During the first month of the Jingrui, the new emperor sent out a decree, requesting Zeng Huai, the crowned prince’s former mentor, as well as Yan Shixue, Minister of Rites to join the council and become a chief administrator.
When Liang Zhen first encountered this newly appointed chief administrator who is advancing towards his seventies within the imperial study of Ganlin Palace, he couldn’t help but sigh in his heart despite having an outwardly reserved attitude. He has been tolerating it ever since this spoiled little emperor ascended to the throne. Now with the arrival of an old-fashioned elder who is constantly giving him orders, he is afraid that he would be imperceptibly influenced, and become one with his surroundings.
Zhu Yunxuan and Zeng Huai are currently in the process of discussing business, yet Liang Zhen showed up without invitation. Only after listening in from the sidelines did he become aware that Zhu Yunxuan is intending to draft an imperial edict promoting Madame Hou’s rank up to the duchess of the nation.
After listening to an earful of their discussion , he finally spoke up with eagerness to seek the spotlight: “General Dingyuan has earned himself this rank due to his great achievements in the battlefield, but now your majesty is unexpectedly granting his wife the position of duchess by a mere stroke of your brush?”
Zhu Yunxuan dismissively provided him an explanation: “Madame Hou had the credit of defending the solitary pass during the previous years, so he should’ve been rewarded for his merit long ago.”
[T/N: The Madame Hou in question is apparently Zhu Yunxuan’s elder brother, Zhu Yunjin…]
“This is nothing compared to General Dingyuan. Aren’t your majesty afraid of provoking public criticisms after doing as such?”
Zhu Yunxuan sneered: “What meritorious achievements do you even have, Lord Zhao? And on what basis are you allowed to be granted the title of a monarchy after merely surpassing your twenties?”
Liang Zhen smiled and unperturbingly said: “It’s natural for your majesty to inherit the biases of the former emperor and be indifferent towards public criticisms.”
Zeng Huai furrowed his eyebrows and reminded him from the sidelines: “Please be careful with your words, Lord Zhao.”
“I am doing this for your own good,” Liang Zhen stared at Zhu Yunxuan, “because I am afraid that your majesty’s impulsiveness would be subjected to ridicule.”
“I’ve already made up my mind, there’s no need for Lord Zhao to waste your words.” Zhu Yunxuan interrupted him with indifference.
Liang Zhen simply muted himself.
General Dingyuan’s wife is a male, let alone raising a rank, it’s only a matter of Zhu Yunxuan’s consent. As long as he is willing, he could even pass on his royal title to the formerly abolished prince who has feigned his death to escape.
Zhu Yunxuan no longer paid any heed to him, and moved on to discussing other matters with Zeng Huai.
In recent years, a group of bandits has been running rampant along the southern shores. It was mainly after lifting the ban on overseas trading three years ago that they started to act more excessive, even going as far as to committing all sorts of crimes. Therefore the presence of the navy has become extremely vital.
Half a month ago, the former chief of the navy resigned due to his old age, so Zhu Yunxuan intends to have General Dingyuan, He Huailing, return back to Guangdong province and take over the position as the commander of the navy.
Zeng Huai contemplated for a moment and hesitantly said: “General Dingyuan has been guarding solitary pass for many years. Now that northern barbarians have been annihilated, there’s no problem with allocating him to the south, but it’s just that he doesn’t have much experience with navigating at sea, so I am afraid that he won’t be the proper candidate.”
Zhu Yunxuan slightly shook his head: “It doesn’t matter, General Dingyuan is a versatile individual. Even without any background knowledge, I believe that he has the ability to adapt quickly.”
“This old minister has no objections against your majesty’s decision.”
Liang Zhen interrupted them once again: “It seems like our majesty trusts General Dingyuan quite a lot, even to the point of personally bestowing him authority over the entire navy.”
Zhu Yunxuan directed a cold glare at him: “Does Lord Zhao have any objections? Or a better candidate?”
“Your majesty has the final say,” Liang Zhen let out a quiet chuckle, “I have no objections, but regarding candidates who are going to take over the position as the commander of the solitary pass……”
Zhu Yunxuan said: “General Dingyuan and I have already considered the current deputy general of the solitary pass, Ding Yang. That man is skilled at warfare, with wisdoms that surpass ordinary individuals and have made great contributions in annihilating the northern barbarians. Therefore I am planning to promote him to the rank of a general.”
“Ding Yang?” Liang Zhen slightly narrowed his eyes, “He is the candidate which was recommended by General Dingyuan?”
“What’s the matter?”
“I assume that the new commander of the Solitary Pass must be dispatched from central Beijing. So if it were up to me, I would say that the deputy general of the Jingnan Encampment, Xu Sen, is suitable.”
Zhu Yunxuan deepened his tone: “Why should he be specially dispatched from the capital? Ding Yang has been leading troops at the solitary pass for many years, so no one understands what the situation is like over there better than him.”
Liang Zhen argued: “I recalled that back when General Dingyuan was leading his army to attack the northern barbarians, due to Deputy Commander Ding’s reckless advance, he almost made a miscalculation at that time which would have cost tens and thousands of soldiers from our troops.”
Zeng Huai objected: “These are matters of the past. Later on, I heard it was all because of a strategic plan provided by Deputy General Ding that our Dayan Army was able to annihilate the entire Northern barbarians in such a short period of time.”
“It is as I’ve said. Our merits balances out our faults,” Liang Zhen raised his eyebrows, “General Dingyuan was there to look out for him in the past, but if he is the one who has all the authority now, what would you do if he counters every situation with an impulsive attitude again? The solitary pass plays a critical role in the northwest of Danyan, can Elder Zeng really be rest assured if it was handed over to such a person?”
Zeng Huai countered his argument: “Lord Zhao, the individual you mentioned is even less suitable. Although Xu Sen is Deputy Commander of Jingnan Encampment, he has never been on the battlefield before. So what’s the use of dispatching such an inexperienced general who only engages in idle theorizing on paper?”
“Perhaps not even Elder Zeng knows how to engage in strategic planning on paper. In my opinion, it would be better if Elder Zeng doesn’t take the matter of you joining the council for granted,” Liang Zhen scornfully laughed, “The North has completely restored its peace and there probably won’t be a occurance of war anytime soon. As long as we keep the border secure, there wouldn’t be many casualties even if we recklessly charge into battle. Stability is Xu Sen’s greatest advantage, so it’s best suited for him to guard the pass. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with him being inexperienced right? Since General Dingyuan is able to navigate at sea, there naturally wouldn’t be a problem for Deputy Commander Xu to guard the border either.”
After being impolitely ridiculed by Liang Zhen, Zeng Huai’s expression turned unsightly, even his tone has grown rigid: “Lord Zhao is so insistent on dispatching people from the capital to solitary pass. What exactly is your purpose in doing so?”
Not a lot of people are aware that Liang Zhen comes from Jingnan. Even though he has now left his post as the chief commander of the Jingnan Encampment, he is still in charge of the entire capital’s defense, including two squadrons; all the capital and imperial guards; with a total of approximately twenty-five thousand troops under his unified command. Despite all of this, he still insists on dispatching one of his men to guard the border, so how can anyone with a discerning eye not recognize that he has the intention of controlling all the troops and horses under the heaven in his grasp?
Liang Zhen did not respond and looked towards Zhu Yunxuan who was in a state of confusion: “Does your majesty also believe that I have ulterior motives?”
Zhu Yunxuan nonchalantly asked him a question in return: “Isn’t it true though?”
Liang Zhen smiled as he shook his head: “Of course not. I am merely looking out for your majesty.”
Zhu Yunxuan motionlessly stared at him in an attempt to distinguish the truthfulness of his words from the expression on his face.
Zeng Huai suddenly spoke up: “Since Lord Zhao claims that you don’t have any other intentions and is single-mindedly devoted to your majesty. Why don’t you show some sincerity by returning the military insignia as well as handing your military authority back to our majesty?”
With these words, the atmosphere in the imperial study gradually became strange.
Zhu Yunxuan stayed silent, as if acquiescing with Zeng Huai’s proposal, and waiting for Liang Zhen’s response.
Liang Zhen looked at him with a semi-smile: “Does your majesty think so too?”
Zeng Huai continued: “Since the beginning of our dynasty, the capital’s military authority has always been personally handled by the emperor in charge. It was only because the previous emperor was seriously ill that he entrusted this important task to Lord Zhao. But now that his majesty has ascended to the throne, it should be time for you to return him authority of the military.”
Liang Zhen lets out a sneer: “It is said that a glass of wine could dismiss military hierarchy, yet at the present, your majesty doesn’t even have a serving of tea.”
[T/N: To simplify, Liang Zhen is basically saying that Zhu Yunxuan doesn’t have what it takes to seize the military authority back.]
Zeng Huai’s expresion instantly changed: “Presumptuous——!”
Liang Zhen smirked and gave him the cold shoulder as he focused his eyes on Zhu Yunxuan: “What assumptions does your majesty have?”
Zhu Yunxuan stayed silent and directed a gaze filled with cold intent back at him.
Liang Zhen spoke up once again: “There’s something that I would like to discuss with your majesty in private.”
It seems as if Zeng Huai has more to add but Zhu Yunxuan frowned and interrupted him: “Lao shi should go back. We will continue our discussion regarding suitable candidates tomorrow morning.”
“I know what I am doing.”
Zeng Huai’s eyes showed concern as his line of sight darted from Zhu Yunxuan to Liang Zhen, before retreating with gritted teeth.
After all the servants are dismissed, and only two of them were left in the palace, Zhu Yunxuan coldly spoke up: “Lord Zhao should get straight to the point if you have something to say.”
“Is your majesty genuinely intending to seize back the military authority?”
“Are you willing to hand it over even if that is the case?”
As they meet each other’s gaze, wariness and skepticism is apparent in both of their eyes.
After a while has passed, Liang Zhen softly heaves out a sigh: “Your majesty, with you protecting the nation and me looking out for you, don’t you agree that it’s for the best?”
Zhu Yunxuan remained motionless: “I have no intention of being a puppet emperor. Is your insistence on not handing over his military authority a lust for power or a desire to oppress me?”
“Do you trust me, your majesty?” Liang Zhen questioned him all of the sudden.
Zhu Yunxuan was slightly stunned and seemed to hesitate for a moment as his gaze darted away.
Liang Zhen shook his head: “It hurts me quite a lot considering the fact that you are able to place so much trust in General Dingyuan but refuse to believe me.”
“General Dingyuan has the ability to expand the territory for me, but what can you do? What aspect of you is worthy of my trust?”
Liang Zhen whispered: “I naturally won’t have faith in you if you aren’t willing to believe me.”
Zhu Yunxuan’s face darken: “What’s your implication behind this?”
“If your majesty doesn’t trust me and decides to get rid of me one day, it’s natural for me to store a keepsake that will preserve my life. If I were to obediently return all my military authority back to you now, perhaps I’ll be locked behind bars after today,” While speaking, Liang Zhen approached Zhu Yunxuan step by step and stopped only after being inches away from him. He then leaned forward until their breaths were almost intervening, “Your majesty, are you intending to get rid of me?”
Zhu Yunxuan didn’t want to lose his composure, so he refused to step back and only coldly glared at Liang Zhen: “Do I have the ability to do so?”
“You indeed have that intention.” Liang Zhen confirmed
Zhu Yunxuan’s silence can also be considered as his acquiescence.
Of course he does have the intention of disposing Liang Zhen. As someone that will cast their benefactor aside and return their kindness with ingratitude, it’s obvious that he must get rid of that impudent fellow who exhibits no respect in front of him.
He currently has all the authority under the heaven. Just who exactly has the ability and the guts to pressure him? And on what basis is Liang Zhen worthy to do so?!
“Since you are unwilling to trust me, and have the intention of disposing me, then I’d rather be the treacherous fellow that you’ve envisioned me as till the very end. It all depends on your majesty’s capability if you want to seize my military authority for your own. I don’t mind dying under your majesty’s hands. But there is an alternative,” He nearly glued himself beside Zhu Yunxuan’s ears as he softly finishes murmuring latter portion of his sentence, “As long as your majesty is willing to take my hand in marriage and announce it to the world, then I can consider returning my military authority to you as a bridal gift.”
“Absurd! Do you actually believe that I am unable to get rid of you?!”
Liang Zhen softly lets out a peculiar chuckle: “At least you don’t have the ability to do so now, but as for the future……the days ahead of us are immeasurable, I’ll simply be waiting for you.”