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Wang Chong stepped forward at this moment. “Your Majesty, Lord Zhang truly did blunder. Fortunately, he was not too late in realizing his errors and repenting for his actions, with this letter serving as evidence. This subject hopes Your Majesty can reconsider the judgment with this in mind.”
“Your Majesty, this cannot be allowed! This personal letter alone cannot signify anything, and Zhang Shougui bribed an imperial emissary to lie about the military situation. This is an indisputable fact. If one can emerge unharmed even after deceiving the sovereign, will not the imitators be endless? Nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards, and the country and clans have their laws that must be followed. This subject hopes that Your Majesty can deliver a harsh punishment according to the laws of the Great Tang!”
“That’s right! This subject hopes that Your Majesty can uphold the laws of the Great Tang and harshly punish the offender!”
“Your Majesty, please harshly punish Zhang Shougui!”
Now that they finally had grasped Zhang Shougui’s weakness, the Confucians of the Imperial Court were loath to let this opportunity go. Ye Haicheng immediately made a statement, and all the civil officials began to agree, imploring the Sage Emperor to harshly punish Zhang Shougui.
Wang Chong watched all this while inwardly sneering. The Confucians were merely making one last desperate struggle. The Great Tang was facing a calamity, and Zhang Shougui, as one of the Great Tang’s best Great Generals, had to be protected. Wang Chong was both returning Zhang Shougui’s favor and working for the sake of the Great Tang. He would not allow the Confucians to so easily succeed.
As expected, the civil officials had barely finished speaking when a voice resounded through the hall. But this time, it was not Wang Chong, King Song, or anyone else speaking, but the unmoving figure of the Sage Emperor seated above all.
“We already know of this matter. Although Zhang Shougui truly did falsify the military situation, a matter that is truly difficult to tolerate, it was not to the level of deceiving the sovereign.”
The Sage Emperor had a dignified and majestic expression as he spoke, and his first words caused everyone’s hearts to chill.
“We did not receive Niu Xiantong’s fabricated report, but a truthful recount of the battle by the Huang River. He did not even conceal the fact that he had been bribed, and he also offered up the gold yuan certificates he received from Zhang Shougui of his own volition. We have already handed this money over to the Bureau of Revenue with instructions that it be allocated to the Bureau of Military Personnel. As for Zhang Shougui, though he promptly felt remorse and has never committed a great blunder, that he had such thoughts cannot be lightly forgiven!”
The Sage Emperor’s words caused the hearts of Ye Haicheng and the other civil officials to chill even more. At a time like this, the harsher the Sage Emperor’s words were, the lighter the eventual punishment would be. But the Sage Emperor had already begun to speak, and no matter how unwilling they were, they did not dare to speak.
“However, Zhang Shougui is still a major contributor to the Great Tang who has rendered enormous service. Thus, We have decided that Zhang Shougui’s former achievements atones for his crimes. Zhang Shougui is demoted from his position as Andong Protector-General and is made temporary Andong Protector-General. In addition, he is stripped of salary and cannot be promoted for a period of five years!”
“May the Emperor live ten thousand years!”
Upon hearing the Sage Emperor’s decision, everyone bowed.
The Sage Emperor didn’t lightly express his opinion, but once a matter reached the Sage Emperor, no matter what decision he made, everyone had to comply, because this was the final decision.
Wang Chong, I just knew that you would never disappoint us!
With the Zhang Shougui crisis averted, King Song finally turned to Wang Chong, his eyes brimming with praise. Wang Chong had already averted two crises since his return from Khorasan, and these deeds had already made him a lynchpin of the military faction. As long as he was here, any storm would have to put aside any thought of getting past him and affecting the borders of the Great Tang.
Even King Song couldn’t help but praise Wang Chong’s plans.
In every dynasty, the crime of deceiving the sovereign was no trifling matter. Even though Zhang Shougui had not done it, merely harboring the idea was treasonous. Moreover, he truly had bribed Niu Xiantong. This alone was enough for the Sage Emperor not let him go. But Wang Chong’s brilliance was in exploiting Zhang Shougui’s obsession with the post of Prime Minister.
In truth, ten-some years ago, if not for Wang Chong’s grandfather Duke Jiu objecting, Zhang Shougui would already be Prime Minister. In other words, if the Sage Emperor had been just a little more determined back then, Zhang Shougui would have been made Prime Minister and this incident would have never taken place. The Sage Emperor felt some remorse over this, and this was the key to Zhang Shougui’s surviving this crisis.
From the war of the southwest to the Battle of Talas, in the span of a bit more than a year, Wang Chong had become extremely mature. He was completely capable of holding his own, both on the battlefield and in the court.
The army could not be crippled, and Wang Chong was now the military’s greatest hope and support!
The court session was quickly brought to an end. With a sweep of his sleeve and a smile on his face, Wang Chong walked out of the hall.
“Lord Zhang, a great man understands the times. After this incident, you should be a little warier, right!”
Wang Chong raised his head and glanced to the northeast as he muttered to himself.
Zhang Shougui was so proud and conceited that the entire empire knew about it. After having Niu Xiantong write a letter persuading Zhang Shougui to admit his errors, Wang Chong almost immediately received a profanity-ridden reply, from which he could easily imagine Zhang Shougui’s temper. But even so, Wang Chong had always been confident that this situation could be satisfactorily resolved.
The reason was very simple.
Zhang Shougui might have been conceited, but he was no fool. Deceiving the sovereign was no minor matter, and if this matter was exposed, not even Zhang Shougui could hold on.
I hope that you can learn from your mistakes!
Wang Chong chuckled and quickly took his leave.
But Wang Chong failed to notice the hateful stare on his back, its owner bearing an extremely nasty expression. In truth, the orchestrator behind this incident was not the Confucians, but the Prime Minister of the Great Tang, Li Linfu. After all, the position Zhang Shougui was obsessed with was none other than his own.
By helping Zhang Shougui avoid this disaster, Wang Chong was unquestionably opposing Li Linfu, so one could easily imagine what he was feeling.
“Lord Prime Minister, let us take our leave!” A voice rang out from his side, belonging to an official who had walked over at some point.
“Haha, Lord Zhang, please!”
Li Linfu smiled, his expression as refreshing as the spring breeze, the hatred in his eyes rapidly receding.
The Imperial City of the Great Tang was lofty and imposing, vast and grandiose.
As Wang Chong, dressed in his red imperial robe, emerged from the Imperial Palace, he encountered an atmosphere entirely different from the one in the Imperial Court.
Outside the Imperial City, a figure stood next to a gorgeous carriage gilded in gold and silver. This figure quickly went up to welcome Wang Chong, but rather than the usual Zhang Que, it was Old Eagle, wearing a black robe. Ever since Wang Chong had ordered Old Eagle to remain in the capital and set up an intelligence corps, his bearing had become much sharper and more energetic. He was like a long saber that had been washed free of rust, revealing its true edge.
“How is it?”
Wang Chong’s eyes slightly narrowed as he saw Old Eagle.
Despite only a wall separating them, the atmosphere inside the palace was completely different from the one outside. For Wang Chong, the moment he walked out of the palace gate, the matters of the Imperial Court came to an end while the ‘war’ outside the court was just beginning.
Wang Chong glanced at Old Eagle and sternly said, “Is everything ready?” His face had a solemnity and gravity that were nowhere to be seen in the Imperial Court.
Ever since he had returned from Khorasan, he had wanted to drag out the schemer behind the curtains, and now, the truth was on the verge of coming to light. That person was finally about to reveal his true appearance to him.
“Milord, everything has been prepared according to your orders! In just a few more days, we will be able to truly meet ‘him’!” Old Eagle sternly said. Truthfully, he was just as anxious as Wang Chong to meet this person.
For Old Eagle, Zhang Que, and all of Wang Chong’s other subordinates, Wang Chong’s status far exceeded anyone else’s, even themselves. No matter who it was, anyone who dared to treat Wang Chong and the Great Tang this way could not lightly be forgiven.
Wang Chong swiftly stepped forward.
“Then let us wait a few more days!”
With these words, Wang Chong boarded the carriage.
Old Eagle seated himself on the driver’s seat, cracked the whip, and set the carriage off toward the eastern part of the city.
As Wang Chong’s carriage set off for the eastern part of the city, a hawk of small frame and incredible speed shot off toward the northeast.
Several days later, in Youzhou of the northeast, an Andong Protectorate army general rushed into the protectorate headquarters and solemnly proffered a letter. Zhang Shougui took the letter, glanced at it, and immediately paled.
He even broke out into a cold sweat!
In his decades in the military, Zhang Shougui had participated in hundreds upon hundreds of battles and had faced numerous lethal crises. But none of them had presented more of a danger than the incident recounted on this thin sheet of paper. For a moment, Zhang Shougui felt like he had narrowly escaped from death, barely making it out of the gates of hell.
If not for Wang Chong’s advice, the civil officials at court would have barraged him with censures, rendering all his efforts over the last few decades into nothing.
“How could it be like this!” Zhang Shougui muttered to himself as he turned his thoughts to that youth in the capital.
This time, Wang Chong had truly saved his life.
“Investigate! I want this matter thoroughly investigated! I want to know who leaked my dealings with Niu Xiantong!”
Zhang Shougui crumpled the letter into a ball as he fumed.
The incident in the capital had truly left him shocked, but what shocked him the most was that someone in Youzhou had dared to betray him, and it was one of his trusted subordinates!
The general quickly departed, and with Zhang Shougui’s order, the land of Youzhou experienced an unprecedented upheaval.
At the same time, on a high mountain ten-some li from the Andong Protectorate headquarters, several figures stood. Their leader was slightly plump, and the veins on the back of his hand bulged as he clenched his fingers into a fist.
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