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“King of Foreign Lands! I, An Yaluoshan, cannot share the same world with you! There will come a day when I tear your body to pieces and offer your remains to Ashina’s soul in heaven!”
The leading Hu’s eyes exploded with loathing and anger. This was none other than the man Wang Chong had pursued in the capital, the man whose sworn brother Ashina Sugan he had slain, An Yaluoshan. Gathered around him were various generals of the Andong Protectorate army.
All these generals had the external traits that indicated that they were Hu, and each of them had vast seas of energy, indicating that none of them were beneath Imperial Martial Tier 8. Moreover, all of these people were seething with killing intent and the stench of blood that came from someone who had emerged from a sea of blood and mountain of corpses. From this, one could see that these people had extremely high status in the Andong Protectorate army.
And all these people were gathered around An Yaluoshan, following his orders.
“An Yaluoshan, now is not the time for you to be angry. The King of Foreign Lands is like the noon sun at this time, and not even the Confucians can do anything to him. We had originally wanted to use the Confucians to deal with ‘that man’, but he ruined our plans. If this continues, as long as the King of Foreign Lands remains in the Imperial Court, we won’t be able to do anything!”
A voice resounded over the mountain, and with this voice, a silver war boot stomped forward. In the blink of an eye, a Hu man with a fiery aura appeared in front of An Yaluoshan. From the energy he displayed, he was at least at the Saint Martial realm.
“That’s right! For the King of Foreign Lands to appear amongst the Tang is nothing good for us. I sense that he will be a major foe for us in the future!”
At this moment, another Hu commander stepped forward, and his aura was even more powerful than the one from before.
The winds blustered, and everyone stared in deathly stillness at An Yaluoshan in the center.
‘In the heavens is the Gou Chen Star, and on earth is the King of Foreign Lands!’
This saying was now commonplace in the Central Plains. The ‘Gou Chen’ was the lord of all stars. It orbited on the edge of the Emperor’s star, the Zi Wei, assisting it, and it primarily signified war and slaughter. And in the Central Plains, Wang Chong’s reputation had long ago surpassed Geshu Han, An Sishun, Duwu Sili, Abu Muslim, and all the other known Great Generals.
Particularly after Wang Chong had killed Arab War God Qutaybah, Wang Chong was now being hailed by the people as the first War God of both the east and west! His status rested above all other Great Generals.
Although these Hu generals were privately unwilling to admit that there was someone greater than them, purely in terms of war record, in his three major campaigns in the southwest, Talas, and Khorasan, Wang Chong had vanquished more than one million enemies. In this aspect, very few people throughout the world could compare to him.
Even they felt rather apprehensive.
“Now is not the time to talk about such things!” An Yaluoshan firmly declared. His bloodshot eyes quickly turned to two figures standing to his right.
“Zhao Kan, Baizhen Tuoluo, you can no longer remain in Youzhou! With our plan having failed, ‘that person’ will quickly send his men over. I’ve already taken care of the Xi and Khitans. The two of you should immediately flee!”
Everything fell silent as everyone turned to the two figures.
One of these men was dressed in white, and his hair, beard, and eyebrows were also all white—an extreme rarity amongst the Hu. The other person had a name that made him seem like a Han, and he fit the appearance too, but if one looked carefully, one would spot the traits of a Hu on his face. He was clearly a Hu-Han mix.
The two of them were both high-ranking generals under Zhang Shougui, but no one could have imagined that not too long ago, it was these two people who had forged an order from Zhang Shougui to compel Zhang Shougui’s old subordinate, Pinglu Army Commander Wu Zhiyi, to attack the Xi and Khitans. At the same time, they had leaked the route of the army to the Xi, Khitans, and Eastern Turks, eventually leading to the major defeat1.
The two of them nodded and replied in unison.
Whether it was the defeat at the Huang River or the failure of the scheme against Zhang Shougui in the Imperial Court, someone had to take the blame and draw away Zhang Shougui’s wrath. And no ordinary soldier was capable of such a thing.
Gallop! Zhao Kan and Baizhen Tuoluo quickly mounted their horses and rode away.
Not long after they were gone, the earth quaked as countless Youzhou cavalry began to ride toward the mountain.
The eighth day of the fourth month, the birthday of the Buddha, was a day of fine and sunny weather.
In the end days of the Sui and the first days of the Tang, when Emperor Taizong was still a prince and not as famous, he had eighteen senior Buddhist monks protecting him, and in his early days, they repeatedly assisted him in averting various crises, in the end assisting him in ascending the throne. Once he took the throne, Emperor Taizong remembered this period of kindness and returned the favor by permitting the propagation of Buddhism throughout the Great Tang.
For this reason, even though Ablonodan and Arloja were foreign monks from Sindhu who did not speak the language, they had still been able to beg freely throughout the capital and not worry about an empty stomach.
At present, Buddha’s birthday had some significant influence amongst the populace. On this day, quite a number of people would head to their nearby Buddhist temples or monasteries to bathe themselves and offer flowers, and Buddhist idols would be paraded through the streets. At night, a bustling lantern festival and flower fair would be held. Couples in love would make wishes on the upper reaches of the river and then release thousands of lotus lanterns onto the river to flow downstream. As for the literati, scholars, and men of learning, they would use this occasion to express their refinement, gathering in restaurants or tea houses to compose poems.
“Old Eagle, Zhang Que, today is Buddha’s birthday! Let’s go out for a stroll!”
In the early morning, Wang Chong emerged from his study, having washed up and changed into civilian clothes.
Today, Wang Chong did not wear the red imperial robe that signified his status, nor was he accoutered in a soldier’s armor. Rather, he was wearing an azure cloth robe, and his black hair was allowed to hang down and was bound up with a single hairband. He appeared very carefree and natural, suffused with a scholarly aura that was usually not seen on him. The Wang Clan was a clan of ministers and generals, skilled in matters civil and martial. On horseback, they could pacify the four seas, and off horseback, they could administer the world.
As a descendant of the Wang Clan, Wang Chong also possessed some of the bearing of his grandfather, Duke Jiu.
In this attire, Wang Chong was graceful and elegant, like bamboo or a pine tree. The maids who saw him couldn’t help but blush and stare.
“Milord, the carriage is ready!”
Xu Keyi immediately stepped forward when he saw Wang Chong and lowered his head.
Wang Chong nodded and walked leisurely toward the main gate. A carriage was quietly waiting for him there, and when he raised the curtain, he saw a beautiful woman wearing a white dress and a smile on her face inside, apparently having waited for him for some time. When she saw Wang Chong dressed in civilian clothes and exuding such a scholarly and unusual aura, even this beauty couldn’t help but show a hint of surprise.
“Qiqin, you’re coming as well?”
The first to speak was Wang Chong. When he saw the fairy-like form of Xu Qiqin, Wang Chong couldn’t help but be surprised. After returning to the capital, perhaps because she had been able to put down her burdens, or perhaps because she had been looked after well, Xu Qiqin had a much-improved complexion.
Xu Qiqin warmly smiled and nodded.
“After waiting this long, I also want to take a look. What, I’m not welcome?”
“I know. I can never refuse you.”
Wang Chong smiled and seated himself at Xu Qiqin’s side.
The carriage departed, heading toward the eastern part of the city.
As it rolled through the streets, one could tell that the capital was different from how it was usually. The streets were packed with clamoring crowds, and many parents had brought their children with them to join in the festivities. The sounds of firecrackers could be heard throughout the city, and at times, one could occasionally spot scholars and literati in groups of three to five, elegantly reciting poems to each other.
“If the two venerable monks were here, they would definitely be very happy. They would be able to spend the entire day eating throughout Chang’an!”
Xu Qiqin looked away from the window and smiled at Wang Chong, her expression tinged with the innocence of a child.
She was called the Queen of Logistics and had assisted Wang Chong in tightly managing his supply train while he was fighting at Talas, even serving as his support pillar in the rear. However, when she was not in a wartime state, Xu Qiqin was just like any other girl and had her innocent and unaffected side.
“You know about them?”
Xu Qiqin’s smiling face caused Wang Chong to relax a little, and even his tone was tinged with a hint of laughter.
“When they travel east and west, they have to pass through Qixi. I met them twice while I was there and heard about their experiences in the capital.”
Xu Qiqin couldn’t help but giggle.
Wang Chong silently smiled. Xu Qiqin was referring to Ablonodan and Arloja’s experiences when they first arrived at the capital. Because they did not know the language, the two of them had gone without food for two days in the capital. Later on, with the advice of some bystander, the two learned to carry bowls with them when they went out begging. It was only at that time that when they went out begging, the people of the capital understood that they were not propagating their religion or reciting mantras, only begging for food.
This joyous air was suddenly interrupted by the flapping of wings. Outside the carriage, Old Eagle extended his right hand to receive a hawk, and then all was quiet. But it was only a little while later that Xu Keyi’s voice rang out in Wang Chong’s ear.
“Milord, Old Eagle says that they’ve found him!”
These simple words seemed to have immense magical power, casting the carriage into silence.
Xu Qiqin was dazed, and then, as if understanding something, she immediately turned to Wang Chong. But Wang Chong’s expression was restrained, his eyes half-closed.
The eighth day of the fourth month was Buddha’s birthday, but Wang Chong was not actually going out to celebrate this holiday. After a long and methodical investigation, Wang Chong was finally getting close to the heart of the truth, and everything was on the verge of being revealed. That person behind the curtains who was ordering about all the officials in the court, even people like the Grand Preceptor, King Qi, Li Linfu, and the First Prince, was finally about to appear before him.
After what seemed like both a second and like countless years, Wang Chong finally opened his eyes and said, “Move out!”
1. The events of the last few chapters roughly follow an actual historical incident in which Baizhen Tuoluo compelled Wu Zhiyi to attack the Xi and Khitans, even threatening him when Wu Zhiyi initially refused. Though Wu Zhiyi was able to win an initial victory, the Xi and Khitans were able to reassemble and mount a counterattack that led to a major defeat. Zhang Shougui attempted to conceal the defeat and sent a false memorial to the court, but this was soon exposed. The Sage Emperor dispatched Niu Xiantong to investigate the matter, upon which Zhang Shougui bribed him. Niu Xiantong agreed to report the defeat as a major victory and also compelled Baizhen Tuoluo to commit suicide. However, it was eventually revealed that Niu Xiantong had taken bribes, and the infuriated Sage Emperor had him executed in an unprecedented fashion. He was caged for several days, had his heart dug out, his hands and feet cut off, and then his flesh cut off and consumed. As for Zhang Shougui, his past achievements caused his penalty to be reduced, and he was demoted to Governor of Kuo Prefecture.↩
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