Black Corporation: Joseon - Chapter 9
Chapter 9 — Sprout…. Sprout of Cancer? (2)
“A request? Tell me.”
When King Sejong gave his permission, Hyang turned to a eunuch. Another eunuch attending Hyang politely presented a little bigger box to King Sejong.
King Sejong opened the newly received wooden box, and he showed curiosity. Pen nibs and pen barrels were filling the wooden box. The pen nib he had previously received was made of gold and inlaid with silver, and the pen barrel itself was a luxurious lacquerware decoration. However, the ones he received now were simply made of gold, engraved with only plum flowers, and the pen barrel as well was only made of finely carved wood.
“Please bestow those golden brushes to the historians and the officials.”
“Yes. The historians, without even resting for a moment, always recorded all the affairs done by Father and the high-ranking officials. Because it is a job that needs a significant amount of effort, I think there should be an item to help them even if it’s only for a bit.”
King Sejong pondered over Hyang’s request for a while before discussing it with the officials.
“I think the Crown Prince’s opinion is very brilliant. What about you all, sir?”
All the retainers tried the mass-produced pen nibs presented by Hyang, and they agreed to King Sejong’s decision.
“I think Your Majesty’s opinion is right.”
“Even at this young age, he is already thinking of the retainers, so how is this a bad thing?”
With the agreement of the officials, the historians who would be the users also tried the pen and expressed their satisfaction.
Thus, the pen nib and pen barrel were decided to be the official office supplies of the court and palace.
Hyang erased the smile from his face when he returned to his room before muttering about something.
“Now, what kind of butterfly effect will this bring on?”
With the offering of the pen nibs and pen barrels under the name ‘golden brush’ to the King, the officials’ favorability for Hyang began to take an upward trajectory. Especially the young officials, including the historians, began to show outrageous favor to Hyang.
“Have you tried the golden brush made by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince?”
“I have. It is superb!”
The ones who were most delighted with it were the historians. It was because no matter how small the brush they used, it was quite a pain to write according to traditional calligraphy technique—arm raised and brush upright. However, with the gold brush, the arm naturally descended, reducing the pressure on the wrist and the entire arm.
After that, Hyang made a writing board and offered it to the King.
“In general, there are times when the commanders of the military issue a sudden command because they are positioned in a post that is lower than their rank. That’s why I made this to be of help for that. I think this is good to use along with the golden brush.”
King Sejong rejoiced and ordered to produce the board in large quantities and distributed it along with the golden brush to the military.
The responses of the commanders about the distribution of the golden brush and the writing board were divided into two. The young commanders and the commanders who had knowledge of the literature showed a very favorable response, but the illiterate commanders couldn’t help but showed a difficult expression.
Nevertheless, Hyang could understand King Sejong’s decision.
As soon as King Sejong rose to the throne, he added Four Books as a subject for the military service examination. Hyang, who heard about this, nodded his head.
“That’s right. This is not the era to decide the outcome of the war by individual dauntless vigor nor military force. That’s even more so in the future.”
Hyang twisted his head even more since he had predicted that the military would hold simple office supplies such as ‘writing board and golden brush’.
“Is Sejong even thinking about changing the military?”
If in the military itself there were pros and cons regarding the writing board, there were also some people who enthusiastically welcomed the writing board. These were the historians and the low-ranking officials of each department in the court. It was not easy to write in the book when they had to hold the rolled empty book and chase after the king as they recorded or when they investigated the inventory or other fields. It was because the book that floated in the air couldn’t receive any power. However, the writing board was an item that definitely solved that problem.
With all this happening, the demand for golden brush and writing board increased sharply, and the arsenal bureau became busy.
With the distribution of golden brushes and writing boards to the court and the military, more and more people took out the golden brush used in the Sixth Ministries Office and Military Administration and used them outside. It was convenient to use, and the plum flower carved in the nib made the users proud.
In a fish shop located in Unjongga, a young scholar asked the shop owner about the fish price while choosing the fish.
“How much is this?”
“Eh… all is 2 mal and 3 dwe of polished rice. But since you are regular, I’ll just give you for 2 mal and 2 dwe.”(1)
“It’s very expensive.”
“Oh my~ Sir, isn’t it winter now? The waves are so strong that ships can’t float.”
“In summer, the fish is expensive because it is damaged by hot weather, and in winter the fish is expensive because the waves are so strong that it is impossible to sail… For real, when will the time for fish to be cheap?”
The scholar stared at the merchant’s face, who answered vaguely with a laugh before reaching out his hand to the merchant.
“Give me your ledger. Also, the ink slab.”
The scholar swiftly wrote in the ledger given by the merchant.
“The value of goods I buy today is… two mal of polished rice.”
“Let’s make it two mal. Isn’t that a good cut off?”
The merchant sighed and when he saw the golden brush in the scholar’s hand, his eyes sparkled.
“Is that the rumored golden brush?”
“You’ve heard about this?”
“Yes. I’ve heard that everyone who works in the government has one.”
The merchant, who was looking at the golden brush with eyes filled with curiosity, smacked his own lips.
“It looks very good to use.”
“This is very good to use whether on the go or in urgent situations. Here! I have urgent business to attend to, so please deliver the fish to my house.”
The merchant who had seen off the scholar, spitted out using all of his might.
“Kuegh~ Twegh! What a bullshit! Is going to Gisaeng house an urgent business? I bet he cut two dwe but spent countless in the Gisaeng house!”
The merchant clicked his tongue after cursing the scholar who had cut the price recklessly.
“That golden brush looked so convenient… Looks like it will bring money?”
* * *
Perhaps because people who had the same thought weren’t small, various items that imitated golden brush began to appear one by one. The rumors about these items quickly entered the palace and became the discussion topic in the morning assembly.
“Your Majesty, there has been a blasphemy going on in the city lately.”
“Blasphemy? Tell me.”
“The golden brush that was made by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and offered to Your Majesty was imitated, and the said imitation is being circulated.”
When one of the officials reported this, another official quickly added.
“This is a very disrespectful thing! How dare they mindlessly imitate the valuables that were carved with the royalty symbol on them! You should give them a heavy punishment!”
“Please give them a heavy punishment!”
After hearing the officials’ unison pledge, King Sejong fell into thought for a while, then opened his mouth.
“I can give my decision right away, but I think the opinion of the involved party, the Crown Prince, is important. I will hear the Crown Prince’s opinion then I will give my decision. Head Eunuch, summon the Crown Prince!”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Not long after, Hyang, who had received King Sejong’s order, entered the audience hall.
“Dear father, did you call me?”
When Hyang asked with courtesy, King Sejong smiled and answered.
“Yes. I called you because I want to ask about your judgment.”
“What kind of judgment could this young and lacking me make?”
“I know very well about your extraordinary intelligence, so don’t feel burdened and just answer, Crown Prince.”
“I understand, Father.”
King Sejong explained things regarding the golden brush to Hyang.
“… That’s why the officials personally assert that we should give hard punishment to the merchants who have imitated and distributed the golden brush. Crown Prince, what about you?”
Hyang closed his lips and lost in thought at King Sejong’s question.
The appearance of an eight-year-old kid who was creasing his forehead as he was deep in thought was unexpectedly cute. That appearance made the gaze of King Sejong and the officials gather on him as they smiled.
Hyang, who had been thinking over and over again in times that were not short, finally opened his mouth.
“My opinion is, the arsenal bureau is the leading pursuit of making weapons that is to serve as the national defense for our nation. So…”
* * *
One month later, the Ministry of Taxation.
People gathered in one of the many rooms in the Ministry of Taxation.
“Have everyone here yet?”
All the participants bowed their heads at the young official’s question.
“Wait a minute.”
The young official came out, and then Hyang entered with the lead of the Minister of Taxation.
The people sitting around the table in the room rose from their seats and prostrated to the floor as soon as Hyang came in.
“These lowly merchants greet Your Royal Highness the Crown Prince!”
“Raise up and sit in the chair.”
“How could we sit in the presence of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince?”
“As long as you don’t commit any sin, it’s fine for you to sit in the chair. Take your seat!”
Because of Hyang’s firm answer, the participants finally sat in their seats. Hyang, who sat in his seat with help from the officials of the Ministry of Taxation, took out the imitated pen nib and pen holder from his sleeve then put it on the table.
“I heard this item has been circulating in the market.”
The merchants who saw the pen nib and pen holder that was put on the table by Hyang quickly prostrated on the floor and answered.
“In our merchant guild, we have never done such a disrespectful thing!”
“Our guild is the same as well!”
“I didn’t call you to ask of your sin. Sit in your seat!”
In spite of what Hyang had said, the merchants couldn’t easily raise themselves up. Hyang faintly clicked his tongue when he saw that and talked once again.
“Don’t make me talk twice.”
“Get up quickly and sit in your seats!”
At Hyang’s warning, the Minister of Taxation quickly rushed the merchants. When the merchants sat on their seats back, Hyang proceeded to the main issue.
“His Majesty has given his order.”
The order of King Sejong that was revealed by Hyang was like the following:
- The production of the golden brush and its pen holder will be transferred from the arsenal bureau to the merchant guilds.
- The selection of the merchant guild to be the producer is the guild that has passed the quality standards and has the cheapest price.
- The selected guild must reveal that the produced golden brush is decorated with the royalty emblem, which is the plum flower, as an official item.
- The selected guild will get the right to sell the produced golden brush in the market. Afterward, if a forged golden brush or if there is no plum flower seal is found, both producers and sellers will be sentenced to death.
- The guild producing the golden brush pays the nation 20 percent of the profits from the sale.
- Commercially sold prices are prohibited more than 60 percent of the price sold in the court.
- In 4 times a year, the Ministry of Taxation will inspect the quality. The timing is irregular, and undercover officials of the Ministry of Taxation will randomly obtain a golden brush and inspect the quality. May the inspection finds any disqualification, golden brushes with the royalty official seal—plum flowers—will be withdrawn, and the contract will be terminated.
- If the contract is terminated due to the above issue, a new merchant guild will be selected. The guild, which got its contract terminated, couldn’t reapply for selection for a year.
All merchants closed their lips and started to think after hearing the condition Hyang had just read. One of the merchants, who was calculating over various things, suddenly talked.
“Your Royal Highness, pardon me to talk….”
“Is there any problem?”
“I want to ask about the standard price for selling in the market.”
“It is the final sale price. Why? Is there any problem?”
“I’m sorry to tell you, 60 percent of the profits are generous, but considering the wages given to the artisans, and the profits taken by the peddlers, only 30 percent of 60 percent that we could take. However, if 20 percent of that is for the nation, then what will we have….”
Hyang stopped the merchant’s word with a harsh voice.
“In presence of whom you dare to tell lies now? Alright, let’s say that 30 percent is the amount of profit you’re going to take. But, what I said is 20 percent of the profit you take. Is 20 percent of 30 percent more than 6 pence? Did you tell lies despite knowing what kind of place is this? Minister of Taxation! Kick out that disrespectful person from the palace right now and take out his guild right to operate!”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness!”
As soon as Hyang gave his order, the Minister of Taxation gave his order. The palace soldiers came inside when they heard the order of the Minister of Taxation and came out, dragging the merchant in question.
“Your Royal Highness! Your Royal Highness!”
When the loud commotion subsided, Hyang stared at the merchants.
“His Majesty the King and I believe that merchants are also an important presence to our people. Because it is impossible for a person to create everything they need alone in life, so it is natural that they need another person to work as a middleman. However! As long as there is someone who uses dirty tricks like him, you merchants will not be able to escape from being treated as a lowly being! Keep this in your mind!”
“We will engrave this in our mind, Your Royal Highness!”
(1)1mal=5.3kg 1 dwe=530gr↻