Chapter 94: Circumstances (1)
“Everyone, this is the third son of my third son, Wang Chong!”
At this moment, the old master seated at the top spoke as he gestured toward Wang Chong, who just entered the room.
“Chong gongzi, come in.”
The white-haired old men greeted Wang Chong, but they didn’t pay him much attention. They were only saying so out of respect for the old master. They have seen too many people in this hall already.
Be it Wang Li, Wang Fu, or Wang Bei, they’ve seen them all. This was already the fourth one, and they didn’t think that there was any need to pay much heed to Wang Chong.
“Wang Chong pays respect to the elders!”
Wang Chong respectfully bowed, paying no heed to their attitude.
Those who were seated here along with the old master were his ex-subordinates. These people have weathered the various political changes in the royal court, and followed the old master to support the current emperor to the throne under chaotic times. When they were younger, they had frequented the royal court and held powerful positions… Even though they’ve exceeded their sixties now, their rallying ability and influence were still spectacular.
Every single one of them were either a head of a powerful clan or a hero of a region. Most of them were over their sixties, but age did little to thin their influence.
Given their standing, there was no need for them to behave respectfully to a fifteen-year-old kid. In fact, if not for the old master’s halo, they probably wouldn’t be bothered to waste their breath on pleasantries.
“Sit down. Men, get him a chair!”
The old master ordered.
The men in the conference hall were all veterans. Wang Chong may be the old master’s grandson, but in terms of standing, he was only qualified to sit at the very end. In fact, he was only given a small chair by the corner of the room.
The main reason why old master sent him here was for him to listen to the affairs and gain some experience. This would prove to be useful to him in the future.
After Wang Chang was settled in, the group in the conference hall burst into discussion once more.
Seated by the corner, Wang Chong scanned the room. Other than the old master and his subordinates, Big Uncle Wang Gen was also present, seated beside the old master.
Big uncle was the eldest son of the clan, as well as an authoritative official in the royal court. Regardless of whether he was able to earn the recognition of these old subordinates, there would always be a seat for him beside the old master.
Other than big uncle, Cousin Wang Li was present as well. Initially, when he first arrived at the Four Quarters Embassy, he looked irritated and impatient. But at this moment, he seemed like a completely different person. He listened attentively to the conversation among the old master and his subordinates, and his face betrayed his strong desire to perform on this occasion.
This was different from the impression he gave Wang Chong in the past.
“Cousin Wang Li also intends to win the recognition of these old subordinates!”
A thought flashed through Wang Chong’s head.
Grandfather didn’t have a say in the judgement of these old subordinates; he could only nominate candidates. After all, it was impossible to force someone to ‘respect’ and ‘recognize’ you. These were only useful when it came from the depth of one’s heart.
Cousin Wang Li may have tried his best to perform every single time, but Wang Chong knew that it was impossible for him to win over the old master’s students and old acquaintances no matter how hard he tries.
It wasn’t because he was lacking. Rather, these old subordinates were experienced veterans, and they’ve weathered through many tribulations in their life. No matter what kind of ability one displays, they would only think of it as a ‘petty trick’.
‘Conquering’ them was a nigh impossible task. Otherwise, big uncle, father, uncle, little uncle, big brother, second brother, and cousin wouldn’t have all failed.
At the very most, they’ve only earned the recognition of one or two of these ‘old subordinates’. To date, not a single one of them had been able to win the recognition of all those in this room yet.
Glancing around the conference hall, Wang Chong’s eyes soon fell on the old master. A sliver of sorrow flashed across his eyes.
“The old master won’t survive till the calamity!”
A memory resurfaced in Wang Chong’s mind. Four years later, grandfather would meet his demise. The hidden trauma he sustained in his earlier years, the heavy wound inflicted on him on the battlefield, and the heavy workload he had to shoulder even after his retirement took a toll on his body. Despite already reaching his seventies, he still worked himself to the bones for the emperor, presenting strategies and ploys to him. This caused grandfather to be under great stress at all times.
In a few years’ time, the old master would finally cave in and return to the earth.
But no one in the Wang Clan seemed to have realized this matter, be it big uncle or father.
Grandfather hid his frailty well, to the point that everyone thought of him as an immortal, a being who would never collapse.
But no one could survive for an eternity in this world, and grandfather was no exception.
Thus, grandfather’s fall came as a severe blow. The entire Wang Clan panicked, and even the calm and dependable big uncle was flustered.
Wang Chong would always remember the terrified expression on his face that day.
Wang Chong knew that the Wang Clan didn’t have many opportunities left to inherit grandfather’s mantle. Since he had four years remaining, this meant that they only had four tries left.
Without a core figure to unite everyone, the students and old acquaintances of the old master would disperse swiftly.
In an instant, the influence and standing which the old master has spent his entire life to build up would crumble in an instant. Even if some remained loyal to the Wang Clan, the Wang Clan’s influence would still be a far match from how it was.
The inheritance within prestigious clans has never been easy, and this has always been grandfather’s greatest worry!
“No matter what, I have to find a way to earn the recognition of these old subordinates!”
Seated by the corner, Wang Chong clenched his fists tightly.
In the room, other than the members of the Wang Clan and grandfather’s old subordinates, there was also a group of youngsters. While grandfather was using his birthday as a platform to nominate his successor to his old subordinates, the others were also bringing the youngsters in their clan in for the very same purpose.
The discussions in the conference hall soon touched on the present circumstances of the empire.
“… The Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate of the northern grasslands have been growing more and more powerful, and there are signs of them merging together. I’ve heard that the Khans of the two tribes are already in negotiations. We should put up our guards against them!”
A powerful-looking white-haired old man who exuded a powerful militaristic aura spoke. Wang Chong recognized him. He was known as ‘Duke of Ye’, and he was an old subordinate of grandfather. He once participated in that treacherous political change in the royal court along with grandfather, and the both of them worked together to support the current emperor to the throne.
Everyone knew that the surname of the Duke of Ye was Ye, but there didn’t seem to be anyone who recalled his name, and none of the younger generation dared to ask about it either. Wang Chong only knew that he was one of grandfather’s most loyal subordinate, and he has a sharp eye in military affairs.
When everyone was still bothered with those internal factional wars within the empire, the old subordinates of grandfather were already setting their sights onto the faraway northern grasslands.
“These days, the world has been peaceful. Following by the Sage Emperor’s imperial edict, we have been doing business with everyone in the world. The Eastern and Western Turks of the north weren’t adept in steel craft, but with the easing of trade, they have bought many steel alloys from our Great Tang. Now, even the tip of their arrows are crafted with steel alloy!”
“Those Eastern and Western Turks already possessed strong cavalries and archers from the very start. If they were to grow stronger after obtaining our metal alloys, that could potentially lead to a disaster for the empire!”
Despite his silver hair and beard, the eyes of Duke of Ye were brimming with spirit unlike those of his age. Upon speaking of the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate, worry plagued his face.
“That isn’t all. I’ve read the official document from the Bureau of Military Personnel, and the light cavalries of the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate have been trespassing on our borders, and the frequency of it is on the increase. In the past, we were able to defeat three squads of their cavalries with two squads of our own. However, the death ratio is already up to one is to one now.”
“Sometimes, under their surprise attacks, we might even suffer greater losses than them. Duke Jiu, the situation is really unnerving. Their battle prowess is rising too quickly!”
Another powerfully-built old man said. Of all here, he possessed the greatest height, being around a head taller than everyone else. Furthermore, with his sturdy and bulky arms and legs, he seemed more like a man in his prime than an old man.
Wang Chong recalled that he was one of the subordinates from grandfather’s early years, and he was better known as ‘Big Beard’. When he was younger, he had a full beard which he never shaved. Rather, he regarded it as his pride.
Even when he has aged, he was still the same, just that his beard has turned white, and no one dared to call him ‘Big Beard’ now. Nowadays, people respectfully addressed him as ‘Elder Beard’.
In the past, he was the number one general under grandfather’s command.
“Duke Jiu, you are closest with His Majesty, and it would be good for you to inform His Majesty of the matter. We have to be guarded against such things! Our borders haven’t been peaceful since a few years ago!”
Another white-haired old subordinate spoke up worriedly.
Wang Chong recognized the person. His surname was Qiao, and people addressed him as ‘Old Master Qiao’. He was one of the few people in the room who was even older than grandfather. For the three of them to speak of the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate in the northern grasslands simultaneously, it was likely that they’ve discussed this matter beforehand, and decided to make use of Duke Jiu’s birthday banquet to raise it up.
“Northern Protectorate Manor is in charge of guarding the northern territories, and protecting the Great Tang from the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate should be their responsibility. Have they said anything yet?”
(Wikipedia: Protectorate General to Pacify the North)
Upon hearing his three old subordinates bringing up the matter of the northern Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate, the old master was alarmed.
From Qin to Han, then to Sui and eventually Tang, the nomads of the northern lands had been a threat to the Central Plains. During the Qin Dynasty, the Great Wall had to be constructed, and an army of a hundred thousand elites was dispatched to guard the area. There was the Battle of Baideng during the Han Dynasty, and Sui suffered numerous attacks and plundering.
As such, the Great Tang has been wary of the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate. Back then, the old master has once led an army northward to strike down the alliance army of the Eastern and Western Turkic Khaganate. However, Great Tang also suffered heavy losses in that battle.
The old master was well aware of the strength of the Eastern and Western Khaganate. Thus, he took this issue gravely.