Zhao Junhong realized that he was being too extreme just now. The Imperial family and the aristocracy would never interfere with each other’s internal affairs.
Although the clan lords could only be appointed by the Emperor, that was just a formality. The candidates were submitted by the clans themselves. There was once an incident where two clan lord candidates were submitted to the Imperial court. The archives department sent both submissions back since they weren’t interested in whatever internal dispute was going on.
As expected, the Radiant Emperor’s reason was:
“Duke Rong is my nephew so to speak. I rarely see Sister Gaoyi now that she has been demoted, only at family banquets and such, but I’m greatly delighted to see that her beloved child is now an outstanding person. I wonder if Jundu has any intention to split off from the family? The land in Tiansui County isn’t bad, but it doesn’t suit you very well. The Imperial family’s reserve territory might be smaller, but it’s rich in natural resources and should serve you better.”
Zhao Jundu was puzzled upon hearing such words, so he only gave a vague reply.
The Radiant Emperor said, “The Zhao clan is full of courageous warriors and is a pillar of the Empire, but it’s also within reason for me to bestow the Imperial family’s land to my sister’s son. Jundu, it’s fine to let me know once you’ve thought it through.”
That was the extent of the conversation between the two. The Emperor left via the void afterward, probably leaving the continent directly.
Zhao Junhong couldn’t help but laugh ruefully. He had almost forgotten that the Radiant Emperor was actually their uncle, a relative within three generations. They were even more closely related to the Imperial family than Duke You’s branch. There was nothing wrong with an older relative being concerned about a junior’s first conferred territory.
Things weren’t that simple, however. Gaoyi and the Radiant Emperor might be siblings, but they were never close. Gaoyi was the direct descendant from a family of high status, and her Imperial blood ran thick. She might not even remember what the Radiant Emperor looked like back when she was in the palace.
There was a long period of silence after the Radiant Emperor succeeded the throne. Duke Chengen’s line was just a branch of Duke You’s lineage. Gaoyi herself was too busy with family matters to pay attention to this inconspicuous royal brother.
Picking up this connection at such a time went to show that the Emperor was trying to give Zhao Jundu a suggestion as an older relative and not as the Emperor.
Zhao Jundu was left wondering why the Radiant Emperor would bring this up.
The Empire always followed a set procedure when conferring title and land. An empty title was the quickest to process, with all paperwork completed within a month regardless of the rank. A landed title was different—the process was much longer unless the person was being assigned land from his family’s territory.
The pioneering of new territory would involve measurements, surveys, and positioning before a warzone can be designated. This process could be completed in half a year or so.
Things weren’t as simple if things involved the transaction of land in the Empire’s mainland. Most territories in the heart of the Empire had already been conferred. A small portion of them was masterless for various reasons and under the trusteeship of the Empire. Such lands were usually extreme—either extremely good or extremely bad—so they would need several years of negotiation with various parties before a confirmation could be reached.
After fighting in two territorial wars and receiving a hereditary title, Zhao Jundu would obtain land not just on the void continent but also a county in the Empire’s mainland. This size was equivalent to the fiefdom of a count’s family, not something so easily squeezed out. Zhao Jundu didn’t really care about this matter at first.
“My landed title wasn’t supposed to be confirmed so quickly… Why is the county name already out? I remember Tianshui is a famous eastern province. I don’t think newly ascended dukes would be granted such territories.”
Zhao Junhong seemed to have found some clues. He said with a helpless sigh, “Tianshui was supposed to be conferred to Duke Zhengguo, Lin Xitang.”
Even someone as calm as Zhao Jundu couldn’t help but feel surprised. “The Lin descendants are sure to face a demotion, but why did the Emperor take back their conferred land? Moreover, his Zhengguo title was conferred by the previous Emperor, and he was never promoted again all this time. He should’ve been conferred another duke title at least considering how much he had contributed to the Empire. How big is the Lin family’s current territory anyway?”
In truth, landed titles were becoming more and more difficult to confer since the Empire settled on its four continents. This was especially true today where the mainlands have enjoyed prolonged peace. There wasn’t enough land for all the landed titles. The items used to classify the aristocracy included contributions and enclave earnings in addition to the conferred land.
The Lin family was a lower-ranking aristocratic family, and most of its members were low-ranking officials. They only possessed a county of land in the Empire and a small one at that. Lin Xitang was serving as the leader of the cabinet back when he received the title of Marquis Zhengguo. That was a time when he was under the most attack both in court and in public. Hence, he never received additional land although his title was a landed one.
The territories Lin Xitang pioneered during his time as a marshal were considered his designated warzone. After leaving office, he could keep a portion of them as a part of his territory and exchange his contributions for a big county back in the mainland.
At the thought of this, Zhao Junhong couldn’t help but press on his forehead. Instead of replying to Zhao Jundu’s question, he said, “I heard the Lin family submitted a proposal, saying they wish to return the lands to the Empire because they do not have the power to defend them.”
Zhao Jundu might be inferior to Zhao Junhong in terms of government affairs, but he was still familiar with the rules of the Empire. His expression darkened as he connected all the recent incidents. “Second Brother, why has the Northern Legion been kept on the Western Continent?”
Zhao Junhong had thought of this matter one step ahead; he just didn’t know how to start talking about it. Seeing as Zhao Jundu was bringing it up, he said with a deep sigh, “It just so happened that the beast horde attacked when the Northern Legion was being relieved. Father personally requested the Northern Legion to stay and help with the defense.”
Zhao Jundu was commanding the Empire’s forward base at the time. Later on, he paid little attention to matters on the Western Continent after hearing that the situation was much better compared to Transcendent.
One had to know that Zhao Weihuang and Lin Xitang didn’t share a great relationship despite being neighbors on the battlefield. The highest-ranked officer on the Western Continent right now was the General of the Northwest, Zhao Weihuang. In name, he was to oversee the transition and withdrawal of the Northern Legion from the Western Continent, but Zhao Jundu could say for sure that the man had never even set foot in the Northern Legion’s camp.
Besides, considering Zhao Weihuang’s character, the first thing he would do in the face of an invasion was lead his troops into battle. There was no way he would head over to the Northern Legion on his own.”
Zhao Junhong sighed. “Regardless, no one would have objected.”
Zhao Jundu understood what Zhao Junhong meant. Now that he thought about it, he wouldn’t have found anything wrong with this matter even if he were at the scene; it was only right that the Empire’s soldiers would fight to protect the Empire. However, the Zhao clan’s actions actually served to detain the Northern Legion on the Western Continent. The fact that the Northern Legion hadn’t completed its withdrawal procedures became all the more eye-catching today.
“Then what’s with Tianshui?”
“It was the clan’s decision to go through with your title and land conferment procedures,” Zhao Junhong said with a wry smile. “In fact, we’re not the only clan eyeing that land. Tianshui boasts a well-defined border, prosperous cities, and it’s located in the heart of the continent, a good place that’s rare to see in recent years. Duke Zhengguo’s contributions, experience, and status allowed him to jump the queue and take the land. No one could object even if they weren’t quite satisfied. The Zhao clan can’t stay idle now that everyone in line for conferment is making a move for this territory.”
Imperial fiefdoms were a major topic for the entire clan. It was impossible for the titled person to do all the miscellaneous procedures himself, so the usual rule was to discuss everything within the clan first. Then, the family would dispatch a capable representative to obtain the greatest benefits for the clan. This wasn’t something a handful of people could decide because it involved the interests of the clan and its single primary, two parallels, and eighteen auxiliary manors.
Zhao Jundu couldn’t be bothered to ask about the details, just as there was no need to figure out who had given the clan lord advice regarding the Northern Legion. Everyone had the clan’s interests in mind, so they would need to start elsewhere to find out the person with untoward intentions.
Zhao Junhong sighed. “Every mainland territory conferred involves countless power contests behind the curtains. It’s not something a single family can do. What exactly did His Majesty want?”
Zhao Jundu said calmly, “Perhaps this matter wasn’t orchestrated by the Zhao Clan. It’s just that we’re not entirely innocent.”
Zhao Junhong was dazed momentarily. He wanted to argue but didn’t know what to say. Now that it was clear that the Lin family was incapable of holding onto the territory, he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t take advantage of the situation and simply allow the other clans to claim the benefits. It was easy to talk about maintaining proper conduct when people weren’t looking, but how many people could actually follow the principle?
Zhao Jundu pondered for a while before saying, “I think I understand what Commander Lin meant. One cannot help but make certain associations regarding those rumors. Rumors seem easy, but investigating them is fairly difficult. Considering the friction between the Zhao clan and Lin Xitang throughout the years, few will actually consider this as idle gossip.”
At this point, Zhao Jundu recalled the Emperor’s praise. “The Zhao clan is full of courageous warriors.”
The Zhao clan specialized in warfare. Its descendants would join the battlefield the moment they came of age. From the twenty high-ranking elders and the head of each branch family to the clan lord himself, no one was a weakling. Zhao Jundu was able to lead his own manor at such a young age, not because he was a genius but because of his strength and ability.
Even the weaker ones among these elders were respected for their great contributions to the Empire. This was also the reason why the Zhao clan was able to stand firmly as one of the top clans despite their arrogance, their refusal to intermarry with landowning households, or curry favor with the Imperial clan.
This also caused the clan to lack a single loud voice. At first, the clan lord position had been shouldered by the Dukes You and Yan in turn. The main and branch families were in a relative balance of power, something Duke Chengen broke when he took up the clan lord’s position.
This was especially true because it had been less than fourteen years since Duke Chengen’s lineage had broken off from Duke You’s branch. The two dukes You and Yan were older than Zhao Weihuang by one generation. And apart from Zhao Jundu, the heads of all the other auxiliary manors were either his seniors or peers. Hence, the residences tended to mind their own business, unless the clan’s ancestral teachings were being violated.
Zhao Guanwei’s matter was the best example.
At this point, Zhao Junhong suddenly remembered something. “The Emperor asked you about splitting off… did he find out about that time…”
Zhao Jundu immediately understood what Zhao Junhong was trying to say. He patted his second brother on the shoulder, saying, “I’m totally fine, no need to bear what outsiders say in mind.”
Zhao Junhong laughed ruefully.
This matter started at the end of the void continent war. Princess Haimi had saved Zhao Jundu using every medicine at her disposal, yet he didn’t recover for a long while. The worst part was that his origin power grade had slipped significantly.
This was a major development for the Zhao clan. Before this, the Dukes You and Yan had stood their ground against the masses to pick Zhao Jundu as the next clan lord, skipping over traditional procedures. Although this matter hadn’t been announced yet, it had already passed the elder assembly.
It almost seemed like he had no hope of becoming a divine champion back then. Throughout its long history, the Zhao clan had never had a clan lord who wasn’t even a divine champion. As such, it was only natural that some people would start giving out other suggestions.
Among Duke Yan’s grandsons, Zhao Fenglei was in detention for two years because of the incident on the void continent. Their main resources were shifted to two other young descendants, who showed great improvement in cultivation and warfare.
Everyone was delighted that there would be no gap in the clan’s core descendants, but they had to consider the matter of the next clan lord. One of the plans was to suggest Zhao Junhong as the successor.
Back when Zhao Jundu’s brilliance was shrouding the entire younger generation, the outside world viewed him as a man of mediocre talents. The clan members, however, saw him as a veteran in governmental affairs and an expert in military strategy. There was a chance he could break through to the divine champion realm with proper training and the right opportunity. By the time Zhao Junhong was conferred the title of Vice-Marshal, he was already rank seventeen.
This debate came to an end when Zhao Jundu later reforged himself in fire and broke through to the divine champion realm… that and Gaoyi’s fury. The Imperial princess announced that she wouldn’t allow others to incite conflict between her two sons. Soon, the beast tide arrived along with the war in the new world. The discussion about the successor position was thus deferred.
At this moment, a signal flare exploded in the distant sky. This was the Zhao clan’s withdrawal signal.
Zhao Junhong said, “It’s time for me to head back, otherwise, people will start looking for me.” It was fine for the Radiant Emperor and Prince Greensun to leave, but the two siblings had to appease the defending army at Serene Pass.
Zhao Jundu nodded. “Second Brother, let’s not tell anyone else about today’s matter.”
Zhao Junhong sighed. “I was just about to persuade you not to tell Mother about this. It’s great that you think the same, let’s just discuss this together first.” As the closest among the siblings, Zhao Junhong understood that Zhao Jundu’s warning did not include their mother and other siblings.
Zhao Jundu said with a frown, “How is this related to mother?”
Zhao Junhong was already tired of producing wry smiles at this point. “I remembered something. Whether or not it’s related to the current matters, it’s best I let you know first. Back when Marshal Lin produced secret treasures to send people into the Great Maelstrom, our little sister robbed someone’s treasure and went in. Back then, Mother said she would settle this score with the marshal.”
Zhao Jundu hadn’t expected this. “What kind of reasoning is this? There’s no way the marshal could’ve controlled little sister.”
Zhao Junhong said, “She must’ve said so because she was in a bad mood, but someone managed to blow it up. Everyone knows about it now.”
Even Zhao Jundu could only sigh. These trivial matters had all come together to form a sinister outcome, painting the Zhao clan as a villain.
Zhao Junhong said, “I really wonder who’s so capable? They keep setting up traps for the Zhao clan to jump into.”
Zhao Jundu shook his head. “How can there be so many schemes? Many of these things are happening because we lack secrecy in doing things, things other people took advantage of in passing. Comparatively, Command Lin is the one I’m worried about. I’m afraid someone will think themselves clever and try to cause trouble. Not only will they get themselves killed, but the scandal will also be made known to the entire world.”
Zhao Junhong felt a headache come over him as he recalled Lin Wu. This man had faced countless assassinations during his time as Fang Qingkong, and none of them had ever succeeded. Moreover, news of the attempt would always spread out at the critical juncture. One had to know that the clans sought face above all else. They would rather fight in secret without letting these things surface in public.
But even Zhao Junhong had to admit that the man’s tone of voice made him want to challenge him to a duel.
Zhao Junhong also came to understand at this point. “Lin Wu wouldn’t have said those things if it was only about the rumors. No clan will do a thorough purge just because of some rumors. Someone in the clan might’ve done something extreme, and Lin Wu either has proof of it or is trying to alarm us into revealing the proof.”
Zhao Jundu said, “We must deal with those rumors anyway, so let’s start there. Ask all manors to restrain their members and investigate the source. You and I will work in secret to check what this is all about.”
Zhao Junhong nodded, and the two returned to Serene Pass afterward.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
TL: Legion ED: Moxie