There was an old saying that said the rich won’t last three generations.
These words rang true for the great Lord Yoon of Hanyang. Met with an unfortunate financial crisis, the great household gradually tilted before completely collapsing. They eventually sold their magnificent residence in Hanyang and moved away.
The reason for this collapse came in the form of his previous son-in-law of the Seo family. The two families had joined together and put all of their fortune into the ginseng business. However, who could have expected the ship carrying the ginseng to encounter a terrible storm and sink into the ocean?
Many around him said that he could make a huge profit by selling the ginseng here, but Lord Yoon believed the domestic markets were already saturated with ginseng vendors. Therefore, he set his eyes on foreign nations, which explained why the ginseng was on the ship in the first place.
Believing that the profits gained would be greater in international markets, Lord Yoon went to Lord Seo, and the two of them filled the ship with all of their ginseng and sent it off. As long as the ship sailed across the ocean peacefully, they’d make a fortune.
The seas were generally peaceful during this season. However, the ship encountered an unexpected storm that caused it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Of course, all the ginseng was lost, and all that remained was the debt the two families had incurred from the buyers who had already paid in advance.
In order to pay this back, they sold their house, their servants, and their land. However, the ginseng debt was so great that all these things did not cover it.
Lord Yoon only had three daughters. The first and second daughters had already married and left the household. His youngest had perished in a fire a long time ago while she was recuperating in the countryside.
They requested some help from their married daughters, but as married daughters, they were no better than strangers and ultimately refused to help.
In the end, Lord Yoon became another fallen noble who intruded on other noble families as a parasitic houseguest. Whenever the other nobles saw him, they wagged their fingers and as they criticized him. They all clicked their tongues as they agreed that excessive greed will lead to one’s downfall.
Lord Seo’s situation was a little better.
He also incurred a great debt, but he managed to escape the fate of being tossed out into the streets. Thanks to his son’s government post, the money from his stipend managed to save the family.
However, because the son’s government post wasn’t an important position, he didn’t make as much money as they would have liked. Half of the stipend went directly to paying off their debt, and the other half was left for their day-to-day expenses. Therefore, the following years were not kind to the Seo family either. Ultimately, the government official Seo MoonHyuk, the son of Lord Seo, ended up turning to moonshine.
What was moonshine?
At this time, there was a royal edict that banned the production and sale of liquor.
The king declared that the subjects of the kingdom were having trouble finding enough rice to eat, so it would be a waste to use the precious rice to make wine. However, just because the king made a royal decree to stop the sale of liquor didn’t mean that people suddenly stopped drinking liquor.
Therefore, many places began to secretly sell moonshine, and they made quite a fortune from it.
However, these bar owners had to make sure their tracks were covered. Therefore, they began to bribe the local officials to turn a blind eye to their business.
That is exactly what happened to Seo MoonHyuk, a government official.
He used these backdoor payments to bolster his measly stipend. However, as he continued with these secret transactions, he began to enjoy his power and became overconfident.
They say that one’s heart races the most when they steal for the very first time. However, if they keep doing it, they grow more brazen and bold.
That is exactly what happened to Seo MoonHyuk.
The group of bar owners dealing business with Seo MoonHyuk began to grow, much to his delight.
However, the longer the tail, the easier it is to catch.
One day, after he had come home from his office, Seo MoonHyuk sat down at the dinner table to enjoy his meal when a group of soldiers suddenly showed up at his residence.
The soldiers turned the residence upside-down and managed to find the account books where his secret dealings with the bar owners were recorded. With that, Seo MoonHyuk was dragged down to the military headquarters.
Because he had broken a royal decree, he ended up losing his government post.
Not only that, but he was also in danger of being whipped and exiled for his crimes.
“Why did you end up dipping your hands in something like moonshine?”
The officer at the military headquarters clicked his tongue.
Seo MoonHyuk had heard about this man.
According to the rumors, this man was known to be as ferocious as a tiger within the military.
He was kind to the weak and very harsh to criminals. He was known to be an extremely skilled and intelligent man, and Seo MoonHyuk had seen him in passing a few times.
Because of his humble birth, this man was only a lower officer, but it was obvious that he was going to be promoted to higher positions in no time.
But not too high, of course.
This official used to be a servant. He entered the military and served for 4 years. After those 4 years, he received a gentleman’s title.
By law, it was impossible for a servant to rise up in rank. However, there was only one exception. If the servant served in the military for 4 years in the area between the Yalu River and the Tumen River, they’d be able to discard their lowly status.
Not a lot of men in the force were willing to serve in this area. Therefore, the higher-ups decided that even slaves would be better than nothing, so they added this incentive to promote their social status to gentlemen after they finished their 4-year service. Because of this, there were times when runaway slaves would join the force in order to discard their lowly identities.
Even if their true identities were discovered later on, once they received a gentleman’s title, it couldn’t be taken away. Therefore, a lot of servants entered the force to change their social rank.
This man was the same.
He joined the navy and received his gentleman’s title. However, he didn’t stop there. He remained in the navy and was noted for his outstanding achievements. Ultimately, he was even promoted to the position of naval officer.
The head of the naval force had returned to Hanyang as the mayor of the city. The mayor brought this officer with him, and the officer ended up becoming the lieutenant of the city force. This lieutenant’s name was Choi MuGyeom.
“As a noble who only cares about saving face, why did you do something so undignified as dipping your hand in the sale of moonshine?”
The lieutenant’s voice held a hint of mockery.
However, Seo MoonHyuk was in no position to comment on that.
“L-Let me go just this once. If you let me go just this once, I’ll…”
“As a noble who lives and dies for his reputation, why are you begging me, a mere commoner?”
He was definitely mocking him.
Unable to express the fact that he had discovered this ridicule, Seo MoonHyuk could only smile pathetically.
Now wasn’t the time to nitpick over a noble’s reputation.
“Save me just this once. I have many mouths to feed.”
“Are you married?”
“O-Of course. I’m already at this age. How can I not be married?”
“According to the rumors, you’ve been married twice. What happened there?”
“Ah, my first wife wasn’t feeling well, so she went to the countryside to recover and ended up dying in a fire… See, I am quite an unlucky man. If I have to receive my punishment, what will happen to my family? So please…”
“You’re right. I’m a man of compassion, so I will do my best to go easy on you.”
Lieutenant Choi chuckled, so Seo MoonHyuk laughed as well.
“Normally, for the crime of selling moonshine, one would be flogged a hundred times and be banished no matter what social status you hold. However…”
When he heard about the hundred flogs, Seo MoonHyuk’s eyes widened.
No one would be able to survive a hundred flogs.
Even being flogged thirty times would cripple a man.
“However, I can’t find it in me to be so cruel, so I’ll let it go at forty.”
“Why, is it too little? Shall I make it fifty?”
At the lieutenant’s threat, Seo MoonHyuk quickly shook his head.
“N-No. It sounds good to me.”
Therefore, after receiving forty flogs, Seo MoonHyuk was sent home in a wagon.
A man’s flesh would normally tear open after thirty flogs. Their lower bodies would be turned into bloody pulp, and they wouldn’t be able to move.
When the soldiers of the military headquarters saw the bloody lump that was Seo MoonHyuk, they all murmured to themselves. They guessed that he wouldn’t be able to leave his sickbed for at least a year.
And he probably wouldn’t be able to walk properly for more than a year after that.
And even then, he would probably walk with a limp.
* * *
A young child ran over to him. The man opened his arms and lifted the child into his arms. Then he began to walk over to the woman who was teaching a slightly older child how to read on the porch.
“Father. Today, I learned all of the Thousand-Character text.”
The girl in his arms was about seven years old.
And the boy reading on the porch turned ten this year.
The woman sitting next to the boy smiled at the man.
“Did HaeYin truly learn all of the Thousand-Character text?”
“More or less. She’ll need to do it again.”
“Still, she’s a young child. How commendable.”
The man continued to speak to the woman in a formal tone.
It had become a habit for the man to speak to his wife this way.
In the past, this woman had been his mistress.
However, now they were a married couple.
EunSeo glanced at the bundle the man had brought with him.
She couldn’t tell what was wrapped up within the paper.
“On my way home, I stopped by Banchon and received a piece of meat. Tonight, I’m going to make some stew with this.”
Due to EunSeo’s clumsy cooking skills, all of the meals were prepared by MuGyeom.
One wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at his rough hands, but the man was quite a good cook.
MuGyeom and EunSeo.
After escaping the burning house, the two of them found themselves at the Yalu River.
They had already caught on that the new handmaid was planning on killing the both of them.
EunSeo already had a feeling that her father, Lord Yoon, wouldn’t let her live, and the handmaid was acting so strange, so they already figured out her plan early on.
They decided to use this opportunity to run away. Therefore, EunSeo and MuGyeom planned their escape.
They needed to die in order to live, so they faked their own deaths and ran away.
They sold EunSeo’s jewelry to cover their travel expenses as they made their way to the Yalu River.
They endured dozens of obstacles even after paying their travel expenses through EunSeo’s jewelry.
Of course, MuGyeom carried EunSeo on his back the whole time.
The roads were treacherous, even for someone traveling on their own. However, MuGyeom carried EunSeo on his back the whole way and didn’t murmur one word of complaint.
And it was completely EunSeo’s suggestion that MuGyeom join the naval force stationed at the Yalu River.
When she told him that servants could promote their social status by joining, MuGyeom did as she said.
While MuGyeom faced the rough life of the military, EunSeo practiced walking on her own every single day without fail.
And around the time she was pregnant with their first child, she could walk on her own without the help of a cane.
She managed to walk on her own within one and a half years. It took her less than the promised deadline of two years.
They could have continued living their lives at the Yalu River, but when the leader of MuGyeom’s unit decided to move back to Hanyang, he offered MuGyeom a government post there. Therefore, EunSeo and MuGyeom moved back to Hanyang.
This all happened last year.
Of course, as they lived in Hanyang, they heard about what had happened to Lord Yoon’s household as well as EunSeo’s ex-in-laws’ household. However, she didn’t pay them any mind since they were all part of her dead past.
“Shouldn’t we put HaeYin and HaeJoon to bed early tonight?”
MuGyeom whispered into EunSeo’s ear.
MuGyeom decided not to tell EunSeo about today’s incident with Seo MoonHyuk.
When he thought about what that man had done to EunSeo, even a hundred flogs weren’t enough. However, he decided to go easy on him and kept it at forty.
As EunSeo said to him in the past, their past lives were dead. They were now living a new life, and they didn’t need to dwell on it anymore.
The past was the past.
“But you mustn’t fall asleep early…”
At the man’s mischievous whisper, EunSeo chuckled softly.
This man still often called her ‘my lady’.
It usually happened in bed while they were in the throes of passion, and this man was the one she loved the most in the entire world.
This man wasn’t a noble.
He didn’t earn any of this by using the noble blood that ran in this veins. He earned it through his hard work alone.
Through pure sweat, they overcame rough obstacles. EunSeo and this man, a man who wasn’t a noble by name nor title, managed to earn this life of theirs.
So she wasn’t embarrassed at all.
When she looked back on her life, she wasn’t embarrassed of anything.
It was a life she could recall proudly to her children in the future.
They had broken the chains and restraints that had shackled them.
“Go and prepare dinner. I told HaeYin that I’d dye her nails with some balsam flowers.”
When he heard those words, MuGyeom looked at the base of the walls.
The balsam flowers were trembling in the wind as if to announce the arrival of autumn.
Soon, the fingertips of the daughter and wife he loved would be dyed in flower water.
Their hearts would also be dyed in flower water.
And it would never fade away even when the first snow came.
: According to my research, he received a title that designates him as someone who isn’t quite a peasant, but he’s not a noble either. The closest thing that I could think of was a gentleman in Western countries (historically speaking). They have some respect, but not as much as nobles.