WHEN General Im Kyong-up was young he lived in the town of Tallai. In those days he loved the chase, and constantly practised riding and hunting. Once he went off on an excursion to track the deer in Wol-lak Mountains. He carried only a sword, and made the chase on foot. In his pursuit of the animal he went as far as Tai-paik Mountain. There night overtook him, and the way was hidden in the darkness. There were yawning chasms and great horns and cliffs on all sides. While he was in a state of perplexity he met a woodman, and asked him where the road was and how he ought to go. The woodman directed him to a cliff opposite, "where," said he, "there is a house." Im heard this and crossed over to the farther ridge. On approaching more nearly he found a great tiled mansion standing alone without a single house about it. He went in by the main gateway, but found all quiet and dark and no one in sight. It was a vacant house, evidently deserted. After travelling all day in the hills Im was full of fears and creepy feelings. So he viewed the place with mistrust, fearing that there might be hill goblins in it or tree devils, but a moment later some one opened the room door and shouted out, "Do you sleep here? Have you had something to eat?"
Im looked and discovered that it was the same person that had directed him on his way. He said in reply, "I have not eaten anything and am hungry." So the man opened the wall box and brought him out wine and meat. He, being exceedingly hungry, ate all. Then they sat down to talk together, and after a little the woodman got up, opened the box once more, and took from it a great sword. Im asked, "What is this you have; do you intend to kill me?"
The woodman laughed and said, "No, no, but to-night there is something on hand worth the seeing. Will you come with me and not be afraid?"
Im said, "Of course I am not afraid; I want to see."
It was then about midnight, and the woodman, with the sword in his hand, took Im and went to one side through a succession of gates that seemed never ending. At last they came to a place where lights were reflected on a pond of water. There was a high pavilion apparently in the middle of the lake, and from the inside of it came the lights. There were sounds, too, of laughter and talking that came from the upper storey. Through the sliding doors he could distinguish two people seated together. There was another pavilion to the right of the lake and a large tree near it, up which the woodman told Im to climb.
"When you get well up," said he, "take your belt, tie yourself fast to the trunk and keep perfectly still."
Im climbed the tree as directed, and made himself secure. From this point of vantage he looked intently, and the first thing he saw was the woodman give a leap that cleared the lake and landed him in the pavilion. At once he ascended to the upper storey, and now Im could distinguish three persons sitting talking and laughing. He heard the woodman, after drinking, say to his neighbour, "We have made our wager, now let's see it out." The man replied, "Let's do so." Then both arose, came down to the entrance, and vaulted off into mid-air, where they disappeared from sight. Nothing could be distinguished now but the clashing of steel and flashes of fire, which kept up for a long time.
In beholding this from the tree top, where he was stationed, his bones grew cold and his hair stood stiff on end. He knew not what to do. Then a moment later he heard something fall to the ground with a great thud. A cry of victory arose too, and he recognized that it was the woodman's voice. Chills ran all over him, and goose-flesh covered his skin; only after a long time could he gain control of himself. He came down from the tree and the woodman met him, took him suddenly under his arm, and vaulted over into the pavilion. Here he met a beautiful woman with hair like fleecy clouds. Before the fight the woman's voice was evidently full of hilarity, but now she was overcome with grief and tears.
The woodman spoke roughly to her, saying, "Do you not know that you, a wicked woman, have caused the death of a great man?" The woodman said also to Im, "You have courage and valour in your way, but it is not sufficient to meet a world like this. I will now give you this woman, and this house, so you can bid farewell to the dusty world and live here in peace and quiet for the rest of your days."
Im replied, "What I have seen to-night I am at a loss to understand. I'd like to know the meaning of it first; please tell me. After hearing that I'll do what you ask."
The woodman said, "I am not an ordinary mortal of the world, but am an outlaw of the hills and woods. I am a robber, really, and by robbing have many such a house as this. Not only here but in all the provinces I have homes abundant, a beautiful woman in each, and rich and dainty fare. All unexpectedly this woman has neglected me for another man, and he and she have several times tried to kill me. There being no help for it, I had to kill him. I have killed the man, but I ought truly to have killed the woman. Take this place, then, off my hands, will you, and the woman too?"
But Im asked, "Who was the man, and where did he live?"
"There were," said the woodman, "mighty possibilities in him, though he lived humbly inside the South Gate of Seoul and sold cut tobacco. He came here frequently, and I knew it, though I winked at it all until they attempted to kill me, and that brought matters to a head. It was not my wish to kill him," and here the woodman broke down and cried. "Alas, alas!" said he, "I have killed a great and gifted man. Think it over," said he; "you have courage, but not enough to make any mark in the world. You will fail half-way, the Fates have so decided. Cease from any vain ambitions, for there is no way by which your name can ever become famous. Do what I say, then, and take over this woman and this home."
Im, however, shook his head and said, "I can't do it."
The woodman asked, "Why can you not? If you do not, there is nothing for this woman but death, so here I'll have done with it," and he struck her with his sword and cut off her head.
The day following he said to Im, "Since you are determined to go forth and do valiantly, I cannot stop you, but if a man goes forth thus and does not know the use of the sword he is helpless, and at the mercy of the foe. Stay with me a little and learn. I'll teach you."
Im stayed for six days and learned the use of the sword.