The historical setting is based on China’s Ming Dynasty, whose founder was Zhu Yuanzhang. In Korean history, Ming became Myung and Zhu Yuanzhang became Ju Wonjang, Hongwu became Hongmu. I’m going to try to translate everything with their Korean equivalent name, but sometimes I might use the Chinese names if they are significant Chinese figures. This will be up to my discretion, but I will try to stay consistent once their name has been used once.
The beginning of this chapter was atrocious as it was mostly info dump narrative (I’m sure there’s more to come until action starts). Translating became easier once the conversation kicked in, so hopefully future chapters will be a little easier to translate. That said, enjoy the chapter!
Ch 1: From Emperor to Martial Artist
The first emperor and founder of the Myung Dynasty, Ju Wonjang, had 26 sons and 16 daughters. On the 25th year of the Hongmu Calendar, April, Empress Ma’s son, the Crown Prince Pyo, left the world from an illness. Even before the crown prince’s death, Ju Wonjang was considering Ju-Tae, son of a Goryeo concubine named Juk-Bi, to be his heir. He had exceptional potential as a king, was an outstanding tactician, and was a fierce general. Accordingly, it was with little doubt that Ju-Tae, the King of Yeon, would become the next emperor.
[TN: roughly 1393 give or take a year]
However on that year, the royal scribe, Yu Samoh, pleaded to the emperor: “the peace of the imperial court has been maintained by respecting the traditions of the past. It is proper that his majesty’s grandson, the heir by blood, succeed the throne.” At this time, Ju Wonjang was 65 years old and his grandson, Yunmun, was only 10.
In September of that year, Ju Yunmun was declared the Crown Prince. His character, according to the imperial records, was described to be gentle and of an exceptionally brilliant mind. How must Ju Wonjang have felt seeing his 10 year old grandson? Alas, a man’s fate could not be altered by mortal power. In May of Hongmu Calendar’s 31st year, the first emperor Ju Wonjang left the world of old age. He was 71 years old and Ju Yunmun was 16. Following Ju Wonjang’s will, Crown Prince Yunmun succeeded the throne and became the Gunmun Emperor*.
[TN: Emperors were given a name/title upon enthronement different from their birth name. Ju Wonjang’s was Hongmu, thus the Hongmu Calendar. Yunmun’s title is Gunmun]
However, this was the start of a tragedy. The day after the death of the founding emperor, Minister Tak-Gyung appealed to the new emperor: “the power of kings must be seized to extinguish future sources of opposition.” At this time, there was a rumor that secret envoys were relaying messages to the kings who supported the King of Yeon. In the end, Hwang Jajung and Jae-Tae were chosen to carry out the order of suppressing the kings. Their first victim was Ju-Suk, the King of Ju. He was the half-brother of Ju-Tae, King of Yeon.
Subsequently, many kings were either exiled or killed, including Ju-Pyeon, King of Min, and Ju-Baek, King of Sang. Finally, the world turned its eyes to the King of Yeon Ju Tae in the North whose army was the strongest of all the kings. The emperor immediately formed an expeditionary force to conquer the North with Kyung Byungmun as its imperator. Following the expeditionary force’s failure, the emperor created an army of 600,000 with Lee Kyung-Liung as its commander. This, too, ended in failure. After several years of fighting and facing many difficulties, the Northern army conquered the Southern army.
In the heated summer of July, year of 1402, the King of Yeon ascended the throne and became the Young-Lak Emperor. It was the most unfortunate event for the Gunmun Emperor, who was at this time only 20. With the help of several loyal retainers and his father Pyo’s teacher, Song-Ryum, Yunmun was able to escape through a secret underground tunnel. The King of Yeon was notified that the Gunmun Emperor set the palace on fire and committed suicide. The Gunmun Emperor, Yunmun, departed with a conical hat*, straw shoes, and a little bit of money in search of two powerful hermits who had been personal guards of Ju Wonjang.
What great sins have I committed to go through such hardship? It’s too tiring. I would rather just fall asleep here… but… all those who died to save my life alone… their tragic screams won’t allow me to give up here.
The young man’s appearance could not be put to mouth. His tattered robe was smeared with blood and his unwashed face was filled with all sorts of filth. He walked dragging his barely moving feet with ragged straw shoes. The tips of his fingers were split and uncomfortable to look at. He was crying. The mixture of blood and dust flowed into his mouth and he swallowed it, unable to shake it off.
I’m still alive. I can’t give up here. Even if I die in the process, I will continue. Only then, will I be able to show the world that my life has value.
He was already in despair. Under his uncle, the Yung-Lak Emperor, the world was ruled as if nothing had ever happened. On his way to Mt. Tae, he heard of many rumors. Rumors of his death and rumors of the new emperor. While hearing all this, he came to realize it was all too late to turn back. But the path of his journey was indeed strange. If he was trying to run away from his uncle, he should have left to the west or the south. Instead, he was heading for the North where his uncle’s home was.
“If I am to rise to power, blood will sweep the heavens and earth once again. I cannot sacrifice my people for the sake of my greed… I will stay in the mountains and learn the ways of nature.”
He was remembering the last words Song-Ryum said to him.
[Your Majesty, when you reach Mt. Tae, there will be a small stone monument on the Biha Peak. On that monument, leave the founding emperor’s Hwang-Gak emblem. Behind the Biha Peak, in a place called Mangjook, there are two hermits who served the founding emperor. More than likely, they will protect you if you place the emblem on the stone. I, your unworthy servant, must leave you now. Your Majesty, I pray for your safety.]
The Hwang-Gak emblem was a tag the first emperor Ju Wonjang created when he left his brothers at home. He had always carried it with him as he journeyed to a temple called Hwangak in search of a way to live. It is said that he often would take it out to remind himself of the past hardships. Tears yet again filled Yunmun’s eyes. What a weak emperor! Even so, he was gentle and kind-hearted.
Strength had left his hands and feet. His legs were shaking and he limped as if he was crawling. His sight dimmed and his conscious flicked on and off. He bit his tongue and shed blood. He fell down numerous times and rolled on the ground. However, he never stopped.
Is that it? While forcing his eyes to stay open, he stared at the stone monument in front of him. On that small stone, a poem was written with densely packed words.
Although the people are comparable to a grain of sand under the vast Heavens
Not all will know and understand the will of Heaven
If one raises his body and rules his mind with conviction
He will fully understand when to retreat or advance.
He will sense his own self with the will of Heaven and will build a nation with the people’s will
There is truly only one treasure under the Heavens
And that is the people
I will cut my flesh to feed them
And I will break my bones to build the foundations of their home
For I proclaim this conviction to the Heaven and walk the path of an emperor
Nothing shall stand in my path
Could it be that my grandfather, the first emperor, wrote this himself?
He crawled using his tattered elbows to push himself forward. He was unable to feel any pain as his body continued to shake. This was not because of pain, but because that place contained the breath of his grandfather. At that moment, he thought about a time when he played in the palace garden with his father. He touched the rough texture of the rock with his own hands. Whether it was due to the moss or the breath of his grandfather, the stone monument felt walm.
-leave the Hwang-Gak emblem there-
Song-Ryum’s words urged him on.
Using his shaking hands, he took out the emblem and placed it on the stone monument. Afterwards, as if he had completed his task, he fell on his back.
I’ve finished what I had to do. Why is the sky so blue? I can’t fall asleep here…
“This is the Gunmun Emperor?”
In front of his eyes, faces of two men appeared and disappeared. Soon afterwards, he once again found himself falling asleep.
“It’s been three days and it seems he won’t be waking up any time soon. What’s wrong with him, We-Noh?”
The man named We-Noh who was watching the flame in the cauldron in front of him casually responded.
“His mental stress was huge and his physical body deteriorated significantly. As such, it is only obvious.”
He manipulated the flame’s strength with skillful hands.
“There should be no lasting scar, right? If there is even a scratch on the emperor’s body, I will personally scoop off your flesh.”
“Do whatever you want!”
“He has to be fine. He is his grandson after all…”
“It’s already a miracle he made it this far… since his will has been so strong, it is only natural that we take care of the following problems.”
“For once you said something right! Just wait and see, I will definitely put him back on the throne.”
“But who could it be? Could it be the his majesty the King of Yeon or the King of Ju? It could be the King of Min or even the King of Sang… though more than likely, it is his majesty the King of Yeon.”
“His majesty my ass. Call him Ju-Tae, that bastard.”
“He is Sunhwang Emperor’s son, you know… mind your words.”
“Haven’t I told you before? That something like this would definitely happen.”
“Huh? It seems his majesty is about to wake up.”
The two men hurriedly ran to the Gunmun Emperor’s side. Their expressions were filled with nervous light. The old-man named We-Noh closed his eyes and checked his pulse.
“How is it? Do you think he’ll wake up?” asked the other, impatiently.
“Mm! He’s gotten much better. He should wake up in a few hours, Hwan-Noh! You stay here. I need to feed his majesty the medicine as soon as he wakes up.”
“Alright, move it.”
This place seemed to be a cave. Ordinary people had no idea that Mt. Tae had a place like this. The deep cave’s insides were big and hollow, and its thousand year old rocks were carved to form various furniture. With a bed, desk, table, and chairs, the cave seemed to be at least 30 meters long and wide.
Hwan-Noh stared down at the emperor with eyes full of worry.
Am I dead? I can’t see anything. I don’t feel any pain either. I must be dead! Hm? These men are the ones I saw briefly in my dreams. Or perhaps that wasn’t a dream?
“Your majesty, your servants greet you.”
The two men simultaneously threw their body on the ground and bowed.
Your majesty, they said? Where am I? I was in front of the stone monument… ah, this place must be where grandfather’s secret guards live…
As his eyes became focused, he could more clearly distinguish the two men’s figures.
[TN: Said with a formal tone/manner]
He talked as he always had, unable to remember that he is no longer the emperor.
“We are the first emperor’s secret guards Hwan-Noh and We-Noh.”
“Mm, is that so? Were you the ones who saved me?”
“That is indeed the case, your majesty.”
“I do not quite understand why I am here, but only that I was told to come find you two.”
“Your majesty! There is only one true emperor. The owner of these lands can only be the rightful heir of the founding emperor. We will reclaim your throne, please believe in us.”
“The founding emperor has left us here for this exact situation, and we have also prepared ourselves for a long time. No matter how long it might take, we swear that the Great Myung Empire will return to your hands.”
“No, it does not belong to me. That… was my misunderstanding. This land belongs to my people… I only served to briefly lead them… since that role has been fulfilled, it is only natural that I now stand down. That is what the Heavens and the Era decided! I fully understand your sentiments but we are unable to defy history. It might be hard but it is time to live the life of an ordinary person.”
Why did his words sound so sorrowful? The two old men were crying while kneeling down. What could the old servants be feeling, while facing the young emperor with such tears?
“I must live a different life! A more ordinary life! Perhaps, the real meaning of being human lies within such a life. Huhuhu.”
He was laughing…! The emperor who should be crying tears of blood was laughing.
The three men were facing each other. The Gunmun Emperor… no… Yunmun had ordered so. Thus, they reluctantly faced the emperor and chatted.
“Why do you two think I should do? I would like to just spend my time here…”
“That won’t do. How could your majesty stay in such a shabby place?”
“Cough. I already told you, there’s no need to address me as such any longer… you may call me Lord instead. If you two must insist on being my servants, then calling me as such will be the best. Understood?”
“How could we… Yes, your maj… lord!”
“Haha. See, does that not sound great? I would like to change my name as well… In fact, let’s take this opportunity to change everything! Even this useless memory…”
Hwan-Noh called Yunmun with a serious face.
“Do you really wish to forget the past?”
“Haha. I was just throwing that out there. Such a thing cannot be possible… indeed, a dream-like wish. Even knowing that this is part of my punishment… yes, this must be the opportunity granted by the Heavens to pay for my sins. Hahahaha.”
Yunmun laughed for no clear reason! But how must his heart be? It must be so tattered that not even a trace of its existence might remain.
“Your majesty, that… might not be impossible at all… if that is your majesty’s wish, then it may be so.”
The Gunmun Emperor was astonished by his words. But there was another who was even more surprised.
“No, Hwan-Noh, could you be talking about… that cannot be allowed.”
“You stay out of this. If this is the emperor’s wishes, how could we not grant it? I would be willing to do things even more demanding than this. If possible, I would overturn the entire Heavens to achieve his majesty’s desires.”
“I understand… but that’s…”
“Your majesty, is that what you truly wish?”
His words contained a hint of anticipation. The two men were both staring at the Gunmun Emperor’s lips. The one in question hadn’t the faintest clue, but he had to ask himself. What if this was indeed possible? He asked himself that question. Would that truly be what he wants?
“Are you sure it’s possible?”
“Alright… then do so.”
He has spoken. With it, the emperor’s command had been given. At least to them, the youth in front of them was without a doubt the emperor. They were ready to jump into a pool of lava for his commands.
“Yes, your majesty. I will change everything. Not only your appearance, but also memory, personality, and habits. Everything will be changed.”
We-Noh was silently listening to Hwan-Noh from his side!
“Whoo… is this also the will of Heaven?”
“Your majesty, what person do you wish to be?”
“???? What do you mean?”
“We can change the appearance ourselves… but it is best that you tell us what person you wish to become…”
“Are you saying you will turn me into whoever I want?”
“That is indeed the case.”
What an absurd thing to say!
“If it is a historical figure, anyone is possible. However, it cannot be a living person.”
“Could it be someone like Confucius or Buddha?”
“I am not so sure about those two.”
“What about Qin Shi Huang or Genghis Khan?”
“Of course that’s possible.”
“Can I become a woman? What about Yang Guifei or Xi Shi*?
[TN: The two are among China’s Four Beauties; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Beauties]
“It’s a bit complicated… but it’s possible.”
“Haha, is that so?”
Yunmun was deliberating carefully. Who should I choose? I don’t want to be a King, so what about a scholar? I can leave a teaching for the people of this land to follow for generations. Or how about a merchant? That’s not a bad idea either. I can help those in need whenever I want! Or perhaps a general? An ascetic? I can’t believe how hard it is to choose. Ah, let’s become a martial artist so that I can wander the Mid-Lands freely!
“Can I become a martial artist? A man of Murim, I mean. I hear they are able to soar through the skies like an immortal and perform all sorts of miracles!”
Yunmun was excited. He had heard about martial artists from his father, Pyo. Back then, his stories sent electrifying chills through Yunmun’s spine. He couldn’t believe such a world existed.
“A martial artist? Yes, it’s possible, but who…”
“I’m not so keen on history of martial artists. But since you are martial artists, you must know something. Who should I be? I would prefer it to be someone famous.”
“Someone famous… that would be the founders of various sects. They are the Murim’s legendary figures…”
“Ah, I think I know someone like that.”
Yunmun’s voice sounded ecstatic.
“How about Dharma?”
“Dharma? Mm… do you wish to be a monk?”
“Huh? Ah, I see… if I became Dharma, I would probably run to the Shaolin Temple. Is there anyone else known as the strongest in all of Murim’s history?”
“I can’t say for certain. Other than Dharma… well I guess someone comparable to him would be… Chunma.”
After saying the name, Hwan-Noh was surprised at himself. Chunma? We-Noh gave Hwan-Noh a menacing look.
“Chunma? His name is cool, and he is that strong? Alright, I’ve decided. I’ll become Chunma.”
The entire cave seemed to crumble down. No, it might even be the Heavens. A careless statement had piqued the interest of the emperor.
“Your majesty, please reconsider…”
“Why? What’s wrong with becoming Chunma? Is it not possible?”
“No, that is not it. But Chunma is known to be all too cruel and savage…”
“Really? But you must realize, history does not always tell the truth. Even the story of me and my uncle will not be passed down truthfully. That is how the human history works… the truth is distorted and covered up by deception. Without experience, one cannot ascertain anything.”
The two old men could only grumble in response.
Who is Chunma? He is a better suited to be called legendary than historical. At the same time, he was definitely someone who was once alive. Although no one knows exactly when or what he did, the tales of his feat suggest that he is a demon, not human. It is said that he is the origin of all of evils. Furthermore, he was undoubtedly one of Murim’s strongest expert!
“Alright, I shall turn you into Chunma.”
“Uhahahahaha. Great, this is great! Just thinking about it makes me excited! I can now freely wander the world of Murim! I never thought I’d even see the Mid-Land’s sky again.”
Due to the emperor’s joyous tone, the two servants could forget about the weight on their hearts for a bit. If it makes the emperor this happy, they wouldn’t hesitate to make him his own grandfather much less Chunma!
Thus, a new Chunma was about to descend into the lands. Chunma with his abilities, personality, and memory!!!