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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
“Young Master!” cried the man, whose name was Hwang Cheol (黄哲)1. Hwang Cheol had once been a third-rate soldier in the Northern Army. He was never any good at martial arts, but his loyalty was unquestionable.
He was also the only soldier who hadn’t truly abandoned the Northern Army. He voluntarily chose to spend the hard-earned money he got from working elsewhere on food and necessities for Jin Mu-Won, and would deliver them in-person regularly. His devotion earned him the honor of being called “uncle” by Jin Mu-Won.2
“Young Master, how have you been lately? Have the new mercenaries been treating you well?”
“Don’t worry, Uncle Hwang, they haven’t harmed me. How have you been?”
“I’m doing well, thank you.”
Hwang Cheol looked at Jin Mu-Won sadly. He was also an orphan. When he was young, he used to always get falsely accused of crimes, so he ended up wandering from place to place. That ended when he met Jin Mu-Won’s father, Jin Kwan-Ho. Not only was Jin Kwan-Ho the first person to accept him, he took him in, taught him martial arts, and gave him the ability to make a living.
Hwang Cheol never had any talent in martial arts. He couldn’t even master the basics of the Northern Army’s martial arts. Despite that, Jin Kwan-Ho personally taught him self-defense so that he could protect himself and live independently.
Of course, he could never compare to the elites. His lack of talent was just too large of a barrier. But he was still good enough at martial arts that people called it a miracle.
Hwang Cheol never forgot Jin Kwan-Ho’s kindness. While everyone else abandoned the Northern Army, he chose to serve Jin Mu-Won instead.
“Have you had dinner yet?”
Hwang Cheol opened his backpack. A few moments later, a bowl of freshly cooked rice with steamy side dishes appeared in front of Jin Mu-Won. Hwang Cheol had probably just finished cooking.
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“The weather is cold today, so please eat while the food is hot, Young Master.”
“Uncle Hwang, you don’t have to do this for me. I can cook for myself.”
“No, Young Master, I enjoy cooking for you. Hurry and eat.”
Jin Mu-Won found himself unable to reject Hwang Cheol’s sincerity, so he grabbed a spoon. He suggested sharing the food with Hwang Cheol but was refused. Hwang Cheol said that he would feel full just watching Jin Mu-Won eat.
Jin Mu-Won felt a little choked from gratitude, but still went ahead and swallowed his food. Hwang Cheol was always like this.
Seo Mu-Sang twitched. He had watched this entire scene unfold from his hiding spot, and was starting to feel guilty for spying on the touching reunion between a young heir of fallen nobility and his loyal servant.
The greedy Jang Pae-San now seemed so petty compared to these two sincere people.
After Jin Mu-Won finished his dinner, Hwang Cheol went to rest in the mansion, while Jin Mu-Won headed to the Grand Library to kill time. Since Jin Mu-Won wasn’t in his room, Seo Mu-Sang went to search through all of his books, but didn’t find anything of interest.
“Was this really the headquarters of the Northern Army? The great Northern Army that single-handedly stopped the Silent Night’s invasion?”
Once, it had been every young man’s dream to serve the Northern Army.
The Northern Army had been like a utopia to those who dreamed of becoming a hero, including Seo Mu-Sang. However, the higher one’s hopes were, the more disappointed one would feel when those hopes were dashed. Disappointment would then turn into chagrin, and chagrin into hatred.
The light of guilt vanished from Seo Mu-Sang’s eyes as he recalled his hatred for Jin Mu-Won.
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Jin Mu-Won opened the door to his room and entered. Anger flashed across his eyes for a moment as he looked across the room.
Generally, it appeared the same as when he had left. However, he noticed that the placement of some objects had shifted just a little bit.
“A guest was here,” muttered Jin Mu-Won as if it didn’t matter to him.
It was like this two years ago too. Captain Seo and his men would search his room again and again whenever he went out. Only after conducting more than a dozen searches did they finally give up and conclude that there was nothing of value hidden in his room.
They all thought that Jin Mu-Won hadn’t noticed, but they had severely underestimated him. Jin Mu-Won’s observational skills and sharp eyesight were unparalleled. He could detect even the most subtle of changes.
“I wonder how many times you guys are going to search my room this time?” said Jin Mu-Won to himself. He sat down at his desk and looked at the few books placed atop it, including the Dao De Jing (道德经)3. He could tell that the books had been opened by another even though there were very few clues.
“Tsk!” Jin Mu-Won clicked his tongue and put the books back in their original position.
-Later that night-
When everyone else had fallen asleep, Jin Mu-Won opened the window and looked outside. His room was on the third floor of the mansion, so he could see the entirety of the Northern Army Fortress from his window.
The days long gone were like a pleasant dream. Back then, many warriors would drink, discuss martial arts, or train late into the night. Things were lively. Now, there was only silence.
Jin Mu-Won stood unmoving, looking at the scenery outside. He was like a statue, making not the slightest movement. After about an hour, he shut the window and lay on his bed. He rolled around on it for a while, then began to breathe regularly as if he had fallen into a deep sleep.
A long time after Jin Mu-Won had ‘fallen asleep’, a barely perceptible ‘swoosh’ sound could be heard. Jin Mu-Won waited for a few minutes, then opened his eyes.
“You finally left, huh?”
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Jin Mu-Won knew that someone had been tailing him for the last few days. He even knew that he had been spied on exactly twelve times a day, his every action monitored.
At first, he could feel that the spy had been pretty focused, but that concentration had waned as time passed.
Jin Mu-Won led a very regular lifestyle. Every morning, he would take a walk. After that, he would head to the Grand Library and read. In the evening, he would take another walk before retiring to his room. The only change today was that he had breakfast together with Hwang Cheol.
This unchanging routine made his life extremely boring. Such a routine was the result of his determination to survive, but at the same time it was also an unbearably painful experience for both the one following it and the one observing it.
Naturally, this held true for Seo Mu-Sang as well, as he gradually lost interest in Jin Mu-Won. Instead of tailing him all the time, Seo Mu-Sang would only pay attention if Jin Mu-Won did something unusual.
Jin Mu-Won once again confirmed that his tail was gone before picking up the Dao De Jing that currently lay beside his bed. This was the book that he would read whenever he was alone.
*The Dao is ever inactive; Yet there is nothing it does not do (道常無為；而無不為). *4
This was Jin Mu-Won’s favorite line in the Dao De Jing, and also the line that best represented its contents. He sat on his bed and read the Dao De Jing over and over again.
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The night was passing, and dawn would soon arrive in the North.
Occasionally, Jin Mu-Won would go outside the Northern Army Fortress.
The instant he stepped out of the entrance, he was hit by the freezing, biting wind. The wind engulfed him brutally and before he knew it, his clothes were a mess.
This wasn’t a normal gale. It was a violent windstorm that felt like it could rip a person’s body to pieces. The northern winds were never benevolent, so even those who had lived here for a long time would avoid going outdoors on a windy day.
Jin Mu-Won frowned, but did not turn back. The wind was so strong that it was hard even to breathe. Jin Mu-Won let himself be assailed by the raging tempest until he began to feel pain.
Pain is good. Pain is proof that I’m still alive.
When the Northern Army was disbanded, time stopped for Jin Mu-Won. To put it precisely, he stopped feeling the passing of time, because time spent living a life without meaning, might as well not have passed at all.
For Jin Mu-Won who lived like that, the bone-chilling pain from the frigid wind was an alarm that jolted him awake from a dreary lull. It let him know that he was still alive.
Jin Mu-Won took a step forward. There were no settlements within ten miles of the Northern Army Fortress.
In the past, the fortress had been surrounded by villages big and small. However, after the fall of the Northern Army and the departure of the villagers, all traces of their existence had been wiped out by the merciless windstorms.
All he saw now was a place frozen in time, and the ruins of a once great fortress. Jin Mu-Won himself was a part of that bleak scene, like a still frame from an old movie.
“The way you are now, Jin Mu-Won, is just pitiful,” said Jin Mu-Won to himself. He climbed to the top of a nearby hill where one could get a view of the entire fortress. The top of this hill was also the highest point in the mostly flat northern region, and the place where he could see the furthest away.
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Jin Mu-Won gazed out at a place beyond the horizon.
The southern region; the place everyone called the Central Plains. He had never gone there before.
Standing under a tree, Jin Mu-Won looked toward the South for a very long time. If one looked at him now, they would see the flat northern plains reflected in his eyes.
Jin Mu-Won was knocked over by a particularly powerful gale. He was simply too weak.
*Well, I’m still young. In time, I will grow taller and stronger. If I manage to survive till adulthood, that is. *
“Hah,” sighed Jin Mu-Won. Even thought it had only been for a moment, a look of determination had appeared on his face.
Not that he wasn’t usually determined. He just needed to reinforce that determination every once in a while. That was because, if he wavered, it would be equivalent to betraying his father’s memory.
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Soon, it would finally be time for him to take the next step forward.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of clothes brushing against leaves as a hand holding a black cloth reached out from behind him.
“Mmph!” Jin Mu-Won’s eyes widened as the hand pressed the cloth over his mouth. He began to feel faint.
As Jin Mu-Won’s consciousness faded away, he heard a man’s impatient roar.
Hwang Cheol (黄哲): The name “Cheol” means “wisdom”. ↩
The social hierarchy in ancient China was strict, and a noble like Jin Mu-Won calling a mere servant “uncle” was unthinkable. ↩
The Dao is ever inactive; Yet there is nothing it does not do (道常無為；而無不為): The first line of Chapter 37 of the Dao De Jing. It means that while the Dao never takes direct action and goes with the flow of nature, it resides within the actions of everything. ↩
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