Chapter 6 - Jokes and Truths

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A series of side dishes that I didn't order and a bottle of alcohol sealed with a red thread appear on the table.

"What's that?"

A woman in her late twenties reply with a bright smile.

"This is top quality Dukuang Liquor."

"Is it really top quality liquor?"

"Of course. I'll pour you a drink."

I stretch out my arm as she opens the bottle and starts to pour the liquor into my glass.

"No way you'll use alcohol to deceive an errand boy, right? It smells too strong."

The woman's face stiffens slightly at my words. Trying to maintain her composure, she replies.

"Why would we use alcohol to deceive? Now, are you looking for any girl in particular?"

"Yes. Chae-hyang is here tonight right?"

She's probably here.

"Yes, but Chae-hyang has a lot of prior appointments, so I'll look into it."

"She's busy huh? I only need a minute."

"Of course, she's the busiest. If Chae-hyang can't be here, is it okay to bring someone else?"

"No."

"I'll serve you for the time being and bring her over when she's free. Many customers are here to watch Chae-hyang perform even if it's one song."

"I don't want to hear a song, I just need to talk with Chae-hyang for a moment. By the way, you don't seem to know who I am."

"Who are you? I rarely leave the pavilion, so I'm not aware."

Pointing my finger at my eye, I say.

"Can't you see?"

"Your eye is bruised?"

"The rumored Zaha Inn errand boy, the bastard trying hard to save money just to sleep with Chae-hyang. That's me."

"Ah... so that's why it was so noisy downstairs."

The expression of the woman in front of me changes quickly. Her eyes narrow, and ridicule lingers in her eyes.

"So today is the day. Are you really going to see Chae-hyang?"

"What? Am I not allowed to see her?"

"The owner will get mad. You got beaten up a few days ago, didn't you? I think it was a sign to tell you not to find Chae-hyang in our pavilion. Didn't you consider that?"

The woman speaks in a quiet tone to me.

"Well, I haven't thought about that. By the way, our middle-aged ajumma here is very fluent."1

"Middle-aged? I'm not even thirty yet. Besides, weren't your words about Chae-hyang a joke?"

"Wait! So you knew I was joking?"

The woman looks at me and nods.

"Yes."

"Then why did I get beaten up?"

"Probably because you joked about it."

The woman smiles, and a dimple digs deep on one side of her cheek.

I point my finger at the woman.

"You sure are a sly ajumma, pretending to be an innocent lady."

"Please understand. I was just kidding."

While the joke is taken seriously, I wonder if it wasn't a joke.

The meaning of words often changes arbitrarily.

That's why words are scary.


After the chatty women disappear, I take a whiff of the Dukuang liquor.

She said it was a top-quality liquor, but it's not even third-rate. Look at this place and their wicked ways, trying to rip me off by charging me the price of top-quality liquor.

Jokes are treated as facts, and fake goods are treated as genuine.

This is what people who constantly live at the expense of others do.

"Are they seriously messing with me from the start?"

This is not top-quality liquor.

How dare you try to deceive an inn's errand boy with alcohol...

That's how low Kangho has become.

I fill my glass with third-rate quality liquor and drink it. The thumping of footsteps emanates from the hallway as the alcohol wash down my throat for the third time.

Rumors that the Zaha Inn errand boy made his way to Plum Blossom Pavilion seem to have finally reached the ears of those who participated in the assault.

Those footsteps also brought with them some harsh feelings.

Bang!

The door opens, and as soon as someone recognizes me, they start swearing.

"Hey, you son of a bitch. How dare you barge in here? Are you crazy?"

I let out a sigh.

Is it so wrong for an errand boy to come to a pavilion?

Why do they call me a son of a bitch when I have a pretty name?

Still, they didn't swear at my parents, so they are still better than the monkeys in the Demon Cult.

I look at the man's face.

I know his face and name since I can always identify the men who had habitually beaten me up.

I beckon the fellow named Dong-gwak to come in.

"I'm just here to buy myself a drink, so what's all the fuss? Come on in. I'll pour you a glass."

The man is rendered speechless.

That's understandable.

An errand boy who had been beaten up a few days ago suddenly speaks informally, makes a cocky gesture, and says he'll pour him a drink, so of course, he'd be speechless.

Dong-gwak comes in and sits across from me.

"Did you eat something wrong today?"

"I had bibimbap."

"What?"

As I pour him a cup of liquor, Dong-gwak grabs the cup and says.

"Don't cause a scene and get out of here when you're done drinking."

After pouring myself a cup, I say to Dong-gwak.

"Dong-gwak, you punk."

Dong-gwak stands up from his seat and swings his right hand at my cheek when I talk to him with a mix of informality and curses.

I grab Dong-gwak's hand with my left hand and slam it on the table; I then strike the chopsticks I am holding through the back of his hand.

Plork!

"Urgh."

"Oops, I'm sorry. Why are the chopsticks so sharp?"

I didn't actually intend to do that.

It is just an instinctive reaction that came from living a long life as a martial artist.

It took a while for Dong-gwak to understand the situation, his face slowly distorting as his brain tried to process what just happened.

Then I pull out the sickle from my clothes and tap the chopsticks on the back of his hand.

Tap, tap.

"The back of your hand can heal, but you can't do anything if your hand is cut off. So I'll cut it off for you."

"Wait, don't."

"No?"

"Don't do it."

I point at Dong-gwak with the sickle.

"I was planning to drink quietly and see Chae-hyang before I leave. So why do you keep barking like a dog? Will the Plum Blossom Pavilion go out of business if I see her?"

The door opens again, and the Chae-hyang in question appears and looks at what happened at the table.

"Brother Dong-gwak, please wait outside. I'm here now."

I look at Chae-hyang.

'It's been a while.'

Having seen all the rumored pretty ladies in the central district, Chae-hyang from the countryside only looks like a normal, feisty, girl.

Seeing the angry expression on her face, she looked like she was ordered here to collect the money for the drinks.

But because Dong-gwak couldn't move, I kindly pulled out the chopsticks.

"Urk."

When the blood gushes from the back of his hand, I hold out a cup and accurately collect the blood.

It is a meaningless action.

However, it is different for Dong-gwak.

As he holds the back of his hand and leaves without saying a word, Chae-hyang sits across from me, taking his place in turn..

As soon as I see Chae-hyang, I can't help but smile.

"Why are you smiling?"

Chase-hyang's question annoys me slightly.

I didn't think I'd repeat what I said to the Left Hand of Illuminating Light to a pavilion music performer.

"I smile when I want to. Why? Does an errand boy need to control his emotions in a place like this?"

"Do you think this is funny?"

"Oh, I do."

"Why did you do that to Brother Dong-gwak's hand? Do you think Seong-tae or the owner will stay put?"

"Would they be men of Ilyang Prefecture if they stayed put? No, they won't."

"I'll say this for your own sake. The moment I walked in, your bill went up. The price of alcohol is quite high because it's Dukuang liquor. Add to that the treatment bill for Brother Dong-gwak's injury. Just pay up and leave. I'm saying this for your sake."

Why is she so angry?

"Stop whining. How much money do you think I have?"

"Not much. Rumor has it the noodles in your inn taste like trash."

A smile graces my mouth.

"I don't know why you're so popular. Your face is pretty, but your thoughts, speech, facial expressions, and gaze. They're all... How should I say this?"

"..."

I don't mean to threaten such a fragile woman, so I speak calmly.

"Rely on your pretty face, and don't be too proud. You don't have any other merits."

Chae-hyang's eyes widen, and her anger reminds me of a master from the Emei Sect.

"Merit? Did you just say 'merit' to me?"

"Your tone is uglier than an ugly woman who was rumored to be ugly. Haha."

Unexpectedly, Chae-hyang bursts into laughter at my words.

"Did you feel it was unfair that you got beaten up the other day? You're wasting all the money you've saved up so far just to say this? Why would I sleep with you? Even if you pay me a whole sack of gold and silver, I will not sleep with you. Did you think I was a woman who slept with anyone? I've never done anything like that. Do you think music performers go sleeping around with whoever?"

Chae-hyang cries out in anger.

Ah, I was wondering why she was so angry with me, but Chae-hyang also has her perspective as a lady.

"Sell Art, Not Body (賣藝不賣身), right?"

When I ask if she meant selling talent and not her body, Chae-hyang shakes her head.

"Don't say that phrase."

"I'm sorry."

"Anyway, that's how I live. Not all music performers are prostitutes."

I hold out the Dukuang liquor bottle to Chae-hyang, who is very angry.

"I see. I never thought of you as someone who sleeps around. I'll pour you a drink as an apology."

When Chae-hyang holds out her cup, I pour a drink and say,

"Let me make this clear, I never said I was going to save up to sleep with you. All I said was that I wanted to hear one song from you. As you said, you're a performer. I said that for laughs in the inn, but it was clearly a joke. I never actually thought about it nor am I in a situation to do that."

"Huh? But I heard..."

"Don't interrupt me. I guess the joke was funny, but it got bigger. Everyone would have laughed except for you. It was funny, so it must have spread far and wide. But the joke suddenly became a truth that I couldn't change. Words can be distorted and a truth can't be easily turned back into a joke again. This is the case where words can kill people. Look at my eye, I almost lost it."

I'm not saying this to Chae-hyang, it's just a monologue that I recall from my past.

As she listens to my words, Chae-hyang looks at me with a puzzled expression. I think she understands most of it, but I was different before, so her confusion is understandable

"Drink."

I drink a cup with Chae-hyang with no emotion.

"But the phrase 'Sell Art, Not Body' is funny since you work in a pavilion. Now, I've told you what I needed to say, so get out."

"What?"

This time, I only pour the liquor into my cup.

"Get out, before I drag you out by the hair."

Chae-hyang sees the sickle on the table. Then she checks my expression and my eyes.

She's not naive.

"Yes, I understand. But I didn't enter the pavilion by my own will."

"Stop talking nonsense."

"It's true."

At this time, Chae-hyang's voice overlaps with the sound of men's footsteps. Since the back of their colleague's hand was pierced, the other guards must have come up here to avenge him. Sensing a fight that is about to occur, Chae-hyang flees the room.

In an instant, three men arrive and barge in through the door.

Anyway, why are they so angry?

They looked so happy when they beat me up.

A fellow named Won Han-yeol says.

"Zaha, do you have a death wish? You should have brought a sword with you instead of a sickle if you wanted to fight. Oh wait, you can't afford one can you?"

The guy beside him adds.

"Let's go outside. It's hard to clean this place when it's bloody."

Without answering back, I smell the third-rate Dukuang liquor in my glass. Suddenly, it smells like top-quality liquor.

The taste of alcohol depends on the mood.

It's clear that if he just continues drinking without answering, their fists would come flying shortly.

While I wash the liquor down my throat, my eyes are on the three of them.

When I read their faces, I can sense they were wondering whether to kill me here or not.

I say calmly to the riled-up men.

"You're confident in taking out someone like me, aren't you? Let me finish this before heading out."

There's no rush, gentlemen.

'Calm down...'

In fact, I think I should hit them with a calm mind so things would end with less violence.

Only my hands would get dirty if I killed them after all.

  1. Ajumma: Korean term for an older woman, typically translated to as 'auntie' or ma'am. ↩️

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