Mikawa, Autumn 1545
There were nearly a thousand men camping near the beach line of Mikawa province. They were staying in the middle of a plain field, surrounded by a couple of villages here and there, just an hour away from the beach. Since the camping party got here about four days ago, they routinely went to the beach in the morning running and fishing and when nightfall, they invited the local people to their campsite, sharing what they caught during the day. The invited were glad as they barely lived off their own farming and fishery. Every night became a small festival and the campsite for a thousand man eventually covered a ground capable of housing three thousands or more. This night wasn’t an exception. A cheering and carefree atmosphere always reigned over the place as the people enjoying the banquet and the gifts of these newcomers. For Rene, these banquets meant more than morale for the men. They had helped him know more about the captains when they drank and ate together in his central tent. However, he regretted not enjoying the banquet tonight as an urgent matter required him at an hour horse ride away from the camp.
“My lord, the man you requested has arrived.” A bodyguard came to him, at the edge of the forest overlooking the only dirt path between Rene’s army and the rebel’s hill.
“Good, let me see him. Fetch him then assemble the captains. I will be with them shortly after this.” He signaled off the bodyguard who returned shortly with the man in question.
“Ataki.” Rene spoke without looking at him, mindlessly staring at the hill.
“My lord.” The man walked up to his side and joined in the sightseeing.
“I trust that all had been taken care of?”
“Splendidly, my lord.”
“Time and location?”
“The coastal port, your proposed time, my lord. The condition is bring only two men. Any more than that he will forfeit.”
“Good. And what about Inagi?” Inagi stayed behind at Okazaki castle and took care of all the affairs in Rene’s place. It was important that Inagi did so to prepare for Rene’s plan, though it meant that Rene had to rely on Ataki while they were here.
“The boy? Don’t you trust him?”
“Just answer me.”
“All good. A bird will arrive in two days and the next in five. We will hear the result soon.”
Rene let his head loose and turned to Ataki.
“It’s not that I don’t trust him. I recognize your skills. That is the difference.”
“You have a keen sense, kid. I don’t know where you learn all that stuff but you truly are something.” He laughed it off and started chugging down on his bottle of sake.
“Seeing you speak like this, I assume there is indeed no one around.”
“Well, you’re right. What am I to do next?”
“For now, just go get some rest. Head back with the main army and enjoy the feast. After the talk, you will have the next mission.”
“Will do then, young lord.” He swiped his mouth with his right hand. “If you don’t mind some chat, what’s with the banquet? Aren’t you slacking the security?”
“Two companies of calvary for detection on the flank and rear, half an hour ride from the main army. Besides, if they actually can make a direct assault without giving a warning, the men are given orders to prepare and mobilize within two minutes. They’ll form a circle and leave the back to each other. On top of that, captain Matsudaira Hon, second in command, is a skillful man. It’s not conventional measures but it’ll do with my plan.”
“And your plan is?”
“Creating a false sense of strength. Showing confidence. Creating bargaining leverage. You name it.”
“You’re a cunning one, my lord. For now, I beg your permission to dismiss my humble self.”
The sudden change of manner made Rene turned his back to the path.
“You are dismissed. Have my captains been assembled?” He directed the question to the bodyguard just showed up.
“Yes, my lord. I have come to inform you.”
“Walk with me.” Rene signaled the bodyguard and left the scene with him, creating an opening for Ataki to vanish. A few minutes later, after passing the calvary line and the bodyguard retainers, the two men arrived at the other edge of the forest where it greeted a plain field.
“My lord.” The men who were all sitting under the trees stood up as soon as Rene came.
“Captains. How are the watches?”
“The men are vigilant, my lords. So far, three rebel spies have been captured, along with a petty thief whom we released. As for the spies, we have had two slained and the other maimed then released as you instructed.” Captain Tsumune spoke. He along with captain Mamuno commanding the calvary units, were both cautious men. They were meticulous in their commanding and had a good heart for the men, or so Rene heard from the other captains.
“Are the men having enough supplies? And are they showing any discontent for not having the feast the main army is having?”
“They have enough, my lord. And they are grateful for it.”
“Good. Captain Juubo, captain Okubo, you two will remain in captain Tsumune and captain Mamuno’s command for four days starting tonight while they are back and training the new recruits. Captain Matchike, when can we start recruiting?” Unlike other captains, captain Matchike was a peasant born. He liked gossips and stories more than taking up arms and had his way around the men with his sense of humor. Because of that, he was entrusted with a rather special task.
“My lord, the villagers are praising the army’s good faith and strength by the time they spent observing and having feast with the men. Besides that, the men are also inspiring the villagers with the tales and glory. I believe we can start tomorrow, my lord.”
“Very well, my plan is going well thanks to all your hard work. You all have my thanks. Now, my captains, before we go back to the banquet at the camp, I have news to break. I just received news that the Oda clan had proposed a truce for the time being. They no longer desire our land and so are seeking peace with us. After we finish our march here, I will deal with the issue later. But I want to ask you all, do you want peace with the Oda?” He looked closely at all the captains. Due to the clandestine nature, he forbid torches and fire in the cavalry units. The moonlight was the only thing helping him read the expression each man wore.
“Let’s just make it quick then, seeing that no one dare to speak. My captains, close your eyes.”
The men hesitated but did so eventually.
“Those who seek war with the Oda raise your hand.” Rene looked around and wore a half smile.
“Those who seek peace in our land, raise your hand.” All the captains raised their hands and Rene grinned. He quickly regained his calm face.
“Very well, you may open your eyes. I’m thankful for your decisions. Now, a feast awaits us, captains.”
Two days later
Rene and two of his bodyguards sat on the front porch of an empty house. It looked like an abandon one; the owner left either to fish in the sea or to avoid a possible battle the rebel would bring. The coastal port, despite being called so, only numbered a few houses. From where the party stood, they could see the rebel’s hill and the forest down below. But sightseeing wasn’t their goal. They were waiting under the scorching sun for a meeting with Rene’s “uncle”, a man named Matsudaira Nobutaka. It was pointless arriving this early before the meeting time but the man he would call uncle was leading a rebellion against him so an hour in advance could help him avoid an ambush. But then again, if there were an actual ambush, Rene wouldn’t survive.
“Have one man on the roof and on the porch, stay on alert. I will be inside the house. Tell me when they arrive.” He ordered his men and walked without listening to their response. He didn’t really have the mood for the usual formality. Once inside close curtains, he brought out the iPad and started fiddling with it. After a while, he called James.
“What’s the situation? You met him yet?”
“No, not yet, I’m at rally early. Well, I’m done with checking the army movement, thought you want to know.”
“You still mess with the iPad? I thought I told you to live the real life. Let me hear it anyway.” He heard laughter on the other sides. James probably forced it to ease the anxiety. He knew Rene was in a tough spot and maybe he was in one, too.
“Well, so the iPad has a function to show the Japanese map like the big paper one we have at the study room. But this map can be zoomed in and you can move your units on this map just like in the game. Just pinch, point, drag, and using two fingers for left mouse and right mouse. The new thing is when you zoom in enough, you can actually select down to each man. And not just in the battlefield but even in non-playable terrain like castle interiors, villages and houses. Basically, you can move your units and men everywhere now, on the map I mean. Now there is a delay, about two seconds in real time, between your action on the iPad and the captain of the unit receiving the order. That isn’t really much compared to real time communication like fan signaling and drums and flags so it’s still a plus. The real setback is the efficiency of your order and the morale of the man…”
“My lord, they have arrived.” One of his bodyguard came inside the room with the news.
“I’ll be right out.” Then, to his friend. “I waited for an hour and the moment I called you, he arrived.”
“Good luck, mate. We can deal with the maneuver later.”
“Right. Good luck with the Mino. Out.” He switched the mode on the earphone and then walked out.
Matsudaira Nobutaka gave off a terrifying aura around him. His bodyguards paled in comparison in the background as the man striding toward Rene. His figure was huge; his armor couldn’t cover all the usual spot. But the terrifying thing about him was the look of his eyes. The head armor would normally cover all of the face but his eyes, somehow, were piercing through Rene’s mind. It took him a while to regain composure and walked forward to greet the man.
“Don’t you dare address me like that. Speak your insolence.” The two parties stopped, leaving a considerable distance in between.
“As you must have known from my messenger, I wish to maintain peace of the land by granting you the command of your army as a Tokugawa general.”
“And what makes you think I would agree to such an outrageous demand?” Rene heard the clanking of metal behind him. His bodyguards were probably threatened by the man’s voice. It sure did Rene.
“If you would have your men stood guard far away as I would have mine, you will find three compelling reasons.”
“My lord.” Rene’s men exclaimed. Yet his uncle’s remained still, their hands only moved to the sword’s handle.
“Isame, Nobudaika, get on the horse and prepare the bow. Shoot this bastard once you see my signal. I’ll see to this insult.”
“Yes, my lord.” His men moved and Rene signaled his men, who were reluctant, to go away.
“I will take your head if your answers don’t satisfy me.” Nobutaka said. No matter how many times Rene heard it, the man’s voice gave him a chill.
“Firstly, as I said, I want peace to reign over our land, uncle. This is the land of the Matsudaira, not of the Imagawa or the Oda. I understand well what had happened in the past but there’s a chance now, to wipe out the influence of both of these clans on our soil. We will stand tall as our ancestors did.”
“And what chance is there but your imagination?”
“Two days ago, the Oda had sent a secret convoy requesting peace with our land. It shows that they are weakened, pestered by the Mino clan in the north. And the Imagawa are impatient. Yoshimoto personally requested our men to die in their battles with the Oda. This is the chance. I can turn the tide and defeat the Imagawa clan, take their castles and men all the way to Suruga province. When we defeat the Imagawa, how a weakling like Oda, weakened by their neighbor can mount against us?”
“Damn fool. You are still too young to fight against Yoshimoto. Even with Oda’s truce, you will lose facing him. He has years of combats and men willing to die at his words. What do you have but numbers of men, which is even inferior to his?”
“I have the second reason. It’s called wit. He may have experience, but he is too busy boasting of wars and battles. The moment he allowed for this meeting to happen marked his defeat and yours. I can win without blood shed.”
“Allow me to continue. For the last two week, your supply routes have been cut off. Weapons and armor have stopped coming your way and you stopped hearing from your friends from over the border. The fact that I made all these happened alone has proved my power. But you would wish for more. You have three thousands men camping on that hill behind you, with supplies enough for only a month. Your numbers cannot grow, now that the routes are stopped and all the local men had come to my side. My army is closing and surrounding yours. Eventually, it’s just a war of attrition, and I still have five thousands men back in Okazaki castle.”
“Impossible, you brought three thousands men here.”
“Indeed I have, uncle. It is just another demonstration of my power.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I am not. I wish to bring you under my banner by peaceful means. Only then will our clan have the strength to defeat the enemy from across the border.”
“Are you bluffing?”
The voice and the look didn’t change one bit. It was still threatening. But Rene had caught a glimpse of hesitation.
“I am not. Tell me uncle, what are you fighting for? What banner are your men flying?”
“The true banner of Matsudaira clan.”
“Then why won’t you help me fight for my cause?”
“How about I cut you down here and now?”
He unsheathed his katana and swung it so fast Rene couldn’t see it with his eyes. The blade stopped mid air, just a gap away from his neck. It cut the wind and Rene could already hear the Death’s scythe chiming. Fortunately, it was all so fast his body didn’t even have time to show it was afraid.
“Then you will face my third reason. As simple as that.”
“And that is?”
“If you look behind you.”
Still hanging the blade by his neck, Nobutaka glanced around then fixed his eyes on Rene. It was a few tense minutes of silence, until a man approached Nobutaka and whispered. It appeared that a messenger on horseback came from his army base to deliver the news. He was waiting with one of the bodyguards while the other came to report. His look stopped the piercing.
“Like Imagawa, I had men loyal to my cause. More importantly, they are loyal to the land. They will do everything to restore wealth and peace to the land. And I, as the daimyo of this clan, will grant them just that. Whether you are true to your cause or just to your gain, you can do nothing without your army. Even if I die here, my cause remains. But if I die here, you will surely die with me. Now that you have my reasons, what is your answer, general?”
With all his might, Rene glared at the man, his sight struggled to looked at the man’s. The tension continued and he felt as if his legs would crumble, holding all this heaviness.
“You dishonorable coward, resorting to such a mean.” Nobutake sheathed his katana. “Order your man to fall back and we will continue our talk.”
“I trust that you will fly the Tokugawa banner under my command from now on?”
“As you wish, daimyo. But at any instance I find your disgrace, my blade will find your neck as it did today.”
“Order your messenger to come to my men’s control tent with a red flag and a white flag, they will cease the siege.”
“You heard him, go.” Nobutaka shouted and the bodyguard ran.
“Now, shall we get inside that house over there to continue our conversation? Have your guards with you if you still feel want to.” Rene covered a relief sigh as he turned his body away and signed the direction.
Later that night in the main army camp, Rene sunk himself on the sturdy mattress and tried to relax after the stressful morning. It was mere talk but those kinds of talk were only his weapon in this game, besides the army that he didn’t have faith in.
“My lord, may I come in to report?”
“Captain Matsudaira? Yes, you may.” Rene sat up and walked to his usual seat at the war table.
“My lord, the men are informed of the rebel disbandment. They are surprised and curious but the victory news occupied their minds. Other than that, the new recruits’ training will start tomorrow. All of the training officers are ready for their tasks. Messengers are already on their way back to Okazaki castle to inform of your achievement today. The cavalry units are still on security patrols as usual. All has been done as you instructed, my lord.”
“Good, how are the men doing?”
“They are in great shape and can move out at once, my lord.”
“Move out orders are postponed. I will deal with that tomorrow morning. Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Nothing, my lord. But, you haven’t touched your dinner. Are you well, my lord?”
“I’m fine. Do not disturb me until the morning. I will call for you and the captains tomorrow. You are dismissed.”
“Yes, my lord.”
The captain swiftly exit the tent and Rene returned to his slacking mode. He sincerely wished for the day to end quickly and his sleep returned to him soon. Somehow, all that stresses today failed to grant him the little wish.
“Just come in, I know you’re out there.” Still lying flat on his back and staring at the ceiling, he shouted. Entered Ataki from the side of the tent.
“Despite mentally fatigued, you still put up a keen awareness.”
“You’ve been with me for more than I care. Consider it your training paid off. What do you want?”
“How rude. Even though I went through all the troubles for you, lord.”
Rene sat up and stared at Ataki.
“You’re right. Thank you for carried out my orders successfully.”
“It was a mock, you know.” Ataki was sitting behind a table and enjoying Rene’s dinner without care.
“One of my men accompanied the convoy of three. They should be fine.”
“Just how deep and wide is your network?”
“Enough for your tasks.” Without looking up, Ataki answered with his mouth full. Rene coughed up a laugh and lied down again. For a while, the tent was dead silent minus for the small munching sound.
“If you still feel that stressful, you might want to relive the day and enjoy it, not thinking of how it could have gone.” Ataki spoke up, still with his mouth full.
“Recollect today’s event as an achievement. It’s a mental way to relieve stress and gain confidence. You’re still young, anyway.”
Too tired to retort, Rene turned to the side and closed his eyes. What he did today wasn’t an achievement at all. Ataki and James’ did all of the preparation to cut off the rebel’s supply by sanctioning the border houses and raiding the convoy on their routes. Gaining the local’s favor wasn’t that big of a leverage against Nobutaka, and it only served to recruit more men for the clan’s army in the long run. Even his back up plan, the third reason, would be a failure if not for Ataki’s cunning. The original plan was to lure Nobutaka away from his army while Rene would use the iPad to navigate a siege on the mountain with his army. It was poorly done since he was still experiment with the mechanism. It was nothing like the game, the men, without a general, couldn’t even move in discipline and form formation. The only good thing was they put on a show of numbers and that alone shocked the morale of the rebel. But again, it was Ataki who kept watch on the siege and the rebel’s moral that decided to assassinate the rebel’s messenger and deliver the altered news of how badly the rebel were being “sieged”. It was all after action report that Rene knew how worse it could have been for him. To an extent, it was Ataki’s achievement.
“Now that you have Nobutaka and his army, what is your next plan?”
Rene opened his eyes and sat up. Although the news was the complete disbandment of the rebel army and the disappearance of Nobutaka, the truth remained that Nobutaka would lead his army and set up an ambush around Okazaki castle. That was a plan for the Imagawa a month or two from now. During the wait, they would continue to train their men with a few of Rene’s trusted captains. These captains would be what Rene could use to control the army through the iPad.
“Nobutaka had his order. Our communication now will entirely depend on your skills. I’m relying on you.”
“Again with that formal talking.”
“That should be my line, you know.” Rene laughed.
“Yes, it is, my lord.” Ataki finished the meal and stood up.
“So, when will you need me?”
“We’re going back to Okazaki in four days. Until then, enjoy your rest. Inagi should be preparing the next step.”
“Very well then. You did nicely, lord.”
Author: Minh Vu