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    Chapter 5: Single-Handed

    “Do you desire these letters?”

    Yeom Baek-ha considered.

    At this moment, the smile of the Eldest Young Master was akin to the temptation of a demon.

    She pondered what would happen if she refused the offer.

    But she realized there was no need to think twice.

    Even with every conceivable effort from her father, Elder Yeom, there was no way to secure the business rights.

    This was evident from her father’s current situation, which had been stagnant for almost a year.

    If so, just as the Eldest Young Master said, what remained was an unfathomable fall.

    However.

    What would happen if she were to owe a debt to the Eldest Young Master?

    That too was clear.

    The Yeom family, both father and daughter, stood here to decide their fate.

    To owe a debt akin to a life-saving grace before the negotiations properly began meant losing the very essence of negotiation.

    However.

    Perhaps it was about surviving by any means necessary, whether it meant owing a debt or not?

    Without a backup, negotiating with the Eldest Young Master would mean being as good as dead in the political circles of the Sword House.

    And just as Yeom Baek-ha was leaning towards accepting the Eldest Young Master’s extended hand, Elder Yeom spoke.

    “We refuse.”

    A firm refusal was evident in his calm expression.

    ‘Father?!’

    Astonishment was clear on Yeom Baek-ha’s face, and the Eldest Young Master’s smile deepened.

    “Really? You do not need these letters?”

    ‘Father! Even now…!’

    Elder Yeom simply closed his eyes and crossed his arms.

    “We do not need them.”

    At that, the Eldest Young Master burst into loud laughter.

    “Right. Right. Your choice is indeed wise.”

    Yeom Baek-ha was the only one with a bewildered expression.

    ‘Why?’

    Then, the Eldest Young Master looked at Yeom Baek-ha.

    “Do you understand the reason?”

    “The reason, you say…?”

    After staring blankly at his face for a moment, Yeom Baek-ha was startled and bowed her head.

    “I, I do not understand, Your Highness.”

    The Eldest Young Master nodded gently.

    “It is the difference between ‘0’ and ‘a number close to 0’.”

    Although the answer to the riddle seemed like another riddle, the exceptionally astute Yeom Baek-ha realized its meaning.

    “Are you saying that owing a debt to Your Highness would mean complete defeat, but in the case of a mission, it shows that Your Highness deems it possible, hence there exists at least a slight possibility?”

    “Excellent.”

    The Eldest Young Master, with an elegant demeanor, applauded briefly and said,

    “Indeed, a fitting response for someone chosen by Elder Yeom as his successor.”

    “Your praise is too generous.”

    Despite her modesty, Yeom Baek-ha couldn’t help but harbor a new question in her mind.

    ‘How did the Eldest Young Master know my father chose me as his successor?’

    She soon found the answer herself.

    ‘Because I am present here.’

    As if reading her mind, the Eldest Young Master continued,

    “You must understand, Miss. At this moment, your father carries the fate of not only the entire Yeom family but also those akin to family, his subordinates, on his shoulders.”

    Yeom Baek-ha clenched her teeth.

    Indeed.

    She had been inclined to take the devil’s hand over just her father’s position as an elder.

    Yet, her father made a choice to seek a way out amidst all the burdens the Eldest Young Master mentioned.

    “Remember this. The choice your father made. That choice is what truly defines a gambler.”

    Yeom Baek-ha bowed deeply.

    “I will bear it in mind.”

    Indeed.

    Her father had brought his successor, her, to this disadvantageous negotiation.

    Despite not knowing how exposed they might become, how humiliated they might be in these fate-deciding negotiations.

    He brought her to show her all of it.

    A clear determination not to miss anything deepened in Yeom Baek-ha’s eyes.

    The Eldest Young Master, observing her interest for a moment, then smiled lightly at Elder Yeom.

    “Though I asked, your opinion on this matter is irrelevant.”

    At the Eldest Young Master’s outrageous statement, even Elder Yeom couldn’t help but show a hint of disconcertment.

    “What do you mean by that?”

    Just then, as if timed, a maid’s voice was heard.

    “I have brought the list that you requested, my lord.”

    “Let me see.”

    The Eldest Young Master received the list inscribed with names from the maid and said,

    “As I mentioned before, this is merely my way of repaying your congratulations.”

    Elder Yeom had no choice but to accept this gesture, even though he was perplexed.

    ‘What is the Eldest Young Master thinking…?’

    As Elder Yeom tried to fathom the unfathomable intentions of the Eldest Young Master, the latter quickly flipped through the list.

    “Hmm, this person seems suitable.”

    The Eldest Young Master called a maid and ordered her to bring the person he had chosen.

    * * *

    In a corner of the waiting area.

    No one dared approach the vicinity where the War Merchant of the North was seated.

    From a distance, people occasionally glanced over, monitoring the old man’s movements, but no one dared to approach him.

    The reputation and fear associated with the name of the owner of one of the largest military supply factions in the northern territories warranted such behavior.

    His loyal servant asked in a low voice, noticing the old man sitting silently, lost in thought,

    “Skipping meals and just sitting like this will harm your health.”

    But the old man was preoccupied with other concerns.

    “Has there still been no contact from any quarter?”

    “None.”

    “It seems unlikely that anyone with connections to the Eldest Young Master would easily facilitate a meeting.”

    “….”

    The old man crossed his arms and closed his eyes.

    “Then there’s nothing to be done but to wait and hope for Tengri’s[1] blessing.”

    The old man muttered as if sighing.

    “…To think it would be this difficult to meet someone who has been secluded for so many years.”

    The servant, sighing at his master’s stubbornness, asked,

    “Is meeting this Eldest Young Master so important?”

    “Yes.”

    The old man stated emphatically.

    “It’s a stroke of luck that I was passing through Luoyang just as the Eldest Young Master ended his seclusion.”

    The old man smirked.

    “By now, the other northern merchants must be hurrying to prepare, having heard the news.”

    “What relation does the Eldest Young Master of the Sword House have with the North…?”

    Just then, their conversation was interrupted by a voice.

    “Are you Dong Ga-hyu, known as the War Merchant of the North?”

    It was a clear and melodious voice, like that of a nightingale.

    Only then did Dong Ga-hyu and his servants realize that the entire floor where they were seated had fallen silent.

    As the servants hurriedly stepped aside, they could see a woman dressed in attire far more refined than the usual maid uniforms of Wongak Pavilion.

    “Yes, I am Dong Ga-hyu.”

    Il-ryeong, the senior maid of Wongak Pavilion, looked down at the old man with an arrogant gaze and announced,

    “My master, the Eldest Young Master, wishes to see you. Please follow me immediately.”

    The old man’s eyes sparkled.

    * * *

    Upon hearing the name the Eldest Young Master had mentioned to the maid, Elder Yeom deeply pondered.

    After a moment of hesitation, he spoke to the Eldest Young Master, who was savoring the tea that the maid had reheated.

    “Eldest Young Master, ‘that old monster’ is not an easy opponent to handle. It might be better if I personally take your letter to the North and settle the matter…”

    The Eldest Young Master shook his head.

    “This matter requires more than just adept negotiation; it’s crucial not to provoke the other’s pride.”

    He looked at Elder Yeom.

    “The hero of the Northern Wars and an elder of the Luoyang Sword House would merely provoke the pride of General Kwak Kyu and the Governor by his mere presence, making it even harder for either side to extend a hand.”

    The Eldest Young Master added,

    “Moreover, the one to play this ‘matchmaker’ role must be able to humble themselves, and sometimes even roll in the dirt. That does not suit you.”

    Elder Yeom let out a bitter laugh.

    “However, that old monster is haughty and full of himself in the North, hardly the right choice for such delicate work, wouldn’t you agree?”

    “Is that so?”

    The Eldest Young Master wore a curious smile.

    “I’ve never met this ‘old monster’ you speak of, but don’t you think he’s the type to even feign death if ordered?”

    Yeom Baek-ha inwardly shook her head.

    She had heard enough from her father about the notorious reputation of the War Merchant of the North.

    Elder Yeom said with a hint of frustration,

    “It’s hard to believe that stubborn old monster would…”

    Just then, the maid’s voice was heard.

    “My lord, as you commanded, I have brought Dong Ga-hyu.”

    “Let him in.”

    The Eldest Young Master gestured towards the entrance of the office, indicating for them to witness firsthand.

    As soon as the office door opened, a volume of voice that seemed impossible for an old man filled the space.

    “To celebrate the end of the seclusion of the Eldest Young Master, the direct descendant of the Great Luoyang Sword House, I wish you great fortune and longevity, and may all your endeavors be successful!”

    Before even fully entering, the notorious old monster was seen performing a deep bow.

    “….”

    Yeom Baek-ha could swear she had never seen her dignified father look so bewildered in her life.

    * * *

    Even after entering the office, Dong Ga-hyu continued for a while to invoke the names of various deities from Daoism, almost in praise of the Eldest Young Master.

    Yet, towards Elder Yeom, with whom he had past connections through the Northern Wars, he merely nodded slightly, hinting at his true nature.

    “Do you have any guess why I called you here?”

    The old man once again began with his booming voice.

    “How dare this lowly merchant even presume to fathom the wisdom of the high and mighty Eldest Young Master!”

    The Eldest Young Master clicked his tongue.

    “Utterly useless.”

    Before the Eldest Young Master could finish, the old man, prostrate on the ground, exclaimed,

    “It must be concerning the military facility renovation project rights in the four regions of the North, isn’t it!”

    Dong Ga-hyu had made his guess the moment he saw Elder Yeom seated in the office.

    Indeed, the title of War Merchant of the North was not an empty one.

    “Yes, that’s right.”

    The Eldest Young Master asked Dong Ga-hyu, who was prostrate on the floor, “Do you think you can accomplish the task?”

    After a brief moment of calculation in his head, the old man cried out as if in excruciating pain, “Please, grant me death instead!”

    The Eldest Young Master tossed two letters towards Dong Ga-hyu, still flat on the ground, “Then, would it be possible with these?”

    Without changing his prostrate posture, Dong Ga-hyu quickly unfolded the letters and read their contents, then exclaimed, “In obedience to the Eldest Young Master’s will, I shall devote myself fully to fulfill your grand intentions!”

    “Perhaps giving both letters was too generous…?” the Eldest Young Master mused.

    As the Eldest Young Master subtly moved to retrieve one of the letters, the old man began to bang his head on the floor, “I implore you, hurry! Eldest Young Master, please pity this poor old man…”

    The Eldest Young Master chuckled, looking towards Elder Yeom, “It seems the problem is already resolved, Elder Yeom?”

    As Elder Yeom, wearing a resigned expression, was about to speak, Dong Ga-hyu cried out once more, “Please, trust in this Dong Ga-hyu, who is as loyal as your own limbs, Eldest Young Master!”

    1. All-encompassing God of Heaven, worshipped by nomadic tribes of Mongolic people[]
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