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Ziro Hour, A Shogun 2 AAR

Part 2 of 3

Lloyd Sabin, 14 March 2012

Read part 1 here - Read part 3 here

Grogheads’ Lloyd Sabin channels his inner warrior monk as he shares an AAR of Shogun 2

It was not a surprise that the Takeda got the best of us on that hillside in Kai. They are a fierce warrior clan and Kai is their home province. We were cocky for even considering taking the place. For all of our new found confidence, the Ikko Ikki are simple people…tradesmen, farmers and yes, merchants. We were not born warriors like the Takeda, the Oda, or the Uesegi.

After our chaotic retreat from Kai, burning everything along the way, the Oda struck at us from the southeast with such force that we lost Mino province immediately. The Uesegi, which had quietly built a massive samurai army of heavy infantry, attacked us from the northwest and took Echizen, then Kaga. Our home fortresses were conquered.

Surrounded on three sides by three different clans, desperation quickly overtook me and the other survivors. Word came that our clan only had one, or perhaps two provinces left. Our captains were certain that South Shinano was still in Ikko Ikki hands. It was uncertain what, if any, other provinces we still held, but we could only get to South Shinano.

After endless days of marching, the survivors finally made it back to the fortress. Word reached the townspeople that we had suffered crushing defeats and the gates were shut tight…we had to wait for the gatekeepers to unbolt the doors and drag them open. Walking through the archway I could see common men holding bows, staffs…any weapons they could arm themselves with. The dogs were locked in the kennel since there were no experienced handlers around. Despite our fatigue, hunger and poor spirit, the people of South Shinano looked genuinely happy to see us. I was happy to see that the fortress was untouched.

Rest and Recuperation

I immediately went to the kennel with my own dogs following. After endless marching through the mountains I was exhausted and fell into a small pile of hay with the dogs on either side of me. It was near dark and I could feel a cold breeze coming through the open door. Too tired to get up, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

I woke up to the fortress in a buzz of activity. My dogs must have left to get something to eat before I woke up. Sore, I stood up and stretched. Hay and dirt fell off of me. I slowly walked to the keep, at the base of which was a bath house constructed on top of a hot spring. I stripped my filthy robes off and shivered for a while, as hundreds of others must have had the same idea I did and were waiting in a long line to bathe. Conversations bubbled up around me amongst men I did not know well. I listened.

The first tidbit I heard is that the Honma were joining the alliance against us along with the Oda, Takeda, and Uesegi. The Honma! They were barely pirates…criminal scum! We were now obvious targets of opportunity and the other clans would plow us into dust if we did not resist. It was too dangerous for them to allow us to continue to exist…we threatened the entire order of things by subverting the class system and giving the lower classes a voice and opportunities. I understood the fear this generated but at the same time, I thought we were on the verge of something great. All we had to do was survive the coming military onslaught. I was certain these attacks were being planned as I stood in line.

Another bit of information I picked up as I stood on the warm stone waiting for my turn was that my captain had been killed during the fighting in Kai. I felt a twinge of sorrow. He had made every living moment of my life for the past few months rigorous hell of martial exercise, but I probably owed him my life. Without the training the Takeda cavalry would have cut me down like a blade of grass.

There was word of a great officer rising through the ranks as well. He earned a field promotion for keeping the evacuation of Mino from spiraling out of control. I did not hear his name but men remarked on his remarkable calm under fire as almost supernatural. I hoped this officer was in the fortress with us.

I finally slipped into the hot pool of water, my bones cracking and the dirt flowing off of me. I was thankful to be alive.

Getting Ready to Get Ready

After bathing I ate and ate for what seemed like hours. The keep had food stocks that could last for months if need be and the kitchens had been working for days to make sure the thousands of troops that continued to trickle in were not kept hungry. Pork, fish, noodles, rice, vegetables and a host of other edibles were devoured at an amazing rate. Different varieties of sake also flowed and fistfights and drunken debauchery became a bit of a problem.

For a full week I concentrated mainly on eating and drinking and I soon forgot about the dire strategic position the Ikko Ikki were in. In reality the order was very close to being snuffed out forever.

The only work I did was tending to the kennel and by that point it was second nature to me…it never felt like work. The weather was mild and sunny and for short stretches of time I didn’t have a care in the world.

That ended on my eighth day back in South Shinano. Before dawn a captain stormed into the barracks and mustered us awake, screaming at the top of his lungs. We were rushed up to one of the walls and forced to run. I tired quickly, having put on a few pounds in the last seven days and not training at all. After an hour of running a few men, me included, began to vomit over the stone ramparts and collapse. The captain would smack the back of our heads and force us up again. For days we were awoken this way, thousands of us, and we slowly became an army again.

A week after our renewed training had started, I was selected with a group of others to go to the archery range. I had not used any weapons at all for weeks, and had never used a traditional bow before. At first I barely new how to hold it, and the archers took time to place my hands and arrange my body in a proper stance. Firing an actual arrow was more difficult to get right.

The first few shots went nowhere near the target and I received a couple of slaps in the head. After a few more attempts I began to hit the outer parts of the hay bales. After a full week of practice for hours each day I was able to place arrows near the target center 9 of 10 times.

This was timely, because after a few more weeks of drills, as I was walking from the range to the kennel one early evening, a woman went running by me screaming that a huge army had been spotted about ten miles from the fortress. The Uesegi were deploying, readying for an assault.

Manning the Walls, Fighting the Tide

Thousands of Ikko Ikki troops clambered on top of the walls and towers, taking their assigned positions. The sun was beginning to set and through the pine forests surrounding the fortress not a sound could be heard. Occasionally someone would cough or a horse would whinny but there was nothing else to be heard. Minutes went by in almost absolute silence. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, there was a rumble.

I thought it was thunder at first but it never receded. The volume grew very slowly until I could make out individual steps…thousands of steps, in time. After what felt like an eternity I caught a glimpse of something black and metallic come out of the woods. Then another. Their armor was given a golden glow by the setting sun.

It was a row of three armored samurai, followed by another row, then other, and on and on, all marching in timed silence, all decked out in black lamellar armor. The front of the column was now about 250 yards from our wall, navy and red standards fluttering stiffly in the air, officers on horses on either side of the column. Larger formations of cavalry appeared out of the forest as well as units of arquebus troops and archers. And they kept coming, spilling over every open spot from the forest to the first rank near our wall.

It was the most fearsome army I had ever seen, better trained than the Oda and more disciplined than the Takeda. From the woods poured still more troops, these with traditional wooden siege machines as well as more modern cannon. The sight of these weapons terrified everyone and what had begun as a steady flow of women and children out of the rear of the castle became a torrent.

Through the ranks of archers and ashigaru I could feel a growing sense of panic. No one broke ranks yet but it would not take long. Then the Uesegi stopped marching and filling out ranks. They barely moved at all, the pine trees behind them swaying around them in the breeze. I could not stop looking at the cannon.

In the silence a heavily armored Ikko Ikki officer mounted the wall several ranks away from me. He had what appeared to be steel armor below his robes along with a yellow lamellar helmet and face plate on. He looked us over without saying a word, making eye contact with every one of us. This must be the officer I heard about, I thought. Suddenly our captains ordered us to place arrows in our bows. I did so, and then obeyed the order to pull back. We were then given the order to fire and thousands of arrows sailed through the air, many hitting their mark with barely any sound. Before we could nock another arrow, the Uesegi cannon spoke, orange fire and sparks flying from their barrels and their shots slamming into our fortress wall, fires starting everywhere and the wall shaking violently. Men went down all over.

I thought the wall units were going to break right at that moment but they held and we then loosed another volley. Fewer Uesegi went down this time and their sword and katana samurai officers gave the command to advance. Our panic grew even more.

The Uesegi cannon were reloaded with remarkable speed and they unleashed another volley on our wall. This time it gave way and collapsed in several places and I went crashing to the ground along with some of the masonry and stone. It looked like a general stampede would erupt but the armor clad officer got up, brushed himself off and in a clear loud voice ordered the archers to knock another arrow. He ordered what was left of the ashigaru to fall back to the other side of the castle. The Uesegi heavy infantry continued to advance, their pace quickening.

I loosed another arrow along with my unit and saw the projectiles hit their marks in many places. The heavy infantry did not fall though. Their armor kept the arrows from doing damage and they just stuck to the lamellar or broke and bounced off. The Uesegi cannon fired again, hitting a tower that burst into cinders and flame.

Not even the mysterious armored officer could hold back the panic now as the enemy heavy infantry and cavalry advanced, their navy and red battle flags fluttering behind them as they came.

to be continued in part 3...





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