Mikawa, late Autumn 1545.
Rene came back to the Okazaki castle with his men about a week before Imagawa Yoshimoto and his approximately ten thousand men army did. During that time between his arrival and his master’s, Rene finished the only two things he needed to do for the big finale, prepared the court and killed the time. On the one hand, preparing the court took too much effort. Private meeting with each of the court members then consecutive court meetings ensured everyone was onboard with the idea of liberating themselves from the Imagawa clan. When the time came, he would personally lead the charge against the foreign army and won the fight, as easy as eating cake. On the other hand, killing time was quite easy. He felt as if the last week didn’t happen at all. Time just flied as he filled the gap with existentialist thoughts about his life, this reality and the old one.
“Lord, are you even listening to me?”
“Oh, I’m sorry what?”
“Damn it, look at the kid’s report.”
Ataki kicked him in the back from where he was sitting, dangling on the window’s edge as usual. Inagi sat quietly behind another coffee table next to Rene’s, staying focus on his paper work. It had became the ordinary for Rene, having his two aides here in his room late into the night.
“My lord, you haven’t gotten enough sleep these days. I fear for your health for the upcoming battle.” The boy spoke softly. He seemed tired and sleepless as well but for a different reason. Now that Inagi mentioned it, Rene realized he barely had time to sleep, mostly because of the amount of time he spent not doing his work.
“It’s ok. I’ll just look at this report.” Rene looked down to the sheet of paper. Inagi had worked on this report under his instruction while Rene was away from the castle. It detailed the court members’ assets and influence, which also factored in their ties to the Imagawa clan.
“Wait, why did I order this?”
“My lord, you told me that this would help determining the success of the fight against the Imagawa. Before you left, you feared that some court members would favor the Imagawa clan over liberation and thus, consider your act as betrayal.”
“Oh, ah, right.” Rene looked up then looked down again. He just couldn’t focus at all and didn’t know why.
“Inagi, why don’t you bring the lord some tea and help yourself to an early night too?”
Inagi stared at Ataki then at Rene. The boy barely had his eyes opened. Rene nodded quietly and dismissed him. The room became silent until Inagi returned and then left for the rest of the night.
“Just what the heck is wrong with you?”
He got slapped. Quick and simple. Rene fell face first onto the ground, his jaw probably got dislocated. He lied flat on the ground for a moment then sat back up and looked at Ataki.
“Thanks, I need that.”
“And I need more. Just what the hell is going on? You have been absent-minded since I left Kyo. I need answer.” Despite the rage in his tone, Ataki remained the calm and cold-blooded person Rene had always feared.
“After we’re done with Yoshimoto. I promise you that. Let me focus on this.” Rene rubbed his chin, still in pain from the slap.
He couldn’t help but praise Inagi’s talent. The list detailed everything, even included a prediction of the court member’s behavior when the fight happened. It showed that more than half of the court members, mostly the samurai retainers, advisors and administrators from minor clans, were just aiming for personal gain, they couldn’t care less about who won as long as they gained. Most of the captains in the court on the other hand wanted peace on the land. None of them wanted liberation from the Imagawa as the endgame.
Rene went over his mental note about how the plan should have gone, now that he would meet the Imagawa force in just two or three days. Consolidating the force, checked. He had recruited the Nobutaka’s rebel, which added to the Tokugawa seven thousand men to total about nine thousands. Setting up a pincer, checked. The last remaining rebel group would arrive by tomorrow night. They had set up in the surrounding villages and forests, out of sight and undetected, thanks to Ataki’s effort. The Tokugawa army was stationing a mere five hours east of the castle while the Imagawa five hours in the west. Planning the trap, checked. Thanks to a lot of flattery, Yoshimoto and his commanders would meet where Rene usually held court. The retainers would join the castle garrison army in the defense and only Rene’s captains would participate in the meeting. This meeting would serve two purposes, planning an assault plan on the Oda clan and keeping Yoshimoto’s leadership where Rene’s men could trap them. Killing Yoshimoto in a samurai fight wouldn’t do Rene any good so he would resort to an ambush either before or after the meeting. Closing the pincer, in progress. His general, Matsudaira Hidenaga, and the rebel leaded by Nobutaka and his captain Hon, would command the army and crush the Imagawa’s army. Supporting role, checked. Ataki would be the messenger telling Rene if the ambush succeeded. Inagi would lead all the servants out of the castle in case Yoshimoto and his men decided to brawl. Everything seemed fine. Now they just needed execution.
Rene had went over this note countless times since he heard the news in Kyo. But truth be told, he felt less secured each time he went over it. Now that Inagi’s report had shown him, he had sold the wrong goods to his own court. Then, how would they treat this act against the Imagawa? The Oda appeasement he faked before he left the castle had definitely done some goods but to what extent? He had a backup plan already though. Worst-case scenario, he would use the garrison army to keep both the court and Yoshimoto’s leadership inside the castle when Ataki commanded the army and finished off the Imagawa one. He had replaced the garrison army with the men following him into the coastal region. They were men he could trust, the six captains and their men. But to lead an army, Ataki wasn’t the most optimal choice. If Nobutaka could be trust, Ataki could kill Hidenaga and that would end the court’s influence. If not, Ataki had already had the Tokugawa seal and order from Rene. And to Rene’s amazement, Ataki’s network reached deep inside the army. He could lead them not as a general but as a spy, although that would prove reduced effectiveness.
But then who was Ataki? He had this Bluetooth earphone with him since day one, as proof of Rene’s identity and of his trust. He had exceptional skills and capability to do things Rene couldn’t believe. Simply put, Ataki didn’t fit into this game, or to be more precise, the mechanics and the design. The shinobi in the game couldn’t do extensive things like he did. Maybe like James said, he shouldn’t compare everything to the game and treat this as real life. But he couldn’t overrule the possibility that the Hattori clan’s daimyo, Ataki’s former master, was a human player like him and not an A.I. That could be a possibility since the daimyo could train his shinobi personally and add in some personal touch. Like how James did with his army.
Speaking of James and the army, Rene hadn’t touch his army, not even the one thousand men he brought with him weeks earlier. The most contact with the army he had was through the iPad’s scene and the paperwork which he used to recruit. He did no training, no commanding, only delegation. Furthermore, he had no one to count on to lead his army. Matsudaira Hidenaga wasn’t even a historical character. He was a general that was added in to balance the game design, a purely mechanics and technical point back in the game. Unlike James who had his whole army and court stayed close to history and thus, had a solid database and could be trusted, Rene had nothing to play with.
“You’ve been putting some awful long thoughts onto the piece of paper.” Ataki remarked.
“It’s nothing. The kid has done some solid work. It just reminded me how shaky the plan is.”
“You sold them some solid stuff. Other than that, you had a good plan. What you need now is focus and some good sleep. Some sake?”
“No thanks. I still have to deal with the last two court members and go over the details with Hidenaga tomorrow.”
Rene tossed aside the report and scribed on a sheet nearby, examining the layout of the castle and the surrounding terrain. He had done his part creating the scheme, all that it needed now was execution. Maybe he would check the military before the Imagawa arrived, making sure the weakest link was strong enough. Worst-case scenario, he would command Ataki or Hidenaga through navigation in the iPad as he did back in the coastal region against the rebellion.
“Go get some sleep then.” Ataki finished his drink and blew the candles out then leapt out of the window. Alone in the dark, Rene struggled to keep the absent-minded from returning until tiredness knocked him out.
A couple of days later, the Imagawa arrived. By tradition and protocol, the Tokugawa clan hosted a feast two nights in the row, inviting the daimyo and his court, mainly the generals and captains that accompanied the army. During these two nights, Rene had ordered Ataki to draft the layout of the Imagawa camp and delivered the intelligence to his generals. Although the drinking did soothe his overworked mind, Rene found the anxiety and fear knocking on his front door the next day. Imagawa Yoshimoto and his court would come to the castle chamber and coordinate the strategy to invade the Oda domain.
The sun had risen over the castle wall. With Hidenaga excused himself from the meeting the previous day as planned, Rene and his entire court were present and waiting impatiently. Probably a hangover, he clung onto the desperate thought to explain the Imagawa late arrival.
“My lord, should I send a runner to the Imagawa camp?” An Ii retainer spoke.
“No, we shall wait for another hour. If they haven’t come by then, send a runner.”
The waiting part waited on until the sun began setting. Runners came and went with a crude answer that “the samurais were getting prepared” and “the Tokugawa vassals are in no position to urge the master clan”. Rene was considering calling of the army ambush when the last messenger came in.
“The Imagawa has arrived.”
The court suddenly became so agitated that Rene had to calm it down.
“Are they all coming?”
“Yes, my lord. The daimyo came in full armor.”
The report seemed nonchalant but instantly triggered Rene’s anxiety. A moment later, the foreign court arrived. All of them were in armor. The man assuming Yoshimoto’s position even had a face armor that hid his face. The immediate thought was that this was a double for Yoshimoto. The second thought was that Rene and his court would be killed if they engaged as none of them was in armor. Rene and his stood up and began the formality.
“The samurai honor compelled me to apologize for this late arrival. It seems that last night has taken a toll on my aging body.” Eventually the man in armor spoke up. Rene heard Yoshimoto’s voice and the usual condescending tone and felt a bit assured.
“My lord, my sincerest apology for failing your statute. Please, have a seat and allow me to serve some refreshment.”
He quickly replied and signaled Kake, Inagi’s sister, to bring the drinks over. Everything was set. It would be a feast of drinks and entertainment instead of a strategy meeting. His court sat in the lower half, further away from the chamber while Yoshimoto’s sat in the upper part where Rene would sit next to the daimyo. All that Rene needed now was to double check if the real Yoshimoto was here, behind that armor.
“My lord, please enjoy a little music while we discuss the important matter.” Rene continued to hoax, signaled the band of hostesses to come in and play in the background, further away from the main seats to maintain the court formality as usual.
“You do seem to know how to entertain your guest, young lord.” The daimyo laughed and enjoyed the farce. Yet, he didn’t remove the helmet to drink. He didn’t drink at all, even though all of his court did. As he kept up the front, Rene signaled Kake to the back.
“Leave the castle, now. Tell your brother to rush to the Imagawa camp, find Yoshimoto. Then find Ataki. Proceed.”
The maiden nodded silently and left the scene as the hoard of men engaged in a drinking contest, quickly forgot the meeting.
The man in question, however, didn’t. Half an hour into the drinking, he managed to maintain his composure, as still as Rene’s.
“You don’t seem to enjoy the courtesy, my lord?”
“You and I are above these common fellows, don’t you think? After all, we are the daimyos of our clans.” The man drank little through his face armor and laughed quietly. Something was off.
“Tell me, young lord, what do you think of our land?”
“It has prospered, thanks to the peace you have brought us, my lord.”
“You have quite the manner despite your age. But, would it be enough? Words alone cannot win you battle.”
“I have much to learn from you, my lord. I dare not believe my sword is as sharp as yours, nor my wit and skills.”
“Then how would you capture the Oda?”
“My lord, we can outnumber them on the battlefield or attack them on two front. I will face them on the battlefield and keep them busy while your mighty army will storm the castle.”
“And claim all the glory to your little army, young lord? We honor the way of the samurai. We do not avoid battle. We will outnumber them on the battlefield.”
“Yes, my lord.” Rene silently concurred, patiently waiting for time to pass. No messenger had yet to arrive, bearing no news of the true Yoshimoto. Perhaps, he was overthinking.
“Tell me, how would you plan the fight?”
“I would want to rush before winter arrived. The Oda are smart yet cautious folk. They believe we fight in their way and avoid the upcoming winter. If I rush my army before the winter, I will catch them by surprise. We may not have a clear victory, but we will weaken them enough that your mighty will decisively claim glory.”
“I believe this is quite the right plan.”
The man took another small sip and halted the conversation.
To be honest, Rene had never been good at these social circumstances. He was the kind that avoided parties and small talks. So he particularly felt grateful whenever his partner created these silent moments. He felt even more grateful when he saw a messenger came running through the front door, disrupting the conversation.
“So, young lord, I want all of your army to commit to…”
“My lord, betrayal, the Imagawa army is at the gate.” Captain Tsumune rushed through the lower part and shouted the news.
The next instant almost didn’t happen. Yoshimoto flipped the table into Rene direction and unsheathed his sword, launched at Rene. By shear luck, he rolled back and dodged the thrust then unsheathed his own. Then he realized he was standing in the middle of the Imagawa court who now all had their katanas unsheathed. His court was slower to react, only drawing out their weapons once captain Tsumune drew his and immediately killed one drunken retainer.
“Good boy, be willing to die under my hands.” Yoshimoto spoke as his court formed a circle around Rene, swords pointing inward. Rene stood silent, not knowing what to do nor think in this situation. But then came the next contingency. The Imagawa retainers collapsed one by one just seconds after, leaving only Yoshimoto standing.
What the hell?
“Imbecile drunkard.” Yoshimoto cried out.
“Order your man to stand down now. You’re all alone, Yoshimoto.” Rene took the moment to speak up but…
“We need more than that, my lord. The man is no more than an assassin. The real Yoshimoto was outside, sieging the castle.”
Entered Ataki, who swiftly released an arrow and finished the man in full armor. Still stunned, Rene and the court watched Ataki removed the face armor to reveal an unfamiliar face. Rene snapped back as soon as he needed.
“Tsumune, rally the men, strengthened the wall and wait for me at the gate. I expect a full report on the enemy strength. You retainers, pick up your swords and join the defense. I will rally Hidenaga to form the pincer. Ataki, with me.”
The confusion quickly diffused after Rene’s sharp orders. Everyone hurried to his posts while Rene made for his room to grab the iPad.
“How did you know to show up?”
“Someone tipped off their daimyo. Once Kake showed up with that order, I knew something went wrong.” Ataki said.
“And then those retainers?”
“Poison. If I was sooner, I would even stopped Tsumune from bursting into the room and allowed that first strike. You’re a quick learner.”
“Just luck. What about Nobutaka and Hidenaga?”
“Oblivious. Inagi is rushing there now. It will take them five hours or so to get here so we will have to hold out.”
They stopped outside of Rene’s study room.
“OK, get down to the post and run this message. Reinforcement in five hours. Archers shoot first. Once their foot soldiers began climbing the wall, swap out the archers and bring in the yari formation.”
“Tell the captains, they know. Now go, I’ll see you down there.”
Rene departed his aide and began looking for the iPad. He took a solid minute to read the battlefield depicted on the scene, a bird view animated map of the castle and its surrounding. The enemy overwhelmed the castle defenders probably seven to one and half of its composition was archers. What Rene had against this odd was a handful of samurais, a few archer units and one thousand foot soldiers. He pushed the iPad into a satchel and began putting on his armor. Ten minutes later, he showed up at the main gate.
“My lord. The enemy hasn’t advanced on our position but their archers are persistent. What are your orders, my lord?”
“Yeah, I can see their persistence.” Rene panted and looked back at the courtyard, through which he just dashed, filled with seas of arrows. “Place our archers on the wall and returns fire, anyone else who cannot fire an arrow retreat back inside the castle for shelter. Not one die today, reinforcement is coming.”
The order was carried out. The siege maintained as it was for as long as Rene remembered to count time. Waves of archer exchanged and with it, casualties on both sides. Despite having the high grounds and rooftop, the endless numbers of attackers made the odd seemed even if not overwhelmed against the defenders. Soon enough, the defenders ran out of arrows.
“I know, pull everyone inside the castle, have the yaris readied and on my command.” Rene ignored the captain’s report since the iPad notified him already.
Just what are you planning now?
Another long half an hour, the arrow rain ceased and Rene saw the Imagawa yari ashigaru divisions marched forward. The feudal Japanese castle, or to be more precise the game’s castle, had it that the foot soldiers had to scale the rock wall of the castle. There were no siege engine in this time period, allowing for Rene to employ one of James’ most favorite defense tactics.
“My lord, they are scaling the wall.”
“Have the yaris form up in the courtyard facing the walls. Once they finished the climb, charge. Don’t let them have any moment to reorganize the formation.” Rene shouted out the order to his messengers. These messengers would then run to the captains and delegate the orders. Amidst this chaotic battle filled with war cries and painful groans, Rene found his army remarkably unprepared for the fight. At the very least, he thanked fate for the iPad, which helped him bypass the messenger’s delegation.
“Get ready, here they come.” Rene and the last defenders left the wall and retreated to the inner courtyard. In mere moments, the inner wall churned out men after men bearing the blue and yellow armors and banners of the Imagawa.
“Charge.” He shouted. His men plunged forward. At the back of his men’s formation, Rene heard the deafening shout of those that failed and fell. He ignored all that and focused on the iPad. The first charge did significant damage, hurting the enemy unit’s morale.
“Mamuno, pull your men out, Baba, charge on the empty line.” Rene shouted while flicking his fingers across the screen. The chaos kept going, men kept slaughtering and dying, it was poetic to the point of insanity. Rene had no idea how long it had been this way but he hoped it persisted. He could hold out and even won if this situation kept on.
The first shout died off into the chaos until more and more soldiers echoed the warning. Less and less attackers remained in the courtyard.
“Fire, my lord. The treacherous bastards set fire to the wall.”
“I can see that. Finish off the remnants inside the castle then put away anything flammable inside the wall. After that, fall back into the castle.”
Rene shouted out the order. For orders like this, the iPad had no way to conceive. He realized the catastrophe of his battle plan when he ordered his archers to duel with Imagawa’s. Now they were almost out of arrows.
I shouldn’t have done that.
Too late for anything now. He had no way to stop the attackers from setting fire to the wooden gates and any flammable part of the wall. With that out of the way, the number advantage would show clearer. They would march the entire formation through the burned down gate. He had to make the last stand inside. The fight came to a small stalemate where the only thing moving was the fire engulfing Rene’s castle. Another half an hour passed, the flame died down and everyone was ready for the next engagement.
Rene stood behind his men, inside the court where he had a high ground and could see everyone. There was only one way into the castle interior and his men had already established a good defense around it. The bad thing was the civilians, court servants and maids that had never held weapons. Figure they don’t play by the UN rules of engagement. The enemy stormed through the gate and quickly entered formation. This would end quickly, either my death or this battle.
“My men, hold the line, they will fall under your mighty yaris. Reinforcement will come.”
Rene shouted the same line over and over again tonight. His throat ran dried and painful. His body went numb. In the split second after he shouted his encouragement, when the two armies stared down the other, the captains uttered the order and the two lines marched.
The war cry would have easily sent a chill down anyone’s spine if they weren’t in this battle. All the blood and sweat would make the best movie of all time. Because all of this felt real, so real that it scared Rene. His line slowly crumbled, his men tired and wavered under the endless current of the enemy. The death crawled near.
“Everyone pull back inside the castle. We lost the courtyard. Captains, have your men filled each floor and formed yaris wall formation.” His voice slowly gave in as he gave the order and let the first few men passed through him upstairs.
“My lord, you must go first, please fall back.”
“Just go, Matchike, form formation here and provide cover for Baba’s men to fall back.”
Rene shouted and remained yet helplessly moved with the crowd going upstairs. The losing fight persisted to when Rene had mere one hundred men and four floors left. That was when he saw the enemy rank faltered. Nonetheless, they pushed forward but died because of their wavering.
“My lord, someone set fire to your study room, the castle is on fire.” A man leaned out of the window to report what he saw. The end drew near.
“Push forward, we have to get out of the castle. Push.” Rene unsheathed his katana and charged forward like a crazy man. Taken by surprised, the enemy rank quickly fell back and retreated downstairs. But it was too late.
“Desert the rank, everyone for his own!”
Someone in the backline shouted and soon enough Rene saw the current of people reverted its flow. He sat on the floor at the last man descended.
So it’s over.
The castle quickly fell apart. The new fire burst ablaze and quickly swallowed the tall and grand building, creating columns of fire reaching higher and higher. It looked like a big bonfire that lasted hours into the night. Sadly, Rene didn’t burn long like his castle.
Author: Minh Vu