Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 148

May 14, 2024 • 12 min read • 262 views

The World is Wide Yet Narrow (1)

Lee Gwak opened his eyes as the carriage slowly came to a stop. The merchant who had brought him on the carriage spoke.

“We’ve arrived. This is Hội An. If you wait here, a ship going to the Central Plains will come. With good luck, it might arrive in just a day, but with bad luck, you might have to wait more than ten days.”

“Thank you.”

Lee Gwak got off the carriage, expressing his gratitude to the merchant.

Fortunately, the merchant spoke Lee Gwak’s language. The harbor was frequented by all sorts of people, including those from the Central Plains like Lee Gwak, and he had naturally learned the language to communicate with them.

According to the merchant, this was the kingdom of Linyi (Champa, Vietnam). as Lee Gwak had expected, it was far south of Yunnan province where the Celestial Demon Troupe was located.

After dropping Lee Gwak off, the merchant with his loaded carriage departed. Left alone, Lee Gwak surveyed his surroundings.

The place where the merchant had dropped him off was a large port city. As far as he could see, it was filled with buildings of different styles from those in the Central Plains.

Several large ships were docked in the harbor, but they were much different in shape and much larger than the ships of the Central Plains. Some of them were even bigger than the Poseidon.

The people who walked the streets were also diverse. Some had blonde hair and blue eyes, while others had very dark skin, and their clothing was very different.

“Um!”

Only then did Lee Gwak realize that this was a trading port for many different countries.

He quietly walked through the streets.

There were many people on the streets, but not a single one of them paid him any attention, for his appearance was no different from the locals.

After a long walk, he reached the part of the harbor that jutted out into the sea. From here, the entire sea was visible.

“Ah!”

Lee Gwak couldn’t help but exclaim in awe.

This was the first time he had ever seen the sea, and the feeling he felt was indescribable.

He had heard stories about the vastness of the sea, but he had not expected it to be so expansive that it stretched beyond his field of vision.

The endless blue horizon merged with the sky, and in the sky flew birds he had never seen before.

Lost in the view, Lee Gwak felt something warm well up inside him as he gazed at the sea for a long time.

For a while, he just stood there, silently watching the sea.

Then, suddenly,

“A ship!”

“A trading ship is coming in.”

Several people began to shout loudly, announcing the arrival of a ship.

Lee Gwak naturally turned his gaze where everyone else was looking. He then saw a huge ship slicing through the waves, approaching from a distance.

With its countless sails spread wide, the huge ship slowly approached, its majesty overwhelming like that of a sea lord.

Even the Poseidon, the symbol of the Jade Heaven Alliance, seemed to be no match for the enormous ship approaching from the distance.

The harbor was abuzz with activity as the great ship approached. Owners and workers of trading companies in the port came out to greet the ship. The harbor was quickly filled with carts and laborers.

Lee Gwak mingled with them and watched the great ship enter the harbor.

On the deck of the giant ship were numerous people, all wearing clothing familiar to Lee Gwak.

‘Are they from the Central Plains?’

Not just their attire but their facial features were also significantly different from the local inhabitants. Lee Gwak was certain the large ship coming in was from the Central Plains.

Thud!

When the ship finally reached the harbor, the man who seemed to be the leader spoke loudly.

“Hurry up and unload the cargo. Everything must be offloaded today, so make it quick.”

He was speaking the same language as Lee Gwak. Just as Lee Gwak had assumed, they were
from the Central Plains.

The plank was lowered from the ship and a group of men, including the leader, disembarked first. Then the merchants who had been waiting in the harbor came up to him in unison.

“Welcome, Master Ahn.”

“You must have had a hard journey. What goods have you brought this time?”

“This trade is with our house…”

The merchants of Hội An rushed to engage with the leader.

The leader was a well-known figure here in Hội An.

His name was Ahn Yu-san, and in Hội An, there was hardly anyone who didn’t know of him.

He inherited a small trading company and a ship from his father. The trading company was struggling with chronic deficits. Despite his efforts to revive it, it was in vain.

The Jianghu was dominated by existing trading companies, including the Myriad Merchant Troupe.

Myriad Merchant Troupe was one of the Ten Sects, and other major trading companies had ties, both overt and covert, with the Ten Sects. Their order was so solid that there seemed to be no opening for Ahn Yu-san’s small trading company to break through.

Eventually, Ahn Yu-san gave up on atauexpanding his influence in the Jianghu and turned to maritime trade.

He filled a small ship with goods from the Central Plains and pioneered maritime trade routes. There were times when he lost everything to storms or was plundered by pirates, but each time Ahn Yu-san stubbornly rebuilt and continued to develop his sea routes.

As a result, decades later, Ahn Yu-san’s trading company had amassed wealth comparable to the great trading companies of the Central Plains. He also had his own fleet of trading ships. In terms of maritime trade, no trading company in the Central Plains could match Ahn Yu-san, not even the Myriad Merchant Troupe, one of the Ten Sects.

Ahn Yu-san’s Azure Maritime Company brought specialty products from the Central Plains to Hội An. Ceramics and silk were especially popular items. Merchants from the West residing in Hội An preferred to buy from the Azure Maritime Company rather than going directly to the Central Plains, as it was much more cost-effective.

Ahn Yu-san skillfully negotiated with the other trading company owners. The payment was made in the specialty products they brought, so the calculations had to be done with caution.

They vigorously compared the value of their goods, debating so fiercely that an onlooker might have thought they were fighting.

After a period of intense discussion, the trade was concluded.

Ahn Yu-san and several of the merchants smiled with satisfaction, though there was one who seemed displeased. It was a merchant from the west who was the only one who seemed unhappy with the transaction.

Ahn Yu-san called his men to distribute the goods among the different trading companies. The porters and sailors busily moved between the ship and the carts, carrying loads on their backs.

Their operation was carried out very efficiently.

Even after the trade was concluded, Ahn Yu-san stayed to watch the workers.

Lee Gwak cautiously approached Ahn Yu-san, but before he could speak, he was blocked by others.

“Who are you?”

“Stop there.”

They were martial artists guarding Ahn Yu-san.

They openly emitted a murderous aura as they glared at Lee Gwak, who stopped and assumed a formal gesture of respect.

“My name is Lee Gwak. May I have a moment to speak with the master of the trading company?”

“Hmm! Are you from the Central Plains?”

Ahn Yu-san showed interest upon hearing Lee Gwak’s words.

As he attempted to engage in conversation with Lee Gwak, his guards interjected.

“He could be an assassin sent by the pirates.”

“We absolutely must not allow him to approach until his identity is verified.”

The guards were extremely wary of Lee Gwak. However, Ahn Yu-san ignored them and walked towards Lee Gwak.

“Is he not from the same direction? Regardless of why he is here, we should help each other.”

“But…”

“That’s enough! Who would dare harm me here with you all guarding? Don’t worry so much.”

Ahn Yu-san stood in front of Lee Gwak as if there was nothing to fear, then inspected him closely.

“Did you say your name is Lee Gwak?”

“Yes.”

“How did you come to be here? It’s not easy for someone from the Central Plains to end up in this place.”

“I ended up training here after following my master, but since my master has passed away, I’m looking to return to the Central Plains. I’ve been at a loss for a way back. If there’s room on the ship, I would like to be taken aboard. I’m willing to work off the fare with any labor required.”

“Hmm! You trained with your master? Then you must be a martial artist.”

“That’s correct.”

“Can you tell me who your master is?”

“He’s not well-known, so mentioning his name might not mean much to you.”

“Hmm! This is problematic.”

Ahn Yu-san furrowed his brow.

The goods on his ship were worth hundreds of thousands of gold. With so many valuable items on board, he never allowed individuals with uncertain identities on board.

Ahn Yu-san stared intently at Lee Gwak, who met his gaze without evasion.

Lee Gwak’s eyes were plain.

There was no hint of extraordinary energy or anything remarkable. It was the kind of gaze one might find on any passerby in the street.

“Hmm!”

Ahn Yu-san stroked his beard.

Like most self-made men, Ahn Yu-san had a strong sense of pride, especially in his ability to judge people. His trading company had flourished because of the talent he had personally recruited.

To Ahn Yu-san, Lee Gwak seemed exceedingly ordinary. Yet, dismissing him outright didn’t sit well with him either. So, he thought of a compromise.

His gaze fell on the sword hanging at Lee Gwak’s waist.

“Have you mastered swordsmanship?”

“Yes.”

“Hand over your sword. Then I’ll let you board.”

Lee Gwak’s face stiffened slightly. Asking a martial artist to hand over his weapon was tantamount to asking for his life.

In particular, the better the weapon, the more likely it was to be treasured. They considered their weapons like their lives and never gave them to others.

Ahn Yu-san made this proposition knowing that if Lee Gwak refused to surrender his weapon, it could serve as a pretext to deny him boarding. If Lee Gwak did entrust his sword, it would mean having control over his life, thereby preparing for any potential threats.

After a moment’s hesitation, Lee Gwak nodded.

“Understood. I will entrust my sword to you upon boarding.”

“Well thought. I will return your sword when we disembark. Don’t worry.”

“Thank you.”

“The departure is in ten days. Make sure to come to the port by then.”

Immediate departure wasn’t possible even after concluding the trade. The ship needed inspection, and more local products had to be purchased, requiring at least ten days.

“I have nowhere else to go, so could I possibly stay in the workers’ quarters?”

“Hah!”

“I apologize. I have nothing to my name.”

“You really are something, attaching yourself to Ahn Yu-san like this. Fine! I’ll provide you with a room among the workers’ quarters. Stay there.”

“Thank you. I will repay this kindness, even if it means doing menial tasks.”

“That’s unnecessary! I’m not comfortable making a martial artist like you perform menial tasks.”

Ahn Yu-san smirked. He instructed his men to provide Lee Gwak with a room.

In Hội An, the Azure Maritime Company maintained a building. It was always staffed and managed, serving as accommodations whenever the Maritime Company arrived.

Ahn Yu-san’s man provided Lee Gwak with a room typically used by sailors.

It was a small, modest room, barely enough for one person to lie down in. But Lee Gwak was grateful even for this.

As he had told Ahn Yu-san, he was penniless. He had lost his money pouch during his escape from the Celestial Demon Troupe. His master, Gwang Noh Ya, had also left no assets.

This was the first time since he was an orphan wandering the world that he had absolutely nothing.

“Phew!”

Lee Gwak sat on the small porch in front of his room and sighed.

At least he had managed to secure a way back to the Jianghu. It would have been really difficult if Ahn Yu-san had refused.

Lee Gwak sat on the porch, staring blankly ahead.

Relieved to have found a way back, he felt unusually tired. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. But his rest was short lived.

Clomp! Clomp!

Footsteps approached him.

Opening his eyes, Lee Gwak saw a man in his early forties approaching. He was a sailor from the Azure Maritime Company.

The man asked cautiously.

“Is it still before mealtime for you?”

“Yes, but why do you ask?”

“Then, let’s head to the dining hall together.”

“Am I included as well?”

“The master has ordered that your meal be prepared as well.”

“Thank you.”

Lee Gwak expressed his gratitude and stood up. He was already feeling hungry, so Ahn Yu-san’s consideration made him even more appreciative.

Lee Gwak followed the sailor to the dining hall.

Inside, there were about ten tables lined up, with the crew of the Azure Maritime Company seated at each, having their meal.

The crew member who brought Lee Gwak pointed to an empty table and said, “You can dine here with me, Grandmaster.”

“Calling me a ‘Grandmaster’ is too much. Please, treat me casually.”

“But how should I?”

“I’m just a guest relying on your hospitality for a short while. It would make me uncomfortable if you didn’t treat me casually. You’re much older, so please speak freely.”

“Should I?”

The crew member’s face brightened at Lee Gwak’s words.

Though the master had instructed to treat the guest well, to the crew member’s, Lee Gwak didn’t seem all that remarkable.

Maintaining a respectful demeanor towards someone who didn’t appear particularly impressive was not an easy task, so the crew member’s were relieved by Lee Gwak’s approach.

“Ha ha! My name is Mok So-pung. It’s a pleasure to meet you this way.”

The crew member, Mok So-pung, laughed heartily.