Chapter 2: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 2

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

Reads: 244
Comments: 2

Iwao watched the samurai warily as he strutted his way across the street and stood, legs apart with one hand resting on the grip of his long sword.  Groaning and rubbing his tousled hair with his other hand, the samurai grunted “You have disturbed my sleep, warbler.  What do you have to say for yourself before I behead you?”

Only partially feigning abject terror, Iwao dropped to the ground and kowtowed deeply before the man.  Head down, he replied.  “I though it would please and sooth you, master.  I had no desire to anger you!”  This was the absolute truth.  The last thing Iwao wanted was to anger the samurai so he thought it best to pour soothing oil over troubled waters.  “Please, sir, let me try again.”

“Ahh.”  The samurai grunted in disgust.  “If I wanted to hear the honking of a goose, I would find a goose and squeeze it.”  His face cleared somewhat of anger.  “Still, you do hold a little promise.  Try again now – but softly, you hear?”

“As soft as a summer breeze, sir.”

Iwao lifted his flute and blew across the mouthpiece very gently.  The first tone sounded and he looked up sharply into the samurai’s face.  It held not a clue as to his disposition.  Iwao continued with several more soft note, trying his best to not raise the register too high lest he awake the samurai’s pounding head.

Eventually, the samurai’s eyes closed and his whole visage softened a little.  He shifted his weight to one foot and put the other on the low porch so he could rest his arms on his thigh.  Soon, the samurai was nodding and keeping time with Iwao’s song.

The song Iwao was playing was a very old nursery rhyme that every youngster knew.  He had changed the tenor and a few notes, but it was still embedded in everyone’s heart.  When it ended, the samurai remained silent, eyes closed, for quite some time.

“Again,” he commanded in a soft voice.  “I have not heard that in a very long time.”  He said quietly.  “You play it very well.”

Happily, Iwao replayed the song, slightly louder.  The children behind him, silently watching the interplay and dreading the outcome, began to sing along softly.  Soon, even the samurai joined in with his gruff voice.

The song ended.  “Ahh, that takes me back, warbler.”  He stood up again and gestured towards the inn.  “Come, play for me while I have a bit to eat.”  He called loudly to the innkeeper just inside the doorway.  “I assume my meal is prepared?”  He said sharply.

“Oh, yes, sir.  My wife is bustling around the kitchen as we speak.”  I hope, was implied.

Wringing his hands and rushing ahead of Iwao and the samurai, the innkeeper darted deeper into the building and headed for the kitchen.  There were sharp words and then the crash of utensils as they dropped to the top of the stove.  The samurai looked up at the noise, smiled, and turned to Iwao.

“You’re not from nearby, are you?”  He said with slitted and crafty eyes.

“No, sir.  I left from Arida several weeks ago.  I am trying to get back to the lands of my clan.”  He said, carefully avoiding mentioning which clan he was a part of.

This was not lost on the samurai, however:  “Hmmm.  Which clan would that be,” he said menacingly.  “I know of several and some are not very friendly.  Speak carefully,” he warned, resting his hand on the grip of his katana.

“My clan is a small clan, sir.  Hardly a bump on the countryside.  Surely this does not matter...”  He said, dreading what was to come.

YoshI decide what matters, warbler.  Tell me!”  He demanded.

“Yo-Yoshida clan, sir.”

The samurai made an impatient movement with his hand.  “Yes.  Yes.  But in whose fiefdom?  Who is your Lord?”

Iwao weighed his words well before he spoke them, remembering the small Minamoto banner tied to the saddle of the horse outside and praying to the gods that it belonged to this particular samurai.  “Minamoto, sir.  We are faithful to Minamoto Yorimoto and Prince Mochihito.”  He said with trepidation.

The samurai considered this for a long moment, during which Iwao fully expected to see the samurai’s sword up close.  Then, to his immense relief, the samurai smiled.

“Then, warbler, you wouldn’t turn down an offer to join his armies, would you?”  He said, staring directly into Iwao’s eyes.

By the gods!  Just when I was much closer to getting home, this has to happen.  Thought Iwao.  Still, it might mean at least a steadier diet and a place to sleep.  He bowed, hands to the floor.  “It would please me greatly do to so, sir.”  To say anything else would be madness indeed.

“Good.  Good.  Innkeeper!”  He shouted.  “Where the hell is my meal?”

Right on cue, the innkeeper’s wife appeared on her knees and moved towards the group pushing a tray before her.  “Here, sir.  Here.  Please excuse my tardiness, I am at fault.”

“Yes.  Yes.  Be quick and set out the dishes.  My new friend and I have much to discuss.”

Iwao’s ears pricked up at this.  What did they have to discuss?  He had just been inducted into an army, so what was to discuss?

The samurai noisily slurped at his miso and then lifted a great helping of noodles into his mouth with his chopsticks.  Through them, rather fuzzily, he began...

“Warbler, I want the truth here.  Anything else could go hard on you.  Are you truly touched in the head, or was that an act?”

There, it was out now.  He had to answer truthfully.  To do anything else just wouldn’t do.  “It was an act, sir.  Until today, it has served me well as I passed through Taira strongholds.  Not a single person saw through my disguise.  If I may, sir, how did you?”

The samurai grinned, leaned forward, and confided.  “I have spies also, warbler.”  He waved his hand vaguely towards the bamboo shutters over the far window.  A face appeared, then another.  “Come in, come in!”  The samurai commanded to the faces.

Two men entered through the back door – both samurai by their looks – and knelt in front of the group.

The smaller of the two new samurai spoke.  “This is the man we saw entering the village this morning, Katsuro.  At first he appeared much different than he does now.  He seemed to change before our eyes.”

“Ah, perhaps.  I expect he changed as you pulled on your sake bottle, nei?”  The larger samurai chuckled and drew a dirty look from the smaller one.

The larger one spoke:  “It was I who first alerted the hamlet, Katsuro.  Perhaps it was the signal arrow he heard that alerted him.”

“No doubt, Ijimi.  Even I heard the arrow.”  He looked at the taller of the two.  “And you, Omi, you compounded the error by returning the signal.  What was your reasoning for that?”

“Please excuse me; should I not have done that?  How was Ijimi to know the alarm was received?”

“Ah, yes, how indeed.”  The samurai subsided.

Iwao now knew the head samurai’s name, but until he was given permission, he couldn’t speak it.  At the moment, he was still just a raw recruit and as such that just wasn’t done.  But still, he sensed something in the air and that it had to do with him and his disguise.  At the moment, Iwao couldn’t puzzle out just what it was, but perhaps his life might be a bit easier if he wasn’t just a common ashigaru, or foot soldier.

“Innkeeper!”  Bellowed Katsuro.  “INNKEEPER!”

The poor man knee-walked across the tatami mat and touched his forehead down to it.  “Hai!”

Katsuro gestured to Iwao.  “Prepare a bath for this man.  He smells.  And...”  He paused.  “Say, just what is your name, warbler?”

This time it was Iwao who bowed.  “Yoshida Iwao, sir.”

“Iwao, eh?  No matter.  I like ‘warbler’ instead.”

Iwao bowed again.  “If that pleases you, sir.”

“It does.  Now, go and wash off all that mud.  You are flaking all over my meal.”

“I obey, sir!”

Iwao jumped to his feet, taking care not to drop any large flakes of mud to the low table, and followed the innkeeper out the back door to the bathhouse.  Highly desirous of a bath already, Iwao quickly stripped to his loincloth and dipped tepid water from the bath in a gourd and dumped it over his head.  Using handfuls of straw, he did his best to wash off most of the mud until his skin fairly glowed.

During this process, the innkeeper had stoked the fire under the large iron tub until steam began to curl from the rim.  Testing the water with his elbow, he judged it the right temperature and halted the innkeeper’s efforts at boiling him alive.  “Stop!  That is enough, I think.  You may go.”  Iwao chuckled inwardly at his imperious commands – just as if he were samurai also by association.

Not knowing, exactly, what was in store for him, Iwao thoroughly enjoyed the hot bath.  He took his time, occasionally rising to pour cold water over himself to tease his skin.  Soon, the bath was over and he climbed out of the tub and dried off with his raggedy kimono.  Faced with a dilema now, Iwao was about to leave, dressed in his loincloth, when the door opened and Omi appeared carrying a bundle of cloth.  He tossed it to Iwao.

“Here, warbler.  You and I are about the same size.  You can pay me back sometime.”

Iwao unwrapped the bundle and found a nicely styled kimono which he quickly donned.  It did indeed fit him well.  When he tied the sash, he looked longingly at the spot where a samurai would normally carry his swords and sighed.

Omi chuckled at Iwao’s very transparent action.  “You may yet carry them, warbler.  But first, we have a few more questions.”

 


Submitted: October 08, 2014

© Copyright 2022 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Mr Watson

velly itelesting Mr. Oldman. can't wait for the next chapter.

Wed, October 8th, 2014 8:43pm

Author
Reply

Thank you ever so much, Mr. Watson. Another will be forthcoming soonest. :)

Wed, October 8th, 2014 4:03pm

Reddhumann

nice!!!

Fri, April 3rd, 2015 10:09am

Author
Reply

Thanks.

Fri, April 3rd, 2015 6:23am

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