, sending the children is something you should naturally do.”

    Chu, who had raised his head at Hyang’s words, sat politely on his knees.

    “First, sit more comfortably.”

    “This is comfortable!”

    Hyang showed a resigned expression at Chu’s posture, kneeling rigidly at a right angle, and continued.

    “But why did you say you would not send the children to school?”

    “This ignorant one thought wrongly! I will send them! I will send them right away!”

    “I am curious about that wrong thought. To be honest, His Majesty was quite disappointed. He worked hard to prepare this for the people, but the people are refusing it.”

    Hyang spoke as if it was no big deal, but it was different for Chu and Ahn Sook-hee who were listening. The two immediately turned pale and pressed their heads to the bench.

    “I have committed a capital offense!”

    “I am deeply apologetic! Our teachers’ incompetence has caused His Majesty distress!”

    “As I said again, I did not come to punish you, so don’t worry and sit comfortably. Come on.”

    At Hyang’s order, the two straightened their postures but were breaking out in a cold sweat with pale faces.

    “So. What was the reason? It was written in the petition, but I want to hear it properly.”

    “That… that…”

    Seeing Chu unable to answer with a frightened face, Hyang glanced at the sky and ordered the eunuch.

    “Has it already become evening? I’m hungry. Go and buy some snacks and alcohol.”

    “I will have it prepared immediately by informing the government office.”

    “And bother the people who are already flustered just by our arrival? I saw a chicken joint on the way here. Go buy a few fried chickens and some alcohol.”

    “Did you say alcohol?”

    “Is there a place that sells chicken but no alcohol next to it?”

    “I don’t think they sell soju in a place like this.”

    Makgeolli is fine too. Buy a jar of makgeolli.”

    “Ah, yes…”

    “And buy plenty for you all to eat as well.”

    “Yes.”

    At Hyang’s order, the eunuch selected a few from the soldiers who had come along and disappeared.

    After issuing the order, Hyang smiled at Chu.

    “The conversation seems like it will be long, so shall we have a drink while we talk?”

    When the eunuch returned with the fried chicken and makgeolli, a simple drinking table was set up on the bench. With the well-fried chicken and pickled cucumbers made by Chu’s wife, Hyang and Chu sat facing each other across the table.

    “Now… It’s just us two men left, so let’s drink and talk frankly.”

    Considering the occasion, Hyang sent Ahn Sook-hee away and used a gourd to fill his and Chu’s cups to the brim with makgeolli.

    “Then let’s drink.”

    “Yes, yes!”

    With those words, the two raised their cups simultaneously.

    “Whew! Hak!”

    Twisting his body to down the makgeolli, Chu unintentionally let out an exclamation of admiration but flinched. Seeing that, Hyang laughed and refilled his cup.

    “Indeed! You empty it well and in a forthright manner!”

    And so, for the first time in Joseon history, an inspection of the people’s affairs was conducted with the Crown Prince and a commoner sharing drinks.

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