The Human Emperor Chapter 869
Chapter 869: Suiye City
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
On the road to Anxi, the earth shook and rumbled as large transport carriages galloped along the cement road, each of them holding eighteen to nineteen people and pulled by four horses. Unlike normal carriages, each of these had been fitted with a white collapsible sail. This sail was around six feet high and eight feet wide, and when the wind was right, the sail would be unfurled so as to hasten the speed of the carriages.
If the wind was going in the wrong direction, the soldiers in the carriages could quickly collapse the sails. Zhang Shouzhi had built these sails according to Wang Chong's specifications in the hopes that they would be able to get the Qixi Protectorate army to Talas as quickly as possible.
As they proceeded through the Western Regions, Wang Chong had unwittingly begun to furrow his brow.
The war had affected the Western Regions more strongly than he had thought. When he first came to the Western Regions to see Hulayeg, the Western Regions had been thriving. The merchants of the Nine Tribes of Zhaowu, the thirty-six kingdoms of the Western Regions, and the Abbasid Caliphate and Charax Spasinu had all gathered here, and all sorts of pearls, agate, spices, and other goods were to be found here. It was precisely the gathering of all these merchants that made the Western Regions so prosperous.
But as Wang Chong's army marched through the Western Regions, all the markets it passed by were desolate and deserted, all the cities practically emptied out, and tension was rife in the air.
"It seems like this war between the Great Tang and the Arabs has had a far more serious effect on the Western Regions than anticipated. All the Hu merchants have sensed the danger and have already withdrawn."
Wang Chong rode his White-hoofed Shadow as he looked around at the soaring buildings. Despite the vast size of this city, the streets were empty, and Wang Chong had only spotted a few people. In addition, these people only looked warily at him from a distance, none of them daring to approach. The scouts only needed to glance at them to cause all the doors and windows to instantly be closed up.
"Zhang Que, what's the situation?" Wang Chong said.
Zhang Que quickly rode up from behind Wang Chong. "Yes, Lord Marquis. All the birds have been distributed in the surrounding fifty li, but there are no abnormal signs. In addition, General Xu Keyi has sent a letter. His mission has been completed. He is currently around a hundred li ahead of us. General Xu Keyi asks whether he should wait for us and rejoin the army?"
"That's not necessary. Tell him to pick up the pace. Not a single one of the Karluks can be left behind!" Wang Chong ordered, his voice suddenly turning cold and cruel.
'The Hu fear power but do not respect virtue.' The Karluks were crucial to this war, but Gao Xianzhi had still been too conceited, believing that these mercenaries would never betray him. Mercenaries, mercenaries… these were people who fought for money, and by placing them at his rear, Gao Xianzhi was digging his own grave.
But with Wang Chong, things were completely different. The kind did not command soldiers, and in something as important as war, which implicated the Imperial Court and the common people, any sort of softheartedness or compassion would be to the disadvantage of the commander. If the Karluks betrayed the Great Tang, they would need to be ready to pay an extremely grievous price!
"…In addition, pass on my order. Have the horses drawing the transport carriages be switched out and the army pick up the pace!" Wang Chong said.
"Yes, Lord Marquis!"
Zhang Que bowed and quickly rode away.
Once Zhang Que left, Wang Chong's eyes turned back to the vast army before him. While he had been forced to set off for the war of the southwest in a great rush, he had time to amply prepare himself for this war. An army of more than one hundred thousand soldiers of various types, with all the necessary supplies, was traveling along the cement road between Anxi and Qixi like water along a river.
But the marching speed was still too slow. The speed of the infantry, craftsmen, axemen, and spearmen was much slower than cavalry. Moreover, Wang Chong also had many ballistae in his army, which were also known as 'bed crossbows'. Each of them was massive and constructed of the best steel, making them extremely heavy. Each one of the transport carriages could only hold two or three ballistae, and this point alone limited the speed at which Wang Chong's army could march.
But Wang Chong had strenuously worked to speed up his army. Both the small sails on the carriages and the switching out of the horses used by cavalry and carriages, so that they could rest and maintain their energy levels, were for the sake of reaching Talas as quickly as possible.
As the days went by and the army marched farther into the northwest, the atmosphere of war thickened, and all the cities they passed became even grimmer and drearier.
After around three days, amidst blustery and sandy winds and low-hanging dark clouds, a grandiose fortress of a city appeared before the army. This city was different from others. On the walls, signal beacons were spaced every ten zhang, mixed in with observation towers. Only the military would have use for such things.
This is one of the Four Garrisons of Anxi? Wang Chong quietly said to himself.
In the Western Regions, the Great Tang's forces were most prominent in the Four Garrisons of Anxi: Suiye, Kucha, Khotan, and Shule. These four places were the bases of the Anxi Protectorate. To travel from Qixi to Talas, one had to pass through Anxi. Although Wang Chong had heard of the Four Garrisons in his last life, he had never had a chance to visit.
Wang Chong suddenly urged his horse forward, riding from the end of the train to the front. Behind him, Xu Keyi and the others glanced at each other before hurrying to catch up.
The buildings of Anxi were nothing like as refined as those of the Central Plains, and one could see crudeness and simplicity throughout. As Wang Chong led his subordinates forward, he was finally able to get a clear look at the appearance of this garrison. This massive city was incredibly crude, with ancient walls constructed of massive rocks covered in multiple layers of mortar.
In the many years since the establishment of Anxi, the surfaces of the walls had been covered in countless scars and scorch marks, and there were even some places that had clearly been struck by catapults. In fact, so beleaguered by war was this city that the walls had been dyed with a blackish-red luster.
Wang Chong raised his head and saw these two mottled words written over the city gate, and the sight of them caused his mind to buzz.
I didn't think that this would be the city!
Of the Four Garrisons of Anxi, Wang Chong felt the most intimacy and familiarity with this legendary city of Suiye. The reason was simple: in another time and space, this place had been the hometown of the immortal of poetry1, and it had also been home to many famous border generals. The Great Tang's most distant fortification was Suiye.
The army slowly marched toward Suiye. With Gao Xianzhi and his thirty thousand soldiers gone, this vital and heavily-guarded fortress had become a defenseless city. The gates were wide open, and no garrison could be seen.
Several dozen zhang from the gates, Zhang Que suddenly pointed at the side of the road. "Lord Marquis, there's a stone stele here!"
Wang Chong suddenly stopped. This was a large stone stele, worn down by time and weather. At a glance, it merely looked like some rock higher than two men looming at the side of the road. But when Wang Chong beheld it, he couldn't help but widen his eyes.
Patrolling for the Emperor!
Wang Chong had immediately recognized this stele.
In his last life, until his clan fell into troubles, Wang Chong never left the capital, much less journeyed to the Western Regions. Not even in his later wandering days did he go to the Western Regions. In the Western Regions, the reputation of the Four Garrisons of Anxi thundered in the heavens, but there was also one thing even more famous than these four fortresses: the Stele of Patrolling for the Emperor!
When Wang Chong was still learning how to read and write, he had heard of this stele. In truth, not many people in the capital didn't know of this stele, because it had been set up by an extremely famous person.
The first true Anxi Protector-General in the history of the Central Plains!
Historically, the first person in the history of the Central Plains to open a path to the Western Regions was Zhang Qian, but true dominance and influence only came several centuries later with Ban Chao! The history of the Central Plains dynasties in the Western Regions was one of constant gain and loss, and even several centuries of lost contact. Countless Protector-Generals of the Western Regions had been dispatched to handle the region, but if one looked back, the first Protector-General of the Western Regions was that man of the Great Han Dynasty more than one thousand years ago who cast aside his scholar's brush to take up the sword, Ban Chao2.
'Although the Western Regions is far, it still belongs to the culture of the Central Plains. The Son of Heaven finds it difficult to attend to, so this subject of the Son of Heaven will patrol the lands in his place! To stand sentinel forever at the gate of the empire!!!'
These words that Ban Chao had said during his tenure in the Western Regions had continued to ring in the ears of generations to come, urging them forward to open up the Western Regions, resulting in the Great Tang's dominance today! And Ban Chao had set up this stele in the farthest place Zhang Qian had ever reached on his journeys!
This stele had always been protected by the generations of Protector-Generals.
But after the defeat of the Great Tang in the Battle of Talas and the almost complete annihilation of Gao Xianzhi's thirty thousand elites, the Arab soldiers advanced east, crossing the Cong Mountains and entering the Four Garrisons of Anxi. The first thing to be destroyed was this 'evil' Stele of Patrolling for the Emperor. They had even taken the remains back to Arabia to be tossed into the sea.
This news caused no small amount of heartache back in the Central Plains, and Wang Chong was also deeply overcome, regarding it as a lifelong regret!
In this expedition to Talas, Wang Chong had not expected that he would have his wish fulfilled and set eyes upon this stele.
As these thoughts flew through his mind, Wang Chong suddenly dismounted before his stunned subordinates.
Relax! This time, the Arabs won't get a chance to step through the borders of the Great Tang!!
Wang Chong's heart turned solemn as he bowed and silently vowed. This stele bore the passion and dreams of countless loyal subjects of the Central Plains. Those had been their dreams, and also the dreams of all the Central Plains. Wang Chong could not allow this dream to be sullied.
Wang Chong took in a deep breath, mounted his horse, and with a shout, he galloped into Suiye.
1. The 'immortal of poetry' refers to Li Bai, one of the most famous Chinese poets, who was born in Suiye.↩
2. Zhang Qian was a military officer of the Han Dynasty who was dispatched by Emperor Wu of Han to explore the Western Regions in the late 2nd century BC in order to build an alliance with the Yuezhi against the Xiongnu. He eventually returned with many reports of the kingdoms in Central Asia at the time. Ban Chao was a Han general who lived from 32-102 AD and was the general who eventually brought the Tarim Basin under the control of the Han Dynasty. His father, brother, and sister were well-known historians.