Chapter 6: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 6

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

Reads: 246
Comments: 1

At midday, Katsuro called a halt and they faded into the trees to have a short meal in a cold camp – no fire.  Sitting under their straw raincoats and peaked hats, they disconsolately chewed on rice balls and dipped into a cloth bag with a few ripe persimmons in it.  They didn’t speak much; each with their own thoughts about what new assignment they would receive once they reached the main encampment.

Despite his trepidation, Iwao was also intrigued by the turn of events that had now involved him in a troop buildup.  Knowing that Prince Mochihito and his military advisor Yorimasa were rounding up available men, he calculated that it was probably for the best that he had been found by Katsuro and his two friends rather than anyone else.  At least, he thought, they were friendly towards him.

“Iwao.  There will be a small village between here and camp.  I want you to go reconnoiter it for us before we pass through.  We cannot go around because it is in a deeply carved cleft of a valley and I don’t feel like climbing today.”

“I obey, Katsuro.  Shall I go as I was when you found me?”

He chuckled.  “You mean as a fool?  Yes, that is a good idea.  Find out all you can and then seem to forget which way you were going and come back down to us.  We will be waiting for you.”

“We will let you know when we are close and then find a place to hide while you go on ahead.”  Said Omi.

Hai!”  Iwao bowed.

They left no trace of themselves in their luncheon area and continued up the track.  The sun was not out, but the mud had now dried to the consistency of grease and clung to their getas.

“Argh!  Dammed mud!”  Growled Ijimi, kicking off yet another huge glob from his foot.  The geta flew off also and he swore again.  He bent down and yanked the remaining one off his other foot.  “There!  Better barefoot than dragging weights along with every step, nei?”

“Good idea.”  Said Katsuro.  “Iwao you do the same and get spattered with mud.”

Iwao did just that.  Then, using a stick to scrape the accumulated mud off his getas, he put them in his backpack.  He also took off his rain shroud but left his hat on.  The exposure now allowed his tunic to rapidly pick up water from the leaves as he passed trees and tall grasses.  This added to his disguise.

Katsuro stopped and sniffed the air.  “Smoke.  We are nearing the village.  Into the woods – left side.”

The group faded into the woods and located a patch of bamboo.  Squeezing between the stalks, they cleared a small place in the middle to wait for Iwao.

“Here we will wait for you,” Katsuro said to Iwao.  “If you run into trouble, we cannot help you.”

“I understand, Katsuro.”  He handed his borrowed swords to Omi.  “Let me leave these with you as an idiot has no use for such things, nei?”

“Huh.  Good thinking!”  Omi grunted, taking the bundle and tucking them under his raincoat.

They watched as Iwao began the transformation from young samurai to a giggling fool who laughed while he babbled nonsense.  As he danced off up the path, Ijimi remarked “Damned if he doesn’t make me believe he’s crazy.”

“He is very good at it, that’s true.  But I hope he is good enough to fool Taira clan troops if he runs across them.  A flute isn’t going to sooth them very much.”

Hai, unless he hits them with it!”  Chuckled Ijimi.

“Yes, there is that.  Now, quiet.  We wait.”  Grunted Katsuro.

* * *

Iwao, trying to look as harmless as he could, felt the great weight of his deception.  Previously, when acting a fool, he was only doing it to keep from being bothered by anyone.  Now, if he were caught, he would most certainly be tortured before being filled with arrows or losing his head.  He was a spy for the Minamoto clan and, as such, would be shown no mercy.

The first building appeared, smoke rising from the hole in the roof.  It appeared to be a granary because there were bins outside on the wide porch being tended to by women with large spatulas.  Each bin had three or four women each and they rhythmically dug deep and turned the grain with their shovels.  Iwao judged the grain was probably mullet instead of rice.  Rice was very valuable and certainly out of the price range of peasants, even the farmers who grew it.

Also as before, it was the dogs that detected him.  They ran from behind the buildings and formed a yapping circle about him.  He danced his way forward, playing random notes on his flute in between giggles.  All the while, his dark eyes scanned for trouble.

The women stopped their sifting and watched warily as he passed them and went further into the group of buildings.  On his right was a small well with lifting pole and a bucket on a rope.  He sidled over and filled his water bottle from the waiting bucket then danced away humming to himself.

A group of males stood in the doorway of another building and Iwao judged this to be a meeting hall by the calligraphy displayed at the entrance.  He stood and made a pretense of trying to read the sign board, mispronouncing words badly and drawing grim looks from the men.

Warning himself not to overplay his had, he moved further only to be yelled at by one of the men.  “Hey!  Who are you and what are you doing?”

Iwao stopped and turned, cupping a hand behind his ear to make it appear he was hard of hearing.  “Eh?”

“Come here!”  Demanded the elder.

Iwao shuffled a dance step and then complied slowly.

IMA!”

Not wanting to anger the man further, Iwao shuffled close – very close – until the man backed up a step.  “Yes?”  He said.

“Who are you?”

“I do not know!  I come from no place.  I travel to there.”  He gestured vaguely up the valley.

“Ahh, this man is clearly touched.”  Said a man behind the elder.

Iwao simply stood there with his mouth open slightly, breathing noisily though his teeth.

“If I do a jig, and eat a fig, will you give me a bite of pig?”  Iwao rhymed.

“Get on with you!”  Growled the elder.  “Begone!”

Bowing again and again, Iwao trundled up the street and veered into a small alleyway.  Hearing shouts behind him, he reversed back to the main thoroughfare and appeared again to them.  He stood still, looking uncertainly around him (but missing nothing) and then retraced his steps into the square.  There, he drank yet another dipper of water and sat on the edge of the well for a moment.  Then, tiredly, he did another jig step and wandered back out of the village.

His sharp hearing caught “Certainly touched in the head.  He is going back the way he came.”  So, to dispel any suspicion, he sat on a rock and opened his knapsack to rummage for food.  He sat, eating and taking stealthy glances at the men on the porch, until they grew bored and went back inside.  Iwao wondered what they were doing there, but it didn’t seem prudent to do any further exploring while they were on the alert.

Satisfied he was unobserved, he slipped his pack over his shoulders, picked up his flute, and tootled his way back down the pathway and towards where his compatriots were hidden.  He was fairly sure there was no danger in that hamlet and that is what he would report to Katsuro.

 


Submitted: October 26, 2014

© Copyright 2022 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

Well fancy that, rice being valuable, how times change eh Tom, I enjoyed that chapter as always.

Sun, October 26th, 2014 8:08pm

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Reply

Rice was for the nobles and well-to-do merchants. The rabble ate mullet.

Sun, October 26th, 2014 3:08pm

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