Chapter 468: The Court Debates!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
The true impact of the incident was felt the most among the common people. The southwest bordered Mengshe Zhao and Ü-Tsang, where the Tea Horse Road acted as a source of generous profit. Many merchants in the capital did business there.
When the news from the southwest reached the capital, the gruesome seas of blood and mountains of corpses were not something that the sheet issued by the Imperial Court could fully describe.
Geluofeng had been enraged and so had not shown the smallest mercy. From this point, one could imagine the devastation within the city.
"War! War! Mobilize the army and exterminate Mengshe Zhao!"
"What is the Imperial Court doing? Even Ü-Tsang is attacking our Great Tang! Why hasn't the Imperial Court done anything?"
"Destroy them! Give them a fierce lesson!"
"Blood for blood! The lives of the dead Han must be avenged!"
Everyone was furious. The Great Tang had been at peace for several decades. Relying on its hundreds of thousands of soldiers, it had suppressed the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganates, Goguryeo, Ü-Tsang, and Mengshe Zhao. Even the Abbasid Caliphate and Charax Spasinu in the far west were cowed by this indisputably enormous strength of the Great Tang.
After so many years, this indisputable power had become the greatest glory for the people of the Great Tang. And the incident in the southwest made these people feel a deep disgrace and affront!
When this disgrace and affront transformed into rage, the first to suffer their fury was the Annan Protectorate of the southwest.
And Zhangchou Jianqiong, as the former Annan Protector-General, felt an even greater pressure.
"Bastard thing! What in the world is Xianyu Zhongtong doing? I gave him the Annan Protectorate, and then he produces this massive blunder!"
In the Bureau of Military Personnel, Zhangchou Jianqiong smashed his palm on a table, his face red from anger.
The southwest was his territory, one that he had overseen for decades, and nothing, big or small, had ever gone wrong during his tenure. Neither Mengshe Zhao nor Ü-Tsang dared to act recklessly. He wasn't known as the 'Tiger of the Empire' for nothing.
But Zhangchou Jianqiong would have never expected that right after he obtained his long-desired position as Minister of War, before he had even gotten used to his seat or gotten familiar with the inner workings of the bureau, such an incident would occur in his territory.
And what Zhangchou Jianqiong found even more difficult to accept was that Xianyu Zhongtong had known nothing about Geluofeng's assault, even though he was so close.
Only after Geluofeng retreated did Xianyu Zhongtong send news and ask him what to do!
At present, everyone in the capital was criticizing the Imperial Court, and the Imperial Court was transferring this pressure to him. Zhangchou Jianqiong currently felt like he had a dagger to his back, like he was sitting on a bed of needles.
In this short period of time, the civil and martial officials paying visits to him had almost trod his threshold into ruins. Although none of them had directly said it, they had implied that they were criticizing the previous Annan Protector-General.
Even a few imperial censors from the court had visited and directly criticized him, placing Zhangchou Jianqiong under massive pressure.
He could disregard those other officials, but no one could stop the imperial censors. In the records of the Great Tang, quite a few important ministers in the court had been impeached by imperial censors.
If he handled the matter poorly, he might have to say goodbye to the position of Minister of War before he had even warmed the seat.
But even though he was bursting with anger, there was also a layer of confusion deep within Zhangchou Jianqiong's heart.
"Geluofeng, Geluofeng, what are you thinking? You should know what will happen if you attack the Great Tang. This isn't some simple dispute. Did something happen in the southwest that I don't know about?" Zhangchou Jianqiong muttered to himself as his mind turned.
The most fundamental skill of a Great General was to keep calm. Although Zhangchou Jianqiong was enraged, he would never let his rage control him.
All those years of supervising the southwest had given Zhangchou Jianqiong an understanding of every tree and bush there. Although Geluofeng had been like a lurking tiger, always waiting to strike, he had never been impulsive and rash.
Zhangchou Jianqiong would never believe that Geluofeng had raised such a large army to destroy a single city and then retreated without any other harvest.
This was not Geluofeng's character!
Zhangchou Jianqiong was sure that something had happened that he was unaware of. But the southwest was too far from the capital. One round trip was not something that could be done in ten-some days.
But he could not even wait that long!
"It really was as Chong-er said!"
In his massive estate, Wang Gen was seated on an armchair, his hand gripping a sheet of paper while his brow was fraught with concern.
He had probably known of the incident in the southwest earlier than anyone else, but Wang Gen had never been able to bring himself to believe it.
It wasn't that he didn't believe Wang Chong, but that a war between countries could not be decided by a single outsider or scout.
The country could not be handled so recklessly!
A maid suddenly walked in and respectfully reminded him, "Milord, it's time for morning court!"
Wang Gen nodded. Putting on a pair of boots, he left his residence.
This was the first morning court session since news of the southwest had arrived. The moment Wang Gen walked into the Taiji Palace, he froze.
The large hall was packed. In the past, when Wang Gen reached this hall, there would just be a few people present. There would occasionally be more people, but not that many.
But this time, everyone seemed to have arrived earlier than usual. They were whispering into each other's ears, anxiously discussing something that Wang Gen couldn't make out.
The atmosphere was extremely abnormal.
"His Majesty has arrived!"
After a moment, a whip cracked and the officials arrayed themselves. A beaded curtain dropped down as the imposing figure of the Emperor arrived. Today's morning court finally began.
Before the sacred steps, a young-looking eunuch with gray hair took two steps forward and announced in a sharp voice, "The Sage Emperor decrees that those with memorials should state them and those without should leave!"
An old civil official over fifty years old immediately stepped forward. "Your Majesty, this minister has a memorial…"
This was the routine of the court: foodstuffs and taxation, fields and irrigation, the lives of the common folk… Each meeting of the court had far too many things to discuss.
The Bureau of Works, the Bureau of Rites1, the Bureau of Revenue, the Bureau of Personnel… one by one, they stepped forward. Wang Gen closed his eyes. He was far too familiar with this process.
Without notice, it finally became the turn for the Bureau of Military Personnel. Before Zhangchou Jianqiong could say anything, a fifth-ranked general suddenly stepped forward, bowed, and declared his memorial. "Your Majesty, this minister has a memorial. In the southwest, King Geluofeng of Mengshe Zhao has offended the Great Tang and led an army against it, destroying a city and leaving mountains of corpses and seas of blood within it. The people have been left in misery. I beseech Your Majesty to make a decision!"
Zhangchou Jianqiong's expression morphed, his face swelling until it went violet as he looked over at the speaker. The tedious air in the hall suddenly transformed, becoming incomparably slow.
At almost the same moment, Wang Gen opened his eyes. The discussions before had just been foreplay. The most important was the matter of war in the southwest.
"Your Majesty, Geluofeng has greatly offended the Great Tang. He cannot be allowed to get off like this! To show such ingratitude, they must be taught a lesson. This lowly minister recommends that we immediately attack Mengshe Zhao and have them pay a price!" another general said in an impassioned voice.
Wang Gen recognized him as Wu Zhengpeng of the Bureau of Military Personnel. He was a fourth-rank general and old-timer of the bureau who did not belong to any particular faction.
Both King Song and King Qi had attempted to pull him to their side, but they had both failed. He was, however, a staunch warhawk.
There were actually many people in the Bureau of Military Personnel like Wu Zhengpeng who were loyal to the imperial clan and did not join any political faction.
"Your Majesty, this minister seconds the motion! I request that the Sage Emperor dispatch troops to punish Mengshe Zhao! Let Geluofeng understand what it means to be a subject!"
"This minister agrees!"
"This minister agrees!"
"This minister agrees!"
In the hall, all the hawkish ministers began to voice their approval.
"This minister objects!"
Just when the crowd had reached its angriest point, a resounding voice spoke out. The speaker, a civil official with a scholarly air and vigorous demeanor, his hair and beard all white, faced down the angry glares of the crowd.
"A war cannot be entered into until the matter is investigated. Mengshe Zhao and the Great Tang have always been at peace. For Geluofeng to suddenly attack, there must be a reason!"
"Lord Feng's meaning is that the incident on the southwest border is fake? Did all those common folk and Governor Zhang Qiantuo die in vain?" a general immediately replied, his eyes glowing with anger.
Another minister stepped forward and shot back, "Lord Feng said no such thing. All of you speak endlessly about war, but do any of you know how many people will die in a war? So many people have already died. Do you want to add to that number? Such an important matter of state cannot be conducted with such recklessness!"
Along with hawks, there were also doves. So it had been for all the dynasties throughout the ages, and this dynasty was no exception.
"Reckless? You civil officials dare to call this reckless? If Mengshe Zhao is not disciplined, they'll get even more vicious. If they grow even bolder and kill even more people, will all of you take responsibility?"
The criticized hawkish generals began to grow red from fury, the blood rushing to their heads. It only took a few moments for the mood in the hall to turn hostile.
There had always been conflicts between civil and martial officials, hawks and doves, but the nature of this one was different.
Debate quickly turned to argument, argument into quarrel! In the end, everyone became a participant, and the entire court fell into chaos.
While Wang Gen was in deep thought, he heard a voice, followed by many others.
Wang Gen's expression froze as he returned to his senses. It was only now that Wang Gen realized that the arguments in the hall had come to a stop. Everyone was looking at him with strange gazes.
"Lord Wang… What do you think about Mengshe Zhao's attack on the Great Tang?" someone asked, their expression strange.
Wang Gen had a dazed look before finally understanding why everyone was looking at him. The Wang Clan had always been part of King Song's faction, so the Wang Clan naturally stood with the hawks.
Since the hawks and doves had reached a stalemate, the hawks had planned to use him to strengthen their momentum!
1. The author actually writes 农部 here as one of the ministries, but this would translate as 'Bureau of Agriculture', which is not one of the traditional Six Ministries and would probably be a division under the Bureau of Revenue. I have replaced it with the Bureau of Rites.↩