Chapter 10: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 10

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 221
Comments: 1

Approaching the edge of a rather long, grassy field, Katsuro and Iwao selected a shaded spot and sat.  Their attention was riveted on the action taking place in front of them in the closely cropped grass.  To their left, at one end of the field, men were rushing to and fro resetting targets to new positions.  At the other, ranks of archers were sitting, bows across their backs, facing away.  Their firing team leaders stood at one end, watching for the sign that the targets were in place.  When the last target was settled, and the men had left the area, the pit team leader lifted a flag and waved it once.

At that moment, the archer team leaders faced their troops and bellowed a command.  As one, the entire mass of archers came to their feet, reached behind them into their quivers, selected, and then launched an arrow even before being fully turned.  While that arrow was in flight, they launched two more.  Then they braced in the ready position for another command.

The air, which was at first thick with shafts, cleared rapidly and Iwao saw that very close to every one of those arrows impacted a target, driving deeply into the bale of straw.  Not a single target had been missed.  Once again, if those targets had been troops, they would have been killed or wounded and taken out of the battle.

At the end of four drills, Katsuro grunted.  “Time to go, Iwao.  We have just enough time for a bit to eat and then meet with the others.”

They rose as one, dusted themselves off, and headed back to the common tent.

The meeting was a short one.  Katsuro apportioned tasks to all the samurai who then left to carry out orders.  Iwao was sent to the Armory to draw arrows and kit for three persons.  Along with this he was provided spare bowstrings, two rolled bundles of bare arrows, a heavy bag containing several styles of arrowheads, and a small flat pack containing feathers for fletching the arrows in the field.  It was quite a load, but he managed.

He reported back to Katsuro and sat down to supper; eating while it was still hot.  “Very good,” he muttered between slurps from the bowl.

“I asked the communal cook if they would prepare us something special before we get some sleep for our trip tomorrow.  This is what they gave us.”  Katsuro spread his hands and indicated the various bowls and plates.

It was the most food Iwao had seem in one place in a very long time.  He ate with gusto.  Then, when finished, he appropriated a corner of the tent and rolled into his sleeping gear.  Within minutes he was fast asleep.

* * *

The next morning dawned bright and clear.  The smell of woodsmoke overpowered all others on the breeze.  Making his way to the small stream, Yoshida Iwao quickly dashed the frigid water into his face as a wake-up call.  Gasping slightly, he slipped his outer tunic off and stepped into the water.  Shivering, he made quick work of his bath and returned to don his clothing again.

When he arrived back at the tent, he found the others scurrying around packing small panniers with their supplies which would be tied to the pack horses.  Hiroki arrived during that time with three horses, which he tied to a railing near the front of the tent.  Amid much grunting, swearing, and struggling, four of the team hoisted the panniers high enough to be lashed across the backs of the horses.

That task accomplished, the eight adjourned back into the tent for a quick meal.  Wrapping two figs and a bar of rice into a piece of cloth, Iwao slipped it into his pack to eat later.  Others were doing the same because it was unlikely they would stop for a meal until it began to grow dark in the evening.

“Come on, Goro!  Slap that horse in the rump and get it moving.  We do not have all day.”  Growled Katsuro.

Slowly at first, the group began to wend its way out of the encampment.  They followed the stream for a bit until they reached a dam; then crossed to the other side.  Shortly, they approached the southern picket lines and were challenged by guards.

Katsuro halted the train and walked forward, holding his authorization out in front of him haughtily.  “I am Katsuro!”  He spoke indignantly.  “I am on a mission of urgency for the Prince.”

The guard, backed by several more with arms at the ready, stepped forward and examined the seal on the paper.  Satisfied, he gave a brief nod and waved for them to pass.  He said not a word.  Iwao followed the example of the other samurai with him and completely ignored the picket guards as he passed.

As they wound through the small field of boulders which had rolled down from the cliff to their left, they began to warm up with the rising of the sun above the mountains surrounding them.  Finally, the bright disk burst from the crest and shown down into the valley.

“Ah.  The rising of the sun.  Each morning I am happy to see that.”  Said Masayochi.

“It certainly beats the alternative, nei?”  Ventured Hiroki

“Anything beats that alternative, Hiroki.  Each day is a challenge to complete it intact.”  Grumbled Shinji, older than anyone else in the group by at least ten years.

They met a few early travelers coming towards them, headed for the town of Uji.  The track at this point followed very closely to the Uji River and all sorts of small vessels could be seen drifting downstream carrying their goods to market, or fishing with cast nets.

“I do not think I would like to be a fisherman,” mused Ijimi.  “They smell bad.”

“Ha!”  Chortled Iwao.  “What if you had to choose between horses and fish?”

“I would probably shave my head and become a monk.”  Ijimi rejoined.

Katsuro interrupted their chatter to call a brief halt to repack one of the horses who had managed to inhale a large amount of air when loaded.  Untying the girth strap, he gave two rapid punches to the side of the horse.  In response, the horse, the rear end of which just happed to be aimed towards Ijimi, let loose with a blast of foul air.

Aiee!”  Yelled Ijimi, leveling a finger at Katsuro.  “You did that on purpose!”

Katsuro had the grace to look surprised.  “Who?”  He pointed to his chest.  “Me?  I would never do that to a friend.”

“Humph!”  Grunted Ijimi, flailing the surrounding air with his hands.  “Foul animals.”  He muttered under his breath.

The rocky ground eventually gave way to fertile grasslands which were occasionally spotted with rice paddies.  Almost every paddy had its own little foot-powered wheel for irrigation and they were just now being manned to pump fresh water into the empty ponds.  It was just the beginning of the growing season.

The wide path they were on made a hard right turn at a small temple and crossed a spindly bamboo bridge.  For as far as anyone could see into the distant low mist the branching trail went straight south.  Katsuro guided the group onto another path, this time one very narrow, which forced them to tug the horses along behind them as they entered another area of rocky ground.

Ahead, through a small grove of trees, they could see another stream across their path.  There was no bridge so they prepared to ford it.  Using their walking sticks, they eased into the water and started across.  As the samurai crossed the stream slowly, the horse led by Goro gets spooked by a riffle and sidestepped far enough to knock him off his feet and into the cold water.

Sputtering with rage, he emerged dripping wet.  “A thousand curses on you, fleabag!”  He screamed at the horse, which stood, now calmly, and looked at him.  “If we run out of food, you will be the first to go!”

“Excellent,” muttered Ijimi under his breath.  “Goro speaks horse.”

Goro whirled on Ijimi and then shrugged.  “Maybe you will follow him, nei?”

“Oh come now, Goro.  Let me help you up.”  Omi offered, holding our his hand.

Omi pulled Ijimi to his feet and together they splashed through the rest of the stream to dry land at the far side.  Stripping most of his clothing off, Ijimi was able to pull another overblouse from the pack animal and don it.  Tying his sash and sitting on a log to dry off his swords, he waved at Katsuro to continue and indicated that he would follow in a bit.  Masayochi volunteered to stay back also.

The rest made their way single file along the rocky trail which left the stream behind them and dove into a small forest of evergreen trees.  The trunks closed in on either side until there was just room enough to a single file of travelers.  To their right, they could hear the Uji River crashing along a section of rough water.  To their left, through a thin screen of trees, rose a sheer cliff with huge boulders at the foot.  Occasionally, through the tops of the trees, they could get a glimpse of Mount Omine whose slope rose to a peak on the other side of the river.

At a convenient spot where several trees had been felled, Katsuro called a halt and told everyone to take a rest while they waited for Ijimi and Masayochi.  Packs were set on the ground and they all stretched to release the kinks in their backs.  Once the horses were tethered in a tiny meadow so they could graze for a bit, the samurai lay back.

 


Submitted: November 12, 2014

© Copyright 2021 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

Nice start to the journey Tom, all is quiet at the moment but for how long ?

Wed, November 12th, 2014 7:58pm

Author
Reply

Not much longer. ;)

Wed, November 12th, 2014 12:00pm

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