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In the Great Tang, whether one was a civil official or general, as long as one had spent ten to twenty years in the court, one would understand Zhang Shougui. Duke Jiu was renowned throughout the world as a sage minister, but Zhang Shougui still butted heads with and cursed at him.
And if Great Tang War God Wang Zhongsi had not voluntarily resigned from his military post and retired to the palace for his own safety, becoming the Crown Prince’s Junior Guardian, Zhang Shougui would have long ago come into conflict with him. Li Linfu was a member of the imperial household1 and also the Prime Minister of the Great Tang, and this was exactly the position that Zhang Shougui longed for.
In all of the Great Tang, besides the Sage Emperor, Zhang Shougui practically feared no one. As long as a person was at the top of their class, Zhang Shougui had probably gotten into conflict with them.
This impression was deeply-rooted in the minds of the civil officials.
“…Moreover, the evidence that Zhang Shougui has deceived the sovereign is unquestionable! Haicheng, submit the evidence!” the old official said to Investigating Imperial Censor Ye Haicheng as he took two steps forward.
With a righteous air, Ye Haicheng flourished his wrist, revealing two pieces of paper to the assembled officials.
“This letter was personally written by one of Zhang Shougui’s subordinates, a high-level general who has followed him for ten-some years, an old comrade who has always been sincerely devoted. He had originally planned to conceal this incident. After all, Zhang Shougui was his superior. But after several nights of torment, for the sake of his deceased comrades, he decided to speak of this matter. Sovereigns must act like sovereigns, subjects like subjects, fathers like fathers, and sons like son. Zhang Shougui has truly failed in his role as a subject. Your Majesty, please consider this!”
When Ye Haicheng revealed the letter, the entire hall fell deathly still. The generals all paled, and even King Song slightly grimaced. The Confucians were not members of the martial path, and they would never use a matter like this to make a joke. It was clear that they had firm evidence.
Zhang Shougui was the number two figure in the military, and from a certain perspective, his influence over the military was even more far-reaching than Wang Chong’s. And his seniority was definitely not something Wang Chong could match. Under the assault of the Confucians, the militarists had given ground again and again, and the situation was extremely unfavorable. If even someone like Zhang Shougui were seized, none of them dared to imagine what would happen next.
Another civil official stepped forward. “Your Majesty! That is not all! Zhang Shougui also dared to bribe an imperial emissary! Niu Xiantong is only a eunuch official, and yet he now suddenly possesses nearly ten million taels of gold in gold yuan certificates. Question him on where he obtained this money! And not too long ago, Niu Xiantong presented a report to the First Prince, and the contents of this report reversed black and white, praising Zhang Shougui and turning the defeat at the Huang River into a major victory, even appealing to the Imperial Court to reward Zhang Shougui. The severity of the situation caused the First Prince to seek us old officials out for guidance. The First Prince can personally provide testimony on this matter. Please, Your Majesty, pass down a harsh judgment!”
His words added to the disaster, turning the situation even more against Zhang Shougui.
The court was eerily quiet, and even the most ardent defenders of Zhang Shougui couldn’t help but fall into trembling silence. The Confucians had come well prepared this time. Two letters written by Zhang Shougui’s subordinate exposing the matter were already incredibly hard to deal with, and now there were the gold yuan certificates and the First Prince’s personal testimony!
The First Prince was the Sage Emperor’s eldest son, and if any matter involved the First Prince, that matter was essentially settled. No matter how much they didn’t want to accept it, there was one thing that everyone had to admit.
The experienced and veteran Andong Protector-General Zhang Shougui and his Youzhou Army had suffered a miserable defeat at the Huang River, losing to the Xi and Khitans, and then they had dared to claim that a deer was a horse and try to deceive His Divine Majesty.
A graying old military official felt his heart sink. How could this be? Can not even Zhang Shougui protect himself now? If this happens, just who would dare to contend against the Confucians in the future? We militarists will be forever under the grip of the Confucians, and the Great Tang will cripple itself. Once the foreigners invade, who will be there to oppose them?
This old official had spent decades in the court, but he had never encountered such a dangerous and challenging situation as this. He almost subconsciously turned to the back of Taihe Palace, to the young and slender figure standing near the entrance.
The military was in a crisis, and though this was truly a rather unrealistic line of thinking, if there was anyone who could reverse the tides and change this situation, it was the King of Foreign Lands.
The old military official felt a strange feeling, and then he realized that almost all the generals in the court were, just like him, staring at that young figure in the back of the hall.
Wang Chong sighed. He could clearly sense through the mood in the hall that Zhang Shougui’s matter had caught everyone off guard. An important general who had won every battle and had raised many elite soldiers and powerful generals had actually suffered such a tragic defeat. For many people, this was simply unimaginable.
Lord Zhang! Truly a hero for a lifetime, senile for a moment!
Wang Chong couldn’t help but mentally shake his head. In terms of command ability, Zhang Shougui was definitely no weakling. When Zhang Shougui was presiding over Longxi, Youzhou to the northeast had suffered a generation of chaos and upheaval, so he was dispatched to put out the flames. And Zhang Shougui had not let down the hopes placed on him. He had succeeded in establishing the Andong Protectorate army and was able to firmly suppress the four major foes wreaking havoc on the border: the Xi, the Khitans, the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, and the Goguryeo Empire.
Even the King of Goguryeo, Yeon Gaesomun, a peerless sovereign of a generation, turned from a tiger to a cat in front of him. He was forced into a defensive position, unable to mount any sort of counterattack and forced to spend many a sleepless night wondering if Zhang Shougui would lead his Youzhou Army to attack his forts.
This was a true hero of the Great Tang, and even Wang Chong had sighed in praise when he heard about those deeds back then.
While perhaps even Zhang Shougui was still befuddled over what had happened during the battle by the Huang River, Wang Chong knew what was going on. The Youzhou Army’s strength was known throughout the world. If there had not been coordination inside and outside that had drawn it into a trap, it would have never lost to the Xi and the Khitans.
The figure of Kang Yaluoshan immediately emerged in Wang Chong’s mind.
If his presumptions were correct, this threat to the Great Tang was already beginning to try and squeeze out Zhang Shougui, and Zhang Shougui was completely unaware. Wang Chong had warned him before, but alas, Zhang Shougui was too conceited, so conceited that he would not hear any advice, so conceited that he believed he could control both Hu and Han, could control everything.
He believed down to his very bones that the ‘hawk’ he had raised would never be so bold as to turn around and peck at him.
This is the last time I can help you! Consider it as returning your favor!
As these thoughts flitted through Wang Chong’s mind, he quickly turned his head in another direction. A general was standing there, anxious and uneasy, apparently waiting for something. When he saw Wang Chong’s gaze, he immediately calmed down.
Wang Chong shot over a glance.
When the atmosphere was at its most oppressive, a loud voice resounded through the hall. “Your Majesty! This subject would like to speak on a matter!”
Under countless gazes, the general held aloft his tablet and stepped forward.
“This subject has a letter from Youzhou from Andong Protector-General Zhang Shougui and hopes to present it to His Majesty.”
The hall immediately erupted in an uproar. All the civil officials, including Ye Haicheng, glanced at each other, their expressions instantly turning grave.
What’s going on? How could Zhang Shougui have written a personal letter to the Sage Emperor?
Ye Haicheng’s mind was in turmoil. This matter had been practically a sure thing, but now, things were developing in a completely unexpected direction, and he was instantly left confused as to what should be done.
“Bring it up!”
At this moment, the Sage Emperor’s majestic voice boomed from the upper reaches of the hall, suffused with an awe-inspiring strength. The hall fell silent as the general respectfully walked forward, his head lowered and the letter offered up with both hands.
Once he reached the steps, Gao Lishi swiftly stepped forward, took the letter, and offered it to the Sage Emperor.
The mood in the Imperial Court became incredibly strange. Everyone focused their eyes on the letter in the Sage Emperor’s hand, all of them trying to conjecture as to the contents of Zhang Shougui’s letter.
Time slowly passed, and the Sage Emperor’s august visage remained emotionless. However, those old officials familiar with the Sage Emperor could see that his tightly-furrowed brow had clearly relaxed as he read Zhang Shougui’s letter.
The general lowered his head and respectfully said, “Your Majesty! After the battle at the Huang River, Zhang Shougui’s obsession, and his fear that the Sage Emperor’s rebuke would affect his ability to enter the capital and assume the post of Prime Minister, caused him to bribe the imperial emissary. This matter is exactly as described by Investigating Imperial Censor Ye Haicheng. Zhang Shougui is unable to escape responsibility for this matter. Your Majesty must harshly punish him! But Zhang Shougui had his reasons for his conduct. Everyone knows of Zhang Shougui’s obsession with the position of Prime Minister. Ten-some years ago, if not for that unexpected incident, Zhang Shougui would have already been made Prime Minister of the Great Tang. All the world knows of this matter.
“Victory and defeat are both commonplace for a soldier. As Andong Protector-General, Zhang Shougui has rendered great service for the Great Tang. Moreover, although Zhang Shougui blundered, in the end, he still remembered His Majesty’s favor toward him and reined his horse at the edge of the precipice, mending his ways and confessing to His Majesty. A blemish does not obscure a jade’s luster. Your Majesty, please consider this!”
The civil officials, including Ye Haicheng, all had extremely nasty expressions. The general’s words had minimized Zhang Shougui’s crimes to the greatest extent. If the Sage Emperor were persuaded, this operation to deal with Zhang Shougui would be considered a complete failure.
Most upsetting of all was that if Zhang Shougui’s letter was able to arrive at the Imperial Court at this time, it meant that he had felt remorse and written the letter some time ago. And Zhang Shougui did not deny his errors in the letter. Instead, he had taken full responsibility and requested the punishment of the Sage Emperor. This being the case, even if they all racked their brains for ideas, they would not be able to point to any more flaws in his conduct.
1. Li Linfu was the great-grandson of a cousin to the founding Emperor of the Great Tang, Gaozu.↩
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