The Human Emperor Chapter 1036
Chapter 1036: Troublemakers At Court Iii
Zhangchou Jianqiong slowly narrated the events of the war. There were many details here that the important officials of the time had known nothing about. Even Grand Scribe Yan Wenzhang was hearing many of them for the first time, and he hurriedly gestured into the distance. Beneath a colonnade, one of his deputies was seated on the floor, swiftly recording this account with his brush.
"War is truly a matter of last resort. It is not that we generals are militant, but that the situation forces our hand. The ultimate goal of war is still to protect the people. But there are many methods to protect the people. One can choose to defend against enemies from within, waiting for an attack before mobilizing the army. One can also choose to defend against enemies outside, initiating a preventive war. It is just that the officials present favor the former while we generals prefer the latter. There is no right or wrong, simply a difference of ideals. In addition, in both the latter and the former, as long as there is war, there will be losses. This is unavoidable.
"But in both war and peace, we generals wish to protect the Great Tang and its people, just the same as all the officials assembled here."
Zhangchou Jianqiong spoke these final words with utmost sincerity. The conflict between civil and military officials was a battle over ideals. As the Minister of War, Zhangchou Jianqiong could not remain uninvolved.
"Your lowly subject is not in Talas, so he cannot give a determination of the situation, but your lowly subject believes in the Young Marquis and believes in Your Majesty's insight. Since the Young Marquis and Protector-General Gao Xianzhi have submitted a memorial requesting reinforcements, the situation in Talas is undoubtedly extremely dire. It is better to believe and prepare than to not believe and have nothing, so this lowly subject requests that Your Majesty immediately sends reinforcements to the northwest to the aid of the Young Marquis."
After saying his piece, Zhangchou Jianqiong gave a sigh as if relieved of a great burden.
Zhangchou Jianqiong owed Wang Chong an enormous favor for the war of the southwest. If not for Wang Chong, Zhangchou Jianqiong would have found it impossible to keep his post as Minister of War. Moreover, the soldiers of the Annan Protectorate army who had accompanied him for ten-some years would all have been buried by the Erhai. With this Battle of Talas, Zhangchou Jianqiong could consider this favor returned.
More importantly, Zhangchou Jianqiong had his own judgment on the Battle of Talas. As a renowned general of the military and one of the Great Tang's supreme Great Generals, Zhangchou Jianqiong shared the same view as Wang Chong. If the northwest were not speedily reinforced and the trilateral alliance were allowed to come to pass, the entire Central Plains would quake.
"Hmph, ridiculous! You generals employ soldiers every year, wasting manpower and resources, and then you go and give bombastic sermons like this! Lord Zhangchou, you truly have quite the eloquent tongue! Lord Wang, do you think the same?"
This voice instantly caused everyone to turn their eyes to the frowning and silent figure of Wang Gen.
Sensing everyone's gaze, Wang Chong's big uncle Wang Gen felt his heart thump and his complexion immediately turned green. There was no one in the Imperial Court with a more sensitive and awkward position than him. Wang Gen was a civil official, but Wang Yan, Wang Fu, and Wang Chong were all typical generals. The Wang Clan was a clan that straddled the line between civil and military.
In the end, the root of this problem lay with Duke Jiu. Duke Jiu was a civil official, but he was also an accomplished military strategist who had led armies in sweeping away the Eastern and Western Turks as well as Ü-Tsang, rendering great military service.
Of course, one could also say that this quarrel between civil and military had only reached such intensity that even the Grand Scribe had become involved because of the Wang Clan's Wang Chong.
Wang Gen felt an unprecedented awkwardness. In his long political career, Wang Gen had experienced many trials and tribulations, with some dangers even threatening to pull the entire Wang Clan out by its roots. Both the Regional Commanders Incident and the Consort Taizhen Incident had exceeded this Battle of Talas in terms of danger to the Wang Clan.
But Wang Gen would prefer to face those incidents than get involved with the thorny issue of the conflict between civil and military officials.
Civil officials hated war, a principle that had remained unchanged throughout the ages. Wang Gen only needed to say the word 'war' to be deluged by the objections of the other civil officials. In the future, he would be isolated from the other civil officials and deprived of their support, probably bringing an end to Wang Gen's advancement on the civil path. And if Wang Gen supported the civil officials, he would bitterly disappoint all the generals of the Great Tang.
This quarrel between civil and military officials was only so intense, old generals like Jiang Yunrang so unyielding that they dared to risk the censure of the civil officials, because the generals were all supporting the Wang Clan and Wang Gen's nephew Wang Chong. If Wang Gen chose this moment to oppose the generals, not only would he make the Wang Clan look ungrateful, he would also be dooming Wang Chong.
At this moment, Wang Gen's mind was beset with difficulties, and he felt like he was struggling against the heavens themselves.
"There is no need for Lord Wang to be troubled. I will speak on your behalf!"
At this moment, an elderly and dignified voice came from the upper reaches of the hall. Wang Gen's heart trembled at these words, and all the civil and military officials looked upward in shock.
The Grand Preceptor!
This same thought flitted through everyone's mind as they stared at that robed figure seated upon his armchair. The motionless Grand Preceptor who had had his eyes closed in rest had at some point opened his eyes, which now shone with an intense light.
The Grand Preceptor, Grand Tutor, and Grand Protector were known as the Three Dukes of the Imperial Court, and the leader of these three was the Grand Preceptor.
The Grand Preceptor was a prestigious and highly respected individual who wielded enormous influence in the court. Even the Sage Emperor treated him with utmost respect.
As a sign of respect, at each morning court session, while all the other civil and military officials would have to take up ranks, only the Grand Preceptor was permitted to sit on a sandalwood armchair positioned close to the Sage Emperor. The Grand Preceptor was very old and rarely interfered in matters of court, spending most of the sessions listening from above.
Everyone had originally believed that the Grand Preceptor would sit on the sidelines in this Talas incident, not that he would intervene in this debate between civil and military officials.
The Grand Preceptor was the leader of the civil officials, and his sudden intervention could change the entire nature of this debate.
Damn it! What's going on? Even the Grand Preceptor has come forth!
Even Zhangchou Jianqiong was stunned, an ill foreboding in his heart.
Although he was the Minister of War and wielded immense authority, he was still very far from the Grand Preceptor in terms of prestige and influence in the court.
"Your Majesty, this old subject has only one thing to say…"
The Grand Preceptor swept his wide sleeves and slowly stood up from his armchair. At this moment, an aura as vast as the seas exploded from his body. The entire hall became so quiet that one could hear a pin drop as all eyes focused on him.
"A country might be vast, but if it is fond of war, its end is certain!"
Rumble! The Grand Preceptor swept his gaze over the gathered officials as his dignified voice resounded through the hall. All the officials, even the old general Jiang Yunrang who had so vigorously opposed the civil officials, fell silent in trepidation.
The hall was quiet, the air oppressive.
Wang Gen's heart sank like it was an enormous stone. Behind the colonnade, King Song also had an extremely nasty grimace.
The Grand Preceptor had only opened his eyes, stood, and said a few words, but his words carried more weight than the words of all the civil officials that had spoken before him, and they were also much harder to refute. No general here could bear the weight of those words.
King Song's body trembled, his heart turning to ice as he stared at the determined face of the Grand Preceptor.
The Grand Preceptor was extraordinarily influential and prestigious. He did not lightly involve himself in court affairs, nor indeed frequently open his mouth at all. But once he spoke, his words were law. Not even an Imperial Prince like King Song could compare to him.
King Song had never predicted that this conflict between civil and military would eventually draw out the leader of the civil officials.
The court debate now leaned heavily against the generals. The progress that had been made in arguing for Gao Xianzhi and Wang Chong's request for reinforcements had suffered a massive reversal, and the military officials had been forced into an extremely passive position.
As King Song was overcome by gloom and unease, the Grand Preceptor suddenly turned his gaze upon him.
"King Song, do you have something to say?"
His expression was cold and aloof while his eyes were frigid ice. King Song was a firm member of the pro-war faction. All of the court knew, so how could the Grand Preceptor not know?
It was clear that the leader of the Three Dukes was very displeased by the years of constant war that had plagued the Imperial Court, and this displeasure had been fully provoked by this 'Talas Incident'.
King Song hesitated, but he had barely said a word when he was interrupted.
"Your Highness King Song, do you wish to see the old matter of Wu of Han repeat itself in this dynasty?" asked the Grand Preceptor, waving his sleeve with seeming indifference.
Stunned, King Song swallowed down the words he had planned to say. 'The old matter of Wu of Han' referred to that wise sovereign from one thousand years ago. Great Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty had expanded the territory of the empire, rendering astounding achievements in both the political and military sphere, but his constant warmongering later on in life emptied out the treasury and left the fields without farmers to till them.
The Grand Preceptor had clearly mentioned the old matter of Wu of Han as a hint to the Sage Emperor. The Sage Emperor was the wise sovereign of his generation and had brought the Great Tang to an unprecedented golden age, but if he repeated the mistakes of Emperor Wu, this reputation for wisdom would vanish.
Not even King Song was willing to bear this responsibility.
"Your Majesty, in the end, Talas is a land beyond our borders. Victory will bring us no joy while defeat might lead to the end of all our previous efforts. This old subject believes… that Lord Gao and the Young Marquis can retreat!"
With these last words, the Grand Preceptor finally turned around to face the figure of the Sage Emperor seated behind the bead curtains.
The hall was silent. After some time…
Finally, the Sage Emperor spoke. This simple grunt contained a boundless pressure that made the entire hall tremble.
These two words were devoid of emotion, but all the generals and pro-war officials in the hall, including King Song, Wang Gen, and Zhangchou Jianqiong, felt their hearts sink. The Sage Emperor had always allowed matters of court to be decided by debate amongst his officials. He rarely intervened, and even more rarely offered his opinions.
If the officials could reach a decision on their own, the Sage Emperor would not speak a single word. Only when the court found it difficult to decide would he open his mouth and issue his divine decree.