By Joshua L. Badgley
Genre: Pulp Fiction
2008 Samurai Fiction Contest Honorable Mention
“Namu Amida Butsu!”
The warrior mouthed those words as the battle raged, but none around him could hear his voice. Instead, the only sounds were of metal clanging, and the screams of men and horses alike. The air was ripe with the stench of blood, urine, feces, and fear. Life flowed out upon the ground, which could not soak it all up. In the midst of the confusion, the soldier wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’ Far from home, where he had been at peace.
It had been only a month ago that the call had come. He had finally scrounged enough money to afford the most basic of weapons and armor, but he knew it was his ticket to a better life. No longer would he have to work the fields—he could make for himself a privileged position. And it would be he that would be rushing through the towns and taking whatever (whoever) suited his fancy. His neighbors wouldn’t even recognize him, they who were too timid to take up the sword. If he did really well, he told himself, he might even rise to an important position in the service of some powerful daimyo, and take a great lord’s daughter as his wife. Then his family line would be secured for generations to come!
Of course, he’d also be able to find time for more leisurely pursuits—he would finally read the classics, and copy all of the sutras by hand. As a farmer there was no time for such things, but as a warrior receiving a stipend in service to a lord he would have plenty of free time to better himself. As soon as he could he would commission a scribe to copy the Lotus Sutra for his father, who had been killed in an uprising only ten years earlier.
As a lowly foot soldier, life was hard, but to him it was paradise. He was always listening, keeping an ear to the ground. If one of his superiors wanted for something, he did his best to make sure he had it ready for them. At some point, they would know his face, and know his loyalty, and appreciate him for what he was.
Around the campfires at night, he laughed and drank with his fellow compatriots. Most were like him, eager for their first battle. There was one veteran who stopped by their fire briefly, but turned away when asked about battle. Ignoring him, they all started sharing the stories they had heard, each trying to best the other. The farmer-turned-soldier listened quietly. He already knew he was destined for greater things.
Drills were constant and repetitive. He only ever drilled in the spear, though he kept his sword with him whenever he could. It was a simple weapon; the wrappings were frayed and the lacquer cracked. There were chips along the blade, and large areas black with rust, but it would serve when it came down to it. When he had shown his prowess, he would eventually obtain a new one—or perhaps just find one on the battlefield whose owner no longer needed it.
The thought of battle left him thrilled. He had hunted in the forest, and slain animals for food, but to kill another man? He initially wondered if he would be up for it. As soon as the worry came to his mind, though, he dismissed it. This was his path, and nothing and no one would deter him from his goal.
Marching to war was an arduous affair. When possible, the officers would be quartered inside of some building, commandeered to that purpose. The foot soldiers were often left to fend for themselves, and a straw mat under a tree was a common night’s repose.
Once the field of battle had been reached, the camp was a bustle of activity, setting up the curtains that would define the privileged areas of the camp. Scouts were sent out to communicate with their allies, and the army waited for the enemy they knew would come. They didn’t have to wait long.
It was quickly reported that their rival forces were encamped on a ridge to the southwest. The word spread quickly through the ranks, and the army was mobilized. The former farmer joined the rest of his comrades in formation upon the plain below the ridge. He was in the second rank of spearmen, a position he despised as he would be lost amongst the throng. He thought of stratagems that he could use to make his name known to his superiors. Before he could come up with any, however, the battle was joined.
It did not start with their column: the first wave came with a volley of gunfire from the men on the ridge, with fire returned from their own matchlocks. Immediately, columns began to move based on signals being relayed to the unit commanders, as well as their own judgment and orders. The common soldiers simply waited until they received their orders.
As he waited, the farmer’s son remembered the litany he had learned as a boy to call upon the lord Amida Buddha; though it was a phrase that only needed to be spoken once, he found the words soothed his nerves, agitated despite himself. He must remember that this was the moment he was born for; the moment that the world would come to remember.
As the two forces met, he thrust forward with his spear as he had been trained. He felt it contact something with a brief moment of pressure, and then it went through. Then, chaos erupted. He soon found himself hewing left and right, often not caring who was friend or foe. A horseman rode through the scattered ranks and gave him a blow that sent him spinning.
He survived the battle with hardly a scratch—the only member of his unit to survive what had been a suicidal mission. For his service, he was raised up to a position of greater responsibility, and soon would find himself in the war rooms with the other officers. A stray comment during a strategy session drew amazement and respect from the other officers, who soon came to realize that he was a natural born leader. The daimyo himself gave him a special position within the fief. When the daimyo’s eldest son died in battle, he adopted his chief strategist as his heir and successor. After the old man’s death, the new daimyo continued to exert military control through out the islands, eventually bringing them all under military rule. With none to oppose him, he ruled as the most powerful warlord the nation had ever seen.
In that moment, the future was clear.He could see it within his grasp even as the world spun upon itself. His face remained set in a smile as he saw his destiny unfold before him. He was hardly conscious of the wet, warm grass that tickled his cheek.
He was still smiling as his headless body came to rest beside him.
Then everything faded to black.