Chapter 11: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 11

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

Reads: 184
Comments: 1

They walked in silence except for the mutterings of the two samurai detailed to lead the horses.  They grumbled to nobody in particular as they prodded the horses along.  They were to change tenders after every meal.  Goro and Hiroki lost the dice cast and ended up with the first shift.

Goro leaned over and spoke in Hiroki’s ear.  “You don’t suppose that Katsuro will stop any time soon, do you?”

“Doubtful.  He seems to be going on forever.”

“I thought all these pack animals were accustomed to their loads.  This one seems to take special delight in attempting to bite my shoulder.”

“Just smack him a couple of times.  He will stop.”

“He’ll stop if I stick a sword in his ear also, the ungrateful nag.”

“You two stop muttering.  You’re ruining the morning with your griping,” Said Katsuro over his shoulder.  “We will stop for a brief lunch when we reach that bend in the river ahead.”  He pointed with his arm.

“Can’t be soon enough for me,” grumped Shinji.  “My knees are not what they used to be.”

“Yes, I can see that,” laughed Masayochi.  “The rest of you is not much younger also.”

“I can still whip you, youngster.

“Save your breath – all of you.  We may need it.”  Commanded Katsuro.

Iwao, unaccustomed to much of a load on his back, was carrying half the arrowheads and a third of the unprepared arrows.  Something, he suspected an arrow shaft, had shifted and was driving itself into his back at every step.  He was determined not to complain though and kept marching along the rocky path.

They forded four small streams that morning.  Each time their feet cooled off and had to be warmed by more walking.  Ijimi wondered why no bridges had been built as the trail appeared to be fairly well traveled.

“Several have been built, but each spring the snowmelt turns the river into a torrent and it takes them back out.  Finally, they just gave up trying to maintain them.  Now we have to ford them.”  Explained Omi.

Finally, sometime in the early afternoon, Katsuro called a halt and everyone gratefully sank to the side of the trail.  A small fire was built and a pot was hung across it to boil water for tea.  Their meal was produced from one of the horse panniers and set out on a small cloth.  Sitting close to the fire, the samurai ate.  Masayochi remained standing and kept a vigil up and down the trail, ready to warn of any danger.  They ate swiftly at Katsuro’s urging, knowing he was under the time constraint of the knotted rope.

In a short time, they were finished and rose, gathering up their utensils and the cloth and packing it back into the pannier.  Iwao and Hiroki took the point, followed by Ijimi and Goro.  The horses, led now by Shinji and Masayochi, were next with Katsuro and Omi taking the rearmost positions, armament at the ready.

That evening, as the sun’s last rays showed a red burst through the scattered clouds, Katsuro finally called a halt.  Their noses detected the spoiled egg smell of sulfur and after a brief search they found a pool beneath a steaming waterfall of hot water.  Gratefully, they made camp, pegging the horses at the edge of a small grassy meadow after unloading them.  Quickly, their Spartan camp was set up and they retired to the hot, healing waters.

“Ahh, this is the best part of traveling.  A nice hot soak.”  Said Shinji.  “These old bones can really use it.”

“I doubt that there is anyone else here that will contradict your words, Shinji.”  Laughed Iwao.  “Even young bones can enjoy the benefits of a hot bath.”

“Yes, I suppose that is true, young one.  But just wait until you are as old as I.  Then it matters more.”

Ijimi was the first to reluctantly rise from the heated water, saying he was getting hungry and would start dinner.  The rest, sat for a while longer and then rose, dried off, and dressed also.  By the time they walked back to camp, Ijimi and Goro had prepared their meal.

They had two small cucumbers sliced onto a plate, a bean curd soup bubbling in a pot at the side of the fire, three chickens cut in half on spits over the fire, and dishes of fruit set out for eight.

“Looks almost good enough to eat.”  Rumbled Katsuro.

“It is good enough to eat.  I am, by far, the best cook of the group.”

“For that, you can be designated cook for this trip, Goro, if you wish.”

Iie!  I am a firm believer is the distribution of such duties; preferably by the slim fingers of the fairer sex, if you get my drift.”

Omi laughed.  “Yes, but slipping one into your pack remains the difficulty, nei?”

Goro flushed.  “There is that, for sure, but it is a good thought you will have to admit.”

“Maybe when we get to Otsu there will be time to dally while Lord Otani gathers up his men for Lord Mochihito.”  Masayochi said, leaning back against his pack.  “I could fancy a little roll in the barn.”

“The only roll in the barn you are likely to get is by a couple of purse-snatchers in the process of stealing you blind.”  Grumbled Ijimi.  “The woman having already fled while you sleep it off.”

Masayochi flushed, but nodded just the same.  “Possibly.  Possibly.  But still there is a chance.”

“Only if you back into the room, my friend.”  Laughed Shinji, putting his foot against Masayochi’s rump and pushing him over onto his side.

While everyone laughed Iwao reflected that evening on what he had learned from the old priest before he had left on this current journey.  He had been told that soldiers, and especially samurai, had a particularly rough sense of humor.  He knew he would have to make allowances for that.  He also knew he had found kindred spirits here with this group and felt quite a home with these tough men.

* * *

Two days later, the small group found themselves in a sharply defined canyon with ever-narrowing sides.  The river, always within their hearing, seemed amplified by the narrowness of the canyon.  The trail, which would narrow down to a single-file in places was found to be awash with a little water in several places.  The river was higher than normal, but since the rain of earlier on had stopped, there was no apparent danger from a flash flood.  Still, it didn’t allow them to relax their vigilance at all.

Advance and rear guards were out all the time and had their attention not only on what would come, but was had passed and what might be coming up on them.  Katsuro was fretful, and that nervousness was transmitted to each of the band in turn.  Iwao was especially vigilant as he did not want to be the cause of any ambush due to his inattention.

They reached one spot in the trail that required them to climb up a recent rock fall.  The horses balked at first, but were eventually ‘persuaded’ to make their way up the embankment, albeit reluctantly.  Omi and Ijimi, their current tenders, were all for cutting them up and feasting on their haunches by the time the men had reached the top.

Stopping for lunch at another in a string of cold mountain riverlets crashing down the side of the cliff, they ate cold rations only so that they could move on to quieter surroundings.  In the narrow canyon, light began to fail rather rapidly that afternoon and they made camp in an area of squat trees, bamboo patches, and mountain laurel.  Hiroki located a willow tree and cut several spears of the green wood for roasting the remaining chicken.

“Better hot, than cold, nei?”  He chortled.

“I agree.”  Said Iwao, gratefully setting his pack to the ground.

They untied the panniers from the horses and hobbled them in a patch of greenery while setting up camp.  Their meal was ready soon and they set to with hardly any conversation.  They were tired from their climb up the fallen rock and wanted nothing more than to roll into their covers and get some sleep.  Choosing guard shifts, those remaining cleaned up from dinner and did just that.

In the dark of night, Iwao was wakened by the restless neighing and huffing of the horses.  He could also hear night birds calling to one another in short, staccato chirps and squawks.  His movement caught Shinji’s eye and when he came over to squat next to Iwao.

“I feel uneasy,” he confessed.  “There is something in the air tonight.”

Iwao listened intently, but could detect nothing to alarm him.  “It is probably nothing.  Let me get back to sleep.  I have to relieve you in a bit.”

Shinji nodded in the dim light and then stood, softly padding away to his post.  Iwao, sinking back into his robes, drifted back into sleep.  He was just on the cusp of deep sleep when the air filled with a low, rumbling sound.

 


Submitted: November 16, 2014

© Copyright 2021 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

Oh the suspense...... just a normal couple of days, then something's about to happen and the chapter ends.

Sun, November 16th, 2014 8:31pm

Author
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At attributed to P. T. Barnum --> "Always leave them wanting more".

Sun, November 16th, 2014 1:01pm

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