Chapter 4: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 4

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

Reads: 228
Comments: 1

The day dawned cloudy and remained so through Iwao’s brief breakfast.  Armed with his new bow and a quiver of arrows he set forth with the three samurais along a dirt track that wound through the forest.  Being March, a cool wind blew at their back and flapped their cloaks.  Iwao watched carefully as Omi took a moment to tie down these loose ends so that they would not interfere with his bow pull or release, and did the same.

When they reached a rather large clearing filled with waist-high grasses Katsuro halted the group and gave a short briefing to Iwao.  “Hidden throughout this field of brush, Warbler, are fifteen targets.  As you approach, they will reveal themselves in some manner.  Loose one arrow per target.  No mistakes are allowed.  Begin when you hear the sound of a branch striking the trunk of a tree.”  He clapped Iwao on the shoulder.  “I am certain you will do well.”  He said gruffly.

Iwao bowed.  “I hope to meet with your expectations, Katsuro.”  He said, preparing for the test by making sure he had his arrows within reach in his quiver and testing the tone of his plucked, taut bowstring.

He waited as the three samurai faded into the light mist.  He stood stock still, barely breathing, as he used his eyes to plan his route through the low grass and reeds.  He knew from previous experience that there were small bogs in the field also which were to be avoided lest he get delayed.  He had been told to make the best time he could commensurate with clean ‘kills’ of the target.  Now breathing a little more rapidly, he awaited the signal.

Unknown to young Iwao, at the other end of the wide field, Prince Mochihito, wearing his unadorned armor, sat astride a large black horse.  He sat tall in the formed saddle and waited to give the signal.  At his side was his aide and confidant Minamoto no Yorimasa.  The Prince turned to Yorimasa.

“A good day for the test is it not, my friend?  How well do you think this man, Songbird, will do?”

“Warbler, my prince.”  The prince frowned at being corrected.  “I think he will do exceptionally well.  He is, as you know, the son of Yoshida Daiki who served well in the assault many years ago.  I have made an effort to locate his father’s swords and am told they are being brought here as we speak.”

“Hmmm.  Good.  Good.”  He shielded his eyes, looking down the length of the fog-shrouded field.  “You may begin.”

Yorimoto raised his hand and behind him a soldier prepared to strike a rather large tree with a huge club.  Down came Yorimasa’s hand which culminated in a resounding THUNK as the club hit the trunk.  The test had begun.

Ten paces into the field, there was a rustle to Iwao’s left and a bundle of straw rose to be immediately pierced dead center with an arrow.  Almost immediately, another bundle, slightly smaller, rose on his right.  Iwao, being right-handed, made the difficult shot by rising lightly into the air and spinning as he drew and fired.  Another clean hit!

He dropped into a crouch and scanned the tops of the brush carefully, wary of yet another quick target.  When none appeared, he stepped forward, head rotating back and forth.  There was a small group of stunted trees directly ahead.  Iwao crept closer, alert for any target that might appear from behind them.  A small rustle – BEHIND HIM!

Spinning in place, Iwao pulled his bowstring back, ready to fire, when he recognized a friendly face – Ijimi – who smiled and faded back down into the grass.  Iwao felt pride that anyone had enough confidence in his abilities to attempt such a deception and rely on his restraint.  He could have killed Ijimi easily.

No time to relax, however, as two targets rose on his left away from the copse of trees.  Within two seconds he released two arrows and both found their mark.  Then he moved closer to the trees, peering through them to the other side.  He saw no danger, but treated the grouping as hostile, skirting around to the left.

By the time Iwao had reached the midpoint of the field, he was drenched in perspiration after having killed several more bundles of straw and one pumpkin on a stick.  He halted a moment and pulled a headband from his kimono which he tied around his brow.  On it was written in calligraphy the equivalent of ‘new guy’, which brought a smile to his lips.  Once in place, he continued.

He felt the weight of arrows in his quiver lessening each time he drew and fired as he traveled from side to side within the clearing.  Eventually, he could see where a new line of trees marked the distant border – and the end of his trial.  He heard the snort of a horse, but didn’t allow that to distract him as three targets appeared in rapid succession – the last three.  He hit two gourds dead center and his third arrow grazed the third.  But, as luck would have it, the arrow had risen far enough to cut the thong holding it to the support and the gourd dropped to the ground.  A fair, but not good, hit.  He had completed his trial!

Yoshida Iwao stood in place at his last kill, panting with exertion, but proud to have completed all fifteen shots competently.  He now awaited further instructions.

Katsuro appeared first, smiling.  “Well done, Warbler.  Well done!  Omi says that this test would require his best skills also and is impressed with your accomplishment.  Come with me.”

Iwao followed Katsuro up the pathway towards two mounted men.  Warning him to be on his best behavior and to not exclaim if he recognized any of the visitors, Katsuro stepped aside and presented Iwao to the Prince.

Recognizing the prince – his liege lord – immediately, he bowed deeply and held it quite long, waiting for someone other than himself to say anything.

“You have done well ... Warbler,” said the Prince, faintly smiling at Yorimasa.  “I am told you were under training for only four months.  Is this true?”

“It is true, sire.”  Best to keep things short when talking to royalty.

“I am also told you carry a small medallion bearing the crest of the Fujiwara clan.  How close is your alignment?”

“My small clan has been a member of the Fujiwara clan for over a hundred years, sire.”

“And your father was Yoshida Daiki?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Hmmm.  Well, fine work young samurai.  I expect great things of you soon.”  The Prince said as he wheeled his horse aside and trotted off.

Yorimoto remained and leaned down over his saddle towards Iwao.  “Your father’s swords have been located Yoshida, and will be given to you when they arrive at our camp.  Go now, and be happy in the knowledge you have pleased our lord.”

Iwao bowed deeply, his bow held in front of him crossways.  “I serve, sir.”

Now Yorimoto wheeled and raced after the Prince.  When he was gone, Katsuro, Ijimi, and Omi appeared wreathed in smiles and pounded him on the back.  “Well done ... samurai,” said Ijimi.  “Well done!”

 


Submitted: October 17, 2014

© Copyright 2022 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

Iwao seems to be coming along in leaps and bounds, well done... samurai said Ijimi, that tells me he's doing as taught, can't wait for the next chapter.

Sat, October 18th, 2014 7:48pm

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Lots more good (and bad) stuffs to come.

Sat, October 18th, 2014 1:14pm

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