Chapter 7: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 7

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

Reads: 231
Comments: 1

As Yoshida Iwao approached the bamboo patch where his companions waited, he scanned unobtrusively for any watching eyes.  Seeing none, he stopped playing his flute and stowed it in its case.  Sitting at the side of the road, ostensibly removing a rock from his left geta, he whistled softly.

It was answered and he slipped into the underbrush and bamboo.  Katsuro sat, honing his wakizashi, looking up at Iwao expectantly.

“Well?”  It was a command.

“The village consists of only a few buildings arranged around a mill, probably for mullet.  There is also a gathering hall that seems to serve the surrounding farmers.  I saw only ten or twelve men who dressed as farmers and were not armed.  They yelled at me but didn’t seem to be suspicious.  It didn’t even cause comment when I left the same way I arrived.  Just the same, there is a small lane that rises above the fields to the west that we could take instead of making our way directly through the village.”

Katsuro was silent a moment.  “Well done, Warbler.  A concise report.  You have a good eye for anything seemingly out of place.  Were there any stone buildings?”

“Not that I saw.  There is a thicket of trees but they were thin enough that I spotted nothing but fields behind them.”

“Good.  Good.”  He handed up the cloth pouch.  “Here, have a persimmon.”

Iwao sat and took the offered pouch.  The persimmon was tart enough to make him thirsty so he nearly drained his water flask.  Omi handed him his flask.

“Take mine.  But be careful, though.  We should remain here until dusk before we move.”

Katsuro nodded at Omi’s pronouncement.  “Right at dusk.  Rest, Warbler.”

Iwao fell asleep rather rapidly on a rough bed made from his backpack, his rain gear, and a big tuft of grass.

Yoshida Iwao woke at the light touch of Ijimi.  “Yosh!  Iwao.  Time we were off.”

Breaking their meager camp, Iwao slipped through the stalks and reconnoitered the road.  Finding it empty in the approaching gloom, he signaled the others.  They joined him on the road and they set out.

Pointing to the fork ahead, Iwao told the samurai that the left fork led up the side of the hill.  Katsuro grunted and made his way left without a word.  The others followed.  Off to their right, isolated glowing windows marked the buildings, such as they were, of the village.  The smell of smoke was thick in the air which seemed to be moving slowly, at all.  A low ground fog sent patches of white mist creeping across their pathway.

As they walked, the night grew darker and darker until only the faint glow of the fog, lit by a sliver of moon, guided them.  They paused at a small stream that fell from a rocky cliff and refilled their water flasks, drinking their fill at the same time.  Ijimi left the group for a moment and when he came back he signaled the other three to follow.

“This looks like a snug spot for weary travelers,” said Ijimi softly.  “It is a small cave, but there are signs of fires all over it.  No reason for us not to stop, nei?”

Katsuro looked at him.  “Why.  Are you so tired you cannot continue?”

“No.  Not at all.  I was just thinking that if we continue through the night, then when we arrive at the encampment it will just be waking up – and looking for people to do chores.”

“Ah,” said Katsuro thoughtfully.  “A good idea.  We will stay the night.”

They fanned out and brought a few pieces of wood to make a small fire and set up camp.  The smoke, as always, bedeviled them by moving to whichever side they chose to sit on.

“Damn this smoke!” swore Ijimi.  “If we didn’t need it to ward off the chills, I’d piss on it.”

“If you did, I’d have to remove the object doing the pissing – and you wouldn’t like that.”  Growled Katsuro.

Ijimi looked shocked.  “Aiee!  I suppose I wouldn’t, at that.”

Omi spoke up.  “Then, I suppose, we could always insert you into the court as a concubine, nei?”

Ijimi slapped him on the shoulder.  “Oh you big ruffian!”  He said in a high-pitched female voice.

They all chuckled, but turned to their beds and prepared them for the night.  Iwao was certainly keyed up about what would happen to him in the encampment.  At the moment, he was friends with three samurai – but only temporary in their eyes.  One wrong move and he’d be consigned to the ashigari as a foot slogger.  He did not sleep well; and a turn at guard didn’t help.

* * *

In the morning, the rain returned with a vengeance.  The sky opened up and water pelted them at every step.  Once again, the road was turned to mud.  But, since this road was not as heavily traveled, there were patches of rocky soil at either side and this is where they tread.

Nearing high noon - and this could only be determined by a blotch of lighter sky overhead - Katsuro called a halt and they ate the rest of the food they’d taken from the old innkeeper.  They found another stream and filled their water flasks for the final march to the encampment.

The sound of horses neighing caused Omi to hold up his hand, stopping the others in their tracks.  “I hear horses.  Close by.”

Ijimi pointed.  “There!  Over there, in that small valley.”

“It would appear we have arrived.”  Said Katsuro decisively.

“And that is why you get all the sweet rice cakes no doubt, Katsuro,” said Omi with a laugh.

At this sally into humor, even Iwao risked a chuckle or two.  He had grown to like these three friends and hoped desperately that he would measure up to their expectations and be tasked to travel with them.  They were fearless and every one of them quite deadly with sword, arrow, or even their hands and feet.

They were challenged by guards at the entrance to the encampment.  The head guardsman, who didn’t know Katsuro, had them wait, fuming, while he verified their identities.  When word came back from no person other than Yorimasa himself, he quickly apologized and passed them forward with a written chit allowing their immediate conduct to the inner circle.

As the trio approached the tent of a ranking samurai, the flap opened and a rather squat man appeared.  He took a look around and stretched his arms wide and yawned.  Scratching his barrel chest, he called for his breakfast.

“Hey, Juro-san!”  Called Katsuro.  “Why not just go out and gnaw a tree in half, my friend?”

The man’s eyes narrowed, making Iwao think he may be a bit nearsighted, and then broke into a grudging smile.

“Ah, Katsuro.  What new have you from afield?”

The three approaching samurai came to a stop in front of Juro’s tent.  Katsuro raised his hand and gestured to Iwao, who took a step forward when that hand tapped his shoulder.

“We may have found someone who can help us greatly, Juro-san.”

Then Katsuro launched into the story of how he, Omi, and Ijimi came across Iwao and, finding he was willing to undertake a somewhat hazardous profession, inducted him into the service of their liege lord.  He seemed a bit more impressed by Iwao’s skills than he’d let on to Iwao himself as he related the archery trial.  Juro seemed awed that the test had been observed by the Prince himself as well as his trusted advisor Yorimasa.

Turning his gaze to Iwao, Juro said “I had the honor of serving in the corps adjacent to your father’s in that battle.  I have the highest regard for his bravery.  I have also heard rumors that your father’s swords have indeed been located and also that the Prince wishes to present them to you in a formal ceremony.”  He turned to Katsuro again.  “But first things first:  We eat.  While we do that, I will tell you of your next assignment.”

“Ah, that is more like it!  Maybe this one will be just a little more challenging now that our forces have been built up considerably in our absence.”  Katsuro said, looking around at the new tents and larger corral that had been added while they were gone.

“We shall see, Katsuro.  We shall see.”  Juro clapped his friend on the shoulder and drew him into the tent.

Unsure if he should follow until Omi nudged him with a shoulder as he passed; Iwao entered the tent and closed the flap behind him.

 


Submitted: October 31, 2014

© Copyright 2022 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

looks like something's about to happen, with all these men in one place, interesting chapter Tom.

Fri, October 31st, 2014 9:00pm

Author
Reply

It is the encampment of the main force of Prince Mochihito's army. Interesting things will happen there.

Fri, October 31st, 2014 2:25pm

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