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    As the evaluation came out stating, ‘There is a problem with the small cannons. There is no solution,’ retired craftsmen returned to the workshops.

    “Welcome, Master Wang.”

    “You’ve been working hard.”

    When the head of the workshop warmly welcomed him with great respect, Wang Sam, who responded lightly, immediately got to the point.

    “I heard there was a problem with the so-called small cannons?”

    “Yes, Master.”

    “Let me take a look.”

    Seeing the small cannons brought by the craftsmen, Wang Sam tilted his head.

    “If we only consider the size, this is not a small cannon but a fire lance, right?”

    In Ming, small guns similar to the four-barreled guns used by Joseon were called fire lances. Just like the Joseon army, they were attached to long handles, hence the name ‘lance’.

    In response to Wang Sam’s question, the head of the workshop immediately answered.

    “The higher-ups referred to them as small cannons…”

    “Do those in high positions know the types of cannons well?”

    Grumbling while thinking of those lofty individuals in the Forbidden City who only gave orders, Wang Sam asked another question.

    “Why was there a sudden order to create such a thing?”

    In response to Wang Sam’s question, the head of the workshop spoke about the conflict between Joseon and the Jurchens that had taken place in Liaodong. After listening to the story, Wang Sam glared at the head of the workshop.

    “From what I just heard, it’s clearly a fire lance, so why are they calling it a cannon?”

    “I also thought the same, but since the higher-ups called it a cannon…”

    “So you were going to make it like a fire lance but report it as a cannon?”

    “Yes.”

    “Tsk!”

    Wang Sam clicked his tongue, seeming displeased. However, he could understand the head of the workshop’s sentiments.

    ‘If it doesn’t please them, not only his own head but also his family’s lives will be at stake…’

    Well aware of what happens when one falls out of the Emperor’s favor, Wang Sam began to solve the problem.

    “Putting that aside, you said the small cannon exploded? How much gunpowder did you put in, and how did you do it?”

    “One and a half liang (approximately 50g), Master Wang. As for how we put it in…”

    Upon hearing the head of the workshop’s explanation, Wang Sam was astonished.

    “You put one and a half liang in this small cannon? Are you crazy?”

    “We heard rumors that Joseon does it that way…”

    “You fool! If Joseon had done it the way you said, not a single Joseon soldier would have survived!”

    “But there were such rumors…”

    “Rumors are just rumors! You should have confirmed it with your own eyes! And you call yourself a workshop head!”

    After severely scolding the head of the workshop, who continued to make excuses, Wang Sam continued.

    “Listen carefully. The ones who learned gunpowder technology from us are Joseon. Both Joseon and we use the same gunpowder. What do you think that means?”

    In response to Wang Sam’s point, the head of the workshop immediately answered.

    “It means our method was wrong.”

    “Exactly! As far as I know, even in Joseon, the amount of gunpowder that goes into a small cannon is around one liang, and after grinding the gunpowder, they layer it with iron pellets. If you want to do it the way you did, you should make a large cannon, not a small one!”

    “I know that too! I know!”

    The head of the workshop appealed to Wang Sam.

    “But what the higher-ups want is a range of at least 30 zhang (approximately 100m)…”

    “You fool! Then you should have found another way! Just putting in more gunpowder won’t solve it! Listen up, all of you!”

    Wang Sam raised his voice, looking at the head of the workshop and the craftsmen.

    “You all know very well what kind of thing gunpowder is, don’t you? You know exactly what will happen if one and a half liang of gunpowder goes into such a small thing, yet you work like this!”

    “We’re sorry!”

    “Enough! Tell me what you’ve thought of!”

    At Wang Sam’s command, the craftsmen brought out what they had been thinking so far.

    This situation was not unique to this workshop.

    There were a total of three weapons workshops located in Beijing. The weapons that were made here and approved for adoption were soon replicated and spread throughout Ming. Therefore, the craftsmen had to rack their brains for the sake of their honor and future survival.

    In that process, something similar to the four-barreled guns before Hyang’s intervention was created.

    “It can hold 4 thin long arrows together, and 1 slightly smaller arrow can be loaded.”

    At the head of the workshop’s explanation, Wang Sam added.

    “Since the thin long arrows won’t reach the desired range, let’s exclude them altogether and tell the higher-ups that it’s possible with the slightly smaller arrows.”

    “Yes.”

    The head craftsman who made the prototype soon contacted an official and submitted the prototype.

    In addition to Wang Sam’s workshop, other workshops also submitted prototypes at intervals of a few days.

    Looking at the prototypes submitted by the workshops, Emperor Xuande ordered a eunuch.

    “Summon the soldiers who witnessed the battles of the Joseon army in Liaodong.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    A few days later, the soldiers summoned by Emperor Xuande entered the Forbidden City.

    “It is an honor to be in Your Majesty’s presence! Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor!”

    The soldiers paid their respects with three cheers of “Long live!” Emperor Xuande lightly acknowledged them and ordered the eunuch.

    “Bring those things.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    After a while, the eunuchs entered carrying a large table. On the table covered with white silk were the prototypes made by the workshops in Beijing.

    Emperor Xuande asked the soldiers.

    “Did the small cannons of the Joseon army that you saw in Liaodong look like this?”

    At Emperor Xuande’s question, the soldiers carefully examined the prototypes. After a long examination, one soldier spoke up.

    “We, lowly soldiers, had to observe from afar, so we couldn’t see in detail, but they did not look like this, Your Majesty.”

    “That’s right, Your Majesty.”

    As the other soldiers agreed, Emperor Xuande asked again with a serious expression.

    “Are you certain?”

    “Yes. They definitely had a different shape.”

    At the soldiers’ answer, Emperor Xuande made a light gesture.

    “I understand. You have done well. Since you have endured hardships in a difficult place, I shall bestow rewards upon you.”

    “Your grace is immeasurable! Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor!”

    After sending the soldiers out, Emperor Xuande turned to the Senior Grand Secretary.

    “We will have to send an envoy to Joseon.”

    The Senior Grand Secretary, immediately understanding Emperor Xuande’s words, pointed out a problem.

    “Will Joseon respond properly? There is the story of Silla’s thousand-step crossbow, isn’t there?”

    At the Senior Grand Secretary’s point, Emperor Xuande silently nodded.

    To obtain the thousand-step crossbow, the most powerful weapon among Silla’s arsenal, Tang pressured Silla and brought the crossbow maker Gu Jincheon to Tang. Gu Jincheon, who was dragged to Tang, continued to sabotage by making various excuses.

    In the end, no record of Gu Jincheon could be found anywhere after that.

    Citing the historical anecdote, the Senior Grand Secretary presented a negative opinion. However, he had to remain silent at the subsequent question.

    “Then, does the Senior Grand Secretary have an answer to solve this?”

    “…”

    Looking at the Senior Grand Secretary who fell silent, Emperor Xuande continued.

    “I also don’t believe Joseon will act honestly. I would do the same if I were the King of Joseon. However, we just need to know what kind of thing they use and how they use it. We also have craftsmen and gunpowder. We won’t be fooled like with the thousand-step crossbow in the past.”

    “That is indeed the case…”

    While answering Emperor Xuande’s words, the Senior Grand Secretary couldn’t shake off a nagging feeling.

    ‘What am I missing? What have I overlooked?’

    “Your Majesty.”

    Among the officials listening to the conversation between Emperor Xuande and the Senior Grand Secretary, a military official stepped forward.

    “What is it?”

    “Shouldn’t we make it so that Joseon can’t use tricks even if they want to?”

    “Make it so they can’t use tricks even if they want to? How?”

    As Emperor Xuande showed interest, the military official spoke with a bit more force in his voice.

    “We demand their small cannons while giving them a tight deadline.”

    “Give them a tight deadline?”

    “Yes, for example, we only give them a period of ten days or half a month. Additionally, we demand a large quantity. For instance, a deadline of ten days and a quantity of about 1,000 units.”

    “That’s not bad.”

    As Emperor Xuande showed a positive reaction to the military official’s explanation, a scholar from the Cabinet pointed out a problem.

    “If we ask them to produce 1,000 units at once, Joseon will strongly object.”

    In response to the scholar’s point, the military official who first spoke immediately continued.

    “That is true. Therefore, we use the 1,000 units as bait. We only need 20 or 30 units at most. So, while pretending to make a reasonable concession, we drastically reduce the deadline. That way, Joseon won’t have an easy opportunity to use tricks.”

    “What an excellent plan! What does the Senior Grand Secretary think?”

    “I think it’s a good idea.”

    The Senior Grand Secretary immediately agreed. It was because the nagging feeling he had while listening to the military official’s explanation had mostly disappeared.

    With even the Senior Grand Secretary’s approval, Emperor Xuande made a decision right away.

    “Then let’s send an envoy immediately!”

    ***

    In accordance with the decision, Ming followed the custom and sent a messenger in advance to notify Joseon that an envoy would be coming.

    Upon receiving the message sent by the messenger, Joseon was put on high alert.

    “Why on earth now?”

    Starting with Sejong, the ministers couldn’t hide their bewilderment. It was not a regular envoy but an urgent one.

    In particular, due to the messenger who only informed them of the date of arrival but never revealed the reason for coming, their curiosity deepened.

    “The most likely reason is the recent Manchu conquest.”

    At Heo Jo’s words, Lee Maeng-gyun immediately refuted.

    “Didn’t we already obtain the Emperor’s approval for that matter? Changing his word is a matter of the Emperor’s honor, so would he do it recklessly?”

    “But other than that, there are no issues between our Joseon and Ming, right?”

    Amid the various debates, Sejong turned to Hyang.

    “What does the Crown Prince think?”

    “I believe it is most likely because of the Manchu conquest. However, it seems to be a different issue, not the matter of the territory we have claimed as our own.”

    “A different issue?”

    “The weapons used by our Joseon army.”

    “Ah…”

    At Hyang’s answer, Sejong and the ministers nodded their heads.

    It was a place where all kinds of new weapons developed by Joseon had been showcased.

    As Hyang said, it was sufficient reason for Ming to send an envoy.

    “It was expected, but their reaction is quick.”

    “Indeed, Your Majesty.”

    At Sejong’s words, all the ministers nodded. Weapons, especially those used in large quantities, were not something that could be hidden forever.

    Moreover, confronting Manchu and Mentemu was not something that could be won by hiding these weapons and fighting.

    Furthermore, the place where the battles took place was also where Ming’s eyes and ears were located.

    It was an act done with the expectation of exposure, and considering what was gained from it, it was sufficiently worth enduring.

    However, what Sejong and the ministers regretted was that Ming reacted faster than expected.

    But Hyang had the opposite opinion.

    “You say their reaction is quick? I think it’s very late.”

    “Oh?”

    At Hyang’s words, Sejong and the ministers looked at Hyang again.

    “Explain your reason.”

    At Sejong’s question, Hyang immediately explained the reason.

    “How many years has it been since the Gapsik Jangchong and the mounted guns were created and used in actual combat? During that time, there have been numerous battles in the north. But only now has Ming shown a reaction. This means that the surveillance network Ming has established in Liaodong is more flimsy than we thought.”

    “It can be viewed that way as well.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    As Sejong nodded at Hyang’s explanation, he asked Hyang again.

    “Then, what do you think caught Ming’s attention?”

    “The long guns.”

    At Hyang’s assertion, Jo Mal-saeng interjected.

    “But other weapons also displayed powerful might.”

    In response to Jo Mal-saeng’s question, Hyang explained the reason.

    “The fire arrow rocket, fire carts, and Flying Thunder… Ming also has similar weapons. However, that’s not the case with long guns. Of course, they have fire lances, but they are not comparable to our long guns.”

    “That is indeed true.”

    Jo Mal-saeng nodded at Hyang’s words.

    Listening to Hyang’s explanation, Sejong’s expression turned serious.

    “The story of Silla’s thousand-step crossbow comes to mind.”

    “Indeed, Your Majesty.”

    At Sejong and the ministers’ words, Hyang interjected.

    “We cannot hand over the craftsmen. No, Ming may not even ask for the craftsmen.”

    “Why?”

    “They would also know the story of the thousand-step crossbow.”

    “Ah…”

    “At least that’s a relief, but…”

    Amid the growing conviction that the reason for Ming’s visit was because of the long guns, Sejong and the ministers pondered to find a solution.

    Watching them, Hyang suddenly asked an out-of-the-blue question.

    “Father, how should a sparrow catch up to a stork?”

    “Pardon?”

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