The RingmasterSomeone who leads an itinerant circus troupe.The head of the roaming performing troupe ‘Namsadang-pye’. They do not hesitate to do anything to protect and manage the people they’ve gathered, who have no place to go. Yesterday was a pretty big performance. They were called to the magistrate’s birthday celebration, and they performed somersaults and cartwheels and walked tightropes, so it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a ‘big performance’. At least, the kkokdusoe thought so. And because of that, he was just lying there as the sun streamed in through the window and warmed the top of his head. -Smack He couldn’t stay still. It was because the weather had gotten quite cold, so all kinds of bugs had swarmed in, attracted by the heat from the stones that warmed the floor. None of them bothered him in his sleep “This little bastard…” But the bedbugs were different. They sucked up so much precious blood. The kkokdusoe was catching them with a look of frustration on his face. “Shall I see to your meal?” asked the barmaid, who had arrived because he was walloping the poor floor. “No need for a meal. Just bring me a table of drinks and snacks.” “Okay.” So the kkokdusoe swung the door wide open with the idea of just drinking some more. He looked up at the sky. “That sky is so damn high up.” “Don’t say damn.” He looked around and saw an elderly man was sitting in the hall, leaning against a wall. His face was full of joy and sorrow. This was only natural. “I didn’t do anything to be damned, so what will even happen if I just say it?” “Words take root and grow. A few of the guys are already down there.” “If they’re okay in the head, they’ll stay calm, whatever. I’m just on my way back from a visit to the government office yesterday.” “And we only had guys who are okay in the head, did we?” Was there anything as dangerous as the life of a member of Namsadang-pye? There was an unwritten rule that they didn’t ask about your past when you joined the troupe. Even the kkokdusoe didn’t know about everyone’s past. At the same time, there were a few whose pasts could be assumed without asking. Was it a bit better if they were just a slave on the run? There was one who beat the one who enslaved him to death and joined the troupe. The elderly man in front of him was like that. “Are you talking about yourself?” “You rascal. I told you I had a reason.” “Is there a criminal anywhere without a story or two?” Of course, this man was a little different. His enslaver raped his wife, and her emotions pushed her to kill herself. Wouldn’t he have wanted to kill just anything, not just his enslaver? The kkokdusoe thought about this as he opened his mouth to continue. Soon, the table of drinks and nibbles was placed in front of him. “Anyway… And you know where they went?” “Where is there a place to go around here? They probably went to the tavern.” “I’ll go later, so don’t worry. Try some of this.” The table was nothing spectacular. It was only natural because it was a tavern in the countryside, but it wasn’t a mess either. It was because they put out the food they’d brought back from the magistrate’s birthday celebration. “It’s cold.” “It tastes fine.” “That’s true. This much is a luxury. But…” “Your face looks quite poor. If you’re that worried, I’ll go now.” “Would you? I’ll go with you. I’m just… For some reason.” “Okay, then let’s do that. We’ll go on a stroll.” For a member of Namsadang-pye, this much was a feast. The elderly man had a bit of an appetite too. But watching him just push the food around, the kkokdusoe felt uncomfortable. No, it made him feel anxious. ‘They say that people can see the future when it’s nearly time for them to die…’ Didn’t the previous kkokdusoe say that? What he said was something about how their soul gets closer to the sky so they awaken—something like the mind’s eye. “This is bad, it’s bad!” He was about to throw on his straw shoes and get going, but someone ran over in a flurry. “What’s wrong?” “Oh no, oh no, captain! A fight has broken out!” “A fight? With who?” He wasn’t someone who started a ruckus with most things since he was also someone who had been through all the harsh realities of life. The kkokdusoe quickened his pace and and spoke up as he crunched on a walnut to wake up his drowsy body. “I thought they were just roughhousers, but somehow this… They seem to be noble yangban…” “Yangban? What is there to get into a fight over with yangban?” “That’s…” “You all went to a gisaeng house, didn’t you?” “Um…” “Let’s go for now.” Did they want to die? Did he forbid them to go to gisaeng houses because they didn’t have money? It was because the people they’d run into there were scary. ‘Dammit.’ He ran, feeling like he should solve the issue that had broken out first. His calves, trained through his acrobatics, pumped with power. The elderly man and the young troupe member ran behind him. “You bastards!” When he arrived, the situation really wasn’t great. A man dressed in a stylish tunic was standing there, a longsword in his hand and his hair in a mess. It wasn’t a sword that just anyone could wield. It was obvious he was from a family of high status. “Oh, please, sir, forgive us! Our eyes weren’t working properly!” His guys were already rubbing their hands together, pleading with him. Unless they went crazy, there was nothing good to come from getting into a fight with yangban. But it seemed like it was already too late. “Move, you bastards! I will have blood spilled today!” Looking at him closely, his eyes were already crazed. Whether it was because he was drunk or angry, if he left the yangban like that, then blood really would be spilled. - Clang The kkokdusoe hurled his kkwaengari, his small gong, and hit the yangban’s sword. “Aghhh!” It would have been a shock, but more than that, it was loud, so it made him let go of his sword. The kkokdusoe ran in and kicked the sword away and yelled, “Run, you idiots!” “Oh... Yes, sir!” His voice was a signal to them, and everyone split up and ran. It truly was a moment for a collection of people who’d lived part of their lives as fugitives. They didn’t need to decide on a place to meet up. If they survived, they’d meet at some point or another. The important thing was to survive. “Get them! Get those bastards! I’ll give you a cudgeling!” The swordless yangban shouted at the top of his lungs, and his companions or subordinates, whoever they were, were hot on the men’s tails. Disregarding their large numbers, their energy was no joke. ‘Of all the… With guys like that…’ Now looking at him, the yangban was also built big and strong, and if he wasn’t drunk, the trick to make him drop his sword by using the kkwaengari probably would never have worked. “Old man! Run!” Was it that he was unlucky? More men followed the kkokdusoe. It had to be because they were angry about the kkwaengari trick. - Whoosh He was about to run away when an arrow flew past him. It was a stunning moment. - Thud The arrow drove deep into the wall. It meant the arrow wasn’t shot by some amateur. Looking behind him, a man with tiger skin draped over him was fitting another arrow. It was a hunter. A real hunter. “No, I won’t.” It was dangerous. Arrows? “What do you mean you won’t! Get over there!” “We can’t put the kkokdusoe in danger.” Regardless of speed, thre was nothing that could be done. ‘Didn’t they teach them to run as fast like an arrow when you’re performing a trick?’ An arrow was truly fast. - Whoosh Again, an arrow flew past, and this time, it drove into the back of the young man running with him. “Ugh!” There was no time to look back at the guy who fell with a single outburst. “Go that way!” He was busy running, pushing the defiant old man. “No, I won’t. “What…” “I don’t have much left anyway.” The old man suddenly stopped running and pushed the kkokdusoe to an alleyway on the other side. He stopped himself from falling with a shocking show of athleticism, but rather, because of that, he was forced to watch the old man’s last moments. “Um…” He looked down at the arrow protruding from his belly and then looked over at the kkokdusoe. “Go. I had fun thanks to you.” “No…” “Go. A man who beat his enslaver to death has to die like this. There’s nothing we can do.” “Dammit.” The kkokdusoe barely recalled the burden he shouldered. What would happen to the others if he wasn’t there? When they make messes like this in just a day. They would all die if he wasn’t there. So he ran. He ran, using the old man’s death as a steppingstone, to save the others. “I was running like that…” “Welcome, kkokdusoe.” He wondered if Heaven and Earth were thrown into chaos when he came to a place he’d never seen before. “Welcome, my ass... I have to go. I have kids.” “Don’t worry. It’ll be an instant in that place.” “Still…” “Right now, just worry about you. This place is a good chance, but it’s also a danger.” “What do you want me to do here? Where the hell is this?” He wasn’t scared of unfamiliar places. That didn’t work with a life lived as a wanderer. What worried him was that his men were missing. No, perhaps they should be called baggage. It was difficult for a kkokdusoe to be a kkokdusoe in a place where there was no one for him to protect. “This place is a place for just your freedom. Even though it may be a restraint.” He was able to look free because he was the captain, but he only looked for answers that were certain. “I…” “Go where you want to go, and do what you want to do.” This kind of freedom. It was a first.