Interlude: A Night in Beijing
Interlude: A Night in Beijing
October 9th, 1680
Beijing, Great Zhou
It was late evening. Painted reddish orange by the eventide, the Forbidden Palace stood in its grandeur, completely recovered from the great fire seven years ago.
A man walked the outer palace, cutting through the Palace to reach its core. He was Wu Yingqi - uncle of the young emperor, general of Great Zhou, and the newly appointed King of Chu(楚王). A tall, bulky man with a confident posture, he was quite recognizable even from afar.
Wu felt fatigue resting in him. He had just returned from Jiangsu, where he had overseen the local garrison. Four years had passed since the Manchus were ousted out of China - four years of uneasy peace with the warlords of the south. For now, the conflicts at the front were mostly skirmishes and proxy wars between local warlords, but he could feel the tensions building up. Tomorrow, he would go forth to the court and report to the emperor - all those official works. But today, he would report to the emperor personally beforehand.
However, as he was about to enter the inner palace, he was blocked off by a small handful of guards, led by a man in a government official's uniform. The man stepped forward, facing Wu.
“What is it? I had requested to see His Highness himself, in person.” Wu frowned at the man in front of him. He knew the face well; the man’s name was Hu Guozhu, the Chancellor(宰相) of Great Zhou. Appearing to be in his late fifties, Hu’s height and build was rather unremarkable, and Wu towered over him. Yet, Hu didn’t seem to be intimidated by Wu at all.
Wu didn't care to hide his grudges with Hu Guozhu. This old man was the only thing blocking him from grabbing China for himself. Once known throughout the imperial bureaucracy for his genius, Hu had served as one of Wu Sangui’s most important liteunants. When Great Zhou was proclaimed, he had been bestowed the position of Chancellor(宰相) by the emperor. After the old emperor’s death, Hu didn’t hesistate to take advantage of the power vacuum; With his clever maneuvers, Hu was able to take over the royal court. Now, Hu had the emperor in his pocket, making him the de facto ruler of the China.
“I am sorry to inform you that the emperor is unwell today. He has ordered me, to hear from you, instead.” Hu accentuated his speech, word by word. Wu was confident that what Hu said was mostly bullshit, but orders were orders.
The two men sat alone in one of the countless drawing rooms of the Forbidden Palace. Dimly lit by lamplight, the room was enveloped with an uneasy silence.
“Foremost, I thank you for your ceaseless service to the Middle Kingdom and its emperor. I know that the recent months have been rough to you, with countless expeditions to all corners of China. I assure that you would be highly rewarded.” Wu nodded begrudgingly, constraining the urge to scoff at the man.
Both parties knew that Hu himself was behind all those needless expeditions. The situation at the front hadn’t escalated that much, at least for now. Yet, Hu had been sending Yingqi and other prominent generals off to the front, where little of note happened - to cut them off from Beijing while he snuffed their influence at the court.
“As one of our chief commanders, How is your opinion on the situation at the fronts?” Hu calmly asked, sipping a cup of green tea.
“Not good.” Wu replied. “People aren’t really fond of us, and local warlords aren't very cooperative - especially in the southern lands. And the armies of Fujian and Taiwan are stronger than expected. We definitely aren't going to trounce them like how Yinglin thinks." Some of his piers in the army, like his cousin Wu Yinglin, was fully confident that the Zhou army could crush the united southern warlords. Wu Yingqi didn't think so - it would be a long and tedious fight.
"Also, there are rumours that Zheng is allying himself with nations abroad, like Korea and the western barbarians. Although your spies would know better about that kinda stuff than me." Hu didn't comment to that.
“And that bastard Zhou Peigong. I have a lot to talk about him. Our late emperor mercifully bestowed him a second chance, and that ungrateful motherfucker now thinks he’s the king of Shandong or whatever. He would rather swallow a whole spear than spend a single day cooperating with me. We should have killed off that ungrateful rat back in Songshan. Only if…”
“I think we should keep it at that.” Hu Guozhu calmly cut off Wu’s rant. “The court is aware of the situation surrounding Governor-General Zhou. However, for now, he is too valuable of an asset to abandon. We will take care of it, so do not worry.”
“You’d better be.” Wu said as he cut the conversation short and walked out of the room. He had little to say to such an insignificant man like Hu. He had actually thought high of the man, during the War of the Three Feudatories. Back when Hu actually fought at the frontline. Now that the war was over, Hu was no better than a eunuch, scheming behind the shadows instead of doing something worthy.
Wu headed to his building in the palace, he needed a good night's sleep. Although Hu Guozhu was at the helm for now, his dominance was far from solidated. There were many other powerful moguls and princes, and a lot of them weren't going to sit down and let Hu catastrate them. He would be pulling his own strings during his stay in Beijing. It seemed that the Zhou had turbulent times ahead of it, both inwards and outwards.
 The Chancellor refers to the highest-ranking position(s) of the Chinese imperial bureaucracy. The exact range of chancellor positions has changed throught history.