After five years, Wei Chongrong once again stood on the top of Dongshan Mountain, looking at the territories of Zhuxia and Nanyue below as well as the Honghe River flowing inexhaustibly southwards far away. His gaze was deep and complex, but his expression was so calm that no one could see the slightest hint of what he was thinking about.
Dongfang followed Wei Chongrong up the mountain for half a shichen under the cold wind. Although he had deep internal strength and could bear it without any problem, it was very boring to stand like this all the time. After enduring for a long time, he finally couldn’t hold back his curiosity and asked, “Master Shizi, can you tell this subordinate what exactly you are looking at? Zhuxia’s troops have long since retreated, and this subordinate has counted the number of trees and stones on the other side of the road. But I just can’t understand what you are looking at. If you tell me, I can also try to help you figure it out. But if you keep quiet, even if I want to help you solve your problems, I won’t be able to do anything, right?”
Wei Chongrong turned his head, looked up and down at Dongfang and sighed, “Zhuxia’s troops have retreated, but don’t you think that their attack was unreasonable? Rather than a provocation, it is more like a test, a complete attempt to hit a stone with an egg.”
Four years earlier, in the 7th year of Tai’an, the old monarch of Zhuxia passed away. Tuduo preemptively attacked the palace with his troops in time to defeat both the First and Third Princes who had not yet had time to react, and successfully ascended the throne of Zhuxia.
When Li Jing’s identity was revealed, Ji Xin carried out a top-to-bottom purge of the Great Yan’s spies in Zhuxia, discarding all those who were even slightly suspicious, resulting in a weakened intelligence capability and a failure to find out where Tuduo’s troops were coming from.
The First Prince’s mother was the daughter of the previous prime minister of Zhuxia, and although the First Prince’s grandfather had already passed away, his disciples were all over the court, and the First Prince’s voice was definitely the strongest among the three brothers. The Third Prince’s mother came from a family of military generals, and his uncle had 100,000 soldiers under his command. When it came to forcibly ascending the throne, the Third Prince had an advantage over his two elder brothers. Unfortunately, both those princes lost, as Tuduo moved too quickly and the power he possessed exceeded their expectations, allowing him to take control of the situation in one fell swoop.
After Tuduo ascended the throne, he killed and demoted those who should be killed and demoted, cutting down the stalwart supporters of the First and Third Princes. As for the remaining weeds, when those people saw the situation, they immediately changed the team, and Tuduo didn’t need to deal with them.
At that point, Tuduo was still not at ease with his brothers. He sent the First Prince to the southmost part of Zhuxia where the climate was hot and humid, and the miasma was so thick that it wasn’t a place where one could survive. The First Prince naturally didn’t want to die, but he couldn’t help it. He was forcibly tied up and sent away, and died in less than half a year. The Third Prince was frightened out of his mind when he saw what happened to his brother. Tuduo really held a grudge, and the Third Prince had offended him so many times. If he fell into Tuduo’s hands, he would only die more tragically than the First Prince. He made up his mind, packed up his baggage and fled to Nanyue.
After calming the chaos in the country, Tuduo set his sights on the north, the six counties of Yizhou occupied by the Great Yan, intent to get them back. Otherwise, Zhuxia wouldn’t be able to hold up its head in front of Xiaoluo and Nanyue, let alone anything else.
The importance of Yizhou to the people of Zhuxia was clear to Wei Chongrong, as it was a natural granary, responsible for more than half of Zhuxia’s annual grain production, and was simply irreplaceable. It was not an exaggeration to say that it was the lifeblood of the Zhuxia people.
It was for this reason that, after the six counties had been retaken by Shangguan Yi and his son-in-law Li Kang, Zhuxia became so anxious and tried to attack the Great Yan at the slightest opportunity. Zhuxia’s domestic grain production was insufficient and they needed to buy grain from Xiaoluo and Nanyue.
Grain trade is different from ordinary trade. The people of Zhuxia lacked food, so they had to buy it. Although Xiaoluo and Nanyue had a surplus of grain, it was impossible for them not to extort a higher price from Zhuxia since there was a market for it.
Originally, of the three countries, Zhuxia, Xiaoluo and Nanyue, Zhuxia was the most powerful, far surpassing the other two countries in all aspects.
However, after the loss of the six counties of Yizhou, the power of the three countries changed significantly, with Zhuxia being restricted and gradually losing its original advantage. Nanyue, on the other hand, had married Princess Yunmeng of the Great Yan as its crown prince’s consort and had close trade relations with the Great Yan, so its power was growing and it was becoming the top of the three countries. Xiaoluo, sandwiched between Zhuxia and Nanyue, and not bordering with the Great Yan, was the least ambitious and would lean to whichever side was stronger, but wouldn’t offend the other side either.
In Wei Chongrong’s view, the best time for Tuduo to launch an attack on Yizhou was the 9th year of Tai’an.
At that time, the late emperor had just died and the government of the Great Yan was in the process of transitioning from the old to the new. There was inevitably some confusion, and despite Wei Zhao’s strong opposition, Wei Lan summoned Ji Xin, Wang Changning, who had been stationed in Yao’an for many years, back to the capital.
Unexpectedly, Tuduo didn’t do anything and missed the opportunity, leaving Wei Zhao with some fears in addition to feeling fortunate. Afterwards, Wei Zhao handed Wei Lan a memorial and asked him to send someone to Yao’an to take over Ji Xin’s job.
Under normal circumstances, the handover of the border defence should have been done from hands to hands, just like Wei Chongrong and Huo Qingyang did in Lingzhou in the past. Instead, Wang Changning had already returned to the capital and the successor had not yet been decided, and what Wei Lan was doing was, in Wei Zhao’s opinion, most inappropriate. Besides, Ji Xin’s adjutant general was still in Yao’an, and if an emergency did occur, without the commander present, it would be difficult for anyone to predict what the consequences would be.
Wei Zhao had military power in his hands, and Wei Lan was definitely very unsatisfied, trying to weaken his power in every way possible. But no matter how he picked and chose, he couldn’t find a general who was not related to Wei Zhao and could replace Ji Xin.
In the end, who knows what Wei Lan had in mind, but he sent Wei Chongrong over there. When Wei Chongrong received the decree, he was a bit confused, and Wei Zhao also felt incredulous. According to common sense, Wei Lan least of all wanted to see Wang Qin’s family’s strength increase. No matter whom he sent over, anyone would be better than Wei Chongrong. After all, Wei Lan was the emperor, and on the basis of great righteousness, even those who were close to Wei Zhao were likely to be drawn into his camp as long as he had the intention to do so; it was just a matter of different levels of difficulty.
Except for Wei Chongrong; he was Wei Zhao’s only son and it was impossible for him to betray Wei Zhao. If he got a firm foothold in Yizhou, it would be greatly beneficial to Wei Zhao, but not to Wei Lan.
Doubtful as he was, and puzzled as he was, Wei Chongrong set off for Yizhou. After all, it was the emperor’s decree, impossible to violate. What made him unhappy wasn’t only Jun Hua, who had been forced by Wei Lan to stay in Yujing, but also the unacceptable taste of the food in Yizhou.
In the end, Yizhou was Ji Xin’s territory. When Wei Chongrong arrived in Yao’an, it was very easy to get started, no more troublesome than in Lingzhou.
Who knew that Tuduo would launch a suicidal attack on Honghe County when Wei Chongrong was already comfortable in Yizhou, instead of picking a time when he was new to the area and had his hands full. It was really puzzling. As if Tuduo was afraid Wei Chongrong wouldn’t be able to mention his military achievements when sending Wei Lan a report.
When he heard Wei Chongrong’s words, Dongfang lifted the corners of his lips, revealing a helpless, bitter smile. He had thought of all of these things that Wei Chongrong had mentioned, but even his Master Shizi couldn’t understand these twists and turns, so how could he figure it out? He could only keep silent.
He didn’t want to be silent for a long time, but Wei Chongrong still stood motionless at the top of the mountain, and Dongfang didn’t know what to say, not daring to urge Wei Chongrong to leave. So he could only stand beside Wei Chongrong and keep him company until the sky began to grow dark; then he had to remind him: “Master Shizi, it is getting late, do you think we should go back? Zhuxia’s national strength is limited. If Tuduo dares to seek death again, our troops will just block him, definitely not letting him take advantage. Anyway, His Majesty will not give you any troops to counterattack, so it is useless for you to look…”
After Wei Lan ascended the throne, the Great Yan’s general direction of “accumulating wealth and letting people rest” had not changed. Therefore, the situation in Yizhou was going to mostly remain the same, with the two sides in balance. In this case attacking the other side could turn into trying to steal a chicken and losing rice.
“If that’s so, let’s go back.” Wei Chongrong thought about it too. It didn’t matter how ambitious Tuduo was, he wasn’t too much of a threat to the Great Yan. Yizhou was mountainous, and no matter which side you started from, it was easy to defend and difficult to attack. Therefore, the Great Yan never took the initiative to launch a war on the southern frontier. The six counties that were recovered, such as Honghe, were the result of Zhuxia’s provocation, taken back through counterattacks.
When they returned to Dongshan Town, it was already half dark, so Wei Chongrong decided to spend the night here and leave for Yao’an tomorrow.
When he walked into the Drunken Immortal House, he saw a messenger from Yao’an, obviously waiting for him.
Wei Chongrong walked up to the second floor and sat down in the private room before asking the messenger, “Give me the letter.”
The messenger respectfully handed over the letter, which Wei Chongrong opened with a smile on his face.
Dongfang glanced at him and said curiously, “Master Shizi, what is happening, is it urgent?”
In fact, just by looking at the messenger’s clothes, Dongfang could tell that the content of the letter wasn’t urgent, but it needed Wei Chongrong to make a decision personally, so Tuoba Xianhan sent someone to deliver the letter. It was just that the expression on Wei Chongrong’s face made Dongfang a bit confused, so he asked this question.
Wei Chongrong put the letter down and ordered, “Start dinner right away, we’ll eat and go back to Yao’an overnight.”
“Master Shizi, you still haven’t told me what exactly is going on?” Dongfang’s curiosity had been thoroughly piqued.
Wei Chongrong raised his eyebrows and said in a very strange tone, “His Majesty has issued a decree that I should return to the capital to marry my wife.”
Dongfang opened his mouth in astonishment and said in a daze, “This is a good thing, Young Shizi must be overjoyed.” He knew better than anyone else how Jun Hua felt about Wei Chongrong, and when he couldn’t follow him to Yizhou, Jun Hua had been unhappy for a long time.
Immediately afterwards, Dongfang reacted, “That’s not right, His Majesty has asked you to return to the capital at this time?!”
Wei Chongrong smiled. He knew that Wei Lan didn’t do things without a reason. Whether it was sending him to Yizhou in the first place, or to suddenly summoning him back, there was a reason. He just couldn’t see clearly at the moment what Wei Lan’s purpose was.
“Master Shizi, are you going back?” Without Wei Chongrong holding the fort, nothing would happen in Yizhou, right?
Wei Chongrong nodded and said, “Definitely, the decree for the marriage has been issued, how can I resist the decree and disrespect it?” Whatever the reason for Wei Lan’s decree, Wei Chongrong had no objection to the contents of this decree, he just hated that it took such a long time to be issued.
Dongfang blinked, meaning to ask what would happen to the defence of Yizhou after Wei Chongrong left.
Wei Chongrong smiled and said, “Little Dongzi, don’t underestimate Xianhan. Under my banner, he will have no problem defending Yizhou.” With Wei Chongrong’s merits of repelling Zhuxia, Wei Lan would have to think twice about taking away his military power and wouldn’t act rashly.
What Wei Chongrong was worried about, instead, was his marriage. Wei Hao had written to him earlier, telling him that Wei Lan had designs on his Little Monkey and often kept him in the palace. Now the sudden change in attitude was unusual and made him smell conspiracy.