Chapter 49: The Cursed Sword, Snow Flower (1)

 

 

By FoodieMonster007 November 16, 2021

In order to handle the deliveries of their most highly-valued goods, the White Dragon Merchant Association had set up its own armed escort division.
Most of the escorts lived in a dormitory within the Association headquarters, with six men sharing a room.

The Association decided to make the escorts live together as they believed that it would strengthen the men’s relationships, and thus their ability to work together as a team during escort missions.
This teamwork was what made the White Dragon’s escorts stand out from the competition.

The escort dormitory was equipped with a spacious training plaza.
There, young escorts would practice their martial arts, while the older, more experienced escorts would gather under the shade of the trees around the plaza to chat and play Go.

Yoon Hoo-Myung entered the dormitory.

“Director-nim,” Gong Jin-Sung, the leader of the escorts, greeted Yoon Hoo-Myung.
The middle-aged man was strong and trustworthy, so the other escorts willingly followed him.

Yoon Hoo-Myung smiled and greeted back, “How are you?”

“Haha! Thanks to you, we’re doing very well.
So, why did you come here today?”

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“Where is Escort Hwang?”

“Hyung-nim is over in that corner teaching the new kid.”

“Did he take in a disciple?”

“Disciple my ass.
That boy is the son of Hyung-nim’s friend, Kwak Yi-Soo.
Hyung-nim is just teaching him out of consideration for his friendship with the boy’s father.”

“Is that so?” Yoon Hoo-Myung nodded and walked toward the corner of the training plaza.
There, a sweaty teenage boy was training in martial arts, supervised by a stout middle-aged man.

“There, put more strength into your shoulders! Don’t just focus on the flow of your chi, instead, harmonize it with your movements! Ah, you little brat! I asked you to use more strength, not stiffen up!”

The middle-aged man’s berating made the teenager break out in cold sweat.
He was trying his best, but his body just wouldn’t listen to him.

“The kid’s not very talented,” muttered Yoon Hoo-Myung.
He was also a martial artist, albeit not a very outstanding one.
However, he prided himself on his ability to judge people, and to him, the boy was clearly lacking in talent.

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Rather than a martial artist, the boy looked more like a drunkard randomly waving his fists around.

Yoon Hoo-Myung shook his head, unable to continue watching this disappointing performance.
He approached the middle-aged man and greeted, “Escort Hwang.”

Only when he heard his name did Hwang Cheol finally notice Yoon Hoo-Myung’s existence.
The tanned, slightly hunchbacked man sprung to his feet and exclaimed, “Hmm? If it isn’t Director-nim! What brings you to our humble abode?”

“I’m here on Mother’s orders.”

“You mean, the Madam?” [1]

“Yes, she has something important to tell you, so she sent me to inform you.”

“I-I see…”

“She will be waiting for you in her quarters.”

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“Ah, I understand,” replied Hwang Cheol.
He then looked toward the boy and warned, “Kid, if you don’t want to get killed during an escort mission, don’t slack off and keep training.
You’re not important, and no one will give you a shit and protect you, got it?”

“You didn’t have to say that in such a mean way!”

“I’m saying this for your own good, you damned brat.”

The instant Hwang Cheol turned around to leave, the boy pouted.
However, he knew that Hwang Cheol was right, so he did not argue back.

The boy’s name was Kwak Moon-Jung.
Two years ago, his father Kwak Yi-Soo passed away on an escort mission.
In order to support his family, the boy decided to take up his father’s mantle and become an armed escort himself.
Normally, someone as bad at martial arts as him would never have been hired, but in honor of his father’s contributions, the White Dragon Merchant Association made an exception for him.

Hwang Cheol and the late Kwak Yi-Soo had been as close as real brothers.
Unfortunately, Kwak Yi-Soo had died while Hwang Cheol had been away on other business.
Since then, Hwang Cheol had taken it upon himself to teach Kwak Moon-Jung martial arts.

Hwang Cheol finished greeting Yoon Hoo-Myung, then immediately headed towards the Old Matriarch’s quarters.

Yoon Hoo-Myung watched him go. He’s weak, and doesn’t appear to be very smart.
Just what does Mother see in that man that I can’t? I don’t get it.

Kwak Moon-Jung looked at Yoon Hoo-Myung with glittering eyes, but the older man did not pay the kid’s ass-kissing attempt any mind.

KNOCK, KNOCK.

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“Madam, this is Hwang Cheol.
You asked to see me?”

“Please enter!”

Hwang Cheol slowly opened the door to the Old Matriarch’s quarters and entered, then bowed politely in greeting.

The Old Matriarch motioned him to a chair, saying, “Please sit, Escort Hwang.”

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“Thank you, Madam.” Hwang Cheol gingerly sat down.

The Old Matriarch smiled benevolently at him and greeted, “How have you been?”

“Thanks to you, I’ve been living very comfortably.”

“That’s good.
After all, I’ve always been extremely grateful to you.”

“I didn’t really do anything…” Hwang Cheol’s voice trailed off.
The truth was, he had never done anything that would make him stand out within the White Dragon Merchant Association.
All he did was do his job as an armed escort seriously.
He really couldn’t understand why the Old Matriarch thought so highly of him.

“…So, why did Madam summon me?”

“My third son has decided to travel to Yunnan.”

“Yunnan?” Hwang Cheol frowned.
Even he had heard of the unusual happenings in Yunnan.

“My third son was the one who started up the Yunnan Branch, so he feels responsible for what happened to it.”

“I see.”

“That’s why, I hope that you will be able to accompany him.”

“I’m not going to be much help, though?”

“I believe in you, Escort Hwang.” The Old Matriarch locked gazes with Hwang Cheol.

Hwang Cheol sighed, saying, “I’m not as great a person as Madam seems to think I am.
My martial arts are also really weak.”

The Old Matriarch said nothing and only continued staring at Hwang Cheol directly, smiling.

“…Sigh.
I will accompany the Third Young Master, but please do not place your hopes in me.”

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“Thank you, Escort Hwang.”

“When will we be leaving for Yunnan?”

“Half a month from now.”

“I will make sure to return by that time, so could I go on a short vacation? There’s someplace I must go.”

“…Is that so? Very well then, I approve your vacation.
That’s all for today.”

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“Thank you.” Hwang Cheol gave the Old Matriarch a polite fist salute and left her quarters.

When he was gone, the Old Matriarch leaned her head against the window and muttered to herself, “I pray that your good luck will be enough to protect my son…”

Seven years ago, when Yoon Ja-Myung escaped from certain doom, Hwang Cheol had been there by his side.
Similarly, five years ago, when she herself had been in danger, Hwang Cheol had also been there beside her.
After that, she noticed a certain trend: Whenever anyone survived and escaped from a certain death situation, Hwang Cheol just so happened to be there.

Hwang Cheol was literally the “lucky star” of the White Dragon Merchant Association.
However, the Old Matriarch was not so foolish as to chalk up his repeated survival to simple luck.

Hwang Cheol possessed extremely strong survival instincts.
She didn’t know if he was naturally like that, or if he was a more calculating man than he appeared to be.

Whatever it was, she believed that his “good luck” was a talent.
Moreover, it was quite the rare and unusual talent.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Before he left, Hwang Cheol constantly nagged at Kwak Moon-Jung, saying, “I have to leave for a very long time, so you better be sure to train hard while I’m gone!”

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Hwang Cheol opened a cabinet in a corner of his room, took out several receipts, and headed toward the Finance Department of the White Dragon Merchant Association.
Those were the receipts from his work as an armed escort, and he’d be able to exchange them for money and goods at the Finance Department.

“Hmm, who’s this? Ah, it’s Escort Hwang! Long time no see,” greeted Seok Joong-Sang, the Head of the Finance Department.
He and Hwang Cheol were about the same age, so although they weren’t exactly close friends, they were good drinking buddies.

Hwang Cheol handed Seok Joong-Sang the receipts.

Seok Joong-Sang furrowed his brows, asking, “Same as always?”

“Yes, please.”

“Are you secretly raising an illegitimate child? You know that’s not a big deal, right? We can help you…”

This was something that Hwang Cheol did every few months.
He would save up the receipts from his missions and exchange them for food and necessities, including rice, meat, vegetables, clothes, and iron ore.
He’d then place all the stuff in a horse-drawn wagon and head off to god knows where.

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Whenever anyone asked him about it, he’d refuse to mention where he was going or who the stuff was for.
However, he always disappeared for an average of ten days, arousing everyone’s curiosity.
Seok Joong-Sang himself had tried many times to pry information out of Hwang Cheol while he was drunk, but Hwang Cheol never revealed a single thing.

All Seok Joong-Sang could do for his drinking buddy was offer him lower exchange rates than the market prices of the goods.
The White Dragon Merchant Association was loaded anyway, so no one would fault him for something so minor.

“…Alright, please wait for a moment.” Seok Joong-Sang counted the receipts and wrote down something on paper.
He then handed the paper to one of his subordinates and ordered him to prepare the things listed on it.

“How many days will you be gone this time?”

“I’ll be back in half a month at the latest.”

“Then when you get back, let’s go grab a drink together.”

“That might be a little difficult.”

“Why?”

“Right after coming back, I need to escort the Third Young Master to Yunnan.”

“What? You’re going with him?” Seok Joong-Sang frowned.
He had already heard the news that Yoon Ja-Myung would be heading to Yunnan, but he had no idea that Hwang Cheol would be tagging along.

“Looks like we won’t be able to hang out for a while.”

“When I get back from the mission, let’s have a large celebration.
My treat.”

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“Really?”

“Have I ever gone back on my words?”

“Haha! This is why I like you! Now I’ll really be praying for your safe return!”

Seok Joong-Sang patted Hwang Cheol on the shoulder, and the two drinking buddies grinned at each other.

When the Finance Department had finished loading the goods onto a horse-drawn wagon, Hwang Cheol climbed onto the driver’s seat and left Lanzhou City, heading northwards.

As he traveled through the Yumen Pass, the border between Gansu and Xinjiang Provinces, he was greeted by the sight of desolate plains completely different from the greenery of the Central Plains.
The only populated land in Xinjiang was the capital city, Urumqi, while the rest of the large plains was utterly devoid of human settlements.
One could easily travel for days in Xinjiang without meeting another human being. [2]

Due to its proximity from the government capital, Xinjiang was ruled by the local armies and wealthy merchants.
However, it was also large, so there would definitely be places where there was little to no governance and law enforcement.

Whenever Hwang Cheol had to travel through those kinds of places, he’d have to remain alert for mounted bandits.
These mounted bandits cleverly avoided conflict with the armies and merchants, attacking only lone travelers and merchant caravans, and in return, the authorities turned a blind eye toward their activities.

The three powers remained in balance until recent years, when the Flying Wilderness Squad took over and united all of the mounted bandits.
This naturally led to tensions with the armies and merchants, as the bandits were no longer ragtag criminals, but an organized threat with unknown numbers.

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Strangely though, the mounted bandits never robbed Hwang Cheol the lone traveler, despite the fact that they would happily attack a caravan with an armed escort.
When rumors of this spread, Hwang Cheol became a sort of local legend, and he’d even receive requests from people wanting to travel together with him.
However, he always refused these requests.

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Hwang Cheol traveled through Xinjiang, stopping only occasionally to let his horse rest.
For his safety, he never got off the wagon.
When he started feeling tired, he would practice his breathing technique or nap with his hands on the reins, and when he was hungry, he’d eat dry rations on the move.

He didn’t know whether the mounted bandits were busy elsewhere, or if they were avoiding him on purpose, but he wasn’t about to start getting careless.

As Hwang Cheol moved northwards, the temperature began to drop, and the winds grew stronger.
Although his qi could reduce the cold somewhat, it wasn’t enough to stop him from shivering.
Still, he did not mind the nasty weather.

A day later, he reached a snow-covered plain.
He urged his horse forward through the knee-deep snow, but the smoke from its every breath showed just how difficult it was to traverse through the endless expanse of white.

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Almost there. Hwang Cheol heaved a sigh of relief, releasing a huge cloud of steam as well.

Eventually, a lonely mountain peak appeared in the distance.
Like he had just seen an oasis in the middle of the white sea, Hwang Cheol smiled.

He had reached his destination.

“Young Master,” he muttered, eyes glittering with the gentle light of longing.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

WHOOSH!

A frigid wind tore through the valley, freezing everything in its path.
In this weather where a normal person would unconsciously tighten their winter clothes, a man was taking a nice, relaxing stroll.

The man’s face was covered by his messy hair, as if he hadn’t had a haircut in a very long time.
His bare skin could be seen through his torn and tattered pants, and as for his shirt…he wasn’t wearing a shirt.
Even so, he strolled through the blizzard like it was a nice summer day.

The snow was as deep as a man’s thigh, but where the man walked, barely any footprints could be seen.

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The man headed towards a giant furnace.
The burning flames in the furnace were so intense, all the snow a hundred feet around it had melted completely, and the heat made his lungs and eyeballs feel like they were on fire.
Even so, he ignored the pain and approached the furnace anyway.

CRACKLE! CRACKLE!

A long, red-hot object lay in the middle of the white flames.
The man confirmed that the object had reached the desired shape, then stuck a pair of tongs into the furnace.
He took out the long object and placed it on a workbench nearby.

The object was made of metal, and, like molten lava, it was emitting a shocking amount of heat.

“Hah, I finally got you to surrender!” The man grinned.
For two years, he had waged a long and boring war with this stubborn piece of metal, and at last, he won.

He had actually discovered this metal by accident.

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One day two years ago, he suddenly realized that none of the swords he made could withstand his strength.
Every single one of them shattered after a few uses.
It was then that he noticed a black rock in a corner, and remembered that it had once been worshipped by a tribe, as a god.
It was hard, heavy, and useless, but seeing as it was a gift from a precious person, he couldn’t bring himself to throw it away.

Suddenly, he had a strange thought.

Could I make that thing into a sword?

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He considered it for a while, then decided he would try it.

At first, he had thought that it would be simple.
Previously, no matter how hard the metal, it had easily melted in the giant furnace he had built himself.
However, this one was different.

As if taunting the man, the black rock never melted in the flames.

The man felt like his pride had been wounded.
He tried everything in his knowledge to raise the temperature of the flames, even conducting several dangerous experiments.

Six months later, he finally figured out what additives to burn in order to make the flames hotter.
Only then did he begin to see changes in the rock.

However, that was only the beginning of his battle with the rock.
Every day, the man would wait for the rock to heat up, hammer it, then return it to the flames.
The shape of the stone would change just a little every time he hammered it, but the man never imagined it would take him a year and a half to forge it into the shape he desired.

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The shape of a sword.

He hadn’t made a sword hilt yet, but the graceful and beautiful hamon[3] on the edge was proof that it was a fine blade.

Two days ago, the man had rubbed a layer of clay on the blade before placing it into the furnace.
Through a differential hardening process, the underlying structure of the metal would undergo changes that would result in a harder edge with a softer core, greatly increasing the durability of the sword and creating a hamon.

It was time to quench the blade.
Using a pair of tongs, the man immersed the blade in a special oil that he had prepared beforehand.

PSHHHHHH!

The oil sizzled, and steam rose from the oil bath.

The man closed his eyes and sharpened his senses.
The blade must not be soaked for too long, or too short a time.
He felt for changes in the sword through the tongs and listened closely to the sizzling of the oil.

Now!

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The man took the blade out of the oil and observed it closely. Good, the clay hasn’t fallen off.

The man beamed.
The entire forging process had gone perfectly.

He placed the sword on his workbench.
All he had left to do was wait for it to cool, and then sharpen it.
Although sharpening the blade was also an essential step, the hardest part of the forging process was over.

“Phew!” The man let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Suddenly, he heard a voice calling, “Young Master!”

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The man turned around to see a middle-aged man riding on a horse-drawn wagon.
He smiled.

“Uncle Hwang!”

“Young Master!”

As Hwang Cheol descended from the wagon, Jin Mu-Won rushed forward and gave him a big hug.

With reddened eyes, Hwang Cheol cried, “Young…Master…”

 

Footnotes:

[1] Madam: Hwang Cheol called the Old Matriarch by yet another name that means “Old Mom”, you can probably guess why I altered it…

[2] Yumen Pass: Located west of Dunhuang, Gansu, the Yumen Pass was one of the most important checkpoints along the Silk Road.
From the Yumen Pass, one could travel northwest to Urumqi, or west through the Taklamakan Desert to the Middle East, and then all the way to Cairo/Constantinople.

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[3] Hamon: The wavy line on the cutting edge of a Japanese katana, also known as a blade pattern.
Most Chinese swords do not have this pattern as the differential hardening technique is not used, or the blade is simply cast, not forged.
However, as seen in C16, Mu-Won’s forging technique is more similar to katana forging than typical Chinese sword forging.

 

Translator’s Notes:

Mu-Won definitely put the fear in those bandits… ATTACK UNCLE HWANG AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Proofreader’s Notes:

Mu-Won a menace!

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