The Smoke of Incense

Oda Nobunaga stared into the rising smoke of the incense with an unwavering concentration. In it, he saw bloodshed as his men poured into the enemy encampment. He saw strategy triumph over strength. And, like the incense which was filling the room with a fragrant odour, he saw his enemies burn.

‘Did you hear what I said?’ one of his generals asked, having lost his momentary patience. A roomful of generals and advisors were still waiting for a reply.

“I refuse to surrender,” he sternly declared with a voice devoid of emotion.  

“But it’s suicide! He has forty thou-

Nobunaga interrupted his advisor with a loud, mocking laugh.

“Imagawa Yoshimoto has forty thousand men marching here? I don’t believe that for a moment. He only has thirty-five.” Oblivious to the awkward glances his advisors were sharing, he continued his tirade, “What if we do surrender, as you suggest? We simply throw our banners down and let that pathetic pig of a creature walk all over us. Would you really be content with throwing away your honour like that?”

 “We are at the bottom of the pit! Of course our misery is great, and of course there will be suffering regardless of what we do, but this is the chance of a lifetime! Do you really want to spend your entire lives praying for long life? We’re born in order to die! ” He took a deep breath before making his final declaration, “Whoever is with me, come to the battlefield at dawn. Whoever is not, just stay where you are and watch me win!

The finality in his voice lingered in the room as he stormed out.

It was a quiet woodland, or at least it would have been had the massive army not been there. The surrounding forest, rich with vegetation, gave way to a large grassy clearing; the perfect size for a military encampment. It was here that Imagawa Yoshimoto kneeled before his twenty-five thousand men, revelling in his military success as they caroused with song and Sake.

Through the divine military strategy that was marriage, he had allied himself with two other feudal lords.  This made it possible to amass a formidable army of twenty-five thousand, or, if you were a gullible and foolish foe, forty-thousand men. With this army he had destroyed everything on his march to Kyoto, and with Oda Nobunaga’s measly army of three-thousand, the pattern was set to repeat. In his eyes he was truly the greatest military leader in Japan; a thought shared by quite literally a dozen other commanders of the time. It was the Sengoku Period after all, a time of feudal war after feudal war with never-ending military conflict. 

As he stood up to speak, the thousands of hopeful faces looking up at him did well to serve his ego. He gave them the usual stentorian speech, mentioning how they were as “unstoppable as the very wind itself” and using his wickedest imagination to describe how they wound slaughter Oda Nobunaga when his “inevitable day of defeat” came. In the end it was a generic speech, yet it still hit the mark, for the men erupted into drunken celebration. This was his cue to dematerialise from the scene and reappear within the Commander’s tent.

Inside, his senior officers had finished preparing the battle plan for the next day. They hardly needed one, he thought, considering how feeble Nobunaga’s force was in comparison to his, but they had one regardless. If Nobunaga was smart there would be no battle at all.

“The scouts have returned, my liege,” one of his most trusted officers began, “Nobunaga’s main force remains at the temple. Judging by the large number of banners, he has refused to surrender.” 

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “It seems he wants to die,” he replied with nonchalance, “how convenient.”

His senior officers nodded with approval, the same gleaming smile of power on their faces. Suddenly, as if a response to their contentment in victory, noise seeped into the tent. Something loud was happening outside. After glancing between his senior officers with cluelessness, he advanced towards the tent-fly with curious frustration.

“What is going on?!” his voice bellowed as he emerged from the tent. For a moment it seemed as if a drunken brawl had broken out amongst his men.

Unfortunately, Imagawa Yoshimoto did not have any further time to watch as Oda Nobunaga’s men poured into his encampment, having hidden in the forest. He did not have the time to watch his men abandon all discipline as they fled from their attackers, blood mingling with mud in the fevering chaos. He did not have the time to realise that all his hopes of conquering Kyoto had been crushed in a matter of seconds.

He only had the time to raise his sword in alertness, have a spear imbed itself within his neck, and die.  

As one of his generals dumped the decapitated head of Yoshimoto at his feet, Nobunaga smiled gleefully.  While a third of his men fooled the scouts with banners at the temple, the bulk of his force had moved through the entire forest undetected. As Yoshimoto’s army let its guard down, his men had arrived at the rear of the camp; right where Imagawa was least expecting an assault, and right where the Commander’s Tent was situated. With their leader and senior officers dead, Imagawa’s men were too dazed and confused to fight. They were also too drunk. 

“What should we do now, my lord?” a general asked – the same general who had insisted upon surrendering.

 He took a deep sniff of the air. It was rank with the stench of death.

“Raze the camp.” Nothing would please him more than to watch it all burn.

Austin Bond, 10H – Thanks for Reading! 


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