I'll always remember that day in the generals' tent. I was just a captain who had the misfortune of demonstrating exemplary leadership in the skirmishes leading up to the stalemate with the Turkish armies. The matter at hand was grave, and the heavily howled faces droned on seriously upon necks that seemed more like pillars adorned with three to five star lapels than human anatomy. Our supply line was running thin, with only enough mules arriving every day to feed three fourths of our men, even on half rations. The valley pass was narrow, and though neither force could advance, neither force could afford to retreat to the valleys on either side of the mountain range, where being able to respond to attacks on any of the various holdings either we or the Turks controlled on our respective sides of the range became impossible.
General Alba was in favor of a full retreat, long disgusted with the stalemate in the valley. General Gregario, who had desired the Balkans ever since his father had told him they could not be taken, was eager to attempt to advance once more. The lesser generals in the tent (perhaps more of a mobile palace) hemmed and hawed, deciding nothing. Eventually the prince, tiring of the rigmarole, decided to sever the knot.
“Nothing will be decided because none here can convince another what will truly happen in the event of an advance or retreat. I propose, instead, that we ask our enemy what our course of action should be,” declared the prince, smiling at the confusion suddenly present in the tent.
He motioned to bring in a captured Turk. This Turk was queer, in that he appeared to be of the eastern Orient, yet was well dressed in Turkish finery. He was swaddled in silks and perhaps most surprisingly of all he spoke our tongue with an accent more understandable than some of the generals present.
I should mention that the reason I was present was that I was the one who captured this Turk, though capture is perhaps a bit of an embellishment. The truth of the matter was that as we pushed his regiment to the safety of the valley, he insisted on completing his daily meditation. His subordinates, understandably distressed, were forced to abandon him to my advancing squad. I learned all this later, when he explained it to me. At the time I merely waited for him to complete his meditation as his encampment burned and ordered him bound and brought to the high command. A soldier must learn to appreciate humor on the battlefield.
The Turk was brought forth. He introduced himself as Ti Dang, ex-commander of perhaps a twelfth of the Turkish infantry.
“Dang, we must now decide whether to attack your people in this pass or retreat along our supply lines and hope to defeat your army on the open fields. You have been captured. Are you loyal to the Turks?” pressed the prince.
Dang smiled wide. “They are not my people, as you can plainly see. Yet I could wear their silk, as I speak your tongue.”
“Advise us, then. If your argument sways me and we triumph, you will be rewarded justly. If it does not persuade, or fails, I will have you put to the torch before the last Turk slits my throat. Do we attack or retreat?”
Dang, as I would come to learn, was a great dramatist. He allowed the room to settle before delivering his speech.
“Both.” Again he paused, while the generals murmured. “The Turks know well that your supply lines thin. They expect you to retreat soon, and have prepared a surplus of ammunition, food, and artillery to be delivered in the next three days. Take half of your cavalry and hide them among the woods that line the mountains on your side of the pass. Retreat with the rest of your forces, but not too swiftly. The Turks will be eager to press their advantage, hoping that the war will be won before winter falls. Instruct your hidden cavalry to wait until the first nightfall after their forces leave the pass to pursue your retreat, and then have them raid the Turkish supply line through the valley. They should burn all the food, and take the Turkish artillery with them to the northern side of the valley, where they should be able to man the Turkish emplacements.”
“Then their main force, realizing that their supply line must have been compromised, will return to the pass to secure it. Your main force should follow them there. The Turks must retreat back through the pass, or starve, as your picked cavalry should be able to hold the Turkish entrance into the pass from reinforcements using their own artillery. When the bulk of their force enters the pass, crush them from both sides.”
The generals and prince talked for a goodly amount of time on this suggestion. Eventually the prince asked Dang if he knew if the Turks had a counter-strategy to deal with such a gambit.
Dang smiled again. No, he grinned. “I proposed they do the same to you. They laughed and demoted me. Now I am here.”
Later, when I was escorting Dang back to his new tent, appointed by the prince to have the luxuries of no less than a three star general, I asked him if he truly thought the stratagem would succeed. He turned away, staring at the faraway shimmer that was the Turkish emplacements and said, “They don't know.”
“About our two v two.”