A Time Traveller's Guide To Feudal Japan Chapter 41 - Final Preparations

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When war is afoot there is an unusual air about a place. It grows heavy from the apprehensive hearts of the people. Personalities are polarized to the extremes, and - broadly - you are left with two types of people. One type endeavours to do all they can, and all that they have ever wanted to do, so that if they were to die they would not die with regret.

The other type sits almost mopingly, overcome by a certain lethargy as they reflect on the events of their life, tainted by a nostalgia that pollutes their brain and dilutes their thought.

Such had never even come close to being the case in Toyone, as the people were blessed with a degree of confidence from the exercises that they were made to perform.

Every day the women would spend in the town square, honing their technique with the spear. After the second day, the men only spent their mornings in practice with weaponry. Their afternoons were filled with a series of manoeuvres, cultivating them into soldiers capable of carrying out the fake strategy.

Of course, none of that second part of the day - although they poured their sweat and blood into it - particularly mattered. The only important part was the deception. The men needed to believe that what they were doing was essential to their survival - they needed to believe that their success was dependant on this strategy.

The only man fitting to lead them was Ishiyama, who was most adept in not letting a hint of his emotion show. Even the guards that had served under him for many years did not sense that something was off.

He pushed them to work hard, so that their afternoons were fraught with difficulty. But any less and it would not have achieved the desired effect. And no man dared to complain, for they knew just how important the exercises were.

That is, of course, aside from those few whose loyalties lay elsewhere.

It was frighteningly easy to detect the traitors, as they were the only men who forced their aching bodies to move after dark.

They moved quietly along the roadside, not particularly caring about remaining hidden. This group of three had the utmost faith in their own intelligence, and believed themselves to be the most cunning of foxes, receiving a certain thrill from the act of disguising their intentions so adeptly.

But foxes were not the only nocturnal animal in that part of the forest. Ishiyama sat curled up in his cloak, his back against a set of trees, and his face hidden by dense foliage. But his view of the roadside was still enough for him to imprint the ident.i.ties of the foxes onto his memory.

It was decided that he keep their ident.i.ties to himself until the very eve before the battle, for he had the most adept mastery of his emotions, and the more people that knew, the more likely it was for the secret to be revealed.

During these days before the battle, there were a certain group of people who had a few promises that they were busy keeping.

One such man was Gengyo, who stood now, his bokken drawn and his mind focused.

To his front and sides there were nought but trees, and the ground was littered with all kinds of curiosities.

Yet his intent was to pa.s.s them by without leaving so much as a whisper - he desired for his footwork to be as light as the touch of a feather.

When he had first approached this task of his, he had done so with an open mind. He had not planned in the least. He did not even know where he should practise. But in the end, his feet showed took him themselves, and he found himself standing beside the charred remains of their home.

It was a place the held an emotional significance for him, as it was the first place he had taken a life. In that sense, it felt most fitting to practise here.

At first, he had swung his sword down swiftly, counting the strikes until he reached one hundred. His mind had been awash with all kinds of thoughts as he did so, and some of them caught his interest.

He wondered whether this was part of cultivating the warrior spirit within himself. He certainly appreciated the zen-like element, as toward the end the strikes had proved almost meditative.

He soon found himself trying to empty his mind to the degree that he could, but he found it be an impossibility. Instead, he proposed that he might instead focus absolutely on one idea within his mind. He had thought a good deal on what that idea would be before attempting anything.

In the end, he had settled on the imagery of water. Though a clichéd idea in some sense, he could not shake that it was something that perfectly matched him. He had a degree of familiarity with the gentle liquid, and no matter where he had moved in his previous life, he had always sought out a body of water in the times that he needed comfort.

And so now he moved, attempting to be as subtle as a single drop of water landing amongst a vast, raging sea.

But no matter how he tried, the weight of his body always caused a twig to snap loudly, and forecast his location to the entire forest, and his mind was still as turbulent as a summer storm.

He sighed, lamenting his lack of progress. He had been here for a good while, as his body refused to allow him to rest with the battle so near.

He recalled the events from earlier that evening, allowing himself a small smile of satisfaction. The villagers had been all called to the market place, and the traitors had been exposed and imprisoned.

Many had outright called for them to be killed, but Nakatane had argued against it.

"Allow them a few hours to reflect on their lack of honour. After we win this battle we will allow them to dine together for eternity in the darkness of h.e.l.l."

That had been more than enough to win over those that had been clamouring for blood.

And then the true strategy for tomorrow had been revealed.

"Men and woman of Toyone, now that the rats have had their legs cut, I will inform you of the true path that we will take to victory."

"Women - you have not spent this week training in vain. You must remain vigilant whilst the men wage their war. We will arm those fit enough to fight, and you will stay to defend what is ours should that dog Toga try anything dishonourable."

"And as for our plan, I know many of you feel restless. You worry about how we might attain victory now that Toda knows everything that we will attempt? To you, I ask you to steady your heart, for it is us who remain that step ahead."

"When we organise our ranks tomorrow, they will expect us to flee toward the river. Instead, I ask that you flee in the opposite direction. Discard your weapons as you wish - there will be pikes awaiting you once you make your way inside. Aim to pretend that you feel fear. With this we will crush their mercenary unit beneath our heel, and reap all the rewards of victory!"

The crowd had been perfectly silent as Nakatane's deep voice had drifted over them. They lent their ears intently, and the more they heard, the more excitement they felt.

It was not long before fists were raised in a vicious cheer that shook the ground, as the anger of betrayal was converted into a fiery motivation to crush the enemy that sought to take their land away from them.

Their lord had not failed, not in the least. Instead, he had always known of such a possibility, and used it to his advantage. In such a lord, they would place their trust without qualms, for the plan in which he had proposed was their best chance at survival.

He raised his hand for quiet, and gradually the cheers began to die before he spoke once more.

"As a precaution, anyone attempting to leave the village tonight will be captured. Those that are unable to be captured will be killed. You have been warned, so do not be foolish."

It was a necessary precaution in case there were more rats that had yet to reveal themselves.

The women had received their new role with relish, and the 50 or so that lined up to receive their weaponry and armour did not do so with a look of distaste upon their face.

Rin and Akiko had stood next to each other inline, smiling as they shared a light conversation. To Gengyo it seemed as though they were excited for the opportunity to demonstrate their worth.

He did not know precisely how he felt about Akiko charging into battle, for he had not seen anything of her fearsome side. Instead of inside the town square, his hours had been spent training with the rest of the bow ashigaru, under the guidance of the senior guard Yanagizawa who he had shot alongside on that very first day.

His relationship with the guard had grown to be more that of equals, as the guard knew just how frightening Gengyo's archery skills were. And in the end, the practice had proved far too basic, and the new recruits had insisted on a series of ranges being setup that were based upon the young man's motion test.

In a way, he wished that Akiko was more interested in archery than the spear, and worried that her training would not be enough.

But though he had not seen them train, during meals in recent days he had often heard Rin speak of her as though she were some fearsome lioness, ready to take the whole province by storm.

And if his courageous little sister were to say so, he felt rather tempted to believe it.

He'd taken notice of how close the two had grown, as Akiko's evenings hours were now spent with a different Miura, teaching Rin to ride the horse.

He'd caught the occasional glimpses of them at play, and each time - no matter what he mood - he could not help but smile.

Thus, shrouded in the pristine darkness of the forest, and the smell of wet ash burning his nostrils - with the battle ahead and thoughts of his dear ones on his mind - he clenched his bokken tightly and swore an oath.

'No matter the tide of tomorrows battle, even if I have to tear this very world apart, I will achieve victory and protect those precious to me, so that they might continue to smile as they have been.'

He then tightened his jaw, and straightened his back, before marching back toward the mansion to prepare himself for battle.

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A Time Traveller's Guide To Feudal Japan Chapter 41 - Final Preparations summary

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