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    “The Chief State Councilor has been blocking the nationwide implementation of the smallpox vaccination, saying, “Its efficacy has not been proven,” and “It is a priority to establish the law.” What happened as a result? A tragedy occurred in Geumcheon district, where smallpox broke out. Look at this tragedy in Geumcheon district: so far, 25 people have died, and over 60 have become disabled, blinded, or suffered from other disabilities. What’s worse is that we don’t know how many more will die or become disabled. If the vaccination had been implemented nationwide without delay, the tragedy in Geumcheon district could have been prevented. The Chief State Councilor caused unnecessary sacrifices by using the excuse of “upholding the law” as a shield to protect his power! Therefore, this court will hold Chief State Councilor Ryu Jeong-hyeon responsible for this crime!

    Upon hearing King Sejong’s verdict, the Chief State Councilor quickly submitted and raised his voice, “Your Majesty! It was not to protect my power that I did so! The efficacy of the smallpox vaccine was not proven, and it would be unfair to enforce it, which is why I said so!”

    “Be quiet! Are you still trying to deceive the situation with your cunning rhetoric? Look here! Summon the Royal Guards right now!”

    “Your Majesty!”

    “Your Majesty, please be merciful!”

    As soon as King Sejong’s command fell, the ministers, chief scribe, and chief inspector immediately submitted and stepped forward.

    However, King Sejong did not back down. “Mercy? Show mercy!”

    “Your Majesty! Although the Chief State Councilor’s words were somewhat excessive, they all came from his concern for the country; please be merciful!”

    “Has everyone’s concern for the country frozen to death?”

    “Your Majesty, please be merciful!”

    As the ministers and the chief inspector stepped forward to dissuade him, the chief scribe sobbed, “Your Majesty, although the Chief State Councilor’s words were excessive, his patriotism is as solid as gold and stone. Do not pay attention to superficial words but consider his true intentions!”

    “Shut your mouth! Speech is a vessel for thought, so how can superficiality and true intentions be different? If superficiality and true intentions are different, it is the epitome of hypocrisy, and how can one be called a gentleman?”

    “Your Majesty, please be merciful!”

    “Do not provoke my patience! If you keep babbling, I will consider you to be on the same side as this hypocrite!”

    King Sejong sternly warned them, but the ministers, chief scribe, and chief inspector did not back down, “Please be merciful! It is unjust to call an innocent person guilty!”

    “Please be merciful!”

    “Can a subject stand idly by when his lord is about to walk an unjust path? It is not right to accuse the Chief State Councilor of a crime! Please be merciful!”

    In response to the ministers’ opposition, King Sejong slammed his armrest in fury: “Unjust? Unjust, you say? What is unjust? The number of people who lost their lives due to the tyrannical rule over the past years was literally incalculable! Moreover, how many were there who, though their lives were spared, became slaves or beggars wandering the streets? We had a plan to prevent such tragedies, so why did we have to delay its implementation? Moreover, some people even sold their properties and used cattle to transport the vaccine. But who was it that blocked it all under the flimsy pretext of “change in the morning, alter in the evening[1]” overnight? Who, I ask you, is the real perpetrator of injustice here? ”

    Despite King Sejong’s furious scolding, the ministers, chief scribe, and chief inspector did not back down, “Once again, we advise that the remarks made by the Chief State Councilor were indeed excessive! However, the foremost principle in conducting court affairs is that the monarch and the ministers must share the same will, and once a decision has been made, it should not be taken lightly! The reason the Chief State Councilor opposed Your Majesty’s decision is that it violated the second principle! The consensus between the monarch and ministers and the solemn conduct of court affairs are the fundamental basis of the royal governance that the sages have spoken of!”

    As the Right State Councilor vehemently made his case, King Sejong slammed his armrest, furiously, “Truly the epitome of flattery and sycophancy, serving one’s own interests, and deceitful words and appearances! Do you think you have followed the will of the sages by preventing the King’s decision? You have only acted for your own petty desires! You seek to suppress me, the King, with those same petty desires! What you desire is not the cooperation between the ruler and his subjects, but the creation of a court where the King is weak and the ministers are strong, making the King a puppet! You are even more cunning than Jeong Do-jeon, the traitor! I can never forgive you!”

    As King Sejong mentioned Jeong Do-jeon once again, the ministers unanimously denied the accusation and stepped forward:

    “Your Majesty! We have never had such intentions!”

    “Your Majesty! Please recognize our loyalty!”

    The court was frozen still during the heated exchange between King Sejong and his ministers. With their backs bent, the high-ranking officials who had been watching the confrontation already seemed to smell the scent of blood.

    “Your Majesty, the Royal Bodyguard Jinmu is at your service,” the chief eunuch spoke out.

    At the Chief State Councilor’s words, King Sejong could not hide his anger and immediately gave an order, “Royal Bodyguard Jinmu, come in! Immediately confine the high-ranking officials, the Left and Right Chief State Councilors, the Chief State Councilor, and the Secretaries to their residences! Prepare the executioners and the provincial officials to carry out the King’s order as soon as it is issued!”

    “Your command will be obeyed!”

    As soon as King Sejong’s order was issued, the Royal Bodyguard Jinmu called the palace guards and took the Chief State Councilors and their party away.

    “Your Majesty! Please reconsider!”

    “Your Majesty! This is defying the will of the sages!”

    “Your Majesty!”

    Until the very moment they were taken away, the Chief State Councilors’ party tried to change King Sejong’s mind. However, King Sejong remained unchanged.

    “High-ranking officials, listen.”

    “We will listen attentively!” as soon as King Sejong spoke, the high-ranking officials replied in unison.

    “Take today’s events as a lesson, and refrain from rash actions.”

    “We will bear it in mind and comply!”

    “As the positions of the three Chief State Councilors, the Secretaries, and the Chief Inspector are vacant, select suitable people and report to the King. I will give you five days.”

    “Your command will be obeyed!”

    King Sejong, who had been glaring at the frozen officials, turned his gaze to the overseer.

    “Overseer, tell the Royal Bodyguards to confine all the traitors’ families as well, and seal all their property.”

    “Your command will be obeyed!”

    “Let’s end it here for today. Go and attend to your duties.”

    Following King Sejong’s command to dismiss, all high-ranking officials paid their respects to him and left the royal court.

    Left alone in the court, King Sejong placed his hand on his forehead and sighed deeply, “Sigh…”

    ◈◈◈

    Returning to the Eastern Palace, Hyang had a serious expression as he sorted out the situation.

    “If this were a TV drama, the ratings would have skyrocketed in an instant. It would have been unbearable for the actors to memorize their lines… So that’s why traditional historical dramas were pushed out, and fusion historical dramas took off…”

    Unaware that he was mumbling to himself, Hyang shook his head vigorously, “Da*n it! Should I follow Teacher’s Samcheonpo too? Why am I going off track?”

    Having finished his self-reflection, Hyang sorted out the situation once more, “There won’t be any noisy chatter for a while due to today’s events. The problem is filling the empty positions… Is it finally time for Hwang Hui and Maeng Sa-seong to step up? The formation of Sejong’s Avengers?”

    “Your Majesty, enters!”

    At the announcement of the palace servant waiting outside the door, Hyang stood up from his seat. After adjusting his clothes, he bowed his head when King Sejong entered.

    “Father, have you arrived?”

    “Yes, what were you doing?”

    “I was reflecting on what happened today.”

    “Is that so? Well then, let’s sit down first.”

    “Yes.”

    The father and son sat down in chairs with a table between them.

    “Shall I bring the tea?”

    “Sure. Let’s have a cup. But they won’t be serving willow bark tea here, will they?”

    “No, they won’t.”

    At King Sejong’s words, Hyang let out a bitter smile and shook his head. The willow bark tea Sejong mentioned was made from well-dried willow bark.

    [Intermission]

    “The biggest problem for King Sejong’s longevity is diabetes and vascular diseases…”

    Hyang, who had been searching for various ways for Sejong’s longevity, recalled Teacher Samcheonpo’s ramblings.

    During a lecture on the beginning of the Imjin War, Teacher Samcheonpo suddenly went off on a tangent while talking about General Yi Sun-shin[2].

    ‘When General Yi Sun-shin broke his leg during the military examination, he wrapped it with willow bark. Why did he use willow bark? Just as a simple splint? Or was it a painkiller?’

    Teacher Samcheonpo’s digression eventually led to aspirin.

    Since the beginning of human history, one of the most important topics has been creating a ‘cure-all’. And the closest thing to a cure-all is aspirin. It serves its original purpose of reducing fever and relieving pain, as well as treating vascular diseases and even being used as an anticancer drug.

    For reference, one of the people Jeong-ho’s[3] parents, in Hyang’s past life, disliked the most was Teacher Samcheonpo.

    “He doesn’t teach what he’s supposed to, and just talks about irrelevant things, making the kids lose interest!”

    Anyway, recalling Teacher Samcheonpo’s memory, Hyang immediately ordered the palace medical staff to make tea from willow bark and served it to King Sejong.

    “Drinking this will alleviate headaches, thin the blood to relieve chest tightness, and prevent stroke.”

    “The taste isn’t very good, is it?”

    “It’s medicine. Is there medicine that tastes good?”

    By doing so, the fragrance of willow bark tea deeply caught the attention of the physicians.

    “It’s necessary for replenishing the body, but it’s not a medicine you should take unconditionally. Thinning blood means it’s harder to stop bleeding. His Majesty should take a break here and a while before drinking it.”

    “Yes, Your Highness,” the physicians replied to Hyang’s reminder.

    [Intermission ends]

    With teacups between them, the father and son continued their conversation.

    “Crown Prince, I’m thinking of executing the Chief State Councilor. I will also eliminate those who conspired with him. Do you think that’s too much?”

    “If it’s done frequently, it could be a problem, but otherwise, I think it’s enough “as a warning to a hundred.”

    At Hyang’s words, King Sejong made a face that seemed to let out a sigh of relief, “Is that so? I’m relieved to hear that. If you were against it too, I would have felt very lonely.”

    “The cause of this incident was those stubborn officials.”

    “That’s true. But what do you think about the Chief State Councilor’s appeal regarding the my authority?”

    “There is a valid point. If a ruler misuses their power, and if someone like Jie or Zhou were to succeed the future throne, the nation will head towards ruin. No one knows what the future holds.”

    ‘The prime examples of such controversial figures are Yeonsangun and Gwanghaegun. The latter had settled down to some extent, but Yeonsangun was exiled! Ah…or is he not?’

    Although the mainstream view is that Yeonsangun was a tyrant, there are counterarguments. Since Sejo’s reign, Joseon’s central politics have continued the pattern of a weak ruler and strong officials. Although Seongjong strengthened royal authority, it was not enough to completely overturn it. However, Yeonsangun was the one who completely overturned it, using his mother’s deposal and granting death as an excuse. But in showing off the strengthened royal authority, he lost the support of the people and his legitimacy, which was his downfall. As a result, the reign of Jungjong returned to weak ruler and strong officials. Well, Jungjong wasn’t an easygoing person either.

    Refer to Extra Info below on brief history of all these kings. Its too complicated to explain here ( ̄_ ̄|||)

    King Sejong nodded at Hyang’s response, “That’s true. I didn’t know I would have a child like you…” When Hyang made a sullen face, King Sejong quickly added more words, “Ah! I mean that in a good way!”

    Grumbling to himself, Hyang continued, “If a tyrant appears and practices tyranny, it is natural for it to lead to ruin. It is necessary to guarantee and maintain the power of officials to prevent this. However, looking at the current state of Joseon, the power of officials still threatens the royal authority. To be precise, compared to the power of court officials and aristocrats, the royal authority is very weak.”

    He then pulled a piece of paper that had been set aside and drew a rectangle on it. He then divided the rectangle into four sections and marked diagonal lines in three of them.

    “This represents the current state of power in the Joseon Dynasty. The sections with diagonal lines represent the power held by the aristocrats, and the remaining section is the royal authority.”

    “Even so, surely the royal authority must be more than just one section?”

    In response to Sejong’s rebuttal, Hyang lowered his head, “It only appears that way because the aristocrats cooperate with the royal authority for their own power struggles. If they see that their interests will be taken away by the royal authority, they will immediately join forces.”

    “I see,” King Sejong nodded at Hyang’s explanation and sighed, “It won’t be easy to make them give up what they have.”

    “We need to use a different method. Not by directly taking away what they have, but by expanding the entire board.”

    At Hyang’s words, King Sejong’s eyes began to sparkle.


    [su_note note_color=”#ecece9″]Extra Info[/su_note]

    Basically, following from Sejo’s (7th Joseon King) reign, there had been attempts to overturn the ‘weak king, strong officials’ conducted by Seongjong (9th Joseon King).

    Seongjong (9th)

    Seongjong, in particular, was heavily influenced by his mother, Queen Dowager Jeonghyeon who had close ties with the powerful officials in the government. Therefore, in his later years of reign, Seongjong took steps to strengthen his authority by implanting new laws that restricted the officials’ ability to amass wealth and influence and promoted officials who were loyal to the monarchy and willing to serve the people. Despite his efforts, Seongjong’s attempts to overturn the power of the officials were only partially successful. Although he was able to assert more control over the government and promote a more loyal and efficient bureaucracy, he was unable to completely overturn the entrenched power structures that had developed over centuries of government rule.

    Yeonsangun (10th)

    As for Yeonsangun, he took a more radical approach to enforce his authority. He abolished the Council of State, which was composed of high-ranking officials, and created a new advisory council that was made up of low-ranking officials and commoners. He also implemented a new system of taxation that was intended to increase royal revenues and reduce the power of the aristocracy. However, Yeonsangun’s attempts to centralize power were met with resistance from the officials, who saw his reforms as a threat to their own power and privileges. They conspired against him and eventually succeeded in deposing him in a coup, after which he was exiled and later died.

    Jungjong (11th)

    After Yeonsangun’s tyrannical rule, Jungjong was selected by the powerful officials of the royal court to be the new king, as they hoped he would be more pliable and easier to control. Initially, his reign continued the trend of strong centralization of power established by his predecessor, but as he grew older, he became increasingly weak and relied on powerful officials to govern. This led to factionalism among the officials, with the Sarim faction gaining significant power and enacting political reforms aimed at reducing the power of the royal court and emphasizing the importance of meritocracy. Ultimately, Jungjong’s reign saw a return to the traditional Korean model of governance that emphasized the importance of strong regional officials rather than centralized royal power.

     


    Translator’s Notes

    Another 2 more chapters before this arc ends. We will be moving onto the next part of the storyline soon!

    1. Being inconsistent, changing principals according to situations.[]
    2. See movie The Admiral: Roaring Currents to sort of know his background.[]
    3. I believe its Hyang’s previous name.[]

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