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    The envoy fleet departing from Shimonoseki headed to Kyoto under the escort of the warships belonging to the Ouchi clan.

    Although the envoy had come suddenly, the fleet had to stop at famous Japanese ports along the way for diplomatic procedures and to replenish supplies.

    “Well… the need for frequent replenishment is definitely a problem.”

    At Nam Gi-ju’s words, the commander of the panokseon carrying him nodded.

    “Indeed. It’s likely an inherent limitation of the panokseon itself.”

    The panokseon was a ship born with the mission of operating in coastal waters. Moreover, being heavily armed with cannons, a significant portion of the ship’s interior was occupied by gunpowder, large arrows, and iron pellets. Therefore, the operational period of a panokseon could not exceed five days at most.

    Of course, as Hyang made improvements, the size of the panokseon increased, but the Joseon Navy filled the expanded space with cannons and supplies for the cannons.

    “This problem will be resolved once the Challenger-class ships are deployed in large numbers.”

    At the commander’s words, Nam Gi-ju lightly shook his head.

    “That won’t happen. The Challenger-class ships will be deployed as an ocean-going fleet. The seas near Joseon will still need to be guarded by the panokseons. Of course, the Japanese pirates and the fake Japanese will have their butts scorched when the Haeung-class battleships arrive.”

    “Ah! I’ve heard the rumors. They say the Haeung is incredibly fast?”

    Nam Gi-ju nodded at the commander’s question.

    “If the pirates encounter the Haeung at sea, they’ll have to choose between two options. Surrender and beg for mercy or take a trip to the Dragon Palace.”

    Having said that, Nam Gi-ju glanced back slightly. The retainers of the Tsushima daimyo and the Ouchi clan, who had been listening to the conversation between the commander and Nam Gi-ju, were hurriedly averting their gazes.

    Seeing this, Nam Gi-ju chuckled and looked at the commander. The commander also nodded slightly with a subtle smile.

    “We will soon arrive at Ushimado.”

    At the navigator’s report, Nam Gi-ju joked with a smile.

    “Ah, my arm will ache from wielding the brush again.”

    “Take care, sir.”

    “Then I should start preparing.”

    As Nam Gi-ju descended from the command tower of the panokseon, the retainers of Tsushima and Ouchi also followed him down.

    Watching this, the commander chuckled and muttered.

    “I heard Tsushima and the Ouchi clan were rivals…”

    The retainers of the two clans, who had boarded the ship together under the pretext of guiding the envoy group, never stayed close to each other.

    However, it was evident that they were not mere guides. Although all conversations were conducted through interpreters, it was noticeable that they understood the Korean language well.

    Therefore, it was unacceptable to let them linger inside the ship, especially near the cannons.

    That was why Nam Gi-ju had deliberately gone up to the command tower to talk with the commander. To eavesdrop on the conversation between the two, the retainers of the two clans could not leave the tower.

    It was a situation where they both knew and played along with each other. The retainers of the two clans knew Nam Gi-ju was keeping them in check, but they couldn’t easily make a move. This was because, like before, bits of information they didn’t know were slipping out among the words casually dropped.

    Of course, even the content of these leaks was something Hyang and the ministers had devised.

    ***

    The voyage from Shimonoseki to Osaka took over a month.

    This was because they had to stay at least four to five days at each port they stopped at along the way.

    “Nanba (難波, Naniwa, the old name for Osaka)!”

    At the shout of the lookout watching the sea, Nam Gi-ju, standing on the observation deck, turned to the commander.

    “We have finally arrived.”

    “Indeed, sir.”

    As the fleet carrying the envoy approached Osaka Harbor, numerous ships filled the waters off Osaka. Looking at the ships crowding the waters off Osaka Harbor, the retainer of the Tsushima daimyo introduced them.

    “It’s the shogun’s fleet.”

    “Looks to be about 100 ships.”

    At Nam Gi-ju’s words, the retainer of the Ouchi clan chimed in.

    “Since this envoy visit was decided hastily, the number seems a bit small. Originally, 200 ships would have gathered.”

    “Is that so?”

    Listening to the answers of the retainers from the two clans, Nam Gi-ju looked at the Japanese ships filling his view.

    Despite the enormous fleet filling the sea, and being told it was only about half the size, neither Nam Gi-ju nor the Joseon Navy seemed particularly intimidated.

    This was because the vast majority of the ships gathered in such numbers were junks and small boats, much smaller than the panokseon. There were just over ten ships of similar size to the panokseon.

    Even if they were to turn hostile, the Joseon ships had the ability to break through and escape.

    ‘Even if we can’t escape, 80% of those ships will become ghosts of the sea with us.’

    Nam Gi-ju, who had made calculations with his usual emotionless eyes, showed no sign of fear.

    The shogun’s attempt to flaunt his might to the Joseon envoy and exert psychological pressure had little effect.

    ***

    The panokseon docked at the pier of Osaka Harbor, and the gangway was connected. Just before disembarking, Nam Gi-ju conversed with the commander.

    “Thanks to you, we have arrived safely.”

    “Please take care in Kyoto as well.”

    “You take care too, Commander.”

    After exchanging farewells, Nam Gi-ju descended the gangway.

    The panokseons carrying the envoy group docked at the pier, and various cargoes, horses, and wagons were unloaded onto the pier.

    Once the horses unloaded from the ships had stabilized to some extent, cavalry soldiers approached and began saddling them.

    Seeing the cavalry soldiers saddling the horses, equipping Gapshik rifles and cavalry guns, and mounting the horses, the eyes of the Japanese sparkled.

    “The armor is unusual?”

    When the Japanese asked about the full-body plate armor worn by the cavalry soldiers, Nam Gi-ju replied with a nonchalant expression.

    “It’s a new type of armor we started using recently.”

    “Is that so?”

    The expressions of the Japanese listening to Nam Gi-ju’s answer were complex.

    ‘Although covered with cloth on top, it’s definitely armor made of iron!’

    ‘It’s certainly steel! And judging by their movements, they’ve been wearing it for a long time and are accustomed to it!’

    ‘Making armor that covers the entire body with that expensive steel and equipping them with it! What has happened in Joseon?’

    The Japanese, distracted by the cavalry’s armor, had completely forgotten about the Gapshik rifles and cavalry guns tucked into the saddles on both sides.

    “My lord, the horses are ready.”

    “Is that so? Good work.”

    Following the cavalryman’s guidance, Nam Gi-ju’s group mounted their horses.

    “What about the retainers of Tsushima and the Ouchi clan?”

    “They have also finished their preparations.”

    Confirming that the retainers of the two clans who had accompanied them were also on their pre-arranged horses waiting for them, Nam Gi-ju steered his horse towards them.

    “The matter is urgent, so let’s move a bit quickly to Kyoto.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    The retainers of the two clans all agreed with Nam Gi-ju’s words.

    ***

    In their view, this envoy was unusual in many ways. Until the previous visit to Japan, all envoys had used palanquins. And most of the escort troops were a small number of infantry.

    However, this envoy was completely different. With the reason of “an urgent matter to discuss,” they brought horses and all the escort troops were cavalry. Moreover, their number seemed to fully fill one Gi (旗, usually consisting of 3-5 companies, up to 125 men) according to the Joseon military organization.

    Having received this news in advance, the shogunate had also sent an escort and guide unit composed entirely of cavalry. The number of Japanese cavalry troops that arrived was about 500.

    The retainers sent by Tsushima and Ouchi muttered to themselves as they saw the cavalry.

    ‘Sending out 500 cavalry… Is it to boast that Kyoto is that safe?’

    In particular, the retainer of the Ouchi clan had a very serious expression.

    ‘Does this mean they have definite military power and authority to the extent that they are not worried even after sending out that many?’

    The cavalry unit sent by the shogunate carried an unspoken warning to Joseon and the Japanese clans.

    ‘The shogunate is this powerful! Don’t harbor any vain thoughts!’

    “Depart!”

    “Depart!”

    At the order of the Japanese cavalry commander, who confirmed that the envoy’s preparations were complete, the Japanese cavalry at the forefront began to move ahead. And the envoy group followed behind them.

    And Japanese painters were diligently capturing that scene in paintings.

    ***

    The journey to Kyoto was smooth. As the movement progressed smoothly, the retainers of the two clans and the retainers sent by the shogunate conversed with Nam Gi-ju.

    “Joseon’s cavalry soldiers look very solid.”

    “With frequent clashes with the Jurchen tribes, it can’t be helped.”

    “Ah…”

    At Nam Gi-ju’s answer, the retainers nodded. They also knew about the disturbances caused by the Jurchen tribes in the northern part of Joseon.

    “But the cavalry soldiers don’t have bows? Isn’t Joseon famous for archery?”

    “We’re traveling for diplomatic relations, so there’s no need to bring bows, right? Having enough to defend against any unforeseen circumstances is sufficient.”

    “That’s true.”

    Although the retainers nodded at Nam Gi-ju’s words, they had different thoughts in their minds.

    ‘I heard Joseon’s angular bows are vulnerable to moisture, and it turns out to be true!’

    ‘It’s not that they didn’t bring them because they weren’t needed, but because they can’t use them!’

    The retainers were making their own military judgments.

    As they reached their own conclusions, the retainers showed interest in the Gapshik rifles and cavalry guns quietly resting on the saddles of the Joseon cavalry horses.

    “What are those long weapons?”

    “Those? They’re hand cannons.”

    “Hand cannons?”

    At Nam Gi-ju’s answer, the retainers from Tsushima and Ouchi showed expressions of unfamiliarity, but the retainer from the shogunate pretended to know.

    “Ah! I’ve heard rumors! They say Ming and Joseon use a small hand cannon that individual soldiers carry around!”

    “That’s right.”

    “Hmm…”

    At Nam Gi-ju’s answer, the retainer sent by the shogunate organized the situation in his mind. The retainer in question had experience going to Ming and Joseon with the Japanese pirates.

    ‘When I went to Ming and saw it, the hand cannon could only be used as a club after firing one shot. So they carry two of them? It seems they brought them instead of bows. Two shots are enough for basic defense.’

    The retainer from the shogunate, reaching his own conclusion based on his experience, nodded his head.

    Just as the retainers from Tsushima, Ouchi, and the shogunate tried to gather intelligence on Joseon’s military power, Joseon also observed the situation in Japan.

    In fact, even Nam Gi-ju, who was appointed as the chief envoy, had experienced actual combat with the Jurchen tribes in the north until he took a position in the navy. Therefore, while engaging in various conversations with the Japanese, his eyes constantly surveyed the surroundings and memorized them.

    Even on the way to Kyoto, Nam Gi-ju organized data for his daily reports to the point of falling asleep.

    • The condition of the roads is better than Joseon before the military reforms.
    • The activity of merchants is very lively.
    • In terms of agriculture, the cultivation of field rice (田米) is still the main focus. Most of it is large-scale farming where a large number of people are mobilized to cultivate a wide area.
    • The aftermath of the civil war that continued at the end of the previous dynasty seems to linger. About 70% of those engaged in farming are women. However, the number of boys who will soon reach adulthood is quite significant.
    • Although the King of Japan holds power, the military strength independently possessed by the clans is also considerable.
    • The problem is that these clans are located close to where the King of Japan resides.
    • Considering that they maintain military power despite the poor conditions of the rural areas we passed, there still seems to be deep distrust between the clans and the King of Japan.

    Nam Gi-ju’s observations were surprisingly accurate.

    As Joseon and Japan probed each other, the envoy group finally arrived in Kyoto.

    Upon arriving in Kyoto, Nam Gi-ju took a deep breath.

    “Phew! We’ve finally arrived. We must succeed!”

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