treaks of silver light pattered against the ground. The low-hanging clouds shrouding Kankyuu brushed up against the Sea of Clouds, blanketing the horizon as far as the eye could see.
The rainy season had arrived.
“Dammit. I should have gone to Ganboku.”
At a station halfway up Kankyuu Mountain, Itan took in the storm clouds hugging the base of the Sea of Clouds above him. Every autumn, the cold waters of the Sea of Clouds flowed down from the north, turning the “sea bottom” muddy white, as if coated with frost.
The wispy thin cirrus strands thickened day by day, forming monsoon clouds over the center of the continent. And then the rain began to fall.
Shukou gazed at the Sea of Clouds. “It’s started to rain,” he said, stating the obvious.
“As long as we’re all rolling the dice together, I’d rather be standing where I could see the action unfold. This waiting for the results from afar is unbearable.”
“We can only pray the game plays out according to His Highness’s expectations.”
“You’ve got that right. It’s all up to that reckless fool.”
Several days later, Seishou stood on the far banks of the Rokusui and gazed at the river. The rain falling upstream had increased the flow of the river. To the east, in the direction of Kankyuu, the clouds closed out the sky. The monsoons would hit Gen Province sooner than later.
As the sandbags piled up around Shin’eki, the levees at Ganboku were already being overtopped.
“Any day now,” Seishou muttered.
“What?” queried one of his lieutenants.
“Oh, nothing. Don’t let your vigilance slacken. It will begin soon enough.”
Further upstream from Shin’eki was Hokui. That evening, Yuuzen strolled through one of the small hamlets clustered around the Rokusui, inspecting the sandbags forming a waterproof wall along the river road.
“The Imperial Army really came to the rescue,” Yuuzen said.
The fellow villagers with him smiled as well. They were returning to their homes from the fields.
“That’s the truth,” said one of the women. “Life this time of year has hardly been worth it up till now. But now we can spend the rainy season with some peace of mind.”
They looked up at the levees. On the spur of the moment, Yuuzen hopped to the top of the levee and from there to the sloping bank of rocks and dirt. He examined the river.
“Yeah, it’s filling up plenty fast. Must be coming down hard upstream.”
Several of the others were curious enough to climb the levee and see for themselves.
“That’s how high she’s running, eh? One less thing to worry about this year.”
“Well, yeah, get too comfortable and we’ll wake up in our beds soaking wet.”
They all laughed. Climbing down from the levee, Yuuzen was taking a last look across the river when he spotted a group of mounted soldiers on the opposite bank. He ducked out of sight.
Recent rumors said the Imperial Army was damming the Rokusui downstream in order to flood Ganboku. At the same time, other rumors said the provincial guard was going to breech the levees to protect Ganboku.
Either way, that meant keeping an eye out for anybody hanging around the levees who wasn’t supposed to be there.
“What’s going on, Yuuzen?” somebody called from the road.
He shushed them. Staying out of view, they quietly crept back up to the top of the levee.
The sun had set. Twilight was falling. Dark shadows stretched across the countryside, making it hard to see what was going on. But they could make out at least two hundred horsemen descending the opposite bank.
“What are they up to?”
“Maybe looking for a shallow place to ford the river?”
“Plenty of places to do that further upstream.”
“Must have reasons for doing it here instead.”
The lead horseman hesitated at the far shore before stepping into the water.
“Is this an attack?”
Yuuzen balled his hands into fists. They could be launching a sneak attack on the Imperial Army camped downstream.
“Yeah, but if they’re planning an attack, they’d do it before the sun set. By the time they got to the encampment, it’d be full night.”
The women still own on the road came up to see what the fuss was all about.
“Look, they’re carrying shovels.”
Yuuzen gulped. As they watched from the cover of the levee, the horsemen began to cross the river. The currents were flowing fast, pushing them further down past the widest part of the river and closer to where Yuuzen and the rest were hiding.
They were now close enough to see clearly. Two hundred horseman. And those indeed weren’t lances they were carrying but shovels.
The soldiers dismounted and Yuuzen jumped to his feet. “What the hell! Do you bastards think you’re gonna breach the levees?”
The soldiers whirled around. Yuuzen called out to the women, “Run back to the village and warn them! Provincial guardsmen are trying to breach the levees!”
The soldiers rode toward them. Yuuzen and the others scooped up rocks and started throwing.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Go back to where you came from!”
Seishou received the dispatch not long after Yuuzen spotted the horsemen. The twilight still cast its dying light across the sky.
“The Gen provincial guard are in Hokui! They’re skirmishing with the villagers!”
“What in the world?” Seishou broke into a run. “A battalion will do. Follow me!”
He jumped onto his pegasus, a kitsuryou Emperor Kyou had given to him. As much as he despised the late emperor, those feeling didn’t extend to this magnificent youjuu. He said to his aide-de-camp, astride a tenba, “Go on ahead and lead get the villagers out of harm’s way!”
His aide-de-camp flew away. Seishou took command of the battalion and marched east. They arrived in short order. He’d already secretly bivouacked a regiment of 2500 at Hokui.
“Just what I’d expect from that bastard Atsuyu,” Seishou cursed to himself. He motioned to the soldiers behind him, “Defend the levees!”
Yuuzen dodged the slashing swords, dove to the ground and grabbed a rock. No matter what was at stake, the Rokusui could not be allowed to break out of its channel here.
As the two hundred cavalry surged up from the river, a dozen or so men sallied forth from the village to meet them. They spared no time wading into the fray. It seemed insane, farmers facing off against fighters, but as soon as one of them was cut down, another stepped forward to take his place.
“Fall back!” rang out a loud but distant shout.
Not a chance, Yuuzen thought to himself.
He threw the rock in his hand, grasped another, raised his arm and aimed at the nearest soldier. The sweep of the soldier’s sword grazed his arm. He ducked and rolled, picked up the rock again, and was about to throw it when another cry came from close by.
“The Imperial Army! The Imperial Army has arrived!”
Seishou allowed himself a wry smile as he drew his lance free of its scabbard.
Build up the levees of the Rokusui. Watch for Atsuyu’s reaction. Those were Shouryuu’s instructions to Mousen. If Atsuyu breeches the levees, we’ll own the high ground in more ways than one.
“That damned son of a bitch is nobody’s fool.”
Seishou cast a brief, backwards glance at Ganboku Mountain rising over the far banks of the river. Then he spurred on his kitsuryou.