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Amazon Rapids Fun stories for kids on the go. Amazon Restaurants Food delivery from local restaurants. Kim and Pak, in their youth, swore a pact to abstain from drinking, which pact was speedily broken. In old age Kim and Pak sing:. The merry bowl Again shall bolster up my soul Against itself. What, good man, hold! Canst tell me where red wine is sold? Nay, just beyond yon peach-tree?
I had the will and the fearlessness for the game I played, and some of the wit; but most of the wit I freely admit was supplied me by Hendrik Hamel. And so we journeyed up to Keijo, from walled city to walled city across a snowy mountain land that was hollowed with innumerable fat farming valleys. And every evening, at fall of day, beacon fires sprang from peak to peak and ran along the land.
Always Kim watched for this nightly display. From all the coasts of Cho—Sen, Kim told me, these chains of fire-speech ran to Keijo to carry their message to the Emperor. One beacon meant the land was in peace. Two beacons meant revolt or invasion. We never saw but one beacon. Keijo we found a vast city where all the population, with the exception of the nobles or yang-bans, dressed in the eternal white. This, Kim explained, was an automatic determination and advertisement of caste. Thus, at a glance, could one tell, the status of an individual by the degrees of cleanness or of filthiness of his garments.
It stood to reason that a coolie, possessing but the clothes he stood up in, must be extremely dirty. And to reason it stood that the individual in immaculate white must possess many changes and command the labour of laundresses to keep his changes immaculate. As for the yang-bans who wore the pale, vari-coloured silks, they were beyond such common yardstick of place.
After resting in an inn for several days, during which time we washed our garments and repaired the ravages of shipwreck and travel, we were summoned before the Emperor. In the great open space before the palace wall were colossal stone dogs that looked more like tortoises. They crouched on massive stone pedestals of twice the height of a tall man. The walls of the palace were huge and of dressed stone. So thick were these walls that they could defy a breach from the mightiest of cannon in a year-long siege. The mere gateway was of the size of a palace in itself, rising pagoda-like, in many retreating stories, each story fringed with tile-roofing.
A smart guard of soldiers turned out at the gateway. These, Kim told me, were the Tiger Hunters of Pyeng-yang, the fiercest and most terrible fighting men of which Cho—Sen could boast. Let it suffice that here we knew power in all its material expression. Only a civilization deep and wide and old and strong could produce this far-walled, many-gabled roof of kings. To no audience-hall were we sea-cunies led, but, as we took it, to a feasting-hall. The feasting was at its end, and all the throng was in a merry mood. And such a throng!
High dignitaries, princes of the blood, sworded nobles, pale priests, weather-tanned officers of high command, court ladies with faces exposed, painted ki-sang or dancing girls who rested from entertaining, and duennas, waiting women, eunuchs, lackeys, and palace slaves a myriad of them. All fell away from us, however, when the Emperor, with a following of intimates, advanced to look us over. He was a merry monarch, especially so for an Asiatic. Not more than forty, with a clear, pallid skin that had never known the sun, he was paunched and weak-legged.
Yet he had once been a fine man. The noble forehead attested that. But the eyes were bleared and weak-lidded, the lips twitching and trembling from the various excesses in which he indulged, which excesses, as I was to learn, were largely devised and pandered by Yunsan, the Buddhist priest, of whom more anon. In our sea-garments we mariners were a motley crew, and motley was the cue of our reception.
Exclamations of wonder at our strangeness gave way to laughter. The ki-sang invaded us, dragging us about, making prisoners of us, two or three of them to one of us, leading us about like go many dancing boars and putting us through our antics.
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It was offensive, true, but what could poor sea-cunies do? What could old Johannes Maartens do, with a bevy of laughing girls about him, tweaking his nose, pinching his arms, tickling his ribs till he pranced? To escape such torment Hans Amden cleared a space and gave a clumsy-footed Hollandish breakdown till all the Court roared its laughter.
It was offensive to me who had been equal and boon companion of Kim for many days. I resisted the laughing ki-sang. I braced my legs and stood upright with folded arms; nor could pinch or tickle bring a quiver from me. Thus they abandoned me for easier prey. This will ruin us. They are making tame animals of us, playthings. When they grow tired of us they will throw us out. The last was barely audible, for by this time the ki-sang had stuffed his mouth to speechlessness.
A palace eunuch, tickling my neck with a feather from behind, gave me my start. I gave no sign, made no move, until I had located him and distanced him. Then, like a shot, without turning head or body, merely by my arm I fetched him an open, back-handed slap. My knuckles landed flat on his cheek and jaw. There was a crack like a spar parting in a gale. He was bowled clean over, landing in a heap on the floor a dozen feet away.
I do believe that I, Adam Strang, had among other things the soul of an actor in me. For see what follows. I was now the most significant of our company. Proud-eyed, disdainful, I met unwavering the eyes upon me and made them drop, or turn away — all eyes but one. These were the eyes of a young woman, whom I judged, by richness of dress and by the half-dozen women fluttering at her back, to be a court lady of distinction. In truth, she was the Lady Om, princess of the house of Min.
Did I say young? She was fully my own age, thirty, and for all that and her ripeness and beauty a princess still unmarried, as I was to learn. She alone looked me in the eyes without wavering until it was I who turned away. She did not look me down, for there was neither challenge nor antagonism in her eyes — only fascination. I was loth to admit this defeat by one small woman, and my eyes, turning aside, lighted on the disgraceful rout of my comrades and the trailing ki-sang and gave me the pretext.
I clapped my hands in the Asiatic fashion when one gives command. The great room was aghast. The women were startled, and pressed toward one another as for safety. The ki-sang released the cunies and shrank away giggling apprehensively. Only the Lady Om made no sign nor motion but continued to gaze wide-eyed into my eyes which had returned to hers. Then fell a great silence, as if all waited some word of doom. A multitude of eyes timidly stole back and forth from the Emperor to me and from me to the Emperor. And I had wit to keep the silence and to stand there, arms folded, haughty and remote.
I was the marvel of my land. Wise men journeyed far to see me and to hear. But no man knew the words I spoke. In the many years since I have forgotten much, but now, in Cho—Sen, the words come back like long-lost friends. I am Korean, and now, at last, I have come to my home. They have journeyed far and are weary.
They are my faithful slaves. In another room Kim helped me change, sending the lackeys away; and quick and to the point was the dress-rehearsal he gave me. He knew no more toward what I drove than did I, but he was a good fellow. The funny thing, once back in the crowd and spouting Korean which I claimed was rusty from long disuse, was that Hendrik Hamel and the rest, too stubborn-tongued to learn new speech, did not know a word I uttered. Ancient history, all, told me by Kim on the long ride, and he struggled with his face to hear me parrot his teaching.
He is very close to me. We are of an age, born on the same day, and on that day my father gave him me. Afterwards, when Hendrik Hamel was eager to know all that I had said, and when I told him, he reproached me and was in a pretty rage. But done it is. Nor you nor I can pluck forth the fat. We must act our parts and make the best of it. The Emperor was delighted, and commanded a dozen of the noblest sots to join in the bout.
The women were dismissed, and we went to it, drink for drink, measure for measure. Next day the palace was a-buzz with my feast, for I had put Taiwun and all his champions snoring on the mats and walked unaided to my bed. Never, in the days of vicissitude that came later, did Taiwun doubt my claim of Korean birth.
Only a Korean, he averred, could possess so strong a head. The princely quarters were mine, of course, and Hamel and Maartens, with the rest of the grumbling cunies, had to content themselves with what remained. I was summoned before Yunsan, the Buddhist priest I have mentioned. It was his first glimpse of me and my first of him. Even Kim he dismissed from me, and we sat alone on deep mats in a twilight room.
Lord, Lord, what a man and a mind was Yunsan! He made to probe my soul. He knew things of other lands and places that no one in Cho—Sen dreamed to know. Did he believe my fabled birth? I could not guess, for his face was less changeful than a bowl of bronze. But in him, this poor-clad, lean-bellied priest, I sensed the power behind power in all the palace and in all Cho—Sen. I sensed also, through the drift of speech, that he had use of me. Now was this use suggested by the Lady Om? I little knew, and less I cared, for I lived always in the moment and let others forecast, forfend, and travail their anxiety.
She lodged as a princess of the blood should lodge. She, too, had a palace to herself, among lotus ponds where grow forests of trees centuries old but so dwarfed that they reached no higher than my middle. Bronze bridges, so delicate and rare that they looked as if fashioned by jewel-smiths, spanned her lily ponds, and a bamboo grove screened her palace apart from all the palace. My head was awhirl.
Sea-cuny that I was, I was no dolt with women, and I sensed more than idle curiosity in her sending for me. The Lady Om wasted little time. There were women about her, but she regarded their presence no more than a carter his horses. I sat beside her on deep mats that made the room half a couch, and wine was given me and sweets to nibble, served on tiny, foot-high tables inlaid with pearl. Lord, Lord, I had but to look into her eyes — But wait. The Lady Om was no fool. I have said she was of my own age.
All of thirty she was, with the poise of her years. She knew what she wanted. She knew what she did not want. It was because of this she had never married, although all pressure that an Asiatic court could put upon a woman had been vainly put upon her to compel her to marry Chong Mong-ju.
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He was a lesser cousin of the great Min family, himself no fool, and grasping so greedily for power as to perturb Yunsan, who strove to retain all power himself and keep the palace and Cho—Sen in ordered balance. But enough of intrigue. The Lady Om was a very flower of woman. Women such as she are born rarely, scarce twice a century the whole world over.
She was unhampered by rule or convention. Religion, with her, was a series of abstractions, partly learned from Yunsan, partly worked out for herself. Vulgar religion, the public religion, she held, was a device to keep the toiling millions to their toil. She had a will of her own, and she had a heart all womanly.
She was a beauty — yes, a beauty by any set rule of the world. Her large black eyes were neither slitted nor slanted in the Asiatic way. They were long, true, but set squarely, and with just the slightest hint of obliqueness that was all for piquancy. I have said she was no fool. It chanced, early in this first meeting, that I mentioned what I had told all the Court, that I was in truth a Korean of the blood of the ancient house of Koryu.
Know that with me you are better and greater than of any house of Koryu. And she laughed tantalizingly and alluringly, and clapped her hands for her women, and I knew that the audience, for this once, was over. I knew, also, there would be other audiences, there must be other audiences. He looked at me and sighed an envy I could not mistake.
Play her, and all will be well with us. Play her, and I shall teach you how. Sea-cuny I was, but I was man, and to no man would I be beholden in my way with women. Put a prize upon yourself. Be chary of your kindnesses. Strange whirling days were those that followed, what of my audiences with the Emperor, my drinking bouts with Taiwun, my conferences with Yunsan, and my hours with the Lady Om. Never was sea-cuny worked so hard.
I was a puppet — puppet to Yunsan, who had need of me; puppet to Hamel, who schemed the wit of the affair that was so deep that alone I should have drowned. Only with the Lady Om was I man, not puppet. In the meantime, however, I was caught up in a palace intrigue I could not fathom. Beyond my guessing there were cliques and cliques within cliques that made a labyrinth of the palace and extended to all the Seven Coasts.
But I did not worry. I left that to Hendrik Hamel. To him I reported every detail that occurred when he was not with me; and he, with furrowed brows, sitting darkling by the hour, like a patient spider unravelled the tangle and spun the web afresh. As my body slave he insisted upon attending me everywhere; being only barred on occasion by Yunsan. Of course I barred him from my moments with the Lady Om, but told him in general what passed, with exception of tenderer incidents that were not his business.
I think Hamel was content to sit back and play the secret part. He was too cold-blooded not to calculate that the risk was mine. If I prospered, he prospered. If I crashed to ruin, he might creep out like a ferret. I am convinced that he so reasoned, and yet it did not save him in the end, as you shall see. The how of the matter was beyond me.
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But he who has naught can dispense the world in largess; and I, who had naught, gave Kim captaincy of the palace guards. The best of it is that I did fulfil my promise. Kim did come to command the Tiger Hunters, although it brought him to a sad end. Scheming and intriguing I left to Hamel and Yunsan, who were the politicians. I was mere man and lover, and merrier than theirs was the time I had. More than once Yunsan almost divined the mind behind my mind; but when he probed Hamel, Hamel proved a stupid slave, a thousand times less interested in affairs of state and policy than was he interested in my health and comfort and garrulously anxious about my drinking contests with Taiwun.
Much that pawed between us I shall not relate, though the Lady Om is dear dust these centuries. But she was not to be denied, nor was I; and when a man and woman will their hearts together heads may fall and kingdoms crash and yet they will not forgo. Came the time when our marriage was mooted — oh, quietly, at first, most quietly, as mere palace gossip in dark corners between eunuchs and waiting-women. But in a palace the gossip of the kitchen scullions will creep to the throne. Soon there was a pretty to-do. The palace was the pulse of Cho—Sen, and when the palace rocked, Cho—Sen trembled.
And there was reason for the rocking. Our marriage would be a blow straight between the eyes of Chong Mong-ju. He fought, with a show of strength for which Yunsan was ready. Chong Mong-ju disaffected half the provincial priesthood, until they pilgrimaged in processions a mile long to the palace gates and frightened the Emperor into a panic.
But Yunsan held like a rock. The other half of the provincial priesthood was his, with, in addition, all the priesthood of the great cities such as Keijo, Fusan, Songdo, Pyen—Yang, Chenampo, and Chemulpo. Yunsan and the Lady Om, between them, twisted the Emperor right about. As she confessed to me afterward, she bullied him with tears and hysteria and threats of a scandal that would shake the throne.
And to cap it all, at the psychological moment, Yunsan pandered the Emperor to novelties of excess that had been long preparing. Now it is not meet that a princess espouse a sea-cuny, or even a claimant of the ancient blood of Koryu, who is without power, or place, or visible symbols of rank. So it was promulgated by imperial decree that I was a prince of Koryu. In Cho—Sen seven is the magic number. Lord, Lord, a sea-cuny.
I was a governor of seven provinces, where fifty thousand troops awaited me. Life, death, and torture, I carried at my disposal. I had a treasury and a treasurer, to say nothing of a regiment of scribes. Awaiting me also was a full thousand of tax-farmers; who squeezed the last coppers from the toiling people. The seven provinces constituted the northern march.
It was said they were given to cannibal practices. I know of experience that they were terrible fighters, most difficult to convince of a beating. A whirlwind year it was. Of course it was really Hendrik Hamel at my back, but I was the fine figure-head that carried it off. Through me Hamel taught our soldiers drill and tactics and taught the Red Heads strategy. I do not know if this invasion of the Red Heads is recorded in Western history, but if so it will give a clue to the date of the times of which I write.
In my time I heard the echoes of the two invasions, a generation before, driven by Hideyoshi through the heart of Cho—Sen from Fusan in the south to as far north as Pyeng—Yang. It was this Hideyoshi who sent back to Japan a myriad tubs of pickled ears and noses of Koreans slain in battle.
I talked with many old men and women who had seen the fighting and escaped the pickling. Back to Keijo and the Lady Om. Lord, Lord, she was a woman. For forty years she was my woman. No dissenting voice was raised against the marriage. Chong Mong-ju, clipped of power, in disgrace, had retired to sulk somewhere on the far north-east coast.
Nightly the single beacons flared their message of peace across the land. The Emperor grew more weak-legged and blear-eyed what of the ingenious deviltries devised for him by Yunsan. Kim was in command of the palace guards. Oh, and Johannes Maartens. Discipline is well hammered into a sea-cuny, and, despite my new greatness, I could never forget that he had been my captain in the days we sought new Indies in the Sparwehr. According to my tale first told in Court, he was the only free man in my following.
The rest of the cunies, being considered my slaves, could not aspire to office of any sort under the crown. But Johannes could, and did. The sly old fox! I little guessed his intent when he asked me to make him governor of the paltry little province of Kyong-ju. Kyong-ju had no wealth of farms or fisheries.
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The taxes scarce paid the collecting, and the governorship was little more than an empty honour. The place was in truth a graveyard — a sacred graveyard, for on Tabong Mountain were shrined and sepultured the bones of the ancient kings of Silla.
Better governor of Kyong-ju than retainer of Adam Strang, was what I thought was in his mind; nor did I dream that it was except for fear of loneliness that caused him to take four of the cunies with him. Gorgeous were the two years that followed. My seven provinces I governed mainly though needy yang-bans selected for me by Yunsan. An occasional inspection, done in state and accompanied by the Lady Om, was all that was required of me. She possessed a summer palace on the south coast, which we frequented much. I became patron of the sport of wrestling, and revived archery among the yang-bans.
Also, there was tiger-hunting in the northern mountains. A remarkable thing was the tides of Cho—Sen. On our north-east coast there was scarce a rise and fall of a foot. On our west coast the neap tides ran as high as sixty feet. Cho—Sen had no commerce, no foreign traders. There was no voyaging beyond her coasts, and no voyaging of other peoples to her coasts. This was due to her immemorial policy of isolation. Once in a decade or a score of years Chinese ambassadors arrived, but they came overland, around the Yellow Sea, across the country of the Hong-du, and down the Mandarin Road to Keijo.
The round trip was a year-long journey. But Hamel, from long brooding, was ripening for action. His plans grew apace. Cho—Sen was Indies enough for him could he but work it right. Little he confided, but when he began to play to have me made admiral of the Cho—Sen navy of junks, and to inquire more than casually of the details of the store-places of the imperial treasury, I could put two and two together.
When I broached the possibility of it she told me, warm in my arms, that I was her king and that wherever I led she would follow. As you shall see it was truth, full truth, that she uttered. He had not dared otherwise. Disgraced at Court, nevertheless Chong Mong-ju had been too popular with the provincial priesthood. His emissaries, chiefly Buddhist priests, were everywhere, went everywhere, gathering in even the least of the provincial magistrates to allegiance to him.
It takes the cold patience of the Asiatic to conceive and execute huge and complicated conspiracies. Lord, Lord, when the storm broke! It was stand out from under, all hands, and save your necks. And there were necks that were not saved. The springing of the conspiracy was premature. Johannes Maartens really precipitated the catastrophe, and what he did was too favourable for Chong Mong-ju not to advantage by.
The people of Cho—Sen are fanatical ancestor-worshippers, and that old pirate of a booty-lusting Dutchman, with his four cunies, in far Kyong-ju, did no less a thing than raid the tombs of the gold-coffined, long-buried kings of ancient Silla. The work was done in the night, and for the rest of the night they travelled for the sea-coast. But the following day a dense fog lay over the land and they lost their way to the waiting junk which Johannes Maartens had privily outfitted.
Only Herman Tromp escaped in the fog, and was able, long after, to tell me of the adventure. That night, although news of the sacrilege was spreading through Cho—Sen and half the northern provinces had risen on their officials, Keijo and the Court slept in ignorance. It was my luck to see his messenger arrive at Keijo. At twilight, as I rode out through the great gate of the capital, I saw the jaded horse fall and the exhausted rider stagger in on foot; and I little dreamed that that man carried my destiny with him into Keijo.
His message sprang the palace revolution. I was not due to return until midnight, and by midnight all was over. At nine in the evening the conspirators secured possession of the Emperor in his own apartments. They compelled him to order the immediate attendance of the heads of all departments, and as they presented themselves, one by one, before his eyes, they were cut down. Meantime the Tiger Hunters were up and out of hand. Yunsan and Hendrik Hamel were badly beaten with the flats of swords and made prisoners.
The seven other cunies escaped from the palace along with the Lady Om. They were enabled to do this by Kim, who held the way, sword in hand, against his own Tiger Hunters. They cut him down and trod over him. Unfortunately he did not die of his wounds. Like a flaw of wind on a summer night the revolution, a palace revolution of course, blew and was past. Chong Mong-ju was in the saddle. The Emperor ratified whatever Chong Mong-ju willed. And now to what befell us.
Johannes Maartens and his three cunies, after being exhibited to be spat upon by the rabble of half the villages and walled cities of Cho—Sen, were buried to their necks in the ground of the open space before the palace gate. Water was given them that they might live longer to yearn for the food, steaming hot and savoury and changed hourly, that was place temptingly before them. They say old Johannes Maartens lived longest, not giving up the ghost for a full fifteen days. Kim was slowly crushed to death, bone by bone and joint by joint, by the torturers, and was a long time in dying.
Hamel, whom Chong Mong-ju divined as my brains, was executed by the paddle — in short, was promptly and expeditiously beaten to death to the delighted shouts of the Keijo populace.
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Yunsan was given a brave death. I shall drink directly the game is over. It takes an Asiatic to temper his spleen to steady, persistent, life-long revenge. This Chong Mong-ju did with the Lady Om and me. He did not destroy us. We were not even imprisoned. The Lady Om was degraded of all rank and divested of all possessions. An imperial decree was promulgated and posted in the last least village of Cho—Sen to the effect that I was of the house of Koryu and that no man might kill me. It was further declared that the eight sea-cunies who survived must not be killed.
Neither were they to be favoured. They were to be outcasts, beggars on the highways. And that is what the Lady Om and I became, beggars on the highways. Worse luck, he was favoured with long life as well as were we cursed with it. I have said the Lady Om was a wonder of a woman. Beyond endlessly repeating that statement, words fail me, with which to give her just appreciation. Somewhere I have heard that a great lady once said to her lover: More than to say it, she lived the last letter of it, when more often than not crusts were not plentiful and the sky itself was our tent.
Every effort I made to escape beggary was in the end frustrated by Chong Mong-ju. In Songdo I became a fuel-carrier, and the Lady Om and I shared a hut that was vastly more comfortable than the open road in bitter winter weather. But Chong Mong-ju found me out, and I was beaten and planked and put out upon the road.