The Nation For You
Kuga Natsuhiko saw this political marriage as one of convenience, not necessity. After all, he had just decimated the Fujino forces at Kanouguchi, slaying a general from the main bloodline in the process. Still, it was better to make peace with the state in their south when he had ambitions in the west where the capital lay.
Nevertheless, Natsuhiko was not a man who would settle for convenience if there weren't other factors at play. It was known that political marriages did not guarantee non-aggression. If he must consider this alliance, it would be nothing other than a ploy to plant his seed in the heart of the Fujino Clan. "The Heart of Fujino" was the main premise here – if the woman asking for his daughter's hand was less than worthy, he would finish her right here and now.
Thus, he left troops of a thousand to his daughter and the following words before he departed towards the meeting place of Shoutokuji, "If you wish to call off the marriage, assassinate the Heiress of Fujino here."
And most certainly, Kuga Natsuki was planning to do this.
Her scouts had reported that Shizuru-hime was just as rumours went – an Idiot of the Fujino. Clad in a tight black suit under queer violet armour, sporting a golden double-headed spear that looked more like an exotic toy than anything else, she was marching towards the mountain pass en-route Shoutokuji with just a couple horses and five hundred pikemen.
"Halt," Shizuru called to her men at a near distance from the pass, dismounting from her white stallion in a swift motion, "We shall make camp here and proceed later upon my word."
As the men broke off to do their work, Kikukawa Yukino couldn't help but approach the commander who had since moved into her temporary command post, an area at the center of the building camp segregated from the rest by paper partitions bearing the Fujino seal. Upon dismissing a reporting trooper, Shizuru beckoned Yukino to enter.
"Kikukawa, what brings you here?" Shizuru asked, gesturing for her servant to pour water for her guest, "My apologies that water is all we have now. It is indeed not the time and place to hold a tea ceremony, it seems."
"That is indeed, Hime-sama. I have come regarding this issue as well – time is of essence. If we delay any further…"
"I understand your concern. I have sent messengers to Lord Natsuhiko of the Kuga Clan. He has been informed that we will arrive by dusk."
"But if we construct camp, I fear we will not make it…"
"We will not finish the construction. Reinforcements will arrive soon."
"Reinforcements? But Milady, this military display may displease Lord Natsuhiko who is seeking an alliance-"
Yukino's words were cut off by Shizuru's hand as she shifted her gaze towards the entrance where a trooper was waiting for an audience.
"Kikukawa, if you don't mind, let us listen to what he has to say first. It is urgent."
Upon Yukino's nod, the trooper reported, "Tate's group has secured the pass. They did not meet any resistance, but has found a camp at the peak thought to belong to Kuga troops."
"Kuga?" Yukino couldn't help but interject, "But…it can't be! They are requesting an alliance…"
"Perhaps that is why they have retreated?" Shizuru answered lightly, "They are likely pleased by Tate's group and are truly looking forward to our alliance now."
Yukino couldn't understand what was going on at all. Since when did Tate's group get deployed? Wasn't their parade consisted of the five hundred new pikemen they had just recruited last moon?
As though reading her unease, the brunette commander gave a small smile, "Be at ease, Kikukawa. Your well-trained men are also being deployed, so worry not, you will receive your rightful rewards after this."
The more she looked at the smile, the more Yukino couldn't figure whether it was simply teasing, or outright frightening. Deciding her own reflection was far more calming, she turned her eyes to the quivering water surface in her cup.
Kuga Natsuki was just as surprised when her scouts reported the sighting of soldiers climbing the hills that flanked the pass. Her eyes had always been set on the main Fujino parade; she had no expectation that a separate force would be deployed.
"How many?" Natsuki had asked.
"Approximately five hundred."
She felt a fleeting rush of relief at the number reported. The Kuga troops still outnumbered the Fujino two-to-one, not to mention that they had the advantage of height. If they made the battle quick, they could destroy the enemy in one attack before meeting the main parade.
"I shall see for myself," Natsuki cut the conversation, turning on her heels to ascend the guard tower on their camp. From the highest point of the hill, she could see light troops advancing swiftly through forested landscape along waves of archers and men carrying neither sword nor spear in their hands. "Scout, did you see what those men are carrying?"
"Seems to be western firearms."
Firearms? This was ridiculous! Being a skilled user of the newly-imported weapons herself, Natsuki knew of their power. But they were highly expensive and difficult to acquire – there was no way the Fujino could obtain a good two hundred of them here.
But that was indeed what met her eyes. The speedy Fujino advance was drawing near, so close that she could see the lit matches in the arquebusiers' hands. Even if she could defeat this force, it would take time, enough time for Shizuru's troops to arrive and destroy them at their fort. Besides, they were on Fujino ground, regardless of how close they were to the borders of Kuga – staying on defence waiting for siege was not an option!
"Hime-sama," a trooper appeared before her. She grit her teeth and turned sharply towards the newcomer.
"What is it?"
"Shizuru-hime has set up camp at the southern mouth of the pass."
There was no other option but retreat.
And retreat they did, all the way to the northern mouth of the pass in the direction of Shoutokuji. By the looks of it, Shizuru-hime was distrusting, as she rightfully should, and left a path of retreat through the defile. Added to the troops she must leave at camp on the southern mouth, Natsuki was expecting a small entourage of pikemen to emerge from the northern side.
But that was certainly not the case.
Riding amidst a strong ensemble of five hundred was Fujino Shizuru who looked anything but a fool as earlier reports had stated. The black suit, violet armour, and golden double-headed spear were all gone in place of a silken kimono dyed with shikon in the tsujigahana style. Her pale brown locks were let down from the hasty ponytail she wore earlier that day, smooth tresses shimmering in the light to cascade alongside her porcelain skin.
A deep set of crimson eyes stared upon Natsuki's company, and the Kuga warrior-princess met them head-on with her emerald seas. Such an impressive sight had long stolen Natsuki's desire to fight the Fujino. To think that for even just a single moment she had thought Shizuru-hime would come in a buffoon costume flanked by just a couple farmers with oversized spears – she herself was most definitely the idiot, not the dazzling general facing her!
Besides, any doubts she had for the pikemen were dispersed when Natsuki saw the orderly square formations they took around the heavily-armoured cavalry. There was no way her swordsmen could come even close to the group without having their guts spilling.
"Natsuki, second-born of the Kuga bloodline," she announced to the flaming-eyed commander before her, "My father awaits at Shoutokuji. Please allow me to lead the way."
At the wave of her hand, the pikemen parted for Fujino Shizuru to ride ahead, crossing the narrow distance between the two armies that faced each other in full glory. She came within sword's reach to Natsuki, the only weapon strapped on her belt being a beautifully craved dagger. At this proximity, the Kuga princess could easily loop off her head with her katana, or blast her skull apart with a point-blank blow of her arquebus, yet she did neither.
It was because Natsuki's heart was pounding with every inch Shizuru closed. Of course, it was nothing like love-at-first-sight, something that only daughters of peasants could fathom. It was excitement – excitement for joining an ally who would finally bring her dream of uniting Kaze Nation to reality.
"My pleasure to ride by your side, Natsuki-hime, my future bride."
So be it, getting married to the woman known as Fujino's Fool, as long as she alone recognized it was all just a guise.
End of Chapter 1
Shikon – root of the plant, purple gromwell, also known as murasaki, which was used for dyeing silk. For various reasons, it was difficult to work with, and the resulting dye was prone to photobleaching, thus was reserved for use on the clothing of the Empress and her ladies-in-waiting during the Heian Period.
Tsujigahana – a method of dyeing invented during the Muromachi Period, reaching its height during Azuchi-Momoyama till early Edo Period. It combined traditional tie-dying with painting and embroidery to create complex patterns on the cloth.
AN: This work has been inspired by the accounts of various historic characters who lived during the late Sengoku Period of Japanese history. However, this is a work of fiction, as such, it will not stay true to history. Please don't take it too seriously. Thanks for reading! I'd really appreciate it if you could leave behind your thoughts about this chapter.