Chapter 9: Uji no Tatakai (Battle of Uji) - Chapter 9

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

Reads: 226
Comments: 1

In the cadre field tent, Katsuro turned to his three companions, using his hand to indicate they sit before him on the mat.  “We need to attach four more samurai to our group and provision up for our journey.  From here, it is going to be a rigorous trip.  I am informed that to the north and east of us are several groups of bandits and that our eight men may not be enough to get past them.  Therefore, I have decided we will follow the Uji River to the southeast and thence northward to the lake.”

“Does the trail follow the river closely, Katsuro?”  Asked Ijimi thoughtfully as he rubbed his chin.  “I have heard that during times of high water that the trail is nonexistent.”

“Runners have gone as far as two days upriver and reported that the trail is clear – so far.”

“It’s the ‘so far’ that has me worried, Katsuro,” chimed in Omi.  “One good rain up there in the mountains and we’ll be swimming instead of walking.”

“Then we’ll build a raft and take the easy way back here to start again.  Come, Omi, where is your spirit of adventure?”

“In my other pack.”  He sighed.  “Well, at least we have a few more along with us on this trip than the last one; one in which we snagged this new fish!”  He chuckled and pointed to Iwao.

Iwao gave a short bark of laughter.  “This fish will let you all plan this trek without me for I have no knowledge of what lies up this river to the lake.  I have never been to Otsu in my life.”

“Will we take horses?”  Asked Omi.

“Possibly one or two.  We may have to release them if we hit high water though.”

“Ugh!  I hate horses.  Smelly things – always eating and farting.”  Piped up Ijimi, holding his nose.

“Agreed.”  Grunted Katsuro.  “But necessary at first to carry supplies.  As we consume them, we can still release them to fend for themselves, nei?”

All three nodded.

“Very well then.  We will leave at daybreak.”  Katsuro turned to Iwao.  “Let’s take a turn through the camp and pick some sturdy men, young samurai.”

Hai!  I obey, Katsuro!”  Said Iwao, slapping his arm across his chest in a salute.

Katsuro laughed loudly and clapped Iwao on the shoulder.  “You’ll do.  You’ll do, my friend.”

They strolled through the portion of the encampment dedicated to the samurai cadre.  Sitting around fires, laughing and talking, the men were resting against the sudden call to arms.  To Iwao’s untutored eye, they all looked like very tough customers.  As Katsuro and he passed, they would look up with interest, and then back down to whatever they were doing.

Katsuro peered around, apparently looking for someone, and his gaze settled on the group before them.  “Are you trying to find someone specific, Katsuro?”  Inquired Iwao.

Hai.  This less than reputable-looking bunch of ruffians—“  He said, indicating a few men sitting or standing near the entrance to a tent, “—are probably the worst men we could pick for this assignment.”

Two of the men rose, hands on the hilt of their swords, hissing at the insult.  Katsuro stood his ground, crouching into a ready stance, fully appearing capable of removing one or more heads.  As they growled at one another, Iwao edged to one side to give himself fighting room and prepared to make his presence known also.

A shout from one of the seated men.  “Who calls us out?  I see nothing but the rear end of a horse that appears able to talk.”  He shouted, jumping to his feet.

Even more alarmed now, Iwao crouched – ready to pull his sword.

“Come then, let me ventilate the gasbag before me and show you the power of my swift sword!”  Shouted Katsuro.

The three men rushed towards Katsuro, who stood calmly, his hand still hovering over the hilt of his sword.  They crashed together and, amid much back-slapping and laughing, they greeted one another as long-lost brothers.

“Katsuro!  We thought you were still in the field stealing horses.  You are back now for a while?”  Asked one man.

Iie.  My friend here,” He indicated Iwao, now standing behind him only slightly relaxed, “and I have been tasked to undertake an adventure.  We need four others willing to go with us.”

This seemed to interest the remaining man still sitting by the fire.  He rose, wiping his hands on his tunic.  “Yosh!  Good to see you again, Katsuro.  Is this the newly-minted samurai everyone is talking about?”  He nodded at Iwao, who gazed back at him.

“I knew of your father, young man.  I served along with Katsuro here in the cadre assigned to his left flank.  We were too busy to notice anything but our own survival.  Because of your father, we were victorious.  I am Shinji.  These other scruffy rejects, he said with affection, are Goro, Hiroki, and Masayochi.

All four of the men formally bowed and Iwao returned it, giving his name also, making sure to include his family name: “Yoshida Iwao.  Greetings!”

Seemingly interested in the smell arising from an iron pot on the fire, Katsuro stepped over and sniffed.  “Hiroki, this seems to be a decent enough soup.  One of your creations?”

Hiroki nodded.  “Hai!  We managed to liberate a small bag of rice from a local farmer and have been hoarding it.  Come, join us for noon meal.”  He swept his hand around to include everyone.

The group of men sat and Hiroki ladled out measures of soup and laid a plate of rice balls before them.  Taking one apiece, they began slurping soup from their bowls.  They didn’t talk at all during lunch except to compliment Hiroki on his culinary expertise.  Iwao thought it tasted slightly salty, but held his tongue.

Following lunch, Katsuro outlined the trip he was tasked with and after a little arm-twisting all four of his cronies indicated they would go with him.  Goro and Masayochi, being expert horsemen, left for the stables to secure at least two pack animals.  Hiroki and Shinji followed Katsuro and Iwao back to their field tent.  They sat, sipping tea, and waited for the two horsemen to report back.  When they did, smelling considerably of horse, Ijimi held his nose and moved away from them, causing laughter.

Katsuro set a time for all of them to meet at his cadre common tent and then motioned Iwao to follow him.  They passed several more groups of men sitting around fires doing tasks that soldiers had been doing for hundreds of years – mending equipment, sharpening blades on a variety of deadly killing instruments, and joshing roughly one another.

As they passed one fellow, who appeared to be over a head taller than his companions, he shouted and swung his huge naginata through an arc that intersected five thick bamboo poles spaced around him at chest height.  The long-handled, curved blade sliced through the poles easily, barely slowing.  Expertly flipping the blade over, the man gave another bellow and made his backhand blow; reversing through the posts at knee height.  Had those been opposing troops, they would have been sliced into thirds.  Iwao was highly impressed.

Moving onwards, the approached the archery lists.

 


Submitted: November 08, 2014

© Copyright 2022 B Douglas Slack. All rights reserved.

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Mr Watson

Men on a mission, I hope the rivers not high, Shinji and his rejects sound like the perfect companions.

Sun, November 9th, 2014 8:45pm

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They make a good group, and get along well. When trouble might come along at any moment, it is good to have men you trust at your back.

Sun, November 9th, 2014 12:51pm

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