Running

By Nate Ledbetter

Historical Fiction

 

Running running running are they still running after me? Crap I'm tired but they may still be back there can't stop better run run up that hill over that hill I'm home…can't….stop….need to take a drink but when up at the top can stop and take a breath and take a drink won't be seen up there once I'm on the other…slope of the hill keep going just a little bit further holy…hell my legs are tired can't look don't look back yet get up the hill get up almost…there almost man what the hell happened back there how'd we get destroyed like that? Don't want to be one of the dead so run run run TREE! run run watch that hole, ok run run.

Whew. Okay, stop…for a…minute.

Been running a couple of miles, probably safe to stop for a second. Gotta get some water…any in my water gourd? Thank the gods, there's some left. Maybe I can get some more in the stream-if I head upstream, get some water, then that should take me North back into Kai eventually, right? I think so, yeah, that's right…should be right.

While I'm at it, need to ditch some of this extra crap. Don't need the helmet, gone. Leg and arm armor, gone. Should I keep the rest of this armor? No-just going to weigh me down and slow me down so off. Keep the sword, keep my sandals, keep the gourd, do I have any food left? Yeah, okay, a little bag in here, that's good. I can probably steal some on the way back to Kai, from some village or something. Wonder if I'll meet up with anyone else who got away? Did anyone else get away? Surely some did. Jisaburou, Tetsu, Tousuke…someone. Wonder what happened to Oyakata-sama? Hope he made it out-surely he did, right? Crap. What the hell happened back there? Never seen anything like that-how did those dogs get so many guns? Tens of thousands of them, it seemed…criminy. And we charged right into it. Nevermind now, gotta get moving. Okay, food, water, sword, clothes, sandals…anything else? Nope-not going to help me if I'm caught. Gotta move, gotta move light.

This way's North-let's get going. I can probably head up this ridgeline parallel to that crappy little stream-how did that dinky thing become such an obstacle to our horses, anyways?-then put a few more miles behind me before dark. They won't pursue that far, will they? Am I a coward for running? Should I turn around, find the nearest patrol, and die? Oyakata-sama's going to need soldiers if he got out of this…right? What good it it-whoa, watch your footing-is it if I'm dead? Feeling better now, a little rested, let's pick up the pace a bit and move faster…more space between….me and those guns…the better.

And here I thought we'd be…celebrating in Okazaki by now. 18,000 of our finest left Kai headed for certain victory in Mikawa over an overmatched enemy. There was even a rumor that a traitor in Okazaki…low limb, duck…was going to open the gates for us, and all we had to do was walk right in! 2 years…it'd been 2 years since the Great Lord had died. We'd waited a long time, just sitting, unmoving, like the Mountain. Finally, a year ago we pushed into Totomi and took Takatenjin, a little dump of a fort. The action felt good after sitting so long-the Mountain became Fire again-but that was it. Until this expedition-this time, when we should have been the ones sending the enemy fleeing like this…

Down we swept from Kai, into Mikawa like a swift Wind; a far cry from the running for our lives we're doing now. Now, it's get out of here, quiet as a Forest so no one catches me. For some reason, Oyakata-sama changed his mind, and instead of taking Okazaki, we turned east towards Hamamatsu. First we stopped to attack Yoshida Castle, but again, Oyakata-sama decided to move on. Nagashino, this small little border castle, became our target, and we besieged it with fury. Totally surrounded it. Tousuke even took two heads in the first assault, the sly little bastard. Yet after taking the first line of fortifications, the defenders held us up. Somehow an enemy samurai…Torii something or other…got out and sent word to the enemy's leadership of the castle's plight, that we almost had it overrun, and then even tried to come back. Ow! Damn rocks. We got him the moment he tried to swim back through the Toyokawa River. Guess those bell lines that Tetsu and Jisaburou spent all day stringing up worked out.

Stop-listen. Was that something behind me? There-that "CRACK"! Gunfire. Way off in the distance, but close enough I need to keep moving. Bastards.

Torii was captured, but instead of telling the garrison that help was not coming, like Oyakata-sama ordered, he shouted from the river bank "Help is coming! Hold out!" He got the cross for that, which was really to be expected. But still-that took some balls. May he be reborn a warrior again.

Need another drink…whew. Gone far enough that I can drop down to that creek and get some more water? Yeah, probably, if I angle down, hit the creek about a hundred yards from here or so. Probably okay to slow to a walk now. After that, we knew it was a matter of time before the Combined army came. We waited, just as the defenders did. Some of the older generals wanted us to retreat back to Kai, or to take the castle and defend from it…crazy old farts. Guess they were sorta right, though. Oyakata-sama couldn't just run, could he? Would the Great Lord have done so? No way, right? The Great Lord had whipped these dogs a few times-his son should have been able to do the same…or so we all thought. So we waited, keeping the defenders of Nagashino bottled up. And then the enemy came.

Man, did he come. Dengoro or somebody said it was a good 50,000 of the bastards. No matter-we were sure our cavalry, the famed horses of Kai, would break them, then ride them down. Happened three years ago at Mikatagahara, right? The Mikawa and Owari dogs were untrained, undisciplined peasants who'd break at the sight of a charge of quality Kai samurai. Our spears would get their work, plunging into their backs as they ran…hmm. Right about now that image is a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.
The enemy set up across a little clearing and a tiny stream, really a shallow ditch, and waited. It was early this morning. Dengoro didn't want to get up, the lazy bastard-the rest of us couldn't sleep at all. Oyakata-sama drew us into a crane formation, then we moved forth. The cavalry streamed forward, attendants at their masters' sides. Us, of course, on the right, with Baba-dono, up against the enemy's flank. Out we broke from the treeline…two hundred meters from the enemy….one hundred…the shell-trumpet's call sounding forth, awaiting the crash of bodies and the crushing of the line…fifty meters…and BAM. All of a sudden, the sound of Heaven breaking open and letting loose the thunder of the Heavenly Gate Keepers…there must have been 10,000 guns in the enemy line, behind these flimsy fenceworks they posted. About the time we hit that little ditch of a river and had to slow down, his guns opened up, and just kept firing and firing. Men and horses started going down in heaps…two, three…ten, twenty. I'm fairly sure I saw Dengoro go down early on. Tetsu took a round in his shoulder, but looked like he could move, last I saw. Once the firing started, I lost Tousuke and Jisaburou. Our lines completely broke up, and any semblance of a coordinated charge disappeared. The Kai cavalry are a fearsome sight for an opponent, but we lost all momentum and might as well have been monkey trainers from Chosen.

Wow-sat here too long thinking, though the stream water is nice and cool and refreshing. Full water gourd, time to move on. A little further, almost dark now. A little further then I can rest a bit.

We fought valiantly though. Yamagata-dono was like a demon, and our own Baba-dono was like a devil. The enemy may have had numbers, and those damn guns, on their side, but Kai's fighting spirit definitely showed up. Had they not set up across that little stream, and hit us with their guns as they did, the battle would have been over quickly, numbers advantage or not. Instead, their palisade and the stream channeled us in and kept us from maneuvering like we usually do. Add to that a lot of our better generals, like Naito-dono and Sanada-dono, going down in the first waves of gunfire, and we just became uncoordinated. In the early afternoon, after hours of fighting, the enemy inexplicably retreated back behind his fences. This was our time to disengage, and escape-but since we'd already become disorganized, we were halfway to a route as it stood. The enemy attacked again, and our withdrawal became a run for it.

And so here I am-separated from my friends, heading north along a stream that I'm really hoping leads into Kai. Soon enough I'll be in friendly lands…if I can stay a step ahead of the dogs pursuing me. The enemy is merciless-you just know his cavalry is in pursuit, trying to catch as many of us as he can. So, gotta keep running.

What's this-nice little hollow here in the rocks. It's dusk, so dark enough I can probably stop a bit, rest, and stay out of sight. Haven't heard or seen anything or anyone for a few miles, I suppose. Let me just curl up in this little nook and get some…rest…they can't still be after me…right? A little bit of sleep, and I'll get up and move the rest of the night…it'll still be night…and I'll…continue…running….