Part 14: The First Contact – When You Forget How Dark It Was

South of Mino Province, mid-Autumn, 1545.

“My lord, Ishimaru is here to see you,” James’ bodyguard announced from outside of the tent. It was midnight, with slightly cold winter breeze roaming and the moon nowhere to be seen. It was still too cloudy.

“Let him in,” he woke Midori, who was sleeping on a small bed at the corner of his tent.

“Did something happen in the rear Ishimaru? And where’s Kankata?”

“M’lord, we just saw some movements in the woods one day march east of us. The birds were all flying away from that area, so I believed something must be there, an army, maybe. If they were coming, they were coming faster than we expected. Kankata was setting up booby traps half a day march from our camp when I left, so I figure he’d be leading the main patrol team back by now. We still arranged a small group who will send us fire signal if they spot the enemy.”

“Good job. But with that rate, they will be here around early morning if not earlier. We should have enough time to prepare and take them head on when they come here.”

“I believe that is not your plan, m’lord,” Midori spoke up. “It seems too simple to be your plan.”

“It’s too risky too. We’re not sure about Akechi’s intention yet. We may know about their treachery, but we don’t know their plan.”

“True enough. You know my thoughts well, so you have any suggestions for our next step?”

“M’lord, if you ask me, I’d say we set up a base lure(1), wait for their camp stealing attempt, then we’ll destroy them inside our camp.”

“The problem is how we are going to lure them into our camp. Our army is famous for its discipline, and without a great setback such as a crushing defeat, there is no reason for us to be unprepared and leave our camp unguarded. If our camp looks strong and well patrolled, they will not strike but wait until another time. If I were their general, I would wait for other opportunities, such as when we are marching, or …” James left his sentence hanging as he realized there was another way around. If the enemy’s general acted the way he’d act, then they were only a few hours to death. He needed a countermeasure. But what?

“How long did you wait for me before we had this conversation?” He asked Ishimaru. His answers would dictate all the events might happen tonight.

“I didn’t have to wait, m’lord. I came straight to see you as soon as I arrived. Is there something wrong?”

“How far were you and Kankata away from the enemy when you spotted them?”

“Not very far, m’lord. Less than an hour ride if they rushed the horses.”

“Let’s pray Kankata can survive this time. I should tell you beforehand that all of you must head straight back here if you spot the enemy. For now, Haruki, go and order all captains to assemble their divisions outside this tent, form an eight trigrams formation surrounding the tent. Call back all perimeter patrol and order them to stay close to this area. Do not wander far away from the central defense. Also, light up all the campfires and lampposts. We have no light from the moon tonight.”

“At once, m’lord. But may I ask why? Withdrawing perimeter patrol is not a common order. The captains may refuse to obey the order if it comes from me.” Midori put on her katanas and helmet. Both she and Ishimaru were surprised by the hurried tone of their daimyo. They could sense something wrong in their commander’s attitude, but they could not tell what. Everything was perfectly set up. Lord Oda did check for all the preparations personally.

“We’re under a threat of attack, and that threat can become reality at any moment now. So you will need to hurry up. Take my commander token(2) and twenty men of our bodyguards to command the men. Tell them that I will have them commit seppuku if they disrespect my command. Now hurry up Haruki. Our lives may very well depend on how fast you can assemble our army. Also, summon all the rest of the bodyguards outside the tent after you’re done with it.”

“At once, m’lord,” she took his token on the war table and hurried outside the tent. As her armor disappeared behind the tent flaps, James prayed for their survival this time. He should have seen this situation coming. He knew it would be cloudy tonight.

“Now, for you, Ishimaru. You will take my horse, and bring Masayori with you, riding southwards. You will head for general Takayama’s camp, twenty miles away from here and order him to send help immediately to my vanguard camp. However, tell him only approach when he sees fire coming out of the camp. Then, he’ll approach from the south side with war horns, so that we know it’s him. If there’s no fire, he’ll setup a temporary camp 3 miles to the south of us and wait. We will use back-to-back formation(3) between our camps to defend. As for Masayori, he will head straight for Lord Maeda’s camp, and order him in my name to hurry a thousand men to set an ambush ten miles east of us. Remember to light up a signal fire before engaging.”

“At once, m’lord.” Ishimaru with the weight of Oda clan’s destiny on his shoulder bowed and hurried out of the tent, leaving James, as Oda Nobuhide, on his own.

Now, as all of his trusted retainers were out for his orders, James was so angry at himself that he couldn’t say a word. Too arrogant and careless that he almost lost all his vanguards and bodyguards for his mistakes. He had seen the clouds gathering right before his departures, and thought it was such a good chance to lay ambushes. Good chance for him, indeed, but good chance for Saito Dosan too. If he’d thought of an ambush before, he wouldn’t disperse his patrols so far away. It was appropriate for detecting a large host, but for small cavalry units, either his men would got picked off or the enemy would sneak right under the patrols’ noses and assault his tent.

And also, it’d been a week since their departure for Mino Province. Arako incident should have happened by now, and he would soon hear from Kagesettsu. Or that was the initial plan. But he could sense something might very well go wrong. Stacking up too many nobles in one event was something politically unfavorable. The Akechi could perform the same maneuver James did, but that Kagesettsu was for, to prevent such thing from causing critical moral damage for the army. He’d protect Lady Tsuchida if there was any assassination attempt. The man was good and up for the job, but James was still worried. If his bodyguard failed, the situation would be way more difficult.

Yet for now, he’d like to assume nothing out of his original plan would happen. Assuming his army survive this ambush, the Akechi was executed, and he took Mino province, what he would do next was a problem. Half a year after the capture of Mino, he and Rene would have to confront Imagawa in open battlefield. That was inevitable, unless they could pull out some political maneuver which could both eliminate Imagawa Yoshimoto and the clan’s animosity towards Oda and Tokugawa. With information from Rene, James’ army was just as strong as Yoshimoto’s, and with assistance of Tokugawa force, they could outnumber the enemy. But even then, victory was not assured. Yoshimoto might not be as good as Rene and James in political maneuver, but he had experience on the field. All of his fifteen thousand main body were seasoned warriors, not including the recruits he’d gain from now until the fight break out. James’ ability to mass recruit in Owari Province was indeed effective and could scale up with that of Yoshimoto and confront him on the field. The experience difference might make the fight harder, but that was not what he concerned. He was worried for the battles that his alliance would have to face after Imagawa. They did not know about the strength of Takeda clan in Shinano’s mountain, the Hojo clan in Edo plains, and Hatakeyama in Kyoto region. Not including the Ikko-ikki martyrs north of them, who if not suppressed would cause great trouble for them because of the troublesome religion(4). They would need as many men as possible for those incoming confrontations, and a costly victory with Imagawa was not acceptable for them. They needed a trump card, not just for the Imagawa but for the others as well. At this early time period, Imagawa’s army would consist more than half yari ashigaru, most of the rest archers, and a few light cavalry. Others might have the same composition except for Takeda, who was famous for their cavalry, which would require a different means to deal with.

“You there mate?” James tapped the Bluetooth earphone and called Rene.

“Yeah I’m just about to sleep. What troubled you that you have to call me at this hour?” James heard Rene’s reply after a few moments waiting.

“I’m under threat of a camp sneak(5). It’s not exactly a sneak now as I already predicted it, but still a danger situation because my army is currently out of position.”

“Prepared yet? How likely you and your army can survive this threat?”

“I may very well out maneuver them this time if my men could reassemble in time. Even in the case Akechi betrays me, I have plan to counter that already. But here’s the thing mate. I have a plan for us to deal with Imagawa without losing too much men, and also have a strong trump force for later use too.”

“I’m listening,” Rene replied with curiosity in his voice.

“M’lord, we’re ready. All of our men are assembled outside the tent,” Midori burst into the room in the middle of his conversation.

“Good job Midori. I will be right out.”

“Shall I help you with the armor, m’lord?” she bowed her head as she was standing at the entrance.

“I forgot about that. Come here,” he smiled at her.

“Sorry about that mate,” James returned to Rene. “But I have to go now. The battle is about to start. Anyway, I will need to have a trade with you. I will need a lot of horses to pull this trick off.”

“This one is tricky, but I will see it done. Try not to die mate.”

“Thanks. I will report in to you after the battle. Out for now.”

James hung up the call as Midori was putting on the inner robe on his half naked body.

“You’re talking to someone, m’lord?”

“Yes, Midori. I am talking to a very good friend of mine from another place.”

“Where is he m’lord? I see no one here.”

“I don’t know where he is either. I just talked with him through my mind. Anyway, tell me the captains’ reaction when they heard your order.” He turned around as she tied up his belt and straightened the wrinkles on his robe.

“They were perplexed, m’lord, but they did not hesitate to take order, even the Akechi captains. They are all outside of your tent waiting for further order right now.”

“Well done. This is faster than I expected, which is good. I didn’t think they would submit to my order so easily if you were the one who announced it. My own captains or Lord Maeda’s should not be a concern, but the Akechis. They were mostly nephews or grandchildren of the Lord Akechi, and those arrogant bastards would not submit to such an order, especially from you.”

“Me neither, m’lord. Either it was our extraordinary discipline, or there was something not right here.” Midori tightened up the last piece of James’ armor. She had always been handy with his armor, in which he had no clue.

“We’ll see how things go. Let’s head out then.” James put on his helmet and walked out of the tent. But just as he was almost out, his bodyguard guarding the tent called out.

“M’lord, Kagesettsu’s messenger is here to see you.”

Right on time, he thought and ordered to let the man in. The messenger looked exhausted with a mix of dust and blood on his shirt. He looked as if he was just returned from hell, with bruises marked his arms and face.

“M’lord,” the man spoked in a hushed voice, even before James could speak. “There was an attempt on Lady Tsuchida’s life. We lost a few good men, but the lady remained unhurt. We captured some of the assassins and captain Kagesettsu is interrogating them as we speak. The court was wavering as the attempted happened, but lady Tsuchida did a good job on keeping everything in order. Besides that, everything else is as your plan. That was all captain Kagesettsu wanted me to tell you, my daimyo.”

“You did well soldier. Now sit down here and get some rest. There are some rice balls on the table that you can serve yourself. We are under a threat of attack right now so I need to prepare the army. When you’re done eating, come see me. We will need every capable soldier tonight.”

“You’re too kind, m’lord,” the messenger bowed to James as he left for the main army. His main bodyguards and captains stood outside the tent with ranks of his army assembled further in the camp. It was dark, and only the fire on the posts let them see each other’s face. From his point of view, James could not see the divisions standing more than a few hundred meters away.

What a perfect time for sneak attack, and I didn’t even think about it earlier, James scolded himself as the captains approached him and asked for orders. Midori was cunning enough to let the Akechi divisions stay the farthest from his position. If they betrayed the Oda, at least James would have a small window to react upon.

As they laid down the camp map with the surrounding on the ground, they heard a thunderous noise coming from the woods. It was a mix of sound that one could hardly make out where it came from. His captains looked perplexed about the noise, while his men looked at each other confusingly about what was happening. None of his captains knew. But he did. And he could have stopped it days before.

Or some of them already knew.

Here it comes, the melody of Mozart’s Requiem echoed in his mind. Perfect melody for this kind of moment, he thought. All of the captains unsheathed their katanas and looked towards their ashigaru divisions. From the west end of the camp where Akechi divisions were standing, there was a great stir. And for a moment, James realized Lord Akechi was not with him. And so did his family.

Rex tremendae majestatis,

Qui salvandos savas gratis,

Salve me, fons pietatis…

And then there was the trouble.

All their outer divisions turned their yaris inwards and charged towards James’ main tent with a great charging scream. The Akechi captains turned towards James and swung their blades. They were fast, to turn tail, but not fast enough. The bodyguards cut them down before they could do any harm. James had warned all of his men about this, the worst case scenario. He wouldn’t want this to happen, but when it came, he always had a plan.

However, his yari ashigaru didn’t do as well as their captains. Many died from the initial charge. Many routed as the divisions collided. His men, despite being slowly pushed back to the main camp, still held their ground to protect their liege lord from those traitors.

“M’lord, so they had made their moves against us.”

“Indeed they did. Lit the fire up. Their cavalry will hit our flank soon. I want general Takayama’s cavalry hit the Akechi’s flank as soon as they arrive.” James replied and grab his longbow. “Wasaki, hit the drum. Yari square formation. Archers inside stay still. Wait for the cavalry. This shall be our reply.”

James released the arrow. It pierced through the thick dark air soaked with sweat and blood, found its target in the middle of Akechi’s army, and ripped its throat apart. Lord Akechi fell to the ground on his knees with his eyes wide open, not knowing what had happened. In just a blink of an eye, he fell, with his blood pouring out of his neck, soaked the dark red armor he was wearing. Nobody realized what happened, until they realized no commanding shouts came out from their lord. All their captains were slain in their attempt to kill Oda Nobuhide. And now their lord was shot dead in the middle of their coup. His sons were nowhere to be seen in the chaotic battle.

When Akechi wavering men almost routed, they saw Saito cavalry charging in north of them. Their battle cry instilled war fervor amongst the ashigaru, urged them to charge forward the enemy. But the cavalry didn’t charge into Oda’s flank. They charged straight into a forest of yaris. Somehow the Oda’s formation had changed within the moment. The divisions merged in and formed a closed formation with yaris pointing out all directions, protecting the archers and commanders inside.  There was no flank the cavalry could charge in. They fought in a closed square, without a way out. The daimyo stood in the center of the square with his bodyguards, looking calm as he’d ever been, fighting alongside his men to the last breath. Facing traitors like them, the Oda had no intention to run. It was the fight to death. Nobody had ever seen him panic before. Always calm and powerful. They should know better before following Lord Akechi and betraying their liege lord.

Inside the circle, James was impressed by his men’s ability to move into formation before the cavalry showed up. If they couldn’t, their lives would all be finished right now. And his formation, the yari square, which used his men to form an unbreakable square of yaris, with the Japanese long spear pointed outside in all direction, proved formidable. His men stood shoulder to shoulder against the charge coming from those Akechi soldiers. Not once they faltered. They held the line strong, for they all knew if they fell, all would die. James and his bodyguards dashed across the small area they have behind the yari wall, strengthened the weak points of the wall and encouraged the soldiers keep on fighting until their reinforcement came.

And then, they heard drums and war cries from the West, with horse hooves beating hard on the ground. The rising sun from the eastern sea shone on the battlefield, revealed a great scarlet shade on the ground, the shade of fallen soldiers. Hundreds had died before the cavalry came, bathing the grassland with blood and sweat. The small yari square then was greatly outnumbered, but still, they held ground strong against the sea of enemy. Initially, the Akechi men outed them five to one, and now it became three two one. The usurpers suffered huge casualties, but so did the Oda. As soon as James and his men’s hope came up as the cavalry came, it was put out when the reinforcement came into view.

They bore the banner of Saito clan.

*********************************************************

  1. Base lure (as defender): To defend themselves on a march, an army usually set up a defensive camp (with spikes and walls and moat). Base lure’s essence is to let the enemy into the camp and attack them both from inside and outside, create a pincer. Because the enemy is trapped inside the camp walls, they could not flee. This technique is normally used to either total annihilate the enemy or more common to capture the general.
  2. Commander token: When a commander led an army, he was given something (normally a jade or gold card) as a recognition of him as the leader of the army. The token was used to give out or to impose orders in emergencies. Not obeying the order accompanied by the commander token usually resulted in death penalty for the convict.
  3. Back to back formation: When two camps set up near each other, especially with geographical advantages (such as in this situation, one is on a hill, one in a nearby valley), the armies in the camps can assist each other in case one is sieged by the enemy.
  4. Japan at that time besides Shinto Bushido as the major religion, there was a small branch of Buddhism near Kyoto Region called Ikko Ikki. According to history, these warrior monks were always prepare to spread their religion by defeating Japan feudal lords.
  5. Camp sneak (as assaulter): the army will try to take advantage of surprise and the dark to assault the enemy’s camp. Instead of sieging directly, this technique features small divisions on cavalry under the cover of the night (usually employed in cloudy nights or new moon as there was no light but from the camp fire) to attack the enemy’s central camp and kill the commanders in hope the enemy will rout. Usually follow a camp sneak is a frontal assault, serving as a shock strike to crumble the enemy’s morale.

Author: Dat Le

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