Zhangchou Jianqiong wasn’t the only one observing the situation in the royal court.
While Zhangchou Jianqiong’s black kite was flying straight for the capital, a commotion was occurring in a massive tent erected in the northeast of Great Tang. It was filled with golden cups and silver bowls, and mats made of tiger skin were laid over the ground. It was excessively extravagant.
(Black kite is a species of bird)
Within the tent stood a spirited figure who seemed to be in his forties. He was eating and drinking in large mouthfuls while laughing heartily. Even so, he carried a ferocious disposition that intimidated those around him.
“Hahaha, Zhiyi, did you see the letter on the table? This is a petition from a hundred generals! They are all pleading with me, the Auxiliary General of Great Tang! The Protector-General of the Eastern Protectorate Manor! One of the founding dukes, bestowed with Nanyang County!”
The armor on him trembled slightly along with his movements, as though reflecting his agitation. He seemed to be in an extremely good mood.
“This… Grand Marshal, do you really intend to interfere in this matter? Back then, a single word from Duke Jiu caused you to spend almost two decades by the barren borders.”
Not too far away, across a burning pot of charcoal, a scholarly-looking, middle-aged general sat cross-legged. His mustache drooped down at the edge of his lips, giving others the impression of a refined gentleman. He was Zhang Shougui’s aide, as well as his life-and-death comrade, Wu Zhiyi.
The both of them had entered the military together, and they had once fought against the Ü-Tsang in Guazhou, which was in Great Tang’s Longxi Province. To date, Zhang Shougui had managed to become the Eastern Protector-General, and his name induced fear among the Khitans, Kumo Xi, and the Turks further up. Even so, the two of them remained as good partners, buddies that transcended beyond life and death.
Even the currently famous general who fought against the Ü-Tsang and was praised with the saying, ‘In the night beneath the Big Dipper Stars, Geshu Han visits with his saber,’ Big Dipper Great General Geshu Han, was only guarding the lands that he had once protected in the past.
In terms of qualifications, Geshu Han could only be considered a junior. Before a senior like Zhang Shougui, there was nothing for him to boast of.
There were many aggressive generals in Great Tang, and those who were able to subdue Geshu Han stood in the minority. However, Zhang Shougui just so happened to be one of them.
This was also the reason why so many Conferred Generals chose to send their letters toward the Eastern Protectorate Manor.
In the Great Tang Dynasty, there were very few people who could stand up against influential Hu generals, who wielded immense military authority in their hands, such as Go Seonji, Fumeng Lingcha, Geshu Han, and An Sishun.
However, Auxiliary General Zhang Shougui was definitely one of them.
Even though Conferred Generals had a significantly higher standing than ordinary generals, the weight of their words was still slightly lacking.
“Hmph, that Zhang Jiuling made use of his seniority to prevent me from becoming the prime minister, so how can I ever forget that?”
Hearing Wu Zhiyi’s words, Zhang Shougui’s face immediately darkened. Zhang Shougui knew that Wu Zhiyi was referring to the matter twenty-three years ago involving the Sage Emperor.
Back then, when Zhang Shougui was just assigned to Youzhou, he eradicated the Khitan Tribes, who were an immense threat to Youzhou and Great Tang’s northeast, and successfully warded off the Ü-Tsang in the Gansu Province. This had granted him immense prestige, and there were rumors that he was likely to be promoted to become the prime minister.
However, Wang Jiuling thought that Zhang Shougui was still too young and immature. Even though the latter might be capable of dominating in war, he wasn’t ready to take on the responsibilities of a prime minister to govern the royal court.
Thus, when the Sage Emperor consulted him on the matter, Wang Chong’s grandfather, Zhang Jiuling, immediately refuted him, saying that ‘Shougui has only eradicated the Khitan, and Your Majesty already wishes to make him the prime minister; if someone were to destroy the Kumo Xi and the Turks, what position would Your Majesty bestow upon them?’. With these words, he shattered Zhang Shougui’s shot at becoming the prime minister.
If that wasn’t the case, Zhang Shougui could have become the youngest prime minister in Great Tang!
The resentment that Zhang Shougui held for the other party was imaginable.
“However, even though that Wang Clan brat isn’t worth saving, that fellow, Fumeng Lingcha, is even more hateful! So many people are asking me to make a stand, and this is a good opportunity to humiliate that old fellow in the Wang Clan, as well as to suppress the arrogance of Fumeng Lingcha, so why should I stay out of it then?”
Zhang Shougui chuckled heartily.
Wang Jiuling was respectfully addressed by most as Duke Jiu, and he possessed immense prestige in the royal court. Even though Zhang Shougui was displeased with him for foiling his opportunity, he knew that it was impossible to get back at a figure like him by challenging him head-on.
Saving that old fellow’s own grandson would be the best humiliation to him. As for Fumeng Lingcha…
There were very few who could measure up to Zhang Shougui in terms of qualifications, but Fumeng Lingcha happened to be one of them.
Back then, when Zhang Shougui wasn’t the Eastern Protector-General yet, and he was still fighting against the Ü-Tsang by the Gansu Province, given that Guazhou bordered with the territory of both the Western Region Protectorate Manor and Western Protectorate Manor were in charge of, the both of them had a few clashes with one another.
This time, Fumeng Lingcha had caused a huge stir, leading to Zhang Shougui being extremely displeased with his actions. Compared to teaching this Fumeng Lingcha a lesson, saving Duke Jiu’s grandson, Wang Chong, wasn’t a huge matter at all.
“However, due to that child, the Hu and Han generals are in a hostile relationship with one another in the royal court. Our Youzhou is a little different from the locations that the other Han generals are in charge of. We have a huge number of Hu generals and Hu troops under us. If we were to get involved without careful consideration, it could potentially incite a mutiny. It isn’t worth taking such a risk!”
Wu Zhiyi frowned worriedly. The more he learned about the matters transpiring in the royal court, the more worried he became. It truly wasn’t wise to get involved in this matter without thinking it through.
However, upon hearing Wu Zhiyi’s words, Zhang Shougui burst into laughter.
“Hahaha, Zhiyi, when did you start learning from those fellows in the royal court? What Hu general and Han general, how foolish! In my Youzhou, before me, Zhang Shougui, there are no Hu and Han. There are only those who submit to me, and those who don’t submit me. Horse, don’t you agree?”
Zhang Shougui suddenly glanced to the side with a frighteningly sharp gaze. His eyes landed on a pale-skinned, plump Hu who looked like he was in his early twenties and was currently chewing on the grass on the ground.
Intimidated by Zhang Shougui’s gaze, the pale-skinned, plump, young Hu trembled. Cold sweat oozed out from his forehead, and fear reflected in his eyes.
“Grand Marshal, you’re right! We Hu are horses. How can we horses compare to you? Fumeng Lingcha and Go Seonji are just like me – we are all horses!”
As he spoke, he lifted up his buttocks and chewed onto several stalks of grass. On top of that, he imitated the neighing of a horse in an attempt to fawn on Zhang Shougui.
Seeing the fawning look on the face of that young Hu, Zhang Shougui guffawed. Even Wu Zhiyi couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Those who submit to me are allowed to live, and the only fate waiting for those who refuse to submit is death!”
As Zhang Shougui chuckled, he abruptly whipped out a token from his waist and swiftly tossed it out of the camp. Outside the tent, rain was pouring down, and a chilling wind whistled. Around a hundred prisoners consisting of Kumo Xi, Khitans, and Turks were standing in the midst of the bone-chilling wind, and standing over them was an executioner each.
As soon as that voice sounded, heads began rolling to the floor. Scarlet blood spurted into the air, adding a shade of red to the dull rain. The hundred or so Kumo Xi, Khitans, and Turks dropped to the ground. And after a short moment of convulsing, they stopped moving altogether.
It didn’t take long for steel-armored soldiers to rush up and drag their corpses away. They tossed them into a ditch and buried them. The dense stench of blood gradually dissipated amidst the pouring rain.
Here, even the grasses were dyed red.
In the northeast of Great Tang, east of Youzhou, Zhang Shougui’s reputation was something that could silence even a crying infant. Just as he had said, within Youzhou, before him, there was no such thing as Hu or Han.
There were only those who submitted to him, and those who didn’t.
Those who submitted lived, and those who didn’t disappeared from the face of the earth.
The gaping hole appeared in the tent, and the young Hu who was acting like a horse a moment ago flew out of the tent like a plump ball of flesh.
“It’s time for our two prisoners to work! Bring Ashina Zugan along with you, and if you two don’t capture two hundred Kumo Xi and Khitans by today, then two additional people will be lying in the ditch today. Don’t even dream of escaping. You should know that it’s impossible to escape!”
A cold voice that felt even more frigid than the freezing winds echoed clearly amidst the pouring rain.
As the two Hu hurriedly left Zhang Shougui’s camp, a crow darted out of the camp as though it was a flying arrow. Flying above the clouds, it headed straight for the Great Tang capital.
Auxiliary General Zhang Shougui, Eastern Protector-General!
Zhang Shougui’s involvement would definitely be another important chip on the side of the Han generals.
In Great Tang’s military, Zhang Shougui was a person who wielded immense influence. In the current generation under the Sage Emperor, he was one of the two legendary figures in the Central Plains.
However, within the military, there was still a person who stood above Zhang Shougui, and his contributions far surpassed him as well.
When the Youzhou’s commander, the Protector-General of Eastern Protectorate Manor, Zhang Shougui’s memorial appeared before the royal court, everyone immediately turned their eyes to the de facto leader of the Han in the military.
In the eastern part of the Great Tang royal palace, the Imperial Tutor Residence, a dashing, austere, and magnanimous-looking middle-aged man with a square-shaped face sat by his bed, and a deep frown furrowed on his forehead.
The middle-aged man seemed to naturally exude the aura of one who stood at the top of the command chain, a person who wielded unparalleled authority.
Every single unintentional gesture of his struck fear and respect into the hearts of others.
Before this middle-aged man, there was no one who wouldn’t subconsciously lower their heads, not daring to even meet his gaze.
This was the tutor of the crown prince, Imperial Tutor Wang Zhongsi.
Zhang Shougui, Fumeng Lingcha, Go Seonji, Geshu Han, and An Sishun were all influential figures in Great Tang, and any action of theirs could easily cause a huge tremor.
But Wang Zhongsi was a person who could suppress them all.
The reason was simple. The current vice-commander of the Big Dipper army, Geshu Han, was groomed personally by him.
Wang Zhongsi didn’t have any position in the military. In truth, he had already relinquished his military authority, taking on only the role of the Imperial Tutor.
But in terms of the roles he had once taken on, there was no one in Great Tang who could surpass him. Commander of Daizhou, head censor, Hedong regional commander, Yunmo general, Zuoyuli general, and even Northern Protector-General, Western Region Protector-General, Eastern Protector-General, Southern Protector-General… All of these, he had assumed before.
As for his contributions, there was no one in Great Tang who could compare up to him.
When he was the Eastern Protector-General, he quashed the Kumo Xi and the Khitans. When he was the Northern Protector-General, he swept the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate, rendering their army completely helpless and bringing two decades of peace to that region. When he was in the Gansu Province, he had led the armies right up to Ü-Tsang’s highlands several times, forcing the Divine Monk of the great snowy mountains out to face him.
In Wang Zhongsi’s entire life, other than the area around the Western Regions’ Suyab, he had faced nearly all of the enemies within his reach.
However, he was different from the other generals.
Wang Zhongsi never wished to gain prestige from his actions, and at the end of every war, he would return the military authority. On the battlefield, he was an unmatched commander, but when he returned, he reverted back into an ordinary Imperial Tutor.
And different from other generals, Wang Zhongsi sympathized with the soldiers. Even though he had huge contributions in the military, he wasn’t willing to start wars. If it was possible to avoid one, he would try his best to do so.
At the same time, Wang Zhongsi was willing to give these opportunities to the future youngsters. This was also the reason why he was so respected in the royal court.
More importantly, despite his contributions and sweeping through so many enemies, Wang Zhongsi was only fifty this year.
Indubitably, he was the war god of the current era!
Imperial Tutor -> The tutor of the crown prince.
It’s actually an extremely important position that only grade-1 officials can take on.
Those who guide the crown prince usually become an important aide after the crown prince ascends to the throne.
Most historical works prefer to use Chancellor instead. I don’t really read much historical works, so I only noticed this recently. In any case, I’ll just continue using prime minister as there’ll be quite a few parts to change otherwise.