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Chapter 274: Warning the Protectorate!
Zhangchou Jianqiong suddenly started chuckling, and he waved his hands to gesture to Wang Gen that it was fine.
"So, Wang gongzi is interested in military affairs as well. I guess there's no way an offspring from a military clan wouldn't be interested in the military. It's fine, coming into contact with such matters now will be useful for you in the future anyway."
As expected of a Protector-General, Zhangchou Jianqiong was able to dispel the awkwardness of the situation with just a few words.
"Indeed! I've chatted with Wang gongzi a few times, and Wang gongzi has shown particular interest in military affairs. It's a rare opportunity to meet Lord Zhangchou, so it would be a huge waste not to exchange ideas. Hahaha!"
Yang Zhao also swiftly reacted and mended the situation.
Hearing those words from the duo, the atmosphere in the banquet alleviated. Those generals from the Southern Protectorate Manor were initially rather displeased by Wang Chong's rudeness, but they nodded in acceptance at the offered explanation.
Wang Chong's father, Wang Yan, and eldest brother, Wang Fu, were both commanders in the military. It wasn't surprising for Wang Chong to be interested in it as well, under their influence.
As one of the great Protector-Generals of the empire, it was natural for him to want to learn from Lord Zhangchou on such matters.
"Wang gongzi hasn't really ventured out of the capital yet, so it's natural that you don't understand much about the situation. Ü-Tsang is situated on a plateau, and the path to Jiannan is dangerously steep, making it difficult for an army to march through it. Not to mention, the Tibetans have never been to the Central Plains before, so they are unfamiliar with the forces and terrain here. Unless there's someone to guide them along, it's impossible for them to achieve anything significant against us."
"On top of that, Tibetans have a distinctive trait that sets them apart from the citizens of Great Tang—their red faces. Every single Tibetan who enters Great Tang through Jiannan has to undergo stringent checks. Other than the cities along the Tea Horse Road, they are banned from entering any other cities in the Central Plains. Also, the population density in Ü-Tsang is very sparse, making communication extremely inefficient as well. To put it bluntly, even if the whole world knows that I am at the capital, it might still be a few years before the Tibetans learn of it," Zhangchou Jianqiong waved his fingers before Wang Chong and smiled.
A burst of laughter resounded from the various commanders seated in the room. As elites from Annan, they were more aware of the situation regarding the Ü-Tsang than anyone else.
Wang Chong didn't say anything, but his brow inconspicuously furrowed darker, reflecting the deepening of his worry.
"Of course, we would never base our defense on the enemy's mistake. I have been managing the Southern Protectorate Manor for several decades now, and I can confidently tell you that it's no different from an infallible fortress. All of the protocols are set in place such that the military can move even when I'm not around. Not to mention... the 180,000 men strong elite army that I have spent a large part of my career grooming is stationed there. With those, what is there to fear even if the Tibetans were to head southward?" Zhangchou Jianqiong harrumphed coldly with haughty pride. It was impossible for one to become the Southern Protector-General, one of the top generals in the empire, without possessing true capability.
The reason why the southern border could enjoy more than a decade of relative peace wasn't just due to its advantageous terrain, nor luck. It was based on true strength! And as the saying goes, “there are no weak soldiers under a strong commander”. Similarly, Zhangchou Jianqiong wouldn't tolerate any weaklings under him!
The army of 180,000 elites was the greatest fortification to the empire's southern border!
"To think that even Zhangchou Jianqiong would be thinking like that!" Hearing Zhangchou Jianqiong's words, an indescribable emotion reminiscent of astonishment, sorrow, and disappointment gripped Wang Chong.
Without a doubt, Zhangchou Jianqiong was a formidable commander. It wasn't a coincidence that his Annan could enjoy such a long period of peace.
A complete system of protocols, a powerful army of elites, and a group of well-trained commanders: all of these bore testament to Zhangchou Jianqiong's capabilities.
But even Zhangchou Jianqiong could have never imagined that the catastrophe that would collapse the southwest and northwest of the empire would originate from the Southern Protectorate Manor that he once governed!
His entire army of 180,000 elites would be completely wiped out!
The Southern Protectorate Manor would become the first Protectorate in history to be abolished due to a tragic defeat!
Our ancestors lie not; survive amidst hardship, die amidst contentment. Even a commander of Zhangchou Jianqiong’s caliber possesses this kind of negligent mindset; needless to say, so would Xianyu Zhongtong, whom he has great influence over. I intended to have Zhangchou Jianqiong remain in Jiannan, but it seems that even if he was there, history still wouldn't change itself!
Such thoughts surfaced in Wang Chong's mind, and deep sorrow welled up within his heart.
Zhangchou Jianqiong had spoken these words with confidence, Wang Chong could tell that the latter was confident of his set-up in Annan.
But the more this was so, the more Wang Chong felt disappointment and dismay.
Wang Chong had always that the tragedy originating from the southwest was just a coincidence, and things could be changed easily. But at this moment, it suddenly struck him that it was actually inevitable that everything went down as it did back then... Regardless of whether it was Zhangchou Jianqiong or Xianyu Zhongtong lording over the Southern Protectorate Manor, the tragedy was unavoidable.
Great Tang had been peaceful for too long. This arrogance had not only seeped into the royal court, but the military as well.
"Has lord ever considered the possibility of Ü-Tsang and Mengshe Zhao working together?" Wang Chong suddenly asked.
As those words echoed in the surroundings, Zhangchou Jianqiong’s proud smile abruptly vanished, and everyone in the room immediately fell silent. Should a pin drop at this moment, it would surely clamor loudly.
Wrath surfaced in the eyes of those commanders of the Southern Protectorate Manor as they glared at Wang Chong.
Wang Chong might have thought that those words were a joke, but to them, it was the place where they belonged to, the place where their families were at. This wasn't a matter they would allow anyone to jest about, not even in passing, not even Wang Chong.
"Wang gongzi, don't you think your words are a little overboard?" the middle-aged strategist sitting by Zhangchou Jianqiong's side spoke up.
"Hehe, Wang gongzi, let's stop our discussion here. Come, let's eat!" Yang Zhao tried to swiftly wrap things up.
He was feeling very gloomy on the inside. This sworn brother of his had always been a sharp and casual person. Yet, for some reason, he chose to bring up those useless but sensitive matters on this occasion.
He was intending on closing the relationship between Zhangchou Jianqiong and the Wang Clan through this banquet; if this were to go on, the banquet might have to end early, and everyone would disperse displeased.
"Mengshe Zhao has just swept across Erhai and conquered the other five Zhaos. With these victories laying down the groundwork, their emperor, Geluo Feng, is currently impassioned over his ambitions. I heard that he has even turned down Great Tang's summons recently. On the other hand, Ü-Tsang is currently bulking up its military, training a huge army of cavalry and mass purchasing metal alloys. I heard that their number of cavalry has grown by 300,000 in recent years.
"If they don't have ambitions, why would they expand their military? Annan stands in the middle between Ü-Tsang and Mengshe Zhao. If both sides were to ally together, what will happen to Annan?” Wang Chong asked as he gazed deeply at Zhangchou Jianqiong.
Even before the renowned Southern Protector-General, Wang Chong had no thought of backing down at all. The matter at Annan concerned an entire army of 180,000 soldiers, as well as countless innocent citizens. Even if he had to risk incurring Zhangchou Jianqiong's wrath, he knew that he had to say these words.
At the current moment, from the top to the bottom of the Southern Protectorate Manor, from Protector-General Zhangchou Jianqiong to the ordinary footsoldiers, no one had the slightest realization that danger was just lurking before them.
At this moment, there must be a harsh voice to remind them of the threat they faced. Otherwise, it would be too late by the time everything came to be.
Wang Chong felt glad that he met Yang Zhao by the Bluebottle Pavilion back then. It was because of that chance encounter that he was given this chance.
The reason why he rushed over there to attend this banquet instead of cultivating at the spirit vein wasn't to fawn on Zhangchou Jianqiong or pull over the commanders of the Southern Protectorate Manor over to his side. What he wanted was an opportunity to speak before all of them.
It didn't matter to him that this would bring him Zhangchou Jianqiong's hostility.
Wang Gen looked at his nephew with a hint of worry in his eyes. Before this banquet, he had emphasized to Wang Chong not to be rude or get too close to Zhangchou Jianqiong in fear that it would bring them more trouble.
Yet, at this very moment, Wang Chong was challenging Zhangchou Jianqiong.
At this moment, Wang Gen wasn't really worried about Zhangchou Jianqiong—the current Wang Clan wasn't so weak as to need to fear him.
Rather, what he was alarmed by was Wang Chong's current unnatural state.
"You brat, what nonsense are you spouting?"
"Do you think that this is the way you should be talking to our general?"
"Don't think that you can step over our heads just because you're Duke Jiu's grandson!"
The commanders of the Southern Protectorate Manor finally hit their limit. With livid faces, they stepped forward and berated Wang Chong.
It was out of goodwill that their general invited everything to this banquet, and this was supposed to be a joyous occasion, a celebration. Yet, this young master of the Wang Clan just had to challenge them on this occasion.
It was enough that he mentioned that they were at risk of an attack from Ü-Tsang. Now, he was even raising the possibility of a collaboration between Ü-Tsang and Mengshe Zhao against the Southern Protectorate Manor. He was truly going overboard.
Would he only be happy if a war broke out in Jiannan?
"Lord Wang, we respect you as an important official of the royal court, but what do you mean by offending our general like that?"
Wang Chong was young so it wasn't appropriate for them to argue with him. Thus, they turned their attention to Wang Gen instead.
In truth, most of them thought that this was a play staged by Wang Gen.
"All of you, shut up!"
But at that moment, Zhangchou Jianqiong's face suddenly turned cold, and he roared at his commanders as he raised his hand. As the Southern Protector-General, he couldn't be so narrow-minded as to allow such comments to go to his head.
Contrary to the expectations of the others, instead of getting angry, Zhangchou Jianqiong fell into deep thought instead.
Initially, he thought that that lad was just causing a pointless ruckus. But after hearing the full story from Wang Chong's side, he suddenly found his anger evaporating entirely.
That was because what Wang Chong had said was the utmost truth.
It was a recent matter that his scouts received intelligence that the Ü-Tsang Empire's Seventh Tsenpo was currently mass conscripting nomadic tribes to train them to become cavalry near Qinghai Lake.
And Geluo Feng of Mengshe Zhao was gradually cultivating a haughty and belligerent attitude toward Great Tang. He had a far clearer idea of this than anyone else.
Mengshe Zhao was a vassal state of Great Tang. In the past, Geluo Feng had still treated Zhangchou Jianqiong with considerable respect. But now, Geluo Feng was disregarding every single command from Great Tang, even those that came from the Protector-General personally.
The most recent news he had received was that Geluo Feng had sacked the ministers and envoys who were intimate with Great Tang, and promoted younger, more militaristic officials.
This wasn't good news for the Southern Protectorate Manor.
Mengshe Zhao and the Ü-Tsang Empire were already showing signs of defiance and aggression, this was already sufficiently clear to Zhangchou Jianqiong. However, intent on entering the Bureau of Military Personnel, he was hoping to push this responsibility onto his successor.
Who knew that this fifteen-year-old offspring of the Wang Clan would actually point all of this out right before him.
Has the Wang Clan's intelligence network reached so wide?
In that moment, Zhangchou Jianqiong stared deeply into Wang Chong's eyes as countless thoughts flashed across his head. A moment later, he turned his gaze to Wang Gen.
In the depths of his heart, Zhangchou Jianqiong still found it difficult to believe that all of these had come from a man as young as Wang Chong. He would much rather believe that all of this was Wang Gen's idea instead.
And Wang Gen's silence seemed to affirm his doubts as well.
As an important official and a veteran of the royal court, Wang Gen has the privilege to meet the Sage Emperor. Since that is the case, it is unlikely that these words spouted by his nephew came out of nowhere. Could this be... the Sage Emperor's intention?, Zhangchou Jianqiong thought in astonishment.
But of course, he was gravely mistaken this time around. All of these was Wang Chong's own initiative. The only reason why Wang Gen remained silent was due to the astounding trust he had toward his own nephew.
And Wang Gen was far from being the only one, King Song was the same as well.
Thus, no matter what Wang Chong intended to do, Wang Gen and King Song would never stop him.
This was because the both of them knew that this child would never engage in anything pointless.
History had shown this to be the case simply far too many times!
Tea Horse Road: This is a transportation network for merchants centered around the Southwest of China. The name is believed to have originated from the ancient practice where Tibetans exchanged ponies for Chinese tea.
Just to clarify, the citizens of Ü-Tsang are known as Tibetans.
Tsenpo (赞普 or Zan Pu in Chinese) is a title used for the highest ruler of Tibet.
This term is a phonetic transcription of the Tibetan language under THL.