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    Upon receiving the subordinate’s report, Mochimori immediately jumped up from his seat and headed to Yunotsutsu.

    “What brings you here?”

    When Ahn Sang-taek, who welcomed Mochimori’s visit, inquired about the reason for his arrival, Mochimori promptly got to the point.

    “I heard an interesting story, so I came. I was told that a school for teaching children has been established.”

    “A school? Ah, are you referring to the School for Commoners?”

    “Yes. I heard that they teach regardless of one’s status. Is that true?”

    “That is correct.”

    “Is that alright?”

    As Mochimori asked with concern, Ahn Sang-taek instead replied with a puzzled expression.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Is it possible for lowly worms to learn to read and write? No, even if they learn a little, won’t they just rebel or complain when given orders?”

    At Mochimori’s question, Ahn Sang-taek scratched his mustache and answered.

    “I don’t think that’s likely to happen…”

    “Pardon?”

    “Just talking to myself. That part is merely an unfounded concern, and I can confidently assure you of that. It is a matter that the esteemed ministers and His Majesty have examined before establishing the School for Commoners.”

    “…”

    Mochimori fell silent at the words implying that the King of Joseon had considered everything before making the decision.

    Honestly, the previous remark was closer to criticism for the sake of criticism.

    Seeing Mochimori like that, Ahn Sang-taek provided a more detailed answer.

    “When the commoners acquire some level of education, the benefits far outweigh the losses. They can more quickly understand and execute the orders issued by the country, and they can more easily inform the central government about the hardships in the provinces that the central government is unaware of, thereby reducing the worries of the nation. And most importantly, it allows us to discover talented individuals hidden like gems in the dirt.”

    ‘This last part is the most crucial point.’

    Ahn Sang-taek muttered inwardly. The biggest problem facing Joseon, which was on a path of expansion in terms of both quality and quantity, was the ‘shortage of talented individuals.’

    This was also true for the military. As a result, a joke circulated among the military officers:

    “The ones who most fervently wish for peace in Joseon are the military officers. Why? Because they are already overwhelmed with work, and they don’t have the capacity to wage a war on top of that.”

    It was the grumbling of military officers who had made a ‘trade-off between promotion and overwork’ as Sejong began favoring military officials with literary talents after his accession to the throne.

    “‘Discovering talented individuals’…”

    Mochimori, who had been mulling over Ahn Sang-taek’s words, stood up from his seat.

    “Thank you for the good explanation. I won’t forget the valuable lesson.”

    “You flatter me.”

    Having met with Ahn Sang-taek, Mochimori immediately prepared and headed to Suo, where Morimori was located.

    ***

    Meeting Morimori at the lord’s castle in Suo, Mochimori reported about the School for Commoners.

    “A school…”

    As Morimori muttered while stroking his chin, Mochimori continued.

    “My lord, you have already expressed your intention to gather talented individuals from the domain and send them to Joseon to study. However, sending them to study requires a considerable amount of wealth.”

    “If it’s for the future of the domain, how could a thousand gold pieces be a waste?”

    “Of course, my lord’s words are correct. However, even if we wish to send them to study, few know the Joseon language, and even fewer have learned the most basic academics.”

    “That’s true…”

    As Morimori nodded, Mochimori spoke with emphasis.

    “Therefore, please request Joseon to support the establishment of a school. Just like Joseon, we should teach without discrimination and discover hidden talents!”

    “Hmm…”

    Morimori sank deep into thought for a long time. Mochimori and the other retainers looked at Morimori with tense expressions.

    After much deliberation, Morimori made up his mind and spoke.

    “I believe Mochimori’s words are reasonable. However, the great endeavor is at hand, so let us resolve it first and then consider this matter.”

    At Morimori’s words, Mochimori hurriedly spoke up.

    “My lord! When you say the great endeavor, does that mean it’s finally starting?”

    “It’s finally ready. We will punish the Shoni and Otomo clans.”

    At Morimori’s declaration, Mochimori hastily knelt down and bowed his head.

    “My lord! I wish to participate in the battle as well!”

    “You must guard Iwami.”

    “My lord!”

    As Mochimori raised his voice, Morimori rose from his seat and walked over to him. Crouching in front of Mochimori, Morimori gently patted his shoulder and spoke.

    “Iwami is not the rear but the front. The very front line. That’s why I entrusted it to you.”

    Convinced by Morimori’s words, Mochimori prostrated himself on the floor and shouted.

    “I will guard it with my life!”

    “Yes, I’m counting on you.”

    Having finished his conversation with Mochimori, Morimori stood tall and looked around at his retainers.

    “The preparations are complete! Inform Shibukawa in Hakata! It’s time to advance!”

    “Yes, my lord!”

    ***

    Three days later, the Ouchi army led by Morimori crossed the sea and headed towards northern Kyushu.

    At the center of the fleet transporting the Ouchi clan’s forces was a large ship carrying Morimori.

    On the stern deck of the ship, Morimori and his retainers sat on chairs, examining a map and exchanging opinions.

    Morimori, who sat in the highest seat, had a rather peculiar attire. His helmet was that of a traditional Japanese commander, but the armor he wore underneath was not the Ō-yoroi (grand armor) but the dureonggap (Korean-style armor).

    ***

    Morimori’s wearing of the dureonggap was the work of Hyang.

    “Oda Nobunaga wore nanban-kote (Western-style armor), didn’t he?”

    Recalling memories of his 21st-century indulgences, Hyang immediately issued an order to the craftsmen of Area 51.

    “You want us to make a dureonggap? Why all of a sudden?”

    “It’s a gift for someone. Ah! You are well aware that the Japanese have smaller physiques than us, right? Keep that in mind.”

    “Pardon? Yes.”

    “Since it will be given to a high-ranking person in Japan, please put some effort into it.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    The dureonggap, created in this manner, was delivered to Morimori through the hands of Kim Jong-seo, who was dispatched as a secret envoy.

    “Oh! What an honor!”

    Receiving the dureonggap delivered by Kim Jong-seo, Morimori was overwhelmed with gratitude.

    Joseon’s dureonggap was renowned for its exceptional defensive capabilities.

    Moreover, the dureonggap gifted to Morimori was a masterpiece crafted with even greater care and attention.

    As Morimori was unable to conceal his joy at the unexpected gift, Kim Jong-seo conveyed Sejong’s words.

    “His Majesty said, ‘The Ouchi clan originally has roots in Samhan. Upon close examination, they are like brothers to Joseon. Therefore, I wish for the head of the Ouchi clan to lead the family well and engage in mutual support with our Joseon for a long time.'”

    Upon hearing the words conveyed by Kim Jong-seo, Morimori immediately responded.

    “Please convey to His Majesty that the Ouchi clan will continue to maintain a friendly relationship with Joseon!”

    From then on, Morimori began wearing the dureonggap. However, not long after, Morimori discovered one problem with the dureonggap.

    “It’s quite hot.”

    Knowing the climate of Japan, the dureonggap given to Morimori had undergone slight modifications. The neck, front flap, and sleeve ends were finished with cloth instead of fur, but it was still hot. This was a problem inherent to the structure of the dureonggap itself. Thick and sturdy outer fabric was filled with cotton, and the inner lining was made of silk or the finest cotton cloth. Finally, iron plates were fixed in layers, creating the dureonggap.

    In the end, Morimori wore the traditional helmet of his clan and donned the dureonggap underneath. The Joseon-style helmet, which tightly secured the left and right sides, was too suffocating.

    Pleased with the dureonggap, Morimori summoned craftsmen to have his retainers wear dureonggap as well.

    However, the craftsmen all shook their heads.

    “It is impossible to make armor of the same quality as Joseon’s dureonggap.”

    “What is the reason?”

    “It requires an enormous amount of iron, the kind of iron that would be suitable for making renowned swords.”

    Following the craftsmen’s answer, the retainer in charge of finances added.

    “It’s not just the iron. It also requires a lot of cotton cloth, silk, and copper.”

    “Is that so…?”

    In the end, only Morimori could wear the dureonggap.

    ***

    Crossing the sea and entering Kyushu, Morimori joined forces with his clan’s troops stationed in the Kyushu region. And not long after, the forces of Shibukawa Yoshitoshi merged with them.

    Entering the tent where Morimori was staying, Yoshitoshi raised his voice.

    “It’s finally time for revenge!”

    “Indeed.”

    “Finally, finally!”

    Yoshitoshi couldn’t hide his excitement, trembling his fists.

    Succeeding his father as the Kyushu Provincial Magistrate, Yoshitoshi had lost his territory of Chikuzen a few years ago when he was attacked by the Shoni and Otomo clans.

    In the history before Hyang’s intervention, Yoshitoshi not only lost Chikuzen but also Hakata and had to entrust his fate to Morimori. However, in this history where Hyang intervened, he was able to defend Hakata.

    Nevertheless, his forces were still at a disadvantage, leaving Yoshitoshi with no choice but to rely on Morimori.

    When Yoshitoshi lost Chikuzen, the Shogunate immediately declared Chikuzen as a direct domain of the Shogunate and appointed Morimori as its proxy.

    Receiving the document sent by the Shogunate, Morimori exclaimed with joy.

    “We have gained justification!”

    Thanks to the document sent by the Shogunate, Morimori had obtained the justification to fully project military power in Kyushu.

    However, the Shogunate also had its own ulterior motives. The Shoni and Otomo clans, who had attacked Yoshitoshi, were powerful local forces in the Kyushu region. And they were hostile to the Shogunate. Moreover, the Ouchi clan was steadily strengthening its power, threatening the Shogunate.

    In the end, the Shogunate hoped that the Ouchi clan and the Shoni-Otomo alliance would wear down each other’s strength through mutual destruction.

    However, Morimori also had his own scheme.

    “If we recover Chikuzen through this subjugation, can you promise to hand it over to me?”

    “I promise.”

    Morimori answered Yoshitoshi’s question without hesitation.

    This was a secret agreement between Yoshitoshi and Morimori.

    By handing Chikuzen over to Yoshitoshi, Morimori brought Yoshitoshi under his control. With this, Yoshitoshi nominally belonged to the Shogunate, but in reality, he became a lord under Morimori’s command.

    Of course, Morimori didn’t stop there. In exchange for handing Chikuzen over to Yoshitoshi, he gained control over the Kitakyushu region.

    With this, if they emerged victorious in this war, the Ouchi clan would be able to exert absolute influence in the Kyushu region.

    “Now, let us review the strategy once more.”

    “Let’s do that!”

    The commanders of the Ouchi and Shibukawa clans gathered around a map and began reviewing their strategy.

    ***

    Having recovered from fatigue and completed the maintenance of their forces, the allied army of Morimori and Yoshitoshi immediately launched an attack.

    Utilizing their superior forces and the advantageous situation, the allied army attacked Tachibana Castle and swiftly advanced towards Chikuzen.

    Upon receiving news of the advancing Morimori-Yoshitoshi allied army, the Shoni-Otomo alliance also engaged in a defensive battle, moving forward to confront the enemy.

    “The Shoni and Otomo bastards are gathering!”

    “How far?”

    “We will make contact in about two days!”

    Receiving the report from the scout, Morimori examined the map.

    “Two days…”

    Pondering the timeframe while studying the map, Morimori pointed to a specific location.

    “We will meet the enemy here.”

    The place Morimori indicated was to the east of Chikuzen.

    ***

    Three days later, a battle unfolded at the location chosen by Morimori.

    Before the battle began, Shoni Mitsusada, surveying the battlefield, gritted his teeth.

    “This won’t be easy.”

    He didn’t know what trick that cunning Morimori had employed, but the vast plain to the east of Chikuzen, which had become the battlefield, was soaked with water.

    And the battle progressed just as Mitsusada had anticipated.

    Although it hadn’t turned into complete mud, the water-soaked ground made it difficult for the soldiers to move.

    While his own soldiers struggled and moved sluggishly on the wet ground, Morimori and Yoshitoshi’s soldiers relied on fortifications and sacks filled with earth, erected on dry land, to strike at Mitsusada’s forces.

    In the end, Chikuzen fell into the hands of Morimori and Yoshitoshi. Having lost a significant portion of their strength, the Shoni-Otomo alliance had to retreat and bide their time for another opportunity.

    This was another turning point that differed from the history before Hyang’s intervention.

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