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    After Chuseok had passed, Princess Jeonghye finally had her wedding ceremony.

    The man who became her husband was the second son of someone who had held the position of Minister of Military Affairs of the third rank.

    After the wedding ceremony ended, Hyang had a separate meeting with his new brother-in-law.

    “Take good care of my sister.”

    “Yes, I’ll do my best.”

    “My sister has always been loved by our dear royal Father and Mother. She may be a little clumsy, but she’s wise and will soon become a good wife.”

    “Yes, Your Highness the Crown Prince.”

    In the consistently gentle atmosphere, Hyang exchanged pleasantries, then quietly drew close to his new brother-in-law and whispered,

    “If a tear comes to my sister’s eye, you’ll die at my hands.”

    “Heek—gulp!”

    Hyang’s warning turned the face of his new brother-in-law, who was two years older, pale white as he nodded.

    * * *

    While Princess Jeonghye’s wedding had concluded, preparations for another wedding were underway.

    “Issue the Marriage Ban Edict[1],” commanded King Sejong.

    Hwang Hui stepped forward, “What age range should I specify?”

    King Sejong briefly considered, “The Crown Prince will soon be twelve, so how about up to fifteen years old?”

    “Would up to fifteen be alright?”

    “Fifteen then…”

    After a moment’s consideration, King Sejong nodded, “Proceed that way.”

    “As you command!”

    Thus, a Marriage Ban Edict was issued across all of Joseon.

    “We expected this, but it’s not really welcome,” grumbled the country’s noblemen families.

    “Why did they have to make this damn selection system?”

     

    The discontent was palpable among the older members of the noblemen families.

    * * *

    The selection system had been created by King Taejong.

    Before that, there had been no such system; marriages for princes or princesses typically occurred through social connections.

    However, Taejong created this system after comments made by a man named Yi Sok during the process of marrying off his daughter, Princess Jeongshin. 

    “Straw is best for making straw shoes,” he had said. 

    This was taken to mean that their social status was not a match, and it ended there. However, later on, the true meaning of Lee Seok’s words became clear and caused an uproar.

    “My son can’t marry a servant’s child even if she is a princess!”

    [TL/N: King Taejong sent a messenger to Lee Seok, his friend’s house to express his proposal for marriage offering the hands of his own daughter, Princess Jeongshin. The remark by Lee Seok was made in regards to the social status of Princess Jeongshin’s mother, who was previously a maidservant of Queen Wongyeong (Taejong’s official wife). As a retaliation for a rude remark towards his favorite concubine and daughter, a punishment was given to Lee Seok and his son.]

    Due to this statement, Lee Seok received a hundred strokes and was demoted; his son was put under a lifetime marriage ban, and their relatives were also punished, showcasing Taejong’s ruthless retaliation.

    Thus, Taejong established the selection system, ironically after his own three sons had already married.

    * * *

    Nevertheless, with the Marriage Ban Edict in effect, not only the noble families but also commoners faced marriage restrictions.

    “Why are our humble lives affected by the crown prince’s marriage?”

    Commoners, particularly those who were close to getting married, were openly complaining.

    Local noblemen were also disgruntled.

    “Good grief! Even if they are selected, they are cut from the same cloth anyway. Why bother obstructing a marriage!”

    “You think they don’t have anything to worry about? Will they be able to see their household safe after making their daughter the Queen?”

    Both generations of the noble families had similar reactions, having seen the disastrous in-law relationships that had occurred during Taejong and Sejong’s reigns.

    * * *

    Upon hearing that the Marriage Ban Edict had been issued to find him a wife, Hyang lost his appetite.

    “Sigh, I prefer someone younger… Ah! Would it be a crime at my age to like someone younger? No, as long as the age difference is within a digit, it’s not a crime.”

    Muttering to himself, Hyang then broke off with a complex expression.

    “Marriage…”

    Hyang, who had no romantic ties in the 21st century and was known as a “certified weirdo otaku,” found himself in contemplation.

    “Hmm…”

    With a mixed expression of anticipation and concern, he remembered the words of his old mentor, Teacher Samcheonpo.

    -The biggest cause of Danjong’s tragedy was Munjong[2]!

    Danjong was born in 1441, when Munjong was 27!

    Considering Sejong fathered Munjong at 17, that’s a wasted 10 years!

    Even if Danjong had been born 5 years earlier, Grand Prince Suyang[3] wouldn’t have dared to make his move!

    In Joseon, you are considered an adult at 15!

    Remembering his teacher’s words, Hyang rose from his seat with determination.

    “I must act for the future! Plus, there’s something I’ve been considering. It’s a good opportunity! It’s a two-for-one deal! Attendant!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    “Ask if I can see my royal father and royal mother right now!”

    “Yes, Your Highness!”

    * * *

    After a brief moment, Hyang received permission and entered Kangnyeongjeon Hall[4].

    “Welcome.”

    Sejong, who had just finished a meeting and was sharing tea with his ministers, warmly greeted Hyang.

    “You’re here? What brings you to see your father at this time, not during the regular visiting hours?”

    Upon Sejong’s words, Hyang got straight to the point.

    “Please grant me discretionary funds[5].”

    “Discretionary funds, not budget?”

    When Sejong showed curiosity, Hyang promptly replied.

    “The royal treasury office (Insoonbu) that was destroyed in the last fire has not yet been restored.”

    Insoonbu, one of the key treasuries of the royal family and managed by the crown prince once he comes of age, was lost in the previous fire.

    At Hyang’s words, Sejong nodded.

    “I see. So, you put off restoring the Insoonbu because you prioritized other restorations. Why do you need the funds?”

    “It’s due to a matter related to my marriage.”

    “Marriage? Have you taken a fancy to a young woman while traveling between Area 51 and the palace or during the restoration work? If her family is very wealthy, you’ll need more than just funds.”

    Sejong joked with a sly smile.

    Although Joseon was newly founded, it was certain that Hyang would be recorded in the history of Joseon as the crown prince who had engaged in the most external activities.

    That’s why Sejong made the assumption, half-jokingly but also half-serious, that Hyang must have found someone during his travels.

    The real problem was that, whether in the 21st century or now, Hyang was wholly engrossed in ‘otaku’ culture.

    “That’s not the case.”

    “Then why do you need the funds?”

    “I’m considering a visit to the Gisaeng house[6].”

    “Pfft!”

    “Cough! Cough!”

    Snap!

    At Hyang’s words, Sejong spat out his tea, and the ministers choked on their salivas.

    The officials and clerks who were writing dropped their golden pens, puncturing holes in the paper and damaging the pens, looking quite upset.

    “Cough! Cough! You this fool!”

    After a few coughs, Sejong angrily shouted at Hyang. However, Hyang looked back at him calmly.

    At Hyang’s composed face, Sejong reluctantly calmed himself.

    “You’re only twelve years old. What’s your reason for wanting to go to a Gisaeng house? If it’s for romantic reasons, I won’t allow it.”

    “It’s due to my marriage matter.”

    “What does a marriage have to do with a Gisaeng house… if it’s about intimacy between a husband and a wife, you’ll naturally come to understand that.”

     

    ‘Is this why s*x education is so lacking in the 21st century?’

    Muttering inwardly, Hyang explained in more detail.

    “Though it may sound arrogant, since learning to read at a young age, I’ve devoted myself to academia.”

    “I see.”

    “Thus, I do not know what beauty is in women. When it comes to marriage, a man and a woman must live happily for a hundred years. To do this, neither should have any dissatisfaction with the other. Typically, the first thing a man evaluates in a woman is her appearance. Since I’ve only read books, I don’t know what the standard of beauty is for women. Although historical texts mention phrases like ‘Fish Sink and Wild Geese Drop’ (沈魚落雁) and ‘to Outshine the Moon and Put the Flowers to Shame’ (閉月羞花), I’ve never seen such beauty myself. Hence, I can’t even discern whether my standard of beauty is correct or not. However, the beauty of Gisaeng is what people talk about first, so I’m planning to visit a Gisaeng house to see for myself.”

    [TL/N: Both idioms describe peerless beauty. These idioms comes from the legendary of the four beauties; Xishi, Wang Zhaojun, Diaochan, Yang Yuhuan. To further explain the idioms,

    “Seeing the beauty of the four women, moon and flowers feel embarrassed, and fish and geese are so stunned that they forget why they are doing, so the fish sink in the water and the geese fall from the sky.”

    Cr: https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/1709113498/]

    “I see…”

    In response to Hyang’s words, Sejong’s expression became complex. The very idea that a twelve-year-old would openly go to a courtesan parlor made him want to pick up a stick and smack the boy’s calves. However, something about Hyang’s argument was reasonable.

    “Good heavens… oh dear.”

    Even Sejong, who was famous for his intellect, found himself at a loss for words. At that moment, Hwang Hui stepped in.

    “Crown Prince, since ancient times it has been said that internal beauty is more important than external beauty. Whether one is male or female, physical beauty is fleeting. What’s truly important is inner beauty. I can say this with certainty having lived to this age.”

    “But isn’t inner beauty something you can’t recognize at first glance? I hear people say, ‘What use is a good-looking face? Are you going to eat it?’ Yet, there are also sayings like ‘Might as well wear a red skirt’ and ‘What looks good, tastes good too.’ Why then do these courtesans have such a bad reputation? And why do you engage in such moralizing?”

    “Ahem! Ahem!”

    Caught off guard by Hyang’s counterargument, the ministers could only clear their throats awkwardly. Sejong looked around at the others.

    The internal ministers were staring off into the distance, while the scholars and secretaries had their heads buried, fidgeting with their pens.

    Hyang continued to speak.

    “Once I marry, I have no intention of taking any woman other than my queen.”

    “Crown Prince, expanding the royal family is one of your important duties.”

    “Father, I already have seven half-brothers. Isn’t one queen sufficient if I follow your example? What I often see in Area 51 and the reconstruction sites are men getting caught cheating and getting beaten by their wives. Since olden times, it’s been said ‘Home is where harmony resides,’ and ‘Even Buddha loses patience if he sees a monk too often.’ If one can’t control one’s desires and brings mistresses into the home, how can one govern the nation and bring peace to the heavens?”

    “…”

    “…”

    Both Sejong and the ministers were at a loss for words. After a moment, Sejong spoke.

    “I understand your intentions. Knowing your temperament, you’d find a way even if I forbid it. Sigh…”

    Letting out a long sigh, Sejong finally conceded.

    “Fine, I’ll inform the Ministry of Personnel.”

    “Your kindness is immeasurable!”

    “However, staying overnight is not permitted!”

    “I will obey!”

    Having obtained permission from Sejong, Hyang cheerfully exited the palace.

    After Hyang left, Sejong complained to the ministers.

    “Smart kids can also be a problem.”

    “…”

    “I want to be alone for a while. I’ll see you later in the study.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    * * *

    Meanwhile, Hyang, having received permission from Sejong, was overjoyed.

    “This is the moment to verify what I’ve always suspected!”

    While overseeing the palace maids, traveling to Area 51, and supervising reconstruction sites, he’d glimpsed many women who would be considered beauties even by 21st-century standards.

    His middle-school art teacher in the 21st century had once said:

    “Don’t confuse aesthetic perspectives with actual standards of beauty. Don’t trust judgments like ‘She’s an Eastern beauty or Western beauty.’ If you look at photographs of Korean courtesans taken by Westerners during the reign of King Gojong, many would still be considered beautiful today. The only issue being their short stature.”

    That advice was later echoed by a famous Australian comedian.

    “Tired of being asked about the differences between Eastern and Western beauties, he finally concluded, ‘Whether it’s Westerners or Koreans, men’s eyes are all the same!'”

    * * *

    A few days after Hyang received permission from Sejong, a curious rumor was circulating among the courtesans of Hanyang.

    “There’s a young nobleman who leaves without drinking, just looking at the faces of the courtesans!”

    As the rumor spread, the courtesans were curious about the identity of the main character.

    “I found out!”

    “Who is it? A countryside nobleman from some distant place?”

    “If it’s close, it’s close; if it’s far, it’s far.”

    “Enough with the riddles! Whose son is he? Does he come from a well-off family? A family we can comfortably milk without getting into trouble?”

    The courtesan who gathered the information clicked her tongue.

    “Tsstssts. Be careful. One wrong move and your heads might roll.”

    “Whose child is he, for heaven’s sake!”

    “He’s the eldest son of the owner of Gyeongbokgung Palace! The owner of Eastern Palace!”

    “Goodness gracious!”

    Upon learning that the protagonist was Hyang, the courtesans divided into two groups. One group was extremely cautious, while the other applied more elaborate makeup and dressed in lighter clothes.

    “You fool, you’ll freeze to death like that!”

    “What if? What if I catch the eye of someone for the royal harem?”

    “Keep dreaming.”

    Contrary to the courtesans’ hopes for a ‘life-changing opportunity’, Hyang, who had visited all the courtesan houses in Hanyang, disappeared from the alleys.

    * * *

    “So… did you take a good look around?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    “What a boring fellow.”

    Sejong gave a brief comment on Hyang’s reply.

    Though Sejong had granted permission, he was still uneasy and had instructed his guards and officials to report on Hyang’s every move.

    After receiving reports from his guards and officials, Sejong put his hand on his forehead.

    “What to do with this kid…”

    Hyang did indeed call upon the courtesans, but he had done nothing more than ‘observe their appearances.’

    He had conversed and even admired their artistic skills, but it ended there.

    “Is this kid a eunuch?”

    Sejong was worried about an absurd possibility.

    When Hyang responded, Sejong threw a truly curious question.

    “So, which courtesan seemed the most beautiful to you?”

    “Each had their own unique charm.”

    ‘Based on 21st-century standards, they could be scouted by talent agencies. The problem would be their height, though…’

    “That’s true. So, what kind of woman would be the best match for you?”

    After pondering Sejong’s question for a while, Hyang borrowed a phrase popularized by a female duo in the 21st-century Korean music scene.

    “Your Majesty, either the most beautiful among the kind-hearted women, or the kindest among the beautiful women…”

    “Get out, you!”

    1. A decree prohibiting marriage of all unwed maidens of marriageable age ahead of the selection of crown princess. Usually lifted after the first selection.[]
    2. Hyang himself. King Danjong is his son.[]
    3. Hyang’s younger brother Yu. The train maniac in this series[]
    4. King’s living and sleeping quarters[]
    5. Funds that are spent for things that may not be necessary. Basically, pocket money.[]
    6. Courtesan house[]
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