Chapter 554: Meeting With an Old Friend! Zhang Shouzhi!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
"There's no need for Protector-General to blame yourself. Defeat on the battlefield is not necessarily the fault of the soldier. Mengshe Zhao and Ü-Tsang worked together, both sides engaging in a full mobilization, gathering more than five hundred thousand soldiers. Coupled with the farmers and laborers that Mengshe Zhao has put to work in this war, the number might be eight or nine hundred thousand. Relying on the strength of the 180,000 elites of the Annan Protectorate is like trying to use a single log to prop up a tottering building. Not just Protector-General, anyone else would probably end up in the same state."
As Wang Yan rode his horse forward, he comforted Xianyu Zhongtong.
Wang Yan had commanded troops for about as long as Xianyu Zhongtong, in some aspects even a little longer. However, unlike other people, Wang Yan occupied no standpoint with regards to Xianyu Zhongtong, and no preconceived prejudices. It was true that Xianyu Zhongtong held inescapable blame for the battle of Erhai and the defeat of the Annan Protectorate army.
But it was also unquestionable fact that Mengshe Zhao and Ü-Tsang had the advantage in numbers.
The empire's southwest had been at peace for decades, everyone getting along. No one had expected Mengshe Zhao and Ü-Tsang to be so bold and completely tear away all pretenses. They had poured forth all the strength of their countries, plainly stating that they had no intention of giving any leeway.
Let alone Xianyu Zhongtong, eight or nine out of every ten Tang generals would probably have suffered defeat at the hands of Geluofeng's sudden and large-scale ambush.
Perhaps some general in another army might be a strategic genius who could use 180,000 soldiers to defeat more than five hundred thousand, the weak overcoming the strong, but Xianyu Zhongtong clearly did not possess this sort of talent. And if this request were put to all the other commanders of the army, probably zero of them would have been able to realize it.
This was why Wang Yan didn't hold any preconceived notions regarding Xianyu Zhongtong.
"There's no need for General to comfort me. How can I not understand what sort of blame and responsibility I shoulder for this battle? One hundred thousand soldiers! Xianyu must bear the blame. Once this battle is over, if I am lucky enough to survive, Xianyu will go to the sacred capital and beg the Son of Heaven for forgiveness!" Xianyu Zhongtong said with a bitter smile.
Others didn't react much to these words, but Wang Chong's eyes widened, and he couldn't help but shoot a flabbergasted glance at Xianyu Zhongtong.
In his last life, he had not participated in this war, so he only knew that the 180,000 elites of the Annan Protectorate army had been wiped out, with Xianyu Zhongtong the sole survivor. After such a major incident, Xianyu Zhongtong actually wanted to whitewash his crimes, doing his utmost to avoid the blame and embellish his performance on the battlefield, engendering a deep disgust and shame in the people.
Wang Chong had heard these criticisms, so he naturally didn't have a very good impression of Xianyu Zhongtong.
But these words of Xianyu Zhongtong's before Wu of Han's Edict to Open Dian had come from the bottom of his heart. Wang Chong could tell that they were not feigned. Xianyu Zhongtong's attitude from his last life and this one were as different as heaven and earth. This was the true demeanor of a responsible Great General.
Is it because my interference altered the course of events, or is it that something happened in that war back then that I didn't realize?
Wang Chong glanced at Xianyu Zhongtong, his mind in turmoil.
Back then, Xianyu Zhongtong had been roundly abused by all of society. If he had acted so responsibly and heroically as he was doing now, then it wouldn't have been the case. As Wang Chong's mind turned, he suddenly thought about Zhangchou Jianqiong in the distant capital. With this flash of insight, Wang Chong understood.
It seems that everything still falls on Zhangchou Jianqiong!
Wang Chong suddenly gave a mental sigh, understanding the crux of the issue.
Mountains and rivers are easier to change than the natures of men. Given Xianyu Zhongtong's innate character, he would never change this much. But if Zhangchou Jianqiong gets involved, everything changes. Xianyu Zhongtong isn't a bad person, nor is Zhangchou Jianqiong, but his desire for authority far surpasses that of others. With such a big incident in the southwest, Zhangchou Jianqiong definitely hold some blame, and he definitely wouldn't be able to hold onto his position. Even if Xianyu Zhongtong is willing to accept the blame, Zhangchou Jianqiong definitely wouldn't. If he interferes, Xianyu Zhongtong would never dare to object and would probably change his mind overnight.
Wang Chong had only met Zhangchou Jianqiong a few times. Even in his last life, Wang Chong was not someone who could easily get in touch with an Imperial Great General. He had only been able to understand this 'Tiger of the Empire' through the mouths of others.
However, their few meetings had been enough for this former Annan Protector-General to leave an incredibly deep impression on Wang Chong's mind.
No one had ever managed to leave such a deep impression on Wang Chong.
Whether it was subsidizing Yang Zhao and sending him to the capital to get in touch with Consort Taizhen, obstinately entering the capital when the old Minister of War retired and beginning to build social connections to obtain the position for himself, or handing Wang Chong his private token after only a few words of conversation…
This Tiger of the Empire's southwest had a consistent desire for authority that was impossible to change.
The resolve and daring that had sprung from this driving principle was enough to make anyone sigh in praise.
In the southwest war, many people paid attention to Xianyu Zhongtong and the 180,000 elites of the Annan Protectorate, but they forgot about Zhangchou Jianqiong in the distant capital. Xianyu Zhongtong is Zhangchou Jianqiong's subordinate, his hand-picked successor. If Zhangchou Jianqiong makes a request, Xianyu Zhongtong won't be able to reject it, Wang Chong quietly said to himself.
Moreover… everything truly has changed!
When the 180,000 soldiers were wiped out, Xianyu Zhongtong, as the commander-in-chief, couldn't escape the blame and faced death. So he attempted to whitewash his crimes and avoid responsibility, as not doing so would mean death. But right now, eighty thousand still remained of the original 180,000, so though Xianyu Zhongtong still held part of the blame, his fate was not one of certain death.
As long as things didn't reach that state, Xianyu Zhongtong would clearly remain a self-aware commander-in-chief.
The times make the man!
Wang Chong inwardly sighed, not knowing whether he was feeling happiness or sadness, or some other emotion.
Xianyu Zhongtong was a straightforward man and a Tang commander, and he didn't have a bad nature. As long as there was a sliver of a chance, Wang Chong didn't want this general of the empire to become the reviled traitor from his last life.
Wang Chong took in a deep breath and urged his horse forward, riding past the stele and toward the base of the mountain. Over there, Wang Chong could already see a few familiar faces waiting for him.
"Hahaha, Young Master, you're finally here!"
Before Wang Chong could speak, a thin and short old man, fifty-some years old and dressed in green, strode forward, his eyes bright and his arms wide open in welcome.
"I just knew that you would succeed, definitely succeed!"
The old man beamed, the excitement in his heart evident through his words.
"Hahaha, Zhang Shouzhi, Sir Zhang, you truly didn't let me down… I've had you wait a long time!"
Wang Chong dismounted from the White-hoofed Shadow and tightly gripped Zhang Shouzhi's hands.
This graying old man before him was naturally the great craftsman of the Bureau of Works, the true architect of Lion City, and the greatest contributor to the southwest war: Zhang Shouzhi. Although the entire Annan Protectorate army had only broken out of the siege through yesterday's rainstorm, Zhang Shouzhi and his party had actually escaped much earlier.
"Haha, the defeat in the southwest truly had me worried for a while. But when I heard that Young Master was coming south, I knew that the empire's southwest would be safe. Young Master, seeing you is truly wonderful!"
Zhang Shouzhi energetically gripped Wang Chong's hands, his strength seeming to convey that he was placing all his hopes on Wang Chong.
Wang Chong said nothing, only released his grip and returned with a warm and grateful hug.
The old man before him had clearly grown much thinner since their last meeting in the capital, more than a year ago, and his complexion seemed much more haggard. To build an imposing city of steel that could hold off the attacks of more than five hundred thousand soldiers from nothing in around a year on this vast plain…
Such an impressive feat of engineering could not pulled off by anyone except this old man before him.
Wang Chong felt nothing but heartfelt respect for this old man. Nobody could deny that Zhang Shouzhi had played a large part in the survival of the eighty thousand soldiers of the Annan Protectorate army.
"I've put you through a lot of trouble!" Wang Chong said with deep emotion.
"Young Master's words are too much. In truth, we should be the ones thanking you!"
Zhang Shouzhi leaned his head toward the youth.
From his contemptuous gaze at the start to the shock when constructing to the city, and then to the sighs of admiration now… only Zhang Shouzhi understood what he had experienced. In Lion City, he had been praised as a hero by the entire Annan Protectorate army, but Zhang Shouzhi knew that Wang Chong was the true hero behind the curtains.
When he had still been hesitating about constructing the city and was still only thinking about engineering as an art, Wang Chong was already seeing the entire fate of the southwest, already thinking about the lives of the 180,000 soldiers of the empire and the almost one million civilians. In the end, everything had proved Wang Chong's foresight to be correct.
Even Zhang Shouzhi had only realized what he was doing when he saw the more than one hundred thousand soldiers of the Annan Protectorate army rushing to enter the city!
Those high in the court should worry for the people, and those who live amongst the rivers and lakes should worry about the sovereign1!
On the face of this youth still tinged with a childish air, Zhang Shouzhi felt like he could see a pure affection for this country. This youth's heart seemed to possess a burning passion for the Central Plains, for the Great Tang… Zhang Shouzhi had never felt this passion on anyone else before.
"Haha, Old Zhang, there's no need to say any more. All of this was forged by the both of us! Without you, I would never be able to accomplish all this," Wang Chong said.
The two smiled at each other, saying no more. There were some things that they knew without needing to say them.
The appearance of Lion City was one miracle, its appearance altering the fate of the southwest. Both now and in the future, no one would be able to deny this. More importantly, this peril had tightly connected the two of them.
Wang Chong and Zhang Shouzhi were tied through an invisible cord.
Wang Chong had gained Zhang Shouzhi's eternal trust, and Zhang Shouzhi had gained Wang Chong's eternal confidence!
1.This line is from 'Memorial to Yueyang Tower' by Fan Zhongyan, an eminent official and chancellor of the Northern Song Dynasty. Thus, historically, this line has not actually been written yet, though since this is an alternate reality, the time period may be a mixture of dynasties. The meaning of this quote is that while the officials should worry about ills of the common people, the common people should also worry about the fate of the country. The author seems to have mixed up this quote, as he put 'sovereign' in the first part and 'people' in the second part, just changing the intent to mean that the officials should only worry about pleasing the sovereign and the people should only worry about getting their due.↩