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The Eve of the Battle

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A military camp hidden in the middle of the forest was quiet, so quiet one could have thought it abandoned, if there hadn't been guards all around it. Everyone else in the camp was fast asleep - except one young man who sat alone at the camp’s edge, leaning against a tree. He too had been sleeping in his tent a short while ago, but his sleep had been cut short by a vivid nightmare that had left him grasping his blanket with sweaty hands, panting hard. He didn’t remember much of the dream, just a fast, gleaming spear and a horrible pain in his abdomen. How could a dream hurt like that? He had never experienced something like that before, and he couldn’t help feeling that this dream must have carried some secret otherworldly message to him…

Heart still hammering hard in his chest he had left the tent, and was now sitting in the farthest corner of the camp, trying to gather his thoughts and quiet his fears – without much success. The knowledge of an approaching death hardly should have been a stranger to a samurai, but he found it hard to come into terms with the thought. Ever since he had taken up the sword he had known that some day, sooner or later, he would most likely be cut down by the sword – but still, he wasn’t prepared to it yet.

Something rustled behind him, and he jumped up with a start only to see that it was just one of the servants.

“Oh, Hikaru. It’s you.” He sat down again. “What are you doing wandering around here this time? Shouldn’t you be getting some rest?”

“Yeah, well… just some… errands.” The boy passed his fingers through his hair and gave him a sheepish grin. “I… could ask you the same, really. Sir,” he added a little belatedly.

Isumi shrugged, awkwardly. “I… wasn’t tired,” he muttered. “So I thought to get some fresh air…”

“It’s a nice night, isn’t it?” the boy stated, and Isumi gave him a long look. Hikaru seemed to have some issues understanding authority, rank, and, in general, what was appropriate and what wasn’t. The boy was looking up at the moon, completely unaware of the sharp look he had received. His expression was relaxed, and the smile on his lips seemed quite genuine.

“Doesn’t the situation worry you at all?” Isumi asked, honestly quite curious. Hikaru gave him a blank look, and he went on, “We’re going up against quite an overwhelming enemy. They say Imagawa has 40,000 men in his troops. And we…” His voice trailed off.

“And we’ve got 3,000,” Hikaru finished for him. They shared a long, level look.

“And you’re not worried?” Isumi repeated his question quietly. “It does feel like madness, our lord’s stubbornness to continue…”

He had barely finished the sentence before he wished he had never said it aloud. It wasn’t quite fitting for one of his rank to be talking like this to anyone, let alone to a servant. But the boy just smiled.

“Our lord’s not mad. He’ll figure out something; you know him. He’s a sly one. And even if it is desperate…” He looked again up at the moon which was slowly disappearing into clouds, and his smile faded away. “Even if it is desperate, so what? What else could we do but continue? We’ve come too far to stop now.”

Isumi said nothing as the boy fell silent, just watched him thoughtfully. Hikaru had come to the service of his lord a few years ago, as one of his lordship’s sandal-bearers. All things considered, he had no business to be chatting so familiarly with a samurai – though, Isumi realized with a blush which the growing darkness thankfully hided, this sandal-bearer’s attitude toward the inevitable battle that was ahead of them was much more fitting a samurai than his. He swallowed and straightened his back a little. He should go back to bed and try to sleep a little. There was no way to know when they’d be called to action, and it was best to get some rest when there was a chance. It was childish to let silly dreams to rattle himself so.

He stood up. “Good night, then,” he muttered to the boy without looking at him and started walking toward his tent.

“Sir…” a quiet voice came behind him, and he stopped to glance over his shoulder. Hikaru was watching after him with an uncharacteristically serious look. “You see, sir…” the boy went on, “I’ve got this friend who… who died. Died for nothing. And… I think that’s the worst thing, isn’t it? Dying in vain. I mean, if you gotta die, you could at least try to, you know, accomplish something with your death… I guess we might all die soon, but… as long as it’s for our lord, is it such a horrible thing?”

Isumi had a feeling he was going to spend most of this night just staring at this strange sandal-bearer. He shook his head a little, not so much to disagree with the boy but to quiet his own, confused thoughts. “Yes,” he stated with a quiet smile. “You’re perfectly right.” He was about to go his way, again, but turned yet to look back again. “We?” he asked. “You’re going to the battle too?”

“Of course!” the boy exclaimed. Then he grinned, again a little sheepishly as when they’d first met this night. “I’ve been practicing. You’re all in for a surprise.”

Isumi smiled again. “I’m looking forward to it.”

He left the boy behind and headed for his tent. Rest wouldn’t still come to him, though. Although he had now put his nightmare behind him, barely even remembered it anymore, a new restlessness had come over him. He lay awake a while, but got then up and dug out his writing utensils, and with certain calm he started to write. He had hardly time to lower his pen, when the call to arms came. He got up and started preparing for the battle, leaving the piece of paper on his small table.

Death comes to us all,
surely, if in varied forms.
My sole wish this night
is for my death to bring life
to my lord and my country.