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Ziro Hour, A Shogun 2 AAR

Part 3 of 3

Lloyd Sabin, 21 March 2012

Read part 1 here - Read part 2 here

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

Slaughter ensued. I turned and ran with thousands of troops as well as women and children. The Uesegi samurai entered our fortress through multiple breaches in the walls and ignored everything around them except for the keep. The last scene I witnessed before retreating over the summit was a lone Uesegi soldier kicking his way into the keep, a hundred of his comrades cheering him on behind him.

Thankfully the Uesegi did not have an overwhelming cavalry force with them. If they did, we would have been easy pickings as we fled north. Our ashigaru were able to hold off pursuing cavalry. Over the next few days, as the remnants of the Ikko Ikki clan came pouring into Kaga, the reports from the field grew more and more grim. While we had expanded well south and west into traditional Oda territory for several months, all of those gains were now eroding as Buddhist rebellions broke out everywhere. Simultaneously all of the larger clans, even the ones that Kaga did not border on, declared war.

Chaos spread and our clan lost more money as the weeks passed. Raids on markets, farms, ports and all the rest of the machinations of daily life were common. Food grew scarce and there was no trade with other clans or foreigners. The recognition and notoriety we gained with the Shogunate also dissolved as our holdings shrank. The one shining light left in our collective situation was that our army and our harbor were still intact. Honestly, the Ikko Ikki had more men preparing for war than anything else. We had become totally militarized and geared up for survival...our religious vows were forgotten.

Drums Along the Coast

Training once again in the courtyards of Kaga, I was thrown together with men I did not know. Fatalism was in the air. Not a sense of defeat, but a feeling that we were going to have to sacrifice an immense amount if we were to survive. After a few weeks of archery, sword and bow staff training, my unit was transferred to the coast. We were assigned to the naval work crews and tasked with building bunes. The pervading rumor was that our officers were planning a last ditch invasion of Honma province, ostensibly to reclaim an easily defensible province where we could carry on our struggle.

To me, though, the invasion of Honma reeked of vengeance. Justifiable yes, but I could not help but feel that hubris and anger were now steering us in the wrong direction. Originally assembled to “protect the people” my clan had grown at an astounding rate, only to be soundly humbled by the samurai class from every clan from all corners of Japan. During those times of unexpected success, perhaps we became too similar to our rivals and forgot our mission. Regardless, I had my orders, and naval construction was back-breaking work.

For the next few months I was roused from sleep before dawn almost every day…only one day in ten was given for rest. My waking hours were spent chopping, fitting and sanding wood components for the ships. The wounds that I received while on the retreat to Kaga had healed and I had lost a bit of weight again from sweating in the summer sun. I was relatively well-fed but started hearing gossip of the food supply dwindling. I still had one Akita by my side at the end of my work day…the other one had gone missing during our retreat. In the evenings after eating, the dog would come to me looking for scraps and I could typically find something for him to nibble on, which insured his regular return. My official duties as kennel-keeper were gone though, as this dog was the only one left.

After a few months of construction work, sun burn and bloody blisters on my hands, we were told that we now had enough ships to prepare for the naval operation. In the meantime, half the troops were assigned to archery units and the remaining troops issued bow staffs. One elite group of about 100 men was issued foreign built arquebuses.

My blisters did not help me re-learn my archery skills. For the first few days just recalling how to hold the bow correctly was agony as the blisters flared and then broke, covering much of my bow in blood. As the days passed, the swelling and bleeding receded and my muscle memory returned, and I began hitting targets well again. The bow remained bloodstained and the men I was training with christened me The Red Demon. I quietly enjoyed my new nickname.

With the fleet of about 25 bunes ready to sail and the bulk of our forces combat ready, we were all assigned ships to embark on.



Sea Dragons

Ordinarily the trip from Kaga to Honma over the water should not have taken more than a day at most. As soon as our force began sailing from the port however, a stiff wind from the North began to blow our ships far off course. I thought that we had left too late in the season, as the weather changed from balmy and warm to brisk and breezy as soon as we set off.

The stiff northern winds turned what should have been nothing more than a ferry crossing into a naval adventure. After fighting the winds for almost two days straight, as well as sea sickness, rocks and shoals, we received more bad news. The Honma fleet, the wind at their back, had been sighted bearing down on us. Word was that there were more than forty ships headed our way…it must have been the entire fleet Honma pirate fleet.

Within minutes of hearing the warning, the wind subsided and the weather turned calmer. We could make out the Honma ships, some great bunes and many medium bunes like our own. Their rowers were frantically working and the majority of their ships were in range before most of ours had a chance to prepare.

With a hint of panic, our officer commanded us to ready our bows. Everyone nocked an arrow and awaited the order to fire. Before we could, a thunderous roar emanated from the closest enemy bune and the wooden planking of our own ship splintered and cracked everywhere. Some men fell, hit by round shot, others hit by splinters. Our officer shouted for us to ready our bows again. All who could prepared to fire, some standing in pools of blood, others astride over the bodies of their comrades.

“Fire!” screamed our officer and we all let loose. “Reload!” After another second we all fired a second volley. “Prepare for boarders!”

Very few of us knew what the last order meant. Few of us had ever even been on a ship before, never mind one that was about to be boarded by a hostile force. From a rafter a bunch of old staffs were dropped down to us. Simultaneously there was a heavy clanking noise as the attacking crew grabbed our ship with a large iron hook.

As the sea battle raged around us, cannon roared in the distance while small arms, arquebus and arrow fire cut through the sky. I nervously held my staff and instinctively looked up, waiting for something to happen. What it was, I did not know. The cacophony receded for a bit and then a pit formed in my stomach as dozens of marines crossed from their bune to ours, screaming and holding their swords, staffs and guns in the air. I slipped on the blood slick deck.

Without thinking I stood up again, dropped my weapon and immediately climbed to the upper deck on the port side and jumped into the water. As I drifted away I could see others had done the same, and our ship began to smolder. It was impossible to tell whether the Ikko Ikki or the Honma were winning the battle, there was chaos everywhere. My own personal naval battle was lost. Not far from the shore, me and dozens of others paddled and swam frantically. Many, never having swum before, drowned before they could get to more shallow water.

After a few minutes I could stand. Bleeding, my clothes in rags, I stumbled further inland. To my disappointment there was an officer waiting for us, screaming at us to get off the beach. At that point I was distraught that I could not simply lie down and die on the rocks. I began running with the rest of the survivors.

Final Gambit

Within an hour several officers had regrouped and assembled a small force of men. Many of us were unarmed…all of us were soaking wet and bleeding. What more could they ask of us? They could not seriously want to take on the Honma now.

From our perch on the seaside cliffs we were well hidden under the forest canopy, now a brilliant combination of red, orange and yellow leaves with some evergreens mixed in. We could see dozens of ships scattered across the deep blue bay in front of us, some smoldering, some broken in half and others sitting perfectly still. The scene was calm and almost placid. I was exhausted but happy to have made it out of the water.

Our officers began marching us deeper into the forest for cover. As I hiked up the slope I began to sweat and stopped shivering. The sun hung low, gigantic and red in the sky in front of us. I did not know where we were going or why. No one in the column spoke.

Deeper and deeper into the woods we marched as the sun began to set. Finally we came to a camp, with fires burning. There was no food, however. The officers ordered us to warm up by the fires and dry off, then rest. The Honma fortress loomed about 1000 paces above us on an outcropping and we were to take it in the morning.

I could not believe it, it was an insane plan! We had maybe five percent of the strength we started with and would not be able to make it up the slope, much less take the fortress above. Rubbing my hands by the fire I said nothing but knew I would not be taking part in the attack. My stomach growled and my wrinkled, water logged skin and clothes began to warm up. I sat, giving my knees some rest, and leaned back against a moss covered boulder. It was surprisingly comfortable. I remained there and fell asleep.

Hours later I awoke freezing in almost perfect, pitch-black darkness. There was no sound within the camp and the stars were bright in the moonless sky. Then, I thought I heard a twig snap, then another. Before I could stand the camp was in total chaos with the remnants of our force screaming. I could not see any attackers and began to run blindly. I had no plan, I just wanted to survive. I ran up hill and hid behind a tree. The noises from camp began to subside. Whatever it was that attacked us was absolutely silent and very skilled…after a few moments of violence and chaos there was now absolute silence again, with the exception of my own blood pounding through my ears and my own breathing that I tried in vain to control. I stood there, hugging the pine tree like a baby, until the sun rose the next morning.

I began to calm down and saw that the Honma fortress was barely 100 paces away from me. I could hear the rustling and movement of early morning…people stretching, yawning, washing. More importantly, I could smell food cooking.

Looking back at the makeshift camp, bodies were strewn about and the campfires smoldered. There was no sign of our latest attackers. I turned around again and walked without thinking towards the Honma. I got to within ten paces of the fortress gate when it opened. Within were a collection of scraggily types, dressed in rags, some holding arquebuses, some swords. None looked particularly menacing. They also had dogs at their sides. One came loose and ran at me and I instinctively raised my arms up in the air, and the dog responded by sitting immediately. I nervously reached out to pet him between the ears and his tail began to wag.

Seeing this, the shortest of the rag tag bunch at the gate came towards me. He was wearing a red lamellar helmet and faceplate meant for a much larger man, and it made him look comically small. I looked down towards him to see a smile through the faceplate.

“I should kill you right now, but it looks like you have some useful qualities. Not only would you die trying to get back to the mainland, but if you did make it through some miracle, you would be hunted down and killed, treated worse than this dog has ever been. So, the choice is yours.”

The Age of the Country at War did not end immediately. It began to sputter out, like a short candle with a tiny wick. Oda Nobunaga, who everyone thought would eventually rule, was killed and Tokugawa Ieyasu was crowned Shogun.

That morning at the gates of the Honma fortress was six months ago. I have been training hunting dogs for the Honma as well as taking part in their sea raids against an almost unified Japan as an archer and a rower. I also get to keep a share of the loot we take. All in all, not a bad arrangement. I am happy to have survived when I saw so many who did not.

The Ikko Ikki are remembered now as cutthroats, criminals and witches now that the samurai class has been restored, but I know better, I know that I was fighting for a higher set of ideals and to give the small man a chance at great success. The small man repaid me, literally that morning in the front of the Honma gate, by sparing my life.


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