Chapter 893: Calamity on the Doorstep
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
This was the only thought in Dalun Ruozan's mind as he watched that sparrow fly away.
Although sparrows were a common sight in the Western Regions, in the barren and rocky lands to the west of the Cong Mountains, they were extremely rare, as they simply couldn't find much food to eat. In addition, the weather was gradually chilling, and sparrows should not have been seen in this season.
A massive boom rang through the air, a bowstring vibrated, and an arrow shot out from the rear, striking the sparrow with such tremendous force that it nailed the corpse to the ground. But Dalun Ruozan's complexion was little improved by this sight, because a tiny silhouette at the very edge of his vision had already vanished into the distance.
That had been a gray sparrow hawk.
While everyone had been focused on the five rock eagles in the air, that gray sparrow hawk had taken off from a distant tree branch. It had moved with such incredible speed that it was already out of their field of vision, and no arrow could reach it, much less vultures in the sky.
Dalun Ruozan closed his eyes and gave a deep sigh, the hands hidden in his sleeves slightly trembling.
In this invisible competition between him and Wang Chong, he had been constantly on the winning side. His thousands upon thousands of Tibetan soldiers had reached eighteen li from Talas without Wang Chong noticing, but little had he anticipated that when he was so close to victory, he would meet disaster at the hands of that sparrow hawk hidden on that tree branch.
In military patrols, birds were almost all in the air, as the higher they could fly, the more they could see. Very rarely did anybody place surveillance birds on the ground or on tree branches. Dalun Ruozan had accurately predicted where Wang Chong had placed his observation points, but he had not expected to completely lose on a point like this.
"Great Minister, what do we do?"
The people around him seemed to sense something and began to focus on Dalun Ruozan, and even Huoshu Huicang and Dusong Mangpoje seemed rather unsettled. Never had they expected a single sparrow hawk to wreck their plans.
It was too late to stop the bird. A prepared and an unprepared Wang Chong were two completely different things, and there was no doubt that with the departure of that sparrow hawk, the Tibetans had been exposed.
The mood instantly turned grim.
"Great Minister, should we alter the plan? Should we continue to advance?" Huoshu Huicang probed.
Dalun Ruozan said nothing, his eyes constantly shifting and flickering so that it was impossible to tell what he was thinking.
After what seemed like both a second and like endless epochs, Dalun Ruozan finally chuckled and shook his head, breaking that stifling atmosphere.
"As expected of someone I've acknowledged. If we had really managed to remain undetected all the way to Talas, I would only feel more uneasy. Now, he can truly be considered our opponent. Since we've been discovered, we don't need to hide ourselves. Unfurl the banners, remove the muffling on the hooves. We will launch an open assault on Talas!"
"Yes! Great Minister!"
Rumble! The earth quaked and the heavens swayed. No longer attempting to hide their movements, the tens of thousands of horses of this Tibetan army churned up a great cloud of dust as they galloped toward Talas.
"Lord Marquis! It's bad!"
Meanwhile, outside Talas, in the early morning, Zhang Que rushed toward Wang Chong in panic.
Wang Chong was currently with Wang Yan, Wang Fu, Li Siye, and the Gangke King, watching for any sign of activity from the Arabs. Seeing the look on Zhang Que's face, he slightly frowned.
His face pale beyond belief, Zhang Que kneeled on the ground and said, "Lord Marquis, it's a huge problem! An army of tens of thousands of soldiers has appeared in the rear. They're moving with incredible speed, and they managed to eliminate all our lookout posts, both open and hidden, and all our patrolling birds. They've already advanced to Talas's vicinity and are no less than ten li from us!"
At Zhang Que's words, Wang Yan, Wang Fu, Li Siye, and the Gangke King all shuddered in surprise. They had been discussing the strategy for dealing with the Arabs just moments ago, but now, only silence could be heard.
To the east of Talas, across an open plain, more than two hundred thousand Arab elites and Governor of the East Abu Muslim were waiting like a hungry tiger. When all their attention had been focused on this powerful adversary, tens of thousands of enemy soldiers had suddenly appeared in the rear, a most lethal development.
The Great Tang was suddenly beset by enemies from the front and back, a massive taboo in the art of war!
It was so quiet that it was possible to hear a pin drop, and the air was instantly saturated with tension.
The kneeling Zhang Que was even worse off. Cold sweat drops as large as beans dripped from his forehead like a string of pearls, drenching his clothes. Perimeter patrols and noticing the approach of an enemy were Zhang Que's military duties. But this army of tens of thousands had advanced to such a close distance without him even noticing. This was an enormous dereliction of duty.
An army of tens of thousands!
The enemy had silently approached, and had even ambushed the scouts and patrolling birds, so their hostility was obvious. If Zhang Que's failure meant that the army was severely wounded by this enemy attack, he would never be able to forgive himself.
"Just what's going on here? Where did this enemy army come from? How could the Western Regions still have so many soldiers?"
The first to speak was Wang Yan, and his first reaction was disbelief.
Wang Chong had just arrived at Talas a day ago, so how could an army of tens of thousands appear in the rear? And without any sort of sign? This was too sudden!
"…Zhang Que, you are sure?"
Wang Yan stared at Zhang Que, and upon receiving a nod, his face instantly went taut.
The other generals also grimaced.
"Just how could this be possible? Did the Arabs bribe some of the other states of the Western Regions?" Wang Fu muttered, his expression incredibly grave.
If it were just one side against another, Wang Fu wouldn't care. Now, however, they had a tiger in the front and a wolf in the rear, placing the Qixi army in an extremely passive and disadvantageous position. The Battle of Talas was of utmost importance, its outcome deciding the fate of Anxi, Qixi, and the safety of Longxi and the capital. It was not a battle the Great Tang was allowed to lose.
Wang Fu had barely spoken when the Gangke King immediately rejected the idea.
"The Western Regions only has small states, and they could never gather up an army of tens of thousands. Moreover, it's still not confirmed who will win between the Great Tang and Arabia. The kingdoms of the Western Regions would not have the courage to intervene. A war between an elephant and a lion is not something they can enter."
'Elephant and lion' was how the kingdoms of the Western Regions regarded this war between the Great Tang and Arabia. Anyone who got swept up in this war would be crushed and pulverized. The wisest move was to remain uninvolved and far away, which was exactly what the kingdoms of the Western Regions were doing.
The Gangke King would never believe that any of those small states would be this suicidal!
"But we've cleared the northern region of Ü-Tsang of soldiers, and they have no more troops to send, and Lord Marquis also killed the Black Wolf Yabgu Agudu Lan. There are no longer any soldiers on the borders, and if it's not the kingdoms of the Western Regions, who else could it be? Just which faction could muster an army of tens of thousands?" Li Siye added in his assessment, his expression just as grim as everyone else's.
There were currently two large concentrations of soldiers in the Western Regions. One belonged to Arabia, and the other belonged to the Great Tang. A third great power could not manifest out of thin air. The strangest thing of all was that this large force was only ten li from Talas. It could arrive at any time, but they still didn't know which faction this army belonged to.
They had never encountered such a situation before!
"There's no need to ponder. It's definitely Ü-Tsang and the Western Turkic Khaganate!" Wang Chong's voice suddenly rang in everyone's ears as he gazed at the distant Arab army. "…In all the Western Regions, only they could make Abu Muslim and his army of hundreds of thousands wait!"
Wang Chong's voice was not loud, but his eyes blazed with an insightful fire and he exuded a persuasive aura. In a flash, everyone was staring in astonishment at Wang Chong, speechless.
"But, Lord Marquis, didn't we sign an armistice with the Western Turks?" Li Siye sternly replied.
"Treaties are made to be broken. We've signed so many treaties with Ü-Tsang, but didn't the Tibetans break them all the same?" Wang Chong calmly replied. At a perilous time like this, only he was capable of remaining so composed.
"In the Battle of Talas, the Great Tang and Arabia have mobilized all their forces. Qixi and Anxi are both empty of soldiers. It would be far stranger if Ü-Tsang and the Western Turks did nothing. The treaty Ishbara Khagan signed with us was only meant to make us let down our guard. Zhang Que, continue observing!"
"Yes, Lord Marquis!"
Zhang Que immediately left.
But he quickly returned with another report.
"Lord Marquis, the enemy in the rear consists of more than seventy thousand soldiers, all Tibetan cavalry. They've made no attempts to conceal themselves and are flying the flag of Ü-Tsang. In addition…"
Zhang Que paused for a moment, shooting a glance at Wang Chong.
"In addition, besides the war banner of Ü-Tsang, we've also noticed a Tibetan war banner depicting a white yak on a black background!"
The Gangke King had no reaction to these words, but Wang Yan, Wang Fu, and Li Siye all paled, and even Wang Chong couldn't help but raise a brow. Only one faction on the plateau used the banner of a white yak: the Ngari Royal Lineage!