Chapter 12: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 12

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

Reads: 168
Comments: 1

Iwao snatched up his sword and jumped to his feet, only to be knocked off them when the earth under him shifted sideways.  On his knees now, with dust choking him and getting into his eyes, he heard the others shouting.

Jishin!  Earthquake!”  Someone to his left shouted.

Another swift jolt pushed him sideways, rolling him onto his back.  He narrowly avoided slashing his own leg with his sword.  He was afraid now.  Out of the darkness came Katsuro’s shout for them to take cover.  Iwao managed to crawl over to the large boulder they had set camp up near only to be thrown against its rough surface, scraping his arm badly.

This was of no consequence as he tried his best to see what was happening.  There came a banshee scream of pain from somewhere to his right.  His head snapped in that direction only to see a large tree moving horizontally as it fell.  The roar of its falling was swallowed up by the continuous rumble underfoot as the very earth itself tried to kill them all.

“Iwao!”  Called Ijimi.  “Where are you Iwao?”

“Over here,” Iwao croaked, spitting dirt out of his mouth and repeating the call.  “Over here!”

“Stay there, I will come to you.”  Ijimi answered.

Out of the dim, dusty light, Ijimi appeared, disheveled and bare of armament.  Shinji staggered over to them both moments later.  The grumbling of nature had diminished for a moment.

“Omi!”  Called Katsuro.  “Omi, where are you?”

No answer.

“Goro!”  Katsuro called next.

“Here, Katsuro.  Beside the stream.”  Goro yelled; the sound muffled by the brush along the edge of the stream.

The rumbling started yet again, this time punctuated by the clash of rocks as they began to roll down the cliff towards them.  Huge boulders the size of a horse shot past them in the dark.  Their eyes strained though the floating dust to see them coming.  Crouching down next to the large boulder, the group edged around it to the stream side in an effort to avoid the stony missiles.  One such boulder smashed against the far side and shattered, sending a new wave of crushed stone dust into their eyes.  Each of them had their nose and mouths covered now with cloth torn from their clothing.

Their heads snapped in the direction of a hideous cry which ended in a bone-jarring thump.

“Who was that?”  Demanded Katsuro.

“Masayochi, I think.”  Ventured Shinji.

“Sounded like him.”  Agreed Goro.

“Masayochi!  Hiroki!  Answer up!”  Yelled Katsuro.

He was answered with a faint groan which could also have been natural.  Then any further sound was overlaid by another deep rumble.  A loud, cracking sound came from further up the mountain.  They hunkered down in the relative safety of the boulder and awaited to see what the Gods had planned for them next.

It was soon in coming.  Three large boulders came crashing downwards on either side of their own refuge.  A third smashed into the base of a tree and, having its trunk destroyed, it fell.

Iwao pulled the cloth from his mouth and shouted.  “Hiroki!  Masayochi!  Are you all right?”

No answer.

Slowly the ground movement diminished as did the deep, resonant thrumming from the earth.  Not moving, knowing from previous experience that the earthquake might not be over, the stunned group remained hiddled where they were.  Goro, rushing up from the bank of the stream, reported that a large rock fall had partially dammed the stream lower down and a pool of water was forming.  He added that he didn’t think it would be dangerous.

Another sharp jolt shook the men, causing no more apparent damage.  Still they remained where they were.  Small rocks the side of cabbages continued to trickle down the mountainside and go crashing through the underbrush to fall into the stream with large splashes.

After some time, Katsuro rose to his feet cautiously, ready for another jolt, leaned around the covering boulder, and scanned the remains of their encampment.  Dust had settled over everything that was left.  Their sleeping area was shredded, with bits of cloth scattered everywhere by the earthquake.  When he returned to the group, he noted that every one of them still had at least one sword and nodded his approval.

“We had better search for Hiroki and Masayochi.  I fear they’ve been injured.”

Silently, the men fanned out in the darkness.  Goro pulled firemaking tools from his kitbag which never left his side and began to kindle a fire.  Walking abreast but several arms lengths from each other, the samurai swept the area from below their camp uphill.  The first body they found was Hiroki.  He had been pinned under a fallen tree; stabbed through the heart by a broken branch.

Minutes later, the last of their small group was located.  He was alive, barely, but probably wouldn’t be for much longer.  He was being held with his feet off the ground by a large boulder which had pinned him against a thick-trunked pine.  His breathing was very shallow.  Omi examined his friend, finding that his right arm was crushed from shoulder to wrist and his right leg was invisible between the rock and tree and, no doubt, in as bad a shape as his arm.

“Please ... water, please,” Masayochi whispered.  “Water...”

Katsuro barked an order and Iwao rushed down to the stream to comply.  He tore off a large piece of his tunic and soaked it in the water.  Then he ran back to the tree and his friend.  He dribbled water across Masayochi’s lips and watched as his eyes showed gratitude.  Now, Iwao, with his heart torn with pain for his friend, he watched the life go out of them.

Reaching over and closing Masayochi’s eyes gently, Goro said a short prayer, which was echoed by the survivors.

Spending the rest of the night uneasily trying to get some rest – which didn’t come – they rose at dawn and searched for the horses.  They were not found, but both sets of hobbles were lying in the grassy area where they had left them.  Clearly, they had broken the lashings and departed for places unknown.

“We must keep going,” announced Katsuro.  “Despite our losses.  We have time to hold a short service for our friends, and we will.  But, our first priority is to gather up what is left of our provisions and kit.  To that end, we will all spread out and search.  Put what we find at the site of our original camp.  Agreed?”

Hai!”  All echoed in unison.

When the completed their search, only a small fraction of their original load was found usable.  Most of the food had been dashed to mush by rolling rocks and falling trees.  The clothing and kit fared a little better as well as their panniers which, amazingly, had been untouched except for overturning and releasing about half their contents.

A small ceremony was held in the clearing next to Masayochi’s crushed body honoring his commitment to Bushido, and another abbreviated Shinto ceremony for Hiroki.  It was voiced that an attempt should be made to free them from their fate, but Katsuro wisely gave his opinion that they were already freed from their earthly worries.  In silence, they gathered up their meager belongings and hitched them to their backs, starting up the trail.

“At least we still have something to eat,” grumbled Ijimi.  “And those bedamned horses are gone!”

“A silver lining to every dark cloud, eh, Ijimi?”  Joshed Omi.

The others chuckled briefly.

“And I kept the gift for Lord Otani safe as well,” proclaimed Katsuro, tying it carefully to his pack.

Life, for them, was to continue their mission for Prince Mochihito.  The knotted cord reminder waited for no man.

 


Submitted: November 19, 2014

© Copyright 2022 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

I haven't been receiving notifications ! I wasn't expecting men being killed in an earthquake, but then again they're in Japan, nice chapter Tom.

Sun, November 23rd, 2014 5:55pm

Author
Reply

Apparently, Booksie has been having brain farts. A lot of their notification emails either don't go out, or they contain just the author's name and nothing else - not what was just updated. I've lived through a couple of pretty bad earthquakes while I lived in Japan. They are definitely eerie.

Sun, November 23rd, 2014 11:39am

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