Shadows Dance at Dawn

By E. Richard IV

Historical Fiction

 

Shinano Province, October 1561. The night was peaceful, cool breezes permeated an intensely heated camp. Anticipation for the upcoming battle could be seen on everyone's face; that is, all but one. Sitting in front of many generals was an imposing figure, a man with a stern visage as though he had never been properly introduced to happiness. This man, Uesugi Kenshin, knew, that in moments, the night's peace would shatter into a veritable blood bath. This didn't bother him as much as it should, however. He knew in his very soul who would be victorious in this battle, for he already knew that there had been a trap set for him by his oldest enemy, Takeda Shingen. He knew exactly how his army should move, and when to bare the fangs of the Dragon. He worried not about the battle; he sat quietly, waiting for everyone to be ready to begin the last meeting before the battle. This same composure was not shared by everyone. A considerably younger man sitting near him did not share the same feelings as Kenshin did. He was Kenshin's kagemusha, or body double, and had been chosen to impersonate Kenshin during this mission for a daring single man strike upon the Takeda camp. He'd been given exact copies of Kenshin's clothes to make the façade more convincing. Everyone had gathered and was ready for the meeting.

Arakawa Nagazane trembled as a chill wind blew across the field. It was not the cold that gripped his heart, however, but the anticipation. He had been ordered on a mission that could only be described as suicidal by his lord, Kenshin.

"Arakawa…did you hear what I told you?" Kenshin's voice boomed.

"…Yes, my lord," He absent mindedly replied.

He lied, he hadn't heard a single word of it, his thoughts were preoccupied with the prospect that the long struggle between the Dragon of Echigo and the Tiger of Kai might finally end; by his hand none the less.
"I must compose myself," he thought, "lest I appear too excited about this."
The idea that he might very well die due to this plan never crossed his mind, only the chance to serve his lord and defeat the great Takeda Shingen occupied his thoughts.

"Arakawa! That's when you come in!" Kenshin's voice snapped, bringing Nagazane back to reality. He had no idea what just happened, but managed to make it appear as though he understood everything that had happened in the last minute.

"We know that Shingen has a trap laid for us though the exact details are rather unknown. Therefore, we must act cautiously. We will leave our camp at Saijoyama empty for the Takeda to find, sending Kanetsugu north and Kagemochi to intercept the enemy. When Shingen shows his hand, then is the time for you act Arakawa," spoke Kenshin. His words were wasted, however, as Arakawa did not hear these words, "wait until I give the command, then charge with the fury of Bishamon!"

"Lord Uesugi!" A messenger called, "the Takeda have appeared at Kaizu castle in the northeast. Your orders?"

"Let them make the first move, otherwise, we can just wait for them to leave and take this land that much easier."

Speaking those words, the fourth battle of Kawanakajima was set into motion.

"The Takeda have entered Saijo, Lord Uesugi," a messenger reported.

"Excellent," Kenshin muttered, "It would appear that the Tiger has grown old and feeble already…"

Kenshin crossed his arms, a slight grin piercing his lips, a rare sight indeed. Arakawa on the other hand could not grin. He wore the same clothing as Kenshin, but lacked Kenshin's conviction, for a sudden fear had enveloped him.

"Am I willingly going to rush to my death now?" he pondered, "I am willing to do anything for my lord…but…one man to charge through all the enemy ranks? It's suicide!"

Arakawa let his feelings betray him, allowing a cold shiver to escape, capturing his entire body. I've faced death many times before, he questioned himself repeatedly, so why now? I must stay strong, for I must look and act like Kenshin.
What Arakawa didn't notice, however, was that Kenshin saw his subtle movement.

"Afraid, Arakawa?" Kenshin spoke softly, so as to make sure only Arakawa heard this. Arakawa shook his head.

"Just a sudden chill…"

"You should know by now you can't hide something as trivial as fear from me," Kenshin said as he rose onto his horse, "tell me, do you fear death?"

"My Lord..?"

"Death, do you fear dying? Or not being able to return to your loved ones, is that something that you fear?"

"I do not fear death…rather…I fear being tasked with such an important mission as this, and being alone on it."

Kenshin laughed at this reply, causing immediate concern for the young samurai.

"You fear failure, yet you rose so steadily to the challenge at first? Are you so unsure of your abilities? Arakawa, if you ride today with wishes to return, your mind will be clouded. If you ride, prepared to die at a moments notice, Bishamon will gladly aid you in vanquishing your enemies."

Kenshin's expression continued to have a glimmer of a smile behind it. His eyes suddenly took their more accustomed expression as the light of dawn shot across the field of Kawanakajima. A messenger rode at a blazing speed to announce that the Takeda took both the bait at Saijoyama and fell into the waiting Uesugi trap. Kenshin turned to Arakawa, who had just mounted his horse, and began to adjust his mempo. Kenshin spoke no words, just pointed his sword towards the Takeda camp. Arakawa knew now was his time; now he must ride towards his destiny.

Arakawa set off at once, feeling the adrenaline rush through him. At once, the fear was gone, replaced with absolute determination. Kenshin's words still ringing through his ears, he was prepared for anything. He rode north, travelling fast, kicking up enough dust to make it appear as though it were not one man approaching, but an army. He passed many soldiers who were busy fighting one another. He approached Hachimanbara, a field above Saijoyama. This field must have been quiet and pretty the night before, Arakawa thought. He had heard the other soldiers and officers say how placid it was. He stopped suddenly, breatheless, at the scene unfolding at Hachimanbara.

Hachimanbara was no longer a placid field. It was a graveyard, with plenty of room reserved for those that still clung to life on the battlefield. Arakawa was awestruck by the scene. The grass was completely trampled and stained red by the carnage that was taking place before the warrior.

"This battlefield…it could very well become my final resting place. Very well then, if it is fated to be so, then so be it!" Arakawa loudly proclaimed. He did it not to strike fear into his opponents, but to calm himself, to prepare himself for his last possible mission. With that, he rode like a demon across the battlefield, inching closer to the Takeda camp, avoiding the bodies of not just those that lived, but the dead as well. Speed was of the utmost importance, he could not risk being slowed down by anything at this point. The camp lay just ahead of him, the guards shouting to one another to stop him before he breached the gate. He moved swiftly past them and into the heart of the camp, and there, seated with his back to him, was the man he was sent to kill, the Tiger of Kai, Takeda Shingen. He rode quickly, drew his sword, and struck quickly with the fury and passion of Bishamon, end the life of his master's enemy.

The sword was not embedded in the skull of his opponent, nor did it even graze his flesh. What it did hit, was solid iron.

"He deflected it with a sword…? Impossible!" Arakawa panicked to himself, "Wait…an iron war fan!? This man is truly deserving of his name. To deflect my surprise attack…"

Arakawa could not help but ponder to himself how this man was able to react, so quickly and to block his attack with a fan nontheless. The slightly fat man turned to his opponent, and through his helmet, Arakawa knew he was grinning right at him, mocking him.

"Uesugi Kenshin…we finally meet face to face."

"Indeed."

"Funny, I always envisioned you taller."

"And it surprises me to see as capable warrior as yourself not appearing as fit as I would have imagined."

Takeda Shingen threw his head back and laughed, as though the two were friends conversing over some warm sake.

"Such a bold move as you just pulled, somehow, didn't surprise me in the least. Maybe you're getting too old for this conquest thing, eh Kenshin?"

"To leave yourself this open? Perhaps the Tiger's claws have grown dull, maybe you should leave your land in more capable hands."
Shingen chuckled again, except,his laugh sounded less like he was having fun, and more like there was something that he knew.

"Left myself open? I'm afraid you have underestimated my master Kenshin."

"Master!? Then…the real Shingen?"

"Not here, I'm afraid, but I will get to bring a nice souvenir from this battle to him."

No sooner had the fake Shingen revealed his identity, than had his retainers begun to rush to his side. Arakawa saw no reason to lose his life to an imposter, and immediately turned his horse around to exit the camp.

"Leaving already? I never knew Kenshin could be such a coward in the face of odds."

"The real Kenshin isn't…and wouldn't waste his time with an imposter anyway."

Arakawa flew from the camp, proud of what he felt was a rather impressive exit. He wanted to pat himself on the back, but knew that he still had to cross the killing field. He must report to Kenshin that the mission failed because Shingen was nowhere to be found. But as he rode through Hachimanbara again, he ignored the bodies and death around him and could think only of how cunning Shingen was to set so many traps, and marvelled that both Kenshin and Shingen were always one step ahead of one another. However, despite his admiration of the two great men, he could think only of two things. Whom had he fought at Kaizu? And further, is this what Kenshin feels everytime he faces Shingen - uttmost respect for a man, yet a desire to defeat him, no matter what the cost? These thoughts crept through his mind as he rode back to the Uesugi camp. Would he get another chance to fight this shadow, to prove that the Uesugi are superior to the Takeda in every respect? He was oblivious to everything as he rode back to report the futile mission to his lord, Kenshin.