Chapter 537: Xianyu Zhongtong in Peril!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Wang Chong's voice seemed to awaken the officers. The mood instantly became more oppressive.
It was simply impossible to escape from the southwest. All the officers here had vaguely understood this for some time, but none of them had ever directly said it. All of them had held onto that thin sliver of hope until Wang Chong had punctured their illusions. One could easily imagine the grim reality these people now had to bring themselves to accept.
There's nothing else that could be done. By ending their illusions early, they can all unite more quickly. Otherwise, if they were still dreaming about survival, everyone might just end up dead, Wang Chong quietly said to himself.
The army had just won a major victory, reviving its morale, so Wang Chong shouldn't have done something like this. But the internal conflicts in the Annan Protectorate army had made this campaign very dangerous. Only by shattering their unrealistic hopes could Wang Chong suppress these conflicts below the surface and unify the army.
And only this way could the Annan Protectorate army be effective.
Someone had to do this!
Since no one else had been willing, Wang Chong had to do it.
"But even if we remain, holding the mindset that death would be preferable to dishonor, we're still no match for the combined Mengshe–Ü-Tsang army. They have far too many people. One hundred thousand soldiers fighting against more than five hundred thousand, a quite large portion of it being elite cavalry? We'll be crushed," one of the commanders said, his expression gloomy.
"If you don't try, how can you know? In addition, our goal isn't to completely rout them, but to delay them until reinforcements from the Imperial Court arrive. Routing them and defending against their attacks are two completely different concepts," Wang Chong sternly said, his eyes shining.
"In addition, have you forgotten what the mission of the Annan Protectorate army is? If we escape, what will happen to the civilians of the southwest? The only reason no calamity has been visited on the southwest as of yet is because we're holding down the Mengshe–Ü-Tsang army. If they don't deal with us, Geluofeng and Huoshu Huicang won't feel confident enough to attack other places. If we retreat, what will the civilians of the southwest think of us? What will the Imperial Court think of us? Do all of you really think that preserving the main force of the Annan Protectorate army will let you protect the Annan Protectorate?
"Can a protectorate army that can't protect the southwestern border still be considered a protectorate army? Does it still have a meaning to its existence? Moreover, if I'm correct, quite a few of you should be residents of the southwest, no?"
Wang Chong's words immediately stifled the hearts of the officers.
'Can a protectorate army that can't protect the southwestern border still be considered a protectorate army?' No one had ever asked them this question, nor had any of them ever considered it. But at this moment, even the most muddleheaded of them knew that Wang Chong was right.
An Annan Protectorate army that couldn't protect the southwestern border had no need to exist, even if it did manage to survive. Moreover, if they really did offer up the almost one million civilians of the southwest to be stomped under the hooves of the Mengshe–Ü-Tsang army, then the Annan Protectorate army would become ridiculed and scorned by the entire world.
How great a shame was that!
In an instant, all the officers of the Annan Protectorate army broke out in a cold sweat.
"Young Master's reminder is correct. We were not thinking clearly. Given the state of this war, there's nowhere to retreat. If the enemy doesn't die, it will be us!"
All of the officers were extraordinarily grateful.
The Great Tang was famed for its celebration of the martial lifestyle. As soldiers, they each had their pride. This was particularly the case for the soldiers of the Annan Protectorate army, whose name had risen in the southwest through its many years of intimidating Mengshe Zhao and Ü-Tsang. If they truly did end up being cursed at by the world, they might as well have died.
"But even if we're willing to remain, how do we address the problem of provisions? The firm walls of Lion City were originally the best fortification on the Erhai plains, and we would have never chosen to break out if we still had provisions. The amount of fodder and rations consumed by tens of thousands of soldiers is not small. How do we resolve this problem?
"The Emperor does not use hungry soldiers. Without sufficient provisions, the Tibetans won't even need to fight us, just surround us. If we end up dying like that, won't we have sacrificed our lives in vain?" a swarthy-faced and bearded commander said, a grave expression on his face.
Although he didn't want to say it, provisions truly were the Annan Protectorate army's greatest problem. The provisions in Lion City had been completely consumed, and if they didn't take care of this problem now, their hard-fought victory would be completely wasted.
"Hahaha, there's no need for you to worry about this problem. I have a way to take care of that."
Wang Chong laughed at this question.
'Before the troops and horses can be mobilized, the rations and fodder must be prepared'. If Wang Chong hadn't even done this homework, he would have never come to the southwest.
The officers looked at each other in surprise, even Chen Shusun appearing astonished. It was clear that he had also known nothing about Wang Chong's arrangements.
"Since this is the case, and since Young Master has the Lord Protector-General's token, we will naturally obey Milord's orders," the officers of the southwest said with subservient expressions.
Wang Chong had Zhangchou Jianqiong's token, which meant he represented Zhangchou Jianqiong, so there was naturally no one who would oppose him. They had only been worried about the provisions, but since that had been taken care of, everything else was fine.
While they were speaking, the heavy beat of horse hooves and a powerful aura rapidly approached them. Wang Yan was riding a massive black stallion, his cape flapping in the wind, a stern expression on his face.
Though the rain was pouring down, no water could get within three zhang of him.
Seeing Wang Yan, everyone revealed respectful expressions.
Wang Chong's heart trembled as he hurriedly lowered his head.
Although he was no longer the good-for-nothing of the past, and though he had also made incredible contributions on the battlefield, Wang Chong was still instinctively afraid of his father.
"Your performance this time was rather good."
As Wang Yan's gaze passed over Wang Chong, he gave a slight nod and a rare comment of praise.
Wang Chong's mind trembled. Although it had been a single indifferent phrase, Wang Chong knew just how much recognition had been contained within it. This was not some minor trifle like obediently eating at the family table, nor was it some quarrel with Yao Feng in Vast Crane Pavilion.
'The art of war is of vital importance to the state, a matter of life and death, the road to safety or ruin. It is a matter that cannot be neglected1.' War had never been a place where one could play around or joke. Thus, the massive, cruel, and gruesome battlefield had always been forbidden to the descendants of the Wang Clan. This was a rule that Wang Chong's grandfather, big uncle, and father all harshly enforced.
Even someone as talented as his big brother Wang Fu had been harshly reprimanded by his father the first time he had entered the battlefield.
For Wang Yan to say 'rather good' was an expression of massive recognition of Wang Chong's abilities. It was obvious that his father no longer minded his running off to the southwest and interfering in this war.
"I heard all of your conversation just now."
Wang Yan didn't know what Wang Chong was thinking, and his gaze rested on Wang Chong for only a few moments before shifting to the southwest officers.
The officers showed extremely respectful expressions as they prepared to listen to Wang Yan's words.
On this battlefield, the person second in status to Xianyu Zhongtong was Wang Chong's father, Wang Yan. And unlike Xianyu Zhongtong, Wang Yan, though coming from the Wang Clan, had climbed up the ladder by relying purely on his own strength. Everyone in the world knew of this.
Furthermore, the father-son pair of the Wang Clan had placed themselves in this risky situation for the sake of saving the Annan Protectorate army. For this reason, the officer core of the southwest regarded the Wang Clan with utmost respect and were willing to take their orders on the battlefield.
"There was one thing that Chong-er was right about: Lord Xianyu must be saved! And we have to save the rest of the Annan Protectorate army as well. Just do as he said!"
Wang Yan's tone was concise and decisive, his words seeming to settle this debate.
The officers rumbled in agreement.
After a few moments of silence, one of the Annan Protectorate officers suddenly said hesitantly, "But Milord, the sky is dark and the rain is boundless. It's not possible to find out where Lord Xianyu is right now!"
"Haha, there's no need for you to worry about that."
With a hearty laugh, Wang Chong suddenly dismounted. The others might not know where Xianyu Zhongtong and his troops were, but how could he not know?
Following Wang Chong's order, a massive eagle took off from Old Eagle's shoulder. Under the flabbergasted gazes of the officers, it drew an arc in the air and began to fly toward the southeast.
At the same time, in another place within the massive downpour, the army led by Xianyu Zhongtong was in great peril.
The war drums thundered at a rapid tempo. On a greenish-black mountain range, countless soldiers of the Annan Protectorate army were engaged in fierce combat with the Tibetan cavalry. Unlike the forces of Fengjiayi and Jiaosiluo, these Tibetan cavalry were engaging in an orderly offensive, crashing in endless waves against the Tang soldiers.
The pressure being placed on the Annan Protectorate army at this moment was unimaginable.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it…!"
On the summit of a mountain, the black-bearded Xianyu Zhongtong's eyes were bloodshot while his fist continuously pounded at his knees. He held the most responsibility for the current state of the southwest war. The only reason he hadn't committed suicide to atone for his crimes was that the Annan Protectorate army hadn't been completely wiped out.
Though this was probably not far off.
Why did it turn out like this? Huoshu Huicang, Geluofeng, you've gotten too bold! Even if I, Xianyu Zhongtong, am no match for you, you'll have to pay a price one day!
Xianyu Zhongtong's mind was in turmoil, his heart filled with fury and hatred.
The one who had been most dumbstruck by this war was him. He had spent many years in the Annan Protectorate army, and there had never been any problems with Mengshe Zhao or Ü-Tsang. But Geluofeng's sudden attack and destruction of a city had caused that hard-won peace to shatter.
When he had first gotten the news, Xianyu Zhongtong had found it hard to believe, had thought there was some error in the message.
But the ruins of the city did not lie, nor did the corpses covering the ground.
Xianyu Zhongtong had treated this war as one of punishment, and he had believed that his opponent was only Mengshe Zhao. Thus, one could easily imagine Xianyu Zhongtong's shock when Dalun Ruozan and Huoshu Huicang came at the head of a Tibetan army.
He never would have expected Mengshe Zhao and Ü-Tsang to grow so bold. Zhangchou Jianqiong had barely left the southwest and entered the capital, and they were already starting a war, a total war!
"Xianyu Zhongtong, surrender! You're simply no match for us!"
In the torrential rain, a voice suddenly rose from the base of the mountain. Although it spoke in the language of the Central Plains, it sounded extremely cold and hard.
Xianyu Zhongtong suddenly stood, his eyes wide open in rage.
"Huoshu Huicang, don’t act too proud. The Annan Protectorate army will never bow to anyone, not in Lion City, and not now. If you want to defeat us, do it with your own ability!"
His rumbling voice was like a peal of thunder, spreading from the summit and rolling across the earth. Even the curtain of rain rippled at the rage in Xianyu Zhongtong's voice.
"Hmph! As you wish!"
At a place far across from the summit, Huoshu Huicang stood in his black and red armor, his expression cold, his appearance like a sword pointed to the heavens.
The mournful horns blared over the vast earth.
1. This quote is the first line from Sunzi's 'Art of War'.↩