The General of Seventeen Years
"Tae-Woo, I'll be embarking on a trip to Kuuto. Accompany me," Mundok barked at Tae-Woo, who frowned as hard as he could.
"Oh, come on, Elder. It's a hassle," Tae-Woo groaned.
But Mundok was not having it.
"We have to acknowledge Soo-Won's coronation, and introduce you as the new tribal chief," he replied gravely.
That morning, Mundok and Tae-Woo had seen off Princess Yona and General Hak's departure. Hak asked Mundok to acknowledge Soo-Won's coronation, as it was the only way to protect the Wind Tribe.
Grudgingly, Tae-Woo accompanied Mundok to Hiryuu Castle after a few days.
It was his first time to Kuuto. The scale of the city was surely bigger than Fuuga, the Wind Tribe capital. There was no chance that the Wind Tribe could successfully rebel against such a metropolis, especially now that the other 4 tribes were willing to back it.
"Your Majesty, I have brought Tae-Woo, the new general of the Wind Tribe."
"I am Tae-Woo, pleased to make your acquaintance."
Following Mundok, Tae-Woo prostrated in front of the new King.
"Please rise. I have not even been crowned King as of yet," a quiet, gentle voice spoke.
Tae-Woo looked up, and saw the composed, but curious green eyes of the young Lord Soo-Won peering into his.
In front of them, Soo-Won, Sky Tribe General Judo, Staff Advisor Kye-Sook, Fire Tribe General Soo-Jin, Earth Tribe General Geun-tae, and Water Tribe General Joon-Gi stood, imposing and intimidating as the 5 authority figures of the entire country.
This time, Mundok was with Tae-Woo, but later on, Tae-Woo would have to travel to Hiryuu Castle all alone for 5 Tribe discussions.
Lord Hak had participated in these tribal conferences since he was 15 years old.
Certainly, Lord Hak was amazing.
"How old are you, General Tae-Woo?"
Soo-Won lost no time in addressing persons by their honorifics, Tae-Woo noted.
That was royalty. Conniving in the most subtle ways. They could change their mannerisms towards you in a heartbeat.
"I'm 17 years old."
"I'm only a year younger than you, Your Majesty."
And you also know that Hak became general at a younger age than I, don't you? What's with the materialistic praise?
General Geun-tae inserted himself into the conversation.
"17 years ago, during the Xing-Kouka conflict, the Wind Tribe lost most of its youthful men in battle, leaving only the women, children, and elderly behind. That's why most of the Wind Tribe generals are younger than in other tribes."
General Judo explained further, "that is to say, you were born in that year, weren't you, Lord Tae-Woo?"
Tae-Woo replied, "yes. My birth father also died in battle. My birth mother did too. I was raised by foster parents in Fuuga. From previous experience, my foster parents decided to improve the Wind Tribe's healthcare system. Especially my foster mother. Even if she can't fight on the frontlines herself, she wants to support our tribe. So do I."
His reply went on like a flowing river, and everyone paid serious attention to his words.
"You and your family seem reliable," he heard Advisor Kye-Sook's voice. "Would you like to state your opinion on our foreign relations with Xing?"
"The Xing soldiers were fighting simply because they were ordered to. The Wind Tribe fought back because we were ordered to. We were all just following orders. I personally hold no grudge against Xing or their soldiers," Tae-Woo responded quietly, looking down and not showing the slightest emotion on his face.
"To the north of Kouka lies the mighty Kai Empire. I'm sure you know that they are aiming to conquer us. We must strengthen our defenses and prevent border invasion, in order to fight them. During that time, the security of South Kouka will weaken, and it will cause problems for us if any skirmishes against Xing ensue. In which case, we may enter war with Xing once again. Are you prepared?"
"As with your order, Your Majesty." Tae-Woo bowed to Soo-Won.
"We expect great things from you, General Tae-Woo."
After the coronation ended, much to Tae-Woo's relief, he and Mundok began their trek back to Fuuga.
"You know, Elder…" Tae-Woo began, "That Soo-Won acts all polished, yet, he seems like a war-loving King."
During the coronation ceremony, Soo-Won strongly declared that he would remake Kouka Kingdom into the strong country it was during King Junam's reign.
"Of course," Mundok briskly said, "Soo-Won is the son of General Yu-Hon. From an early age, he was a clever child, trained in the arts of archery, swordsmanship, and spearing. He keeps his sharp talons hidden under his gentle feathers. Recklessly mess with the likes of him, and you may pay dearly."
"So I'll have to go into battle after all, huh? But I've never killed a person before."
Back in the Wind Tribe, Tae-Woo practiced spearing every single day, but that was child's play.
"Well, even I don't want you all to become murderers. But if you don't kill on the battlefield, you'll be killed. I've lost count of how many people I've killed, because I simply didn't have time to count. I lost my own sons in the war, but surely there were also women and children affected among the soldiers I killed."
"Elder, you lost your sons, and Lord Hak lost his parents in the war 17 years ago, right?"
"Ah, yes. Hak's father was one of our best archers. Had big, strong arms. He was previously a general, and a close friend of my eldest son."
Mundok's son, Soron, would have become the next general, but the Wind Tribe was a meritocracy, and Hak's own father was a general.
17 years ago, Mundok's sons and Hak's parents died in the war. Inevitably, Mundok, who once resigned from the general office, was back in it again.
Mundok's son was single and left no children. Hak's father died in battle, while his widowed mother died from illness.
Mundok took the 2 year old Hak in as his own grandson.
He had the blood of his father, and surely would inherit his strength and muscle. He surely had a promising future, and Mundok wished to give up his occupation as general when Hak turned 15.
Perhaps the little Ayame would be Hak's future wife, as his own son died without having any children, which weighed deeply on Mundok. The time of a human's death was unknown, so it was probably better to marry and have children early on.
That was why he had betrothed them as children. The engagement was in reality a joke (Ayame had liked Saki for ages, and Tae-Woo was suspecting that Hak was actually crushing Princess Yona), but no one bothered to ruin Mundok's fantasy, especially not at a time like this. Not only for Mundok's sake, but theirs.
Mundok never held a grudge against Xing. If anyone around him spoke against Xing, he would give them a scolding on how to act.
Not only did Mundok pay attention to Hak, he paid attention to all who had been affected by the war. Those who became single parents, those who lost their children, those who lost their siblings and best friends, those who became physically disabled.
Thanks to Mundok's efforts, the Wind Tribe genuinely held no grudge against Xing.
But that Yu-Hon certainly seemed to.
10 years ago, General Yu-Hon was pleased when Mundok visited Hiryuu Castle, bringing little Hak along.
"Well, isn't this your future successor, Mundok! I look forward to seeing him grow into a great general and one day fighting on the battlefield. What do you say, boy?"
Hak gulped, tugging at Mundok's robes as he looked anxiously at the towering, imposing figure of the frightening war general. "Y-yes, sir."
Then looked away with a half-smile and half-grimace, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
General Yu-Hon was always the… intense sort.
"Soo-Won himself will become a fine military man, General Yu-Hon!" Mundok said in turn.
Yu-Hon laughed heartily, his voice low, deep, and powerful.
"How has training Soo-Won in spearmanship been, Mundok? I hope he's not causing you much trouble?"
"Oh no, not at all! He quickly gets the knack of it, so it is fun to teach him. Soo-Won is a gifted child. He will soon be learning archery along with Hak here."
"Heh, that's very good to hear. I am a proud father indeed."
"Surely Hak and Soo-Won will support each other throughout their entire lifetimes, and ensure Kouka's stability in the future."
Yu-Hon and Mundok were having such a prosperous exchange of conversation as they clinked glasses of wine and drank.
Who would have thought that Yu-Hon would die a couple years later.
Where did things go wrong? Mundok wondered.
The funeral had come and gone. As far as he knew, Yu-Hon had died in an accident.
Tae-Woo exhaled, interrupting Mundok's thoughts. "Hey, Elder. Today at the coronation, I heard several voices in the crowds… wishing that Lord Yu-Hon was still alive… wishing that he was the King… wondering if Soo-Won would live up to his standard. Was he that great a person?"
"Well… yes, I suppose. Yu-Hon was the only general that stood a chance against my prime."
"You mean he stood a chance against Lord Hak?"
"You fool! Don't underestimate your elders!"
"But Elder, he died 10 years ago."
There were various opinions of Yu-Hon throughout each tribe, between those who knew him and those who didn't. The Wind Tribe generally took a neutral stance on the man, especially the youngsters.
Tae-Woo looked up at the sky. "We were told that Lord Hak and Princess Yona fell off a cliff and died, but no corpses have been found. Even if Lord Hak was killed, he won't die. He's definitely alive."
Tae-Woo was confident about that, at least.
"Of course he is," Mundok replied, not missing a beat. "And in the unlikely event that he failed to protect Princess Yona and got himself killed, I would go kill Hak myself."
"What if we never see them again, Elder?"
"That's fine, as long as they're alive. But that won't happen. We'll definitely see them someday."
"You're right, Elder. They'll have become bandits or something."
"Well, it sounds like something Hak would do - stealing and never paying. Just like how he always put the payment on your tab whenever visiting Fuuga's weapons shop."
Tae-Woo laughed at Mundok's annoyed face. The old geezer was harder on Hak than anyone else, but that was only because he cared for Hak more than anyone else.
And the joke Tae-Woo made became true a few months later, when the Darkness Dragon and the Happy Hungry Bunch continued on their journey.