Chapter 1669: Zhao Fengchen Pays a Visit!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Zhang Que bowed his head and said, “According to the report from the Wind Team, the great clans are calling back their members, and some of the larger clans have begun testing the aptitude of their members, seemingly selecting for outstanding young members.
“The laws of the Imperial Court mandate that no clan can have a private army exceeding one thousand men, so selections like this are no longer very frequent. From what we’ve seen, thirty to forty clans have performed these selections, and after the tests were done, these strong and outstanding young members never appeared again. From what the Wind Team has learned, these young men were secretly sent into the Imperial Palace.”
Wang Chong grimaced at these words.
Of the four teams, the Wind Team was primarily tasked with gathering information on the capital, but the information this time was somewhat different.
In the Great Buddhist Temple Incident, Wang Chong had tried with all his might to stop the First Prince’s scheme and save those great clans from being caught in the whirlpool. But even if Wang Chong did his best, he couldn’t stop the lust for authority and power held by these clans.
The First Prince’s plan at the Great Buddhist Temple had failed, but these people had still chosen to throw their lot in with him.
What Wang Chong had worried about the most was now taking place.
As the future Crown Prince, the First Prince’s greatest problem was his lack of soldiers, or perhaps his inability to touch them.
But now, the First Prince was able to borrow the power of the great clans who had attached themselves to him, using these factions that were spread throughout the prefectures and provinces to fill his ranks.
The Imperial Palace was a forbidden ground, and no force was allowed within besides the Imperial Army. By recruiting young men from the great clans, the First Prince had already broken the law.
“Have we learned anything from the palace?” Wang Chong asked.
Zhang Que shook his head.
“Our forces have never been able to enter the palace! And this matter was kept under a tight cloak of secrecy, so our men have yet to gather any other information,” Zhang Que said.
Wang Chong couldn’t help but frown at Zhang Que’s words. With the Sage Emperor withdrawn, the palace was in disarray, and it was no longer a secret that the eunuchs and maids were being moved around with incredible frequency. Investigating the plans of the First Prince and the great clans was only getting more and more difficult as time went on.
After some thought, Wang Chong finally said, “Tell the Wind Team to continue. Report to me the moment they receive any news, but they can’t recklessly reveal themselves or take action.”
With the help of the Goguryeon Kim U-Seok, the First Prince was now recruiting many men, and the number of spies was increasing at an astonishing pace.
Moreover, it seemed that Kim U-Seok truly was a master when it came to raising birds and gathering information. Under the surface, the forces on both sides had begun to engage in a shadow war, and Zhang Que’s men were slowly being pressured.
After all, Kim U-Seok was being backed by the current regent.
In addition, no matter how many spies Wang Chong removed, Kim U-Seok would be able to rapidly train up more.
Zhang Que’s talent was outstanding compared to his peers, but Kim U-Seok was twenty-some years older and was richly experienced when it came to training men. Zhang Que was still somewhat lacking compared to this man.
Zhang Que quickly left. Wang Chong remained silent in the hall for some time afterward, then he stood up, walked to the map of the capital hanging from his wall, and drew a red mark on a place near the edge of the Imperial Palace.
Everything was now unavoidable, and the storm had already begun. Wang Chong knew that the capital would get more dangerous from now on.
The mood in the capital slowly turned more and more bizarre. An unprecedented storm was about to impact this powerful empire, but at this time, Wang Chong’s residence welcomed an unexpected guest.
In the privacy of the King of Foreign Lands Residence, Wang Chong met with Zhao Fengchen.
Wang Chong had not met with Zhao Fengchen since the last incident. As the first king of a different surname who had been personally crowned by the Sage Emperor, Wang Chong was at the height of his prestige and fame. On the other hand, Zhao Fengchen had always had a proud personality, and he would rarely visit Wang Chong’s residence unless he had something important to discuss.
Seated on a spacious sandalwood armchair, Zhao Fengchen exuded the steely aura of a soldier, his back straight and his shoulders stalwart. But now, his brows were tightly furrowed, and his head was lowered as if weighed down with many concerns.
Wang Chong crossed the threshold and called out to Zhao Fengchen.
Zhao Fengchen hastily got to his feet, his expression visibly relaxing.
“Lord Zhao, what’s happened?”
Wang Chong skipped the pleasantries and went straight to the point. An officer of the Imperial Army had many duties to attend to and couldn’t be gone for long. Zhao Fengchen would only be able to tarry for a little while before returning to the Imperial Palace.
“In truth… it’s not too big of a deal. It’s just that a few things have happened in the palace recently that I can’t understand, so I hope that Your Highness can offer me your opinion,” Zhao Fengchen said.
Wang Chong sat across from Zhao Fengchen and examined the man. Wang Chong could tell that Zhao Fengchen’s expression was different, hesitant and worried, when he brought up the palace.
“Milord, please speak,” Wang Chong firmly said. He knew that Zhao Fengchen wasn’t a man who would come to find him for something simple.
“The transfers throughout the palace are getting more and more frequent. I’ve always had a rather close relationship to you, and the Eastern Palace has never liked that. Knowing this, I’ve always strictly carried out my duties in the palace without the slightest negligence. But a few days ago, the palace gave an order to decrease the number of soldiers in the Imperial Army. I knew that, given the First Prince’s attitude toward me, he would definitely try to cause trouble, so I had already mentally prepared myself. But on the actual day, I was left rather surprised by the result.”
Zhao Fengchen hesitated here before continuing.
Wang Chong said nothing. It hadn’t just been the harem incident. Zhao Fengchen had also played a major role in dealing with the Eastern Palace’s assassins. This matter alone should have been enough for the First Prince to regard Zhao Fengchen as a thorn in his side that needed to be extracted. From this viewpoint, any action on the First Prince’s part was no surprise.
“On the day of the inspection, I was truly surprised. At the time, all eighteen divisions of the Imperial Army, both the Imperial Forest Guard and the Feather Forest Guard, took turns marching on the plaza and drilling according to the traditions of the Imperial Army. In truth, it has been a long time since the Imperial Palace has conducted this kind of martial display. The Xuanwu Army hadn’t drilled in a long time, and our performance could only be described as mediocre. But what happened at the end was truly astonishing.
“I thought that the First Prince would use this chance to make trouble, but not only did the First Prince not make any trouble, he rebuked the other divisions and heaped praise on the Xuanwu Army. He even said that the other armies should learn from the Xuanwu Army. In truth, if the First Prince had fiercely scolded the Xuanwu Army in front of everyone and said that we had done nothing right, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.”
Zhao Fengchen’s brow furrowed even deeper. Praise from the First Prince, particularly public high praise for the Xuanwu Army, was simply unimaginable to Zhao Fengchen.
Wang Chong also frowned. It simply didn’t make sense for the First Prince to do such a thing.
“And after that?” Wang Chong said.
“There was nothing after that. The entire incident seemed like an inspection, and afterward, the First Prince didn’t try to make trouble for the Xuanwu Army,” Zhao Fengchen said.
Wang Chong’s heart thumped, and he finally understood why Zhao Fengchen had been so worried as to come and find him. No matter what angle one viewed it from, the First Prince’s actions were definitely abnormal.
The room quickly fell silent. Wang Chong lowered his head in thought while Zhao Fengchen silently waited, not wishing to disturb him.
In terms of intelligence, there was perhaps no one in the Great Tang that could compare to Wang Chong. For even the most puzzling of riddles, Wang Chong always seemed capable of peering straight into the core. And his view of the overall situation and understanding of military strategy were at a level that no other general in the Great Tang had yet reached.
As Wang Chong continued to think, the mood grew oppressive.
After some time, Wang Chong finally raised his head and offered his conclusion. “There’s no need for you to worry about this matter. Nothing will happen in the short term.”
Zhao Fengchen breathed a long sigh of relief. Regardless of what the truth was, if this was what Wang Chong had concluded, nothing too big would happen.
“In addition, take this book with you. Read it over carefully. It might be of some help to you.”
Wang Chong took a book from a secret compartment and handed it over.
Zhao Fengchen took the book and hastily left Wang Chong’s residence.
As Zhao Fengchen was leaving, Wang Chong stood up from his chair and gave a long and melancholy sigh in the empty room.
“I hope I’m overthinking things!”
Wang Chong turned to the map on his wall and made a red mark on the part indicating the location of the Imperial Army.
The Imperial Army was the last barrier of the Great Tang, the most important threshold guarding the Sage Emperor. Wang Chong was well aware that the First Prince was not engaging in such a large mobilization purely for revenge.
Zhao Fengchen had gotten too close to him, helping him with the matter of Asura. King Song had been attacked first, and then Zhangchou Jianqiong had been attacked for his half of the Commander Tally, and now, it was the Imperial Army’s turn.
Wang Chong could now only hope that he was overthinking things and that the First Prince’s ambitions had not reached that level yet.